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Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Purpose of religion


Many view religion- and particularly a faith such as Islam- in terms that are a bit misleading. It's not an ideology in the minds of many of us, but rather [A] A personal or ethnic identity marker. 'This is what my parents were, so I am as well'. [B] A way to address or even escape life and its varied hardships and responsibilities. [C] As a way to be distinct from others, allowing isolationism.


The above mentioned reasons and others not mentioned here are often highlighted-in many ways inaccurately- by elements of the media to explain the rather phenomenal spread of Islam, particularly among Women and the Middle Class in The USA, UK, etc..! Oftentimes, Islam's spread is presented as something strange, like a virus that has to be stopped at all costs, attacking the weak and vulnerable in society, those unable to deal with 'normal' life, education, money, the opposite sex, etc..at nausea.

This particular thread of propaganda became most apparent to this writer while watching an episode of Law and Order. In this episode, a woman's rights activist is killed by a young Muslim convert [who sports a beard, Kufi and Jalabiyyah] for 'blaspheming Islam'. of course, he is captured by the authorities, and while acting as his own attorney, attributes his crime to 'defending Islam' from attack. His problems with women become apparent in his dealings with the female Judge and Prosecutor and informs his audience "Allah made men superior to women" and that "American women walk the streets of our holy cities with faces unveiled". The clip below is suppose to be an analysis of his 'condition'.






His 'condition' is used against him, digging up an old girlfriend, the prosecutors threaten to use the relationship against him, compelling him to accept a guilty plea and the sentence.

The reality of conversion [or 'reversion'] is very different for most people. That is not to say that there are not people out there who accept Islam [or any other religion] for escapism or some other mental need, but in general what attracts people to Islam is its intellectual appeal. It does not demand or expect blind faith and obedience. The Qur'an and Hadeeth literature both encourage the seeking of knowledge as a prerequisite of faith and devotion, points to creation itself as a sign of God's power and existence, and is itself not based on "miracles". There is no one to die for your sins or create wine from water, it places great emphasis on personal responsibility and accountability.

In any case, we wish to explore a bit as to the purpose of religion.


Purpose: for Allah alone.

A very succinct Quranic sentence tells us "Religion is exclusively for God" [Ala Lillahid deenul Khaalis] [Q 39:3]. There is no mention of using a religion to rebel from one's parents or to seem 'hipe'. This sentence tells us that when we accept religion or embrace religion, we do so because we believe it to be the path God has blessed with correct guidance. We follow it because we have been intellectually convinced of the veracity of its claims, that it will teach us about God, God's will for our lives, in short, how to properly conceptualize God.

But what else does the statement "For God" mean? We also say things like "In the cause of God" [Fee SabeeLillaah]. When we observe prayer, we say we do it "For God the most high" {Lillaahi Ta'alaa}. What do all these phrases mean?


To understand that, we have to understand that God does not need our prayers, nor our fasting. He does not need us to feed him [Q 51:57]. So, when we say "for God" we need to understand that after conceptualizing the Divine in the correct manner, as outlined in the Qur'an [ft.1], we become obligated to act correctly. By adopting the lifestyle and worldview that is asked of us by God, by abandoning racism, classism, or any other sort of negative 'ism'.


'A'ishaa bint Abi Bakr [Radee Allahu 'Anha] spoke of Muhammad, her husband and the Last Prophet, in a beautiful way. She was asked about his character, and she responded with "His character was the Qur'an [Kaana Khuluquhul Qur'aan].

If we accomplish this, internalization of the word of God, then these sorts of neorisis would disappear. When we say we should apply the Islamic teachings, we mean to say that all of the Islamic teachings should be applied, rather than selective.[Ft.2]

To accept Islam, we don't have to hate America, or to hate Christians or other peoples. We don't have to become bad copies of other people and forget our own histories and backround. To be a Muslim, we simply have to recall the following succinct Quranic verse:

Say:Surely, my prayers, my devotional acts, my life and death are all for Allah, the Nourisher of the Universe" [Q 6;163].

Footnotes

[1] See for example our article on Ayatul Kursiyy [The Divine throne] .http://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2008/01/divine-throne-examination-of-ayatul.html

[2] This writer was once told by a non-practicing Muslim that if he saw his sister without Hijaab, he would "without hesitation put a bullet in her head". The irony in this statement is two-fold. [A] The dress code, whose interpretation is widely disputed today, is only mentioned twice in the Qur'an [33:59 and 24:31] whereas Prayer and charity has been mentioned perhaps hundreds of times, and [B] The Qur'an does not impose a death sentence for altering dress, only for murder [17:35] and creating social chaos [5:33]

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting for the first time: A Muslim's thoughts

I have a confession to make; today was my first time ever voting! I have been registered to vote for years, and have even been summoned to Jury duty [which I have yet to do, as logistics have prevented me in the past] as a result of being a registered voter, but today was a first for me. This may be strange to both Muslim and Non-Muslim readers, hearing how a Muslim woke up very early [about 5:30 am], showered and offered morning prayers [Salaat al-Fajr] and walked to a nearby Church with his Hijab-clad wife to cast the ballot.

The actual experience

The Polling station opens at 7:00 A.M., and I was expecting long lines, but we only waited about fifteen minutes, in contrast to reports I have heard from friends and brothers throughout the country, who waited for 2-3 hours in line to cast their votes. It seems that while irregularities have been reported here and there, in general the process has gone smooth across the board.

Why did I vote now?

In the past, I have been had an apathetic approach to politics. While I enjoy its study in theory, I had the belief, as do most Americans [even if they don't admit it] and others in the world [who will gladly admit it if there's not a Policeman nearby] that Politicians are deceptive in general, that the whole system is very corrupt, and that there is no hope of change at all. My vote will not count anyways, I believed, and in addition to this, I have flirted with the view that Voting in such a system may be allowed Islamically, but only by a thin thread.

I voted now because I believe that the conditions are apt for change, because people really want it! With the U.S. engaged in two wars, which benefits only weapon contractors, the economy in shambles, Insurance problems and Credit becoming increasingly harder to obtain, people are finally beginning to feel the pressures that others worldwide feel on a regular basis, and do not wish to continue on this course. Let us hope that our hopes for change are not in vain.


What about Islam: does it really endorse representative democracy?

Before I go into this subject, I think it necessary to add this observation; i.e. that while voting does take place in much of the Muslim world, it is a widely disgraced practice, as there may only be one candidate on the ballot, your 'no' vote to the ruling party magically [Cough, cough] turns to 'yes', and those who dare attempt to vote for another party or candidate will be visited in a day or so by some really mean looking gentlemen wishing to 'enlighten' that disaffected person. So, I believe that with such a background, it is easy for 'Ulamaa residing in the Arab world or in another location to tell Muslims living in the West to not vote. Here are some of the usual arguments:

[A] Islamic law does not endorse decision making by the masses anyways. There is only one law and system, the Shari'ah and/or the Khilaafah! Voting in the US or Britain constitutes Kufr! Allah is the only law-giver, and Muslims should rally around a khalifah!

[B] If we do vote, it should be only with regards to 'Muslim issues', such as Palestine and Iraq! Otherwise, let the Kaafireen worry about themselves! In this connection, I should mention that this position was adopted in Apartheid South Africa by some leading Muslim scholars, and fatawa were issued disowning Muslims in the anti-apartheid movement, on the grounds that the system in place at that time placed no restriction on Muslims offering prayers in the Mosques! In addition, 'working with the Kuffar' was also a catch-phrase accusation leveled at Muslims involved in Anti-Apartheid activities.


There are some other arguments out there, position papers and books detailing these sorts of views, but in general all of them revolve around the points noted above.

[A] The Qur'an has categorically endorsed collective decision making. Believers, we are told, are :

42:38 Those who hearken to their Lord, and establish regular Prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual Consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance.


The wording "Wamrahoom Shuraa Baynahum" appears here, in connection with prayer, which in many instances is a collective exercise in the Muslim community, and charity, distributed to the needy society. There is no restriction given here about where and how this should be practiced. In other words, just as Jumu'ah prayers are equally valid in San Francisco or Saudi Arabia, participating in the decision making processes are valid whatever the system, as long as there are safeguards to prevent injustices and such. This is not to say that injustice does not exist, we can see this even in systems of government that applies Islamic laws [Taliban in Afghanistan as well as the old Nizam-e-Mustafa system in Pakistan are good examples of misapplication], but it does not mean that just because a system has its origins or popular usage among Non-Muslims that it automatically becomes Un-Islamic or unacceptable to the Muslim community.

As for the wish to have a Khilaafah system, perhaps that may happen in the future, but I won't be holding my breath. It does seem prudent that Muslim nations form something analogous to the European Union [UN], this could be a body Khalifah. Organizations such as the OIC [Organization of Islamic conference] can very well act in this capacity, giving a united voice, free trade, loans and grants to each other, and a variety of other actions that will greatly improve our conditions, but perhaps that is also something that will not happen anytime soon. In any case, it seems that having a figure such as a Sultan or Khalifah for all Muslims is a unrealistic expectation.

Getting back to collective decision making, we are also given in the Qur'an instructions not to allow anyone to feel marginalized, to allow them at least a voice and a seat at the table. See Q 58:11.

[B] 'Muslim issues' is very limited, and actually acts as self-marginalization. Why should we not vote on issues that will affect our health care, local services such as Police, Fire departments, schools etc..? Muslims should have a say on all these issues, at the very least because the Qur'an and Sunnah likewise have something to say about all issues. As the Qur'an says "And we have omitted nothing from the Book" [Q 6:38] as well as "Today have I perfected your religious law for you, and have bestowed upon you the full measure of My blessings, and willed that self-surrender unto Me shall be your religion."[Q 5:3].


Using the example of South African Muslims, the issue of Race discrimination has always been a priority of Islam. Looking at the Qur'an, and seeing the many practical examples from the Prophet's own life. and his final address to the Muslims show us that those opposing Muslim participation in the Anti-Apartheid movement had actually internalized those racial ideas preached by the Racists! Islam is not just applicable when Muslims are a majority, but also while living as a minority! Wherever Muslims live, we should have the light of Islam in our actions and attitude. Our influence will, God-willing, act as a guiding force that will make for positive change and contribution to the society and world we live in. The Prophet Muhammad may be a mercy to believers, but he is also a mercy to all nations [Q 21:107]. The Muslims, his followers, should likewise be the same.


Conclusion

The arguments I have presented here may not be convincing for all, so my advice is this: follow whatever your conscious and your understanding of the will of Allah Ta'alaa is. Just remember that Muslim behavior and ethics can be a light whereever we are, and that the will of Allah cannot be overturned. Allah's promises are true, even though those promises are sometimes hard to recognize.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Only one God: forgotten aspects of Tauheed and its application



It is well known that the most important declaration is the essential truth that nothing deserves worship except Allah, Laa e-laa ha ill Allah. This sentence, known as Tahleel, is recited during prayers, on occasions of happiness and sadness {ft.1}, and even during the process of dying when possible.{ft.2} Certainly there is much that can be said [and has been said] about the Tahleel, Islam's unique creedal statement{ft.3}, however, it seems that there are some aspects of Islam's creed that need to be made publically known, for the benefit of Muslims and Non-Muslims alike.


Justice

It is obvious that the Quranic account of the mission of the Prophets have more social implications, and is not limited to theological arguments. Although many examples can be cited, the account of Moses and Aaron should be sufficient. For further details, we recommend reading the Qur'an [20:42-50].

Returning to the Tahleel, we are informed by the Qur'an:

The 'Shahaadah' of Allah is 'there is no deity except him' {Laa e laa ha illa Huwa}. As well as [being the declaration of] angels, and people of knowledge who stand for justice..[Q 3:19]


Here, Tauheed, or the oneness of God, is given as the basis or the foundation for God's dominion of the universe. There is no injustice from God, nor are there any random occurrences. It also shows us that those who uphold Tauheed have an interest in the preservation and cultivation of knowledge, technical ability, sciences and so forth. These people also have an interest in seeing the application of fair-play, preservationof the rights of others, in short, justice universally applied.

This aspect of Tauheed can also be discerned from the Hadeeth literature:

Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand, and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue, and if he is unable to do so, then with his heart, and this is the weakest of faith. [Reported by Muslim, Al-Nawawi's Forty Hadith, Ezzedinne Ibrahim, Denys Johnson Davies, page 110. Holy Koran publishing house, Beirut, 1979].



For those who uphold a conviction that God is one, fairness for all is a pillar of faith that will not be abandoned, one that must be translated into action when needed. Otherwise, our declarations of faith will be empty words, revealing only our hypocrisy.

Standing for justice [Qaa'iman Bil Qist] does not equate making rash, emotional decisions, nonetheless it should be in the minds of the Muwahhidoon [Those who believe in God's oneness].

Hast thou ever considered [the kind of man] who gives the lie to all moral law? Behold, it is this [kind of man] that thrusts the orphan away, and feels no urge to feed the needy. Woe the, unto those praying. Whose hearts are remote, those who want only to be seen and praised. And, withal, deny all assistance [to their fellow-man]. {Q 107:1-7, Muhammad Asad translation, The message of the Qur'an, 1980, Dar al andalus, Gibraltar.



Idolatry: Injustice to God and man

Some Muslim writers correctly assert that God has rights, just as humans do, and those rights should not be violated. Yet, even in that, it is also true that we cannot hurt God. The Qur'an presents a concept of the Divine that is strong, showing God as wise, independent, and powerful. In other words, our neglect of prayers does not harm him, it only harms ourselves. Allah says

I do not want from them any provision, nor do I want them to feed me. [Q 51:57]

We don't sustain Allah, he sustains us. We recite this fact daily in prayer with the line "Praise be to Allah, Nourisher of the universe" [Q 1:2].

To worship something other than God, an action known to Muslims as Shirk, is given in the Qur'an as the greatest crime imaginable [Q 31:13]. It is not because God needs our worship, nor is he hurt by our misplaced devotion{ft.4]. Shirk is in fact the foundation or basis by which other crimes are committed!

A policy of ethnic or religious genocide, in which one group of people see themselves as better or more deserving than the other wipe out the latter, or deny them rights, is a classic example of Shirk! Worship of one's prejudice and arrogance-shirk- led to the crime of genocide, such as in Rwanda, Bosnia and other places.

Theologically, seeing an individual as God-incarnate is also considered Shirk, mainly for two reasons;

[1] God is something greater than a human, actually a reality that can not be fully conceptualized [Q 42:11].

[2] The one viewed as "God in person' invariably commits crimes and abuse of both his followers and others.

Portraits of Jesus Christ [viewed by Christians as God incarnate and God's son] that display in homes, Churches and Bible printings worldwide as a Caucasian has the subtle effect of portraying Europeans as sharing Divinity. As a result of this, another trend has arisen in which Jesus is portrayed in Bible printings and films as Black!

Colonialism, Slavery, and many other forms of injustice can be traced back to Shirk!


Intercession

Many of us believe that at some point, personalities, be they alive or dead, will intercede with God on our behalf. Traditions have beec created to support this view, and the situation is now that almost every religious group worldwide accepts this doctrine in one form or another.

In the outset, it should be said that there is no harm in asking someone to pray for you. That, however, vastly differs from invoking a dead or absent personality. In any case, the Qur'an informs us that God's decisions are in his hands alone, therefore it makes more sense to invoke him alone.

Say: Intercession [Shafa'ah] is in the domain of Allah entirely {Jamee'an}. To him belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, then to him you will return. [Q 39:44].


Acknowledgment of God's messengers constitute Shirk?



It has been asserted by many in recent years that the statement "Muhammad is the messenger of Allah" [Muhammad ar Rasool Allah] is idolatry. Insincere people make this statement, we are sometimes told. The supporters of this view quote the following verse as evidence;

When the hypocrites come to you [O Muhammad] they say: We testify that you are indeed Allah's messenger...[Q 63:1]

However, the verse goes on to say that "And Allah knows that you are truly his messenger." If Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, was a false messenger, then the theory would hold some merit. However, the Qur'an shows us that he was a true prophet and messenger, so why would acknowledging a true fact be idolatry?

Moreover, the Qur'an tells us that God himself acknowledges that he sent Muhammad as his messenger, with the Qur'an.

However, Allah makes Shahaadah [Allahu Yash-hadu] as to what he has to you [O Muhammad], sent to you from his knowledge ['ilmihi]. And the angels [also declare this] [Yash-hadoon]. And Allah is sufficient as a witness. {Q 4:166}


Conclusion

Tauheed is very important, not just as some abstract notion, but in terms of seeing life correctly, our place in it right, and in terms of our own consciousness as humans. For God to assist us and accept our prayers, we should conceptualize him in the manner as given throughout the Qur'an, and also use our hands, our tongues, our money, our very selves, to give justice, both for us and others, regardless of their label, class or ethicity!

God does not die, is all kind and merciful. He hears the calls of those who call on him, so he should be invoked, rather than other figures. Nothing should divert us from Allah!

Shirk is not limited to theological error. It is the root of all evil. Racism, arrogance, murder, all can be traced back to Shirk!

Footnotes

[1] One will notice when living in various parts of the Muslim world that Laa elaha ill Allah is said at different times, depending on the particular culture.

[2] Abu Dawud 3/190.

[3] See http://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2008/01/tauheed-understanding-divine-monotheism.html

[4] Some religions, such as Hinduism, have rituals which involve a devotee leaving rice as an offering to the deity.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Muslim Americans, what now? thoughts on the the impact of W.Deen Mohammed and the future




The death of Imam W.Deen Mohammed, long time fixture in the Muslim American community, sent shock waves nationwide, affecting not only his followers, but the wider Muslim community as well. He was widely seen as a source of stability and confidence for U.S.Muslims, particularly African-American Muslims, many of whom also saw in him a symbol of pride and independence.

His death has re-ignited interest in an oft-ignored African American Muslim community, and has also prompted questions as to the past, present and future image of Islam with a distinct American appearance.

Who was W.Deen Mohammed

Son of Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the 'Lost-found Nation of Islam' or simply Nation of Islam [NOI], a movement whose doctrines were a mixture of Islam, Christianity and a variety of race-based fictional accounts. It was founded in the days when discrimination and marginalization of Black Americans was a normal fact of life, also a time when various religious and political movements were vying for the Consciousness and loyalty of Blacks. Elijah Muhammad's interests were not religious alone. While he did view Christianity as a tool to put down Blacks, and Islam as a liberating religion for Blacks, he also had cultural, social and economic interests. He gave his followers the drive to be industrious, hard-working, and productive, opening a variety of restaurants, farms, and other business ventures. He advocated a rather unrealistis vision, complete separation of the races, that some land be set aside for Blacks only, for a Black nation!

It was this movement that produced well-known figures such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. Although marginalized in historical accounts, this movement, despite its clearly odd patch job of a theology, played an important role in both the African-American struggle for human rights and the establishment of Islam in American life.


Upon the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975, his son Wallace [also known as Imam Warith-Deen ] became the leader of the NOI, and almost immediatly embarked on a program that led in the direction of accepting Orthodox Islam. Prayer, fasting, uncompromising Monotheism, all ignored in the days of his father, became the norm for his supporters.

Eventually, W.D. Mohammed dissolved all organizational structures, having for himself essentially a symbolic presence only, with no direct control of his followers' affairs. His style had an unique American approach. He seems to have sought to allow Muslims to be Muslims, while at the same time be American! This is a different approach from other Muslim movements, which finds acceptance of all things Western anathema to Islam. He was among the first American Muslim figures to encourage voting, and his preferred style of dress was a suit and tie, rather than a Jalabiyyah.

Of course there were many issues we can disagree with him about, but his impact cannot be denied. He was a sincere worker for the Islamic cause, with a mind of his own.

The future

The passing of Imam W.D. Mohammed reflects the natural changing of the guard. No longer should religion revolve around personalities. That has also been a uniquely American experience, but in Islam our religion is suppose to be about obedience to God above all else, about the Qur'an, the words of God and acting in accordance with justice and fair-play.


Rather than circling around a leader, I think the Muslims will, and actually should, broaden their religious interests, pursuing for themselves the avenues of knowledge and building for themselves all the goodly things needed for their lives and the well being of their communities. This was very apparent to me at the funeral, which I attended, when I saw Minister Louis Farrakhan [ft.1]. It hit me that he was the only other prominent fugure from those past days still active, who himself carried a charisma that is felt by Muslim Americans of all shades and backrounds.


American Muslims are in the process of creating their own identity. Times have changed, and Islam is no longer seen as a protest movement among Blacks. It is spreading fast among Whites and Latinos. Together with second-generation Muslims from Arab and South Asian backrounds, we will create something new and unique.

Muslims here will create their own clothing, that will conform to Islamic requirements as well as Western styles, in the same way Baju Melayu in Malaysia and the Shalwar kameez for the unique identity of Subcontinent Muslims. The future is very promising.

We will ask our readers to respect this process, to participate in this process, contribute to it and do not denigrate the past. We have seen that with the passing of Imam Mohammed, many have taken the oppurtunity to attack his personal, theological and political positions. This is not the time for that, as all that will do is create unneeded enmity and hatred. We ask our readers to put aside differences and to remember the Islamic principle of not speaking ill of the dead, especially one whose good actions outweighted any [percieved] wrong ones.


Footnote

[1] Louis Farrakhan broke away from W.D. Mohammed upon the latter's acceptance of orthodox Islam, and revived the teachings and program of Elijah Muhammad.

Obsession: a documentary of hate and fear


In the Sunday edition of the Toledo Blade, readers received a surprise in the middle section, a free DVD. The title of this free gift ['beware of the Greeks, even when they bear gifts'] is 'Obsession: Radical Islam's war against the West'. It's a one hour so called documentary.

As the day went on, I learned that this 'gift' had not just been given to the good people of Toledo, cities all over the nation, [in selected states, the swing states actually] had received this DVD. Our community held a meeting to plan a response, and it was revealed there that seventy-two newspapers carried this DVD nationwide, reaching an estimated audience of twenty-eight million!

This DVD placed together a variety of disparate clips of images and statements throughout the world in an attempt to show the audience that 'Radical' Islam is out there, ready and able to destroy the Western way of life, and as such the West, the fountain of civilization and freedom, must be on guard, against "them". "They are here, among us" one speaker on this production said.

The same good 'ol boys

Among the many individuals featured or shown in this production, the most prominent are Walid Shoebat, Brigitte Gabriel, Steve Emerson and Daniel Pipes. All of these individuals are directly involved in organizations that seek funds and support for their respective agendas, usually revolve around Pro-Israeli or Zionist interests, the defense industry, and Evangelical Christian circles, those who claim a monopoly on Biblical interpretation, whose figures earn quite a bit of money from speeches, books, etc.. [One web site claims Shoebat earns over $13,000 for each speech]. Thus, people such as those featured on the DVD cannot be relied upon to give reliable, unbiased and accurate information.

Another speaker, Lamar Marcus, of Palestinian Media Watch, implies that Muslims created the myth that Jewish ritual requires the blood sacrifice of a child, when in reality this idea was founded by Europeans, Christians, in the Middle Ages.

False implications

Mr. Shoebat made the laughable assertion that Jihad [ which means 'struggle' ], explained by him as 'self-struggle', is still a dangerous concept comparable to Adolph Hitler's Mein Kampf , which means 'My struggle'. This can be compared to a person making the wrong assumption that there is a conspiracy behind the fact that the word Ingerris [Melayu for 'English'] appears so close to the 'N' word used in the USA as an insulting reference to Blacks.

In any case, a common theme throughout the documentary is the 'similarities' between Islam and Nazism. One speaker said that radical Islam is more dangerous than Nazism, and of course there were many pictures of German troops and Hitler. Much was made of a 'close' relationship between Palestinian Mufti Ikrima Sabri and Nazi Germany, but the same assertions could very well be made of the relationship between Iranian Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and the United states.

It was constantly repeated that 'moderate' Muslims need to speak out against terrorism. Yet, Muslims have been doing just that. Even the events of September 11, 2001 found condemnation from Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, all opponents of US policy in the Middle East, all of whom are designated Terrorists by the US! It is very easy to confirm that the religious and political institutions of Muslims worldwide have condemned violence and murder, regardless of the identity of the victims or the perpetrators. A simple Internet search would suffice to answer that challenge. All of this is well-documented.

Induces Amnesia

A clip from an Arabic language television program is said to be especially frightening for Western audiences, in which a child is kidnapped by Jews for the purposes of sacrifice in a religious ritual. The propaganda is horrible, says this DVD. Yet, the same can be said of Hollywood films such as Death before dishonor, Seige, or Delta Force!

Every community has its bad apples, its elements who are so filled with rage that anything they say will most certainly be shocking. So, clips of representatives of the British-based group Al-Muhajiroun as well as Abu Hamza Al-Misri, former fighter in Afghanistan and also formerly of Britian making shocking statements was to be expected. That these figures are ignored by the wider Muslim community is never mentioned.

This DVD absolves the West of any responsibility for the grievances felt by people worldwide. It seeks to oversimplify the situation as 'Muslims hating the freedoms and success of the West'. While such grievances are not the subject of this particular post, nonetheless it would be wise for the reader to remember that there is two sides to every story, and that images can be decieving.

Concluding thoughts

Obsession only reinforced the stereotypes held about Arabs and Muslims. It has the potential to create a backlash of violence, even terrorism from right-wing groups and militias, against Western Muslims. Whole families can be placed in great danger as a result of this DVD. Of course, the controvery will die down, and individual Mosques and community leaders will respond to it, but nonetheless it is our feeling that the intentions of the creators and backers of Obsession have less than honorable intentions.

To our Muslim readers, we advise patience, and most importantly- do not overreact. It's a safe assumption that the producers of this so-called documentary want us to do exactly that. The propaganda war against Islam and Muslims is nothing new. It happened in the time of the Prophet Muhammad and is recorded in the Qur'an. A succinct example is given in the following words;

Is this a message that you ridicule, and you earn your money by lying about it? [Q 56:81-82].

Our long term responses to propaganda of this nature is to be better Muslims, live as Islam teaches us. Have inviting, clean Mosques, be prepared to answer questions honestly, make Islamic literature [especially the Qur'an] available to your friends, co workers and neighbors. These sort of actions will cancel out the efforts of the hateful and, God-willing, create a safer situation for ourselves and plant the seeds for greater understanding.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Ramadan readings: the expansive message of the Qur'an.

As most of our readers are aware, reading or recitation of the Qur'an is very important in the month of Ramadan. While it is not our intention to go into the particulars of how this tradition has evolved, it is nonetheless a necessity to engage in its study while observing the fast.


The study of the Qur'an is never a boring experience for the believer, and it is our view that benefiting from it is especially heightened while fasting. It is my hope to share some observations of texts I read today.

Salvation

Just about every religious group has among its adherents those who believe that Heaven, paradise, Nirvana, or whatever label applied, is limited to themselves only. The Quranic position can be described in the following text:


And they say: None enter Jannah [paradise] unless they are Jewish or Christian. These [assertions] are their desires. Say: Produce your evidence, if you are truthful [Q 2:111]


This ayah summarizes the argument made by sects and religions as to the holders of salvation. God says to those holding such views to show their proof to the followers of the Prophet Muhammad, indeed, to all mankind.

Does anyone of us have keys to heaven? Can we look inside and find out exactly who is in it? Indeed, we cannot, and those who think otherwise are just speculating, following their own desires and prejudices.

Allah has told us- in the final revelation called the Qur'an, who will be in his paradise. The answer may surprise us all:

Nay! [the one who is] completly submissive to God, a doer of good, then he has his reward with his Lord, on them shall be no fear nor grief .{ Q 2112}


No label is given. Action is required. The word 'Nay' [Bal'] negates the argument of the prior sentence. Those who think they are the only ones blessed by God are indeed incorrect. In another place, Allah has said that those who are sincere in thinking they are God's exclusives, to the detriment of others, to kill themselves, return to God and his heaven faster{ Q 62:6].

Allah is the Provider and nourisher of all. While it is true that many of us hold to theological errors, can we really say that God made people, allowed them to make these mistakes in belief, just to send them to hell for misunderstanding? The Quranic message is this: Have the right understanding of God, and act accordingly. Label has not been given that much importance.

In this same section, we are shown again how labels have little bearing on one's status before God Almighty.

Jews and Christians will never be satisfied with you until you follow their Millah. Say: Surely God's guidance is the [real] guidance... [2:120].


Allah created all people, he knows best who deserves his rewards and who does not. Also of interest is the following verse;

The Jews say: "The Christians have naught (to stand) upon; and the Christians say: "The Jews have naught (To stand) upon." Yet they (Profess to) study the (same) Book. Like unto their word is what those say who know not; but Allah will judge between them in their quarrel on the Day of Judgment. [Q 2:113]


In the end, God is the judge. Therefore, we should never judge someone's ideology and say that God will not given them anything. That's arrogance on our part.

Endnote

For a more in-depth study of some of these issues, the reader is referred to the work The language of revelation, in which this writer has explored the Quranic usage of Kaafir, Islam and Muslim. To obtain, email waheed79@yahoo.com

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Lectures available online.





We have available Friday prayer lectures [Khutbahs] on CD for $10.00 each plus shipping and handling. Our titles include

[A] Quranic spirituality.

[B] Joseph and the New Egypt [mainly discussing a radical interpretation of the Qur'an Soorah 12].

[C] Khilaafah and 'Ibaadah . [ The Islamic teaching on the purpose of life, worship and concept of God]

[D] Allah's plan:Tauheed and Taqwa [ Thoughts on various trends in religious circles to force God's hand regarding Judgement, as well as a thorough discussion on 16:1]

[E] Follow the best thereof [Powerful explanation of the Quranic and Biblical Solomon, and priorities in Islam].

[F] Al-Faatihah and the Prophets [Detailed explanation of the Quran's first chapter, along with explanation of various Biblical topics and characters and their relation to Quran itself].

and much more.

To obtain, email waheed79@yahoo.com



Free online lectures

Jesus in Islam

Prayer and Morality:Dhikr and Suurah al -Faatihah

Goodly competition

http://www.esnips.com/web/shamsuddinwsStuff






Feedback welcome.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Human excellence

The above title is taken from a theme of a program which I was invited to address last winter. The organizers had in mind a multi-religious, multi-ethnic response to issues facing the urban centers such as drug use, street violence, the message to the youth to stay in school, etc....

The program itself was nice, and attracted mainly young people, Non-Muslims as well as a few Muslim activists. Although it took place in the wintertime {Feb. 2008}, nonetheless I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the issue of 'human excellence'. I would appreciate any feedback.

It seems to me that the word 'excellence' has different meanings to different people. Too many of us have been fooled into thinking that having a stereo system is the meaning and goal of life. We have seen too many times people who are willing to waste their lives and the lives of others, including their loved ones, in the pursuit of transitory things by committing robbery, selling drugs, prostitution, and so forth.


Because of the vagueness of the theme name, I have opted to address human dignity. This is more to my understanding of the intent of the organizers. In the end, dignity is not in material things, or in the 'party life'. It is in the single mother, who despite hardships, continues to support her family. She does so without help or complaint. She elevates herself and her family through hard work, patience and consistency. She becomes an example to others, even if she does not wish this.


Education is very important, it is very difficult to operate in this world today without it. I am not just talking about formal education, but also self-education and consistent improvement. Take every oppurtunity to learn something, take advantage of the Libraries, read more. For an inspirational example, read the autobiography of Malcolm X.


There was much more that I told the audience, and occasionally I made Biblical and Quranic references. I am interested in knowing the readers views; how can we become better? What more can we do about the problems in the urban centers? What does dignity imply to you>

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Quranic abrogation: an examination of Naskh


Known as 'Naskh' ' in Arabic, this refers to the idea that one Quranic verse has been "canceled" for another, or, oddly enough, by AHadeeth [sayings attributed to the Prophet]. It is said that while the abrogated texts remain a part of the Qur'an and are even recited during prayers, the application thereof, or deriving knowledge or applicable information therefrom is inappropriate. It is our hope to examine briefly, but succinctly, this idea, its implications in our understanding and application of the Islamic faith, and whether this concept has a solid foundation.

We do not seek to create Fitnah [ft.1] for the Muslims, nor do we seek to simply engage in intellectual gymnastics, but rather my intention is to instigate conversations among students of religion, to share and to learn perspectives, and hopefully cause people to at least think about their positions. This is a very important position to take as people dedicated to religion and its understanding. We also hope to show that Islam is a religion of deep spirituality and a source for logic and truth, a light that stands on its own.

Qur'an: the last revelation

As a matter of undisputed principle, it is accepted by all Muslims that the Qur'an is the word of God, conveyed in a complete and uncorrupted manner to the Prophet Muhammad over a twenty-three year period of his life. It is also accepted that there will be no other scripture after it, that it serves as a correction and a clarification for the many ideas societies hold about God, prophets, scriptures, etc..! Unlike the rhetoric of other religious traditions, the Qur'an is a scripture for all mankind, and is not limited to a particular race, nation or tribe. [ft.2]

Among its many titles, we have the name Al-Furqaan, meaning a criterion for judging the right from the wrong [Q 25:1]. It is therefore clear that the nature of the Qur'an is that of clarity and direct guidance, and yet we assert that it contains verses that had to be "canceled", that in some manner God Almighty changes his mind? Does that not make God seem unreliable? Indeed, the idea that the last revelation contains texts that had to be removed or simply not taken into consideration any longer puts a dent in the fundamental Islamic teachings as to the Quranic purity and role, leaving Islam itself more open to attack. [ft.3]

Evolution, not abrogation

Examples usually given of abrogation in practical action are apparently evolutionary steps in the early Muslim community. Even today, using the example of cigarette smoking, when a person wants to stop, it is generally impossible to stop 'cold turkey'. Many use medicine or nicotine patches to gradually release the body from the addiction, the need, to smoke. Allah used the same sort of method. It had been revealed in the Qur'an that, when it comes to alcohol, a person should not "approach prayer while drunk" [Q 4:43]. Now, the Muslims were offering daily prayers, and usually in a communal setting {Jamaa'ah]. In addition to the mandatory prayers, most offered voluntary devotions as well, so, we ask, when would the observant Muslim have much time to become drunk? Once the habit was gradually out of the Muslims' system, then comes the verse[Q 5:93] which says that alcohol [as well as gambling] is a vice that is completely forbidden to Muslims.

Such evolution is very different from the idea of abrogation.

Basis for abrogation

This concept has been mainly extrapolated from two Quranic texts. It will be seen that these interpretations are in fact unsupported by the texts themselves.

What We [Allah] cancel of 'Ayaaat' or made forgotten, We replace it with something better than it, or at least similar. Do you not know that truly, Allah is powerful over everything? { Q 2:106}.


The word 'Ayaaat' used in the above text, means "signs". Throughout the Qur'an, this word is used for a variety of meanings, and is not limited to the Quranic verses [see 30:21, for example].

In this verse, the meaning is apparently this; the situation or circumstances that God allows a person or community to encounter are in constant change. The message is that in what ever occurs to us, be it the gain or loss of a job, spouse, etc...God allowed it to happen, to have faith and patience, as God is in charge. This is also seems to be the implication in 16:101.

The context of this passage continues to illustrate this important lesson clearly.

Do you not know that truly, to Allah belongs the dominion of the Heavens and the Earth, and that besides him you have no protector, nor anyone to grant victory? {Q 2:107]


The second passage usually referred to as the basis for Quranic abrogation is the following:

We [Allah] will relate to you [knowledge], so do not forget, except what Allah wills. Surely, he knows what the apparent and the hidden. { Q 87:6-7]

These two verses appear in a Chapter that contains only nineteen verses. The entire Soorah speaks of God's power insofar as having created the world and all it contains, providing the tools needed by humans to reach their full potential, both physically [vv.4-5] and spiritually [vv.8-18]. Nothing in the texts here suggests that Quranic verses are 'forgotten'. {ft.4}

Concluding thoughts

Without doubt, everything contained in the Qur'an has a usage, whether it be a command to obey, a prohibition to avoid, or of historical or inspirational purposes. It is the ultimate guide, and the most reliable source of information.

The priorities of Allah, as outlined in the Qur'an, are extremely broad, more so than usually imagined.

We can understand the development of the idea of Naskh in the following manner; commentators were perplexed in understanding seemingly contradictory verses, especially in matters relating to legal issues. Add to that the various practices that are labeled as practices of the Prophet and the first generations of Muslims, and much confusion would naturally arise. Values that are timeless end up being ignored for verses of a limited application. For example, many are of the view that Q 8:61, which commands Muslims to remain in a peaceful setting with those who maintain a similar stance, has been replaced with 9:73, which reads as follows

O Prophet, fight against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be harsh upon them. And their refuge is Hell, and wretched is the destination [Q 9:73, Saheeh International translation]

By ignoring 8:61 in light of the above verse, which was clearly of a limited scope, given to the Prophet at a time of great upheaval, when he was under constant attack from his foes, a foundation for constant conflict is created. This is not the intent of the verse, or any verse of the Qur'an. The Book speaks to realities, and while sometimes those realities are not pretty, it is also acknowledged that all is not equal, various societies and peoples face different situations. Texts such as 9:73 were cited by Jihadi groups in Egypt as justification for launching attacks on Christian Coptic civilians, Western tourists and "lapsed" Muslims in the early 1990's.

Another issue to consider is our unwillingness to accept the 'other'. This is perhaps a natural tendency, but not one that is supported by the words of Allah. Look at 2:62 as the perfect example. It, along with 5:69, actually names some Non-Muslim religious groups as being rewarded by God for their faith and deeds. These verses are said by the defenders of abrogation to have been canceled by Q 3:85 [ and other texts, such as 5:3], or are said to refer to nations prior to Muhammad's time. [ft.5-6]

Thus, the Qur'an is more open and factual than we like to acknowledge. It does not play into our prejudices and fears. It speaks the truth, consistently, and we should be thankful for that. It deserves more of our attention and research.

Footnotes

[1] The author has conducted extensive research on the Quranic usage of Fitnah, and has been published in the form of a series of appendixes in The language of revelation. To obtain this volume, which comes with two cds, email the author at waheed79@yahoo.com.

[2] An example of religious language that is exclusive to one group of people can be found in the fact that the Bible consistently uses phrases such as "The God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, the God of our fathers.." [Acts 3:13]

[3] In a debate with the late Ahmad Deedat, a Christian opponent used abrogation as a reason for dismissing the validity of Islam. The title of this debate was "Crucifixion or Crucifiction". It is still widely available.

[4] Also of interest is Muhammad Asad's interpretation of Soorah 87, in which he argues that the verses here refer to accumulated human knowledge being forgotten in light of greater and more useful information. See his The message of the Qur'an [pp. 946-947 Dar Al-Andalus, Gibraltar].

[5] It is amazing that 2:62 is seen as abrogated, when the verse starts with "Inna" [Certainly]. With such a strong phrase, which actually affects the sentence in Arabic grammar [Ism Inna wa khawaatihaa], it should be very clear that Allah does not mean for this statement to simply vanish!

[6] This verse has been explained in great detail in our "Deen in the presence of God". See http://islaminviewforum.com/index.php?showtopic=343

Monday, June 30, 2008

The continuity of God's message



All people, regardless of religious label, are guilty of holding the idea of exclusivity when it comes to their faith. Even if their practice is nonexistent, they would feel that their religious label is above those of other people, and become greatly disturbed when a family member leaves the faith and enters another one. One rather bizarre example of this can be found in an example related to me by a Muslim sister. Upon her acceptance of Islam, the sister's aunt became upset, and even struck her in the head with a Bible. Obviously, the Aunt had forgotten the various teachings in the book [aka the weapon] she yielded about forgiveness and mercy, this emotional reaction has little to do with religious sincerity, but rather family honor, embarrassment, and amazement that the Muslim sister had enough faith in God and the faith she has adopted to actually take steps to change her life from the prior manner in which she had been living.

This is not to say Muslims don't have these tendencies as well, indeed, these traits can be found among all people. The reason, in my view, is that we don't want to acknowledge that God's guidance is not restricted to "our own". The following Biblical verse is often cited to dissuade acceptance or even investigation of faiths other than the Christian sects.

John 14:6

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. "

Certainly this verse has been variously interpreted among Christians, but even accepting it at face-value, it does not negate God's message being continued and perfected by other teachers, Prophets and Messengers from Almighty God. If we accept one legitimate messenger of God, then we must accept them all. As Jesus was sent by God [that much can be accepted by Christians and Muslims alike], then the Biblical statement[if it's an authentic statement of Jesus] would still show the truth of our assertion above. Common sense should also come into play, if we believe in God, and accept him as the creator of the universe, of all peoples in our world, how can we say that God has favored one group of people over another, that he is un willing to send revelation, or communication, if you will, to figures other than those among the Jewish tribes in Palestine? That would indeed be senseless, especially in a world which, at that time, contained nations and peoples isolated from each other.

The Qur'an: the universal gospel

An honest reading of the Judeo-Christian texts and traditions show that its focus is mainly the Jewish people. The Old Testament, accepted by Jews and Christians as God-inspired, is mainly a collection of semi-historical narrative of varying accuracy. It does not seem to even allow the possibility of God giving spiritual guidance and assistance to those outside th Jewish people. While Monotheism [known as the 'Shema' to Jews and 'Tauheed' to Muslims] is certainly an important theme in the O.T., it still restricts God, whom they acknowledge as the creator of all nations, as a tribal or national deity!

The Qur'an, on the other hand, has from the earliest texts revealed acknowledged that God has sent guidance, in the form of messengers, Prophets and scriptures, to people everywhere. It has made acceptance of all messengers a fundamental principle, using very strong language regarding those whose acceptance is limited to one or two personalities.

Those who deny Allah and his messengers and [those who ] wish to separate Allah from his messengers, saying 'We believe in some but reject others', [those who] wish to take a course midway. Truthfully, they are Rejectors [of God] [Kaaferoon]....to those who believe in Allah and his messengers, and do not make any differences between anyone of the messengers, We [Allah] shall give their [due] rewards. Allah is forgiving, merciful [Q 4"150-152]

The above Quranic verse goes to the core of Kufr. That core is using religion as a national or cultural label, or viewing God as always being on their side. They don't want to be on God's side! This is not what God wants, and such behavior displays an actual rejection of God, their proclamation as believers is shown to be utterly hypocritical.

Muslim polemics often involve attempting to 'prove' that the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, is mentioned or predicted in the Bible. Numerous books and tracts have been produced expounding on this point. While, as a Muslim, I do believe much of these assertions to be accurate, it should not be necessary to prove it through these means. I hate to say it, but sometimes Christians have a point when they ask us the motive for our usage of Biblical texts while rejecting the bulk of it as inauthentic. Instead of focusing on the similarities between Moses and Muhammad, or explaining that the 'spirit of truth' [John 16:13] refers to him, we should convey the message itself. That message is that of a pure and uncorrupted monotheism, one that serves as a clarification and a correction of prior assertions as to the reality of God, his messengers, and the Divine message. For example, the Old Testament actually has a narration in which God wrestled with Jacob, in human form, and lost [Gen. 32:25]. We should be asking 'How can God loose? More importantly, does it make sense for the Creator of the entire universe to be engaged in a wrestling match, in human form, in the first place'?

The answers are all there, in the Qur'an! It asserts that God does not take human form, that God is a force that has neither beginning nor end, that God is dignified and Noble, and that God is the nourisher of all. [ft.1]

To have respect for God means to see his laws, his creation, in a much broader light. It means examining the message rather than scrutinizing the messenger! It means following what is right and true, regardless of the source. It means placing God as the uppermost priority in our lives, and by that we will receive blessings and support that is unimaginable.

Footnote

[1] This issue has been dealt with in great detail in the Book The language of revelation. To obtain this volume, email waheed79@yahoo.com.





Sunday, June 22, 2008

Al-Qur'an: a liberal scripture?


Introduction

It is often imagined that Islam is a religion of extremism, rigidity and inflexible traditions. This picture of Islam is promoted in an effective manner by the mainstream media, and it is perhaps a Western misunderstanding of the many obligations that Muslims are indeed to fulfill, such as daily prayers, dietary restrictions, dress code and the like. Such actions stand out as unique and sometimes strange in a Western, secular-minded society that has succeeded in restricting religion, to a great extent, to Church services and personal theological convictions.

Perhaps taking the bait, many of us Muslims have bought the media's assessment as the correct one, indeed becoming extremely rigid in our approach. Of course, this is not really the right way at all, even from the point of view of the Ahadeeth. The Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be God's blessings and peace, is said to have always taken the path of moderation, of choosing the easier of any two choices 1. Examples of this rigid approach include a story I read about four years ago in a Muslim publication, discussing a similar theme, about a Muslim who actually, upon believing that music is Haraam [unlawful], would place cotton in his ears to avoid hearing elevator music 2!

Other, more well-known examples, include the very strict rules that governed the lives of Afghani women under the Taleban rule.

The Balanced community

The Qur'an teaches that Muslims are to constitute a middle nation, or a community of balance [2:143], one that is neither too far-right nor to the extreme left. Extremism, in any fashion, has been criticized by Allah himself. The practice of not marrying and living as a monk, we are told, was not ordained by God[ Q 57:27], thus was an unnecessary innovation, that does more harm than good. To have a balanced religion, it is necessary to approach it from a holistic sense. To have balance, one must examine one's one needs, realistic needs, be it personal or societal, by obtaining real knowledge of the religious texts, of the message of Allah as given in his final book, the Qur'an. Ignoring the current physical realities in pursuit of the idealistic may be commendable, but in the end a disservice. A good example of this is Interest. It is clearly unlawful, from the Islamic point of view [Q 2;275 and many other verses], yet, we live in a society where we need our loans, our mortgages, car notes etc..

As a balanced community, our scholars, Imams, leaders need to get together and offer alternatives, affordable ones, to the community. Alhamdulillah, there is indeed such efforts taking place, but perhaps the average Muslim living in the USA or Europe may not see the results anytime soon. But in the meantime we need to bite the bullet and attempt to take the lesser of two evils when we can.

A Balanced ideology

The Qur'an, the scripture revealed to the Prophet Muhammad over fourteen centuries ago, provides the essential doctrines that Muslims are to hold. Anything else appearing outside the Qur'an may be correct [or incorrect], but with Quranic beliefs, we can never go wrong. If the teachings given in the Qur'an are accepted by a person, then they are Muslims that deserve our recognition. Look at the following example:

The Messenger[Muhammad] believes in what hath been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the believers.. Each one (of them) believes in God, , His angels, His books, and His messengers. "We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His apostles. [2:285]

Other Quranic examples of what Muslims are to accept theologically are given in 2:1-5 and 2:177. The actions that display this belief system are also given throughout the Qur'an, examples include 23:1-11, 17:23-39 and 98:5.


Qur'an, a source for liberalism?

A thought has been occurring to me, which has been difficult to express in words. I have realized that whenever a Muslim scholar, leader or activist [or just about any body] attempts to focus on the Qur'an for their guidance, more so that any other source, other Muslims will dismiss that person as a "liberal" or "Modernistic". This has made me wonder aloud if indeed the Qur'an teaches "liberalism" or "modern values"?

It is certainly true that these titles are vague in themselves, but nonetheless they seem to be legitimate queries. It does seem to me that while the Qur'an is very clear on certain issues, especially those of theology, it is deliberately silent on others. For example, in terms of governing, there is only one Quranic guideline , that of consultive and representative bodies Shuraa Baynahum, Qur'an, 42:38.If these bodies are set up, then by the Quranic viewpoint they are legitimate. In this regard, Iran, which is a republic, as well as Saudi Arabia, ruled by monarchy, have compelling claims to legitimacy under Islamic law [and indeed, both make this claim], despite their obvious differences in style of governing.

Allah has not forgotten to place something in the Qur'an at all. It is clear that God intends for humans to use our minds and creative genius, our collective gifts, to solve our own problems and create our own unique styles to deal with our lives, here, the example of government. "Democracy" itself is practiced differently, as between Western examples and that of Japan 3.


In other words, by not placing certain information or guidelines in the Qur'an, God wants us to use our own Ijtihaad. If we as humans [looking at a broad view] or as Muslims [looking at a focused perspective and interest] come to different conclusions and styles, this is still acceptable to God, and should be acceptable to each other. God has given humans varying colors, languages, cultures and mindsets, so we may learn from each other, copy each other if need be, so there is no basis for Muslims to dismiss other Muslims for disagreements on small issues as "innovators" "disbelievers" etc...! There is little "dogmatism" within Islam, either in its theology or its practice.

That does not mean that there are no guidelines at all. We are to accept God as one and alone, Muhammad as God's messenger and final Prophet, and offer our prayers in the way prescribed through Muhammad, etc..but in general, we have little "absolutes" within Islam.

The Qur'an acts as a constitution, a basis for theological belief and worldly practice, and all other sources. Ahadeeth, Fiqh, Seerah, Tareekh, etc. serve only as commentary and helpful aids in following the constitution that is the Qur'an. Nothing can be equal to the words of God Almighty.

Returning to the main theme, it indeed seems the Qur'an, fourteen centuries ago, taught what we now see as "modern values", freedom of religion,racial equality, the promotion of morals for the protection of society, are all Quranic principles. Of course, that does not mean that the Western values and Islamic teachings are in complete agreement, as Alcohol and gambling, for example,are forbidden to Muslims 4 .


Conclusion

The Qur'an is a book that deserves more of our attention. It contains much more than we give it credit for. It should not just decorate our homes and be on our lips at prayer time, weddings and funerals. It should be constantly read and pondered upon.

It is our hope that our non-Muslim reader would take the opportunity to investigate these claims, and if they are found to be true, to join the one billion strong Muslim community and fully gain from the word of God. But even if the reader disagrees, it cannot be argued that the Islamic principles, propagated in the Qur'an before Western political philosophers grabbed a hold of them, shines forth in influence nonetheless, that its light outshines all other lights, by its own sheer power [Qur'an, 9:33].

Footnotes

1. Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitaab al-adab 73:147.

2. There are many traditions attributed to the Prophet which speak negatively about music. That is another issue altogether, beyond the scope of this post. We simply illustrated the example to show an extreme response.

3. See http://www.crf-usa.org/election_central/japan_democracy.htm

4. In Muslim lands, Non-Muslims have always had access to alcohol and whatever else they wanted, but for Muslims, such is clearly not allowed.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

West/East dichotomy present in Cairo Hyatt controversy?


The recent decision by the owner of the Grand Hyatt hotel in Cairo, a hotel which enjoys five-star status, to cease immediately the sale of alcohol has infuriated many, the bogeyman of Saudi "radicalism" in an otherwise "moderate" Egyptian Muslim society has been invoked, seemingly by both Muslim and Non-Muslim commentators. What has been even more disturbing is that some of the responses to this decision has brought to light many of the illogical fallacies and outright racist and ethnocentric views that are held by many whenever it comes to Muslims, Islam, and specifically the desire to live in accordance to certain values of religious origin. Our prior article about Polygamy emphasized the hypocrisy of seizing children allegedly from Polygamous unions, while at the same time having no problems with the "hook-up" culture that leaves far more problems, social, emotional, STDS, burden on the American taxpayer's etc..

First, I should clarify that I have no problem with a Non-Muslim wanting to consume alcohol. This is their business. Many strands of Christian practice use Wine in their religious ceremonies to represent the blood of Christ, whom they believe died for mankind's sins. I am not in a position, especially in such a post as this, to address the legitimacy or lack of it with regards to their tradition. That is the job of their scholars and intellectuals. As a Muslims, I must remember what the Qur'an has taught in its own declaration of religious freedom when it has asserted that "There is no compulsion in religion..'' [Q 2:256]. Therefore, I cannot force my own religious choice on a reluctant population.

That being said, it should also be acknowledged that when in someone else's house, the wishes of the owner should be respected. If I ask my visitors to remove their shoes when they come to my house, then out of respect the visitors should. They should not even ask me for an explanation. They will do so because I have asked them to. The owner of the hotel, a Muslim, operating in a Muslim-majority nation, has decided to ban alcohol from his place of business. He chooses not to have that as part of his business. He should be commended for this action, as so many of us are driven by financial considerations alone, unwilling to act upon our better selves, the part of our soul that pushes us to what is right.


An example of the thinking pattern that I take very strong exception to is the following quote. I found it to be very racist and arrogant. I ask the reader if this makes sense to you:

"But critics say just as Muslims expect to be served Halal food on international flights, they should be prepared to respect the desires of their Western guests." [ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7415495.stm]

I have been on international flights in the Muslim world many times, as well as in other regions. I have never asked for Halal meat. On flights in Muslim areas, it only makes sense that the airline would have available Halal meat, but to compare that to alcohol? Besides, if a Muslim does not wish to consume Non-Halal meat, he or she can easily eat fruits or seafood, etc.. that is available on the flight. Moreover, do "Western guests" consider Halal meats to be immoral? To be against their religious values? The Qur'an has clearly stated that alcohol is a distraction from spiritual pursuits, that it is harmful, and that it is actually a tool of Satan to bring forth inappropriate behavior [ Q 2:219, 5:90-91].

To compare Halal foods to alcohol is to also bring into question drugs such as crack cocaine, etc...! Should I serve my guests these simply because they may like it? Should I have such available in my home? It would be foolish for me to do this, because it is against my own values, the laws of my state and nation, and would bring many more problems to my doorstep. In other words, it is best for my own interests to keep these items at distance. That is exactly what the Cairo Hyatt has done.

The argument that it would harm the Egyptian tourist industry also seems illogical to me. Egypt is one big museum, with artifacts from many culture and civilizations. The reader already accepts this as an axiomatic truth. I need not provide evidence for this. Can not the tourist, if they really want alcohol, either wait for their trip to conclude or find their desired drink outside their hotel?

I wonder aloud here, in this brief post, if the Egyptians cited in the BBC article as having concerns about this recent move by the Cairo Hyatt have internalized a view that their values, influenced by Islam, are antiquated and useless, while those of fun-loving tourists are "civilized" and "modern"? I also wonder if the Non-Muslims on the international scene see themselves as the ultimate judges of what is right and wrong, if they have adopted, knowingly or otherwise, a paternalistic attitude towards the "third world"?

In any case, what has been shown is that even in business, there has to be morals, ethics, and standing for one's conscious, even if it hurts politically or financially. This does not naturally equate confrontation or conflict, but nonetheless it is my honest view that the owner, Sheikh 'Abdul 'Aziz Ibrahim bin Ibrahim, should be congratulated by all people of conscious, Muslim and non-Muslim. He should be seen as an example of standing up for what is right and true.
I also recommend reading this perspective http://modernmuslimwoman.com/2008/05/cairo-hyatt-no-longer-sells-alcoholthis.html



Thursday, April 24, 2008

Polygamy and Societal norms


The nation and perhaps the entire world have been paying attention to the recent raid on a compound belonging to the Fundamentalist Church of Latter day Saints [FLDS] in El Dolado, Texas. It has been said that sexual abuse of children, forced marriages and assault was taking place on the property.

As the days continue to unfold, so do the details of the circumstances surrounding the initial investigation, the raid on FLDS property and the subsequent action of taking hundreds of children into state custody, the accusations continue to fly. One which sticks out in my mind is that children were "indoctrinated" to accept marriage. For more, see the following link, [url] http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080418/ap_on_re_us/polygamist_retreat[/url].

Do not all parents "indoctrinate" their children? I found the wording of that very arrogant and condescending. In any case, it has now been said that the initial investigation was the result of a prank, a bad joke, on the part of a FLDS detractor [ see [url]http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/23/AR2008042303551.html?hpid=sec-religion[/url]]

Nonetheless, the beliefs, dress, and moral code of the followers of this Mormon breakaway faction are very odd to mainstream American culture, the most striking is their practice of polygamous marriage. Those who enter into polygamy have traditionally been seen as sexual deviants, acting contrary to Biblical norms. In the days of early Mormonism, polygamy, better described as Polygany, was seen as a command from God. Persecution from both society as well as the government forced the movement to abandon it in 1890 [see [url]http://www.religioustolerance.org/lds_poly.htm[/url]]. This was not universally accepted among Mormons, leading to schisms, the FDLS being just one of many such examples.

In any case, I find it very strange that while Homosexuality is acceptable and legal, persons with multiple sexual partners [married or otherwise] cannot face any legal consequences for their actions or lifestyle choice, individuals seeking marriage, of their own free will, are roundly condemned and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

We venture to call this Evident Hypocrisy! We are asking here, why the hypocrisy? Please explain why polygamy is wrong, and yet homosexuality is not? Why is polygamy immoral and contrary to state law, when plural relationships, usually without marriage, or simply "playing the field" are acceptable, without fear of government interference?

Sometimes it is asserted that Polygamous relationships place an unfair burden on state and national resources.However, would not any other relationship, with its consequent children, also place the same burdens? It seems to me that such reasoning is untenable, an excuse to simply attack what is different, something which presents a totally different set of values and morals, in many cases exposing our own inadequacies as a nation and society.



Polygamy in Islam


In Pre-Islamic Arabia, a variety of marriages and relationships were seen as acceptable, including polygamy. However, an unlimited polygamy was practiced. The Qur'an limits the number of wives a man is allowed to take to four, and what is most interesting about this is that the Qur'an itself links polygamy to social welfare.


And if you are fearful that you cannot be just with orphans, then marry women of your choice, two, three or four. And if you fear the inability to be just [again], then one woman ..that is the most suitable in preventing you from being unjust.

[Qur'an 4:3]


The Muslim community, under the leadership of Muhammad ,were under much pressure, as men had been falling in battle, leaving behind widows and children with no means of support. This was a solution to several problems,but the main one addressed is that of social welfare. Any religion that does not give guidance for practical situations of like nature does not deserve much attention. In the above cited Quranic text, it appears that it is suggested that instead of guardians being appointed to manage the inheritance [if any] of the family, the guardian himself, or someone willing to take on this role, should unite with that family, take on the responsibilities and struggles together, as a means of overcoming pressure, but also to build a cohesive family, a large body that will be there for mutual support financially, spiritually, and so forth.


This has little to do with sexual adventure. The Qur'an is presenting an alternative family system, with limitations of course. It should also be noted that rulers and leaders often took on wives from other nations/tribes/families etc.. as a means to build traditional relationships and solidify alliances. This is apparent in the figure of Solomon, whom the Bible says had as many as 700 wives[ 1 Kings 11:3]. The Prophet Muhammad himself had similar reasons in mind, as we see that he also married several widows.



Conclusion


Polygamy is not for everyone, indeed it is not recommended for those financially or emotionally incapable of handling such responsibilities. In any case, as an institution it does not deserve the sort of bad press it has received and continues to receive.

If it is to be practiced, it should be for the correct motivations, and not simply for "adventure". Marriage, whether in polygamy or not, should never be rushed into. We suggest following the advice of Muhammad himself, which is to pray [salaat al -Istikhaarah] and then seek advice from people [Ft.1]
.

This was by no means a comprehensive look at Polygamy, but nonetheless we pray that this has caused you to at least consider the choice of others and not look at it with contempt. I am also interested in the views of those who have experience in polygamy, from any religion, in order to have a productive and meaningful discussion.


Footnotes

[#1] Al Qahtaani, Sa'eed, Fortification of the Muslim through remembrance and supplication from the Qur'aan and Sunnah, pp. 105-108 [Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Dar al Khair, 1996 edition]

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Al-Kauthar: Legacy of the Prophet





"Surely We [Allah] have given you [O Muhammad] 'Al-Kauthar'. So, pray to your Lord and sacrifice. Surely, the one who is hateful to you [O Muhammad] will have no legacy" [Qur'an 108:1-3]

This rather short Surah was given to the Prophet Muhammad [Peace be upon him] during a great personal tragedy. His sons had been dying, and to add insult to injury, the Mushrikeen were celebrating these tragedies, themselves holding the view that with no male heirs, the message of Muhammad would simply die out. Details of these incidents are widely available. {Ft.1}

The title and key phrase to this surah is "Al Kauthar". This name has been variously interpreted, among the ideas is the widely accepted notion that Al Kauthar is the name of a body of water, a pond, Divinely promised in this Surah to the Prophet himself. Many traditions have entered the Hadeeth literature, both Sunni and Shi'i collections, and thereafter the books of Tafseer [Quranic commentary] that have elaborated upon the nature of this pond, the events that will take place in Paradise, and a variety of other tales. {Ft.2}

Even if we accept such tales to be correct, we are still overlooking some important details surrounding the text, its implications for the future of the Muslim community, and the power of the revelation itself.


What is Al-Kauthar?


The name 'Al-Kauthar' comes from the root Ka-tha-ra, meaning "much" or "plenty", translated by 'Abdullah Yusuf 'Ali as "the abundance" . It is said to have been revealed in Makkah, in the early part of Muhammad's mission, when he [The Prophet] was still under immense pressure from his foes, living in the midst of constant danger. Despite these disadvantages, the messenger of God is told, in essence, that he has been granted a perpetual and continuous gift of heritage- in the form of the Quranic revelation itself.

In another Surah, Muhammad is reminded of his humble origins, the blessings given to him, and that as a result, he is to be more steadfast in his dedication to the Divine will.

"Did he [Allah] not find you [O Muhammad] an orphan, then give you shelter, found you misled, then gave you guidance, found you in want, and enriched you?...And testify to the blessings of your Lord." [Qur'an 93:6-8, 11].



This is another reminder of Al-Kauthar given to the Prophet. Under normal circumstances, a person from such humble origins would live and die a forgotten person to history, however, the reality is that the text given to him, the Qur'an, is perhaps the most widely read, studied and memorized book in the world, and it is also quite clear that Muhammad is the most beloved character among mankind. He may have lost his sons to illness, but indeed his legacy has not been lost to the one billion strong Muslims worldwide, to the people who automatically say Sall-Allahu 'Alayhi wa sallam after repeating his name {ft.3}, to the people whose emotions are stirred to action when his name and character are maligned, as in the recent cartoon scandals.

In short, Muhammad the man was given a multitude of blessings in the form of the Qur'an itself, and Muhammad as God's final Prophet was consequently never forgotten, becoming a source of blessing and guidance for all humanity. {ft.4}

"Have We [Allah] not opened for you your chest, removed from you your burden, which placed strain on your back, and elevated for you your reputation [and standing]..?" [Qur'an 94:1-4]



Results of Al-Kauthar


We have a saying in the United States "to him whom much is given, much is expected". This expression is very applicable and related to the Prophet, his followers, and is, in short, the message of Surah Al-Kauthar.

"So, pray to your Lord and sacrifice. Surely, the one hateful to you [O Muhammad] will have no legacy" [Q 108:2-3]


The above verse begins with a particle of consequence["fa"], showing that devotion to spiritual growth, to the betterment of society , is only natural, after encountering the profound blessings of Allah, Subhaanahu wa Ta'aalaa. The actions of reflecting faith and blessings will be lasting, perhaps beyond the limits of our own thinking and imagination.

"{God swears} By the time. Truly, humans are in consistent loss. Except those who believe, perform righteous deeds, and enjoin to one another [the pursuit of] truth and patience" [Q 103:1-3]. A very clear example of this is given in the following Hadeeth:


Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, "When a man dies, his deeds come to an end except for three things: Sadaqah Jariyah (ceaseless charity); a knowledge which is beneficial, or a virtuous decendant who prays for him (for the deceased)'' [Muslim].


The last verse of this profound Surah "Surely the one hateful to you [O Muhammad] will have no legacy" shows both the limited thinking of the Prophet's foes, as well as their fate. While they are willing to celebrate his personal tragedies, and inflict harm to him whenever possible themselves, they are shown to have arrogated to themselves a sense of importance and power. Yet, despite that, we are also shown that they were themselves insecure and quite jealous. They feel that Muhammad must be destroyed, at any cost. Many opponents of Islam are leading figures in other religious communities, and while a fear of losing followers to another religion is very normal and expected, what should not be expected is lying, slander and intentional misrepresentation of the Prophet's character, the propagation of falsehoods about the Qur'an itself, about Islam itself, from religious figures, despite the fact that their own religious texts finds such actions to be reprehensible. {ft.5}

In a personal sense, this verse has given a correct account of the fate of Muhammad's foes. Arabs in that time valued sons above all else, for it is the sons who would carry on the family line, and the philosophy [if any] of their fathers. Despite Muhammad's personal losses, his ideological heirs are countless, while there is none who claim to be associated with the line or legacy of Abu Jahl, Abu Lahab, and the other opponents.



Conclusion


This Surah, although very short, is also comprehensive in its approach and message. It is our humble view that this Surah should be displayed in Muslim Mosques and homes, in the places where prayer is observed, so that we are always reminded of the message. We would be reminded to always have the priorities in proper view, that to follow Muhammad is to worship God alone, and translate our faith into actions, for the sake of our own personal offspring, for the sake of the world. Our legacy, if we have that frame of thinking, will also last throughout time.


Footnotes

[1] Haykal, Muhammad Husayn The life of Muhammad, pp. 68-69 [Indiana, Plainfield, American trust publications, 1995 printing].

[2]Khan, Muhammad Muhsin Summarized Sahih Al-Bukhari, pp. 875-876 [Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Darus-salam publications, 1994 ].

[3] This phrase is usually rendered as "peace and blessings of God be upon him". AS of late, the translation "Prayers and peace be on him" has become increasingly popular. While this is a linguistically correct rendering, it is not the preference of the author, as it gives the mistaken notion that Muslims are to pray to the Prophet. This phrase actually has the sense of asking security, assistance, and protection to Muhammad, as well as his followers. For more information, obtain our lecture "The remembrance of Allah is the greatest" [CD] , in which the Quranic verses and Ahadeeth relating to this are examined. To obtain, e-mail

waheed79@yahoo.com

[4] See the Qur'an 21:107 and 7:158. Also see our entry in the work entitled The language of revelation[pp. 220-221 'Muhammad'] as well as pp. 216-218 ['Abraham']. For more information, e-mail waheed79@yahoo.com

[5] One good example of how lying is frowned upon in religion is in the following Biblical reference."Keep falsehood and lies far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread...Do not slander a servant to his master, or he will curse you, and you will pay for it." [Proverbs, 30:8, 10, NIV study Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 2002.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Barack Obama, Rev.Wright and the controversy

It has been a while since I have written on the subject of American politics, however so much is happening that it seems prudent to record my thoughts and share them, both for the present as well as the future. By now, all of us in the entire World are aware of the controversy concerning Sen.Barack Obama's former pastor, Rev.Jeremiah Wright of Chicago, Illinois, who has made remarks highly critical of American policies past and present.

Sen.Obama gave a speech recently in Philadelphia, Pa. to address the issue, and was successful [in my view] in framing the issues in terms of historical animosities that has never been addressed in American society, such as Racism, classism, and an overall sense of injustice. One commentator made the observation that this was the first time that a candidate's choice of pastor and church have been scrutinized and made an issue in the election.


This brings us to another point, and that is that morality and fair play are long becoming forgotten principles in Politics, rather it has been replaced with financial and strategic interests. The cynisicm felt by the average American voter is not misplaced. The fact that the Pastor's views [which are widely shared, especially by African-Americans] can be used as a means to attack another person who has not ever expressed the same views speaks volumes to the conditions that exist today.

One pundit I saw on television compared Wright to the Prophets of Justice given in the Old Testament tradition. Perhaps that has some merit. While it is not needed to be rude or overbearing in our speeches and our actions, we must return to acting upon beliefs and moral principles, not simply in the name of financial or political expediency. The question the voters should be asking in this election season is "will the candidate act according to justice, fair play and principles"? I certainly hope so.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Obama aces Russert's Farrakhan test

[ Below are excerpts from an article concerning the questioning of Sen. Barack Obama about Min.Louis Farrakhan's endorsement of him. My comments are below that]

Obama Aces Russert's Farrakhan Test

Wed Feb 27, 3:26 PM ET

The Nation -- In 1998, Grove Press published a nonfiction book, The Farrakhan Factor: African-American Writers on Leadership, Nationhood, and Minister Louis Farrakhan.

I edited the collection of fifteen essays by prominent black writers, academics, economists and historians because I felt that members of the mainstream press had hijacked the conversation about Farrakhan and black leadership in America. My goal at that time was two-fold: To allow blacks to define the meaning of political and social leadership, and to place Louis Farrakhan into historical context, in terms of the long line of blacks in the US who have been considered leaders over the decades.

Watching the Democratic presidential candidate's debate last night, the moment I've been dreading since Senator Barack Obama first announced his candidacy finally arrived: The Farrakhan Litmust Test, served up by a white male member of the establishment press, before an audience of millions.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/thenation/20080227/cm_thenation/45291669&printer=1

I was watching the debate last night, and I saw this sort of question. To me, politics is very dirty. Minister Farrakhan, although a controversial figure in American politics and religion, has much standing among African-Americans, and to attempt to trap Obama in this fashion was very underhanded, as was the recent distribution of him in traditional East African [read 'Muslim'] clothing.

By renouncing Farrakhan's endorsement, Obama risks alienating many people who would otherwise cast a vote in his favor. It is not because the voters like Minister Farrakhan and his 1960's rhetoric and advocacy of an unorthodox 'Islamic' ideology, but because they will view him as a coward, unable or unwilling to make the "change" his campaign ads speak about.

On the other hand, had he not disassociated himself from Farrakhan's comments about him, he would have certainly risked the entire campaign, as the Jewish community are indeed very powerful, he would have been seen as an anti-Semite, or guilt by association.

Politics is indeed dirty, and while this post should not be seen as an endorsement of Obama [or any other figure for that matter], I would like to see our leaders stand for what is right and what they believe to be right. It cannot always be an issue of catering to voters, saying what we want to hear. If the Economic situation requires raising taxes, so be it. Do it and do not apologize.

Those are the sort of leaders we need. People who will stand for what is right and what is in the best interests of America's most disadvantaged and disillusioned citizens.