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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Revisiting Race: America's never-ending odyssey

It is easy to think of the USA as a post-racial society, a place where ethnic background, skin color and religious label are not factors that lead to official and non-official marginalization. After all, twice now American voters have elected a man with roots in a Kenyan Muslim family, with the middle name "Hussein" on top of it, to the highest office in the land.

African-Americans are also represented in leading positions in various areas of society, law enforcement, politics and media.


Yet despite all these truthful assertions, African-Americans as a whole feel under siege. This is due to a number of socioeconomic factors, but as of late, highlighted in the continuing incidents leading to death during rather mundane encounters with law enforcement. Samuel Dubose in Cincinnati, Ohio. Or that of Sandra Bland, 28, in Prairie View, Texas, which authorities there have declared a suicide. In addition to these, social media are filled daily with videos of confrontations with Police officials. In addition to dealings with the law, we now have seen Dylan Roof, a young white man who joined a Bible study in a historically black Church, Emmanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina then opened fire, killing nine, including the senior pastor, Clementa Pickney, himself a South Carolina Senator. It's actually amazing that none have declared this an act of terrorism, even when a politician was killed in Church. I guess the Terrorist label is only applicable when the perpetrators are Brown-skinned and Muslim!

Why do we see a surge in these events? This writer has spent a great deal of time exploring this and related issues, speaking with people from various races and walks of life, and the theories out there are interesting- albeit frightening. There are those, both black and white, who feel these incidents are deliberate attempts to ignite a race war. Others blame media for fanning the flames, while others have placed blame on everything from the stresses of working in Law enforcement to the killings found in video games such as Grand Theft Auto!


Attitudes of mistrust will take generations to sort out

Tensions between ethnic groups [and more often, between social classes] have always been present within human society. That is simply a fact. Perhaps because we live in a fast-paced world we end up becoming conditioned to think these issues can be just as easily solved as going into a fast-food restaurant for lunch.

In an American context, we must remember that slavery officially lasted for 246 years. This figure does not include the various European adventures into Africa for slaves, which began in the late 1400's. The official period of slavery [ending with the Emancipation proclamation of 1863, but obviously not enforced until the end of the American Civil War in 1865] was followed by official and non official discrimination, violence, Jim Crow Laws, the rise of vigilante racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan [KKK], lynchings, etc..

Yet, this writer asserts that  the next two generations,God-willing, will see racial biases- at least the sort that manifest themselves in the way they have, disappear. This statement may sound naive to some readers, but do consider the following facts.

[1] The increase of the ethnic groups that  are neither black nor white, such as Latinos and Asians. They are increasing in numbers, but also economic and political power. See http://news.yahoo.com/rise-latino-population-blurs-us-racial-lines-114944593.html;_ylt=A0LEVv5VkcJVeHEAyx8nnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTByOHZyb21tBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg--

[2] The rising acceptance of social relations between the races, including interracial marriage.

These two factors alome, along with others unmentioned here, are enough to generate hope that the coming generation will be able to discard the attitudes and actions that have been going on for so long!


Overall illnesses must also be addressed

While the future does appear to be bright, we must nonetheless acknowledge that there are deep social problems, or illnesses, that need to be addressed. Knowing that there are illnesses is obviously the first step to finding the cure. This writer does not claim to know all the answers, nor to even be able to see all the symptons, nonetheless we highlight a few, and hope these observations generate thought, especially for our political, religious and social leaders, for those in media and the entertainment industry.

[1] Narcissistic culture: Under nice-sounding labels such as "independence" and "freedom", this culture of simply the pursuit of whims ends up creating countless social problems, leaving in its wake destroyed families and neighborhoods.

[2] Media Violence: The increasingly violent images we see daily in our movies, music and games leaves us desensitized. So, violence is "fun" and "Manly". In addition, sexual dedregation is also connected to this.

[3] Racial stereotyping: Countless books and articles have been published on this point, and African-Americans are admittedly its greatest victims, although Muslims [particularly Arab or South Asian] are increasingly shown as villians, up to no good, untrustworthy, etc..

[4] Abandonment of moral/spiritual values: This manifests itself in the narcisisstic culture mentioned above, as well as in other ways. More and more, we are being conditioned to discard the values given in religion, that such values are antiquated and useless. Indeed, this is shown even through dress. Women wear short, tight clothes even in Church [and other venues ] and a popular style is for men to wear pants "sagging", showing their underwear.


Reasons to be hopeful

Ta-nehisi Coates, [an atheist] does not see any hope for Race relations in America, despite his personal successes. His new book  Between the world and me [2015, Spiegel &Graw, New York] is simply a collection of thoughts as to why he sees no reasons to hope.

It is precisely the opposite for this writer, because this writer believes in God! God is the one who created, but also cares for- all of his creation. God is the one who is the source of all races and ethnic backrounds. Human differences are not an accident. They are intentional actions on the part of the Divine Hand.

There is hope when one sees children, particularly very young children. They show love and do not consider issues of skin color as reasons to dislike or to hate others. There is hope because there are still on this Earth human beings with healthy hearts. There is hope because God created humans to have the capacity to grow, to think and progress beyond the limits placed on them by outside forces.



Even Malcolm X, known as Al-Hajj Malik Shabazz, a man who had, at one point in his life, dismissed whites as literal devils, grew. In commenting on race in America, he says:

..that discussion with the ambassador gave me a new insight-one which I like: that the white man is not inherently evil, but America's racist society influences him to act evilly. ..

[The autobiography of Malcolm X, 1999 edition, Ballantine Books, New York]

In these words we find hope. Hope to grow out of pettiness, hope to be humans, exhibiting the humanity placed in us by God.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Eid ul Fitr Video

Toledo, Ohio had its first United 'Eid prayer service. Below is a video of the program.

[1] Minute 1:00- 3:00 Adam Smidi opening remarks.


[2] Minute 3- 5:45, Imam Farooq welcome.


[3] 5:45-12:00 Eid prayer led by Shaikh Ahmad Abou Alsayf. Notice his beautiful recitation of the Qur'an, from Soorah Al-Faatihah, Al A'laa, and Al Ghaashiyah.

[4]12:00-27:00 Eid Khutbah by Imam S.Waheed

[5] 27:00-35:00, Closing remarks and supplication by Shaikh Ibrahim.

[6] 35:00-39:00, Greetings from Toledo Mayor Paula Hudson and Mayoral candidate Sandy Collins.









Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pictures from Eid ul Fitr

Below are a couple of pictures from  Toledo's Eid prayers and celebration. Four Mosques and a community center pooled their resources to have a united service celebrating the end of the month of Ramadan, itself a time for prayer, fasting and introspection.



[ Preparing for Khutbah, with Sheikh Ibrahim Djunoua, Imam Farouq Abouelzahab and Imam Ahmad Abousayf [in white]}


We will post video of the Khutbah when it is made available, insha Allah.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Spiritual illnesses: diagnosis and treatment

All of us [with no exceptions] have been or may even be currently affected by spiritual maladies. Even if we are not currently, almost certainly we will be hit with them in the future. Indeed, we all have been  physically sick in our lives, in both major and minor ways, and it will happen again during the dying process.

Spiritual afflictions are transmitted through a multitude of avenues, such as our family members, friends outside the home, by the television programs [note the word "Program"] we watch, the music we listen to, even by the food we consume [FT.#1]. It is to be noted that the younger one is, the healthier one is spiritually[Ft.2].

Just as with physical ailments, spiritual illnesses can be a passing experience. On the other hand, it can also last many years, requiring exhaustive treatment and  long-term care. Having been cured of the illness does not negate the possibility of experiencing it again, especially if the medical instructions and subsequent advice was not followed through in a consistent fashion.


The Qur'an describes itself as a healing for those who believe in God [ Q 10:57]. So it, along with the Prophet [peace be upon him], act as the prescription for our ailments. We hope to have a glance at how Islam broadly diagnoses illnesses and treatment.

Build your immune system

The religion of Islam attempts to instill a sort of healthy foundation beginning with birth and lasting till death. Indeed, from the Prophet's Sunnah [Sunan Tirmidhee, Kitaab al adhiyaa 1514] we have that the Adhaan, or call to prayer, is made in the ear of the new born. Prayer is enjoined on children at an early age, and throughout the life of a Muslim, God's name is pronounced regularly as a part of daily life. These are some of the healthy injections. The five pillars of Islam, attending the Friday Prayers, reading and listening to the Qur'an, adhering to the basic ethical standards of the faith[ FT.3]. Consider the above as exercise, part of healthy living, All humans get sick at some point of their lives and all humans eventually experience physical death, however the [spiritually] healthy life will be more rewarding in the long term.


What are some of the main displays of a spiritual illness?

[1] Stubbornness: When sticking to the same position, practice or opinion, even though it's plainly dangerous. One example is smoking cigarettes[FT# 4]. It's harm is well-known, yet many smokers will dispute this by providing anecdotal accounts regarding others who lived till 100 yet still smoked. In spiritual health, one should always be seeking a better way to be connected with Allah.

There is a lesson found in the following supplication attributed to the Messenger of Allah, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam. O Allah, show me truth as truth, and provide me with the ability to follow it, and falsehood as falsehood, and the ability to abstain from it. اللهُمَّ أَرِنَا الحَقَّ حَقّاً وَارْزُقْنَا التِبَاعَةَ وَأَرِنَا البَاطِلَ بَاطِلاً وَارْزُقْنَا اجْتِنَابَهُ،
So we should be seeking truth in order to benefit from it. This is particularly important to the leaders and lecturers. You are teaching people, and to teach, one must be a willing and consistent student. When truth is identified and it is clear, we should- for our own sake- embrace it.

Imam Ash Shafi'ee [ d. 820 CE] is reported to have said, upon debating other scholars "I debate believing I am right and my opponent wrong, but I am also conscious that I may be wrong, and my opponent right."  That  statement is a sign of a truly healthy soul.

[2] Lack of empathy: A particular problem of our age. We see so much violence in our entertainment and our news that we no longer are surprised. We lose our empathy. To feel for others when they are in a bad situation is a sign of a healthy heart. To be emotionally touched by loved ones, children or even animals, is a sign of a healthy heart, even if that goodness is buried deep down- making it hard for others to see.

The Prophet Muhammad- upon whom be peace and the choicest of blessings, observed that the strong man is not the one who can wrestle another down, but one who can restrain himself while angry [Bazzaar].

This Hadeeth is particularly relevant, as in our age strength is determined by the amount of weapons and money at the disposal of one's nation or person.

[3] Sinful behavior:  The mainstreaming of irreligious ethos has made acceptable many things which was considered shameful in the past. When we discuss sinful behavior here, we mean that things which are clearly Haraam according to the religious texts has been made lawful, in the name of religion.  This weekend saw a failed attack on a "draw Muhammad" event in Texas. How can murder be made lawful as a Muslim? To add salt to the wound, it was said to have been staged to defend the Messenger of Allah. Yet, the Messenger of Allah, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, was told repeatedly by God to simply withdraw from the company of those insulting the signs of Allah [ Q 4:140, 6:69, also see 6:108, which says Muslims aren't even supposed to ridicule the idols of the Mushrikeen].

Another example of mainstreaming sinful behavior is something widely promoted in the media, homosexual activity allegedly justified by Islam. An openly homosexual "Imam" by the name of Daa'iyee Abdullah, is constantly on the interview circuit, complete with a beard [in keeping with Sunnah] and a cap. It's one thing to have a weakness, but to lie about it, to justify it by misrepresenting the faith, and to even form an institution to promote it, is indeed a sign of a serious spiritual illness. It's better to just say "I have a weakness, and hope for God's forgiveness" than to search out loopholes on something that is beyond reasonable doubt.[Ft.#5]


Conclusion

This post is by no means meant to be exhaustive, but rather it's simply food, nay, a snack for thought. Are our beliefs, actions and attitudes in accordance with the Divine truths? Do we try to be better than we are today?

If we are questioning ourselves, then there is still hope. There is hope that we won't spiritually die in this life. So let us be a people who are constantly at work, striving to be healthy in all areas of our existence.


Footnotes

[1] Most religions have dietary codes as well as supplications to be recited during meals. From the Prophet's Sunnah, we are told to say Bismillah [In the name of God] before eating, praising God afterwards [Alhamdulillaah]. The Qur'an tells us to not eat meat slaughtered in the name of other than God as well [ 6:118, 6:121. 5:4].

[2] The Christian Gospel reports that Jesus [upon whom be peace] told his followers to become like little Children, if they want to enter into the Paradise. Matthew 18:3. The Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] observed that "Every child is born on the pattern [Al-Fitrah]". That Hadeeth [we have only quoted a portion] is understood to mean that all are born in a state of purity, of submission to God's will, and [as the remaining portions of the narration state] that society will change that child into something different. 

[3] Qur'an 25: 63-76 has the basic ethical code in Islam.


[4] Most scholars of Islam don't view Cigarettes or Tobacco products as forbidden, but only as Makrooh [disliked]. Even with that said, the harm is well-known and even printed on the packages.

[5] Homosexuals from Muslim ranks have basically picked up the same sort of arguments from their Christian counterparts to justify their activities.Lot ['Alayhis salaam] was, according to them, sent to condemn rape and highway robbery. This argument holds no water whatsoever when we see that the text has it that Lot says directly "are you approaching males, and not females?" [Q 7:80]

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.