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.
THE BLADEEnlarge | Buy This Photo
“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.
THE BLADEEnlarge | Buy This Photo
“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.”
THE BLADEEnlarge | Buy This Photo
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.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Contemplating Islamic principles: Marriage, love and family ties in today's world


We often say that "Islam is the answer", that all of  the contents of the Qur'an and the Sunnah have all we need for guidance, even though the scripture and the Prophet to whom it was revealed, upon whom we pray for God's choicest of blessings and peace, was sent forth fourteen centuries ago, in the Arabian peninsula.

Yet, this assertion is under constant scrutiny. It is questioned, even by some believing, practicing Muslims.There are a number of examples from the Islamic texts, terms and concepts, particularly from the realm of social relations, that are cited, be it Jizyah, Dhihaar{Ft.#1}, AhlidhDhimmah, and so forth. Should these type of concepts be revived in a modern, complex and diverse world? If so, in what fashion? If these things should be consigned to the past, would that not deny the assertion that Islam has all the answers? Would it not show Islam to be relevant only to a particular moment in the past?

To answer this question, we would like to examine the example of male-female relations.

Relations between men and women a  foundation for healthy life

This statement needs no textual evidence to back it up. Adults know this instinctively. Humans seek out the companionship of the opposite sex, be it through Halaal or Haraam means. If unsuccessful, that failure can lead to many problems, creating bitterness that can eventually lead even to things such as suicide and murder, as we recently seen with Elliot Rodger, a young man who, due to his failures with women, went on a rampage in Santa Barbara, California , killing seven people as well as himself.

In the time of the Prophet, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, there were men who swore off women. One says he will fast continously, and another says he will even undergo castration, that way there is no distractions and they can simply devote their time to worship.The Prophet responds to this by saying "I fast and I break fast [meaning that he doesn't continously fast], and I marry women." He says " Marriage is my Sunnah, and whosoever abandons my Sunnah is not of me." [ Bukhari, 62:1, narrated by Anas ibn Malik]

Searching for love

Worldwide people have grown up watching movies and hearing about 'soulmates', seeking out 'love'{ft.2}. The modern world's method is for dating to take place, the couple go out for a couple years, discover is they are indeed compatible in all areas, 'fall in love' and marry. Admittedly the emotional tie is the norm. There is no objection, either religious, moral or legal, to wanting to love and be loved. But we have to admit, Islam - God's Deen for the benefit and health of humanity, is actually very realistic. What we mean by this is that while the rhetoric of love is very appealing, this pattern of repeated relationships people go through, having the ups and downs of emotional attachments even when unmarried, brings forth constant instability. Countless problems are created because of this instability, a pattern that repeats itself so much that a person, even a 'catch'- may never move forward towards other important life areas.

Looking at some of the options available 

Islam does not lend support to sexual relations, except in a certain context, i.e. the marriage context. Even in that, Islamically [as per the Sunnah], marriage is very easy. Agreement [Qubool] between the parties, a gift to symbolize the man's responsibility in this serious manner [Mahr or dowry], a ceremony [Ft.3], the agreement being witnessed by a minumum of two witnesses.Forced relationships are Haraam.

Society may have certain expectations that are unrealistic or unreachable for certain peoples. Moreover, there are also traditional demands about having spouses from the same race or social status, village, family or tribe etc, leading to extreme stress and late marriage, if at all.

The Qur'an has this to say, as an example of the options available. The quoted translation is from Saheeh International.

And whoever among you cannot [find] the means to marry free, believing women, then [he may marry] from those whom your right hands possess of believing slave girls. And Allah is most knowing about your faith. You [believers] are of one another. So marry them with the permission of their people and give them their due compensation according to what is acceptable. [They should be] chaste, neither [of] those who commit unlawful intercourse randomly nor those who take [secret] lovers... 4:25

To put it in another way, if the normal avenue of marriage is unavailable for a man, he should expand his field of potential mates to include those whom he would not usually seek out. Why not seek out, or at least be open to, a woman who already has children? Or a widow, as there are many women who have been widowed as a result of the war in Syria and Iraq.

Islam repeatedly connects solving social problems with the religious life. A woman struggling, for whatever reason, does not need limited charity. Charity, although good and a religious pillar, is of a limited reach. However, a woman or a mother with children with no support will find long-term solution in being with a man who at least is willing to deliver emotional, moral, physical and of course financial support. That- in term- will see the development of love, of families melding together, of becoming attached and loving children.

We also admit that Islam allows a limited polygamy. All of these allowances from the Most Wise Creator, if done with maturity, planning, a realistic [as opposed to ideal] outlook, can bring forth more peace in neighborhoods, responsibility, less burden on governments. Men and women learning to expand their scope of care and support. In the end, that is the miracle of miracles. Community oriented and socially responsible human beings who seek to obey Allah and his Messenger.

[1] Dhihaar was a common divorce method in Pre-Islamic Arabia designed to maximize suffering to a woman, so that she could neither expect support from her husband nor seek out a new husband. The Qur'an [ 58:2-3] outlawed this practice.

[2] An interesting fact is that the Arabic word for love, Hubb, is from the same root as the word Habb, which means seed. The ideas interchanging within these words are obvious. From the seedling we may get a fruit producing tree, benefitting generations. The same can be said of love.

[3] In many societies the important thing is the signing of the marriage agreement ['Aqd], the ceremony only being for public consumption. Moreover, it is often the case that neither the groom nor bride are at the signing, being signed instead by representatives.