Monday, October 27, 2014

How to learn: forming a learning methodology on important subjects

In a world where technology is ever-evolving and becoming more accessible to the masses, we find that opinions, teachings, beliefs and perspectives on countless subjects are reaching more and more audiences. This can be both a blessing and a curse, in the sense that while information is available at almost no financial cost, the variety of contents can bring forth confusion and lead to greater problems. In this regards, I am reminded of the Prophetic prayer, which the Messenger of Allah used to say at least twice daily, a portion of which reads "O Allah, I seek from you useful knowledge." [Allahumma innee as-alooka 'Ilmaan Naafi'aan].  

Another issue which exists, both inside and outside of academia, is the method of learning. How we attain our knowledge, from what avenues, and of course what we do with it. Self-learning can be an enriching exercise, but in some respects it can also be damaging, largely depending on what the subject is. So, while learning how to cook by personal experiment, reading recipes online and the like usually results in the learner developing his own tastes and preferences, with language it can be very damaging. One rather comical example is a British blogger, a Non Muslim, who constantly posts on Islam. His YOUTUBE account has thousands of followers, each video having hundreds of comments, in which he will speak on obscure and complicated subjects such as "Is the Qur'an created?" and urge any Muslim listeners to revive the Mu'tazilite positions [Ft.#1], he will argue that the Qur'an "actually" says such and such. He does these videos from his bedroom, in which you will see on his bookshelf books such as Muhammad Asad's translation [The Message of the Qur'an] and A manual of Hadith, a collection of Prophetic narrations compiled and explained by the prolific writer Maulana Muhammad Ali, he will even curse at Muslims for not understanding their faith, yet he himself cannot even pronounce the word Hadeeth [ft.2]! Reading a couple of books does not make the reader an expert on the subject, ready to teach.

Forming a learning style [Example: Language]

I think this depends largely on the subject one is attempting to know, and on what you want to gain out of it. If we are speaking about language, I am of the view that language cannot be self-taught, even with the best books and the aid of computer programs. Language[s] are to be learned from others, both inside and outside the classroom. Language is a subject one learns by immersion in the places where it is spoken, by asking and learning from one's mistakes. Television and cultural expressions such as music and poetry, classical literature, are all very useful in this regards too, but the main thing is to learn from other human beings who themselves are qualified to convey the information. Both inside and outside the lecture hall, recording the words and the explanations are helpful, as well as having notebooks ready to write down information. Retaining that information by reading, writing, speaking, in that language will keep the knowledge relevant.

What about religious texts?

Obviously, for Muslims the most important religious text is the Qur'an. It is seen as God's own words, sent down slowly to the Prophet Muhammad, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam. The fact that it came slowly to him, over a period of twenty-three years, should be an evidence that we should likewise, take it slowly. The Qur'an's best explanation is the text itself, often the answer to a query is found in another spot in the text. It should also be read in a regular way, recited inside and outside of prayer. It's reading, for the serious reader, should be done as an act of worship but can also be done as a means for research, which would require taking notes, having access to an index, and, at minimum, knowing how to read Arabic. The last clause is important for these main reasons [1] To recite the Qur'an in prayer, in the way it was revealed. [2] Translations don't do justice to the depth, power and rhythm of the original Arabic text [3] Knowing at least how to read will open the doorway to using other tools that would be useful in attaining Quranic knowledge such as Arabic dictionaries, lexicons, and books of  classical Quranic commentary [Tafseer], which are written obviously in Arabic. I recommend having notebooks that are dedicated only to the Qur'an, to write down observations and quotes, and to also have, if necessary, written down therein any useful observations you find on the text from outside sources [Hadeeth literature, history, language, etc.].

This method could also be useful with non Islamic texts such as the Bible as well as the Hadeeth literature within the Islamic tradition. All of this takes patience, faith, an open mind, and discarding a fast food approach. It's a good idea to take classes regularly on texts of the Qur'an and hadeeth, even if the teacher is not from your sect, so long as you find him qualified at the least. Attending study circles [Halaqaat] with others, praying and fasting are useful too. I have found that reading Qur'an while fasting increases my perception of what the text is saying [ft.#3]. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Asking is even an act of worship.[Ft.#4]

Practical advice

If we are talking about language or faith, or just about any academic subject, some helpful tips include.

[1] Using any opportunity to learn on the subject. Listening to lectures, Qur'an recitation, etc..while driving for example. [2] Finding a quiet place to study without distraction. Libraries, parks, even the mosque outside of prayer time. [3] When studying, do not allow distractions, even if that means turning off the Cell phone or computer or television. [4] For the Qur'an, remember to seek Allah's protection from Satanic influences before reading[Ft.5] and to have Wudoo. [ft.6]

I hope these words have been useful, and welcome any discussion.


[1] The Mu'tazilites were a trend that emerged in Iraq during the 6th century. Largely seen as rationalists, they took much from the methods of Greek and Roman Philosophers in their approach to religion. It is they who first opened as an issue about the Qur'an being "created". They also rejected some Hadeeths which they felt could not be explained in a rational basis, such as the narrations on 'punishment in the grave' [ Adhaab Al Qabr] or the second coming of Jesus.   Gaining government support, under the Caliph Al Ma'mun [d. 833] they held official position and even started an inquisition against Sunni Muslim scholarship. However, they eventually died out, although it is true that even within Sunni traditional scholarship there was levels of acceptance of the works of some leading Mu'tazilite scholars, such as the famed Mufassir Abul qasim Zamakshiri. For more, see

[2] This is why this writer transliterates as "Hadeeth" rather than "Hadith". The latter, for some readers, influences an incorrect pronunciation, while the former cannot be mistaken by anyone.

[3] The Qur'an itself hints at the connection between its study and fasting. See Q  2: 183-186.

[4] The Qur'an says "So ask the people of knowledge if you don't know" [ Q 16:42 and 21:7].

[5] The Qur'an itself says to say this prayer before reading it [16:98], in order for us to not have a reading based on our prejudices, but rather on what Allah wants us to gain.

[6] It is true that there is neither a Quranic verse or narration in the hadeeth literature which says that one should have Wudoo' before reading the Qur'an, nonetheless it is something agreed upon [Jamhoor] by the four schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, a ruling which makes sense to this writer because it is an act of respect for the text.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Islam is part of the communal hope for peace: remarks at the United Park Church

[ Note: below is the edited version of my remarks given in context of  the Compassion games, see flyer for program, held at the Park United Church in Toledo, Ohio. Clergy from Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and Baha'i were invited to give brief presentations. If there is a video of the speeches made available we will post it.]

In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful. The idea of community building is something that all the prophets, teachers and messengers that we read about in scripture emphasized.

It's especially important in today's world, noting that Toledo itself has been officially declared a city of compassion, largely due to the efforts of Judy and Woody Trautman [ see /Toledo declared compassionate city] .
One of Pastor Heilman's[ft.1] favorite Biblical verses is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Another one he often cites "Love your neighbor as yourself". Powerful words, especially the last passage, To love your neighbor the same way you love yourself, to be for their welfare as you are for your own, that's dynamic, something that tears down divisions and borders, where people are able to see others in the same light as themselves.

Prophet Muhammad [upon whom be peace and blessings]  said: " None of you are believers till you LOVE for your brother what you LOVE for yourself." He also said "you are not a believer when you go to sleep full while your neighbor is hungry." Indeed, in our tradition we have it that the Prophet was instructed so much about neighbors that he thought that it would become a Divine commandment to include the neighbor in the wills.

So "community" means to be an organized body, joined together for the common good, especially in issues such as hunger, for peoples of all types to see themselves as family, to build bonds in a way that blood families do.

I'm specifically asked to address how and why Islam is part of the communal hope for peace. To accomplish that, we must look at the Prophet Muhammad [d.632 C.E.]. Upon becoming established in Madinah, he set about establishing ties of brotherhood, where two different men were paired as brothers, to the point where they would include each others in their wills. It was very successful. He also established what we can call the world's first constitution, which included clauses for mutual defense and freedom of religion.  This was something agreed upon by Muslims, Jews and other Non Muslim parties.

There are many other examples from the teachings and history of the Prophet we could cite, nonetheless our main point is that to establish peace, there must be universal security, economic and political justice. These are values integral to the message of Islam. They are connected to the worship of God, and to stand for these values are themselves acts of worship. Thank you.

Ft.1 Ed Heilman is Pastor of Park United Church.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Finding Balance: Modernity and Tradition in Islam

Please find below video of recent lecture on finding and keeping balance as Muslims living in our times. Given at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo [ICGT], Perrysburg, Ohio

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Getting the Most Out of Ramadan, Imam Shamsuddin Waheed

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Caliphate : the question of Muslim Leadership

In recent weeks we have seen the rise of an insurgency within Iraq, in particular a militia known as ISIS [The Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant ] { Ad Dawlah al Islamiyyah fil 'Iraaq wa Shaam}. ISIS has been able to capture large areas of Sunni Iraq. This group, deemed so radical that even Al-Qa'ida broke links with them{], having had some military setbacks in Syria, have brought their attention to Iraq, taking advantage of the general discontent with Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki [a Shiite] and his government, and have felt so comfortable in their position that they have even proclaimed their leader, known as Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, as Caliph [Khalifah] of all Muslims, soliciting support. The brutality of their actions, as well as acts of other similar groups, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, raises concerns as to what exactly is "Islamic state" or "Islamic leadership".

Caliphate in Islamic history

Upon the death of the Prophet Muhammad [Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam], the political and administrative duties fell into the hands of successors. The successor is called Khalifah [Caliph] . The period of Khilafat [Caliphate] immediately following the Prophet's death [i.e. the first four Caliphs] is seen traditionally as setting the pace or standards of high conduct and wise rule that should be emulated by the Muslim political leadership.

Eventually, the Muslims expanded, and our history saw administrations such emerge such as the Ummayyads, Abbasids, and Ottoman empires. Despite the flaws and character defects of some rulers and policies, nonetheless Muslims worldwide saw the Khilafat as a symbol of unity. This state was finally abolished in March 1924, by the official founding of the Turkish Republic.

Is there wide appeal for a revival of Khilafat?

The emergence of the nation-states, as well as nationalism, Capitalism, Communism and the like, with its epic failures, has generated in the eyes of many Muslims a nostalgia for times gone by, where there was unity, strength, and a feeling of justice. Indeed, this reading is also true in light of the Zionist annexation and continued oppression of Palestine.

Some movements have emerged which called for the return of the Khilafat and a Khalifah to rule all the Muslims. Harakat-e-Khilafat rose in British India [led by Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar] not long after Khilafat was abolished, and of course there is the Hizbut Tahrir, a group with membership worldwide, which, despite the fact it does not advocate violence and believes education is a needed prerequisite before Khilafat can come, is banned and persecuted in many countries.

Khilafat in the Qur'an

The word Khalifah itself is used twice. In one place when Adam is designated Khalifah [Q 2:30], the context suggests that humanity itself is being given the job of making decisions in this world. To help in this job, Allah taught 'Adam' the potential to understand all that man will encounter in the physical world [ Q 2:32, also see 55:3-4 and 96:4-5] . Dawud [David] is also called Khalifah, and is told to conduct his rule with justice and to avoid following whims in his administration [ 38:25].

Peoples who have succeeded previous societies are called Caliphs, or Khulafaa'. They succeed those who have died out either naturally or as a result of Divine punishment [Qur'an 7:69, 27:62, 35:39, also see 6:165, 10:14 and 10:73]

Islam does not mandate a particular system

Too many observers reduce Islam to "simply" things like hand-cutting, amputations and exemplary executions. This superficial reading does not give justice to a topic of this nature. In reality, Islam can work in any time or place, and should not be seen with limited eyes. The Qur'an does give some direct rulings on things, such as amputating the hand of a thief  [5:38], but this is simply the maximum allowance for a response to this crime. It does not require that this particular Hukm be followed every time this crime is prosecuted. Criminal and financial laws and their application has to be carried out in a just, fair and comprehensive manner, otherwise more injustices will follow, and not less. Thus, Taliban in Afghanistan may have cut off people's hands, but did little to address poverty.

What does Islam advocate

Muslims are not to impose their opinions and beliefs on others. What It does teach is universal justice [2:256, 4:135] and the removal of exploitation of all forms, including that of usury, prostitution, usurping of the rights, property and dignity of human beings. These broad principles can work anywhere.

We do not absolve the current system of government of its crimes and its flaws. Perhaps it should be replaced, but it can't be changed in exchange for a bigoted so called Khilafat. This is one of the pitfalls of ISIS. They vent their anger, mostly, at other Muslims. They are just like the Kharijites of the past, a brutal sect that also emerged in Iraq, who declared any Muslims who disagreed with them to be Kuffaar.

May Allah save us from these types of people and their thinking patterns. May Allah deliver us guidance based on a comprehensive understanding of the Qur'an and the Prophetic model. Ameen!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Newspaper clipping: Sunni-Shiah divide, Iraq, ISIS

Sunni-Shia divide, conflict puts Islamic sects back in spotlight

Toledo-area Muslim figures downplay differences

Sunni and Shia are back in the news because of the latest developments in Iraq. “Why don’t they get along today” is again the question. For the most part, they do — and Muslims in Toledo are together in denouncing the groups engaged in conflict in Iraq and Syria today.
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“I worry for all in the war, not just my country,” said Sheik Rahim Al-Saedy, who immigrated to the United States from Iraq and leads the Fatemah Islamic Center in Sylvania, a Shia mosque.
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“It’s my job,” Sheik Al-Saedy said. “I have to worry for all the people, not just Muslims. ... If they get hurt or have a problem, we pray for them and we’re upset, because we are human beings.”
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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s efforts last year to crush protests by Sunnis complaining of discrimination under his Shiite-led government sparked a wave of violence by militants, who took over the city of Fallujah in the western, Sunni-dominated province of Anbar, and parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi.
During the last two weeks, militants have taken over the cities of Mosul and Tikrit as well as checkpoints on the Iraq-Syria border. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militant group is trying to create an Islamic caliphate in a vast area of both countries.
The religious ways of Sunni and Shia are different in some practices, but most are not major; one difference, however, is that many Shia are called “Twelvers,” the largest Shia group, including members of Fatemah.
“There were 12 imams after the prophet, and the 12th one died without an heir,” said Ovamir Anjum, who holds the Imam Khattab endowed chair of Islamic Studies at the University of Toledo. The 12th is known as Mohammed al-Mahdi. “He disappeared without an heir, according to the Shiites, and he died according to the Sunni; he couldn’t have died [say the Shia] because he must have produced an heir, because the world could not continue without an infallible imam to guide — that would be unjust on behalf of God to leave the world unguided, so therefore he must have disappeared, and he is called an occultation, and he will come back toward the end of times to set all things that have gone wrong right, and to bring justice to the world, and so on.”
Some add that the Mahdi and Jesus will return. “They’re working together,” said Sheik Al-Saedy.
An early split
Sunni and Shia differences stem from a split early in Islam’s history, over who would succeed Mohammed as leader of the new faith and be caliph or supreme ruler. It started with Ali, Mohammed’s son-in-law and a close cousin. He was the fourth person to be caliph, but Shiites think he should have been the first because he had family lineage.
The determination that blood succession (Shia thought) might be better than following Mohammed’s companions (Sunni thought) came from the religion’s rapid growth, Mr. Anjum said. Security was not unheard of for the early caliphs, and “that cost two of them their lives.”
Islam took over the Persian Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire in 30 to 50 years, Mr. Anjum said, “so all of a sudden these people have to rule over such a large territory, and what is happening as a result is a different kind of government emerges.”
No more equality, consultation, and piety; it became “almost an imperial model that people are used to in the Near East.”
For the Muslims, “what happens is that two responses develop. There is a small radical minority, always, that says all is lost [the Shia in this case], wherein there is a majority that says, ‘‍But still, we have a lot’ [the Sunnis].”
In their religious practices, Sunnis and Shiites “do have disagreements about certain things,” said Imam Shamsuddin Waheed of Toledo Masjid of Al-Islam, a Sunni mosque, “but we have more in common than the Catholics and the Protestants have in common. We have the same book [the Qur’an]. The Protestants and the Catholics, they have different versions of the same book [the Bible]. The Catholic version has a few more books than the Protestant version. We have the same prophet [Mohammed]. We have the same rituals: the same five daily prayers, same Ramadan, same Hajj.”
Some Muslims today minimize the differences and prioritize their faith. Imam Farooq Abo Elzahab, whose service as clergy leader of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo will end June 30, said, “There is nothing even called Sunni in Islam. This word came as the opposite of Shia. … We [all] take religion from the Qur’an and the Sunnah and the Hadith of the lifestyle of the prophet Mohammed.”
Historically and geographically, Sunni and Shia have intermingled. “In America, it’s an interesting example, some of the young people identify themselves as Sushis, not Sunni or Shia,” Mr. Anjum said.
Political issues
But political differences are not like religious ones.
“One thing that has recently unfortunately destroyed lots of these webs of networks and relationships in all of these societies is the Syrian conflict,” Mr. Anjum said, “where again it’s more modern politics than religious conflict. It’s a small minority of a particular type of Shia [the Alawites] ... not considered legitimate even by the Twelver Shias, but for politics it doesn’t matter. ... Some would not even consider them Muslim.”
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is “an offshoot of al-Qaeda, and the ‘‍Islamic state’ is obviously a misnomer,” Mr. Anjum said. “They’re not a state. ... They’re a vigilante sort of group, a terrorist group.”
“We don’t know what they have,” said Sheik Al-Saedy. “They don’t like Muslim people. They don’t like Christianity. They don’t like Jewish. Right now in Iraq, they destroyed all the churches for Christianity, they destroyed mosques, and they killed anyone outside. They raped a girl. We don’t know where they come from.”
“We‘‍re reading articles in the media, even the Muslim media, [that say] a lot of the people who are going there are actually from places where there are no Shia,” Imam Waheed said.
Members of ISIS are “drawing themes that a large number of Muslims would identify with,” Mr. Anjum said. “One of them is that Muslims should not have boundaries dividing them. There’s no reason for Muslims in Iraq and Syria to be separate. These modern nation states that were created, actually, by the British and the French map makers after the First World War, they’re unnatural and destructive, and all kinds of conflicts have existed between these states, so this is almost a romantic theme among Muslim intellectuals throughout the 20th century that ‘‍we should all get back together.’ But of course the actual narrow interests of the elite in any of these countries don’t go along with that very well.”
Mr. Anjum said there is a magic solution.
“Study things. ... Knowledge and education are extremely important. One of the things that happens in our contemporary society is people have a very uncomfortable relationship with facts. ... The solution, to me, is education and community. ... Healthy communities where you can have healthy relationships within that are intact, and with other communities in faith. Christian and Muslim communities, and Shia and Sunni communities within Islam.”
Contact TK Barger:, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.


Newspaper clipping: Ramadan

Month-long observance of Ramadan starts today

Imam WaheedImam Waheed
Today the month of Ramadan begins for Muslims, the holy month when, through fasting and other actions, religious people live their faith with greater attention.
Imam Abo ElzahabImam Abo Elzahab
Observing Ramadan is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. Others are belief in one God, with Muhammad as God’s prophet; being charitable to the poor; and making at least one pilgrimage to Mecca if a person is able. And there is a pillar to pray, and it is customary to pray five times a day.
Sheik Al-SaedySheik Al-Saedy
Muslims who are able to stand, kneel, and bow do those actions in a standard way. It is a ritual, a routine of words, bowing, and kneeling that makes up a unit of prayer. The number of units of the routine varies for the different prayer times in the day. In those units there is also time for personal prayer.
The Masjid Al-Islam, a mosque on Bancroft Street in Toledo, has the Qur’an’s first Surah or chapter in Arabic script on the wall of the mosque’s prayer room. “It’s the main prayer text,” Shamsuddin Waheed said. He translated:
“It says, ‘In the name of God, the beneficent, the merciful. Praise belongs to God, the lord of the universe, the beneficent, the merciful, master of judgment day. It is you we worship, you we seek assistance from. Guide us upon the straight path, the path of those whom you have blessed; not the path of those with whom you are angry nor the path of those who are astray.’”
Imam Farooq Abo Elzahab, who ends 16 years of service this month as religious leader at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perrysburg, described the manner of prayer. “You read that first chapter in the Qur’an—’The Opening,’ ‘Al-Fatihah’—and a few verses from the Qur’an. If you memorize it or do not memorize it, that’s fine.”
There are different types of bowing, according to ritual. When bowing and kneeling, people praying say, in Arabic, “‘Glory be to God the greatest,’” Abo Elzahab said, “but in prostration it is ‘Glory be to God the highest.’ You are in the lowest position, you remember the most high one, and in this kind of position we are the closest to God. The whole body, soul, from the toes to the head, everything is surrendered to God on the mother earth that we’ve been created from. ... Now you can reveal everything to God, you can ask for anything, you can whisper to God, you can cry to God, you can beg God for forgiveness, for guidance, for health, for a cure, for unity, for love, for this, for anything you’d like to have.”
The five daily prayers are “all of them the same,” said Sheik Rahim Al-Saedy, imam of the Fatemah Islamic Center in Sylvania, “because we worship God. In the morning or afternoon or evening, it’s the same thing.” However, that doesn’t mean some people don’t have favorites.
Imam Waheed likes the dawn. After that prayer, “then the rest of your day pretty much goes smooth,” he said. “But I also find that, say, for example, I oversleep. Now you still pray, but it’s considered late, so I find … the rest of the day doesn’t go that smooth, and a lot of Muslims that I talk to say similar things. I can’t say why that’s the case but that seems to be the case.”
“The prayer described in the Qur’an is a timely obligation,” said Abo Alzahab. “Just to be standing in front of God five times a day, most likely that makes the person behave, or at least have this kind of self-criticism or self-exposure to himself and with God five times a day. So if he did his day good so far till midday or afternoon … then he’s thankful to God. If he did something wrong, then he’ll make an apology to God. So it is really to make up, it is really to correct your record five times a day. … The last one is to thank Allah or God for living my day to the best of my ability, trying to please God, trying to do what is good; so when I sleep, then I am entrusting God with my soul so far. If I have another day to live, that is great. If I do not have, I ended my day praying to God and seeking his forgiveness.”
Contact TK Barger @, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.