Muslim blogs

How Deep Is Your Love

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - 17 hours 25 min ago

Perhaps the greatest hit recording of the popular 1970’s disco era singing group, The Bee Gees, was “How Deep Is Your Love.” Among the lyrics of that song were the following touching words:

“I believe in you
You know the door to my very soul
You’re the light in my deepest, darkest hour
You’re my savior when I fall
And you may not think I care for you
When you know down inside that I really do
And it’s me you need to show
How deep is your love, how deep is your love
How deep is your love?”

The Australian crooners were likely pleading to an imaginary lover, however, their words could fittingly be directed towards the Divine, with a particular exception -”...and it’s me you need to show; how deep is your love?”
Our Lord does not need to show us anything, but, in reality, He is constantly showing us the depth of His love, if we choose to look. It is we who need to show Him the depth of our love. How deep is OUR love? Is it deep enough to keep us enthusiastically and energetically fasting and praying Tarawih after the initial excitement of Ramadan has worn off? Is it deep enough to make us proud to be Muslims when the actions of terrorists claiming Islam urge us to disassociate ourselves from this religion out of horror, shock or simple embarrassment? Is it deep enough to push us to vigorously question the arguments of the atheists before plunging ourselves into a “faith crisis?” Is it deep enough to urge us to turn off the television and pick up the Qur’an during this time when the Scripture is to be celebrated? Is it deep enough to move us beyond making excuses for what we should be doing as followers of the last Messenger, peace upon him, sent by Almighty God to humanity to living lives of pure devotion that leave no room for excuses? Is it deep enough to move us to tears when we reflect on the great opportunity for forgiveness and the other manifestations of divine grace extended to us by our Lord during Ramadan?

Brothers and sisters, you all know endless questions we could be asking along these lines. Hence, we will conclude with the question we should all be asking ourselves: How deep is your love?

Categories: Muslim blogs

Aboriginal Australia: Enduring Histories, Enduring Civilisations

The Platform - Tue, 30/06/2015 - 01:43

British Museum exhibition maps out the past of the Aboriginal people offering a glimpse into the history and future of Australia’s earliest inhabitants


There has been much research into the indigenous populations of Australia, especially of the mainland. The consensus is that the Aboriginal people are the descendants of one of the first waves of human migration out of Africa, and that after exploring Asia they eventually settled in Australia. Their relative isolation from other peoples since that time has resulted in a completely unique culture and way of life.

The British Museum’s Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation is the first exhibition of its kind in the UK. The result of a collaboration between the British Museum and the National Museum of Australia, the exhibition explores the fascinating history of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders through a collection of objects, some of which were collected as far back as 1770, when the first white colonisers arrived on the continent.

The exhibit loosely follows a mixture of themes and historical events and begins with the idea of country. This seems entirely appropriate as the whole philosophy and way of life of both Aboriginal populations and those from the Torres Strait is anchored firmly in the land. Indigenous Australians have been settled in their ‘countries’ (used to denote the area/tribe one is from) for so long that they have formed a deep connection with their environment that informs every aspect of their lives.

This relationship is one of the overriding themes of the objects on display. Animals and natural objects like serpents, stones and sticks are used to represent people and events, and the stories of the Aboriginal dreamtime and Torres Strait Tagai that are expressed in the exhibition’s artwork are powered by the forces of nature and the elements. Knowledge of the natural world extends to the practical, as well as the philosophical and spiritual realms of indigenous Australian culture. Local materials were used ingeniously to create works of art, weapons, and everyday items like baskets and mats, and, as with the native Americans, it was indigenous people and their knowledge of the land that kept early colonisers alive.

As the exhibition progresses from a more Aboriginal ‘dreamtime’ organisation of artwork and artefacts towards a more chronicled exploration of the colonisation of Australia by Europe, we are reminded of the imposition of a supposedly ‘ordered’ European standard upon indigenous cultures in Australia. Memoirs, illustrations and other documents on display do show that not all interaction between white settlers and the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders was negative, and that there were some who were not unfriendly towards the ‘natives’. However, the overwhelming sense is one of sadness at the oppression they experienced and of admiration of their attempts to fight that oppression. Colonisation brought much misery. Foreign diseases like smallpox and tuberculosis wiped out whole tribes, whole swathes of land were forcibly taken, and resistance was met with violence and brutality. The beginnings of Aboriginal activism date back as early as this period. While some took up armed resistance, there were many who sought peaceful ways of opposing encroachment onto their lands and way of life.

One of the most touching objects in the exhibition is a beautifully crafted emu skirt, which was sent by Aborigines in Victoria to the Princess of Wales in 1863 as a marriage gift. This was a tactical move by the Victoria community, who, among other Aboriginal groups, were using gifts and petitions to gain favour from influential outsiders in a bid to protect their land rights. The hope and good intention that must have guided the giving of this gift, and the labour and time that would have gone into fashioning it, is truly heartbreaking in light of the cruelty with which these peaceful appeals for cooperation were met.

As with many indigenous populations, the struggle of Australia’s original inhabitants is ongoing and the effects of colonisation on indigenous communities are still evident. As the exhibition details, the policy of forcible removal of Aboriginal children of mixed race from their families, which began in 1909, was only abolished in 1969 and Aboriginal groups are still embroiled in battles for land rights.

This British Museum exhibition provides a rare opportunity for those in the UK to explore the unique culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait island communities, the challenges they have faced, and the endurance that they have shown in the face of these struggles.  While the exhibition will not provide a comprehensive understanding of indigenous culture and history, it does offer  a fascinating insight into the complex and varied cultures of native Australia, the history of its people, and the attempts of contemporary indigenous communities to revive their culture and religion.

The BP exhibition Indigenous Australia: Enduring civilisation continues until 2 August 2015. 

Photo Credits: Bark painting of a barramundi. Western Arnhem Land, about 1961© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Pray For Pakistan

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Fri, 26/06/2015 - 17:43

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Let us not forget the people in those parts of Pakistan who are suffering from a horrific heat wave. Almost a thousand people have perished, along with almost three thousand earlier this summer in India, may Allah’s mercy envelop them all.

One of the characteristics of Ramadan is mercy. We pray that Allah bestows His mercy upon those who have perished during this disaster by resurrecting them in the highest heights of Paradise, for, as described by our Prophet, peace upon him, they are indeed martyrs in the true sense of the word. We pray that He brings the cooling winds and rains of relief to those still afflicted.

Perhaps the greatest manifestation of His mercy to those suffering from the soaring temperatures is the ability to remain patient and maintain a good opinion of their Lord. Sometimes, when situations arise beyond our control, the best thing we can do for those affected is to encourage them to be patient and to remind them that the reward of their perseverance is Paradise.

Thus, during the height of the persecution of his followers in Mecca, the Prophet, peace upon him, reminded Yasir and his family, which included Sumayya, the first martyr of Islam: “I encourage patience, O family of Yasir! Verily, your promised destination is Paradise.” Hence, during Ramadan, the month of mercy and patience, we encourage all of those suffering from any affliction to be patient, Paradise will be your reward. It is there that the true magnitude of divine mercy will be fully realized.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Will A Khalifa Solve The Muslims’ Problem?

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Mon, 22/06/2015 - 13:49

This is brief response to recent comments about the need for a Khalifa. Brothers and sisters, do not think, simplistically, that the mere existence of a Khalifa will solve the Muslims problems. The Khilafa (office of the Khalifa) was ended by the order of Kemel Ataturk in 1924. At that time, all of the problems currently affecting Muslims existed, some to a greater extent than they do today. For example, the existence of a Khalifa did not prevent the colonization and division of the Muslim world. A Khalifa did not prevent the rise and consolidation of western economic hegemony over Muslim lands. A Khalifa did not prevent the ideological colonization of Muslim minds. A Khalifa did not prevent the emergence of dominant secular elites in Muslim lands, epitomized by Ataturk himself. A Khalifa did not prevent the emergence of a gap in military technology between the Muslim and Western worlds that has culminated with the ability of the West to annihilate the Muslim world, through nuclear bombardment, were they to choose to do so (may Allah stay their hands). A Khalifa did not prevent the rise of a globalized materialistic worldview, one so deep that it even defines the way most Muslims currently view Islam. In other words, we had a Khalifa and it did nothing to prevent the emergence of these and many other problems currently impacting our Ummah.

The solution to these problems is a lot deeper than the mere existence or non-existence of a Khalifa. That solution begins with addressing the lack of knowledge, ethical commitment and spiritual emptiness that is affecting far too many Muslims. These are issues that must be addressed at the individual level before we can even begin to think that change at the level of political systems will have any meaningful or lasting impact. To put the proverbial cart before the horse, as they say, by demanding a Khilafa as a caricatured symbol of an Islamic state, but refusing to do the hard work needed to make our internal states Islamic, can become a form of escapism, which only deepens the crisis we find ourselves dealing with as an Ummah.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Will A Khalifa Solve The Muslims’ Problems

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Mon, 22/06/2015 - 04:07

Recent events in the Middle East have led many Muslims to believe that the restoration of the office of the Khalifa will be an almost magical solution to the many problems confronting the Muslim Ummah. We should avoid simplistically thinking that the mere existence of a Khalifa will solve the Muslims problems. The Khilafa (office of the Khalifa) was ended by the order of Kemel Ataturk in 1924. At that time, all of the problems currently affecting Muslims existed, some to a greater extent than they do today. For example, the existence of a Khalifa did not prevent the colonization and division of the Muslim world. A Khalifa did not prevent the rise and consolidation of western economic hegemony over Muslim lands. A Khalifa did not prevent the ideological colonization of Muslim minds. A Khalifa did not prevent the emergence of dominant secular elites in Muslim lands, epitomized by Ataturk himself (Sisi would be his present-day equivalent). A Khalifa did not prevent the emergence of a gap in military technology between the Muslim and Western worlds that has culminated with the ability of the West to annihilate the Muslim world, through nuclear bombardment, were they to choose to do so (may Allah stay their hands). A Khalifa did not prevent the rise of a globalized materialistic worldview, one so deep that it even defines the way most Muslims currently view Islam. In other words, we had a Khalifa and it did nothing to prevent the emergence of these and many other problems currently impacting our Ummah.

The solution to these problems is a lot deeper than the mere existence or non-existence of a Khalifa. That solution begins with addressing the lack of knowledge, ethical commitment and spiritual emptiness that is affecting far too many Muslims. These are issues that must be addressed at the individual level before we can even begin to think that change at the level of political systems will have any meaningful or lasting impact. To put the proverbial cart before the horse, as they say, by demanding a Khilafa as a caricatured symbol of an Islamic state, but refusing to do the hard work needed to make our internal states Islamic, can become a form of escapism, which only deepens the crisis we find ourselves dealing with as an Ummah.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Will A Khalifa Solve The Muslims Problems

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Mon, 22/06/2015 - 04:07

Recent events in the Middle East have led many Muslims to believe that the restoration of the office of the Khalifa will be an almost magical solution to the many problems confronting the Muslim Ummah. We should avoid simplistically thinking that the mere existence of a Khalifa will solve the Muslims problems. The Khilafa (office of the Khalifa) was ended by the order of Kemel Ataturk in 1924. At that time, all of the problems currently affecting Muslims existed, some to a greater extent than they do today. For example, the existence of a Khalifa did not prevent the colonization and division of the Muslim world. A Khalifa did not prevent the rise and consolidation of western economic hegemony over Muslim lands. A Khalifa did not prevent the ideological colonization of Muslim minds. A Khalifa did not prevent the emergence of dominant secular elites in Muslim lands, epitomized by Ataturk himself (Sisi would be his present-day equivalent). A Khalifa did not prevent the emergence of a gap in military technology between the Muslim and Western worlds that has culminated with the ability of the West to annihilate the Muslim world, through nuclear bombardment, were they to choose to do so (may Allah stay their hands). A Khalifa did not prevent the rise of a globalized materialistic worldview, one so deep that it even defines the way most Muslims currently view Islam. In other words, we had a Khalifa and it did nothing to prevent the emergence of these and many other problems currently impacting our Ummah.

The solution to these problems is a lot deeper than the mere existence or non-existence of a Khalifa. That solution begins with addressing the lack of knowledge, ethical commitment and spiritual emptiness that is affecting far too many Muslims. These are issues that must be addressed at the individual level before we can even begin to think that change at the level of political systems will have any meaningful or lasting impact. To put the proverbial cart before the horse, as they say, by demanding a Khilafa as a caricatured symbol of an Islamic state, but refusing to do the hard work needed to make our internal states Islamic, can become a form of escapism, which only deepens the crisis we find ourselves dealing with as an Ummah.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Q and A Time

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sat, 20/06/2015 - 15:11

Question: Why is it so hard to call the massacre of African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina a terrorist act?

Answer:  Because all terrorists are Muslim, and Dylann Root, the confessed murderer is not a Muslim.

Question: When obviously deranged Muslims commit acts of mass murder, why are they never declared mentally ill?

Answer: Because if you are mentally ill you cannot be motivated by an evil ideology.

Question: Why do the politicians who are so quick to shed tears over the massacre in Charleston,  which should move all of us to tears, so slow to initiate any legislation that would begin to address the root causes of the hatred and violence threatening to tear our society apart? Furthermore, why do they have dry eyes when it comes to the massacre of millions of people over the last few decades as a result of our foreign policy?

Answer: Because they have been bought by various lobbies who have a vested interest in perpetuating the status quo.

Question: When will this madness stop?

Answer: When we decide that every life, black or white, Muslim, Christian or Jewish, American or foreigner, rich or poor, is deserving to be honored, cherished and protected based on the nobility and sanctity afforded it by Almighty God.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Ramadan Spirit Can Heal Our Fractured World

The Platform - Fri, 19/06/2015 - 17:52

In a world increasingly troubled by greed and intolerance, the deep spiritual training of Ramadan can offer healing 


In this year’s month of Ramadan, which is only a few days away, Muslims in the northern hemisphere will have very long days of fasting. In London it is expected to be around 19 hours of voluntary ‘starvation’ from food, drink and physical intimacy. This annual month-long fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam aimed to create ‘God-consciousness’ (taqwa in Arabic) among believers.

Taqwa has a deeper meaning of incessant introspection of one’s inner thoughts and behaviours; that is, to always be on the religious ‘middle way’ and social ‘centre-ground’, away from extremism in all aspects. This 24/7 soul-searching has the potential to guide and propel believers towards living a morally upright life and developing key inner qualities, such as integrity and self-discipline as well as good manners. It has the ability to shape their lives and transform their character towards one with a positive drive for action, for the good of all.

Behind the disciplining of natural thirst, hunger and base desires, fasting prepares believers to contemplate the mystery of our life – our fleeting existence on earth, connection with God, relationships with fellow human beings and obligation to the well-being of our environment. This has a direct impact on our behaviour – humility, patience, fortitude, care and love. Ramadan teaches Muslims the ethos of sharing and caring, extra generosity, respect and giving preference to fellow human beings; these are the values that are greatly needed now, more than ever, in our unequal society and fractured world.

The physically challenging and spiritually intense fasting from dawn to dusk is thus a divine gift to Muslims so they can become harbingers of good to all mankind.

The question is how real is this now?

When it comes to the public expression of religious rituals, Muslims are one of the strongest among faith communities. Whether practicing or cultural, they have a special affinity for fasting during Ramadan; many thoroughly transform their attitude, behaviour and lifestyle for a whole month, in accordance to a Prophetic tradition that says ‘Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving food and drink.’

Ramadan also harvests a unique festivity in Muslim life. Many multiply their charity giving during Ramadan (British Muslims are known as the top charity givers). Recitation and memorisation of the Qur’an are commonplace and some strive to gain an understanding of the text and context.

Being true to Islam means being a good citizen and human being. In fact, the essence of Muslim morality is to be good to others, without being judgemental. It demands from them positive and ethical action, a unilateral undertaking to create a better society.

While other Islamic rituals are noticeable to people around, fasting is not; it represents a unique self-surrender to God. Fasting ‘burns out’ one’s desires and helps to conquer base instincts, such as self-gratification and arrogance. Apart from health and other benefits, it is the most effective way for one’s inner purification.

In the unprecedented commercialisation and sexualisation of our world today, it is easier to fatten our egos, nurture our greed, increase our impatience and succumb to intolerance and hatred of others. The easy accessibility of social media that shrinks the world can enslave us to ever-new technological gadgets. We have very little time to think, reflect and relax, still less time to spend with our near and dear ones – even the treasured children and beloved elders in our own families. We live fast-paced lives; we want to be in life’s fastest lane and beat others, yet we do not foresee the possibility of a potential crash.

Much of the modern way of life is eating away at our souls; we are involuntarily turning into human robots. We avoid discussing tough issues such as morality and ethics, lest we are seen as dogmatic or extremist by others. We have become too rights-based, but expect a higher level of responsibility from others – our elected representatives, governments, the police and public servants.

Fasting is thus an antidote to selfishness and the extreme materialism in our lives. It is a ‘shield against evil’ to survive and succeed in our highly asymmetric world. It reminds believers that real success is not just in our wealth, power and fame but in striving for a better world for all.

A society needs people who strongly feel a sense of duty to all people, a natural civic responsibility – not just for political and social unity but to address our human cravings for peace.

Every year Ramadan brings this unique opportunity to ‘train’ Muslims to find their inner selves, recharge their energy, revitalise their lives and work for common good. Alas, many among them have big contradictions in real life.

In these turbulent days of materialism and individual self gratification, with religious extremism and secular-irreligious backlash in our public life, we need a spiritual regeneration to make our world safer and more humane.

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Categories: Muslim blogs

European Islam: A Millennium of Tolerant Diversity

The Platform - Tue, 16/06/2015 - 16:45

Over a thousand years of European Islam brings into question increasingly narrow definitions of British and European values


In the medieval and early modern world, England and wider western Europe travelled extensively in Asia and the Middle East and traded keenly with the Islamic world. These encounters are frequently neglected in our readings of history; rarely if ever are they mentioned in English schoolrooms and beyond. Crucially, the Islamic world was not only those lands beyond European borders, but included European lands too. This reality stands as an important historical reminder at a time in which the rise of the far-right in the UK and on the continent threatens harmonious relations between the many cultures that form the rich tapestry of modern Europe. What emerges is the story of Europe’s long and meaningful relationship with Islam and, crucially, the history of European religious diversity and tolerance itself.

That faiths which distinctly form the European family include those beyond Christianity – including Islam and Judaism – is nothing new. In fact, European Islam is almost as old as Islam itself, first carving its identity in the medieval era with the founding of Muslim Spain in 711 that saw the conquest of the previous Visigothic Iberian Kingdom. This particular Islamic European Empire would endure for 700 years, melding faith and culture to form a uniquely Spanish identity.

Muslim Spain was particularly admired for its religious tolerance, being home to a plethora of European faiths including Judaism and minority sects of Christianity. Both Muslim and non-Muslim Spaniards were fluent in Spanish, Arabic and other languages, and contributed to a rich civilisation of intellectual and cultural advancement, as well as wealth. The empire was home to a truly cosmopolitan and flourishing society, producing generations of such intellectual greats as the Jewish philosopher and astronomer, Maimonides, and the Muslim mathematician and astronomer, Al-Zarqali, and creating some of the most breathtaking architecture in the world. Although the invasion by Catholic northern Spain would result in the overthrow of the Islamic Spanish Empire in 1492, Spanish Muslims established and retained an Islamic mark on Europe and the Iberian Peninsula that continues to manifest itself linguistically and culturally.

Even as Muslim Spain suffered conquest, eastern Europe witnessed the further consolidation of a European Islamic identity and presence by the founding of the Ottoman Empire in 1453. Although the Ottomans had been established on the European side of the Bosphorus strait since the late fourteenth century, the 1453 Conquest of Constantinople, led by Sultan Mehmed II, would extinguish the Byzantine Empire and render the city the new Ottoman capital, thus truly establishing the Ottomans in Europe.

Like the Spanish, the Ottomans too would be recognised in Europe for their tolerance of diverse European faiths, standing out as a cosmopolitan society among less tolerant western European states. They generally accepted Christians, Jews and those of others faiths, even welcoming refugees and outcasts from less tolerant regions of Christian Europe. The early modern English traveler, George Sandys, reported that the Ottomans “extend their charity to Christians and Jews as well as to them of their own religion” and Henry Blount, another early modern English traveller, observed “the Turke puts none to death for Religion…there is seldom any compulsion of conscience.” Jews who had suffered persecution previously under Byzantine rule found that Turkish Islamic rule granted them considerable autonomy.

Crucially, religious tolerance was not unique to Muslim Spaniards or Ottomans, but a quality of Medieval Islam practiced across the Islamic world that would largely continue into the early modern period. Indeed, historically it was these Muslim Europeans who introduced the conception of religious tolerance and acceptance of other faiths to a previously intolerant Europe, long before the European Enlightenment.

While debates rage about the place of Islam in Europe today, it is a relevant reminder to recall that Islam is European, and has been so longer than secularism or even Protestantism has. For example, while veiled Muslim women are questioned for dressing in a so-called foreign manner, it is a humbling reminder that the Islamic hijab has been a normative European attire since 711 – centuries before jeans, suits or ties came into fashion. And as some seek to question the hijab as both oppressive and a garment that forces religion into the public sphere, it is worth noting that while the Enlightenment may have served to separate church and state among Christian nations, Islamic Europe, in its historic recognition of multiple faith groups and their respective laws, has not suffered the same religious impositions historically experienced in western Europe, retaining the respect of individuality. It is for the individual to define their self-expression, European identity and what is or is not oppressive for them, not for hegemonic state or public figures.

As far as authentic European identity is concerned then, those targeting the diversity that make Europe the enriching home it is have some deep soul searching to do. If the question is who or what is authentically European, the answers will likely prove humbling. However, the actual question and impetus behind such contentions is probably not as innocent as simply identifying what denotes European values, or indeed British values, and what undermines those values. Rather, it is something infinitely more sinister: an intolerance of xenophobic roots. And that intolerance is far more backward, counter to Enlightenment values, and an enemy of modernity, than the practices and cultures of individual Europeans ever have been.

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Categories: Muslim blogs

The Future is Blue: Neoliberal Britain

The Platform - Tue, 16/06/2015 - 01:04

As Conservative ideology sweeps across Britain, the future sets to be fuelled by endless individualism and privatisation


I live in a blissful world where Green Party rules (thank you, Brighton). I have been raised by my staunchly left-wing family and I am self-employed in a job as a Swiss-army-knife theatrical creative, surrounded by left-wingers big and small – socialists, communists and centre-lefts who hold hands and look to the future in hope.

My bubble has definitely burst. The future is blue.

It’s been a cultural disaster in London, a place where I primarily work and otherwise avoid. Countless historic nightlife venues – indispensable spaces for performers, musicians and artists to share their love and work – have been closed across the capital in favour of luxury redevelopments and expansions of anything from train stations to supermarkets. This has included the closure of great London venues such as Cable, Jacks and SE1 (to make way for the expansion of London Bridge station), as well as places like Madame JoJo’s, Joiners Arms and Candy Bar. When the termination of Camden’s iconic LGBT pub, The Black Cap, was contested, protesters were told not to stand in the way of progress.

The Conservative ideology screams individual gain. Neoliberalism is an approach to economics and governmental structure which shifts control from the public sector to the private sector. It’s an ideology pioneered in the UK by Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph’s thinktank, Centre for Policy Studies (CPS). They pushed a belief system through government that has been so successfully entrenched that even Blair’s era of government touted it as the single reliable ideology in Westminster. The CPS believes in “regulation that does not inhibit the growth of business, taxes that do not act as a disincentive to work or to investment in the UK, and a leaner more effective state that avoids unnecessary intervention in the economy”. Broken down, this is the shrinking of the state through the selling off of public services.

This has proven to be a devastating move in the long-term, as seen in our current energy crisis – caused directly by Thatcher’s government which sold off Britain’s energy services – and the crippling expense of rail travel throughout the country. We live in the aftermath of giving private organisations an open invitation, through tax and regulation, to charge an everyday person for essential services. As a result, we see the vulnerable and the sick freezing to death in their beds, and the unemployed fighting in an increasingly shrinking job pool because they can’t afford the 10-minute train or bus ride to other interviews.

Yet it’s an ideology that is marketed to the wider public as the only option. Any other way of being, thinking or acting is dismissed by most of the media as too radical to work. Austerity and privatisation are spun as the only ways to recover our economy, which seems to actually be doing okay. We’re told that the provision of healthcare, houses and benefits is too expensive and we’re on our own now. This way of thinking breeds a politician that breaks eye contact with the public to glance over the shoulder at other options in the room. We have now welcomed in a government which has sold 31 school playing fields to Tesco and now plans to sell off “slacking” schools to private companies by re-branding them as academies. What was once a blocked Tory policy under the Coalition is now becoming a reality: prisons and other services are being run by G4S.

Conservative election strategist Lynton Crosby has a direct stake in the privatisation of the NHS. His side-gig is the lobbying firm Crosby Textor which advises private healthcare organisations on how to best exert pressure on our easily-manipulated government. The party have accepted staggering donations from Wonga, Care UK, McAlpine and JCB, all of whom have their eye on a different sector of government – DWP, Healthcare, Environment, Communities and Local Government. The Murdoch-owned empire News UK has held the biggest share in government over the past 25 years – towing the neoliberal opinion (so we don’t have to!). Some of these donors now sit in the House of Lords, because in a world under the Tories, you can literally buy anything.

Young people were the first group to get thrown under the austerity bus. In the past few years we have seen our education fees triple, career advice and mental health services being cut, and the financial minefield it takes for half of us to get to school if we didn’t live within walking distance. In turn, the media has gone on to vilify or ignore us for protesting, reporting only the arrests in the aftermath of the student protests of 2010, 2011 and 2014, as well as the fallout which led to the 2011 riots. Not one of these papers has stood in our defence.

If you needed any more proof that the current government continues to feel that young people and their vote is little more than “a joke”, please see David Cameron’s response to Ed Miliband’s interview with Russell Brand. Many of Brand’s followers, especially on his YouTube channel, fall into the 18-24 category, whereas Cameron’s party membership holds an average age of 63. Acknowledgement of the existence of young people seems to be a rarity in our ruling party.

As we watch David Cameron’s lively speeches from the Square Mile, pointing to the sea of men around him in shirts and suits, we hear him declare, “These are real people”. How very telling.

My response to last month’s election is one of dread and fear. But we need to mobilise in the aftermath and fight for our futures.

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Categories: Muslim blogs

Startling Sounds and Colourful Cultures at ‘The Isle is Full of Noises’

The Platform - Fri, 05/06/2015 - 00:15

An East London festival collaborates with local artists to explore the rich results of immigration


East London has for centuries been defined by immigration. Many new communities who migrated to the capital made East London their home. These include the Irish in the 17th century, eastern European Jews in the late-18th century and Bengalis in the 1960s. Each swathe of immigration left its unique imprint on the cultural and social landscape of East London.

‘The Isle is Full of Noises’, a recent festival held in East London exploring the cultural legacy of immigration, was in many ways perfectly placed there. The festival was created by the Grand Union Orchestra, founded over 30 years ago and made up of international musicians. This is the orchestra’s second festival in two years, exploring the musical legacy of immigration in Britain, after their well-received show ‘Undream’d Shores’ last year. In ‘The Isle is full of Noises’, the orchestra collaborated with first and second generation artists from migrant communities in East London.

I attended two very different performances at the festival: the ‘Bengal Tiger, Shanghai Dragon’ at Dalston’s Vortex Jazz Bar and ‘Take me to Rio’, a night curated by Somali British artist Kinsi Abdulleh with her company Numbi Arts at Stoke Newington’s Old Church. The festival attempted to create original work exploring the theme of immigration beyond the headline grabbing sensationalism in the media.

I spoke to Kinsi about her thoughts on representation in the arts in Britain. “There’s the political, and representation in real terms”, she differentiated. “I would like to see ethnic minorities represented in everyday life as teachers, in the police, working in banks”. This as opposed to situations where the ethnic background is constantly foregrounded. On the importance of the arts she added, “[we need to] show that we’re here and let our voice be heard” as it “allows us to look at different layers of who we are”. This, she feels, will bridge the diaspora’s experience of two worlds and create wider understanding across communities.

The first event I went to, ‘Bengal Tiger, Shanghai Dragon’, was described in the festival programme as a collaboration between Grand Union jazz soloists and Chinese, Indian and Bengali virtuoso musicians. However, despite this description it was difficult to comprehend what this musical fusion would sound like. The chattering and laughter at the Vortex Jazz bar was silenced when the distinctive sound of the South Indian violin played in the opening song of the night – a South Indian folk song. What seemed a foreign courtship of jazz and South Indian melodies met in a dance of rhythmic harmony.

This was truly an evening of music without borders where the electrifying rhythms of jazz provided the free and easy musical foundations to adapt and merge with the ‘idiosyncratic melodic scales of China and India’. The Chinese Song of Four Seasons weaved into the jazz melodies and blended seamlessly into the Indian Mishra Kafi (a slow melody with a lead string instrument that intertwined with the Chinese harp).

The pinnacles of the night for me were at two points: firstly, around midway through the evening, when a Chinese folk song with the distinct rhythmic similarities to Jamaican reggae was played. The audience were astounded by the fusion but Tony Haynes, founding member and director of Grand Union Orchestra, informed the audience that although the intersectionality of the music was undeniable, this was coincidental as the folk song was several hundred years old. The second awe-inspiring moment, which crept in subtly towards the end of the night, was the playful musical duel between the saxophone and South Indian violin in one of the few Bangladeshi folk songs played.

The second performance, ‘Take me to Rio’, offered a completely different experience for the audience which is not easy to sum up. The performance took place in the intimate space of Stoke Newington Old Church, a 16th century church heavily bombed in WW2. The title of the show should not be confused with the Brazilian city but rather ‘rhiyo’, meaning ‘dream’ in Somali, and as a nod to the Somali Café Rio, opened not long after the end of the WW2 in the 1950s and ’60s in East London.

There was nothing conventional or predictable about this show; it was a work in progress collage of dance, spoken word poetry, storytelling and music. The show started with a neat succession of performances: an acoustic piece by a sweet voiced Laura Marling-like singer, a spoken word performance ruminating on postcolonial ghosts with drums beating, and a dancing silhouette of Ethiopian dancer Yenenesh Nigusse. Then Somali rhythms filled this very English space of the Old Church; there was an ambitious and well-executed bilingual duet performed in Somali and English, and a Somali singer, accompanied by ladies who sat on the side of the stage, sang Somali songs with a loud and resonant voice while encouraging the audience to dance and clap.

The show progressed into a jam session with Kinsi telling stories of Café Rio and the Somali sailors who frequented it. Amina, a Somali artist, told stories of her struggles in pursuing art in a community where it was not thought the proper thing for a woman to do. The show unravelled into an end of sorts with the audience invited onto the stage to dance or play an instrument.

‘Take me to Rio’ was not a clash of cultures but rather a coming together of cultures living side-by-side and cohabiting in the psyche of those descendants of migrants. Both nights were uplifting and truly enjoyable; the jazz concert brought to the east end the distinct cultural sounds of China and South India and ‘Take me to Rio’ allowed the often unheard experiences, sights and sounds of Somalia come to life. The festival tapped into the rich cultural heritage not only of London but Britain, producing work of experimental music at its finest and explorative theatre at its most exciting – when completely unpredictable.

Photo Credits: Grand Union Orchestra

Categories: Muslim blogs

2014 Year in Review

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 01/01/2015 - 14:00

The following is a list of top 30 articles that were found to resonate most strongly with our readers this past year. It covers a full range of struggles and joys we have faced as a community and regularly bridges orthodox and contemporary Islamic knowledge. Articles covered Glimpses of Marital Bliss, inspired us about the Names of Allah, spoke to the unique struggles of our Black and Hispanic brothers and sisters, and stood up against the siege in Gaza. They discussed the role of women preachers, American holidays, how to overcome addictions and more. See the full list below.

There were many articles of significant impact that are not on the list for brevity’s sake. What was your favorite? Leave a comment to let us know!


IN THE MEDIA Your Facebook Posts, and why The Evil Eye is Real by Ubah

On social media, we are increasingly putting ourselves out there in ways that may promote envious feelings in others. Is it 100% our fault? Of course not. But here are a few important things to keep in mind.

Films Today – and How the Muslims Killed Dracula by Shibli Zaman

We often bemoan the negative portrayal of Muslims in film and television, including a recent movie that gets the story of Dracula wrong. But who is to blame when we have absolutely no presence in popular media?

An Imam’s Review of the Movie Noah by John (Yahya) Ederer

Potential benefits in watching this movie – and why it would be hugely advantageous to Islam and the Muslims if we made high-quality, well-funded, scripturally proper, and well-acted depictions of the prophets and our great history. Also see: Top Documentaries you Should Watch by Junaid Amjad

Know Thyself: Opinion on Hajj Selfies by Suhaib Webb

How to understand rulings on photography, and why Hajj selfies can be a form of remembrance of good: worshiping Allah alone, visiting sacred places, love and fraternity, and acts of worship.


WOMEN Female Scholars and Preachers in Islam by John (Yahya) Ederer

The beauty of Islam among religions is in its universality, its compatibility with science, and its versatile legal tradition which remains relevant across times and cultures. Here’s why the majority of our scholars throughout history have said that there’s nothing wrong with listening to a woman’s speech unless it is flirtatious or provocative.

10 Ways to be a Single and Content Muslimah by Ubah

Tip #2: Let Go of Entitlement. Remember that you are not owed a relationship. Just like the air you breathe or your eyesight and hearing, a decent and compatible spouse is a blessing from Allah (swt).

Is it Allowed for Women to Teach Mixed Gatherings? by John (Yahya) Ederer

A detailed breakdown of why there is nothing in the scripture that would prohibit a modest woman of knowledge and character to preach to the masses.


CULTURE, CUSTOMS, & FIQH Man’s Best Friend?: The Islamic View on Dogs by John (Yahya) Ederer

Reverts may have had a special relationship with their dogs growing up, or still do at the time of reversion. Sadly, the attitude of many Muslims towards dogs often alienates people from Islam. A closer examination of the issue debunks common misunderstandings.

American Customs – What is Permissible? by John (Yahya) Ederer

Understanding which American customs are permissible or not, and why, including birthdays,  anniversaries, halloween, and more. A practical, most highly read article every year it is posted.

Also see: Caught with My Foot in the Sink… Reasons to Be Proud of Wudu by Abdul Sattar Ahmed and Is the West Inherently Un-Islamic? by John Ederer

Can a Non-Muslim Person be in the Masjid? by Suhaib Webb

The stronger opinion on the issue of people of other faiths being refused entry into mosques is Abu Hanifa’s that this only applies for the Hajj and ‘Umra (meaning they are not allowed to make Hajj or Umra). Here’s why.

Is Saying Jummah Mubarak an Innovation? by Suhaib Webb

Custom is so important that it forms one of the five major axioms of Islamic law. Based on this important principle and the large number of general texts that encourage us to speak well and be gentle to others, it is a stretch to say that such a greeting in an innovation.

Can Muslims be Friends with Non-Muslims? by John (Yahya) Ederer

Qur’anic verses should not be mis-understood to prohibit us from making friends with our neighbors, co-workers, or schoolmates. On the topic of Muslim interactions with other faiths including Christians, see also: A Holiday Message from the Life of Omar by Shibli Zaman


PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps for Overcoming Addictions or Sin by Reehab Ramadan

Remember the phrase “I am only the next 24 hours.” By the time the next 24 hours have been reached, hopefully our strength will have been regained, if not then we push ourselves a little further—24 more hours.

10 Things that Shouldn’t Happen Once you Become a More Practicing Muslim by Ubah

There a few key things that we must all guard against as a result of turning a new leaf or becoming a more practicing (or new) Muslim – such as becoming narrow minded, becoming isolated, or rebelling against family.

Beyond Romantic Love – Here’s What’s Missing by Reehab Ramadan

Beyond romantic or sexualized love, where’s the love that would allow me to go out of my way to buy my brother or sister in humanity a gift to bring a smile to his or her face during times of hardship?

How Two Words Changed this Man’s Life by Maryam Amirebrahimi

He had never prayed two rak`ah (units of prayer) in his adult life. Two words he heard at his first Friday prayer penetrated through his heart and embraced his soul. The true story of a man’s path back to Allah (swt).


QUR’AN & PRAYER Building Habits as Worship: A Year Spent Quantifying Devotion by Alex Arrick (Guest Author)

How to use free apps for the iPhone or Android such as LIFT to make a regular, daily habit for memorizing the Qur’an. Also see: Stay Focused by PRAYing by  by Marwa Abdalla

Is the Qur’an a Violent Text or is Your Reading a Tad Off? by Joe Bradford

A lack of context and qualifications lead to blatant misinterpretation. The shallow misinterpretations of religious and irreligious extremists almost always lead to one thing: the escalation of conflict and the promotion of violence, instead of leading to dialogue and mutual understanding.

Too Busy for Quran? Check these 3 Tips to Get Rolling by Mansoor Ahmed

Start off by making time after Fajr prayer or after `Isha’ (night) prayer, the two times you are most likely to be at home. Once it is a part of your lifestyle, it becomes easy to sustain. Remember, try a little by little, but with consistency!


OVERCOMING HARDSHIP Living with Depression and Islam by Anonymous (Guest Author)

Every morning I wake up and wish I hadn’t.  I want anyone suffering like me to know that there are others that are observant, struggling Muslims and that they feel the way you are feeling. Also see: How to Overcome Sadness and be Happy by Taheerah Alam

With Hardship Comes Ease: Embracing Discomfort by Ismail Shaikh (Guest Author)

A key lesson learned after a very stressful and long job search experience:  there is growth in discomfort, uncertainty and unpredictability. Why and how we should embrace discomfort.

Think You’ve Failed? Think Again by Jinan Bistaki

Some people always bounce back, but others always seem to crash down. Research has shown that the difference is the ability to see that a closed door somewhere means, at the very least, an open window somewhere else.


CURRENT EVENTS Erdoğan, AKP and their victory in the Turkish Municipal Elections by Shibli Zaman

Erdoğan, the world is watching you; but that pales to the fact that, above all, the Lord of the Worlds is watching you even closer. You can be the greatest leader the Muslim world has seen since the Ottomans whom you repeatedly invoke, or you can fall just like them when they lost their way. Which end of their history you resemble is up to you.


KNOWING GOD, THE MOST MERCIFUL When was the Last Time you Witnessed a Miracle? Al-Hayyiy by Jinan Bistaki

Whenever making du`a’ (supplication), have hope. Remember that “Verily your Lord is Generous (Kareem) and Hayyiy. If His servant raises his hands to Him (in supplication) He becomes shy to return them empty,” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).

He has Your Back: Al-Wali by Jinan Bistaki

Allah is named Al-Wali, meaning the Protective Friend of all those who believe. It means that He has your back. He could have just been a ‘friend,’ but some friends are flaky. A protective friend will be there for you through hardship and bad times.

Does God Exist? by Salman Khan (Guest Author)

Every person must think for him/herself and find Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) in his/her own way. Don’t choose a life of unhappiness because you choose to be blind or perform our religion physically without spirituality.

Love is In Giving: Al Wadud by Jinan Bistaki

Allah is named Al-Wadud. When you are able to point out behavior that shows love, this kind of love is not called hubb in Arabic, because hubb is simply having a feeling of love. This kind of love – one that is apparent and shown – is called wud.


LOVE,  RELATIONSHIPS, & GENDER RELATIONS 10 Guidelines for Gender Relations in Islam by Muslema Purmul and Maryam Amirebrahimi

The code of inter-gender relations comes from a noble kind of love. It is generous in giving, while conscious of Allah. It is full of haya.’ Haya’ is sometimes described as ‘shyness’, but misunderstood to mean a desire to hide, to be nervous, overly self-conscious, and unable to communicate.

When you Marry for Four Reasons – Don’t Forget Your Reason by Karim Serageldin (Guest Author)

As a practicing psychologist, I was once consulted by a brother in Turkey in need of immediate relationship advice. In summary, the brother’s “emergency” was that he had met a nice religious girl from a good family but was not attracted to her at all. Here was my advice.

The Goodbye Hug by Maryam Amirebrahimi

Many of us only hear destructive marriage stories within the Muslim community. However, the reality is that there are so many incredible, beautiful, passionate, fulfilling and compassionate love stories in the Muslim community. Here’s one.  A number of the articles from “Glimpses of Marital Bliss” Series were also among the most-read this year. See also: A Love Letter, Will They Say Yes, and He Prayed instead of Fought

Categories: Muslim blogs

Ya Sabr Ayub

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 24/12/2014 - 14:00

Photo: Tom Gill

I have been living in the Arab world now for almost 3 years. There are some really taxing things here, tiring and frustrating to say the least. But there are also some exciting and uplifting things that keep me going throughout the days. And then, there are the hidden gems. The things that can be overlooked without a second thought, yet if they are given a second thought, they require a third and a fourth thought for one to even begin to benefit from their beauty. It is those things that get me time and time again. It is those things that take my breath away and leave me thankful for being placed in the position that I am in, living in a place where I do not always fit in or feel at home. One of those hidden gems can be found in the phrases that are oft repeated, with little thought, on a daily basis. There are many that could be spoken about, like the wishing of “na’eeman” [lit. blessings] when a person takes a shower or cuts their hair. Like the prayer of “kulli sana wanti tayyiba” [“may every year find you well”] on any happy occasion that occurs yearly. But my favorite has to be one that carries behind it a great story of a great man whom I recently read about, and after reading his story in the tafseer [exegesis] of Ibn Ajeeba, the oft repeated phrase “Ya sabr Ayub” [“O patience of Job”] has never been the same again.

It would be best, before diving into the gem-filled story, to give some information on when this phrase, in the Arab culture, is used. It is used mainly in two situations: 1) When a person is going through something very taxing and is wishing for an intense amount of patience to be poured into them, as a prayer and 2) when a person witnesses someone being ever so patient and is impressed by their firmness upon this patience. Naturally, after hearing that, one would assume that this story is about to be really great and I assure you: it is. The key here, however, is that something very important is done while reading this story: don’t just read it as a work of fiction or non-fiction. Read it as if this story is about you. Read this story as if you have temporarily stepped out of your own shoes, and into those of this amazing man, Ayub, and try to actually feel what he must have been feeling. And with that, all that is left is for me to begin:

Ayub, `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), was a great man and Prophet of the Lord many years ago. He was blessed with many great gifts that surpassed what others around him had been given. He had money in amounts (and some say types!) that surpassed those that were around him. He was given great amounts of land as well as many animals to graze on this land, and these animals varied in types and were of very high quality. He was kind and giving to the poor, he used to care for the widows and the orphans, he would be generous with his guests and accept any traveler into his home. He did all of this as an act of gratitude to God for giving him so much. This is something very unique to note, as for when a person is given such great wealth and great gifts, Satan then tries very hard to get him to be greedy and ungrateful. Satan tries very hard to get the person with such wealth to belittle that which has been given to him, or to become arrogant and not spread the wealth to those who may be in need of it. Satan however, was unsuccessful at whispering into the heart of Ayub (as) with regards to all that he had been given.

It is said that Satan heard the angels in the heaven praising Ayub (as) for all that he had done and was doing. Upon hearing this, Satan felt a twinge of envy (hasad) towards the state of Ayub. Satan, being one who acts upon these twinges of envy immediately, went and pleaded to the Lord of the heavens about his state. He complained to God: “O my Lord, you have blessed your servant Ayub, so he had thanked you. You have removed from him any affliction so he has glorified you. You haven’t allowed any hardship to befall him, but if you did then surely he would be an ungrateful servant.” This was a plea from Satan, and at the same time he was taking a shot at the honor and actual piety of Ayub. He asked God to just give him the ability to afflict Ayub with some hardship, and he told God that He would see the gratefulness of Ayub dwindle away. God then allowed Satan to have control over the wealth of Ayub, and nothing else—allowing him to afflict Ayub. At this Satan was joyous. He called together his troops of jinn and told them the “great” news. One of his troops said that he had been given the power to send storms of fire upon anything, and if Satan gave him permission, he could burn all of the wealth of Ayub by burning his lands. Satan agreed, and sat back and watched his troops burn down the wealth of Ayub. Once this was all over, Satan came in the form of one of the service hands of Ayub, dramatically recalling all that happened to the wealth of this Prophet. Telling him that God had allowed for his wealth to be destroyed. Ayub (as), with complete grace and gratefulness, informed Satan in the form of man, that God was the original giver of this wealth, so God could do as he pleased with this wealth.

Satan now was hit, not only with pangs of envy but also, pangs of despair. He had been sure that had this man who was so blessed, had some of his blessings taken away, he would break. He would not be such a great servant. But Satan, unlike many of us humans, does not give up that easily. When he has a goal, he does everything he possibly can to get to that goal. He went back to his troops for a brainstorming session. One of his troops had another idea. He informed Satan that he had been given the ability to blow harsh winds that would kill any animal that heard this wind. Satan jumped on that idea and sent him to kill all of the living animals that were left on the burnt grounds of Ayub. After all of his glorious animals had been killed, Satan appeared to Ayub as a different man, again telling him of what happened. He informed Ayub that the Lord that he had been worshipping for so long had killed all of his animals. Again, Ayub (as) with pure patience and love for God, replied that God was the one who had given him the animals in the first place, so He could do as He pleased with them.

Satan was hit again with deeper despair, feeling that he was certainly losing his grip on the battle that he had been fighting. Satan returned to God, again with another plea. He argued that God had blessed Ayub with his own health and the health of his children (some say he had 10 children), and this is why Ayub was still holding on, gratefully. Satan assured that if this was removed then Ayub would not remain a grateful servant and that his gratefulness was not based on Love but of contentment with that which had been given. Satan then requested to be given the ability to take away the children of Ayub to prove his point. God granted him this permission. Satan returned to the home of Ayub, and destroyed the home of Ayub, killing all of his children. He then appeared to Ayub as the teacher of his children, limping, as if he too had been hurt in the destruction. He then recalled for Ayub the detailed deaths that his children had faced, making certain to put emphasis on the pain that they may have felt. Ayub was instantly struck with sadness for his children. He fell to the floor and began to pour dirt over his head. Satan rejoiced, finally he had made Ayub be ungrateful. But after an instant, Ayub (as) realized what he was doing and looked up to his Lord, asking for forgiveness and returning to his state of patience. God instantly forgave Him, as He is The All-Forgiving.

Satan was furious. He felt that he had finally won, that finally this man that seemed to be over flowing with patience and gratitude had finally cracked. And before he could even rejoice, Ayub (as) returned to His Lord and His repentance was accepted. His sin was erased. (Take note at the Mercy of God. Take note at the persistence of Satan). Satan went back to God, again despairing and willing to try anything. He told God that the only reason that Ayub was so thankful and so obedient was that he had the most important thing, his health. Satan pleaded with God to allow him to take that away, to prove once and for all that Ayub was not, in his essence, an obedient servant. God allowed him this, but this time with some very important conditions. God allowed him to have rule over his body and health, but he was unable to touch two things: His tongue and his heart.

Satan descended down to Ayub and found him in prostration. He blew through his nose a wind that touched his entire body. It caused him to itch, with no relief. He itched his entire body with his hands, then with tools. The tools were so rough they tore at his skin, but the itch was so strong that he could not stop. His wounds began to fester, to be infected, and to even attract bugs. All of the people in his community who loved him so much began to look down upon him, unable to stand to see his appearance nor smell the stench of infected wounds. They kicked him out, ignoring all the good that he had done for him before. Everyone left him. Everyone. Except for one person, his wife. She cared for him in the trash dump that he had been cast to. She took care of him, and was his companion as much as she could. After much time she began to plead with him to ask God for help. I mean why not, he was a prophet. He in turn asked her how long they had lived in wealth. Her reply was 8 years. He then followed up with asking how long he had lived in sickness; she informed him that it was seven. His reply was that he was too embarrassed to ask God to heal him, if the time of ease overcame the time of hardship.

Satan, in his final attempt, appeared to Ayub’s wife. He told her that he (Satan) was the Lord of the world and that the reason why her husband, Ayub, had been afflicted for so long, was that he turned away from the lord of the earth and looked only towards the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth. He told her that if Ayub were to “simply” make one prostration to Satan, then he could be restored to health and wealth. Ayub’s wife returned to her husband and told him what had happened. Ayub was furious. He knew exactly who she had spoken to, and was angry that his wife had spoken to Satan and that she had tried to act upon his words. She couldn’t take his anger, and she left him as well. Now Ayub was completely alone, with reference to human companions. He turned to God and made the famous du’a that we hear time and time again “Lord hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.” Ibn Ajeeba here says something interesting. He says that the hardship that Ayub was speaking about was that Satan had conspired against him to get him to prostrate to him (Satan). (Why is this the hardship? Because it is said that if we understood the true essence of sickness, we would know that it is an immense gift from God.) God immediately responded to the plea of Ayub and instructed him to go to the nearest water source and bathe in it. He did so, and was returned to his complete health and beauty. His wife, shortly after, returned looking for her husband. She found a handsome healthy man in his place. She asked him if he has seen a man that was rotting and in pain. He laughed and said, “It is me, I am Ayub.” She wouldn’t have believed him except that she recognized his laugh.

Ayub—not an angel, a man. He (as) went through an immense trial, and looked only at God. A man that God used to lay down a map for us to follow when we too are in pain, in sickness and in distress. Of course we don’t always react this way. Of course it may be harder at times to let go and let God. But what we can do is look to him as an ultimate goal. We can use his name when asking God for patience. We can strive to be as close to Him as God will allow. And whenever we are in hardship, we can know that we have someone to relate to. We have someone who went through pain and anguish, and we can see that even in the worst of situations, God can instantly redeem us and make everything more than perfect. May God grant us the Sabr of Ayub in the smallest of matters and the largest of matters.

“Lord, hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.”

Categories: Muslim blogs

Our Personal Hells

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 23/12/2014 - 19:20

 “Sins need to be eradicated through the internal fire of regret in this life or the fire of hell in the hereafter.” – Ibn Al-Qayyim

Photo: Pankaj Kaushal

Years ago I came across this quote. I still can’t get over how true it is.

Muslim youth living in all corners of the world face similar struggles in our day-to-day lives. We strive to survive while being surrounded by the societal (and often times, cultural and familial) promotion, acceptance, and idealization of things that contradict the tenants of our faith: pride, lust, greed, extramarital relationships, alcohol/drugs, misogyny – just to name a few.

We are also surrounded by social practices and traditions that can also be pretty un-Islamic: issues such as racism, forced marriages, the withholding of education for females, and tribalism unfortunately exist on grand scales in Muslim societies all over the world.

As Muslim youth, most of us living in the diaspora, we have much to deal with. We struggle to maintain our Muslim identities while at the same time balancing our racial, national, and individual identities as well.

Sometimes it seems that everywhere we look, we are being called to sin. And inevitably, we answer that call.

We fall so many times only to fall again. We try so very hard to create our own, personal spiritual bubbles where Islam is the driving force in our lives, only to have it burst by things like temptation, other Muslims’ biases and discrimination, our own families making it hard for us, stress, our school lives, etc.

And slowly, as our hearts erode, a peculiar type of anxiety eats away at our souls and comes with a little voice in our heads. The voice tells us time and time again that what we are doing is haram (impermissible) or sinful, but we ignore it as we seek to numb the pain—a pain that has surfaced as a result of never being good enough. Never being “Muslim” enough, or “religious” enough, or “Western” enough.

How do we turn our faces from sin when it is everywhere? When it is adulated, respected, and upheld by our very own societies as a noble thing? We become confused – the bad becomes good. We go against our natural instincts. Eventually we become submerged in our own little hells, metaphorical places where internal suffering, sadness, disappointment, and self-loathing manifest. The “internal fire of regret”, as Ibn Al-Qayyim radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) puts it.

This quote teaches me that through one way or another, we will be purified of our sins. It’s up to us whether or not we seek purification in this life (through repentance) or we wait until the next (through the Fire).

I know. We’ve fallen so many times. We’re hurt, sore, and bruised. We are ashamed of our actions, and may even deem ourselves unworthy of seeking repentance. But something must quell that fire in our hearts. Something must quench our desires to be loved and accepted by the One whose love and acceptance is truly the only one that matters at the end of the day.

Say it – Astaghfirullah (I seek forgiveness from God).

I know; it hurts. But it certainly cannot hurt more than what is to come if we let our sins remain in our hearts, our minds, our spirits.

We are more than the sins that we commit. Don’t let the devil fool you. Don’t let those people who are a negative influence in your lives or those who sin openly and proudly fool you either.

We may fall a thousand times, but as long as we try to get back up, there is always hope.

And Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) knows best.


Categories: Muslim blogs

To Whom Belongs Sovereignty? Al-Qahhar

Imam Suhaib Webb - Mon, 22/12/2014 - 14:00

Names of Allah Series:  Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIXPart XXX |Part XXXI | Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI | Part XXXVII | Part XXXVIII

Photo: Joel Tonyan

In this journey through Allah’s Names, we have learned about both His attributes of Beauty and of Majesty. The intention is to inspire fear, hope and, ultimately, love. If we misunderstand Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), we may not see the wisdom behind the things that happen in the world or in our personal lives. We might not understand how Allah (swt) fits into our life. We may also find it difficult to love Him, because how can you love someone – deeply love someone – you do not know?

Thus it is hoped that these Names have increased our knowledge of our Creator, and have made apparent how Allah (swt) is with us in every moment.

Today’s Name should inspire in us ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’. These words are sometimes both translated as ‘fear’, thus removing the important distinctions between the two words. In the ‘Sweetness of Prayer’ series, we explained the difference between the different types of fear:

‘Khawf’ is to flee from the thing that you fear, and requires no knowledge of that which is feared. You can be afraid, or have ‘khawf’, of the dark. ‘Khashya’, on the other hand, is fear with knowledge. The more a servant has knowledge of his Lord, the more ‘khawf’ turns to ‘khashya’. As Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:

“Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge” (35:28).

‘Hayba’ is fear associated with respect, awe and glorification. You could, for example, fear fire. But the reason for your fear is that the fire may harm you, so fire earns no ‘hayba’; you do not glorify it. However, you could have a certain ‘hayba’ of your father; you could be afraid to do something wrong in front of him, but that fear is out of respect.

Al-Qahhar: The Dominator

Allah’s Name al-Qahhar comes from the Arabic root qaf-haa-ra (ق-ه-ر). It means ‘to dominate over’ or ‘to subdue from above’. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an in Surat al-An`aam;

“And He is the subjugator (al-qaahiru) over His servants. And He is the Wise (al-Hakeem), the Acquainted [with all] (al-Khabeer). (6:18)

Someone with this attribute might be considered a tyrant, which is why Allah (swt) tells us that this attribute is possessed by the One who is also the Most Wise and the One who is Best Acquainted with everything. This reference is also for the benefit of those who doubt this attribute, and might ask “why has Allah not overpowered the tyrants of today, of whom there are many?” Allah (swt) is reminding us that there is ultimate wisdom in whom He chooses to subdue at any point in time. This is where our understanding of the holistic nature of Allah’s Names should come in: we spoke before about how Allah (swt) is Forbearing and Patient, and He gives people – even tyrants – the opportunity to turn back.

Thus we see in the Qur’an that Allah sends Moses and Aaron `alayhimaa as-salaam (may Allah’s peace be upon them both) to Pharaoh – and calling Pharaoh ‘oppressive’ would be an understatement! – telling them initially to speak to him gently. Pharaoh rejects them. Moses then shows him proof of his prophethood. Pharaoh rejects him again, insisting on enslaving the Children of Israel. Finally, Allah (swt) overpowers him by drowning him, using someone from the very people that Pharaoh was oppressing, who grew up in his own house. Such is the way of al-Qahhar, who manifests His power by subduing tyrants through the objects of their tyranny.

This is why Imam al-Ghazali describes al-Qahhar in this way: “The Dominator is the one who breaks the back of the powerful among His enemies… Indeed there is no existing thing that is not subject to the domination of His power, and powerlessness in His grasp. That is all.”
Therefore, when we look at events today and wonder “where is al-Qahhar?”, we should remember the story of Moses. Remember that Moses prevailed. Remember that Pharaoh was overpowered.

Our role is to strive against this oppression, knowing that ultimately this is what we will be asked about, and everything is subjected to the Will of Allah (swt). Indeed, so many tyrannical powers eventually come crashing down, bowing to the will of al-Qahhar. Unfortunately, we may not attribute it to Him, but as Allah (swt) tells us:

“The Day they come forth nothing concerning them will be concealed from Allah. To whom belongs [all] sovereignty this Day? To Allah, the One, the Prevailing (al-Qahhar).” (40:16)

On that Day, all will be apparent. All those who oppressed, in both seemingly small and big ways, will be before Allah, al-Qahhar. Then, there will be no ambiguity.
Living with these Names

1 – Balance fear and hope

Today’s Name might cause us to be afraid. This is not a subject we like to talk to about, because it is so much more reassuring to focus on those attributes that enable us to relax. But remembering that Allah (swt) has attributes of Majesty should instill in us the ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’ described earlier. Moreover, Allah’s Names are to be looked at holistically. He is al-Qahhar and He is also al-Lateef (the subtle, the most kind).

2 – Dominate your lower desires
In previous articles, we talked about how we should emulate the attributes of Beauty. But what about attributes of Majesty? How do we apply them? Al-Ghazali counseled: “The dominator amongst men is the one who subdues his enemies. The greatest enemy of man is his soul, which is within him. This soul is more of an enemy to him than Satan, of whose enmity he is wary. Whoever conquers his passions conquers Satan, since Satan lures him to ruin by means of his passions.”

3 – Use that fear to stop at least one sin

To know that Allah is al-Qahhar is to burn the desire for sin in the heart. Because Allah (swt) is the Dominator, we should fear that perhaps al-Qahhar, al-Mumeet (the Life-Taker) might take our soul as we are committing the sin. This should alert us that despite it seeming as though we are being allowed to oppress our souls, we may still face the fate mentioned in this verse:

“So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of every [good] thing until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair.” (Qur’an, 6:44)

These people used the gifts of Allah (swt) in the opposite manner to that for which they were intended, and then they were seized. In another chapter, Allah (swt) describes to us the people of the garden, who took an oath that they would reap all of their fruits and leave nothing for the poor. Allah (swt) caused their garden to be completely burned to the ground, but the owners of that garden understood the lesson. They willed something, but Allah (swt) overpowered their will, and so they turned back to Him.

Hence, this fear should not paralyze us from doing good, but it should paralyze us from doing bad. We should try to choose at least one thing – like backbiting or lying – and do our best to use this Name to help us stop it.

4 – Do not oppress others

The surest way to earn the wrath of al-Qahhar is to oppress others. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him] (fa laa taqhar)” (93:9). The word ‘taqhar’ comes from the same root of the name al-Qahhar. We should understand that oppression is not simply for unjust leaders or cruel human traffickers. We may also be oppressing others in more subtle ways, and thus we should be diligent to avoid this.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Lessons from the Prophet Musa

Imam Suhaib Webb - Fri, 19/12/2014 - 14:00

Imam Suhaib Webb talks about lessons from the life of Prophet Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him).

Categories: Muslim blogs

How Muslim Theologians Saved Islamic Science

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 18/12/2014 - 14:00

Photo: Alby Headrick

By Macksood A. Aftab

The conflict between science and religion has posed a serious threat to religious authority in the contemporary era. Many advocates of scientism have used the tremendous success of science in modern times to question the usefulness of religion as a means of seeking the truth. For example, Stephen Hawking recently stated in a Huffington Post article, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” More recently the harsh critique of religion based upon various forms of scientism by writers such as Richard Dawkins have escalated the conflict.

Their view assumes that both religion and science have the same purpose, namely of explaining the existence of the universe. Furthermore, the scientific method is considered a more reliable way to achieve this goal. This is primarily so because science deals with physical processes, which can be quantified and measured, whereas religion often resorts to metaphysical references, which cannot be “proven.” Professor Naquib Al-Attas, the celebrated Malaysian Muslim philosopher, summarizes the essential problem. He writes, “A gist of their [those who espouse science as the source for truth] basic assumptions is that science is the sole authentic knowledge; that this [scientific] knowledge pertains only to phenomena.” Excluded from science is anything that does not have a “physical” existence, anything that cannot be empirically studied. Therefore, implicit in a worldview that holds science as the highest authority of knowledge is a denial of God.

As the Nobel laureate Werner Arber, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, writes, “The natural sciences are in a steady search for truth, and so is theology.” This naturally creates two apparently competing methodologies of seeking and determining the truth, which inevitably leads to conflict between theology and science. Although the Catholic Church did generally support science, when the conclusions of scientists came in conflict with church dogma, problems arose. This can be seen in the experiences of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin.

Islamic history, however, took a different course. Despite the existence of a sustained robust scientific enterprise in the Islamic world, an overt conflict between science and religion did not arise. Professor Walbridge of Indiana University points out that “the Islamic world produced no martyrs for science like Bruno and Galileo.” One of the achievements of Islamic civilization was the creation of a worldview in which both theology and science could be accepted in a comprehensive rational framework.

The Islamic tradition of scholastic theology is known as kalam. The two primary schools of kalam are the Ash`ari and its close cousin the Maturidi schools. Both are based upon a rational understanding of God and the Universe, which also seek to rigorously preserve salient features of the Islamic concept of God. This tradition, along with its larger place in the Islamic worldview, can best be understood through the works of one of its main proponents Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE). Richard Frank, a scholar of Islamic theology, describes Ghazali as, “The most important Sunni theologian at a crucial turning point in the history of orthodox Muslim theology.” During his time Islam was emerging from a period of intellectual schism. Ghazali contributed to the development of a consensus on this issue, which was to largely become the dominant Sunni doctrine. Thus the Ghazali scholar and translator Walter Skellie writes, “With him [Ghazali] the religious philosophy and experience of Islam reaches its zenith.”

Demonstrative Proof (Burhan)

The triumph of Ghazali’s epistemology lies in its successful reconciliation of reason with revelation. One key element of this was the allowance of figurative interpretations of scripture, particularly when it relates to assertions that may conflict with what is known via reason. Ghazali sets the bar very high for a scientific proof to over-ride scripture, something he calls burhan. Burhan is demonstrative knowledge or definitive logical proof. According to Ghazali, it held an even higher epistemic status than even scholastic theology (kalam).

Professor Al-Akiti of Oxford writes, “For al-Ghazali, burhan [definitive logical proof], and not kalam, is what he considered to be scientific knowledge, the ‘gold-standard’ in the art of reasoning – a judgment expounded in his Mi’yar al-’Ilm.” The late professor Marmura, a Ghazali scholar, summarizes Ghazali’s attitude towards definitive logical proof as follows:

“A science whose conclusions are not demonstrably true and which are in conflict with the literal assertions of scripture must be rejected. On the other hand, if what is demonstrably true contradicts the literal sense of scriptural language, then the latter must be interpreted metaphorically.”

Having firmly grounded his worldview in rationality, Ghazali proceeds to point out that physical science does not meet the standards of definitive logical proof unless God is added to the equation. This is because science is based upon a flawed assumption, namely that of natural causation. Causation, Ghazali argues, can only guaranteed if God is there to secure it. And importantly, according to Ghazali, God is there to secure it. Belief in God then becomes a prerequisite to the successful pursuit of science.

Causation, God & Science

Ghazali was able to reconcile the most important principle of science (namely causation) with Islamic theological doctrines (as articulated by the dominant Ash`ari school). Ash`ari theology developed in response to certain heterodox formulations of Islamic doctrine (such as those adopted by the Mutazalites and the Philosophers) which had the effect of diminishing key Divine attributes. Some of these formulations share a belief in necessary causation with modern secular scientists. Therefore Ghazali’s critique of their view is particularly instructive in tackling similar issues in the contemporary era.

Some of the main articles of faith in Ash`ari theology are that God is all powerful, He is all knowing and all events occur due to His express will. The Ash`aris therefore believed that all events are directly caused only by God, and not by anything else. God is not merely the first cause but also the immediate cause of every subsequent minor and major event that occurs in the universe. This appears to run contrary to our contemporary understanding of secular science, which rests on the principle of natural causation. Namely, that things (or events) cause other things (or events). For example, we think fire causes cotton to burn when they are brought near each other.

Ghazali questions the principle of necessary causation adopted by certain philosophers. According to Ghazali, this relationship between cause and effect is not necessary. To use his terminology, there is no definitive logical proof (burhan) that it is the cause that is responsible for the effect. He argues that all we observe is a quick succession of events, cotton being brought close to fire and the cotton burning. But a relationship based simply on proximity in time or space does not imply necessary causation. Ghazali famously states, “The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary.”

David Hume in the Western tradition made a similar argument against causation. He asked, “Where is the causal glue” holding together the cause and the effect? Unlike Hume who was led to skepticism, however, Ghazali has an answer to this conundrum. For Ghazali, the causal glue is God. It is God who ensures that the relationship between cause and effect always holds. In doing so, Ghazali has made room for orthodox Islamic theology in which God is the direct cause of everything.

On its surface this line of thinking can be misunderstood to in fact undermine science, as several historians and scientists have thought. For example, the historian Tamim Ansary writes, “Take it however you will, the argument against causality undermines the whole scientific enterprise. If nothing actually causes anything else, why bother to observe the natural world in search of meaningful patterns?” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a preeminent Pakistani scientist, expresses a similar concern with the Ash`ari position, stating that in such a world, “even a speeding arrow might not reach its destination.” In other words, if the cause and effect relationship is not necessary then there would be no sure way to rely on our observations, predict natural phenomena or to do scientific experiments.

Conflict Averted, Science Flourished

This criticism, however, implies a dogmatic belief in science which sidesteps the very real problem of causation. Ghazali does not need to (nor does he) deny causation. He is merely denying necessary causation—namely, that there is no conclusive proof that things can influence other things by themselves. For Ghazali, God is required to ensure that the relationship between cause and effect always hold true. As Frank Griffel, a Ghazali scholar at Yale, writes:

“Trust in God (tawakkul) is a major condition for investigating the natural sciences. Such trust requires the certainty to know that God will not change books into horses or disconnect our knowledge from reality. Given that God habitually creates our knowledge to accord with reality, we can rely on our sense and our judgment and confidently pursue the natural sciences.”

According to this view God could suspend the laws of causation, but He never does and never will. So fire will always burn cotton but this is only true because in every instance of its occurrence God ensures that it is so. In effect, Ghazali has created a framework in which science can operate and the principles of Islamic theology (Divine power, knowledge and will) are also preserved.

Furthermore, Ghazali even located miracles – which he calls strange and wondrous phenomena – within the empirical world. Even miracles were then not Divine acts of suspension of the normal workings of the universe; rather they were unusual phenomena of nature due to causes not immediately clear to us at the moment. The possibility of additional causal chains other than those currently physically observed encouraged further exploration of the natural world. Ahmad Dallal, a historian of Islamic science at Georgetown University writes,

“The aspect that had the most influence on the development of science was the concept of multiple possibilities (tajwiz), the notion that specific natural philosophical explanations (or planetary models) are possible but not certain, and that there may exist alternative explanations for the natural phenomena… this idea was grounded in an epistemological criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics.”

After Ghazali, science in the Muslim world experienced a prolonged renaissance as documented by Yale historian George Saliba. His understanding had the effect of legitimizing science. Science was a discipline ensured by God. It also had the effect of effectively separating theology from physical science. Divine attributes are known through revelation, and science plays no significant role in informing us about these metaphysical matters. On the other hand revelation does not interfere with the workings of science; it is left as an independent discipline within the larger Islamic framework. Dallal explains,

“After Al-Ghazali, the need to invoke religion to vindicate science considerably decreased, not because science was not accepted but because it did not need vindication. Excluding final-cause explorations from science did not compromise the providence of God, which was simply assumed without questioning (bila kayf).”

This worldview rests on the premise that God exists and sustains the Universe. God is not the end goal of science, but rather the starting point. This created an organic and interdependent relationship between science and religion, which essentially eliminated the potential of conflict between the two disciplines. In fact, as professor Muzaffar Iqbal, a philosopher of Islamic science, writes:

“No one thought of them [science and religion] as two independent entities which needed to be related via an external mechanism… This relationship emerged naturally and because the scientific tradition was thoroughly rooted in the worldview created by Islam.”

This worldview was rational. It recognized the primacy of reason and in fact accorded burhan the highest epistemic status. Within this framework secular science is critiqued based upon logical fallacies assumed by its proponents. Science is then presented not as a competing force with religion, but rather as a viable enterprise, as part of a comprehensive worldview that encompasses God. In fact, it is grounded in the assumption of God. This delicate balance, which secured both science and theology, is one of the greatest achievements of medieval Muslim theologians.

Dr. Macksood Aftab is a neuroradiologist, and clinical assistant professor at both Michigan State University and Central Michigan University. He holds a Master degree in History of Science, and is an editor for the Journal of Islamic Philosophy. The author can be reached at:

Categories: Muslim blogs

A Victim of Speech

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 17/12/2014 - 14:00

Part I | Part II

In the last article, we explored how Allah (swt) exonerated Aisha radi allahu `anha (may God be please with her) and Prophet Joseph `alayhi as-salaaam (peace be upon him) from unsubstantiated and untrue gossip, and we talked about the victims of slander. Today, it’s about the perpetrators of slander. It is about, quite possibly, you and me.

Sometimes in the name of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” we forget the sanctity of our fellow human beings and especially fellow believers. We spread things that are unsubstantiated in a bid to ‘warn others’ about possible deviancy. We are harsh in our words. We assume the worst. We forget that one of the best traits a Muslim can have is “thinking well of the servant of Allah” and for other Muslims to be “safe from his hands and tongue.”

We forget that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) passed by a grave and he warned that the person was suffering in his grave because he would spread gossip. We forget that that person we are talking about may have our good deeds transferred to him simply because he is a victim of our speech.

Scary stuff? It is. The Prophet ﷺ said: “The majority of man’s sins emanate from his tongue.” (Tabarani)

To go back to the examples in our previous article, it was clear that those with power—the minister and the minister’s wife—knew the truth with regards to what was said about the Prophet Joseph (as). But they allowed the rumor to persist and put Prophet Joseph in prison. With Aisha (ra), we have even more details. The people who discussed the rumor were good Muslims. They discussed the scandalous nature of what was said, and in doing so, spread it far and wide. Shaytan created doubt: “Could it actually be true?” Allah admonished the Muslims when He informs us in the Qur’an about what happened:

“Why, when you heard it, did not the believing men and believing women think good of one another and say, ‘This is an obvious falsehood?’” (Qur’an, 24:12)

Now some people might think this example is extreme. We would never spread such a rumor. But rumors and slander and gossip come in all shapes and forms. So if you hear something about someone that is unsubstantiated, do not fuel the fire. We are just as bad as those news networks we criticize, who pick up a story, and whether true or not, run with it.

This is not intended to shut down constructive criticism of public figures. There are ways of bringing people to account. There are ways of disagreeing and critiquing ideas and views, which are beyond the scope of this article. But in the age of the internet, anyone can write a piece and within an hour it is shared and read by many. And it would do us good to reflect on what our role is in this. We must remember that we will be held to account. So let us not put ourselves in a position to be asked about why we were careless in our research, harsh in words, and negative in our basic assumptions about others.

And remember that the Prophet ﷺ taught:

“A person’s eman (faith) is not upright until his heart is upright, and his heart is not upright until his tongue is upright.” (Ahmad)

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Man She Used to Pray For

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 16/12/2014 - 14:00

Glimpses of Marital Bliss: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IVPart V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII

Many of us pray for the perfect spouse and imagine him or her being a certain way. Sometimes, what we pray for becomes most apparent in difficult times. In this account, a wife talks about the ways in which real life has helped her and her husband grow in their beautiful relationship.

Photo: Danna

“My husband and I are from two different worlds literally and figuratively, and the thing that binds us together the most is Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) and our undeniable faith in Him (swt). After looking in America for two years, I decided to marry someone from “back home,” i.e. Pakistan. When we first got married, we realized what a huge adjustment it would be for both of us. We had kids right away when he came. He went to school here and got his degree from here, and I supported him financially all during the time that I was a new mother and the only thing I wanted to do was raise my precious firstborn full-time.

Under such circumstances many marriages rightfully take a back seat and the relationship crumbles. We had many big fights over those first few years. Every time we fought I made du`a’ (supplication) to Allah (swt) to make it better, and He did. Our fights never lasted more than a day, and one of us always ended up saying sorry. We couldn’t go to sleep without making up. Throughout our good times and hard times I discovered that I married a very caring and generous man. I also discovered that I needed to accept him for who he was and that I had many bad qualities that needed to be worked out if I was going to stand in front of my Creator on the Day of Judgment. His love for me is shown in always hiding my faults in front of others, in picking flowers for me on the way home from the masjid, in taking care of the kids and giving me some time off, in cleaning up a messy house and in always sharing with me his day to day dealings at work or with his friends. As time has passed we have gotten closer and now I can’t imagine not having him in my life. The kids have really served to bond us together and it warms my heart when our eldest wants to pray because he sees his father praying. Alhamdullilah (praise be to God)!

My husband is not perfect and has many faults, but I know inside there is a light of goodness that gets dim at times and at times shines brightly, and I am committed to stand by him throughout all the times. I used to make du`a’ to Allah (swt) for a pious, kind, gentle husband and now that Allah (swt) has given me a slave of His to love, I must remain thankful, for if I am thankful He will give me more. We just celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary, and I look forward to spending many more with him insha’ Allah (God-willing).”

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Vikings and Serkland: A Lesson in the Merits of Presentability

Imam Suhaib Webb - Mon, 15/12/2014 - 14:00

The Vikings referred to the Abbasid Empire as Serkland. There are a few theories regarding the origin of this name, but it likely originated from the Norse term serkr, which meant tunic or gown. The term was mentioned in the Ingvar Runestones, specifically in the Gripsholm Runestone (Sö 179). They were raised to commemorate those Vikings who died fighting the Muslims on the Caspian Sea under Yngvarr víðförli, whose Norse name and title meant “Ingvar the Far-traveled”.1 Interestingly related to the word serkr, the English word “berserk”—meaning to go crazy—comes from the Norse word berserkr which was a term for Viking warriors who fought in a trance-like rage. They were given this name because they wore the coats of bears, called ber in Old Norse. Thus, berserkr means “bear coat”.2 So the Vikings, or Rūs, as they were called by the Muslims (from which came the later ethnonym “Russian”), saw the Abbasids wearing their long tunics, cloaks, capes and coats and referred to their realm as “Serkland”, the land of the “Serkir”, those who wear long coats. The dignified appearances of the early Muslims left quite an impression.

The Muslims were known for always dressing impeccably regardless of what social class they came from. There was a dignity and respect in the way they presented themselves, and this was markedly observed by even their adversaries. In the famous French prose “The Song of Roland”, which lauds the heroic deeds of the “Holy Barbarian” King Charlemagne in his battles against the Muslims, the leader of the Muslims is described as strikingly handsome and a noble equal to Charlemagne. The song praises him thus:

“An Emir of Balaguet came in place,

Proud of body, and fair of face;

Since first he sprang on steed to ride,

To wear his harness was all his pride;

For feats of prowess great laud he won;

Were he Christian, nobler baron none!”3

In the end, the only way Charlemagne is said to defeat him is with the help of the Archangel Gabriel.

God says in the Qur’an:

يَا بَنِي آدَمَ خُذُوا زِينَتَكُمْ عِندَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ

“O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer.”4

Do we care for our appearance, cleanliness and attire when visiting the mosque? Even if not daily, do we at least in our Friday prayers? Sometimes we do. I often see Africans in their brightly colored gowns and hats, the Indonesians and Malays in their perfectly pressed shirts, gilded hats and sarongs, the African-Americans in their best suits, ties and/or bowties. But what I also see alarmingly too often are sweat-pants, t-shirts, tunics which you know alternate as sleepwear, long faces and disheveled hair. Sadly, I fear that may be the majority in too many mosques.

There is a Prophetic saying:

إِذا أَتَاك الله مَالا فَلْيُرَ أثَرُ نِعْمَةِ الله عَلَيْكَ وكَرَامَتِهِ

“If God has given you an income then display signs of His blessings and generosity upon you.”5

So, there is an element of gratitude and acknowledgement of God’s blessings when you take care of your appearance and utilize what He has blessed you with to look your very best. Yet, the Ottoman era scholar al-Munāwī is also careful to qualify this saying:

“‘And His generosity’ – that which He has bestowed upon you. For in attire is an indication of one’s overall condition, self-worth, self-respect, and hygiene. And it is so those in need will know to go to him, but he must be careful with his intentions and avoid all forms of excess.”6

With this, he also relates an interesting story therein about the famous scholar and successor to the Prophet (ﷺ)’s Companions, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, wearing a shirt costing 400 dirhams. One time he met Farqad al-Sinjī, a known Sufi of the time, which sparked a telling dialog. In the early days of Islam, the Sufis wore coarse wool garments and, for this, some have speculated that the word “Sufi” may originate from the Arabic word for wool, Ṣūf. Farqad said reproachfully to al-Hasan, “O Abū Sa`īd, how soft is your clothing!” To this, al-Ḥasan replied using a lexical diminution7 of Farqad’s name, “O Furayqid! The softness of my clothes does not distance me from God, nor does the coarseness of your clothing make you closer to Him.” Al-Ḥasan then went on to quote the saying of the Prophet ﷺ, “God is beautiful and He loves beauty.” In another narration al-Ḥasan rebuked Farqad’s spiritual arrogance with: “They have piety in their clothing, but they have arrogance in their hearts.”8 Whether relevant or not, Farqad al- Sinjī later became considered a severely defective narrator.

So while we may feel that our theology is sound and we are the people of the true faith, there is something seriously wrong when Christians are in their finest clothes when visiting church on Sunday but we look like we’re running errands when we go for Friday prayers. It reflects our overall attitude, which comes across as clear as day in how we present ourselves and how we allow ourselves to be perceived by those around us. As al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri said, there are those who may dress simply but their hearts are full of conceit. Don’t be content thinking you’re the people of Truth if you don’t even look the part.

A Cornell University psychologist who chaired the conference When to Judge a Book by Its Cover: Timing, Context, and Individual Differences in First Impressions stated, “Despite the well-known idiom to ‘not judge a book by its cover,’ the present research shows that such judgments about the cover are good proxies for judgments about the book — even after reading it.” This research is particularly focused on impressions that are made within mere seconds of seeing someone and the results are that any negative impression garnered within the first few seconds can outlast any and all efforts to dispel them later through explanation or amiable conduct. So we can exhaust every effort in trying to convince our non-Muslim neighbors that we’re good people, but if we don’t look it, they won’t believe it. Fair or not, that is plain science. Would you find it easier to change human psychology or simply pay more attention to how you present yourself?

So, while the Vikings raided our coasts along the Caspian Sea and Charlemagne drove us out of Western France and invaded Muslim Spain, they were so impressed by us that they actually wrote poetry about us. We need to ask ourselves a very serious question: enemies aside, do we even leave that kind of impression upon our non-Muslim friends? Let us answer that honestly in the quiet of our conscience and, if necessary, make changes in our lives accordingly.

  1. Runelore: The Magic, History, and Hidden Codes of the Runes, p. 38, Edred Thorsson
  2. Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia, p. 38, Phillip Pulsiano, Kirsten Wolf
  3. The Song of Roland, 228:3164, Translated from French by John O’Hagen
  4. The Holy Qur’an, 7:31, Yusuf `Ali translation, 1938
  5. Recorded by Aḥmad, al-Tirmidhī, Abū Dawūd, al-Nasā’ī, and many others
  6. Fayḍ al-Qadīr Sharḥ Jami` al-Ṣaghīr, al-Munāwī
  7. Called Taṣghīr al-Ism in Arabic lexical morphology wherein a word is made diminutive, or to indicate “smallness”, by conforming it to the fu`ayl consonantal skeleton.
  8. Kitāb al-Zuhd of Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal, Fayḍ al-Qadīr of al-Munāwī, Muḥāḍirāt al-Adbā’ of al-Iṣfahāni, and others.
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