The stories of those formerly involved in violent extremism must be told in order for us to understand and reverse the potential for brutality
A beautiful man, or a cold-blooded killer: this is the current dichotomy conjured by the name Mohammed Emwazi, or perhaps more commonly known by his media sobriquet “Jihadi John”, a name that elicits justifiable hostility, revulsion and perplexity in that it presents the image of a vicious, brutal, murdering IS henchman.
In recent weeks, the quest to reveal the man behind the mask has led to descriptions of his personality and actions before Syria, from a teacher’s assessment describing him as a steady, ordinary boy, to security service assertions that he was a young man on a violent radical trajectory. Most controversial of these analyses has been the words of Asim Qureshi of the human rights group Cage, who described his impression of Emwazi as a “beautiful young man” – a comment interpreted as inappropriate and outrageous in light of Emwazi’s metamorphosis into a killer. Yet the notion that Emwazi was, in the past, “very good with people”, as described by his previous employer, and appeared “beautiful” in character, should act as a trigger for deeper examination, for it hits a nerve in our social psyche. It demonstrates that the defining of ourselves and our fellow humans as inherently good or evil does not accurately reflect the awful reality that ordinary people can commit hideous acts of violence and cruelty.
The lessons of war, genocide and terror are not particular to any type of society, culture, or person: the path of violence is a horribly routine aspect of our collective and individual behaviour. In the case of violent radicalisation within extremist groups such as “Islamic State”, nationalist movements and the far-right, the complex and personal process can be experienced by ordinary people, and it is this disturbing reality that should galvanise united, constructive and urgent action – rather than the jejune finger-pointing and outrage of popular commentary. This is a politicised arena and one which – against the backdrop of the War on Terror and increasing xenophobia – has triggered inter- and intra-community divisions alongside mistrust between the grassroots and state.
There are many examples of individual “turn-arounds”, of formers whose pasts illustrate the reversibility of violent extremisms. Sometimes high profile and often controversial, examples include Pat McGee, responsible for planting the bomb which killed and maimed attendees at the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton, 1984. He now works with Jo Berry – daughter of Sir Anthony Berry who died in the blast – to promote peace and better understanding of conflict. Further afield, the founding leaders of the notorious Egyptian terror group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya now speak out against violence, including theological tracts against their own previous actions, promoting political engagement as an alternative. Less high profile, but demonstrating that these are not exceptional cases, are the formers of violent extremist groups within all of our communities, whose personal journeys are testament to change. The triggers to leave violence stem from internal change, but the roots are found in external impacts – the disillusionment and the realisation of the reality and futility of violence.
For the organisation of which I am a director, ConnectJustice, part of the long-term solution lies in better engagement across the divides, and crucially, the use of credible, community-rooted expertise including those who have been there. Our team’s research and practitioner experience, alongside a growing body of academic and policy literature, suggests that the stories of “formers” – those who have followed a path of violence and subsequently desisted – not only demonstrate the diversity of such stories, but highlight the prospect of reversing violent radicalisation.
Yet the stories of formers are not just a source of knowledge and understanding: they have the potential to educate and inspire. By sharing the uncomfortable truths about their journeys in and out of violence, and the reality of violent groups, the attraction for some young people may be significantly reduced. And while there will always be a small number of blood-lusting sadists looking for a cause, when ordinary young people talk about ”five-star jihad”, adventure, redemption, righteous brotherhood and foreign enemies, the idealistic romanticism needs debunking quick. The testimony of formers can cut through the zeal, the black and white thinking, and the fantasy. When you hear that the group you hold as pure and unified is a motley crew of infighting misfits, the attraction wanes. When you know that the leaders of these groups are as corrupt, hypocritical and oppressive as those you rail against, the prospect of joining them fades. It is not from a government official or disrespectful authority figure that these messages can be truly heard, but through credible, candid figures whose experiences can penetrate hearts and change minds.
We must accept, as a society, that stories of good versus evil are not as clear-cut as we may think, but in their ambivalence, have a power that can be harnessed for change.
ConnectJustice is crowdfunding an innovative and ambitious series of short films – five stories of formers for free, public use. If you are interested in pledging your support and giving a donation please follow this link: https://peoplesrepublic.co/p/connectjustice/
Excessive consumption of sugar can be stopped, willfully
During February of last year, I found myself in the midst of positively unwelcome nutritional advice. The nation was told that “Sugar is the new fat”. This was unwelcome news to a bona fide connoisseur of sweet delights. According to Action on Sugar, the extent of harm caused by excessive sugar consumption has been consistently ignored. Could I be eating myself to premature diabetes, or worse still, a shortened life expectancy?
And then Shrove Tuesday came around. At work, the question came, “What are you going to give up for Lent?” While perusing news websites in my lunch break, the revelation came again: “Sugar is the New Fat.” After reading yet another article about how sugar was destroying the nation, I had my epiphany. Was I strong enough to give up my beloved chocolate, biscuits, sweetened buns and cake for Lent? Could I possibly invent a new me? I decided to go the whole hog and cut out all refined sugar.
No refined sugar from March 4th to April 20th – sugar free for approximately six weeks. I like nothing more than to return from work to a couple of chocolate digestives washed down with warm tea. Would it be possible to persevere without this comfort through Lent? Initially, I honestly thought that I would come crashing down at the first hurdle; discovered in a gutter, face smeared with chocolate having overdosed on Milktray after day three, and having to be checked into rehab.
In order not to make this task seem completely unrealistic, I allowed myself to be a social consumer of sugar, a bit like being a social smoker. However, I had to be mindful of moderation, so I couldn’t just down half a box of Roses, and cake would have to be consumed in slithers.
The biggest struggle in the first week was saying no to biscuits at work. To stave off the cravings and maintain a peak state of attentiveness, I replaced the chocolate digestives with almonds and raisins. There were more almonds than raisins, and eating a handful of this mix seemed to stave off the cravings for sugary naughties fairly effectively. Most of week two was spent fantasising about Victoria sponge, my real weakness, but successfully staying away from the white stuff. Week three was also a struggle, but I still managed by eating the odd date or raisin at the end of meals in place of dessert.
However, something strange happened by week four. My alarm went off at 6.45, and I leapt out of bed as if I had been awake for hours. Never in my life had I felt this refreshed after sleeping. Oddly, as the weeks progressed, this energy began to ebb, although I still felt that I had more energy in comparison to when regularly consuming sugar.
Then came weeks five and six. I had had no jam, fizzy drinks and sweets, and also had marginally fallen off the wagon with respect to chocolate and puddings. Oddly, I was reaching a stage where I didn’t even need my after meal raisins anymore, and started to savour the natural sweetness of apples and carrots. If someone had offered me the choice between a salad of spinach leaves, avocado and sun blushed tomatoes or a Wispa (personal weakness), I would have gone with the salad.
Week six was revelatory. Having not really missed refined sugar at all in weeks four and five, in week six I began to fantasise about all the nice things I could chomp on come Easter Sunday. Returning to my parents’ house for the Easter break, I relished waking up in my childhood home on Easter Sunday and preparing myself whatever I wanted to eat. But the jam on toast I began with was sickeningly sweet, and I could not finish it. I had a piece of chocolate, without really wanting to, and for the first time in my life I didn’t enjoy it. It was stunning how beholden I was to a substance, which had the same texture as soap.
Over the last ten months, I have fallen back into my evil sugar-consuming ways. But what this experiment proved was that if the increase in energy levels were anything to go by, sugar is harmful. It also made me believe that cravings are almost entirely psychological.
Most importantly, however, this experiment was a massive personal achievement and marker of self-control – I feel like I have achieved something by not giving in to what I had believed to be my slavishly potent sweet tooth. When I set out on saying no to sugar, I had believed that I would not be able to do it. Yet, I did manage to broadly stick to my rules. I felt such a glow of achievement, that who knows, I might even do it again. And I’d certainly recommend others try it too.Image: http://www.toomuchsugar.net/
Filmmaker Patricio Henriquez constructs a crushing yet compassionate documentary on an oppression faced by an already persecuted and globally neglected community
It is perhaps a fitting irony that Patricio Henriquez’s Uyghurs, Prisoners of the Absurd, screened at the London Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2015, was hosted first at Curzon Soho. The trendy cinema hall is located at the very doorstep of Chinatown, its entrance leading out directly onto that popular tourist spot off London’s Leicester Square.
And why shouldn’t it be an irony. The Uyghurs are a persecuted minority in a region annexed by Chinese communist forces in 1949; for many years this Muslim community has been subject to oppressive religious suppression by China’s government. Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, observes, “As Islam is perceived as underpinning Uighur ethnic identity, China has taken draconian steps to smother Islam as a means of subordinating Uighur nationalist sentiment.” While a peaceful resistance remains, Uyghur resistors are expediently labelled terrorists by the authorities and subject to arrest, imprisonment, torture and execution as the world turns a largely blind eye. As director Henriquez stated following Sunday’s screening, “the Uyghurs are similar to the Tibetans, except they do not have the Dalai Lama so no one pays attention to them.” It is for this reason such a film and its hosting by Human Rights Watch is so vital. Awareness is key to efforts for justice and change, and Uyghurs, Prisoners of the Absurd is an important part of that project.
In a number of ways, however, this film is as unexpected as it is revelatory. I attended with the anticipation of encountering a prominent narration on Uyghur social and cultural history, and their struggles with China. The film, however, spends little time on this. Instead, attention is on a lesser known egregious oppression of an already little known and neglected people: the wrongful incarceration of Uyghur refugees at Guantanamo Bay. Although initial expectations were somewhat dashed, this turn of the tale was crucially eye-opening. This is in itself a commendable aspect of the film, but further it meant that several associated causes – from the violations of the War on Terror to the illegality of Guantanamo Bay – are also addressed.
What emerges is a narrative that, while centering on the human experiences of the victims, accessibly navigates the disturbing and complex geopolitical and economic realities, hypocrisies and expediencies fueling the War on Terror that has defined so much of our world for well over a decade. Crucially, it also reveals the clout held by Chinese authorities over western governments. Evocatively produced with original photography, and told through the first-hand accounts of three detainees with the courage to speak – Ahmet Abdulahad, Abu Bakker and Khalil – as well as other key figures including their interpreter and lawyers, the film weaves a harrowing tale of trauma, dashed hopes, crushing betrayals, but, ultimately, survival with humanity and compassion intact. It traces the paths of a people oppressed at home, seeking refuge and liberty abroad, yet finding themselves circumstantially caught in the desperate violence of war and, as one detainee put it, turned into pawns on a political chessboard.
Perhaps a perfect example of the complexities lies in one stark reality revealed by Abu Bakker: prior to the War on Terror, Afghanistan was the only nation willing to accept Uyghur refugees. The Taliban offered protection when no other nation did, and so many Uyghurs sought refuge from Chinese persecution with this one state willing to have them. Abu Bakker relates how even when they could not work and earn, the Taliban ensured they had three meals a day: “I was grateful to them, and I still am.” He and other refugees formed a small Uyghur village in Afghanistan where they spent their days studying the Qur’an, a right denied under Chinese authorities. Yet when the US-led war broke out, the traumatised men found themselves caught up in the middle and forced to flee to neighbouring Pakistan. There they encountered the first of many betrayals that led to their detention.
The Uyghur men presented are indeed prisoners of the absurd: the absurdity of dictatorial imperialist minds, the absurdity of the farcical War on Terror, the absurdity of immoral political expediency – and the absurdity of our ignorance. But from that sea of the absurd, what remains the most powerful reality of this documentary is the searing humanity and compassion of those at its centre. The gentle, softly spoken men who narrated their ordeals with no trace of bitterness even as they emanated the silent sadness of betrayal. These were people who believed in the US as a land of democracy: liberty, principles, justice. They expressed their hope when wrongly detained that the Americans will not mistreat them as the Chinese did in their jails, and revealed their astonishment when they found the Americans no different: “we couldn’t believe they were Americans.” Long after arrest, when finally informed at Guantanamo about the reason for their detention and the events of 9/11, they all expressed shock, commiserations for the victims and rejection of that criminal act as against Islam.
Today, after languishing in abusive and illegal conditions in Guantanamo for years despite being cleared as innocent, after being separated from their families – mothers, siblings, spouses – for almost a decade, after having their hopes for liberty dashed time and again, after having their dignity destroyed, after finally being released yet in alien lands as stateless citizens without passports and constantly shadowed by the “terrorist” stigma, they continue without resentment and with a continued respect for the very nation that subjected them to the loss of their prime years and futures. Through protracted incarceration, abuse and suffering they remain without hate.
Creatively constructed and humanely portrayed, Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd ultimately reveals itself to be a film saturated with hope: hope for the survival of compassion, for the continuation of goodness and for the powerful resilience of the human spirit. That alone may make it worthy of watching. But the greater reason is to know; to never plead ignorance.
The Guantanamo Bay detention facility has been open for 14 years. More than 100 men remain detained there without charge or trial. A total of 779 men have been held there over the years, 22 of them ethnic Uyghurs from China. The US government has determined that the Uyghurs should never have been picked up to begin with, but dysfunctional US politics and lack of political will kept them locked-up unlawfully for many years. The last of the Uyghurs were finally released from Guantanamo at the end of last year, but their stories—and those of hundreds of other men unlawfully held there—are tragic examples of a US counterterrorism policy that violates rights, sets a terrible example for other countries, and undermines the rule of law.
- Human Rights Watch
In conjunction with Human Rights Watch, MUBI is now offering a free 30-day trial including selected films from the festival.Photo Credits: Uyghurs, Prisoners of the Absurd
As empty as the words of murderers
masking gangster-like executions behind justifications
ripped like raw flesh from the bones of the Holy Book.
As empty as the words of a professional liar,
as he glibly dismisses the political aspirations of a people rendered invisible behind the ghetto walls of their manufactured despair.
As empty as the arguments positing Shiites and Sunnis have always been at each others’ throat, so who needs to consider invasions and occupations, imperial strategy or energy politics when debating their self-destructive barbarism.
As empty as the hearts of the gangsters and banksters and their puppet politicians, making life and death decisions that disregard the wellbeing of everyone except themselves.
As empty as the hollow tips of the bullets being dispensed to
law enforcement agencies of the state, across the land, to
insure that the victim’s version of events is never heard by a Grand Jury.
As empty as the dark hearts, which like the vampires they are, shrivel away from the approaching light of a dawning day of truth. Do not be a vacuous soul, leading an empty life, waiting to be
recruited into an army of gloom. Fill your heart with light, the very foundation of life and go forth to challenge the armies of darkness, for light and darkness cannot coexist. Darkness owes its existence to one thing: the absence of light.
Mommy’s Not Coming Home
She merely step off the ill-fated bus,
Her killer, In God, he did not trust,
So ashes-to-ashes and dust-to-dust,
Mommy’s not coming home.
Baba went to the mosque to pray,
Not realizing he’d never see another day,
A suicide murderer blew him away,
What else is there left to say?
Baba’s not coming home.
The girl lied down on her little bed,
While visions of sugar plums danced in her head,
Mama was deliberate in every word she read,
Baba quietly nodded his head…
As a bomb descended overhead,
A political decision, now, all are dead.
There was no place like home.
The status of Turkish Cypriots in Cyprus continues to be ignored both within the country and in Europe as a whole
It was while I was a teenager attending school in east London when I became aware of the fact that I was a member of a nameless community. I happened to come across my class register left open on my teacher’s desk and began to read through it, noticing a section for ethnicity had been included beside each name. The ethnicity section beside my name, however, was left blank, as was the case with all the other Turkish Cypriot students in my class.
In another instance, my father had taken me to the Farnborough air show where he was working. All staff had to leave their passport details with security before they could enter. My father, at the time, although legally UK resident, only possessed a Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) passport. The problem, however, was that this passport was not recognised anywhere in the world outside of Turkey and the TRNC. So, when he presented his passport, the security guard refused to record his details.
Of course, having to switch planes in Turkey due to an absence of direct flights to the TRNC, as well as having our bags checked for TRNC products on our return, constantly reminded us that we were from an unrecognised state which according to the world map doesn’t exist. But for an estimated half a million Turkish Cypriots, around half of whom live in the UK, the TRNC is very real.
For Turkish Cypriots born after the island was divided in 1974, the TRNC is the only home they know. Before 1974, both Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots lived under a bi-communal government which was formed in 1960 after over eight decades of British occupation. However, failure to establish separate municipalities in accordance with the constitution and attempts to minimise Turkish Cypriot powers in parliament led to Turkish Cypriots being forced out of the government within three years. Failing to secure their return to the government over a period of two decades of talks, both before and after the 1974 intervention by Turkey, Turkish Cypriots declared the independence of the TRNC in 1983.
Nonetheless, almost 100,000 Turkish Cypriots eagerly crossed to the Greek-Cypriot-controlled south to collect their new passports after the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus entered the EU in 2004, even though the Greek Cypriots rejected the reunification of the island in a referendum ahead of their accession. Despite promises of recognition for the TRNC in such an event, Turkish Cypriots were only granted observer status in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Furthermore, those who attend the meetings are acknowledged as “representatives of the Turkish Cypriot community in Cyprus,” not as TRNC representatives. As such, the Greek Cypriot side was rewarded by the EU for rejecting peace, while Turkish Cypriots had their appeals for self-representation shunned.
Even as nationals of the Republic of Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots are constantly reminded of their being viewed as second-class citizens by some segments of society. In March 2014, former TRNC President Mehmet Ali Talat was speaking at a conference in the southern city of Limassol when it was stormed by a group of protesters from ELAM, the Greek Cypriot branch of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. Mr Talat, who throughout his term in office worked arduously to achieve peace in Cyprus, had to be evacuated as ELAM members hurled explosives. This was particularly alarming for Turkish Cypriots as it demonstrated the inability of the Greek Cypriot administration to protect them from the violence of individuals who feel that the Turkish Cypriots have no right to live in Cyprus, despite more than 400 years of Turkish Cypriot history on the island.
The Greek Cypriot administration itself has also proven to be discriminatory against Turkish Cypriots. Just two months after the incident in Limassol, Turkish Cypriots were once again reminded of the administration’s systematic bias against them. Having been allocated two out of six seats representing the Republic of Cyprus in the European Parliamentary elections, Turkish Cypriots rushed to the polls to participate for the first time. With five candidates and over 90,000 registered voters, Turkish Cypriots were excited by the possibility of having their voices finally heard in Europe. Those who participated, however, were disappointed to find out the Greek Cypriot administration had failed to record the addresses of almost a third of Turkish Cypriot voters. Turkish Cypriots were thus denied their fundamental right to elect European Parliament representatives.
Lacking representation, the Turkish Cypriots found themselves voiceless in the face of yet another challenge when the Greek Cypriot administration in July applied to secure protected designation of origin (PDO) status for the island’s traditional cheese, halloumi, otherwise known as hellim. This would grant the Greek Cypriots the power to control the way the cheese is produced, giving Turkish Cypriot producers no say in the standardisation process. While the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce calls for the establishment of a separate production control mechanism in the TRNC, the Greek Cypriot administration maintains that any production control mechanism outside the framework of its Ministry of Agriculture is illegal.
So, as can be seen, although possessing Republic of Cyprus passports and being EU citizens, Turkish Cypriots can neither participate in Europe, due to obstacles placed before them by the Greek Cypriot administration, nor can they appeal to Europe due to their being extraneous to the same administration that blocks their participation.
Turkish Cypriots living abroad also often have their voices silenced by the Greek Cypriot lobby. In the latest case, TRNC Foreign Minister Ozdil Nami was forced to relocate his public conference at the London School of Economics on 17 February to a lecture hall exclusive to LSE students and staff, after university officials received “threats” from members of the public. As a result, even British Turkish Cypriot community representatives, some of whom had travelled from outside London, were denied entry to the conference. The event literature was also edited to show Mr Nami’s title as “representative of the Turkish Cypriot community” instead of TRNC Foreign Minister.
Therefore, not only are Turkish Cypriots prevented from making any progress in Cyprus, they are more often than not bullied away from speaking on platforms in other parts of Europe too. All the while, the EU continues to turn a blind eye to the international isolation of a people who have only ever asked for the rights outlined for them in agreements and the same rights enjoyed by all other EU citizens.
In June 2012, just before the Republic of Cyprus took control of the EU presidency, hundreds of Turkish Cypriots marched from the European Parliament to the European Commission in Brussels dressed as ghosts. Arguing the Republic of Cyprus is not representative of the entire island, the protesters handed out leaflets describing themselves as Europe’s forgotten citizens. Ironically, however, many protesters would have had to acquire Republic of Cyprus passports in order to travel to Brussels, so technically there were no Turkish Cypriots protesting that day. As far as the EU is concerned, Turkish Cypriots are a long lost people who simply vanished into thin air half a century ago.
In spite of the EU’s denial, Turkish Cypriots do exist, albeit as a nation of ghosts suspended in a state of limbo. Yet, unfortunately, as they call out from their unseen parallel universe, it seems that no one is willing to hear their cries.Image from: http://springtimeofnations.blogspot.co.uk/2012_06_01_archive.html
The streets of Gaza provide a canvas for Banksy’s latest work which highlights the Palestinian struggle
Since first garnering mainstream attention, ‘guerrilla’ artist Banksy has become synonymous with the production of subversive and provocative images, often taking aim at the establishment, authority figures and popular culture. While he remains a figure of artistic rebellion for many, others describe his art as glorified vandalism. In recent years he has amassed an army of celebrity fans including Kate Moss and Angelina Jolie, with a number of his works selling at auction in excess of the hundred thousand pound mark. Despite his widespread popularity to date, Banksy has chosen to continue with his anonymity. There has been much speculation as to his true identity, which has further galvanised his status as a radical ‘spray can’ social commentator.
His recent work has seen him return to occupied Palestine, a site he first visited back in 2005, creating a series of works on the West Bank wall. These included an escapist fantasy of a tropical beach peering out from a painted crack in the wall. The canvas for his recent visit comes from the remnants and destruction left over from Israel’s Operation Protective Edge attack in 2014, which caused the destruction of 18,000 Palestinian homes and killed at least 2,000 civilians, almost a quarter of them children. He has created a number of graffiti works on the fragments of buildings and houses still standing – each a narrative of what has come to pass there. They include a kitten playing with a ball of barbed wire, and a group of children on swings attached to an Israeli watchtower. There is even an image that conjures memories of a Greek Goddess or perhaps Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’, now reduced to a weeping woman covering her face. She is both part of the devastated landscape and isolated in her grief. Banksy’s approach embodies the nature of this ongoing conflict and everyday life for the Palestinians: entrapped in a vast concrete prison, under constant surveillance, where children must make do playing among the rubble of the destroyed land. Despite the melancholic tone pervading these pieces there is an overwhelming sense of resilience in the positioning of the new artwork in the region. The children are watched over by these images as they continue to play on the ruins – the most natural form of resistance to their circumstances.
But why has the internationally recognised artist chosen to highlight the Palestinian struggle?
Banksy very often challenges oppression and articulates critical issues through his work. In 2006, his ‘Barely Legal’ exhibition in Los Angeles focused on the problem of world poverty; items on display included a poignant painted ‘elephant in the room’ to symbolise the scale of this neglected global issue. In 2008, he produced an image reading ‘One Nation Under CCTV’ highlighting London as one of the cities most under surveillance in the world. In the same year, an image of children pledging allegiance to a Tesco shopping bag in place of a national flag also appeared in London. The danger of consumerism and mass consumption, particularly in the western world, is an issue he has often returned to in his work. Having left his mark in a number of cities across the world including London and New York, it seems only fitting that an artist whose origins are in street art returns to a place where the external landscape overshadows those living there. The accompanying video posted on his website, a parody of tourist videos advertising exotic locations, opens with ‘Make this the year YOU discover a new destination’, and suggests he is keen to combat misconceptions.
Banksy’s visit to Gaza highlights the experience of ordinary people whose lives have been devastated by the ongoing conflict. They are the ones who have become nameless, faceless numbers briefly mentioned in news reports. By engaging with this conflict directly, Banksy not only reminds us of the ongoing problems and injustices within this territory, but also gives the Palestinian struggle a human face. The short clip ends with the words, ‘If we wash our hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless we side with the powerful – we don’t remain neutral’. Therefore to refuse acknowledgement of what is happening in Palestine is tacit compliance with those responsible for their suffering. Through social media platforms Banksy has brought this region, often neglected by mainstream media and the international community, to the attention of his global audience.Image from: banksy.co.uk
An upcoming festival celebrates the all-encompassing influence and input generated by women worldwide over the last century
If called upon to nominate history’s few greatest pioneering individuals, it goes without saying that we’d all have more men spring to mind than women – after all, it is his-tory.
And yet, computing prodigy, Grace Hooper, invented one of the first easy-to-use computer languages, a significant advance in its field. Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, survived childhood polio and a bus accident to become one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, while Dr Sally Ride was the youngest American astronaut ever to orbit Earth in 1951. All these examples serve to correct this male-orientated fashioning of accomplishments, hence defying James Brown’s notion of ours as being a ‘man’s world’.
In view of this, WOW provides a platform for the commemoration and recognition of these feats, owed to both men and women for the changes being made in attitudes towards gender. For Jude Kelly, Artistic Director at the Southbank Centre and Founder of WOW, it’s both “a celebration of achievement so far and a place to attend to what’s yet to come”.
This conversational space unites a diverse body of people who all share one thing in common: being a woman or having the willingness to talk about a woman’s potential in today’s society. Through the confrontation of these uncomfortable issues, the dialogue exchanged here each year revolutionises the eradication of gender inequality as a key 21st century concern.
Open daily from 10am-11pm, the annual series of events, whose finale coincides with International Women’s Day, boasts an array of talks, performances and workshops. These span from topics on immigration to lingerie, from pubic hair to activism, from domestic abuse to why women feel the force of Ebola more fervently.
The festival, both courageous and current, has developed an all-inclusive approach through its combination of humour and liveliness with a still effective tackling of the serious issues at hand. In doing so, it presents the very best of emerging female talent across fields including politics, the arts, economics, science, sport, business, education and music, in the form of exhibitions, workshops and networking opportunities.
Here are a few of the highlights of this year:
- Sheila Hicks’ Foray into Chromatic Zones: making her debut in the UK, this exhibition from American-born, Paris based artist works closely with fibre and yarn to create luminous sculptures. (Hayward Gallery)
- No Guts, No Heart, No Glory: a performance based on the lives of five female Bradford-born Muslim boxers, who toy with the idea of convention. (Queen Elizabeth Hall)
- The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe: a performance of four African refugees in Sydney, Australia retelling their extraordinary stories of survival in a land of refuge. (Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall)
- Annie Lenox in Conversation: the singer, songwriter and campaigner with an OBE discusses with Jude Kelly the humanitarian issues that women are faced with today. (The Clore Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall)
- Under 10s Feminist Corner: a series of workshops focused on engaging a younger audience with the idea of feminism and what it is to be a young girl. (Level 3 Function Room at the Royal Festival Hall)
Now in its fifth successful year, WOW has achieved its goals of going global, expanding as far out as Hong Kong, Iceland, Ethiopia, New York, Australia and Baltimore last year. It first took place in the UK outside of London in Londonderry, which became 2013’s awarded city of culture as a result, and can since be found nationwide from Cardiff to Cambridge.
While each festival remains firmly established within its own local area, they continue to make use of their extensive networks for means of inspiration and sharing ideas. For Shami Chakrabarti (CBE and Director of Liberty), WOW is “responsible for enlightening feminist movements in the UK as a platform and space for empowerment”.
This celebratory week thus seeks to reveal for us the positive impact of the modernisation of gender inequality, through its remembrance of the potential women can bring to the world in all shapes and forms – and the long way we still have to go.
WOW: Women of the World at the Southbank Centre, London runs from 1st to 8th March 2015Image from: http://wow.southbankcentre.co.uk/
When murder becomes an end, in and of itself, all principles are cast aside. The fact that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ severely condemned Usama bin Zayd, when he killed a captive who had pronounced the Muslim Declaration of Faith (Shahadah), is meaningless to the shot-callers of ISIS when they decided to murder Abdur Rahman Kassig, a captive aid worker who had uttered the Shahadah. Where are we to place their actions in light of the Prophet’s ﷺ condemnation of Usama?
The mass murder of randomly kidnapped Coptic Christians by ISIS demands that we ask a similar question. Where do we place their actions in light of the Prophet’s ﷺ covenant of protection to the Christian nation. He dictates in the Achtiname, a document cherished by the Christian monks in the Sinai who carefully guard its replica, a reminder to the mass murders of ISIS, or anyone contemplating joining their ill-fated ranks:
“This is a letter which was issued by Mohammed, Ibn Abdullah, the Messenger, the Prophet, the Faithful, who is sent to all the people as a trust on the part of God to all His creatures, that they may have no plea against God hereafter. Verily God is the Mighty, the Wise. This letter is directed to the embracers of Islam, as a covenant given to the followers of Nazarene in the East and West, the far and near, the Arabs and foreigners, the known and the unknown. This letter contains the oath given unto them, and he who disobeys that which is therein will be considered a disobeyer and a transgressor to that whereunto he is commanded. He will be regarded as one who has corrupted the oath of God, disbelieved His Testament, rejected His Authority, despised His Religion, and made himself deserving of His Curse, whether he is a Sultan or any other believer of Islam.” Translated by Anton Haddad
Contrary to the image of our religion being put forward by warmongering murderers, both those who hate Islam and those claiming to be its adherents, Islam is dedicated to helping and assisting the weak and helpless, not using them in sadistic pornographic propaganda films, which, by the way, it is absolutely forbidden to view. We conclude with what should be chilling words to the henchmen of ISIS. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ declared, “Whosoever murders an innocent person whose life is to be protected will not smell the fragrance of Paradise, and its fragrance can be found at a distance of forty years (Bukhari).”
The following is a list of top 30 articles that were found to resonate most strongly with our readers this past year. It covers a full range of struggles and joys we have faced as a community and regularly bridges orthodox and contemporary Islamic knowledge. Articles covered Glimpses of Marital Bliss, inspired us about the Names of Allah, spoke to the unique struggles of our Black and Hispanic brothers and sisters, and stood up against the siege in Gaza. They discussed the role of women preachers, American holidays, how to overcome addictions and more. See the full list below.
There were many articles of significant impact that are not on the list for brevity’s sake. What was your favorite? Leave a comment to let us know!
IN THE MEDIA Your Facebook Posts, and why The Evil Eye is Real by Ubah
On social media, we are increasingly putting ourselves out there in ways that may promote envious feelings in others. Is it 100% our fault? Of course not. But here are a few important things to keep in mind.Films Today – and How the Muslims Killed Dracula by Shibli Zaman
We often bemoan the negative portrayal of Muslims in film and television, including a recent movie that gets the story of Dracula wrong. But who is to blame when we have absolutely no presence in popular media?An Imam’s Review of the Movie Noah by John (Yahya) Ederer
Potential benefits in watching this movie – and why it would be hugely advantageous to Islam and the Muslims if we made high-quality, well-funded, scripturally proper, and well-acted depictions of the prophets and our great history. Also see: Top Documentaries you Should Watch by Junaid AmjadKnow Thyself: Opinion on Hajj Selfies by Suhaib Webb
WOMEN Female Scholars and Preachers in Islam by John (Yahya) Ederer
The beauty of Islam among religions is in its universality, its compatibility with science, and its versatile legal tradition which remains relevant across times and cultures. Here’s why the majority of our scholars throughout history have said that there’s nothing wrong with listening to a woman’s speech unless it is flirtatious or provocative.10 Ways to be a Single and Content Muslimah by Ubah
Tip #2: Let Go of Entitlement. Remember that you are not owed a relationship. Just like the air you breathe or your eyesight and hearing, a decent and compatible spouse is a blessing from Allah (swt).Is it Allowed for Women to Teach Mixed Gatherings? by John (Yahya) Ederer
CULTURE, CUSTOMS, & FIQH Man’s Best Friend?: The Islamic View on Dogs by John (Yahya) Ederer
Reverts may have had a special relationship with their dogs growing up, or still do at the time of reversion. Sadly, the attitude of many Muslims towards dogs often alienates people from Islam. A closer examination of the issue debunks common misunderstandings.American Customs – What is Permissible? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Also see: Caught with My Foot in the Sink… Reasons to Be Proud of Wudu by Abdul Sattar Ahmed and Is the West Inherently Un-Islamic? by John EdererCan a Non-Muslim Person be in the Masjid? by Suhaib Webb
The stronger opinion on the issue of people of other faiths being refused entry into mosques is Abu Hanifa’s that this only applies for the Hajj and ‘Umra (meaning they are not allowed to make Hajj or Umra). Here’s why.Is Saying Jummah Mubarak an Innovation? by Suhaib Webb
Custom is so important that it forms one of the five major axioms of Islamic law. Based on this important principle and the large number of general texts that encourage us to speak well and be gentle to others, it is a stretch to say that such a greeting in an innovation.Can Muslims be Friends with Non-Muslims? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Qur’anic verses should not be mis-understood to prohibit us from making friends with our neighbors, co-workers, or schoolmates. On the topic of Muslim interactions with other faiths including Christians, see also: A Holiday Message from the Life of Omar by Shibli Zaman
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps for Overcoming Addictions or Sin by Reehab Ramadan
Remember the phrase “I am only the next 24 hours.” By the time the next 24 hours have been reached, hopefully our strength will have been regained, if not then we push ourselves a little further—24 more hours.10 Things that Shouldn’t Happen Once you Become a More Practicing Muslim by Ubah
There a few key things that we must all guard against as a result of turning a new leaf or becoming a more practicing (or new) Muslim – such as becoming narrow minded, becoming isolated, or rebelling against family.Beyond Romantic Love – Here’s What’s Missing by Reehab Ramadan
Beyond romantic or sexualized love, where’s the love that would allow me to go out of my way to buy my brother or sister in humanity a gift to bring a smile to his or her face during times of hardship?How Two Words Changed this Man’s Life by Maryam Amirebrahimi
He had never prayed two rak`ah (units of prayer) in his adult life. Two words he heard at his first Friday prayer penetrated through his heart and embraced his soul. The true story of a man’s path back to Allah (swt).
QUR’AN & PRAYER Building Habits as Worship: A Year Spent Quantifying Devotion by Alex Arrick (Guest Author)
How to use free apps for the iPhone or Android such as LIFT to make a regular, daily habit for memorizing the Qur’an. Also see: Stay Focused by PRAYing by by Marwa AbdallaIs the Qur’an a Violent Text or is Your Reading a Tad Off? by Joe Bradford
A lack of context and qualifications lead to blatant misinterpretation. The shallow misinterpretations of religious and irreligious extremists almost always lead to one thing: the escalation of conflict and the promotion of violence, instead of leading to dialogue and mutual understanding.Too Busy for Quran? Check these 3 Tips to Get Rolling by Mansoor Ahmed
Start off by making time after Fajr prayer or after `Isha’ (night) prayer, the two times you are most likely to be at home. Once it is a part of your lifestyle, it becomes easy to sustain. Remember, try a little by little, but with consistency!
OVERCOMING HARDSHIP Living with Depression and Islam by Anonymous (Guest Author)
Every morning I wake up and wish I hadn’t. I want anyone suffering like me to know that there are others that are observant, struggling Muslims and that they feel the way you are feeling. Also see: How to Overcome Sadness and be Happy by Taheerah AlamWith Hardship Comes Ease: Embracing Discomfort by Ismail Shaikh (Guest Author) Think You’ve Failed? Think Again by Jinan Bistaki
Some people always bounce back, but others always seem to crash down. Research has shown that the difference is the ability to see that a closed door somewhere means, at the very least, an open window somewhere else.
CURRENT EVENTS Erdoğan, AKP and their victory in the Turkish Municipal Elections by Shibli Zaman
Erdoğan, the world is watching you; but that pales to the fact that, above all, the Lord of the Worlds is watching you even closer. You can be the greatest leader the Muslim world has seen since the Ottomans whom you repeatedly invoke, or you can fall just like them when they lost their way. Which end of their history you resemble is up to you.
KNOWING GOD, THE MOST MERCIFUL When was the Last Time you Witnessed a Miracle? Al-Hayyiy by Jinan Bistaki
Whenever making du`a’ (supplication), have hope. Remember that “Verily your Lord is Generous (Kareem) and Hayyiy. If His servant raises his hands to Him (in supplication) He becomes shy to return them empty,” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).He has Your Back: Al-Wali by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wali, meaning the Protective Friend of all those who believe. It means that He has your back. He could have just been a ‘friend,’ but some friends are flaky. A protective friend will be there for you through hardship and bad times.Does God Exist? by Salman Khan (Guest Author)
Every person must think for him/herself and find Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) in his/her own way. Don’t choose a life of unhappiness because you choose to be blind or perform our religion physically without spirituality.Love is In Giving: Al Wadud by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wadud. When you are able to point out behavior that shows love, this kind of love is not called hubb in Arabic, because hubb is simply having a feeling of love. This kind of love – one that is apparent and shown – is called wud.
LOVE, RELATIONSHIPS, & GENDER RELATIONS 10 Guidelines for Gender Relations in Islam by Muslema Purmul and Maryam Amirebrahimi
The code of inter-gender relations comes from a noble kind of love. It is generous in giving, while conscious of Allah. It is full of haya.’ Haya’ is sometimes described as ‘shyness’, but misunderstood to mean a desire to hide, to be nervous, overly self-conscious, and unable to communicate.When you Marry for Four Reasons – Don’t Forget Your Reason by Karim Serageldin (Guest Author)
As a practicing psychologist, I was once consulted by a brother in Turkey in need of immediate relationship advice. In summary, the brother’s “emergency” was that he had met a nice religious girl from a good family but was not attracted to her at all. Here was my advice.The Goodbye Hug by Maryam Amirebrahimi
Many of us only hear destructive marriage stories within the Muslim community. However, the reality is that there are so many incredible, beautiful, passionate, fulfilling and compassionate love stories in the Muslim community. Here’s one. A number of the articles from “Glimpses of Marital Bliss” Series were also among the most-read this year. See also: A Love Letter, Will They Say Yes, and He Prayed instead of Fought
I have been living in the Arab world now for almost 3 years. There are some really taxing things here, tiring and frustrating to say the least. But there are also some exciting and uplifting things that keep me going throughout the days. And then, there are the hidden gems. The things that can be overlooked without a second thought, yet if they are given a second thought, they require a third and a fourth thought for one to even begin to benefit from their beauty. It is those things that get me time and time again. It is those things that take my breath away and leave me thankful for being placed in the position that I am in, living in a place where I do not always fit in or feel at home. One of those hidden gems can be found in the phrases that are oft repeated, with little thought, on a daily basis. There are many that could be spoken about, like the wishing of “na’eeman” [lit. blessings] when a person takes a shower or cuts their hair. Like the prayer of “kulli sana wanti tayyiba” [“may every year find you well”] on any happy occasion that occurs yearly. But my favorite has to be one that carries behind it a great story of a great man whom I recently read about, and after reading his story in the tafseer [exegesis] of Ibn Ajeeba, the oft repeated phrase “Ya sabr Ayub” [“O patience of Job”] has never been the same again.
It would be best, before diving into the gem-filled story, to give some information on when this phrase, in the Arab culture, is used. It is used mainly in two situations: 1) When a person is going through something very taxing and is wishing for an intense amount of patience to be poured into them, as a prayer and 2) when a person witnesses someone being ever so patient and is impressed by their firmness upon this patience. Naturally, after hearing that, one would assume that this story is about to be really great and I assure you: it is. The key here, however, is that something very important is done while reading this story: don’t just read it as a work of fiction or non-fiction. Read it as if this story is about you. Read this story as if you have temporarily stepped out of your own shoes, and into those of this amazing man, Ayub, and try to actually feel what he must have been feeling. And with that, all that is left is for me to begin:
Ayub, `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), was a great man and Prophet of the Lord many years ago. He was blessed with many great gifts that surpassed what others around him had been given. He had money in amounts (and some say types!) that surpassed those that were around him. He was given great amounts of land as well as many animals to graze on this land, and these animals varied in types and were of very high quality. He was kind and giving to the poor, he used to care for the widows and the orphans, he would be generous with his guests and accept any traveler into his home. He did all of this as an act of gratitude to God for giving him so much. This is something very unique to note, as for when a person is given such great wealth and great gifts, Satan then tries very hard to get him to be greedy and ungrateful. Satan tries very hard to get the person with such wealth to belittle that which has been given to him, or to become arrogant and not spread the wealth to those who may be in need of it. Satan however, was unsuccessful at whispering into the heart of Ayub (as) with regards to all that he had been given.
It is said that Satan heard the angels in the heaven praising Ayub (as) for all that he had done and was doing. Upon hearing this, Satan felt a twinge of envy (hasad) towards the state of Ayub. Satan, being one who acts upon these twinges of envy immediately, went and pleaded to the Lord of the heavens about his state. He complained to God: “O my Lord, you have blessed your servant Ayub, so he had thanked you. You have removed from him any affliction so he has glorified you. You haven’t allowed any hardship to befall him, but if you did then surely he would be an ungrateful servant.” This was a plea from Satan, and at the same time he was taking a shot at the honor and actual piety of Ayub. He asked God to just give him the ability to afflict Ayub with some hardship, and he told God that He would see the gratefulness of Ayub dwindle away. God then allowed Satan to have control over the wealth of Ayub, and nothing else—allowing him to afflict Ayub. At this Satan was joyous. He called together his troops of jinn and told them the “great” news. One of his troops said that he had been given the power to send storms of fire upon anything, and if Satan gave him permission, he could burn all of the wealth of Ayub by burning his lands. Satan agreed, and sat back and watched his troops burn down the wealth of Ayub. Once this was all over, Satan came in the form of one of the service hands of Ayub, dramatically recalling all that happened to the wealth of this Prophet. Telling him that God had allowed for his wealth to be destroyed. Ayub (as), with complete grace and gratefulness, informed Satan in the form of man, that God was the original giver of this wealth, so God could do as he pleased with this wealth.
Satan now was hit, not only with pangs of envy but also, pangs of despair. He had been sure that had this man who was so blessed, had some of his blessings taken away, he would break. He would not be such a great servant. But Satan, unlike many of us humans, does not give up that easily. When he has a goal, he does everything he possibly can to get to that goal. He went back to his troops for a brainstorming session. One of his troops had another idea. He informed Satan that he had been given the ability to blow harsh winds that would kill any animal that heard this wind. Satan jumped on that idea and sent him to kill all of the living animals that were left on the burnt grounds of Ayub. After all of his glorious animals had been killed, Satan appeared to Ayub as a different man, again telling him of what happened. He informed Ayub that the Lord that he had been worshipping for so long had killed all of his animals. Again, Ayub (as) with pure patience and love for God, replied that God was the one who had given him the animals in the first place, so He could do as He pleased with them.
Satan was hit again with deeper despair, feeling that he was certainly losing his grip on the battle that he had been fighting. Satan returned to God, again with another plea. He argued that God had blessed Ayub with his own health and the health of his children (some say he had 10 children), and this is why Ayub was still holding on, gratefully. Satan assured that if this was removed then Ayub would not remain a grateful servant and that his gratefulness was not based on Love but of contentment with that which had been given. Satan then requested to be given the ability to take away the children of Ayub to prove his point. God granted him this permission. Satan returned to the home of Ayub, and destroyed the home of Ayub, killing all of his children. He then appeared to Ayub as the teacher of his children, limping, as if he too had been hurt in the destruction. He then recalled for Ayub the detailed deaths that his children had faced, making certain to put emphasis on the pain that they may have felt. Ayub was instantly struck with sadness for his children. He fell to the floor and began to pour dirt over his head. Satan rejoiced, finally he had made Ayub be ungrateful. But after an instant, Ayub (as) realized what he was doing and looked up to his Lord, asking for forgiveness and returning to his state of patience. God instantly forgave Him, as He is The All-Forgiving.
Satan was furious. He felt that he had finally won, that finally this man that seemed to be over flowing with patience and gratitude had finally cracked. And before he could even rejoice, Ayub (as) returned to His Lord and His repentance was accepted. His sin was erased. (Take note at the Mercy of God. Take note at the persistence of Satan). Satan went back to God, again despairing and willing to try anything. He told God that the only reason that Ayub was so thankful and so obedient was that he had the most important thing, his health. Satan pleaded with God to allow him to take that away, to prove once and for all that Ayub was not, in his essence, an obedient servant. God allowed him this, but this time with some very important conditions. God allowed him to have rule over his body and health, but he was unable to touch two things: His tongue and his heart.
Satan descended down to Ayub and found him in prostration. He blew through his nose a wind that touched his entire body. It caused him to itch, with no relief. He itched his entire body with his hands, then with tools. The tools were so rough they tore at his skin, but the itch was so strong that he could not stop. His wounds began to fester, to be infected, and to even attract bugs. All of the people in his community who loved him so much began to look down upon him, unable to stand to see his appearance nor smell the stench of infected wounds. They kicked him out, ignoring all the good that he had done for him before. Everyone left him. Everyone. Except for one person, his wife. She cared for him in the trash dump that he had been cast to. She took care of him, and was his companion as much as she could. After much time she began to plead with him to ask God for help. I mean why not, he was a prophet. He in turn asked her how long they had lived in wealth. Her reply was 8 years. He then followed up with asking how long he had lived in sickness; she informed him that it was seven. His reply was that he was too embarrassed to ask God to heal him, if the time of ease overcame the time of hardship.
Satan, in his final attempt, appeared to Ayub’s wife. He told her that he (Satan) was the Lord of the world and that the reason why her husband, Ayub, had been afflicted for so long, was that he turned away from the lord of the earth and looked only towards the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth. He told her that if Ayub were to “simply” make one prostration to Satan, then he could be restored to health and wealth. Ayub’s wife returned to her husband and told him what had happened. Ayub was furious. He knew exactly who she had spoken to, and was angry that his wife had spoken to Satan and that she had tried to act upon his words. She couldn’t take his anger, and she left him as well. Now Ayub was completely alone, with reference to human companions. He turned to God and made the famous du’a that we hear time and time again “Lord hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.” Ibn Ajeeba here says something interesting. He says that the hardship that Ayub was speaking about was that Satan had conspired against him to get him to prostrate to him (Satan). (Why is this the hardship? Because it is said that if we understood the true essence of sickness, we would know that it is an immense gift from God.) God immediately responded to the plea of Ayub and instructed him to go to the nearest water source and bathe in it. He did so, and was returned to his complete health and beauty. His wife, shortly after, returned looking for her husband. She found a handsome healthy man in his place. She asked him if he has seen a man that was rotting and in pain. He laughed and said, “It is me, I am Ayub.” She wouldn’t have believed him except that she recognized his laugh.
Ayub—not an angel, a man. He (as) went through an immense trial, and looked only at God. A man that God used to lay down a map for us to follow when we too are in pain, in sickness and in distress. Of course we don’t always react this way. Of course it may be harder at times to let go and let God. But what we can do is look to him as an ultimate goal. We can use his name when asking God for patience. We can strive to be as close to Him as God will allow. And whenever we are in hardship, we can know that we have someone to relate to. We have someone who went through pain and anguish, and we can see that even in the worst of situations, God can instantly redeem us and make everything more than perfect. May God grant us the Sabr of Ayub in the smallest of matters and the largest of matters.
“Lord, hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.”
“Sins need to be eradicated through the internal fire of regret in this life or the fire of hell in the hereafter.” – Ibn Al-Qayyim
Years ago I came across this quote. I still can’t get over how true it is.
Muslim youth living in all corners of the world face similar struggles in our day-to-day lives. We strive to survive while being surrounded by the societal (and often times, cultural and familial) promotion, acceptance, and idealization of things that contradict the tenants of our faith: pride, lust, greed, extramarital relationships, alcohol/drugs, misogyny – just to name a few.
We are also surrounded by social practices and traditions that can also be pretty un-Islamic: issues such as racism, forced marriages, the withholding of education for females, and tribalism unfortunately exist on grand scales in Muslim societies all over the world.
As Muslim youth, most of us living in the diaspora, we have much to deal with. We struggle to maintain our Muslim identities while at the same time balancing our racial, national, and individual identities as well.
Sometimes it seems that everywhere we look, we are being called to sin. And inevitably, we answer that call.
We fall so many times only to fall again. We try so very hard to create our own, personal spiritual bubbles where Islam is the driving force in our lives, only to have it burst by things like temptation, other Muslims’ biases and discrimination, our own families making it hard for us, stress, our school lives, etc.
And slowly, as our hearts erode, a peculiar type of anxiety eats away at our souls and comes with a little voice in our heads. The voice tells us time and time again that what we are doing is haram (impermissible) or sinful, but we ignore it as we seek to numb the pain—a pain that has surfaced as a result of never being good enough. Never being “Muslim” enough, or “religious” enough, or “Western” enough.
How do we turn our faces from sin when it is everywhere? When it is adulated, respected, and upheld by our very own societies as a noble thing? We become confused – the bad becomes good. We go against our natural instincts. Eventually we become submerged in our own little hells, metaphorical places where internal suffering, sadness, disappointment, and self-loathing manifest. The “internal fire of regret”, as Ibn Al-Qayyim radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) puts it.
This quote teaches me that through one way or another, we will be purified of our sins. It’s up to us whether or not we seek purification in this life (through repentance) or we wait until the next (through the Fire).
I know. We’ve fallen so many times. We’re hurt, sore, and bruised. We are ashamed of our actions, and may even deem ourselves unworthy of seeking repentance. But something must quell that fire in our hearts. Something must quench our desires to be loved and accepted by the One whose love and acceptance is truly the only one that matters at the end of the day.
Say it – Astaghfirullah (I seek forgiveness from God).
I know; it hurts. But it certainly cannot hurt more than what is to come if we let our sins remain in our hearts, our minds, our spirits.
We are more than the sins that we commit. Don’t let the devil fool you. Don’t let those people who are a negative influence in your lives or those who sin openly and proudly fool you either.
We may fall a thousand times, but as long as we try to get back up, there is always hope.
And Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) knows best.
Names of Allah Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIX | Part XXX |Part XXXI | Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI | Part XXXVII | Part XXXVIII
In this journey through Allah’s Names, we have learned about both His attributes of Beauty and of Majesty. The intention is to inspire fear, hope and, ultimately, love. If we misunderstand Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), we may not see the wisdom behind the things that happen in the world or in our personal lives. We might not understand how Allah (swt) fits into our life. We may also find it difficult to love Him, because how can you love someone – deeply love someone – you do not know?
Thus it is hoped that these Names have increased our knowledge of our Creator, and have made apparent how Allah (swt) is with us in every moment.
Today’s Name should inspire in us ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’. These words are sometimes both translated as ‘fear’, thus removing the important distinctions between the two words. In the ‘Sweetness of Prayer’ series, we explained the difference between the different types of fear:
‘Khawf’ is to flee from the thing that you fear, and requires no knowledge of that which is feared. You can be afraid, or have ‘khawf’, of the dark. ‘Khashya’, on the other hand, is fear with knowledge. The more a servant has knowledge of his Lord, the more ‘khawf’ turns to ‘khashya’. As Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
“Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge” (35:28).
‘Hayba’ is fear associated with respect, awe and glorification. You could, for example, fear fire. But the reason for your fear is that the fire may harm you, so fire earns no ‘hayba’; you do not glorify it. However, you could have a certain ‘hayba’ of your father; you could be afraid to do something wrong in front of him, but that fear is out of respect.
Al-Qahhar: The Dominator
Allah’s Name al-Qahhar comes from the Arabic root qaf-haa-ra (ق-ه-ر). It means ‘to dominate over’ or ‘to subdue from above’. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an in Surat al-An`aam;
“And He is the subjugator (al-qaahiru) over His servants. And He is the Wise (al-Hakeem), the Acquainted [with all] (al-Khabeer). (6:18)
Someone with this attribute might be considered a tyrant, which is why Allah (swt) tells us that this attribute is possessed by the One who is also the Most Wise and the One who is Best Acquainted with everything. This reference is also for the benefit of those who doubt this attribute, and might ask “why has Allah not overpowered the tyrants of today, of whom there are many?” Allah (swt) is reminding us that there is ultimate wisdom in whom He chooses to subdue at any point in time. This is where our understanding of the holistic nature of Allah’s Names should come in: we spoke before about how Allah (swt) is Forbearing and Patient, and He gives people – even tyrants – the opportunity to turn back.
Thus we see in the Qur’an that Allah sends Moses and Aaron `alayhimaa as-salaam (may Allah’s peace be upon them both) to Pharaoh – and calling Pharaoh ‘oppressive’ would be an understatement! – telling them initially to speak to him gently. Pharaoh rejects them. Moses then shows him proof of his prophethood. Pharaoh rejects him again, insisting on enslaving the Children of Israel. Finally, Allah (swt) overpowers him by drowning him, using someone from the very people that Pharaoh was oppressing, who grew up in his own house. Such is the way of al-Qahhar, who manifests His power by subduing tyrants through the objects of their tyranny.
This is why Imam al-Ghazali describes al-Qahhar in this way: “The Dominator is the one who breaks the back of the powerful among His enemies… Indeed there is no existing thing that is not subject to the domination of His power, and powerlessness in His grasp. That is all.”
Therefore, when we look at events today and wonder “where is al-Qahhar?”, we should remember the story of Moses. Remember that Moses prevailed. Remember that Pharaoh was overpowered.
Our role is to strive against this oppression, knowing that ultimately this is what we will be asked about, and everything is subjected to the Will of Allah (swt). Indeed, so many tyrannical powers eventually come crashing down, bowing to the will of al-Qahhar. Unfortunately, we may not attribute it to Him, but as Allah (swt) tells us:
“The Day they come forth nothing concerning them will be concealed from Allah. To whom belongs [all] sovereignty this Day? To Allah, the One, the Prevailing (al-Qahhar).” (40:16)
On that Day, all will be apparent. All those who oppressed, in both seemingly small and big ways, will be before Allah, al-Qahhar. Then, there will be no ambiguity.
Living with these Names
1 – Balance fear and hope
Today’s Name might cause us to be afraid. This is not a subject we like to talk to about, because it is so much more reassuring to focus on those attributes that enable us to relax. But remembering that Allah (swt) has attributes of Majesty should instill in us the ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’ described earlier. Moreover, Allah’s Names are to be looked at holistically. He is al-Qahhar and He is also al-Lateef (the subtle, the most kind).
2 – Dominate your lower desires
In previous articles, we talked about how we should emulate the attributes of Beauty. But what about attributes of Majesty? How do we apply them? Al-Ghazali counseled: “The dominator amongst men is the one who subdues his enemies. The greatest enemy of man is his soul, which is within him. This soul is more of an enemy to him than Satan, of whose enmity he is wary. Whoever conquers his passions conquers Satan, since Satan lures him to ruin by means of his passions.”
3 – Use that fear to stop at least one sin
To know that Allah is al-Qahhar is to burn the desire for sin in the heart. Because Allah (swt) is the Dominator, we should fear that perhaps al-Qahhar, al-Mumeet (the Life-Taker) might take our soul as we are committing the sin. This should alert us that despite it seeming as though we are being allowed to oppress our souls, we may still face the fate mentioned in this verse:
“So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of every [good] thing until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair.” (Qur’an, 6:44)
These people used the gifts of Allah (swt) in the opposite manner to that for which they were intended, and then they were seized. In another chapter, Allah (swt) describes to us the people of the garden, who took an oath that they would reap all of their fruits and leave nothing for the poor. Allah (swt) caused their garden to be completely burned to the ground, but the owners of that garden understood the lesson. They willed something, but Allah (swt) overpowered their will, and so they turned back to Him.
Hence, this fear should not paralyze us from doing good, but it should paralyze us from doing bad. We should try to choose at least one thing – like backbiting or lying – and do our best to use this Name to help us stop it.
4 – Do not oppress others
The surest way to earn the wrath of al-Qahhar is to oppress others. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him] (fa laa taqhar)” (93:9). The word ‘taqhar’ comes from the same root of the name al-Qahhar. We should understand that oppression is not simply for unjust leaders or cruel human traffickers. We may also be oppressing others in more subtle ways, and thus we should be diligent to avoid this.
Imam Suhaib Webb talks about lessons from the life of Prophet Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him).
By Macksood A. Aftab
The conflict between science and religion has posed a serious threat to religious authority in the contemporary era. Many advocates of scientism have used the tremendous success of science in modern times to question the usefulness of religion as a means of seeking the truth. For example, Stephen Hawking recently stated in a Huffington Post article, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” More recently the harsh critique of religion based upon various forms of scientism by writers such as Richard Dawkins have escalated the conflict.
Their view assumes that both religion and science have the same purpose, namely of explaining the existence of the universe. Furthermore, the scientific method is considered a more reliable way to achieve this goal. This is primarily so because science deals with physical processes, which can be quantified and measured, whereas religion often resorts to metaphysical references, which cannot be “proven.” Professor Naquib Al-Attas, the celebrated Malaysian Muslim philosopher, summarizes the essential problem. He writes, “A gist of their [those who espouse science as the source for truth] basic assumptions is that science is the sole authentic knowledge; that this [scientific] knowledge pertains only to phenomena.” Excluded from science is anything that does not have a “physical” existence, anything that cannot be empirically studied. Therefore, implicit in a worldview that holds science as the highest authority of knowledge is a denial of God.
As the Nobel laureate Werner Arber, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, writes, “The natural sciences are in a steady search for truth, and so is theology.” This naturally creates two apparently competing methodologies of seeking and determining the truth, which inevitably leads to conflict between theology and science. Although the Catholic Church did generally support science, when the conclusions of scientists came in conflict with church dogma, problems arose. This can be seen in the experiences of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin.
Islamic history, however, took a different course. Despite the existence of a sustained robust scientific enterprise in the Islamic world, an overt conflict between science and religion did not arise. Professor Walbridge of Indiana University points out that “the Islamic world produced no martyrs for science like Bruno and Galileo.” One of the achievements of Islamic civilization was the creation of a worldview in which both theology and science could be accepted in a comprehensive rational framework.
The Islamic tradition of scholastic theology is known as kalam. The two primary schools of kalam are the Ash`ari and its close cousin the Maturidi schools. Both are based upon a rational understanding of God and the Universe, which also seek to rigorously preserve salient features of the Islamic concept of God. This tradition, along with its larger place in the Islamic worldview, can best be understood through the works of one of its main proponents Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE). Richard Frank, a scholar of Islamic theology, describes Ghazali as, “The most important Sunni theologian at a crucial turning point in the history of orthodox Muslim theology.” During his time Islam was emerging from a period of intellectual schism. Ghazali contributed to the development of a consensus on this issue, which was to largely become the dominant Sunni doctrine. Thus the Ghazali scholar and translator Walter Skellie writes, “With him [Ghazali] the religious philosophy and experience of Islam reaches its zenith.”
Demonstrative Proof (Burhan)
The triumph of Ghazali’s epistemology lies in its successful reconciliation of reason with revelation. One key element of this was the allowance of figurative interpretations of scripture, particularly when it relates to assertions that may conflict with what is known via reason. Ghazali sets the bar very high for a scientific proof to over-ride scripture, something he calls burhan. Burhan is demonstrative knowledge or definitive logical proof. According to Ghazali, it held an even higher epistemic status than even scholastic theology (kalam).
Professor Al-Akiti of Oxford writes, “For al-Ghazali, burhan [definitive logical proof], and not kalam, is what he considered to be scientific knowledge, the ‘gold-standard’ in the art of reasoning – a judgment expounded in his Mi’yar al-’Ilm.” The late professor Marmura, a Ghazali scholar, summarizes Ghazali’s attitude towards definitive logical proof as follows:
“A science whose conclusions are not demonstrably true and which are in conflict with the literal assertions of scripture must be rejected. On the other hand, if what is demonstrably true contradicts the literal sense of scriptural language, then the latter must be interpreted metaphorically.”
Having firmly grounded his worldview in rationality, Ghazali proceeds to point out that physical science does not meet the standards of definitive logical proof unless God is added to the equation. This is because science is based upon a flawed assumption, namely that of natural causation. Causation, Ghazali argues, can only guaranteed if God is there to secure it. And importantly, according to Ghazali, God is there to secure it. Belief in God then becomes a prerequisite to the successful pursuit of science.
Causation, God & Science
Ghazali was able to reconcile the most important principle of science (namely causation) with Islamic theological doctrines (as articulated by the dominant Ash`ari school). Ash`ari theology developed in response to certain heterodox formulations of Islamic doctrine (such as those adopted by the Mutazalites and the Philosophers) which had the effect of diminishing key Divine attributes. Some of these formulations share a belief in necessary causation with modern secular scientists. Therefore Ghazali’s critique of their view is particularly instructive in tackling similar issues in the contemporary era.
Some of the main articles of faith in Ash`ari theology are that God is all powerful, He is all knowing and all events occur due to His express will. The Ash`aris therefore believed that all events are directly caused only by God, and not by anything else. God is not merely the first cause but also the immediate cause of every subsequent minor and major event that occurs in the universe. This appears to run contrary to our contemporary understanding of secular science, which rests on the principle of natural causation. Namely, that things (or events) cause other things (or events). For example, we think fire causes cotton to burn when they are brought near each other.
Ghazali questions the principle of necessary causation adopted by certain philosophers. According to Ghazali, this relationship between cause and effect is not necessary. To use his terminology, there is no definitive logical proof (burhan) that it is the cause that is responsible for the effect. He argues that all we observe is a quick succession of events, cotton being brought close to fire and the cotton burning. But a relationship based simply on proximity in time or space does not imply necessary causation. Ghazali famously states, “The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary.”
David Hume in the Western tradition made a similar argument against causation. He asked, “Where is the causal glue” holding together the cause and the effect? Unlike Hume who was led to skepticism, however, Ghazali has an answer to this conundrum. For Ghazali, the causal glue is God. It is God who ensures that the relationship between cause and effect always holds. In doing so, Ghazali has made room for orthodox Islamic theology in which God is the direct cause of everything.
On its surface this line of thinking can be misunderstood to in fact undermine science, as several historians and scientists have thought. For example, the historian Tamim Ansary writes, “Take it however you will, the argument against causality undermines the whole scientific enterprise. If nothing actually causes anything else, why bother to observe the natural world in search of meaningful patterns?” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a preeminent Pakistani scientist, expresses a similar concern with the Ash`ari position, stating that in such a world, “even a speeding arrow might not reach its destination.” In other words, if the cause and effect relationship is not necessary then there would be no sure way to rely on our observations, predict natural phenomena or to do scientific experiments.
Conflict Averted, Science Flourished
This criticism, however, implies a dogmatic belief in science which sidesteps the very real problem of causation. Ghazali does not need to (nor does he) deny causation. He is merely denying necessary causation—namely, that there is no conclusive proof that things can influence other things by themselves. For Ghazali, God is required to ensure that the relationship between cause and effect always hold true. As Frank Griffel, a Ghazali scholar at Yale, writes:
“Trust in God (tawakkul) is a major condition for investigating the natural sciences. Such trust requires the certainty to know that God will not change books into horses or disconnect our knowledge from reality. Given that God habitually creates our knowledge to accord with reality, we can rely on our sense and our judgment and confidently pursue the natural sciences.”
According to this view God could suspend the laws of causation, but He never does and never will. So fire will always burn cotton but this is only true because in every instance of its occurrence God ensures that it is so. In effect, Ghazali has created a framework in which science can operate and the principles of Islamic theology (Divine power, knowledge and will) are also preserved.
Furthermore, Ghazali even located miracles – which he calls strange and wondrous phenomena – within the empirical world. Even miracles were then not Divine acts of suspension of the normal workings of the universe; rather they were unusual phenomena of nature due to causes not immediately clear to us at the moment. The possibility of additional causal chains other than those currently physically observed encouraged further exploration of the natural world. Ahmad Dallal, a historian of Islamic science at Georgetown University writes,
“The aspect that had the most influence on the development of science was the concept of multiple possibilities (tajwiz), the notion that specific natural philosophical explanations (or planetary models) are possible but not certain, and that there may exist alternative explanations for the natural phenomena… this idea was grounded in an epistemological criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics.”
After Ghazali, science in the Muslim world experienced a prolonged renaissance as documented by Yale historian George Saliba. His understanding had the effect of legitimizing science. Science was a discipline ensured by God. It also had the effect of effectively separating theology from physical science. Divine attributes are known through revelation, and science plays no significant role in informing us about these metaphysical matters. On the other hand revelation does not interfere with the workings of science; it is left as an independent discipline within the larger Islamic framework. Dallal explains,
“After Al-Ghazali, the need to invoke religion to vindicate science considerably decreased, not because science was not accepted but because it did not need vindication. Excluding final-cause explorations from science did not compromise the providence of God, which was simply assumed without questioning (bila kayf).”
This worldview rests on the premise that God exists and sustains the Universe. God is not the end goal of science, but rather the starting point. This created an organic and interdependent relationship between science and religion, which essentially eliminated the potential of conflict between the two disciplines. In fact, as professor Muzaffar Iqbal, a philosopher of Islamic science, writes:
“No one thought of them [science and religion] as two independent entities which needed to be related via an external mechanism… This relationship emerged naturally and because the scientific tradition was thoroughly rooted in the worldview created by Islam.”
This worldview was rational. It recognized the primacy of reason and in fact accorded burhan the highest epistemic status. Within this framework secular science is critiqued based upon logical fallacies assumed by its proponents. Science is then presented not as a competing force with religion, but rather as a viable enterprise, as part of a comprehensive worldview that encompasses God. In fact, it is grounded in the assumption of God. This delicate balance, which secured both science and theology, is one of the greatest achievements of medieval Muslim theologians.
Dr. Macksood Aftab is a neuroradiologist, and clinical assistant professor at both Michigan State University and Central Michigan University. He holds a Master degree in History of Science, and is an editor for the Journal of Islamic Philosophy. The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part I | Part II
In the last article, we explored how Allah (swt) exonerated Aisha radi allahu `anha (may God be please with her) and Prophet Joseph `alayhi as-salaaam (peace be upon him) from unsubstantiated and untrue gossip, and we talked about the victims of slander. Today, it’s about the perpetrators of slander. It is about, quite possibly, you and me.
Sometimes in the name of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” we forget the sanctity of our fellow human beings and especially fellow believers. We spread things that are unsubstantiated in a bid to ‘warn others’ about possible deviancy. We are harsh in our words. We assume the worst. We forget that one of the best traits a Muslim can have is “thinking well of the servant of Allah” and for other Muslims to be “safe from his hands and tongue.”
We forget that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) passed by a grave and he warned that the person was suffering in his grave because he would spread gossip. We forget that that person we are talking about may have our good deeds transferred to him simply because he is a victim of our speech.
Scary stuff? It is. The Prophet ﷺ said: “The majority of man’s sins emanate from his tongue.” (Tabarani)
To go back to the examples in our previous article, it was clear that those with power—the minister and the minister’s wife—knew the truth with regards to what was said about the Prophet Joseph (as). But they allowed the rumor to persist and put Prophet Joseph in prison. With Aisha (ra), we have even more details. The people who discussed the rumor were good Muslims. They discussed the scandalous nature of what was said, and in doing so, spread it far and wide. Shaytan created doubt: “Could it actually be true?” Allah admonished the Muslims when He informs us in the Qur’an about what happened:
“Why, when you heard it, did not the believing men and believing women think good of one another and say, ‘This is an obvious falsehood?’” (Qur’an, 24:12)
Now some people might think this example is extreme. We would never spread such a rumor. But rumors and slander and gossip come in all shapes and forms. So if you hear something about someone that is unsubstantiated, do not fuel the fire. We are just as bad as those news networks we criticize, who pick up a story, and whether true or not, run with it.
This is not intended to shut down constructive criticism of public figures. There are ways of bringing people to account. There are ways of disagreeing and critiquing ideas and views, which are beyond the scope of this article. But in the age of the internet, anyone can write a piece and within an hour it is shared and read by many. And it would do us good to reflect on what our role is in this. We must remember that we will be held to account. So let us not put ourselves in a position to be asked about why we were careless in our research, harsh in words, and negative in our basic assumptions about others.
And remember that the Prophet ﷺ taught:
“A person’s eman (faith) is not upright until his heart is upright, and his heart is not upright until his tongue is upright.” (Ahmad)
Many of us pray for the perfect spouse and imagine him or her being a certain way. Sometimes, what we pray for becomes most apparent in difficult times. In this account, a wife talks about the ways in which real life has helped her and her husband grow in their beautiful relationship.
“My husband and I are from two different worlds literally and figuratively, and the thing that binds us together the most is Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) and our undeniable faith in Him (swt). After looking in America for two years, I decided to marry someone from “back home,” i.e. Pakistan. When we first got married, we realized what a huge adjustment it would be for both of us. We had kids right away when he came. He went to school here and got his degree from here, and I supported him financially all during the time that I was a new mother and the only thing I wanted to do was raise my precious firstborn full-time.
Under such circumstances many marriages rightfully take a back seat and the relationship crumbles. We had many big fights over those first few years. Every time we fought I made du`a’ (supplication) to Allah (swt) to make it better, and He did. Our fights never lasted more than a day, and one of us always ended up saying sorry. We couldn’t go to sleep without making up. Throughout our good times and hard times I discovered that I married a very caring and generous man. I also discovered that I needed to accept him for who he was and that I had many bad qualities that needed to be worked out if I was going to stand in front of my Creator on the Day of Judgment. His love for me is shown in always hiding my faults in front of others, in picking flowers for me on the way home from the masjid, in taking care of the kids and giving me some time off, in cleaning up a messy house and in always sharing with me his day to day dealings at work or with his friends. As time has passed we have gotten closer and now I can’t imagine not having him in my life. The kids have really served to bond us together and it warms my heart when our eldest wants to pray because he sees his father praying. Alhamdullilah (praise be to God)!
My husband is not perfect and has many faults, but I know inside there is a light of goodness that gets dim at times and at times shines brightly, and I am committed to stand by him throughout all the times. I used to make du`a’ to Allah (swt) for a pious, kind, gentle husband and now that Allah (swt) has given me a slave of His to love, I must remain thankful, for if I am thankful He will give me more. We just celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary, and I look forward to spending many more with him insha’ Allah (God-willing).”
The Vikings referred to the Abbasid Empire as Serkland. There are a few theories regarding the origin of this name, but it likely originated from the Norse term serkr, which meant tunic or gown. The term was mentioned in the Ingvar Runestones, specifically in the Gripsholm Runestone (Sö 179). They were raised to commemorate those Vikings who died fighting the Muslims on the Caspian Sea under Yngvarr víðförli, whose Norse name and title meant “Ingvar the Far-traveled”.1 Interestingly related to the word serkr, the English word “berserk”—meaning to go crazy—comes from the Norse word berserkr which was a term for Viking warriors who fought in a trance-like rage. They were given this name because they wore the coats of bears, called ber in Old Norse. Thus, berserkr means “bear coat”.2 So the Vikings, or Rūs, as they were called by the Muslims (from which came the later ethnonym “Russian”), saw the Abbasids wearing their long tunics, cloaks, capes and coats and referred to their realm as “Serkland”, the land of the “Serkir”, those who wear long coats. The dignified appearances of the early Muslims left quite an impression.
The Muslims were known for always dressing impeccably regardless of what social class they came from. There was a dignity and respect in the way they presented themselves, and this was markedly observed by even their adversaries. In the famous French prose “The Song of Roland”, which lauds the heroic deeds of the “Holy Barbarian” King Charlemagne in his battles against the Muslims, the leader of the Muslims is described as strikingly handsome and a noble equal to Charlemagne. The song praises him thus:
“An Emir of Balaguet came in place,
Proud of body, and fair of face;
Since first he sprang on steed to ride,
To wear his harness was all his pride;
For feats of prowess great laud he won;
Were he Christian, nobler baron none!”3
In the end, the only way Charlemagne is said to defeat him is with the help of the Archangel Gabriel.
God says in the Qur’an:
يَا بَنِي آدَمَ خُذُوا زِينَتَكُمْ عِندَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ
“O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer.”4
Do we care for our appearance, cleanliness and attire when visiting the mosque? Even if not daily, do we at least in our Friday prayers? Sometimes we do. I often see Africans in their brightly colored gowns and hats, the Indonesians and Malays in their perfectly pressed shirts, gilded hats and sarongs, the African-Americans in their best suits, ties and/or bowties. But what I also see alarmingly too often are sweat-pants, t-shirts, tunics which you know alternate as sleepwear, long faces and disheveled hair. Sadly, I fear that may be the majority in too many mosques.
There is a Prophetic saying:
إِذا أَتَاك الله مَالا فَلْيُرَ أثَرُ نِعْمَةِ الله عَلَيْكَ وكَرَامَتِهِ
“If God has given you an income then display signs of His blessings and generosity upon you.”5
So, there is an element of gratitude and acknowledgement of God’s blessings when you take care of your appearance and utilize what He has blessed you with to look your very best. Yet, the Ottoman era scholar al-Munāwī is also careful to qualify this saying:
“‘And His generosity’ – that which He has bestowed upon you. For in attire is an indication of one’s overall condition, self-worth, self-respect, and hygiene. And it is so those in need will know to go to him, but he must be careful with his intentions and avoid all forms of excess.”6
With this, he also relates an interesting story therein about the famous scholar and successor to the Prophet (ﷺ)’s Companions, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, wearing a shirt costing 400 dirhams. One time he met Farqad al-Sinjī, a known Sufi of the time, which sparked a telling dialog. In the early days of Islam, the Sufis wore coarse wool garments and, for this, some have speculated that the word “Sufi” may originate from the Arabic word for wool, Ṣūf. Farqad said reproachfully to al-Hasan, “O Abū Sa`īd, how soft is your clothing!” To this, al-Ḥasan replied using a lexical diminution7 of Farqad’s name, “O Furayqid! The softness of my clothes does not distance me from God, nor does the coarseness of your clothing make you closer to Him.” Al-Ḥasan then went on to quote the saying of the Prophet ﷺ, “God is beautiful and He loves beauty.” In another narration al-Ḥasan rebuked Farqad’s spiritual arrogance with: “They have piety in their clothing, but they have arrogance in their hearts.”8 Whether relevant or not, Farqad al- Sinjī later became considered a severely defective narrator.
So while we may feel that our theology is sound and we are the people of the true faith, there is something seriously wrong when Christians are in their finest clothes when visiting church on Sunday but we look like we’re running errands when we go for Friday prayers. It reflects our overall attitude, which comes across as clear as day in how we present ourselves and how we allow ourselves to be perceived by those around us. As al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri said, there are those who may dress simply but their hearts are full of conceit. Don’t be content thinking you’re the people of Truth if you don’t even look the part.
A Cornell University psychologist who chaired the conference When to Judge a Book by Its Cover: Timing, Context, and Individual Differences in First Impressions stated, “Despite the well-known idiom to ‘not judge a book by its cover,’ the present research shows that such judgments about the cover are good proxies for judgments about the book — even after reading it.” This research is particularly focused on impressions that are made within mere seconds of seeing someone and the results are that any negative impression garnered within the first few seconds can outlast any and all efforts to dispel them later through explanation or amiable conduct. So we can exhaust every effort in trying to convince our non-Muslim neighbors that we’re good people, but if we don’t look it, they won’t believe it. Fair or not, that is plain science. Would you find it easier to change human psychology or simply pay more attention to how you present yourself?
So, while the Vikings raided our coasts along the Caspian Sea and Charlemagne drove us out of Western France and invaded Muslim Spain, they were so impressed by us that they actually wrote poetry about us. We need to ask ourselves a very serious question: enemies aside, do we even leave that kind of impression upon our non-Muslim friends? Let us answer that honestly in the quiet of our conscience and, if necessary, make changes in our lives accordingly.
- Runelore: The Magic, History, and Hidden Codes of the Runes, p. 38, Edred Thorsson
- Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia, p. 38, Phillip Pulsiano, Kirsten Wolf
- The Song of Roland, 228:3164, Translated from French by John O’Hagen
- The Holy Qur’an, 7:31, Yusuf `Ali translation, 1938
- Recorded by Aḥmad, al-Tirmidhī, Abū Dawūd, al-Nasā’ī, and many others
- Fayḍ al-Qadīr Sharḥ Jami` al-Ṣaghīr, al-Munāwī
- Called Taṣghīr al-Ism in Arabic lexical morphology wherein a word is made diminutive, or to indicate “smallness”, by conforming it to the fu`ayl consonantal skeleton.
- Kitāb al-Zuhd of Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal, Fayḍ al-Qadīr of al-Munāwī, Muḥāḍirāt al-Adbā’ of al-Iṣfahāni, and others.
By Anthony Hardy
“I don’t understand,” said a friend of mine who happened to be an agnostic, “if Muslims here are just as racist as the Christians, why the Hell are you still Muslim?”
This question had never been posed to me in all my years of being Muslim. I had given it ample thought. I hadn’t, however, formulated a cogent, verbal response for it in the event someone asked me.
“I mean,” he continued, “if one of the reasons you converted was because of the race thing, you didn’t get very far. Seems like you may have regressed a bit actually. Just seems like you going through a lot of trouble for this Islam stuff.”
I conceded his point. While some phenomenal Muslims, Black and non-Black, had crossed my path along my trek in this great faith, I can say with unwavering certainty the vast majority of my time as a Muslim has been filled with hardship, isolation, and loneliness. Some converts break and fold under the immense pressure to which they are subjected at the hands of the community and their families. Some apostate as a result. I can’t say I blame them. I wasn’t broken – alhamduliLah (praise be to God) – but I was scarred and bent: the human heart is a fickle and fragile morsel of flesh.
There really was nothing on the outside anchoring me to Islam: with the exception of my younger brother, himself a convert, I didn’t have any Muslim relatives; my culture wasn’t enmeshed in Islam; though I have a strong affinity for the Black Muslim community, I didn’t belong to any community in particular; and because of my experiences and the experiences of loved ones, I didn’t even want to belong.
I responded to my friend’s inquiry, “True, in terms of race, I probably did backtrack a bit. Still, there are some existential considerations for which Islam provides sufficient explanations that no other system of thought I’ve come across has the potential to answer. For that reason, I stick around.”
Islam mandates upon those who embrace its inspiration to submit their ego as best as they can manage to a set of transcendent principles and confers nobility upon those individuals who make earnest attempts to uphold those dignifying principles. Unlike in our society, where one’s worth is determined by wealth, lineage, extent of education, occupation, gender, sexual orientation, physical beauty, physical handicap and – yes – even skin color and hair texture, the notion of submission and adherence to a set of divine principles as the ultimate measure of one’s value is largely independent of the circumstances surrounding one’s genesis into the world or current station in the world and thus lends itself to a humble agnosticism concerning the ultimate worth of others: under such an empowering paradigm, even the jettisoned pauper, pygmy, or orphan has the potential to be a prince or princess in the eyes of God by virtue of character, actions, and outlook.
Each soul is granted a story of its own from its Lord related to where and when He chose to author it. The purpose of those different stories is so that we might all learn and grow from them all and hence from one another. We are meant to be mirrors unto one another. I remain Muslim, among other reasons, because Islam dictates by virtue of tauhīd (oneness of God) that my story and the stories and experiences of my people have intrinsic value for humanity at large, even if many in the world, including and especially Muslims, fail to recognize that value for our skin color, class, culture, or whatever. We are lessons to be heeded and learned. As it stands, large segments of Muslims in America deign to perceive themselves as superior to us because of what Allāh, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), has bestowed upon them out of His Mercy and do not wish to educate themselves with our stories or even has us in their company or communities or families, quite possibly out of the very essence of kufr (disbelief of God) itself, for it was Allāh (swt) Himself who created us as we are.
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”
— Qur’ān, (49:13)
Unfortunately, Muslims have done themselves, their families, their children, their communities, and their religion a grave disservice in their folly. Until Muslims begin to realize the source of their honor is with God alone, until Muslims resume their slave status before God and not to the inventions of men, physical or otherwise, my mother will continue to be correct and Black Muslims or other communities who have contributed or have the potential to contribute so much to Islam in America and throughout the world will only always be just “niggers” or “thugs” or “gangsters” or “scary” or “dime a dozen” or “too dark” or ‘abd or zenci or whatever other derogatory term cultures may design. We must muster the courage to strive against the false gods and false regimes of validation that have taken residence in our hearts and minds for the integrity of the community, for our collective existence in this country, and for the integrity and purity of our eternal souls before our Lord.
I pray for a better way forward. I can’t do it without you.
To sit and dream, to sit and read,
To sit and learn about the world
Outside our world of here and now –
our problem world –
To dream of vast horizons of the soul
Through dreams made whole,
Unfettered free – help me!
All you who are dreamers, too,
Help me make our world anew.
I reach out my hands to you.
– Langston Hughes, “To You”
Each year I let my family know I will not be celebrating Christmas with them. Last year my mother gave us gifts that said they were from Santa Claus. At the time, I was pregnant and it became even more important to me that we distance ourselves from non-Islamic religious holidays. I know growing up how great the time was each year, and I hate making my parents feel so bad. I am not quite sure how to explain it to them anymore. I am stuck between my mother with major anxiety and my husband who doesn’t quite understand why it is so difficult for them. Yet another year is coming, and I now have a little girl, and I have to explain to my mother why I cannot see her at this time of year. I just saw them last month, and my mother already told me she has purchased “Christmas” gifts. What should I do or say to them that will make it easier?
You are having a difficult time reconciling the importance of Christmas for your parents while desiring to raise your daughter adhering to Islamic traditions. It sounds like your husband does not understand the tension you are feeling when disappointing your parents year after year. You and your husband may not have discussed in detail how you would celebrate holidays given that your parents come from a different tradition, before getting married. Since your experience is completely foreign to your husband, he may not understand the significance of the holiday for your parents and the traditions they created with you as a child. It can be very difficult for parents whose children convert to Islam to understand that “family traditions” will no longer be celebrated because of their child’s new beliefs.
You and your husband will need to discuss how you wish to approach holidays with your parents and share this information together with your parents. Every family chooses to manage the holidays differently and these opinions may change as their children grow older. Depending on what you are comfortable with, you may choose to distance yourself from your family all together during the holidays or you may choose to join your parents in their tradition. You and your husband will have to decide together what is the best approach for your family. If you have shared with your parents that you do not celebrate Christmas and they insist on giving you and your children gifts, then you and your husband need to reconcile the idea of accepting gifts from family. Is it a challenge to your faith or an expression of love and generosity from your parents? Emulate the love you have for your parents by understanding where they are coming from and communicating with them your thoughts and views. As your children grow and new traditions develop, your parents may learn to adapt their traditions to what is more comfortable to you and your husband and even join you in your religious traditions as well.
WebbCounselors is a collaborative advice column produced by two WebbAuthors, Amal Killawi, a Clinical Social Worker with a specialization in mental health and marriage education, and Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine, a Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in premarital counseling. Please note that our counselors are not religious scholars and will not issue religious rulings. To read our full disclaimer, please visit our disclaimer page. To submit questions to the WebbCounselors, please email email@example.com.