Transport fare increases have pushed Brazilians to breaking point ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup
Protests across Brazil have reached a head as the world’s sporting public turns its gaze to the first matches of the 2013 Confederations Cup, an event designed to ‘test’ Brazil’s readiness to host the World Cup next year.
What started out as a protest against a 20-cent rise in transport fees has tapped into a deeper malaise that a large percentage of the Brazilian public has towards the direction of their growing economy. A bus ride in São Paulo will now set you back R$3.20, or around 95p, in a city where the minimum wage is R$678, about £200 per month, and where discounted monthly travelcards don’t exist. Having suffered under a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, civil society has been further enraged by the shocking scenes of the police’s heavy-handed response to the protests.
Dissatisfaction over how out of touch Brazil’s political class are has been simmering for some time. Whilst living standards are squeezed by low wages and inflation, Brazilian politicians award themselves salaries upwards of R$20,000 (£5,924) per month, plus benefits. Trust in politicians is almost non-existent due to a culture of cronyism and bungs. Great swathes of the populace are exasperated that the government can spend upwards of R$31 billion (around £9 billion) on the World Cup, whilst the country’s infrastructure, education, health and security suffer from a crippling lack of investment.
Construction of the World Cup stadiums has run into the uniquely Brazilian combination of corruption and stifling bureaucracy, meaning stadiums built on the public dime are delayed, over budget and more expensive than corresponding venues at recent sporting events. The question remains as to what will happen to the stadiums after 2014. Average attendances in the top division of Brazilian football are around 13,000. The cities of Manaus, Cuiabá and Brasília have one team in the top three divisions between them (América-AM) yet have built stadiums with capacities of 40,000 plus.
In this context, the rise in transport fares can be seen as the straw that broke the camel’s back – “a gota d’água” in Portuguese – leading to Brazilians taking to the streets in protest across the country, as well as worldwide. The increase being announced a few weeks back has meant the Confederations Cup games currently taking place have been just one focus of the demonstrations. Protests at the stadiums in Brasília and Rio de Janeiro have been met with tear gas, pepper spray and baton charges, and Sepp Blatter (FIFA president) and Dilma Rousseff (Brazilian president) were booed before the opening game began.
Brazilian communities around the world are calling for demonstrations in solidarity with the Brazilian protestors and against police repression. London’s event will take place from 5pm onwards on Tuesday 18 June in Trafalgar Square, the streets surrounding the Brazilian Consulate considered too narrow to hold a significant number of people safely. International support is greatly appreciated.
More information on the reasons for the Brazilian protests can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIBYEXLGdSg.
The London demonstration takes place on Tuesday 18 June, from 5pm, at Trafalgar Square: https://www.facebook.com/events/183382041822867.
*Exchange rates taken from xe.com, correct as of 17/06/13
The word “education” is derived from the Latin word “ēducātiō,” which means “a breeding, a bringing up, a rearing.”1 An education is an active engagement between teacher and student whereby the teacher is an intellectual (and/or spiritual) guide nurturing and maturing the student’s mind and spirit. However, an education is not complete without an experiential process by which the student grows and develops the most. It is through experience and the application of knowledge by which one hones their intellect and spirit and acquires wisdom—without which, knowledge is naught.2
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ grew up not having a mother and a father, the two primary educators in a child’s life. The task of educating and rearing the Prophet ﷺ was taken up by an entity infinitely more capable and intimate than a mother and father could ever be: God. Needless to say there was no formal classroom experience which shaped the mind and character of the Prophet ﷺ. Any reading of the sīrah ([Prophet’s] life) will show that, pre and post prophecy, the Prophet ﷺ was mostly shaped and influenced by experience.
God reminds the Prophet ﷺ that He was the primary educator in his life: “Your Lord has not forsaken you, nor has He become displeased” (Qur’an, 93:3). Significantly, the Arabic word used for “Lord” in this verse is “rabb,” which is derived from the same root as the word “murabbī,” meaning “the one who rears, fosters, raises, etc.”3 Thus God is referring to Himself as both the Prophet’s ﷺ Lord and educational/spiritual/intellectual overseer. The chapter continues in rhetorical interrogation to emphasize the divine concern in the Prophet’s ﷺ upbringing: “Did He not find you an orphan and give [you] refuge? And He found you lost and guided [you], and He found you poor and made [you] self-sufficient” (93:6-8). The significance of this questioning is seen immediately in the following verses: “So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him]. And as for him who asks, do not repel [him]” (93:9-10).
Normally, individuals are only capable of sharing a sympathetic sentiment with others unless they have undergone a similar experience whereby which they can relate at an empathetic level. Thus, the Prophet’s ﷺ first-hand experiences directly influenced his intellectual and spiritual disposition as a human being. By means of these experiences he was not taught via instruction of right versus wrong to behave and treat others in a certain way; in other words, the Prophet (ﷺ) had a prior ethical disposition. He directly experienced events that accorded him the capacity to communicate with others at an empathetic level.
There was practically no human suffering that the Prophet ﷺ did not experience—whether it was the loss of a loved one, poverty, or abandonment. He appealed to people at a highly personal and intimate level. He felt for the poor man’s hunger for food, the mother’s loss of her child, the orphan’s social vulnerability, and the seeker’s spiritual craving. That is one of the reasons why reading the sīrah is a form of increasing one’s love for the Prophet ﷺ.
Experiencing the Prophet’s ﷺ biography is subjective and varies from one person to the next. Every individual relates to the Prophet’s ﷺ life in varying ways. As one experiences new things and revisits the sīrah at different stages of one’s life the sīrah is understood in a new light each time. There is a beauty in being able to reread the sīrah and experience it differently each time. Most importantly, it is the multi-layered feature of the sīrah which makes it so accessible. In other words, whether one is attracted to stories of war, romance, or history there is something to be found in the Prophet’s ﷺ life. Reading the sīrah automatically entails reading into the sīrah; it is not simply a list of historical events, it is a personal and emotional experience.
- Experience is even something required by almost all fields of education and professions, e.g. business, medicine, etc.
- Arabic-English Lexicon by Edward William Lane
An edited version of an unscripted speech at ‘One Brent’ on 31 May, commemorating Lee Rigby and sharing in solidarity with his family
The first thing I want to mention is death. When we hear of tragedies and murders our first response should be to mourn. There is a risk that we begin by condemning extremism and terrorism. We need to sit with the victim first – the immediate response of one woman. Having mourned, we can reflect on the callousness of those for whom killing is their message. Killing, while very human, is also inhumane. Politicians wage war hastily – do they ponder loss of life? Do they disregard peace campaigners? How keen are they to send soldiers to far away lands, knowing that they are completely unsafe? Is war good for anything? No.
We need to remember all those who are killed – people like Lee Rigby and innocent victims of conflict including drone attacks and suicide bombings. Each life has the same value, we need to remember them all. It will take us away from waging war, towards peace. Our traditions urge this, such as the famous line from Talmud and Qur’an: ‘Whoever kills a soul… it is as if he had slain humankind entirely’ (5:32). This message appears towards the beginning of the Qur’an. The Bible doesn’t have this saying, however, the Christian poet John Donne wrote, ‘Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind… No man is an island… every man is a piece of the continent.’
It is ironic to say this while speaking publicly, and I must be honest enough to say that a key part of my job is to maintain and raise the profile of my organisation. We shouldn’t seek publicity through the deaths of others, nor exploit, or let our own message drown out tragedy and the names of those who have lost their lives. This event is about Lee Rigby. We began in his honour with a minute of silence. Lee’s killer made callous use of publicity, talking to the camera about his motivation, dragging in religion and culture.
The messages that peace organisations share are the ones that we work on all the time. We must not miss out on identifying with the victim when death or atrocity hands us a platform. So, while I am on the platform, having mourned, I must be honest again and admit that we are implicated. Lee’s killer was originally Christian and he converted to Islam, so both religions which I represent officially in the Christian Muslim Forum are part of the story and have been for years. Coincidentally, I attended a Christian event on the ‘Challenge of Islam’ commemorating 7/7. Imagine the temperature rising while I was there, as it was not an ‘Islam-friendly’ event from the beginning. I reiterate that terrorism and atrocities are not based on Christianity or Islam. Yet, since the Forum’s launch we have issued statements responding to attacks, some tragedies involving fighting and loss between those calling themselves ‘Christian’ and ‘Muslim’ or identified as such. We have deliberately not responded to every incident, which is why we produced a statement that we could refer to each time. We are implicated due to the actions of extremists and terrorists who have hijacked religion, who claim its name while acting against it, saying “Allahu Akbar” (a sacred statement iterating God’s greatness, not a war cry) or “God told me to”. These acts are not in God’s name. We see the far right attempting to hijack religion, brushing aside humanity, linking the English flag of St George, or Britain’s Christian heritage, to hatred and anti-Muslim campaigning.
Peace and Transformation
We need to look deep into our hearts, speak peace and work for peace. It is easy to spend billions on a war being waged for over 10 years. We need to turn around and be transformed, just as the women at the scene of Lee Rigby’s murder turned around. One woman proceeded to reason with the killer calmly and, although we can’t imagine her courage, we can identify this as a human reaction contrasting with the killer’s actions. Another woman, seeing Lee dead or dying on the ground, sat next to his body so that he would not be alone. Peace brings us together and builds society. We must remember this when we wage war or export military technology.
Friendship and love is at the heart of this. With more of it, we do have a chance of reducing the numbers of both those who are alienated and those who have hearts full of hatred.Image from: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/live-updates-soldier-lee-rigby-4010161
Culture and heritage are the underlying casualties of modern conflicts, and with the recent destruction of a shrine in Adra, Syria is no exception
Syria is a popular location of pilgrimage and tourism, home to six World Heritage sites including the Citadel of Aleppo. The country has some of the earliest cities built in human history stretching back at least 2000 years. Most importantly for Muslims and Christians, it is host to shrines of influential religious figures such as Prophet Mohammed’s (pbuh*) granddaughter, Sayyeda Zainab, and the tombs of Adam and Eve’s sons, Abel and Cain.
Visiting a religious area always comes with strict rules. Before entering the shrines, visitors are expected to remove their shoes and cover their heads as a sign of respect. Islamic belief states that once a body has been buried, it is forbidden to dig up the remains or walk over the grave because it is disrespectful to the dead. Rebels involved in the civil-turned-sectarian war in Syria have ignored these very basic Islamic and moral principles. All six World Heritage sites have been damaged in the midst, and with over 90,000 people already dead and counting, not even the deceased are spared in this conflict.
Muslims around the world were outraged when the Free Syrian Army (FSA) destroyed a revered shrine near Damascus. The FSA support the Salafi sect within Islam and believe that shrines in general – whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu – are idolatrous. Members of the Salafi movement are responsible for the destroying of shrines around the world including Libya, Egypt and Mali, and the ideology is rapidly spreading in Syria.
This revered shrine located in Adra, a small town north of Damascus, was that of Hujr bin Adi, a close companion of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). Hujr was a strong supporter of the Prophet’s son-in-law, Imam Ali, and fought in several battles alongside Ali to protect his leadership, including the Battle of the Camel in 656 AD. Hujr was later punished for this loyalty and given the option to have his life spared if he were to denounce Ali in public, but he refused, and both he and his son were killed. As such, he is believed to have died a martyr. For Muslims, his legacy signified loyalty and piety, unhindered by the consequence of death. His shrine was visited by millions of Muslims every year.
On 2 May 2013, Hujr’s shrine was destroyed, his grave dug up and his body exhumed. The body had been taken and buried in an unknown location. According to eyewitnesses, one of the members of the FSA took a photo of the body with his camera phone. By 6 May, the photo was on every major Islamic TV channel and many Muslims were shaken by what they saw.
At first view of the face in the emerging mobile phone photos, it would seem as though this man was buried just yesterday. To put this in perspective, only three months ago King Richard III’s skeleton was found in a council car park in Leicester. King Richard died 528 years ago, while Hujr died 1353 years ago.
For some Muslims, this would fit the ideology that Hujr’s body remained in tact due to the special privileges of martyrs. The Qur’an and other Islamic scriptures describe life after death and the state of the body while in the grave, whereby depending on a person’s beliefs and actions throughout their life, a grave can become a torture cell or a haven until the Day of Judgement. However, martyrs’ bodies are believed to be intact and, literally, do rest in peace. If this is Hujr’s body, it confirms Islamic beliefs and the circumstances surrounding his death.
There is, of course, the possibility that the body does not belong to Hujr. It could be the body of another victim or fighter in the war. Perhaps this person defended and fought against an oppressor, just like Hujr did so many years ago, or perhaps he didn’t even have that opportunity. Either way, the exhumation of the body depicts the harsh, underlying patterns of the events in Syria and in other parts of the world, where heritage and religion are under attack.
In acts like this, there are virtually no moral or ethical boundaries. Muslim countries around the world have expressed their disgust at this incident. In response, there have been protests by predominantly Shia communities in Iran and Iraq. The Iranian government has also released a free eBook about Hujr and plans are underway to release a film about his life. The response of Muslim countries seems to be inspired by Hujr’s peaceful resistance. The fighters in Syria would do well to adopt the same.
*Muslims say “peace be upon him” following the mention of the ProphetFeatured image from: http://www.salon.com/2012/06/14/smell_of_death_greets_un_monitors_in_syrian_town/
One of the things I like to do in my spare time is read psychology books. When I was about to complete my undergraduate degree—a double major in history and political science–I was informed by the registrar’s office that I was only two half-courses short of completing a minor in psychology. Apparently, almost all of my electives had been in psychology. I was intrigued by the idea of sticking around just one semester longer to complete the requirement, but ultimately, the excitement of starting my Masters’ and the prospects of international travel got in the way. Alhamdulillah (all praise due to God), I have no regrets.
Fast forward 7 years and I am still enthralled by the study of human nature and behaviour. Every time I visit the library or a bookstore or every time I find myself aimlessly surfing the internet, I pretty much always end up reading more about this fascinating subject. And lately, I’ve noticed an interesting trend. Psychologists are getting more and more captivated by the idea of self-control. Some literature has always been there, of course, but it seems the concept of willpower is finally getting the broad research and mainstream attention it deserves.
Now you may be wondering, why is this interesting? Of course, willpower is important. But for a long time, psychology was more concerned with ideas such as intelligence, self-esteem, and especially, happiness. Each of these is important, of course, but I could not help but feel something was missing. For the most part, it was the obsession with happiness that I always found troubling. To be blunt, I have always found people who make their happiness their #1 priority to be quite selfish and short-sighted. The pursuit of self-fulfilment at-all-costs seems contradictory to the Islamic worldview, a frame of reference that has no problem with happiness in and of itself but which emphasizes patience and sacrifice as more noble goals.
Self-control, on the other hand, is perfectly Islamic. Our whole religion is based around it. One of the reasons we pray five times a day is to gain discipline. We fast in the month of Ramadan in order to “learn self-restraint.” (Qur’an 2:183). We partake in Hajj, partly, to practice fortitude. We “lower our gaze” (24:31) to resist temptation. Even the pursuit of wealth is not by any means necessary: we are stringent about examining the how and why of whatever we earn and spend (17:26). We have to regulate what we consume. We have to regulate our speech. We have to constantly exert control over our thoughts and feelings. We have to control our anger, our jealousy; any feelings of pride or arrogance. We constantly have to check our actions against our intentions.
We even have to exercise restraint in the permissible display of our emotions. When at war, Muslims are commanded to fight honourably and ethically. When we fall in love with our spouses, the expectation from our religion is to be temperate and keep the display of our affections limited to the domestic sphere. When someone close to us dies, we are allowed to cry and show sadness, but we cannot wail and excessively lament. Even the duration of our mourning is limited to three days at which point we are expected to collect ourselves and move on.
The ethos of modern societies is to pursue with passion whatever you desire. But Islam emphasizes restraint, discipline and sabr (patience).
The Qur’an even goes as far as to say: “Who is more astray than one who follows his own lusts?” (28:50). The implication is that the opposite of that, a person who is in control of his desires, represents the pinnacle of right guidance.
In the past few decades, self-restraint has resumed its once-forgotten place at the centre of psychology. The turning point was triggered in a now-famous study by Walter Mischel of Stanford University, where children aged four and five were asked whether they wanted to eat one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later. The idea was to test the ability of these children to delay gratification. Many children gave in right away and consumed the marshmallow in front of them. But some were able to wait as long as fifteen minutes, successfully repressing their current desire for the promise of a double reward later. Mischel and his team then followed the children into adulthood and found that those who were able to control themselves as children subsequently performed better in school, sports and other extra-curricular activities, attained higher educational and salary levels, engaged in far less drug and alcohol abuse, and reported stronger, more satisfying relationships. In short, those children who were able to practice self-control were more successful in every aspect of their lives decades later.
Moreover, in a review of thousands of studies, founder and president of The Families and Work Institute Dr. Ellen Galinsky concluded that there are seven essential life skills that every child needs in order to reach his or her fullest potential. What is the top entry on her list? You guessed it: self-control. And this is based on decades of frontline observations and volumes upon volumes of research.
More recently, one of the world’s most prolific psychologists, Dr. Roy Baumeister of Florida State University published a book entitled Willpower that basically summarized decades of his and his colleagues’ research in the field. What he essentially found is that success, no matter how you define it, often boils down to two things: intelligence and self-control. While you cannot increase your God-given intelligence, you can definitely improve your self-control. How important is willpower? According to Baumeister “self-regulation failure is the major social pathology of our time.” I’ll let you read that again in order for it to sink in. Baumeister goes on to discuss various proven ways to improve self-control including: eating and sleeping right, keeping a diary, establishing routines, getting organized, implementing personalized distraction techniques and practicing guided meditation. He also demonstrates how the effects of successfully disciplining yourself in one area of life spill over into other areas of your life, creating a domino effect of positive transformation. As a Muslim, that sounds very familiar.
I could go on but you get the point. Science is only now uncovering the reality that our religion has taught all along. The secret to success is discipline and self-control. We have always known that the ability to make choices is what separates us from animals. Now we also now that the ability to self-regulate is what separates average people from the truly remarkable. This is the kind of discipline that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) is trying to build in us through the various acts of worship and rituals He commands. Who else Knows better the intricacies of human nature? Allah (swt) wants us to be successful and indicates the way. It is up us to now to act upon this knowledge.
“Oh you who believe, endure and outdo all others in endurance, be ready, and observe your duty to Allah, so that you may succeed.” (3:200)
Done with the right intentions, not only will self-control warrant success in this life, it will also guarantee success in the life to come. May Allah (swt) make us of those who practice discipline and remain firm on the His path. Ameen.
A dystopian mess
Of blood and flesh
And cryptic clandestine narcissistic
Slavered out over freshly stale pages
By the Ancient Whims and Desires
Which take the Bold and the New as bedfellows
That though we see ages pass in our reflections
In us mirrors see only reflections of ages past
It will – and we won’t – last
Our ‘wisdom’, our ‘wit’ and our ‘will’ belie us
‘Nullum est iam dictum quod non dictum est prius.’*
*Nothing is said that hasn’t been said before.Image from: http://www.jagaro.net/2011/01/what-is-contemplation-insight-and-wisdom-part-3/
We live in a world where most of us don’t really consider the home a peaceful haven or a sanctuary.
To some, seeking refuge inside one’s home seems overrated, antisocial, and makes one seem reclusive and bereaved from the lively, rambunctious happenings of the outside world. Be it even somebody else’s home, at least it’s away from your own home.
For others, the same liveliness inside their houses leads them wandering outside the confines of their home to grasp a few seconds of sanity, warmth, and well-being. The next best thing for a person in this state is a clichéd sanctuary – probably something along the lines of Barnes and Noble, while sipping Starbucks coffee out of a recycled paper cup, and reading a magazine or a tasteful novel.
I found myself in a similar state of mind late one afternoon, after hurriedly finishing a test in one of my classes.
I walked outside the building to the parking lot, wondering where I’d parked my car when I looked up at the sky and figured that there was still some time before Maghrib. I pictured driving back home, walking inside the house, dodging a few harmless insults from my brother, ignoring my little sister’s pleas to play with her, or pretending to listen to my mother admonish me on my cluttered room.
Why return home this early?
I’d managed to locate my car and drove out of campus, aimlessly zooming around the streets, wondering where to go to unwind and just forget about my whole week. I needed to set aside my realities for just a second. I drove here and there for a while when the sun started to get in my eyes. I was wearing sunglasses, but the blazing fireball was dead straight wherever I turned. I managed to turn into the drive through for a nearby Starbucks and ordered a coffee. Now I needed a place to sit down and relax.
Again I began wandering here and there, looking for a place to sit or just a place where I could park and drink my coffee in the car.
There’s that sun again.
I turned to park three or four different places. All the empty parking spaces seemed to position my car in full view of the blinding, annoying sun. I almost ran into a curb once. I even tried pulling into an apartment complex parking lot without seeming like a trespasser. I couldn’t find a suitable spot there, either.
Turns out, my so-called relaxing drive made me even more irritated. I felt sweaty, my head was throbbing, and I just wanted to get out of the car.
I made a split-second decision and veered my car in the direction of my house. All of a sudden, I was able to see the clear sky, a nice teal. I spent a few seconds admiring the sky when I realized the absence of something.
The sun could no longer blind me. My eyes were no longer burning from the rays shining directly at me.
My eyes were cooled.
Immediately I remembered a du`a’ I learned recently about family – “Oh our Lord, grant us from our spouses and our offspring coolness of the eyes and make us leaders of the pious.”
Coolness of the eyes.
In the direction of my home.
That same coolness brought tears of joy, understanding, and regret at what I’d perceived my home as this whole day. It’s not the house itself; rather, Allah’s blessings lies in the fact that I call it home, for my family. Because of my family.
I hand out advice to my peers and students, seeming as if I’m above it all, but I’m really not. I’d recited this du`a’ to so many people after I’d learned it during Ramadan. But only now do I really understand what it means, because it hit me on a literal level. Subhan’Allah (exalted is He). Who would’ve known?
And as I was shedding those tears of mixed emotions, I made a right turn into my neighborhood. I turned towards my house and saw the sun in my rearview mirror.
It looked beautiful.
By Talha Ghannam
Note: The post was written a few months before traveling for Umrah. Alhamdulillah, having now completed the journey, I cannot emphasize enough how important preparation is to the journey. To remove oneself from the dunya (worldy life)and prepare for what lies ahead is essential. What will you say to your Lord and His messenger ﷺ (peace be upon him) when you visit them in the blessed cities?
My eyes have not seen anyone more magnificent than you
No woman has borne such perfection
You were created free from all deficiencies
It is as though you were created as you wished
[Hassaan ibn Thaabit]
From jaahily (pre-Islam period in Mecca) poetry to country odes, nursery rhymes to modern day rap, poetry has long possessed a mystical hold over society. Sitting at the height of literary excellence, its subtle words and rhythmic beats engage the deepest emotions of the reader, moving them to live the words recited.
“Logic and grammar are important. But for students to truly own the English language, they need to read and write poems.”
Islam has a rich tradition of poetry, and no topic has drawn more attention than the love of the Prophet ﷺ. For centuries, scholars and lovers have written words dedicated to their beloved Messenger ﷺ. Poems such as Hasaan ibn Thabit’s verses (above) and the Burda (The Adoned Mantle) sit eternally in the hearts of Muslims as epitomes of love for the Messenger ﷺ.
I do not claim to be a poet. When compared to these greats, my words are meaningless. However, my intention to go on ‘umrah next month has inspired me to follow in their footsteps, dedicating a few words to read them to my beloved Prophet ﷺ at his tomb. Perhaps Allah will place blessing in these words and grant me the honour of a true vision of the Prophet ﷺ and his companions. Ameen.
The poem reflects the life (seerah) of the Prophet ﷺ and how it bears on our own. Many of us claim that if we were with him ﷺ, we would have been of the foremost to protect him. We say we love him ﷺ yet few of us have seen him or know what he looks like. So often the Prophet ﷺ and Islam are slandered and we do nothing to educate people about him. We profess that we would seek his ﷺ company had we been contemporaries, yet we live in ignorance of our faith and ignore its inheritors1 . We wish we were in his company yet we forego the gardens of paradise2 . As the companions (sahabah) famously said to the followers (tab`ieen – the generation which followed the companions):
“If we saw you at the time of the Prophet ﷺ, we would think you were hypocrites, and if you saw us at the time of the Prophet ﷺ, you would think we were mad men!”3
So how then does this bear on us who are so far astray from the path to Allah!
The words I write are a reflection on my own soul, my own hypocrisy and double standards. I claim to yearn for him ﷺ yet my actions speak differently. How do I greet the greatest human to walk this earth whilst I know what state my soul is in? Perhaps through these words Allah will grant me forgiveness, guidance, and sincerity to change the man I’m becoming to the man I wish to become.
What if I met the Prophet4 ,
And walked the path he walked.
I would be his shadow, follow every step,
And never let him go.
What if I heard the Prophet,
Speaking to friend and foe.
I would write and learn his every word,
And spread them across the globe.
What if I spoke to the Prophet,
And shared with him my thoughts.
I would live by every word he said,
Applying them one by one.
What if I stood with the Prophet,
Fighting against his foes.
I would protect him against every (s)word and (ar)row,
Of the tongue and of the bow.
What if I saw the Prophet,
Embracing me with his smile,
I would feel its glow shining through my life,
And forever be my guide.
So why now do I leave you, oh Prophet,
When true dreams remain for those who love.
If truly I ever loved you so,
The heart will find what it seeks.
While the sayings of yours, oh Prophet,
Like gems amongst the words,
Remain to guide us along the path,
Mina al-dhulumaati ila al-noor.5
And your legacy remains, oh Prophet,
With the scholars left on earth.
Inheritors of prophetic wisdom,
Preside to lead us forward.
We abandoned you for profit,
Chasing what the world can give,
Forgetting that joy is found with you,
In God’s everlasting bliss.
Now I return to you, oh Prophet,
In this blessed city of light,
To pledge a change forever more,
And turn my face to God.
Peace and blessings to you, oh Prophet,
For time and ever more.
To you we owe the greatest debt,
For all that you have brought.
And your family and friends, oh Prophet,
Who showed us how to live,
They sought your love in all they did
To earn the love of God
- Abu al-Darda’ (Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:
“Scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.”
[Related by Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa'i, Ibn Maja, Ahmad, Ibn Hibban, and others]
- Ibn `Umar reported that the Prophet ﷺ said:
“When you pass by the gardens of Paradise, avail yourselves of them.” The Companions asked: “What are the gardens of Paradise, O Messenger of Allah?” He replied: “The circles of dhikr (remembrance of Allah). There are roaming angels of Allah who go about looking for the circles of dhikr, and when they find them they surround them closely.”
[Tirmidhi narrated it (hasan gharib) and Ahmad]
- I heard this tradition orally and have sought to establish its source, although this statement is strengthened by the famous saying of the Prophet ﷺ in Bukhari “The best of generations is my generation, then those that follow them, then those that follow them.” I sight this phrase as a point of self-reflection, not to derive any ruling from it
One saying ascribed to Al-Hasan Al-Basri is:
حَدَّثَنِي أَبِي ، قَالَ : ثنا إِبْرَاهِيمُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ الْحَسَنِ ، قَالَ : ثنا أَبُو حُمَيْدٍ أَحْمَدُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ الْحِمْصِيُّ ، قَالَ : ثنا يَحْيَى بْنُ سَعِيدٍ ، قَالَ : ثنا يَزِيدُ بْنُ عَطَاءٍ ، عَنْ عَلْقَمَةَ بْنِ مَرْثَدٍ ، قَالَ :
” انْتَهَى الزُّهْدُ إِلَى ثَمَانِيَةٍ مِنَ التَّابِعِينَ ، فَمِنْهُمُ الْحَسَنُ بْنُ أَبِي الْحَسَنِ ، فَمَا رَأَيْنَا أَحَدًا مِنَ النَّاسِ كَانَ أَطْوَلَ حَزَنًا مِنْهُ ، مَا كُنَّا نَرَاهُ إِلا أَنَّهُ حَدِيثُ عَهْدٍ بِمُصِيبَةٍ ، ثُمَّ قَالَ :
” نَضْحَكُ وَلا نَدْرِي ، لَعَلَّ اللَّهَ قَدِ اطَّلَعَ عَلَى بَعْضِ أَعْمَالِنَا ، فَقَالَ : لا أَقْبَلُ مِنْكُمْ شَيْئًا ، وَيْحَكَ يَا ابْنَ آدَمَ ، هَلْ لَكَ بِمُحَارَبَةِ اللَّهِ طَاقَةٌ ؟ إِنَّهُ مَنْ عَصَى اللَّهَ فَقَدْ حَارَبَهُ ، وَاللَّهِ لَقَدْ أَدْرَكْتُ سَبْعِينَ بَدْرِيًّا أَكْثَرُ لِبَاسِهِمُ الصُّوفُ ، وَلَوْ رَأَيْتُمُوهُمْ قُلْتُمْ : مَجَانِينُ ، وَلَوْ رَأَوْا خِيَارَكُمْ لَقَالُوا : مَا لِهَؤُلاءِ مِنْ خَلاقٍ ، وَلَوْ رَأَوْا شِرَارَكُمْ لَقَالُوا : مَا يُؤْمِنُ هَؤُلاءِ بِيَوْمِ الْحِسَابِ ، وَلَقَدْ رَأَيْتُ أَقْوَامًا كَانَتِ الدُّنْيَا أَهْوَنَ عَلَى أَحَدِهِمْ مِنَ التُّرَابِ تَحْتَ قَدَمَيْهِ ، وَلَقَدْ رَأَيْتُ أَقْوَامًا يَمْشِي أَحَدُهُمْ وَمَا يَجِدُ عِنْدَهُ إِلا قُوتًا ، فَيَقُولُ : لا أَجْعَلُ هَذَا كُلَّهُ فِي بَطْنِي ، لأَجْعَلَنَّ بَعْضَهُ لِلَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ فَيتَصَدَّقُ بِبَعْضِهِ ، وَإِنْ كَانَ هُوَ أَحْوَجَ مِمَّنْ يَتَصَدَّقُ بِهِ عَلَيْهِ
- The ﷺ is omitted to keep the poetic flow
- from darknesses into the light; 33:43, 57:9, 65:11
The reference to God as ‘he’ permeates the religious worldview of many, and over the millennia the social effects of this gendered view of God have become increasingly apparent
I vividly remember my first ever Religious Studies lesson at comprehensive school – one of my first classes on the very first day. The teacher tasked us to draw a picture of what we thought God looked like. Everybody, myself included, drew some variation on the figure of a white male. We were aged eleven at the time, and it was long before we’d started to think about our life ambitions, career plans or even what we wanted to study at GCSE. Yet every single one of us, whether we followed a religion or not, thought that the supreme being who created and legislated over our universe was a white man.
Only now after completing a theology degree, discovering feminism and 14 years’ worth of exposure to new people, experiences and opinions does that class work seem significant; my detailed memory instead being down to a fresh and geeky eagerness I had for my new school at the time. It was thus not until university that I started to give much thought to gendered language. Even in sixth form I widely followed the convention I’d found in textbooks and used terms like ‘man’ and ‘he’ to represent humanity in my essays. I was a keen, critical, intelligent student but any kind of issue with the male pronoun always passed me by; they were just words.
I am often met with the same attitude when I express unease about the gendered language use in religion now. The Christian Godhead, which I’m frequently told by my Christian friends and from my studying theology, does not actually have a gender. The male pronoun is a term of convenience for something which is above being categorised or understood through traits like gender. Yet everywhere and from a very young age in Christian cultures we hear that ‘he’ is all-powerful, that ‘he’ is all good, that ‘he’ sent his son to save us. At six years old when we are about to perform in the nativity we are not told that ‘God is gender neutral, but for convenience reasons we call it a he.’ And at that age we would be highly unlikely to understand that kind of conceptual idea. Yet by the age of 11, the damage has already been done. In that Religious Studies lesson of largely non-religious kids, everybody had already formed their view of God. When asked to conceive the inconceivable by drawing it, we conceived the inconceivable to be male.
Though I’m no expert in the linguistics or philosophy of language, I do know that language is an incredibly powerful tool in shaping our view of the world. Language isn’t only the way via which we receive and express information – it is more fundamental than that. It is the way in which we think, and therefore understand, everything our five senses tell us. And in which case it’s no surprise that though God might be genderless, those of us who do not spend all day buried in theology books or contemplating the supreme being subliminally understand ‘him’ to be male. And when we are given the impossible task of creating an image of the inconceivable, we turn to gut feelings. What would God look like? The conclusion we all reached in that classroom was that God would look like a man.
Even so, does this matter? I’ve already pointed out that most of that Religious Studies class was not religious. So, why should it matter what we called God?
As feminist theologian Mary Daly put it, ‘if God is man then man is God.’ From an early age, the gendered view of God we acquire gives us the notion that the ‘person’ in charge of the universe is male. And ‘his’ power, ‘his’ goodness, ‘his’ knowledge start to become subliminally engendered too. Power, knowledge and justice come to be seen as masculine. Following what we are told from centuries of historical and religious discourse we conclude that a woman’s role is that of support. Women fade into the background as we learn about the godly and important acts of male protagonists. Women are generally portrayed as background figures and supporting roles – rarely much is said about their individual identity or achievements. The tendency for women’s self-denial, or at times even self-sacrifice, pervades our education. When from an early age our school classes and assemblies focus heavily around the traditional myths and stories from religion, it is no wonder that by the time we reach a more critical and understanding age these ideas have been (often irreparably) entrenched into our mindsets.
That’s one of the reasons why we revile so many women who display strength or ‘godly characters’, so often treating those who have achieved in ‘male’ disciplines with an ‘honorary male’ status or applaud them for ‘keeping up with the guys’ as though there is in some way an assumption that we would not. Alternatively, women are often vilified for actions which are greeted neutrally or outright celebrated when performed by men – vitriolically labeled hysterical, she wolves or whores for almost identical behaviours as her male counterparts.
Perhaps that’s why in my teenage years I came to see Margaret Thatcher, whose politics I instinctively abhor, as a heroine. I was ambitious and mad to explore the world. In the absence of strong examples of leadership, and in defiance of those who used her single example as a rather baseless argument against all women in power, I was inexplicably drawn towards this woman. I was determined to like the unlikeable, I couldn’t help but admire her for not letting society make her rules. Thatcher did little to help other women reach similar levels of achievements, and she stands for very few of things that I value about our state. However, she provided an important example of a woman in typically ‘male’ position to counter years of my being taught about male achievement. For that, I was enamoured with her when I was a teen.
I am not suggesting here that religion is the root of all misogyny in our society (though it has traditionally been a powerful influence), but instead trying to put across the case for why our language use matters greatly in this context. From as early as the middle ages women including Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich have explored ideas about God’s masculine and feminine traits. To recognise the contribution of strong women within Christianity, or some of the opportunities Christianity has offered women over centuries of its history, is far from hypocritical. Though in many of its organised manifestations the religion may be patriarchal, to probe deeper is to discover many values which match feminist ones. Though not a Christian myself, I would be a fool not to see that ideas about peace, love, equality and tolerance can abound. And though this article has taken Christianity to be its focus, similar problems can certainly be observed within other world religions and cultures. The purpose of this article is simply an answer to the question I am all too often asked:‘if we have to use something to talk about God, is it really that bad to use the word ‘he’?’ My answer? A resounding yes.Image from: http://farm2.staticflickr.com/1219/4724513485_8bb0e53697_b.jpg
William Webb is a Christian preacher’s grandson from Oklahoma, which makes him an unlikely voice for American imams. But, as the leader of the Islamic Center of Boston Cultural Center, he has worked hard to give voice to what he calls the “pre-pubescent” American muslim community. Webb, who spent time as a hip-hop DJ in his youth before converting to Islam, tells us in a podcast that the community is still growing, and is still far behind other religions when it comes to finding qualified leaders at the local level. A sign of the challenge: the now widely reported incident of when Tamerlan Tzarnaev attacked an ‘imam’ for not being orthodox enough, the ‘imam’ was actually a community member who’d been drafted to give the sermon that week.
As Webb puts it, that “mediocrity” of the imam corps means the community has a hard time answering the myriad questions that are aimed at the community in the wake of a terror attack, such as the Boston Marathon bombings. Webb is working hard to solve that problem, by directly counseling any wayward youth and, more broadly, by confronting the challenges Islam and other religions face by modernity. He’s also building an imam seminary, to help recruit and develop imams.
Webb was at New America for an “Online Radicalization” event hosted by the National Security Program. You can see the full event here.
Source: New America Foundation
There are several opportunities to come face-to-face with natural habitats in support of conservation
The term ‘conservation’ immediately brings to mind national parks, forests, teams of people working to protect species, and, of course, the species themselves, but the issues underlying conservation projects are many and varied. One such project is Ape Action Africa, a UK charity which carries out the majority of its work through its sanctuary in Mefou Primate Park, Cameroon.
This year has already seen some major projects take place in Mefou, not least an ambitious operation to drastically improve the quality of life for Shufai, a young male gorilla taken in by the project when his mother was shot, killing her and badly injuring his arm. Gorillas like Shufai end up in sanctuaries usually because their mothers have been killed by poachers, but the reasons behind the poaching problem are multiple and complex.
Natural habitats, endangered species and their conservation are inextricably linked with human communities and development, and human actions on one side of the world can have far-reaching effects on conservation thousands of miles away. What at first glance can seem like a straightforward ‘cause and effect’ or ‘problem and solution’ situation, will always turn out, on closer examination, to be a multi-faceted issue; the expertise of a variety of people or organisations are required to even begin to make a difference.
Sanctuaries such as Ape Action Africa not only have a responsibility to rescue, rehabilitate and house primates with a range of physical and psychological traumas and needs, but they also need to contribute to the bigger conservation picture by engaging in community development and education, locally and globally, in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner.
When Shufai arrived at Ape Action Africa, months of rehabilitation enabled him to begin integrating into a group of other young gorillas at the sanctuary, learning to get around using his damaged arm. However, as he got older, the damaged bone in his wrist grew more slowly than the rest of his arm, causing pain and hindering his movement, so an operation was carried out in 2012 to remove a piece of damaged bone and allow him to move more freely.
By early 2013, it became clear that Shufai would need a further operation to straighten his arm, so a veterinary team once again flew out to perform the procedure. Pre-op x-rays showed that the damage to Shufai’s arm was worse than anticipated, so the difficult decision was made to amputate his arm to give him the best chance of a pain-free life. The operation went well, and within weeks, Shufai was chest-beating with his other arm and teaching himself to climb trees one-handed – a remarkably quick adaptation which showed how successful the decision to amputate was.
In October and November of 2013, the Great Primate Handshake, a Cardiff-based digital media and conservation non-profit, will be sending staff and volunteers to Cameroon to support Ape Action Africa. The collaboration will document the diversity of crucial aspects of primate conservation the charity is involved in, from local education and community development – including activities such as women’s groups and community football competitions – to the rehabilitation and welfare of Shufai and the sanctuary’s other gorillas, chimpanzees and monkeys.
The Great Primate Handshake began in 2008 with the mission of getting like-minded people together to travel, create and educate in support of conservation. The Handshake prides itself on creating a unique ‘skill-sharing’ environment where participants develop their knowledge whilst working with each other on assignments ranging from small community projects such as One Tree, One Child, One Planet, to world-renowned conservation organisations including the WWF.
To date, the Great Primate Handshake’s projects have taken the form of country-specific 28-day overland expeditions in three locations – Kenya, South Africa and Uganda – working with Oasis Overland to allow the participant to see the whole of the country and work with several projects within a one-month period. These trips provide an opportunity to learn how different types of conservation organisations work and experience the diversity of landscapes, cultures and wildlife that can occur across a country.
Additionally, the two-week trips are a great opportunity for those who wish to volunteer for a shorter time period, while still contributing to a full campaign. It allows the Handshake to spend longer periods of time focusing on each organisation it supports and producing a better picture of the huge complexity of the issues being tackled.
If you are interested in supporting the work of Ape Action Africa through digital media, or want more information about volunteering with the Great Primate Handshake, check out www.primatehandshake.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to speak directly to a member of staff.Photo Credits: Lucy Radford
It is essential that we unravel the values contained within the depiction of the American Dream in order to understand what we have subscribed to
It was Marina and her diamonds that first spurred me on to write this piece, in her hauntingly honest ballad challenging a set of American ideals and its ever dissipating world of trap doors and poisoned pageant crowns, as she aptly states, “Hollywood infected your brain.”
What is so dreamlike about the American Dream is that it is eternally unobtainable. An inescapable room full of reflective shattering mirrors, a stage designed for the enjoyment of only the most powerful of men. Great walls of ivory towers shield them from the fickle claws of ordinary people, who in turn, are moulded by an omnipresent narrative written for us by those behind the scenes working hard to make decisions of our day-to-day lives. We are being trapped in an image of a glorified falsehood.
The unhealthy obsession of media interest in fashion, film and celebrity culture has offered intangible conflicting ideas of what is considered to be the ultimate goal of attainment. Young impressionable minds are offered alternatives to their lives, through dangerous escape routes, offering ideas of instant self-gratifications as the greatest priority. The dire mistake we, the masses, make in the other sphere of the world is to peer over to the allure of Hollywood and believe in it as an essential role model of American power and success. Heralding the use of fire arms, starved models, actors and actresses – starved of both food and reality – yearn to fit into gasp-inducing dresses and sharp suits. Yet, they pose as philanthropists and human rights advocates within the United Nations, representing everything they allegedly stand against.
“Tens of millions of all nations have been lured to our shores in the past century, it has not been a dream of merely material plenty”, though that has doubtlessly counted heavily but Fahey deems it “a naïve dream based on the fallacious assumption that material possessions are synonymous with happiness, harmony, and beauty”.
A culture that teaches us to make light of the pattering bullets of ‘baked violence and gunplay’, leaving holes in the actors we hold our highest esteem for. Yet we sit in a daze confused by the actions of the Sandy Hook shooting, claiming the lives of 26 children, pillaging the hope of the next generation. In turn many actors, a group of elite wolves in sheep’s clothing – heavily affiliated with glamorising violent movies, thus justifying them – ease their temperamental collective conscience by participating in an anti-violence campaign. Ironic isn’t it? The most powerful country in the western world to have a problem of fire arms, whilst elucidating a false notion of protecting your property and wealth through violence, is hypocritical – glorifying gunplay and then, full of remorse and devastation when it results in the death of our children. Information collected showed that in the US, “firearms were used in 68 per cent of the nation’s murders, 41 per cent of robberies, and 21 percent of aggravated assaults”. The narrative once more is set. Through inflated media interest in an ‘abstract phenomenon’, we fail to recognise that once more for many shooters like Adam Lanza, who gained ultimate validity and recognition from the world’s media, this horrific turn of events acted as a platform for his attention starved crimes. The world was ultimately his stage, undermining the devastation of every child lost, the villain once again painted into a piece, the victim remains just that, faceless.
Before long the American ideals came to become a national identity by the 21st century, representing a weapon in itself. A dangerous motto used to mould a fictive image of an ultimate lifestyle emerged. James Adams explained this as a “government collusion in the creation of a soulless and materialistic consumer society”. With the consequence of evoking gluttony and unhealthy overindulgence in anything that becomes a detriment to our health, ageing us prematurely.
Whether we like it or not we have all been written into this gilded, glistening yet insurmountable narrative, preying on our darkest desires. We have become unnervingly spellbound and blinded by self vanquishing dreams, intangible images of ‘beauty’ and ‘success’ designed to distract us from our seemingly mundane existence. That fabricated notion that you are not anybody unless you are talked about, the hollow notion that if you gain wealth, recognition, and beauty you will find contentment. A mirage in the artificial sand of a Hollywood set, essentially we are all, “living in a movie scene puking American dreams”, tripping on short tales of fame and fortune for fame’s sake. Leading to discontentment, disappointment and despair, and all at a price, if this becomes our motive we must accept the inevitable funeral of our morals.
I do not see the ideals here as freedom, because we are shackled and constrained by images. Images stamped across every cover of GQ magazine, where ‘Man Of the Year’ is presented in an expensive suit and given an air of respect, whereas Lana Del Ray once again reminds women that the ultimate depiction of success to aspire to, is sitting cross legged and naked on the front cover as ‘Woman of the Year’. This does not define equality or liberation.
The royal governor of Virginia first claimed in 1774 that Americans “forever imagine the Lands further off are still better than those upon which they are already settled”. He added that if they “attained Paradise, they would move on if they heard of a better place further west”. Historically the Dream originated in the mystique regarding frontier life, the seed of discontentment had already been planted, making it only a matter of time before a set of morals in light of the colonisation would be bred into the minds and hearts of all.
Consider what President Barack Obama said in 2009, “We do not consider ourselves a Christian, a Jewish or a Muslim nation, we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.” A worrying notion to be bound by anything particularly in the face of the tainted ideals America rests its morals upon.
I cannot be a hypocrite and deny my fixation with this narrative. In all its horrific glory, a part of us has grown to yearn to be part of the contagious insanity. My intention is not to expel hope, or even to undermine some of the values that reside within the US, such as the encouragement of strong family ties. However, America inevitably holds great influence over our culture in the heavy palm of her hand. The problem lies in differentiating what is real from what is chimerical. I urge us all to arise from this ongoing slumber we have been indoctrinated with and to finally put an end to the unobtainable nightmare. We must, ultimately, wake up from the dream.Image from: http://clotheshorse.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/jalil-peraza-american-flag-t-shirt-clotheshorse.jpg
Lessons for Today
The following lecture compares three contemporary social issues with the time of the Prophet ﷺ: Gender relations, racism and drinking. The below article delves into more detail with regards to gender relations in particular.
Many of us lament that we’re no longer like the Companions of the Prophet ﷺ; that their times were different, that their circumstances were different, and that we can never be like them. This concept is often invoked when we discuss gender relations with regards to Muslim youth and how ‘astray’ our youth have gone in comparison to that noble generation.
Yet, contrary to perhaps popular knowledge, the homeboys and the homegirls of the Prophet ﷺ also struggled with their desires. They too slipped and made mistakes. And through their situations, the Prophet ﷺ took the time to coach, train and teach them, helping them transform into the great giants whom we recognize today.
Thus, let us take a look at some of the ways the Prophet ﷺ dealt with the issue of gender interaction in his community so that we can learn lessons applicable today.
Ibn Abbas radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) shares with us, “A beautiful woman, from among the most beautiful of women, used to pray behind the Prophet ﷺ. Some of the people used to go to pray in the first row to ensure they would not be able to see her. Others would pray in the last row of the men, and they would look from underneath their armpits to see her. Because of this act, in regard to her, Allah revealed, “Verily We know the eager among you to be first, and verily We know the eager among you to be behind,” (Qur’an 15:24).1
From this narration, we learn that the young men who lived in the very city and attended the very masjid of the Prophet of God ﷺ slipped and checked a girl out. And yet what did the Prophet ﷺ do about it?
Did he create a wall between the men and women’s sections? Nope. Did he prohibit women from going to the mosque, lest they tempt the men who attend? Never. In fact, he ﷺ did the exact opposite and commanded that women not be stopped from going to the House of God.2
What he did do was allow men and women to continue to be a part of the same society, working together as a community, existing cohesively. At the same time, he ﷺ helped train his community to keep their desires in check.
The below are a few incidents in which we learn how he did so:
1- Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas (ra): “Al-Fadl bin Abbas rode behind God’s Messenger ﷺ as his companion rider on the back portion of his she-camel on the day of Nahr (slaughtering of sacrifice, 10th Dhul-Hijja) and Al-Fadl was a handsome man. The Prophet ﷺ stopped to give the people verdicts (regarding their matters). In the meantime, a beautiful woman from the tribe of Khatham came, asking the verdict of God’s Messenger. Al-Fadl started looking at her as her beauty attracted him. The Prophet ﷺ looked behind while Al-Fadl was looking at her; so the Prophet ﷺ held out his hand backwards and caught the chin of Al-Fadl and turned his face (to the other side) in order that he should not gaze at her….”3
Look at how the Prophet ﷺ trains Al-Fadl to be a responsible young man. He does not slam him for not keeping his desires in check. And even more importantly, he does not utter words that would make Al-Fadl believe that the source of the problem was the existence of the woman and that Al-Fadl had no responsibility in checking her out. On the contrary, he gently turns Al-Fadl’s face away, teaching him that he is the one who needs to be responsible for his actions.
And let’s look at the Prophet ﷺ teaches the rest of this ummah (community) how to interact with women.
The Prophet ﷺ does not curse the woman for being “a fitna (trial).” He does not accuse the woman of enticing Al-Fadl. He does not shun her. Instead, he facilitated for her to be able to ask a question without being checked out.
We also don’t notice her being reprimanded by the Prophet to cover her face while nearing the Prophet ﷺ or other men who are not related to her. We do not hear this narration stating that she was advised to speak behind a curtain in the future lest her beauty become a temptation for men who could not control themselves.
In fact, it was quite the opposite. The Prophet ﷺ caught Al-Fadl staring and so he gently pushed Al-Fadl’s gaze away from the woman. The Prophet ﷺ taught Al-Fadl to control his own self. He put the onus of responsibility on Al-Fadl in this incident instead of scolding the woman who caught his gaze.
Al-Fadl did not protest the Prophet’s action of turning his face; Al-Fadl did not respond with, “But dear Prophet, she is the one who is a fitna (temptation)!” or, “Prophet of God! Command her to cover herself and hide so that she never makes another man’s eyes look at her again!”
In our own communities, women are often blamed for the downfall of men. Women blame other women for dressing inappropriately, wearing too much makeup, or acting flirtatiously with men. Men blame women for the same things! The blame always ends up being on women. We end up holding the brunt of the baggage of the gender relationship.
But what about what the Prophet ﷺ taught us? Yes, we have certain dress codes and guidelines of interactions to which men and women should both adhere, but it does not stop there. This woman was beautiful (may Allah be pleased with her) and yet the Prophet ﷺ didn’t condemn her beauty or stop her from speaking with him ﷺ and asking her question. So what about our communities today?! Let us move beyond placing the blame on women. Let us actually follow the Prophetic way in which each individual takes responsibility for his or her own actions without unnecessarily blaming others for simply existing.
2- In another example, another male companion went further than simply checking out a woman. He actually kissed her! The following narration gives us insight as to how God addressed his sorrowful admittance, seeking forgiveness and guidance from the Prophet ﷺ, “A man kissed a woman. So he came to the Messenger of God and informed him about it. Then God revealed this verse, ‘And perform the prayers, between the two ends of the day and in some hours of the night. Verily, the good deeds efface the evil deeds,’ (11:114). The man asked the Messenger of God ﷺ if the revelation of this verse applied only to his situation. The Messenger of God responded, ‘It applies to all my ummah.’”4
What can we take from this incident? This incident teaches us that the way that God, our Creator, our Loving Sustainer, taught us to deal with slipping into sin is through connecting back with Him immediately. He sent a verse to teach us all that if any one of us messes up, we should go back to Him and maintain our daily prayers. The daily prayers “prohibit immorality and wrongdoing,” 5 and having that connection will also be a means of our continual forgiveness.6
Now, this is not to suggest that those who are involved in inappropriate relationships should simply pray immediately after getting physical and then return to that action. This companion clearly came to the Prophet with regret and with resolve, seeking a solution when admitting his fault to the Prophet ﷺ . However, what we can take is that even the greatest of the great slip and succumb to natural human desire. But when we make the same mistake that one of them did, we should do what they did to seek change: We should regret it, immediately take to seeking God’s forgiveness, and make the resolve not to slip into it again. And if we do slip? Start the cycle of asking for forgiveness over.
3- But what about someone who wants to go all the way? How did the Prophet ﷺ help prevent a man who seriously wanted to do it? Once a young man came to the Prophet ﷺ requesting from the Prophet to grant this man permission to have sex outside of marriage. The people were shocked and were trying to silence his question. The Prophet ﷺ asked him a series of questions. “Would you like it for your mom?” He ﷺ continued to ask if this man would like it for his daughter, sister or other female relatives. The man continually responded in the negative, intellectually convinced by the logical argument of the Prophet ﷺ. Finally, the Prophet placed his blessed hand on the man and prayed to God, “Dear God! May you forgive his sins, purify his heart and make him chaste.” And it is narrated that this man never got involved in what he was requesting after this experience with the Prophet.7
This man was intellectually and spiritually blessed by the logic of, connection to, and prayer from the Prophet ﷺ. We need to learn to be like the Prophet ﷺ when it comes to dealing with issues of sex. I know of young Muslim women who are afraid of getting married simply because their parents have made sex such a taboo topic that they have an intense fear of having to deal with sexual intimacy in marriage. I have also known of young men and women who really wanted to get married, whose parents refused to let them marry really awesome people who came to ask for their hand simply because of their race, and who eventually could no longer handle it and had sex outside of marriage.
As parents, we need to consider the approach of the Prophet ﷺ when it comes to discussing sex and sexual desires. The Prophet ﷺ openly addressed this man’s concerns about sex in a public setting. He didn’t make this topic an untouchable taboo. How much more of a right do your own children have for you to have open conversations with them in the privacy of your own home? However, don’t make it all awkward for your kids. Develop an open relationship with them before they’re old enough to have these conversations so that you don’t come off really weird and make them uncomfortable. If open communication is a natural dynamic in your family, such conversations will also occur organically, God willing.
Furthermore, as community leaders, we need to have open dialog with our members about these issues. If the family structure of our congregants doesn’t provide the security and openness needed to understand sex and related issues, we should have strong relationships with our communities so that we can help be a resource and means of guidance.
3. Additionally, during the time of the Prophet ﷺ, just like today, even his married companions had sex outside of marriage. Committing adultery is a serious issue, especially as it involves emotionally hurting one’s family. But in the incidents described, the Prophet was not quick to punish. He turned a woman away who came to him—asking for him to punish her so that she would be purified—continuously and consistently. He gave her so many opportunities to never come back to him and never receive any type of physical consequence, to simply live in repentance. But she, like others, came back over and over again until he finally established the consequence.8
The point in mentioning this is simply that this existed during the time of the Prophet ﷺ with the world’s greatest generation. They slipped just as we do, yet they were man or woman enough to beg God for forgiveness and recognize they had made a mistake. And even with some members in his community making a mistake and going all the way outside of marriage, the Prophet ﷺ did not ban men and women from working together and interacting with one another. Instead, he taught the men and women in his community to work together, professionally and respectfully, but with the warmth of true brotherhood and sisterhood.
Most of the examples I have chosen with regards to gender-relation scenarios explicitly mentioned men as those who acted upon or wanted to act upon their desires, but the same applies to women! Ladies are often put under the bus when it comes to talking about women’s sexual needs and desires, minimizing the reality that many women do in fact have strong sexual urges and fight themselves not to act upon them. Men and women alike can take from the lessons we’ve discussed from the lives of those living in the society of the Prophet ﷺ and actualize the concepts of self-responsibility, continual connection with God and intellectual and spiritual strength to overcome desires or repent and turn to Him continuously when falling.
Many in our communities today suffer from a lack of understanding gender relations. Women are sometimes not even allowed into the masjid because of the fear that their presence could somehow cause craziness. Women are often blamed as the ultimate cause of men being led astray in regards to gender issues. In my personal experience, men are rarely reminded that they must uphold their end of the gender relations’ bargain as well, other than by ignoring women’s existence or ensuring that women are behind the mosque’ wall and far from being a fitna for men’s lives. And in my perspective, this lack of understanding of the Prophetic method in training his community—which is quite different from completely segregating his community—is also one of the reasons many in the West are dealing with a real marriage crisis. (These are all huge issues stuffed into one paragraph; I feel their mention is essential when discussing gender relations, but they will individually be addressed in future articles, God willing).
A few general suggestions on how to deal with gender issues in our communities:9
- For Oneself: Understand that we are individually responsible for ourselves, our dress and our actions. Both men and women have specific interaction and dress guidelines and each should try their best to adhere to those instructions. However, a person’s struggle with not maintaining those guidelines (either actions or dress) is NEVER a reason for someone else to put the blame on them. If you are attracted to someone, regardless of how they are dressed or undressed, it is your individual responsibility, as a male or female, to respectfully avert your gaze from checking that person out without blaming them for being distracting. Your actions are always on you; if you slip, keep the blame to yourself.
- For Men: Use your male privilege to create spaces which accommodate women to flourish into dynamic, knowledge-seeking, dawah-giving, masjid-attending Muslim women. Women’s existence is not the problem. If you can’t deal with women respectfully and professionally, don’t blame them for existing. Challenge yourself to follow the Prophetic method of training: Hold yourself fully accountable for your own actions, just as the companion who stared, or who kissed, or who wanted to go all the way or who actually did, and understand that women are your “partners”10 as you are theirs.
- For Women: Societies in general put the blame on us. Because of this, we have to bear the burden of responsibility, as women, to demand spaces be created for us to seek and spread knowledge and become involved in community growth. Never allow for someone’s mental or verbal harassing of you for existing to be the reason you stop attending the masjid or seeking knowledge. We NEED women who are willing to be strong enough to deal with the drama we constantly have to face to help create space for women so that, God willing, and with the support of our male partners, we will begin to see a shift of return to the Prophetic society of respectful empowerment.
- For Young People: We know most of your hormones are raging and that you often do not have a place to deal with the realities of your mistakes and your desires. Finding a balance, especially without the ability to speak openly with your parents about it is difficult. Find mentors in your community who you can speak to and seek support from. And if you’ve slipped a bunch of times, know that Allah is always ready for you to come back and be near Him!
- For Parents and Community Leaders: We need you to nurture our young people. Open conversations and tangible examples of successful gender interactions and respecting, honoring and empowering women- and guiding men to know how to empower themselves by both taking personal responsibility and supporting the empowerment of women- are needed for the successful transition of your generation’s leadership to theirs.
- For Everyone: We all make mistakes—even the Companions did! Take the time to turn every mistake into an opportunity to return back to our Creator! He is always ready for us.
The companions, were not born as gender-relation ballers. They converted to Islam with baggage and carried it into their Muslim lives.
Through their efforts, they struggled to actualize a crown Qur’anic axiom describing gender interactions, and it is the very one we must continue to work towards despite our confusion, our cultural (mis)understandings and our struggles:
“The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey God and His Messenger. Those – God will have mercy upon them. Indeed, God is Exalted in Might and Wise.”11
- ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, Tayalisi, Baihaqi, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, and Nasai. Authenticated by Albaani (#3472 in his Silsilat al-ahadith al-sahih).
- Narrations can be found in Sahih Muslim, amongst other places.
- Qur’an 29:45
- “The five daily prayers and Jumu’ah to Jumu’ah is an expiation of the sins committed between those times so long as one is not guilty of major sins.” [Bukhari]
- Al Hakim
- Narrations of this can be found in Sahih Muslim.
- As inspired by my beloved friend, Sana Iqbal.
- From the Prophet’s last sermon: “Do treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers.” [Bukhari]
- Qur’an 9:71
Her life was falling apart before her very eyes. She spoke to me about the catastrophes that she was going through—slammed with one trial after another. “Nothing is going right,” she had told me that night, “Nothing.” And I had to admit her life was rough. Things looked like they kept going from bad to worse in her life. There was no light at the end of her tunnel, not even a flashlight in her tunnel for her to carry, at least at first glance. But the truth is, there was plenty of light in her life, even it was not apparent to her nor to me at first glance. And this is the truth for all of us going through hardships. We just need to know where to look.
Often times in our lives we go through hardships and we begin to believe that everything is going wrong in every portion of our lives, but the truth is, that is the farthest thing from the truth. God has gifted us with many different blessings that can only be seen if we turn a grateful eye to these things and acknowledge their truths. Just like when one is in love, they only see the good, when we are in hardship we tend to only see the bad, and that only furthers our feelings of helplessness and despair.
Take, for example, the simple blessings of life that we experience every day, like the blessing of hot water. People in many places around the world don’t have the convenience of turning on their faucets and having warm water come out on the coldest of days. Don’t think it’s much? Try waiting for a cold day, turn off your heater and take a cold shower. Now imagine having to do this day in and day out without a choice? Imagine having to make wudu’ (ablution) every morning at fajr (morning prayer) in freezing cold water. Imagine how much irritation that may bring. And then thank Him for the blessing He gave us that we often take advantage of without thinking twice.
Another example is that of our kitchen stove, that turns on at the click of a button. Imagine not having that stove of yours in your kitchen. Imagine not being able to cook or warm your food with ease. Imagine having to, on a daily basis, walk outside and build a fire, perhaps gathering wood first, in order to feed yourself and your family. It would be tough, wouldn’t it? But how many times have we stopped and thanked God for our stove-tops and turn-knob buttons?
Lastly, but definitely not least, take a moment and think about your nose (YES your nose!). Have you ever stopped to think about what life would feel like if God had not gifted you and blessed you with a nose? Have you thought about how difficult it would be to enjoy food? We would not be able to enjoy the smell of baking cookies in the oven, or the smell of sweet perfume. We would not be able to smell the flowers as we walked past, or smell a yucky smell that warns us of something in our vicinity. But have we ever stopped to thank God for what He has given us regardless of our ingratitude.
These are just a few examples of the lights that God has gifted us that we graze over on a daily basis, though we never forget to dwell on (what seem like) misfortunes. We think that everything is going wrong, but really what is going wrong is our lack of perception of all of those things that are going right. So next time you feel stuck in a dark hole with no light in sight, don’t simply just wait for the light at the end of the tunnel; turn on your own flashlight by pinpointing the daily gifts that our Lord has gifted us and actually being happy that you have them and actually take the time to thank Him. He has already filled our lives with His Love and His Light, if only we take the time to open our eyes and realize it.
Syrian Chronicles: Part I | Part II
By Mariam Khatib
Every Syrian has a personal narrative that is difficult to articulate. It is challenging due to the psychological trauma, physical abuse, and inability to make sense of the gruesome reality. My account is not the most devastating chain of events to occur, but it is painful to consider that life may have taken a different course had the Syrian government toppled peacefully.
I am an American Syrian who lives in Georgia, but I have strong ties to Aleppo. I was born and bred in the timeworn lands of a city with a heritage from the 3rd millennium BC. The Citadel, one of the oldest world castles, was the reference point for my parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and the majority of my family. Today, it is tarnished by the bullets and bombs of the regime, reflecting the reality of its citizens. Syria is thousands of miles away, but I receive daily updates via Facebook and I am aware of their happenings.
Born in 1936, my mother Haleemah could not tolerate the chaos, constant artillery fire, and the unexpected turn of events. After regime soldiers detained her two grandsons multiple times for partaking in peaceful protests, Mama suffered a stroke and then fell into a coma. The coma was followed by a lack of performance; she became disabled and required assistance in her everyday functioning.
As soon as I received a call regarding my mother’s stroke, I booked a flight to Jordan. I knew that this trip was daring, but all I wanted was to see my mom, embrace her and say a few words before she departed. I decided to cross into Syria via bus to avoid hurdles in Damascus for there was no time to waste. My two daughters and son accompanied me, because this might be their last encounter with their grandmother. The unanticipated trip was risky, but with the escalating situation, life the very next day was not guaranteed. Our route of typically five hours took many detours to avoid the clashes and war torn cities. After a long, strenuous trip we finally reached Aleppo, but the true challenge was ahead of us.
Hospital trips to Abdullah Aljubary, an area in Aleppo, became journeys with checkpoints manned by regime forces that persistently stopped us to inquire about our whereabouts. We played the beseeching game and promised them that we simply wanted to visit my mother who was ill with a low chance of survival. One of the visits kept us on our toes; I called my son and told him to meet me at the entrance of the hospital so we can grab him. He hustled towards me, which caught the attention of a regime solider who swiftly picked him up.
I was ordered to leave my 21-year-old son in the hands of the merciless soldiers for three long hours. He never shared the details of his captivity until we returned to the United States. He was held at gunpoint to his head and became a worthy prey especially when they found out he was an American citizen. It was a mocking dialogue between two soldiers who were debating his future. After my nephew implored them for hours to let him go, they strip searched him, took all of his money, and let him go.
Bassem’s experience was grim but nowhere near what his cousins endured in jail cells. I am indebted to Allah for Bassem’s freedom which could have been my last waking moment with him! The very next day, my brother insisted that we depart the blessed land. We had no choice; we surpassed yesterday’s detainment with the mercy of Allah, but could not guarantee what was ahead. Regime soldiers began searching the neighborhood door to door for ID’s, and my American citizenship was not going to make my case stress free. I left with a heavy heart wanting to stay alongside my mother whose days were numbered.
Two weeks later the home of my childhood was demolished in Bab Al Hadid by the regime shelling. My family survived the attack because they were in the basement taking cover from the shelling. This began the displacement process for many family members who took refuge in the house. My mother was taken to another residence temporarily while her paperwork procedures were completed. She no longer could live in Syria as her diabetes medicine was scarce, and she needed physical therapy to heal from the stroke.
After 76 years, my mother was forced to leave the only country she ever knew. She was taken to Yemen after waiting in the Damascus airport for three days, just to get on a flight. After only a month there, she passed away from another stroke on the first day of Eid Al Adha in 2012. Haleemah couldn’t handle the separation from all that she loved and was accustomed to. She couldn’t bear to leave her birthplace, and protested by completely leaving this world of injustice and oppression. I could not help but think of her every time I stumbled upon the following verse:
Qur’an 22:40 “[They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right – only because they say, “Our Lord is Allah.” And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might.”
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, there’s been a lot of talk about assimilation, in particular about the suspected perpetrators’ religiosity and prayer habits and in general about foreign immigration. I’d thus like to take a moment to clear something up.
Muslimness does not make you a terrorist.
I get it. It’s human nature to crave safety for oneself and one’s surroundings. That’s why we install alarm systems and pay for identity theft prevention and buy insurance – we want protection. To protect, we must predict by fitting people into our preexisting schemas: Burglars will usually burgle at night or when the house is empty, so we turn on our alarms before we go to sleep or leave for the grocery store. Identity thieves prowl on the internet, so we limit our online credit card use and sign up for email alerts in case of a breach. Disasters could strike out of the blue, but at least we can breathe a little easier if we know we’re covered.
But terrorism, by definition, is a psychological strategy. Instead of targeting your possessions, terrorism uses fear to target your peace of mind and ability to predict. Indeed, it is effective because the only true goal – terror – is also the inevitable emotional outcome.
You feel, you lose.
You can ask, “Why?” all you want, but the explanation doesn’t exist; indiscriminate violence is not a rational tactic, and terrorists rarely achieve their proclaimed political goals. If terrorism is beyond the reach of rationality, it follows that it can happen anywhere, at anytime, to anyone. To our precaution-seeking brains, that is unacceptable; it makes me uneasy just to type it. To cope and compensate, then, we grasp at straws, searching for the nearest possible explanation that will separate them from us and make predictability and protection possible –
It’s the Arabs, we say, and devise all sorts of litmus tests to smoke them out. A CNN reporter recently characterized one of the suspects arrested in Watertown (when everything was still hazy and no one really knew who anyone was) as being “Middle Eastern in complexion.”
Would you like some non sequitur with that burger? Don’t worry, it’s okay if you have no idea what qualifies as a Middle Eastern complexion – you can ask the group of Hispanic guys who beat up a Bengali gentleman in the Bronx because they thought he was Arab.
It’s the Muslims, we proclaim, and proceed to verbally accost hijab-clad female doctors out on a stroll with their kids and analyze the fact that the suspects in the Boston bombings “prayed five times a day.”
FYI, we all pray five times a day. Or at least we try, because there is no such thing as being “very” or “not very” Muslim – you’re either Muslim, or you’re not. You either commit to prayer and to peace, or you don’t; there is no in-between. The fact is that the so-called Moderate Muslims are actually The Muslims, and I hereby move to reclassify Extremist/Radical/Violent Muslims with Anders Breivik, McVeigh, and the other far more numerous non-Muslim murderers, ideological extremists, and terrorists as The Putrid Scum of the Earth.
Do I hear a second?
It’s them, then, whoever they are, and in order to stop terrorism, they must assimilate. Patriotic, blue-blooded Americans come in only one shape and size, and those who wish to be seen as such must ditch their hummus and weird prayer hats and conform. To what extent, you ask? Until that arbitrary and unclear point in time and space when they stop being “weird,” of course.
And that is where I draw the line.
Because see, my Muslimness does not make me a terrorist, and neither does my supposed difficulty assimilating. Unless you enter this world on Day 1 as a middle-aged Protestant Caucasian male or Ann Coulter, who decided to offer up a solution for the whole grievous situation by proclaiming that a woman “ought to be jailed for wearing the hijab,” you are guaranteed to have trouble assimilating at some point in your life. Ever been to high school? It’s a roiling cauldron of pubescent, flustered boys and girls of all shapes and colors who haven’t the foggiest idea how to assimilate. It’s even harder for people of religious or racial minorities and for immigrants – remember reading In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson in elementary school? And it’s not just immigrants to the US; ask anyone who’s immigrated abroad whether it’s easy to assimilate into British culture (I tried once, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it meant to be “queuing around”), or Asian culture (four words: Take. Your. Shoes. Off.) or Latin American culture (admittedly the food makes this easier).
Assimilation is no picnic. But even so, the Tsarnaev brothers were remarkably good at it – Tamerlan married an American convert named Katherine, and Dzhokhar was a regular at dorm parties. (I was born here and I’ve never even seen the inside of a dorm because I hold the suspicion that it’s a place of drunken revelry and Facebook poking come to life where propriety goes to die; so I refuse to go, for fear of having my drink spiked and inspiring a tragic episode of Law & Order.)
In fact, the two were assimilated to the point of actually neglecting their religion. Islam forbids premarital relationships and dating, but Tamerlan’s wife was his girlfriend first. Partner violence is condemned in Islam, but he was arrested for battery against a different girlfriend in 2009. Muslims don’t drink alcohol or use intoxicating drugs like marijuana – Tamerlan and Dzhokhar
did, respectively. In fact, Tamerlan was infamous for rudely interrupting mainstream imams at his mosque even after he gave up drinking on the grounds of becoming more religious. He was also a boxer; I’d like to see you try to convince any set of Muslim parents that boxing is an actual career – you will lose and exit the conversation defeated and wondering why you wasted your life becoming anything other than a doctor or engineer.
A lack of compassion and active disregard for the rights of others made the Tsarnaev brothers terrorists – not their Muslimness, because Muslimness does not make you a terrorist. Please stop saying that it does, because once upon a time, there was a man who grossly mischaracterized a group of people and in so doing, single-handedly precipitated what is perhaps the ugliest stain to date on the fabric of civilization – also known as the Holocaust. Accusation holds immense power, and blame misplaced is the gunpowder of crimes against humanity; heard of the ongoing mass genocide of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma?
I will not change my Muslimness. If you would have me prove myself patriotic by wearing shorts and drinking alcohol and dating guys and tweaking the color of my skin and frying bacon every Saturday morning – I’m sorry. I can’t do that, because I believe in something different. As my sister said quite aptly, that’s not assimilation – it’s “ethnic cleansing but without the whole violence thing.” But I’ll tell you what I will do, and not because I fear retaliation:
I will pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands. I will condemn with every fiber of my being the taking of innocent lives by anyone – whether they call themselves Muslims or followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster – as a crime against humanity and a personal offense against me as a human being. I will love my neighbor and treat others as I would like to be treated. I will make friends with people different from myself (kind of a no-brainer, because I’ve taken inventory, and my circle contains a disproportionate number of atheist and agnostic friends and people who tell me to calm down). I will even show you my birth certificate from a Southern US town in the middle of nowhere, my collection of all-American pinch pots and macaroni art from elementary school, and my fabulous apple pie recipe (the key is Granny Smith apples; I don’t believe in cooking secrets). I will pray next to you, with you, for you to the God I believe in – the God of Abraham, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, the Gracious and Merciful, the End and the Beginning of our existence Who created us with love in His image and will call us back to Him come Judgment Day. I will accept your peaceful beliefs, and learn about them when I’m not drowning in textbooks. I will use my talents and skills for good, and I will try to leave this world a better place than I found it. I will wholeheartedly embrace my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of pepper spray. I will bear witness against injustice, discrimination, and the culturally ubiquitous glass ceiling. I will, finally, refuse to lose hope in humanity’s capacity for love and solidarity. And I hope you’ll join me, because after all, there’s nothing more un-American than eating an apple pie alone.
One of Africa’s most natural and valuable resources is its cultural and linguistic diversity, exemplified in a small village in Senegal and explored in an upcoming documentary
Upon arriving after a gauntlet of planes, boats and bush taxis, Agnack felt not like a remote village, but rather the centre of the world. The real centre is not a heaving global metropolis like London, but tiny rural Agnack tucked away in the forest off the road 20km east of Ziguinchor, Casamance, Southern Senegal.
Yes, it was a particularly exciting time for Agnack. It was the first anniversary of the late leader’s death – a time for remembrance, sacrifice and celebration. What made Agnack feel so special to us though wasn’t the fact that buses and bush taxis over-laden with people and cows were arriving from Dakar, Guinea-Bissau, and across Casamance. It wasn’t the impromptu kitchen army churning out buckets of rice and meat, the dazed Dakar children quickly adapting to the fray of chasing dogs and playing baobab fruit football, nor the sheer number of cows and pigs given in sacrifice. Neither was it the frantic palm wine-infused dancing more intense and drawn out than that in any European night club, nor the eerie sound of a couple singing just before dawn in the sacred forest. What made Agnack feel so special was simply that there was so much that could be learnt from it.
Rather than instantiating the tired cliché of a bleak ‘problem continent’, Agnack is rich, vibrant and extraordinarily diverse, both culturally and linguistically. It is a place where not just rivers but peoples converge, and where it is considered unusual for a person to speak no fewer than six languages.
Diversity is not just a modern urban phenomenon, but something that has been well-established and effectively managed for centuries in many parts of rural Africa. The village of Agnack in Casamance is one striking example of this. Casamance, like much of Africa, is too often portrayed in a negative light as a region of poverty, conflict and despair, with flailing education systems and widespread illiteracy. While it does face many challenges, it is in reality a region of warm people, rich cultural heritage, and stunning scenery of meandering rivers and wetlands. It is a place we can learn a great deal from, especially in light of the growing contemporary debate in Europe and North America on how to manage multilingualism and multiculturalism. How do children manage to grow up not only with one ‘mother tongue’ for example, but three languages which they are able to slip in and out of with effortless mastery? How do women marrying into a community become fluent in the languages used there? How do long-term visitors negotiate their identities? These skills – challenges to ‘educated’ westerners – are unremarkable facts of daily life in African settings that we ironically tend to characterise as ‘underdeveloped’, despite the lessons we could learn from them.
In Kanraxël – The Confluence of Agnack, we seek to challenge such pre-existing stereotypes, weaving together the aforementioned theme of richness and diversity with the story of the people of Agnack as they prepare for and undertake this unforgettable celebration in remembrance of their late leader. Shot in a mainly observational documentary style, this ambitious film project provides a unique perspective on the region and the linguistic repertoires of its inhabitants. It provides a real example for everyday multilingual practice and captures this type of celebration on film for the first time.
The director of this project describes Kanraxël – The Confluence of Agnack as a community -focused documentary driven by advocacy, rather than commercial interests. The project is being funded in part through Kickstarter and under the AHRC Skills Development Scheme. The film is currently in post-production and is scheduled to premiere in June 2013. For updates or to learn more, see Chouette Films website or the film’s Facebook page.
Humanity has come a long way. Life was once simple: living on a farm with family in an agrarian economy or trading goods at a local market. Yet, today we live in a time where societal life has become increasingly complex, and this complexity has had a dramatic effect upon our social relationships and emotional needs.
Urbanization and industrialization has dissolved traditional social support networks, and due to this lack of social cohesion, the traditional responsibilities of the community towards its members (particularly our youth) have been placed in the hands of institutions.
All of this has resulted in several effects: one negative is that youth relate less to their family by turning less often to them for counsel and advice. On the contrary, because they still need someone to turn to, they may seek the counsel of friends, classmates, teachers, or co-workers.
However, while meaning well, classmates, teachers, and co-workers are not always best suited or qualified to provide appropriate advice.
A positive effect is that an increasing number of universities (as well as some boarding schools) have recognized that their students’ emotional and spiritual needs are not being met by the community; so they have created chaplaincy positions.
However, Muslim chaplains (also known as Muslim spiritual care providers) are still quite new to North America. And so far, few Islamic educational institutes are seeking to provide them with the necessary knowledge and skills that this newly established profession requires.
Muslim Youth Face Diverse Problems
Problems experienced by Muslim youth are diverse and related to multiple factors, perhaps unfelt by their parent’s generation (or at least to the same extent). Some such examples may be increased sexual promiscuity, substance abuse, pornography addiction, materialism, harsh criticisms of their faith, and a variety of peer pressures.
To address these issues, we must have leaders who understand the biological, psychological, and social developmental changes which influence how Muslim youth experience and perceive the world around them.
While imams and Islamic centers can and should play a crucial role in providing mental health services, if the imam is not seen as being culturally sensitive to the pressures of Muslim youth in North America, they may be less likely to seek his help when in need.
Furthermore, imams are often times unfamiliar with counseling methods and local mental health services; their education often focuses on the religious ruling of alcohol and not on how to counsel someone fighting peer pressure to use it or an addiction to it.
Most Islamic Institutions Do Not Provide Chaplaincy Training
Studies have shown that imams often lack any formal spiritual care training and are often foreign born/educated, making it difficult for them to relate to second-generation Muslims.
While many traditional Islamic institutions provide courses in Islamic law, theology, and spirituality, these do not alone address the essential issues needed to train those serving the Muslim youth (be they a Muslim chaplain, imam, or youth leader).
Too often the lack of spiritual care courses, or the greater emphasis upon law in courses made available in the community, has led those presently serving the youth to erringly quote fatwas or religious doctrine without addressing what may be at the root of an issue (e.g., a problem at home, a problem with their peers, or another issue which needs further care and attention).
To properly assist the youth, leaders must have at least some understanding of counseling and spiritual care. Although Islamic chaplaincy may sound new, portions of what it entails can be found discussed amongst Islam’s greatest theologians, jurists, sufis, and philosophers (for example: Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali). Without question, the life and example of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) is replete with examples of providing good counsel and spiritual care.
Yet amazingly, very few Islamic institutions can be found who are working to provide those who serve the youth with the necessary counseling skills needed to appropriately administer to their needs.
Our communities desperately need more educational institutions that can provide classes on Islamic spiritual care and counseling practices for imams, youth leaders, and present and future Muslim chaplains and spiritual care providers.
Many contemporary institutions already possess several of the key ingredients for such courses and programs: sacred law, theology, and spirituality. In addition to this, Islamic educational institutions should seriously consider hiring Muslims trained in spiritual care and counseling to offer classes and services in their community.
Furthermore, programs should be organized and offered by institutions that focus on the basics of providing Islamic spiritual care education and services for those who excel and desire more education and then be encouraged to receive credentialing by completing further training with a professional association. This would result in a greater number of qualified members within our communities who can cater to the needs of not only our youth, but any seeking the help of a Muslim chaplain and counselor.
Caring for Muslim youth should be one of our community’s top priorities. Yet, few Islamic educational institutions are providing the education and training needed by those serving the youth. For this reason, I am encouraging Islamic institutions to offer counseling services and courses in Islamic spiritual care by trained professionals. If we do not serve those serving the youth, what then can we truly expect from the future of our community?
Depending on the language used, reactions to recent tensions in the British community may have drastic consequences
York Mosque has taken a leading role in showing how to quench potential violence. In a week that has seen many attacks to mosques since the brutal Woolwich murder, the York community opened the doors and welcomed around 100 people for tea and a game of football. Having heard that the EDL were planning a demonstration, they had made plans to react proactively. “If you want to get to know people you talk to them”, said Abid Salik, the Imam of the mosque. “That’s the beauty of community.”
Following York mosque’s example a Facebook group was set up. The Tea Defence League has had over 1000 likes in 24 hours. “There isn’t much you can’t sort out over a nice cuppa”, say the makers of the group. “Organise your own Tea Party and invite people for a chat, like the folks at the York Mosque did with the EDL.”
It is perhaps not surprising that the mosque’s proactive approach has made it to the headlines. Much like the image of EDL chief Tommy Robinson and Muslim political commentator Mohammed Ansar sharing a hug, the “Muslims inviting the EDL to tea” invokes a Huntington theory-like symbol of two clashing ‘civilisations’ sharing an odd moment of truce. No doubt that many mosques have taken to closing their doors, guarding their entrances and acting with general paranoia—a defensive reaction against the backlash of angry protestors who were rightly shocked over the Woolwich attack, but who misguidedly pinned the blame on Islam. Although it is unfair that mosques have become gathering places for EDL protests, barricading the doors is simply a preventative measure which does not provide any long-term solutions. In light of the discourse about Islamophobia and the tense relationship between Muslims and wider British society, Britain is now at a tipping point and needs some solutions.
In 1997, the Runnymede Trust established a commission on British Muslims to identify and analyse the growing hostility towards Muslims in British society; what incidents are taking place, and why have tensions flared up in the last decade? This report, titled Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, reveals that “Islamophobic discourse, sometimes blatant but frequently coded and subtle”, is part of “everyday life in modern Britain”. It defines Islamophobia as “unfounded hostility towards Islam, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims”.
Many people attribute the rise of Islamophobia in British society to the increased visibility of Muslims in public life, especially since the publication of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses in 1988. This event, dubbed The Rushdie Affair, is so important in understanding the development of Muslim identity in Britain and many academic books have been written analysing its repercussions and resonance on current debates about Islam. At the time, the image of book-burning British Muslims became a symbol in the West for Muslim anger. It raised several questions about the relationship of Muslims and the West and questioned the limits of tolerance and freedom of speech. Yet Muslims are demographically a young community, many were not born when the incident happened, or were too young to remember it. For young Muslims, the repercussions of the Rushdie Affair is the beginning of a cumulative string of events (including 9/11 and 7/7) which have integrated the term ‘Islamophobia’ into our discourse.
Yet the term has several problems which cannot be overlooked. Perhaps the most obvious problem is the difficulty in finding a word that fairly and accurately describes the issues at hand. Like the terms ‘homophobia’ and ‘xenophobia’ the implication of the word ‘phobia’ is misleading, because it implies an irrational fear of something. Those accused of ‘Islamophobic’ behaviour often argue that their criticism of Islam does not stem from irrational fears but from genuine critique of the religion. Consequently the term has a stifling effect on debate.
Linked to this problem is the fact that it does not capture the scale or extent of the anti-Muslim sentiment it describes. A person who disagrees with a certain aspect of Islam, such as the strict dress code of women, could be painted with the same brush as a journalist who declares that all Muslims are terrorists. There is a clear difference, yet finding a term which encompasses the scope of anti-Muslim sentiment in British society is practically impossible. Moreover, when the term ‘Islamophobia’ is employed too frequently by Muslims, there is a risk that it starts to perpetuate a victim mentality, encouraging a defensive stance rather than proactive engagement with society.
But despite problems with its definition, the term has gained legitimacy and emotional power and is here to stay. Research has shown that its principal manifestations are hostility and negativity in the media and blogosphere, as well as in hate crimes and violence in the street.
In response to such negativity, Muslims should not succumb to playing the victim or barricading their doors. I’m not saying that putting on a kettle and inviting protestors to tea will solve all our problems. But York mosque and the Tea Defence League’s Facebook group—however light-hearted its message may appear on the surface— reaffirms an important but oft-forgotten saying: “Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.”
Image from: http://01varvara.wordpress.com/2008/04/22/aleksei-naumov-drinking-tea-1896/
But there are others – the seemingly “average Joes” so-to-speak. Some whose names only Allah (swt) knows, whose legacy remains unappreciated. Quantity-wise, they may not have contributed to the level of the well-known companions. Yet the fact that Allah (swt) has preserved their stories for us show the quality of their work. The common attribute of the three examples in this article is that of relevancy. They each saw a need in the community and did what was within their capacity to help, sometimes without even being asked.
In today’s culture, we are often pushed into what is known as the “founder mentality”. The idea that you have to be the first, the CEO of an empire, invent the latest technology, write a bestselling book. Society expects a tangible legacy from us. Yet in rushing to be the first, we often compromise on quality. Programs, websites, and institutes are started with enthusiasm and soon they are no longer doing any work. The emphasis on simply building does not give equal importance to sustaining yourself and your work. The focus becomes success, as defined by society, and not on doing significant, relevant, and quality work.
Instead of focusing on becoming a “founder”, look to the example of these seemingly “average Joes”. They had something to offer and Allah rewarded them for their sincerity and for their quality. Oftentimes we hear a story of an unknown Muslim who did something extraordinary that we now remember them for – perhaps it was the man who secretly cleaned the masjid at night which was only realized after he passed away. Or perhaps a brother or sister provided a safe space when the community really needed it. We know these stories and they make us feel good, but do they inspire us to produce quality work?
An important concept here is Tawfiq. Tawfiq is oftentimes translated as “success” but it means much more. One of the Prophets, Shuaib `alayhi salaam (peace be upon him), says:
ۚ وَمَا تَوْفِيقِي إِلَّا بِاللَّهِ ۚ عَلَيْهِ تَوَكَّلْتُ وَإِلَيْهِ أُنِيبُ
“And my success is not but through Allah . Upon him I have relied, and to Him I return.” (Qur’an 11:88)
Tawfiq is the coming together of all means that enable a person to achieve some good. Sometimes we have the opportunity to do good, but we do not have the ability. Other times we have the ability to perform good, but don’t have the opportunity. Tawfiq is the ability AND the opportunity to do something, and that is when all the means come together so one can do good, and this is only from Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He).
Tawfiq teaches us that we should not seek validation for our deeds through people. Not only is this insincerity, but we may end up being gravely disappointed. Perhaps a person does a great deed for the sake of praise, but what happens when that sought-out praise does not come? Do they discontinue the good work? Do they become despondent? Or bitter? Does it mean you are unsuccessful if no one praises you or recognizes your actions? These are important questions we should ask ourselves when we make our intentions.
A Safe Space
Al-Arqam ibn Abi al-Arqam radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) was a young man who accepted Islam early on in Makkah. He was not one of the wealthiest or most popular of his tribe but he provided a seemingly simple service during a time of great need. The early Muslims needed a safe place to pray, meet, and hear the revelation. They faced widespread persecution and mockery, so they could not meet in a public area. Al-Arqam (ra) had something to offer: his home. His home had a discreet entrance which allowed Muslims to come and go without looking suspicious or giving away their new meeting spot. His home became known as the first university in Islam because it became the center of knowledge. Al-Arqam, who most likely is not the first sahaba we think of when we think of legacy, taught us to work within our means. He (ra) may not have had money or prestige, but he used what he had available to him to spread the message and help those around him.
What do you have at your disposal which you can use to be like Al-Arqam?
The custodian of the masjid of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) was an elderly woman. She was not assigned this position by anyone, rather she assumed it on her own. The narrations which share her story sometimes mention that they did not know who she was. One narration tells us that her name may have been Umm Muhjan. The main thing they knew about her was that she ensured that the masjid of Rasul Allah ﷺ was clean and tidy.
She was so diligent in her cleanliness that none other than the Prophet ﷺ noticed her absence after a week or so. When the Prophet ﷺ asked those around him what had happened to her, they informed him that she passed away a few days prior and she was already buried. The Prophet ﷺ became visibly upset – an important detail in the story because the Companions rarely saw him upset. He ﷺ asked why no one had called him so that he could visit her and pray the funeral prayer for her. They informed him that he was sleeping and they did not want to wake him. He asked those who knew to take him to her grave where he then prayed for her.
This woman did what she could do and she did it well. She was not asked to clean the masjid, but she took it up as a small, consistent job she could do for the community. Only Allah knows, but perhaps at the time she did not think much of her actions. Now we have narrations upon narrations which highlight her story as a time when the Prophet ﷺ exclusively prayed at someone’s grave after they had passed.
A greater lesson is that being a custodian is underappreciated. Cleaning up after others is not only tiring but it is downright messy. We know that Islam teaches us to be clean – physically, spiritually, and in our surroundings. Therefore those who engage in this act of ensuring and maintaining cleanliness should be respected. We should not think of this job as menial or turn up our noses at it. It is because we view custodial services as lowly that we do not respect the servicemen and women who maintain a high standard of cleanliness at nearly every public building we enter. But if a building was not clean, we would notice that immediately and maybe even file a complaint. Even the Companion (ra) did not think much of her job at the time. The Prophet ﷺ taught us a valuable lesson in not only noticing her absence but praying for her because of her quality and standard of working. He ﷺ taught the Companions, and us as a result, to appreciate people for whatever they do, even if it seems small or meaningless to us. We do not know how great it is in the eyes of God.
What small action can you do that is often overlooked as a good deed?
Even in the Qur’an, Allah (swt) has preserved the stories of these seemingly “average Joes”. One man’s story in particular is highlighted in Surah Yasin.
Allah (swt) tells us of a nameless man who hears and responds to the call of three Prophets. These people, who are also nameless, were so staunchly against the message that Allah (swt) sent them two more Prophets as support for the first Prophet. Not only were these Prophets `alayhim sallatu wa sallam (may Allah send his peace and blessings on them) threatened, their people thought of them as a bad omen and curse. Then the story of our seemingly average Joe begins:
“And there came from the farthest end of the city a man, running. He said, ‘O my people, follow the messengers. Follow those who do not ask of you [any] payment, and they are [rightly] guided. And why should I not worship He who created me and to whom you will be returned? Should I take other than Him [false] deities [while], if the Most Merciful intends for me some adversity, their intercession will not avail me at all, nor can they save me? Indeed, I would then be in manifest error. Indeed, I have believed in your Lord, so listen to me.’” (Qur’an 36:20-27)
Why does Allah (swt) tell us this man came from the farthest end of the city but does not tell us his name? He was not from the city, and this is one of the reasons why his work is significant. It means that he was pretty much what we would call today a “country bumpkin”. If someone from the countryside came to a metropolitan city, calling people to worship God, what would the response be? This man probably had a country accent, wore simple clothing, and was considered lower class. The fact that he put himself out there for the sake of Allah (swt) even though he was a social outcast shows how amazing his story and dedication is. He defies the social norm of class, talking directly to the city folks who most likely looked down upon him. He had the guts to breakdown their arguments in a respectful way and tell them: listen to what I’m saying! For his sincerity and work: “It was said, “Enter Paradise.”’ (36:28) This simple, determined man intended to do one small action—to help the Prophets by calling the community to God—and Allah (swt) immortalized his story so generation after generation can benefit from his strength and courage.
Is there someone in your community who is in need of support that you can help in some capacity?
Perhaps it is natural that we are attracted to the larger, more tangible legacies. We may feel that these grand gestures mean that they are worth more or mean more. However, we find grand acts are not that emphasized in the Qur’an and Prophetic tradition. The Prophet ﷺ tells us, “The best of deeds are the ones done with consistency, even if they are small.” (Bukhari) The emphasis is on producing work that is consistent, significant and of quality. This teaches us that Islam calls for productivity in a way that promotes and cultivates personal and spiritual growth. Does this mean that Islam is against large, tangible legacies? Not at all. Islam says that you make a sincere intention towards a goal, you put in the necessary work, and Allah (swt) will take care of the rest.