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Monday, December 2, 2013

Keeping it real: some thoughts on the struggles of the Islamic 'convert'.



Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world . This is something acknowledged by friend and foe alike, despite the fact that there are actually very limited [if any] organized efforts at missionary work, of the kind that Christian missionaries engage in. There are many reasons behind this growth, far beyond the scope of this article, but nonetheless there are certain commonalities in terms of the struggles the new Muslim may find themselves in, especially in Western countries. Below are some guidelines, important for both the 'convert' and the Muslim community activists, Imams, employees and teachers.

[1] Muslim: first and foremost

Within the Islamic community as well as the media, titles such as 'convert' or 'revert'[ft.#1] are commonly used. It is our view that such titles, to be used even for people who have been Muslims for over 20 years, are artificial, and, most dangerously, makes an implication that Muslims born into the faith or whose origins are from Islamic nations are more authentic and superior to the newcomer. These sort of assumptions are incorrect and are contrary to the teachings of the Qur'an and Prophetic Sunnah. It should be sufficient to cite the following Quranic assertion:
" Verily, in Allah's sight the most honorable are those with the highest amount of Taqwaa in your midst." [Q 49:13]

[2] Intra community relations

It is often the case that the new Muslim feels alone in the mosque. In  the United States, most of the mosques are filled with a mixture of ethnic groups, sectarian tendencies and even generational differences.The new Muslim may feel disheartened, lonely. It is incumbent on the community to not only be welcoming, but to be accommodating, have classes on the necessities of practice, to build real social relations, but also to have respect for the new Muslim. Know that the new Muslim is not, NOT, required to adopt the attitudes, food and clothing of a different culture. Corrections of each other should never be done in arrogance or spite.
There is suppose to exist a relation of respect and equality between Muslims, regardless of racial backround or history.
"The believing men and women are protecting allies of one another, commanding what is right [by universal standards ] [ft.#2], forbid what is disgusting [Munkar], establishing prayers, pay Zakaat, obey Allah and his messenger, it is they whom Allah bestows mercy, verily Allah is powerful, wise." [Q 9:71]

[3] In the wider society: family and friends

There are a number of trends, both healthy and otherwise, that are found in the enthusiastic brother or sister who has accepted Islam. Indeed, the  struggle to do right and resist the influences of  the pre-Islamic lifestyle are in a tug-of war, being most visible during holidays and in social interactions. Below is a summary of issues and an Islamic response.

[A] Name change

Very often Muslims change their names. While this is acceptable, let it be known that the only names that have to be changed are names that have a bad meaning or names that imply worship of something other than God. In Sunan Abu Dawood, the blessed Prophet Muhammad [sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] is said to have changed a person named shaytaan [satan] to another name, or of a person named Harb [war] to Salm [calmness], and the like. In the Prophet's days, and even today among Bedouins, a rough or ugly name was seen as toughening up the child to survive in a harsh world. But it is the messengers of God who teach that a goodly name is among the best things parents give to their children.

[B] Religious differences creating family tensions

From our side, we are to keep to our religion, but strive to keep good relations with family. The Qur'an itself asserts
[Revere thy parents;] yet should they endeavour to make thee ascribe divinity, side by side with Me, to something which thy mind cannot accept [as divine],  obey them not; but [even then] bear them company in this world’s life with kindness, and follow the path of those who turn towards Me. In the end, unto Me you all must return; and thereupon I shall make you [truly] understand all that you were doing [in life].’'[ Q 31:15, Muhammad Asad translation]
[C] Holidays [Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter etc]

This is probably the most sensitive of issues, because it is during the holiday seasons that serve as the bonding periods among families. Our advice is to not participate in the religious aspects of these activities. After all, Christmas [to highlight an example] celebrates the birth of Jesus, whom Christians believe to be God and the son of God. As Muslims we obviously don't accept these doctrines, so it would make no sense to celebrate it. But we see no harm in dining with the family in this time. Family relations are very important in Islam. So, in the dinners, if pork and alcohol are served, simply don't eat those items. Similarly, if the family observes Non Islamic religious rituals, such as going to Christmas services, don't go to that, but catch up with them later.[ft.#3]

Footnotes

[1] The term "revert" stems from an understanding that Islam is something innate in human beings, therefore, when we accept Islam, we are not changing, rather, we are "reverting" back to our original nature. This understanding itself is based on the hadeeth:  " Every child is born upon the natural disposition [Al-Fitrah], his parents make him Jewish, Christian or Zoroastrian." [Bayhaqi]

[2] Al-Ma'roof: Those healthy, recognized and accepted universal values that are needed for every society.

[3] It is well known that many of the holidays, including the religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter, have origins in pagan culture and belief. Be that as it may, in the West these occasions are observed and families take advantage of them by having family gatherings. It is the family gatherings that we are emphasizing here. It is often argued that even to do this is to engage in compromising one's Islam and pollute the faith with innovations [Bid'ah]. But we find this reasoning to be flawed for a number of reasons. [1] We accept to be paid extra  to work at these times. [2] We shop on 'black friday'[the day after thanksgiving], looking for deals. [3] Most of us are off work on Saturdays and Sundays, which are the sabbath periods for Jews and Christians respectively, and even the mosques, taking advantage of the day of rest and worship in the West, have major activities on both days.

It is for each person to make their own decisions based on their own conscious when it comes to issues of this kind. For a discussion on Thanksgiving, see Shaykh Luqman Ahmad's article [2http://imamluqman.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/the-islamic-ruling-regarding-celebrating-thanksgiving-day-by-shaykh-abu-laith-luqman-ahmad-2//[/url] . For an opposing view, as well as an interesting analysis of popular television programs, music and even Biblical texts, see the book Symbolism, Holidays, Myths and Signs by Imam Alauddin Shabazz [ 1993, New Mind Publications, Jersey City, New Jersey]

Monday, November 11, 2013

Day of Testimony

Below is a video of two presentations of two local sisters, sharing their stories of how they both came to Islam and their struggles therein. Very inspiring and informative. Please share widely.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=usd2eSSEzuc

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The transformative power of Ramadan

Friday prayer at Toledo Masjid. Examines both the technical details of the fast as well as the method by which the fast can be used to make us better people.



Monday, July 1, 2013

Towards a healthy spiritual life: contemplating Islamic principles

Life is a journey. We are always on the journey, even if we are physically confined to a certain place or space. The longer one lives, the more we learn and develop. This is true for all human beings, or perhaps a better description, should be true for all human beings.

Religion comes forth in order to deliver guidance as to how to live with yourself, with other humans, with those who agree with you and those who disagree with you. It is true that there are what we could call theological truisms, but it is the living and functioning in this world that is the main goal and function of religion. The theological truisms, such as believe in the One God, who is invisible to the human eye, accepting as true the commissioning of Prophets and messengers, the sending forth of scripture, the final one being the Qur'an [as per Islamic teachings], are all connected with, in some way or another, to the way humans are suppose to live here!

Important information on this topic is given in the Qur'an, the scripture sent forth to the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings. There are also some sayings of the Prophet that we could reference, but for our purposes only one seems prudent: " I have been sent to perfect morals" [ Musnad Ahmad].

Introducing Soorah Al Hujuraat

The Tafseer books are in general agreement as to the circumstances [Sibaab an Nuzool] surrounding the revelation of Soorah # 49. The Prophet was in his home, and some tribesmen from Banu Tameem came looking for him, yelling "O Muhammad, come out!" [some reports say that they used the term "Ahmad" rather than Muhammad] . It was certainly an example of bad manners. In any case, the Soorah was sent forth, dealing with this and other issues. I highly recommend a study of the text for yourself.

We will not seek to look at the whole of the Soorah in this brief post, but rather we will take a quick glace at some of its Blessed contents.

O Believers! Do not place yourselves before Allah and his messenger, rather, have Taqwaa of Allah, Surely, Allah is Hearer, knower.[ Q 49:1]
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَرْفَعُوا أَصْوَاتَكُمْ فَوْقَ صَوْتِ النَّبِيِّ وَلَا تَجْهَرُوا لَهُ بِالْقَوْلِ كَجَهْرِ بَعْضِكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ أَن تَحْبَطَ أَعْمَالُكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَشْعُرُونَ

O believers! Do not elevate your voices above the voice of the Prophet, do not be loud with him in speech, nor treat his speech as the speech of others, lest your deeds become nullified while you are not perceptive.[Q 49:2]

these two verses introduce the Soorah. The guidance of the Qur'an and the messenger are the most important sources. They are not to be treated in the same way one treats the works of lawyers, scholars, philosophers and lay people. This textual and spiritual hierarchy is necessary in order as to not have any confusion. Islam, as found in the Qur'an and Prophetic guidance, is perfected. When perfection and its opposite are mixed, there will arise natural confusion. Notice here, as throughout the Qur'an, the formula "God and his messenger". God is represented by the Qur'an, so the Qur'an will have to serve as primary foundational pillar.

So, what does God say? What does Allah tell us that is relevant for a healthy spiritual life? A life that is, in a sense, protected. Here are some examples of the Divine speech:

  يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِن جَاءكُمْ فَاسِقٌ بِنَبَأٍ فَتَبَيَّنُوا أَن تُصِيبُوا قَوْمًا بِجَهَالَةٍ فَتُصْبِحُوا عَلَى مَا فَعَلْتُمْ نَادِمِينَ
" O believers! When a "Faasiq" [an immoral person who breaks the normal rules of behavior] comes with any information, investigate it, lest you bring harm to a people unknowingly and become regretful afterwards." [Al-Qur'an 49:6]

This references not only war situations, or exercising caution with media or internet reports, but even within our own small circles.  Notice the verse says "investigate" rather than outright rejection of the report. In our own lives, we may have those who love to see discord. "Misery loves company" as the saying goes. This should not be the source of our downfall,what other people say or do. Indeed, this is even connected to the teaching known as Husnudh dhann, or positive conjecture. The first and foremost rule in Islamic ethics, as well as even within the Fiqh, is to assume the best BEFORE  assuming the worst. That certainly does not imply blind following, but rather in having a generally positive outlook on life and on human beings. That positive thinking is the best step in getting or in having a healthy spiritual life.

More practical steps

The same Soorah tells us to not ridicule others, not to give defamatory names, nor insulting [49:11] . No commentary is needed on this, except to perhaps consider what Muhammad the Prophet is reported to have said. "Love for your brother what you love for yourself". Would we like to be made fun of? Or insulted?

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضًا أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَن يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ 
  إِنَّ اللَّهَ تَوَّابٌ رَّحِيمٌ

" O believers, [1] Do not engage in much conjecture, verily, conjecture is sometimes sinful. [2] Do not spy on one another,[3] Do not backbite on one another, would you like to eat the meat of your dead brother? Nay, you would hate this. Have Taqwaa of Allah, verily, Allah is Oft-Returning, Compassionate.[ Q 49:12]

Now we come to the heart of this post. Conjecture [Dhann] can be destructive, and, as the verse says, a sin. The principle of assuming the best before assuming the worst, especially when there is no evidence of wrong play or ill will, is another key element of a healthy spiritual existence. The verse goes on to speak of spying. Why the prohibition for spying? Because everyone has a private life, quarters of their existence, even if not sinful, that is not needed to share with the world. Moreover, to search out for the wrongs or for the shortcomings of others is in itself a sign of a diseased heart. Indeed, there is wisdom in the Prophetic hadeeth which says "blessed is the one who is so busy with their own faults they forget the faults of others" [ narrated by Anas and reported by Al Bazzaar]. Backbiting, in a similar way, is a sign of a sick heart, one that requires treatment in the Divine clinic. We go back to a hadeeth cited before, love for your brother what you love for yourself. That should be sufficient as a comment.


"O Humanity! Verily We [God] have created you from a single male and female, made you into peoples and groupings for the purpose of learning from one another. Verily, in Allah's sight the most honorable are those with the highest amount of Taqwaa in your midst. Verily, Allah is the Knowing, the Aware." [Q 49:13]

This verse tells us the reasons behind the differences we find among the human race. Our cultures, cooking style, languages, etc.. are all placed there by the Divine plan, in order for us to derive mutual benefit. It is not an accident of nature or an oddity. The Qur'an places  emphasis on traveling to lands other than your own, as that is a means for growth. Xenophobia is, thus, an entirely Un Islamic feeling to hold onto. Our own experience is that there are, and will continue to be, people of great potential, even religiously, but who hold to racist views, jealousies and even fear of other languages, other peoples, etc.., thus, holding themselves back. They deny the blessings Allah has given to them by framing everything in racial terms.They have engaged in conjecture [Dhann] solely on the basis of a skin color or national origin. This also implies some sort of racial or ethnic superiority, which is condemned here in the above verse. Throughout Soorah Al-Baqarah, and even mentioned briefly in Soorah Al Jumu'ah, we find that elements among the Children of Israel are condemned for this way of thinking.

Conclusion

All of these elements are connected. If we have unhappy lives, we have to ask ourselves the reason. Do we put our desires or our opinions as first, elevating our whims above the guidance of the Almighty and above the goodly model of the messenger, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam? Do we elevate our voices over that of Islam?  Are we willing to reject good advice or guidance simply because the wrapping is not a color we like? Do we judge and feel suspicious all the time? Do we allow ourselves to be inspired by the Devil? I am reminded of Randy Linn, the arsonist of the Islamic center of Greater Toledo, who, in court for his crime, said that he had been inspired by Fox News. He had been convinced Muslims were here, preparing some anti-American acts, because of the comments he heard on that channel.

This article is not a full commentary on this Soorah. Indeed, I have studied this Soorah so much that I am tempted to write a book on it. This article seeks to look at some of the things that we could do, or avoid, in order to have a healthy spiritual life. Basically, we are to look at both internal and external factors. Both are connected. Throughout the Soorah, we read about Taqwaa, a healthy awareness, respect for God. This translates into our relations with others as well. One need only take a glance at the Qur'an, 4:1.

Comments and discussion are welcome. Wa Lillaahit-Tawfeeq.

Monday, April 1, 2013

In the belly of the Beast: questions on Islamic devotion in prison


[1] There are so many ideas associated with Islam, and countless books, CDs, and brochures published by different sects. How can we determine what is correct?

Answer: Obviously, the two authorities for Muslims are the Qur’an, which is the book of Allah, and the goodly model that is present within the example of Prophet Muhammad, Sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. It’s true that all the sects say this, and it’s also true that there are countless books with fancy Arabic titles and proposing to present all of the solutions to our questions. In our view, the following methodology is needed, especially for the New Muslim, but it’s just as relevant for a veteran Muslim as well. [1] Have faith in Allah, understand that he is one and alone. The God concept of Islam is easily found within the Qur’an, a few examples are 2:255, 24:35, and 112:1-4.  [2] Be regular in Salaah [daily [prayers]. This also requires learning how to offer it. There are many brothers in all the prisons from whom it can be learned, it’s largely uniform across sectarian lines, and an abundance of books, pamphlets and instructional materials are also widely available. [3] Be a consistent reader of the Qur’an. Have it be your ultimate authority on what’s authentic, because it is often the case that ideas spread word of mouth are not only contrary to Islam, but also dangerous in one sense or another.

[2] Are we allowed to be friendly with Non Muslims?

Answer: The Qur’an only forbids friendships with those who would be detrimental to us spiritually and who display enmity towards Islam! Thus, Allah says: “and when you see those engaged in vanities about Our signs [i.e. Quranic revelation] , then turn away from them until they turn to a different way of speaking. If Shaytaan [the Devil] makes you forget, then upon being reminded, sit not with those who are bent on being a people of wrongdoing.” [Q 6: 69]. Another verse reads “...when you hear the verses of Allah rejected and ridiculed, do not sit with them… if you did, you would be like them.” [Q 4:140]

It is often said that Islam forbids relations with Non Muslims, but this is simply not true! This misconception stems from an incorrect translation of the word Awliyaa’ [singular Waali], found in the Qur’an 4:144, 5:57 and other texts. These verses are to be understood in context, and to be seen in context of patron-client nation states. Muslims are forbidden in these verses from taking as protectors those whose enmity has already been proven, a common sense teaching! 

Here, we should remember that the Qur’an itself allows us to eat the food of Non Muslims, which means dining as well, as well as marriage with Jews and Christians [ Q 5:5]. Moreover, a just and fair way of dealing with those who deal with us in a similar way, even though there are religious differences, is the command of the Qur’an in 60:8-9.

[3] Do we cut relations with Non Muslim family?
To cut relation simply due to religious differences is not correct. Islam sees as extremely important the family ties. Indeed, remember that the Qur’an directly uses parents as an example, if they want us to commit idolatry, we can’t obey that, but we are to keep goodly ties with them in life.

[4] Interactions with Pseudo Islamic groups [Nation of Islam, Five per centers, Moorish Science temple, etc...]

Admittedly this is a tricky question. Without doubt, the God concept and the racially oriented teachings of such groups are contrary to Islam. Yet, usually such beliefs are adopted out of ignorance about authentic Islam, and once they are exposed to what’s true, their hearts turn towards that. We recommend dealing with such people in understanding, compassion and patience. Keep in mind the following verse: “  And it was by God's grace that thou [O Prophet] didst deal gently with thy followers, for if thou had been harsh and hard of heart, they would indeed have broken away from thee. Pardon them, and pray that they be forgiven.." [Q 3:159, Muhammad Asad translation]

[5] Is Salaatul Jumu’ah [Friday prayers] valid in prisons?
The Qur’an and Hadeeth literature both give us the conditions for Friday prayers. It’s purpose, like all the other prayers, is “the remembrance of Allah” [Q 61:9]. It also serves as a social function, in the sense that hearts are united and relationships established by attending the services and praying together. Thus, we find the argument that Jumu’ah prayers are invalid in prisons due to lack of public access as baseless. We have to remember that many of the views advanced by some jurists, yesterday and to some extent today as well, are views that were shaped in circumstances different than today’s prison system. Historically, the Madhaahib [schools of jurisprudence] had different ideas as to the number of attendees necessary for Friday prayers, the Shafi’ees held that at least 30 are needed, whereas some Shi’ah authorities in Iraq, Iran and even Lebanon held that Friday prayers were invalid when the ruling government was unjust [Ghayrul ‘aadil].  In any case, it has to be remembered that the Prophet, Sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said that the whole earth is a place of prayer, and this certainly includes prisons! The conditions for Friday prayers are well known and established, [1] It is recommended to bath beforehand, wear one’s best and clean clothes, and to smell good [ Bukhari 11:3], [2] To listen attentively to the Khutbah [sermon] and be silent during [ Bukhari 11:35] [3] The Khutbah is divided into two sections, with a pause for Du’a between them. Those brief moments between the Khutbah’s first and second parts are important moments in which Du’a is heard and accepted by Allah [Tabaraani].

May Allah keep our hearts firm upon his deen, we seek his forgiveness, mercy and guidance.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Comparing the scriptures: a glance at Biblical and Quranic texts

Introduction


 

This article is not designed to antagonize nor offend readers of any faith. Nor is it a polemical device. Rather, it is an educational and discussion tool, on a subject we have been long asked to address. The reader is encouraged to verify the quotations for themselves. The Biblical references are from the NIV [NIV study Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 2002 edition] unless otherwise stated, and the Quranic texts are translated by the author, unless otherwise stated.


God concept

The basic idea or understanding of how to conceptualize the Almighty is the same as between the Bible and the Qur'an.

"I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the ways you should go.." [Isaiah 48:18]

"God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should change his mind." [Numbers 23:19]

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." [Deuteronomy 6:4]

"Say: He is Allah alone! Allah the eternal. He does not give birth, nor was he given birth to, and nothing exists like him. "[Qur'an 112:1-4]

 "And place your trust in the Living One [Al-Hayy] who does not die, and celebrate his praise, and he is sufficient as aware of the sins of his servants" [Qur'an 25:58]

 “Allah![1]  Nothing deserves worship except He, the Self-Subsisting, Eternal. Slumber does not overtake him, neither does sleep. To Him belongs what is in the Heavens and what is in the Earth. Who possesses abilities of intercession, except by His permission? He knows what is between them, and what is behind them. None grasp of his knowledge, except by his will. His throne encompasses the Heavens and the Earth, He does not tire in protecting them both, and He is the Most High, the Magnificent” [Q 2:255]

Ethics

 “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
 “You shall not murder.
 “You shall not commit adultery.
 “You shall not steal.
 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”[Deuteronomy 5:16-21]


 "Hence, do not kill your children for fear of poverty : it is We[#2] who shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily, killing them is a great sin.And do not commit adultery  -for, behold, it is an abomination and an evil way.And do not take any human being's life -[the life] which God has willed to be, sacred-otherwise than in [the pursuit of] justice.  Hence, if anyone has been slain wrongfully, We have empowered the defender of his rights [to exact a just retribution] ;  but even so, let him not exceed the bounds of equity in [retributive] killing.  [And as for him who has been slain wrongfully -] behold, he is indeed succoured [by God] !And do not touch the substance of an orphan, save to improve it, before he comes of age.  And be true to every promise - for, verily, [on Judgment Day] you will be called to account for every promise which you have made !
" [ 17:31-34 Muhammad Asad translation, The Message of the Qur'an]


Broadly speaking, these two topics are arguably the most important. The two scriptures share the same vision here. While differences do exist between the two, it is the similarities that outweigh the differences.


Notes
[1] "Allah" is the name of God in Arabic, just as Dios is in Spanish and  Khuda in Farsi and Urdu. It refers to the One and Only God.

[2] "WE" refers to God himself. The plural used is a royal plural, given to denote grandeur and authority. The Bible repeatedly uses this, such as in Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning, God [Elohim] created the heavens and the Earth." Elohim is plural of Eloh!