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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Finding Guidance in a world of Confusion



[Note: This is an edited version of our presentation at the monthly spirituality session at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam. Initially this was to be shared on video, but the recording failed half way into the presentation.]

When looking at life today, we find that almost everything is in a state of chaos, instability is the new normal. Attitudes, morals, public policies, all of them are up for grabs. "Facts" or values upheld as recently as fifty years ago are not under review worldwide.  In the religious world, this is also a problem, and confusion abounds. It can be argued that this is a greater problem for Christians than for any other religious community. Thus, under the slogans of Love, Forgiveness and Acceptance, support for everything under the sun is given, and religion ends up becoming nothing more than a label, a uniform  put on during the holidays, making religion a thing that has lost all value. Thus, we have here the basic foundation of confusion, translating into becoming lost, misguided and easily manipulated.

Allah [God, the most high] says in the Qur'an


If you obey most of those in the land, they will mislead you from the path of Allah. They [themselves] follow conjecture [Dhann], and are themselves nothing but a presumptuous lot." [Q 6:116]
6:116

We have two important phrases in this ayah. Dhann [conjecture] and yakhrusoon [root being kharasa], the latter carries, among its meanings, to have or to follow opinions without proof. It can also mean lying. So, giving obedience to lies.

Therefore, to be prepared to receive guidance, there has to be a willingness to pursue what is right. That means thinking deeply. Pondering, study, research. Guidance is NOT dictated by emotions, nor by the whims of the majority. Sociologists have long warned us of a mob mentality. The mob mentality manifests itself in obvious terms when a group of people assault or even kill a single person, but having or following the mob mentality is something preached to us on a daily basis through Television, Music, Movies, Politicians and even Social Media.  We have to be willing to accept that guidance may not always be seen or recognized by a majority.

Indeed, the Qur'an often tells us that those rejecting the Prophets of God would do so under the banner of following family or societal traditions [ among some examples, see Q 5:104 and 2:170].

Returning to conjecture, Dhann in Arabic, we also read in the Qur'an
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ
O Believers. avoid much conjecture, verily, sometimes conjecture is sinful. [Q 49:12].So we learn from this statement that conjecture, be it about religion or even other human beings, can be harmful. Islamophobes have fears based on conjecture. Thus, to many, a women wearing a head scarf is automatically oppressed, even if she's college educated. 

So strive hard to find truth, rather than having assumptions, because that is the gateway to receiving correct information.


Some other practical steps


Don't be lazy Muslims. Be connected to the Qur'an, consult it often. Use its verses in your prayers, have a stronger tie to it than you have to your favorite Television shows, Football teams and the like.


Be connected to people of knowledge, and to the Muslim community.


Don't let egos, jealousy, get in the way of your spiritual progression. A good practice is the regular recitation of the last two Quranic chapters [Al Falaq and An-Naas] because it can serve as a sort of spiritual protection, from other's bad intentions but also from developing those bad characteristics in one's own self.


In Islam, when we pray in congregation [Jamaa'ah] we do so standing closely to one another. The Imam is reciting texts [from  the Qur'an] that are universally accessible. The praying with others can create bonds that will overcome those bad characteristics, and it creates humility. 


In prayer, we say with every movement Allahu Akbar, God is the greatest, meaning God is bigger or more important than anything else. We proclaim his might and power in the bowing and prostrations. The Black and the White, the rich or poor, all are taught to proclaim the Divine power and thus, the fact we cannot be compared to him. We belong to God, to him is our return, and even our religion is to be for him! 



What about the actions of others?


If we are capable, we should always share whatever the truth is, especially on religious matters, but we can't force it on people. 


وَمَا جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَيْهِمْ حَفِيظًا وَمَا أَنتَ عَلَيْهِم بِوَكِيلٍ

"And We have not made you [O Muhammad] a keeper over them, nor have you been made in charge of their affairs. [6:107]

So if we have tools for others to use in their search for guidance, we do share them freely. The doctor can write the prescription, but in the end, it is the patient's responsibility to take the medicine as prescribed.

Guidance does not require force.

Personal guidance vs communal enlightenment

For me, I am a Muslim who is firmly convinced that Islam is the perfected manifestation of the Divine Truth. I am willing to share its teachings on God-concept, spirituality, prophetic history and narrative.

But there's more to this. As a species, humans need guidance too, and that guidance is present within Islam.Guidance that all humans can benefit from, even disbelievers. Islamic teachings on economy, on race, on nationalism, ethical code, family, all of these [ and more] are required for life in today's world. These teachings need to be studied and applied in a comprehensive way. That application will be the best type of propagating, and will provide a worldly salvation for mankind.






Sunday, February 15, 2015

The relationship between the Qur'an and Hadeeth



Introduction  



Even a cursory look at the Qur'an will show that the Muslim is asked to follow Allah and the Messenger. "And obey Allah, and obey the Messenger"is an oft repeated statement. One verse says that obedience to the Messenger is equivalent to obedience of God. [ Q 4:80].

The logic behind this is quite simple, Muhammad, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, was the final Prophet. He is also a Rasool that is sent for the benefit of humanity. He served as God's representative on Earth. [Q 33:40, 7:157]

While the Messenger of God was alive, the method of obedience went without question. He was there, if questioned he could give the answer, if he says something needs to be done, the believers were obligated to do it. How can these commands be obeyed after the Prophet's death?

Birth of the Hadeeth

That the Prophet's statements, actions and that which he sanctioned [ Aqwaal, Fi'l, Taqreer] would become a source of law and reference is quite natural being that he was representing the Divine. Upon the Prophet's passing, the Muslims expanded, going into new areas. Many of the companions of the Prophet [Sahaabah, Radee Allahu 'anhum], likewise, moved to those areas, finding themselves [due to various reasons] in places as diverse as Iraq, Syria, Arabia, and Egypt. Wherever they went,they took their memories of Rasoolullaah with them. They would teach students.

Inevitably, sayings on all sorts of issues, serious and mundane, entered the public sphere attributed to the Prophet, upon whom be peace.  This situation led scholars of hadeeth to form methodologies to ascertain as much as possible what was indeed authentic. This is the summary of the science of 'Ilm ar Rijaal, which focused on the lives and character of the narrators, the chain of transmitters linking the particular assertion to the Prophet.

As an example of the diligence the Hadeeth scholars went through, it is said that Imam Muslim [ d. 875 C.E.], the compiler of the collection known as Saheeh Muslim, examined 300, 000 reports, but only included 4,000 in his collection, excluding repetitions.


Hadeeth methodology is important, but not perfect

The flaws in making character judgments on people in the chain of transmitters and in evaluating the authenticity of a particular report [matn] are obvious. The classifications such as weak [Da'eef],Mawdoo' [false], Hasan [Good], Saheeh [authentic] etc  that entered this science are attempts to deal with this situation, but no authorities has ever said that the processes are error free.

The fact that we have different Hadeeth collections is an indicator of this, Imam Muslim would accept a narration not found in Imam Bukhari's collection, and vice versa. Indeed, the phrase Muttafaqun 'alayh, found in many anthologies, shows when a particular report is accepted by both Hadeeth Imams.

In the Sunni tradition, Bukhari and Muslim's collections are considered the most authentic and respected, although other collections do exist and are likewise consulted. This is also an indicator of the freedom of intellect that existed in those days.

Qur'an alone?

In recent years, we have seen a rise of a trend to reject Hadeeth altogether, to form an Islam that does not use hadeeth at all as a point of reference. This trend has been widely viewed by the scholars with suspicion, many scholars actually making Takfeer on what they call "Hadeeth rejectors"[Munkar-e- Hadeeth in Urdu], declaring them totally out of the pale of Islam. This trend has emerged due to a number of factors, among them are the fact that some narrations attributed to the Prophet are highly questionable both ethically and scientifically
.

I think this trend to have a "Qur'an only" [or "Quranite"]  Islam, while sounding  attractive, creates more problems than it solves. Indeed, among the Qur'an alone supporters  one finds strange divisions and a rather incoherent philosophy. There are Quranites who argue that there is no obligation for prayer in the Qur'an, that the Qur'an actually allows alcohol, and a host of other things that, should the wide majority adopt, would actually make Islam meaningless.


Qur'an and Hadeeth together?

The trend to treat Hadeeth as equal in value and authenticity to the Qur'an is also dangerous. The Qur'an exists as a living document for the scholar and the lay person to consult. It has been in continuous usage since its revelation, and, most importantly, it has been declared by Allah to be under his protection [Q 15:9].

Moreover, many things are said in our nations and mosques by persons here or there as "Sunnah" but are actually not Sunnah at all. People have a tendency, especially in the world of religion, to say things, to quote things without actually knowing for certain its source.The listener [and often the speaker] doesn't have the resources or the ability to ascertain the truth of the alleged 'hadeeth'.

For the people of knowledge, the teachers and the sincere workers of the Islamic religion, they must study both the Qur'an and Hadeeth. They must delve into the world of texts, studying its intricate details from the disciplines in which they have strength. I must say here I have great respect for Nouman Ali Khan, head of Bayyinah institute, famous for his delivery of the Quranic message, when he recognizes his weaknesses. He will not answer questions on Hadeeth or Fiqh, because- as he says- that's not his field. He sees himself as still a student of those fields, and doesn't wish to visit his own confusions onto his audiences.


For lay people

For Non scholars, I actually don't recommend study of the hadeeth literature, at least not all the volumes of Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhee and the other collections. These volumes are for the scholars, not the average people. A doctor is a doctor, he may read and study books on medicine from time to time because that's his job. That's his field. A novice simply looking up something and making a judgement may be doing more harm than good. The information may be outdated, it may be incorrect, it may need to be applied in some other context unknowingly omitted, and on and on.

The great scholars and spiritual masters in our tradition have recognized this. Thus, they compiled anthologies containing statements, guidance that all could use and benefit from. Among them are those which we highly recommend, such as Forty Hadeeth [compiled by Imam An Nawawi, d. 1277 C.E.], Riyadhus Saaliheen, also compiled by Imam Nawawi, Bukhari's book of morals and manners.

The Prophetic Sunnah is well-known, and is highlighted throughout the Qur'an itself [Ft.1]. The details of his life are accessible for all. I highly recommend The Life of Muhammad by Muhammad Husayn Haykal.


Footnote

[1] This is elaborated a bit more in "Muhammad: The Prophet of Islam. http://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2012/02/muhammad-prophet-of-islam-dispelling.html

Developing an approach for leaders within Western Muslim communities: focusing on knowledge

In the Muslim world, the job of the Imam or Shaykh is usually well defined and of a limited scope. He leads daily prayers in a mosque, teaches Qur'an and Hadeeth, and delivers lectures from time to time. For scholars of greater knowledge and fame, their roles are more than likely be confined to traditional academia, teaching everything from Sarf to Usool ul Fiqh.

In the Western context however, it's a very different experience. The Imam may do all of the above, or parts of the above, but is also the marriage counselor, visiting the shut-ins and the dying, the translator and even the janitor. He is a politician, a media consultant, and more.


Moreover, while an Imam from anywhere in the Muslim world is used to a homogeneous audience, sharing the same culture, worldview, experiences and the like, the Imam in a Western nation faces an extremely different situation. Muslims in the West are from a variety of ethnic, sectarian, madh-habi, cultural and educational backgrounds,  Add to this those accepting Islam from a completely Western pedigree!

Therefore, we would like to share some points of advice, relevant to Imams but also the governing bodies of Islamic Centers. The advice centers mainly around education. By "education", we mean more than a degree. We mean keeping that knowledge fresh, continued reading on these subjects and introspection.


Items needed for a Western Imam

[1] Deep knowledge of all the Fiqhi and 'Aqeedah trends within the Muslim Ummah

In the USA you will find Muslims from all areas of the world but also all over the map in terms of their Fiqh, their theological stances, and the like. There should be unity as much as possible among Muslims, and their particular Madhhabi practice[s] should not deter from that. "And hold fast to the rope of Allah, and do not be divided..", says the Qur'an [ Q 3:103].

The Imam can have his choice of Fiqh, to follow what he feels is correct, and he can even explain that choice to the community, but he must always be prepared to see others with slightly different practices and to avoid isolating anyone because of their particular practice.

We would kindly suggest to all Imams, regardless of what particular trend they follow, to be open to study of all the Madhhabs, 'Aqeedah differences, within the Muslim community.

[2] Other faith traditions

Obviously Judeo-Christian norms are the religious base for most Western cultures. Moreover, since Islam is widely seen as the third in that series of monotheistic religions, it's imperative that the Imam know about Judaism, Christianity and their scriptures, history, impact in local affairs, and the like. If the Imam is not strong in this area, he should never answer queries centered around it. "Answering" questions when in fact one is ignorant of the subject will only make the one answering look foolish, and it makes the Mosque/ Islam itself look bad.

A personal anecdotal story, I brought a Catholic to a mosque for a lecture, the lecturer decided to speak on the Islamic view of the crucifixion. The speaker went on a rant for one hour, making factually incorrect statements, insulting Christianity and Christians in the most ignorant fashion. Obviously it did not make a good impression.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but we should not pretend to know if we truly don't.

Conclusion

We live in a world where it is so much easier to obtain knowledge, or at least glimpses on this or that subject. Admittedly Google searches and the like has its strengths and weaknesses, even the study of books can have its limitations, but we should be open, especially if we are going to be speaking to people on faith issues on a regular basis. In addition to religious, cultural and historical knowledge, it's a good idea to become acquainted with counseling techniques, social sciences, take a speech class, seek to understand the local surroundings, the music, and so forth.

This not only makes the speaker a better speaker, it enriches the speaker. The Imam grows spiritually, he grows in Wisdom, as a result of these efforts.

Wa Billaahit Tawfeeq.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Free speech and sensitivities: some thoughts

In the hours following the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, debates were ignited as to the limitations on speech. Catch phrases were inserted throughout the world media discourse such as "freedom of speech" "Human rights" "democratic values". As if on a pre-arranged schedule, videos emerged in which Al-Qa'eda's Yemeni branch took credit. In addition to this, oddly enough, one of the attackers in the Paris fiasco did a video in which he declared his loyalty to ISIS [ft.1].

From the wider Muslim world, we saw condemnations of the attacks as well as Muslims marching to protest the initial caricatures of the Prophet in the first place. In Grozny, Chechnya, for example, there was a reported 800,000 Muslim protestors condemning the rather crude, distasteful cartoons.

There is a polarization taking place, it has been happening for a long time now. Radicals on all sides of any issue are the ones which get the media attention and it is they who are, unfortunately, defining the parameters of the argument. Nuances are lost, distortions and emotional outbursts are what's prevalent in the public discourse.

Flagrant hypocrisy

Making fun of Muslims and their Prophet [Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings] in the name of free speech is very hypocritical, especially when one considers that holocaust denial in EU nations [and other places] is a crime, even to dispute the official numbers of the victims is deemed offensive and worthy of prosecution. [ft.2]

These cartoons were clearly designed to provoke responses, inflame the Muslim street. Perhaps there are more sinister hands at play here, seeking to create controlled chaos, in order to achieve short and long term political goals.[ft.3]

So just how should Muslims respond?

The Qur'an tells us that the Prophet was insulted, and it even records some of those insults, but it says that a Muslim should simply leave the company of the mockers until they return to their senses [Q 4:140].  It also states that Muslims should respond with 'peace' when confronted by ignorant people [Q 25:63]. Indeed, the Qur'an even instructs Muslims in their behavior with Non believers, telling us not to even ridicule idols, because that may enrage the idolaters when there is no need to do so. [Q 6:108]

The Muslims have to realize that not  every insult deserves a response. Frankly, this was one of those times. Any sensible reader would look at the cartoons and take away from that a disgust with the publishers, as it was all in bad taste and beyond civilized behavior.

Moreover, the 'Ulamaa [Muslim scholars], whom we are told in tradition act as the inheritors of the Prophets, have a responsibility to engage in education and outreach. This is especially true in Western nations. Mosques should arrange tours, open houses, speeches and presentations in the wider society, in venues such as universities, Churches, and the like. The Muslim scholars should submit articles to local and international newspapers on Islamic teachings, on the life of the Prophet, and other issues.  If the media won't publish their articles, write letters. One is bound to be published. In addition, Muslims should show their faces, get themselves involved in local communities, with like-minded Non Muslims who have interest in issues relating to social justice, reconciling parties, and so forth. Religion is more than theological truisms, it is something that creates positive energies in the wider society.

The common Muslim should display the highest standards of conduct, and if unable to answer questions on the faith, direct the questioners to correct sources. These responses, while admittedly humble, will go a long way. It is also in line with the broad message of the Qur'an and Prophetic Sunnah.

Footnotes

[1] There is great irony here, because ISIS and Al-Qa'eda are foes. This tidbit makes us question the whole scenario.

[2] For more on Holocaust denial laws, see a summary http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_against_Holocaust_denial

[3] I shared a similar thought when the "Innocence of Muslims" was released. See http://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2012/09/defending-prophet-methodology-of-quran.html

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Selected prayers [Du'aa] from the Qur'an and Hadeeth: Text, translation, and spiritual reflections

Most of us have favorite or preferred things, and that includes Soorahs from the Qur'an. Here, I want to share some du'as that are among my favorite, that I make often.


رَبَّنَا آتِنَا فِي الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةً وَفِي الآخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً وَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ

Our Rabb! Bestow on us the good of this life, the good of the hereafter, and protect us from the punishment of the fire. Q 2:201

This Du'a is a demonstration of the balance we are to have in life. Some people are fixated on the hereafter, wanting to attain heaven to the point of neglecting any connection or responsibilities in this world. That particular trend is itself addressed elsewhere in the Qur'an. A clear example is " And seek with that Allah has given you the home of the hereafter, yet do not forget your portion of the worldly life[dunya].." [Q 28:77]. 

Practicing Muslims will recall that this supplication is oft recited during the Jumu'ah prayers. It is also recited when invoking Allah during Tawaaf [circuling the Ka'bah] at Hajj.

The Qur'an and Hadeeth both deliver to us definitions as to what constitutes what we should view as good or a blessing. Meaning, what exactly should we seek. It can be argued that Al-Faatihah itself tells us what we should seek, but for the moment let us refer to a supplication that the Messenger of Allah [Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings] would make atleast twice daily . [Ft.#1]

"O Allah, I ask of you [1] Useful knowledge [2] A provision that is lawful and wholesome [Rizqan Halaalal Tayyiban] [3] Deeds that  are acceptable [to you, O Allah], by your mercy, O You who are the Most merciful of those who bestow mercy."

It's the second part of the above supplication we are concerned with here, although the whole of the Prophet's Du'a is worth examination. We are to seek that which is wholesome, that which will bring elements that will add to happiness and security. It's not enough to have a job, we are to want jobs that involve that which is lawful in God's sight. It's that job, that activity in this life that also counts for what we are to get in the next life. We abandon neither Dunya nor Aakhirah. We seek both. 

This is illustrated in the next supplication, which is another personal favorite. 


رَبَّنَا هَبْ لَنَا مِنْ أَزْوَاجِنَا وَذُرِّيَّاتِنَا قُرَّةَ أَعْيُنٍ وَاجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا

Our Lord, bestow on us wives and children which will comfort our eyes, and make us leaders for those who have reverence for you. [Q 25:74]
A part of life that's very important is the family life. Men want women and women want men, and the family that comes forth from such relationships, but they are to seek that which will be true joy in life. I emphasis this here because we live in times when family ties are widely broken. The end of the above Du'a is that that family unit be examples in Taqwaa. Parents are to teach their children and the children are to listen to them. That teaching comes in words, but most importantly in actions and attitudes. [ft.2]

 رَبَّنَا لاَ تُزِغْ قُلُوبَنَا بَعْدَ إِذْ هَدَيْتَنَا وَهَبْ لَنَا مِن لَّدُنكَ رَحْمَةً إِنَّكَ أَنتَ الْوَهَّابُ
 رَبَّنَا إِنَّكَ جَامِعُ النَّاسِ لِيَوْمٍ لاَّ رَيْبَ فِيهِ إِنَّ اللّهَ لاَ يُخْلِفُ الْمِيعَادَ

Our Lord, do not make our hearts deviate after having been guided, bestow on us, from you, mercy, Verily,you are the bestower. Our Lord, Indeed you are the one who will gather all people on a day in which there is no doubt. Verily, Allah does not fail in his promise. [Q 3:8-9]

In the Qur'an these supplications are side by side. Guidance is truly there when we are cognizant of Qiyaamah, that period when all will publicly stand before God in facing judgement. We are reminded of this daily when we recite Al-Faatihah in our prayers. The last sentence of the last verse above in Arabic is Inn Allaha Laa Yukhliful Mee'aad. It's a powerful sentiment in Arabic, hard to convey well in translation, so I will just explain the word "Laa". In daily language, it simply means "No". However, in Arabic we have many particles of negation, the "Laa" is a continuous negation. Thus, we have here, simply put, that Allah has never and will never break or abandon his promise. He says clearly that Qiyaamah will come. He says clearly that judgement day will come. Not as an allegory, but as a real event in history. So, we prepare for that by praying, that invoking and seeking God, and striving to live in an ethical and moral fashion.

Say: verily, my prayer, devotional acts, my life and death are all for Allah, the Lord of the Universe [Q 6: 162]
 

 

This appears in a rather beautiful section of the Qur'an, but we are focused on this part of the supplication. This sentence is the summary of the Deeni message, that our existence be served in the best of causes. This does not mean one becomes a saint or a monk, but it does mean having this awareness of God that is so profound that it develops a person into a Muttaqi personality. It should be noted that this Du'a is, for many people, part of the opening texts recited in the beginning of Salaah [i.e. the Istiftaah] and is said to be from the Prophet's own practice. 

 

اللَّهُمَّ أَنْتَ رَبِّي لّا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ


خَلَقْتَنِي وَأَنَا عَبْدُكَ،


وَأَنَا عَلَى عَهْدِكَ وَوَعْدِكَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتَ،


أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ شَرِّ مَا صَنَعْتَ،


أَبُوءُ لَكَ بِنِعْمَتِكَ


  .عَلَيَّ، وَأَبُوءُ بِذَنْبِي فَاغْفِر لِي فَإِنَّهُ لَا يَغْفِرُ  الذُّنُوبَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ”


 
 This is popularly known as the master of prayers said to seek forgiveness, or Sayyidul Istighfaar. The Prophet himself   صلى الله عليه وسلم
 taught this supplication, according to Saheeh Al-Bukhari [75:318] . It's translation is:


O Allah, you are my Lord, none deserves worship except you. You created me, and I am your servant, faithful to my promises and covenant to you as much as to my capacity. I seek refuge with you from all the evil I have done, I acknowledge all the blessings you have bestowed on me, and seek forgiveness from your for my sin, as none can forgive my sins except you."

What I love about this du'a is that in it you say, to God "I am faithful as much as i can". Meaning, the supplicant is not perfect. He or she does the best they can. When one seeks forgiveness from Allah, that person is also engaging in an attempt at self-forgiveness, so the Prophet's words that make this Du'a are also instructive, in a way, saying "calm down, everything is going to be fine."

Self-forgiveness is often harder to obtain than Divine forgiveness, so making this supplication often can convey to the human being that fact and, consequently, allow that person to get out of depression and self-loathing.

Footnotes

[1] The Prophet Muhammad's practice was to recite this supplication at Fajr [dawn] and Maghrib [sunset] time, the traditional beginning and end of the workday. 

[2] Here I acknowledge Imam Farooq AbouelZahab, who, in a recent lecture at our mosque, pointed out the context of this supplication. By going to 25:63, we see that humbleness is the beginning characteristic needed for a believer, along with other ethics mentioned all the way till verse 74. Meaning, those prerequisites are needed before that Du'a can be answered in a positive way. 


 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Towards applying the Qur'an: examining Soorah al Hujuraat in lighty of contemporary problems

Introduction

What initially began as a Friday Khutbah [speech] at the Mosque, delivered in the wake of the Ferguson Grand Jury decision {Ft.1} has now turned into an examination of An important Quranic chapter. Can it give some light as to how we see things and how our reactions should be? Can it speak on the American social climate that produces these sort of problems? Please note that this post does not proclaim to uncover the truth regarding this particular tragedy, but I do acknowledge that one thing which is painfully obvious is that feelings of marginalization and outright oppression are widely felt by people of color. {ft.2]

The Qur'an, as a field of intellectual examination, is fascinating. It is comparable to a puzzle, the pieces have to be put together in order for the full picture to be seen. Moreover, understanding can change, or at least deepen, when confronted with new knowledge or sets of life-experiences {Ft.3]. With regards to this particular Soorah, our literature states that it was revealed initially to respond to a rather minor incident that displayed crass, inconsiderate behavior, on the part of a people the Qur'an says were "not thinking" [Ft.4]. This text goes on to weave a compelling tapestry, connecting several issues that may seem unrelated, but upon contemplation, those connections become real and important. [Ft.5]

Having a correct foundation

O Believers! Do not place yourselves before Allah and his messenger, rather, have Taqwaa of Allah, Surely, Allah is Hearer, knower.[ Q 49:1]. O believers! Do not elevate your voices above the voice of the Prophet, do not be loud with him in speech, nor treat his speech as the speech of others, lest your deeds become nullified while you are not perceptive.[Q 49:2]
As humans, we are to surrender to the Divine decrees. The Divine arrangements are to be superior to other thoughts. To go against the Divine Order, especially in public, can render good deeds null and void. So having a sense of being cautious about God's decrees [i.e. Taqwaa] is a quality that should be present in public and private. A system based on real justice, should be on display and felt by all, regardless of the racial, religious, economic or educational level of the public. In short, a correct foundation.

Processing information

  O believers! When a "Faasiq" [an immoral person who breaks the normal rules of behavior] comes with any information, investigate it, lest you bring harm to a people unknowingly and become regretful afterwards." [Al-Qur'an 49:6]

We are not told to reject information, we are told to investigate, to find out by the means at our disposal what is true and what is false, especially during times of strive. Responses to situations should be based on facts, not fiction.


That information may be based on misconceptions

O ye who believe! Let not a folk deride a folk who may be better than they (are), nor let women (deride) women who may be better than they are; neither defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames. Bad is the name of lewdness after faith. And whoso turneth not in repentance, such are evil-doers. [ Q 49:11, Muhammad Pickthall translation]

Putting it into modern language, we are to not stereotype, nor dehumanize people. Popular media, especially the entertainment industry, have been doing this to people of color for decades. If we read this in connection with 49:6 mentioned above, we find that those who perpetuate stereotypes do so for political gains, and are themselves criminals of sorts. We should not fall for their deceptions. Each and every single human has unique qualities and to label them or dismiss them in an over-simplistic fashion is to ignore the nuances, thus committing injustices. 

How are falsehoods spread?

 
O believers, [1] Do not engage in much conjecture, verily, conjecture is sometimes sinful. [2] Do not spy on one another,[3] Do not backbite on one another, would you like to eat the meat of your dead brother? Nay, you would hate this. Have Taqwaa of Allah, verily, Allah is Oft-Returning, Compassionate.[ Q 49:12]

These commands have societal applications, and should not be restricted to personal ethics. Conjecture, speculation, usually spread by backbiting, is dangerous. In addition to this, we are told not to spy. That is an issue with several different implications, but our point here is that even in civil strife, there should be some limits that are not crossed. "Spying" in this sense goes beyond reasonable discourse. Look at the Ferguson case. The criminal activities of  Police officer Darren \Wilson's deceased mother has now been brought into the public debate. [ see  http://financialjuneteenth.com/officer-darren-wilsons-mother-robbed-people-out-of-hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars/] . What does that have to do with the case at all?  Indeed, in Cleveland, Ohio we saw a similar situation. 12 yr old Tamir Rice was killed by police, yet some media brought out that his father has a criminal record! What does that have to do with the fact that a twelve year old boy was killed by police? [ see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/26/tamir-rice-father_n_6227312.html].

So falsehoods and conjectures are spread about by spying, dirt digging, in an attempt to paint a particular image, bent on, essentially, destruction. That sort of action should never enter the public discourse.

Do not stereotype, because God made us all to carry and embody differences

"O Humanity! Verily We [God] have created you from a single male and female, made you into peoples and groupings for the purpose of learning from one another. Verily, in Allah's sight the most honorable are those with the highest amount of Taqwaa in your midst. Verily, Allah is the Knowing, the Aware." [Q 49:13]

Tall, short, dark, pale skin complexion, and all in between, have been made by God. To stereotype, spread false impressions in order to benefit politically, is immoral. It is rebellion against the Divine Imperatives.

Stereotyping even occurs within the same community. In a Muslim context, Non-Hijabis stereotype Hijabis. A brother with a beard sees his beardless counterpart as shameful, the beardless one sees his bearded friend as a radical, someone not wearing a tie is uneducated, and on and on. God says he made us all different, and those differences exist for a reason. In truth there is great benefit in having differences. A style of dressing gets embellished and transformed by others, same with music, food, philosophy, etc. This is the Divine plan!

To any who thinks that there is something wrong with this, We are told a response.

"Say: will you teach God your Deen?" [ Q 49:16]. Are you going to tell God or teach God how to improve on the creation? The verse continues "...Yet, God knows what is in the heavens and the Earth, and is knowledgeable of all things." [ 49:16]

If all humans were to live by this one Soorah, there would truly be peace and harmony on this Earth. Let us work towards creating that world, where false stereotypes are eliminated by human interactions, discussion, education and travel. Those who perpetuate false stereotyping and fear mongering should be seen as the criminals they truly are, and not heeded in the least.

Footnotes

[1] On Nov. 24, 2014, a Ferguson Grand Jury declined to press charges against Police officer Darren Wilson in the death of 18 yr old Michael Brown. The decision led to protests and some rioting.

[2] Protests were seen not only in Ferguson, Missouri, but nationwide.

[3] See, for example, The Bible, The Qur'an and Science, The Holy Scriptures examined in the light of Modern Knowledge by Maurice Bucaille [2009, A.S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia]

[4] Qur'an 49:4. For the story said to surround the revelation of this Soorah, see  http://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2013/07/towards-healthy-spiritual-life.html]

[5] There are many examples of this. One example I recommend reading is the whole of Soorah An Noor [Chapter 24], it discusses subjects such as manners, dress, marriage and more, and connects all of it with the Divine light, as given in 24:35.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thoughts on "Post-Racial" American society

As I write these few words, the entire nation is debating. The Grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri decision not to press charges in the death of Michael Brown, who was killed in an encounter [the details of which are highly disputed, but the outcome obviously undeniable] with a local police officer named Darren Wilson  has ignited not only protests, but it has even come down to rioting and looting. Certainly criminal elements always emerge in these type of situations, taking advantage of the atmosphere to create anarchy and steal [after all, the Brown's family church as well as places such as an  AUTOZONE store  were destroyed [ see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2849736/Church-attended-Michael-Brown-s-family-destroyed-Monday-night-s-protests.html ].

Yet, this has been felt nationwide. Protests are taking place all across the USA. President Obama has made comments on it. On the INTERNET, we can find solidarity rallies and tweets from people worldwide. If we are such a 'post-racial' society, why is it that these things are happening?

While it is quite encouraging to see Non Blacks protesting alongside African-Americans nationwide, it's obvious that problems still exist. Quite frankly, it goes beyond this one man's death. As I see it, these problems can be summarized in the following fashion [1] A perception that Blacks and other minorities are simply criminals at nature, an image that has been sustained for decades by the entertainment industry.  [2] An increasingly alarming trend nationwide on the part of Law enforcement to use deadly force and ask questions later. [3] Community and family ties are not as strong as in the past.

This brief post cannot cover everything. In essence, this is simply a rant. But it's a rant that searches for solutions. While protests certainly generate media attention, what happens when the media goes to another story? It's certainly true that burning stores in one's own community will not bring any healthy solutions, but what can be done, practically, to prevent things like this from happening again?

I tend to think solutions include, but are not limited to [1] Deeper and stronger community ties. These ties have to cut across racial, religious, and class ties. Poverty is not some moral disease, thus poor people should not be ignored. The type of society that used to exist must be revived, wherein people know each other, neighbors look out for each other, who will address crime in their own neighborhoods and families. How can that be done? By family involvement in the lives of the youth. This should not be taken as blaming the victim [in this case, Michael Brown], but in addition to cleaning up our own neighborhoods, it would also limit our contact with situations in which police would potentially get involved. [2] There has to be a removal of stereotypes. This is easier said than done, but in all honesty, because of how we have been socialized, Blacks are quicker to be seen as dangerous than Whites! [3] On the part of law enforcement, obviously in the Ferguson context, there will have to be seen more and more Blacks and other minorities added to the police force.


Just some thoughts..