Imam Zaid Shakir and opponents of a new surveillance center in Oakland are making their voices heard, including Muslims who fear they are being unfairly targeted. By Christin Ayers,
CBS San Francisco.
For more info: http://cbsloc.al/1cIHYGz
Originally published in April 2010.
Part I | Part II
Veiled from sight, a young woman walked down the streets of Cairo, reciting Qur’an to herself and thinking about her goals. She loved the Qur’an and was passionate about studying and teaching it. She wanted to move to Saudi Arabia where she knew of Qur’anic scholars from whom she dreamt of learning. She was mesmerized by Makkah and Madinah; she’d find herself spending hours making du`a’ (supplication) to visit the House of her Lord in Ramadan, to make the journey of Hajj, to walk through the land of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him). Working on a Master’s degree and traveling for hours in traffic to come to her students’ homes and teach them Qur’an never caused her to complain; she was constantly working on reviewing her Qur’an; she had memorized it completely from years past and she continued to review it to ensure it never left her heart.
Suddenly, she was stopped by a random lady on the road. “Excuse me,” the lady inquired, peering into the eyes of the girl whose heart burned with the inscription of the Words of Allah, whose face was veiled by her niqaab (face covering), whose hands were covered by gloves and whose body was cloaked by a long, flowing outer garment. “Are you married or engaged?” the lady asked. Staring at the lady, the young woman replied in the negative, hesitant, yet curious at such a loaded question from a random passerby. Especially considering her outer dress, the lady certainly wasn’t asking because she found the young woman to be ridiculously beautiful. She could have no idea of what the young woman looked like. “I have a brother,” the lady explained, “He’s Egyptian, but he lives in Saudi Arabia. He has memorized the entire Qur’an. He has qualifications to teach it. He’s looking to get married. Might you be interested?”
After more conversation, the young woman exchanged information with the random woman on the street. Soon, their families initiated contact and within weeks, the brother of the lady had come to visit the young woman and her family. With time, prayers and lots of consultation, the young woman finally agreed; she would marry the young man with whom she would live in Saudi Arabia, the young man who helped her plan to make Hajj that very year, the young man who had already memorized the Qur’an and who dedicated his heart to Allah’s Book, the young man—now her husband—to whom she was introduced by a random lady on the road.
This story may seem strange, dangerous, even, and implausible. If I was reading it or if someone else had shared it with me, I would be skeptical and even concerned for the woman being approached by a random stranger on the street. But this is the hook-up story of my Qur’an teacher. I knew her before she got married and from the very first day we met for class she told me, “Please pray for me! I want to move to Saudi Arabia so I can study with the scholars of Qur’an there!” This was after she already had an ijaza (certification) in memorization and was working on another one. The incident of her walking on the street happened a few years after we had first met, after many years of her praying to God to open the doors for her. She shared the story with me herself and she’s now been happily married for years, blessed with two children (may God love both of them!) and is living in her dream location.
She devoted her life to the Qur’an and to her studies. She focused on her objectives in being a servant of God and of His Book and maintained that focus in every aspect of her life. I would have never imagined that she’d get married to someone who was the missing piece to everything she was looking for and even more, yet I should have realized that my puny imagination is nothing in comparison to God’s Power and Decree. God hooked my Qur’an teacher up big time and it could easily be argued that it was because she hooked up with the Book of God.
Connecting with the Book of God can mean being hooked up in the best of ways in every realm of life. Marriage, graduate school, studying overseas, relationship with one’s parents, getting a job, passing the SATs with high scores… you dream of it, say it, yearn for it, want it…Who’s going to really give it to you? Your Facebook friends? Or the Lord and Ruler of All the Worlds?
Allah, the Exalted, has told us in a Holy Hadith, “…the most beloved thing with which My slave comes nearer to Me, is what I have enjoined upon him/her; and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing nawafil (voluntary prayers or doing extra deeds besides what is obligatory) until I love him/her, (so much so that) I become his/her hearing with which he/she hears, and his/her sight with which he/she sees, and his/her hand with which he/she strikes, and his/her leg with which he/she walks; and if he/she asks Me something, I will surely give him/her, and if he/she seeks My Protection (refuge), I will surely protect him/her.”
And get this—God might not give you exactly what you want when you beg of Him in supplication- but because He loves you, He’ll always give you something better. The Prophet (peace be upon him) has taught us, “Any Muslim who supplicates to God in a du`a’ which contains no sin breaking of kinship, God will give him one of three things: either his du`a’ will be immediately answered or, it will be saved for him in the hereafter, or it will turn away an equivalent amount of evil (from him).” The companions said, “So we will ask for more.” He replied, “Allah is more [generous].”[Ahmad]
Maybe marriage isn’t actually great for you, maybe that specific job won’t actually be everything you’ve dreamed, but when we connect with Allah, regardless of the outcome of our affairs, we can be certain that He will always give us whatever will ultimately bring us eternal happiness, if we’re sincere and determined to work for it as well.
So, how can begin this connection? How can we be of those who do our best to do obligatory actions and then run to our Lord through extra acts of worship, as He tells us in the aforementioned hadith (narration)?
Let’s take my Qur’an teacher’s example- let’s hook up with the Qur’an! Let’s make the intention to become the people of the Qur’an! Let’s begin just by believing with certainty that we want to make a connection with Allah’s Words and that we want it to play a pivotal role in our lives. Once we’ve made that commitment, here’s a suggested plan of action:
- If we’re in school, working or have family or obligations and are already squeezed for time, let’s make a commitment to begin by reading the Qur’an on a daily basis and in a language we understand because the point is to understand it and make that crazy strong connection with it.
- If we already know how to read Arabic but don’t understand what we’re reading: begin by making a set amount of Qur’an that we’ll read everyday in both the Arabic and translation. For example, if I know I’m intensely busy or intensely lazy, let me make a commitment to start with just five verses a day, both in English and in Arabic (if possible) and let me make sure I don’t sleep without reading my Qur’an for that day.
- Suggestion: for those of us who just can’t get off our laptops and always lament wasting more time than we were hoping, make a sticky note to put somewhere on your laptop which reads something like, “Have you connected with God’s Book today?”
- If we already know how to read Arabic but don’t understand what we’re reading: begin by making a set amount of Qur’an that we’ll read everyday in both the Arabic and translation. For example, if I know I’m intensely busy or intensely lazy, let me make a commitment to start with just five verses a day, both in English and in Arabic (if possible) and let me make sure I don’t sleep without reading my Qur’an for that day.
- If you can make a commitment from now to memorize the Qur’an, start looking for a teacher who can help you with tajweed (proper recitation) and once you’re ready, memorization. If you can’t find anyone in your area, then find a Qur’an buddy near you who can help you read and learn the basics until you find someone who can fully teach you. If you live in the middle of Kentucky and there’s really no one near you at all, search online for programs which teach tajweed which you can do via Skype or other means from your own home (such as Studio Arabiya). For readers: please write in online programs you recommend in the comments section. Set a goal for yourself, write it down and work on moving forward weekly. Thus, within a month, instead of having never opened the Qur’an, inshaAllah (God willing) you’ll have perhaps even an entire new chapter memorized!
- If you are not yet able to read Arabic, keep up with reading the translation and when you can, try to begin learning the language of the Qur’an. There are a ton of online programs for this now. However, never let language stop you from connecting with the Qur’an. Read the translation in any language with which you find easiest to connect, and with time, you’ll inshaAllah be pleasantly shocked at how much you’re finding your personal perspective to be one of the Qur’anic narrative.
Finally, if sometimes you’re feeling apathetic; finding yourself slipping, realizing your heart feeling bored with trying to make a connection with the Qur’an- change your mindset. Stand up, say bismillah (in the name of God) and seek refuge with God from the accursed Devil, jump up and call in a loud and exciting voice with an enormous grin on your face, “THE QUR’AN IS MY BEST FRIEND!!!” Maybe it’s not completely true yet, but inshaAllah with enough convincing your brain and moving your body in an excitable way, your total physical response to the Qur’an, combined with your newfound daily relationship with the Book of Allah, will help your neurons make positive connections which they will soon need more than your lungs need air.
Let’s make the Qur’an our best friend. When we’re sad, lonely, depressed and frustrated, let’s say, “I needa vent with the Book of Allah,” and just recite it all out, connecting with Allah’s Words, finding ourselves in awe of the relevance of His Book to the exact tribulation we’re experiencing. When we’re elated, let’s say, “I can’t wait to tell all of this to my best friend!!!” and run to the Qur’an, excited (or fake excitement- fake it till you convince yourself to make it, inshaAllah!) about reading what words God will make apparent to us next; shocked at the fact that even though we’ve read the same surah a hundred times over, we don’t remember ever reading the very same dynamic words ever before.
And when we’re too busy, let’s realize how eager we’d be if some public figure we thought was amazing just called us up on our cells; wouldn’t we make time, wouldn’t our adrenaline suddenly rush when we see who’s actually calling us?
So then, let’s rush with that same vigor to drop everything to make time for the most important One –Rabb al `alameen, the Lord of the Worlds, and have a strong relationship with the Words which He has revealed to take us from the darkenesses of this life to the one light and to help us be a means of reformation in society.
The Prophet ﷺ taught us, “The Companions of the Quran are the People of Allah, and His Favored People,” [an Nasaaie]. Let us be of Allah’s Favored People- those who work to recite the Qur’an by day and night, work to memorize, understand and live by it and take it as our best friend.
Whatever we’re seeking, in this life or the next, let’s connect with the Book of Allah and have certainty that because of the sincerity of our investment, God will hook us up in whatever ways are best.
Increasing unjust targeting of British Muslims to the complacency of the wider community and establishment is a threat to Britain as a whole
A satirical piece that recently drew wide condemnation from many quarters was an insidious and hateful parody by columnist Richard Littlejohn’ in The Daily Mail. In his article ‘Jolly Jihadi Boy’s Outing to Legoland’ he attempted to criticise the controversial ‘literalist’ Muslim preacher Haitham al-Haddad, whose organisation had booked Legoland for a private family fun day. Although the piece was supposed to be satire, Littlejohn laid thick with crude slurs against ALL Muslims commonly found in racist and far-right websites. The piece was accompanied by large pictures of discredited figures such as Abu Hamza and Omar Bakri Mohammed, attempting to attract maximum ridicule. I am not here to defend Haddad or his views, but it never seemed to occur to The Daily Mail that there is a difference between him (a super-conservative) and the violent extremists of groups such as al-Muhajiroun. They obviously wanted the Legoland to cancel the Muslim group’s visit to the theme park, and they succeeded.
In response to a joint letter to the paper by prominent Muslim leaders asking them to retract ‘the most hateful stereotypes of Muslims to attack an individual’, assistant editor Charles A Garside deployed the usual (and tired) defence of satire. Would he use similar hateful stereotypes when writing about other communities? Of course not. There would be uproar.
In contemporary Britain it is amazing that a segment of its people is vilified in this way without any decency and fair play. It is also disheartening that such drivel is not robustly challenged by others. Apart from a few fair-minded individuals in the wider society, there is an eerie silence on this. Is it because its Muslim population is different?
When it comes to Islamophobia our political class appears to be ambivalent. This does not bode well to the long-established and hard-fought-for British sense of even-handedness.
Muslims are now distinctly newsworthy in Britain; they attract sensational headlines for all sorts of reasons from all sorts of quarters. The 7/7 atrocity in 2005 gave this impetus; it surged again in the aftermath of the bloody murder of Lee Rigby last May by two self-deluded Muslim individuals (actions which were utterly condemned by every mainstream Muslim), despite attempts by a couple of journalists to downplay a backlash against Muslims which even police sources confirmed was underway.
The Muslim community and mainstream Muslim bodies unequivocally condemn any atrocity carried out in the name of their religion, but this appears to get little appreciation by our media and political class.
In recent times media guns have been turned towards Muslims on a number of social issues as well – such as segregation at university campuses, the heinous crimes of sexual grooming and female genital mutilation (FGM). Front page coverage in some newspapers is guaranteed if some Muslim is linked with any of these and other controversial or unacceptable practices. This is exacerbated by the dearth of robust responses from the Muslim community (partly due to a traditional lack of capacity in Muslim organisations) as well as lacklustre responses from our social and political leadership.
The primary reason behind this depressing situation, in my opinion, is the continuous treatment of Muslims as ‘suspect’ due to successive governments’ Prevent initiative. This has put the community in the dock ever since former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair initiated the first Prevent. Although it was found to be counter-productive by a review under a parliamentary committee towards the end of Gordon Brown’s government, the Tory-led Coalition government continued with the general theme. Today the government strategy is based on the so-called “conveyor belt” theory of radicalisation, developed by neoconservative think-tanks mainly in the USA, and leaning over-heavily towards Muslim radicalisation and not enough on concurrent far-right threats, too. This theory contends that “individuals start off disillusioned and angry, gradually become more religious and politicised, and then turn to violence and terror.” This theory lacks evidence, but Prevent is doing incalculable damage to the image of Muslims and their confidence as a community.
The current government has decided that it will not engage directly with mainstream national Muslim organisations, such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), as they are, in their understanding, ‘non-violent extremists’. This ideological stride by the government has led them to treat Muslim bodies with mistrust. The government now talks to the Muslim community, not with it.
After the horrific murder of Lee Rigby, as mosque attacks soared and bombs were exploding outside West Midlands mosques, the Coalition government initiated its new ‘task force on tackling radicalisation and extremism’ to confront extremism in communities, schools, prisons, faith institutions, universities and the internet. No reputable mainstream Muslim body was even consulted or involved; a ridiculous situation that sooner or later is going to backfire.
Islamophobia, as a cultural racism with a religious element, has now flourished and is becoming entrenched in people’s psyche. In the current socio-political environment Islamophobes and anti-Muslim bigots from the counter-jihadist sphere (those who think Islam is the problem, and that Muslims are “taking over”) have become emboldened and as a result public space for Muslims has been curtailed. Muslims’ right to civic and political participation, particularly when it comes to criticism of government domestic and foreign policy, is frowned upon. Right-wing groups are able to get away with demonising Muslims easily, but standing up to Islamopobia is often seen as a ‘victim mentality’ by some.
Headline after headline are alienating many young Muslims. The latest counter-terror arrest of four people, including former Guantanamo detainee who was released without charge Moazzam Begg, and comments on Syria terrorism are scary for the Muslim community. Muslim charities who are working to help Syrian refugees are very confused. Yet, Muslims are seemingly not worth talking with, which at least during the Labour administration took place in similar situations. What we see today is unfortunate for Britain as a whole, not only Muslims.
Recent absurd comments by the London Mayor that some young people are now being radicalised at home and social services should have the power to intervene, will deeply alarm the Muslim community. Young people are already under pressure, they do not need the further threat of living in a ‘Big Brother Society’.
Nearly three years ago I wrote an article pleading that no section of British society should be treated with suspicion, but things appears to have worsened, especially after the Lee Rigby murder. Muslims have, in reality, become a ‘suspect community’. Although still a small minority in the UK, they are highly visible, for the wrong reasons, and this visibility is increasing. There seems to be a race going on in sections of our media to portray negatively, or have a laugh at, this community. This obviously is not a good sign for Britain.
The Muslim community is very diverse and otherwise still disadvantaged; the overwhelming majority abhors terrorism. The community is at a loss to understand why it is being scapegoated for the abhorrent actions of a few.
The government needs a deep reappraisal of its Prevent policy and a political will to work with Muslims, who have proved to be loyal citizens. With a higher youth population they are the asset for our country. The British sense of fairness is now on trial – and I hope not on borrowed time.Image from: http://mylondondiary.co.uk/2006/02/feb.htm
A while back I had the opportunity to be in a setting in which I could sit and listen to a woman who was a recovering alcoholic, as well as the head of an Alcoholics Anonymous group. As the woman, who had struggled through tough times to make it out of the dark tunnel, was talking, I could not help but make connections to my own life and the life of people I care about and love around me. I may not be an alcoholic, nor have I ever even tasted a sip of the forbidden drink, but I too have issues in my life that I would like to recover from. I too have certain sins that I return to, time and time again, as if, in some sense, I am addicted to them—as if these sins are my drugs. Once I made that very important connection, I realized that her method of leaving alcohol could help me leave my sins. Perhaps just as she had “Alcoholics Anonymous,” I could benefit from a “Sinners Anonymous.” And it was after that talk that I decided to take the first few steps to my recovery. Perhaps these tips and steps could help you as well, leave those things in your life that you may be addicted to and help you move to the stage of a “recovering sinner.”
The first thing that I noticed in this woman’s presentation was that she never ever said, “I was an alcoholic,” or “I am fully recovered from being an alcoholic.” When asked why, she replied with quite an insightful comment. She said that while she has not had any alcohol for years, she knows that it is not below her to return to that state once again. With this in mind, she is always vigilant and careful not to put herself in a situation that might cause her to return to this same situation. Similarly, when we stop a sin, we must realize that we have stopped this sin by the grace of God and that it is not that we have become “above” that sin. There is always the possibility that we may slip back into that act (or thought or whatever it may be), and we should be vigilant of our actions and the positions we put ourselves in. This also serves another very important purpose: it keeps us humble. When we realize that we could slip back into our previous habits (or even pick up new ones!) then we leave no opportunity for Satan’s tricky whispers of “you are better than her because she is still stuck in that sin you used to do,” or “you are better than him because you don’t sin the same way as him.”
Another important concept that I learned from this lovely woman was the phrase that she sprinkled throughout her talk: “I am only the next 24 hours.” When we are addicted to something, when this thing–no matter how petty it may seem to other people, or repulsive—is something that is important to us or that we simply enjoy doing, it becomes hard to commit to it for a lifetime. In our moments of strength it is easy to think that this is something that we will never allow into our lives ever again. But it becomes hard, in our times of weakness, to say, “No, it doesn’t matter how weak and broken I am right now, I am not going to do this, ever.” In those times of weakness, how do we get ourselves through? How do we get ourselves to not commit this sin that we have worked so hard, through the grace of God, to stay away from? It is by simply committing ourselves to the next 24 hours. Rather than telling ourselves that we only have to make it through the next, say, 75 years without this sin, we push ourselves to remain for simply the next 24 hours without it. By the time the next 24 hours have been reached, hopefully our strength will have been regained, if not then we push ourselves a little further—24 more hours. And that is how we will make it through. Little by little, bit by bit.
To me, these two points were paradigm shifting. They were enough to get me on the road to spiritual recovery. But this was not the extent to which the Alcoholics Anonymous experience aspired. Alcoholics Anonymous has a twelve step program to joining the road to recovery from alcoholism which again, with some slight modifications/explanations, actually fits our prophetic tradition and may be a helpful rubric to help us stop sin.
12 Steps to Spiritual Recovery (as I have adapted them from AA’s 12 steps)
1- ADMIT: We need to admit that we are powerless over our sins—that our lives have become unmanageable (in one way or another).
It is important to admit this to ourselves and to God. It is important to realize that we are powerless over our sin initially. That we are weak and that we have allowed ourselves to fall into something that we should not have. If we don’t admit this, if we continue to tell ourselves that we will be able to stop whatever sin we are doing ‘one day’ or ‘someday,’ then that day may never come. The first step: admit there is a problem.
2- BELIEVE: We need to believe that only God can restore us to sanity, in this and all other aspects.
Yes we are weak; yes we have been defeated in at least some ways through our persistence of sin. Once we have admitted this, in the first step, if we are to stop there then we will find ourselves defeated and nowhere near empowered. But of course, that is NOT what we want, nor how we were created to live at all. Islam is empowering. And we are empowered through the fact that God, the All-Powerful, is our supporter and He can restore our lives and heal our lives.
3- DECIDE: We need to make the decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
In step two we admitted to ourselves that it is only God who can restore us, so naturally we must now make the conscious decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God. It is not enough to simply know something, we must actually embody it. It is at this point that we need to admit our weakness to God, ask him to strengthen us, and to lift us up above this sin so that it is no longer a part of our lives.
4- TAKE INVENTORY: We need to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
We need to gain self-awareness of what kind of moral decisions we are making in our lives. We need to be honest with ourselves and stop making excuses for ourselves. Admitting to the details of our moral slipping does not mean we are admitting to being horrific beings that can never be restored, rather it is admitting to our humanness. It is vitally important to admit to our humanness so that we can appreciate the Oneness of God which will take us leaps and bounds closer to Him and His grace.
5- ADMIT (again): We need to admit to God and to ourselves the exact nature of our wrongs.
This is just the continuation of step four. We need to be honest with ourselves about the wrongs we have committed. We need to admit them to God. Now it is important to know that God already knows the full nature of our sins, more than we do ourselves, however it is important to make this step and admit our brokenness in front of God. While doing this remember that God has told us that He is with the broken-hearted. He will not turn us away because we are admitting our wrongs to Him.
6- BE READY: We need to be entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
If we are only admitting our faults but do not have an actual desire to have these faults and flaws removed from our lives, then we are closing our hearts to the healing of God. If, however, we find ourselves not able to wish that these faults are taken away, the solution is simple: Ask God to grant you that wish. God is there for us, always. We need to ask Him for help along the way through every details, and He has the ultimate control over our feelings and has promised that if we call to Him, He will answer.
7- ASK: We need to ask Him, humbly, to remove our shortcomings.
Through step 6 we became ready for these shortcomings to be removed, so now we need to ask Him genuinely and humbly. Even though we know that He knows that we want these defects removed, we still need to ask clearly. God loves it when we ask of Him. Another bonus here is that du`a’ (supplications) is a form of worship, so even in your asking Him you are, insha’Allah (God willing), being rewarded for the process.
8- MAKE A LIST: We need to make a list of the people we have harmed and we need to become willing to make amends to them.
This step is extremely important. We need to realize that God will forgive us for the wrongs we committed against Him and ourselves, but not those that we have committed against others. The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) showed this in one of the conversations he had with his believed companions. He asked “Do you know who is poor?” the Companions responded with the typical answer you may expect: “A poor man amongst us is on who has neither dirham nor wealth.” The Prophet ﷺ had not been concerned with the worldly meaning of this word, so he clarified to the companions who the real poor person is: “The poor of my Ummah (Muslim community) would be he who would come on the Day of Judgment with prayers and fasts and zakat (charity) but since he hurled abuses upon others, brought calumny against others and unlawfully consumed the wealth of others and shed the blood of others and beat others, and his virtues would be credited to the account of the [one who suffered at his hand]. And if his good deeds fall short to clear the account, then his sins would be entered in [his account] and he would be thrown in the Hell-fire.”
9- MAKE AMENDS: We need to make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them, or others.
Now that we realize the importance of making amends and we have a list of people whom we have harmed, we need to seek their forgiveness before it is too late. If it is a situation where addressing the person would hurt them even more or hurt others in the process, make du`a’ that God places forgiveness in their heart for you and do your best to make it up to that person without addressing the situation itself. Also, increase your good deeds that you do with this same intention.
10- REPEAT: We need to continue to take personal inventory, and when we are wrong, we need to promptly admit it.
Basically, this step is about admitting that we are human and that there is no way that we will never commit an injustice. The key is to continue to take moral inventory of ourselves and how we are dealing with our environments. Once we commit a wrong we should be prompt to admit our wrong and proceed to make amends, to God or to people (if we harm a person in any way).
11- SEEK HIM: We need to continuously seek, through prayer/remembrance/du`a’, to improve our contact with God, and to pray for knowledge of His will for us and for Him to grant us the power to carry that out.
A key point is that if we do not replace the emptiness that we may begin to feel from the sin that we are leaving with something beneficial, we will either fall back into our sin or fall into a new sin all together. We need to strengthen our tie to God through prayers, remembering Him constantly, and through du`a’. As long as we continue to seek Him, He will continue to pull us closer to Him, making our problems so much smaller in light of His Grace.
12- HELP OTHERS: Last, but not least, we need to try to help others around us to work through their struggles and to continue to try to implement these principles in all of our affairs.
We were placed on this earth as a community. Once we have been able to take on any of these steps, we should try to help anyone around us who is also struggling. This entails dealing with them with great mercy and kindness, and helping one another. This is where having a strong group of supporters around us will come in handy. We all have weaknesses, no matter how amazing we are, so be the support of people around us and allow people around us to support us through your struggles as well. Realize that in our efforts to help others, we are really only helping ourselves, as the Prophet ﷺ has told us: “He who relieves the hardship of a believer in this world, Allah will relieve his hardship on the Day of Judgment. He who makes easy what is difficult, Allah will make it easy for him in the world and the Hereafter. He who conceals the faults of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his faults in the world and the Hereafter, for Allah helps the servant so long as he helps his brother.” [Muslim]
It may seem strange that I am deriving things from a group that helps alcoholics and seems to have no ties to our religion, but it is also important to remember that “wisdom is the lost property of the believer, so wherever he finds it then he has a right to it.” Know that it is not easy to leave something that we have become attached to, but the reward is in the struggle. Even if we find that we begin to make progress and then continuously slip back into our old ways, one thing we must never do is to give up. We were never asked to be perfect, as this is not in the nature of human beings. We have been asked to strive. And we can find comfort in the words of the Prophet ﷺ, “Every son of Adam is a sinner and the best of sinners are those who repent.”
In this series, Syrian refugees share their stories of being displaced as a result of the current atrocities occurring in that region. All accounts are factual, but may be written by a family member or a friend.
By Issra Killawi
Fridays were holy days and “weekends” in Syria, but that was long before our revolution began.
I lost three very dear people to me – Salem, Kenan, and Dawud—on a Friday.
That day was the worst day of my life.
It did not begin in any peculiar way. Just another attempt to live our lives normally in an environment that was anything but normal.
Salem, his son Kenan, and his nephew Dawud were headed to my aunt’s home for breakfast that Friday morning. The town in which she lived in was targeted by local regime forces, and many of the main roads leading to it were closed off with makeshift barricades and military checkpoints. In an effort to find a way through and evade a confrontation with soldiers, Salem lead Kenan and Dawud down a different route that was seemingly safe.
Little did they know that there were snipers positioned right ahead. As the three walked along early that morning, they came across a man on the side of the road who began to call to them for help. As they moved towards him, a sniper began to shoot them down. Salem died instantly, and as his wounded son began to crawl towards him, Kenan’s soul left him before he reached his father. Dawud, injured in the neck, slowly crawled towards the man they had been walking to and hid behind his truck.
Salem and Kenan’s bodies remained sprawled in the middle of the road until the news reached my family. Two of our neighbors set out to try and drag the bodies away from harm, fully aware that they could easily end up in the same position as Kenan and his father. As they began to drag Salem’s body, one of the men bumped into a dumpster used to block off a side road and alerted the attention of regime soldiers nearby. They ran towards the two men and caught one of them, detaining him as if he were a criminal. The other man ran for his life, and later on fled the country after being identified and wanted by the police, leaving behind his wife and three-month old son.
When it was decided that dragging the bodies was too risky, my family began to plead with the soldiers, bribing them with money and asking them to simply allow for someone to bring the bodies home. One of the officers eventually agreed, after proper compensation for his “favor,” of course. But even bringing in the bodies to our apartment was a dangerous thing to do. Across from our building lived regime thugs, paid by the government to terrorize and kill as they pleased. If they spotted people taking bodies of the dead, it was unimaginable what they would do. So Salem and Kenan’s bodies were snuck in to the basement of our apartment building, and thank God the ordeal went unnoticed.
Salem’s mother and wife awaited him and his son, and upon seeing their bodies soaked in blood, the two women began to weep in deep anguish and despair. It broke my heart to watch Salem’s wife speak to his stiff, bloodied corpse. “Your martyrdom earned us a home in paradise, Salem. I hope you died quickly and didn’t suffer too much.” That night, our whole building was inhabited by fear and grief, and those painful images haunted us all.
The burial process was not any easier. At dawn of the next day, Salem and Kenan’s bodies were placed in a relative’s pick-up truck. Our family bid them a final farewell as the driver prepared for the huge risk he was about to take. The first attempt to drive across town under open fire earned him a gunshot in one of his arms. The second attempt involved heaving the truck up a stairway with a group of men in order to avoid a checkpoint. After many extremely risky maneuvers, the driver finally arrived to a grove near Salem’s childhood home. Salem and his fifteen-year-old son were buried there, as were many of the martyrs of our hometown
By the next day, our whole apartment building had fled their homes, as the terror of last night’s experience reined far too unbearable. My family and relatives all moved into one home in another area of Syria. We lived like sardines in a can, forty-five of us dwelling in one house for a period of three months. The pressure, fear, sadness, and overwhelming risks kept us all from leading ordinary lives; I had to leave school, and no one in my family had work. When the three months had passed, I fled the country to Egypt with many of my relatives. We yearned for a sanctuary there, and had one for a bit, until we were made scapegoats for politics that we played no role in.
As we later learned, Salem’s wife and son who remained in Syria were victims of a chemical weapons attack. Dawud, who was taken by the man on the side of the road the day he was shot, was hospitalized at a military hospital. Visits to his room were extremely limited, and eventually prohibited completely. The bullet remained in his neck, and he was later detained and moved from the hospital to a prison, with no consideration for his health.
Until today, no one knows anything about him. His mother is living a nightmare, facing complete uncertainty about the fate of her son.
All of us Syrians share her misery, as we mourn the obscure future of our country. We know the truth to be very clear, but continue to face the most absurd atrocities and injustices.
And so we continue to pray, and so should you.
Support for President Bashar al-Assad continues on from a long tradition of Syrian nationalism and loyalty to the regime
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in early 2011, much has been written about the developing political and humanitarian situation. Being married to a Syrian and spending much of my time with Syrians, both inside and outside of the country, I have been a keen follower of events in the country and have often found the coverage on both sides to be either misinformed or disingenuous.
Given that the majority of the Syrians that I am in regular contact with support the government of President Assad, one subject I have paid close attention to over the last three years has been the motivation behind continued support of the regime. I would like to stress that the purpose of this article is not to discuss the extent of this support base, as such estimates are hard to substantiate at present. Instead, I want to examine why a sizable portion of Syrian society continues to hold a pro-governmental stance.
Regular observers of mainstream coverage of the crisis will be well acquainted with the standard narrative regarding government loyalists. This narrative suggests that governmental support comes from Syria’s diverse range of religious minorities, backed up by a rich Sunni elite closely aligned to the regime. This crude and shallow analysis does contain some truth, as religious minorities and Sunni elites are largely, although not exclusively, supportive of the regime. However, a plethora of motivations can be found to explain why the government retains support from members of all sections of society.
Although many Syrians do have a genuine fear of the fall of a government, the suggestion that this is simply due to fears of persecution of minority groups at the hands of an alternative regime, or due to fear of economic loss, is seriously misleading. Such views do not explain why many members of the Sunni minority continue to voice their own support of the regime, nor does it explain why non-elites also maintain the same political stance. Instead, other factors contribute to fear of the downfall of President Assad.
Despite its numerous faults, the current regime is seen as having ensured stability and security in a region in which its neighbours have seen ongoing war and conflict. The chaos of post-Saddam Iraq in particular, serves as an example as to what many believe might follow any regime change in Syria. Many Syrians view the American-led removal of Saddam as having had mainly negative consequences for Iraq that they do not wish to see occur in Syria. The breakdown of state infrastructure as occurred in Iraq is of particular concern and rebel fighters have already employed tactics aimed at sabotaging this infrastructure. Not only have the Syrian rebels attacked larger government institutions, such as power stations and hospitals, but they have also attacked street level institutions, including government bakeries and post offices, often attacking employees. Such tactics have demonstrated the rebels’ non-suitability to take power for themselves and the failure of exiled politicians to reign in such rebel activities, and as such, has led many to reject them.
The lack of a credible alternative to Assad’s Ba’ath Party is a key issue in seeking to explain his continuing support base. The current alternatives consist almost exclusively of Islamist rebels, many with openly declared sympathies to Al-Qaeda and exiled political figures. A significant proportion of these groups are believed to be made up of foreign nationals. Like so much in Syria these days, the exact percentage of foreign fighters in rebel ranks remains unclear, as conducting proper research on the ground is highly problematic. But whether it is true or not, the government has been successful in portraying the struggle as one of sovereignty: Syrians against foreigners. Consequently, many equate supporting Bashar with supporting Syria and supporting the rebels as being unpatriotic.
Nonetheless, were one able to conclusively demonstrate that the rebels are exclusively Syrian, Islamist fighters and the ideology they publically profess are unlikely to ever provide an attractive alternative for a significant proportion of Syrian society, due to the nation’s closer ties with secularism and differing interpretations of Islam. As for the exiled political opposition, they have likewise done little to win popular support on the ground. For Syrians genuinely seeking democratic representation, questions may be asked as to where organisations such as the Syrian National Coalition draw their legitimacy from. Few doubt that organisations such as the coalition are heavily influenced by their sponsors in the Western and the Persian Gulf, which also plays to Assad’s ‘us versus them’ narrative. Furthermore, it appears that few Syrians, pro- or anti-regime, have any awareness of who these people are, let alone of their political credentials. The coalition has also proven itself as inept at controlling the rebel forces they supposedly represent.
Another key issue that has been overlooked during the crisis is the genuine and long-standing support that the regime enjoyed from a significant proportion of the country. This may come as a surprise to many, not just in light of misinformed media coverage, but also in terms of common western understandings of dictatorial regimes.
I remember moving to Syria in 2008, firm in my understanding that authoritarian, dictatorial governments are despised by their people. I was shocked to find that Bashar al-Assad was a well-respected, popular leader. Suspecting that displays of affection for the government might be the result of a ‘big brother’ culture, I sought out the opinions of friends at times in which it would be safe for them to speak. Despite often making comments on a number of issues that may have landed them in trouble, President Assad was still praised as a good leader who reflected the will of the people, particularly regarding foreign policy. I can safely say that this popular support was not restricted to sectarian affiliation, religiosity or economic standing, but was instead reflected by people of all walks of society. Some of those whom I know in Syria have since revised their opinion of President Assad and the government as a whole – however, many have not. If anything, their support for Assad has grown in the last three years.
So long as the previously mentioned factors remain, significant support for President Assad’s government is likely to continue. Neither the organised political opposition, nor rebel fighters, have successfully managed to satisfy the fears of government supporters, nor have they made attempts to offer Syrians the positives that are associated with the regime.Image from: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02422/pro_2422238b.jpg
Mahmoud Kaabour explains how his new docu-film, Champ of the Camp, delves deeply into Dubai’s notorious camps to expose feelings of pain and yearning
We just separated only yesterday
But how will I live in this condition for ages
Death didn’t come, but why have your memories come
Oh long separation
With the towering skyscrapers of Dubai glinting in the backdrop to the opening scene of Champ of the Camp, these poignant lyrics of Bollywood classic ‘Lumbi Judaai’ (A Long Separation) are sung with fervour by the protagonists, cementing the theme of longing that director Mahmoud Kaabour hopes to achieve.
Named after the X-Factor-esque intra-labour camp singing and trivia competition, initiated as respite for the UAE’s migrant workers from a hard day’s labour, the docu-film chronicles the progress of four contestants, all of whom have their own heartbreaking story to tell. Chirpy Dhattu from Hyderabad toils hard to save up for the dowries of his three daughters. Shofi’s parents sold their land in Bangladesh in order to be able to send him to Dubai. Rajesh, the bachelor, breaks down at the thought of him being away if “anything were to happen to my parents”. Adnan from Pakistan may have helped construct the Burj Khalifa, but admits to little appreciation for the grandiose structure until he can have his wife with him to show it off to.
Behind the camera however, is a Beirut-born, UAE-raised filmmaker who is no stranger to unorthodox cinema. Kaabour’s previous documentaries, Being Osama, a story of five Montreal namesakes of the most wanted man in the west, and Teta, Alf Marra (Grandma, A Thousand Times), about a feisty Beiruti grandmother, have both reeled in (pun intended) their share of awards, the latter even qualifying for entry into the Academy Awards.
So why Champ of the Camp?
“Besides a brief stint working alongside some of these workers as a teenager, I’ve always felt that the labour community is under-credited in this part of the world, and that all success stories of construction and development are always told from the point of view of the corporations and governments. I thought that it’s only right to give credit as well, to the men who leave their families behind to come and make this possible for us.”
Though critics may expect Champ of the Camp to serve as ready fuel to the fire of many a controversy surrounding the human rights violations oft-synonymous with the blue-collar labour accommodations of the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) countries, Kaabour is quick to douse the smoke.
“This film never had a political agenda. From inception, what we wanted was to document the singing competition, and whatever we came across during filming was what was going to be portrayed in the film. In this way, the audience is allowed to form their own impressions of what goes on in these camps, through the portal we offer into what is usually confined behind high walls. This to me is quite crucial, as most of the stories we’ve seen before are politically pre-conceived. So rather than focusing on the material aspects of living here and the comforts (or lack thereof) of the labour camps, I wanted to show the potentially greater discomfort of longing for family, and how much this sense of separation is constant and affects every aspect of their lives, and how it makes singing the songs they sing a lot more meaningful.”
Scenes flit between nail-biting elimination rounds and tearful, as well as entertaining, scenes of life in communal accommodation for the men, all who have been involved in the building of the city of reckless dreaming – to fulfil their own dreams of providing a better life for the loved ones they’ve left behind.
That this unscripted reality show parody, cum musical, cum documentary is narrated using voiceovers in Hindi – the lingua-franca of the sub-continent – means more room is left for the tugging of heartstrings and any semblance of apathy is staved off. For Kaabour credits even the song choices to those of the characters in the film: melancholic numbers for moments of heartache, and more upbeat, dance-ditties for when the mood is lighter.
Although now nearly five years since inception, basking in acclaim from the likes of The Guardian, CNN and Variety, with plans for screenings across international waters, Kaabour’s journey has been as arduous as the summer days in the United Arab Emirates are long.
“It took me three whole years just to get the necessary permits from the government entities and companies who owned the camps in order to be able to film on location. My agenda wasn’t in question, but I did want full access for months on end. I didn’t want to get in like most western journalists do, shoot for 20 minutes and get out and tell the world their story.
“Having said that, it is obvious from the film that this competition takes place in comparatively good camps where the companies actually care for the well-being of their workers, enough to allow this form of entertainment. We’ve filmed in 13 camps across the country, but this is by no means an average of what labour camps are like across the country.”
Although the worker residences represented in the film are a far-cry from what most news reports portray, the men still do share a living space of eight to a room, endure long hours of backbreaking drudgery, and just about manage to make ends meet on meagre salaries. This image is so vivid that the selfless rush of euphoria these men claim to feel on sending large portions of their earnings “back home” is near unfathomable.
Steering clear of what Kaabour considers to be a clichéd agenda did prove to be a perceptive decision however, for the viewer’s emotional bias is duly directed towards respect – a sentiment long overdue in a metropolis where the wage divide is often too vast for both segments of society to connect.
The Champ of the Camp journey culminates with a winner being chosen and awarded prize-money of AED10,000 (£1630), a large flat-screen television and a return flight home.
Kaabour’s coronation however, was at the film’s open-air premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival in December 2013. More specifically, at the end of the screening, when the 1500-strong crowd stood in tribute to applaud the moment the lead characters took to the stage from out of the shadows of the towers they built – as men to be lauded and not just pitied.Photo Credits: Mahmoud Kaabour / Veritas Films
I am a believer in miracles. Yes, I was a chemistry major in college. I saw and still see this world as a conglomeration of atoms and molecules that follow the precise laws of nature in a symphony that defies the notion of miracles. I am in a profession where treatment must be evidence-based—a calculated evaluation of patient parameters where the data takes precedence over a doctor’s hunch. Yet, there are so many moments in life when I can only describe the gifts of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) as miracles—signs of His Power, Mercy and Grace.
It all started when I was a little girl in Bangladesh. I saw the servant girl removing the stems of dried pepper on the rooftop of my grandfather’s house and decided to help her. It was fun, until my hands started burning as if they were on fire. I could not stop crying. Being only five, everyone in the house was by my side as I started bawling. I sat on my mother’s lap with my hands immersed in a jug of cold water, but the burning simply would not go away. Then my grandmother had an idea. She turns to my grandfather and goes, “Why don’t you read the du`a’ (supplication) that Ibrahim `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him) read when he was thrown into the fire by Firawn?” So I took my hands out of the water and held them in front of Nanabhai (Grandfather) as he repeated the du`a’ of Ibrahim and blew on my fingers.
“Sufficient for us is Allah , and [He is] the best Disposer of affairs.” (Quran 3:173)
Suddenly, the pain was gone! It was not a gradual decrease of pain the way we normally expect; but an instant relief. I remember laughing in disbelief at that amazing miracle. In my five years of existence, it was the most wonderful act of God that I had ever witnessed. Subhan’Allah (Glory be to God), there is no cure like Allah’s cure. It is a beautiful memory that still lives within me today and makes me a believer in the power of du`a’.
Du`a’ is difficult to make if you do not believe in its power to be accepted. When I was five, I believed with all my heart that my Nanabhai’s du`a’ would cease the burning of my hands and alhamdulillah, (praise be to God), it did. However, as an adult, I wonder, do I still have that same pure conviction, the same reliance on Allah’s divine help?
Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an, “And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein,” (Quran 50:16). Allah (swt) knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our thoughts, our fears, our desires and our hopes, and therefore, He grants us our du`a’ in a manner that is best for us. Allah (swt) responds to every du`a’, but we lack the clairvoyance to appreciate the journey that is necessary to receive the gifts that we desire.
Although we are encouraged to make du`a’ for many things, we will probably not live long enough to see the full effects of the du`a’ that we make for our children, community, and the world. Other types of du`a’ we are encouraged to make are for our afterlife: to be in the shade of Allah’s Throne on the Day of Judgment, to be entered into Jannah (Paradise), etc. Although these du`a’ are for the future, there are still times, when the answer to my du`a’ is so instantaneous that it knocks me to my knees. I end here with another story.
When I was a third-year medical student, I was observing the final moments of a woman’s delivery. After thirty hours of labor, she screamed in pain as it came to the final push to the birth of her first child. Nurses and physicians smiled as the baby was finally born and we all cocked our ears for the first cry. Except the baby did not cry. The delivery room turned chaotic as pediatric intensivists rushed in to take care of the newborn. I looked at the mother and all I could see were silent tears streaming down her face. The hope that sustained her for nine months of pregnancy and thirty hours of labor had turned to devastation in the blink of an eye. I held her hand and started making sincere du`a’. Everyone in the room was silently praying. After some agonizing minutes, the baby started breathing by the mercy of Allah (swt). Alhamdulillah. You may say it was by medical intervention, but I believe it was a miraculous response to du`a’. For every human effort there is a chance that it will fail; its success is only with the permission of Allah (swt).
Lusana is currently a medical student at SUNY Downstate Medical Center working towards a career in internal medicine. Raised in the Big Apple, she is a city girl who is also in love with nature.
The way we form our sartorial style depends on individuality, inspiration and intuition
Fashion: For many, the ‘f’ word summons reactions of reproach and disassociation. It is often thought of as a superficial industry built upon commercialised vanity and materialistic marketing. It brings to mind elitist luxury logos and fast fashions, promising prestige through instant gratification and rapid reinvention on trend.
So we quietly exempt ourselves from such trivial pursuits, safe in the security of an anti- establishment mentality, positioned in the neutral trim between satisfaction and compromise. Such nonchalant acceptance typically results in a subdued utilitarian wardrobe, optimised for comfort, commodity and coincidence, rather than success, where less than 10 per cent is actually utilised, and the remaining majority archived under the infamous misadventure of chance – also referred to as shopping.
But perhaps we are not to blame. Being born after the rebellious 60s, we are presented with a ready-to-wear world, already subscribed to the casual sartorial solution with no understanding of its defining opposite or how it arrived there. This is amplified by an absence of decisive intellectual property protection in the fashion industry, and the availability of low cost, low ethics production. Combined with a modern unfounded entitlement to instant success, we are left with pop-up trends now measured in weeks rather than seasons.
In seemingly cyclic and paradoxical fashion, the world of casual and disposable clothing has become an ugly new establishment, reflected by an ever growing appreciation of heritage brands and their perceived intrinsic integrity. With such shifting benchmarks, it is of little wonder that the fundamentals of dress, which carry far beyond simple presentation and dignity, are often merely assigned as an after thought.
Regardless of how well or ill received it is, ‘fashion’ as a form of creative change – will always be a necessary faux evil to facilitate the universal inclination towards differentiation and originality. However, such personal innovation and self assurance can only be derived from self awareness and learned knowledge. In the sartorial sense, this is primarily defined by the term ‘style’ in all its depth and meaning.
Sartorial style can be defined by three main components; architecture, articulation, and actualisation. These closely weaved attributes ultimately stem from expressions of individuality, intellect and dignity, respectively.
Style architecture being the most immediate and visual component, refers to the objective recognition of shape, colour, proportion and fit. It is a finely distilled balance, tailored to an individual’s body profile and determined by aspects such as length, width and cut. A common miscalculation of over-sizing can lead to shapeless tent torsos, slouching shoulders and boxy silhouettes that convey a pitiful adolescent carelessness. Successful colour combinations often combine base neutrals paired sparingly with analogous or complementary points on the Newton Colour Wheel. Mastering this process of preference evolves over time and accounts for the attributes of an item, but not its type.
Style articulation refers to the familiarisation of key categories and pieces. Such recognition dramatically simplifies the overwhelming abundance of clothing vocabulary, thereby lending a system for comparison and purchase. By focusing on menswear alone, such matters are resolved to comparative simplicity owing to a finite core of timeless staples from which most modern offerings are based upon. Fashion-forward novelty may attempt to compound nonsensical embellishments such as obsolete pockets, straps and buckles, while contorting cut to fit trend, but the base item essentially remains the same. Disregarding trends may lend wisdom and timeless appeal to a wardrobe, but no garment is truly exempt from time itself.
Style actualisation refers to purchase and upkeep. A purchase constitutes a balance of quality versus quantity with the dignity to live within one’s means. At one extreme, luxury brands allege to offer fine quality while openly inflating prices to establish and maintain exclusivity. At the opposite end, fast fashion brands offer greater consumer affordability coupled with unethical practices and quality measured in wash cycles. The decision of whether to invest in quality over quantity, or to subscribe to repetitive short-term unsustainability, is beyond a simple lifestyle choice. Regardless of this decision, garments like all other items, posses a finite service life, may require spare parts, and will certainly require upkeep. Affording the time to read a laundering label, deploy an iron, or place shoe trees, delivers readiness and self sustainability.
Ultimately, true sartorial eloquence is rooted in a personal understanding of individual style rather than the replication of pretentious rules or ephemeral trends. At its core, style is about inspiration, and is but another medium to communicate and reinforce identity through principles, values and beliefs. This may take the form of associative brand loyalty, or an interpretation of the unique social memory fashion holds by directly documenting history and tradition. For some, however, presentation can simply serve a humble intention to offer a higher standard of respect for others.Image from: www.brooksbrothers.com
In a previous article about God as as-Samad written by Jinan Bastaki, we were reminded that the qualities of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) were often to be linked to other qualities, and that thinking that way unfolded new perspectives. If we praise Allah (swt) by calling him al-Ghafûr, for example, the Concealer of faults, it is implicit that we think of His other attributes, such as al-‘Alîm (The All-Knower) and al-Basîr (The All-Seeing). This notion of Allah as the Concealer of faults as well as the All-Knower and All-Seeing brings a dimension of real intimacy between the Creator and His creatures; Indeed, although He is al-’Alim and He knows everything about us, even the most despicable things, He is also al-Ghafûr and He conceals them, out of generosity, kindness, and mercy, for He is also at-Tawwab (the One who accepts repentance), al-Wadûd (the Loving), and al-Barr (the source of all goodness).
Thinking of Allah (swt) as al-Ghafûr can shed light on important dimensions of our nafs (inner self), pride and insecurity. What does it mean in our relationship with our own self to believe in a God who is at the same time al-Ghafûr and al-Wadûd? As it is often repeated, Islam is the religion of the golden mean (the middle between two extremes). Schematically, we could define pride as forgetting one’s flaws, and we could define insecurity as remembering those flaws too often and letting them haunt us. Thus, thinking of ourselves from the perspective of being seen in every detail by Allah (swt) helps us to stand in this golden mean of the nafs—between pride and low self-esteem—because we are aware that He knows our flaws, yet we also know that we are still always worthy of His love.
And what does it mean in our relationship with people to think of Allah (swt) as the Concealer of our faults? It means remembering the light of Allah even when we manage to keep our weaknesses from the sight of people. Remembering Him as the One who conceals our faults reminds us that those flaws are many and that God is so good to us that He chooses to hide them from other people’s eyes. Even if we manage to give a perfect image of ourselves and even if we feel the love of people for that image that we give, we know that there is always the One looking at us for what we really are, and no one is perfect. Our flaws are always under the light of al-‘Alim.
Beauty, wealth, and success can make us overlook our defects or forget them altogether, but by remembering Allah and remembering His quality of Concealer, we remember that He knows each and every one of our shortcomings, and it can help us keep our nafs under control. So it protects us from hubris and vanity, but also from insecurity because although we know that we have flaws and we know that God knows every one of them – from the greatest to the most invisible – we also know that those flaws can be forgiven by Him easily, and that they are always under the shade of His Mercy. Our flaws are seen by the only One who will always be ready to love us, no matter how bad our flaws are, as soon as we return to Him.
So finally, most importantly, what does it mean in our relationship with God? Understanding that Allah will always love us even though He is aware of every one of our defects creates an amazing bond between us and Him. What a comforting thought, what a relief, how soothing it is to understand that He will always be ready to love us, to accept our repentance and to understand our intention to be better, even though we slip and fall so many times throughout our lives! What a refuge we have here from the judgment of other people, as well as from their praise! Allah (swt) offers us this beautiful gift of being able to stand under His sight, under full light, being fully ourselves and knowing that we are loved for that.
Isn’t it once again the image of a mother, who knows what her child is proficient in and what he is not so good at, who will love and protect him no matter how nasty the child can be at times? It builds such a strong, sincere relationship to Allah (swt) because, very much like a mother, we feel confortable talking to Him, confiding in Him, knowing that He knows us so well and that He still loves us, no matter what, for truly He is al-Wadud.
The decline in the ancient institution of marriage and traditional family values can threaten the future of our children
British social trends have changed over decades. With a decline in the institution of marriage, the number of marriages has hit an all-time low. Fewer people were getting married in 2009 than in any year since figures started to be recorded in 1895. On top of this, the average marriage age is rising rapidly. British woman are now marrying late; in 2011 their average age was 30, whereas it was 25.5 in 1991 and 23.1 in 1981. The same thing is happening with men; the average age for them was 32.1 years in 2009, compared to 25.4 in 1981.
There are no reliable figures for faith communities. But it is believed that there is an adverse domino effect of this social reality on all the faith communities. Although marriage still remains a solid institution for orthodox communities, the average age of marriage has gone up for most religious communities. I have observed this with some interest in Muslim communities from my personal experiences over decades. The average age of marriage for Muslim men and women, especially from the educated middle class, has risen significantly. I personally know many young men and women who have crossed 30 and are still single. Careerism, change of lifestyle, unrealistic expectations from spouses, increasing costs of weddings, etc, are among some key factors.
Due to dominant social trends we are all becoming increasingly individualistic and getting ever weaker in the ethos of compromise with our dear ones, especially with our spouses. Commercialisation is eating away at our need for long term higher objectives of life; over-sexualisation is adversely affecting the youth and pressuring us to look for one’s external look, rather than inner worth, particularly from the opposite sex. In our rights-based society, some parental rights such as giving moral guidance to children have been sacrificed in the name of children’s rights. Rights and responsibilities are intertwined and should be seen as a whole, but we sometimes tilt the balance disproportionately.
We have made unprecedented scientific and technological progress in recent decades, but at the same time we are experiencing a dwindling moral compass, with many social norms thrown into turmoil. We are gradually losing our spiritual anchor and age-old tradition of holding together in families and communities; this is happening without due consideration of the consequences.
This change of social reality worries people of faith. The weakening of the institution of marriage is a major concern to many. In modern-day developed societies this may raise eyebrows among many, as the very idea of marriage, traditional family values and parental roles are now seen as signs of backwardness. But we must not forget these issues are at the heart of a society and cannot be ignored. Without a delicate balance in our family and social life we may go down the slippery slope of creating incurable problems.
Like life’s other realities, marriage-based family is not trouble-free but it has been the cornerstone and oldest of human institution. Through the extended family structure in the past and nuclear families in modern times spouses and children build unique and basic organisations in our society. With mothers generally at the centre, families give hope in despair, solace in grief and strength in frailty. Family has always been the core of a social unit where a child, a newcomer on earth, grows in the midst of limitless love and unconditional care from mother and father. The presence of a child brings limitless joy to parents, their families and people around them. This joy among so many people is the gift of marriage-based family life which gives a solid emotional, intellectual and spiritual anchor to the little ones.
But this family structure is experiencing cracks with the importance of marriage being significantly diminished. Living together without marriage and having children without wed-lock are becoming widespread and overcoming social stigma. As marriage between a man and woman is rooted in religious orthodoxy, it is meant to be a social contract and thus formal; this demands a committed relationship between the spouses, with joint responsibilities towards their children. Families and community are included in this joy of starting a new journey by two people.
But in post-modern lifestyles in developed countries, the relationship between a man and a woman is generally transitory, fluid and informal. In the absence of any social contract of marriage between the two and any social pressure on them this relationship between partners can be easily broken. Changing partners is becoming more common. The arrival of children may delay or halt the breakage of a relationship, but fidelity might be compromised. Also, with children involved from a previous relationship, the situation becomes complex with multiple relationships in a blended or step family – mum, dad, mum’s partner(s) and close family members, dad’s partner(s) and close family members – the list goes on. Enhanced tension, emotion and dispute can affect a child’s smooth upbringing. For some adult men and women blended families may be adventurous, but there is a likely possibility that their children will grow and suffer with disadvantages compared to those who grow in a family where the mother and father have formed a stable family.
Experience shows that frequent change of partners without deeper commitment and a meaningful responsibility towards each other is one of the main reasons for an increasing number of ‘problem children’ in many developed countries. They cost us educationally, socially and economically. This is a big worry for social scientists, educationalists and many parents.
A wholesome family environment is essential for a child’s development. A transitory, fluid and superficial family may cause the child to be at a higher disadvantage throughout their life journey.Image from: http://www.imgion.com/img/family/page/16/
I remember the last time it happened to me. I was driving my daughter to preschool, something I do several times a week. Traffic was heavy and I was preoccupied. Deep in thought, I drove amidst the hundreds of cars on the highway and suddenly, or maybe it was after several minutes, I realized that the exit I was supposed to have taken was miles behind me and I was merging onto another freeway altogether. Panic struck me for a moment as I took the next exit, unfamiliar road signs all around. How had I missed the exit that I was so used to taking? What had distracted me for so long? And now, how long was it going to take me to reroute and ultimately reach my destination?
Distractions on Our Journey
In life, we are all on a journey. We know the ultimate destination we are trying to reach is jannah (Paradise) and Allah subhanahu wa ta`la (exalted is He) has clearly laid out the route we are supposed to take. However, dunya (the worldly life) is distracting. Like me on the road that day, we sometimes miss an important exit or forget to make a crucial turn and get thrown off our spiritual route. In my own life and in working with others, I’ve found that we can usually tell when we’re in unfamiliar territory. But even though we know that Allah (swt) has laid out the guidance in the Qur’an and Sunnah (tradition of the Prophet ﷺ, peace be upon him), we sometimes simply don’t know where to begin. This article lays out an easy to remember acronym, P.R.A.Y., that serves like a series of road signs to not only help us in our day to day journey to Allah, but also get us back on track when we feel the need to re-route ourselves spiritually. I hope it is beneficial insha’Allah (God willing).
P is for Prayer
The P in the acronym PRAY stands, creatively enough, for prayer. The first thing we should check when we feel that our spirituality is not on track (after our belief in the Oneness of God) is our prayer. I ask myself the following questions: How is my prayer? Am I praying on time? How is my focus and concentration (khushu) when I pray? What can I do to improve my concentration? Am I praying the sunnah prayers and other nawafil (extra prayers) like the duha and witr prayers? I try to see where the gaps are and begin filling them one by one. I also try to rekindle the feeling inside of me that in each rakah (unit of prayer), I am connecting with Allah (swt). I realize my shortcomings and ask for help getting back on His path.
R is for Read
The R in the acronym PRAY stands for read. I am a native English speaker. I read almost anything in English and understand it alhamdulilLah (praise be to God). Now even though I’m familiar with all the alphabetical characters that make up the French language, I would likely never pick up a book in French and read it just phonetically in hopes of understanding anything. However, for a long time, I did just that with the Qur’an. I come from an Arabic-speaking family and have studied tajweed and so I always have read the Qur’an in Arabic simply because I could and because I thought this was somehow better. Even though I understood only fragments of what I read, I persisted, looking only to translation if I absolutely had no idea what an ayah (verse) was saying. Recently, however, I read an article called “Ten Tips on Becoming One of Allah’s Special People” on how to better connect with the Qur’an and realized I had to change. I began reading the Qur’an in English. Not one verse in Arabic and then one in English. I read entire parts (ajza’) in English. This was such a huge breakthrough for me; I understood so much more without interruption. Lest I be misunderstood, studying Arabic and reading the Qur’an in Arabic is of great importance. However, the Qur’an is meant to be our source of guidance. So in addition to the Arabic, we must also regularly read it in a language that helps us understand that guidance.
A is for Ask Allah first
The A in the acronym PRAY stands for Ask Allah (swt) first. We live in a society that praises the independent individual, the “do-it-yourself-and-pick-yourself-up-from-your-bootstraps-if-you-fall” type who relies on him or herself only. Too often, we as Muslims fall prey to this mentality. We try to do everything on our own, initially relying solely on ourselves and only when in dire need do we ask for the help of other people to help us through any given problem.
But we must examine: how often do we ask Allah (swt) and rely on Him first? All success and provision are from Allah yet many of us only turn to Him (swt) and make du`a’ (supplication) about something after we feel we have exhausted all other resources. This is especially true in times when we are distracted by the dunya and feel disconnected from Allah. How different would our lives be if, like the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him), we began by asking Allah (swt) first before relying on ourselves and others? If before trying to do the job myself, I make du`a’, pray two rak`ahs and really put all my trust and tawwakul (reliance) in Allah (swt) to help me in my endeavor, how much calmer I am! How much easier does the task at hand become! The emphasis is really not just on asking Allah (swt), but beginning with Him, making du`a’, praying, and remembering Him first, before we ask others and before we depend on ourselves.
Y is for Yourself (and your Self)
The Y in the acronym PRAY stands for Yourself. This road sign is to remind us that we must take time by ourselves to reflect on our actions, purify our intentions, and repent for those things that we may have done incorrectly. This isolation is a very useful practice because it allows us to shut out the noise of the dunya and assess our actions and intentions. This road sign can also be read “your Self,” reminding us to engage in a process of disciplining and purifying our nafs (inner self), the source in us of base desires and whims that can often get in the way of our knowledge and correct worship of Allah (swt).
Each of these headings could be expanded at length and we should do all we can to learn more about these areas. However, I hope that in the midst of the busy pace of dunya we can use this relatively simple acronym as a starting place and insha’Allah stay better focused on our real journey to the best of all destinations, jannah.
International fashion weeks must coincide with a call for an ethical fashion revolution
The 1.5 trillion dollar industry is having its summer party right about now with fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris. Around the world, the circuit is well under way. Editors and assistants are flying back and forth to make sure the prized shows aren’t missed, crossing under grey clouds at Marc Jacobs to close New York Fashion Week, towards London’s hint of a safari at Burberry, and passing the printastic galore that is Erdem. Has anyone in this circuit (bar the money men at the top) eaten? Unlikely. Has anyone slept? Most certainly not. Am I a pot calling a kettle black? Yes.
Whizzing through my Twitter feed as I took my seat a few nights ago, and looking up around me, I happened to see the perfectly poised editor supreme, Anne Wintour, sat beside trophy beauty, Lupita Nyong’o. They sat watching a parade of women present themselves in a beautiful array of attire. Not for a second would I have changed my seat.
Tansy Hoskins, the “radical gladfy” activist, chose the Rag Rooms to launch her book Stitched Up. And what a fantastic range she got into the mix. As the glitterati of fashion presented themselves in all their “aspirational” glory, a very real discussion took place in the hipster-rich East End. As an industry with women at all levels, an all-female panel took to the stage. Model, author, activist and journalist, all different in their roles, but sharing a vision for change.
Discussing water pollution and pesticides, the panel encouraged the audience to keep pulling at that thread until it unravelled and showcased the real fabric of the piece at hand. Ethics aren’t exclusive to fashion – ethics are principals, morals, ideas that are universal and don’t discriminate. It is the system that needs to transform. We shouldn’t be in a position where the ethically-sourced and ethically-produced aren’t the mainstream. But in order to get there, it is us who will have to fight for that change.
The rights of workers paid five pence an hour for 80 hours of work a week, the abuse that takes place in the work place from the textile producers to the garment makers, as well as the interns at design houses and the models on shoots, are all left vulnerable to abuse. It is not a matter of which is worse. As Dunja Knezevic, president of The Models’ Union put it last week at the book launch, “there will always be causes more bleak than the ones you are fighting for, but does that mean you do not try to achieve change.”
Fashion may seem fickle to some, but its beauty can be awfully deceptive. The female form so often picked, prodded or bleached might just be getting used to it. Abuse is rife in the work place and statistics don’t shy away from presenting that. Sexual harassment doesn’t stop within the confines of Hollywood, it doesn’t stop within the fashion circuit, and it will not alter until real change is called for. This is not just about wages, this is about systematic abuse.
Everyone has the ability to make change, take action and make decisions. We walk on the world’s grounds and we consume from what it produces. Therefore, we are all part of the same struggle. There are no gender, racial or religious grounds when it comes to our ethics in dealing with each other.
Problems need to be tackled right from the top, within the garments industry, beginning with a transparent supply chain and a review of our hoarding culture. The vilification of working class families does no one any good. Why is it that the price of clothes is the only thing in the UK that has gone down? As Leah Borromeo said at the launch, you have to ask yourself: “When you bag a bargain, who pays for it?”
A trend for change and a trend for action. That’s my review for the season to come. Spring/Summer 2014 will coincide with Fashion Revolution Day, which commemorates one year on from Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza factory collapse, the biggest industrial disaster in modern times.
A few weeks ago, I attended a function in Westminster’s gold-gilded Houses of Parliament, launching the 2014 list for British Bangladeshi Power & Inspiration. I happened to find myself on this list. For anyone who wishes to listen to what I have to say, untie those folds and pull apart those threads. If I can inspire you to do anything, let me inspire you to change.Image from: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/fashion/top-trends-london-fashion-week-article-1.1460975
Deer within our UK parks are being royally executed and the alternatives seem too few
It’s official: the UK is barmy about their animals. An estimated one in two UK households own a pet, while the mere mention of a YouTube video of a dog in pyjamas or a cat jumping into boxes is enough to reduce the majority of us to a bunch of soppy, cooing puddles of love.
But when it comes to the subject of animal culling, it seems opinion is still divided. Many professionals have argued that the killing of certain animals is vital in order to maintain the British wildlife we have all come to know and love.
The most recent example is that of the badger cull, which was trialled in 2012 in Gloucestershire and Somerset to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis. Almost 2000 badgers in the two counties were slaughtered, at a cost of more than seven million dollars. Was it even a success? Dominic Dyer, of Care for the Wild, told the BBC the cull was one of the most “disastrous and expensive” in history, pointing out that there’s no scientific evidence to support the killings.
Still, as senseless as culls like this may seem to many, there are some who can at least surmise that they were done as a last-ditch attempt to save our wildlife.
This brings us neatly around to Richmond Park, which has been the subject of a fervent debate in recent weeks. The Royal Parks, who maintain the grounds, perform a bi-annual deer culling designed to create a healthy herd with a balance of genders and ages. Both Red and Fallow deer have lived on the nature reserve since 1529, with more than 600 still residing there today.
The cull, it is argued, is vital in order to keep the deer population at a sustainable size. “If animals were not removed, food would become scarce and more animals would ultimately suffer,” the Royal Parks say. “Without population control there would be other welfare issues such as low body fat, malnutrition and high incidence of death from exposure to cold in winter.”
Over three of the Royal Park’s eight sites (they also maintain, among others, Greenwich and Bushy Park), it’s estimated that around 900 deer have been shot in the last four years.
Not surprisingly, this has caused outrage among animal rights activists who believe this to be an almost primitive way of dealing with the problem at hand. They argue, with vehement anger, that there are far more ethical ways to maintain the deer population, which has led to groups congregating outside the Richmond Park gates to protest the culling, and a passionate Facebook campaign encouraging others to bombard The Royal Parks with emails and phone calls to show their disgust. The group also took to the streets of Parliament Square on Friday 7 February in an anti-culling demonstration.
So, just what are some of the alternatives, and why haven’t they yet been adopted? Well, the first is the possibility of re-homing deer at farms across the country. Surely the relocation of deer to areas outside of London where there’s more space would solve the problem? The Royal Parks say that, although they re-home a few when there is the space to do so, to do this on a large scale would be pointless as they would just reproduce in a different area, thus merely transferring the problem elsewhere. They also argue the rounding up and transporting of the wild deer would result in great stress and injury to them, as they are not used to being handled like farm-dwelling livestock. Moving deer between sites would also require the use of tranquilisers which cannot be allowed to enter the human food chain.
Animal rights activists are quick to react. Surely the stress of relocating them would be less than being killed? Or, if it really is too much, why don’t they consider implementing non-lethal steps, such as contraceptives which have been successfully introduced in parts of America? This process, Royal Parks counteracts, also causes great stress to the deer. The contraceptives needed are also not licensed for use in the UK, with growing concerns that those used in America have a negative impact on other species.
And then there’s the argument by campaigners that, if left alone, the deer population will naturally maintain and self-regulate their own numbers. Again, this is refuted by Friends of Richmond Park – a charity group dedicated to the conservation and protection of the park – who contest that without monitored control, herds would increase by around 30 per cent annually.
It’s clear that the decision to cull deer is not one that has been taken lightly. While the RSPCA is opposed in principle to the slaughter, the Royal Parks are keen to stress that the cull is supervised by veterinary professionals and supported by the British Deer Society and the Deer Initiative of England and Wales. The Richmond Deer Cull is therefore far more than an ethical issue. It’s also a war between environmental titans, which from the outside, has equally convincing arguments coming from both sides.Photo Credits: www.oneiroscope.com
Lecture by Suhaib Webb | Transcribed by Fuseina Mohamad
Just a little background about Luqman before we begin. Most of the ’ulema (scholars) said that he was from the area of Sudan. Others said that he was from Nubia. They said that he lived in the time of Dawud `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), and Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (Glorified is He) knows best. There’s a lot of discussion about who Luqman was. Was he a slave? Was he not a slave? All of these are mere conjecture. You’re not going to find any definite proof on his background. Was he a prophet or not? Most of the ‘ulema said he was not a prophet because the way he speaks to his son indicates that he is not receiving wahy (divine revelation). The word used يعظه (ya`idhtuhu, advising him) indicates that he was advising his son, not speaking to him from what was revealed by Allah(swt).
From these verses we’re going to take a number of points:
- تكوين الداعي – The composition of the caller to Allah(swt), the Muslim
- The foundations of Islam
- The importance of our children and our families
- The wisdom of speaking to people and addressing people when doing da`wah (the call to Islam)
The first point is about the components of the daa`ee (the caller) to Allah (swt). I don’t want to only say caller to Allah (swt) because someone might think, “Well I’m not a caller to Allah (swt), so alhamdullilah (thank God), this doesn’t apply to me.” No, every Muslim is a caller to Allah (swt). How many people have I met who became Muslim through bad Muslims? I met a brother, let’s call him Abdullah, who was around someone who used drugs. That person happened to be a Muslim. So one day Abdullah was sitting with that Muslim and that Muslim started to tell him about Allah (swt), even though that Muslim was completely inebriated. And Abdullah became Muslim in the park. Because you see they were homeless, hanging out using drugs and then, as Abdullah told me, “This guy started giving me mad da`wah. So I asked him what kind of Muslim he was, doing drugs? And he asked me, ‘And what kind of creation are you that you associate partners with Allah?’” Allah (swt) used this Muslim and Abdullah became Muslim. After he became Muslim Abdullah memorized the Qur’an in two months. Two months! And he wrote me a letter in complete Arabic, from beginning to end. Maybe Allah (swt) made Abdullah a means for his Muslim friend’s forgiveness. Maybe his friend is still a drug addict, but when he meets Allah (swt), Allah (swt) will bring Abdullah. Abdullah is now a Sheikh and a scholar. Maybe Allah (swt) will say, “This man became Muslim through you, so We will forgive you for all your drunkenness.” And maybe the Muslim man even forgot that Abdullah existed! But every letter Abdullah memorized might be counted in his Muslim friend’s favor.
So don’t say that you are not a caller to Allah (swt). Whether you like it or not you are a caller to Allah (swt). How many times in the grocery store would a woman come to my wife, here in America, and say, “Why do you wear that? That’s regal. Why do you look like that? Why do you have this honorable clothing? Are you a nun?” My wife will reply, “No, I’m a Muslim, that’s why I wear this.” And the response will be, “Wow, I respect you people. Right on. Fight the power.” My wife didn’t initiate the conversation, but every Muslim is a caller and Allah (swt) puts good in the Muslims.
I remember one brother who was in high school in Oklahoma. He told me, “I went one day with some WhyIslam pamphlets to give to the youth in the public high school. I didn’t give out many, compared to most days.” I said, “Really? How many did you give out?” He said, “About eighty.” Eighty people! Subhan’Allah (Glory to God), all of us are callers to Islam.
The one who thinks he/she is a caller to Allah (swt) is apt to fall into a lot of traps. That’s why Sheikh Sayyid Nuh Al-Azhari, who recently passed away, may Allah have mercy on him, wrote a very good book in Arabic called, آفات الداعي (The Mistakes of the Daa`ee). It’s about seven small volumes. It explores the mistakes that people make when they call to Allah (swt).
One of those mistakes is that they think they know, but they don’t know. We have to be humble and have humility. The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said:
“العلم ثلاثة كتاب ناطق وسنة قائمة ولا أدري.”
(Knowledge is three things: the Qur’an, the Sunnah and saying “I don’t know.”)
The biggest sign that someone doesn’t know (but thinks he knows) is that he’s weak in his worship to Allah (swt). He doesn’t feel that he needs to come to Fajr (dawn prayer). He’ll justify in his heart saying, “I’m ok.” You’re not ok. Allah (swt) says, “You are impoverished to Allah,” (Qur’an 31:15). We need Allah (swt).
The second sign is to fall into the haraam (forbidden acts). We ask Allah (swt) to protect us. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an, “Isn’t Allah sufficient for His servant?” (Qur’an 39:36). Imam Ibn Qayyim said that the answer comes from actions, not with words. So if someone feels that Allah (swt) has enriched him then he will not fall into the forbidden, because he will feel that there’s no benefit, there’s no good in the forbidden for him.
The third point we will discuss is the importance of family. How many of us use da`wah as an excuse to not spend time with our wives? And how many wives will use da`wah as an excuse to not spend time with their husbands? This is not da`wah. No da`wah should take you away from your family, because the most important responsibility that you have is to your wife and your kids, or to your husband and your children first and foremost. How can anyone change society if he can’t change his house? If he cannot have an impact in his family how can he have an impact on the people outside?
Allah (swt) states, “And We had certainly given Luqman wisdom,” (Qur’an 31:12).
We see the words و لقد in the beginning of the verse. The و (letter waw) is عطف (‘atf, a conjunction). Before this verse Allah (swt) gives the example of someone who leads people astray. After that example Allah (swt) uses the conjunction to give the example of Luqman, someone who is righteous and leads to the truth instead of falsehood.
The ل (letter laam) means “I swear by Allah”.
The word for “We gave” here is آتينا (aatayna). If we take the opinion of the majority that Luqman was not a Prophet, but a righteous person, then آتينا (aatayna) here means إلهام (ilham, inspiration). It means “We inspired him,” but not with revelation.
The word حكمة (hikmah, wisdom) comes from the word حَكَمَ (hakama). Hakama means to prevent something, to stop something. That’s why Al-Jarir says in the jaahiliy (period before Islam) poetry:
قال جرير: أَبَني حنيفةَ، أَحْكِمُوا سُفَهاءَكم، إني أَخافُ عليكمُ أَن أَغْضَبا
“O People of Banu Hanifah! Stop the foolish people amongst you!”
In the poem أَحْكِمُوا (ahkimu) means “stop”.
That’s why when people go to the qaadi (judge) and he gives a ruling it’s called a حكم hukum, because it stops people from arguing and fighting. And wisdom is called الحكمة (al-hikmah) because it stops people from acting stupid (تمنع صاحبه عن الجهل – it prevents the one who has it from ignorance). Allah (swt) says, “Allah gives wisdom to whoever He wants,” (Qur’an 2:269). Here, wisdom means righteous guidance which causes someone to choose truth over falsehood. That’s why before this verse in Surah Baqarah, Allah (swt) tells us, “Satan threatens you with poverty and orders you to immorality, while Allah promises you forgiveness from Him and bounty. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing” (Qur’an 2:268). Then He says he gives wisdom to whoever He wants. The scholars said that it is as though the one who has hikmah is the one who thought about the call of Shaytan and the call of Allah (swt) and then he chose the call of Allah (swt) over the call of Shaytan, so they said this is hikmah.
Thus, the first meaning of hikmah is الدين (ad-deen, the religion of Islam): someone who acts on the religion of Islam. Allah (swt) said about the Prophet ﷺ, “He teaches them the book and hikmah (wisdom)…” (Qur’an 3:164). Here hikmah means the Sunnah (tradition) of the Prophet ﷺ .
Secondly, hikmah means to choose good over evil. Hikmah is not to choose the bad over the good, even if the mind doesn’t agree with what Allah (swt) sent, and this is not an easy task.
Thirdly, hikmah means to choose the better of a lot of good things. This could be based on the environment that one lives in. As related by Imam Muslim, in the hadith (narration) of Aisha bint Abi Bakr (ra), “The Prophet ﷺ said, “If it wasn’t that your people (i.e. the Quraysh) had just become Muslim I would order that the Ka`bah be destroyed and rebuilt on the foundations of Ibrahim (as).” Why didn’t the Prophet ﷺ want to rebuild the Ka`bah? Because the people had just become Muslim, and if he destroys the Ka`bah those people would go crazy because they love the Ka`bah. This is hikmah. In his explanation of Sahih Muslim, Imam An-Nawawi said that this is an example of choosing a lesser good over a greater good where it is acceptable to do so to ultimately achieve a greater good. This is an example of hikmah.
Another meaning of hikmah is cleverness. I was reading a story of one of the great scholars of India during the time of the British occupation of India. I cannot remember the scholar’s name. During the British occupation this scholar was a wanted man. Of course in those days there were no “wanted” posters, so they didn’t know what he looked like. One day the scholar was walking through the streets and suddenly the British soldiers came running. The scholar got very scared, thinking this was the end. The soldiers asked him, “Was Sheikh So-and-so here?” The scholar took one step back and said, “Yes, he was just here.” So the scholar didn’t lie, but he achieved his objective. This is hikmah. He used wisdom.
In da`wah in America you have to be cognizant of where we live and use hikmah. Either Shaytan will inspire us to be hyper liberal to try to please people, in which case people will not have any respect for us, or Shaytan (as Imam Ibn Qayyim mentioned) will try to push us to be hyper conservative as a reaction to living in the West. Both of these are problematic issues. But the one who has hikmah is the one whose basis in the religion is solid and he/she doesn’t change those things, which he/she is not allowed to change. The Maaliki mathhab (school of thought) says that العرف كالنص – The custom of a people can be like a revealed text (at times). It has that much weight. Imam Al Qaraafi said that if someone comes to you from another country, don’t answer his question until you ask him about his country and what the people of his country are like.
I’ll give you an example. A few years ago I was invited to Malaysia. I went there and spoke at an event. There were a lot of Chinese converts to Islam in attendance. I saw that that first thing people told these converts was that they had to change their names. In my talk I said, “Why is it that the first thing we focus on is changing their names? Then they’ll go home to their mothers and fathers with new names and their parents will become angry. We should focus on other things.” Then the Sheikh there from Malaysia told me something. He said, “Suhaib, it’s different than in America. Here if you don’t change your name from a Chinese name you will not be buried as a Muslim.” See how my ignorance of one small cultural phenomenon changes the whole answer.
So in this country if we’re going to be involved in da`wah we should know the people. That’s why I recommended before (and many people got angry) that the Imams in America should watch TV for one year. We have to understand and know the people. That’s the advantage of young professionals, college students, high school students. Parents cannot expect their children to be a different nationality in America. They are Americans, and they know the people here. They’ll be very successful in da`wah insha’Allah (God willingly). I’ve seen a lot of brothers and sisters who have knowledge of the religion and knowledge of the place using that for da`wah. This is hikmah, as long as one does not go outside of the religion.
By Imran Ghani
Link to Website: http://alrihlah.org/
Link to LaunchGood: https://www.launchgood.com/projects/project_detail/al-rihlah.html
Link to Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1dPP2uDgn0Our Story
Me: Omar, now that you’ve graduated from college and are working now, what do you want to do?
Omar: I think it’s time we perform Hajj, bro. But let’s do it a little differently.
Me: What do you have in mind?
My brother, Omar, and I often look back at the conversation we had in the summer of 2013 and smile, shaking our heads in disbelief. Our daydreams led us to conversations that went on late into the night, which led to sketching cross-country maps from various parts of the Earth, which then somehow led to the formation of a team whose sole intention and goal is to perform the sacred ritual of Hajj in a very unique way…
Al-Rihlah is a project that was inspired by the stories of people in the past traveling to the holy city of Mecca to perform the sacred ritual of Hajj. We are a group of young American Muslims who wish to perform Hajj by riding our bicycles from Rome, Italy to Mecca.
Due to the modern forms of transportation and luxuries we enjoy today, we feel that a big part of the Hajj experience is missing. We hope to revive the traditions of the past by embarking on this physically challenging and spiritually rejuvenating voyage. Plus, young people are always looking for an adventure!The Plan
God willing, in July 2015 we will set out on our 60 day trip from Rome and cycle over 3,000 miles to the holy city of Jerusalem. From there, we will put on our ritual garments and travel to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj. In between we will cross various countries. It is our hope to regularly share our experiences throughout the ride through blog entries, photography, video, etc. to inspire the Muslim Ummah (community) to do amazing things in their lives.
Our bicycles will act as our horses as we prepare for the many challenges Mother Nature has to offer. As it has been done in the past, we will be carrying our luggage and equipment on our backs, relying on the resources God has provided us on Earth to sustain ourselves as well as the assistance of people we meet along the way.
Meet the Team
Click on the images below to learn more about the team behind Al-Rihla:
We hope to accomplish two simple things by embarking on this journey:
- To cause a reform in the way Hajj is performed, one that allows more spiritual preparation through contemplating the majesty of Allah’s creation and meeting new people on this journey.
- To do something, with the support of our community, to inspire the Muslim Ummah that when we work together we achieve amazing things.
Connect With Us!
As we prepare for our epic trip we hope for your prayers, words of advice & encouragement, and spreading of the word. The following are ways you can help us achieve our dream:
- Al-Rihlah is currently running an online crowd-sourcing campaign to help fund it. Information about the project, and how to support, can be found at https://www.launchgood.com/projects/project_detail/al-rihlah
- Use the social media sharing tools under our video to spread the word!
- Stay up to date on our journey by liking us on Facebook and following on Twitter.
- Join our emailing list and visit our website at www.alrihlah.org.
- Tweet, message, or email us your words of encouragement and support. It’s going to be a tough ride!
British complicity in the attack of the Golden Temple provides a disturbing revelation for British-loyal Sikhs
“We deliberately offered ourselves to bear the penalty for what we had done and to let the imperialist exploiters know that by crushing individuals, they cannot kill ideas…”
Eastern Punjab, 1984
On 1 June 1984, approximately 70,0000 armed servicemen cut off the Punjab from the outside world. Responding to the activities of the Sikh political group, the Akali Dal, the Indian army stormed the most holiest site for Sikhs: The Golden Temple in Amritsar. The consequences of the attack unleashed a major insurgency in the Punjab leading to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (who was shot dead by her two Sikh bodyguards) and a resulting pogrom of Sikhs, leaving thousands dead. Payal Singh Mohanka writes:
“Sikh homes were systematically singled out for brutal destruction. Sikhs were hounded, tyres were put around their neck, petrol doused on their faces and they were set ablaze. More than 3000 were either burnt or butchered in Delhi itself. Two hundred Gurdwaras were burnt in Delhi, hundreds of shops looted.”
The pacification of Punjab took many years and led to numerous claims of oppressions and human rights violations. There was hardly a Sikh family who did not suffer at the hands of the Indian security forces. This may seem like a conflict in a far away land about issues that did not concern Britain, and indeed there was no indication that the British government of the day was supporting Indian military operations.
Thirty Years On
William Hague recently admitted in parliament that the British government was “sort of” involved in the 1984 attack on the Golden Temple. This case raises many important issues, challenges and questions for the Sikh community in Britain and worldwide. Many statements from the Sikh community in the UK have expressed understandable sentiments of anger, but perhaps more telling, feelings of betrayal. The anger part I can certainly relate to, but the sense of betrayal not so easily, because to be betrayed implies a relationship of trust, allegiance and of loyalty. For me, pledging allegiance to any western state that has practiced colonial rule is problematic. The findings revealed so far about Britain’s involvement is not so shocking – in fact, such acts are often part and parcel of colonial regimes. Take for instance the way in which the Belgians pitted the Hutus against the Tutsis, culminating in the horror of the Rwandan genocide. In short, the colonisers are never the friends of the colonised.
For Sikhs here in Britain, however, the sense of betrayal is precisely because large sections of our community have felt a “special” relationship with imperial Britain for many years. The incorporation of Sikhs into the British imperialist apparatus facilitated migration to Britain in the wake of the Second World War and associated reconstruction labour shortages. Following the collapse of British colonialism and India’s independence of 1947, many Sikhs migrated and settled in the UK resulting in a somewhat ambivalent association with Britain. Proud to be classed as one of the “martial” races – enthusiastic in their service of the British Empire, complicit with colonial rule in Uganda and Kenya, and lauded as a “model minority” community in contemporary Britain – Sikhs have a uniquely uncritical relationship with their colonial masters. If that’s not enough, some Sikhs love the English so much that they have their own division in the English Defence League – how’s that for a grand gesture of affection?
I am not trying to be facetious or unkind, nor am I attempting to generalise or undermine the feelings of the Sikh community. I am, however, calling for Sikhs to question years of loyalty to beloved Britannia. Hague’s comment is a haunting reminder that despite the special relationship we so naively thought to have secured, our colonial masters never cared and our desperate efforts to seek validation as a hard-working and assimilated community, “more British than the Brits”, is a futile exercise in propping up and legitimising colonial structures.
In wake of recent findings, this is a chance for a profound and deep decolonisation of the Sikh community. Historically, the struggles that have helped to establish a distinct Sikh identity in the context of British race relations legislation often implied a politicisation which did not represent Sikhs as a compliant law-abiding community. In the choice between nation and faith, Sikhs were prepared to disobey national laws in order to obey the scriptural injunctions of Sikhism, which can be seen in previous mobilisations around the right to wear the Turban, Kara, and Kirpan. This determination to be Sikh meant the denaturalisation of the Anglo-centric order which instituted the very fabric of Britain, and in these struggles, one can see a glimmer of the decolonial.
What is now required is a narrative that stitches these fragments together to offer a vision of Sikh identity which is critical and politically-conscious. Only the development of such common sense within Sikh communities across the globe can guarantee the future of a distinctly decolonised Sikh presence, secure in the knowledge that breaking the chains of coloniality would reinforce, rather than undermine, their future.
This is a wake-up call to the Sikh community to use recent events as an opportunity to decolonise once and for all, and demand a public apology for the honour and memory of the thousands of people massacred in 1984 at the hands of the Indian and British government. It’s time to pledge allegiance to our brothers and sisters struggling both here and in the Global South, for it is those who deserve our loyalty.
In the words of J.B Lenoir, “I never will love Alabama, Alabama seem to never have loved poor me.”Image from: http://www.sikhnet.com/files/news/2012/10-October/006.jpg
Slaves, pirates, conmen and astronauts gather onto the screen at this year’s BAFTA Awards
Leonardo DiCaprio has never been in a bad movie. Fact. (Some would say it’s just an opinion, but that’s just their opinion.) Yet Leo has never won a Best Actor BAFTA award – or an Oscar, for that matter – and he’s been snubbed again for his latest vehicle, Wolf of Wall Street, which is not one of the five movies nominated for Best Film this year. I gather that a number of critics were offended by the supposed glamorisation of the hedonistic behaviour portrayed, but I can’t think of three hours better spent than witnessing the surrealism of dwarf-throwing contests, the delectable Margot Robbie, and Matthew McConaughey just being downright cool, as per usual.
McConaughey’s Dallas Buyers Club is also absent from the list, as is the Spike Jonze-directed and Joaquin Phoenix-moustachioed Her, which has garnered positive reviews despite the fact that the only part of Scarlett Johansson in the flick is her voice. The Coen Brothers’ tribute to the folk scene, Inside Llewyn Davis, was shunned as well, perhaps because it was too strange to hear Justin Timberlake singing without a customary rap solo from Jay Z.
Like DiCaprio, Tom Hanks is one of the few Hollywood mainstays who consistently appears in movies of high quality, as demonstrated in one of the five lucky ones, Captain Phillips. While Al Pacino has killed all self respect since singing a number called “Dunkaccino” opposite Adam Sandler, 50-something Hanks can still get stuck into a meaty lead role like that of Richard Phillips with the same gusto as he brought to Andrew Beckett and Forrest Gump.
One of the things that still sticks in my mind is the on-the-edge-of-your-seatness of the whole picture. Captain Phillips was more like a summer blockbuster than an awards-season film, given the action, suspense and hero-and-villain dynamic, yet the strong performances thoroughly warrant the praise. Barkhad Abdi shines in his first role as the “chief” Somali pirate, while Hanks has picked up another Best Actor nomination. Some reviewers even suggested that his performance in the anti-climactic scene after the rescue was some of his best acting ever. Incidentally, Hanks pleased audiences twice this year, also appearing as Walt Disney in the Disney self-promotion vehicle Saving Mr. Banks, which is worth a watch too.
American Hustle could have easily been a summer movie, with its all-star cast, a thriller-like plot and the injection of comedy, mainly through Louis C.K. playing his usual beaten-down, bullied wreck. The only problem was… it wasn’t very good. The plot was a bit too done-before (conmen conning and then ending up conned) and at times unnecessarily complex. But then, who am I to argue with 93 per cent of Rotten Tomatoes?
There’s certainly been a lot of hype about Jennifer Lawrence in recent times, probably owing to her endearing bluntness and humility in interviews – and I have to say, the woman can act. She lit up her role here as the cast-aside housewife with more than a few screws loose, with special mentions to the “science oven” scene (spoiler alert: foil in microwave = fire).
American Hustle isn’t a bad movie by any means, just disappointing after David O. Russell’s superior past outings, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook. At least it’s one of only a few movies that rhymes with the name of its director. (I thought of only one more: Manhattan, Woody Allen. Any others?)
Of course, this is the British Academy, meaning there needs to be some homegrown talent represented. Philomena – or “Philo-mania”, as DiCaprio pronounced it at the Golden Globes, making it sound more like a movie about a puff pastry convention – does a lot more than tick the British box. The story is heartfelt and bittersweet, but never collapses into pure schmaltz for schmaltz’s sake.
Judi Dench injects humility into the title character and portrays a woman led by her faith and pleased by the small things in life. Steve Coogan playing the more street-smart journalist, Martin Sixsmith, provides a foil for the naivety. In a “wait-Ben-Affleck-directed-Argo?” kind of moment, I discovered that Coogan co-wrote the script and, like Affleck, it seems the comedian may have found a second calling – perhaps something to focus on when not working on the ever-fun Alan Partridge or playing a tiny Roman warrior in the Night at the Museum franchise.
12 Years a Slave is another flick based on a true story, and this time, you wholeheartedly wish it weren’t true. It follows the suffering endured by Solomon Northrup, a freeman who is deceived, captured and sold to slave traders in the South, and is then dealt the horrendous fortune of ending up a slave on the cotton plantation of “owner” Edwin Epps. Chiwetel Ejiofor is wonderful as Northrup, as is Michael Fassbender as the evil and immediately detestable Epps. Two Pauls, Giamatti and Dano, are just as abhorrent as a trader and slave-overseer respectively. Lupita Nyong’o makes her screen debut as the wretched Patsey, bringing to life the slave-girl’s torturous existence as Epps’ sexual victim.
From the very moment Northrup is captured, the viewing experience is a harrowing one. The Steve McQueen-directed and Brad Pitt-produced picture induces nausea in audiences right from the second the captured protagonist awakens in chains, only to be beaten bloodily with paddles.
The emotion does not ease up; Dano’s repulsive chant of “Run, n****r run, well the pattyroller will get you / Run n****r run, well you better get away” sticks in your mind even after the closing credits.
The distress caused by watching the film is, of course, the point. People were rendered speechless as they left the cinema. I felt troubled that despite Northrup’s reunion with his family, Patsey, along with all the other thousands of slaves across the US, was still left to suffer the brutality, but this time all alone.
Another that may take the prize is Gravity, which leads with 11 BAFTA nominations. I’m torn about this one. Sandra Bullock ditches her usual uptight-cop comedy act to play an astronaut on her first spaceflight. We know she can do drama – she was exceptional in The Blind Side – but the question is whether she’s given enough meat to work with here. The storyline is predictable, so whether Bullock takes the Best Actress BAFTA remains to be seen.
Regardless of the vapidity of the plot, the visuals in Gravity are unquestionably stunning. In IMAX 3D, especially, I could feel the dizziness and fear of being in such an expansive, dark and unknown territory. In one scene, for instance, tears would stick to the camera screen and in those tears you could make out Bullock’s reflection.
I’m not counting out the others, but I think it’s between Gravity and 12 Years. It’s time a movie that realistically depicts the horrors of slavery wins some recognition. While Lincoln (2013) told the glorified story of Honest Abe during the Civil War, the practice of slavery itself was completely ignored. And Django Unchained (2012) concentrated on typical Tarantino themes: gunfights, blood, Christoph Waltz and more blood. This year, 12 Years had the bravery to cut the crap and show the true savagery within this shameful past, doing so with fine acting and masterful direction. And while Gravity won’t look so good on DVD, 12 Years is one for the ages.
BAFTAs: you may never have rewarded Leo, but with this selection, do the right thing.
With thanks to Stratford East Picturehouse: http://www.picturehouses.co.uk/cinema/Stratford_London/.
The BAFTA Awards will be aired on BBC One on 16 February 2014 at 9pm.Image from: http://img2-3.timeinc.net/ew/i/2013/11/07/Lupita-Nyong-o.jpg
How Valentine’s Day highlights all that is wrong with our attitude towards relationships
February 14th isn’t for everyone. As the date approaches, anti-romance can increasingly be found orbiting cyberspace as more and more of us fall out of love with Valentine’s Day. For some, it’s a good excuse to eat somewhere nice and drink a lot of wine. For others, all the heartfelt gestures are a bit too much to stomach.
We’re a dysfunctional, peculiar lot: if Valentine’s messages told the truth, many would never get written. An anonymous card might mean you have a secret admirer, but it could also mean anything from “I’m incapable of verbalising how I feel, so I got this card to say it for me” to “you don’t know me, but I stare at you when you’re not looking and draw weird pictures of what our future children will look like.”
Often “I love you” doesn’t quite pin down what you need to say, but apparently it’s not quite as romantic to write, “we’ve only been dating for a month and I don’t actually feel that way yet, but I think we have potential.” Relationships go through a lot of weird stages, yet the tradition tries to suggest that we’re all in a uniform state of hopeless infatuation. Funnily enough, cards that say “divorce is stressful and expensive, so Happy Valentine’s Day” or ‘thanks for keeping me company while I wait for someone better” aren’t readily available.
It’s often said the British aren’t great with their feelings, but sometimes that could be a good thing: no one wants to open a card that says, “I’ve been hiding in a bush outside your window for a week and I think I’m ready to take the relationship to the next level.” Luckily, these days people can just use social media to side-step their limited ability for self-expression. Surely there should be a more inclusive celebration for the cynical and emotionally-detached among us. Why is there no national day for chain-eating junk food and watching DVDs? Valentine’s is great if hearts and flowers are your thing, but there’s no point pretending you’re a lovesick teenager when really you mean “we’ve grown old and disgusting, but we still have each other.’
How do we deal with this annual predicament? Is it better to just lie than say “I only love you when I’m drunk?” Is telling someone you’re “quite fond” of them okay? Many of us just see the date as an opportunity for consumer marketing to cash in on a yearly obligation to confess feelings that we either don’t have, or aren’t comfortable admitting to. So for how long will the remaining traditionalists continue to spend money on celebrating the event if they’re only doing it to avoid hurt feelings?Image from: http://25.media.tumblr.com/5557fd3c35aa306f708c23fc96f6b776/tumblr_mogaocL9K71ssg2b9o1_1280.jpg
Question: Can a non-Muslim person be in the Masjid?
Thank you for your question.
From the Sunnah (tradition of the Prophet ﷺ, peace be upon him)
It is reported in authentic collections of hadith (narrations of the Prophet ﷺ), such as al-Bukhāri’s, that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) allowed Thumāma bin Athāl to be held in the mosque in Medina before his conversion to Islam. This is used by the majority of scholars to prove that people of other faiths can enter mosques. It is also well established that the Christians of Najrān visited the Prophet’s mosque. Both of these reports are important in understanding the following verse of Qur’an,
“Indeed the polytheists are filthy so do not let them near the sacred mosque after this year” (Qur’an 9:28).
Opinions of the Fuqahā
Regarding people of other faiths being refused entry into mosques, the scholars had four opinions:
1. It was only for the sacred mosque in Mecca
2. It was for Mecca
3. It was for all mosques
4. It was for the Hajj and ‘Umra only (meaning they are not allowed to make Hajj or Umra)
The first opinion was that of Imam al-Shāf’i, the second Imam Ahmad’s, the third Imām Mālik’s and the fourth was Imām Abū Hanifa’s.
The Stronger Opinion
The stronger opinion is Abu Hanifa’s based on the authentic hadith of Thumama mentioned above and the statement of the Caliph ‘Ali after this verse was revealed, “No polytheist should observe pilgrimage after this year.”
What Does Filthy Mean?
As for the word “filthy” majority of the scholars hold that it is a spiritual filth not a physical one, since there is a legal consensus that all humans are considered pure. Hence a Muslim man is allowed to hold his non-Muslim wife’s hand without making wudu and even engage in intercourse with her, the ghusul (ritual bathing) being for their sexual relation, not because of her faith.
Sh. Sābouni wrote:
“The majority opinion is correct (that they are not physically filthy) because we are allowed to interact with them (even buy things from them like food) without prohibition.”
A Crucial Point
Even scholars who forbade Non-Muslims from entering the mosques allowed it if there was a benefit of da’wah (outreach) or creating good relations.
“If there is a benefit of da’wah, increasing good relations or improving the image of Islam, it is allowed.”
We at the ISBCC strive to dedicate ourselves to an authentic expression of Islam that best suits our realities here. Showing others our faith and our community is from the objectives of shariah (Islamic law) and it is in upholding them that we follow the fatwa (ruling) of Imām Abu Hanifa radi Allahu anhu (May God be pleased with him).
Allah knows best.
Imam William Webb