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Friday, May 18, 2018

Does Islam sanction slavery?

Introduction

There are a number of issues that are raised by detractors and sincere questioners alike, among them being the institution of slavery, in particular sex slavery. In recent years, the emergence of ISIS and BOKO HARAM in Nigeria  ( whose leadership actually declared themselves loyal to ISIS), and their actions of kidnapping  girls and reportedly selling them on the open market has led to this particular question being asked once again raised in the world stage.


The answers that are typically given are either incorrect, over-simplified, or simply misrepresented, without depth both theologically and historically.

This is understandable when we consider that as a term, slavery has been universally outlawed and not practiced on the world stage for a long time, as well as a natural aversion to images of oppression that comes from the areas where these activities are taking place.

ISIS themselves presented a long document defending their taking Yazidi and Shiite  girls as slaves, replete with references to Islamic texts. As if this was not bad enough, in more recent times migrants from a number of African countries, seeking to work in Europe, have been captured in war-torn Libya by groups who have been filmed beating, torturing, extorting for ransom and actually selling as slaves has rightly caused an outrage.

With these realities in mind, let us look at the Islamic texts and history.


Slavery as a social institution during Prophet Muhammad's time

It is undeniable that for a good portion of human history, slavery in some forms has existed. It did exist in Arabia in the time of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.  Slavery, in much of the world's history, would happen in a number of ways, such as  (1) Enemies captured during conflict. (2) Debts. (3) As punishment for certain crimes.

It is also to be noted that the Quranic revelation acknowledged the presence of this institute, and sought to deal with it in a number of ways.

Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.(Q 2:177, Saheeh International translation).

There are other verses which has a similar message of freeing of slaves as an expiation for certain incorrect actions(Ft.1), but in the above verse we see the emancipation of slaves as a demonstration of virtue. Thus, the Prophet (Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and the early Muslims were known to purchase slaves from their owners in order to free them.

In the Prophet's final address, he says "feed and clothe them (your slaves) as you feed and clothe yourselves".



The words of the above ahadeeth, if practiced, actually put an end to slavery practically.

We do not claim that this actually happened on a massive scale after the Prophet's death. Indeed, it is our view that many of the Islamic principles enshrined in the Qur'an and Prophetic tradition were in fact never fully crystallized(2), nonetheless the point is that throughout the Qur'an itself, we find that it preaches a religion that seeks to remove harm and oppression, and it is this reason that it had such wide appeal(3). 

Slavery in Muslim history

As an institution, slavery was not eliminated, and would occur largely in the ways described in the introduction, in particular through the process of war and debt. Yet, this institution did not prevent social advancement. Slaves actually became the rulers in places such as Egypt and India.

One narration attributed to the Prophet states "If a maimed slave is appointed leader, and he conducts your affairs according to the Book of Allah, obey him.( Saheeh Muslim, 20:4533).

Slavery in Muslim jurisprudence (Fiqh)

There are a number of rules associated with slavery. Indeed, the discussions are extremely lengthy, and often uses examples that are related to owning and regulating slaves.

Slaves could negotiate their way to freedom by agreeing upon a contract, in which after payment, he was freed. A woman who gives birth to the child of the master( known as Umm Al Walad)  is automatically freed, even hitting a slave could win the latter's freedom, according to some authorities.

Slaves themselves, according to the jurists, had almost the same rights as the free. One rather pointed 
example is that of marriage. Maliki jurisprudence allows for a slave to have four wives, whereas other madhaahib allowed only two.

This sort of debate shows us that the lives of slaves in Muslim control was nothing like the chattel slavery of the Western hemisphere, to which we are so accustomed to knowing about.


Sex slavery

It is our view that this aspect is the most misunderstood aspect of this topic, in part because of the presence of the Arabic term in the Qur'an known as  Milk-ul-Yameen, which is typically translated into English  as "right hand possessed" or even "handmaid". Even among Muslims whose first language is Arabic, this term is understood to reference a woman captured and sold to a buyer.

It is sometimes said that the Prophet himself had a harem (Arabic "Hareem"), filled with captured women, to serve him at his whims. The Prophet, upon whom be peace and blessings, certainly had wives, but he lived in an extremely humble manner, so much so that the Qur'an itself mentions his wives complaining about this, and they are given a choice to divorce the Prophet or to stay with him in such a living situation ( Q 33: 28-29).

Linguistically, Milk Ul Yameen {Malakat Aymaanakum often in the Quranic phraseology} refers to those whose maintenance and livelihood are largely dependent upon one person. Perhaps a person who does not have family support, because of being a foreigner in a strange land, or financial hardships, or other reasons. Such a person in such a situation needs a solution to their problems.

The Qur'an uses the term in both intimate and non intimate contexts. It appears in the context of working in a household ( 24:58 and 33:55- the latter speaking of malakat aymaanahunna, for women) .

It seems to be a sort of relationship that is not socially seen as the same level as that of a wife, yet treated as an equal relationship in the Qur'an itself ( 4:3, 24, 25 23:6, and other places).

So, it should be seen that Milk Ul Yameen is not a slave, at least not as conceptualized according to the Qur'an, but rather a relationship that is similar to the marriage relationship.

Islam does not teach or allow rape, murder, kidnapping, exploitation and mistreatment of others. Indeed, even if one were to concede that Milk ul yameen meant a slave, the Qur'an itself says Milkulyameen is to be treated well ( Q 4:36) . One other text even says that female and male slaves alike should be sought out as marriage partners if they are found to have righteous character ( 24:32).

If people indeed transgress bounds and commit crimes against other human beings, they will be accountable before Allah for that.

Islam is a faith that has a very realistic approach to life and the issues one encounters therein. It is nice to give charity occasionally to an orphan or a widow, but the best solution is the long-term or permanent solution. Solutions are not only financial, but they also are found within emotional, physical, and family support. The Quranic term Milk Ul Yameen is one of those solutions, but in no way should it be mistaken for slavery.


Endnotes
[1] Freeing of slaves as an expiation for certain wrong acts are found in many places in the Qur'an, such as 5:89, 24:33, 58:3 and 90:13. With regards to Q 2:177, I think another application for the term "liberation of one in bondage"(Fir Riqaab) is funding an education.

[2] One important example is that of Shuraa, or consultation as necessary for governing. The Qur'an (42:38) has this as next to religious rituals, yet while we have understood the ritual of Salaah and spending in charity, yet, unfortunately, much of our history has been filled with dictators, some of whom even saw themselves as "God's shadow on Earth".

[3] Slaves counted as among the earliest followers of the Prophet, but more importantly is that the Islamic message of worship of God and brotherhood of man, as well as universal justice. The Qur'an  even says that it is necessary to stand for justice, even if it runs counter to family ( 4:135)





Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Remarks at the Divine Feminine gathering

[Note: The following is an edited version of my remarks at the MFC organized monthly gathering, held Sunday May 13, 2018 at Trinity Episcopal Church. ]

Good evening:

In terms of the theological aspect of this subject, the religion of Islam has a very clear and straightforward teaching. The ninth century Sunni Islamic theologian named Abu Ja'far Ahmad b. Muhammad At-Tahawi, better known simply as Imam Tahawi writes " Indeed, God is one, without partner, nothing is like him, nothing is beyond his power, He is eternal, without a beginning point, everlasting, without end...nothing occurs except what He wills, He does not resemble the creation, He lives and dies not, self-supporting who sleeps not, He creates and is never in need.." ['Aqeedat At-Tahawiyyah]


The contemporary discussions surrounding the phraseology and particular  pronouns to use for The Divine Reality have no Islamic equivalent. While it is true that God is referred to as "He", it is also true that the use of such pronouns does not imply natural gender. Muslim scholars also understand the name "Allah" as being the the unique name of the Divine, and thus do not view Allah has being neither male nor female."Allah" is unique and unparalleled.

Human cultures universally have associated the feminine with characteristics such as Nurturing, Loving, Patient, Beautiful, and Forgiving. Those attributes are certainly known within Islam as being among the 99 names of Allah. Also worth noting is that contrary to popular belief, Islam at it's core demands respect for women.  One of the chapters of the Qur'an is called "Women", and both genders have the same spiritual potentials.  Prophet Muhammad tells us that "Paradise lies under the feet of mothers"- a good narration in light of mother's day.

The Qur'an speaks of God throughout the text, among them are

"He is Allah, besides whom none deserves worship but Him. The one who knows the unseen and the seen, He is the Merciful, The Compassionate. He is Allah, Besides whom none deserves worship but Him, The Sovereign, The Sacred, The Source of Peace, The Protector, The Mighty, The Powerful, ..." [Q 59:22-23]

"Say: He is Allah alone, Allah the Eternal. He does not give birth to any, nor was He given birth to, and there is nothing like Him." [Q 112:1-4].

Thank you.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Al-Faatihah: It's relevance to modern life

This lecture examines the first chapter of the Qur'an, the main prayer text within Islam. It includes some issues such as grammatical explanations, prayer within the New Testament, and the worldview Al-Faatihah should create.

Comments and discussion are welcome.



Al-Faatihah: It's relevance to modern life

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Being Successful In Life: A Quranic Perspective




Introduction

Today's world has largely accepted the notion that ''success" is determined by the amount of items and cash one has been able to acquire. In fact, most institutions of learning, sciences, and social building are built upon this premise. This has also infiltrated the realm of religion, the most relevant example being within the Christian community, which has a theological movement therein known as The Gospel Of Prosperity. (#1)

These assertions are not meant to convey an idea that mankind needs to become wandering ascetics, in the tradition of Buddhist monks in Thailand and other places. Indeed, if anything, the Qur'an teaches us a balanced perspective when it comes to the acquisition of material comforts. We need only quote two  Quranic  references:

"Say: Who has eternally forbidden (Harrama) God's pleasant (things)  which He has produced for his servants, as well as that which is wholesome from His (own) provision? Say: They are for those who believe, in this life, as well as [being manifested ] specially on the Day of Resurrection. Thus, We (Allah) explain signs to a people of knowledge." ( Q 7:32)

 Our Lord! Give on us that which is pleasant in this life, as well as that which is pleasant in the after-life, and protect us from the punishment of the fire ( Q 2:201).

The latter is a supplication (du'aa) to be made, invoking Allah. It also provides us with evidence of a balanced worldview advocated by Islamic teachings.

What constitutes success?

The Qur'an is very clear that there is this life as well as the life to come. They are related and- in a sense- codependent upon each other, and that connection can often create some misunderstandings in terms of how we approach and understand the Qur'an. One particular Soorah which is the victim of this is Soorah Al Qaari'ah [Chapter 101].

It does talk about the Judgement day, as does chapters which are in the same general location in the Quranic codex. Yet it also speaks of something else entirely, related yet different from the afterlife and from the day of Judgement.

Repeatedly, the Qur'an tells us of scales, by which actions will be weighed on the day of Judgement. However, it is also has impact here in this very life. Carefully read the following verses from Soorah Al-Qaari'ah.

 
"Therefore, those whose scale is heavy, for him is a happy existence" ( Q 101:6-7).

We understand that these scales are to be heavy with worship, charity and fasting, but we also should understand that the scales should be heavy with positive and productive initiatives.  We are talking beyond simply political and economic power, rather, we are talking about things such as the cultivation of good character, deeds, knowledge, understanding, compassion and trustworthiness.

The only way the scale can be heavy is when these acts of cultivation are done on a regular basis. Allah says here in these verses that such who engage in this will be blessed with a sense of satisfaction in this life, as well as to be expected in the life to come.

This is summarized elsewhere in the Qur'an as "Alas, in the remembrance of Allah, hearts find contentment" ( Q 13:28).

In other words, recalling God's blessings to you, as well as his own attributes- in the here and now can bring forth the benefit of a happy life in the hear and now. That awareness and understanding translates practically in the cultivation of good personal ethics, actions and ultimately satisfaction.

Success's opposite

"And those whose scales are light, then his 'refuge' is whims " ( Q 101:8-9).


These two verses have to be read alongside vv.6-7 as mentioned above. These verses here show us that satisfaction has not been achieved by such folks. They are discontented, so they seek to attain contentment/happiness by making their goal or their refuge in whims. This is captured very well in the expression Fa-Ummuhu Haawiyah.(#2)

Haawiya is from Hawaa, which means whims, lusts, and the like. In other words, it is speaking to the narcissistic personalities,   people whose only goals are the satisfaction of their egos [an eternal hunger, which is actually never satisfied] and the trappings of materialism and all that glitters.

"And what will teach you about [the reality of ] whims?  It is [actually] a blazing fire" ( Q 101:10-11)










While it is clear that an afterlife exists, which has categories we know of as paradise ( Jannah) and Hell (Jahannam), it should also be clear that the foundations of that are manifested here in this life. The personality whose focus is only on ego and control is never secure. That personality hates and actually is likewise hated by others, yet does not care. That personality attains power and yields it in with destructive results.

The Qur'an phrases it in this fashion:

"Have you not observed the one who takes his whims [Hawaahu] as his object of worship? God has made such most astray, upon His own knowledge ( of that character's inner realities) placed a seal on his hearing, heart, and has veiled his vision..." ( Q 45:23).

In short, success is happiness, doing good, positive attitudes and inner-cultivation. If we can remember that and work on that, we will naturally fall out of the orbit of those who don't have that same interest, and, thus, be protected from their harm.

If we see the qualities of the hell-bound in our own thinking and actions, that should inspire us to BE BETTER, to aspire to change.

That can happen, with God's help as well as our own efforts ( Q 13: 11)

Endnotes

[1]  The Gospel Of Prosperity is essentially a movement within American Christianity which places emphasis on material things as evidence that God has blessed you. This writer recalls attending a panel discussion at a University, in which a Pastor who follows this ideology spoke against charity! The historical development of this concept is too complex to explain in a footnote, but it is important to know that many of the famous Televangelists adhere to this thinking. For a summary of the historical development of this trend, see https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/prosperity-gospel-born-in-the-usa/.

[2] "Umm" can mean "mother", "source" as well as "refuge". In other  words, here the Qur'an is telling us that the whole goal of those seemingly hell-bound is their Hawaa. The phraseology in Arabic is very profound, and admittedly I find it difficult to translate the same feeling into written English. 


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Foundations for proper thinking: reflections on Soorah Al-Baqarah's opening verses

Introduction


An oft-repeated assertion in the Qur'an is that it is "guidance" [Hudan Lil Muttaqeen]. An even stronger expression found in the text tells us that it is "that which gives clarity to all things" [ Tibyaanan likulli shay'] ( Q 16:89) .

A sceptical reader may treat these assertions with caution or even ridicule, but for this writer, the more I engage with the Quranic scripture, the more I find these statements to be accurate.Indeed, one of the interesting things is that it is the only text I have  ever engaged with and not had a moment of boredom. It gives us things to think about, to consider, even in the midst of some historical account.(ft.1)


The Qur'an is an ever-relevant Book, however it has to be read slowly, it has to be studied, we have to have patience with it. It cannot be treated in the way we treat other materials. It takes much work, particularly when one is not fluent enough to engage it in it's original language(ft.2).

For this post, we have not, unless otherwise stated, provided the English translation, only the references and the Arabic text. This will allow the reader to consult the translation of their choice.


Thinking about the first few verses of Soorah Al-Baqarah



[Q 2:1-5]

The Soorah, the longest of the Qur'an, begins with some mysterious letters, known as Al-Muqata'aat. Other chapters have the same formula or similar headings, and while some have advanced explanations, the general consensus is that God alone knows (in fact) the real meaning of these three letter initials. Ibn Katheer quotes in his Tafseer different views, among them is that these are attention getters. In other words, the fact that we don't automatically known or recognize what these three letters [Alif-Laam-Meem] signify or mean, it forces us to think about it. It grabs our attention because of it's novelty!

Although Ibn Katheer does not seem to accept that view, it is the view that is most convincing to me. The fact that it does begin with something not immediately knowable or recognizable does flow with the message which carries forth in the chapter, particularly in the opening words.

The qualities of those who are deemed aware of God [Muttaqeen], who benefit from this Scripture, is that they accept that there are realities that they cannot immediately see or know. This is called the Ghayb. They pray regularly, they pay in charity regularly, but all of that is prefaced by Alladheena yu'minoona bil Ghayb [Those who have faith in the unseen realities].

There are things we cannot immediately see or know, but that does not mean that they don't exist. It only means that our understanding is not at the level wherein we can see them. A scientist may analyse a micro-oganism, a cell, under a micrscope, yet such cannot be see with the naked eye. A tool or tools are required to see them.

It is under this premise that we have to accept some things which we cannot see. God cannot be physically seen. In addition to this, forces of good and evil, known as angels and demons respectively, cannot typically be seen, even though there existence is almost universally acknowledged.

This is the reality that we are to form a basis upon. The human mind has limitations, and should never be elevated to some divine status. Yes, we should think, ponder and even question, however we should, if we proclaim that we believe in Allah, be careful not to take it too far. Indeed, the Qur'an itself asserts: "Have you not observed the one who takes his whims [Hawaa] as his object of worship?Allah has made such most astray, upon his own knowledge [of that character's inner realities], placed a seal on his hearing, his heart, and has made on his vision a veil. So who will deliver him guidance after Allah? Will you not recollect?" ( Q 45:23)


The Qur'an is for those who accept as axiomatic truth that God has sent forth scriptures and Prophets, who are assured of deeper realities(ft.3], and are consquently, the objects of guidance and success.


Those who elevate their wrong thinking are the ones responsible for chaos

[Q 2:6-10]

It is important to read words in their context, because context often provides the proper or intended meaning. Here is a perfect example. The words Innal ladheena Kafarooo are usually translated as "Indeed, those who are disbelievers". The term "disbeliever" does not capture the full reality of Kufr. In these regards, Kaafir as presented in the Qur'an is something different than Kaafir as expressed in popular culture or even in the writings of the Fuqahaa.

The word Kaafir has to do with rejection, with hiding or denying, and even is connected with ingratitude. It is a deeply nuanced word, as well as the words which stem from Kufr. Notice here that they [Alladheena Kafaroo] don't accept God's message because they are blinded to those realities!

They are blinded because of their actions. They are blinded and- as the verses suggest- destined for hell, because they have waged war on what is right. They are driven by ambition and hubris, usually filled with hatred and envy, and produce nothing but destruction upon whatever it is they possession of.

They may even pretend, out of political considerations, to be Muslims! They may have our names and terminology, but their hearts are not really with Islam.

In short, such folks don't accept that Ghayb exists. They seek only power, glory and wealth, and, even then, it seems they would not be satisfied.

Their self-awareness is non-existent. "They seek to deceive Allah, and those who have 'imaan', yet they deceive only themselves and realize it not." ( Q 2:9)

2:10 in particular seems to show us that because of their own internal conditions, which they themselves are largely for creating, only becomes worse as time goes on. God allows it to happen, not for ideological or "religious" reasons, but because of their destructive intentions and wrong thinking.

Characteristists of rejection

[Q 2:11-16]

These types not only have a theological rejection of Allah's guidance, they spread chaos while proclaiming their 'wonderful intentions'. The modern era has seen this repeatedly, and is known widely by terms such as "white man's burden". Invasions are staged in order to "spread democracy and freedom". Slavery was a wonderful institution because it "civilized Africans" or brought them to Christianity, etc.

These types have no self-awareness, they are arrogant, narcissistic, and view themselves as extremly clever. Sometimes they even pretend to be believers, and this actually seems to be a historical pattern. The Qur'an speaks of hypocrites in Prophet Muhammad's time, even in his presence (Q 63:1-3) proclaiming one thing and believing another.

They go whereever the wind of politics blow. They seemingly have no true or firm principles. They have devilish companionship (shayateenihim) and God promises that they don't get away with their evil deeds  for long.


The sad thing is expressed in verses 16, 18 and 20 is that they had oppurtunities to be guided to God's light. They were exposed to it, they are exposed to it and to God's messenger, in this case Prophet Muhammad- The final Prophet- peace and blessings be upon him. Yet, they squander and continue to squander away those oppurtunities.

What should we get from these verses?

The first thing we should seek from these verses is to do serious introspection. Are we firm as to what we are to accept and what we are to reject as Muslims? While I do mean  theologically, yet arguably  more importantly in our perception of self and perception of life. Do we have proper thinking?

How are our characteristics? We should be working on the development of better characteristics.

One of the Prophet's supplications is "O Allah, I seek refuge with you from bad characteristics, deeds, passions and diseases"
اللهم جنبني منكرات الأخلاق و الاعمال و الاهواء والادواء

Another well known supplication from that era is "O Allah, show us truth as truth, and give us the ability to follow it, and show us falsehood as falsehood, and give us the ability to abstain therefrom"

للهم ارنا الحق حقاً و ارزقنا اتباعه وأرنا الباطل باطلاً وارزقنا اجتنابه

The characteristics of spreading destruction on a great and even global scale, arrogance, self-delusions and the like, are characteristics of those with spiritual diseases.

To put it another way, these verses have shown us that Kaafir as a Quranic term is synonymous with Mufsid [one who spreads destruction], Munaafiq [hypocrite], and a host of other negative attributes, and should not simply be read with the theologically loaded term "disbeliever".

If we have these diseases, we need to work on getting cure. If our surroundings, the people and environment around us, are filled with those with incorrect thinking and the propagators thereof, with toxic personalities and insincere elements, it is best to step back from such types.

"And when you see them, their exteriors please you. and when they speak, you listen to their speech, they are like pieces of wood, dressed up, reckoning that every call is against them. They are (in fact) your enemy, so avoid them..and when it is said to them 'come, God's Messenger will seek forgiveness/protection for you, they turn their heads, and you see them hindering (others from the path of Allah), and they are arrogant." ( Q 63:4-5)

Your peace of mind, conscious and sense of security, both physical and spiritual, are to take precedent. As believers we have to be conscious of these things and try as much as possible to stay as Muslims, conforming in mind, body and spirit, to the Qur'an and Sunnah.

May Allah protect us and may He guide us to do just that.

Footnotes

[1] One example of this is Soorah Yusuf. While telling us a story about the life of Joseph, it says that the story itself contains guidance for those who are seeking (12:7). In other words, there are morals and lessons behind the story, and not simply a narration of facts.

[2] This is not to say that nothing can be gained from reading a translation, or that someone understadning classical Arabic will get all there is to gain. There are a number of good translations of the Qur'an now available in English (and indeed, in many other tongues) and we encourage utilizing those resources. We are simply attempting to emphasis that the text in the original language contains much more than is able to be conveyed with a translation. The Quranic language in particular is very rich in meaning, nunances and subtleties.



[3] The text wa bil Aakhirati hum yuuqenoon. I have rendered "Al-Aakhirah" as "deeper realities" rather than "the hereafter" because [a] The hereafter belongs to the ghayb, which is already covered in the previous sentence, this is acknowledged universally by the Mufassireen. [b] In context, it suggests that Qur'anic emphasis on thinking properly and spiritual exercise allows the believer to see or judge beyond shallowness. In other words, Al-Aakirah here is speaking to the Baatini realities. This is more apparent in Q 30:7. There ( starting from 30:1 and ending with 30:10) it speaks of a quarrel between two superpowers, one seemingly defeated eternally, but it seemed so to those who judge on a superficial level. In 30:7, the word "Al-Aakhirah" clearly refers to those deeper realities, contrasting to superficialness.






Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Holiday presentation: St George Orthodox Antiochian Church notes

( Note: The following is an edited version of a presentation I gave December 10th, 2017 at St George Church. The theme was sharing information on holidays from each religious tradition.)



We have gathered this evening to share thoughts, and to introduce to the audience aspects of faith that we maybe ignorant of, in particular, looking for theological or scriptural support for our traditional observances.

In this discussion, we have to remember that the core meaning of Holiday is "holy day", a moment or moments of time which are sacred or dedicated to the Divine in one sense or another.

"Holidays" have become cultural expressions, entering into our communal life, often transcending religious label. Thanksgiving, for example, was observed by Americans of all faiths and backrounds, not as a religious gathering, but rather because getting together at that time with family and friends is part and parcel of the American experience.

While it is true that Islam has its own particular "holidays", such as the 'Eid ul Fitr upon the end of Ramadan, and the 'Eid ul Ad-haa at the height of the pilgrimage ( To Makkah), it is also true that Islam teaches respect for the healthy cultural expressions of all peoples.

The text we will share from the Qur'an talks about Ramadan, a month-long period of fasting, more prayer and introspection. We also use that opportunity to read more of the Qur'an, the scripture sent forth to Muhammad The Prophet.

It should be remembered that these verses show us that the purpose behind the event of Ramadan is something much bigger than a cultural experience.

"The Month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur'an was sent,  a guidance for mankind, clear proofs of guidance and a criterion [for judging what is right and wrong]. So whosoever sees the moon [as the month is a lunar one] of the month, let him fast therein, whosoever is ill or on a journey, those days should be made up later. God does not intend hardship, rather, He wants for you ease and that you complete that period, glorify God because He has given you guidance, so that perhaps you will be grateful. "


"And when my servants ask you about Me [i.e. God], then I am near. I respond to the call of those who call to ME, so let them respond to ME, and believe in ME, so that perhaps they will be correctly guided." [Al-Qur'an 2:185-186]

Thank you.




Sunday, September 24, 2017

Are Activists allowed happiness?

Introduction

This weekend has been a flurry of activity on Socia Media within the Muslim community worldwide, because of accusations leveled against a certain well-known Muslim personality. The said person released statements denying the accusations, and obviously his ideological foes have hooked themselves strongly to the accusations.

It is worth noting that the said person has not been accused by anyone of doing anything illegal, rather, at worst, of exercising poor judgement,  and I am actually not going to address that at all, as I find that such would be useless and unproductive. Rather, I would like to go to an even bigger issue, one which, I must confess, I have struggled for a very long time to be able to contemplate, let alone put into words. 

This bigger issue is not restricted to famous personalities and political figures. This issue is also an issue with anyone- well known or anonyomous- who has sincere belief in a certain cause and sacrifices for that cause, be it religious, social, national, global, etc.

People of dedication to meaningful causes or to living according to a serious code tend to have a number of struggles, in that they are attempting to do right and live right, according to their sincere understanding of that code, even going against their own impulses to those things which seems to bring them happiness, security, comfort and peace.Such folks, it seems, even unconsciously sabotage whatever efforts they do make at attaining that which can bring forth happiness, because of these struggles.

This is not restricted to issues of intimate relationships. This can also refer to living comfortably, nice homes, clothing and finances, or a combination of all the above. There are a great deal of complexities involved in thinking and speaking about subjects of this nature, as well as differences vis a vis public figures and regular citizens, as such, we will divide our thoughts broadly between the two categories of people, even though it is true that much overlapping can (and does) take place.

The Sincere have every right to happiness and comfort in this life

"Say: Who has eternally forbidden (Harrama) God's pleasant (things) [ft.1] which He has produced for his servants, as well as that which is wholesome from His (own) provsion? Say: They are for those who believe, in this life, as well as [being manifested ] specially on the Day of Resurrection. Thus, We (Allah) explain signs to a people of knowledge." ( Q 7:32)


This verse alone should be sufficient as an evidence that having a pleasant existence in this world does not negate any righteous cause, nor does it destroy one's chances with God in the next life. I think the idea that believers or people dedicated to certain goodly causes are to have mariginal existence here in this life stems from Christian rhetoric. After all, the Bible and Christian tradition depicts Jesus ( believed to be God incarnate as well as God's son) as unmarried, totally against material or financial comforts of any sort. That thinking has filtered down to the culture, creating attitudes such as swearing off the opposite sex as well as children and material comforts, even among Non Christians! 


Two famous supplications from the Qur'an below illustrate that the Islamic religion teaches a balanced approach to all these sorts of issues. 

Our Lord! Give on us that which is pleasant in this life, as well as that which is pleasant in the after-life, and protect us from the punishment of the fire[ft.2]  ( Q 2:201)
Our Lord! Bestow on us from our spouses and offspring that which will be a source of comfort for our eyes, and make us leading for those who are holding God in awe." ( Q 25:74)

There are many ahadeeth or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, which can be cited. Often his sayings discuss the issues of marriage because, as the reports are presented, there was a desire among many to swear off dealing with the opposite sex, even wanting to be castrated.  Perhaps this was done out of the convert's zeal, wanting to totally abandon the distractions present in the days of ignorance that preceded the Prophetic preaching in Arabia. Yet, The Prophet says "I fast and I break my fast, and I marry women." He says, further, "Marriage is my Sunnah, and whosever abandons My Sunnah, is not of me." [Sunan Ibn Maajah, Kitaab an Nikaah, narrated by 'A'ishaa].


There are many other verses of the Qur'an that speak to the privacy of the Prophet Muhammad needing to be respected. People were repeatedly told not to monopolize his time, to have  respect  for his household, even to pay something in the public charitable fund before making private appointments with him ( 33: 53-53, 58:13, among other verses). His time is valuable, and should not be abused. 


These are principles which can be applied to any public figure. Imams and teachers should be paid for their services, especially those in which more work and mental energies would be needed in order to address said situation. It is not that the teacher or the worker is greedy, but it does show respect as well as appreciation. The worker is human, has his own bills and needs for happiness just like anyone else. 

It is an odd situation in today's world in which people pay a therapist, psychcologist or counselor for one hour sessions gladly, burdening that person with all of their problems with the hopes that the person will be able provide some solutions, yet will not consider the same situation for their religious consultant. This does not only happen with Imams in the Muslim community, it happens with many of my clergy friends from across the religious aisle! Calling them at all hours of the night, text messages and social media messages asking all sorts of queries, seeking resolutions. 

That consultant does not only deserve a honorable financial compensation. He or she also deserves that they be allowed a private life, a life that has happiness therein. To demand that such persons live as hermits,overworked and underappreciated,  while their flock is busy in pursuit of dunya, is unreasonable and unrealistic.


Respecting the privacy of others

The Qur'an instructs that a home cannot be entered if permission has not been obtained from its resident ( 24:27-28). While this may seem to be common sense, a figurative way of looking at this command shows us that it can also mean that we should stay out of people's inner lives. Indeed, the only authentic reason where this may not be a workable situation is if there is a risk of public damage or health! 

In private, people can pursue Halaal as well as Haraam, but when others enter into private affairs, those distinctions get blurred, depending upon the prejudices and thinking pattern of those doing the meddling. 

A very interesting Quranic text reads "O Believers! Avoid much conjecture, because sometimes conjecture is sinful, spy not on one another, and do not backbite one another..." [Q 49:12]

This verse has in it the concept of Husnudh dhann, which basically means to assume the best before assuming the worst. An example is this real scenario. A person sees a Muslim, dressed in Muslim attire, entering a bar. To someone looking on, the Muslim is doing a Haraam act, about to consume alcohol.  However, as it turns out, that Muslim is a salesman, selling colones and perfumes, which is perfectly Halaal. The same person could be delivering food! 

The verse says not to engage in bad assumptions in opening observations, but it also prohibits spying on one another. There maybe skeletons in your brother's closet, or, at mimimum, private issues he would rather stay private. It is not an issue of what is Halaal or what is Haraam. It could be that the thing in question's Islamic status is unclear, or it could simply be no one else's business. 

This, I would say, is for public figures and regular citizens alike. We live in a sensationalized, staged world, with Television programs such as Jerry Springer and The Maury Povich show show viewers the most intimate and embarrasing details of families unknown to us. We have become accustomed to knowing and gossiping about private affairs, issues which may not even be crimes or religiously unlawful, that we forget the Islamic guidelines!


Jealousy of another's successess is a spiritual disease and can cause damage to the object of envy


Much of the Quranic treatment of scandals and social niceties also has therein mention of "hypocrites" or "those with diseased hearts". Indeed, Muslim women in general [Q 24:31] as well as the Prophet's own wives [Q 33:59-60 among other places]  are told to behave in such a way as to minimize gossip from detractors and those with incorrect thoughts on matters. This writer recalls that Michelle Obama, wife of then US president Barack Obama, causing controversy by wearing a sleveless dress. The critics themselves supported personalities who dress in much more revealing ways, however their attacks were not motivated by genuine concern on the morals of the inhabitants of The White House, rather, it was motivated by jealousy!

The Prophet Muhammad Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam is reported to have said the following words:
"Do not be jealous of each other, do not inflate prices on each others, do not have  hatred of each other, do not turn away from each other, do not undercut each other, and be, O servants of Allah, brothers.." [Saheeh Muslim]


I find it interesting that the hadeeth here connects these issues, viz jealousy, price fixing etc..

Those with diseased hearts are people who have so much envy buried within that they seek to actually destroy the object of their envy! 

The ideal condition is that people should be happy at the success of others, especially if that success was earned lawfully and correctly, and that success is translating into good results, felt by many. However, not all people are thinking correctly.

In these regards, it is best to avoid, as much as within one's ability, showing off, especially if you become aware of jealousy surrounding you. The rich person should not brag about his riches or the food he wasted in front of a hungry, poor person. One's clothes should be modest, not just in regards to decency, but in displays that could possibly cause resentment. The Prophet's commands for men to not wear gold and silver are good places to start. In addition, one should treat all, rich and poor alike, equally and with justice. 

If you find that there are those around you who have resentment towards due to your perceived success, and that your efforts to dissuade them of their fears have come to naught, it maybe time to limit contact, if not break ties all together. One must look for one's own health, especially one's spiritual health, with great care.

It can happen, and seems to have happened in this public fiasco, that jealosy of a person's success can cause the "family" or "friends" around them to seek to knock them down, "put them in their place"- as the saying goes. 

This is why it is important, vital, to have the company of believers, of sincere and God-fearing folks, particularly in intimate situations.

I read a quotation in a book on marriage which has really been profound. In it, it says that a wise man once divorced his wife, who then remarried. Upon being asked why he divorced his wife, the wise man said "how can you ask me about another man's wife?"

In other words, despite whatever situation that emerged in his life, he had enough sense to simply keep that situation private. 


Conclusion

Regarding the scandal which has taken Muslims by storm on social media outlets, whatever happened does not seem to warrant the attention it has received. A mixture of motivations for many parties is the real reason this has been blown out of purportion, but it did inspire me to think about the overall bigger questions about activists and ordinary folks alike attempting to navigate between their feelings and what they believe to be religious commands/truths. 


Everyone has a right to privacy. That is recognized not only in Islamic teachings, but under US law. We should be careful and we should always seek to obey the commandments of our faith, we should exercise good judgement and discretion, to avoid the appearance of doing something wrong, however that does not negate the fact that everyone has a life that has private aspects, that such things should be respected. It's perfectly fine in Islam for a man to pursue a woman ( or a woman to pursue a man for that matter, as we know that Prophet Muhammad was the one proposed to by Khadijah), and unless some serious crime has occured, such as rape, incest, sexual harrasment, pedophilia or something along those, personal business should be left personal. 

The Prophet Muhammad (Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) is reported to have said "Among the pleasant [aspects of] Islam [is] to leave alone that which does not have meaning for you." 

That hadeeth, and ahadeeth like it, are more relevant now than at the time those words were originally uttered. 

I would like to conclude this post with another important verse from the Qur'an, regarding prohibitions

Say: The only items eternally forbidden by My Lord are shameful acts, public and private, sins, transgressing unjustly, associating to God which you have no authority, and speaking about God what you do not know." [Q 7:34]


Footnotes

[1] The phrase Zeenah [not to be confused with Zinaa, which means adultery] is used here. It has shades of meaning that all have to do with pretty or pleasantries, sometimes "glitter". Here, we have rendered it as "pleasant (things)".

[2] Imam W. Deen Mohammed (1933-2008) renders wa qina 'adhaaban Naar as "protect us from the fires of sin".