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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Can Modesty and Exhibition coexist? Thoughts on the first Hijabi supermodel



"And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze, guard their chastity( ft.1) and not to make a display of their attractiveness (ft.2) except what is obvious (ft.3), that they should drape their coverings (Khumurihinna) over their chests, and not to display their attractiveness except to their husbands....they should not strike their feet to draw attention to their hidden attractiveness. Turn towards God, all of you, O you who have faith, so that perhaps you will be successful." [Q 24:31]





A story on euronews I saw last week, and picked up by a number of news outlets, concerns Halima Aden. A young Somali-American, she has become famous for being on the runway of New York's Fashion show. Her story has received much attention, considering that she was born in a Kenyan refugee camp, and now is seemingly making a successful life in this field. A practicing Muslim, she wears Hijab [see here] , which obviously brings attention to the subject of modesty or Islamic dress in a field that thrives on sex appeal.

These discussions are not new. We have had both Hijabi and Non Hijabi Muslim women participating in the Olympics, and of course last year Hijab clad Noor Tagouri ( a journalist) appeared in Playboy [see here ]. While many on the Muslim community have treated this trend with approval, because they view these as examples of Muslims being accepted as a part and parcel of the American mainstream, other voices have expressed caution, as to the possible erosion of Islamic ethics.

What does the Qur'an say?

The Quranic verse which opens this article is one of three verses which are normally cited with regards to dress. We have opted for this verse, which comes from the twenty-forth chapter (called "The Light") because it appears within a context of broader social expectations. The chapter speaks on adultery and its legal [Shar'i] punishment ( vv. 2-9) (see ft.4), slander ( vv. 10-20), whom to marry ( in particular verse 26) , avoiding invading the privacy and personal business of others ( vv.27-29) 
  and that both sexes are to avoid objectifying each other  (vv.29-30). In other words, the so called Ayatul Hijaab here is given within a set of guidelines that are met to govern human interactions.

In 24:30 it says that men are supposed to guard their chastity(ft.5) because "That is the purest for them". In other words, it is best for men to avoid the temptations out there because it brings them into more problems.

We do have other texts within the Qur'an which speak of a dress code. Q 33:59 tells us that Muslim women are to wear coverings which would not bring forth undue and unwanted advances and that they be "known" as women of respect and "off-limits" in terms of harassment. The context there is interesting, in that speaks of "hypocrites and those who have diseased hearts" (33:60). I think that this informs us that while many men would not be bothered at all, regardless of how a woman is dressed [and such seems to be a healthy mentality], others would indeed be inspired to improper behavior and perhaps even worse! Therefore, the Quranic guidelines is that women should not even risk it!


Islamic values should influence the culture, not vice versa

Men and women both make judgements all the time, in terms of who and what they see as attractive. That would happen regardless of how much clothes is being worn, if a woman wears a scarf or not, or even if a woman wears a face-veil (Niqaab) (ft.6).

The Islamic position is that sex appeal should NOT be used to sell products or ideas. The Islamic position is that such an appeal, particularly for women, should be restricted, not as an item for oppression, but rather as a way to maintain public respect and decorum.

This does not require men to be awkward around women or women to be awkward around men. That does happen as well, and is a problem. Every culture has certain norms and expectations, and while we should be able to navigate all of them in such a way that we cause offense to no one, at the same time we should  avoid contradicting Islamic values of modesty and proper behavior.

I believe that Muslim women have rights just as men have rights, however for women in particular, be they Muslim or Non Muslim, they should not allow themselves to become little more than display models, products to be sold and objectified.

Hijab is meant to prevent that very thing, if we take the time to read the aforementioned Quranic texts.  Even within American culture, a Catholic nun [who, until relatively recently, used to wear a uniform that was similar to Muslim clothing, symbolizing modesty] may be attractive, and her attractiveness was evident, but was viewed and treated in public with respect.

So just as the dress of Catholic nuns denoted a loyalty to God and the church, as an example for the rest of society to consider, the Hijab should likewise be seen in the same light, and not be co-opted into a capitalist economy which considers everything for sale. Islam should inspire the best impulses in human beings, and a healthy questioning of the thinking modern life seems to preach is a good place to start.

I hope these few words generate thought and discussion. I would also like to point out that none of this should be seen as an attack on Halima Aden or anyone else, nor a questioning of anyone's loyalty to Islamic ethos. Indeed, in any field, identifying as a Muslim is an act of courage. We are simply seeking to impart that we need to think about this subject, as well as other topics that come up in the modern world.

Footnotes

[1] Furujahunna literally means their private areas. It is an expression oft used in the Qur'an to denote sex. In keeping with other translators, we have rendered it here as "chastity".

[2] The word rendered here as "attractiveness" is Zeenah (Zeenatahunna). There is some disagreement as to what exactly this entails, however I think that this would be recognizable to any adult, regardless of backround or cultural experience. There are clothing, speech and behavior that occurs within the familiar and the close circle that would not be deemed acceptable with those outside of that. It is sometimes imagined that Zeenah here refers to, in essence, attractive clothing, makeup, etc.. that should be only worn for the benefit of marriage relationship, yet the verse goes on to say that such Zeenah cannot be displayed except for husbands and  fathers, and so forth. It is well known that Islam restricts the intimate ties [and forbids incest and the like] so the verse cannot be simply speaking about, for example, lingerie. In light of these realities, we explain the verse as given in this note, that there is simply a limitation being made on the levels of openness to be made with those outside of a certain circle. Perhaps we can use more examples, such as how any person dresses in their home in the presence of their family, they will dress differently in the presence of strangers or non family members.

[3] Illa Maa Dhahara Minhaa, rendered as "except what is obvious" is another phrase that whose understanding varies among the commentators. A man or woman may be judged as handsome or non handsome, a woman attractive or non attractive, by any observer they encounter. Some believe the term Khimaar (The plural Khumur is given in the verse) includes covering of the eyes, in fact, one Tafseer states that only one eye of a woman is allowed to be seen, however that does not coincide with the Qur'an. If The Qur'an [Q 24:30] commands women to cover their faces, the injunction to not objectify women [translated by Yusuf Ali as "say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze"] would be meaningless!

It is worth remembering that every culture has its norms. In places within the Persian Gulf, as well as within Afghanistan and Western Pakistan, it is the norm for women to cover their faces. While it is not our intention to pass judgements on this practice, the Qur'an obviously speaks of a society in which men and women are at least, in normal circumstances, able to see each other. This seems to be the normative situation in human societies.

In recent times we have witnessed a trend among Muslim activists to dismiss and downplay Hijab. The argue that the word Hijab is never used in the Qur'an for a head covering. While this is true, the Qur'an 24:30 uses the term Khumur (Singular Khimaar as explained above) and this is what is today commonly called Hijab. The Khimaar is understood to have to cover not only the hair, but also the neck, ears, and the verse places emphasis on covering up the chest.

Any other clothing item[s] that have the same function as explained above is Islamically acceptable. shirts, head scarves, bonnets and hats, etc... and indeed throughout the Muslim world we see that clothing style varies, especially among women.


[4] The Qur'an prescribes lashes as a penalty for Zinaa [Adultery]. However, it also requires four witnesses ( Q 24:14) to the act, and the scholars have stated that they must witness actual penetration. This is an almost impossible requirement, a criterion unneeded in any other legal situation. Moreover, in Islam there are prohibitions against getting into the private lives of others (Q 49:12, as well as the Prophet's statement "from among the pleasant Islamic [decrees] is to leave alone that which has no meaning to him", in Tirmidhee's collection]. So the punishment is to be given only in instances where public health and morality are under threat. It is also interesting that historically the Hanafi Fuqahaa seemed to have treated Zinaa and Nikaah [marriage] as the same, so that practically the prohibitions of marriage [for example, not being allowed to marry one's mother in law] also applies to Non marriage relationships. It is said that Imam Abu Hanifa felt that those who did have relation outside of marriage should simply get married. The treatment of Zinaa and Nikaah as being equal is not agreed upon by the scholars. Great luminaries such as Imam Shafi'ee and Imam Malik are examples of those who totally rejected the Hanafite viewpoint.

[5] The term Furuuujahum appears here, as referring to males (contrasting to females as explained in footnote 1). This shows us that contrary to popular opinion, chastity is a requirement for both genders!

[6] Niqaab, as well as it's variants worldwide, is something not commanded by the Qur'an. Our reasoning is articulated in footnote 3. This does not mean that we see the Niqaab as being prohibited. Ultimately people can wear whatever they want, as dictated by personal taste and cultural styles. There is a level of common sense in all of this as well. Ski masks are not allowed in banks, and universally passport pictures require that the face be shown, yet, in places in the Middle East and West Africa, it is necessary to cover the face to protect it from sunburn.





Monday, September 11, 2017

Study Notes: Accepting God's will: Refections upon Soorah Al Hijr ( 15: 80-90)

( Note: The following is an edited version of my reflections on a handful of Quranic verses. Previously, we have looked at vv. 70-80, which can be found here . The English translation has not been included, unless otherwise stated. This allows the reader to consult the translation of their choice. The Arabic text has been included, and, as always, discussion is welcome.]


[ Q 15:80]

As found in the previous article, we have a brief gloss of the regions Madyan and Hijr. The famed Zamakhshari has suggested ( as quoted by Muhammad Asad) that "Messengers" is a reference to not only the Prophet Saaleh, but rather to his followers, suggesting that the followers of the Prophet Saaleh [and perhaps, by the followers of all Prophets] have a Prophetic mission themselves.


[ Q 15: 81-84]









It is generally imagined that Prophets are figures speaking to primitive societies, however the words of the Qur'an point towards the opposite conclusion. We are talking about highly advanced, materially rich, cultures. We should also consider connecting these verses to the Sodom and Gommorah situation, in the sense that both had the same issues of moral decay.

Q 15:72 states that Sodom and Gomorrah existed in a drunken condition, blindly wandering. Now, in v.82, we see that these groups would ignore Allah's signs and exist "feeling secure" because their homes were built in seemingly solid places such as mountains. However, that did not save them!

This is a lesson that we in the developed world need to learn. As we compose these words, the USA is facing Hurricanes in our southern regions. Indeed, it has to be admitted that those of us living in the USA and in other highly developed nations perceive ourselves as largely immune to the disasters, both natural and man-made, that other societies face on a regular basis. The feeling of complacency, in the face of eventualities as well as in the face of social and moral injustices, can very well be the seeds that plant our eventual destruction.

We are not advocating a negative view on everything, only that we keep our eyes open, and our hearts firmly planted within Allah's guidance.


[Q 15:85]

Haqq has a plethora of meanings and implications, here, it is best to render it as "Purpose". In another verse, Allah says "And We ( i.e. Allah) have not created the sky and the earth and what is between them for play" [Q 21:16].

The One who created the universe for Haqq, will, likewise, end it all in Haqq. The ending is the "hour" of Judgement. That day is also called The Last Day [Yawm Al Aakhir]. Because the beginning and ending all exists within God's purposes, we are told "So forgive with gracious forgiveness" (Saheeh International translation).

This last sentence in the verse is clear enough, yet Tafseer Al Jalalayn asserts that it is abrogated by "The verse of the sword", which reads, as translated by Saheeh International  : "And when the inviolable months have passed, then kill the polytheists whereever you find them and beseige them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush.." ( Q 9:5)

We find this assertion to be unsupported by the context, moreover, the assertion is a violation of well known principles. Q 9:5 is clearly in a certain war context at a certain place and time. Indeed, all one really needs to do is read the contex [Starting from 9:1 and ending in 9:10]. In other words, verses regarding war are at a particular place and moment, specific to that, whereas the principle of graciousness, humility, forgiveness and kindness are general and timeless.

The general principle, when and where general situations are applicable, have nothing to do with war and fimness during periods of imposed conflict.

Throughout the Qur'an, we read statements such as "and when the ignorant address you, say "peace"" [Q 25:63].

Therefore, we cannot agree with the claim that this text has been abrogated. We question the entire basis for the claim that any verse of the Qur'an has been abrogated(ft.1)


[Q 15:86]




Al Khallaq means the ever-Creating. It is different from Al-Khaaliq {The Creator}. The former shows us that God is constantly at work in creating!

This is an important nuance because as scripture readers, we tend to think of Allah as only acting in the past, whereas the fact of the matter is is that Allah is still and will always be at work in the universe He runs.  The importance of Ayatul Kursiyy  ( Q 2:255) is highlighted in such a discussion. If God is simply a historical figure, a being who worked in the past, the presence of Ayatul Kursiyy in the Qur'an would be pointless, as would the numberous Prophetic traditions encouraging us to regularly recite that text!


[Q 15:87]



"Seven oft repeated" is universally understood to refer to Soorah Al-Faatihah. That chapter, the Qur'an's opening words, is recited several times daily in Muslim prayers.

It is signifigant to this writer that all Muslim demoninations without exception agree that Al-Faatihah is necessary for the daily prayers, even though there is no verse which directly says that one must recite it in the prayers.(Ft.2)


[ Q 15:88-90]








This is directed to Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, moreso than anyone else. In essence, it says to him to never be tempted to give up your faith and the company of those sincere in their faith, because God has already given you so much. The material or worldly trappings in the hands of the disbelievers should not dissuade you.

Other Quranic texts tell the Prophet, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, the same message. In particular, many of the texts in the Juz 'Amma section . I would recommend reading some of those Soorahs, such as Ad Duhaa ( chapter 93), Inshiraah ( chapter 94) and Al Kawthar (chapter 108).

Verse 90 is more difficult to grapple, and that difficulty is reflected in the different interpretations found in the books of Tafseer.

If connected with vv.91-92, the context seems to be a warning, just as warning is found in general in the story of Lot's people and the Madyan and Hijr above, to not pick and choose what one accepts of Divine Revelation.

The Qur'an states "..and those firmly grounded in knowledge assert 'We believe in it, all of what is from the presence of our Lord.." ( Q 3:7).

In today's world, we have trends which attempt to carve up the scripture, both figuratevly and literally. We have writers and lecturers, of Muslim family backround, asserting that Muhammad made up parts of the Qur'an in order to justify genocide and to have women!

We have "Muslims" who esentially reject what the Qur'an says on race relations, who attempt to use the Scripture to justify racism, hatred, misogny, and immoral behaviour.

The Qur'an can never have textual corruption (called Tahreef in the literature) but it can have distortions based upon a copy/paste approach. This is done by extremist groups all the time among Muslim ranks, but it is also done diverse groups as Islamophobes ( folks with an irrational fear of Islam and Muslims) and liberal voices in the Muslim community.

I think it is better for people to admit that they have weaknesses rather than to justify the unjustifiable in Islam. It would be more honest.

In any case, there are other interpretations of verse 90 [and the verses following it] that could be the correct understanding. For now, we share our views above and conclude with the reminder that at the end, only Allah knows best.


Conclusion

The world and life therein can be a confusing place. The diversity of personalities, cultures, egos and agendas can bring people to a state of loss, of feeling lost. The Qur'an comes along to help us on life's journey, but in order for it to really be effective, one must reflect on it in a continous manner, regularly studying it, reciting it, and acting upon it.

This should not be done in a superficial way, nor should it be dogmatic, in the sense that the text gets manipulated to suit our whims.

In our previous article, we looked at the story of Lot, how the people there were "wandering about blindly, in a drunken state". In this article here, we read how Allah says that another group felt that they were secure from any catastrophe because their homes were built within mountains.

We should consider taking the above sentiments further, not just in social analysis, but within our own circles or existence of life. Are we walking blindly or acting drunk in our lives and in our thinking? Are we oblivious to realities? Are we painting the doors while the house is on fire?

May Allah show us truth as truth, and give us the ability to follow it, and falsehood as falsehood, and give us the ability to abstain therefrom.


Footnotes

[1] For more on the question of abrogation [known as Naskh] go to this link .

[2] We have a number of Prophetic Ahadeeth which tell us that Al-Faatihah is to be included in prayers. All the groupings, despite their many theological and methodological differences, accept that Al-Faatihah is needed to be included in their prayers. The necessity for Al-Faatihah in worship is also accepted by most of those who reject Hadeeth as a source of Islamic understanding, known widely as Quranites or "Quran alone". Thus, one can find the writings and videos of Rashad Khalifa, one of the most well-known proponents of a hadeeth-free understanding of Islam, advocating that Al-Faatihah be recited in prayers.

Al-Faatihah is known as Umm Al Qur'an, the essence of the Qur'an. It is the perfect text for worship, and logically we should be able to see why the Prophet Muhammad said that any prayer in which that Soorah was not included was "Incomplete" ghayr Tamaam. The source of this hadeeth is Saheeh Muslim.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Study Notes: Soorah Al Hijr [ 15: 70-80]. The implications of the story of Lot [Luut عليه السلام]

[ Note: The following is an edited version of some reflections on ten verses from the Qur'an. Originally, these notes were prepared for a weekly Quranic discussion I participate in, however I have decided to share them here, with the hopes of generating discussion and thinking. Also please note that unless otherwise seen in the text, the English translation has not been included. This will influence the reader to check the translation of their choice. The Arabic text is included.]


Some backround

This particular section deals with the story of Prophet Lot, known as Luutعليه السلام  in Arabic. The immediate context preceding the verses in question tell us that Lot's own household contained contrasting elements therein, as do all families. While Lot is connected to Allah, his wife is counted as being among the 'criminal class' [15:58-60]. Eventually, God's angelic messengers conveys notice to Abrahamعليه السلام ,  Lot's uncle,  that Sodom and Gommorah will be destroyed. The Qur'an says elsewhere ( Q 7:80-81 among other places) that the society engaged in intimate activity that cannot be deemed natural .

This particular issue is a deeply sensitive and potentially divisive one in today's world. I think it is important to see all of this in connection to what is repeatedly stated in these verses, and that is the title "The Family of Lot " [Aal Luut]. Lot is the family patriarch, the caring, wise and loving father and perhaps grandfather that we all have in our family units, seeking to preserve the morals of those under his care. Lot recognizes that wild behavior is something which leads to disastorous consequences ( Q 15: 61-64).

Lot advocates that the thinking of his family and followers be upon correct or healthy boundaries. He tells them to neither long for the social ties with those engaged in destructive behavior, nor even be in their company. In our age, the wise parent may instruct his child to stay away from certain other children because of their behavior, and the same parent may put restrictions [or even remove] the television or the cell phone when such devices of entertainment are found to be detrimental to the oveall development of his child [15: 65-66].

The society, probably more in particular the elites in power [called Al Mala' throughout the Quranic narrations], had places restrictions on Lot. In a sense, he seemed to have been a character that they wanted to silence, to be under house arrest. Lot  has some "guests" [who are actually these angelic messengers mentioned earlier] . These guests were threatened with attack, and the text implies that they were even threatened with rape! Lot makes a final appeal to any Taqwaaa [reverence for God Almighty] as well as any sense of social propriety, but alas, his pleas fall upon deaf ears. [Q 15: 67-69]

But as we come to know, attempts to restrict or suppress the truth eventually come to naught! Truth cannot be defeated( 15:70) . The Qur'an says "And say: Truth has come, and falsehood vanishes. Indeed, falsehood is, by it's nature, a vanishing [thing]' [Q 17:81]

[15:71]


In his comments, the translator Yusuf Ali righly points out that this language is the language of a family patriarch, an older man trying to push atleast a little bit in a different direction.
Thus, "My daughters" are not literal, nor is he seeking to sacrifice the women in his society to be raped, as sometimes thought by some critical readers. Perhaps marriage between men and women was a dying institute, as it is in our society today, and sought, out of desperation, to revive it.

[15:72]



The social order of  Sodom and Gomorrah was blinding and intoxicating. The verse uses the term  لفي to denote the intensity of this condition. 

It is very difficult for those affected by such conditions to see the reality of their existence. 

Prophets and Scripture comes forth in order to open up the eyes and to have foundations for proper thinking. I see the Prophet Muhammad's   صلى الله عليه وسلم   supplication as particularly relevant here in the sense that one not only invokes Allah but it also provides a philosophical foundation for acting in the real world.


His prayer is "O Allah, show us truth as truth, and give us the ability to follow it, and show us falsehood [Baatil] as falsehood, and give us the ability to abstain therefrom." 

[ 15: 73-74]


Sayhah is also translated as "scream", and seems to denote a general overturning of the social order.


[15:75]




The translator Muhammad Asad, quoting Imam Razi and the famed grammarian and commentator Zamakhshari, points out in his note that Mutawassim means " One who applies his mind to the study of the outward appearance of a thing with the view to understand it's real nature and inner characterstics".

This is a deeply important verse here. When connected to 15:72, we can see that the argument is that a society of blinded, drunken (in their thinking and actions) human beings brings forth their own destruction. God says here that such societies should be studied, and this is precisely what social scientists, archaeologists, and related fields do. This also occurs with intelligent figures interested in the betterment of their own societies. One need only look at the libraries of such figures as Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X.  The latter, in his autobiography, mentions the many books he studied, they include histories, political theory, philiosophy, and more. 

The Qur'an is not a book that encourages blind faith. In fact, it points to the sciences, to certain fields and disciplines that would be deemed by many today as non religious! The guidance of God tells us that we should take lessons from the mistakes of past societies. It has been my observation that those who are deeply influenced by the Qur'an, personalities whom I know personally and others whom I have not interacted with, are people who are not limited to the Qur'an. Their interests are expansive, usually to include history, the physical world, science,  and the fate of civilizations. This does not mean that they all reach the same conclusions on all subjects, or that their conclusions are always correct. However, it does indicate that they are pondering deeply upon the words of Allah, which makes them look at the other important subjects. 

I would dare take this further to say that those who claim to study the Qur'an and yet have no interest in these [and other related] subjects, have in fact not studied the Qur'an properly! Perhaps a better way of saying that is that their "studies" are actually superficial at best. The need to study these other important fields is particularly acute in our Imams, scholars and speakers, especially the famous ones or those up and coming! 

There is no need for us to become like many who are referred to as Biblical fundamentalists, people who read and study only  the [translations of] Bible. Such reading may be a nice pious exercise, however the results can be very problematic, and we don't want to follow in the same mistakes.


[15: 76]


The location of Sodom and Gommorah is well known, as was known at the time of the revelation. God lets such remmants exist in order to be a lesson for future generations. Yet. today, at the site, it is not taken seriously. Indeed, it is now a swimming attraction today.


[15: 77]


Believers do take the warnings and signs of past civilizational failures seriously.

[15: 78-80] 






Madyan is in NorthWest Arabia, to whom a Prophet named Shu'ayb      عليه السلام   was sent.

Hijr is said to be between the Hijaz [Western Arabia, where Makkah and Madinah are located] and Syria. To them, a Prophet named Saaleh  عليه السلام         was sent forth.

Zamakhshari [as quoted by Muhammad Asad] suggests that the term "Messengers" here means Saaleh and his followers. This would suggest that the followers of Prophets likewise have a Prophetic mission.



These observations are not meant to be dogmatic, but rather to point out that the Quranic treatment of subjects are very nuanced. Indeed, even with the Sodom and Gomorrah story, we should be able to see that the prevalence of sexual relations outside of the norm is only a sympton of a deeper illness. We should also be able to see that the Qur'an advocates a serious study and search for solutions to the issues we face in today's world.

Wallaahu A'laam

Wa Billaahit Tawfeeq














Sunday, September 3, 2017

Eid Ul Ad-haa Khutbah: Toledo 2017

[Note: The following is an edited version of my Khutbah (sermon) delivered at the United Eid prayers held Friday, September 1st, 2017. An article on this year's prayer service can be found at https://www.toledoblade.com/Religion/2017/09/01/Area-Muslims-gather-in-unified-prayer-for-Eid-al-Adha]

 Praise belongs to Allah, who has directed us towards repentance, which we could never have obtained, except by his bounty. O servants of Allah, I advise you as myself, to have reverence for God, indeed, it is those with reverence [Taqwaaa] who attain felicity. الحمد لله الذي دلنا على التوبة التي لم نفد ها الا من فضله
اصيكم و نفسي بتقوى الله فقد فاز المتقون

Why are we here?


We are here today, in recollection of an important series of events and teachings, teachings that have had a global impact. These teachings and events center around the person of Abraham [Ibrahim, 'alayhis salaam] . He is a man of God, and the Quranic narrative [Q 6:74-79] tells us of his search to understand the reality that is God. The narrative is given in stages. He sees a heavenly body [Kawkaab] and says "This is My Lord", but it disappears. He sees the moon and proclaims "This is My Lord" but it disappears. He sees the sun and says "This is My Lord, [in fact] This is the greatest", yet, once again, it disappears. 

Abraham then says " Indeed, I turn my entire being to Him who is the origin of the heavens and the Earth, and I do not worship any others besides Allah"

Understanding that God is not captured within the physical, that He is beyond the physical and is actually the source of the physical, this understanding allows him to become connected to Allah.

That connection allows him to keep firm throughout the challenges that he would find  in life.

The Sacrifice

The Qur'an tells us that he had a vision, and within this vision, he understands it as a command to sacrifice his son. The Qur'an says [37:103] that both father and son submitted to that and that when the sacrifice was near happening, God calls out to Abraham "Indeed, you have fulfilled your vision" [Q 37:104]. The willingness to sacrifice for God's will, that is why we are here today. To learn from the patriarch, from that personality rightly called in the Judeo-Christian tradition as "father of many nations". As people who seek to follow the Divine ethos, as exemplified through Prophets, ending with the final Prophet [Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam], we need to learn not only to sacrifice an animal for the benefit of the poor, we need to be willing to sacrifice our time, resources, for the right causes.

The Qur'an ( Q 22:37) reminds us that the blood of sacrifice does not reach God, nor the meat, rather, it is your collective reverence. Yanaaluhut Taqwaaa minkum. Thus, we return to the sentence in which we began this Khutbah, "I advise you and myself, to have Taqwaaa of Allah, Indeed, it is those with Taqwaaa who attain felicity". May we be closer to Him who is The Most High, may He accept our prayers, fasting and any good that we do.


Second part

This gathering also coincides with the Hajj, pilgrimage to the site associated with Abraham and his family.  At Hajj, we find unity in a tapestry of diverse colors, languages, backrounds and religious orientations. They gather together in obedience to Allah. We pray for them and likewise always ask any pilgrims we know to offer prayers on our behalf. The key point is that despite their differences, they join together in expression of their love of Allah. The Qur'an says "And whosoever obeys Allah and His Messenger achieve a mighty achievement".

We pray that the pilgrims today find their Hajj to be acceptable and successful, and that any future pilgrimages we do are acceptable in God's sight as well. May we take the most valuable lessons from the Hajj and the Ka'bah, in what these things represent. The lesson of replacing wrong concepts for proper thinking, abandoning vice and embracing that which God wants us to embrace, dropping trends as our models, but rather taking for role models Prophets such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad the seal of the Prophets ['alayhimus salaam], taking them as models to do what they did, to become like them in their obedience and nearness to Allah.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Racism: a spiritual disease: thoughts on the Alt-Right movement under the lense of the Qur'an

Introduction


The United States of America has been facing alot of soul-searching as of late. Barely six months into the rise of Donald Trump to the highest office in the land, a number of scandals, mostly political in nature, have emerged. These scandals, firings, accusations and disputes fueled by Mr.Trump's excessive use of Twitter have now played there way into yet another situation, the reinvigoration of the White Nationalist movement, commonly now called the Alt-Right! 


All of our readers are certainly aware of what has occured last week in Charlottesville, Virginia. The city's decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee had attracted the attention of both White Nationalists types [Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazis and their likes] and those who are concerned about the emergence of the Alt-Right. Clashes erupted between the groups, and in one encounter, a supporter of the Alt-right ( James Fields, Jr)
drove his vehicle into a crowd of counter-protestors, injuring 19, and killing one young woman ( Heather Heyer).

As I was traveling last week, I didn't get a chance to share thoughts on this tragedy right away. The subsequent comments from Mr.Trump added more fuel to the fire, and the ultimate ending of the political drama remains to be seen, however there were a number of things I did notice, which-along with other reasons- have prompted me to have a fresh look at the Qur'an on certain topics, some of  which we share below.

Blood and Soil

The sincere and essentially good people who work and hope for the public good eventually earn the wrath of what scripture calls Hypocrites. It is seemingly a universal phenomenon, which would explain why we find hypocrisy and it's holders in the Qur'an, the Bible, and the  writings and stories associated with the great teachers and philosophers. 

One of the slogans shouted by the Alt-Right at their rallies is "Blood and Soil". It is a Nazi-era slogan. As disturbing as that is, it does tell us the thinking of these types of people, regardless of their skin color, religious label or political party [as there types appear in every group]. It tells us that they think everything of value is to be their property exclusively, that they oppose oppurtunities for others outside of their group, that they think their color or their family name or their passport is enough of a qualification for dominion! Thus, we find the same sorts of people in opposition to government programs meant to assist those with low or no income. They oppose positive reforms in the MEDICADE and health care, they oppose welfare and they oppose public housing! 


One of the statements in the Qur'an informs us "They [i.e. the hypocrites] say : Spend not for those with the Messenger of God [Muhammad] , until they leave.." ( Q 63:7).

The hyporites in Muhammad's time ( upon whom be peace) had the same mentality as the hypocrites today. They hoped to make their perceived opponent leave the town [in this case, Madinah], that way they can grab the power they believe is really theirs. 

It is a strange situation for a white nationalist movement to emerge. They have had power in this country, and much of the world, for generations. The African-American population is, at most, 15%. 

Despite this, the hypocrites see themselves as under threat, and they will turn to the language an rhetoric of race, color and nation in order to bring support to their lust for power. 

This is not restricted to one group of hypocrites, this seems to be a repeated pattern of behaviour, in both the bigger social realm and in more private, smaller arenas.

The Qur'an goes on to say " Yet, to God belongs the treasures of the Heavens and the Earth, however, the hypocrites do not understand this." ( Q 63:7). 

The operative term here is that they "do not understand this" (Laa Yafqahoon). This tells us that the hypocrites's thinking, their world view, is very limited. It is petty and small-minded! They think small.

Returning to the action of James Fields, Jr, which has received public praise from some in that movement. He was willing to kill many people, and perhaps himself sacrifice his freedom and his very life, for protecting a statue dedicated to a rebellion which lost the war over 152 years ago!

Similarly, Neo-Nazis in an American context  often wear Nazi- Germany era uniforms, armbands, and engage in Nazi military salutes, yet the only Nazi state in history [Under Adolph Hitler] lost the war, leading to the occupation and decimation of Germany, and it's main ideologue, Hitler, killed himself rather than live in a world in which he was defeated!

So these types are glorifying an evil past, a past that led to defeat and ruin. It reveals serious cognitive problems, and, from a religious perspective, souls which are deeply troubled, in need of repair.

Other characteristics mentioned in the Qur'an

* They have no firm or true commitments, they simply jump on the bandwagon they deem successful ( Q 9:42)
* They want credit for work they did not do, and are often well-spoken ( Q 9:44-47)
* Have a history of trouble making associated with them, and yet see themselves as clever ( 9:48-50)
*Often already have goodly amounts of money and power ( 9:55, 75, 77)
* Little or none spirituality in their lives, always complaining ( 9:78-79)
* Truly Narcissistic in their thinking ( 9:57-58)

Do not the above characteristics describe situation of those who are now using the language of race and nation?  It gives us glimpses into the hearts of such people, particularly among those with some amounts of power and authority.

You will not replace us

In connection to the situation faced by Prophet Muhammad, we read " They [i.e. the hypocrites] are saying: " If we return to the town, the most honorable [i.e. superior, Al-a'azzu] will expel the inferior [Adhilla] from it." [Q 63:8]

So the hypocrites see themselves as better than those outside of their own circle, be it a circle of race, nation, or ideology! They think only for their own collective glory. This seems to explain the other slogan chanted by the Alt-right in Charlottesville. They chanted "You will not replace us". 

Media commentators have said that this slogan was directed at the Jews, and, like the previously referenced cry, is a Nazi-era expression. 

Yet, in the Charlottesville clashes, we saw that perhaps a majority of people protesting against the Alt-right were themselves white! I think that this is a good sign that while the nation is no doubt in serious and trying times, a goodly number of people, of all races and backrounds, recognize that bowing down to the petty-minded and provincial racists will spell disaster for the future. Thus, it is the view of this writer that the true object of that slogan is not simply Jewish people, but rather the wider American public [who reject these bygone deadly ideas].

The hypocrites see themselves as deserving of glory, respect, honor and appreciation ['Izzah]. They desire, to use an analogy, the pay, respect, and title of an important figure, yet have neither done the work, study, or even have the genuine desire that is a natural association with authentic efforts! 

There is a difference between a medical doctor, trained to be a suregon, and a person who has done nothing more than search for a YOUTUBE video on surgeries! The latter cannot be respected as a suregon, simply because he has not conducted the necessary preliminaries to wear such a label.

God says " Honor [Al'Izzah] is the domain of God, His Messenger, and the people of faith, however, the hypocrites do not know this." ( Q 63:8)

Allah gives light and respect to whomsoever he wishes, but we see that His Sunnah [pattern] is to give to the deserving, the sincere and the hard-working. 

The rhetoric of inferiority and superiority, hatred and scapegoating, can only go so far. It has a limited shelf-life. 


Concluding thoughts

This has not been an attempt to gain converts to Islam or even to propagate the Qur'an, rather this composition is a very limited attempt on my part to record thoughts on the societal discussions currently taking place. I do hope that it inspires the reader to see the language of race as indicitive of spiritual diseases that need to be addressed. I also hope that the reader can ponder on those in their own circles, to see who and what is healthy to maintain in their own lives. Scripture warns us to stay away from both the characteristics which breed hypocrisy as well as those who are hypocrites. Yet, it is not all doom and gloom. The Qur'an itself ( 9:66) says that there is an oppurtunity to reform. 

People can change if God puts it into their hearts to change, and if they recognize that there is a problem and seek to rectify it.  I have been blessed to meet many such people, people who had terrible thinking and even terrible actions in their past life, whose encounter with something better directed them to reform. The most important issue to address is that of correct thinking. If our thinking, our worldview or life philosophy is largely correct and healthy, our actions will likewise be a reflection of that. Yes, we can and will make mistakes, even if our foundational roots are sound, however those mistakes would be turned into virtures, in the sense that we seek to learn from them. 

It can be said that we are speaking from a prejudiced viewpoint, with our exclusive references to the Qur'an as an authoritative source, but for those who don't believe in it as a text from The Divine Source, atleast consider that wisdom, guidance, help, can be found even in unexpected sources, thus, it is prudent to think about what it says.







Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Thinking properly: a view from the Qur'an

"Do you not see how God presents a parable : a wholesome concept (Kalimatan Tayyibatan) is like a wholesome/healthy  tree (Shajaratin Tayyibatin), firmly planted in its roots, yet it's branches reaches out to the sky. It brings forth its fruit at all times, by the permission of it's Lord. God sets forth parables (Amthaal) for people's [benefit] so that perhaps they will engage in thinking. And the parable of a repugnant concept [ Kalimatin Khabeethatin] is that of a repugnant tree, torn out of the land, having no stability." ( Qur'an 14:24-26)

The Importance of a Correct Foundation

The Qur'an has not come forth in order to make us blind or mindless followers, rather it has come in order to create a solid or positive foundation upon which to develop further. "Indeed, We (Allah) have made it a pure recitation, in order that perhaps you will use your minds." (Q 12:2).

Yet, what is that thinking supposed to be built upon? How are we supposed to identify what constitutes Kalimah Tayyibah, as mentioned in the above-mentioned Quranic text? The attributes of a wholesome concept is Firmness, Far Reaching and having a widely felt positive impact. Thus, Allah says "..firmly planted in its roots, yet branching out to the sky, it brings fruit at all times, by the permission of its Lord"

The Muffasiroon generally assert that the expression Kalimah Tayyibah in verse 14:24 is a reference to the confession of faith in the One and Only God and that Muhammad is Allah's Messenger. If we do adopt that view, the implication would be that when this Shahaadah becomes the core of the believer, that it belongs to you [as opposed to simply an inherited religious formula] your life and your thinking will get better and better.

A person who is firm upon the teaching that God alone deserves worship and that God has inserted his mercy and will into the collective life of man [by sending forth messengers, ending with the Quranic revelation to Muhammad, upon whom be peace] won't be stuck in incorrect thinking, If they are stuck in incorrect thinking, and yet  still claiming to be believers, than the implication is that they have serious deficiencies in their foundational roots, despite their claims to the contrary. The Qur'an informs us:  "They seek to deceive Allah, and those who hold to [real] faith, yet, they deceived themselves, but perceive not. In their hearts is an illness, and God has [as a consequence of their own acts] increased that illness, for them is a terrible penalty, for they are lying." { Q 2: 9-10}

Believers can sometimes make mistakes and hold onto wrong concepts, yet, like the flu, in time the sincere ones recover and head towards that which is correct. "And whosoever obeys Allah and his Messenger have achieved a mighty achievement" { Q 33:71}.

Yet, in all honesty, we are reading the term Kalimah Tayyibah as referring to more than the Shahaadah. We understand this to refer to the foundations of correct thinking, that wholesome concepts are identified by the attributes of stability, positive impact, and far reaching.

Look at the benefits trees bring. There are countless variety of trees worldwide, all of which having different types of benefit. Allah presents to us that lasting ideas are like those fruits that the healthy trees are producing!


We see this in both religious and non religious contexts. We see this in Prophet Jesus as well as Prophet Muhammad, peace be on them both, but also in the great social reformers and minds such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcolm X [Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz].
Repugnant concepts are not long-lasting

The parable continues by telling us of the  repugnant tree [Shajarah Khabeethah]. The Repugnant concept is compared to such a tree. It is a waste of soil. It produces nothing except headache and worry. It is always on the warpath.

Wrong thinking and wrong concepts are like that, even though initially it looks attractive. Consider Eugenics, as well as Fascism and Nazism. These three very related and intertwined pseudo-scientific ideologies attracted the love of millions, including highly educated people. They held political power in important nations [notably Germany under Adolph Hitler  and Italy under Benito Mussolini ] . Yet, the ultimate fruit from those ideas was racial hatred, wars, genocidal actions [perpetrated against the Jews in concentration camps, leading to the death of an estimated six million in those camps] and dictatorship. Today, even in the places where these destructive ideas were given birth, these ideas have, at best, followers on the fringes. They are, by and large, seen for what they were, terrible ideas that are best forgotten rather than remembered (ft.1) .


Believers have to always be on guard to protect their core

In light of the realities of confusion and misguidance, Muslims in particular, but people in general, have to be on guard to protect themselves from being upon or following repugnant concepts, regardless if the source of it's preaching is from the Imam's podium on Fridays or from the office of political leaders!

For Muslims, aids in protection include, but are not limited to, praying, fasting, regular Qur'an study, the company of goodly persons and strong family. For Non Muslims, the same formula can be applied.  For all their faults, both Dr King and Mahatma Gandhi  [Non Muslims]  were deeply spiritual people, dedicated to certain principles obtained largely from seeking out Divine guidance.This is a reality that should not be denied simply due to religious label!

In today's world, we see a rise of narcissism, of racism, scapegoating and stereotyping of peoples. Most disturbing, modern culture seems to glorify all the repugnant behavior that is ultimately destructive. Ignorance is not only tolerated, it is preached, and knowledge, even the seeking of knowledge, is seen as an oddity{ft.2}.

More than ever, we have to seek to be connected to God, we have to divorce ourselves, even if only in a limited way, from a destructive world, particularly from entertainment which is not wholesome, from people who seek to use and abuse, and from vices which can be used against us or work against us.

Wonderful ways of maintaining some levels of protection include simple things like going to the park, exercise, staying off one's mobile phone/computer sometimes, praying not only in the places of worship but also outside, goodly company on family and intimate level, and of course, travel.

Particularly for Americans, who traditionally have been reluctant to leave North America, it is important to see the world. Travel opens up one's mind to new and better things, to see how others live and think. The Qur'an speaks highly of travel { 12:105, 22:46, 45:3, among other places}.

I would dare say that traveling is embedded into the religious tapestry of Islam. After all, we are all obligated to make Hajj, where one sees the many nationalities and peoples created by Allah on this Earth.

Allah ends this particular exposition in these powerful words:


'Allah is establishing those with faith with the firmly established expression [Al Qawl Ath-Thaabit], in this life and the Hereafter: Allah lets stray the oppressive, and Allah does what He wills." { Q 14: 27}



Footnotes

[1] In many European nations, open support for Fascism and Nazism are deemed criminal offenses, even things such as doing Nazi salutes and the like.


[2] This writer has in mind many of the entertainment programs such as The Fox production It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The protagonists are narcissistic bar owners, drifting from one relationship to another, using people and seeking out a quick road to riches in the process. It glorifies, in many of it's episodes, ignorant behavior and thinking. However, this is not the only program which does this. This is found in much of entertainment today.