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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Common misconceptions about Islam

Introduction

Islam is the religious choice of a fifth of humanity, it is the dominant faith in areas of the world rich in resources and strategic importance. It has influenced countless trends in philosophy, culture, theology, and the practical sciences. It has not only given us 'Umar ibn Al-Khattab(1), it has given us figures as diverse as Rumi (2) and Muhammad Ali.

Despite these presence of these undeniable facts, there persists a number of myths and misconceptions in the minds of people, Some of these myths have their origins during the time of the Crusades(3) while others are of a more recent creation,

While misconceptions may be held and perpetuated out of simple ignorance, we have to admit that outright distortions of the Islamic message are spread via mass media, movies and the like, out of political interests. In short, the religion of Islam and Muslims are a convenient scapegoat.

This brief article seeks to address the leading misconceptions on Islam. Comments/questions are welcome, and as time allows this writer will seek to address them all.

Who or what is 'Allah'?



Allah is the Arabic name for 'God'. Literally, it is a contraction of two words,"Al" and "Ilah", "The" "Object of worship". It refers to the One and Only God!

It may come as a surprise that Arabic translations of the Bible have God referred to as "Allah"!

The concept of the Divine as given in Islam can be found in well known Quranic references "Say: He is God alone, God the Absolute, He has not given birth to any, nor was he born to any, and there is nothing like him." ( Q 112:1-4)

"He is God {Allah}, besides whom there is none deserving worship but him. (The one who) knows the hidden and the apparent, He is the Merciful, The Compassionate. He is God, besides whom none deserves worship but Him, The Sovereign, The Sacred, The Source of Peace, The Guardian (4) of faith, the Protector, The Mighty, The Powerful, The Great. Glory belongs to God, he is exalted above what is [wrongly] attributed to Him. He is God, The Creator, The Maker, The Creator of Form, To Him belongs the most beautiful of names. To him belongs glory, in the heavens and the earth, and He is The Mighty, The Wise." {Q 59:22-24}


Is Allah a moon god?

This particular assertion has been made in recent years by a handful of Christian polemicists in books and, more popularly, comic-book leaflets. The gist of their argument is that a pantheon of deities were deemed worthy of worship by the Arabs of Muhammad's time, and he simply picked one, a deity associated with the moon!  This, the argument continues, is why the traditional calendar is lunar, mosque domes often have a crescent moon adorning it, and the reason why many Muslim nations have a crescent on their flags!

There is a plethora of evidence to refute this notion and this has been addressed succinctly by others(5), however, this Quranic evidence should be sufficient for an honest reader.

"Do you not see that verily, to God is submissive who is in the heavens, the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, animal life as well as a goodly number of humans..?{ Q 22:18}

In another Quranic verse, we read that the pagans were asked "If you ask them 'who created the heavens and the Earth and subjected the sun and the moon, they will reply 'God".." [Q 29:61].

The Qur'an repeatedly speaks of both the moon and the sun as being used to measure time [6:96, 10:5, 55:5] and under the control of God. The Qur'an has never given legitimacy to a view that the Moon has Divine properties, or that "Allah" was synonymous with a moon deity!

Allah cannot be seen physically by human beings, because, ultimately, we would not be able to grasp Him in a full and complete manner, This is why God is never depicted in human form [or any physical form for that matter] and no pictures are present in prayer halls. Indeed, we find that if any decorations adorn the Mosques, it would be quotations from the Qur'an itself, designed to remind the visitor of the greatness of God.

"And the mosques are for God, therefore do not supplicate any other than him."[Q72:18]


Islam as the teaching of Prophets preceding Muhammad and coming through Muhammad

Islam is an Arabic word meaning "submission to God". The one who does the act of submission is called a "Muslim". If one were to read about the characters of old, particularly in the Jude-Christian dispensation, we find that indeed, they taught their followers submission to God. It is true that there are some differences in emphasis and rituals, however the core of submission remains.

As Muslims see it, this thread of teachers, scriptures and Prophets ended with the coming of Muhammad. He comes, according to Islamic teachings, as a Mercy from God to be felt universally [Q 21:107], as the Last of the Prophets with the final scriptural revelation { Q 33:40}, and with teachings that correct certain important misconceptions and that will act as an ultimate criterion for judgement between what is authentic and what is spurious, { Q 27:76 and 25:1].

As part of the Muslim practice, we are to pray for peace and blessings to be bestowed on all the Prophets and do not allow any disrespectful language about them.

Islam's relation with Jews and Christians 

The modern discourse has placed the three monotheistic religions alongside each other as reflective of the shared roots in Abraham, thus, the term Abrahamic religions.

While it is true that Islam has strong theological disagreements with the other two faiths, the Qur'an repeatedly calls them as "People of Scripture" and allows both marital and other social ties [Q 5:5].


Terrorism/Violence to spread religion

This is perhaps the greatest myth perpetuated by forces with political interests. It is imagined that Islam has taught its followers to spread the faith at the point of a sword, however, this is far from the truth. The Qur'an itself says "There is no compulsion in religious affairs, as truth stands clear from error.."[Q 2:256].

It says further "And say; Truth is from your Lord, so he who will accept, let him accept, and he who will reject, let him reject..[Q 18:29].

The Qur'an tells us that Noah says to his interlocutors "Shall we compel you to accept while you are hateful of it?" [ Q 11:28]

So we should be able to see clearly that using violence as a means to spread religion is not correct as far as Islam is concerned. In today's world, forces both inside and outside the Muslim community seem to believe otherwise, but all of that is connected to political causes and often are simply masks to disguise other agendas!

Islam is a missionary religion, it does seek to call people to investigate it and accept it. However, it does so by telling the "caller" to use "wisdom and articulate expressions" { Q 16:125}. The Qur'an refers to itself as a scripture given in order to influence people to think [Q 12:4, among other texts], so it is clearly against a blind faith.

Jesus

Depicted as a Prophet and great teacher, Jesus is mentioned by name twenty five times in the Qur'an. Muslims affirm his virginal birth and view him as the Messiah, although the understanding we have on the meaning of that differs from mainline Christianity.

This article does not seek to enter into details on that(6), nonetheless what we should convey is that belief in Jesus as Messiah is part and parcel of Islam. He is loved and respected by Muslims, even though our understanding of his significance differs from Christians,

Women

Increasingly in the West the issue of how women are treated and viewed in Islam has been raised. The most visible Muslim women are of course those who wear Hijaab or other well-recognized dress associated with Islam.

It can be said that certain parochial cultures have a negative attitude towards women, but that reflects their own views, not necessarily the teachings of the Qur'an and Prophet Muhammad. In the time before Arabia accepted Islam, the Arabian custom was to view females with little regards, even practicing female infanticide! The Qur'an, in one of its earliest texts, addressed this horrific practice [Q 81:8-9]. Islam as taught by Muhammad himself gave inheritance rights, leadership roles, rights in choice of marriage and freedom with their own incomes. Indeed, we have an entire Quranic chapter entitled "The Women" [An Nisaa'].

There are guidelines for dress for women, but what is often ignored is that there is a dress code for both men and women. The Qur'an does directly speak on how women should dress [Q 24:31 and 33:59] but what is often ignored is that the context of these regulations, particularly in the Qur'an's chapter 24 as referred to above, speaks on men and women abstaining from inappropriate staring, and behavior in general. In other words, the dress code is connected to a wider set of behavioral guidelines.

How those guidelines are carried out will vary from culture to culture. Nigerian clothing styles differ from those in the Arab world, but so long as modesty and appropriate respectful guidelines are observed, they are all equally Islamic or allowable in Islam!

For women, the dress code includes the covering of the whole body, including hair. This actually seeks to create an environment of respect and appropriateness. It has no relation to oppression of women.


Endnotes

(1) 'Umar ibn Al-Khattab {d.644 C.E.} was initially a foe of Islam, even wanting to kill Prophet Muhammad, but his heart was touched by the Quranic message and he went on to become a strong defender of the faith, even at one point becoming the leader of the Muslim community after the Prophet's death. He is well known for his modesty and sense of justice for all.

(2) Jalaluddin Ar-Rumi [d. 1273 C.E.] was a great poet, philosopher and spiritualist. The Western world absorbs his poetry and often he is seen as having been divorced from Islam. While there is admittedly some controversy surrounding him in Muslim discourse, nonetheless he saw himself as totally in line with Islam. One quote attributed to him says "Be in the community of those who receive Divine Mercy, don't abandon the Sunnah of Ahmad [i.e. Prophet Muhammad], rather, be commanded by it." A book has recently been published, which I have yet to obtain, that speaks on this attempt to divorce Rumi from Islam. The book is called Rumi's Secret by Brad Gooch. A review of it, as well as a very pleasant overview of Rumi's reach, is to be found at [url] http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-erasure-of-islam-from-the-poetry-of-rumi[/url] .

(3) Some of these myths are described well in the book Holy Wars: The Crusades And Their Impact On Today's World by Karen Armstrong [New York, 2001].

(4) Al Mu'min is rendered here as "The Guardian", but it has been variously interpreted. Tafseer Al-Jalalayn has it as informing us about God who is "The truthful, who conveys the truth of miraculous creation". I'raab Al Qur'an  mentions three different interpretations, which include God's "Protecting of his servants from danger." " The Protector of his closest ones [Awliyaaa'] from his own wrath." and "That the believers will testify on judgement day and their testimony will be truthful, verified as true by God.."  This work, by the 10th century Egyptian scholar Abu Ja'far Ahmad bin Muhammad Isma'il An-Nahhas, is a wonderful reference source for examining the grammatical possibilities of Quranic words. The edition we have is published by Dar Al Ma'rifah, Beirut, Lebanon.

(5) The famed Muslim debater and academic Dr. Shabbir Ally has published a thorough refutation of the moon god theory. It can be found at [url]http://www.beautifulislam.net/christianity/robert_moreys_moon_god_myth.htm[/url].

(6) The Islamic understanding of the role of Jesus is explained by this writer at [url] http://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2008/01/jesus-in-islam.html[/url].







Thursday, February 9, 2017

Remarks at Press conference [2/6/17]

( Below are my remarks made at a gathering organized by the Interdenominational ministers alliance, with regards to the various actions taken by the new Trump administration. A write up on the event itself can be found at[url] http://www.toledoblade.com/Religion/2017/02/07/Community-comes-together-in-unified-show-of-support.html[/url]]


We gathered here almost a year ago with the same interests, same concerns, and, almost to a person, the same people present then are present here once again.

In the back of our minds, we believed that we would never reach a point where we would have to gather once again for the same issues.

There is much fear and feelings of uneasiness that is increasingly becoming prevalent these days, particularly in the Muslim community.

Yet, in the midst of that, we have gathered! Christians, Jews, Muslims, people of other faiths and with no faith, coming together because we see the same realities and want to change that picture or that reality into something better!

So perhaps we should view these things as blessings in disguise.!

The African American Christian theologian, Dr. Cornell West, recently said "Justice is what love looks like in public."

So if we are calling for love and acceptance for all, we are calling for justice. If we are calling for justice, we are calling for love.

Yes, we do invoke God, but we also come as a show of unity. We will not allow race, religion and class to divide us. If we are truly for love, we have to be for universal justice.

We call upon the new administration to exercise justice, to act with rationality and responsibility.

More than this, we call for all of us-as a society-to be inward-looking, to address our own thinking and our own souls- to abandon irrational fears and xenophobia, to truly make America great again by strengthening education, infrastructure, and real communal growth.

Thank you!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Considering the Day of Judgement: Is it close ?

[Note: The following is an edited version of Friday Khutbah delivered at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam. The opening Hamd has been omitted, the two sections of the Khutbah have been merged into one for the purposes of this article, and the Arabic quotations have been shared only selectively.]

Gratitude for Friday Prayer

We begin by expressing gratitude to Allah for Jumu'ah prayers, especially in a Non Muslim environment, because it provides a spiritual injection that is so needed in order to maintain a healthy spirituality.

We have a hadeeth, deemed 'hasan' in the hierarchy of tradition judgement, in which it is stated that Judgement day will occur on a Friday. Certainly, it is debatable if this means a literal "Friday", as the day after Thursday, or if it simply refers to a moment of great gathering [which is the essential meaning of "Jumu'ah" in Arabic, but is used now in Arabic and many other languages as referring to "Friday"], however, it should be enough of a foundation to generate an interest, an awareness, that judgement day is a reality!

As we read in the Qur'an: "Our Lord, Indeed, you will gather people (innaaka Jamee'un Naas) on a day in which there is no doubt, Indeed, Allah does not fail in his promise." (Q 3:9).

Serious social shifts


The knowledge of its precise moment is unknown to us, and our understanding of its signs can always be defective, nonetheless, we should think about the reality of a final day.

The Prophet Muhammad                   صلى الله تعالى عليه وسلم      is reported to have said "Indeed, among the signs of the hour is (1) Knowledge being elevated [away]. (2) Abundance of Jahl [ignorance, in thinking and behavior]. (3) Abundance of Zinaa [improper sexual relations] [4] Abundance of the consumption of intoxicants [Khamr].
ان من اشراط الساعة ان يرفع العلم و يكثر الجهل و يكثر الزنا و يكثر شرب الخمر

We have another narration which has the words "Knowledge will be low and ignorance clearly visible." [Bukhari and Muslim] يقل العلم و يظهر الجهل 

These narrations present to us serious social shifts! In particular we should pay attention to the last narration quoted above, I believe these words don't simply refer to the disappearance of religious information, but rather, to historical knowledge, scientific information, being dismissed or downplayed, and, replaced with fictionalized, concocted falsehoods! In today's discourse this is called "alternative facts"!

Jahl [as appears in the original Arabic] is ignorance of knowledge, but also -in Quranic usage-refers to action. It refers to a culture that values hatred, stupidity, violence and xenophobia. The Prophet says that such a culture will be present and prevalent in the age that is close to the moment of Judgement. This seems to be a precise description of what is happening in today's world!

Returning to the first hadeeth, we have to say that there is no better place to be than the Masjid on Friday! Even if the Imam does not speak on the subject of  Judgement day, he does refer to Allah, The call to prayers refers to Allah, and Allah is called upon in prayer.

In another report, we have it that Abu Hurairah himself asks the Prophet "when is the hour?" He replies;" when the trust (Amaanah) is destroyed, wait for it then.". He was then asked "How is the trust destroyed?". The Prophet responds "When leadership is given to those other than its proper holders." اذا وسد الأمر الى غير اهله فانتظر الساعة


The Prophet speaks what God tells him to speak

There is doubt presented today as to the veracity of narrations like this, or even the whole hadeeth enterprise in general. However, for these particular narrations, the truth of them cannot be denied! Thus, they cannot be ignored because they really hit the mark!

The Qur'an says that "He [Muhammad] does not speak out of his own desires, nay, he only recites that which has been sent to him." [ Q 53:3-4]

We cannot understand fully subjects such as the Judgement day, because they are ultimately God's business. To seek to speed up or hijack God's will is an act of idol worship, arrogance in itself [Q 16:1].

We are not advocating anything firmly other than that we should be conscious of standing before Allah. Even if a person rejects the concept of Judgement day, they all accept that we will face death,
So be conscious of Allah, that we will have to face Him, be conscious of how you live your life and how you spend your time in this world,

Lessons from these narrations

These narrations should encourage us to become educated and refined in a better way. It has to be a continuous process.  Degrees mean nothing when the spiritual, moral and cognitive features are corrupted.

Progress by the use of prayer, and study. We are to study the Qur'an as well as the important subjects. We are to also be humble enough to recognize our limitations, and not do as people tend to do these days by speaking authoritatively on subjects they have no knowledge of. Thus, climate change is denied because of the words of politicians, and not according to physical facts.

Going out of our lanes of abilities is a sign of ignorance, which the Prophet asserted would be a sign of the coming day of resurrection. Let us not follow that trend, but rather, follow Allah's Book and Allah's final Prophet.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What is the point of invoking Allah ? Friday Khutbah

( Note: The following is an edited version of a Friday Khutbah delivered 1/20/17 at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam. Much of the references in Arabic language have been omitted here, as has the opening Hamd.]

Does God answer our prayers?

A common question is that if a person believes in God and prays to him, why doesn't he answer his prayers? A person invokes Allah for this or that particular thing, and the opposite happens! The core of these questions is actually the query "If God is All-knowing, Omnipotent and Omnipresent, why pray to him in the first place?".

The meaning of the core question is simple: if God already knows what we want and need, why even bother invoking him at all? The answers to these queries are found within the Qur'an and the Sunnah.

The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم  has said "Du'aa [invocation] is the core of worship.";الدعاء مخ العبادة. He is also reported to have stated "Du'aa is worship". Therefore, we are to learn from these statements of the Messenger [Peace and blessings be upon him] that asking Allah, invoking him is an indicator, a strong sign, of being truly connected to him. 

It is true that the Qur'an teaches that God is all knowing, all aware, all seeing and is even all good [the latter is found within another hadeeth]. He knows what you want and what you need, yet the need still exists to invoke him.

If that is the case, why does he not answer?

Allah hears all supplications





Allah does respond. The Qur'an tells us directly Allah's statement on this issue: "I respond to the du'aa of the caller when he calls Me." اجيب دعوة الداع اذا دعان . So Allah does hear, he does see, and he even responds, however, it is not always the response we want!

Your child asks you for candy. There are times you give it to them, however out of concern for their health or other issues, you restrict it, even though the child is asking for it. The child does not always understand the wisdom you possess, but is forced to accept your parental veto,

It is because Allah is the All-knowing and the all aware that he does not always answer our du'aas the way we want them answered. 

In these regards, we need to ponder upon Allah's statement : "The human makes du'aa for bad [harmful] when he should be doing so for good, Indeed, man is hasty." و يدع الانسان بالشر دعاءه بالخير وكان الانسان عجولا

This ayah gives us another teaching, supplications to Allah can be spontaneous, however they should as a general rule be thought out, and connected to genuine human efforts. After all, if God grants all we ask at the moments we ask and in the precise measurements we ask, that would breed laziness, stagnation and stunt creativity.

When can we call upon Allah

Call upon Allah.The Prophet Muhammad has taught us that good opportunities are found in the rukoo', the sujood, after the Tasleem [the concluding act of the formal salaah], and Fridays. Whenever you make du'aa, be sincere therein, and think deeply on what you want to invoke him for. 

When bad things happen




Natural disasters and oppression by man sometimes causes people to either deny God's existence or to view him as cruel and capricious. Philosophers and theologians of every religions have been discussing this for countless generations. 

Facing catastrophes, bey they natural or otherwise, have the effect of bringing us closer to Allah and to each other. It is said that it is only when facing disasters that one discover's one's true friends.

Other related texts on this subject include these following profound Quranic verses. "Praise belongs to Allah, who has created the heavens and the earth, and made darkness and light." [Q 6:1]. We also read : "Say: I seek refuge with the Lord of daybreak, from the 'sharr' he has created." [Q 113:1-2].

The term 'sharr', usually translated as 'evil', can also be rendered as 'harm' 'source of injury', even 'fires of youth'. So these things happen by God's will within the Sunnah of Allah, with a wisdom therein which we can't immediately see, but often see later on in life!

Allah's Sunnah is to give us lessons by using our selves or by seeing the lessons in the experiences of other people.

So if we think we are experiencing problems, we should address them by turning closer to Allah Our Lord, and to our deen.

When our supplications aren't answered in the way we want, consider that the thing we are praying for may be harmful in the long term.

Sins stopping one from acts of worship

Some people think that weaknesses or sins are a barrier to worship, that any acts of worship they do would end up being hypocritical, so they consequently will not pray.

Such thinking is understandable but misplaced. The Qur'an says "Indeed, prayer [salaat] restrains from indecenies and repugnant acts, the remembrance of Allah is the greatest [source of inspiration and power] and Allah knows what you produce." [Q 29:45]

ان الصلاة تنهى عن الفحشاء والمنكر ولذكر الله اكبر ولله يعلم ما تصنعون

Eventually, the effects of salaat enter our hearts, our arms and our legs, so don't let weaknesses or sins discourage you from Allah, from remembering and worship of him. 




Sunday, January 15, 2017

Putting Allah in proper perspective: Friday Khutbah



( Note: The following is an edited version of the Friday Khutbah delivered 1/13/17 at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam. The opening Hamd has been omitted here.)

Pondering upon Allah's solitary nature

We begin by referencing two reports from the Prophet, upon whom be peace.

"The most virtuous (type of ) dhikr is: 'Nothing deserves worship except Allah'". افضل الذكر لا اله الا اللهHe is also reported to have said "Whosoever proclaims Laa elaaha ill Allah, has entered Paradise." من قال لا اله إلا الله دخل الجنةThere are many other ahadeeth that carry a similar message, explaining to us the benefit of له اله الا الله as a statement. However, it is as a concept that we have to deeply ponder and remember that is important.



In our Khutbahs here we typically say therein "None deserves worship except Allah, He is alone, has no partners" لا اله الا الله وحده لا شريك له  . Practically, we can recite this statement and similar statements, but what does it all mean?

In our recent spirituality session (1) we shared a powerful observation from Imam Al-Ghazzali(2). While he is admittedly speaking on the statement Allahu Akbar [recited at every movement during prayers], it is just as applicable to 'Laa elaaha ill-Allah'. Indeed, we even have it in the Sunnah that the Prophet joined these phrases [by reciting Subhaan Allah, walhamdulillaah, wa Laa elaaha ill Allah WaLLaahu Akbar].

Imam Al-Ghazali said "For example, the meaning of Allahu Akbar [God is greater]-if one does not know this meaning, he is ignorant."

This is understandable, after all, we all are ignorant of something.

The Imam continues ;" If he knows it, but there is something greater than God in his soul, he is not truthful. It will be said to him: Those words are true, but you are speaking lies! Whenever something else is more obeyed than Allah The Most High, that thing is greater to him, his object of worship, his 'god' which he serves."

Therefore, these expressions that we habitually recite: Laa elaaha ill Allah, Allahu Akbar and the like, these words must carry real meaning for us. To be Muslims, we have to truly conceptualize Allah as the only God, the only deserving of worship. This is more than simply not bowing to an idol,

After all, it can be said that Muslims bow to things. We do make our Salaah facing the Qiblah, the Ka'bah in Makkah! At Hajj, we circle the Ka'bah, we make Rukoo' and Sujood [bowing and prostrating ] in our prayers there facing that building, and because of that some critics say we take that as an idol,

We know that idea is a mistake, we don't worship the Ka'bah, and bowing does not imply worship. We seek to address that by pointing out that in many cultures there exists a custom of bowing, to teachers, to parents, elders and the like. That bowing does not imply worship!

Tauheed [perceiving God as one and alone] is more than simply not bowing to idols, and, as we should have realized, even the bowing to things is not a big deal in the long run! To uphold Tauheed, one is to take as priorities what Allah says are priorities. The worship of Allah alone translates into proper thinking and proper action.

The Qur'an says "Allah's own declaration is 'none deserves worship except him: this is the declaration of angels, the people of knowledge, standing in/for justice." [Q 3:18] ;">شَهِدَ اللّهُ أَنَّهُ لاَ إِلَـهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ وَالْمَلاَئِكَةُ وَأُوْلُواْ الْعِلْمِ قَآئِمَاً بِالْقِسْطِ

So Imaan [faith] in God alone as God is connected to angels, to angelic behavior, knowledge and science, to justice and fair play. We see here CORRECT THINKING and CORRECT ACTION.

So do take heed of Laa elaha ill Allah, because when it becomes a conscious reality, you will deserve paradise, which begins here and is fully manifested in the next life. We seek Allah's guidance, forgiveness and mercy.

Keeping our minds clear of Shirk

Often in the Qur'an, we find that Shirk is connected with injustice and even hypocrisy(3). Soorah Al-Munafiqoon [Chapter 63] and Soorat at Taubah [Chapter 9] are good places to research this. So we want to be true servants of Allah alone, we want to be people oriented upon Tauheed!

وَمَن يُطِعْ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَقَدْ فَازَ فَوْزًا عَظِيمًا
Whosoever obeys Allah and his messenger have achieved a mighty achievement. [Q 33:71].

How do we obey Allah? We obey by seeing him correctly as the only one deserving worship. How do we obey the Prophet, the Messenger? We obey him by emulating how the Prophet connected to his Lord.

"Indeed, you have in Allah's Messenger a goodly model for any who has hope in God, the final day, and contemplate upon God much." [Q 33:21]

لَقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِّمَن كَانَ يَرْجُو اللَّهَ وَالْيَوْمَ الْآخِرَ وَذَكَرَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا

Notice the verse is speaking on those who have hope in Allah, who recall Allah and long for his presence and blessings. That teaches us that we should not take Islam for granted, that we do like the Prophet [Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] would do, continuously seek out and strengthen our ties with Allah. We work to internalize the teaching that Allah alone deserves worship, not our whims, egos or delusions.

End notes

[1] This session can be found on Youtube.com  under the title How to develop and maintain a Healthy Islam by Imam Shamsuddin Waheed.

[2] Imam Abu Haamid Muhammad Al-Ghazali [ 1058-1111] was a great scholar and spiritualist. His writings are profound and cover so many aspects of Islam that he has been given the title Hujjat Al-Islam [the evidence of Islam], a rare honorific among Sunni Muslims. Many academics have proven that Imam Al-Ghazali's works have influenced such Christian theologians such as Thomas Aquinas!

[3] This is addressed in some detail at[url] http://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2008/10/only-one-god-forgotten-aspects-of.html[/url]

Monday, December 26, 2016

Are there limits in giving and accepting opinions? Thoughts on Shaykh Hamza Yusuf's controversial statements

" O Mankind! Indeed, We ( i.e. Allah) created you from a single male and a single female, made you into nations and tribes So that you will know ( and benefit) from each other. Indeed, the most noble of you- in the sight of God- are those with the most reverence, Indeed, Allah is the All-knowing, All-Aware." ( Q 49:13)


The yearly Revival of the Islamic spirit [RIS] conference attracts thousands to Toronto from all over North America. While previous events have been the source of some controversy, this year's RIS has generated-within only two days- perhaps the biggest firestorm to date-  universal discussion and arguments between Muslims. It has opened wounds and disputes on social media.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf - in the course of an interview with Mehdi Hasan, made some controversial statements about issues ranging from Black Lives Matter movement [BLM], Police shootings, and seemingly equated The Muslim Brotherhood [Al Ikhwan Al Muslimoon] with ISIS. At one point, he asserted that the biggest problem faced by African Americans was the breakdown of the family. This particular assertion has been the object of the greatest amount of criticism on social media. ( 1)

This post is not intended to be a rehash of what he said. From many angles, Muslim leaders as well as average people have been composing posts, articles, videos and tweets on Twitter either defending or attacking him, and of course this has also opened the door for sectarian and racist minded folks to preach their divisive messages.

Another well known personality, Imam Suhaib Webb [who is White American]- sharing the stage at the RIS event, felt compelled to compose a lengthy refutation of Sh.Yusuf on his Facebook page.



Subsequently, Sh. Yusuf delivered a speech yesterday  apologizing for any "miscommunication" and at length explained precisely what he meant.(2)

I listened to that speech twice, and while I have my own reaction to his comments, it raised for me the question of whether or not individuals "of privilege"  are allowed to speak on subjects that they themselves seemingly have not experienced.

In essence, the majority of refutations against him argue that because he is white, he is automatically unqualified to speak on affairs involving African Americans. His critics acknowledge that both his family and himself have been deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement, that he has been a defender of African American causes, and most critics even acknowledge that he is not personally a holder of any racist views, nonetheless, they assert, his white skin prevents him from having any understanding of these issues or any useful advice!



Race as a criterion for judgement

Let's change around the dynamics a bit. A White  patient is in the hospital with a medical situation that requires immediate, emergency treatment. That patient discovers that his doctor is African-American!

The White patient's refusal of treatment at the hands of his Black doctor would rightfully be seen as stupid, and an indicator of racist beliefs. This scenario is not a conjured, hypothetical situation. This has happened many times, per discussions with three African-American doctors I know. I'm sure that our readers will likewise know of similar situations in their professional lives, where services have been declined, even needed ones such as medical treatment, until a Non Black individual( or whatever desired)  would turn up to provide the needed service.



Refutations of views- be they political, social, religious, etc. should not be based upon skin color. A believer in God is to know that God created all the colors and all the languages intentionally. The Prophet of Islam, Muhammad [ Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] is known to have said that there is no virtue in being one thing or another. The Prophet in his final address also said that "all of them are from Adam, and Adam was from dust."

 Truth should be the criterion for judgement

We can simply use another word rather than truth, as that sounds too religious. We can use the word facts, or the word data.

It does not bother me that anyone's viewpoints are debated, rejected and refuted. That is a part of anyone's life, especially a person serving any public capacity. In many respects, scholars, scientists, and academics make their careers by analyzing and dissecting arguments of other figures.

A person's usage of data, their interpretation of evidence, that is what should be addressed. It should never get personal, never hit under the belt with foul language and name-calling.

Moreover, if we are serving any public capacity, we should be open to accepting knowledge, regardless of the source. The Prophet is reported to have said that knowledge is the lost property of a believer. He also is reported to have said that one should seek knowledge even into China.

In cooking, music, clothing styles, humans have always taken from each other, deleting and adding as they see fit. This creates the diversity of life that makes life so interesting.

A person- even if they are seemingly on the outside, can be a vessel for good advice and guidance. That is the way Allah made things.

To assert that  guidance is restricted  to one's racial or ethnic [or even madh-hab!] grouping  is nothing short of adopting a Chosen people mentality. Moreover, it acts as a barrier from receiving God's blessings, simply because one does not like the packaging. The Qur'an ( 2:91, among other verses) indicates that there were Jews who rejected Muhammad as God's Prophet only because of Muhammad's ethnicity.

The Prophet's supplication is quite succinct in the lesson it conveys. He prays "O Allah, show us truth as truth, and give us the ability to follow it. And show us falsehood as falsehood, and give us the ability to abstain therefrom."

So the issue should not be the packaging of the message. The issue should be deciphering what is truthful and beneficial, distinguishing it from what is vain and useless.

Endnotes

(1) Sh.Hamza Yusuf's initial interview can be found here. [url] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tjV64JMv-I[/url]

(2) His second speech, which included an apology, can be viewed here. [url] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2jB_GpY9jo[/url]





Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trump presidency: thoughts on the immediate and distant future

We begin this composition with a confession, and that is-simply put- that we never imagined that the Trump campaign was little more than a bad joke that had no chance of success due to the numerous accusations, outright racism and clear personality problems that are displayed in his recorded statements and behavior.

The success of the Trump campaign has essentially blindsided all of us, it has negated all the predictions of the pundits and it feels like we are now living in a parallel universe that Science Fiction programs such as Star Trek and Fringe have displayed, a world that is very similar to the world we know and are accustomed to, yet filled with glaring examples of differences, enough to make one panic and desire a quick escape.


Why is Donald Trump so troubling?



His entire platform has been one insult after another. However, our focus is not simply on this. His campaign has been one which tells the voters what they want to hear, however upon close examination there is actually no substance at all behind his rhetoric.


Whether it is call for  building a wall between Mexico and the Southern United States [which he asserts that he will make Mexico pay for], threatening Muslims, insulting African Americans, or an unclear plan to strengthen the US economy, any of these things, which are well documented, should be sufficient enough to find his election to this nation's highest office to be a frightening turn of events.

The following link has a good summary of why this is a terrible development. http://reverbpress.com/politics/seven-reasons-donald-trump-make-terrible-president/

If he's so bad, then why was he elected to the highest office?

The answer to this is even more troubling. Despite Trump's many issues in terms of not having any substantive plans and his crass statements regarding women, the handicapped, immigrants, minorities and the like, he has been successful. Those things did not work against him, rather, they worked for him.

I recall an interview I heard on NPR, the one being interviewed was a Gay Latino from New York. He thought of Donald Trump as a personal success story, narrating about the latter's homes, wealth and all the trappings of success he already displayed.

A succinct article in The Guardian [ Anti-Intellectualism taking over the US] explains this very well. This is increasingly becoming a culture that places no value on education [except of course in the practical fields such as Engineering].

Education is more than a piece of paper or the ability to count numbers and decipher symbols . Education is meant to instill respect for certain values and to nurture- at the least- a foundation for understanding the world around the student.

Yet, despite the presence of universities and the Internet, ignorance of even basic facts still is the prevalent situation. An economics professor doing work while taking a flight was pulled off a plane and interrogated by authorities. Apparently, he was mistaken for an Arab and his work notebook's contents "strange writings" was simply math equations. [ https://www.rawstory.com/2016/05/penn-professor-booted-from-plane-after-passenger-identified-him-as-a-terrorist-for-doing-math/#.Vy6cfuYVTDw.facebook].

This utter ignorance and dismay for personal and communal growth breeds irrational fear and unsubstantiated beliefs, particularly for the "other". African Americans have long been the victims of this thread of thinking, and are thus generally more understanding of this side of America!


The other unspoken reason that Mr. Trump has now become our president is that the demographics  are rapidly changing from the White Anglo Saxon Protestant equation. There is a great deal of growth of Non-White communities, and this of course translates into political and economic changes, not to even mention the social impact.

Indeed, the demographer William H.Frey in his book Diversity Explosion predicts that after 2040, whites will no longer be the majority population in this country. This is a future that is not pleasant to think about for many Americans.

We have ignored Mrs. Hillary Rodham-Clinton up to this point. Many analysts have explained her failure to win the Oval office due to the E-mail scandal or a frustration with the system in general. It is the view of this writer that those issues are only a minor part of it. In other words, it would not have even mattered if Jesus Christ himself was the candidate of the Democratic party, the chance to stem the social changes and to express deeply-held sentiments was simply too much to pass up.

What should Muslim do?

Since the issue of Muslims' religion and presence in this country was a campaign issue for President-elect Trump, it seems prudent to direct this to Muslims, however, this is equally valid for all Americans who feel that we have now entered seriously dangerous political territory and fear for the future of this nation!

Our response to this should include, but not be limited to:

[1] Coalition building: This means more than an occasional dinner. Muslims-particularly the leadership, have to become better involved in their local communities and become stewards of universal justice, which is itself a Quranic command [Q 4: 135]. This means that -for example- when a person is unjustly killed by law enforcement, Muslims have to be there standing for what is right. This means greater civil involvement.

[2] Become deeply involved in other parties: Currently this nation is dominated by a two party system. While other parties do exist, they have little to no influence at all. We have to join the voices of those seeking real change, and not simply hope our few dollars to entrenched politicians will produce results on our limited interests. Our interests must be bigger than Palestine, Hijaab and holidays.

As a whole, disaffected Americans can take a lesson from other nations such as India [the most populous Democratic nation as it likes to call itself]. It has about eight big active parties such as AITC and INC, but arguable hundreds of smaller ones.

We don't have to limit ourselves to this two party system. We have to think bigger and in longer terms.

[3] For Muslims, to do more to  have  our voices heard. Write to the local newspaper when stories are published. Become educated enough to answer questions on Islam. Share the Qur'an or Islamic materials with people, refer them to the mosque or to accurate websites.

[4] Americans, both Muslim and Non Muslim alike, should be encouraged to travel, in order to broaden their horizons and perspectives. This is also a Quranic teaching [ Q 29:20 is just one example]. Keep a valid passport at all times.

I hope this brief article generates much discussion and deep thinking. After all, this is the time to be rational and calm. Actions born out of frustrations and anger almost never produce a positive outcome.