The law-enforced 5p charge on plastic bags being introduced in England tomorrow may alter our wider consumer mindset
From tomorrow, 5th October, England will finally introduce a charge for plastic carrier bags.
All large supermarkets will legally be required to charge 5p per bag as part of the UK government’s environmental push to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags, and encourage the use of re-usable bags or “bags for life”. Similar laws have been in place in Wales since 2011, Northern Ireland since 2013 and Scotland since 2014.
The success has been dramatic. A Welsh government review found 71 per cent less plastic bags being used in Wales in 2015 compared to the same period in 2011, before the charge was introduced. In Scotland, large supermarkets like ASDA and Morrisons reported similar reductions of 80 to 90 per cent in the quantity of plastic bags used by consumers.
Aside from its objective success in changing our behaviour from a “throw-away” mindset to a more environmentally conscious one, the initiative raises interesting issues about how to influence human behaviour.
The Zero Price Effect
Why does such a small charge of 5p have such a big impact on our behaviour? If the average shopper uses four plastic bags in their weekly grocery shop, they only spend an extra 20p per week. Yet this amount is big enough to cause us to shift from our life-long habit of using previously free, single-use plastic bags, to remembering to bring a reusable bag each time we visit the supermarket.
The answer may lie in the effect a free product has on our minds. Marketers have long exploited the powerful effect that the word “FREE” has on us, for example, by offering us “buy one get one FREE” deals to encourage us to buy more. If a retailer wants to increase the sales of an add-on product worth £4 by discounting it to £2, a pricing strategy of £10 for the initial item plus £2 for the add-on is not advised. Instead, a £12 item “plus FREE add-on” will be significantly more effective in getting sales. The word “FREE” implies our purchase has no negative side, only an upside. It influences us on an emotional level. We are receiving something in return for nothing. In behavioural economics, this is known as the Zero Price Effect.
The case of plastic bags is the Zero Price Effect in reverse. An item that was previously free is now only available for a charge. We can’t bear the thought of paying 5p for something we used to get for free, so we are prepared to change our behaviour. However, this only works when a price of “zero” is involved. If tomorrow the price of our regular pint of milk is increased from 45p to 50p, we may grumble at the minor extra cost, but we are unlikely to switch en masse to alternative brands, or stop drinking milk altogether. Thus, the gap between 5p and 0p is psychologically far greater than the gap between 50p and 45p, and we are therefore significantly more motivated to change our behaviour when FREE is involved.
Questioning forces us to think
A second mechanism contributing to the success of the 5p plastic bag charge is the new question we are asked at the checkout every time we do our grocery shopping: “how many bags would you like to use?” Previously, we never had to think twice about how many plastic bags to use – after all, they were free. The environmentally conscious among us may have voluntarily considered using fewer bags, but the vast majority of us would use as much as we like. Now we are faced with a choice.
A field study by an Argentinian psychologist attempts to quantify this effect and suggests that, as well as the economic incentive of wanting to avoid the tax-like plastic bag charge, our behavioural change is also influenced by the mere fact that we have to consider the options of using two, three or four-plus bags at the checkout.
“After the introduction of the plastic bag charge, customers had to explicitly approve or request to obtain a bag and pay for it,” reports the study. In other words, we had to think before acting. The thought of changing our behaviour would not have crossed our minds before we were asked the question.
Visible doesn’t always mean significant
By introducing this charge, the UK government intends to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill sites. It is staggering that in England alone, it is estimated that 7.6 billion single-use plastic bags were used in 2014. This is equivalent to an average of 140 bags per person, per year.
However, reducing our plastic bag usage doesn’t necessarily mean we are reducing the overall waste we generate. In fact, it is not even making a dent. England produces approximately 22 million tonnes of household waste each year. The government expects that the new 5p charge will prevent approximately 61,000 tonnes of plastic bags being disposed of annually. That is under 0.3 per cent of the total.
Surely there are bigger streams of household waste we should be tackling? Most definitely, yes. However, human behaviour is not all about what is factually significant. The visibility of plastic bags in day-to-day life, from grocery stores to our homes to litter on the street, means there is immense psychological value in tackling them. Encouraging us to use plastic bags more wisely may positively influence our behaviour towards the use of other finite resources, and shift our mentality away from a throw-away culture.Image from: http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/scots-use-130m-fewer-plastic-bags-after-5p-charge-1-3839752
With too many films and not enough time, here’s a film a day to keep the blues away
Twelve days and 240 films: the BFI London Film Festival is a pretty daunting yet exciting beast for film-lovers to tackle. It’s a crowded festival and may be a bit hard to navigate due to the sheer amount of choices. We’ve mapped out a one film-a-day schedule for you, mostly staying away from the splashy premieres of Oscar-bait films that will play in the big multiplexes. As of writing, tickets are available for all of the films noted.
7 October – Mountains May Depart
Chinese director Jia Zhangke makes some of the world’s most socially and politically searing films. He places a mirror up to life in China, as well as portraying the hypocrisies of its bureaucracy which contextualise that life. His last film, A Touch of Sin was a masterpiece – suspenseful, evocative and bitter in its short stories of sin (both justified and not). Mountains May Depart is said to be similarly structured and skips narratively to a not-so-distant future.
Jia Zhangke will also be in conversation with Walter Salles at BFI Southbank at 9pm.
8 October – James White
This film is a debut feature from Josh Mond, who previously served as a producer in the American film making collective that includes Antonio Campos (Simon Killer). We saw this vérité-style portrait of a tortured 20-something New Yorker, who deals with his dying mother among other things, at the Locarno Film Festival. It is certainly worth checking out for an uncomfortable, well-acted experience.
9 October – Tangerine
Yep, it’s finally here: a critically acclaimed film shot on an iPhone! (Circa the bygone time of the iPhone 5). This Sundance hit follows a night in the life of two transgender girls in Hollywood. The film is for those with a curiosity to see how everyday technology is used to create a narrative, and a resonant piece of feature length cinema.
10 October – Son of Saul
From Hungary, László Nemes’ debut film was a critical darling and perhaps the film that created the most buzz at Cannes, winning second place in the Grand Prix. A holocaust story said to be told with urgent life-likeness, this is sure to be one of the most talked about films this year.
11 October – Live From New York!
A documentary about the history of Saturday Night Live!, the iconic US television sketch comedy show that recently celebrated its 40th season. Pretty much every famous American comedian who has become a cinema or television star started on SNL, and no other television show has captured so well the bizarre zeitgeist of the US political and cultural scene over the years. Should be a fun watch.
12 October – Chronic
Mexican director Michael Franco’s tense and uncomfortable After Lucia was one of the best films of 2012, and here he returns as a Cannes prize winner (for Best Screenplay) about a hospice care giver’s (Tim Roth) strange dynamic with his dying patients. Franco’s previous films relish human awkwardness, and this promises to be no exception.
13 October – Nasty Baby
A film from talented Chilean director Sebastian Silva set in multi-cultural Brooklyn. A gay couple, played by Silva himself and the lead singer of the band TV on the Radio, Babatunde Adebimpe, are having a baby with their straight best girlfriend (Kristen Wiig). Silva’s films, notably 2009’s The Maid, are compelling observations on the complexities of class and culture, and it will be interesting to see what he does in an American setting.
14 October – The Club
The latest film from director Pablo Larrain (Post Mortem and No) is an allegorical tale about violence and justice in contemporary Chile. Larrain is one of the most exciting new-ish talents in world cinema, and this film won a major prize at the Berlin Film Festival.
15 October – Screen Talk with Todd Haynes
Todd Haynes’ 1950s-set lesbian love story Carol is playing at the festival, and this is a chance to listen to the eclectic and often brilliant filmmaker talk about his work. Haynes’ filmography includes Safe, I’m Not There and Far From Heaven.
16 October – Much Loved
From acclaimed Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch, comes his latest feature about the life of prostitutes in Morocco. You never know what you will get with Ayouch, as the two previous features this critic has seen couldn’t be more different – the intensely dramatic Horse of God and the playful Whatever Lola Wants. They’re both strong films, however, and there’s no reason to think that Much Loved, which stirred up controversy in Morocco, will be any different.
17 October – Deephan
From major French director Jaques Audiard (A Prophet and Rust and Bone), this topical immigrant thriller about Sri Lankans trying to settle in the suburbs of Paris has won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Interestingly, a lot of critics said it didn’t deserve the top prize. Yet Audiard is always to be taken seriously, so it will be interesting to see it for ourselves.
18 October – Remember
Veteran Canadian director Atom Egoyan has made a series of really bad films over the last few years (Captives, Devi’s Knot and Chloe). Yet, I still find myself rooting for him due to the great films he has made before, such as The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica. In this film, an elderly Holocaust survivor (Christopher Plummer) attempts to make good on a promise to hunt down one of his Nazi tormentors. Here’s hoping Egoyan has got his mojo back!Image from: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/western-australia-stands-in-for-melbourne-in-chinese-film-mountains-may-depart-20150729-gimtoj.html
A summery summary of the Donald Trump election campaign and where the billionaire presidential candidate stands in US politics
“I will be so good at [insert anything], it will make your head spin.”
- Donald Trump [on anything]
As we dig out fleece blankets and obnoxious beanies for the coming autumn, one chilling name haunts the memory of the summer gone by: Donald J Trump, once a schoolyard bully figure and laughable political hopeful, now a schoolyard bully figure and the frontrunner for Republican presidential candidate – by a mile. Political commentators are dubbing this spell the “Summer of Trump”, and not just because he resembles a refreshing, orange-flavoured popsicle. He’s dominated US news coverage since his announcement to run in June – he’s the most Googled presidential nominee in history (which is slightly unfair, since in the days of Thomas Jefferson, people had to send hand-written notes to the Google headquarters find out the soccer results or the latest Bieber beef) – and he’s dramatically risen in the polls, trouncing once-favourites like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio by double digits.
The “Summer of Trump” is such an accurate coinage: The Donald has checked all the boxes for the classic American summer. Here’s a sample of the typical summer activities in which the real estate mogul has partaken:
To the popular summer resort of…Iowa. In August, Trump hit the Iowa State Fair – a rite of passage that marks the start of the campaign season. But part of this rite is to appear like the average Joe: which is why Hillary was in pink plaid and Jeb Bush broke his paleo diet to chomp on a greasy pork chop. DJT, however, landed in the cornfields in his Sikorsky chopper.
This is part of his (paradoxical) appeal: in showing his wealth, he somehow becomes more a man of the people than any of the other, careful-treading candidates. His display of affluence is a statement of leadership, but more importantly, he’s defiantly shunning political pretences in his actions and shaking off political correctness in his words. And this appeals to a certain demographic of people who’ve grown tired of the charades and facades of Washington – regardless of whether Trump has laid out any actual policy or not (spoiler: he hasn’t).
So what is this demographic that he’s struck such a chord with? According to polls, it’s chiefly older, male, working-class citizens without college degrees. In terms of political stance, though, things get cloudier. Trump polls pretty equally with moderate and somewhat conservatives, as well as far-right conservatives and Tea Partiers; he splits the evangelical vote, and even does well with Independents.
In blunt terms, Donald Trump is a rabble-rouser. He’s eschewed meet-ups at quaint New Hampshire pizza parlours for big-ol’ Texan-sized stadium rallies, reminiscent of rodeo or NASCAR throngs. (The irony, of course, is that NASCAR severed business ties with Trump following his controversial remarks about Mexicans, as did NBC and Univision.) These Trump-a-thon festivals have attracted huge crowds in the Heartland – about 17,000 in Dallas and 30,000 in Mobile, Alabama – with originally free tickets touted online for $100 apiece, like actual music festivals. (Except without real musicians like Neil Young and R.E.M., both of whose records were played during Trump rallies without permission. Michael Stipe told Trump to go f*ck himself.)
Summer arts and crafts
The Donald still made time this summer to dally with some arts and crafts, namely by stitching his slogan, “Make America Great Again”, onto a baseball hat. (Or then again, maybe this was done by hard-working Mexicans, who he cherishes so dearly.) President Obama contended with this assumption earlier this month, saying “America’s great right now,” and that, “There’s nothing particularly… American about talking down on America”.
Needless to say, the idea of greatness is largely subjective, and conservatives would probably argue that the progressive measures that have defined Obama’s presidency – the Affordable Care Act, legalisation of same-sex marriage, leaving Iraq, negotiating a deal with Iran and making steps towards tackling climate change – are not “great”. Yet they can’t argue with the fact that the administration has turned the economy around: it was Bush who left the legacy of an economic collapse, and now the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in seven years, with 11 million Americans back at work.
Many Americans still remain out of employment, of course, and Obama admits, “We can do even better”. Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed socialist who’s currently topping Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire for the Democratic nomination, is striking a chord with young Americans with his plans to decrease college tuition, rebuild the middle class and redistribute wealth out of the hands of the one per cent. Somehow billionaire Trump, on the other end of the scale, is also enticing lower-income workers, with the perhaps valid claim that “the middle class is being destroyed” – but without the same substantial policies that Sanders and others are proffering. There’s the constant negative rhetoric, the hostile blame-it-on-China language, and then the characteristic braggadocio assuring his devout followers that “we’ll have so many victories” when he’s in the White House.
But what are the policies of Donald Trump? We know his stances – he’d repeal Obamacare, shut down the Iran deal and chuck out any existing gun control measures and believes that global warming is a “hoax” – but little of what he concretely plans to do to “make America great again”. He boasts about his foreign policy in much the same way: “I will be so good at the military, it will make your head spin.” Note that this was at the end of an interview in which he mistook the Kurds for the Quds Forces (an Iranian military force) and dismissed his ignorance on ISIS leaders by saying that “by the time we get to office, they’ll all be changed”. He also confused Hezbollah with Hamas, though qudos – sorry, kudos – to him for not throwing hummus into the imbroglio.
Oh – but we do know that he wants to build a big wall.
Summer of white supremacy
Uh…OK, maybe this one isn’t a staple of everyone’s perfect summer…
Evan Osnos wrote a great article for the New Yorker in which he explored white nationalist support for Trump. The particular form of xenophobia known as white nationalism comes from a fear of change: the belief that soon, the United States will be more Hispanic than white. It’s a paranoia of the loss of an identity – hence the preference for the term “white nationalism” over “white supremacy”, which is often closely associated with the Ku Klux Klan. Yet, Trump has been officially endorsed by David Duke, former KKK Grand Wizard – a figure that the mogul didn’t seem to want to distance himself from, humbly declaring, “a lot of people like me”.
Trump is tapping into this fear of an identity crisis, and of Hispanic immigrants taking jobs from white Americans. The answer? He plans to build the Trump Wall across the border, which apparently the Mexican government will pay for, to keep out illegal immigrants, who he now infamously said are “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some I assume are good people…” While business partners ran for the hills, he clearly appealed to the baser instincts of a lot of people.
But it is Trump himself who engenders this climate of the yeehawing, intolerant rabble, and Mexicans aren’t the only ones in the firing line. There was also a call (well, more like a yell) from a supporter just a few days ago to “get rid of” the Muslim population, which he addressed as a “problem”, to a nodding-in-agreement Trump. The tycoon did nothing to counter this bigotry, nor to dispel this man’s belief that Obama is Muslim – as John McCain magnanimously did in 2008 when posed a similar question – but instead promised, “we’re going to be looking at a lot of things”.
So will the Summer of Trump turn into the Fall of Trump, or the… fall of Trump? Or will it be a Fiorina Fall, a Carson Christmas, or will there finally be some autumn colour to those pallid Bush leaves?
Political analysts by and large aren’t convinced that Trump can maintain his baffling momentum – and perhaps that’s the reason it’s been dubbed the Summer of Trump, alluding to a mere fleeting phase in this long campaign. They stress that polls aren’t the best predictor of success, but that often it’s the campaign money raised and endorsements that best foretell longevity. While Bush has 23 endorsements from members of Congress, Trump has zero – a sign of his unpopularity with the GOP establishment, which knows after 2012 that the best route to success is to court Latino, young and female voters, rather than push them away. You know something’s wrong when you’re on the Republican side and Fox News is your archenemy.
Or then again, maybe the businessman and reality TV star will eventually be hired as GOP nominee, and that next summer’s convention season will turn into another Summer of Trump. Followed by a possible four or eight more Summers of Trump. Only time will tell as to whether Air Force One will need to be traded for a Sikorsky chopper, and whether the Oval Office will have to accommodate the Apprentice boardroom. And around 100 boxes of hairspray.Image from: http://presidential-candidates.insidegov.com/stories/5187/23-ridiculously-offensive-donald-trump-quotes
Dark humour, verbal sparring and a drink in the pub, the theatre production of Hangmen takes a journey into the crevices of the mind of a certified killer
1963. A bleak, painted brick cell with only a narrow bed, shelf and bare light-bulb offering comfort. Monastic and almost holy in its silence but then the heavy cell door clangs open and everything is tumult and violence. The young prisoner rants and raves and clings to anything solid within his reach but the judicial conveyor belt is rolling under his feet, taking him to his death. Until the moment the trapdoor slams open and he disappears from view with a noose around his neck, the condemned man is the most vital in the scene, declaring his innocence and cursing those that have come to calmly extinguish his life, the bowl-hatted executioner and his weasel-bodied assistant. This scene opens Martin McDonagh’s new play Hangmen as incandescently as the first rocket on Guy Fawkes Night.
The prison cell ascends from the stage as if raptured and then we descend into banal reality; a pub in Oldham, all wood, smoke and tea-coloured light. Three drunks, a lean detective with a pencil moustache, a nervously glamorous landlady and the executioner again, behind the bar, pulling beers and refusing to speak to the portly journalist chasing his comment on the abolition of capital punishment. Caught between boastfulness and the desire to mark his place in the fame hallway of executioners, Henry Wade’s inability to reflect, question and confess his acts cuts through this play.
Henry Wade and Albert Pierrepoint are the George Foreman and Muhammad Ali of Yorkshire, their egotistical sparring reflected in the teasing, insulting and often comic dialogue that flicks between all the characters. The eagerness that this play, McDonagh’s first in London for more than a decade, was met with meant that a kind of hysteria was present in the audience. Rather slight jokes were met with howls of laughter and squeals of delight. However, as with all of McDonagh’s plays there is an edge of violence and chaos. Johnny Flynn, playing menacing Londoner Mooney, uses his handsome face and urbane confidence to chisel away at Wade’s granite façade.
The story unfolds at an unforced pace and the suspense builds quickly as Harry Wade realises that his past as an executioner cannot be so easily quarantined from his humdrum family life in Oldham. Ethical questions of culpability, both his own and of those he hanged, come back to haunt him and one particular case, that of the young prisoner we met at the beginning of the play, casts a long shadow.
McDonagh’s talent is in creating characters that are guileless yet perceptive; they unrelentingly squirrel out each other’s weaknesses, prejudices, neuroses and secrets. Much of the play’s dark comedy comes from the off-hand barbs the pub regulars throw at each other and their occasional visitors, but the humour takes an even darker turn when it’s leavened with Wade’s twisted pride at being “just as good an executioner as Pierrepoint”.
Hangmen says little about execution as a moral or social dilemma. Wade claims to have no interest in the judicial process that puts men and women at the end of his noose and to sleep well after each execution, but he also confesses to reading all of the testimonies against one condemned man and believing fully in his guilt. The audience is left to decipher exactly what brought Wade to his strange calling and what impact it has had on him psychologically. He insists that his task was to end the life of the prisoner with as little suffering and loss of dignity as possible, but the last few words of the play reveal a need deep within Wade for the particular kind of intimacy that exists between prisoner and executioner.
The production of Hangmen is showing at the Royal Court Theatre until 10th October 2015.Photo Credits: Simon Annand / Actors: Ryan Pope (Charlie), James Dryden (Clegg) and Josef Davies (Hennessy)
Who are we?
The entire world is waiting to see,
Just what this Ummah might be,
But can we tell them who we could be,
When we ourselves cannot see…
Who we are.
Are we the proverbial raisin withering in the sun?
Are we the stinking sore,
Festering, waiting to run?
Are we unto the world a sagging, heavy load,
Are we the suicide bomber,
Ready to explode?
Who are we?
Are we the bygone glories that did not last?
Are we the shattered fragments of today’s bomb blast?
Are we the empty sermons filled with bombast?
Are we the road not taken,
Leading back to the past?
Are we the jaws that bite, the claws that catch?
Are we foolishly left holding shattered dreams
And battered lands with which to go galumphing back?
Are we rabid wolves part of the pack?
Is the only word we know -attack?!
Are we the feast of the nations, or a bedtime snack?
Are we the white man’s burden or the black man’s bane?
Are we pimping the pleasure principle or pawning pain?
Are we tripping on the acid in the rain,
Or keeping our heads and making things plain?
Are we buckling and breaking under the strain
As we are demonized over and over and over again…
Who are we?
The entire world is waiting to see,
Just what this Ummah might be,
But can we tell them who we could be,
When we ourselves cannot see…
Who we are.
This summer’s West End productions are a collection of slapstick history and poignant journeys
Balmy summers were here again, albeit fleetingly, but for all the disappointments that the weather didn’t bring, several West End productions made up for what we invariably lacked in the skies.
One thoroughly enjoyable performance was Barmy Britain from the Horrible Histories team. Ostensibly aimed at primary school children, it had adult witticisms in among the slapstick and poo jokes, mixed with satirical references to British politics today.
Giving us an express tour of British history from 1297 to Henry VIII, the audience came away with a series of quirky facts around the history of Britain and Ireland, either tales we knew and forgot about, or were never told in the first place. For instance, did you know that the Vikings arrived in Dublin from Denmark in 851, only to attack the Vikings who were already there from Norway? Well you would if you had seen the show! Or, that Henry III kept a polar bear in the Tower of London and let it swim occasionally in the Thames? And that Henry VIII was buried in Windsor Castle, but his body was so bloated that it exploded inside the coffin? Had the average school history class taken a lesson from such a performance, it would surely engage even the most disinterested pupil.
Written by Terry Deary and Neal Foster (who also directed the play), this two-man performance was seamlessly executed. It had a rapid pace, so as to present the sense of there being many times that number of actors on stage. A momentary lapse of concentration and you would have veered off the play’s windy road with its many nooks and crannies. The only consolation of missing the occasional dig, is that there was an abundance of other ones round the corner to make up for it.
Rather less slapstick and cute, but nonetheless entertaining, is the double-hander by James Fox and Jack Fox in Dear Lupin which is still running until 19th September at the Apollo Theatre. The Foxes play Roger and Lupin, a father and son duo, based on the best-selling book by Charlie Mortimer. The book consisted of a series of letters, which was later adapted into a stage play by actor Michael Davies (also partly taking the form of letters).
As with Barmy Britain, Dear Lupin is scattered with witticisms and bountiful charm. It recalls the life of Lupin who goes from the ease of an Etonian schooling to a failed attempt to join the army, followed by a life of decadence in the 80s and, eventually, ends up as a weathered and unsuccessful 40-something-year-old HIV sufferer. With an underlying melancholy for a by-gone life and a different era, Dear Lupin depicts the existence of people who came from a once established class. Within these circles, a formality and distance – even between father and son – was the norm, and the role of women was narrow and, by and large, peripheral.
The staging is punctuated by sexist humour and a somewhat out-of-date banter that is best understood by an audience of a similar background; if you have been to Eton or know people who have, this production will mean a great deal more to you than if you were educated at the local comprehensive. That said, the acting couldn’t be faulted, demonstrating an easy performance by both father and son. And if plumped to go, you’ll see both Foxes looking very pleased to be on stage, and in doing so, imparting happy warmth to the audience.
Last but not least, this summer treated us to Hetty Feather, an adaptation by the acclaimed children’s author Jacqueline Wilson, which is on tour until April 2016. Combining music, dance, theatre and acrobatics, Hetty Feather conveys the heartbreaking tale of the lives of children born to poor mothers, and who were given over to the Foundling Hospital. It’s a play with soul, grit and a plot that hurtles along at express speed, drawing us into the plight of Hetty. She is a poor female orphan in Victorian England whose limited horizons never limit her ambition.
The energy of Hetty, brilliantly played by Phoebe Thomas, spreads across the entire production, combining a child-like innocence, euphoria and the disappointment of dreams that don’t come true. But in Hetty’s head, things will always end well one day, and it’s that hope which keeps her animated throughout. We are swept along with her on her journey, helped by the highly sonorous musicality of the production, with various songs and instruments being played by a multi-talented cast. The set creates a child-friendly environment, with vividly coloured cloths hanging from above and on which the cast perform circus-like acrobatics to take us from one scene to the next. All this with a gripping narrative of children separated from their mothers, taken on by surrogate mothers, and then ripped away once more back to the Foundling Hospital when they are aged a little over five – this time to be brought up as children being trained to go into service. The relationships they form, their broken dreams and the abrupt practicalities that life presents are underlined by a fundamentally sad story of a harsh period in history.
Entertaining, educating and moving, Hetty Feather is something that children and adults alike will appreciate in large measures, as Hetty’s quest to find her birth mother sees her running away to the circus where she is convinced the trapeze artist, Madame Adeline, is her mother. It’s this thirst that propels her at full thrust throughout the performance. Fortunately she has got so much energy that just the dregs of what she leaves behind in her wake are enough to keep the audience tuned in. Hetty Feather continues its tour of England with its next stop at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre.
Image from: http://www.hettyfeatherlive.com
Labour has a chance to return to its roots and win back the working class of Swindon alongside others
“We’ve got to be winning in a place like Swindon.” These are the words of Chuka Umunna in the video that launched his very brief bid for the Labour leadership. At no point in the video does he attempt to clarify what he means by “a place like Swindon,” but it seems fairly implicit.
The name Swindon, or Suindune, is said to be derived from the Old English words ‘swine’ and ‘dun’, meaning ‘pig hill.’ Despite essentially being christened a shit heap, time has somehow still seen Swindon’s image decline further. Now more commonly known as The Arsehole of England, Swindon is full of inbred chavs and filthy moshers: the former contributing to the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe for eight years running, and the latter contributing to nothing. It has the highest percentage of people without a passport in Britain, as well as the highest ratio of McDonald’s eaten to inhabitants in Europe. You can also buy cocaine from a five-year-old.
These facts are imaginatively told in pubs across the south of England, and then unimaginatively regurgitated to the nation with a complete lack of comic ability on Mock The “Weak”. We begin to understand what Chuka means by “a place like Swindon”. He has been accepting as gospel the words of Jack Whitehall, and that little bald guy who looks like a sexually avaricious conquistador.
Swindon is an industrial town hosting many large corporations such as the Honda and BMW factories, as well as HQs for the likes of WHSmiths, Nationwide and Intel. In short, it is a town full to the brim with the very working class, who can never prosper under a Conservative government, and was inextricably linked to the Labour party from its very genesis. The working class should be the bedrock of Labour party support in the south of England, but it voted Tory in the last two general elections (North and South Swindon saw 59.6 per cent and 56 per cent increases in Conservative leads over Labour).
Essentially, Chuka was right to point out that Labour have “got to be winning in a place like Swindon,” but in looking for the reasons why Labour lost the votes of working class people, one needs look no further than the condescending, patronising language and tone in which he said it. It is representative of a snobbery that has emanated from the Labour party since the rise of Tony Blair, and which tainted Ed Miliband’s general election campaign from the beginning.
Miliband’s manifesto championed a renewed focus on equality: raising the minimum wage to above £8 an hour, abolishing zero-hour contracts, freezing energy bills and raising the top tax rate to 50p. These policies were planned meticulously so as to guarantee that all would be paid for “without a single penny of extra borrowing,” and designed to raise confidence in Labour’s often questioned economic competence.
However, very few people sitting in Swindon’s pubs, Greasy Spoons or BMW factory canteens were reading his very-well-accounted-for policies in his very intelligent manifesto. Perhaps that’s a shame, but regardless, it’s a reality. A reality that Miliband chose not to address. He told Jeremy Paxman, “I don’t care what the newspapers write about me… The bloke on the tube can say what he likes. I don’t care, because I care about the British people and what happens to them.” He forgot that the British people are The Bloke on The Tube, and that they are reading the newspapers. Not the Guardian (it’s too big to read on the overcrowded tube), but the Sun and the Daily Mail, and those newspapers will not mention that he cares about the British people, just that he doesn’t care about the opinions of The Bloke on The Tube. He refused to speak the language of the less well-educated than himself because he saw it as cheapening his complex policies. But, by refusing to have a dialogue with The Bloke on The Tube, he reduced his audience to a Guardian-reading, well-educated, well-off, liberal middle class.
Cameron always recognised that to appeal to the widest audience possible you must alter how you present yourself. He has political jargon and figures ready to back him up when he needs it, but he is also loaded with short snappy soundbites for television and tabloids. He speaks like a tabloid, and therefore he writes his own headlines. In doing so, he has memes and ‘Thug Life’ videos, and the Facebook walls of my old Swindon school friends pay tribute to pro-Tory and anti-Labour slogans. These old school friends are not the ones that went onto university to become lawyers or architects or financial advisers, these are the ones who are now window cleaners and plumbers and Tesco delivery drivers. I now see them almost exclusively on Christmas Eve at the King & Queen Inn, but they are still friends and good people, even if they didn’t go off to the University of London to become Guardian readers. They couldn’t care less about the technicalities of politics – they just worry about why it’s so difficult to get work, and why they can barely feed their kids and still afford a pint when they work so hard. And there’s only one person giving them any answers at all. Cameron speaks to them, not because his policies represent them or benefit them in any way, but simply because he is actually speaking to them.
While David Cameron and George Osborne try to grab the attention of anyone and everyone by any means, the Labour party have exclusive little soirées with the Guardian and the well-educated, well-off middle class, all patting each other on the back for holding onto their broad-minded, liberal views. Round and round goes the praise in an endless, self-congratulatory circle-jerk.
Corbynmania is a reaction to the snobbish elitism that has poisoned the Labour party ever since Tony Blair’s era. Whatever one thinks of Corbyn’s policies, at least everyone knows what these policies are. Rent controls, railway renationalisation, government spending, scrapping tuition fees: he repeats them over and over, crystal clear, straight and unpretentious, to anyone who will listen to him. He ignores no one. Meanwhile, the other three Labour leadership candidates ignore everyone. They bicker between themselves, use fear tactics and patronise Jeremy Corbyn, disregarding his policies as idiotic rather than telling us why they are idiotic or what they can offer instead.
When the four candidates were asked on LBC Radio if they would give Ed Miliband a job in their shadow cabinet, Jeremy Corbyn said he would want him as Environment Secretary. Easy. The other three hedged the question and refused to give anything like a direct answer. The decision to hide from this question is a decision to hide their plans from the people who are expected to vote for them, because they feel that they should decide what’s best for the public, and that they should choose what the public should know about their decisions. This can only be based on the assumption that they are above their voters.
The other leadership candidates, and the Labour party as a whole, must learn from both Corbyn and Cameron if they are to win back the votes of the working class. Labour must stop patronising the man on the tube who reads the Sun or the Daily Mail, stop disregarding him as a helpless idiot, and try to win back his support instead. They must shed the snobbery with which they have been infected for too long by acting for, and vitally, talking to normal people again.Image from: http://i.huffpost.com/gen/3190748/images/o-JEREMY-CORBYN-facebook.jpg
Most of us are familiar with the story of the boy, the old man and the starfish. A storm had washed up thousands of starfish onto a beach. An old man who was strolling on the sandy stretch noticed a little boy in the distance frantically throwing as many of the creatures as he could back into the sea. When he drew close to the boy he asked him what he was doing. The boy replied that he was saving the starfish. The old man, knowing that most of the creatures would perish before the boy could even begin to return all of them to their watery home, called out, “don’t be silly you can never save all of these starfish!” The boy, undaunted, scooped up one of the creatures and tossed it back into the ocean. He ran up to the old man and proudly proclaimed, “I saved that one!”
We can take many lessons from this story. One is the oftentimes callous disregard older folk can sometimes have for the idealism and passion of youth. If our young people cannot envision themselves saving the world then who can? We oftentimes feel they are young and naïve and will eventually learn that the task of saving the world is a lot more difficult than their tender years permit them to imagine. Despite our feelings, we should allow them to learn that lesson on their own in due time. Perhaps Allah will grant them Tawfiq and they will be able to make a far greater difference in the world than any of us older folks. At the very least, let us encourage them to maintain enough idealism and passion to save at least one starfish.
I say this by way of commenting on the massacre of the innocent throngs who were killed in Cairo two years ago, August 14, 2013. Human Rights Watch estimates that those killed in Rabia Square alone numbered between 817 to over 1,000. Those numbers are likely matched by the combined number killed in other protest sights throughout Cairo.
Many of those who were so mercilessly gunned down were young people, including seventeen-year-old Asma Beltagy, daughter of the Muslim Brotherhood leader, Muhammad Beltagy. Like virtually all of the people killed that day, she was unarmed and committed to the path of nonviolent change. Like all of the young people killed that day, she dreamed of a new Egypt committed to the rule of law. Like all of the young people murdered that day, she dreamed of a better Egypt, which had cast off its legacy of authoritarian rule and neo-colonization and in so doing had finally released its immense potential. Unfortunately, their dreams would not be fulfilled.
Like the old man in the starfish story, old men committed to the restoration of the authoritarian ancien regime questioned the wisdom, idealism and practicality of those young martyrs. Some declared they were rubbish deserving of their fate. To others they were accomplices to the “terrorists” seeking to destabilize the country. Others railed that their parents should not have placed them in harm’s way and bear the responsibility for their deaths –not the snipers, police, military and paramilitary forces. And, there are those who pontificated that they did not know their religion, which forbids even peaceful protests against those in power; theological wisdom seldom directed towards those protesting the Morsi regime.
There will be those who will question the wisdom, timing or judiciousness of even penning these words. Some will declare that the Egyptian people have spoken and Sisi is their preference, so get over it and move on. Others will argue that had the protest camps not been cleared Egypt would have been placed on a path that leads to the place Syria, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq currently occupy.
In response to these and other protesting voices, I simply say that these words are not intended to open old wounds or stir up old grievances. They are simply meant to tell those young people who are throwing starfish back into the sea to keep tossing. Young folks, when old men tell you that you are unrealistic, throw a starfish into the sea. When old men tell you that you are too idealistic, throw another starfish into the sea. When they tell you a storm is rushing towards the shore, so hurry home and protect yourself, defy the winds and rain and throw yet another starfish into the sea.
If we cannot stand and peacefully condemn those who are working to ensure another fifty years of authoritarian brutality in places like Egypt, and encourage our children to do the same, then whither our future generations? If we cannot tell them that the best Jihad is a word of truth spoken to a tyrannical ruler, then what do we have to prevent them from believing that the likes of ISIS, al-Qaeda or Boko Haram embody the best Jihad? If we cannot reveal to them the fallacy in the statement that the only choice before them is to cower silently in their homes or see their countries descend into the hell currently afflicting Libya, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan or Iraq then what vision do we expect them to hold for the future?
There is a third less-traveled path that involves a principled advocacy of truth and justice coupled with a principled and uncompromising advocacy of nonviolence. If our societies are so fragile that such a path would threaten their demise, then the political community that Shariah injunctions governing protest and rebellion aims to preserve does not exist in the first place. This third path is the path of most of the young people who were killed on that fateful day in Rabia Square and elsewhere in Cairo. If we can at least remember them in an honorable manner, and encourage those coming after them to keep throwing those starfish back into the sea, they would not have died in vain.
From eastern skies the stars brought forth their light,
Conveyed by hearts transcending desert nights,
Igniting flames that burn the dross of sin,
Bequeathing the courage to gaze within,
Freeing the hearts to know the secrets there,
Those secrets to their lovers do they share.
Their wisdom sometimes subtle, sometimes frank
Defy pretenses of a social rank.
For knowledge is for all men to enjoy
And ignorance their calling to destroy.
For Moses, Jesus, David, Muhammad
Are guiding stars that light the firmament.
Its ancient vault spanning turbulent seas;
The storms they birth become a gentle breeze…
That whisper to the far shores of the west:
With knowledge, truth and faith ye shall be blessed!
There have been 210 mass shootings in the United States this year. A mass shooting is described as a shooting that has four or more victims. Of those 210 mass shootings, only one, the killing of the Marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was perpetrated by a Muslim. That unfortunate and tragic incident is the only mass shooting in which the media mentioned the religion of the shooter. It is also the only one where the psychological issues the shooter was clearly struggling with were dismissed as the most important factor informing his actions. Instead of focusing on his mental state a fervent but futile search was undertaken to discover his connection to “Jihadi” groups.
Hence, someone is over 200 times more likely to be a victim of a mass shooting perpetrated by a non-Muslim, yet the media has skillfully cultivated a fear of Islam and Muslims to such an extent that most people think the greatest threat to their safety and well-being is Muslims. I don’t blame the media for this, they are only doing their job. We need desperately to develop our own media resources to tell our own story and to define ourselves to the public as we are and not as some parties wish to present us.
The following is a list of top 30 articles that were found to resonate most strongly with our readers this past year. It covers a full range of struggles and joys we have faced as a community and regularly bridges orthodox and contemporary Islamic knowledge. Articles covered Glimpses of Marital Bliss, inspired us about the Names of Allah, spoke to the unique struggles of our Black and Hispanic brothers and sisters, and stood up against the siege in Gaza. They discussed the role of women preachers, American holidays, how to overcome addictions and more. See the full list below.
There were many articles of significant impact that are not on the list for brevity’s sake. What was your favorite? Leave a comment to let us know!
IN THE MEDIA Your Facebook Posts, and why The Evil Eye is Real by Ubah
On social media, we are increasingly putting ourselves out there in ways that may promote envious feelings in others. Is it 100% our fault? Of course not. But here are a few important things to keep in mind.Films Today – and How the Muslims Killed Dracula by Shibli Zaman
We often bemoan the negative portrayal of Muslims in film and television, including a recent movie that gets the story of Dracula wrong. But who is to blame when we have absolutely no presence in popular media?An Imam’s Review of the Movie Noah by John (Yahya) Ederer
Potential benefits in watching this movie – and why it would be hugely advantageous to Islam and the Muslims if we made high-quality, well-funded, scripturally proper, and well-acted depictions of the prophets and our great history. Also see: Top Documentaries you Should Watch by Junaid AmjadKnow Thyself: Opinion on Hajj Selfies by Suhaib Webb
WOMEN Female Scholars and Preachers in Islam by John (Yahya) Ederer
The beauty of Islam among religions is in its universality, its compatibility with science, and its versatile legal tradition which remains relevant across times and cultures. Here’s why the majority of our scholars throughout history have said that there’s nothing wrong with listening to a woman’s speech unless it is flirtatious or provocative.10 Ways to be a Single and Content Muslimah by Ubah
Tip #2: Let Go of Entitlement. Remember that you are not owed a relationship. Just like the air you breathe or your eyesight and hearing, a decent and compatible spouse is a blessing from Allah (swt).Is it Allowed for Women to Teach Mixed Gatherings? by John (Yahya) Ederer
CULTURE, CUSTOMS, & FIQH Man’s Best Friend?: The Islamic View on Dogs by John (Yahya) Ederer
Reverts may have had a special relationship with their dogs growing up, or still do at the time of reversion. Sadly, the attitude of many Muslims towards dogs often alienates people from Islam. A closer examination of the issue debunks common misunderstandings.American Customs – What is Permissible? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Also see: Caught with My Foot in the Sink… Reasons to Be Proud of Wudu by Abdul Sattar Ahmed and Is the West Inherently Un-Islamic? by John EdererCan a Non-Muslim Person be in the Masjid? by Suhaib Webb
The stronger opinion on the issue of people of other faiths being refused entry into mosques is Abu Hanifa’s that this only applies for the Hajj and ‘Umra (meaning they are not allowed to make Hajj or Umra). Here’s why.Is Saying Jummah Mubarak an Innovation? by Suhaib Webb
Custom is so important that it forms one of the five major axioms of Islamic law. Based on this important principle and the large number of general texts that encourage us to speak well and be gentle to others, it is a stretch to say that such a greeting in an innovation.Can Muslims be Friends with Non-Muslims? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Qur’anic verses should not be mis-understood to prohibit us from making friends with our neighbors, co-workers, or schoolmates. On the topic of Muslim interactions with other faiths including Christians, see also: A Holiday Message from the Life of Omar by Shibli Zaman
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps for Overcoming Addictions or Sin by Reehab Ramadan
Remember the phrase “I am only the next 24 hours.” By the time the next 24 hours have been reached, hopefully our strength will have been regained, if not then we push ourselves a little further—24 more hours.10 Things that Shouldn’t Happen Once you Become a More Practicing Muslim by Ubah
There a few key things that we must all guard against as a result of turning a new leaf or becoming a more practicing (or new) Muslim – such as becoming narrow minded, becoming isolated, or rebelling against family.Beyond Romantic Love – Here’s What’s Missing by Reehab Ramadan
Beyond romantic or sexualized love, where’s the love that would allow me to go out of my way to buy my brother or sister in humanity a gift to bring a smile to his or her face during times of hardship?How Two Words Changed this Man’s Life by Maryam Amirebrahimi
He had never prayed two rak`ah (units of prayer) in his adult life. Two words he heard at his first Friday prayer penetrated through his heart and embraced his soul. The true story of a man’s path back to Allah (swt).
QUR’AN & PRAYER Building Habits as Worship: A Year Spent Quantifying Devotion by Alex Arrick (Guest Author)
How to use free apps for the iPhone or Android such as LIFT to make a regular, daily habit for memorizing the Qur’an. Also see: Stay Focused by PRAYing by by Marwa AbdallaIs the Qur’an a Violent Text or is Your Reading a Tad Off? by Joe Bradford
A lack of context and qualifications lead to blatant misinterpretation. The shallow misinterpretations of religious and irreligious extremists almost always lead to one thing: the escalation of conflict and the promotion of violence, instead of leading to dialogue and mutual understanding.Too Busy for Quran? Check these 3 Tips to Get Rolling by Mansoor Ahmed
Start off by making time after Fajr prayer or after `Isha’ (night) prayer, the two times you are most likely to be at home. Once it is a part of your lifestyle, it becomes easy to sustain. Remember, try a little by little, but with consistency!
OVERCOMING HARDSHIP Living with Depression and Islam by Anonymous (Guest Author)
Every morning I wake up and wish I hadn’t. I want anyone suffering like me to know that there are others that are observant, struggling Muslims and that they feel the way you are feeling. Also see: How to Overcome Sadness and be Happy by Taheerah AlamWith Hardship Comes Ease: Embracing Discomfort by Ismail Shaikh (Guest Author) Think You’ve Failed? Think Again by Jinan Bistaki
Some people always bounce back, but others always seem to crash down. Research has shown that the difference is the ability to see that a closed door somewhere means, at the very least, an open window somewhere else.
CURRENT EVENTS Erdoğan, AKP and their victory in the Turkish Municipal Elections by Shibli Zaman
Erdoğan, the world is watching you; but that pales to the fact that, above all, the Lord of the Worlds is watching you even closer. You can be the greatest leader the Muslim world has seen since the Ottomans whom you repeatedly invoke, or you can fall just like them when they lost their way. Which end of their history you resemble is up to you.
KNOWING GOD, THE MOST MERCIFUL When was the Last Time you Witnessed a Miracle? Al-Hayyiy by Jinan Bistaki
Whenever making du`a’ (supplication), have hope. Remember that “Verily your Lord is Generous (Kareem) and Hayyiy. If His servant raises his hands to Him (in supplication) He becomes shy to return them empty,” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).He has Your Back: Al-Wali by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wali, meaning the Protective Friend of all those who believe. It means that He has your back. He could have just been a ‘friend,’ but some friends are flaky. A protective friend will be there for you through hardship and bad times.Does God Exist? by Salman Khan (Guest Author)
Every person must think for him/herself and find Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) in his/her own way. Don’t choose a life of unhappiness because you choose to be blind or perform our religion physically without spirituality.Love is In Giving: Al Wadud by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wadud. When you are able to point out behavior that shows love, this kind of love is not called hubb in Arabic, because hubb is simply having a feeling of love. This kind of love – one that is apparent and shown – is called wud.
LOVE, RELATIONSHIPS, & GENDER RELATIONS 10 Guidelines for Gender Relations in Islam by Muslema Purmul and Maryam Amirebrahimi
The code of inter-gender relations comes from a noble kind of love. It is generous in giving, while conscious of Allah. It is full of haya.’ Haya’ is sometimes described as ‘shyness’, but misunderstood to mean a desire to hide, to be nervous, overly self-conscious, and unable to communicate.When you Marry for Four Reasons – Don’t Forget Your Reason by Karim Serageldin (Guest Author)
As a practicing psychologist, I was once consulted by a brother in Turkey in need of immediate relationship advice. In summary, the brother’s “emergency” was that he had met a nice religious girl from a good family but was not attracted to her at all. Here was my advice.The Goodbye Hug by Maryam Amirebrahimi
Many of us only hear destructive marriage stories within the Muslim community. However, the reality is that there are so many incredible, beautiful, passionate, fulfilling and compassionate love stories in the Muslim community. Here’s one. A number of the articles from “Glimpses of Marital Bliss” Series were also among the most-read this year. See also: A Love Letter, Will They Say Yes, and He Prayed instead of Fought
I have been living in the Arab world now for almost 3 years. There are some really taxing things here, tiring and frustrating to say the least. But there are also some exciting and uplifting things that keep me going throughout the days. And then, there are the hidden gems. The things that can be overlooked without a second thought, yet if they are given a second thought, they require a third and a fourth thought for one to even begin to benefit from their beauty. It is those things that get me time and time again. It is those things that take my breath away and leave me thankful for being placed in the position that I am in, living in a place where I do not always fit in or feel at home. One of those hidden gems can be found in the phrases that are oft repeated, with little thought, on a daily basis. There are many that could be spoken about, like the wishing of “na’eeman” [lit. blessings] when a person takes a shower or cuts their hair. Like the prayer of “kulli sana wanti tayyiba” [“may every year find you well”] on any happy occasion that occurs yearly. But my favorite has to be one that carries behind it a great story of a great man whom I recently read about, and after reading his story in the tafseer [exegesis] of Ibn Ajeeba, the oft repeated phrase “Ya sabr Ayub” [“O patience of Job”] has never been the same again.
It would be best, before diving into the gem-filled story, to give some information on when this phrase, in the Arab culture, is used. It is used mainly in two situations: 1) When a person is going through something very taxing and is wishing for an intense amount of patience to be poured into them, as a prayer and 2) when a person witnesses someone being ever so patient and is impressed by their firmness upon this patience. Naturally, after hearing that, one would assume that this story is about to be really great and I assure you: it is. The key here, however, is that something very important is done while reading this story: don’t just read it as a work of fiction or non-fiction. Read it as if this story is about you. Read this story as if you have temporarily stepped out of your own shoes, and into those of this amazing man, Ayub, and try to actually feel what he must have been feeling. And with that, all that is left is for me to begin:
Ayub, `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), was a great man and Prophet of the Lord many years ago. He was blessed with many great gifts that surpassed what others around him had been given. He had money in amounts (and some say types!) that surpassed those that were around him. He was given great amounts of land as well as many animals to graze on this land, and these animals varied in types and were of very high quality. He was kind and giving to the poor, he used to care for the widows and the orphans, he would be generous with his guests and accept any traveler into his home. He did all of this as an act of gratitude to God for giving him so much. This is something very unique to note, as for when a person is given such great wealth and great gifts, Satan then tries very hard to get him to be greedy and ungrateful. Satan tries very hard to get the person with such wealth to belittle that which has been given to him, or to become arrogant and not spread the wealth to those who may be in need of it. Satan however, was unsuccessful at whispering into the heart of Ayub (as) with regards to all that he had been given.
It is said that Satan heard the angels in the heaven praising Ayub (as) for all that he had done and was doing. Upon hearing this, Satan felt a twinge of envy (hasad) towards the state of Ayub. Satan, being one who acts upon these twinges of envy immediately, went and pleaded to the Lord of the heavens about his state. He complained to God: “O my Lord, you have blessed your servant Ayub, so he had thanked you. You have removed from him any affliction so he has glorified you. You haven’t allowed any hardship to befall him, but if you did then surely he would be an ungrateful servant.” This was a plea from Satan, and at the same time he was taking a shot at the honor and actual piety of Ayub. He asked God to just give him the ability to afflict Ayub with some hardship, and he told God that He would see the gratefulness of Ayub dwindle away. God then allowed Satan to have control over the wealth of Ayub, and nothing else—allowing him to afflict Ayub. At this Satan was joyous. He called together his troops of jinn and told them the “great” news. One of his troops said that he had been given the power to send storms of fire upon anything, and if Satan gave him permission, he could burn all of the wealth of Ayub by burning his lands. Satan agreed, and sat back and watched his troops burn down the wealth of Ayub. Once this was all over, Satan came in the form of one of the service hands of Ayub, dramatically recalling all that happened to the wealth of this Prophet. Telling him that God had allowed for his wealth to be destroyed. Ayub (as), with complete grace and gratefulness, informed Satan in the form of man, that God was the original giver of this wealth, so God could do as he pleased with this wealth.
Satan now was hit, not only with pangs of envy but also, pangs of despair. He had been sure that had this man who was so blessed, had some of his blessings taken away, he would break. He would not be such a great servant. But Satan, unlike many of us humans, does not give up that easily. When he has a goal, he does everything he possibly can to get to that goal. He went back to his troops for a brainstorming session. One of his troops had another idea. He informed Satan that he had been given the ability to blow harsh winds that would kill any animal that heard this wind. Satan jumped on that idea and sent him to kill all of the living animals that were left on the burnt grounds of Ayub. After all of his glorious animals had been killed, Satan appeared to Ayub as a different man, again telling him of what happened. He informed Ayub that the Lord that he had been worshipping for so long had killed all of his animals. Again, Ayub (as) with pure patience and love for God, replied that God was the one who had given him the animals in the first place, so He could do as He pleased with them.
Satan was hit again with deeper despair, feeling that he was certainly losing his grip on the battle that he had been fighting. Satan returned to God, again with another plea. He argued that God had blessed Ayub with his own health and the health of his children (some say he had 10 children), and this is why Ayub was still holding on, gratefully. Satan assured that if this was removed then Ayub would not remain a grateful servant and that his gratefulness was not based on Love but of contentment with that which had been given. Satan then requested to be given the ability to take away the children of Ayub to prove his point. God granted him this permission. Satan returned to the home of Ayub, and destroyed the home of Ayub, killing all of his children. He then appeared to Ayub as the teacher of his children, limping, as if he too had been hurt in the destruction. He then recalled for Ayub the detailed deaths that his children had faced, making certain to put emphasis on the pain that they may have felt. Ayub was instantly struck with sadness for his children. He fell to the floor and began to pour dirt over his head. Satan rejoiced, finally he had made Ayub be ungrateful. But after an instant, Ayub (as) realized what he was doing and looked up to his Lord, asking for forgiveness and returning to his state of patience. God instantly forgave Him, as He is The All-Forgiving.
Satan was furious. He felt that he had finally won, that finally this man that seemed to be over flowing with patience and gratitude had finally cracked. And before he could even rejoice, Ayub (as) returned to His Lord and His repentance was accepted. His sin was erased. (Take note at the Mercy of God. Take note at the persistence of Satan). Satan went back to God, again despairing and willing to try anything. He told God that the only reason that Ayub was so thankful and so obedient was that he had the most important thing, his health. Satan pleaded with God to allow him to take that away, to prove once and for all that Ayub was not, in his essence, an obedient servant. God allowed him this, but this time with some very important conditions. God allowed him to have rule over his body and health, but he was unable to touch two things: His tongue and his heart.
Satan descended down to Ayub and found him in prostration. He blew through his nose a wind that touched his entire body. It caused him to itch, with no relief. He itched his entire body with his hands, then with tools. The tools were so rough they tore at his skin, but the itch was so strong that he could not stop. His wounds began to fester, to be infected, and to even attract bugs. All of the people in his community who loved him so much began to look down upon him, unable to stand to see his appearance nor smell the stench of infected wounds. They kicked him out, ignoring all the good that he had done for him before. Everyone left him. Everyone. Except for one person, his wife. She cared for him in the trash dump that he had been cast to. She took care of him, and was his companion as much as she could. After much time she began to plead with him to ask God for help. I mean why not, he was a prophet. He in turn asked her how long they had lived in wealth. Her reply was 8 years. He then followed up with asking how long he had lived in sickness; she informed him that it was seven. His reply was that he was too embarrassed to ask God to heal him, if the time of ease overcame the time of hardship.
Satan, in his final attempt, appeared to Ayub’s wife. He told her that he (Satan) was the Lord of the world and that the reason why her husband, Ayub, had been afflicted for so long, was that he turned away from the lord of the earth and looked only towards the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth. He told her that if Ayub were to “simply” make one prostration to Satan, then he could be restored to health and wealth. Ayub’s wife returned to her husband and told him what had happened. Ayub was furious. He knew exactly who she had spoken to, and was angry that his wife had spoken to Satan and that she had tried to act upon his words. She couldn’t take his anger, and she left him as well. Now Ayub was completely alone, with reference to human companions. He turned to God and made the famous du’a that we hear time and time again “Lord hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.” Ibn Ajeeba here says something interesting. He says that the hardship that Ayub was speaking about was that Satan had conspired against him to get him to prostrate to him (Satan). (Why is this the hardship? Because it is said that if we understood the true essence of sickness, we would know that it is an immense gift from God.) God immediately responded to the plea of Ayub and instructed him to go to the nearest water source and bathe in it. He did so, and was returned to his complete health and beauty. His wife, shortly after, returned looking for her husband. She found a handsome healthy man in his place. She asked him if he has seen a man that was rotting and in pain. He laughed and said, “It is me, I am Ayub.” She wouldn’t have believed him except that she recognized his laugh.
Ayub—not an angel, a man. He (as) went through an immense trial, and looked only at God. A man that God used to lay down a map for us to follow when we too are in pain, in sickness and in distress. Of course we don’t always react this way. Of course it may be harder at times to let go and let God. But what we can do is look to him as an ultimate goal. We can use his name when asking God for patience. We can strive to be as close to Him as God will allow. And whenever we are in hardship, we can know that we have someone to relate to. We have someone who went through pain and anguish, and we can see that even in the worst of situations, God can instantly redeem us and make everything more than perfect. May God grant us the Sabr of Ayub in the smallest of matters and the largest of matters.
“Lord, hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.”
“Sins need to be eradicated through the internal fire of regret in this life or the fire of hell in the hereafter.” – Ibn Al-Qayyim
Years ago I came across this quote. I still can’t get over how true it is.
Muslim youth living in all corners of the world face similar struggles in our day-to-day lives. We strive to survive while being surrounded by the societal (and often times, cultural and familial) promotion, acceptance, and idealization of things that contradict the tenants of our faith: pride, lust, greed, extramarital relationships, alcohol/drugs, misogyny – just to name a few.
We are also surrounded by social practices and traditions that can also be pretty un-Islamic: issues such as racism, forced marriages, the withholding of education for females, and tribalism unfortunately exist on grand scales in Muslim societies all over the world.
As Muslim youth, most of us living in the diaspora, we have much to deal with. We struggle to maintain our Muslim identities while at the same time balancing our racial, national, and individual identities as well.
Sometimes it seems that everywhere we look, we are being called to sin. And inevitably, we answer that call.
We fall so many times only to fall again. We try so very hard to create our own, personal spiritual bubbles where Islam is the driving force in our lives, only to have it burst by things like temptation, other Muslims’ biases and discrimination, our own families making it hard for us, stress, our school lives, etc.
And slowly, as our hearts erode, a peculiar type of anxiety eats away at our souls and comes with a little voice in our heads. The voice tells us time and time again that what we are doing is haram (impermissible) or sinful, but we ignore it as we seek to numb the pain—a pain that has surfaced as a result of never being good enough. Never being “Muslim” enough, or “religious” enough, or “Western” enough.
How do we turn our faces from sin when it is everywhere? When it is adulated, respected, and upheld by our very own societies as a noble thing? We become confused – the bad becomes good. We go against our natural instincts. Eventually we become submerged in our own little hells, metaphorical places where internal suffering, sadness, disappointment, and self-loathing manifest. The “internal fire of regret”, as Ibn Al-Qayyim radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) puts it.
This quote teaches me that through one way or another, we will be purified of our sins. It’s up to us whether or not we seek purification in this life (through repentance) or we wait until the next (through the Fire).
I know. We’ve fallen so many times. We’re hurt, sore, and bruised. We are ashamed of our actions, and may even deem ourselves unworthy of seeking repentance. But something must quell that fire in our hearts. Something must quench our desires to be loved and accepted by the One whose love and acceptance is truly the only one that matters at the end of the day.
Say it – Astaghfirullah (I seek forgiveness from God).
I know; it hurts. But it certainly cannot hurt more than what is to come if we let our sins remain in our hearts, our minds, our spirits.
We are more than the sins that we commit. Don’t let the devil fool you. Don’t let those people who are a negative influence in your lives or those who sin openly and proudly fool you either.
We may fall a thousand times, but as long as we try to get back up, there is always hope.
And Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) knows best.
Names of Allah Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIX | Part XXX |Part XXXI | Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI | Part XXXVII | Part XXXVIII
In this journey through Allah’s Names, we have learned about both His attributes of Beauty and of Majesty. The intention is to inspire fear, hope and, ultimately, love. If we misunderstand Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), we may not see the wisdom behind the things that happen in the world or in our personal lives. We might not understand how Allah (swt) fits into our life. We may also find it difficult to love Him, because how can you love someone – deeply love someone – you do not know?
Thus it is hoped that these Names have increased our knowledge of our Creator, and have made apparent how Allah (swt) is with us in every moment.
Today’s Name should inspire in us ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’. These words are sometimes both translated as ‘fear’, thus removing the important distinctions between the two words. In the ‘Sweetness of Prayer’ series, we explained the difference between the different types of fear:
‘Khawf’ is to flee from the thing that you fear, and requires no knowledge of that which is feared. You can be afraid, or have ‘khawf’, of the dark. ‘Khashya’, on the other hand, is fear with knowledge. The more a servant has knowledge of his Lord, the more ‘khawf’ turns to ‘khashya’. As Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
“Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge” (35:28).
‘Hayba’ is fear associated with respect, awe and glorification. You could, for example, fear fire. But the reason for your fear is that the fire may harm you, so fire earns no ‘hayba’; you do not glorify it. However, you could have a certain ‘hayba’ of your father; you could be afraid to do something wrong in front of him, but that fear is out of respect.
Al-Qahhar: The Dominator
Allah’s Name al-Qahhar comes from the Arabic root qaf-haa-ra (ق-ه-ر). It means ‘to dominate over’ or ‘to subdue from above’. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an in Surat al-An`aam;
“And He is the subjugator (al-qaahiru) over His servants. And He is the Wise (al-Hakeem), the Acquainted [with all] (al-Khabeer). (6:18)
Someone with this attribute might be considered a tyrant, which is why Allah (swt) tells us that this attribute is possessed by the One who is also the Most Wise and the One who is Best Acquainted with everything. This reference is also for the benefit of those who doubt this attribute, and might ask “why has Allah not overpowered the tyrants of today, of whom there are many?” Allah (swt) is reminding us that there is ultimate wisdom in whom He chooses to subdue at any point in time. This is where our understanding of the holistic nature of Allah’s Names should come in: we spoke before about how Allah (swt) is Forbearing and Patient, and He gives people – even tyrants – the opportunity to turn back.
Thus we see in the Qur’an that Allah sends Moses and Aaron `alayhimaa as-salaam (may Allah’s peace be upon them both) to Pharaoh – and calling Pharaoh ‘oppressive’ would be an understatement! – telling them initially to speak to him gently. Pharaoh rejects them. Moses then shows him proof of his prophethood. Pharaoh rejects him again, insisting on enslaving the Children of Israel. Finally, Allah (swt) overpowers him by drowning him, using someone from the very people that Pharaoh was oppressing, who grew up in his own house. Such is the way of al-Qahhar, who manifests His power by subduing tyrants through the objects of their tyranny.
This is why Imam al-Ghazali describes al-Qahhar in this way: “The Dominator is the one who breaks the back of the powerful among His enemies… Indeed there is no existing thing that is not subject to the domination of His power, and powerlessness in His grasp. That is all.”
Therefore, when we look at events today and wonder “where is al-Qahhar?”, we should remember the story of Moses. Remember that Moses prevailed. Remember that Pharaoh was overpowered.
Our role is to strive against this oppression, knowing that ultimately this is what we will be asked about, and everything is subjected to the Will of Allah (swt). Indeed, so many tyrannical powers eventually come crashing down, bowing to the will of al-Qahhar. Unfortunately, we may not attribute it to Him, but as Allah (swt) tells us:
“The Day they come forth nothing concerning them will be concealed from Allah. To whom belongs [all] sovereignty this Day? To Allah, the One, the Prevailing (al-Qahhar).” (40:16)
On that Day, all will be apparent. All those who oppressed, in both seemingly small and big ways, will be before Allah, al-Qahhar. Then, there will be no ambiguity.
Living with these Names
1 – Balance fear and hope
Today’s Name might cause us to be afraid. This is not a subject we like to talk to about, because it is so much more reassuring to focus on those attributes that enable us to relax. But remembering that Allah (swt) has attributes of Majesty should instill in us the ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’ described earlier. Moreover, Allah’s Names are to be looked at holistically. He is al-Qahhar and He is also al-Lateef (the subtle, the most kind).
2 – Dominate your lower desires
In previous articles, we talked about how we should emulate the attributes of Beauty. But what about attributes of Majesty? How do we apply them? Al-Ghazali counseled: “The dominator amongst men is the one who subdues his enemies. The greatest enemy of man is his soul, which is within him. This soul is more of an enemy to him than Satan, of whose enmity he is wary. Whoever conquers his passions conquers Satan, since Satan lures him to ruin by means of his passions.”
3 – Use that fear to stop at least one sin
To know that Allah is al-Qahhar is to burn the desire for sin in the heart. Because Allah (swt) is the Dominator, we should fear that perhaps al-Qahhar, al-Mumeet (the Life-Taker) might take our soul as we are committing the sin. This should alert us that despite it seeming as though we are being allowed to oppress our souls, we may still face the fate mentioned in this verse:
“So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of every [good] thing until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair.” (Qur’an, 6:44)
These people used the gifts of Allah (swt) in the opposite manner to that for which they were intended, and then they were seized. In another chapter, Allah (swt) describes to us the people of the garden, who took an oath that they would reap all of their fruits and leave nothing for the poor. Allah (swt) caused their garden to be completely burned to the ground, but the owners of that garden understood the lesson. They willed something, but Allah (swt) overpowered their will, and so they turned back to Him.
Hence, this fear should not paralyze us from doing good, but it should paralyze us from doing bad. We should try to choose at least one thing – like backbiting or lying – and do our best to use this Name to help us stop it.
4 – Do not oppress others
The surest way to earn the wrath of al-Qahhar is to oppress others. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him] (fa laa taqhar)” (93:9). The word ‘taqhar’ comes from the same root of the name al-Qahhar. We should understand that oppression is not simply for unjust leaders or cruel human traffickers. We may also be oppressing others in more subtle ways, and thus we should be diligent to avoid this.
Imam Suhaib Webb talks about lessons from the life of Prophet Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him).
By Macksood A. Aftab
The conflict between science and religion has posed a serious threat to religious authority in the contemporary era. Many advocates of scientism have used the tremendous success of science in modern times to question the usefulness of religion as a means of seeking the truth. For example, Stephen Hawking recently stated in a Huffington Post article, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” More recently the harsh critique of religion based upon various forms of scientism by writers such as Richard Dawkins have escalated the conflict.
Their view assumes that both religion and science have the same purpose, namely of explaining the existence of the universe. Furthermore, the scientific method is considered a more reliable way to achieve this goal. This is primarily so because science deals with physical processes, which can be quantified and measured, whereas religion often resorts to metaphysical references, which cannot be “proven.” Professor Naquib Al-Attas, the celebrated Malaysian Muslim philosopher, summarizes the essential problem. He writes, “A gist of their [those who espouse science as the source for truth] basic assumptions is that science is the sole authentic knowledge; that this [scientific] knowledge pertains only to phenomena.” Excluded from science is anything that does not have a “physical” existence, anything that cannot be empirically studied. Therefore, implicit in a worldview that holds science as the highest authority of knowledge is a denial of God.
As the Nobel laureate Werner Arber, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, writes, “The natural sciences are in a steady search for truth, and so is theology.” This naturally creates two apparently competing methodologies of seeking and determining the truth, which inevitably leads to conflict between theology and science. Although the Catholic Church did generally support science, when the conclusions of scientists came in conflict with church dogma, problems arose. This can be seen in the experiences of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin.
Islamic history, however, took a different course. Despite the existence of a sustained robust scientific enterprise in the Islamic world, an overt conflict between science and religion did not arise. Professor Walbridge of Indiana University points out that “the Islamic world produced no martyrs for science like Bruno and Galileo.” One of the achievements of Islamic civilization was the creation of a worldview in which both theology and science could be accepted in a comprehensive rational framework.
The Islamic tradition of scholastic theology is known as kalam. The two primary schools of kalam are the Ash`ari and its close cousin the Maturidi schools. Both are based upon a rational understanding of God and the Universe, which also seek to rigorously preserve salient features of the Islamic concept of God. This tradition, along with its larger place in the Islamic worldview, can best be understood through the works of one of its main proponents Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE). Richard Frank, a scholar of Islamic theology, describes Ghazali as, “The most important Sunni theologian at a crucial turning point in the history of orthodox Muslim theology.” During his time Islam was emerging from a period of intellectual schism. Ghazali contributed to the development of a consensus on this issue, which was to largely become the dominant Sunni doctrine. Thus the Ghazali scholar and translator Walter Skellie writes, “With him [Ghazali] the religious philosophy and experience of Islam reaches its zenith.”
Demonstrative Proof (Burhan)
The triumph of Ghazali’s epistemology lies in its successful reconciliation of reason with revelation. One key element of this was the allowance of figurative interpretations of scripture, particularly when it relates to assertions that may conflict with what is known via reason. Ghazali sets the bar very high for a scientific proof to over-ride scripture, something he calls burhan. Burhan is demonstrative knowledge or definitive logical proof. According to Ghazali, it held an even higher epistemic status than even scholastic theology (kalam).
Professor Al-Akiti of Oxford writes, “For al-Ghazali, burhan [definitive logical proof], and not kalam, is what he considered to be scientific knowledge, the ‘gold-standard’ in the art of reasoning – a judgment expounded in his Mi’yar al-’Ilm.” The late professor Marmura, a Ghazali scholar, summarizes Ghazali’s attitude towards definitive logical proof as follows:
“A science whose conclusions are not demonstrably true and which are in conflict with the literal assertions of scripture must be rejected. On the other hand, if what is demonstrably true contradicts the literal sense of scriptural language, then the latter must be interpreted metaphorically.”
Having firmly grounded his worldview in rationality, Ghazali proceeds to point out that physical science does not meet the standards of definitive logical proof unless God is added to the equation. This is because science is based upon a flawed assumption, namely that of natural causation. Causation, Ghazali argues, can only guaranteed if God is there to secure it. And importantly, according to Ghazali, God is there to secure it. Belief in God then becomes a prerequisite to the successful pursuit of science.
Causation, God & Science
Ghazali was able to reconcile the most important principle of science (namely causation) with Islamic theological doctrines (as articulated by the dominant Ash`ari school). Ash`ari theology developed in response to certain heterodox formulations of Islamic doctrine (such as those adopted by the Mutazalites and the Philosophers) which had the effect of diminishing key Divine attributes. Some of these formulations share a belief in necessary causation with modern secular scientists. Therefore Ghazali’s critique of their view is particularly instructive in tackling similar issues in the contemporary era.
Some of the main articles of faith in Ash`ari theology are that God is all powerful, He is all knowing and all events occur due to His express will. The Ash`aris therefore believed that all events are directly caused only by God, and not by anything else. God is not merely the first cause but also the immediate cause of every subsequent minor and major event that occurs in the universe. This appears to run contrary to our contemporary understanding of secular science, which rests on the principle of natural causation. Namely, that things (or events) cause other things (or events). For example, we think fire causes cotton to burn when they are brought near each other.
Ghazali questions the principle of necessary causation adopted by certain philosophers. According to Ghazali, this relationship between cause and effect is not necessary. To use his terminology, there is no definitive logical proof (burhan) that it is the cause that is responsible for the effect. He argues that all we observe is a quick succession of events, cotton being brought close to fire and the cotton burning. But a relationship based simply on proximity in time or space does not imply necessary causation. Ghazali famously states, “The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary.”
David Hume in the Western tradition made a similar argument against causation. He asked, “Where is the causal glue” holding together the cause and the effect? Unlike Hume who was led to skepticism, however, Ghazali has an answer to this conundrum. For Ghazali, the causal glue is God. It is God who ensures that the relationship between cause and effect always holds. In doing so, Ghazali has made room for orthodox Islamic theology in which God is the direct cause of everything.
On its surface this line of thinking can be misunderstood to in fact undermine science, as several historians and scientists have thought. For example, the historian Tamim Ansary writes, “Take it however you will, the argument against causality undermines the whole scientific enterprise. If nothing actually causes anything else, why bother to observe the natural world in search of meaningful patterns?” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a preeminent Pakistani scientist, expresses a similar concern with the Ash`ari position, stating that in such a world, “even a speeding arrow might not reach its destination.” In other words, if the cause and effect relationship is not necessary then there would be no sure way to rely on our observations, predict natural phenomena or to do scientific experiments.
Conflict Averted, Science Flourished
This criticism, however, implies a dogmatic belief in science which sidesteps the very real problem of causation. Ghazali does not need to (nor does he) deny causation. He is merely denying necessary causation—namely, that there is no conclusive proof that things can influence other things by themselves. For Ghazali, God is required to ensure that the relationship between cause and effect always hold true. As Frank Griffel, a Ghazali scholar at Yale, writes:
“Trust in God (tawakkul) is a major condition for investigating the natural sciences. Such trust requires the certainty to know that God will not change books into horses or disconnect our knowledge from reality. Given that God habitually creates our knowledge to accord with reality, we can rely on our sense and our judgment and confidently pursue the natural sciences.”
According to this view God could suspend the laws of causation, but He never does and never will. So fire will always burn cotton but this is only true because in every instance of its occurrence God ensures that it is so. In effect, Ghazali has created a framework in which science can operate and the principles of Islamic theology (Divine power, knowledge and will) are also preserved.
Furthermore, Ghazali even located miracles – which he calls strange and wondrous phenomena – within the empirical world. Even miracles were then not Divine acts of suspension of the normal workings of the universe; rather they were unusual phenomena of nature due to causes not immediately clear to us at the moment. The possibility of additional causal chains other than those currently physically observed encouraged further exploration of the natural world. Ahmad Dallal, a historian of Islamic science at Georgetown University writes,
“The aspect that had the most influence on the development of science was the concept of multiple possibilities (tajwiz), the notion that specific natural philosophical explanations (or planetary models) are possible but not certain, and that there may exist alternative explanations for the natural phenomena… this idea was grounded in an epistemological criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics.”
After Ghazali, science in the Muslim world experienced a prolonged renaissance as documented by Yale historian George Saliba. His understanding had the effect of legitimizing science. Science was a discipline ensured by God. It also had the effect of effectively separating theology from physical science. Divine attributes are known through revelation, and science plays no significant role in informing us about these metaphysical matters. On the other hand revelation does not interfere with the workings of science; it is left as an independent discipline within the larger Islamic framework. Dallal explains,
“After Al-Ghazali, the need to invoke religion to vindicate science considerably decreased, not because science was not accepted but because it did not need vindication. Excluding final-cause explorations from science did not compromise the providence of God, which was simply assumed without questioning (bila kayf).”
This worldview rests on the premise that God exists and sustains the Universe. God is not the end goal of science, but rather the starting point. This created an organic and interdependent relationship between science and religion, which essentially eliminated the potential of conflict between the two disciplines. In fact, as professor Muzaffar Iqbal, a philosopher of Islamic science, writes:
“No one thought of them [science and religion] as two independent entities which needed to be related via an external mechanism… This relationship emerged naturally and because the scientific tradition was thoroughly rooted in the worldview created by Islam.”
This worldview was rational. It recognized the primacy of reason and in fact accorded burhan the highest epistemic status. Within this framework secular science is critiqued based upon logical fallacies assumed by its proponents. Science is then presented not as a competing force with religion, but rather as a viable enterprise, as part of a comprehensive worldview that encompasses God. In fact, it is grounded in the assumption of God. This delicate balance, which secured both science and theology, is one of the greatest achievements of medieval Muslim theologians.
Dr. Macksood Aftab is a neuroradiologist, and clinical assistant professor at both Michigan State University and Central Michigan University. He holds a Master degree in History of Science, and is an editor for the Journal of Islamic Philosophy. The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part I | Part II
In the last article, we explored how Allah (swt) exonerated Aisha radi allahu `anha (may God be please with her) and Prophet Joseph `alayhi as-salaaam (peace be upon him) from unsubstantiated and untrue gossip, and we talked about the victims of slander. Today, it’s about the perpetrators of slander. It is about, quite possibly, you and me.
Sometimes in the name of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” we forget the sanctity of our fellow human beings and especially fellow believers. We spread things that are unsubstantiated in a bid to ‘warn others’ about possible deviancy. We are harsh in our words. We assume the worst. We forget that one of the best traits a Muslim can have is “thinking well of the servant of Allah” and for other Muslims to be “safe from his hands and tongue.”
We forget that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) passed by a grave and he warned that the person was suffering in his grave because he would spread gossip. We forget that that person we are talking about may have our good deeds transferred to him simply because he is a victim of our speech.
Scary stuff? It is. The Prophet ﷺ said: “The majority of man’s sins emanate from his tongue.” (Tabarani)
To go back to the examples in our previous article, it was clear that those with power—the minister and the minister’s wife—knew the truth with regards to what was said about the Prophet Joseph (as). But they allowed the rumor to persist and put Prophet Joseph in prison. With Aisha (ra), we have even more details. The people who discussed the rumor were good Muslims. They discussed the scandalous nature of what was said, and in doing so, spread it far and wide. Shaytan created doubt: “Could it actually be true?” Allah admonished the Muslims when He informs us in the Qur’an about what happened:
“Why, when you heard it, did not the believing men and believing women think good of one another and say, ‘This is an obvious falsehood?’” (Qur’an, 24:12)
Now some people might think this example is extreme. We would never spread such a rumor. But rumors and slander and gossip come in all shapes and forms. So if you hear something about someone that is unsubstantiated, do not fuel the fire. We are just as bad as those news networks we criticize, who pick up a story, and whether true or not, run with it.
This is not intended to shut down constructive criticism of public figures. There are ways of bringing people to account. There are ways of disagreeing and critiquing ideas and views, which are beyond the scope of this article. But in the age of the internet, anyone can write a piece and within an hour it is shared and read by many. And it would do us good to reflect on what our role is in this. We must remember that we will be held to account. So let us not put ourselves in a position to be asked about why we were careless in our research, harsh in words, and negative in our basic assumptions about others.
And remember that the Prophet ﷺ taught:
“A person’s eman (faith) is not upright until his heart is upright, and his heart is not upright until his tongue is upright.” (Ahmad)
Many of us pray for the perfect spouse and imagine him or her being a certain way. Sometimes, what we pray for becomes most apparent in difficult times. In this account, a wife talks about the ways in which real life has helped her and her husband grow in their beautiful relationship.
“My husband and I are from two different worlds literally and figuratively, and the thing that binds us together the most is Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) and our undeniable faith in Him (swt). After looking in America for two years, I decided to marry someone from “back home,” i.e. Pakistan. When we first got married, we realized what a huge adjustment it would be for both of us. We had kids right away when he came. He went to school here and got his degree from here, and I supported him financially all during the time that I was a new mother and the only thing I wanted to do was raise my precious firstborn full-time.
Under such circumstances many marriages rightfully take a back seat and the relationship crumbles. We had many big fights over those first few years. Every time we fought I made du`a’ (supplication) to Allah (swt) to make it better, and He did. Our fights never lasted more than a day, and one of us always ended up saying sorry. We couldn’t go to sleep without making up. Throughout our good times and hard times I discovered that I married a very caring and generous man. I also discovered that I needed to accept him for who he was and that I had many bad qualities that needed to be worked out if I was going to stand in front of my Creator on the Day of Judgment. His love for me is shown in always hiding my faults in front of others, in picking flowers for me on the way home from the masjid, in taking care of the kids and giving me some time off, in cleaning up a messy house and in always sharing with me his day to day dealings at work or with his friends. As time has passed we have gotten closer and now I can’t imagine not having him in my life. The kids have really served to bond us together and it warms my heart when our eldest wants to pray because he sees his father praying. Alhamdullilah (praise be to God)!
My husband is not perfect and has many faults, but I know inside there is a light of goodness that gets dim at times and at times shines brightly, and I am committed to stand by him throughout all the times. I used to make du`a’ to Allah (swt) for a pious, kind, gentle husband and now that Allah (swt) has given me a slave of His to love, I must remain thankful, for if I am thankful He will give me more. We just celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary, and I look forward to spending many more with him insha’ Allah (God-willing).”
The Vikings referred to the Abbasid Empire as Serkland. There are a few theories regarding the origin of this name, but it likely originated from the Norse term serkr, which meant tunic or gown. The term was mentioned in the Ingvar Runestones, specifically in the Gripsholm Runestone (Sö 179). They were raised to commemorate those Vikings who died fighting the Muslims on the Caspian Sea under Yngvarr víðförli, whose Norse name and title meant “Ingvar the Far-traveled”.1 Interestingly related to the word serkr, the English word “berserk”—meaning to go crazy—comes from the Norse word berserkr which was a term for Viking warriors who fought in a trance-like rage. They were given this name because they wore the coats of bears, called ber in Old Norse. Thus, berserkr means “bear coat”.2 So the Vikings, or Rūs, as they were called by the Muslims (from which came the later ethnonym “Russian”), saw the Abbasids wearing their long tunics, cloaks, capes and coats and referred to their realm as “Serkland”, the land of the “Serkir”, those who wear long coats. The dignified appearances of the early Muslims left quite an impression.
The Muslims were known for always dressing impeccably regardless of what social class they came from. There was a dignity and respect in the way they presented themselves, and this was markedly observed by even their adversaries. In the famous French prose “The Song of Roland”, which lauds the heroic deeds of the “Holy Barbarian” King Charlemagne in his battles against the Muslims, the leader of the Muslims is described as strikingly handsome and a noble equal to Charlemagne. The song praises him thus:
“An Emir of Balaguet came in place,
Proud of body, and fair of face;
Since first he sprang on steed to ride,
To wear his harness was all his pride;
For feats of prowess great laud he won;
Were he Christian, nobler baron none!”3
In the end, the only way Charlemagne is said to defeat him is with the help of the Archangel Gabriel.
God says in the Qur’an:
يَا بَنِي آدَمَ خُذُوا زِينَتَكُمْ عِندَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ
“O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer.”4
Do we care for our appearance, cleanliness and attire when visiting the mosque? Even if not daily, do we at least in our Friday prayers? Sometimes we do. I often see Africans in their brightly colored gowns and hats, the Indonesians and Malays in their perfectly pressed shirts, gilded hats and sarongs, the African-Americans in their best suits, ties and/or bowties. But what I also see alarmingly too often are sweat-pants, t-shirts, tunics which you know alternate as sleepwear, long faces and disheveled hair. Sadly, I fear that may be the majority in too many mosques.
There is a Prophetic saying:
إِذا أَتَاك الله مَالا فَلْيُرَ أثَرُ نِعْمَةِ الله عَلَيْكَ وكَرَامَتِهِ
“If God has given you an income then display signs of His blessings and generosity upon you.”5
So, there is an element of gratitude and acknowledgement of God’s blessings when you take care of your appearance and utilize what He has blessed you with to look your very best. Yet, the Ottoman era scholar al-Munāwī is also careful to qualify this saying:
“‘And His generosity’ – that which He has bestowed upon you. For in attire is an indication of one’s overall condition, self-worth, self-respect, and hygiene. And it is so those in need will know to go to him, but he must be careful with his intentions and avoid all forms of excess.”6
With this, he also relates an interesting story therein about the famous scholar and successor to the Prophet (ﷺ)’s Companions, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, wearing a shirt costing 400 dirhams. One time he met Farqad al-Sinjī, a known Sufi of the time, which sparked a telling dialog. In the early days of Islam, the Sufis wore coarse wool garments and, for this, some have speculated that the word “Sufi” may originate from the Arabic word for wool, Ṣūf. Farqad said reproachfully to al-Hasan, “O Abū Sa`īd, how soft is your clothing!” To this, al-Ḥasan replied using a lexical diminution7 of Farqad’s name, “O Furayqid! The softness of my clothes does not distance me from God, nor does the coarseness of your clothing make you closer to Him.” Al-Ḥasan then went on to quote the saying of the Prophet ﷺ, “God is beautiful and He loves beauty.” In another narration al-Ḥasan rebuked Farqad’s spiritual arrogance with: “They have piety in their clothing, but they have arrogance in their hearts.”8 Whether relevant or not, Farqad al- Sinjī later became considered a severely defective narrator.
So while we may feel that our theology is sound and we are the people of the true faith, there is something seriously wrong when Christians are in their finest clothes when visiting church on Sunday but we look like we’re running errands when we go for Friday prayers. It reflects our overall attitude, which comes across as clear as day in how we present ourselves and how we allow ourselves to be perceived by those around us. As al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri said, there are those who may dress simply but their hearts are full of conceit. Don’t be content thinking you’re the people of Truth if you don’t even look the part.
A Cornell University psychologist who chaired the conference When to Judge a Book by Its Cover: Timing, Context, and Individual Differences in First Impressions stated, “Despite the well-known idiom to ‘not judge a book by its cover,’ the present research shows that such judgments about the cover are good proxies for judgments about the book — even after reading it.” This research is particularly focused on impressions that are made within mere seconds of seeing someone and the results are that any negative impression garnered within the first few seconds can outlast any and all efforts to dispel them later through explanation or amiable conduct. So we can exhaust every effort in trying to convince our non-Muslim neighbors that we’re good people, but if we don’t look it, they won’t believe it. Fair or not, that is plain science. Would you find it easier to change human psychology or simply pay more attention to how you present yourself?
So, while the Vikings raided our coasts along the Caspian Sea and Charlemagne drove us out of Western France and invaded Muslim Spain, they were so impressed by us that they actually wrote poetry about us. We need to ask ourselves a very serious question: enemies aside, do we even leave that kind of impression upon our non-Muslim friends? Let us answer that honestly in the quiet of our conscience and, if necessary, make changes in our lives accordingly.
- Runelore: The Magic, History, and Hidden Codes of the Runes, p. 38, Edred Thorsson
- Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia, p. 38, Phillip Pulsiano, Kirsten Wolf
- The Song of Roland, 228:3164, Translated from French by John O’Hagen
- The Holy Qur’an, 7:31, Yusuf `Ali translation, 1938
- Recorded by Aḥmad, al-Tirmidhī, Abū Dawūd, al-Nasā’ī, and many others
- Fayḍ al-Qadīr Sharḥ Jami` al-Ṣaghīr, al-Munāwī
- Called Taṣghīr al-Ism in Arabic lexical morphology wherein a word is made diminutive, or to indicate “smallness”, by conforming it to the fu`ayl consonantal skeleton.
- Kitāb al-Zuhd of Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal, Fayḍ al-Qadīr of al-Munāwī, Muḥāḍirāt al-Adbā’ of al-Iṣfahāni, and others.
By Anthony Hardy
“I don’t understand,” said a friend of mine who happened to be an agnostic, “if Muslims here are just as racist as the Christians, why the Hell are you still Muslim?”
This question had never been posed to me in all my years of being Muslim. I had given it ample thought. I hadn’t, however, formulated a cogent, verbal response for it in the event someone asked me.
“I mean,” he continued, “if one of the reasons you converted was because of the race thing, you didn’t get very far. Seems like you may have regressed a bit actually. Just seems like you going through a lot of trouble for this Islam stuff.”
I conceded his point. While some phenomenal Muslims, Black and non-Black, had crossed my path along my trek in this great faith, I can say with unwavering certainty the vast majority of my time as a Muslim has been filled with hardship, isolation, and loneliness. Some converts break and fold under the immense pressure to which they are subjected at the hands of the community and their families. Some apostate as a result. I can’t say I blame them. I wasn’t broken – alhamduliLah (praise be to God) – but I was scarred and bent: the human heart is a fickle and fragile morsel of flesh.
There really was nothing on the outside anchoring me to Islam: with the exception of my younger brother, himself a convert, I didn’t have any Muslim relatives; my culture wasn’t enmeshed in Islam; though I have a strong affinity for the Black Muslim community, I didn’t belong to any community in particular; and because of my experiences and the experiences of loved ones, I didn’t even want to belong.
I responded to my friend’s inquiry, “True, in terms of race, I probably did backtrack a bit. Still, there are some existential considerations for which Islam provides sufficient explanations that no other system of thought I’ve come across has the potential to answer. For that reason, I stick around.”
Islam mandates upon those who embrace its inspiration to submit their ego as best as they can manage to a set of transcendent principles and confers nobility upon those individuals who make earnest attempts to uphold those dignifying principles. Unlike in our society, where one’s worth is determined by wealth, lineage, extent of education, occupation, gender, sexual orientation, physical beauty, physical handicap and – yes – even skin color and hair texture, the notion of submission and adherence to a set of divine principles as the ultimate measure of one’s value is largely independent of the circumstances surrounding one’s genesis into the world or current station in the world and thus lends itself to a humble agnosticism concerning the ultimate worth of others: under such an empowering paradigm, even the jettisoned pauper, pygmy, or orphan has the potential to be a prince or princess in the eyes of God by virtue of character, actions, and outlook.
Each soul is granted a story of its own from its Lord related to where and when He chose to author it. The purpose of those different stories is so that we might all learn and grow from them all and hence from one another. We are meant to be mirrors unto one another. I remain Muslim, among other reasons, because Islam dictates by virtue of tauhīd (oneness of God) that my story and the stories and experiences of my people have intrinsic value for humanity at large, even if many in the world, including and especially Muslims, fail to recognize that value for our skin color, class, culture, or whatever. We are lessons to be heeded and learned. As it stands, large segments of Muslims in America deign to perceive themselves as superior to us because of what Allāh, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), has bestowed upon them out of His Mercy and do not wish to educate themselves with our stories or even has us in their company or communities or families, quite possibly out of the very essence of kufr (disbelief of God) itself, for it was Allāh (swt) Himself who created us as we are.
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”
— Qur’ān, (49:13)
Unfortunately, Muslims have done themselves, their families, their children, their communities, and their religion a grave disservice in their folly. Until Muslims begin to realize the source of their honor is with God alone, until Muslims resume their slave status before God and not to the inventions of men, physical or otherwise, my mother will continue to be correct and Black Muslims or other communities who have contributed or have the potential to contribute so much to Islam in America and throughout the world will only always be just “niggers” or “thugs” or “gangsters” or “scary” or “dime a dozen” or “too dark” or ‘abd or zenci or whatever other derogatory term cultures may design. We must muster the courage to strive against the false gods and false regimes of validation that have taken residence in our hearts and minds for the integrity of the community, for our collective existence in this country, and for the integrity and purity of our eternal souls before our Lord.
I pray for a better way forward. I can’t do it without you.
To sit and dream, to sit and read,
To sit and learn about the world
Outside our world of here and now –
our problem world –
To dream of vast horizons of the soul
Through dreams made whole,
Unfettered free – help me!
All you who are dreamers, too,
Help me make our world anew.
I reach out my hands to you.
– Langston Hughes, “To You”