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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Are Muslims going crazy? An attempt to make sense of recent events

The last two weeks, despite it being the month of Ramadan, a time of prayer, fasting, introspection and charity, it seems that the Muslims worldwide  has been set afire! The car and knife attacks in London last week are well known, as well as an incident in which a young man attacked a police officer in Paris, but also we have had the same sort of incidents in places within the Muslim world, such as Kabul, and today we are witnessing the aftermath of attacks on the Iranian Parliament and the shrine of Ayatullah Ruhullah Khomeini.

The London attack brought to my mind nothing from Muslim history, or even civilization memories of long ago, but rather, a television show produced by FOX. Called simply THE FOLLOWING, it depicts a serial killer named Joe Carrol, a former university professor who focuses on classical literature [in particular the writings of Edgar Allen Poe] who manages, even after his initial capture, to gather, via the internet, numerous followers, hailing from diverse racial and economic backrounds. Throughout the series, any and all excuse was given to fulfill the bloodlust of this figure, and, of course, the series had also exposed in their story line different sets of villains, motivations, organizations, plots and twists.Copy cat killers and desperate personalities seeking fame and glory, as well as political intrigue, also played their parts. ISIS and its likes are precisely the same way, and it would not come as a surprise to this writer that ISIS members are found to have viewed this program and programs like it on a regular basis.

Is it really Islam which motivates killing sprees?

It's important to understand that anyone can make just about any claim as to their own motivations. The French writer Gabriel Meurier aptly observes: " He who excuses himself, accuses himself."

The human mind has great abilities to both see the truth and to hide it, to explain away and to justify, to rationalize bad decisions.  Moreover, as individuals we are extremely complex, full of  paradoxes which we are not always able to understand ourselves or to be adequately understood by others.

As a person who has been studying these subjects for many years, it is my view that it is wrong to simply say "Islam is the cause". The cause[s] vary from place to place and person to person. I think such actions, when taking place in clearly defined war contexts or on the battlefield, is universally understood, even if disliked by some and approved of by others.

However, how does that work in London, Paris, Orlando, and let us not forget, Charleston, South Carolina [where Dylann Roof shot to death nine people in an African American Church in  the hopes of starting a race war]?

In those cases, one cannot simply look at the religion, race or even class of the perpetrator. One can and should look at his stated motivations, but also at what is hidden, what is behind the image. That is mainly the job of sociologists, psychologists and those in similar fields.

What does Islam say about violence?

The first source is, of course, The Qur'an, the Islamic scripture. It is seen as God's word and no other source is seen as superior to it. In it, we read a very long list of basic principles, similar to what Christians call the Ten Commandments (ft.1), and among the directives, we have "And do not kill the soul, which God has eternally forbidden [Harrama], except in justice. And whoso is killed unjustly, God has given his heirs authority, [yet even then], so do not be excessive in the retribution, as he [the heir] is assisted [legally]" [Q 17: 33]

In other words, killing is seen as forbidden, and if and when it does happen, from the perspective of Islamic laws, the family of the victim has the right to demand capital punishment, to have financial compensation. Moreover, when capital punishment is applied or sought after, it is not to become a  free for all. This is particularly important in feudalistic societies, where cycles of revenge taking can last generations.

The above Quranic command is also alluded to in 2:178. There, it clearly states that regardless of the status of the victim or the killer, capital punishment remains an option if that is what the victim's family demands. It is worthy of emphasis that the victim's  family has more say on the matter than the state in normative Islamic jurisprudence.

In another place within the scripture the principle has been given that is well known to the Judeo-Christian tradition, "...Whosoever kills a soul..it is like he has killed all of mankind, and if he saves a life, it is as if he has saved all of mankind." [Q 5:32].

In the same verse, as well as in 5:33, we have rather severe options given to deal with murder, as well as creating social chaos in general.

What about Jihad?

The term Jihad simply refers to struggle, and can be used in war and non war contexts. While we don't dispute that it has been used in war contexts, it is worth noting that Jihad as a war cannot be simply launched by anyone. Killing random people on the streets, innocents who have nothing to do with anything, cannot be justified in the name of Islam. Indeed, it seems to us that such actions fall under what is mentioned as "chaos" in 5:33, bringing forth a potential severe punishment from the authorities.

It is clear that the brains behind the acts in Paris, London, Kabul, Egypt, Syria, and other places have in mind spreading chaos. They want people to be afraid. They also seem to want Muslim minorities in Western nations to be in a state of fear, to be viewed with suspicion by the wider society.

It does not matter the religious or ethnic identity of the masterminds, I have no qualms in calling them out as evil, as people who are far away from religion, as folks who are master manipulators with desires for greatness, who serve their own egos rather than serving Allah, the Lord of creation.

Suicide bombings/attacks



This has been almost universally condemned in the Muslim world by Muslim scholars. Countless books, pamphlets, articles, position papers and speeches have been composed by scholars within every sect and orientation within Islam on this subject. In the modern age it is said that the ones who started this particular tactic was not Muslims, but rather Tamil Tiger rebels on the Indian subcontinent. Later, it was picked up by Muslim groups of various places and persuasions, in places such as Lebanon and Palestine.

In legitimate war contexts, all kinds of things can and do happen. Indeed, in the USA and other places we have what are called war movies, either fictionalized or depictions of real historical battles, in which soldiers sacrifice their lives.

Whatever one thinks of this, this is still not the same as what we are continually witnessing. Suicide bombings on Christian Church services in Egypt, or suicide attacks on Shiite worshipers offering prayers in Pakistani mosques, or at nightclubs and the like.

The Qur'an says "and do not take your own hands as to bring forth [your own]  destruction.." (Q 2:195].

An even more clear sentence in the scripture says "And do not kill yourselves." [Q 4:29].

So if both murder and suicide have been condemned in the Qur'an, how about killing one's own self along with innocent others? The answer should be obvious, it is not allowed!

Looking at all of this from the perspective of belief in the texts of Islam

The hadeeth literature, texts which tell of of reports emanating from the Prophet Muhammad, relate to us that the Prophet, upon whom be Allah's peace and blessings, gave several signs as indicators of the coming day of Judgement. It is a day that, the Qur'an says, none should have any doubt about its eventual arrival [ Q 3: 9]. We have discussed many of them in the past (ft.2), but one of them is the emergence of what is called Maseeh id Dajjal, or simply"Dajjal".

Al Maseeh Ad Dajjal is translated usually as "The False Christ" or simply "Anti-Christ". The issues surrounding eschatology are complicated and highly debated, and while others focus on a particular personality to fit the description, this writer looks at it from the term Dajjal. In everyday Arabic, it is used for deceiver, and is often associated with a tyrannical ruler.

In other words, one of the signs of the age close to the Day of Judgement is that great deceptions will take place. Guidance will be lost, not just in religious affairs, but in the social and political arena. People, often damaged by the vices and soul crushing aspects of the modern world, will look for peace and meaning in all the wrong places. Another hadeeth words the situation as "Knowledge will be of low account, ignorance will be abundant" [Yaqillul 'ilmu, wa yaktharul Jahl]. Indeed, we even have a hadeeth which reports the Prophet as saying that killing would be so abundant that neither the killer nor the victim will understand why it is happening!

Dajjalic influences are not simply felt on Non Muslims! It is universally felt. The deceivers fool everyone in different ways and at different areas. The hadeeth literature speaks on social upheavals as well as violent confrontation between groups of powerful entities. The evil influences are widespread, so that today people can kill in the name of religion and in the name of race/ nation alike, as we saw recently with Jeremy Joseph Christian, in Portland, Oregon, expressed pride in killing two men who had come to the defense of Muslim women.(ft.3)


So what can do, if this is the age of great deception

A comprehensive answer cannot be given in this brief composition. The suggestions we have largely come from Islamic teachings themselves, but also from my own views, hopefully shaped in a correct way by Islam itself. These tips are also useful for Non Muslim readers.

[1] Be consistent in prayer: Strive to connect to God in a regular way and on a regular basis.

[2] Be studious: In this age, it is needed to stay informed and educated. Dedicate a part of your budget to the purchase of books [and not simply websites and news channels] on important social, economic and political subjects. If possible, learn another language in addition to your own native tongue. Don't be afraid to stand corrected on a topic you were previously misinformed on.

[3] Have good company and family ties: Spend time outside with your family, seek out mates and company of decent people.

[4] Avoid intoxicants and obsessions with vices: Weaknesses can be easily exploited and themselves be the foundation of becoming a victim.

[5] Be willing to travel: for your own health and sanity, it may become necessary to not only travel, but to move to another place.

This is by no means comprehensive, but nonetheless a good place to start.(ft.4)

Footnotes

[1] Robert Alter, in his Bible commentary and translation The Five Books of Moses ( 2004, New York, W.W. Norton & Company] gives a brief summary of the ten commandments not actually, in the original text, adding up to that number. Nonetheless, it has become a great part of Western thinking and legal foundations.

[2] Among the places we have addressed Judgement day, see "Considering the day of Judgement" at [url] http://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2017/02/considering-day-of-judgement-is-it-close.html[/url] , "Judgement day: lessons from the Qur'an and Sunnah" [url] http://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2017/04/judgement-day-lessons-from-quran-and.html[/url] and "Signs of Judgement day" at [url] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMMq_mmjUXY[/url].

[3] On a Portland train, Christian was yelling at two women, one of whom was a Muslim. Three men came to the defense of the young ladies, and Christian reacted by repeatedly stabbing all three, two of whom died. Unfortunately, this event, which happened in May, has yet to get the wide attention that it deserves. In court, Christian yelled out, in part, "This is America, get out if you don't like free speech.". A little more information can be found at [url] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/portland-us-murder-train-islamophobic-ramadan-racist-extremist-hate-crime-a7771231.html[/url]

[4] I am compelled here to mention that we must be careful in accepting claims at first glance. That is not only common sense, but it is a Quranic command [Q 49:6]. Many writers associate great deceptions with everything from terms such as the Illuminati to victims brainwashed to do certain actions in a Manchurian Candidate style event. We simply don't know which, if any, of those particular scenarios apply to the overall issues under discussion. We should simply exercise caution in accepting as truth anything that is presented to us, regardless of the source.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Judgement Day: Lessons From The Qur'an And Sunnah

( Note: The following is an edited version of our recent presentation at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam.)

Qiyaamah; a reality



The Day of Judgement is a frequent object of attention in the Qur'an, even a cursory glance at the text will reveal to the reader it's repeated appearance. One of the texts we find is "Our Lord, Indeed, You will gather people together on a day of which exists no doubt. Indeed, Allah does not fail in his promise." [Q 3:9]. Thus, a person claiming to be a Muslim must accept this core Quranic teaching.

Signs that precede Judgement day

The Qur'an does give some indicators, however it's focus is moreso on the event itself. Prophet Muhammad, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, in one hadeeth does give us the following signs:

Anas reported that the Messenger of Allah [PBUH] said "The conditions of the hour will be [1] Knowledge will be elevated away (yurfa'ul 'Ilm)." Another wording that exists has it that The Prophet said "Knowledge will be diminished" (Yaqillul 'Ilm), meaning that the importance of knowledge will be made low. [2] Abundance of ignorance ( Jahl, in thinking and behaviour). (3) Abundance of Zinaa. (4) Abunance of the consumption of intoxicating agents ( Khamr)." 

[1]  We can understand this as higher education, out of reach for all but those at a social and financial status.

 [2] The disappearance of authentic information, both religious and Non-religious, in that truth no longer matters.

 [3]  The rise of ignorance in both facts and in action. This can also refer to the ignorance as inspired by youthful attitudes, the  rise of a culture that caters to the whims and wishes of the young, devoid of mature consideration. We also see this within the religious realm, in that people speak on Islam with no knowledge of what they are speaking on. We live in an age where ignorance is deemed praiseworthy and education is seen as, at best, odd, and, at worse, dangerous.

[4] Zinaa: Marriage will be seen, in the final age, as a pointless institution. This is increasinglty a global situation, [5] Khamr: This is not simply beer and wine, alcoholic drinks, but narcotics. Marijuana is socially and increasingly becoming legally acceptable.

The hadeeth highlights these things, and while other Prophetic narrations highlight other things, some of which are debated in terms of their strength and veracity, we are to seek lessons from the narration at hand,

Lessons

[1] Stay informed, particularly in Deeni affairs. We have to be connected to the Book of Allah, to Allah himself through righteous conduct. As the Qur'an says "Deen is to be specifically for Allah." [ Q 39:3]. A part of this is to recognize our status, to stay quiet, rather than speak, on issues that we have no knowledge of, The Qur'an says " So ask those who have knowledge, if you don't know." ( Q 16:43, 21:7). Having enough humility to be able to seek out knowledge from knowledgeable persons, as opposed to the do-it-yourself approach.

We have yet another hadeeth in which the Prophet said that in that age, close to thirty decievers will emerge claiming divine guidance, claiming to speak on behalf of God.(ft.1)

Such decievers [Dajjaloon] only gain traction in an environment devoid of knowledge  and filled with ignorance.

The lesson here is particularly important with the Qur'an and the Prophet's Sunnah, in his manner of connecting with Allah.

[2] In the same hadeeth we have a statement that in that age "Women will be abundant, and men will be minimized" . It is our view that this does not simply refer to population, but rather, to a world where men are constantly under attack, where the responsibility of fathers will be taken away, be it in the name of fighting crime or of feminism. This is a widely held observation of the social condition of African Americans (ft.2). So the lesson is that men have to take responsibility, particularly as fathers, and not fall into the traps out there that seek to prevent this,

[3] Khamr, intoxicating agents, be it alcoholic drinks or recreational drugs, must be totally avoided, because these items cloud the rational thinking. We are to be awake, and not sleep-walk through life.


The Qur'an on the Day of Judgement itself

On that day, the bodily appendiges themselves will be made to testify ( Q 24:24, 36:63-65 among other verses) . It will be a day which will be initiated with a deafening noise, making people totally self-concerned. A frightening moment indeed [Q 80:33-37].

It is on that day that the veils are finally removed from the eyes of those who had rejected (Q 50:22). It is also the day that religious disputed will be solved or addressed directly by God ( Q 35:14 among other places). It is a day that records of one's life are actually read out, it is the day that the verdicts are announced.

While the Qur'an is very detailed on what happens on that day itself, we have yet another hadeeth (reported in Tirmidhee) which summarizes it all in which the Prophet said  that a person will be questioned on how their time as a youth was spent, how they earned and disposed of their wealth, and how they acted upon the knowledge they possessed.

In addition to this, we have another well-known hadeeth, in which the Prophet [peace and blessings be on him] said that very first thing a person will be questioned about is worship ( Tirmidhee).

This hadeeth gives us a clue, it indicates that a life in which even the weak person, with all of his sins and imperfections, still sought out God, it is that seeking out that will be a source of salvation. So the more worship we do, the more aligned to Allah we become.

Predicting The Day Of Judgement

This is a situation more common with Christians than with Muslims(ft.3), an ironic reality because the Bible has Jesus say that God alone knows when it will happen [Mark 13:32]. The added aspect to this is an attempt to "move along" or to force God's hand (ft.4).

The Qur'an addresses this

"The affair of God is coming, so don't (even) imagine that you can speed it up. Glorified is He, and He is the Most High, above what they associate[yushrikoon] with him." ( Q 16:1)

This shows us that such people are guilty of shirk, because they have attempted to make God a push-over, a being that can be manipulated for their own interests. Allah's schedule is His own, how He sets about his business is his own affair. Our reasoning cannot go against the Divine Sunnah.

Protection from Dajjal

The hadeeth literature tells us that the Dajjal [deceiver] will gain near global domination in that age close to the Day of Judgement. Remember that Dajjal means "consistent deceiver". The text gives a description of that figure, but we should remember that this term is also a general concept.

The evidence for this is the already mentioned narration that close to thirty lying  dajjals (dajjaloon kadhdhaboon qareebun min thalatheen)  would emerge.

We are told in atleast two narrations that Soorah Al Kahf, the 18th chapter of the Qur'an, would serve as protection from Dajjal. This shows us that the power of Dajjal will simply be that of influence, suggestion and mental manipulation, and that such influence is countered by getting spiritually prepared for Qiyaamah, by being grounded in the Book of Allah, where Allah's guidance is stronger than other influences.

Tyrannical forces punished by God on the Day of Judgement

The focus of Allah's punishment is felt on the tryannical, those who attained power and sustained power on the backs of the oppressed.

Those who devored 'Ribaa'(ft.5) do not rise except as  those confounded by the touch of Satan [Q 2:275]

Another Quranic text speaks of the oppressive class as "Nay! It [the punishment] will come to them, utterly stun them, with no ability to avert, nor are they given respite." [ Q 21:40]

So Judgement day will see the vindication of truth, but also ultimate justice.

Footnotes
[1] The Arabic text is  text-align: right;">دجالون كذبون قريب من ثلاثين كلهم يزعم انه رسول الله


 [2];There has been a wealth of publications made on this subject, approaching it from different angles. Among the more mature treatments of this, one can refer to The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, or even Black Lies, White Lies (1995, New York) by Tony Brown.

 [3] Christian history is replete with Messianic movements which have, at one point in their history, predicted Judgement day and the date of the return of Christ. In fact, a great many of the demoninations which currently exist trace their origin to such trends. American Christianity is particularly prone to these trends, and an entire industry exists in which figures of seemingly dubious intentions and questionable scholarship essentially cash in on these predictions. One such figure who clearly takes advantage of all this in order to gain political power is John Hagee, a southern mega-pastor. One of his publications which uses Biblical themes to support the Israeli policies is CAN AMERICA SURVIVE? 10 PROPHETIC SIGNS THAT WE ARE THE TERMINAL GENERATION [2010, New York]. The return of Christ is deemed contingent upon Christian support of Israel. If Israel does not exist, Christ cannot return. This is the essence of his argument.

[4] One interesting article on this is "Trying to force the Rapture"http://www.rense.com/general67/rap.htm.

 [5] Ribaa is a hotly contested issue within Muslim scholarship. Modern Muslim thought seems to equate it with interest in its totality, loans with usurious rates, or something else entirely. It is worth noting here that Ribaa has the meaning of theft. Our point is that Ribaa can encompass all of the above mentioned examples as well as economic systems/philosophies which are destroying lives and land. It is worth noting that Ribaa can involve individuals as well, and that the Qur'an has taken the position that it is an immoral increase of wealth. The Qur'an seeks to touch the hearts and minds of goodly people to totally give up engaging in Ribaa.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Exploring our age in light of Islamic texts: Friday Khutbah

[Note: The following is an edited version of Khutbah delivered 4/7/17 at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam. The opening Hamd has been omitted, as well as other comments made. It should also be noted here that this Khutbah serves as an introduction to an upcoming lecture called 'Day of Judgement: Lessons from the Qur'an and Sunnah".]

We have indicators in the Islamic primary texts as to the indicators of the approach of Judgement Day. One of the Prophetic narrations [reported by Aby Hurayrah and found in Tirmidhee's collection] has it that those indicators include (1) The man will obey his wife  [literally 'his woman'] و اطاع الرجل امراته   

2] Disregard his mother. (3) Closest to his friend (4) Yet the most distant from his father [Aqsaa Abaahu]. (5) And [the trend of the ] emergence of loud talking in the mosques [places of worship] (Ft.1)

We are emphasising these five items as found in the hadeeth because they show the breakdown of the natural family structure, a situation we are seeing in today's world in the name of the follies of youth and "freedom". 

This does not absolve that there are parents out there who have been horrible to their children or children who have been horrible with their families, however we are simply relating the hadeeth here without fault-finding, putting all of the pieces together. We are looking at the Prophet's words with the hope of finding guidance. 

We should learn from this hadeeth that we have to strengthen our family ties, even if the famiy is Non Muslim or Non Practicing as Muslims! If Parents have made severe mistakes in their treatment of their children, then it becomes incumbent on them to find a way to repair the damage!

The last item mentioned in the narration tells us that loud voices would be heard or emenating from the mosques. THIS shows us that the places of worship have, in the age closest to Qiyaamah, become little more than social clubs, in which people have forgotten the solemn nature of the mosque. The Mosque [Masjid], the house of Allah, particularly the prayer area (musalla) is for prayer, reflection, study, reading the Qur'an, not for gossip!

I find it interesting that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم placed these five items together. In short, we are called upon to strengthen, to have proper ties, to Allah and to our families [see Qur'an 4:1]. Such ties are necessary if we are to survive and to be sane in the age which is seemigly close to Judgement day. 

Prophet Muhammad is misrepresented in the age near to Judgement Day

Another hadeeth, found in Saheeh Muslim, tells us "The lying decievers will come at you with 'ahadeeth' which neither you nor your ancestors have heard of..." 
ان دجالون كذبون ياتونكم من الاحاديث بمالم تسمعوا انتم ولا اباوكم

THIS informs us that the Muslims will be the victims of great decievers, coming at us with deliberate misrepresentations of the final Prophet.

The Lying Dajjals [Dajjaloon Kadhdhaboon] cannot do that with the Qur'an, because the Qur'an has been protected by God [ see Q 15:9]. This is not only from a faith-based perspective, but from a physical and historical realistic perspective. Since the decievers cannot do that with the Quranic text, which is accessible and very well known, they target hadeeth, which is not as  widely known (ft.2).

This has happened both literally and figuratively. People quote 'hadeeth' or make assertions that portray Prophet Muhammad as stern, fanatical, harsh and rigid. The Prophet ends up being extremly misrepresented. 

Our best weapon against the lying decievers is the Qur'an itself. The evidence for this is that we have atleast two narrations [Muslim and Abu Dawud] that speak of texts from Soorah Al Kahf [chapter 18 of the Qur'an] as protection from Dajjal(ft.3). We read in that Soorah that God deserves praise for not allowing any deviation to be placed within the Quranic scripture [Q 18:1]. So we have to make time to read it, to study it, to memorize it, use its text in our prayers but most importantly to live by it. The Qur'an is not a book for the dead, rather it is a book for the living! 


The hearts of those firmly grounded in the Book of Allah will not have signifigant influence from the deceptions of the decievers [Dajjaloon].

Concluding thoughts

Constant introspection, examining our family ties and our ties with God and with God's revelation is the only way to go in order to find guidance. Complacency will only become the doorway for misguidance. We want to be open to truth. So be regular in worship, in supplication [du'aa] and keep in mind the Prophet's supplication; " O Allah, show us truth as truth, and give us the ability to follow it. Show us Baatil as Baatil, and give us the ability to abstain therefrom."

We should also pray from protection from the 'fitnah' of the deceiver. It does not matter if 'Fitnah' is translated as 'trial' or 'test' or 'tribulation'. We don't want any of it!

Rather, we are to desire guidance for ourselves and our families, not to be deluded.


Footnotes

(1) In Arabic the word for Mosque [Masjid] literally means "place of prostration". It is on a pattern indicating the a noun of place and time ( Ism Zamaan wa Makaan]. We have explained 'masjid' here to include even a broader possibility, and that is that all places of worship, regardless of religious affiliation, in the age nearest to Judgement day, would become nothing more than social clubs in which authentic searching for spirituality would be absent. This writer has in mind Qur'an 22:40 which contains recognition [even though the Qur'an obviously refutes some religious ideas] that places such as monasteries, Churches and Synagogues function as places wherein the congregants are seeking out God.

(2) The evidence for this assertion is that the Qur'an has been widely memorized and acted upon even by lay Muslims throughout history. The science of hadeeth ['Ilm ul hadeeth] is very complex and is full of scholarly disagreements on criterion for judging the authenticity of this or that narration, not to mention the chain of transmission [Sanad]. So while most Muslims have the Qur'an, only the scholarly class have in their personal libraries the many volumes of hadeeth. With the emergence of the internet, all of the traditions have been recorded by many websites and made available, however that does not mean it would be as understood and seen correctly as the Qur'an has. It is the opinion of this author that the scholarly class spend their time in deep research into the sciences of hadeeth, that lay Muslims have in their own libraries and in their hearts Prophetic sayings as found in books such as Riyadhus Saaliheen or Forty Hadeeth, statements that are inspirational and push us towards goodly relations with God and neighbor etc, and that the Qur'an remains the primary source for  religious truths.

(3) I see these narrations as indicative of not necessarily the last ten or the first ten verses of Soorah Al-Kahf as serving as protection from Dajjal. but rather the entire Soorah itself. In the Soorah, we find a number of accounts and morals that provide-if internalized, a proper respect for Allah, faith in Allah, the true state of humanity, and much more. The stories of Moses and the teacher [known as Khidhr], the believers who escape persecution by going to the cave, the parable of the believer and the disbeliever, are among the highlights of the Soorah. In general, the overall message of the Qur'an itself provides both personal and communal protection from the forces of deception. This subject cannot be fully explained adequately in a footnote, nonetheless we hope this provides a desire to study and consider the Qur'an itself, with emphasis on Soorah Al Kahf.



Saturday, February 11, 2017

Common misconceptions about Islam

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Who or what is 'Allah'?



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

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

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

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


Is Allah a moon god?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Islam's relation with Jews and Christians 

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

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


Terrorism/Violence to spread religion

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus

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

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

Women

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

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

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

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

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


Endnotes

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

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

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

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

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

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







Thursday, February 9, 2017

Remarks at Press conference [2/6/17]

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Considering the Day of Judgement: Is it close ?

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

Gratitude for Friday Prayer

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

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

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

Serious social shifts


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Prophet speaks what God tells him to speak

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

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

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

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

Lessons from these narrations

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

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

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What is the point of invoking Allah ? Friday Khutbah

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

Does God answer our prayers?

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

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

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

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

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

Allah hears all supplications





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

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

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

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

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

When can we call upon Allah

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

When bad things happen




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sins stopping one from acts of worship

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

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

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

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