Muslim blogs

Unlock the Treasures of Tranquility

Imam Suhaib Webb - Fri, 19/09/2014 - 13:00

Photo: Ares Nguyen

I am easily distracted. This trait was a hindrance throughout my academic studies, but no doubt the area in which it is most detrimental is my worship. My daily prayers are plagued by thoughts that creep into my consciousness and silently grip my mind and heart, steering them away from Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He). Be it the pattern on my prayer mat or a task I have to do, there is always something diverting me from the most important moments of my day.

I write this as a reminder to myself, on attempting to rescue my salah (ritual prayers), a most exquisite and sublime gift from Allah (swt). A nourishment, rejuvenation and refocusing for our souls, and the first thing we will be asked about on the Day of Judgement. These windows of tranquillity have the potential to adorn our days and sustain, protect and fill our hearts amidst the transient whirlwind that is this world. We hear of people finishing one salah only to look forward to the next one, so why does prayer feel so heavy, ritualised and burdensome for so many of us? With each rising sun we witness comes a new God-given opportunity to reform our existence, to attain that contentment that every soul in this world is yearning. Don’t let another golden moment slip by. I pray He allows us to rescue our salah and fall in love with it until we enter Jannah (eternal Paradise).

The first step to take is to correct our mindset. A simple realignment of perspective is all it takes. You are not in control of anything. Your job, your happiness, your health, your family, your movements—you are not even in control of the simplest of bodily functions. He is. The beating of your heart, how people behave towards you, what you achieve—everything is from Him. He knows what is in your past and what is in your future. All honour, respect and sustenance are from Him. You are deaf, dumb and blind without Him and His provision and guidance. Everything around you is temporary, flawed and changing, but your soul is eternal, and does not belong here. One day it will all crumble and perish; only He will remain. Turn yourself away from the world and towards Him, close your eyes to the creation and open your heart to the Creator.  He has ordered us to prostrate to Him as a mercy only to us; each prayer is an opportunity to be forgiven.

Abu Dharr radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet ﷺ

said: “Allah faces the slave while he is in the salah and keeps facing him as long as he does not turn. If [the slave] turns, [Allah] turns away from him.” – Abu Dawud [Saheeh Hadith]

Reflect on the sheer weight of this hadith. The Lord of the Worlds, who is aware of and sustaining every cell in every human, animal and bacteria, from the beginning of time to the end, is facing YOU. Listening to you, waiting for you to call, looking to forgive and to grant you more. You have His full attention until YOU lose focus.

The light in your life is proportional to the light that Allah (swt) bestows on you. You will only be content and at peace if He illuminates your existence. Your circumstances may appear perfect, but you will be restless and unhappy if He withholds His light. Once we truly comprehend this principle and realise we are nothing, while He is everything, insha’Allah (God willing) we can worship like we were made to.

Doing the following may help increase khushu` (a state of humility and reverence):

  • Remember death. Imagine the angel of death ready to take your soul. Pray like it is your last.
  • Picture yourself standing before Allah (swt), and know that He is facing you, hearing and seeing you.
  • Understand what you are saying by understand the Arabic and studying the tafseer (exegesis) of whatever you recite.
  • Speak and move at a measured pace. Try to recite melodiously.
  • Pray on time, and make the sincere intention to never miss a prayer.
  • Minimise internal distractions by building your connection with Him throughout the day and taking a few moments before each prayer to regain perspective.
  • Minimise external distractions by finding a suitable setting when possible.
  • Make du`a’ (supplication) in your own language while in sujood (prostration) and after each salah. What better time to beg Allah (swt) for what you are in need of?

Make the intention right now to rescue your salah and unlock the treasures of tranquillity, nearness and purpose. Embellish your path with prayer, and know that you will thank yourself on the Last Day, when there will be no doubt that a mere two rak`ahs (units) of prayer are worth more than the entire world and all it contains.

The Lord of the Heavens and the Earth awaits you.

“Come to prayer; come to success.” – Adhan (call to prayer)

Categories: Muslim blogs

Top Tweets from the Night of the #IndyRef

The Platform - Fri, 19/09/2014 - 09:20

Of the many campaign battlegrounds, Twitter certainly showed the heat as Scots took to the ballot box

 

It’s been a well-fought and well-fretted campaign on all sides, as results for the Scottish Referendum flood our media this morning: victory for the No campaign, the United Kingdom stays united. Prime Minister David Cameron sent his congratulations to Alistair Darling, chair of the Better Together campaign, even before the complete results were announced as the result indications became clear. The margin was narrow, but sufficient to spell at least another 20 years of union.

While the traditional outlets – from BBC to Sky, The Guardian to The Sun – have assiduously reported on one of the most historic polls in modern British history, citizen journalism has also been in full swing over social media.

#Twitter has made election-night television coverage obsolete. #scotlanddecides

— john kimelman (@johnkimelman) September 19, 2014

Twitter was alive as both voting and vote-counting took over the past 24 hours of Britain’s life. Although the No campaign took home the trophy of electoral victory, on Twitter at least the Yes campaign came out on top with over seven million tweets, reports The Drum. Here we bring some of the best, brightest and quirkiest tweets from this night to remember.  

 

1. “Please Do Not Sit On The Fence”

Hands down one of the best pictures I’ve ever seen #indyref pic.twitter.com/p7bF0MOg6t — St Andrews Radio (@standrewsradio) September 18, 2014

Coincidence of providential proportions. Or perhaps the polling officers felt inspired.

 

2. Friends by Saturday

Big day in Scotland tomorrow #indyref. My head says no and my heart shouts it – but whatever happens, I hope we’re all friends by Saturday.

— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) September 17, 2014

Perhaps the Better Together campaign’s most prominent supporter, and certainly its most generous donor, J.K. Rowling, creator of Harry Potter, approached the polls with a note of reconciliation.  

 

3. The #IndyRef Drinking Game

How has no one started an #indyref drinking game?? Rules are; if you hear the words “Historic” or “Surprising”, you have to down a Dram.

— Stuart B. (@Stuie_22) September 19, 2014

Or “momentous”.

 

4. “The Box! The Box!

“…or you can trade it all in for what’s in this box.” “The box! The box!” #indyref pic.twitter.com/h21rLm4Ecu

— SimpsonsQOTD (@SimpsonsQOTD) September 18, 2014

Mr Burns makes an offer you can’t refuse.  

 

5. Compared to America…

Just in case you don’t understand the significance of #ScotlandDecides, the last time Scotland was independent was before America existed.

— Brett Belding (@bbelding) September 19, 2014

The union of England and Scotland spans 307 long years. As this astute tweeter points out, that’s before the present United States of America was formed. With Scots of the Yes campaign sharing a common ground of battling for independence from the English as Americans did 238 years ago, it is unsurprising that plenty of Americans sympathised with their cause.

 

6. The Doctor for First Minister

You know.. The Doctor is Scottish. This is probably the third time the election is happening and we don’t even know it #indyref

— CH (@error_magnet) September 19, 2014

How could we forget?  

 

7. Paul the Octopus 

It’s at times like this I mourn the passing of Paul the Octopus. He’d have had this whole thing figured in the wave of a tentacle. #indyref

— Sue Perkins (@sueperkins) September 18, 2014

We could have had this sorted over the span of a cuppa. But then, some of us live for an all-nighter of political drama.

 

8. Counting with the Count

Over to the Count in Glasgow… #ScotlandDecides pic.twitter.com/VcDmf2B5NB

— Dr Paul Coxon (@paulcoxon) September 18, 2014

No doubt the sleepless night-counters would have done anything for a visit from the Count.  

 

9. The 110%

CNN puts a 110% effort into everything they do. #ScotlandDecides pic.twitter.com/HbXWxgd3vC

— Maddie Di Muccio (@MaddieDiMuccio) September 18, 2014

CNN could clearly have done with a visit from the Count too.

 

10. Her Majesty

Staying up to see if Scotland meets its reserve on eBay.

— Elizabeth Windsor (@Queen_UK) September 18, 2014

Apparently one has been following the possible separation of one’s dominion rather closely. One is pleased to see one continues to rule all.  

 

11. The Doges Speak

Inevitable Doge tweet #indyref #ScotlandDecides pic.twitter.com/q2pmgFsEtX

— General Boles (@GeneralBoles) September 18, 2014

So democracy.

 

12. Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands

This has been a remarkable day. Scotland’s future truly is in Scotland’s hands. #IndyRef pic.twitter.com/buvgOO9j7p

— Alex Salmond (@AlexSalmond) September 18, 2014

Alex Salmond’s thoughts as polls closed are shared by many, regardless of where they stand on this vote. With a whopping 97 per cent of the electorate registering to vote – that’s 4,285,323 people – and equivalently high turnouts reported across the nation’s polling stations, Scotland came out in force for this referendum. As David Miliband put it, “Scots have taught us all a lesson in democracy.”

Image from: https://twitter.com/paulcoxon/status/512736917423534080/photo/1
Categories: Muslim blogs

My Fiancé is Pushing Me to Be Religious

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 18/09/2014 - 13:00

Photo: Walt Jabsco

Question: 

I am a Muslim living in the US and I am happily engaged. AlhamdulilLah (praise be to God) my iman (faith) and my love for my deen (religion) have always been high: I decided to wear the hijab 3 years ago on my own, I teach in a masjid, I attend halaqas (study circles) weekly. The problem is that my fiancé is a member of a stricter religious group.

My whole life I have never needed anybody to tell me how to practice my religion. I believed that it was all about my connection with Allah—my personal connection. I would feel like, by praying, I am communicating with Allah, and by reading the Quran, He is communicating with me. And that is all I ever needed. 

Now I am worried that my fiancé’s pressure on me to be more religious is what is making me turn away from Allah. My fiancé always encourages me to become a better person, supports me in what I love, and pushes me to pray and be good. And I am thankful for that. However, the feeling of being forced or pushed to practice something is something that I am not used to. I know his intentions are pure, and he is doing it all out of love, but I do not know what it is that is making me not see this.

Answer:

It sounds like you are not feeling accepted by your fiancé.  When he pushes you to be more religious in the way he chooses to practice Islam, you may feel you are not good enough.  If he has a more strict interpretation of Islam and wishes for you to join in his views, then you need to decide if that is what you want. His current encouragement and pushing may manifest into coercion later in the relationship and this can lead to resentment and tension. Rather than enter a marriage in which you are not on the same page, it is important that you talk about how you each envision practicing your faith and raising your children in the faith.

If there is mutual respect for your different practices, where he can respect your less strict interpretation and you can respect his stricter interpretation, then you will have found a compromise.  However, if either of you wishes the other person to change or be more like themselves, then you may face disappointment.  Long-term change will only come when a person chooses to change out of their own free will. Spouses generally seek to feel accepted by their partner, both in positive and negatives qualities, while at the same time they want to feel they have space to grow as individuals. Finding a spouse who encourages personal growth at your own pace is golden. Finding a spouse who accepts your strengths and weaknesses and still loves you is priceless.

WebbCounselors is a collaborative advice column produced by two WebbAuthors, Amal Killawi, a Clinical Social Worker with a specialization in mental health and marriage education, and Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine, a Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in premarital counseling. Please note that our counselors are not religious scholars and will not issue religious rulings. To read our full disclaimer, please visit our disclaimer page. To submit questions to the WebbCounselors, please email webbcounselors@suhaibwebb.com.

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Scottish Question: #YesScotland or #YesUnion?

The Platform - Wed, 17/09/2014 - 21:44

Alasdair Gray’s new book, Independence: An Argument for Home Rule, pragmatically yet problematically emphasises Scotland’s polity over Scottish identity in the bid for independence

 

On the night of the USA’s 2008 presidential election, I bunkered in my carrel in Bucknell University’s Bertrand Library. It was the best shelter I had from the inconclusive battle cries lobbed on the quad outside: students in support of then-Senator Barack Obama squared against students rallying for Republican Senator John McCain. Change, both sides claimed, was imminent; this election, both camps asserted, was a pivotal moment in American history. From the safety of my carrel, I followed the returns online and panicked: what if this election isn’t the dawn of change but another hour in the long day of the status quo? I opened a new tab in my web browser and booked my flight away from American uncertainty.

I resolved on Scotland, that myth-steeped and rugged land of my own ancestors, that cradle of philosophy and literature. I would fly out after the semester ended and determine my fate, then, when I set foot on Scottish soil. Scotland would be — for the duration of at least two weeks — my site of intellectual and spiritual refuge.

My return to the United States was too hopeful by half; a half decade of the Obama Administration’s drone wars and feeble domestic policy are stark indicators that the 2008 election was not the epoch-shifting moment prophesied by his campaign. Regardless of the outcome, the same cannot be said for the 18 September 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, which will affirm Scotland’s identity — as an independent nationstate or a constituent nation in the United Kingdom — for the foreseeable future.

As an avid reader of independence-minded Scots writers including Robert Burns, Catherine Carswell, Hugh MacDiarmid, and Alasdair Gray, I sympathise with the #YesScotland cause. But, as Gray is quick to remind the readers of his latest polemic Independence: An Argument for Home Rule (Edinburgh, Scotland: Canongate, 2014), this isn’t my vote. “This book,” Gray pronounces, “is written for Scots, by whom I mean anyone in Scotland who will vote in the September referendum to make Scotland a more or less independent nation.” The broader discussion of global Scots culture is of no import here, nor are the millions who self-identify as Scot, despite the accidents of geography, temporality and birth that keep us from our ancestral homeland. Gray remarks that he “will not waste time by discussing Scottish identity, as vague a ghost as the identity of any other millions of people.”

This tactic is wise, yet ideologically fraught. Gray abandons the political expedient of Scottish identity so as to prioritise the question of how a hypothetical, neutral Scottish polity would operate in opposition to the Orwellian modus operandi of Barack Obama’s America and David Cameron’s Great Britain. Indeed, Gray’s disapproval of the Anglo-American military-industrial complex recurs throughout this slender volume.

In the first chapter, Gray elegantly stages this confrontation in the confined space of his doctor’s waiting room, where he and the waiting room’s magazines serve as proxies for Scotland and Britain respectively. Gray cringes at the militaristic implications of adverts and job postings in these magazines: “That is how Big Brother now tells smart youngsters: ‘WAR IS PEACE! JOIN US! THE MONEY’S GOOD!” Because we are inured to these subtexts, Gray concludes that the current generation is “a docile lot,” unaware of the human costs of the military-industrial complex. Gray concludes that an independent Scotland is “[o]n my horizon the ray of hope” against the Anglo-American war machines.

Independence progresses from this waiting-room vignette through a “a brief history in twelve brisk verses” of Britain’s military conquests, before evaluating a legion of explanations for Scotland’s difference from England: geography, intellectual history, political corruption, British bureaucracy and the rejection of prominent Scots (i.e., Sir Sean Connery and Burns expert Elspeth King) from Scottish arts advocacy. Gray’s Independence is a time capsule of Scottish grievances, a scant collection suggesting a more extensive pattern of wrongs.

However, this volume reaches its emotional apex not in Gray’s glosses of Scottish woes, but in an open letter to Paddington Station’s unknown soldier. This letter stands as a civilian counterpart to Wilfred Owen’s essential Great War poem Dulce Et Decorum Est. Bagpipe music stirs Gray to an epiphany during a remembrance service: “the men named on the monument had been fooled into thinking they were fighting for a better Britain, while those who had died in World War II had certainly fought a wicked system of government.” Such manipulation of soldiers is a manipulation of the electorate. Gray’s forlorn letter to the unknown soldier is a tacit promise that a neutral, liberated Scotland will oppose any injustice.

Gray readily avows his utopian agenda, which he packages in a wild yet elegant collision of personal essay, lyric poem, national biography, revisionist history, letters, and party platforms. These different façades represent Gray’s strategy for resolving the nascent Scottish nation’s identity crisis: “The problem of every nation,” Gray concludes, “is being governed by folk with a completely different perspective — a different view of life — from those who elect them.” The book’s 13 sections, multiple subgenres, and assimilated voices practice this sensibility. Yet, this experimentation only represents the many guises of Scotland’s electorate, not the visage of a polity.

So, what is the political face of Gray’s utopian Scotland, this creature in potentia? Gray’s vision is a rough beast left unformed as the country slouches toward the referendum. We cannot acquit Gray for this oversight: Scottish nationalist writings commonly articulate programs for expanding Scots’ influence at home and abroad, as when MacDiarmid advocated for “a rising tide of Scottish national consciousness” through “a thorough-going reconcentration, in our schools and universities and elsewhere, of Scottish literature.” The consequence is that Independence re-deploys the empty rhetoric of party banter: it is a glittering hoard of hoped-for results, without the treasure map of policy.

Gray admits that he, “a semi-alcoholic, octogenarian invalid[,] was not the kind of politican Scotland needed,” and he advocates for young politicians with “imaginative, independent minds.” Gray does not identify any of these “brave minds,” leaving Scots with First Minister Alex Salmond’s problem-riddled plans for Scotland’s financial system, its stakes in North Sea oil and national security. These gaps shift the spotlight to the polemic’s further inconsistences. Exemplifying this is Gray’s disavowal of Sir Walter Scott’s invented stereotype, “that most Scots were mountaineers who wore tartan plaids” — even as Independence proposes a rigidly masculine history of Scotland that celebrates its great men. With the notable exception of novelist Naomi Mitchison and a glancing reference to his own wife, Gray — like America’s John Adams — has forgotten the women, an unwitting reenactment of Sir Walter at his most misogynistic.

Gray’s Scotland is defined by its potential, by its difference from America and England. It’s this strange otherness that first drew me to Scotland in 2008, and that entices me still. Like Gray, I too believe in the possibilities still buried in the Scottish earth. But neither this optimism nor Gray’s utopian vision resolves the central question at stake in the referendum: what is Scotland’s identity? The referendum is the first premise in that answer.

Image from: http://www.thecommentator.com/article/4517/new_blow_to_scottish_independence_bid_as_catalan_leader_admits_secession_from_spain_could_mean_eu_exclusion
Categories: Muslim blogs

Child Sex Abuse: An Escalating Reality

The Platform - Wed, 17/09/2014 - 05:10

Recent events in Rotherham have uncovered more shocking realities about child sex abuse in the UK, yet victims are still left worse off in prosecution cases

 

What happened in Rotherham was terrible. It is still terrible, because it has not ceased. And each day new information emerges, suggesting that Rotherham might just be the tip of the iceberg. Child sex abuse has been going on for years with few willing to acknowledge its reality. I do not wish to go into detail regarding the sufferings endured by the girls in Professor Jay’s report. You have probably read more than you want to about it already.

But it is good if you have. The only thing worse than knowing that such terrible crimes have been committed, is that they be committed in secret; the silence in which such crimes thrive. They depend on the victims being too confused or cowed to tell anybody. They depend on the victims having their lives so ruined as a result of their abuse that nobody believes them when they do summon the courage to come forward.

Chaotic lifestyles, including mental illness, self-harm, petty crime, drug and alcohol misuse are common behavioural symptoms of victims of child sex abuse. They have also been treated by the authorities as an indication that a person makes an unreliable witness, and so causes them to decide that no prosecution would succeed based on the victim’s testimony.

So, precisely because of the consequences of the crime they are victims of (and generally speaking, the worse the abuse, the worse the symptoms), the most vulnerable and damaged people in our society have been unable to get their abusers prosecuted. This is a monstrous injustice. Thankfully, prosecutors are beginning to understand this and are attempting to explain to juries the effects of child sex abuse on the victims’ lives.

It is hard to know where the scandal of child sex abuse may go next. We have heard of abuse within the Catholic Church (and other churches), we have learned of the abuses committed by Jimmy Savile and other celebrities, we know of abuses carried out by teachers in some of Britain’s most prestigious private schools, by workers in children’s care homes, by prominent politicians, even by paediatric doctors in hospitals and now by grooming gangs in Rotherham and other cities. The rate at which new scandals are being uncovered reveals that we have not yet learned the full extent of this crime– there is more to come. And by the time it is all uncovered we will probably find that it is beyond our worst imaginings.

The details of the scandals differ, but there are some common points. The first is that the victims are themselves frequently unwilling to come forward. In the Rotherham case this is hardly surprising given the amount of violence that appears to have been involved. But it is common in other cases as well. Shame, a misplaced sense of loyalty, a belief that the victim herself has done something wrong and may be punished; these are all common ideas which are assiduously fostered by abusers to keep their victims silent. Different techniques are used in different situations, but they all have the same aim. Just by analysing the Twitter hashtag #WhyIStayed, we can see that it’s hard enough for adult victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence to come forward. It is even harder for a child.

The second common aspect is that in almost all cases, there were adults who knew but didn’t act. The interests of the abusing adult were put ahead of the welfare of the abused child. In many cases the child was not valued or not believed and so no action was taken. They are believed to be making “lifestyle choices“, as in the case of Samantha Morton, the film actor who was sexually abused in children’s homes in Nottingham. Morton’s complaint of serious sexual abuse was recorded as “frolicking”. This is not restricted to police and social services. Families can also exert pressure on children not to come forward lest the fact that they have been the victim of a crime brings shame on not only themselves but also on their whole family.

The third shameful aspect of child abuse, which has also manifested itself in Rotherham, is institutions putting their own reputation ahead of the welfare of those they are supposed to be caring for. While in Rotherham, it appears that the council itself has covered up cases of abuse, it is also extremely common for schools to be complicit in the concealing of abuse cases in order to save their reputations. The Times recently reported that 130 independent schools are subject to having civil action taken against them because of abuse by teachers.  And it seems that some hospitals would rather cover up abuse than reveal the extent to which they had allowed celebrities such as Jimmy Savile to abuse vulnerable patients unhindered.

In subsequent articles I will address each of these aspects in more detail. Indeed, a single article can do little more than scratch the surface. But one thing that can— and must— be remembered is that we all have a part to play in protecting children. None of us have any duty to protect rapists from the justice they deserve.

This article is the first in a three-part series on child sex abuse.

Image from: http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9299072/the-rotherham-report-suggests-that-social-workers-are-as-often-harmful-as-helpful/
Categories: Muslim blogs

The Menace of So-called “Jihad”

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Tue, 16/09/2014 - 08:49

Those of us who have been speaking out against the menace of so-called “Jihad” must redouble our efforts. “Jihad” is far more than a threat to the lives of unsuspecting innocent people, both here in the West and in Muslim countries. It is a threat to our religion, in terms of how Islam is being represented by the advocates of “Jihad” and how it is being perceived by others. Muslim scholars cannot remain silent and allow this misrepresentation to go unaddressed.

As for those youth who have been alienated by the systematic “othering” of Muslims in the post-9/11 anti-Muslim climate that is deepening here in the West, they would do well to consider a different set of religious teachings when studying Islam. True religion is not to be found in emotional and sensational reactions to current events and mind-numbing atrocities. True religion is not to be found in a self-glorying end brought on by a hail of bullets or a murderous act of suicide.

Rather, true religion provides the spiritual direction needed to find one’s self-worth and human value in ones relationship with God. True religion provides the solace and succor needed to find inner peace even when outer realities are crushing. True religion provides nobility that empowers its possessor to fearlessly challenge oppressors while mercifully protecting innocent life, regardless of the race, religion, color or creed of the blameless. True religion provides a path to heaven that is paved with devotion, lofty morals and patient, dignified struggle against the schemes of one’s ego, the vicissitudes of the world and the vagaries of both power and powerlessness.

As for those who are deceived into believing that wanton murder, mayhem, destruction, suicide and inviting war and hatred against one’s coreligionists represent an express road to paradise, they should think deeply before embarking on that path. Religion teaches and history demonstrates that such a path is a sinister, nefarious route that winds steadily, oftentimes irreversibly, into a deep, dark cold abyss.

“When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Hot and Cold of the Ice Bucket Challenge

The Platform - Mon, 15/09/2014 - 05:02

The Ice Bucket Challenge Achieved ALS awareness, but not without a cost

 

With temperatures hitting an all time high this summer, the idea of having a bucket of ice thrown at you sounds all the more tempting. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge does just that and went viral across the globe. The challenge involves dumping a bucket full of icy cold water over someone’s head. Individuals are to nominate participants and dare them to partake in the challenge. The nominated participants must be filmed having the bucket of ice water poured on their head after naming their nominees to take the challenge. The catch you ask? They are given 24 hours to comply with the dare or surrender; the penalty for which is giving monetary donations to the ALS Association. This was a phenomenon introduced in an attempt to promote awareness of the disease and encourage donations to fund research.

Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

So far people have been referring to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis  in its acronym form – ALS. Otherwise known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

As motor neurons degenerate, they can no longer send impulses to the muscle fibers that normally result in muscle movement. Early symptoms of ALS often include increasing muscle weakness, especially involving the arms and legs, speech, swallowing or breathing. When muscles no longer receive the messages from the motor neurons that they require to function, the muscles begin to atrophy (decrease in mass). Limbs begin to look “thinner” as muscle tissue atrophies.

A little spark of creativity can truly go a long way for a cause. Not only did the campaign generate funding in the millions, but it also educated society in the process. Credit must be given where it is due; it made a disease that was previously unheard of by many – with the exception of those suffering from it such as Hawking and Gehrig – into a universal phenomenon.

Between Creativity and Wastage

If only for a short period of time, the ice bucket challenge provided people with a new perspective of ALS. Suddenly ALS was something that the citizens of the world could collectively help solve.

When a concept becomes an overnight sensation, critics wait around every corner to burst the short term bubble of joy. For starters, the Ice Bucket Challenge is being accepted and completed for all the wrong reasons. Some have argued that people are doing it as a fun way to keep busy and entertain themselves rather than supporting the cause. How many people have actually paid up for donations, aside from celebrities that have bank account that could easily compete with Scrooge McDuck’s infamous money bin?

“Non-profits and charities don’t have big marketing budgets so sometimes they’ve got to do something a bit out of the ordinary to grab people’s attention.”
- Louise Walsh, CEO of Philanthropy Australia

Others are of the opinion that the challenge is offensive to say the very least. A bucket of freezing cold water was supposed to be a punishment for not complying and donating. Participants are overlooking or failing to comprehend the rationale behind it all – donate money to the cause -and instead are making a mockery out of it. I highly doubt that a ten year old or even teenager is taking part for philanthropic reasons.

The mother lode of all criticism however came from international organisations and non-governmental organizations, who have said that while commendable, the challenge may be a case of misplaced priorities. Figures estimate that approximately 6 million gallons of water have been used to participate in the challenge. Meanwhile, some 783 million people in developing world countries lack access to clean drinking water. Since July, $20,000,000 has been raised for ALS and, ironically, The Water Project was able to raise only $1,800,000 over a span of a year.

A hand full of influential individuals tried to work around these criticisms and found other ways to support the cause. Hollywood actor Matt Damon suggested using water out of the toilet arguing that it is still cleaner than most third world countries. Charlie Sheen has suggested filling up the bucket with the amount of money that you plan to donate instead in order to preserve water and yet be a supporter to the cause.

Spin-Offs and Silver Linings

The Ice Bucket Challenge sparked a bit of creativity inspiring many to come up with their own challenges. The Ten Book Challenge for one brought out the nerdy side of us. The participant is to challenge others to list ten books they have read that inspired them or left an impact in any way. I must admit it was fun and interesting to see some the books people all over the world were reading.

Captivated by the Rice Bucket Challenge – donating a bucket of rice to someone in need – Palestinians were inspired to start their own Rubble Bucket Challenge as a symbol of solidarity with those who lost their homes in Gaza as a result of the conflict with Israel over summer. Since water was a scarcity, they decided to fill the buckets with rubble and sand.

The Ice Bucket Challenge may have been fun for some while it lasted. Despite the negativity ignited along its way, it can be argued every cloud has a silver lining. How else would the little philanthropists inside us be inspired to find new ways to support their favourite causes.

Image from: http://time.com/3107510/ice-bucket-challenge-als-we-need-to-do-better/

Categories: Muslim blogs

Stairway to the Future

The Platform - Fri, 12/09/2014 - 13:34

A university education in London makes for unique influences on career perspectives

 

Ford Madox Ford wrote in The Soul of London that ‘London is the world town, not because of its vastness; it is vast because of its assimilative powers, because it destroys all race characteristics, insensibly and, as it were, anaesthetically’. I believe in London’s assimilative powers, but I disagree with Maddox when he says it ‘destroys’ one’s race characteristics.

London’s soul is created by all races and cultures, and that is why one’s own culture can merge with the culture of this city with ease. As for the ‘anaesthetic’ aspect of this assimilation, I think of it as the most aesthetic thing in the world. One finds beauty in the mixture of colours, in the chaos of cultures, in that rain of foreign words. This mixture is what makes London have the ‘soul’ we want to describe in the first place.

Perhaps it is this ‘soul’ that has attracted nearly 103,000 international students to study in London in 2011. As an international student myself, and an English Literature one at that, I feel very comfortable in the atmosphere of London. I could not have asked for a better place to study at university level. I feel that when I go back to university every September, I am going back to my true home.

However, London is also the epitome of aggressive competitiveness. Thus, returning to university means returning to the rush of the world we live in: going back to the stress, the daily doses of caffeine, the all-nighters in the library and so forth.

Entering University is the first step towards the hard reality of the career world – and it shows, particularly in a city like London. As each year of your degree progresses, against a backdrop of high flying city workers in smart suits, you are a step closer to the career of your desire and things get tougher. The day seems to have less and less hours, and you find yourself wondering how you can handle the pressure. ‘You’d better not trip,’ they say.  ‘You’d better pass all your exams and have better marks than everyone else in your year if you want to have a good job’–  that too is as long as you have studied at a good university.

When it’s finally over and the degree is complete, you then need to pay off the frighteningly large student loan debt of £27,000 – and that excludes the extortionate living expenses of London. You might choose to continue with your education or get a job; that is how things are predicted to go.

Unfortunately, however, that’s not always how things plays out. We may find ourselves compelled in our career and postgraduate education choices as fees rise, debts weigh in and the need to repay looms. Or sometimes we may even change our mind completely and seek to switch our educational and career paths.

University should be the time to trip and fall down the stairs we climb to the future; while our bones are still solid and our joints have enough oil, and while we are still quite close to the ground. It should be the time to make mistakes and learn, get to know yourself, get an idea of what you want to do in life, rather than decide your path straight away without having even started to learn about what it will entail.

We spend most of our teenage years preparing for university. Society drags us inevitably into that direction, conditioning and pressuring us with the notion that university is a turning point in our lives, when our futures will be decided. Yet, when I think of who I was when I entered university and who I am now, I realise I have new goals and ambitions. I find myself speculating what degree and in which university I would be studying at had I known what I know now. Would I be better prepared for the field of Medieval Studies had I embarked on a History degree?

Before I came to London, I thought I had everything figured out – I would finish university, be swept into the career world and I’d never have any difficulties or doubts. Everything would work out smoothly, thanks to the preparation. The pressured and competitive atmosphere of London would seemingly have reinforced my career aspirations.

Yet, as I enter my third year studying in and experiencing this cosmopolitan city, I am forced to question: university may be the first step into our future, but why should it determine that future so dramatically? Rather, it should be the time to consider and mature our plans, make mistakes and learn from them.

While London may be the city of driven careers, its cultural vibrancy also allows us to broaden our horizons and rethink our aspirations. For those of us who are students here, I believe we have a perfect setting for self-discovery on the stairway to our future. As the new term begins, let’s take advantage of it.

Image from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/10959047/UCAS-women-more-likely-to-apply-to-university-than-men.html
Categories: Muslim blogs

The Big D-Word

The Platform - Fri, 12/09/2014 - 12:18

The loss of Robin Williams has been a grim gain for depression as renewed interest ignites on the disease  

 

We used to talk much about the ‘Big C’. Vast amounts of charitable action and billions of pounds and dollars have been thrown at the issue, and at research for treatment. On the other hand, the ‘Big D’ – Depression – has remained a taboo topic in public debate and is the Cinderella of medical matters. It suffers from under-diagnosis, misdiagnosis, misunderstanding, confusion, shame and even contempt. It is usually accompanied by a shrug of annoyance and ’encouragement’ to ’pull yourself together,’ even though it is a disease.

This Victorian approach to the problem only compounds the disastrous effects of depression on our society. The stereotypical depiction of someone with depression is of a listless mother (single for preference) with long, lank, lustreless hair; an expressionless face, dependent on a cocktail of “our” hard-earned, tax-paid-for drugs and welfare benefits. This is an egregious, unfair and shocking situation. I would suggest that it is up there with racism and bigotry, and therefore socially stigmatising. So it turns out our loss of Robin Williams is a grim gain for depression as the media turns its attention to the problem.

The Guardian ran a report on depression by their health editor, Sarah Bosely, in which she points out: ‘Less than a third of people with common mental health problems get any treatment at all – a situation the nation would not tolerate at all if they had cancer.’ She cites Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who remarks: ‘people are still routinely waiting for – well, we don’t really know, but certainly 18 weeks, possibly up to two years – for their treatment that is routine in some parts of the country.’ ‘Imagine,’ he told her, ‘the reaction if I gave a talk that began: “so, we have a problem in cancer service at the moment. Only 30% of people with cancer are getting any treatment, so 70% of them don’t get any treatment at all and it’s not even recognised.” You would be appalled and you would be screaming from the rooftops.’  Quite.

While England’s NHS Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, sympathised with Wessley’s horror at these statistics, he informed him that the issue would involve a ‘much longer dialogue with the public.’ His comment scantly conceals the real problem: the government’s insistence on austerity as £12 billion additional cut-backs are due to come on stream. While the chancellor has no choice but to match pound-for-pound money raised in the voluntary sector for cancer because it is such an obvious, multiple cause of death, the government and, to a certain extent, society remain indifferent to or intolerant to the problem of depression.

Depression, however, is largely a hidden condition with a less obvious connection to death. It is on a spectrum ranging from occasionally ’feeling blue’, recurring instances of what Churchill described as his ’Black Dog days’, up to a clinical condition needing life-long chemical solutions. In extreme cases, depression can lead to schizophrenia and, exceptionally, suicide. From symptoms occasioned by bullying through circumstantial set-backs, anxiety,  panic attacks and beyond, the causes are various and often multiple.

Of those burdened with depression, 90% of sufferers remain untreated inside the NHS target of 18 weeks, while many remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as doctors are divided about depression and uncertain about the variety of symptoms presented, as well as the appropriate prognosis. Ms Bosely writes: ‘A larger proportion of people with psychosis, who have severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, are on treatment but even that figure is still only 65% according to Wessely, who added: “For most mental disorders it is still the exception not the rule to be recognised, detected and treated.”’

Wessley further argues that ‘the concern over pills for depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) could be misplaced’. He suggests that much of the criticism assumes that GPs are putting more people on pills because of an absence of talking therapies. However, the number of therapists being trained to provide Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has substantially risen thanks to a government programme called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT). ‘If you say they [pills] are more effective,’ he concludes, ‘I don’t really think that’s true. I think they are cheaper and easier. CBT is certainly more popular with some, but others don’t like it. The truth is most people don’t get either.’  My advice on CBT is this: don’t be  shy, polite or ashamed. As the old BT ad used to say: ‘It’s good to talk!’

Unfortunately, to governments, disease is unprofitable and has a negative effect on the bottom line. So we cannot expect any more help from the Austerity State. Disease exposes our frailty. It challenges our infallibility and expectations of immortality. The government can always find the cash to bankroll rebels in Syria or resistance in Iraq. It can finance arming the entire military industrial complex that is Israel and its brutal Israeli Defence Force (IDF). State-sponsored murder has always been a profitable business; medical care, however, is too costly and time-consuming.

The Victorians abandoned sufferers of depression and dementia in asylums. It is high time we provided them with asylum – literally, “shelter” – and the care, comfort, humane medical or psychological assistance we can. Above all, it is our acceptance, understanding, love and compassion that are what we really have to offer – and offer it we must.

Image from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-rottenberg/seeing-depression-in-the-wrong-light_b_4945290.html
Categories: Muslim blogs

Dignity, not Charity

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 11/09/2014 - 13:00

By Louiza Chekhar

Photo: Dave Shea

One day, a man from Medina approached the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) for help, and the Prophet ﷺ asked whether he had any possessions in his house. He asked the man to bring the cloth and bowl which he owned, then sold them to one of his companions for two dirhams. The Prophet ﷺ told the man to spend one dirham on food for his family, and use the other to buy an axe – then he instructed him to “go and gather firewood, I do not want to see you for a fortnight.” By gathering wood and selling it, the man made ten dirhams, which he used to buy food and clothes for his family – the Prophet ﷺ told him, “This is better for you than that begging should come as a spot on your face on the Day of Judgment.”1

Every human being, rich or poor, has a right to the God-given dignity mentioned in the Qur’an: “We have certainly honored the children of Adam…”2 According to some scholars, such as ash-Shawkani and al-Qaradawi, al-‘ird (dignity and honour) is so important that it forms one of the maqasid ash-shari’ah – the higher objectives of the Islamic Way which Islam’s teachings aim to protect.

It is especially important to be conscious of maintaining dignity when giving charity. The word ‘charity’ itself can have negative connotations, leaving recipients feeling helpless and ashamed at having to rely on others. Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), gives us careful instruction not to belittle those we give to: “O you who believe, do not invalidate your charities with reminders or injury…3 In fact, we are told that we are not doing anyone a ‘favour’ by giving; it is a right that the poor have over the wealthy, a duty that we must fulfill – we are “those in whose wealth there is a known right for the petitioner and the deprived.”4

We know instinctively that begging is not dignified – just imagine for a moment how humiliating and frustrating it would feel to depend on others day after day for handouts, knowing that you would support yourself if you had the choice? The Prophet ﷺ also spoke of this humiliation: “Begging is a cut that a person inflicts upon his face, except for asking a ruler, or under the stress of circumstances from which there is no escape.”5 Instead, we are encouraged to work for our sustenance: he ﷺsaid, “It is better for one of you to take a rope and cut wood, carry it on your back and sell it, rather than to ask another person”6 ; “No-one has ever eaten better food than what he eats from the work done by his hands.”7  

So, if we are believers who “love for [our] brother/sister what we love for [ourselves]”8 , we should hate to see our fellow human beings stripped of their dignity by poverty, and feel compelled to do all we can to help them escape their situation. Yet in the Muslim charitable sector today, we see countless appeals for handouts which relieve suffering for just a week or two – food parcels, water trucks, orphan sponsorship which must be paid month after month – ultimately keeping communities poor and dependent on charity.

The burden isn’t just on charities, but on Muslim givers too, the community which welcomes these appeals without questioning or critiquing the approach. MashaAllah (what God wills), the generosity of Muslims is unparalleled and commendable: a recent survey in the UK showed that British Muslims give more in charity than any other faith or non-faith community9 . But just imagine how much good could come from our donations if they were put to better use; in the narration mentioned earlier, the Prophetﷺ managed to use two dirhams to lift an entire family out of poverty!

If we are to truly embody the Prophetic model of charity, a model which restored people’s divine right to honour and dignity when they fell on hard times, there are a few key steps we need to take:

  1. Understand the essence of Islamic teachings on charity: When we hear reminders that “the best deeds are feeding the poor…”10 or “whoever supports an orphan will be with the Prophet ﷺ in Paradise”11 , we should understand that the underlying objective is not the form of charity (giving handouts), but rather the outcome: helping people meet their basic needs. Helping a widow start a small business to support her orphan child is just as praiseworthy as giving her monthly sponsorship, and when the Prophet ﷺ helped his companion earn a living, he was responsible for feeding that family just as much as if he had given them a meal. In fact, the ongoing nature of this kind of support makes it a sadaqah jariyah (continuing charity), a highly commended act.
  2. Learn more about how the prophets gave charity: We all grew up with the same narrations about feeding the poor and giving generously, but I only heard the hadith (narrration) at the start of this article for the first time last year! The Qur’an also tells us how Prophet Yusuf, ‘alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), advised the Egyptian authorities to save a portion of the grain from good harvests for upcoming droughts12 – we can learn lessons from this to help disaster-prone countries prepare for emergencies by storing food, rather than being left destitute and dependent on overseas aid when a crisis hits.
  3. Focus on those we are helping, not just ourselves: Islam teaches us that charity not only benefits others, but also brings the giver great reward and purifies their wealth. However, by focusing only on what we gain, it is all too easy to donate and feel that we have ‘done our bit’, without thinking about the positive or negative effects on those who receive our charity. We should of course recognise and reflect on the spiritual benefits of giving, but it is also worth doing some research into the kind of work that different charities do to make an informed decision about where to donate. After all, we will be rewarded for giving sincerely and with good intentions anyway insha’Allah, we may as well reap the double reward of lifting someone out of poverty and the cycle of dependency!

We have a huge responsibility on our shoulders: ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him), once said, “When the poor and needy come to you, know that your Lord has honoured you beyond measure.” I hope and pray that through reflection and informed charitable giving, we are all able to fulfill the “right for the needy and deprived” on all of us, and contribute to the restoration rather than degradation of their God-given dignity.

  1. Abu Dawud
  2. Qur’an 17:70
  3. Qur’an 2:264
  4. Qur’an 70:24-25
  5. Tirmidhi
  6. Bukhari
  7. Bukhari
  8. Bukhari
  9. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/faith/article3820522.ece
  10. Bukhari
  11. Bukhari
  12. Qur’an 12:46-48
Categories: Muslim blogs

A Mother and More: The Virgin Mary

The Platform - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 21:32

Narratives of Mary have focused on her motherhood to Jesus, but her virtues as an individual are just as exceptional

 

The eighth of September for Catholics marks the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. Her birth, nine months after her Immaculate Conception (not to be confused with the Virgin Conception) is marked not only due to her importance and deserved veneration, but also to celebrate that she was born without Original Sin, an honour only bestowed upon Jesus, John the Baptist and herself.

In Islam Mary, or Maryam, is also deemed by some as one of the two people not to have been hurt by the touch of the devil at birth, the other being Jesus. With a whole chapter of the Qur’an entitled Mary and another chapter about her family (The Family of Imran), Mary is often a topic for discussion in interfaith dialogues. Digging deeper than what is often thrown about in these conversations has led me to uncover treasures. Learning about Maryam without the usual discourse surrounding her has helped me connect with her as a woman, irrespective of being a mother.

‘She lives up to her name!’ I recall hearing on numerous occasions about my friend Maryam, whose maternal instincts and inclinations made her a strong and tender mother. The idea of motherhood has always been synonymous with Maryam in my mind. My own grandmother, a Catholic from Ireland, was named Mary, which compounded the idea of her being a gentle, nurturing female figure.

In my own research about women in Islam I have waded through tides of saccharine literature about how Mary, one of the four greatest women in Islam, had added clout by virtue of her being mother to one of our greatest Prophets. To bear a Prophet through miraculous means is awe-inspiring, but, as I am not yet a mother, I never really felt a connection with her portrayal. I always felt closer to the scholastic and feisty Ã’ishah or felt a wholesale connection with Khadījah. The inescapable iconic depictions of Mary made her feel distant and untouchable.

But Maryam is so much more than just (and I use this only for emphasis, because I will never belittle the role of motherhood) a mother. Her portrayal is in fact dynamic, with peaks and troughs of faith. Her own birth, which is often overlooked, was miraculous. In verse 3:31 of the Qur’ãn, it describes how her mother Anne (Hannah), long past child-bearing age, supplicated for a child and swore to devote it to God if He fulfilled her prayer. This is important in understanding Mary, because she was a blessing in her own right, a pious and spiritual woman, spiritually linked to another woman.

This too is reflected in Mary’s own motherhood. In the Qur’ãn and the Qasas al-‘Anbīyã (Stories of the Prophets), the latter a compilation by the late medieval scholar Ibn Kathir, she was established as an independent and spiritually attuned person, who would take care of the temple to which she was devoted and trusted God alone for her provision. I often reflect on this fact and whether I, currently childless, am ready to bring up a decent child based on my own spiritual state. It isn’t the fact that these women were great because they had children, they had children because they were already great.

Muslim belief emphasises that neither Jesus nor Mary were divine, but does believe in the Virgin Conception of Jesus. The Qasas relates a sparky conversation between Mary and Joseph (Yūsuf) the Carpenter, who tries to suggest that there is doubt about her Virgin Conception. She responded with multiple examples of God’s power to create without the need of any assistance, which makes Yūsuf realise the miraculous nature of her circumstances. This intelligence and confidence in her assertions, without being belittled or lambasted because she is a woman, is a lesson for all.

Oddly, it is one of her times of grief that I find I can connect with Mary most. Gripped with the pains of labour she is reported to have said ‘I wish I had been dead and forgotten long before this!’ Required to translate this very verse for my Masters finals, I almost couldn’t believe the poetry and macabre despair in the wording, forcing me to double (even triple) check other translations. Mary, the mother of Jesus, the only woman mentioned in the Qur’ãn by name, one of the most important women to Muslims, the one who some believe is a female prophet, and to whom Jesus’ epithet breaks the convention of being named after one’s father (‘īsa ibn Maryam), was so gripped with pain and despair that she almost couldn’t bear it. It was this phrase that made me acutely aware that she was a woman in pain, scared of the outcome of this birth; far from the depictions that made me feel so estranged from her, she was so incredibly human.

Her humanity and dynamism in the Qur’ãn and in the various stories narrated about her (irrespective of their authenticity), afford her a depth of character that is so often robbed from the narratives of women today. It is notable that very little is documented about her life after her giving birth. This invites us to look at her as an individual in her own right prior to the narrative of Jesus.

Mary’s dynamism ranges from an unerring devotion to and trust in God both before and after giving birth to Jesus, a confidence despite persecution and doubt against her, and an intelligence that manifests in wisdom. But she was also somebody who was vulnerable, tender and scared. Understanding Mary as her own person, one with many sparkling facets clothed in a tangible humanity, establishes why she is one of the greatest women of all time.

Image from: Scene from film adaptation, “Saint Mary” http://www.ifilmtv.com/English/Series/

Categories: Muslim blogs

Striving for Excellence

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 13:00

First Topic: Why Be Good When You Can Be “Excellent”?

By Uzma Awan

Photo: Mike Bitzenhofer

It so happens, sometimes Shaytan (Satan) fools us into believing we are doing well. We are keeping up with our fard (obligatory) salah (prayer), Ramadan fasts, yearly zakat (a tax that is the duty and social obligation of every Muslim), and infrequent or daily readings of the Qur’an and that’s sufficient. We enter from one day into another being content with ourselves.

Then we read biographies; biographies of Muslim men and women of the past, of leaders and accomplished individuals. We meet people in our lives who have achieved much more than we can ever imagine. And then we wonder, “Why can’t I be like them too?”

Most of us aspire to tread in the footsteps of the prophets and their companions (may Allah be pleased with all of them), however only a handful actually do it. Aspirations are kept aside thinking we are not good enough, too young, the time has not come yet, one day, insha’Allah (God willing)!

Ask any person regarding what they would like to do in life and their response will be something that they value most. The question that arises here is that when “this” is what you most value in your life then why not start with it? Why put it on the backburner? If Jannah (paradise) is what we aspire towards, then what will get us to a higher level than others?

Doing Extra

Fard salah are okay, appreciable, but why not add to them sunnah (all the traditions and practices of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, peace be upon him) and voluntary prayers? Scholars have emphasized the importance of voluntary acts of worship because it is through them that a servant draws closer to his Lord.

Everybody is keeping up with the fard acts of worship, then how do we have a better chance of getting Jannah? What is it that we sacrificed?

The reward for offering duha (mid-morning) prayer has been compared with that of umrah (pilgrimage to Makkah). Stressing its importance, Abu Umamah radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) narrated from the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) that he said, “…a prayer followed by a prayer with no worldly talk during the gap between them will be recorded in Illiyyun.”1

Illiyyun is the plural of `ulayy which means “highness, high places or the people who sit in high places.” The more something ascends and rises, the more it increases and becomes greater.2

Encompassing all the trials and tribulations of this world, this life has been given to us to ascend our status in Jannah. There are several possibilities of achieving that status. As Abu Huraira (ra) narrates, “My friend [the Prophet ﷺ] advised me to do three things and I shall not leave them until I die, these are: To fast three days every month, to offer the duha prayer, and to offer witr before sleeping.”3

By adding voluntary prayers, reviving sunnah fasting, reading, teaching and memorizing the Qur’an, we can hope Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala, the Most Exalted, will overlook our shortcomings, help us see our mistakes and lift us up to perform more good deeds, insha’Allah.

Perfection

Those who have not been homeschooled know that from the first day that we entered the school building we are taught perfection. Perfectly made hair, properly trimmed nails, perfectly tied shoelaces, perfectly ironed uniforms, perfectly assembled school bags and stationery boxes, and perfectly straight assembly lines. If this is the code of conduct for the worldly life then what about the religious duties?

Many of us can keep up with the fard prayer but sometimes these prayers are half-hearted lacking khushu (humility, devotion, and concentration) and perfection. We come to the prayer mat as if one comes to an event merely for attendance or to show their face without feeling like coming.

Ibn Laila narrates from Umm Hani who said, “I never saw the Prophet ﷺoffering a lighter prayer than that (Duha) prayer, but he was performing perfect bowing and prostrations.”4

The Prophet ﷺ revered the voluntary prayers as he did the fard salah. Perfection, out of love for Allah! There are other similar ahadith (sayings and traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammadﷺ) where he advised his companions to save their heels and perfect their ablution.

Utilization of Time and Other Resources

Hasan al-Basri said, “O son of Adam! You are but a collection of days; whenever a day passes, a part of you ends with it.” One morning, when Muhammad ibn Wasi was asked how he was, he replied, “What can the condition of a man be who draws closer to the Hereafter with every passing day?”

We are getting closer to our death every day. Our life is coming to an end. Soon our role on earth will be over. What is it that we have done that is going to make us proud on the Day of Judgment? Will we be of those who would wish they had done more?

This calls for a poignant introspection of our lives and our times. Talking about productivity, Annie Dilliard writes in her book, The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”

If we look at our lives, what deeds consume most of our time, skills and energy? Are we really doing our best for the sake of Allah (swt) and His Cause, and for the sake of our own salvation in the Hereafter?

If we are good speakers, are we spreading the word of Allah (swt) by our talks? If we are good writers, are we using that talent for the sake of Allah (swt)? If we are great cooks, do we take out time to cook meals for a poor family at least once a month, if not every week? We spend so much on ourselves, sometimes in ostentation. What about impressing Allah?

Yes, it is toilsome to do the extra along with other stresses of a modern life, but what if we trained our minds to believe our Hereafter depends on it?

In Surah al-Balad, Allah, the Most Exalted talks about the steep path that He encourages us to choose. He says, “But he has not broken through the difficult pass.” (Qur’an 90:11)

He has shown us two paths – one that leads to Shaytan and the other that leads to Jannah. The one that leads to Shaytan has been likened to descending a hill. It’s easy but choosing this path will wreck our hereafter.

On the other hand, there is aqabah—a steep path. The word iqtiham means “to apply oneself to a hard and toilsome task”.5

Climbing a steep hill is tedious and causes fatigue but we also learn from a hadeeth recorded from `Amr ibn `Abasah that the Prophet ﷺ said, Whoever builds a Masjid so that Allah may be remembered in it, Allah will build a house for him in Paradise; and whoever frees a Muslim person, then it will be his ransom from Hell; and whoever grows grey in Islam, then it will be a light for him on the Day of Judgment.”6

There are so many tasks that lie before us. There are masajid (mosques) to be built, renovated, improved and filled. There are orphans and needy to be fed and looked after. When one looks at war and the growing tribulation in the Muslim world one cannot ignore the statistics of hungry people. There are our brothers and sisters, unjustly imprisoned. They are waiting for our assistance. What are we doing for them?

We seek Allah’s refuge from living a negligent life and ignoring our responsibilities.

  1. Extracted from a long hadeeth, Sunan Abu Dawoud, Book # 2, Hadeeth # 0558.
  2. Tafseer Ibn Katheer, Surah Al-Mutaffifeen, Ayah 18.
  3. Saheeh Bukhari, Book # 21, Hadeeth # 274
  4. Saheeh Bukhari, Book # 59, Hadeeth # 587
  5. Tafheem-ul-Qur’an, Maulana Maududi, Surah al-Balad
  6. Tafseer Ibn Katheer, Surah al-Balad, recorded by Imam Ahmad
Categories: Muslim blogs

The Quest for a New Pakistan: A Tale of Three Parties

The Platform - Sun, 07/09/2014 - 07:48

Disruptive protests and state violence mar troubled efforts towards change

 

In the latest battle for a new and improved Pakistan, Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri of the opposition parties have set up their camps and stages near the Parliament and Prime Minister’s House in the capital’s “Red Zone”. Their demand: the current Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, must resign.

Each party has its own set of grievances and agenda for the protests. Qadri, leader of Pakistan Awami Tehrik’s (PAT), is out to seek retribution for the deaths of over a dozen members of his party during what is known as Lahore’s Model Town Massacre in June. Holding the Pakistan Muslim League-Noon (PML-N) responsible, Qadri is demanding Sharif be tried in a court of law. Similarly, Imran Khan, leader of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), is retaliating against the current leadership in response to unfair elections in the 2013 polls, claiming the votes and ballots were massively rigged in favour of PML-N. As a desperate man’s last call for change, Khan resorted to an azadi (freedom) march and dharna (sit-in) after unsuccessfully reaching out to the Parliament and Supreme Court on multiple occasions.

A Sit-In Like No Other

Ironically, their rallies outside the Parliament are doing more harm than good. Prior to their arrival in Islamabad, a sense of panic and fear was created as gas stations announced closures in anticipation. Endless lines were generated at every gas station in town with everyone was filling up tanks not knowing when they would get the opportunity to do so again. Ultimately, all supplies were finished at these stations leaving some to turn back empty-handed.

For weeks now, containers filled with sand have been set up at different entry points between the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, blocking entry and exit. In the early days, attendance at offices had been low since residents were restricted by blocked city roads. Also, schools and universities were closed for security reasons and continue to remain so; potentially holding back those wanting to apply for further studies.

Supply of essentials to the city has remained disrupted generating a massive hike in prices. Economic activity was suspended for days; markets were empty. The stock exchange took a major downward plunge on a daily basis with losses in the millions.

With the end nowhere in sight, the Red Zone had become a source of entertainment to residents of the twin cities. People from nearby cities joined in with full gusto. In the daytime the supporters are getting their work done so they can enjoy musical performances while food and drinks are sold at street stalls. This defies the whole point of the cause rendering it counterproductive.

So why has the situation gone this far with no intervention? The armed forces are all geared up and ready but reluctant to use force; especially since majority of the supporters are woman and children. The army prefers not to intervene and leave the use of force as a last resort given the frequency of coup d’états throughout the nation’s history and its undesirability to the masses. Moreover, it poses a serious risk to the current ruling party and increases the chances of protestors calling for new elections and the political drama that follows. It seems Sharif’s strategy is to hide behind the military’s apprehension to intervene and the nation’s reluctance to accept such intervention.

Table Talks and Political Drama

Let us for a moment entertain the idea that Sharif hands in his resignation. Once he gives up his position, the currently friendly team of Khan and Qadri will not be so friendly. In the quest for power, they will ultimately become opponents, leaving the masses to suffer the consequence once again. No matter the crime of PML-N, at this point sit-ins and political deadlocks are not solutions.  

All demands within the realm of the law have been accepted, however officials have stated that unconstitutional demands such as the forced resignation of the current ruling government will not be entertained. According to the Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, the government has exercised maximum restraint forming negotiation teams to persuade the leaders to peacefully end the protests.

In the latest round of talks, Sharif had reluctantly requested the army to intervene and take matters into their hands even if it means setting martial law. All parties involved were called in for talks and reconciliation was falling into place. However, Sharif dug his own grave when later in Parliament claimed that he was never in favour of bringing in the armed forces, rather it was Khan and Qadri’s idea. Upsetting both PAT and PTI leaders over more “lies and deceit” and furthering the nation’s ever growing frustration, any chances of resolution was slowly shaping into a distant vision.

Police Force Intervention

Sharif’s political career has sunk deeper in its grave following the latest turn of events which saw the use of violence against protestors. As the protestors were drawing closer to the Prime Ministerial House on the night of Saturday August 30, police forces were ordered to use tear gas and rubber bullets to stop protestors from progressing. Violence continued throughout the better part of Sunday with women and children also falling victim.

14 deaths and approximately 300 injuries were reported. Several medical personnel across hospitals in Islamabad proclaimed the use of live bullets which were removed from some of the victims, explaining that rubber bullets cannot penetrate the body whereas live bullet will cause entry and exit wounds. Doctors were asked by the government not to give out information pertaining to the wounded especially body counts. It was also reported that the police were hiding the wounded protesters behind containers to reflect the figures to their own advantage.

Furthermore, it has been speculated that other chemical substances were mixed in the tear gas which caused asphyxiation. According to the Statute of International Criminal Court, the use of any poisonous substance or gas is considered a war crime.

Earlier this week, some of the protesters broke into and took over the state owned Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) and ransacked the place, temporarily disrupting its telecast. The armed forces were called in to intervene and gave the protestors ten minutes to evacuate before force was used. Within seven minutes the protestors peacefully left the building upon which PAT and PTI leaders publically announced this was in no way endorsed by them and it could not have been their activists as anyone who acts against the constitution and damages public property is not one of them.

The country’s political deadlock has now become more resolute than ever. Qadri, and Khan are seeking a total revamp of the country’s electoral system and governance. They have been giving electrifying speeches ridiculing the current system for large scale corruption, nepotism, and amplifying social and income disparity. They are committed until Nawaz Sharif resigns and takes immediate steps for a free and fair election.

A joint session of the parliament was initiated on Tuesday and continued through the week to discuss the latest political situation. With each party leader firmly standing by their beliefs and the nation glued to their television sets, only time will reveal the verdict that will bring this all to an end.

Image from: http://www.dawn.com/news/1123876
Categories: Muslim blogs

Ferguson, Missouri: Why Race Still Matters

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sat, 06/09/2014 - 13:53

In his Time Magazine essay discussing the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Rand Paul focuses on the militarizing of our police. He also mentions the malicious role that race plays in our law enforcement and criminal justice systems, a courageous stance for a white American politician. Paul, however, misses a critical point. He says that as a youth if he were told by policeman to get out of the street, he would likely have “smarted off” without the expectation of being shot.

The point is that an average young white kid today can still smart off to the police, militarized or not, and not expect to be shot, or even arrested for that matter. For the average black kid, the chance of being shot during an encounter with law enforcement, while not high, is always present, and the chance of getting arrested is astronomical. Thus, race and not the militarizing of the police in America is a more reasonable starting point for tackling the issue of the abuses African Americans face when dealing with the law enforcement and criminal justice systems in this country.

To further develop this point, consider the following. When Oscar Grant was shot, lying face-down and handcuffed on a Bart platform in Oakland, California, the policeman who shot him was not in an armored personnel carrier. He was on foot. The gang of policemen who rolled up on Amadou Djiallo, and proceeded to pump 41 bullets into him, were not wearing flak jackets and night vision goggles, they were in plainclothes. The policemen who gathered outside of the elderly Kenneth Chamberlain’s apartment, hurling racial insults at him and demeaning his military service, before finally kicking in his door, tazing and then fatally shooting him, were not militarized in any particular way. The policemen who fatally shot two unarmed teenagers, Papo Post, an African American, and Miguel Arroyo, a Puerto Rican, in my hometown, New Britain, Connecticut, did so in the 1970s before militarized police forces were even being discussed.

While it is indeed true that militarized police forces are on the rise in this country, and the implications of this development for civil liberties are chilling, police shootings of unarmed white citizens are not rising correspondingly. Hence, if we want to examine the ongoing incidences of members of minority communities who are being gunned down by law enforcement officers in this country, we are going to have to tackle the unresolved race issue.

In conclusion, while it is certainly true that there have been incredible gains for African Americans in this country, issues such as the disproportionate searches, arrests and shootings of black youths, all of which are harsh realities in Ferguson, Missouri, point to the deceptive nature of those gains. The country certainly has passed a racial milestone when it elected a black President, however, the conversation around race and the ramifications of failed race relations, in law enforcement as well as in other areas of American life, must be ongoing and part of a wider search for solutions that will contribute to ending racial disparities in this country. To avoid the hard conversations related to these issues, and to continue to delay the harder search for the means to change the attitudes informing racist behavior is a disservice to all Americans, especially minority youth.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Last Century Nation State vs Jihadi John

The Platform - Thu, 04/09/2014 - 23:17

Where do ISIS’s ‘British Jihadists’ belong in theoretical discussions of state and nation?

 

The origins of ISIS can be traced back to no more than two decades ago, principally bound to the personal political and spiritual ambitions of Jordanian founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Al-Zarqawi was actively engaged in directing dozens of suicide bombings at Shiite civilian targets. This secured his rise to prominence in the fraught political milieu of post-Saddam Iraq.

Although al-Zarqawi was later killed in a US bombing, the fractures instrumented by what was then known as the AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) persisted, leading to the rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Baghdadi emphatically pursued al-Zarqawi’s machinations with great force, expanding operations to volatile Syria. ISIS in its present incarnation was consolidated, sequestering territorial control cemented by the declaration of a ‘state’ with al-Baghdadi as its caliph.

Intriguing, however, is the interlinked rise of the ‘British Jihadist’.  Young Muslim men from Britain are actively entering the ISIS fold, seeking to play a role in its ‘holy war'; fabulous legends of which were washing up on Britain’s shores in the form of potent social media outreach promising reward and martyrdom, and more importantly, a higher purpose. And thus fighters from across Europe including France, Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Turkey have been brought together. These young men are in turn feeding into the propaganda boldly and visually claiming YODO, as if to subliminally seek exoneration from their brutal actions and enlist the support of others like them.

Ensuing the brutal execution of American journalist James Foley by an ISIS militant, who was identified as a British citizen leading a group of British combatants holding foreign hostages in Syria, the United Kingdom’s national security has decried the engagement of ‘British’ youth in Iraq and Syria   as a threat. Dubbed ‘Jihadi John’ by the press, the executioner is one of as many as 500 young British Muslim men who have joined the ISIS’s transnational mission exhibiting shocking barbaric cruelty against prisoners, while also rejecting Western, and specifically American hegemony and intervention in the Middle East.

Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, states to the New York Times,
‘Far from sharing the revulsion of most viewers, those who see ISIS as defending Islam from Western aggression found the video “empowering” … They say, “Look at what we can do, and the powerful Americans can’t do a thing about it.” They feel they’re part of a community that accepts this and thinks it’s a glorious thing to do.’

On the basis of their involvement in terrorism, the calls for British citizens fighting in Syria to be stripped of their British citizenship are beginning to echo forcefully, especially given the perceived threat of intended harm bound to their return to the United Kingdom. However, in our shared globalised present, characterised by the paradox of increasingly rigid but porous national borders, it is worth deliberating the significance of citizenship, where these once purpose driven formations are becoming increasingly redundant, especially in terms of national responsibilities and patriotism that were once expected in return.

In 2003, British Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, in his exploration of colonialism and its post-colonial implications to the post-colonial African nation state, presented a poignant installation comprising a group of decapitated mannequins clad in European costume tailored out of vibrant African batiks alluding to the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. Peering over a map of Africa, the headless conquistadores divided up the spoils of the continent along capricious lines of cartographic fancy.

Aside from its particular relevance to the skewed formations of a number of post-colonial states across Africa, Asia and South America, ‘The Scramble for Africa’ also underscores more ingeniously, the arbitrary nature of the boundaries of modern states. Coupled with the concept of nation, defined by ethnic and shared traits, the nation state stemmed out of the powerful pairing of polity and peoples. If nations and the interlinked ideologies are imagined, and by way of globalisation increasingly de-territorialised, what relevance do traditional national borders or paperwork for citizenship mean to the world today?

Within the context of the contemporary world characterised by the fluid, complex and varied manifestations of globalisation, the influence of the state in shaping the parameters of politics, economics, society and even individual personhood is waning with the movement and exchange of people, capital, materials and ideals. As a consequence, we possess extraordinary awareness and access to spaces and opportunities outside our own, unrestrained by the bounds of our citizenship. Identities in particular, are continually cast and re-cast in relation to the perpetually shifting paradigms of our incidental or chosen ideologies, be it political, economic, cultural or religious.

In such a setting, is the purposeful solidarity found in shared culture, and the state, a once pragmatic but essentially arbitrary boundary determining political and economic practicalities, inevitable? Is the nexus of nation and state in its modern form becoming irrelevant, with particular reference to religious or other ideologies that may increasingly define nationhood – the deterritorialised imagined community whose purpose and acceptance we might value more? It is worth questioning, if the nation state can cope with these transformations, particularly when in some instances citizenship might mean little more than a bureaucratic practicality confronted by an apparent higher order.

In light of this, we may question whether these British Jihadists would act any differently in the face of being stripped of their citizenship. Perhaps the pursuit of ‘going to war’ and seeking martyrdom is a novel privilege derived from their citizenship in the First World. Or, where we hail the endless opportunity of a borderless, globalised world, is being British and Jihadist mutually exclusive?

In an age defined by syncretism, must it be either, or?

Image from: http://lockerdome.com/6895118150158401/6915197424251924
Categories: Muslim blogs

An Innocent Perspective

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 04/09/2014 - 13:00

Photo: Tilemahos Efthimiadis

By Ammarah Usmani

There’s something about kids that just makes me smile. As wild and unmanageable as they can be at times, it all stems from the glorious glow of innocence that adorns their faces each passing day.

I was substituting for the Qur’an teacher at the Islamic school’s summer program. The kids were all divided into 3 sections, depending on their grade levels.

Class B was quite honestly the most pleasing to teach—they didn’t possess the rowdy, smart-aleck nature of the older kids, and they weren’t as hyper as the younger ones. The teacher had assigned them all different surahs (chapters in the Qur’an) to memorize.

I was subbing for the class the second day, and by this time I had a general sense of the kids and knew most of their names.

As I was listening to one of the boys recite his surah, I noticed one of the girls sitting quietly. Too quietly. Her large hijab drooped over her forehead and her lips weren’t moving. When the boy finished his surah, I scooted closer to this girl and gently asked her to lift up her head.

Big, wet tears were streaming down her smooth, tan cheeks. I cupped her face with my hands and brushed her tears away with my thumbs, asking what was wrong.

A few rows down, I heard another girl speak up, “She thinks I’m not her friend anymore.”

I turned to the source of the squeaky voice and saw an equally crestfallen face. I asked for an elaboration. Apparently, this girl, Alea, had sat with another friend during lunch besides Aina, so Aina thought she had lost her best friend.

I smiled at the trivial nature of this dilemma, but my smile was immediately gone when I saw moisture leaking from Alea’s eyes as well.

At this point, my heart shattered into minute, itty bitty specks. I’m not known for a tough disposition.

Glassy-eyed as well now, I took both Alea and Aina aside and explained that they were obviously good friends—I’d seen them reading together, playing together, and now they were crying together. I wiped both girls’ tears away, gave each a warm hug, and told them to hug each other (facilitated by me opening both their arms out).

By the time I’d listening to a few other kids’ surahs, I looked back at them. They were sitting together, laughing, talking as if nothing had ever gone wrong between them.

I walked over to them a few minutes later and both looked up and beamed at me.

“We finished memorizing Surah Al-Humazah.”

All of the other kids had recited their surahs individually, but I allowed these two to recite together. They recited beautifully, perfectly in sync with each other. Alea’s lower voice complemented Aina’s higher one.

Subhan’Allah (glory be to God). Why is childhood looked upon so enviously by adults? It’s true that circumstances change as one ages—more responsibilities, less attention towards oneself—but we forget the simplest truths of life.

A child is able to be true, simple, and pure hearted.

I admired Aina’s ability to forgive her friend, and my heart melted at the sight of Alea’s tears for the thought of hurting her friend. Even if I hadn’t consoled them, they would’ve eventually patched things up.

Why are adults so hard-hearted? We feed off of suspicions, gossip, hearsay, and never mind the gruesome face-to-face confrontations. Like children, we bicker and fight, but unlike children, we take too long to forget.

Children see each moment as its own. One minute, a little girl is crying as if all hope in the world is lost, just because the straw won’t go inside her juice box. The other second, she’s skipping around the gym with her best friend. Once the moment passes, they no longer live in it. It’s gone. And they move on, just like that. It’s as if they know completely well that everything is in Allah’s hands, and what was meant to happen, has happened.

The sad thing is—adults are the ones who know that fact. But their actions, their speech, don’t reflect it.

Hardly do our eyes moisten at the thought of seeing our brothers and sisters in grief. We don’t even allow ourselves to think about the fact that we maybe, possibly, hurt one of our sisters or brothers. Instead, we think of ten other reasons to justify the way we treated them. The ego just keeps inflating.

Vulnerability. It’s what makes childhood so beautiful. And the fear of being vulnerable, fear of being open to others, fear of taking the bandages off our wounds and letting others see our flaws, fear of admitting that we have flaws, is what makes adulthood so unappealing, so rough and difficult. We build ourselves up from the outside, but these hidden insecurities just keeping eating away at the core.

Strength and self-confidence is different from being arrogant and pretentious. Collect your strength by trusting Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He). And leave it up to Him to protect your honor, your respect.

If you have children, or if you’re around children in your daily life, observe how they handle situations. Learn from their innocence. Being around adults all the time can really cause you to forget to be thankful for the simple, small things in life.

Just like a child is helpless in front of the world, we’re all helpless in front of Allah (swt), in front of His will. It’s okay to admit that we’re wrong, because we all are at numerous times.

And just as a child cries to his mother out of guilt and shame, and the mother forgives and forgets, Allah (swt) forgives and forgets the greatest of sins. But only if we bring out the inner child, the lost innocence, and cry out to Him.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Understanding ISIS and the Prospects for Peace

The Platform - Wed, 03/09/2014 - 10:31

The roots of ISIS leave few unstained

 

ISIS (also known as ISIL) is the acronym for the terrorist organisation known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (the Levant). Since June 2014, the group has been referring to itself simply as the Islamic State (IS), and has conquered a large swath of land that straddles the Syria-Iraq border with an estimated area equivalent to the state of Jordan.

The Iraq War and Syrian Civil War

ISIS has its origins in Iraq’s Al-Qaeda offshoot which, in 2006 began calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). Though Al-Qaeda had no significant presence in Iraq prior to the 2003 Iraq War, and was indeed hostile to the regime of Saddam Hussein; in the chaotic aftermath of the war, Al-Qaeda was able to establish itself as a terrorist force in the country. While Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, it is the Bush administration’s choice to start a second Gulf War that should be seen as one of the most important causal acts in creating the precursors of ISIS in Iraq.

In addition to a destabilised Iraq, the Syrian uprisings have also been an important factor. The current conflict started after incipient peaceful protests against the Assad regime in early 2011 were met with violent state repression. Such repression helped create increasingly radicalised opposition groups that countered the transgressions of the Assad regime with similarly gruesome crimes. It is this violent anarchy in Syria, which persists to this day on a horrifying scale, that has provided fertile ground for the establishment of ISIS.

The Rise of Sectarian Tensions

Perhaps the most immediate cause for the extraordinarily rapid expansion of ISIS in these regions is that it has faced almost no resistance from the populations in the primarily Sunni territories it has conquered. This is because, with the rise of bitter sectarianism between the Shi‘a and Sunni populations following the Iraq War and the Syrian Civil War, both the Sunni majority in Syria and minority in Iraq have suffered much persecution at the hands of the ruling regimes.

Iraq’s most important leader of the last decade, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, had become notorious for his calculated attacks against Sunni political leaders and populations, exacerbating sectarian tensions and alienating Sunni regions that felt powerless and disenfranchised. Similarly, in Syria, most of the opposition targeted by the Assad regime is Sunni. In the territories conquered by ISIS, with its virulent anti-Shi‘ism, the tables have now turned completely.

Of course, no geopolitical situation of this scale ever has a single cause. Some go back in time and blame the postcolonial dismemberment of the region. ISIS appears particularly exercised by the ‘evils’ of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. One could also cite the long history of interference of major Western powers, most notably the United States, which has tended to support brutal dictators in the region, who in turn have kept civil society severely emasculated.

Regional powers also hold a good deal of the blame in dealing with the aftermath of the illegal American invasion. The problem with the blame game, however, is two-fold. Firstly, superpowers never accept blame, but rather act in accordance with the insightful remark of Tacitus, that ‘their crimes once exposed have no refuge except in audacity’.

Secondly, it is always possible to go back further into history, taking another step along the chain of events that led to the current predicament. This allows people’s biases to influence which starting point they choose, however specious it may be. Hence, much of the mainstream western media effectively blames the same region that they clamorously and disastrously demanded be invaded in 2003.

Is ISIS popular among Muslims?

An important question arises as to the popularity of ISIS among Muslims worldwide. Among a global population of around 1.6 billion Muslims, even according to the highest estimates, ISIS forces make up a negligible 0.0006% of the Muslim populace. And yet they are by far the largest Muslim terrorist organisation by numbers. Most Muslims around the world are horrified at their behaviour, which has been condemned by Muslim leaders and organisations the world over.

The only place they seem to have support is among some Sunnis in parts of Iraq and Syria, but this is widely acknowledged to be due to their opposition to the Iraqi and Syrian regimes that have been persecuting the Sunni opposition for many years. The popularity of ISIS among these Sunni groups at present is almost certainly not because of the sudden popularity of jihadist ideology, but because of the manner in which Sunnis have been terrorised in both Syria and Iraq over the past few years.

Under such circumstances, ISIS, who persecute the Shi‘a at every opportunity, can present themselves as saviours of persecuted Sunnis. The grave danger this entails is that it can only make ISIS more popular in the Sunni regions of Syria and Iraq. Perhaps the most effective way to prevent the growth of ISIS is to do what we can to prevent the ongoing cycles of violence in both Syria and Iraq that only exacerbate sectarian tensions in the region. Sadly, the cycles of violence seem destined to persist for the foreseeable future, at least in Syria, given the lack of any meaningful efforts to put an end to the violence on the part of international powers.

There’s no question that ISIS plays up its Islamic bone fides. But can a group that claims to be Islamic automatically be considered representative of Islam as followed by the majority of the world’s Muslims? For many commentators, this is simply taken to be the case, particularly by those who are not experts on Islam. The vast majority of the world’s Muslims, by contrast, will do what they can to dissuade others from arriving at the conclusion that Islam plays a central role in the formation of such organisations.

A Bleak Future?

The reality is that all ideologies, religious or otherwise, are liable to have both moderate and extreme manifestations. The European Enlightenment, seen as a legacy to be proud by much of modern Western civilization, gave us Secular Liberalism, but it also gave us Communism, Fascism, and Nazism. Christianity is the modern world’s largest religion, and is a source of solace for millions, but there also exists the extreme Christian right in the US, whose Presidential candidate of choice, George W. Bush, helped create a death toll in Iraq of appalling proportions—far greater than what any extremist non-state actor in the 21st century has managed to rack up.

Ultimately, the negligence and paralysis of the international community, alongside the inefficacy of the region’s states in the face of the Syrian conflict has permitted the creation of horrors that may haunt us for many years to come. When all sides have blood on their hands, who can be a saviour?

Image from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/16/terrifying-rise-of-isis-iraq-executions
Categories: Muslim blogs

Footsteps in Fame Lane

The Platform - Tue, 02/09/2014 - 10:46

The recent passing of some of our most beloved actors brings to mind others also lost in recent years

 

For many, actors prove to be more than just a form of entertainment. They become role models and friends, in spite of the majority of us having never met our celeb idols. With the latest deaths of Robin Williams and Lord Richard Attenborough, it’s time for a journey of remembrance for some of our favourite actors who have passed away in recent years.

Lord Richard Attenborough

Perhaps one of Britain’s most prominent actors, Richard Attenborough sadly passed away on the 24th ofAugust 2014, aged 90, only five days before his 91st birthday. His career spanned six decades, and he was most known for his role in the Jurassic Park franchise and his Oscar award-winning direction and production of Ghandi. Though his participation in Spielberg’s sci-fi action adventure films made him recognised, his most heart-warming role was as our favourite Santa Claus in the 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

The New York Times referred to him as “perhaps the most ambitious and widely admired American actor of his generation.” Philip Seymour Hoffman died at the age of 46 from acute mixed drug intoxication earlier this year on 2 February 2014. He portrayed Truman Capote in the film Capote, earning him an Oscar for best actor, but we probably love him best for his bad guy role in Mission Impossible III. Having completed his involvement in The Hunger Games before his death, Hoffman will still be appearing in the final two-part film, Mockingjay.

Richard Griffiths

The uncle we all hated to the wizard we all loved, Richard Griffiths, who played Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter series, died from heart surgery complications on the 28th of March 2013. He also starred in Hugo, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and Attenborough’s Ghandi, among other films. He may have been the Muggle we all despised, but the man himself, we’ll miss.

Paul Walker

Much-loved onscreen street racer Paul Walker met a tragic end after his car crashed into a concrete light pole and two trees while on his way to a charity event on 30 November 2013. Walker’s breakout parts consisted of teen movies such as She’s All That and Varsity Blue. However, we all fell in love with the blue-eyed heartthrob after he played Brian O’Conner in the action movie, The Fast and The Furious. He had reprised his role in all but one of its sequels and is still set to appear in the seventh instalment.

Michael Gough

Before Michael Caine assumed the role of Batman’s beloved butler, Michael Gough adopted the part of Alfred Pennyworth in all four of the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher series. Despite the revival of a very dark Batman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, Gough will always remain in our minds as one of the best Alfreds to have graced our screens. In addition to this, performing for over sixty years, Gough is credited with an astounding number of 180 contributions on IMDB to the world of cinema. He died on the 17th of March 2011, his cause of death unknown.

Patrick Swayze

Once a teen idol, Patrick Swayze was taken by pancreatic cancer at the age of 57 on 14 September 2009. Swayze became one of the most appealing men in cinema after he took on the role of Johnny Castle in the romantic, coming-of-age drama Dirty Dancing. Swayze’s name became common in hip hop culture, the phrase ‘…and I’m Swayze’ meant to be ‘like a ghost’ after he starred alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Demi Moore in the movie Ghost. It was the highest-grossing film of 1990 and featured the iconic clay scene, which established Swayze’s title as the sex symbol of the 90s.

Heath Ledger

Actor and director Heath Ledger died on the 22nd of January 2008 at the young age of 28. Ledger, much like Robin Williams, suffered from depression, and also experienced insomnia. The two conditions coinciding led the actor to accidently overdose on sleeping pills, anxiety medication and painkillers. Ledger’s passing was only a few months after he finished filming his role as the Joker in Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. The part posthumously awarded him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and several other awards. Though he finished filming for the Batman movie, his death occurred mid-production of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell agreed to complete the role Ledger was playing, and all their earnings for the film went to Ledger’s daughter to secure her economic future. Starring in only nineteen movies, Heath Ledger originally found his way into the hearts of millions when he played Ennis Del Mar in the epic romantic drama Brokeback Mountain, and he hasn’t left since.

Though not mentioned in the list above, as we travel down memory lane it is worth mentioning James Avery, Cory Monteith, Whitney Houston, Cliff Roberson, John Ritter and Brittany Murphy, admired talents who are with us no more. And, there are many more stars who have latched on to our affections over the years: music artists, comedians, TV personalities and many more. May they all rest in peace.

Image from: http://www.therakyatpost.com/life/movies-life/2014/08/25/richard-attenborough-top-five-films-directed/
Categories: Muslim blogs

He will always be with you: Al-Baaqi – the Everlasting

Imam Suhaib Webb - Mon, 01/09/2014 - 13:00

 

Photo: Brian W. Tobin

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

When Ramadan ended this year, I felt my heart break. There is always a sadness with the departure of Ramadan, but usually it is mixed with the excitement of Eid.

Not this year. This year felt different.

Perhaps it was because I didn’t accomplish what I wanted. But I also felt that Ramadan, our companion, left me. And with that came a feeling of abandonment. Walking to the mosque to pray the Eid prayer, I reflected on my melancholic state. My friend who was feeling the same way said, “I feel like Allah is leaving us.” As is human nature, we were attached to something temporary. Something that we know would come and go. Something that is a means to Him but is not Him. So I had to remind us that Allah is al-Baaqi, and He remains after everything disappears. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) tells us in the Qur’an:

“And there will remain the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honor.” [Qur’an, 55:27]

The Name al-Baaqi and its derivatives come from the root baa-qaf-ya, which means: to remain, continue and to be permanent. Al-Ghazali tells us that “the everlasting is such that the projection of its existence into the future has no end.”

So the root of our heartbreak is attachment to that which does not last, whether it is to the spirituality of Ramadan or another human being. And this is where we can see how intimately Allah knows us. He tells us His attribute of permanence—He is al-Baaqi. When everything else leaves or dies, He is with us. There is no heartbreak if we are attached to Him—He will always remain. As He tells us Himself:

“Whatever you have will end, but what Allah has is lasting. And We will surely give those who were patient their reward according to the best of what they used to do.” [Qur’an, 16:96]

The magicians during the time of the Prophet Musa `alayhi sallatu wa sallam (may God send his peace and blessings on him) understood this. When they saw Musa’s (as) staff turn into a real snake—unlike their trickery—they bowed down to Musa (as), and declared their belief in His Lord. Pharaoh was livid. He threatened to torture them and crucify them. But they said:

“Indeed, we have believed in our Lord that He may forgive us our sins and what you compelled us [to do] of magic. And Allah is better and more enduring.” [Qur’an, 20:73]

That last sentence is key. They said Allah is more enduring (abqa, from the same root). It did not matter what Pharaoh did to them. Pharaoh would die one day but Allah (swt) would remain. And the deeds done for Him will endure.

So when Ramadan ends, our relationship with Him should continue. Even if we wasted the whole of Ramadan, Allah’s attributes outside of Ramadan will not change. He is still the One who accepts you when you return, who forgives you when you mess up, and who has more mercy on you than your own mother. He is al-Baaqi. He tells us:

“O son of Adam! As long as you invoke Me and plead to Me, I will forgive you whatever you have committed, and I will not make much of it. O son of Adam! If your evil deeds reach the borders of the sky, and then you ask Me for forgiveness, I will forgive you. O son of Adam! If you bring forth the earth full of errors, then you meet Me while you do not associate anything (or anyone) with Me, I will bring forth for you its full of forgiveness.” [Tirmidhi]

So just like we work hard to make temporary things last, let us work even harder for the ultimate permanence. As Allah tells us: “Wealth and children are [but] adornment of the worldly life. But the enduring (al-baaqiyaat) good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for [one's] hope.” [Qur’an, 18:46]

Spare yourself the heartbreak and the pain of separation. Work on the things that remain, for He who remains.

** The article on Allah’s Name al-Mumeet also gives us ways to strive for what will remain.

Categories: Muslim blogs

A Typewriter Resurgence

The Platform - Sun, 31/08/2014 - 02:56

What legacy technologies teach us about productivity, design and creativity

 

In a bustling Portobello Market, I extend an inquisitive finger and firmly depress the individually framed letter ‘A’. A hammer springs immediately into action, surging forward and ‘thwacking’ its centre place upon the inert ribbon of a 1912 Corona No.3 typewriter. How fulfilling!

Like the Walkman, VHS and PC are destined to be, the typewriter, to most, is a forgotten and mysterious machine consisting of clunky mechanical levers and messy ink ribbons. Nowadays, it is found mainly in dramatic movie close-ups and used as theatrical shop decor to represent something worth saying. But beyond the QWERTY keyboard legacy we are left with, this classic icon of simplicity and discipline still has a place in today’s connected world of hashtags and trends. Here are some reasons why:

01. Focus 

The typewriter is a piece of equipment dedicated to the sole purpose of writing. As modern device manufacturers scramble to compete with one another, multiscreen functionality and over-populated interfaces offer connectivity and features that often distract more than enhance. Creativity loves constraints; the sheer absence of a screen interface forces you to turn inward, and while this may be a drastic departure for some, a similarly filtered approach can be found in apps and devices designed with this in mind.

02. Permanence

There is no delete key. Every word matters! Although iterations are vital to evolve any idea, an imaginary world of infinite second chances is misleading and can hinder progress. The initial blank sheet stage is often the most intimidating hurdle for any new idea to overcome. Encouraging the decisiveness to hammer out that complete yet imperfect first draft can be invaluable for ideas to take form.

03. Design

Let’s face it, hearing the ‘thwack’ and feeling the satisfying ‘ding’ to celebrate the end of every line is rewardingly theatrical when compared to the grey plod of plastic keys, or the empty nudge of a touchscreen.

Design is psychological as well as functional and aesthetic. How and why we say something is sometimes as important as what we say. This explains why printed books have remained relevant, and in some cases gained a luxury status over the vast offerings of unread free e-books. A one-off sheet of individually-stamped letters, which are immune from copy and paste, shares the same exclusivity and investment of a tangible hand-written note.

While a literal resurgence of typewriters is unlikely, the timeless principles behind it, and other legacy technologies remind us to ‘learn and understand the rules, and then break them’. Ideas and companies which survive redefining transitions are typically able to focus on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of what they do, instead of just ‘what’. These include transitions from typewriter to PC to tablet, from river to railway to aeroplane, and from horse to automobile and eventually, driverless electric vehicle.

But for those who are not quite ready to bid farewell to the creative romance of the typewriter, while yearning the modern convenience of ‘backspace’, here are three options:

01. Hanx Writer iPad App

The current App Store hit, ‘Hanx Writer’, conveniently converts your iPad into a virtual typewriter complete with entertaining graphics and sound effects. Additional models are available via in-app purchases.

02. USB Typewriters

A premium tactile option, ‘USBTypewriter’ offers fully custom converted units in addition to DIY conversion kits to up-cycle manual machines to become digital peripherals.

For a more forgiving option closer to home, the recently Kickstarter-funded ‘QwerkyWriter’ is a typewriter inspired USB/Bluetooth keyboard entirely purpose-designed and manufactured.

03. Ebay/ Various Markets

For the truly dedicated and adventurous among us, nothing beats acquiring an authentic antique machine. With characteristic aluminium chassis, stylish logotypes and unique sounding mechanisms, these can be found at a spontaneous premium at various markets in varying conditions, or at a fraction of the price on eBay.

Ultimately, a typewriter or any such device serves only as a technological platform to share ideas. Regardless of what we use, it only really matters if the idea we communicate is worth spreading.

Image from: http://typewriterdatabase.com/1941-remington-streamliner.2391.typewriter
Categories: Muslim blogs
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