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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Problems and solutions: finding a completed knowledge

[Note: the following is the Friday Khutbah 4/8/16 at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam. The opening Hamd has been omitted, much of the original Arabic texts,  and the two sections of the Khutbah have been formatted into one article.]


Acting upon a bit of knowledge


Islam is the fastest growing religion worldwide. Alhamdulillaah, people are accepting it daily, after a process of investigation, on their own free will. Even with that, however, we still face some problems.

One of the issues we face is something that is also faced by Non Muslims with regards to the deen, and it occurs both inside and outside of religion. Essentially, this problem is acting upon only a little bit of knowledge. A person reads an ayah [of the Qur'an] or a hadeeth of the Prophet, or hears about an ayah or hadeeth, and forms a belief or an act based solely upon that. We will look at two examples, one minor and one major, to illustrate this point.

"None touch it except the purified" [Q 56:79]


People hear this verse and say that the Mus-haf [the physical Quranic text] cannot even be touched if that person does not have Wudoo' or is not clean. Thus, a culture has developed wherein there is a reluctance, even today, in giving a Qur'an to a curious Non Muslim.

Before sharing the context, I must share that personally, before reading the Qur'an, I do make Wudoo'! This is also the agreement [Jamhoor] among the madhaahib of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama'ah that Wudoo should be done before reading it, but the scholars do not offer textual support for this. Rather, we do it as a form of respect. With that, let's look at the context:

Indeed, it is a noble recitation, in a guarded record, None touch it except the purified, a revelation from the Caretaker of the Universe, is this a narrative [Hadeeth] that you ridicule, and that you make your money by lying about it." { Q 56:77-82]                            
The context clearly shows us the meaning, i.e.  spiritually dead, folks with sealed hearts, they cannot benefit or receive guidance from this revelation. This is given repeatedly throughout the Qur'an.

The major example is one that gets media attention as well as attention from Muslims. "Fighting is ordered upon you", says the Qur'an. Or "Kill them where you find them" [Q 2:191] . This is a harsh verse, yet when we read the context, we find "and fight in the cause of God those who fight you, and do not transgress the limits [set by God]" { Q 2:191]. Everywhere in the Qur'an where Qitaal is mentioned, we will also find the conditions and context. So Islam is neither a passive faith, nor a religion of aggression and violence.

So we can see what happens when we have the entire picture, the problems and misunderstandings are removed. Knowing the greater picture allows us to make correct judgements. This is not only important for the deen, but it is important for our dunya. Families are broken up, relationships destroyed,   due to misunderstandings, to having access to only half the information. Jumping to conclusions, making hasty decisions, can lead to devastating consequences. We pray to Allah to be people who act upon knowledge, we seek refuge from being hasty, losing control, and making bad choices.

Second lesson

We have to be careful, particularly in public, with our speech. While it is true that we live in a world where opinions are valued, the truth of the matter is that not all opinions are equal.  There is great wisdom in the Qur'anic statement "So ask the people of knowledge, if you don't know" [Q 16:43, among other places].

It is said that Imam Ash-Shafi'ee [ d.820 CE] was once asked by an atheist [Mulhid] if the Qur'an  tells us how to bake bread. The Imam asked for time, and later upon being asked by the questioner, gave the procedure by which bread is made. When asked where this is, the Imam cited this verse. Why? Because he asked a baker, someone whose job is to make bread, and received the answer!

So having a computer and a Facebook account does not qualify a person to speak authoritatively  on the deen, politics, history etc. We must be intelligent enough to see our strengths and weaknesses.

I once took a Non Muslim to an Islamic lecture, and the lecturer spent the next hour making inaccurate and rather ignorant statements on the Bible and Christianity. Obviously, that does not make a good impression. So don't speak on Islam, or Christianity for that matter, if you don't know the subject well enough. We must avoid the traps of self-delusions and have some humility.  Similarly, simply reading WebMD.com does not make you a doctor, a person whose opinion would be more useful than the doctor. Allow those who are trained for the job to do their job, don't seek to undermine them, as you only succeed in harming your own self. Have enough self-respect to know your limits. If you want to go beyond, work hard to reach that, but until then have enough self-respect and respect for those who have the qualifications for their roles.

Let us take lesson from the Prophet's Du'aa. After all, his supplications are not only invoking God, they are instructive for us.

"O Allah, show us truth as truth, and give us the ability to follow it, and show us Baatil  as Baatil, and give us the ability to abstain therefrom."                                                              





Monday, April 4, 2016

Is there such a thing as Islamic deception: a brief examination of the idea and practice of Taqiyyah

Introduction



A number of organizations and personalities have emerged in the last two decades or so in North America, seeking to safeguard Muslim rights and to portray in the media and wider public a positive image of Islam.These figures and organizations, admittedly self-appointed in some cases, have a variety of interests, contrasting visions and ideologies, but what they all have in common is that they receive a push-back, a response or a series of responses, and among those are that these [Muslims] are simply lying![Ft.1]

Knowing that Islam [as does all religions] look down upon lying, these foes will assert that the Muslim organizations/personalities are engaging in a sort of "Holy Hypocrisy", deceiving their audiences into thinking Islam/Muslims are not a threat, and it is they who assert that Muslims are doing Taqiyyah.

Thus, one finds on the Internet statements such as this .





What is Taqiyyah

Taqiyyah  [ تقیة] comes from the root Waqaya, to save, guard or protect. Muslims will recognize that from this root we get the word Taqwaaa, which refers to one's awareness and regards to God and Godly matters.

The phrase Taqiyyah is not present in the Qur'an, and the term itself is largely unknown to the average Muslim anywhere in the world.

The concept is associated with only four verses in the entire Qur'an [Q 40:28, 28:40, 3:28 and 16:106]. A cursory look at these texts is sufficient to show that a logical response is given to a rather deadly situation. A person can-if he or she is in fear of death at the hands of belligerent foes, verbally recant the religion.


"Those who reject God [verbally] after having [accepted ] his faith, except those who are compelled {Ft.#2}[against their will], while his heart is [truly] contented with faith..." [Q 16:106] 


The Deen is not a toy, it is not to be treated flippantly. Those who treat God's guidance in such a manner open themselves up to a Divine response. This, the verse ends:


"....However, whosoever opens their chest to rejection [BilKufri], on them is anger from God, for them is a great penalty." [Q 16:106]



The Commentators are in general agreement that this verse's immediate reference is to 'Ammar ibn Yaasir, an early convert to Islam. He and his parents were captured and tortured, asked repeatedly to renounce Islam and it's Prophet. They refused, and they were murdered, in front of the eyes of 'Ammar. In order to save his life, he did verbally renounce Islam{Ft.#3}. He was freed, and afterwards came to the Prophet Muhammad himself [upon whom be peace and blessings]. 'Ammar was obviously disturbed by all this, and the Prophet reassured him, as does the revelation of this Quranic text!

This should be sufficient to show that Taqiyyah has no relation to lying for political gain in any way, shape, fashion or form. 

Has Taqiyyah been practiced by Muslims after the Prophet's time?


The Muslim civilization, like any other, has had its periods of upheavals and  strife, competing interests and internal struggles. This writer has no doubt that these things happened with both average people and elites alike. It can easily be argued that regardless of religion, peoples in the middle ages would have to- in order to save their lives- do things like that. 

In terms of something religiously mandated, it is said that Ja'far As Saadiq,[702-765]  the sixth Shi'ah Imam, after whom the Twelver sect is officially named  [Ja'fariyyah], made it an important aspect of religious practice. He was a threat to the Abbasid monopoly on power, they were persecuting him and his followers. In order to safeguard themselves, they would have to conceal their faith. Practically, this meant, for example,  praying as Sunnis in Sunni fashion [as opposed to the distinctive Shi'ah format]. This practice of resorting to Taqiyyah is found in all the Shiite sects. 

Due to its acceptance in the Shi'ah world, an unfortunate side affect has been that they have given Sunni polemicists a stick to beat them with. Thus, Shiites' insistence that they believe in the same Qur'an as Sunnis do, and that they don't attribute divinity to 'Ali is simply dismissed as Taqiyyah. Indeed, in the political realm the Iranians are thought  of as  engaging in Taqiyyah when they say that they are not after nuclear weapons and that they don't desire to capture Makkah and Madinah from the control of Saudi Arabian authorities. 


Taqiyyah today

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003  led to civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites. Both formed what would be termed "death squads", searching out members of the opposite sect. Consequently, Sunnis in Shiah areas, often victims of executions and kidnap for ransom schemes, would change their names when they had an obvious Sunni name ['Umar or Abu Bakr, for example] and try to learn all the names of the Shiah Imams and the Shi'ah prayer format in case of capture. Shiites did the same thing, and undoubtedly do the same today in areas under ISIS control in both Iraq and Syria. 

In Pakistan yearly sectarian-inspired killing sprees have led both Ja'fari and Isma'ili Shiites to occasionally resort to Taqiyyah

Do Muslims deceive people about their religious teachings?

The idea that Muslim activists hide the truth about their religion [and, implicitly, their own intentions] is laughable when we consider that we live in an age of information and technology, where information on Islam [or any religion for that matter] is readily available at our fingertips.

Moreover, Taqiyyah is,  as we have seen, largely a Shiite practice done in order to avoid persecution at the hands of Sunni Muslims. North American Muslim activists are mostly Sunni, many of whom have no formal religious training or backround, and have themselves never even heard of Taqiyyah. How can they be engaging in something they have never heard of?

 

The charge of Taqiyyah, leveled by politicians and media pundits alike, is simply a pathetic response to a Muslim or Islamic organization doing their jobs well. It is also a dangerous call, designed to generate mistrust, xenophobia and political violence. 


Quranic teachings regarding lying and cheating


"Condemned are those who engage in fraud, those who, when they receive full measure, expect to get it, yet when they have to give [correct] measure, give less [i.e. cheating their customers].." { Q 83:1-3]



"O believers, be those standing, consistently, for God as witnesses for what is right. Do not allow the hatred of others make you act in a criminal fashion. BE JUST, as that is the closest to [expressing] Taqwaaa. Have Taqwaaa of Allah, indeed, Allah is aware of your actions." { Q 5:8}



"O believers, be those standing, consistently for justice, as witnesses for God, even if against your own selves, parents or close family. If they are wealthy or poor, God is nearest to them both. So do not follow inclinations, lest you deviate. If you do distort or turn away [from what is right], then [know that] Indeed, God is aware of your actions." [Q 4:135]


Footnotes

[1] One example is in Dr Zuhdi Jasser, a self described secular Muslim. He heads the American Islamic Forum for Democracy [AIFD]. Despite his right-wing political leanings and odd religious views and the fact that he is widely dismissed by the North American Muslim community as an opportunist looking for fame and fortune, he too, because of his Muslim backround [a Syrian American] is attacked as a sort of Trojan Horse soldier, engaging in Taqiyyah, by his detractors. 


[2] Ukriha is a passive verb. The structure clearly indicates that a person compelled, for fear of losing life, is allowed to verbally renounce Islam or proclaim words of Kufr. We have translated Ukriha here as "compelled".

[3] Imam Muhammad Ash-Shawkanee [ 1759-1839], author of the famous Quranic exegesis Fath ul Qadeer, explains this as "renouncing both in speech and action...such as prostrating to other than God." [ Shawkanee, Imam. Fat-h Al Qadeer, Kuwait, wazarat al awqaaf, Kuwait, 1988 edition, page 370]


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Useful Knowledge, Provision and acceptable deeds- learning from the Prophet's prayer

[ Note: The following is an edited version of a recent Friday Khutbah at Toledo Masjid. The opening Hamd has been omitted, and both sections of the Khutbah have been merged into one article.]


Prophet Muhammad as a teacher

In the Hadeeth literature, we read about the supplications [Ad'iyah] that the Prophet -Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, would make. These are not only prayers to Allah- they are also instructions in and of themselves. This is logical, when we consider that the Prophet is a teacher, so there are lessons or teachings present in his supplications.


We are told in the hadeeth literature that he, upon whom be peace and blessings, would make these supplications at Fajr [Dawn] and Maghrib [sunset], the traditional beginning and end of the workday.

"O Allah, I ask you for useful knowledge"

This is the first line. Allahumma innee as-alooka 'Ilman Naafe'an. The Prophet asks God for knowledge that will bring benefit.

In the Qur'an we have the Du'a "My Lord, increase me knowledge " [Rabbi Zidnee 'Ilmaa]. While the Quranic verse is general, the hadeeth here specifies the sort of knowledge as being useful knowledge. In order for knowledge to be useful, a goal or a series of goals has to be made. A person seeking entry into medicine, he or she is required to study certain subjects and have under his or her belt certain actions to meet this goal, A person wanting to do business in Japan would perhaps have to study Japanese language. These are examples of useful knowledge [Ilman Naafe'an].

As Muslims, we should be seeking, above all other goals, knowledge that will make our character better, that will smooth over the rough edges. Knowledge that will touch the heart and bring positive influences.


"And a provision that is lawful and wholesome"

The du'a continues "and a wholesome, lawful provision" [Wa Rizqan Halaalal Tayyiban]. Rizq is money, food, clothing. We want that which is healthy and lawful in Allah's sight. In today's world, knowledge and provision are increasingly interconnected. But perhaps the Rizq here is also spiritual. I admit this is speculation, a thought. Rizq , that sustenance or provision can come in many ways. We are sustained by our friends, our surroundings, the television programs we watch, the music we listen to and the figures, both religious and political, we follow. Look at Donald Trump, he does sustain his followers. They get something from listening to him. They receive "provision", however it is not healthy!

Even physically, a person can eat chips and cookies daily, and survive. Yet, we know that this is not healthy sustenance.

We are to desire sustenance that nourishes the soul, that is Halaal and wholesome. Parents seek to limit their children's contact with certain things, such as foods, immoral television programs and the like. This can likewise be applied to us, as adults, building self-discipline.


"And that [my] deeds are acceptable"

The Prophet's du'a continues "and that [my] actions be acceptable" [Wa 'amalan Mutaqabbalan]. Obviously, some actions are unacceptable.  In the Qur'an, we have the du'a "Our Lord, accept this Du'a". We have "Our Lord, accept from us".

Our actions in God's sight, and even in wider society, are acceptable if they are in keeping with what is Halaal, wholesome and beneficial. These are all connected with the heart.

Shaikh Muhammad Al-Ghazzali said "and when the human conscious [Dameerul Insaan] has died, it will not even be of benefit his memorization of the Qur'an."

So we pray that Allah makes us of those whom benefit from useful knowledge, may he give us goodly provision and may our actions be acceptable in his sight.


What we need to derive from the Sunnah

This du'a is an example of what we need to take from the Prophet's Sunnah in order to make this deen more than a collection of books, opinions and traditions. We want to make Islam a living reality, a force that truly benefits life.

This is how the Prophet functions, even after his death [peace be upon him] as Rahmatul lil 'aal ameen, a mercy to all nations [Q 21:107]. We need to get away from minimizing the Sunnah to things such as the Prophet's toothbrush [Miswak] and his clothes. His Sunnah is above and beyond such reductionist issues!

In a similar way, Allah sent a book called the Qur'an. It has not been sent to decorate your living room, simply to be recited at funerals and weddings.  It is a book that has been given to benefit a people who ponder deeply [Qawmin Yatafakkaroon]. God says directly that the Qur'an has been sent as a pure recitation, in order that "perhaps you will use your mind." [La'allakum Ta'qiloon] [Q 12:2 and 43:3]

It is true that our interests will differ, and our conclusions will differ, however, if we stay firmly grounded in Allah's deen and in the inspiration from the Prophet, we can be dynamic, change our lives for the better and have an impact upon others.

So it is important not only to memorize this du'a, but the lesson and impact behind it.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Finding self identity

This is a clip [audio] from Friday Khutbah, on the struggles to create personal identity.

Finding self identity, guidance from the Quran and sunnah

Towards a world of equals: Islam and the African Experience






[Note: The following is an edited version of our speech at the University of Toledo 2/17/16 "Towards a world of Equals: Islam and the African Experience".]

What is Islam?

When we think of 'Islam', we think of Prophet Muhammad, the Qur'an, Makkah, a specific set of peoples and traditions. However, the Qur'anic perspective[Q 2:136] is that all of the great spiritual teachers were teaching Islam, the word itself being a summary of those teachings, as it means "submission to God". These teachers had limited focuses and audiences.

The only exception to this is Muhammad. His message is universal. He is a universal messenger and the final Prophet [Q 33:40], so the teachings that emanate from him [i.e. Qur'an and the Prophetic Sunnah] must address universal themes.

Race issues in Islam 

Issues of race are addressed more clearly in the Qur'an and Sunnah than in the texts of any other religion. Moreover, the early history of Prophet Muhammad [ peace and blessings of God be upon him] and his followers demonstrate the practical application of what God gave them in the Qur'an. We will examine this in a moment, but we must say something about the title we have chosen for this presentation. Towards a World of Equals, in essence means a level playing field where artificial [and often physical], unjust constructs are removed.

The mental constructs are often the most dangerous. Harriet Tubman, the brave soul who guided many out of slave territory, is reported to have said " I freed a thousand slaves, I could have freed a thousand more-if only they knew they were slaves."

Thus, before changing the physical reality, awareness is necessary.  The next part of the title is Islam and the African experience. "Islam" is something very vast, because it is connected to the Lord of all. "Africa" is something that is also vast. It is a continent that not only gave birth to many civilizations, the first humans themselves emerged from Africa. The mainstream theory says the first humans emerged from Ethiopia region, while others point to South Africa. Yet, both are within the African continent. "The African experience" -as a part of the title, allows us a basis to see the bigger picture, rather than limiting ourselves to talking about slavery in the Americas.

Arabia at the time of the Prophet

Tribalism was common in those days. A war once occurred, lasting for forty years, over a camel straying into the tribal land of others. Female infanticide was practiced, and even food stuffs were deified.

Muhammad the man received a revelation. He was not expecting anything like this, although he was disturbed by his society. This revelation tells him to "Read". He, like most others in his society, was unable to read. The revelation continues "Read in the name of your Lord who has created" [Q 96:1]. This is a profound sentence. It is a call to look, ponder the world around you [O Muhammad and his people], see God's artistry in all, develop a thinking that goes beyond the petty, small-minded jealousies that had stunted Arabian growth.

This is something not only for the Arabs of that time, rather it is for all humanity.  Thus, even though there was opposition, war and the like, the transformation started. Yet all Prophets faced opposition, so this was nothing new.

Practical examples of transformation

The attitude of people striving to follow the Prophet illustrates this. In the Hadeeth literature [Saheeh Al-Bukhari] we have two Muslims arguing. One was Abu Dharr Al-Ghifari [from Kinaanah tribe] and one was Bilal [Ibn Rabah, al Habashi]. Bilal was Ethiopian [Al Habashi]. During the argument, Abu Dharr calls Bilal "You son of a black woman". This was the equivalent of the "N" word.

The hadeeth goes on to say that the Prophet became red with anger and told Abu Dharr "You still have ignorance within you.".

How does Abu Dharr react? He takes the correction like a man, he doesn't make excuses like our politicians do today in places like Flint, Michigan. He places his head in the sand and does not move it until Bilal steps over it.

I find this to be a powerful example of transformation. Abu Dharr was among those who heard the order of God and obeyed it, there and them [Q 2:285].

God says in the Qur'an that the variations in skin color and language exist to both show God's artistry and to strengthen the people of knowledge [Q 30:22].

Deep lesson in Bilal 

Bilal was a close companion of the Prophet. He had been a slave at one time. The Prophet appointed him as the Muadhdhin, who makes the call to prayer. It is said that he would mispronounce the Arabic letter "Sheen" as "Seen" [in the sentence "I testify that none deserves worship except Allah"] and the people complained about this. They would perhaps make fun of Bilal, in the same way that people make fun of imperfect spoken English or heavy accents today. In response to this, the Prophet says "Allah hears it as 'sheen' " meaning, God hears it correctly.


There is a deep lesson in this. Simply put, we are all equally imperfect. If we are equally imperfect, there is no room for judging figures as superior or inferior based on things like race, language, income or education. "The most honorable of you-in God's sight, as those with the most regards for God/Godly affairs in your midst"[Q 49:13]


This is also demonstrated in our prayer ritual. When we pray communally, behind an Imam, and he makes a mistake, we are to say loudly "Subhaan Allah". Here it means "Don't worry, it's not a big deal, only God is free from errors."

Africa

Forty five percent of the continent is populated by Muslims. Islam spread there early, particularly in North and East Africa. The first migration [Hijrah] was in fact to Ethiopia. There are many diverse cultures and circumstances there, and it's important to understand this because many people think of the continent as a monolithic place. Thus, while Islam arrived early in North and East Africa, it didn't reach West Africa until roughly the 14th-15th century.

That region produced the likes of Mansa Musa, a wealthy ruler who transformed his domain [the Songhai ] to a world class empire.

He made his Hajj [pilgrimage to Makkah], and the journey there he gave away so much wealth that the Egyptian gold value declined and still had not recovered 12 years afterwards.

Africans in the Americas

It is estimated that atleast a third of the slaves were Muslims, and it has also been argued that Mansa Musa's empire had already discovered the Americas and had trade relations with the native populations long before Christoper Columbus. Be that as it may, we know that Muslims brought there religion with them here. There is recorded many examples of Muslim slaves, even scholarly ones.

Slavery has-without doubt, produced a devastating legacy that is felt even today. It was a unique form of slavery due to it's utter barbarity. The recent attempts to repackage it as Atlantic triangular trade is utterly disgusting.

This type of slavery was nothing short of cultural and physical genocide.


Islam in the struggle

The struggle for dignity for Africans in the Americas took social, intellectual and economic forms. Many figures emerged such as Frederick Douglass, W.E. B. Du-bios, Marcus Garvey. Islam as a reference point was never absent in this historical struggle.

Of all these attempts to address the damage to the psyche of African Americans, the most famous- at least in terms of being associated with Islam, was the Lost found nation of Islam [or simply Nation of Islam, NOI]. The particular religious teachings of Elijah Muhammad were clearly at odds with the Qur'anic picture [the NOI beliefs included that whites were the literal devils, 'God in man", denial of hereafter etc..] , yet it is without doubt that  this movement produced drastic and lasting changes, for themselves and African Americans in general. The NOI produced the likes of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.  These were men of principle and conscious. Muhammad Ali refused to acknowledge the draft and Malcolm X started to see the bigger picture in society, both of these men caused Americans to reexamine their beliefs and politics.


The Greatest function of African Americans in relation to Islam

American Islam itself continues to evolve, and African Americans are certainly part of that equation. I think that one of the most consistent and important function of African American Muslims, and this includes heterodox understandings, is that they have consistently given a critical analysis of the wider society.

Today's NOI is led by Minister Louis Farrakhan. Look at their Newspaper, The Final Call, and the books his organization publish. Most of them deal with attempting to understand and deal with, usually by exposing, the hypocrisy of the mainstream social order, the political system. They still retain the odd religious doctrines, but their efforts in the other areas should not be denied. Imam W.Deen Mohammed and his community have functioned in the same way. He was the son of NOI figure Elijah Muhammad, he became the leader upon the death of his father [1975] and almost immediately changed the theology of the organization to be in lines with the Qur'an and Sunnah.

It was Min.Farrakhan who broke away from Imam Mohammed, dissatisfied with the latter's direction.

Imam WD Mohammed [d.2008] continued the tradition of analysis and teaching, but his style was more of conciliation rather than the language of conflict. His followers have in recent years attempted to collect all of his statements on religion in an attempt to form a coherent or systematic style unique to themselves, and it remains to be seen how successful such a project will be, nonetheless I think that the bigger issues of society have already been addressed and that a wealth of observations are already present to continue the analysis of society.

In short, these are branches from the same tree that should inspire us to think outside the box. To study, research, discover those hidden truths and-if needed, to act in a way different than mainstream society expects us. The Prophet is reported to have said "Contemplation for a single hour is more useful than a year's amount of worship."

We should be inspired by this history to be a people who are not idealists, but rather, a people who put good ideas into real practice. To have morals and be deserving of respect. To grow, not simply in wealth, but in personal development. This is not only Islam's mission to Africa- It is Islam's mission to mankind. A world of equal opportunities, that removes the shackles of ignorance, prejudice and classism.

Recommended books

[Note that I don't agree with all of the conclusions of the authors, but nonetheless these are titles worth exploring, works that cause us to think and rethink.]

[1] Islam, Black Nationalism and Slavery by Adib Rashad. A thoroughly researched summary of the history of Islam and it's relation to the Black struggle in the Americas.

[2] Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race by Edward Blyden. First published in 1888, the author was an African American Christian missionary attempting to spread Christianity in Africa. He details a wealth of personal experiences and studies and focuses mainly on the impact of the religions in Africa. He directly shows his views that Islam has had a more positive impact.]


[3] Muslim identity and social change in Sub-Saharan Africa , edited by Louis Brenner. An academic work, a collection of essays on various topics relating to the development of Islam in Africa.]

[4] The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

[5] Symbolism, Holidays, Myths and Signs by Alauddin Shabazz. Although an old book, the author provides analysis of many subjects that are related to religions as well as mainstream culture, music, Television programs etc..






Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Psychology of Family and Spirituality in Islam

[Note: This is an edited version of the address given at the February 2016  Tazkiyatun Nafs program at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam.]


Let us begin by asking how 'family' is defined? Or even the term 'spirituality' for that matter. In this age, we think of the Nuclear Family unit when it comes to family. The Nuclear Family unit is a married couple, with three children maximum. Admittedly this does still get extended to include grandparents, cousins etc.

Traditional cultures tend to expand these family groupings to include clan, tribe or a feeling of loyalty to locality.

Families have shared bloodlines and history. They also develop over long periods shared experiences, pains and laughter. This is a bond that is usually unbreakable.

"And have Taqwaa of Allah, through whom you ask each other [O humans] [of your rights], and the family [as well], Indeed, Allah is Ever-Watchful over you." [Q 4:1]
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُواْ رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالاً كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاء وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءلُونَ بِهِ وَالأَرْحَامَ إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا
The family bond is natural, and Taqwaa is expressed by respecting that bond.

The soul and the family in New Testament tradition

Some religions have a shaky view when it comes to the ties between the family and the soul. Paul [1 Cor. 7:8]  says it is better to not marry. The New Testament has Jesus ['Isa, 'alayhis salaam] say that he has come to divide family members [Matt.10:35]. So we have these two New Testament assertions that place family as something that can destroy the soul, and that the family must be sacrificed  for the welfare of the soul!

Issues that need to be addressed from the Islamic perspective

[1] God placed you with your blood family. The blood ties, shared experiences, all creates bonds which are not to be broken. Indeed, Allah says that even if our disbelieving parents try to induce us towards false worship, we are not to do that. however we are to keep strong ties with them in life. [ Q 31:15]

[2] The blood family is the first school wherein we learn about God, worship, 'aqeedah etc.

The Prophet said "Marriage is half of the deen" {Bayhaqi}. Why does he, 'alayhis salaatu was salaam, say this? Because from that, a Jamaa'ah has the potential to be born, born to worship Allah. Even the relationship between two people, with it's ups and downs, can bring them closer to Allah in giving thanks as well as calling on him during times of difficulty. When one has a family, the believer spends much time praying [Du'aa] for them. According to the Messenger of Allah [Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam], this counts as worship.

"Du'aa  is the core of worship," [ Tirmidhee].  "Du'aa is worship" [ Abu Dawud and Tirmidhee].

[3] The concept of 'family' is very much expanded in Islam. Allah says the believers are nothing more than a brotherhood. "Brotherhood" [Ikhwah] is nothing more than a fancy term for family. [ Q 49:10]

Healthy people care about their family, they are careful with regards to the feelings and health of their family, they look for the interests of their family. Muslims are  supposed to be concerned about each other. This is even reflected in the small act of watching the news whenever we come across a news item involving other Muslims. Even without knowing the Ahadeeth or Quranic verses on this subject, Muslims do this, they do this because caring for other Muslims is something which is built-in into the daily practice of this Deen!



In the sitting posture of Salaah, we pray "O Allah, make the needs of Muhammad and his people be met." We also pray "O Allah, send blessings on Muhammad and his people." We are praying for the cause of Muhammad, the person of Muhammad, but also for his followers, that they have not only their needs, but blessings as well. That they have not only their immediate needs, but to have extra things, happiness in their existence.



Moreover, we 'officially' end the Salaah by turning to the right and the left, reciting the Tasleem [As salaamu 'alaykum wa rahmatullah, may the peace and mercy of Allah be on you].

Even praying alone, we still do this, and it's not restricted to communal prayers. It is said that we do this in order to greet the angels. Another way of looking at this, however, is that this serves as a training. In the midst of our worship of Allah, we are conditioned to care about other people.

In addition, in the family the family prays together in Jamaa'ah. They pray for each other and with each other. So we have here family connected by blood, but also connected [i.e. formed] by their shared belief in Almighty Allah.

This should bring us to a better understanding of the Prophet's statement [peace and blessings be on him] "None of you have Imaan until [Hattaaa] you love for your brother what you love for yourself." [Muslim].

Faith in God is deficient unless it is accompanied by- at minimum-  concern for one's brother. This is a value Islam seeks to develop within its followers.

What to do when family members are detrimental for our spiritual development

This scenario is one faced very often, by Muslims with Non Muslim family members, as well as Muslims dealing with [Muslim] family with different ideas of what it means to practice the religion.

The Qur'an gives us a powerful set of guidelines to answer this query.

"O believers, Indeed, some of your wives and your children are enemies to you." [Q 64:14]

We have to stop for a moment. Enemies is an extreme term to use. It means that they [the family members] have the potential to bring you harm when they are not on the same page spiritually. The verse continues to give us instructions.

ا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّ مِنْ أَزْوَاجِكُمْ وَأَوْلَادِكُمْ عَدُوًّا لَّكُمْ فَاحْذَرُوهُمْ وَإِن تَعْفُوا وَتَصْفَحُوا وَتَغْفِرُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
[1] Beware of them[Fah-dharhum].

Knowing that they can bring harm, one takes precautions. If they go in a direction that seeks to take you to Haraam, or to that which brings harm, even though they may not realize the harm they are bringing, be on the lookout!

In modern times we talk about toxic people or narcissistic  personalities. Included in this are folks who are emotionally manipulative or even guilty of emotional blackmail. We are told to limit our interactions with these types. Extend this to, for example, those who constantly backbite or gossip. In Islam, the listener is also deemed as guilty as the speaker. So if we know these types, when they start, change the subject or leave the conversation. Similarly, if they offer you drugs, alcohol and the like, simply decline and avoid that environment.

[2] "If you pardon" [wa in Ta'foo]

Try to be understanding of their situation or condition. Try to excuse them, even though you are taking precautions to limit their harm to you.

[3] "Overlook" [wa tas-fahoo]

To be forbearing, to put up with it all to a point. To be patient. One need not turn everything into an argument.

In the age of internet and mass communication, we often hear about the Haraam Police. This is a nickname give to Muslims who are always so preoccupied with the issues of other people. They will police your clothes and your Facebook posts. They will critique your beard, women's Hijaab and the like. They have stations everywhere, and will even spend time critiquing Imams. They will analyze speeches of Imams and scholars, especially the famous ones, for theological mistakes, for mispronunciation of Qur'anic sentences. They will even publish books of 'refutations' regarding these personalities "deviance" and YouTube videos will follow suit.

We can understand the command to overlook in that sense as well. Don't let it bother you. You don't need to become the Haraam police yourselves, Take precautions, yet be understanding and overlook their issues. Strive to be better yourself, and avoid becoming judgmental. You may end up becoming a positive influence on them. This is precisely the way of the Prophet.


The great Egyptian scholar, Shaikh Muhammad Al-Ghazzali [1917-1996] was once asked "What is the ruling about one who has abandoned prayers? The questioner was probably expecting that the Shaikh would declare such a person a disbeliever and the like. However, the Shaikh gave a beautiful response. He says "His ruling is that YOU take him WITH YOU to the mosque."

To take someone with you is a sign of caring, and that care may indeed change that person's condition and you can become the best of friends. Remember Khalid ibn al-Waleed, who fought the Muslims at Uhud, or Umar ibn al-Khattab, Radee Allahu 'anhumaa. These were foes to Islam and the Prophet himself, yet became the greatest champions of the deen.

[3] "And forgive" [wa taghfiruu]

Forgiveness is the last response in this series of steps. The Prophet practiced this many times, the most important being when he issued an amnesty for all those who had led a two decade bloody campaign against him.

Forgiveness is difficult but doable. It is also one of the main pillars of a high spiritual position, to be yourself forgiving, and not just asking Allah for his forgiveness.

The verse ends "So Indeed, Allah is the Forgiver, Compassionate"

Your 'foes' and yourself receive forgiveness from God. God is intensely forgiving. He does so often. He is the Constantly Merciful.

Understanding Mercy and Forgiveness

Enmity which is causing you stress, coming from whatever quarter, bringing into your life negative energy, striving to take you away from God and what is healthy, Allah can still deal with them. He can bring people to guidance. Allah can heal such people, here in this life.

That is an equation that we best remember.

By the same token, Allah says the Qur'an itself is a healer. He also says to "Make Jihaad against them [the rejectors] with it [i.e. Qur'an], and a mighty Jihaad it is." [Q 25:52]

Allah's healing can come to others by your own hands. To those with bad habits, share with them what the Qur'an says on that habit. To those who oppose Islam based on misinformation, share with them what the Qur'an says on that subject. If necessary, given them a Qur'an to read for themselves.

A Realistic Religion

This deen addresses all angles and all sides. If the majority of human beings could be influenced by only a third of what it teaches, the world would surely be better off. The Muslims have forgotten much of these teachings, that is the only logical explanation behind the many wars being fought in Muslim lands.

May Allah make us stronger as a body of believers, and increase in our our understanding of others, and understanding of our own needs.






Saturday, February 6, 2016

Accessing our lost spiritual wealth

The following is an edited version of the address given at the spirituality session at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam January 11th, 2016.]



We have to begin this subject by referring to the Qur'an. It says that the essence of every human being acknowledges their Lord. Alastu  Berabbikum? Qaaloo Balaa Shahidnaa. "Am I not your Lord", God asks. "Yes, we testify", is the response. It goes on to say that on judgement day, the excuse of "simply" adhering to family/social conventions will not be acceptable in the Divine Court.[ Q 7:172-173]

We also have the hadeeth in which the Prophet reportedly says " Every child is born upon the Fitrah." . This part of the hadeeth can be seen as Tafseer on the verses mentioned earlier. The hadeeth continues "His parents make him a Jew, a Christian, or a Zoroastrian." [Bukhari and Muslim]. So what do we learn?

[1] All humans possess, to use the language of tonight's program- that treasure, or at least they possess the potential to access that treasure.

[2] That treasure is bright, it is shiny and attractive, and is at its brightest in children, especially the very young. This fact is universally know, across religions and cultures. The Bible has it that Jesus says "You shall not enter heaven until you become like these little children." [Matt. 18:3]

Across human cultures, the statements and smiles of children are seen as reflecting an essential goodness and purity. Indeed, adults are often judged by other adults based upon their children's impressions. That is just a fact! In Islamic terminology, this is called Fitrah, the term highlighted in the hadeeth cited earlier.

Moreover, across human societies, crimes against children are seen as among the most horrible of crimes.


[3] Children are raised, influenced by their societies, to become adults with the thinking of that society or their surroundings. Thus, the import of the second part of the hadeeth "the parents make him a Jew, Christian or Zoroastrian".  This part of the hadeeth highlights  for us that treasure becoming lost or, to use another term, buried.


When the treasure gets buried, the consequences are profound. Faith in fellow man as well as faith in God weakens, if not totally dies! Ties between peoples become little more than business transactions. Trust is destroyed. A Vacuum is created, a hole is made. Some attempt to fill it by using drugs. Some turn to alcohol. Some will turn to other items. Others may seek to fill that hole by harming themselves, or others, even going to the route of committing suicide. Others still will turn to materialism as their god, or fill that hole in their own soul by seeking to dominate other human being, seeking after power and authority. They will often proclaim belief in empty, meaningless expressions. They make their lives' mission the acquisition of the biggest phones, the biggest cars. They risk becoming a people dedicated to nothing but indulgence.


Why tell us about the original acknowledgement?

After God says all of Adam's children recognize, in their own core, we are told

"Thus, do we [Allah] explain clearly the signs so that perhaps they will return " { Q 7:174]

وَكَذَلِكَ نُفَصِّلُ الآيَاتِ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ
This means that Allah has told us this in order that we may return to it. He has told us a treasure exists and has even given us a map.



Continuing with this analogy. By stages, we are taught how to read the map. Messengers of God come to give us tips, to instruct us as to its symbols. There is even a discipline that must be adhered to if we are going to read the map correctly.

The  role of ritual

All religions have the rituals of worship, fasting and prayer, in some sense or another. These concepts have survived the corruptions that have taken place over the countless generations. However, in Islam we have Al Kitaab Al Mubeen, The Clear Scripture and we also have the Straight Path. "All paths lead to God", the popular saying goes. However, the Islam of the Qur'an and Prophet Muhammad constitutes the straight path. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That is Islam. Islam is the path that gets you there quick.

We have prayer and fasting, but we also have a discipline. This is shown in what the religion says about pork. Yes, Allah created pigs, yet he also says we are not to consume them. God created grapes, yet he says we are not to consume wine. These are NOT petty injunctions. These are examples of the discipline needed to study that map and bring out the treasure which has been hidden for so long!

So all of the authentic teachings and rules of Islam are present for our benefit and welfare.


Can antiquity be our guide?

When we talk about guidance, we tend to look at the past. For Muslims of all shades and madhaahib, we will look to the time of the Prophet. For Christians, they will focus upon the person of Christ. In this practice, we are indirectly acknowledging that there are deficiencies in today's way of thinking.

There is truth in this, however we can also view this in another way. Our Recent past, as recently as our parents and grandparents, can likewise provide us with keys to unlocking that treasure. Our recent past includes people we admire in our family line or in our society. I am not talking about actors and politicians. I am talking about figures who were truly about what is right, especially those we saw personally and was able to access personally.

Think about what you admire and love within them. Perhaps they were hard working, courageous. People dedicated to prayer, overcoming serious problems. These positive things are also a source of guidance. After all, Allah does not make mistakes. He placed you in your family and in your unique set of circumstances as a foundation.


Contemporary mindset very evil

The prevalent mindset in today's world is directed by evil forces. In politics, social order, even in the imagery of religion. The prevalent mindset promotes violence, xenophobia, racism, enmity between communities, selfishness, distrust, greed and paranoia. It promotes individualism in an unhealthy way, making us easier prey. Moreover, the prevalent mindset is against education.

Education should give us knowledge as well as cultivation, to make us better people. But today there are moves that seek to go against making us better people, In short, the prevalent mindset seeks to lock us out of the treasure.


Be courageous

Don't be afraid to be "weird". The Muslim should particularly be "weird" in the sense that our thinking and mindset be directed by this religion more so than any other consideration.

"And whosoever obeys Allah and his Messengerr have already acheived a mighty acheivement.{ Q 33:71}
وَمَن يُطِعْ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَقَدْ فَازَ فَوْزًا عَظِيمًا
Every child is born upon the Fitrah

Children don't know fiqh or religious labels. They don't even care about that. They do, however, love. They share. They trust. They bring out things in adults. They worship without any urging from their parents.

Watch your toddlers put down a rug and make Sajdah. They do so with joy, and brings joy to the hearts of nearby adults.

The Prophet's grandchildren [Hasan and Husseein] used to climb on his blessed back when he was in Sajdah, and it has happened to us all. Even within the animal kingdom, at the Haram [Makkah, site of the Ka'bah], birds are always circling the Ka'bah [i.e. Tawaf] and never make any droppings on the pilgrims.

Children and animals both exists in a state which recognizes God. For children, the older they get the easier it gets to be taken into another direction, which is mentioned in the hadeeth.


Job of Parents

Parents have to strive to bring up their children right, and the children also push their parents in the right direction, having the correct attitude. The children can give us keys to the treasure, and even tips on how to read the map. When that map is read with the distractions of ego, anger, insecurity, past hurts and the like, you will go in the wrong direction.

So it's more than having a map or even the treasure. It has to be read correctly and the treasure has to be utilized correctly.

Qur'an

"So when you read the Qur'an, seek refuge with Allah from Satan, the rejected enemy." [ Q 16:98]

فَإِذَا قَرَأْتَ الْقُرْآنَ فَاسْتَعِذْ بِاللّهِ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ
We don;t just say 'Bismillah"! People can [and do] be horrible in the name of God. We have to say A 'oodhoo Bellaahee Minash shaytaanir Rajeem.

In a similar way, money cannot solve our problems unless we know how to use it!

As life goes on, the more knowledge and experience we get under our belt, the easier it should be to use that map and utilize the treasure. If we don't have the knowledge/experience, we have to follow those who do.

"So ask the people opf reminder, i.e. knowledge, if you don't know" { Qur'an 16:43, 21:7]
فَاسْأَلُواْ أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ
The guides can take us there, or at least show us where to look and what to zoom in upon.

Addressing our unique needs

All of us have some common needs, but there are needs that are unique. A person needing evidence that God exists is not the same as one needing to learn the details of the salaat. The first person is skeptical, while the other simply needs technical support.

Moreover, an astray person, in need of guidance, yet attempts to always argue with the guide or put on a show for the guide, that person needs hidaayah the most, and if the guide cannot deal with them, it is to the loss of that astray person.

In the Seerah literature, we have a report which states that a man came to the Prophet [peace and blessings of Allah be upon him]  complaining that he [the Prophet] was  not giving out wealth correctly. The man said to the Prophet "Fear Allah, O Muhammad" [as the exact wording says Faqaala "AttaqqiLLaah, Yaa Muhammad"].

The man didn't even call him "Prophet or Messenger" . He says "Muhammad". The Prophet responded "who is more in obedience to God that me, who is more trustworthy than me?" [Bukhari and Muslim].

The hadeeth says the man walked away. That man, tradition says, is the progenitor of the Khawaarij [Kharijites], the first terrorists group in the Muslim communitty. This emerged in Iraq, where ISIS has likewise, also emerged.

So when the guides are marginalized or ignored due to ego, the consequences can be devastating, both physically and spiritually.

The same hadeeth goes on to talk about a people who recite the Qur'an, but it doesn't go beyond their throats. They leave the religion the way an arrow leaves the bow when shot out [thus, the name Khawaarij, from the root kharaja 'he left']

While we see this hadeeth as predicting a political rebellion, this can also be seen in a spiritual sense. God knows what he's doing. He sent prophets and guides as well. He sent guidance. He sent a map. So don't underestimate the guide. Let him help you, and you help him,

Let us use the map, let us access the treasure for our benefit, and whatever level we are at now. May Alllah be our protector and guide.