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Thursday, May 5, 2016

A brief Quranic overview of History, Civilization and Priorities: Soorah Yuunus [10:10-20]

دَعْوَاهُمْ فِيهَا سُبْحَانَكَ اللَّـهُمَّ وَتَحِيَّتُهُمْ فِيهَا سَلَامٌ ۚ وَآخِرُ‌ دَعْوَاهُمْ أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّـهِ رَ‌بِّ الْعَالَمِينَ ﴿١٠ وَلَوْ يُعَجِّلُ اللَّـهُ لِلنَّاسِ الشَّرَّ‌ اسْتِعْجَالَهُم بِالْخَيْرِ‌ لَقُضِيَ إِلَيْهِمْ أَجَلُهُمْ ۖ فَنَذَرُ‌ الَّذِينَ لَا يَرْ‌جُونَ لِقَاءَنَا فِي طُغْيَانِهِمْ يَعْمَهُونَ ﴿١١ وَإِذَا مَسَّ الْإِنسَانَ الضُّرُّ‌ دَعَانَا لِجَنبِهِ أَوْ قَاعِدًا أَوْ قَائِمًا فَلَمَّا كَشَفْنَا عَنْهُ ضُرَّ‌هُ مَرَّ‌ كَأَن لَّمْ يَدْعُنَا إِلَىٰ ضُرٍّ‌ مَّسَّهُ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ زُيِّنَ لِلْمُسْرِ‌فِينَ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ ﴿١٢ وَلَقَدْ أَهْلَكْنَا الْقُرُ‌ونَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَمَّا ظَلَمُوا ۙ وَجَاءَتْهُمْ رُ‌سُلُهُم بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَمَا كَانُوا لِيُؤْمِنُوا ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ نَجْزِي الْقَوْمَ الْمُجْرِ‌مِينَ ﴿١٣ ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ خَلَائِفَ فِي الْأَرْ‌ضِ مِن بَعْدِهِمْ لِنَنظُرَ‌ كَيْفَ تَعْمَلُونَ ﴿١٤


وَإِذَا تُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُنَا بَيِّنَاتٍ ۙ قَالَ الَّذِينَ لَا يَرْ‌جُونَ لِقَاءَنَا ائْتِ بِقُرْ‌آنٍ غَيْرِ‌ هَـٰذَا أَوْ بَدِّلْهُ ۚ قُلْ مَا يَكُونُ لِي أَنْ أُبَدِّلَهُ مِن تِلْقَاءِ نَفْسِي ۖ إِنْ أَتَّبِعُ إِلَّا مَا يُوحَىٰ إِلَيَّ ۖ إِنِّي أَخَافُ إِنْ عَصَيْتُ رَ‌بِّي عَذَابَ يَوْمٍ عَظِيمٍ ﴿١٥ قُل لَّوْ شَاءَ اللَّـهُ مَا تَلَوْتُهُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَلَا أَدْرَ‌اكُم بِهِ ۖ فَقَدْ لَبِثْتُ فِيكُمْ عُمُرً‌ا مِّن قَبْلِهِ ۚ أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ ﴿١٦ فَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنِ افْتَرَ‌ىٰ عَلَى اللَّـهِ كَذِبًا أَوْ كَذَّبَ بِآيَاتِهِ ۚ إِنَّهُ لَا يُفْلِحُ الْمُجْرِ‌مُونَ ﴿١٧ وَيَعْبُدُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّـهِ مَا لَا يَضُرُّ‌هُمْ وَلَا يَنفَعُهُمْ وَيَقُولُونَ هَـٰؤُلَاءِ شُفَعَاؤُنَا عِندَ اللَّـهِ ۚ قُلْ أَتُنَبِّئُونَ اللَّـهَ بِمَا لَا يَعْلَمُ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَلَا فِي الْأَرْ‌ضِ ۚ سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَىٰ عَمَّا يُشْرِ‌كُونَ ﴿١٨ وَمَا كَانَ النَّاسُ إِلَّا أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً فَاخْتَلَفُوا ۚ وَلَوْلَا كَلِمَةٌ سَبَقَتْ مِن رَّ‌بِّكَ لَقُضِيَ بَيْنَهُمْ فِيمَا فِيهِ يَخْتَلِفُونَ ﴿١٩ وَيَقُولُونَ لَوْلَا أُنزِلَ عَلَيْهِ آيَةٌ مِّن رَّ‌بِّهِ ۖ فَقُلْ إِنَّمَا الْغَيْبُ لِلَّـهِ فَانتَظِرُ‌وا إِنِّي مَعَكُم مِّنَ الْمُنتَظِرِ‌ينَ ﴿٢٠


This entire Soorah is very interesting, and while our focus is on ten verses, it is important to note that some of the themes preceding the above-mentioned texts include:  [1] Addressing the false charges made by the Kuffar [blinded rejectors] regarding God's choosing certain humans to function as his messengers. These same people believe in everything from Angels to Aliens, so why would it be so hard to see a normal man, such as Muhammad, as his Prophet? [2] The functions of the universe [which includes Prophets] all point to an all wise and powerful God .[3] Just as the physical universe exists, paradise and likewise exist, made by that same God.

This brief analysis omits translating all the aforementioned texts except when deemed necessary. 

"Their call therein [i.e. the paradise, garden] will be 'glorified is you, O Allah, and their greeting therein is 'peace' [salaam], and their last statement is 'praise be to Allah, the Caretaker of the Universe."[Q 10:10]

We begin by seeing that Paradise [described in the Qur'an by many words, the main one being Jannah, which means garden] is a place of rest and contentment. For those who remember the guidance of Allah, their reward is this paradise. 

In addition to this, let us note here that this verse gives us some of the traditional practices among Muslim writers and scholars, such as ending their speeches with "And the last of our summons is praise be to Allah, the Caretaker of the Universe." 

"And if God were to hasten to people the bad [sharr] as He hastens to them their benefit [Khayr], their term would have ended, yet We [Allah] leave those who do not have hope in meeting with us [God] in their transgression, wandering about blindly. And yet when am injury [durr] touches man, he calls to God, laying down, sitting and standing [as well]. Yet [again] when We [God] removes his affliction, he acts as if he never called to Allah to remove the injury touching him. Thus the actions of the Musrifeen seem pleasant [to themselves]" [VV. 11-12]


Allah gives a long lease on life, and the consequences of one's bad actions/beliefs/attitudes are typically not felt immediately. For the Musrifeen, those who are in the habit of being wasteful, God only exists [if God exists at all for them], to fulfill their own lusts. When they have their need met, they run away from Allah. This happens in our lives as well, long lost friends and relatives calling when they want money and the like. 

[VV.13-14]  The character of such folks is abusive, they are eventually destroyed because they are criminal [Mujrimeeen]  in nature. This is not simply a reference to someone convicted of a crime in modern society. The Qur'an looks at the big picture. It is talking on a civilization level. 

The Roman, Greek,&  Egyptian empires were great civilizations, yet they were eventually destroyed. Their artifacts, as well as much of their history, is recorded and available for all to see. 

The fate of those who are narcissists in their dealings, in their societal ethics, is that they are eventually swept away. The relics of the past are left behind, per God's will, in  order to serve as physical reminders- as lessons for the future generations. 

[VV.15-16]  The "criminal" types have been heedless of Allah, and they actually want to see the revelation change to suit their whims. The Prophet Muhammad, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, cannot and will not do such a thing. Indeed, Q 69:44-47 tells us that he would face Divine punishment if he would attempt such a venture.

Thus we believe Allah's Deen is perfect, Allah's Qur'an is perfect, and unchangeable. Our understanding can evolve, yet it is we-if we are truly believers- that have to change to conform to Allah's deen, and not vice versa. 

[V.17] The description as "criminals" once again appears in connection to those wanting to change around Allah's guidance. They are doing what is described as "the most unjust" [Adhlamu] of acts, and lying on the Divine. 

Such types, be they in political power or within cults, they don't succeed. David Koresh and Jim Jones were men of power and authority, but no one seeks to follow their "Sunnah" today.  

[V.18] In context, the meaning here can seemingly be expanded from that given in traditional discourse. "And they worship other than God those which neither gives benefit nor harm, and assert 'these are our intercessors [Shafaa'unaa] with God." 

So we can understand another layer of meaning in terms of intercession as being the Intercession [Shafaa'ah] and the Intercessor [Shaafi'i] of political and social trends, as well as being represented by the cult figures cited earlier. 

These trends and political decisions are used to filter or dictate what is "divine guidance".  Indeed, in today's world, homosexual behavior [condemned in both Bible and Qur'an] is tolerated, if not directly promoted in the religious world. Meaningless slogans and rhetoric are used to obfuscate truth and justice, and these are signs of a criminally inclined leadership and social culture. 

It is a way of saying that we know better than God. Thus, we have the response "Say: Do you inform God of something that he does not know about in the heavens and the Earth?"

Allah made his deen and his laws. He knows all and should not be diminished in our eyes. Thus, "Glory be his, he is above what the Mushriks associate with him."


So so far we have seen many appellations used to describe the situation of those who would destroy not only others, but their own souls. 

In an environment of confusion, it is natural to seek out guidance, and often the first step is knowing one;s own roots. The Qur'an acknowledges here that the Mujrimeen exercise some control, even over the processes of gaining information, and seeks to empower the reader by taking them to mankind's beginnings.


[V.19] Tafseer Jalalayn interprets "And Mankind was one Ummah" as meaning "upon one deen, i.e.  Islam".

So Islam is not founded with Muhammad and the Qur'an, it was primordial. Sociologist Rodney Stark, [himself a critic of Islamic teachings] refers to what the Qur'an says here [" And mankind was one Ummah, then they differed.."] as "early trends towards monotheism are reversed and lush polytheism is reasserted.."[Ft.1]

"Then they differed". They got caught up in the cults, in following what is popular, even though it is quite harmful. They got caught up in Shirk in one form or another. Shirk is more than worshipping an idol, it is the removal of God's guidance to the extent that not only is God outright denied, he is seen as giving irrelevant rules. 

God says here that had not a decree [Kalimah] came before, the judgement would automatically be made. The majority of Mufassiroon assert that this refers to Allah's statement "And We [Allah] punish them not until We raise a messenger." { Q 17:15].

Imam Shawkanee [Fat-hul Qadeer] phrases as "None is taken to account until evidence [hujjah] comes."

So even though people do shirk by ignoring and ridiculing God, taking his presence as a joke and his regulations as a toy, they still have access to Divine Mercy till they are able to access and act according to the truth.

The truth is not necessarily in books or sermons. One's own healthy soul can often recognize what is right, even though social trends say the opposite. 

[V.20] Even though Allah is telling us things that are to generate personal and societal reform, the criminally minded are still looking to him for magic tricks. We are to know that Allah is above and beyond that.

Conclusion

We began by looking for and hoping for Paradise, a place where we will have peace and serenity. We have to begin, as a species, in today's world, to think about how to create Jannah here. We begin by seeking out God, obeying him, repenting our bad actions and wrong thinking as influenced by the criminals that influence us, be they politicians, cult leaders, musicians or Hollywood. The Qur'an almost always looks to the big picture, by asking us to use our minds and be students of important subjects such as history  and likewise, Islam, the deen completed and perfected with the coming of the Final Prophet, has within it all the elements we need to overcome despotic influence, to create human beings who are enlightened, tolerant, easy-going and full of mercy, wanting to live right and desiring never to bring harm to the environment or other human beings. This is not a pipe-dream or simply rhetoric. Prophet Muhammad proved this within his life, A people of debauchery reformed, almost completely. 

May Allah make us benefit from the Qur'an, make it for us a leader, a source of light, knowledge and mercy. Ameen!

Notes

[1] See DISCOVERING GOD: THE ORIGINS OF THE GREAT RELIGIONS AND THE EVOLUTION OF BELIEF [ PG.10, 2007, Harper-Collins publishers]



Tuesday, May 3, 2016

World religions class: University of Toledo department

Recently two groups of students paid us a visit and we had a class presentation on Islam.



Sunday, April 10, 2016

Problems and solutions: finding a completed knowledge

[Note: the following is the Friday Khutbah 4/8/16 at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam. The opening Hamd has been omitted, much of the original Arabic texts,  and the two sections of the Khutbah have been formatted into one article.]


Acting upon a bit of knowledge


Islam is the fastest growing religion worldwide. Alhamdulillaah, people are accepting it daily, after a process of investigation, on their own free will. Even with that, however, we still face some problems.

One of the issues we face is something that is also faced by Non Muslims with regards to the deen, and it occurs both inside and outside of religion. Essentially, this problem is acting upon only a little bit of knowledge. A person reads an ayah [of the Qur'an] or a hadeeth of the Prophet, or hears about an ayah or hadeeth, and forms a belief or an act based solely upon that. We will look at two examples, one minor and one major, to illustrate this point.

"None touch it except the purified" [Q 56:79]


People hear this verse and say that the Mus-haf [the physical Quranic text] cannot even be touched if that person does not have Wudoo' or is not clean. Thus, a culture has developed wherein there is a reluctance, even today, in giving a Qur'an to a curious Non Muslim.

Before sharing the context, I must share that personally, before reading the Qur'an, I do make Wudoo'! This is also the agreement [Jamhoor] among the madhaahib of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama'ah that Wudoo should be done before reading it, but the scholars do not offer textual support for this. Rather, we do it as a form of respect. With that, let's look at the context:

Indeed, it is a noble recitation, in a guarded record, None touch it except the purified, a revelation from the Caretaker of the Universe, is this a narrative [Hadeeth] that you ridicule, and that you make your money by lying about it." { Q 56:77-82]                            
The context clearly shows us the meaning, i.e.  spiritually dead, folks with sealed hearts, they cannot benefit or receive guidance from this revelation. This is given repeatedly throughout the Qur'an.

The major example is one that gets media attention as well as attention from Muslims. "Fighting is ordered upon you", says the Qur'an. Or "Kill them where you find them" [Q 2:191] . This is a harsh verse, yet when we read the context, we find "and fight in the cause of God those who fight you, and do not transgress the limits [set by God]" { Q 2:191]. Everywhere in the Qur'an where Qitaal is mentioned, we will also find the conditions and context. So Islam is neither a passive faith, nor a religion of aggression and violence.

So we can see what happens when we have the entire picture, the problems and misunderstandings are removed. Knowing the greater picture allows us to make correct judgements. This is not only important for the deen, but it is important for our dunya. Families are broken up, relationships destroyed,   due to misunderstandings, to having access to only half the information. Jumping to conclusions, making hasty decisions, can lead to devastating consequences. We pray to Allah to be people who act upon knowledge, we seek refuge from being hasty, losing control, and making bad choices.

Second lesson

We have to be careful, particularly in public, with our speech. While it is true that we live in a world where opinions are valued, the truth of the matter is that not all opinions are equal.  There is great wisdom in the Qur'anic statement "So ask the people of knowledge, if you don't know" [Q 16:43, among other places].

It is said that Imam Ash-Shafi'ee [ d.820 CE] was once asked by an atheist [Mulhid] if the Qur'an  tells us how to bake bread. The Imam asked for time, and later upon being asked by the questioner, gave the procedure by which bread is made. When asked where this is, the Imam cited this verse. Why? Because he asked a baker, someone whose job is to make bread, and received the answer!

So having a computer and a Facebook account does not qualify a person to speak authoritatively  on the deen, politics, history etc. We must be intelligent enough to see our strengths and weaknesses.

I once took a Non Muslim to an Islamic lecture, and the lecturer spent the next hour making inaccurate and rather ignorant statements on the Bible and Christianity. Obviously, that does not make a good impression. So don't speak on Islam, or Christianity for that matter, if you don't know the subject well enough. We must avoid the traps of self-delusions and have some humility.  Similarly, simply reading WebMD.com does not make you a doctor, a person whose opinion would be more useful than the doctor. Allow those who are trained for the job to do their job, don't seek to undermine them, as you only succeed in harming your own self. Have enough self-respect to know your limits. If you want to go beyond, work hard to reach that, but until then have enough self-respect and respect for those who have the qualifications for their roles.

Let us take lesson from the Prophet's Du'aa. After all, his supplications are not only invoking God, they are instructive for us.

"O Allah, show us truth as truth, and give us the ability to follow it, and show us Baatil  as Baatil, and give us the ability to abstain therefrom."                                                              





Monday, April 4, 2016

Is there such a thing as Islamic deception: a brief examination of the idea and practice of Taqiyyah

Introduction



A number of organizations and personalities have emerged in the last two decades or so in North America, seeking to safeguard Muslim rights and to portray in the media and wider public a positive image of Islam.These figures and organizations, admittedly self-appointed in some cases, have a variety of interests, contrasting visions and ideologies, but what they all have in common is that they receive a push-back, a response or a series of responses, and among those are that these [Muslims] are simply lying![Ft.1]

Knowing that Islam [as does all religions] look down upon lying, these foes will assert that the Muslim organizations/personalities are engaging in a sort of "Holy Hypocrisy", deceiving their audiences into thinking Islam/Muslims are not a threat, and it is they who assert that Muslims are doing Taqiyyah.

Thus, one finds on the Internet statements such as this .





What is Taqiyyah

Taqiyyah  [ تقیة] comes from the root Waqaya, to save, guard or protect. Muslims will recognize that from this root we get the word Taqwaaa, which refers to one's awareness and regards to God and Godly matters.

The phrase Taqiyyah is not present in the Qur'an, and the term itself is largely unknown to the average Muslim anywhere in the world.

The concept is associated with only four verses in the entire Qur'an [Q 40:28, 28:40, 3:28 and 16:106]. A cursory look at these texts is sufficient to show that a logical response is given to a rather deadly situation. A person can-if he or she is in fear of death at the hands of belligerent foes, verbally recant the religion.


"Those who reject God [verbally] after having [accepted ] his faith, except those who are compelled {Ft.#2}[against their will], while his heart is [truly] contented with faith..." [Q 16:106] 


The Deen is not a toy, it is not to be treated flippantly. Those who treat God's guidance in such a manner open themselves up to a Divine response. This, the verse ends:


"....However, whosoever opens their chest to rejection [BilKufri], on them is anger from God, for them is a great penalty." [Q 16:106]



The Commentators are in general agreement that this verse's immediate reference is to 'Ammar ibn Yaasir, an early convert to Islam. He and his parents were captured and tortured, asked repeatedly to renounce Islam and it's Prophet. They refused, and they were murdered, in front of the eyes of 'Ammar. In order to save his life, he did verbally renounce Islam{Ft.#3}. He was freed, and afterwards came to the Prophet Muhammad himself [upon whom be peace and blessings]. 'Ammar was obviously disturbed by all this, and the Prophet reassured him, as does the revelation of this Quranic text!

This should be sufficient to show that Taqiyyah has no relation to lying for political gain in any way, shape, fashion or form. 

Has Taqiyyah been practiced by Muslims after the Prophet's time?


The Muslim civilization, like any other, has had its periods of upheavals and  strife, competing interests and internal struggles. This writer has no doubt that these things happened with both average people and elites alike. It can easily be argued that regardless of religion, peoples in the middle ages would have to- in order to save their lives- do things like that. 

In terms of something religiously mandated, it is said that Ja'far As Saadiq,[702-765]  the sixth Shi'ah Imam, after whom the Twelver sect is officially named  [Ja'fariyyah], made it an important aspect of religious practice. He was a threat to the Abbasid monopoly on power, they were persecuting him and his followers. In order to safeguard themselves, they would have to conceal their faith. Practically, this meant, for example,  praying as Sunnis in Sunni fashion [as opposed to the distinctive Shi'ah format]. This practice of resorting to Taqiyyah is found in all the Shiite sects. 

Due to its acceptance in the Shi'ah world, an unfortunate side affect has been that they have given Sunni polemicists a stick to beat them with. Thus, Shiites' insistence that they believe in the same Qur'an as Sunnis do, and that they don't attribute divinity to 'Ali is simply dismissed as Taqiyyah. Indeed, in the political realm the Iranians are thought  of as  engaging in Taqiyyah when they say that they are not after nuclear weapons and that they don't desire to capture Makkah and Madinah from the control of Saudi Arabian authorities. 


Taqiyyah today

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003  led to civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites. Both formed what would be termed "death squads", searching out members of the opposite sect. Consequently, Sunnis in Shiah areas, often victims of executions and kidnap for ransom schemes, would change their names when they had an obvious Sunni name ['Umar or Abu Bakr, for example] and try to learn all the names of the Shiah Imams and the Shi'ah prayer format in case of capture. Shiites did the same thing, and undoubtedly do the same today in areas under ISIS control in both Iraq and Syria. 

In Pakistan yearly sectarian-inspired killing sprees have led both Ja'fari and Isma'ili Shiites to occasionally resort to Taqiyyah

Do Muslims deceive people about their religious teachings?

The idea that Muslim activists hide the truth about their religion [and, implicitly, their own intentions] is laughable when we consider that we live in an age of information and technology, where information on Islam [or any religion for that matter] is readily available at our fingertips.

Moreover, Taqiyyah is,  as we have seen, largely a Shiite practice done in order to avoid persecution at the hands of Sunni Muslims. North American Muslim activists are mostly Sunni, many of whom have no formal religious training or backround, and have themselves never even heard of Taqiyyah. How can they be engaging in something they have never heard of?

 

The charge of Taqiyyah, leveled by politicians and media pundits alike, is simply a pathetic response to a Muslim or Islamic organization doing their jobs well. It is also a dangerous call, designed to generate mistrust, xenophobia and political violence. 


Quranic teachings regarding lying and cheating


"Condemned are those who engage in fraud, those who, when they receive full measure, expect to get it, yet when they have to give [correct] measure, give less [i.e. cheating their customers].." { Q 83:1-3]



"O believers, be those standing, consistently, for God as witnesses for what is right. Do not allow the hatred of others make you act in a criminal fashion. BE JUST, as that is the closest to [expressing] Taqwaaa. Have Taqwaaa of Allah, indeed, Allah is aware of your actions." { Q 5:8}



"O believers, be those standing, consistently for justice, as witnesses for God, even if against your own selves, parents or close family. If they are wealthy or poor, God is nearest to them both. So do not follow inclinations, lest you deviate. If you do distort or turn away [from what is right], then [know that] Indeed, God is aware of your actions." [Q 4:135]


Footnotes

[1] One example is in Dr Zuhdi Jasser, a self described secular Muslim. He heads the American Islamic Forum for Democracy [AIFD]. Despite his right-wing political leanings and odd religious views and the fact that he is widely dismissed by the North American Muslim community as an opportunist looking for fame and fortune, he too, because of his Muslim backround [a Syrian American] is attacked as a sort of Trojan Horse soldier, engaging in Taqiyyah, by his detractors. 


[2] Ukriha is a passive verb. The structure clearly indicates that a person compelled, for fear of losing life, is allowed to verbally renounce Islam or proclaim words of Kufr. We have translated Ukriha here as "compelled".

[3] Imam Muhammad Ash-Shawkanee [ 1759-1839], author of the famous Quranic exegesis Fath ul Qadeer, explains this as "renouncing both in speech and action...such as prostrating to other than God." [ Shawkanee, Imam. Fat-h Al Qadeer, Kuwait, wazarat al awqaaf, Kuwait, 1988 edition, page 370]


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Useful Knowledge, Provision and acceptable deeds- learning from the Prophet's prayer

[ Note: The following is an edited version of a recent Friday Khutbah at Toledo Masjid. The opening Hamd has been omitted, and both sections of the Khutbah have been merged into one article.]


Prophet Muhammad as a teacher

In the Hadeeth literature, we read about the supplications [Ad'iyah] that the Prophet -Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, would make. These are not only prayers to Allah- they are also instructions in and of themselves. This is logical, when we consider that the Prophet is a teacher, so there are lessons or teachings present in his supplications.


We are told in the hadeeth literature that he, upon whom be peace and blessings, would make these supplications at Fajr [Dawn] and Maghrib [sunset], the traditional beginning and end of the workday.

"O Allah, I ask you for useful knowledge"

This is the first line. Allahumma innee as-alooka 'Ilman Naafe'an. The Prophet asks God for knowledge that will bring benefit.

In the Qur'an we have the Du'a "My Lord, increase me knowledge " [Rabbi Zidnee 'Ilmaa]. While the Quranic verse is general, the hadeeth here specifies the sort of knowledge as being useful knowledge. In order for knowledge to be useful, a goal or a series of goals has to be made. A person seeking entry into medicine, he or she is required to study certain subjects and have under his or her belt certain actions to meet this goal, A person wanting to do business in Japan would perhaps have to study Japanese language. These are examples of useful knowledge [Ilman Naafe'an].

As Muslims, we should be seeking, above all other goals, knowledge that will make our character better, that will smooth over the rough edges. Knowledge that will touch the heart and bring positive influences.


"And a provision that is lawful and wholesome"

The du'a continues "and a wholesome, lawful provision" [Wa Rizqan Halaalal Tayyiban]. Rizq is money, food, clothing. We want that which is healthy and lawful in Allah's sight. In today's world, knowledge and provision are increasingly interconnected. But perhaps the Rizq here is also spiritual. I admit this is speculation, a thought. Rizq , that sustenance or provision can come in many ways. We are sustained by our friends, our surroundings, the television programs we watch, the music we listen to and the figures, both religious and political, we follow. Look at Donald Trump, he does sustain his followers. They get something from listening to him. They receive "provision", however it is not healthy!

Even physically, a person can eat chips and cookies daily, and survive. Yet, we know that this is not healthy sustenance.

We are to desire sustenance that nourishes the soul, that is Halaal and wholesome. Parents seek to limit their children's contact with certain things, such as foods, immoral television programs and the like. This can likewise be applied to us, as adults, building self-discipline.


"And that [my] deeds are acceptable"

The Prophet's du'a continues "and that [my] actions be acceptable" [Wa 'amalan Mutaqabbalan]. Obviously, some actions are unacceptable.  In the Qur'an, we have the du'a "Our Lord, accept this Du'a". We have "Our Lord, accept from us".

Our actions in God's sight, and even in wider society, are acceptable if they are in keeping with what is Halaal, wholesome and beneficial. These are all connected with the heart.

Shaikh Muhammad Al-Ghazzali said "and when the human conscious [Dameerul Insaan] has died, it will not even be of benefit his memorization of the Qur'an."

So we pray that Allah makes us of those whom benefit from useful knowledge, may he give us goodly provision and may our actions be acceptable in his sight.


What we need to derive from the Sunnah

This du'a is an example of what we need to take from the Prophet's Sunnah in order to make this deen more than a collection of books, opinions and traditions. We want to make Islam a living reality, a force that truly benefits life.

This is how the Prophet functions, even after his death [peace be upon him] as Rahmatul lil 'aal ameen, a mercy to all nations [Q 21:107]. We need to get away from minimizing the Sunnah to things such as the Prophet's toothbrush [Miswak] and his clothes. His Sunnah is above and beyond such reductionist issues!

In a similar way, Allah sent a book called the Qur'an. It has not been sent to decorate your living room, simply to be recited at funerals and weddings.  It is a book that has been given to benefit a people who ponder deeply [Qawmin Yatafakkaroon]. God says directly that the Qur'an has been sent as a pure recitation, in order that "perhaps you will use your mind." [La'allakum Ta'qiloon] [Q 12:2 and 43:3]

It is true that our interests will differ, and our conclusions will differ, however, if we stay firmly grounded in Allah's deen and in the inspiration from the Prophet, we can be dynamic, change our lives for the better and have an impact upon others.

So it is important not only to memorize this du'a, but the lesson and impact behind it.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Finding self identity

This is a clip [audio] from Friday Khutbah, on the struggles to create personal identity.

Finding self identity, guidance from the Quran and sunnah

Towards a world of equals: Islam and the African Experience






[Note: The following is an edited version of our speech at the University of Toledo 2/17/16 "Towards a world of Equals: Islam and the African Experience".]

What is Islam?

When we think of 'Islam', we think of Prophet Muhammad, the Qur'an, Makkah, a specific set of peoples and traditions. However, the Qur'anic perspective[Q 2:136] is that all of the great spiritual teachers were teaching Islam, the word itself being a summary of those teachings, as it means "submission to God". These teachers had limited focuses and audiences.

The only exception to this is Muhammad. His message is universal. He is a universal messenger and the final Prophet [Q 33:40], so the teachings that emanate from him [i.e. Qur'an and the Prophetic Sunnah] must address universal themes.

Race issues in Islam 

Issues of race are addressed more clearly in the Qur'an and Sunnah than in the texts of any other religion. Moreover, the early history of Prophet Muhammad [ peace and blessings of God be upon him] and his followers demonstrate the practical application of what God gave them in the Qur'an. We will examine this in a moment, but we must say something about the title we have chosen for this presentation. Towards a World of Equals, in essence means a level playing field where artificial [and often physical], unjust constructs are removed.

The mental constructs are often the most dangerous. Harriet Tubman, the brave soul who guided many out of slave territory, is reported to have said " I freed a thousand slaves, I could have freed a thousand more-if only they knew they were slaves."

Thus, before changing the physical reality, awareness is necessary.  The next part of the title is Islam and the African experience. "Islam" is something very vast, because it is connected to the Lord of all. "Africa" is something that is also vast. It is a continent that not only gave birth to many civilizations, the first humans themselves emerged from Africa. The mainstream theory says the first humans emerged from Ethiopia region, while others point to South Africa. Yet, both are within the African continent. "The African experience" -as a part of the title, allows us a basis to see the bigger picture, rather than limiting ourselves to talking about slavery in the Americas.

Arabia at the time of the Prophet

Tribalism was common in those days. A war once occurred, lasting for forty years, over a camel straying into the tribal land of others. Female infanticide was practiced, and even food stuffs were deified.

Muhammad the man received a revelation. He was not expecting anything like this, although he was disturbed by his society. This revelation tells him to "Read". He, like most others in his society, was unable to read. The revelation continues "Read in the name of your Lord who has created" [Q 96:1]. This is a profound sentence. It is a call to look, ponder the world around you [O Muhammad and his people], see God's artistry in all, develop a thinking that goes beyond the petty, small-minded jealousies that had stunted Arabian growth.

This is something not only for the Arabs of that time, rather it is for all humanity.  Thus, even though there was opposition, war and the like, the transformation started. Yet all Prophets faced opposition, so this was nothing new.

Practical examples of transformation

The attitude of people striving to follow the Prophet illustrates this. In the Hadeeth literature [Saheeh Al-Bukhari] we have two Muslims arguing. One was Abu Dharr Al-Ghifari [from Kinaanah tribe] and one was Bilal [Ibn Rabah, al Habashi]. Bilal was Ethiopian [Al Habashi]. During the argument, Abu Dharr calls Bilal "You son of a black woman". This was the equivalent of the "N" word.

The hadeeth goes on to say that the Prophet became red with anger and told Abu Dharr "You still have ignorance within you.".

How does Abu Dharr react? He takes the correction like a man, he doesn't make excuses like our politicians do today in places like Flint, Michigan. He places his head in the sand and does not move it until Bilal steps over it.

I find this to be a powerful example of transformation. Abu Dharr was among those who heard the order of God and obeyed it, there and them [Q 2:285].

God says in the Qur'an that the variations in skin color and language exist to both show God's artistry and to strengthen the people of knowledge [Q 30:22].

Deep lesson in Bilal 

Bilal was a close companion of the Prophet. He had been a slave at one time. The Prophet appointed him as the Muadhdhin, who makes the call to prayer. It is said that he would mispronounce the Arabic letter "Sheen" as "Seen" [in the sentence "I testify that none deserves worship except Allah"] and the people complained about this. They would perhaps make fun of Bilal, in the same way that people make fun of imperfect spoken English or heavy accents today. In response to this, the Prophet says "Allah hears it as 'sheen' " meaning, God hears it correctly.


There is a deep lesson in this. Simply put, we are all equally imperfect. If we are equally imperfect, there is no room for judging figures as superior or inferior based on things like race, language, income or education. "The most honorable of you-in God's sight, as those with the most regards for God/Godly affairs in your midst"[Q 49:13]


This is also demonstrated in our prayer ritual. When we pray communally, behind an Imam, and he makes a mistake, we are to say loudly "Subhaan Allah". Here it means "Don't worry, it's not a big deal, only God is free from errors."

Africa

Forty five percent of the continent is populated by Muslims. Islam spread there early, particularly in North and East Africa. The first migration [Hijrah] was in fact to Ethiopia. There are many diverse cultures and circumstances there, and it's important to understand this because many people think of the continent as a monolithic place. Thus, while Islam arrived early in North and East Africa, it didn't reach West Africa until roughly the 14th-15th century.

That region produced the likes of Mansa Musa, a wealthy ruler who transformed his domain [the Songhai ] to a world class empire.

He made his Hajj [pilgrimage to Makkah], and the journey there he gave away so much wealth that the Egyptian gold value declined and still had not recovered 12 years afterwards.

Africans in the Americas

It is estimated that atleast a third of the slaves were Muslims, and it has also been argued that Mansa Musa's empire had already discovered the Americas and had trade relations with the native populations long before Christoper Columbus. Be that as it may, we know that Muslims brought there religion with them here. There is recorded many examples of Muslim slaves, even scholarly ones.

Slavery has-without doubt, produced a devastating legacy that is felt even today. It was a unique form of slavery due to it's utter barbarity. The recent attempts to repackage it as Atlantic triangular trade is utterly disgusting.

This type of slavery was nothing short of cultural and physical genocide.


Islam in the struggle

The struggle for dignity for Africans in the Americas took social, intellectual and economic forms. Many figures emerged such as Frederick Douglass, W.E. B. Du-bios, Marcus Garvey. Islam as a reference point was never absent in this historical struggle.

Of all these attempts to address the damage to the psyche of African Americans, the most famous- at least in terms of being associated with Islam, was the Lost found nation of Islam [or simply Nation of Islam, NOI]. The particular religious teachings of Elijah Muhammad were clearly at odds with the Qur'anic picture [the NOI beliefs included that whites were the literal devils, 'God in man", denial of hereafter etc..] , yet it is without doubt that  this movement produced drastic and lasting changes, for themselves and African Americans in general. The NOI produced the likes of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.  These were men of principle and conscious. Muhammad Ali refused to acknowledge the draft and Malcolm X started to see the bigger picture in society, both of these men caused Americans to reexamine their beliefs and politics.


The Greatest function of African Americans in relation to Islam

American Islam itself continues to evolve, and African Americans are certainly part of that equation. I think that one of the most consistent and important function of African American Muslims, and this includes heterodox understandings, is that they have consistently given a critical analysis of the wider society.

Today's NOI is led by Minister Louis Farrakhan. Look at their Newspaper, The Final Call, and the books his organization publish. Most of them deal with attempting to understand and deal with, usually by exposing, the hypocrisy of the mainstream social order, the political system. They still retain the odd religious doctrines, but their efforts in the other areas should not be denied. Imam W.Deen Mohammed and his community have functioned in the same way. He was the son of NOI figure Elijah Muhammad, he became the leader upon the death of his father [1975] and almost immediately changed the theology of the organization to be in lines with the Qur'an and Sunnah.

It was Min.Farrakhan who broke away from Imam Mohammed, dissatisfied with the latter's direction.

Imam WD Mohammed [d.2008] continued the tradition of analysis and teaching, but his style was more of conciliation rather than the language of conflict. His followers have in recent years attempted to collect all of his statements on religion in an attempt to form a coherent or systematic style unique to themselves, and it remains to be seen how successful such a project will be, nonetheless I think that the bigger issues of society have already been addressed and that a wealth of observations are already present to continue the analysis of society.

In short, these are branches from the same tree that should inspire us to think outside the box. To study, research, discover those hidden truths and-if needed, to act in a way different than mainstream society expects us. The Prophet is reported to have said "Contemplation for a single hour is more useful than a year's amount of worship."

We should be inspired by this history to be a people who are not idealists, but rather, a people who put good ideas into real practice. To have morals and be deserving of respect. To grow, not simply in wealth, but in personal development. This is not only Islam's mission to Africa- It is Islam's mission to mankind. A world of equal opportunities, that removes the shackles of ignorance, prejudice and classism.

Recommended books

[Note that I don't agree with all of the conclusions of the authors, but nonetheless these are titles worth exploring, works that cause us to think and rethink.]

[1] Islam, Black Nationalism and Slavery by Adib Rashad. A thoroughly researched summary of the history of Islam and it's relation to the Black struggle in the Americas.

[2] Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race by Edward Blyden. First published in 1888, the author was an African American Christian missionary attempting to spread Christianity in Africa. He details a wealth of personal experiences and studies and focuses mainly on the impact of the religions in Africa. He directly shows his views that Islam has had a more positive impact.]


[3] Muslim identity and social change in Sub-Saharan Africa , edited by Louis Brenner. An academic work, a collection of essays on various topics relating to the development of Islam in Africa.]

[4] The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

[5] Symbolism, Holidays, Myths and Signs by Alauddin Shabazz. Although an old book, the author provides analysis of many subjects that are related to religions as well as mainstream culture, music, Television programs etc..