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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Towards applying the Qur'an: examining Soorah al Hujuraat in lighty of contemporary problems

Introduction

What initially began as a Friday Khutbah [speech] at the Mosque, delivered in the wake of the Ferguson Grand Jury decision {Ft.1} has now turned into an examination of An important Quranic chapter. Can it give some light as to how we see things and how our reactions should be? Can it speak on the American social climate that produces these sort of problems? Please note that this post does not proclaim to uncover the truth regarding this particular tragedy, but I do acknowledge that one thing which is painfully obvious is that feelings of marginalization and outright oppression are widely felt by people of color. {ft.2]

The Qur'an, as a field of intellectual examination, is fascinating. It is comparable to a puzzle, the pieces have to be put together in order for the full picture to be seen. Moreover, understanding can change, or at least deepen, when confronted with new knowledge or sets of life-experiences {Ft.3]. With regards to this particular Soorah, our literature states that it was revealed initially to respond to a rather minor incident that displayed crass, inconsiderate behavior, on the part of a people the Qur'an says were "not thinking" [Ft.4]. This text goes on to weave a compelling tapestry, connecting several issues that may seem unrelated, but upon contemplation, those connections become real and important. [Ft.5]

Having a correct foundation

O Believers! Do not place yourselves before Allah and his messenger, rather, have Taqwaa of Allah, Surely, Allah is Hearer, knower.[ Q 49:1]. 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]
As humans, we are to surrender to the Divine decrees. The Divine arrangements are to be superior to other thoughts. To go against the Divine Order, especially in public, can render good deeds null and void. So having a sense of being cautious about God's decrees [i.e. Taqwaa] is a quality that should be present in public and private. A system based on real justice, should be on display and felt by all, regardless of the racial, religious, economic or educational level of the public. In short, a correct foundation.

Processing information

  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]

We are not told to reject information, we are told to investigate, to find out by the means at our disposal what is true and what is false, especially during times of strive. Responses to situations should be based on facts, not fiction.


That information may be based on misconceptions

O ye who believe! Let not a folk deride a folk who may be better than they (are), nor let women (deride) women who may be better than they are; neither defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames. Bad is the name of lewdness after faith. And whoso turneth not in repentance, such are evil-doers. [ Q 49:11, Muhammad Pickthall translation]

Putting it into modern language, we are to not stereotype, nor dehumanize people. Popular media, especially the entertainment industry, have been doing this to people of color for decades. If we read this in connection with 49:6 mentioned above, we find that those who perpetuate stereotypes do so for political gains, and are themselves criminals of sorts. We should not fall for their deceptions. Each and every single human has unique qualities and to label them or dismiss them in an over-simplistic fashion is to ignore the nuances, thus committing injustices. 

How are falsehoods spread?

 
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]

These commands have societal applications, and should not be restricted to personal ethics. Conjecture, speculation, usually spread by backbiting, is dangerous. In addition to this, we are told not to spy. That is an issue with several different implications, but our point here is that even in civil strife, there should be some limits that are not crossed. "Spying" in this sense goes beyond reasonable discourse. Look at the Ferguson case. The criminal activities of  Police officer Darren \Wilson's deceased mother has now been brought into the public debate. [ see  http://financialjuneteenth.com/officer-darren-wilsons-mother-robbed-people-out-of-hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars/] . What does that have to do with the case at all?  Indeed, in Cleveland, Ohio we saw a similar situation. 12 yr old Tamir Rice was killed by police, yet some media brought out that his father has a criminal record! What does that have to do with the fact that a twelve year old boy was killed by police? [ see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/26/tamir-rice-father_n_6227312.html].

So falsehoods and conjectures are spread about by spying, dirt digging, in an attempt to paint a particular image, bent on, essentially, destruction. That sort of action should never enter the public discourse.

Do not stereotype, because God made us all to carry and embody differences

"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]

Tall, short, dark, pale skin complexion, and all in between, have been made by God. To stereotype, spread false impressions in order to benefit politically, is immoral. It is rebellion against the Divine Imperatives.

Stereotyping even occurs within the same community. In a Muslim context, Non-Hijabis stereotype Hijabis. A brother with a beard sees his beardless counterpart as shameful, the beardless one sees his bearded friend as a radical, someone not wearing a tie is uneducated, and on and on. God says he made us all different, and those differences exist for a reason. In truth there is great benefit in having differences. A style of dressing gets embellished and transformed by others, same with music, food, philosophy, etc. This is the Divine plan!

To any who thinks that there is something wrong with this, We are told a response.

"Say: will you teach God your Deen?" [ Q 49:16]. Are you going to tell God or teach God how to improve on the creation? The verse continues "...Yet, God knows what is in the heavens and the Earth, and is knowledgeable of all things." [ 49:16]

If all humans were to live by this one Soorah, there would truly be peace and harmony on this Earth. Let us work towards creating that world, where false stereotypes are eliminated by human interactions, discussion, education and travel. Those who perpetuate false stereotyping and fear mongering should be seen as the criminals they truly are, and not heeded in the least.

Footnotes

[1] On Nov. 24, 2014, a Ferguson Grand Jury declined to press charges against Police officer Darren Wilson in the death of 18 yr old Michael Brown. The decision led to protests and some rioting.

[2] Protests were seen not only in Ferguson, Missouri, but nationwide.

[3] See, for example, The Bible, The Qur'an and Science, The Holy Scriptures examined in the light of Modern Knowledge by Maurice Bucaille [2009, A.S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia]

[4] Qur'an 49:4. For the story said to surround the revelation of this Soorah, see  http://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2013/07/towards-healthy-spiritual-life.html]

[5] There are many examples of this. One example I recommend reading is the whole of Soorah An Noor [Chapter 24], it discusses subjects such as manners, dress, marriage and more, and connects all of it with the Divine light, as given in 24:35.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thoughts on "Post-Racial" American society

As I write these few words, the entire nation is debating. The Grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri decision not to press charges in the death of Michael Brown, who was killed in an encounter [the details of which are highly disputed, but the outcome obviously undeniable] with a local police officer named Darren Wilson  has ignited not only protests, but it has even come down to rioting and looting. Certainly criminal elements always emerge in these type of situations, taking advantage of the atmosphere to create anarchy and steal [after all, the Brown's family church as well as places such as an  AUTOZONE store  were destroyed [ see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2849736/Church-attended-Michael-Brown-s-family-destroyed-Monday-night-s-protests.html ].

Yet, this has been felt nationwide. Protests are taking place all across the USA. President Obama has made comments on it. On the INTERNET, we can find solidarity rallies and tweets from people worldwide. If we are such a 'post-racial' society, why is it that these things are happening?

While it is quite encouraging to see Non Blacks protesting alongside African-Americans nationwide, it's obvious that problems still exist. Quite frankly, it goes beyond this one man's death. As I see it, these problems can be summarized in the following fashion [1] A perception that Blacks and other minorities are simply criminals at nature, an image that has been sustained for decades by the entertainment industry.  [2] An increasingly alarming trend nationwide on the part of Law enforcement to use deadly force and ask questions later. [3] Community and family ties are not as strong as in the past.

This brief post cannot cover everything. In essence, this is simply a rant. But it's a rant that searches for solutions. While protests certainly generate media attention, what happens when the media goes to another story? It's certainly true that burning stores in one's own community will not bring any healthy solutions, but what can be done, practically, to prevent things like this from happening again?

I tend to think solutions include, but are not limited to [1] Deeper and stronger community ties. These ties have to cut across racial, religious, and class ties. Poverty is not some moral disease, thus poor people should not be ignored. The type of society that used to exist must be revived, wherein people know each other, neighbors look out for each other, who will address crime in their own neighborhoods and families. How can that be done? By family involvement in the lives of the youth. This should not be taken as blaming the victim [in this case, Michael Brown], but in addition to cleaning up our own neighborhoods, it would also limit our contact with situations in which police would potentially get involved. [2] There has to be a removal of stereotypes. This is easier said than done, but in all honesty, because of how we have been socialized, Blacks are quicker to be seen as dangerous than Whites! [3] On the part of law enforcement, obviously in the Ferguson context, there will have to be seen more and more Blacks and other minorities added to the police force.


Just some thoughts..