Monday, November 14, 2022

Which of your faith's or tradition's beliefs do you consider to be universal?

 We recently participated in a panel discussion with representatives of various faiths, sharing beliefs or values deemed universal. It was well-attended, with a robust question and answer session. 


Timestamps of the program are found below.


35:15- Aleda Nelson opening remarks 

42:40- Moderator Elham Roohani opening remarks, introducing the speakers and format.

50:43 Michael Gobaud (atheist)

59:00 Pastor Kelcey West (Christian)

1:04 Imam Shamsuddin Waheed (Islam)

1:13 Martine Hubbard (Baha'i)

1:21 Rev.Claire Summerhill (Center for Spiritual Living)

1:30- Q and A session.


The link to this program can be found Here


Some photos can be found below.

















We must acknowledge the gracious hosts from the Baha'i center of Las Vegas for their hospitality. 


Saturday, November 5, 2022

The role of men in Islam: Some reflections on commonly asked questions

 

                   The role of men in Islam: some reflections on commonly asked questions

 

 

Introduction

 

While there have always been cultural differences between groups, a certain amount of uniformity existed amongst all, particularly when it comes to the biological and social functions of men and women. Men would be deemed the de facto head of the households, and women would carry responsibilities within the family.

 

This has certainly changed, not only in the West, but increasingly around the world. The reasons and general implications of these changes are beyond the scope of this presentation, nonetheless it is prudent to address some commonly asked questions from an Islamic perspective. I am cognizant that the following views are debatable, and I welcome respectful dialogue. I would also like to point out that this article does not endorse any actions or attitudes that bring forth familial and social disasters.


(1) Masculine leadership


The need for organization is universally recognized. In fact, we have countless examples of it in nature. Bees are organized into Queens, workers and drones. The beehive itself is set up to maximize productivity and storage. The Qur’an (16:68) actually makes a reference to their cognitive abilities and their organizational activity, referring to it as products of Divine inspiration.

 

In a similar fashion, the Qur’an has mentioned what a healthy structure is supposed to look like:

“The Men are responsible (Qawwamoona ‘alaa)  for the maintenance of (their) ladies: in that God has consistently delivered those (abilities) over (the same to) others, and in that they (the men) spend of their means (amwaalihim)... “Q 4:34)

 

The above text mentions responsibilities and places emphasis on financial arrangements. These two items certainly translate into different things for different people, and admittedly can vary from era to age. The term Qawaamoon carries the meaning of holding up, on a regular basis, a healthy establishment.

 

This can take the form of protection, advice, and guidance from a more rational basis. In terms of financial arrangements, ultimately this a guarantee of relative security, rather than a whimsical or temporary relationship.


(2) Polygamy

(1 

 

Undoubtedly a sensitive topic for women, Islam has allowed it, as illustrated in the following text:

“So marry women of your choosing: two, three or four, yet if you fear inability to be just, then one (waahidah), or from malakat aymaanukum,(ft.1)  that is most suitable to prevent injustice” ( Q 4:3).

 

A reading of the context reveals that the idea is simply a form of protection for those who are isolated, alone, without families or familiar support (al yataamaa). The Qur’an has not been silent on social needs, this is a faith which recognizes the realities of the world.

 

(3)    Is there any physical disciplining allowed in Islam?  

 

 

This topic deserves a great deal of analysis, as there are many misconceptions on this. The Qur’an summarizes the wife’s duty as “guarding what God would have them guard..” which is understood to include family wealth, private information as well as (most importantly) intimate relations. It says further that when there is risk of the above being violated, the husband is to (a) inform her tactfully (fa’idhoo-hunna),  (b) sleep separately ( ihjurununna fil madaaji’i) , and (c)  take a physical step (idribuhunna).

 

The “physical step” has been given in the Prophetic Sunnah as NOT domestic abuse, but rather showing displeasure by using- for an example- a tooth brush (Miswak). Moreover, we are told directly in the hadeeth literature (saheeh Muslim 2328) that Prophet Muhammad never hit a woman.

 

Moreover, the term idrib has a plethora of alternative meanings, both in the Qur’an itself as well as usages in Arabic, including to leave, to propose/explain (ft.2) . This has led many to suggest that the meaning is simply for the man to depart from the relationship in which the woman has showed disrespect of the basic duties (Nushooz).

 

Most have understood a-c above as the sequence of steps to take to resolve the negative situation, while the great jurist Imam Abu Hanifa (d. 767 C.E.) has taken the above as choices, rather than sequential steps.

 

There is some guidance on this aspect from the traditions of the Prophet that relate to other matters. He has categorically stated that the faces should not be struck, and that believers are not to bring harm to each other. Thus, putting all of this together, it seems to be suggesting that in those times that harmony is needed, that the healthy, mature husband is to take action to safeguard the family, to use an analogy, to push a person out of the way of an incoming vehicle, as a means to save their life.

 

This should never translate into domestic violence, abuse or harm of any type, as such would be inconsistent with Islamic values.

(4)    Dress

 


Men and women are both expected to dress with decorum and modestly in public. The precise clothing varies according to personal and cultural/environmental tastes. For more details, see Shamsuddin Waheed: Just what is allowed and not allowed in Islam? Addressing some commonly asked questions

at this link

 

(5)    Equality between men and women

 

 


The Qur’an certainly says that there are ways in which men and women are different, including that of physical strength. This is the typical pattern in human beings. 

However, in the most important areas, we clearly see a spiritual equality, in the sense that both genders are equal in the sight of Allah. The Qur’an says “VERILY, for all men and women who have surrendered themselves unto God, and all believing men and believing women, and all truly devout men and truly devout women, and all men and women who are true to their word, and all men and women who are patient in adversity, and all men and women who humble themselves [before God], and all men and women who give in charity, and all self-denying men and self-denying women and all men and women who are mindful of their chastity, and all men and women who remember God unceasingly: for [all of] them has God readied forgiveness of sins and a mighty reward.” (Q 33:35 Muhammad Asad translation)

 

The Qur’an also states that both have a chance of paradise of hellfire, contingent upon their thinking process and actions ( Q 33:73).


Footnotes

(1) The concept of milk-ul-yameen has traditionally been understood as sexual slavery: we reject that assertion, in light of Quranic evidence, for which, see Shamsuddin Waheed: Does Islam sanction slavery?  see link here


(2) For other Quranic examples, see 4:101, 3:156, 14:24, 25 and other verses.


Friday, September 9, 2022

THE INTERSECTION BETWEEN THE OCCULT AND HUMAN LIFE

 Introduction


The following are just a few observations, made in light of things that I have seen (largely in the course of my work) in the last three years. The paranormal or the occult is certainly a field that I have had no prior interest in, nor have done intensive studies of, but repeated cases and situations have inspired me to seek out information from reliable sources, and to understand (and hopefully apply) the perspective as derived from Islamic sources.


This article is by no means exhaustive, nor does it claim to be authoritative. Feedback is welcomed and appreciated. I have had discussions with those who have had a deep background in the occult world and its varied aspects and have taken the time to study one important authoritative text on this subject, written by an academic sympathetic to the occult. However, this article will not cite either the persons in discussion, or the important text-source. The former is to respect the privacy of such people, who have made efforts to change their lives towards a direction of submission to God as portrayed in the Islamic faith, while the former I have opted not to share the title because I do not want to encourage reading of that text, nor of any text associated with the paranormal. I have looked at these subjects only out of necessity, as a means to understand what others are facing as well as attaining protection with God from that realm for myself. The religion of Islam has actually forbidden Muslims to interact with the paranormal, and even that which resembles that realm. Although there are many ahadeeth (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) on this subject, it seems sufficient to quote only one:   


'Abdullah ibn Mas'ood reported that the Messenger of Allah said " Indeed, spells, amulets and charms are (manifestations of) idolatry (shirkun)." (Sunan Abi Dawud 3883).


The occult in the modern world


While it is fashionable to view the occult as obscure rituals, conducted secretly in an isolated location, the reality is that those who openly worship Satan, as well as those who generally have occult interests, or a hatred of religion generally, are often placed in positions of influence, in particular the areas of entertainment, fashion, and the like. One example is the sci-fi writer Don Webb.  Another example is Michael A.Aquino, involved in the dissemination of a text known as The Satanic Bible. A quick search online can reveal that he was an academic, seemingly with a life-long interest in the occult, he reportedly saw himself as the "beast" referred to in the Book of Revelations(ft.1). Earlier in his career, he was involved in psyc-ops, using heavy metal music as torture on Vietnamese prisoners.



Many of the popular television shows are produced by agnostics, and they are not shy to share their views on religion as being a primitive force. Seth Macfarlane is a good example. Producer of shows such as FAMILY GUY, AMERICAN DAD and others. He is an open atheist, and any regular viewer of FAMILY GUY can easily recall episodes which ridicule religion.



These are just a few examples of influential figures presenting their social agendas in the guise of entertainment.


The messages coming from entertainment coinciding with occultic agendas

While it can be argued that individual producers, entertainers, etc. are not (knowingly) involved with the occult, let's take a moment to look at the messages delivered to viewers. These shows (which are actually cartoons, which would naturally be appealing to young children) promote disrespect of family structure, deviant sexual practices, hedonistic behavior, abandonment of faith, and extreme individualism. 


The above are all well established as agendas for Satanists. It has been observed that they tend to present their worldview as one which seeks an escape from social restrictions, often having their origin in religiously inspired values. 


It is my understanding that the proliferation and normalization of intoxicants, single parent homes, the hook-up culture, and so much more are in line with the devilish agenda.


Startling Quranic information on Satan that parallels with the modern world

(1) Satan "whispers" to humans, encouraging them to disrobe. (Q 7:20). 

(2) Demonic company is preferred by those without faith (Q 7:27).

(3) Devilish types are selfish by nature, and encourage others to be the same mentality, hoarding wealth, neither investing in business (which promotes economic growth broadly) nor spending in charity (acts which are done to lift up humans in need) (Q 17:27).


(4) The breaking up of families, in the name of petty jealousies and the like (Q 12:100).


(5) Satan uses people's stresses and anxiety as a means of attack. (Q 38:41)


(6) The promotion of "virtual" reality, as opposed to what is actually real (Q 6:71, 47:25).

(7) The promotion of intoxicants, gambling, and occult rituals (Q 5:90-91).


The above parallels are apparent for any who is willing to observe carefully. Thus, it is imperative that we are cognizant of the manner by which Satan inflicts damage.


What about mental health?


This article does not deny that there are many cases of legitimate mental health problems, which has its own methods of treatment. It can be argued (as it has actually been argued by the authors of Broke in America: Seeing, Understanding and Ending U.S. poverty) that many of the conditions mentioned above are in fact the reasons mental health problems exist. After all, those isolated from their families would naturally have reasons to feel insecure.


While it cannot be denied that mental health issues occur, both in a "satanic" and "non-satanic" context, treatment of it has to be physical, moral, social and spiritual. 


The occult and relationships

A recurring theme, crossing religious and cultural lines, is the usage of the occult for positive romantic relationships.  Spells, curses, amulets, voodoo dolls, and more have been employed to break up relationships, destroy families and create conditions for one person to attain the object of their romantic interest.

The Qur'an mentions a rather profound example of this. The passage (Q 2:102-103) mentions both the kingdom of Solomon and Babylon in connection to figures who would be involved in teaching methods to break up couples. While the passage has much that needs to be discussed further (ft.2), it should be sufficient here to say that the Islamic religion has totally outlawed such activities. Rather, one should pray to God. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has taught famously the prayer for seeking assistance in these regards known as the Istikhaarah prayer (ft.3), and the Qur'an itself has a short du'aa (supplication) that teaches us -in a summarized fashion- that we should avoid obsessions and whimsical attachments, but rather seek that which will be a comfort in this life! For this supplication, go to Q 25:76.




Jinns

Jinns, be they positive or negative, belong to the unseen world, and can largely be associated with the occult. Islam teaches that we are to avoid interaction with that world, and the last two chapters of the Qur'an (Soorah Al Falaq and An Naas) are very affective, when recited, as protection from those invisible forces.


The hadeeth literature (saheeh Al Bukhari 61:530) has also recorded the importance of the recitation of the "throne verse" (Ayatul Kursiyy 2:255) before sleeping. The text speaks of God concept in a clear and beautiful fashion, granting a strengthening of faith, a needed component in surviving Satanic assaults throughout life!





Practical actions

The Qur'an has mentioned many practical areas in which Satan launches attacks. Indeed, in the list above, we can see that if we do the opposite of what Satan is depicted as encouraging, that goes a long way in creating protection. We have placed emphasis on good company, especially in the romantic realm, daily prayer, healthy distance from electronic distractions, exercise, abandoning un-wholesome music and entertainment. Other items, derived from the Quranic texts mentioned above, include public decency, regular acts of charity, building of faith in God, avoiding jealousy (both having it and being the object of it) and consistent reference to Allah in speech.


Jealousy is a powerful emotion. It can also be dangerous, as universally recognized. The last two chapters of the Qur'an points out that whispers can feed jealousy, which is why it functions as a text of protection from this unpredictable feeling.


I believe this is so important, that-atleast to avoid being the object of jealousy ( hasad in Quranic terminology), one should not flaunt one's blessings, especially to those without the same. This is the logic of the Prophet forbidding men from wearing gold and silk. Men are the traditional earners, in public spaces. Wearing such items invites hatred, crime and much more.  

Similarly, I think it is important here to avoid sharing too much in public about personal or family business, even if it is positive. Flaunting wealth is also something which needs to be avoided.


If one feels jealous, also recite chapters 113-114 of the Qur'an, say "Maa-shaa Allah" (thus, as God has willed) and remember what the Prophet has said. He -upon whom be peace- has stated that one should not look at the one above, but rather the one below. In other words, you have a blessing already, but you have to recognize it as such.


Footnotes


(1) The Book of Revelations is the Last book in the New Testament. While the history of the text and author is disputed, the point was that Aquino self-identified with evil, as found in the Christian scripture. 

(2) Certain terms within the text requires much discussion. Take, for example,  Sihr. It is usually translated as "magic" but can have implications that have no relation to the occult (as popularly understood) such as eloquence in speech as well as corruption. Similarly, the text speaks of two beings, who taught methods to break up a married couple. The term can be read "two angels" (malakayn) or as "malikayn" (two kings). An aspect of this is whether or not they are simple similar to (but not precisely) one of the labels mentioned above, both of which have implications in understanding the text. In any case, the text presents a lesson, i.e. that no one experiences anything unless it is by the Divine will. The text which follows (Q 2:103) also states that faith and awareness (attaqoo, i.e. taqwaa) are better, meaning that these two items provide a sufficient protection from evil.  It is perhaps these two which often get neglected in the powerful nations, thus, the reference to Solomon's kingdom and the Babylonian civilization.


(3) For more information on the Istikhaarah prayer, see Shamsuddin Waheed: Reflections on Istikhaarah: the priorities of life .




Wednesday, August 3, 2022

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH: REFLECTIONS ON "1984" BY GEORGE ORWELL

 



Introduction

Since the dawn of humanity, there has been countless seers, men and women of insight with the capacity to address not only the present circumstances with a creative analysis, but who can actually observe the road into the future! Consequently, those observations can be repeatedly consulted, long after the seers have left the scene.


George Orwell's 1984 is one such work. Published in 1944, against the backdrop of the rise of communism and towards the end of the second world war, the British writer (whose actual name was Eric Arthur Blain) has imagined a civilization which has, in many ways, has come into being.


The general plot can be summarized as follows: A world of conformity to the image of Big Brother, the "common man" represented by Winston Smith, navigates his life in the fictional nation of Oceania, which, although at war with two other nations, focuses on the preservation of its power over its own citizens through what amounts to brainwashing, manipulation, xenophobia, and a host of other activities. The title of this review - IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH - is taken from one of the slogans expressed within the story.


Eventually he begins to question the society's attitudes (albeit in secret, with little verbalization), and runs afoul of the authorities, is interrogated and tortured by "Mr. O'brien", who shares with him (Smith) a handful of insights that are designed to destroy any hopes of authentic change of the status quo.


Reading this work afresh has led this writer to find frightening parallels in today's world, some of the more interesting examples are noted below


Ministry of Truth




The ninety-second page of the 2003 edition (ft.1) shows that Oceania has a government body that has "concerned itself with news, entertainment, education and the fine arts" known as the Ministry of Truth. While it is universally expected that governments have entities which present their narrative, it is our observation that the current trend has gone beyond that. The current trend is to influence all of humanity to think and act in one fashion, and that message is conveyed through all available means. 


"Ministries of truth" exist throughout the world today, albeit with different names. They exist outside of government bodies as well. They exist on college campuses, high schools, social media platforms, and increasingly infiltrate religious communities. 


Generations that grow up in today's world are exposed to "values" and ideas that are quite contrary to those of the previous generation, and thus are expected to conform or be "cancelled". Careers are ruined, family relationships torn apart, religious values (and sometimes even texts) are altered in the name of being "woke"! 

I have seen within mainstream media, from media organizations as well as politicians, lately, present historical untruths, and likewise the fear of even presenting a sound view on certain subjects, seemingly out of fears of political or financial consequences. 


Ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness

In a Western context, the rise of white nationalism, so called "Random" shootings that almost always target minorities (blacks, Asians, etc.), such occurrences no longer shock Americans. Orwell has spoken of xenophobia inspired by the government of Oceania (applicable in today's world) with the following words " A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill. torture, to smash faces with a sledgehammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic." 


Thoughtcrime


One of the many terms created in 1984, it imagines a world in which one's very thoughts are punishable by the authorities. Those thoughts can be simple normal grievances with local government, or even of a personal nature, yet they are harshly punished. 

In the academic world this is perhaps more noticeable. A writer is careful in sharing conclusions, for fear of damage to one's career. In some nations, it is an actual crime to question the details of a specific historical event! 

Increasingly, conformity to trends within society is demanded, upon threat of income loss. One's own values are made to take a back seat, regardless of how irrational or unreasonable the trend is. Some are "Doxed" by their foes. 


Freedom of thought, speech and faith are increasingly becoming things of the past, even within the nations that pride themselves on being bastions of liberty! 


Cleansing language

The Ministry of Truth has-in 1984, produced dictionaries, which has removed terms which could be used to express dissent. One example in the book is the removal of the word "bad", replacing it with "ungood". 

We see similar actions with what can be termed "politically correct" language within all aspects of public speech, literature, and even religious discourse. Recently I saw a public statement which, quoting Quranic scriptures, replaced "Him" with "Her".! The texts are in reference to God. (ft.2)


No access to knowledge

In the Oceania of 1984, the ministry of truth worked had the ability to remove perceived foe's information (names, accomplishments etc.) from records, making it as if they never existed. Executed prisoner were "dissolved", and the main protagonist (Smith) himself is a torture victim, made to think that a certain book and certain people in fact were simply creations of his own mind!


While our world has seemingly access to plethora of knowledge like never before, it is our observation that actually the opposite has happened. Professionals are ignored and belittled, in the face of social media savvy amateurs! 


People can read much on their mobile phones yet find it almost impossible to retain that information! A fad of video- viewing (and short videos at that) has replaced studying from a book and taking notes.

While it is true that the learning process varies from one to another, our fear is that the electronic revolution will make it impossible for people to be able to develop critical thinking skills, let alone the information needed for other areas of life.


Conclusion

This article is by no means exhaustive, it is simply a handful of observations. 1984 is a work that deserves to be read, in particular by teachers, politicians, community leaders, parents and activists. It will generate thought on the dystopian world that will emerge in a complete fashion if we are not careful. 


Footnotes

(1) The edition consulted (which also has Animal Farm by the same author) is the 2003 edition, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Boston, Ma).


(2) The Quranic name for God is "Allah", and while the Qur'an certainly uses masculine pronouns, none have understood it to mean that God is actually male! Moreover, Arabic, like other languages, can use masculine or feminine pronouns and not imply natural gender at all. The Quranic texts I am referencing use "He" (Huwa in Arabic), and the author of the public statement changed it to "she" or "Her", deliberately, without any respect for the original language. The change was made in order to conform to a movement that seeks to address patriarchy by emphasis on feminism. My point is that in the Quranic and Arabic context, such a debate is totally unnecessary and utterly illogical.



Friday, July 29, 2022

The benefit of true worship (friday Khutbah)

 (Note: the following is an edited version of our khutbah at Masjid Ibrahim, Las Vegas, Nevada. The opening words of praise for God have been omitted).


Lessons from Ilyaas


The Qur'an briefly tells us about a Prophet of God that is not often discussed, known as Ilyaas (Elijah), a messenger of God whose main audience was the Levantine region(ft.1). The Qur'an often presents prophets as conveying similar arguments, despite having variety in listeners. It tells us:


" When he (Ilyaas) said to his people ' will you not have taqwaa

Do you call upon Ba'al and abandon the best of creators?

 (namely) Allah, your Lord and the Lord of your past ancestors?" (Q 37:124-126) 

اِذۡ قَالَ لِقَوۡمِہٖۤ اَلَا تَتَّقُوۡنَ

اَتَدۡعُوۡنَ بَعۡلًا وَّتَذَرُوۡنَ اَحۡسَنَ الۡخَالِقِیۡنَ

اللّٰہَ رَبَّکُمۡ وَرَبَّ اٰبَآئِکُمُ الۡاَوَّلِیۡنَ

The first statement in this summary is that of taqwaa. It carries here the meaning of consciousness, awareness. It is not simply a verbal assertion. Taqwaa here conveys awareness of not only God, but his power, cognizant of other human beings as well as of the realities of this world. Notice that all the Quranic verses the Prophet Muhammad (Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) would recite in the wedding ceremony all express this meaning (Q 4:1, 3:102, 33:70-71). 


We can further understand or summarize the call to Taqwaa as expressed by Ilyaas (peace be upon him) (al-laaa Tattaqoon) as simply to be awake, to not fall asleep at the wheel, as there is much out there that makes us unfocused. 


Why was Ba'al worshiped? 




Ilyaas was sent to a region in which worship of idols was common, the chief one being a 'god' of fertility, Ba'al. Indeed, there is a Lebanese city is called Baalbek because it was the site of an important shrine dedicated to Ba'al. 

"Calling upon Ba'al" (Tad'oona Ba'laan) is certainly a form of worship, and Ilyaas ('alayhis salaam) was addressing this. . Globally, all sorts of historical figures, as well as mythical personalities were worshipped, be it the pre-Islamic idols of the Arabs such as Al-laat, Al Manaat and Al 'Uzza, or even former U.S. President Donald Trump in recent times (ft.2).


These figures were "worshiped" because of some feeling of benefit, real or imagined, as well as a sense of cultural or loyalty to one's tradition. The Qur'an repeatedly speaks against conformity based upon such reasons. (ft.3). Moreover, the harm of idolatry, just as with many other items, outweighs any perceived benefits. 


Allah: The only deserving of worship




Allah is the only one who is ever-living, omnipotent and omnipresent. Indeed, in one sentence recited in the sitting part of prayer, we say "I testify that none deserves worship except Allah, alone, without any partner" (Ash-hadoo an Laa elaaha ill Allah, wahdadu Laa Shareeka Lah.). If we accept these assertions as correct, there is no need then to worship any other than him. 


Being awake




I am reminded of a famous speech given by Malcolm X (Al Hajj Malik El Shabazz) (ft.4) speaking in his context, states "... This is what they do! They send drugs in Harlem down here to pacify us. They send alcohol down here to pacify us! They send prostitution down here to pacify us." 


His examples are relevant for our subject in that authentic taqwaa breeds awareness of not only the reality of God, but the realities around us, and presents a good foundation to understand how to interact with the realities around us. 


Islam: a realistic faith 


The Qur'an has highlighted items such as gambling and intoxicants as not only harmful, but as distractions. If we are able to avoid the distractions, we can see the realities very clearly, and act accordingly. This requires the discipline, balanced, intelligent life that Islam asks us to live, as well as care as to what we let into our homes, phones, television screens, bodies, minds and hearts. 


Notice that Ilyaas refers to God as "The best of creators" (Ahsaan al Khaaliqeen). The Qur'an also refers to God as "The wisest of judges" (Ahkaam al Haakimeen). This tells us that there are others who create, and others who judge, be they among humans or other creatures. However, they cannot be equated to God. Allah is above and beyond them all, and is the only deserving of worship. The Qur'an rightly states that "Nothing is comparable to him"(Q 42:11).


Thus, it is necessary that we use Islam correctly, as the item which cleanses our hearts and minds, and rectifies our actions, provides protection from being manipulated.


Footnotes

(1) The Levant (shaam in arabic) refers to modern day Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon).

(2) An Indian national actually became famous for engaging in open Trump worship. See Here

(3) See Qur'an 2:170, 31:21, 5:104, 105 and many other verses. 

(4) Malcolm X (1924-1965) was the product of an oppressive and racist white America, who came to embrace Islam. His biographical details are well known, it is sufficient to say that awareness and discipline went a long way in informing his worldview and subsequent impact on the human race. While there are many detailed books on his life and the evolution of his worldview, the best one we recommend is his own autobiography (The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley). 



Thursday, June 16, 2022

Reflections on Istikhaarah: the priorities of life

 




Muslims have a tradition that when facing options in which there is no clarity, to make the above supplication. As a ritual, the basic procedure is to offer a two-unit (rak'ahs) prayer and make the above supplication. 



A full examination of the Istikhaarah rite                                                                                                                                  
The tradition is based on the following report " On the authority of Jaabir b.'Abdullah, Radee Allahu 'anhu: The Prophet (Muhammad) Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam would instruct us to pray for guidance in all of our concerns, just as he would teach us a chapter of the Qur'an! He, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, would say "if any of you intends to undertake a matter, let him pray two -units of voluntary prayer, and afterwards supplicate (the istikhaarah supplication)."

There are some interesting elements of the practice that are present in the above hadeeth, which are addressed below

Pray for guidance in all concerns. 

 The Muslims are instructed to offer five daily prayers, give in charity, and fast as necessary elements in our attempts to be close to the Creator.   The rite of offering two- unit salaah, in which Soorah Al-Faatihah (Ft.1) is recited, as well as the other normative worship texts (Tasbeeh, Tahmeed, Tashahhud, Salaat 'alan nabi etc) shows us that there is to be an attitude of submission, and acceptance to the Divine plan! We don't always know what that plan is, but we are expected to integrate ourselves to it.

The Qur'anic revelation states: " So, where will you go?  It (Qur'an itself) is none except a reminder to all nations, for whosoever amongst you that wants to go straight, and you are not to will, except as Allah has willed, (he is) the caretaker of the universe." (Q 81:26-29)

This supplication (du'aa) was taught just as the Qur'an was taught



This is very telling. The Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings, made the teaching of this supplication a priority, in the same fashion that Quranic education was a priority! The Qur'an itself teaches that God hears all supplications (Q 2:186), while also asserting that He knows the contents of one's heart (Q 3:154, 5:7, 8:43, 67:13-14 and many other texts). 

So, what is the purpose of reciting a specific supplication? Why recite a supplication at all, if God already knows what we are in need of in the first place? 

The answer is that the Istikhaarah supplication is done, primarily, as an act of worship (ta'abudi), and worship itself has a way of addressing one's concerns by its very nature. A person develops a closer tie to the Almighty through worship and supplication, the stronger that tie is, the weaker the particular problem will be, until that problem gets resolved.

Translation of the supplication

O Allah, I seek your guidance by your knowledge. strength by your power, I ask from your magnificent bounty, you have power, while I don't have power. You know, and I do not know, and you are the full knower of the hidden ('allaamal Ghuyoob). 

O Allah, if you know this issue (and mention the issue) to be best for me in my faith (deeni), my life (ma'aashi), my ending ('aaqibati amri), then decree it for me, make it easy for me, then bless me in it.

And if you know this issue (haadhal Amr) is harmful for me (sharrun li) in my faith, life and ending, then remove it from me and me from it, decree for me what is best (khayr) wherever it is and make me satisfied with it." 

The supplication teaches bullet points of priorities

The supplication texts of both the Qur'an and Prophetic tradition serve as more than ritualized recitations, rather, they serve as items conveying lessons. In this case, after telling us repeatedly about the Divine power and knowledge, this du'aa teaches that what we are to look for, when trying to make a decision that has long term consequences, is if that issue for which we are indecisive, if it will be the vehicle for religious/spiritual growth, enhance one's worldly life/happiness, and be a source of peace when the end of life comes.


What happens after Istikhaarah?

This can be followed up with seeking advice on the matter from trusted sources, as well as writing out a list of pros and cons on the matter. Ultimately, the supplicant has to live with their choices, but the supplication gives us core things to look for. Many people limit the Istikhaarah supplication to marriage, however it can be offered when facing other choices as well, such as career, moving, business, etc. 

Many depend on "a good feeling", intuitive understanding, afterwards, or seeking out a dream or a miracle as a sign from God in favor or against. While we cannot say for certain what Allah will do, we can be assured that the supplication helps us to make the decision on our own. 

After all, God has given us minds, hearts, arms and legs by which to make decisions and to be able to make those decisions come into reality.

Footnotes 

(1) Soorah Al-Faatihah, the opening chapter of the Qur'an, is the necessary text for every unit of prayer. There is consensus (Ijmaa') on this. It is a text of both worship and supplication. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Zakaat: Reflections on its application in the Western world

(1)  Zakaat as inescapable religious obligation



The payment of Zakaat, often rendered as " poor dues" certainly is a religious obligation. It is placed as among the five pillars of Islam. The reason for this is apparent only by glancing the opening pages of the Qur'an, which reads " A.L.M. This is the scripture, about which there is no doubt, a guide for those who possess taqwaa, who have faith in the Unseen realities, establish prayers, and spend out of what WE (i.e., God) has provided for them." (Q 2:1-3).


Similarly, we have hundreds of places throughout the Qur'an which places the obligation of daily prayers alongside payment of Zakaat. Denial of its primary presence in Islam is deemed sufficient by many scholars as a rejection of the Islamic faith in totality, and a number of Quranic verses have expressed condemnation for those who do not pay it (Q 3:180, 41:6-7, 9:34-35 among others).


(2) How is it usually paid?



The schools of jurisprudence are in agreement that a minimum of 2.5 % of yearly wealth is to be given in Zakaat. Traditionally, most prefer to pay this in the month of Ramadan. This is different from the charity mandated by the Sunnah to be paid before the 'Eid prayers, which is known as sadaqatul Fitr or Zakaatul Fitr.


(3) To whom it is given?

In many Muslim countries, it is collected as a tax from one's pay, or deducted yearly from one's savings account. The government then distributes those funds to those it finds eligible. Still, other Muslim nations do not regulate or exercise control over Zakaat funds, leaving it to the discretion of individual believers or mosques/religious organizations.


While there are small discussions as to who is eligible to receive it, the following texts provide the general recipient list:


 Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler - an obligation [imposed] by Allah. And Allah is Knowing and Wise." (Q 9:60 Saheeh International translation)

 

 "It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah-fearing." ( Q 2:177 Yusuf Ali translation)


The inspiration to help others, as integrated into the Muslim faith and culture, has won praise from friend and foe alike. It has functioned as a live saving institution.

There are a number of points raised in these two Quranic verses, insofar as their applicability in today's world, particularly in a Western context, which we will address in due course. We hope to show that the religion of Islam is indeed versatile, having the ingredients necessary to give concrete guidance that reflects our current realities. It is necessary to deal with the following questions.


(4) Can Non -Muslims receive zakaat funds?

Generally, the scholars assert that Non-Muslims are ineligible to receive Zakaat, but rather, the non obligatory, discretionary charity (sadaqa). This understanding makes sense in a context of supporting local needs first, a concept that is globally understood. After all, U.S. citizens pay taxes to the United States government, not to Canada.


However, a literal and careful reading of the Qur'an does not specify a religious identity of recipients. Moreover, the term rendered as "bringing hearts together" (Al-Mu'allaf al Quluubuhum) above has been understood, even in the Prophet's time, as either giving funds to those who would be persecuted as a result of accepting the religion (who would otherwise not accept it because of those fears) or at least for generating good will within the non-Muslim community. 


Thus, it is our view that any on the above list of zakat recipients are eligible, regardless of religious label.


(5) Can Mosques and institutions receive zakaat


It is the view of the majority of scholars and schools of jurisprudence that Mosques and religious institutions are not eligible to receive zakaat. The Hanafi school is particularly vocal in these regards. (ft.#1)


This ruling makes sense in a Muslim world context, where the mosques are funded either by the government, rich individuals, or religious institutions.


In the West, the mosques function as not only the places of worship, but of learning, government, social, political and propagation sites. Thus, it is our view that mosques and religious institutions are eligible to receive zakaat.


This argument has a plethora of evidence, summarized as follows.  (1) The Quranic verse 9:60 clearly states that those "employed to collect" are eligible to receive, and in a Western context it is the mosques who collect zakaat and distribute it to those individuals in need. (2)  Q 2:195, among other verses, commands to "spend in the cause of Allah", which has been understood as struggle and even propagation. Mosques function as both centers of propagation and struggle to uphold Islamic values. (3) The Qur'an (Q 9:17) also commands the believers to maintain the mosques(ft.#2).  In a Western environment, governments do not support places of worship, therefore the local Muslim community-out of necessity- should support the mosque they worship in financially.


(6) Can charity of any kind be given to a mosque or religious organization not our own?


Both online and in person, we have seen this scenario, in both the Muslim world and the West. A real- life example, which I read on a fatwa website, can be summarized as follows:  A Sunni gets a job in Iraq, being a majority Shiite country. He prays in the Shiite mosques, and encounters charitable organizations set up to support the poor, widows and orphans, people suffering as a result of the constant warfare Iraq has faced. The Sunni posits the question if it is legitimate to support those charitable organizations. The website responds that it is not legitimate, because they are Shiites, and it is not permissible to give strength to incorrect theology ('Aqeedah).


Similarly, we have seen those who will pray in a mosque that does not necessarily subscribe to their particular understanding of the faith, they will frequent that mosque on a regular basis, yet proclaim it is forbidden to give financial support to that institution.

We find this reasoning to be deeply flawed. Simple logic would dictate that if a place is good enough to pray in on a regular basis, and its facilities such as parking lot, restrooms and prayer halls are utilized, that even a token payment is necessary. 


(7) The emancipation of those help captive (Ar Riqaab)


Both Quranic verses cited above in #3 uses the term Riqaab, referring to those who are slaves. Slavery no longer exists as a legally and socially recognized institution, so how should we understand this today? How can the Quranic assertion to free Ar Riqaab be applied in today's world?

It is our view that it is best applied to pay for education, for minor children as well as university students in nations where fees are prohibitive or where students end up in exploitative, ribaa based loan programs.    


(8) Who are the Yataamaa (sing.Yateem)?

Obviously, this term is typically used to refer to children with no parents, i.e. orphans. It certainly has this application, yet in the West we find that there are -by and large- organizations created, both public and private, to take care of such children, there is the foster care system and adoptions available.

While the pros and cons of these initiatives can be disputed, we are looking at the meaning of the term "Yateem", which also appears in Arabic, Urdu and Bahasa Melayu. In Arabic, the basic meaning is "one who is alone, without support".


Therefore, it is our view that Zakaat should be given to adults and minors alike who find themselves, in the West, isolated, struggling both financially and spiritually, until more permanent solutions are found for such individuals.


(9) When to pay Zakaat?

Traditionally, the obligatory zakaat (called Zakaat al maal) was paid once a year, usually in the month of Ramadan. It is our view that a more efficient way to meet the obligation is to pay it more often. Those organizations, mosques and the like entrusted to distribute those funds would then be empowered to do much more in terms of supporting those in need within the community. 


The Qur'an gives us a clue when it says that the due is due on the day of harvest (Q 6:141).  Therefore, it is our suggestion that 2 .5 percent be given, for example, on a monthly basis, via automatic deduction from one's bank account, in much the same way that the majority of our bills are now paid. Another idea could be to simply take the cash once a month, the first Friday of the month, to the mosque and pay it then. A reminder can be made in one's cell phone calendar to make such a payment. One could simply pay with cash or a check.





This is more efficient, even in small amounts, because it allows the mosque or organization to be able to rely on those funds, rather than a random occurrence. Islam promotes stability in all aspects of life and religious practice.


(10) How to pay Zakaat?


The above deals with this question somewhat. The monthly suggestion is based off of the trend in today's financial culture, yet we are also aware of salaries usually being dispersed on a weekly or 15 day basis. There is also the self-employed, who may earn profit on a daily basis.


Applications (apps) are now widely available to help in calculating zakaat amounts. In addition, one need not pay it to an organization. If you know those who are struggling and fit the categories mentioned above, you can give directly to such persons. 


However one does it, it needs to be done, and done on a consistent basis.


         

Footnote

(1) In many mosques, including my own, funds meant for maintenance and those meant for the needy are kept separately, in keeping not only with Hanafi Fiqh but transparency as well. It is our argument above that Zakaat can be used for mosque maintenance as well. 


(2) On my first visit to Saudi Arabia I was struck by the fact that this Quranic text decorated most mosque entrances. Subsequent visits to the Kingdom have revealed that this is no longer the case, nonetheless it is a good reminder of our obligations, and perhaps should be adopted globally as a necessary text to decorate the mosques.