Award-winning photographer captures the flow of life in the water-dependent village of Ganvié
Ganvié in the Republic of Benin is a unique village built on Lake Nokoué, near the administrative capital of Benin in West Africa. Houses are built on wooden slits and bamboo several feet above water and the village has a population of more than 50,000 thousand.
The phrase “ganvié” means “the collectivity of those who found peace at last” – a historic reminder of the event that brought this village of water into existence.
In the 16th century the kingdom of Abomah was waging war against other tribes with a mission to capture prisoners of war to supply slave merchants to Europe, South and North America. The chief of the Tofinou tribe decided with his people to build the lake village and settle there to escape slavers who came from the kingdom of Abomah, who for traditional reasons would not fight on water. From canoes and rafts, a village system on water emerged, which included markets, and today, hotels, schools, salons, restaurants, a church, a mosque and local clinics.
In Ganvié, houses are built on wooden slits and bamboo several feet above water.
School boys sailing to school on a make-do jerry can boat.
The only government primary school on the lake.
Women sell their wares on boat.
A woman sailing home from market.
At a voodoo clinic in Ganvié, a man is undergoing spiritual purification.
The ‘God Bless’ unisex salon.
A little girl sails home.
A five-star hotel in Ganvié.Photo Credits: Nseabasi Akpan
Parents are our first glimpse into understanding the concept of love. In this narrative, a sister describes the romanticized love she has been blessed to witness from her parents.
“The narrative is not my own but it is still a personal one. It is about the two most important people in my life, my parents.
My parents just celebrated their thirty-year anniversary this past New Year’s Eve. They have been living on two different continents for the past five years so it has been hard for them. What I want to share is a sweet ritual that they have kept alive regardless of this distance.
My parents speak to each other every evening, sharing their days with one another. It is nothing out of the ordinary, but what I admire is regardless of how busy they are, they always make time for that phone call every evening without fail.
I have seen my mum’s eyes light up like a lovesick teenager’s because of it, and I have witnessed this goofy lopsided grin on my dad’s face for the same reason. They both, on separate occasions, confessed that these nightly conversations bridges the physical distance between them and has helped strengthen their relationship. Masha’Allah (what God wills).
I am yet to start my own love narrative but amidst all the negative portrayals of Muslim love, my parents are my anchor. They show me real love does happen to Muslim people, and it can be happy and lovey-dovey romantic, even after many years and also great distance (their case now). My parents teach me every day that we can find the extraordinary in the ordinary; you just have to be willing to bear the extra.”
*If you would like share sweet glimpses from your marriage with hopes of spreading awareness of positive relationships in the Muslim community, please email Maryam@SuhaibWebb.com with a short narrative. Your submission may be featured anonymously in this mini-series of Glimpses of Marital Bliss.
By Abid Mohammed
10 Steps to Acing Your Exams: I
This article is the first in a series entitled “10 Steps to Acing Your Exams,” in which I hope to extract gems from traditional Islamic sources that would be of benefit to students struggling to revise for their exams.
1. Aim Higher
The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said, “Allah has made excellence (ihsan) obligatory for everything, so when you sacrifice, sacrifice excellently; and when you slaughter an animal, then perform the slaughter excellently; and let any of you sharpen his knife and let him put the animal at ease.” [Muslim]
If you are a student who is going to sit an exam in the near future, I have a simple exercise for you. Ask yourself: how well do you want to do in your exams?
I’m sure everyone will say “good” but just how good is “good?” And why not “great,” “amazing” or even “stupendous?” Sometimes we can become complacent and start lowering our standards, claiming to have a “realistic” outlook on life, as opposed to tainting our lens with self-pity, which is what we are actually doing. At the beginning of the year, it seems like the sky’s the limit when it comes to what we can achieve, but by the time it comes to exams, we have successfully convinced ourselves that the limit is, in fact, the sky. We start to believe that the only hope we have is to somehow scrape by with a pass and anything more than that would be nothing short of divine intervention from above the Seven Heavens.
Islam, however, tells us something quite different. In fact, the Prophet ﷺ said that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) commanded us not only to raise our standards and expectations but to fix them right at the top! For Muslims, the sky’s not the limit! Paradise is. And not just any level of Paradise, but as the Prophet ﷺ instructed us to ask Allah (swt) – the highest level of Paradise, al-Firdous al-A`la! Not only is our desired destination incredibly high, but the One who is commanding us to institute excellence in everything we do, the One to whom we pray for the highest level of Paradise, is the Highest - something of which we remind ourselves on a daily basis while we prostrate in our prayers.
We must realize that just as it is an obligation to pray five times a day, to be respectful towards our parents and to be truthful, it is also an obligation to try to do everything – including our revision – to the best of our actual ability. I emphasize the word “actual” because striving for excellence entails finding out what we are actually capable of, by aiming to do the best every time and seeking expert advice in overcoming any perceived limitations to our overall ability. Past performances in exams or our vague “feelings” as to what we can achieve are not really good indicators of our true ability. If they were, most of us wouldn’t have progressed beyond an elementary understanding of math because at one point in time, we all struggled with a math equation or two. Thankfully, we persisted, and with a little of bit of effort and a lot of help from our teachers, we were able to jump those initial hurdles and move on to bigger and better things. If we adopt the same attitude with regards to all our abilities, we’ll have a much better understanding of our true ability and then be able to perform to the best of our ability and practice ihsan as God commanded us!
So the next time we start to feel our standards slip and we can feel those negative thoughts slowly seep into our minds, let us remember the words of the Prophet ﷺ and use that remembrance as a knife to “sacrifice” that self-pity, excellently, putting our minds at ease. As we remind ourselves of these words more often, our “knife” will sharpen and we will become more determined, more focused and more willing to do anything and everything to be the best that we can actually be. Let us not aim to just “pass” or do “well” in our exam. Let us aim to ace our exams like no man/woman/young person has done before. Absolute perfection is reserved for Allah (swt) alone, but excellence is something that we can all achieve, so long as it is for His sake and His sake alone: “And whoever submits his face to Allah while he is a doer of good – then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold. And to Allah will be the outcome of [all] matters.” (Qur’an 31:22)
In our next article, we will explore practical ways in which we can direct ourselves completely to Allah (swt) while revising, God willing.
As a Muslim woman living in Trinidad and Tobago, I’m used to standing out. At school, I was amongst a handful of students who wore the hijab (headcovering) and yet, I never felt insecure about my appearance. I took dance classes, played the steel pan, participated in debates, and played cricket, all in the hijab. I was comfortable in my own skin.
The opposite was true of my experience at the University of Cambridge. I was thrilled to attend one of the world’s most prestigious institutions, but I constantly felt like a square peg in a round hole. I was a minority on so many levels. Not only was I one of two Black students in my matriculating class at Emmanuel College, I was the only one with a lilting Caribbean accent and a hijab wrapped around my head. I took refuge in the student Islamic society, rarely venturing out of my circle of Muslims friends.
My semester abroad forced me out of the Muslim comfort zone I had carefully cultivated at Cambridge. I was on a European voluntary programme in a village in southern France, with neither a mosque nor Muslim in sight. I must admit I had my reservations about coming to France. The hijab had been banned in public schools a few years prior and I had an irrational fear of my hijab being ripped off of my head.
Thankfully, my fears were abated by the hospitality of the villagers and the openness of my fellow volunteers. My hijab was not a source of tension, as I had imagined, but an avenue for stimulating dialogue with the other volunteers. Deprived of television and internet, conversation was our greatest diversion. We soon developed a special bond that overcame religious and cultural boundaries.
I was having a great time in France, but I felt something was missing. Although I still performed the daily prayers and occasionally read the Qur’an, I missed the sense of community that came with the Friday congregational prayers. I yearned for that sublime feeling of unity when the call to prayer is being recited and Muslims are hurrying into the hall, their faces still damp from the water used in ablution. I realised that my spiritual battery was running low, and was in desperate need of charging.
One Saturday, I accompanied the other volunteers to a village a few miles away from our camp. Our task was to assist the village committee in setting up for a music festival, and the evening promised to be much fun. At around four in the afternoon, I heard the bells ring from the small church on the hill overlooking the festival venue. I looked up to see some elderly women trudging up the hill for the afternoon mass.
Without even a second thought, I dropped the bundle of string lights I was about to disentangle and followed the ladies up the hill to the church. It was as if my soul was compelling me to go, to revive it with the remembrance of God. As I neared the entrance, however, my resolve faltered. What would these people think of a Muslim in their church? Would they feel threatened by my presence?
The smile on the priest’s face as I walked through the door calmed my nerves. I will never forget the words of his sermon that afternoon. In elegantly coiffed French, he spoke of freedom and choice. He stated that God had made us free—the choice was essentially ours to reject or accept Him. The concept was simple enough, but it touched me deeply. It reminded me of one of my favorite verses in the Qur’an:
“There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in the Shaytan [Satan] and believes in Allah he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.” (Qur’an, 2:256)
The priest may never know how his words inspired a young Muslim woman who sat in his church that afternoon. It dawned on me how incredibly blessed I was. Born and raised a Muslim, Islam had been chosen for me. Yet there I was, thousands of miles away from the watchful eye of my parents, free to make whatever choice I wanted. As I left the church that afternoon, I never felt more liberated in my entire life. I chose Islam.
Most of us spend close to 8-10 hours of our entire day genuinely busy, be it at work, school, internships, volunteering, or some other day-consuming activity. That is usually supplemented with time to eat, which can add another 1-2 hours of busy time, spending time with the family, another couple of hours, entertainment, sleeping and everything else, and we are left with barely any time to ourselves. We all know how busy our schedules are between the many different things we juggle daily.
Yet, we all have that desire to have a functional relationship with the Qur’an every day. We want to spend some time reciting it, some time memorizing it and also some time towards listening or reading tafseer (exegesis) to understand it. So how can we practically create a consistent, meaningful relationship with the Book of Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), when the time we have to invest in it is so little?
1) If we make something a priority for ourselves, we will be able to make time for it.
Allah (swt) says, “And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to Our ways,” (Qur’an, 29:69). Meaning that Allah (swt) requires us to put in the effort for Him to make our matter easy for us. Once He sees that we are sincerely trying and our actions can prove that, He will place blessing in our time and open it up for us.
The reality is, the reason we have time for everything that we make time for is because we have placed a certain level of importance to it that creates within us the urgency to get that task done. If we place importance on Fajr (pre-sunrise) prayer, we will make sure we take the means to facilitate it for ourselves—even if those means are setting up multiple alarms, having a friend do a wake-up call, or anything else. Likewise, if we mean to make the Qur’an a priority in our lives, we will be able to carve out 15-20 minutes daily to spend time with it. This isn’t to belittle any of our daily responsibilities or commitments but rather to place the Qur’an along the same level of importance as them.
2) We don’t need to jump into everything all at once!
The Messenger ﷺ (peace and blessings upon him) said: “The acts most pleasing to Allah are those which are done continuously, even if they are small.”
There is so much wisdom in this statement of the Messenger ﷺ. A lot of times, when we are motivated to do something, especially when it comes to learning an aspect of our religion, we get on a spiritual high. That spiritual high causes us to get involved in one too many things, study too much all at once or volunteer too much. It creates in us a zest that in turn creates an unsustainable system. The eventual end is that we burn out and fail to accomplish anything and are left unmotivated to start again due to the negative experience. The better and more effective way to approach this is to take on a little at a time and establish a system within our life that is sustainable.
So how can we do this with the Qur’an? There are many ways. For example, start off by making time after Fajr prayer or after Isha’ (night) prayer, the two times you are most likely to be at home. Start by reading half a page of Qur’an on a consistent basis. If you are already doing that, move on up to a page or two pages. If you drive to work or school, use that time to listen to Qur’an in the car. Find a reciter or two whose voice you like, fill up your mp3 player and use that time to listen to the Qur’an. If you commute on public transportation, pop on some headphones and listen as you are getting to and from work/school. Mix it up so you don’t get tired out; maybe listen to recitation on the way to work and listen to a tafseer podcast on the way back.
The goal here is not do it for the sake of doing it. Rather it is to make this a part of your lifestyle and routine so that it becomes part of your day subconsciously as opposed to something you need to remember to do. Once it is a part of your lifestyle, it becomes easy to sustain. This takes time but it is definitely doable. Remember, little by little with consistency!
3) Build a support system around ourselves
I remember back in college one of the main reasons some brothers finished memorizing Qur’an while going to school full-time and working was because they had a support system. Every day, without fail, these brothers would meet, sit and spend 15-20 minutes reciting to each other whatever they had memorized the night before, even if it was during midterms or finals. If they hadn’t memorized anything new, they would just review. Slowly but surely, each of them completed memorization. When asked about what helped them with that, they said it was because each time they felt like they were about to burn out they had that support system which pushed each other ahead towards completion.
Try to find friends who you can create a support system with at school or outside. If you are married and working full-time, make reciting Qur’an a couple’s thing—something that you do to get closer to Allah (swt) together. If you have kids, make it a family thing after Isha’ (bonus: this then becomes part of your children’s lifestyle as well!). Initiate something with your parents. The point is, it is possible to create a support system around you that can help you progress with your relationship with the Qur’an and it is very helpful to have one.
These are three simple tips on carving out times in our daily lives for the Qur’an. It is by no means exhaustive, but I believe that implementing each of these one by one will have an effect in creating time and place for the Qur’an in our daily lives. The reality is that we all have unique schedules, multiple commitments and responsibilities. Yet, prioritizing and creating time for the Qur’an in our lives is still within our grasp. The beauty of the Qur’an is that once it takes a hold in our lives and really becomes part of us through recitation, reflection and memorization, through its blessings, Allah (swt) places blessing in our time and in our day in ways that we would not have experienced otherwise. May Allah (swt) help us in becoming strong companions of the Qur’an!
If Aronofsky’s Noah met the Qur’anic Noah they probably wouldn’t recognise each other
WARNING: Contains Spoilers
Mass human outrage is no stranger to our 21st-the-pope’s-on-Twitter-and-Russell-Crowe-is-irritating-him century. And there’s no better way to earn your Hollywood director stamp of approval than by interpreting (or butchering) an old, cherished religious tale causing the social media world to combust into a smoke of moral panic and critical acclaim.
The $125 million production of Noah was never going to be a scriptural rendition, but its promotion provided enough ambiguity to attract a variety of audiences. Jewish, Christian and Muslim bloggers put forward their reviews and several countries banned the film. Director Darren Aronofsky said in an interview that, in addition to the Bible, he referred to the Book of Enoch, the Jubilees and the Dead Sea Scrolls to develop the script, but surprisingly – certainly on a budget like this – the Qur’an did not form a part of this research.
While the Biblical Noah is described in the Story of Genesis (5:32-10:1) in linear and relatively brief detail, the Qur’an mentions Prophet Noah an astonishing 43 times across various chapters, zooming-in on moments of emotive dialogue and zooming-out to show the message of the prophets and the condition of mankind.
The plot of this film focuses on the plans of the ominous, absent Creator who is a cruel rationalist seeking revenge, just like his burdened creation Noah (Russell Crowe) seems to do in this reading. It hones in on the lives of Noah’s sons and Shem’s wife Ila (Emma Watson) who ends up pregnant with twin girls – through a man-triggered miracle funnily enough – and finally Noah’s deranged mission to kill these newborns so they don’t ruin the Creator’s wishes.
The resulting two-hour-twenty-minute screening is effortlessly terrible. It’s quite clear that the makers couldn’t decide whether they wanted the film to be a historical narration, a war movie, a sci-fi or a documentary, and eventually they seem to settle for a comic jumble of all of these. Although some of the time-lapse sequences of arid and fertile landscapes are beautiful, they are juxtaposed with odd CGI interpretations of the snake and the apple in Genesis and fallen angels who look like Transformers, as well as pre-David-Attenborough-recorded scenes of nature. Aside from the rainbows, the film is dark and deadly with all the lack of emotion that such a theme should bring. Aronofsky may have produced a genuine feeling of worms under your skin in his swishy, pretty, creepy direction of Black Swan, but there is no visual coherence to be found here, nor is there the Maximus-esque hero of Gladiator. (Honestly speaking, Crowe and Watson didn’t do too badly considering they were stuck in such a ridiculous script.)
So where does Noah fit in with Islam? Well, the Qur’an explains that Prophet Mohammed is the last in line of a series of prophets including Noah, all of whom preached the truth of One God; as such, previous scriptures including the Old Testament are believed to be revelations from the same God and have been altered with the course of time. That the original Arabic Qur’an has remained unaltered since its completion 1382 years ago is seen, by Muslims and according to the Qur’an itself, as a miracle of God.
Here are six ways the Qur’anic story compares to the Hollywood version:
1) Noah does not hide in a little tent away from the city
The Qur’an: Noah, much like Mohammed, emerges right from within the heart of his community whom he loves and cares for, hoarding immeasurable patience, spending 950 years preaching to his people to believe in God and to stop committing evil on earth. He is their “brother” and he calls them “my people” in the Qur’an (The Poets 26: 106 and 117).
“Build the Ark under Our eyes and with Our inspiration. Do not plead with Me for those who have done evil – they will be drowned.” The Qur’an (Hud 11:37)
The film: Noah lives in fear away from civilisation and has virtually no interaction with the community before the flood.
2) Noah is mocked before the flood
The Qur’an: Noah’s community gets fed up of his warning message and threatens to stone him to death.
“So he began to build the Ark, and whenever leaders of his people passed by, they laughed at him. He said, ‘You may scorn us now, but we will come to scorn you.’” The Qur’an (Hud 11:38)
The film: As Noah appears to be fulfilling his mission in the most brutal of ways, his own family begin to lose faith in him and ask if he is a madman. This is all after the flood (when they really should have more conviction after seeing what has just manifested itself).
3) Noah boards the ark with more than just his family
The Qur’an: God saves all the people who believe in Him and His message alongside Noah. The animal couples are mentioned briefly in the Qur’an (11:40) but this is not where the emphasis lies.
“So We saved him and his followers in the fully laden ship, and drowned the rest. There truly is a sign in this, though most of them do not believe.” The Qur’an (The Poets 26: 119-121)
The film: Noah boards the ark with his supportive wife, his sons and Ila. The rest of the townspeople cling on to the boat, their last moments spent screaming in agonising horror, while Noah sits silently inside.
4) Noah’s son disbelieves from the outset
The Qur’an: In a deeply painful moment for Noah, his only mentioned son dismisses his father’s warning and says he will retreat to the highest mountain to avoid the flood. He and his mother are considered among the evildoers and are drowned.
“It sailed with them on waves like mountains, and Noah called out to his son, who stayed away, ‘Come aboard with us, my son, do not stay with the disbelievers… Today there is no refuge from what God has commanded…’” The Qur’an (Hud 11: 42-43)
The film: The middle son, Ham (Logan Lerman), is a troubled character who, similar to the biblical narrative, decides to put a backpack on and head off after the deluge is over.
5) Noah is not protected by fallen angels
The Qur’an: Angels in Islam do not have free will and exist to execute the worship of God. The most dominant parable of a fallen worshipper is that of Iblees, a creature of the jinn who had acquired the elevated status of an angel, but then became Shaytan (Satan).
“When We told the angels, ‘Bow down before Adam’, they all bowed. But not Iblis, who refused and was arrogant…”. The Qur’an (The Cow: 2: 34)
The film: Whether the guilt-ridden fallen angels, or ‘The Watchers’ as they are called, are based on the Nephilim in the Bible or apocryphal myths, they are possibly the film’s biggest flaw in visual conception and in plot choice.
6) The earth is meant for mankind
The Qur’an: The earth is inherited by the believers of God and the advent of the flood remains as a sign of God for everyone who follows.
“Remember how He made you heirs after Noah’s people, and increased your stature: remember God’s bounties, so that you may prosper.” The Qur’an (The Heights 7: 69)
The film: The ending presents a depiction of both the biblical rainbow and Noah’s moment of weakness. In the lead-up to this, Noah emphasises the Creator’s wish that mankind cease to continue on earth. His immediate family are intended as the last people on earth… until the twins come along.
Where Aronofsky’s Noah sinks into post-flood depression, dishevelled and defeated, the Qur’anic Noah sees the outcome of the thousand-year strife finally balanced and turns to God re-assured and enlightened. So although the film may be a more human account of Noah, the Islamic Noah is a more humane account.
The film’s flood leaves a world stripped and hollow, whereas the Qur’anic flood allows the earth to re-enter clothed with the truth of God and an abundance of hope.
The Qur’an translation is taken from the Oxford University Press version by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem (2010). With thanks to Vue Cinema, Harrow, London.Image from: http://teaser-trailer.com/movie/noah/
Lyndon B. Johnson, our 37th President, sought to establish the Great Society. It was his vision for the future of America, a place filled with equality not only racially, but economically and socially. It entailed the passing of one of the most ambitious and comprehensive programs the country had ever seen, comparable only to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. LBJ had good intentions, and he fought tirelessly for this grand vision. All was going well, except for one thing. The war in Vietnam under Johnson was going horribly. Although he ran on an agenda of peace, he escalated the war tremendously. Ultimately and really regrettably, his foreign policy blunders overshadowed his great successes and good intentions on the domestic front. And, what we now remember of Johnson is his failure in Vietnam, not his remarkable vision for the Great Society. His entire presidency and all the good he sought to do took a backseat to the one area of his presidency in which he failed.
Now why is all this significant? Terrifyingly, LBJ is all too similar to many people in the Muslim community who are working towards a better future and vision. Many of us mean incredibly well, but unfortunately our actions and intentions are forever tainted with certain mistakes that we made along the way. The most common example includes many of our elders who work tirelessly to inculcate the love of Islam in our hearts but in doing so, focus on the outer technicalities– the clothes we wear or the beard length we sport–rather than the inner-morality. Also, often in the process of trying to teach we use abuse, whether physical or verbal, as a tool to shape the individual. However, this process backfires totally, and the individual is left with a feeling of rejection and contempt. This feeling of rejection leads, much like it did with LBJ, to a backlash, where the individual and society do not remember the good that we did, but rather the evil that we inflicted. This twisted image is what we as a whole are defined and remembered by, much like it was with LBJ. The worst part is when this attitude of negativity and aversion is associated not only with us, but with Islam itself.
Unfortunately, the Muslim community today is filled with stories like the ones above. These stories collectively have produced a generation of Muslims feeling contempt for their religion and community, rather than love and affection. This has led to devastating consequences. Not surprisingly, under his presidency LBJ experienced the emergence of the “counterculture,” a time ripe with revolt and protest over the way things were. It was a time defined by drug use, open sexuality, and rebellion by the youth. The Muslim community is facing a similar counterculture which has emerged as a result of our own practices in raising and “bettering” our youth. This is why Muhammad is in the club Friday night, instead of in the masjid. This is why Fatima could care less about her parents, because she sees them as backwards and controlling. This is why we have a huge segment of our youth ashamed of their Muslim identity, who in their college classes won’t even stand up to the wrongs that are said about their own religion. It’s because they themselves are ashamed of that identity and see it as something negative. And it all starts with the way in which we deal with our youngsters. Are we providing a safe outlet for them to ask why, or are we hitting them every time they do? Are we judging every single person that looks or acts differently, or are we providing a welcoming atmosphere to each individual regardless of how they look, dress, or behave? Are we listening to the advice of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) when he said to treat each person as you would like to be treated, or are we instead treating others as inferior to us?
If we as a community do not address the causes of the emerging counterculture, we will continue to experience backlash, and we will continue to decline. We need to remove our Vietnams, so they do not overshadow the good we seek to do. We have to learn from our great president, and ensure that the Great Society we envision for our youth is achieved without interference from the mistakes we make along the way.
Britain’s soaring Muslim prison population is a blight on the community
The shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan has rightly called for an inquiry on rising prison populations from the Muslim community in London prisons. Figures show that 27% of London prisoners are Muslims; double the rate of the overall Muslim population in the city.
Ministry of Justice figures show that the number of Muslims in the prisons of England and Wales has more than doubled to nearly 12,000 in a decade. “This dramatic rise prompted calls for ministers to investigate whether police and the courts are treating Muslims more harshly, with some suggesting the rise is due to Islamophobia.”
In some jails the proportion of inmates of Islamic faith is more than one-third. In Whitemoor, a Category A men’s prison in Cambridgeshire, it is as high as 43 per cent. A prison inspection report expressed a ‘fear that increasing numbers of prisoners were converting to Islam and being radicalised’. The report also mentioned that “officers tended to treat Muslim prisoners as extremists and potential security risks, even though only eight of them had been convicted of terrorist offences.”
It is feared that the number will rise because of the increasing numbers of Muslim teenagers in youth jails; a large number of teenagers and young men of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin are known to end up in prison from the age of 15 to 25 in recent times.
It is also an unpalatable reality that young British Muslim prison leavers are more likely to reoffend. They find themselves ostracised and shunned by the community and therefore “more likely to turn to their old friends and networks that led to the cycle of crime in the first place.” MOSAIC and Muslim Youth Helpline have been working to raise awareness of the challenges faced by young Muslims ex-offenders who need additional support from their probation officer, prison staff member or someone from their own community so that they can stay away from reoffending.
Due to Islam’s aversion to criminality the Muslim community is generally known to be law abiding. Why then is its prison population consistently and disproportionately increasing year on year, bringing embarrassment and shame to their families and community?
Analysts point fingers to many reasons – some internal to the community itself and others external.
There are some inevitable social factors that one needs to keep in mind – such as lower educational performance, higher unemployment, poor housing conditions for decades that have given rise to social exclusion of many Muslims. As Muslims mostly live in inner city areas affected by multiple social problems such as drugs and gang issues, they appear to exacerbate the problem. Poor parenting in sections of the community and less-than-satisfactory involvement of young people in mosques and community organisations are some factors that create a disconnection between generations. For impressionable youth this creates a vacuum in their aspiration and hole in their motivation to sail through today’s complex post-modern and highly secular life.
On the other hand, it is a stark reality that Black and Asian people remain far more likely than white people to be stopped and searched by the police on the street, arrested and sent to prison. In spite of a reduced use of stop and search powers by the police black people remain six times more likely to be stopped; it is twice for Asian or mixed race people. Muslims being a large community within these categories fall victim of this exercise.
The continuous negative media portrayal of the Muslim community that started with tabloid newspapers post-7/7, and has now spread widely into mainstream media after the Lee Rigby murder last year, is draining Muslim confidence. Racialisation, or rather ‘Islamisation’, of criminality and amplification of anything to do with Muslim and Islam are negatively affecting young Muslims who are at the sharp end of this ‘visibly’ unfair public discourse.
The Annual report 2010-11 by the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales observed, “Our thematic report on Muslim prisoners warned that an exclusive emphasis on combating extremism, combined with the wider media portrayals of Islam, encouraged staff to associate all Muslim prisoners with terrorism.”
How do we stop this waste of human talent and a huge drain on our national economy? This needs a community approach as well as a wider social agenda, both from the top and from the bottom. The Muslim community, for its part, must take this as a priority and use all its resources – mosques, community and youth centres, educational and business establishments, charity sectors, etc – to combat the problem with full force.
Support groups specialised in advice and counselling should engage with young vulnerable people to improve their quality of life and self-esteem, before they engage in criminality in the first place. They should strengthen collaboration and work with mosques and other community bodies to ease ex-offenders’ transition from custody back into British society.
Prisons chaplains should not only provide religious and spiritual service to the prisoners, but also take steps to rehabilitate and reintegrate them within wider society.
No less important now is a need for the government to review its pervasive Prevent Strategy vis-a-vis Muslims and give the community a space for their civil and political dissent. Responsible journalism is needed to curb sensational media headlines on Muslims, as they create a siege atmosphere for Muslims and much angst in the wider society.
It is time we join hands and take effective measures to beat the soaring Muslim prison population.Image from: http://soerenkern.com/?p=4459
The UNHRC Sri Lanka war crimes investigation may be welcome, but peace and reconciliation requires more
The recently passed UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka marks a high point in terms of the country’s road towards peace. The US backed UNHRC resolution paves the way for an international investigation into the war crimes allegedly committed by the Sri Lankan government (GOSL) during the final military battles of the war. According to the Office for the Commissioner for Human Rights, the resolution asks that Sri Lanka “conduct an independent investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law; and extended the mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism and of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food.” An important step, yes, and in many ways a loss in terms of political capital for the GOSL, in both national and international terms.
Those campaigning on the ground for greater attention to be paid to the war crimes allegations can take this event as the first real headway towards justice and accountability, whilst members of the diaspora that have been pushing for the international community to make a ‘real stand’, will see such progress as nothing short of momentous. Indeed, this resolution separates itself from the two that have come before by being definitively stronger in terms of what it asks the GOSL to do. It has also forced many countries to truly show their hand regarding their willingness to push the GOSL on its human rights agenda. The votes, from 47 member countries were 25 in favour, 13 against and eight abstentions.
One of the abstentions comes from regional power player India, which is home to many Tamil persons, a noteworthy departure from their support of two previous ‘tamer’ decrees issued by the UNHRC. This, of course, reinforces the strength of the resolution in question. The drive for the GOSL to prove its accountability and transparency in terms of human rights is gathering more impetus. As Navi Pillay, Special UN Rapporteur for Human Rights, suggested when discussing the situation in North Korea, we can now challenge the international community and the GOSL to a true test of action.
A small problem remains in terms of historical response and also, the power blocs that the Sri Lankan government has managed to consolidate. In the past, the GOSL has always responded to international interventions with anti-imperialistic rhetoric and personal attacks on named officials, claiming that any policy making from outside the country was an extensive act of Western neo-colonialism. The Sri Lankan government also enjoys solid support from the Chinese government, and seemingly, some silent support from Manmohan Singh’s government. These last two points seriously complicate the ability of local civil society groups and the international community to strong-arm the GOSL into conducting a war crimes inquiry, at least in terms of the near future. What this situation does reinforce is that attention must be paid to those solutions and changes that can be made from below, from within Sri Lankan society itself.
A war crimes inquiry, thoroughly and independently conducted, may confirm much of the allegations that have been made against the Sri Lankan government and its Armed Forces. At the same time, the process that takes us towards the implementation of the inquiry, and its aftermath will create further cleavages in an already deeply conflicted and divided country. At present, tensions prevail not only in terms of ethnic divisions but also between the different religions that co-exist in Sri Lanka, with significant hostility having been demonstrated between Buddhist fundamental groups and Muslim and Christian communities. The sanctity of non-Buddhist religious practices has been subsumed to a fundamentalist nationalist ethic, so much so that there have been incidents where pork was thrown into a city mosque, or where a tabernacle in a Catholic church was desecrated. The GOSL has also undertaken an extensive militarization and Sinhalisation of the Northern part of the country, imposing a kind of cultural colonisation in these areas.
During the recent Commonwealth summit, the despair and difficulties still being experienced by minority communities in Sri Lanka was made especially evident, particularly during the visits that British Prime Minister David Cameron made to the North of the country. The situation of women in Sri Lanka’s post-war situation is also grim, with many war widows turning to prostitution in order to finance single parent households. The GOSL also recently branded all Tamil diaspora groups as belonging to ‘terrorist’ factions. Despite these tensions, in a recent speech to the National Unity Conference, President Mahinda Rajapaksa claimed that no minorities exist in the Sri Lankan state, using the image of Sinhala King Dutugemunu to suggest that any racist claims levelled against the government are simply the voices of those who misunderstand or wish to undermine the Government-led post-war reconciliation project.
It is important to uncover what truly occurred in the last days of the war. Yet, an investigation that focuses so fully on the GOSL itself will alienate those who wish to point out, quite fairly, the role of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in perpetrating certain atrocities. More than this, a constant focus on top-down approaches such as policing action from the international community moves the conversation away from how local groups can work together to heal the divides and conflicts prevailing in Sri Lanka. An inquiry will largely answer only to legal, formalised planes of justice and institutional remedy. Any movement through transitional justice that has as its end goal in unitive reconciliation, must tackle both crimes made against humanity and also the deep wounds existing in, and being amplified in, the society concerned.
What is certainly missing in much of the political discourse surrounding the Sri Lankan problem is how and in what ways the country and its extremely divided communities can move towards reconciliation and healing. Indeed, what we have seen in the post-war years has only been further levels of inter-communal estrangement and aggression. There has been little sustained dialogue as to how healing will occur, or what needs to be in place in terms of formal apologies, witness statements or reparations, actions from religious leaders and so on, before the country can reconcile itself. Without a focus on radical reconciliation, Sri Lanka will not be able to progress from conflict to peace, rendering even a successful war crimes investigation, completely null and void.Image from: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/07/world/asia/07lanka.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Following several attempts at independence in the past millennium, Scotland may well succeed this time but the UK economy will suffer
On 18 September 2014, in Scotland, a referendum is to be held to potentially acquire total devolution of power to be handed down to a sovereign independent state of Scotland, with total economic freedom and without any English interference.
Scotland and England have had a long and intertwined history, including two Scottish wars of independence, dating back to 1296 and 1332 – both times with the Scots rebelling against English invaders. Later in 1603, the Scots ruled over England, as King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne through fortunate circumstances. The Scottish rule of England was short lived due to the religious ferment thrown up by the English civil wars, which resulted in Oliver Cromwell leading forces against Scottish armies and gaining control of Scotland under the Commonwealth of England.
Scotland continued as a separate kingdom until a period of economic stagnation and poor harvests, resulting in many members of the Scottish parliament seeing their country’s future hitching a ride on England’s economic success. This followed the unification of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland under the ‘Treaty of Union’ in 1707, which included a common currency and a unified parliament. Prior to the Treaty of Union, Scotland had been a sovereign state for over 800 years.
In recent times there may have been cultural differences, and some Scots have held feelings of impotence due to the lack of total control over Scotland’s affairs.
Rise in Scottish nationalism resulted in Scotland holding a referendum in 1998 for a devolved Scottish parliament and succeeded with a majority. The United Kingdom parliament retained responsibility for Scotland’s defence, international relations and certain other areas.
In the fourth Scottish parliament in 2013, the Scottish National Party proposed a bill to hold another referendum for total devolution of power to be handed over to an independent Scottish country. The bill passed with a majority and a date for the referendum was set for the 18th of September 2014.
Impacts of a possible independent Scotland
Scottish nationalists argue that being part of the UK has held Scotland back, while opponents argue that being part of the UK has played an integral part in the Scottish economic success.
The Scottish economy is a large part of the total United Kingdom economy generating substantial financial funds from industries such as North Sea oil, export of whisky, electronics and financial services.
England may have a strong economy and currency, but the lack of an estimated £15 billion of annual influx from the North Sea oil and the various Scottish produce exports may hurt the UK economy and have a significant impact. Data from 2012-2013 shows that Scotland generated 9.1 per cent (£53.1 billion) of the UK’s tax revenues.
There may be possible benefits of going alone as a nation for Scotland but losing access to the UK’s market of 60 million people and seceding from a large powerful state may hold detriment.
Scots may be encouraged by the prosperity of a couple of developing economies in Europe. One of the biggest examples of this prosperity is Slovakia, which broke off from the Czech Republic in 1993. Slovakia was known to be the weaker and less prosperous half of the Czech Republic but it is currently developing immensely without the Czech half – direct foreign investment in 2005 was shown to be $1.9 billion, compared to $756 million in 2003. Recent manufacturing plants set up by KIA, Samsung and big industrial plants such as of US Steel bode well for the country’s economy. Its economy is growing while that of its “big brother” is contracting. National wealth has soared from just 50 per cent of the EU average 12 years ago to 76 per cent today. It is the world’s biggest car producer per head of population.
In the unified Czech Republic, there was much discourse on inequality between the Slovaks and the Czech; there were comments of “we are paying for them” and “we are unfairly treated”. This is no longer the case. If Scotland succeeds in attaining total freedom, it will be in complete control of its resources, prosperity and potential failure.Image credits: http://www.heritage-history.com/books/marshall/island/zpage208.gif
General Quality of Movie: 6
Islamic Teachings: 3
Overall Benefit: 7
Imams MUST Connect with the Masses
When I first heard this movie was being released, I asked the laymen of our community – young and old – if they were going to see it. Actually most of them said they would either go out of curiosity or go in thinking it would be a morally based form of entertainment. The praise is God’s that He guided us to make a real connection with the average Muslims who are struggling with spirituality and are actually looking for guidance. This silent majority among us often feels shunned and/or alienated from religion by the chastising judgmental “conservative” Muslims whom I call the HARAM police. Many Imams pander to these peoples’ narrow and often rigid understanding of Islam. Sadly, if a status-quo Imam asked a layman about something, the answer of which could in any way be perceived as immoral, they will lie in fear of blame. This disconnect from the guidance of inclusive understanding of spiritual leadership is hindering the healthy growth of the Muslim community. Surely the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) knew the evils and vices of Makkah, but outside of polytheism and grave immorality he would not deal with the new Muslims with a judgmental attitude which is precisely why many chose to continue to so devoutly follow him even with such grave consequences. The Sunnah is:
“It was an act of God’s mercy that you were gentle and easy going with them. Had you have been rigid or harsh hearted then they wouldn’t have followed you…”(3:159)
It is of the utmost importance for Imams to not only connect with the masses, but to also build an environment that is conducive to spiritual growth. An environment that respects differences of opinion to encourage and empower all facets of the community.
Watching a Movie Depicting a Prophet
I have discussed this issue with some of my teachers and read the fatwas (rulings) of others. The basis of the majority position of prohibition is not that the Qur’an or Sunnah forbade it per say, but rather, they fear the harmful response which could be caused by the ignorance of the Muslim world.
I would say that this particular movie stayed true for the most part to the biblical Noah (peace be upon him) which, as we will see in the review, is quite contrary to the Qur’anic Noah (pbuh). So the point of this movie was by no means to make jest or speak ill of the life or person of Noah. Rather it was an attempt at capturing his greatness according to the Bible with a modern Hollywood touch to get the current generation to appreciate Noah and his story.
I can’t speak for the eastern world because I don’t understand their circumstances and how this ruling would apply to them. For the educated, diverse place I was raised in and live in, I would say that the concerns of the scholars in the East do not apply. For example, I grew up watching the 10 Commandments and Jesus of Nazereth. At no point did I believe that the actor was really the prophet and I have never seen anyone with a picture of those actors in their homes. I have never met or heard of an American who worshipped a picture of anyone. Finally, there are some hardline people here, Muslim and non-Muslim, who didn’t like the movie and disagreed with its depiction. None of those people caused any real harm as a result in terms of rioting and vandalism.
I would only advise a Muslim planning to see it or those who have seen it that if you don’t know the true story of Noah as depicted in the Qur’an then you shouldn’t take it as some sort of learning experience since it is far from the Qur’anic message of Noah (pbuh).
The Need for Muslims to Enter the Real World of Influence
Back in the 1950’s, when cinema and TV started to take root, the vast majority of scholars across the Muslim world addressed the issue of acting and filming as prophets, companions, or the great sages and leaders. They agreed that none of these should be portrayed. In the 1970’s, the scholars of Azhar agreed that there is a benefit to be derived from making some sort of depiction of the Seerah (the life of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ). So they agreed that neither the Prophet ﷺ nor the major companions who were given glad tidings of heaven could be depicted, but that they will make an exception for Hamza and Bilal radi Allahu `anhum (may God be pleased with them). This didn’t make much sense because indeed these were of the greatest companions, both of whom were also given the glad tidings of paradise, according to the Qur’an and Sunnah. So a few years ago, a group of prominent scholars including Sh. Salman al-Ouda gave their blessing for the content and plan to make a series on Umar’s (ra) life. Sh. Salman has given talks and advised Muslims to use film/television for da`wah (making people aware of Islam). Here is one of those: http://en.islamtoday.net/artshow-431-4760.htm
In another article he says, “Fatwas have never stopped the general Muslim public from watching romantic movies and television series, most of which were imported from Turkey, South America, and Korea. The Gulf States were the largest market for such films, with almost no oversight or monitoring. At the same time, gifted Muslims with creative vision and a noble message to convey were being stifled. Investors were hesitant to support their projects because of the questions surrounding Muslim drama, and this potentially huge market was being left untapped.
“If poetry had been the repository of Arab culture in the old days, then film/tv has become the repository of culture of most of the nations of the Earth today. It is in these movies and television series that people’s customs, lifestyles, and approaches to problem solving are depicted. It is where their fears, anxieties, and dreams are given expression.
“It has an enormous potential to express ideas, effect change, and form public opinion. It engages multiple senses, not just hearing or sight in isolation, and it addresses all human interests. It entertains, educates, and persuades all at the same time.”
Detailed Review of “Noah”
As a movie among movies, it was often boring, seemingly long, and drawn out. There was some good action sequences and some awesome special effects. The plot and main character was dark and hard to stomach, but the ending was good.
As far as general compatibility with our morals and values, it was void of profanity or any considerable nudity other than what you might see in public. Strangely it seemed not to endorse the institution of marriage as Noah’s son just made relations with his adopted sister and thus they were considered a couple with no sort of marriage. The violence was intense, but not so graphic. There was a segment where a spiritual experience was induced by some sort of hallucinogenic drink and in the end the lead character got drunk to relieve the pain of his depression.
The biggest concern for a Muslim regarding this movie is the major difference in the depiction of Noah (pbuh) and his message between the Bible and the Qur’an. First and foremost is the source of the conflict. The movie is depicting all of the people as believing in God, The Creator, whereas the Qur’an teaches that Noah’s people had deviated into polytheistic beliefs. Similarly the movie depicts a group of fallen angels whom God punished by turning into rock creatures. The Qur’an teaches that angels, by nature, act in full accordance to God’s will without exception and they are not tested with choice. Thus there is no such thing as a fallen angel in Islam.
The movie’s plot is that God has decreed irreversible damnation for the people’s corruption and iniquity from the get-go. It depicts Noah, not as a messenger of God, but rather as a servant to carry out His will in saving life to start over without humanity. The Qur’an teaches that God sent Noah as a messenger of divine mercy to teach his people pure monotheism and morality in order to save them from destruction and damnation. The movie makes the mission of Noah as an outsider nomad; there with his family simply to build the ark to save the means for future life on Earth without people. The Qur’an teaches that Noah lived integrated among society calling them to monotheism and submission to God. Only after hundreds of years of obstinate rebellion does Noah express his hopelessness in his people and God responds by informing him to build the Ark.
The movie depicts Noah’s people believing in Noah’s warning of a flood and so they devised a plan to survive by taking the ark by storm. The Qur’an teaches that the people mocked and ridiculed Noah while building the ark and even when the rain and floods began they still saw it as coincidence and sought to survive on the mountain. The movie depicts the end of humanity with no followers of Noah whereas the Qur’an teaches that there were many believers who embraced the prophethood and message of Noah and thus joined him on the ark.
The movie is in accordance with the Qur’an in that Noah himself was a very strong and devoutly obedient servant of God. The movie depicts him as a dark, semi-confused man who sees no hope for anyone from the very first time he receives revelation, whereas the Qur’an teaches that he was a merciful man who worked hard calling people to repentance and divine forgiveness. The movie depicts Noah as getting drunk to alleviate the pain of his confusion in understanding God’s will. The Qur’an teaches that all prophets of God are blessed and strive spiritually to moral excellence, and although capable of human error and minor sin; none committed a major sin. They are God’s emissaries on Earth and are the best human examples of piety.
The movie depicts a worldwide flood that destroys everything except what is on the ark. Some Muslim scholars made that common Biblical interpretation as the verses could be interpreted as such, yet they stipulate the condition that Noah’s message had reached all of mankind and they rejected it. Otherwise many Qur’anic commentators cite various points in the linguistics of the story that show the flood to be localized to the vicinity of Noah’s people.
The Overall Benefit
I saw huge benefit in this movie in that it confirmed my faith in the Qur’anic version that fits a comprehensive form of reasonable morality. This movie emphasized why people struggling with faith talk about “the god” of the Bible being illogical and merciless. Obviously we believe that God revealed the original scriptures that now make up the Bible, but it is clear through the miracle of the Quran, historical evidence, and common sense that man has altered its message.
The second lesson is in the huge potential of conveying the message of Islam, if we were to take Sh. Salman’s guidance and if many prominent scholars and donors can get over the scripturally baseless ruling prohibiting people from acting as prophets. 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.
These are just my personal honest and sincere reflections, and God knows best.
“O you who believe! Betray not the trust of Allah and the messenger nor misappropriate knowingly things entrusted to you.” (Al-Anfal 8: 27)
“Each of you is a guardian, and each of you will be asked about his subjects.” (Al-Bukhari)
“O People of Da`wah, Da`wah is a trust to be cared after!”Introduction
The Muslim community faces a number of challenges as it seeks to find itself and make sense of its life outside of the Muslim world, while in the diaspora. The history of Islam in North America is vague, long and varied, but the structure of the community to date lacks solid leadership, vision and rootedness. The rootedness desired is one based in a forward looking holistic vision, strong organization and a dynamic principled scholarly understanding of Islamic sources informed by a culturally nuanced scholarly reading of life in the United States and its people and institutions. We are need solid leadership that is focused on the health and direction of the community and makes that a priority.
To the dismay of many a Muslim is the lack maturity present on the da`wah (spreading the word of Islam) scene at times. The thinking and emotion with regards to life lived Islamically in the contemporary world is a major point of disruption and confusion in contemporary Islamic American discourse. It could be argued that this is a world-wide phenomenon, but that is not the scope of this reflection. The cause of our problem in the Americas can be traced to lack of vision for the community, seasoned unified leadership and a knowledge deficit. These realities mentioned manifest in our institution and thought which can be characterized as shallow and weak. The critique is intended to be constructive and as advice to us all.
There are issues that need to be addressed systematically on the da`wah platform because they cloud our understanding and jade our perception and stunt our practice. Here are a few:
- The yearly strife over the start of Ramadan, is it a fiqh (jurisprudence) difference or a matter of Sunnah (tradition of the Prophet)?
- The role of women and youth in our communities.
- The place and function of culture and custom in our consideration of fatwa (Islamic rulings) and practice.
- Understanding how to practice the Sunnah and its importance of the Sunnah
- Coming to an understanding of differences and common ground in schools of Aqida (Islamic theology).
- What is the role of our scholarly heritage and ijtihad in Islamic discourse? We find little solace in the way we address the issues we confront. Again the challenge before us returns to lack of vision and want of leadership and scholarship.
- Political Participation in non-Muslim countries—is it kufr (disbelief) or or not?
- Is all Sufism bid`ah (innovation)?
- Does taqlid of a madhab (Islamic school of thought) mean not being able to take any other opinion other than my school?
- What is our commitment to society and to the Ummah (Muslim community)?
- How do we deal with differences in fiqh and over hadith (sayings of the Prophet)?
- What is bid`ah and why do the scholars differ on defining and classifying it?
We need platforms for da`wah leadership to collectively engage despite their differences, a space that allows systematic scholarly discussion on heated issues in an open forum that is guided by principles and etiquette in which the da`wah representatives with a scholarly background can communicate their position while following the injunctions of Islam governing debate and speech. Leaving discussion solely to the Internet and in the corner of our mosques is destructive. Lives have been shattered due to not properly addressing the needs of the community to understand Islam in a principled scholarly manner.
In the Qur’an we find the principle of authority and the criteria governing leadership and difference:
“And those who respond to their Lord and establish the prayer, and their rule is to take counsel among themselves, and who spend out of what We have given them.”
“O you who have believed obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result.”
Maulana Muhammad Yusuf Kandahlawi (r) relates from Imam al-Bayhaqi (r) who reports from Ibn Ishaq that Abu Bakr (r) delivered a Khutba (sermon) in the orchard of Bani Sa’idah in which he said:
“It is not permissible for the Muslim to have two leaders. For indeed when this happens dissension springs up in all their affairs and in the rulings they issue. Their Jam’ah (congregation) is splintered and divided and they begin to internally differ. Then the Sunnah is forsaken and bid’ah emerges. Fitna becomes intense and increases. And under these conditions there is no benefit for anyone.” (Translated from the edition of the Muhaddith Bashar al-Awad of Hayat as-Sahaba, v.1)
Da`wah efforts should focus on some consistent themes that we all agree on.
- Centrality of the Qur’an
- Systematic Understanding of the Sunnah
- Foundational Fiqh
- Building our institutions on clear organizational polcies and responding to issues with a clear procedure
To focus on solutions and the possibility of a new future for us let us look to Islamic history in hope of deriving some guidance from the practice of those who came before us. In the early period of Islam the practice of the Companions was to focus their attention on the care of the Muslim populace and educate the people on the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The Qur’an then was the central point of focus and attention in Islamic learning. This was the case till this current age in the West where little emphasis is placed in our communities on Qur’anic literacy (reading and understanding). Qur’anic education was foremost about adab (manners), adab with Allah and adab with others. The Qur’anic teacher was the guide to Qur’anic culture and morality.
The centrality of the Qur’an in the earliest sense needs to return to da`wah given that the Qur’an is the foundation of Islam and that which gives the Sunnah its justification and purpose as we learn from Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi, Ahmad, Shatibi and Ibn Taymiyah, may Allah be pleased with them. Even Sufis like Ibn Arabi saw the Qur’an as central to Islamic life and thought. It’s good to see the younger generation of the people of da`wah focus on highlighting the Qur’an, but we need a Qur’anic literacy movement the likes of what hit Libya wherein overnight almost 100’s if not 1000’s of people memorized the Qur’an and began to study it. Huffaz of the Qur’an is great but we need to understand as well. This was the method of the Companions to learn a few ayat (verses) at a time, how to read them and what they entailed as far as actions and then practicing them.Systematic Understanding of the Sunnah
So much is to be said regarding the Sunnah in contemporary Islamic American discourse. After making it clear that we need to give high priority to the study of the Qur’an, we need to emphasize the importance of approaching the Sunnah in a systematic manner. The Sunnah without the Qu’ran makes little sense given that the Sunnah explicates, and clarifies the Qur’an teaching us how to translate the Qur’an into practice. And for our intents and purposes we are thinking of the Sunnah as is understood by the scholars of Usul al-Fiqh and Hadith. Consequently, we not only need to understand the ways and means the Sunnah relates to the Qur’an but also that the Prophetic biography too is an essential part of the Sunnah, and perhaps the easiest part to understand with little study of hadith sciences.
So central to a proper understanding of the Qur’an and Islam overall is a good grounding in the Prophetic biography. The dealing of the Prophet (Peace and blessings be upon him) and our ability to visualize that by way of authentic transmission well that is something to boast of. There is no other Ummah that can claim to have such intimate detailed knowledge of their Prophet except the Muslims. But in this we lack that is familiarity with this aspect of the Sunnah reading it academically and spiritually and as a source of fiqh and spiritual guidance. Leaders need to emphasize the reality that the Sunnah needs to be understood in light of Hadith sciences and Usul al-Fiqh rather than interpreted whimsically and the Sunnah needs to be implemented with correct understanding. The early generation focused mostly on the Qur’an and narrated only a few narrations this was to ensure the community was grounded in the Qur’an and understood how to properly deal with hadith.A Principle To Understand the Sunnah
Imam Ahl as-Sunnah Abi Zaid al-Qariwani, radi Allahu ‘anhu (May Allah be pleased with him), narrated that Imam Ibn Uyanah from the scholars of hadith (ra) said:
“Ahadith are misleading except to the people of fiqh,” meaning that others may interpret a thing according to its obvious meaning but it may have an interpretation which derives from another hadith, or it may have an indication which is hidden from one, or it may be a hadith which is abandoned, the reason for that only being comprehended by someone who is very extensive in his knowledge and in his fiqh.”
The Need for Foundational Fiqh
Unfortunately, we still have another level of confusion to contend with and that is how to practice the knowledge of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Alhamdulillah (Thanks to God) in today’s age we have fiqh texts written in a number of different manners. The least amount of knowledge to be gained from the study of a fiqh text, whether that text is rooted in a madhab or the fatwas of contemporary scholars or otherwise, is a few hundred rulings. These texts are translations of the demands of the Qur’an and Sunnah on our lives. So to study them is in fact to study an important aspect of tawhid (Oneness of God) and that is tawhid of worship. Because fiqh in its limited definition as a collection of rules related to worship and social transactions, (among other things) is an elaboration of tawhid uluhiyah as some categorize it to dismiss its study is indirectly to be deficient in practicing tauhid uluhiyah. Some books of fiqh are written with evidences listed and others are referenced so as to make clear the sources used and still others have none of that but are known to be reliable books taught by scholars through the ages. The companions had a main person for fatwa in every location where the Muslims lives outside of the Hijaz the matter of fiqh was systematic and not left to whim and desire. In today’s time we need fiqh counsels, group research and a body of scholars to follow. This was the method of the Companions (ra) and that of the likes of Abu Hanifa and his students (ra).The Need for Clear Organizational Procedures
This brings of to the case of Abu Bakr (ra). He is a figure of interest for he symbolized not only a great historical persona in the history of Islam but a model for intellectual, spiritual and political leadership, and it is this holistic form of leadership that we are in serious need of in our communities. We lack a leadership, which shepherds the people, a people who refuse to be a herd but yearn for understanding, a leadership which operates in unity at least functional unity.
When we look at Abu Bakr (ra) we see that he exemplified the best of Prophetic education. He understood the need to organization, leadership and unity. Understanding the manner in which Abu Bakr (ra) modeled various procedural practices to keep the integrity of the community in tact is essential for us Muslims in the West today. Comprehending the importance of procedural structure and scholarly authority in the life of the Muslim community is the initial step toward growth and maturity.
We gain from the life of Abu Bakr (ra) a number of key insights. Abu Bakr (ra) developed a grounded problem solving structure that he followed in addressing the needs of the community of Islam. The historians of Islamic fiqh note that Abu Bakr (ra) resorted to peruse through the Qur’an and his knowledge of the Sunnah when investigating an issue. If the matter was not resolved with the knowledge he possessed he sought knowledge of the Sunnah from the Companions. In cases wherein the matter was still not clear he convened the Companions (ra) to investigate the matter and from there developed the concept of consensus (ijma). On the occasion wherein they achieved unanimity of opinion, it became a legislative consensus (ijma shar’i). In the event that a consensus was not attained Abu Bakr (ra) would resort the position of the majority of the Companions. If this was not sufficient then he resorted to his own ijtihad (scholarly position).
In reading this model we learn that Abu Bakr (ra) as a leader worked in coordination with the Companions on those matters that were not clearly addressed in the Qur’an and Sunnah and only resorted to personal opinion when there was no recourse to a consensus or majority opinion. What we need from those engaged in da`wah today is to learn to work together on and care for the community through functional unity. The da`wah in the American Muslim diaspora lacks clear procedures for engaging issues, procedures that are transparent and known. We lack solid fiqh counsels, and our institutions tend toward a school of thought and da`wah rather than allow Islamic sciences to dominate. Still plagued by the divisions of 15 or more years back the da`wah needs leadership that will guide the community to growth. Each leader in da`wah would do well to consider that Abu Bakr (ra) led but in giving opinion consulted with others and in the case of need only gave his personal opinion. This was also the method of Imam Malik (ra) in the Muwatta and the opinion of Imam Shafi and Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Ahmad. They resorted to presenting what is clear before dealing with issues that open up to multiple positions or are controversial.Closing Remarks
We need a leadership that can clarify a path for the community it is guiding and work together. We need a da`wah platform which works on decreasing the amount of bickering and controversy that is witnessed today, and we need a leadership that is grounded in knowledge but sensitive to the conditions of the people ready to guide and knowledgeable about that which is unchanging and that wherein there is flexibility. We need a leadership that thinks of we rather than me and shows it cares and that it is organized. Da`wah needs strategy, it needs people, it needs money, it needs skill and knowledge—but it also needs for our leaders to decrease fitna and that they learn to work as units if not a unit. In short we need a da`wah platform that models the essence of what we find in Abu Bakr. At this point it means presenting to the people a clear procedural method for addressing issues that is used by people in da`wah to achieve an end result in comprehending issues. Before we asked for dalil, now we ask for methodology and order.
We need consistent themes in da`wah, themes that will build our community and raise literacy, themes such as:
- Centrality of the Qur’an
- Systemtatic Understanding of the Sunnah
- Foundational Fiqh
- Building our institutions on clear organizational polcies and responding to issues with a clear procedure
With a solid grounding in the Qur’an and Sunnah and fiqh we can begin to develop a lifestyle that is grounded in Iman, Islam and Ihsan but first we need a change in the culture of da`wah and to see a higher degree of unity and brotherhood among the people of da`wah.
Principles of Da`wah:
The Qur’an instructs us that part of Iman is to settle our differences in knowledge and cooperate to practice Islam:
“And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result.”
Cooperate, support one another in Al¬Birr and At¬Taqwa (virtue, righteousness and piety); but do not cooperate and support one another in sin and transgression. And fear Allâh. Verily, Allâh is Severe in punishment.
“We should cooperate on what we agree and consult the Qur’an and Sunnah on what we differ over.”
Years ago Shaikh Abdullah Ibn Bayyah advised us regarding the type of institutions we need in the West. We have yet to see them built but would do well to reflect on the advice.
In order for us to come to a point where we can work together in spite of our differences, or with our differences, we need three institutions.
1.) The first one is the institution of fatwa. Fatwa is a non-binding legal opinion. It is not binding on all the Muslims. It is binding on those who ask for it, but it is a non-binding opinion, and there is room for differences and other opinions. The mufti is somebody who gives legal opinions based on the understanding-on the ijtihaad-of all of the different areas of need in the sharia’, such as marriage, the rules of buying and selling, the rules of prayer, and the rules of tahaara (cleanliness and purification). The mufti is involved in all of these different things. So, we need a muassasa that deals with this for the Muslims. They need a sound source for guidance when these issues occur in which there are differences.
2.) The second institution we need is an institution of tahkeem, which is an institution that issues rulings. In this culture, it is called people’s court. A people’s court is where the state does not get involved with the case. The parties that are differing agree to go to somebody who will listen to both sides and then make a judgment, and that judgment becomes binding upon them based on the prior agreement of the two. This has been done already in the United States in Texas, so there are Muslims that are doing this, and we should be competing with them in good.
3.) The third institution we need is the sulih. An institution that deals deals with sulih, which is [arbitration and] reconciliation. It deals with bringing people together. Somebody brings the differing groups together and reconciles between them so that they can work together or work separately in peace; thus, they are not fighting each other, undermining each other’s work.
All of these institutions are necessary, but it is impossible to get these without having the least amount of respect and desire to bring this about. There has to be a desire for this, and if the desire is not there, then it is a disaster. Furthermore, setting up these particular institutions is not different from setting up other organizations such as those that are created for social issues, for helping the needy, and for doing all the other different things that organizations do. These three institutions are necessary for us in order for us to move on and to resolve a lot of the things that are causing disruption.
Amid imbalanced pressures of integration in France, controversial Muslim figures enter the discourse for a French Islam
It is widely accepted that, in France, imagining space for Islam in the public arena evokes a no-man’s land. Much ink has flown internationally on the burqa ban and debates on national identity. Francois Hollande was not spared controversy when he walked into the main Mosque of Paris on 18th February to inaugurate a memorial dedicated to the “Muslim soldier.” While on the far right Marine Le Pen qualified the initiative as ‘nauseating’ in her idiosyncratically crude idiom. The UMP accused the socialist party of electoral manipulation. Feelings were equally mitigated amongst the Muslim community, where some talked about a sound effort for national reconciliation while others reprehended the President for hiding the memorial in a citadel where only Muslims would see it.
There is nothing particularly new about this atmosphere of discomfort. Discussing the role Muslims have or ought to have in France has become an emotionally charged political exercise. Reminiscent of the larger enterprise of western societies’ attempts to deal with the Muslim ‘other’, it has taken on a French twist in a country which still nostalgically cultivates cultural exceptionalism. Tariq Ramadan, France’s black beast, evokes the invention of a new type of citizenship, a kind of psychological status where the citizen still has to prove his integration. Different from legal obligations or language requirements, it imposes supplementary demands, falling under what recent sociologists term ‘moral citizenship’. Although the contours of this new citizenship resist precise definition, they are driven by dynamics of mistrust: loyalty, patriotism, integration and secularism are the terms which form the new textbook for the French moral citizen – probably best captured in Sarkozy’s “France: love it or leave it”. The current socialist government’s proposal of a headscarf ban from university campuses and its treatment of the Romani issue has proven that the popularized slogan has by far crossed the boundaries of the conservative right.
These demands of true “French-ness” are very much integrated amongst Muslims who are – not without divisions – increasingly attempting to respond to them. The French media has become flooded by features on these new movements of ‘Republican Islam’ or ‘French Islam’, in which the foundations for this new moral citizenship are being set. Through a confused rhetoric, these groups strangely oscillate between a communitarian ‘guilt trip’ and the nostalgia of a ‘lost France’, and their Muslim counterparts are not spared.
This trend came under the spotlight in 2011, when Hassen Chalghoumi, an Imam in a sensitive town of the Parisian outskirts, founded a conference with other Muslim representatives to promote what he termed a ‘double mission’. Firmly supporting the ban on the burqa, he exposed French Muslims’ duty to bear not only their religious identity but also their republican heritage. Portrayed as the perfect Muslim who shakes women’s hands, hyperbolically called the emissary of an “Islam of the Enlightenment” and praised by both Left and Right as a model of integration, Chalghoumi quickly became a favourite icon for both the media and the political class.
Certainly encouraged by the sudden fame, his positions went beyond defending secularism. His speeches often echo some of the most virulent caricatures about young French-born Muslims as he goes into racially offensive alleys where only a Le Pen would be expected to walk. This is the same man who presented himself as the initiator of national reconciliation: he did not hesitate to opt for racist comments in his book where he relates his shock upon seeing his daughter’s primary class picture, asking rhetorically: “Arab, Black, Arab, Black, where are we – in Timbuktu?”
More surprisingly, the past months have seen a resurgence of this phenomenon within the unrelated context of demonstrations against homosexual marriage, as anti-gay marriage right-wing groups did not hesitate to recruit outside mosques to join the protest. This is how Islamic associations ended up marching alongside the same groups who for years have tried to deny their communal rights and space. Themes of integration and vehement reactions about a banner in Arabic quickly came to hijack what was initially a family law-related protest.
Camel Bechikh, president of ‘Fils de France’ (an organisation promoting a republican Islam) and member of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, was the main spokesman during these demonstrations – a perfect platform to advocate for an acultural Islam free from ‘foreign’ attributes.
In an interview with Rue89 after his participation in a rally organised by the Front National (France’s far-right political party) he refused to be associated with the party. However, his discourse reiterates the FN rhetoric as he highlighted the dangers of mass immigration and the need for moulding young people from immigrant descent into ‘good patriots’. For Bechikh, this would consist not in rejecting one’s origins but appeasing them – he goes as far as suggesting that Islamic skullcaps could become berets and headscarves replaced by bandanas.
Although these groups have been under vivid criticism, they continue to federate – even if one may argue that they remain mere instruments of political calculus for diverse parties. Above all, they contribute to showing that the conflict on the national level, highlighted by events such as the inauguration of the memorial of the Muslim soldier, has now very much expanded to the communities themselves. Beyond unilateral discourses of national reconciliation between the French state and its Muslims citizens, it is among the divided Muslims themselves that a dialogue needs to be established. Under the burden of integration, temptations to ‘fit in’ have led some of them to paradoxically become leaders of France’s disturbing normalised Islamophobia.Image from: http://mideastposts.com/middle-east-society/religion-in-the-middle-east/common-ground-in-the-doha-debate-on-the-burqa-ban/
Here is an inspiring narrative of a woman who was married through an arranged marriage, who grew to love her husband with passion and compassion, and who was there for him—as he was there for her—through the thick and thin of life.
“AlhamduliLah (praise be to God), I’ve been married for many years, despite all our ups and downs we never left each other’s side.
Within three weeks of being married, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. We laugh about it now and say our honeymoon destination was the hospital! By the way, we never did end up going on a honeymoon. We were just starting off our marriage which was forcibly arranged but alhamduliLah we grew to like one another after our long distance nikah (marriage contract).
During that time, we wrote letters to one another and waited weeks for a response! Long gone are those days now. But they were beautiful hand-written letters full of love and passion for a stranger—in western terms— that we wrote to one another only on the basis of knowing that a powerful contract bound us—our nikah.
So when I was finally “given away,” we started our life. I was in my second year of university and my husband was a new immigrant to Canada from Pakistan. As you can imagine, money was tight—we had an apartment, I had a part-time job, he had no work or adequate education at the time, and our parents thought this was a good time for marriage although we did not think so!
Anyway Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), is truly the best of planners. After a modest wedding party we were “officially” married. Three weeks later after experiencing shortness of breath, it was discovered my husband had cancer.
Our world came to a stop. The first week of his treatment was the longest week of my life! Time stood still, but I knew Allah (swt) would save him. I questioned my faith at that time. We plowed ahead through all the treatment—both chemo and radiation! And the treatment worked beautifully alhamduliLah.
All the while I worked in a part-time job trying to pay rent and cover the basic expenses. My parents allowed us to move in with them temporarily.
Luckily, living in Canada, we had access to top of the line cancer treatment at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. What a blessing indeed…if my husband was in Pakistan his family would have had to sell their modest home and sell much of what they owned for his treatment.
AlhamduliLah after the treatment, tears, pain and physical and emotional scars, my husband has been cancer-free for 14 years by Allah’s grace (swt).
We have two beautiful children. This was another blessing because after all his treatment, doctors were unsure if we could have children, and due to the cost of storing sperm we decided that was the last of our priorities. We left it up to Allah (swt). If we were meant to have children he would bless us with them! And indeed He did!
During my husband’s treatment he had a dream that he was making tawaf in Mecca around the Kabah. He wanted to go for Hajj but of course he was too weak.
A few months after my husband’s treatment was complete, my Aunt called and asked us if we could go on a fully sponsored Hajj trip from herself and my uncle! Subhan’Allah (glory be to God)! So our first anniversary was spent on the Hajj! Who could have asked for a more beautiful trip than that—all expenses paid? So we went and had the most wonderful experience! My first experience hearing the adhan (call to prayer) in Medina filled my eyes with tears and I trembled as I cried uncontrollably. Was this for real? Subhan’Allah!
Because my husband’s tumor was close to his heart, during radiation therapy we were told some damage could result on his heart making him more likely to develop a heart condition. Fast-forward and we are now in the process of finding out if his heart is completely healthy or not. Doctors have raised some concerns. Again we are together, side by side! Pray for him please!
During experiences like this, how can we not thank Allah (swt) for each other’s company? Although our marriage took place under not so ideal conditions, it was worth it because it brought us closer to Allah (swt).
There isn’t a day that I don’t thank Allah (swt) for bringing my husband into my life. He has always been my rock, and I see him as a wonderful gift from Allah (swt) to me. He has helped me grow in so many ways.
We still argue and disagree but honestly, compared to what we have been through so early in our marriage, many issues do not bother us.
AlhamduliLah I joke with my husband and say my dad made the best decision for me! My dad went for Hajj and prayed for a partner for me, and if I wanted to find such a wonderful man on my own I doubt I could have!
So that’s my story! Thank you for the opportunity to express my gratitude to Allah (swt) for bringing such a fine man in my life!”
*If you would like share sweet glimpses from your marriage with hopes of spreading awareness of positive relationships in the Muslim community, please email Maryam@SuhaibWebb.com with a short narrative. Your submission may be featured anonymously in this mini-series of Glimpses of Marital Bliss.
The use of water cannons to stymie protests paves the way for the curtailing of democratic rights in a vibrant civil society
The proposal for water cannons on the streets of London is picking up steam, with Mayor Boris Johnson writing to Home Secretary Theresa May to urge her to bring them to London. If Boris has his way we could see water cannons on the streets by this summer, and the UK taking yet another step towards the criminalisation of protest.
When the mayor announced his support for the use of water cannons by the Metropolitan Police, it was despite widespread public opposition. In fact, Johnson’s own consultation received over 2600 responses – only 59 of which were in favour of water cannons compared to 2,547 against.
The reason that so many people are concerned about the introduction of such cannons is because they are weapons. Their impact on a crowd is indiscriminate and they have been known to injure and blind those who are unfortunate enough to find themselves on the receiving end.
This was underlined by an otherwise supportive report from the Association of Chief Police Officers, which noted that “the full-pressure jet from a water cannon is capable of causing serious injury or even death” and states that there are also possible injuries from the impact on the streets including furniture or other debris. This point is backed up by Joanne McCartney, the chair of the London Assembly’s police and crime panel, who went further in saying that there is “no convincing argument” for their deployment. Moreover, the committee she chairs has accused the mayor of “preventing a full and proper national public debate” on the issue.
However, the mayor sees it differently. He has described their deployment as a ‘moral issue’, saying that politicians should not refuse the police something they needed for their operations: “How would we live with ourselves if we denied the police something that could have saved a life or prevented serious injury?”
The fact that the police are pushing for them should be neither here nor there. The police are often pushing for additional powers and equipment. Politicians are not there to merely agree to whatever the police ask for. They are there to represent the public. There are already far too many examples of police officers abusing their power and using unnecessary force to break up protests. One high profile example is the assault on student Alfie Meadows who suffered life-threatening injuries after a student protest. There is also no reason to believe that allowing them access to water cannons would make these abuses any less common.
In 2010 Boris himself was opposed to the introduction of the cannons, saying that he did not think it was right to get into an “arms race” with protesters. Similarly, Theresa May said in 2011, “The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannons. The way we police in Britain is through consent of communities.”
Of course, the big event which has happened since then is the London riots of 2011. The disruption may have stopped but the tensions that caused it are still prevalent. What is needed to avoid a repeat of the riots is not the growing militarisation of the police force, but a far-reaching cultural change and a political culture that focuses on the real issues that fuel these divisions, like economic inequality, austerity and cuts to public services.
There is also no reason to think that water cannons could have either stopped the riots, or can deter future unrest, a point already conceded by Johnson.
As part of the consultation, West Mercia Chief Constable, David Shaw, said, “There is no intelligence to suggest that there is an increased likelihood of serious disorder within England and Wales. However, it would be fair to assume that the ongoing and potential future austerity measures are likely to lead to continued protest.” This is an important point; not only are water cannons dangerous to the public, but they reinforce the notion that it is legitimate for the police to use excessive force to suppress peaceful and democratic dissent.
Over the last few years the Metropolitan Police has been hit by scandal after scandal, and there is already widespread distrust which cannons would only help to increase. Their acceptance in the UK would be merely the latest step in a wider trend. We have already seen a significant increase in police powers and a move towards greater surveillance. The introduction of water cannons to the mainland would set yet another negative precedent and yet another move towards oppressive policing and the criminalisation of protest.Photo Credits: Picture: Ammar rasool / APAimages / Rex Fea
She felt a knot in her stomach. Her husband was about to come home from the fajr (pre-dawn) prayer, and once again, there was no food. She was upset for him, considering how hard he worked and all the responsibilities he had, and upset at how helpless she was. But they had no food.
He came in, cheerful as always, and greeted his beloved wife. “Do we have anything to eat?” he asked, and she replied, “We have nothing.” And he said, “Well, in that case, I am fasting today!”
This conversation occurred between the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) and his wife Aisha radi Allahu `anha —may God be pleased with her—(narrated in Muslim). Had the Prophet ﷺ focused on the fact that there was no food, he would have probably felt starved the whole day. But by taking a different attitude, he turned the situation around completely. His mind could now be occupied with something useful, something other than food.
Oftentimes, when we focus on a problem, we are not actually focusing on a solution. We are so fixated on the problem that, in addition to inflating it, we close the doors to any other alternative. But the Prophet ﷺ had this amazing skill: seeing the opportunity for growth in seemingly dire situations. And once you do that, you start seeing opportunities where others only see closed doors.
So what does this have to do with failure?
Failures, setbacks, broken hearts, the loss of a job—all this takes its toll on the human heart. What is the point of trying, when trying only leads to failure? Been there, done that. If you find yourself thinking like that, then you need to remember this verse in the Qur’an:
“So verily, with the hardship, there is relief, Verily, with the hardship, there is relief.” [(Qur'an, 94:5-6)]
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) tells us that within one hardship, there are at least two reliefs (the verse talks about one definite hardship, “the” hardship, and mentions ease twice in indefinite terms). God (swt) is teaching you to look for the opportunities within your hardship. This skill, seeing the opportunity for growth, becomes invaluable during setbacks. While others are focusing on the failure, you are focusing on the opportunities.
There is now an abundance of psychological research on this. Shawn Achor talks about this in his book, The Happiness Advantage. He calls this particular principle ”Falling Up”. And he shows that setbacks can actually fuel creativity when we are in the right frame of mind, because we are forced to think in new ways. But that is only when we wire our brains to know that this difficulty can be overcome. Some people always bounce back, but others always seem to crash down. And research has shown that the difference between the two is the ability to see that a closed door somewhere means, at the very least, an open window somewhere else. Achor mentions that during the recession, the companies that made it out successfully were those that found creative ways to cope, and the managers then stated that they could not go back to the old way of doing things because the new way—born out of that calamity—was a much better way.
To help us with this, it is crucial to focus on what is within our control. We spend so much time freaking out about things that we cannot do anything about. But what can we do? When we realize that there are certain things that are within our power, we are liberated because we realize we are not so helpless after all.
Do you know the back-story of Al-Muthanna bin al-Haritha? Ask people who know about him, and they will say he was the first Muslim to defeat the Persians. But what made him do that? Al-Muthanna was from the tribe of Bani Shayban, who refused to support the Prophet ﷺ. When the Prophet ﷺ was seeking protection, Banu Shayban was the first tribe he went to, because they were powerful. But because of their special relationship with the Persian Empire, they told our beloved Prophet ﷺ that they would only protect him from the Arabs, not the Persians. They did not want to lose the privilege of being allied with the greatest empire at the time, even at the expense of the truth.
Fast forward to over a decade later: al-Muthanna bin al-Haritha, who was instrumental in this refusal to protect the Prophet ﷺ, accepted Islam a mere few months after the Prophet ﷺ passed away. He wept profusely. He missed out on supporting the Prophet ﷺ, because he wanted the privileges bestowed upon his tribe for being allied with the Persians. So was that the end for him? No. Islam empowered him. He wanted to make up for it. He knew that the Persian Empire was getting ready to attack the small but growing Muslim state. So he attacked them first. After winning some battles, he sent for reinforcements from Abu Bakr (ra), the Muslim Caliph at the time, but ‘Umar bin al-Khattab (the companion) did not even know who he was! ‘Umar advised Abu Bakr to send reinforcements, but with Khalid bin al-Walid, the greatest military commander.
When Khalid arrived with the troops and a message instructing al-Muthanna to take orders from Khalid, al-Muthanna stated that he was not looking for leadership, only to make up for lost time. When he saw Abu Bakr (ra) after winning six battles, he asked him, “Do you think now that the Prophet ﷺ would be pleased with me?” He died a martyr outside the gates of one of the major Persian cities, hoping it would intercede for him.
In his failure, al-Muthanna saw a unique opportunity. He knew he had exclusive knowledge of the Persian Empire, and he received the news firsthand of their plans to attack the Muslims. Had he been consumed in his sadness of failing the Prophet ﷺ, he would have never seen this opportunity. But he was looking for something to make up for his failings. Moreover, he focused on the things he could do, as opposed to the things he could not control. And he saw the opportunity for growth.
The more you train yourself in this skill, the more it will come naturally to you. This requires us to get acquainted with Allah, and know His attributes. When you know that He is the Most-Wise, that He appreciates even the smallest things that you do, and that within hardship there are opportunities, the more your brain automatically picks up on possibilities where others see none. And it requires us to become followers of His Prophet ﷺ by studying his journey, and how he ﷺ saw beauty in the most unlikely of places. It requires us to be conscious of the way our mind works when we are confronted with difficulties, and recognizing that our way is just one way of thinking. There are other options, and there are alternative ways of looking at the problem. Below are three steps you can take towards seeing things alternatively.
1—The long-term: Do not wait for a calamity to hit before you realize that you are not emotionally or mentally equipped. Build yourself and build the skills when times are good. The Prophet ﷺ tells us, “Remember Allah in times of ease, and He will remember you in times of difficulty.” (Musnad Ahmad)
Give yourself a daily task of writing down three things you are grateful for. Do it even when you have had a terrible day. You are training your mind to see beauty in adversity. Make it a mission to learn about how the Prophet ﷺ dealt with difficulties in his life. You will be inspired to grow in your desire to improve.
2—Focus on what is in your control: Stop worrying about the things that you have no control over. Allah (swt) makes a way out in ways you could not even imagine. If you have a difficult relationship with a family member, do not be consumed by their reactions or character. You may not be able to change them, but you can certainly change yourself. What usually happens is that people respond to your changes, even if slowly. And if they do not, their attitude ceases to bother you because you have already worked on yourself. You can take things in stride.
3—Look for the good: I was once on my way to the airport and, because I had so many suitcases (story of my life), I had booked a car to take me there. The driver asked me what I was studying, and then he told me he had studied the same subject. But then he said that when he graduated, that was when the financial crisis hit, and there were no jobs. So he started working as a driver in a private car-hire company. He learned the ins and outs, and finally started up his own airport transfer company. He did not lament the fact that there were no jobs, or the fact that he had a law degree but was forced to work as a driver. He was grateful to have a job. His eyes were open to opportunities. And now he owns his own company.
It is not to say that we will all become CEOs or millionaires, but that blessings are different for each individual. For example, some people who lose their jobs then start to spend more time with their families. Instead of simply falling into a deep pit of darkness, they saw that now they did not have an excuse not to be with their family more. And they realized what they were missing out on. In their quest to find a new job, they kept in mind that family was a priority. There is always something good if you want there to be.
I had a friend who could not bring up a certain topic with her parents. It simply petrified her. But she knew she had to. So she brought it up, and their reaction was as bad as she expected. She told me that she could choose to view what happened in two ways: that she failed, and that was that, good for her for trying, case closed; or she could think that now that she brought it up, at least her parents knew what she was thinking. Their reaction was so bad because, at least for them, her proposition was so unexpected. There is always resistance to new ideas. So instead of seeing it as a closed door, she saw it as a step forward. Now it is on the radar. And change will come, insha’Allah (God willing).
As we can see from the examples, you can apply this thinking to all things, big and small. But once you do, you will see yourself becoming more effective, creative and happy, insha’Allah. Because for you, all the doors are open.
This article is inspired by the principles in Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage.
Within five minutes of class I began to feel angry at myself. I had an exam to move on to the next level in Arabic within the hour, and I had not spent enough time studying. I had moved all the way to Cairo, to live my dream of studying Arabic, to finally understand the language of the Qur’an, and yet, here I was, unprepared for my exam.
My teacher caught on. “Are you feeling ok? Do you feel some pain?”
“Yeah…” I answered, hesitant to keep going, trying to get myself together, but needing someone to tell me: be patient, the road to knowledge is long and hard but worth it. I kept trying to tell myself that, but it was not working.
So I told her: I knew it was going to be hard, I was expecting difficulty, but man it’s hard, and man it’s difficult. I just need someone to tell me, I explained to her, that this is the way, and that knowledge is like this, that I can do it with God’s help.
And so she told me, and man, it was worth feeling all the anger and frustration to hear what she said to give me hope.
“Do you know who wrote THE book on Arabic grammar?” She asked me. No, I shook my head, I had no clue.
“Sibaway,” she said. And then she began to tell me about the great master of the Arabic language, Sibaway, may God have mercy on him.
He was a non-Arab. Persian, to be exact. When Sibaway would speak in Arabic, the people around him would make fun of him. Finally, he swore he would write THE book on Arabic grammar, and he even named it AL Kitab—THE Book. He was that confident. And Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), gave him sincere success in what he wrote. Until now, all these centuries later, she told me, no one, no Arab or non-Arab, has written like Sibaway, the master of this field.
But when he approached death, and may God have mercy on him, he began to feel great sadness. He lamented at the closeness of his death, and he thought about his companions. All of these people around him had memorized Qur’an, all of these people had memorized hadeeth (sayings of the Prophet ﷺ, peace be upon him). “Where is my Qur’an? Where is my hadeeth?” He cried. Instead, he lamented, that he was stuck between Zaid and Amr, the two famous characters in the Arabic grammar books.
He went to sleep distraught.
That night he had a dream, and he was visited by the GREATEST of the GREATEST men, The Beloved ﷺ, and was given glad tidings about his efforts!
Sibaway woke realizing that his work was indeed important, as it was a means to helping people know and understand the Qur’an. So much so that until now, his book continues to help people in their Qur’anic understanding.
“This is a non-Arab,” she told me. “This is the way of knowing the Qur’an. Do you think that if you stopped and asked a person on the street something in the Qur’anic Arabic, in classical Arabic, they could answer you? No, not just anyone can do this,” she continued, “because it takes work. It’s hard, but it’s worth it, being on the path of wanting to know the Qur’an.”
If Sibaway, a non-Arab, could write THE BOOK on Arabic grammar, what about all of you with all the skills and talents Allah (swt) has created you with? Look at what you were given, and see how you can maximize that for your ummah (community) and your society fisabilliah (in the way of God).
Let us do what the Prophet ﷺ did to help build the best generation which ever walked this earth: find the skills and talents within individuals—within OURSELVES—and take them and use them for God’s sake to make great leaps of progress. We need YOU in this ummah!
It doesn’t have to be Arabic, or Qur’an or Hadeeth—it can be anything beneficial, used to help others in a beneficial way.
And yes, it is going to be a struggle. But, as a dear teacher, may Allah (swt) protect him, once reminded me:
Isbiri, fa inna sabran nooron min Allah
Be patient! For indeed patience is light from God.
There is this uneasy feeling that I often get after being friendly with someone. It’s a feeling based on many experiences of misunderstanding and mistaken intentions. It is that uneasy feeling of fearing that my kindness and compassion will be mistaken as flirtation or affection by the person standing in front of me. But here’s the thing: I am a firm believer that this world lacks compassion. This world lacks love. Not the romantic or sexualized love that we are bombarded with in every book, movie and billboard. I am talking about true, genuine, love for all of humanity. 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, despite the hardship that he or she may be going through. The love that motivates me to check up on my brothers and sisters, because I really do care how they are doing. The love that makes me raise my hands in the middle of the night and request from the One who answers our prayers to bless my brothers and sisters in humanity with peace and light.
Why is it that the only kind of ‘love’ that comes to mind today is that of the marriage-bound, or at times not-so-marriage-bound, love? Yes, that is a type of love. Yes, that is an important kind of love. But there is another type of love that is missing in our day-to-day interactions, our hearts, and our lives. A kind of love that I am–and hopefully you will be, too, after reading this–determined to revive. A kind of love that, if spread, would revolutionize our quality of life, from the inside out.
But before I take this leap and begin to infuse this blessed emotion into all of my words and actions, let me take a moment to apologize:
I’m sorry, you misunderstood; I am not infatuated with you.
My soul is attracted to your soul, in the most platonic way possible. My heart wants what’s best for you, without gaining anything in return. My smile wants to see your smile reflected back in my eyes, not because I am “in love” with you, but because I love you, just as I love the rest of humanity.
I love you because through you, I begin to see me. I look in your eyes and I see my reflection. I love you because you just happen to be living on the same planet as me, and if I didn’t love you, I could even start to hate you. I love you because if you are hurt, a part of me is pained, because in reality we are a part of a whole; we are one. I love you because when I’m with you your state impacts my own. When you are angry and upset a part of that is reflected onto me. When you are joyous and content, the peace spreads to my soul as well. I love you because when I look at you and see your flaws, what I am really seeing are my own flaws being projected onto you. I love you because love heals wounds and makes scars vanish. I love you because without you, whether I like it or not, I would not be exactly who I am today, even if I don’t know your name. Even if I have never had a conversation with you. God placed us together on this Earth for a reason, and it was not so we could stay as far away from each other as possible. It was so that we can love each other, and through each of our love, we can begin to experience His Love—the one true Love.
Love has many faces, but we have stripped it down to only one type, and in doing this we have deprived ourselves of caring for and helping others in ways that can only be achieved by allowing His Love to shine through us. His Love and His Light.
Many of you reading may find these words too flowery, too weird or just plain absurd for your liking. If that’s the case, don’t worry. It’s okay. I love you anyway.
The victory of the AKP in local elections must be followed by a commitment on all sides for building on Turkey’s successes
The local elections in Turkey have given the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) a comfortable majority. In effect, this was seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The AKP took more than 45 percent of all votes cast and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had 28 percent. Erdogan has called results a “victory for democracy” and a blow to the “immoral, aimless politics” of his rivals.
Turkey should now heal its recent political fractures.
In the midst of a political desert, Turkish politics has shown resilience, absent from the political arena in most of its neighbours. The economy multiplied three-fold in just a decade and Turkey is now the world’s 16th largest economy by gross domestic product (GDP). Its military was brought under civilian control and social cohesion improved significantly. Given the post-Kemalist, ultra-secular nationalist stranglehold, with the military as the absolute arbiter of power and presiding over socio-economic and political stagnation, this economic and political success has been quite significant.
However, since last summer Turkey has been beset by political violence and rumours. The problem started with a protest to contest the urban development plan for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park. Protests turned violent and Erdogan’s leadership was targeted. This then escalated further with allegations of a corruption scandal in the AKP leadership in December.
It shot up again with the recent banning of Twitter and blocking of You Tube amid “national security” concerns. Erdogan blames followers of his onetime ally, US-based Fethullah Gulen, in the police and the judiciary, for orchestrating a graft probe and leaking intelligence information (in the form of alleged phone calls) to YouTube to damage his government. Gulen denies this.
A democratic country ruled by law and accountability would understandably be under severe scrutiny, from both inside and the world outside. However, one should keep in mind that Turkish democracy is nascent and is only taking foothold in the last decade after a lengthy period of political volatility, including military coups. It has a long way to go and constructive politics must win.
This week’s local election victory gives the AKP space to reflect from a position of strength. Dark politics, if any, must be unearthed but through undisturbed judicious processes. The ruling party has shown its political astuteness and it has to show similar wisdom in winning the trust of those who have not voted for it. The main reason for the AKP’s continuous success in the polls is its economic success and this should continue to be its priority.
Now that Erdogan has got what he wanted in the polls, he is in a position to show more magnanimity and humility. The political opposition should gracefully accept the verdict of the people with generosity of spirit and work constructively with the government to continue to build a modern Turkey. Stable and matured democracy needs contrasting qualities from both ruling and opposition parties.
Turkey’s political model is being watched not only across the Muslim world but in many developing countries. The model based on democracy, rule of law and accountability needs political moderation from all – be they nationalist, secularists or Islamist. Coexistence, tolerance and alliance of political moderates in the developing world are the only guarantee against extremism of political fanatics. The Middle East and other developing countries cannot remain perpetually dependent on the hegemonic powers of the West.
The post-independent Arab world has, until recently, mostly been run by absolute monarchies or military dictatorships. Political space was systematically denied to the opponents demanding democratic process, rule of law, freedom of speech and dignity. The Arab Spring, initiated in Tunisia a few years ago, gave people an opportunity to rule themselves. But Syria’s self-destructive path and Egypt’s counter-revolution by its military are proving thorns for Arab progress. The ambivalence or lack of principled stance from the West has exacerbated the situation.
There is too much polarisation, intolerance, death and destruction in this region which was once a cradle of civilisation. The ongoing sufferings in Palestine have all but been forgotten by the world community because of self-inflicted bloodletting in Iraq, Syria and Egypt. In the midst of this anarchy, the Turkish political journey cannot afford to falter.
Turkey needs strong and responsible opposition for a strong democracy. Their continuous defeat in electoral politics can only be overcome through connection with the people and ethos of serving them. Their dislike for the government should only be overcome through strengthening their political base and challenging the government in a responsible manner, not by resorting to violence. Politics should be transparent, dignified and livelier to achieve stability and permanence.Image from: Reuters
A while back I visited the clubhouse of my apartment complex. While in the lobby, I noticed some young Arab-American brothers going into the pool area. So I looked out there and saw a whole group of guys with their hookahs, “chillin’” with the ladies in their bikinis, and other guys with their beer! Frustrated, I sought forgiveness from such a sight and looked away. But lo and behold! As I walked out, I noticed a good brother I knew from the Mosque on his way in to the pool party. So I stopped and greeted him, asking how he was doing. He said, “I am going to meet some people out back… and uh… don’t worry they’re Muslims!” So then I smiled and told him I was pretty sure what was going on in there had little to do with Islam, and to be careful. He responded, “Don’t worry, we don’t drink!” So I advised him as a Muslim he should hang out in a better environment and try and make better friends. He smiled and agreed. “Okay, Imam, insha’Allah (God willing),” he said, and then went ahead to the pool party.
As we said in the last article, there are good and bad people from all countries and cultures. Sure these brothers speak colloquial Arabic, they call themselves “Muslims”, they would kiss the Qur’an and swear by Allah, but if I had the choice for my son, I would rather he hung out with more morally observant non-Muslims. Obviously the best company for any Muslim would be other devout Muslims who encourage each other to achieve piety, always hoping to follow the example of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him).
That being said, the question has been brought up: can a Muslim be friends with a non-Muslim? When I embraced Islam, I remember reading translations of the Qur’an and hearing people say that having a non-Muslim friend is prohibited in Islam! I am sure we have all heard “religious” Muslims repeat the claim. Is Islam some exclusivist religion, or is it Divine Mercy for the world?
Some scholars have interpreted some verses of the Qur’an to give this meaning. These scholars generally come from and live in Muslim countries that have only a very small non-Muslim minority, if any. My biggest concern is that linguistically, and according to the commentary of the early scholars, these verses are better understood to mean not friends in the personal sense, but political allies or guardians from those who have an agenda against Muslims. Every single verse that seems to give that meaning was revealed in Medina, when Muslims were being constantly plotted against by non-Muslims and Hypocrites, who claimed Islam outwardly, yet secretly worked with the plotting disbelievers against the Muslims.
Why pick the harshest, most alienating and decontextualized understanding of a verse and pass that on in a general fatwa (legal verdict given on a religious basis), to be copied and pasted all over the Internet? And after that major error in scholarship, why do translators of the Qur’an pick that harsh and flawed interpretation to go into a book that will be spread where Muslims are expected to convey Islam as a small minority with little influence in society? Muslims are in such grave need of real, high-quality scholarship with deep and insightful wisdom.
Let us take a look at some verses that are often misinterpreted in that way.
“Believers should not take disbelievers as ‘awliyaa’ to the exclusion of the believers. Whoever does so will have disconnected themselves from God…”” (Qur’an, 3:28)
The Imam of all Qur’anic commentators, Al-Tabari, makes it clear that this verse is to be understood within the context of hypocrisy and betrayal against the Muslims. He says, “This is God the Almighty and Exalted prohibiting the believers from taking disbelievers as political supporters. Muslims should not support disbelievers against other Muslims, exposing the weakness of the Muslims to them. Whoever does so is separated from God; considered as a deserter of faith.”
Clearly, the verse is not talking about having non-Muslim friends in general, regardless how close you are to them. The word which is used here—awliyaa’—is not the word any Arab uses to mean “friend”, even a close friend. Historically, Arabs have used rafeeq, sadeeq or sahib to refer to friends and acquaintances. Awliyaa’, on the other hand, is the plural of waliy, which is usually used in the context of political support or guardianship. God is Al-Waliy, which means the Guardian and Supporter of the believers, not the “The Friend”. The term waliy al-amr means someone’s legal guardian (for example, their parents). When referring to the state, it means the ruler.
It is clear from both context and linguistics that the stronger interpretation relates to the seriousness of hypocrisy in Muslims who take non-Muslims as political allies against other Muslims. The application of this verse to our lives here in the United States, for example, might be not to support the Republican Party or take your information from Fox News. It could also be used as a prohibition against joining the military, given the current policy which does not value the sovereignty of Muslim lands or the sanctity of the lives of Muslim civilians. However, in no way could the verse be understood to prohibit us from making friends with our neighbors, co-workers, or schoolmates.
In another verse from surat Al-Ma’idah, God says:
“Dear Believers! Don’t take the Jews and the Christians as awliyaa’, they are but awliyaa’ of each other. And if any amongst you takes them as awliyaa’, then surely, he is one of them. Verily, God doesn’t guide the oppressors.” (Qur’an, 5:51)
Again, the point is clarified by our great scholars of Qur’anic commentary. Imam Al-Tabari comments on this verse, “The early generations have differed about this verse. Some said it was for all believers, and others said it was specific to a contextual event in the prophetic biography regarding hypocrites and certain treacherous Jews in Medina.” He then cites various evidence from the sunnah (traditions and practices of the Prophet ﷺ) which endorses the latter opinion.
Imam Al-Qurtubi is another giant in Qur’anic commentary. He was born in Cordoba, Spain and during his life made many non-Muslim friends on various occasions. In his own explanation of the verse, he cites the same difference of opinion yet again and he gives a detailed preference to the evidence from the cause of revelation and the context of application mentioned in the sunnah.
“This is referring to the Hypocrites. The understood meaning is ‘O open claimants to faith, yet who secretly support the polytheists by informing them of the internal matters of Muslims.’” He then goes on to give many examples from the biography of the Prophet ﷺ.
Some modern commentators and translators—attempting balance in their approach—claim that one is not allowed to love or have an intimate relationship with non-Muslims. This claim is baseless in the classic scholarly commentary of the previous verses. Such a claim is very hard to substantiate when you consider that in the 5th verse of surat al-Ma’ida God permits marrying Jews and Christians and in surat al-Room God defines marriage as based in loving affection and compassion. Supporters of this erroneous claim rely on the following verse:
“You will not find a people who believe in God and the Last Day having affectionate love for those who have enmity to God and His messenger even if it be their parents, sons, brothers or other family members…”(Qur’an, 58:22)
The various commentaries noted that this verse was revealed after the battle of Badr, when Abu Ubaidah bin al-Jarrah killed his father. Again, there is a big difference between one who says they respectfully don’t believe in or follow Islam and one who has openly declared themselves an enemy of Islam, outwardly expressing hatred and enmity towards Islam and Muslims.
Admittedly, a famous axiom of Qur’anic commentary states that the meaning of a text should be considered in its generality, and not in the specific circumstance in which it was revealed. However, scholars have argued that this axiom cannot apply to all things, as this would create much strife and iniquity, particularly in regards to verses dealing with a just war. That is not to say, of course, that verses of the Qur’an were only revealed for specific situations and are thus void of benefit thereafter; that would negate the purpose of revealing it in a book of universal guidance. The correct position is that understanding the context of a verse helps in understanding its proper future application.
Even disregarding the context of the above-mentioned verses, it is clear to the observant reader that they do not prohibit us from having non-Muslim friends. The contextual traditions merely serve to solidify the point and give clarity for future applications of the laws.
So what does Islam teach about having non-Muslim friends? The following three verses will help clear away any confusion regarding the topic.
“Perhaps God will bring loving affection between you and your enemies as God is Omnipotent. God is Forgiving and Merciful. God would not prohibit you from dealing good and fair with people who have not expelled you from your land or fought against your religion. He only prohibits you from any loyalty to those who have fought your religion and worked to expel you from your land. Whoever would have loyalty to such people are undoubtedly the iniquitous.” (Quran, 60:7-9)
To my knowledge, all scholars are in agreement that the first of these verses is a miraculous prophecy, giving hope to the Muslims in early Medina that many of the leaders of the anti-Islam campaign from Mecca will embrace Islam. The second verse clarifies that the reason behind the enmity between Muslims and the tribe of Quraysh was because these people had abused, tortured, humiliated and ultimately expelled the Muslims from their homeland on account of their religion. If they had not done that, there would have been no enmity, rather mutual peace and respect.
As a rule of thumb, verses of the Qur’an that mention non-Muslims in harsh or severe terms refer only to those non-Muslims who have fought against Muslims and have openly expressed enmity towards them.
That being said, we continuously hear that America is fighting a war against Muslims, and so we should beware of its evil intentions toward Islam. However, the fact is that America is not fighting a war against Muslims. There is a military policy enforced by our representative style government known as a republic. The congressmen and the president’s administration have a complex policy on its “war on terror”. The policy has many sincere supporters who honestly think they are doing good in ridding the world of terror and threats to humanity. In many cases time and time again, they do this on false or faulty intelligence. Much evidence shows that the possible source of such faulty intelligence is a more sinister element in our government, that serves to defend imperial political ambitions and exploit natural resources of Muslim lands. Such a group is not representative of America any more than heretical jihadist groups represent the Muslims. It is completely unfair to judge all Americans by the corruption of a small group among them.
Surely one of the best ways to combat the bad image of Islam in America is through devout Muslims befriending their fellow countrymen among non-Muslims. Then they will come to know the truth of Islam by experiencing it firsthand. We should be strong in our faith and not feel threatened by people with different values. If we remain reclusive in our homes, mosques and restaurants, then we leave the media and those working against us to define us to the masses.