Muslim blogs

Like A Flower

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sat, 22/10/2016 - 21:15

Like a flower her smile reveals the truth,
Her clarity defies the need for proofs.

That even in these dark days of our hate,
To blossom and to shine shall be our fate.

The deep morass that couches our sins,
Can be traversed if we but look within.

For therein lies the flower of our soul,
More precious than diamonds, silver or gold.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Water Is Life: The Battle to Block the Dakota Access Pipeline

The Platform - Tue, 18/10/2016 - 00:18

Why the indigenous campaign “Mni Wiconi” has put extractivism under question


Against a backdrop of the howling white noise generated by this year’s U.S. presidential elections, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, supported by a coalition of more than 250 indigenous nations, along with allies and supporters from all over the world, are busy fighting the $3.7 billion, 1,134 mile long Dakota Access Pipeline.

In our age of bailouts and ecological crises, a who’s who of global financial capital has joined forces with the oil industry. It is counting on the political establishment in Washington D.C. to give the Dakota Access project the green light in the face of various legal challenges, including a suit filed by the Standing Rock Sioux accusing the project of threatening its supply of drinking water, sacred sites and burial locations. Meanwhile, thousands of Native American anti-pipeline (#NoDAPL) “Water Protectors” have congregated in the Sacred Stone Camp in the Standing Rock Sioux heartland since April of this year, near where the pipeline would pass under the Missouri River. 

Extractivism, embodied by projects like Dakota Access, appears as a planet-straddling corporate colossus, with backing from the centres of political and economic power. It is rationalised by an ideology that threatens to elevate abstract financial considerations above that of wealth equality – and even above common sense, as the drinking water of 17 million people could be affected. Extractivist mega-projects rely on the application of overwhelming force – military, legal and financial – in order to impose the policies of this western market onto the sovereign homelands of self-ruled peoples such as the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The single-minded avarice of industry management faces competing worldviews. Values held by populations living in the vicinity of resource removal meet the aims of the federal government, who have been acting as a kind of referee between the local communities and the extractors. Visions of a “sustainable” or “green” industrialism, through wind, solar and other energy generation technologies, add a further dimension to the discussion of energy infrastructure projects.  

In what is surely a sign of strength, the Water Protectors recently forced a halt to construction on one stretch of pipeline until further review by the Army Corps of Engineers, who are in charge of consulting the communities, including sovereign tribes, along its route. By winning this resounding, albeit temporary, victory in their resistance, could the struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe expose the workings of a once-powerful industry in collapse? Indigenous delegations from as far afield as Ecuador and Hawaii have travelled to declare their support for the mission of the gathered Protectors, to stop the pipeline where it endangers life, demonstrating an encouraging resolution to the environmental movement at large.

The momentum behind the enormous, global system coordinated to drill, dig and burn fossil fuels from underground and under-sea is the near-silent engine animating and carrying those of us in the west through our everyday lives. It is epic in scale. As an end in itself, extracting every last drop of oil, every last chunk of coal, is patently absurd. And yet it infuses the strongest market forces in the world with an epochal, almost unassailable, potency – at least on a psychological level. These substances from beneath our feet are fundamental to our being; the same is true of the atomic material central to nuclear power generation. They are undoubtedly useful in a myriad of applications, generating historically unmatched economic power due to their stored biological versatility. But a fire is a fire, and smoke is smoke. The consequences of unchecked extraction industries are all but ignored in the halls of power, in spite of voluntary efforts like the Paris Climate Agreement. Global climate change, due to aggressive resource exploitation and rapidly declining habitats worldwide, is likely initiating the opening stages of the earth’s sixth great extinction, which threatens to cause the disappearance of 75 per cent or more of existing species.  This is the actual physical stuff that belies the claims of the present global order. 

The Dakota Access Pipeline, if completed, will snake through four U.S. states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois) and cross 209 creeks, streams, and rivers, including the Mississippi and Missouri, carrying half a million barrels (25 million gallons) a day of what its owner, Energy Transfer Partners, calls “light, sweet crude oil”. Currently, more than 85 million gallons of oil flow through pipelines in the Midwest every single day. At the present price of crude oil, around $45 per barrel, Dakota Access investors would likely generate double the pipeline’s $3.7 billion cost in gross profit in the first year of operation. Pretty sweet for Energy Transfer Partners, right?

The construction halt, ordered by an Obama-appointed federal judge only after the project was met with significant resistance, can be read as a sign of the Democratic Obama Administration’s political vulnerability in the face of the white nationalist movement behind the Republican presidential campaign of Donald Trump. The 2016 presidential election takes place on 8th November, with the Obama White House and Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, relying on Native American and environmentalist support.

The election is a background issue in the tribe’s fight to protect the waters of the Missouri, a source of drinking water for millions. But the federal role in approving petroleum infrastructure projects is not simply a legal or policy question – it is also a more enduring political and moral issue. The confrontation currently taking place at the Sacred Stone Camp is one of repression, with prayer meetings and gatherings of Water Protectors being met with escalating force. The Protectors, though their resources pale in comparison to the oil companies’, have raised almost $500,000 for legal defence.

In policy terms, the U.S. government already provides cover to the extractive industries. The fact that the Obama Administration is playing a role as any kind of mediator between the Water Protectors and the polluting industries may indeed represent election-year pragmatism, to be quietly abandoned in the favour of corporate interests after November’s results at the polls. On the other hand, approving dirty infrastructure that threatens substances necessary for human survival on a continental scale effectively amounts to indemnifying such projects.

The determined action of the Water Protectors may cause fossil fuel industries to be treated with a different kind of urgency. Whereas, before, industries like the automotive industry and the banks enjoyed massive bailouts of private interests, serious re-evaluation may be near. The risks associated with oil pipelines are unacceptable for the Water Protectors, precipitating direct action that is increasing the costs associated with an already-risky industry. If those costs rise fast and high enough, smart money in finance and insurance may encourage investment in less controversial alternatives, further undermining oil’s market position.

Protest and direct action do work, but in this case what the Water Protectors are offering fellow travellers, organisers, and activists may be more significant. Their critique of the extraction-dependent industrialism threatening their homeland is spiritually and emotionally resonant, fused with an activism focused on the environmental ravages at the deepest cosmological and cultural levels. Such a fusion forms a hardy united front against Big Oil, and through the example provided by indigenous theories and practices, points beyond to a future governed by inclusive communities, capable of the shared cultural, moral, political and intellectual coherence required to stave off aggressive and increasingly toxic extractive capitalism.

This may be wishful thinking, but the forceful moral and philosophical claim, “Mni Wiconi – Water is Life”, is not an assertion of feeling alone, but of living, breathing, bleeding reality. We can only hope that this intellectual and moral clarity, that this prophecy, reaches us from our future, and not our past.

Featured image source here / Body / Body / Body

Categories: Muslim blogs

Trafficked and Trapped in Oman

The Platform - Thu, 13/10/2016 - 14:49

Female domestic workers in Oman suffer extreme hardship with forced labour, abuse and little or no recourse to legal assistance 


“She kicked me and I fell on my chest. [Then] she picked up my head by grabbing my hair,” Mamata told me. “They [the family] beat me mercilessly. I became numb from all the beating.”

Mamata, a domestic worker from Bangladesh, spoke with me in 2015 in a run-down building in Muscat, Oman’s capital, about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her employers. She, like many other domestic workers, told me a story of coercion, exploitation, and abuse in Oman, a country where she never even intended to be.

The ordeal of Mamata, whose name we changed for her security, began with her paying some GBP £700 to a recruitment agent in Bangladesh to secure her a £150-per-month domestic worker job in the United Arab Emirates. Yet just a week after she arrived in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, a medical test revealed that she has a blood disorder, so her employer returned her to the recruitment agency in the UAE.

The agents took her to their office in Al Ain, a town that straddles the UAE-Oman border. She was there for 25 days, along with other women, until the agents told her to go with an employer to Oman. Mamata pleaded that she did not want to go, but the agent replied, “Die here then.” She begged her new employer too, but he told her, “I bought you.” He took her to Oman, where he forced her to work 21 hours a day with no rest and no day off for a family of 10, including 6 young children. He and his family only allowed her one phone call in two months, did not provide enough food, paid her nothing, and beat her.

More than 140,000 female migrant domestic workers are in Oman. Many receive decent salaries and have good working conditions, but others, like Mamata, face a far bleaker reality.

My colleague and I interviewed 59 migrant domestic workers in Oman for a Human Rights Watch report released this past July. Most said that their employers had confiscated their passports even though Oman prohibits that, making it harder to leave them if they’re abusive. Many said their employers did not pay them their full salaries, forced them to work excessively long hours without breaks or days off, or denied them adequate food and living conditions. Some said their employers physically abused them; a few described sexual abuse. Sadly, Mamata’s fate may not have been any different if she had remained in the UAE. In an earlier report, we documented similar abuses against domestic workers in the UAE.

Some workers we interviewed in Oman described abuses that amounted to trafficking into forced labour. They said they applied for jobs in the UAE, but after arriving there, recruitment agents or employers forced or coerced them into crossing the porous border into Oman with employers who exploited and abused them.

Embassy officials of Asian countries where some of the UAE domestic workers come from told me that Omani and other Gulf country employers often travel to Al Ain on Fridays to find a domestic worker. One said that women, many of whom had travelled to the UAE for domestic work, were confined by the recruiting agencies and sometimes “put on display” for potential employers. Another said that it is “just like window shopping.” Employers who get domestic workers this way often evade legal requirements for hiring foreign labour, and this deprives workers of even minimal protections.

An Indonesian embassy official in Oman told me that 60 out of 100 women whom the embassy had sheltered in April 2015 after they fled abusive employers had come to Oman by crossing the UAE border. They did not know the workers were in the country, and so they had no way to ensure that employers offered health insurance or complied with other protection measures such as verifying that employers can pay their salaries.

Domestic workers have fewer protections than other workers in Gulf states, where countries such as Oman and the UAE explicitly exclude them from their labour laws. Moreover, abuses against domestic workers are facilitated by Oman’s abusive kafala (visa sponsorship) system. This system, in force in many Gulf states, ties migrant domestic workers’ visas to their employers. Workers cannot change jobs without their current employer’s permission, and they risk imprisonment and deportation for “absconding” if they leave, even if they are fleeing abuse.

Some domestic workers who fled abuse in Oman told us that police not only failed to help them, but sometimes made matters worse. Mamata said that when she first escaped. she went to the police in Oman for help. They returned her to her employer, who beat her and locked her in a room for eight days with only dates and water. Mamata was awaiting her return home, but had received no redress for the abuse, when I met her.

Oman, the UAE, and other Gulf countries should reform their immigration and labour laws to protect domestic workers’ rights, and cooperate on investigating cases of trafficking. Otherwise more women like Mamata will end up trafficked and trapped.

Featured Image: A migrant domestic worker watches over a child playing in the Magic Planet, City Centre Muscat, a shopping mall in Oman. © 2015 Rothna Begum/Human Rights Watch

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Merchant of Venice and Conservative Party Politics

The Platform - Tue, 11/10/2016 - 18:57

Originally published in 1600, Shakespeare’s play is brought to life at the Globe and its relevance is disconcerting


Contains spoilers

The Jewish merchant, Shylock, is seeking his “pound of flesh”. His short term loan of 3,000 ducats given to the Christian Bassanio has not been returned on time as promised, so the dark humoured bond they agreed on, allowing the lender to take a pound of flesh from any part of the body he wishes, is to be fulfilled. There seems to be no way out, until a wealthy Venetian heiress arrives disguised as a lawyer. She finds an absent clause which means Shylock cannot shed a drop of Christian blood in the process – an impossible feat. So, in a cunning manipulation of the law, Shylock’s justice fails to be upheld and in turn, he is punished.

Shylock is emphatically Jewish and anti-Christian. He is unceasingly identified as the stereotype of a cruel and cunning Jew by everyone he crosses, and his motive is to commit legalised murder. These facts sit uncomfortably adjacent to each other, yet despite Shylock’s villainy, the closing scene of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice at the Globe left us with a sense of lingering dread for him, well after we had left the beautifully lit, curved construction.

After witnessing  the Conservative Party conference unravel in the past week, Shylock’s final cry is one that pierces deep into the soul. Throughout the play, we come to understand how, for him, becoming Christian would be a fate worse than death, not per the religion itself, but for its disciples’ all-pervading sense of righteousness as they become law unto themselves. Never in his wildest days did he imagine his end. As the agonising baptism drenches him, we’re unsure if any production could feel as timely.

The growingly divisive rhetoric that is taking our country backwards – and we say “our” intentionally – is a key feature and driving force for the implementation of policy along the lines of “overseas” and “home grown”, “immigrant” and “citizen”, and “UK born” and “foreign born”, as revealed in the speeches of Theresa May, Amber Rudd and Jeremy Hunt last week. This is the shameful direction of a party which is pandering to its downtrodden by pitting them against its marginalised. It is the UKIP style of language that got British parliamentarian Joe Cox murdered just four months ago – a fact which seems to have quickly dissipated from the minds of the Tories. And it is the tactful type of fear mongering that simultaneously causes hostility between communities and props up the most privileged.

Such sinister divisiveness unravels itself in Shakespeare’s text, who sought to highlight English society’s extreme prejudice and anti-Semitism in a Venetian setting, while still maintaining the stereotype of the tight-fisted Jew to the delight of his contemporaries.

Director Jonathan Munby tells the story with authentic brilliance, in a production which is deeply moving and painful, offset by comic relief in the scenes where Portia (Rachel Pickup) selects her suitor and Launcelot (Stefan Adegbola) presents his monologues. The protagonist Shylock (Game of Thrones’ Jonathan Pryce) displays the right amount of authority and victimhood, as the dynamics of inequality and hate come to fruition before our eyes.

Rich Jew. Faithless Jew. Villain Jew. Dog Jew. Jew. Jew. Jew. “The very devil incarnal”. This reduction of Shylock is repeated with immense disgust and scorn throughout the play that it causes us to wince uncomfortably, again and again. The frequency of the negative association packs weeks, months, years and decades of dehumanisation into under three hours. The language is all too familiar, as we see anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate crime reach a record high this year (so much so, that we’ve got a National Hate Crime Awareness Week lined up this week). Derogatory phrases and stereotypes, which were somewhat limited to tabloid publications, have now found their way into mainstream spaces and political stages.

Shylock is ostracised up to the point where he can still be a tactical advantage to society (foreign doctors anyone?), and in turn, he isolates himself and shows his contempt for the Christians. He is brutal, in so much that brutality is the only option for a Jew in this environment.

We see Shylock’s daughter Jessica (Phoebe Pryce) on a quest to rid herself of every shred of her true identity. She runs away from her home, betrays her father, steals his ducats, converts to Christianity and adapts her prayer – changes which are symbolised in the cross around her neck. Her husband Lorenzo (Ben Lamb) struggles to defend her in front of the criticism of his peers and sometimes holds himself back from reprimanding her for her practices. It seems that no matter what Jessica does to denounce her Jewishness, she will never be fully accepted in Venetian society.

Much like the ungraspable values which Jessica idealises, elusive “British values” have been injected into the daily political discourse of our lives, further widening the rift between “them and us”, leaving many in the UK to question whether they are among the favoured. As British musician Akala recently commented: “The propaganda of ‘British values’ is a distortion of history… Some of the people of this island have a much more interesting, subversive, counter-cultural set of traditions buried beneath the surface.”

Shakespeare points to the social turmoil that congeals when inequality is allowed to fester. The shocking anti-Semitism he depicts continues, just as we commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, in which 20,000 Jews, Irish labourers, trade unionists and other locals of East London came together to block the police from allowing the British Union of Fascists (BUF) to march through Tower Hamlets. The Cable Street victory, however, was shortly followed up with coordinated anti-Semitic attacks which came to be known as the Mile End Pogrom, showing just how vulnerable our democracy can be. Similar scenes are plaguing Tower Hamlets today, as South Asian communities face off with the English Defence League.

“Tolerance” – that word which feels uncomfortable in its reluctance – is currently fragile and on edge, particularly where Muslim communities have been thrust under the security lens. In this post-Brexit world, with tightening borders and dubious tactics, it is more important than ever before that we recognise alienating language and understand what manipulation looks like. Shakespeare picked up on these nuances and experimented with the script despite the restrictions in place on theatre, so we, too, can work actively in our own ways to challenge notions of identity and combat all forms of prejudice in our communities.

The Merchant of Venice is running at Shakespeare’s Globe until 15th October 2016 with limited availability. You can join the returns queue two hours before the performance. 

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner, The Globe

Categories: Muslim blogs

Islam and the Spiritual in Cuba

The Platform - Sat, 08/10/2016 - 20:49

Embracing Islam amid the changing religious landscape of Cuba comes with its challenges

Cuba is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable states in the world. The country provides free healthcare and education, and anti-gentrification laws mean that Cuban locals still live in the tourist districts (think social housing projects in Oxford Circus). Streets are named after Latin American revolutionaries and there is even a monument of Ho-Chi Minh. For the activist, there is much to revel in.

There is, of course, the danger of romanticising Cuba. No state is perfect. There are many who have fallen through the cracks of state protection and they are overwhelmingly Afro-Cuban. Institutional racism is still rife and the ‘Cuban Dream’, the less popular cousin of its American counterpart, is still far from being realised.

Historically, one of the starkest critiques of the Cuban state has been its lack of religious freedom. After the Cuban revolution (1953-1959), Cubans of faith were barred from joining the Cuban Communist Party and the state promoted atheism. However, this has changed markedly in recent years and there has been a shift in how religion is practised and perceived, a phenomenon never more noticeable than when Pope Francis visited the country in September 2015. With a population comprised of followers of Catholicism and various Afro-Cuban faiths, Cuba is now much more open to religious plurality and freedom of worship. One of the faiths experiencing a growing popularity in the country is Islam.

In a country where Wi-Fi internet access may only be enjoyed in public spaces, and despite a general lack of awareness concerning Islam, there are an estimated 6,500 Muslims in Cuba. In apparent response to this, in June 2015, the Mesquita Abdullah mosque in Cuba opened its doors. Located in a former car museum in the centre of Old Havana, the mosque is funded by the Saudi Arabian government. The space is generously adorned with the essential resources needed to function, as well as beautiful calligraphy on the walls.  

The vast majority of Cuban-born Muslim families came to Islam through their interactions with medical students from Muslim countries, from Chad to Pakistan. An old-fashioned exchange of ideas has and is taking place across the country on the topic of God and the spiritual.  

I spoke to some of the Cuban Muslims attending the mosque to hear their stories, to ask how they became Muslim, and to understand the benefits and challenges of practicing Islam in Cuba.

Pedro Lazo Torres (Imam Yahya)

Can you tell us about “Cuban Islam” and what that looks like?

“We founded the Islamic League of Cuba, which is a religious foundation, in February of 2007. This was the moment we were granted approval from the government.

There is no Pakistani, Arabic, Chinese – [Islam] is a message for all mankind. For that reason, the message reached Cuba as well. Our conversion was inspired by the holy example of the Prophet Mohammed, may God’s peace and blessings be upon him, despite all the negative messaging that the world tells us about Islam. Our logic and rationale attracts us to Islam. We, the Cubans, have now created the first religious institution relating to Islam.

Around the Caribbean, there are a number of countries, like Guyana and Barbados, which have also created their own Islamic institutions. In 500 years of Cuban history, there were no Islamic institutions. We are perceived as a communist country where the freedom of religions doesn’t exist, but in Cuba this is not the case.

With regards to other faith communities, we have a strong Jewish community here in Havana and we have a good relationship with them. We have excellent relationships with the Catholic and Protestant community too.”

How difficult is it to acquire knowledge about Islam in a country where global communications are difficult?

“It is difficult, but as the Qur’an says, after difficulty comes ease. For example, I appoint the younger Cuban converts to Islam for the next generation, and when the opportunity comes we will send them to study abroad in places like Turkey. At this moment in time, we don’t have the right channels to reach universities. The problems with communication and the internet makes it difficult for us to apply for things. This is a problem for all Cubans, but especially Cuban Muslims. We need a lot of support worldwide to try to have access to allow our community to grow.”

Alexis Sanchez Tamayo (Akil)

Could you tell us about your personal journey in converting to Islam?

“Around 11 years ago, I was searching for information on Islam and looking at the example of many different Arabian leaders like Gamal Abdul Nassar and Yasser Arafat. Beyond that, I found the steadfastness of the Arabian people [was] based in their beliefs in Islam. I had a personal friend who was a Muslim and gathered information on Islam from him. After that I took my shahada (testimony of faith) in 2005.”

What are the main challenges of being Muslim in Cuba?

“The main difficulties we find in practicing Islam in Cuba is closely related to culture. Our culture is quite far from the fundamental basics of Islam. Things like halal food, acquiring proper knowledge, these things make it difficult. Mainly, it’s having a public place to perform our prayers in Cuba. Alhumdulilah, now we have this place, but at that time we only had houses.”

What about Muslim women in Cuba – do they face any difficulties?

“They face more problems. The sisters, when they take that step, face problems in their families and their schools. There is an inward and outward change sisters wish to take and this causes issues in society. There are stories of many sisters being criticised for how they express their faith.”

Allen Garcia (Amir Ali)

Can you tell us how you became Muslim?

“I played the guitar on the streets for money [for] my wife and kid. I came from Santiago and asked God to change me, my intentions. The Prophet said it is all about intentions. I tried to commit suicide and ended up converting in hospital. I saw a man called Isa praying in the hospital and spoke to him about what he was doing. After this, I took my proclamation of faith.”

How have friends reacted to your conversion?

Friends of other faiths have congratulated me. They saw I was calmer and they saw me change, they said, “I respect you, you respect me.”

Mosque Abdallah is located on Calle Oficios, No. 18, Havana, Cuba.

Photography: Sharaiz Chaudhry studied Middle East Politics at university before pursuing traditional Islamic studies. He is a keen amateur photographer and is interested in socio-political and international affairs.

Categories: Muslim blogs

From the Nation to the Stars at the 60th BFI London Film Festival

The Platform - Thu, 06/10/2016 - 17:56

The BFI London Film Festival (LFF) celebrates its 60th year with films exploring imperialism and nationhood


It is said that the largest cities of the most globalised nations have more in common with each other, even across continents, than they do with the provinces that surround them. This certainly seems to be the case for their film festivals, for arriving after the famous festivals of Berlin, Sundance, Venice and Toronto comes London’s BFI, which opened yesterday and runs until 16 October.

The LFF’s role then is not so much to be an agenda-setter for the cutting edge of film culture, but more of a summary of the films that hope to achieve critical acclaim and, if a distributor picks it up, audience success. This year, the festival is followed by Black Star, a celebration of black filmmaking, which offers a welcome corrective to the #oscarssowhite controversy at the beginning of 2016.

Big-name auteurs and well-funded star vehicles dominate the gala nights and films in official competition at the festival. Indian-American director Mira Nair, most famous for Monsoon Wedding, provides Queen of Katwe, an account of the girlhood and extraordinary success of Ugandan chess champion Phiona Mutesi. The festival also marks a return for Basic Instinct-controversialist Paul Verhoeven with the Isabelle Huppert-starred Elle, and the intriguing prospect of Guy Pearce and Dakota Fanning meeting in a 148-minute vision of 19th-century American religious fundamentalism, Brimstone.

The festival is bulked out by many often fairly generic contemporary realist relationship dramas, but a few of the films that promise to go beyond such staple festival fare include Nocturama, a timely (although filmed pre-Bataclan) consideration of terrorism in Paris, and, in a different key, Frantz, a new direction for director François Ozon into the stately black-and-white mode of the 1920s as he continues to probe the peculiarities of love and romance after films such as Swimming Pool, Potiche and The New Girlfriend.

Neruda, a lyrical contemplation of the Chilean poet by his countryman Pablo Larraín, is bound to offer a real treat. Meanwhile, Nocturnal Animals sees erstwhile fashion designer Tom Ford return to directing after 2009’s A Single Man, placing Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal in an apparently brooding meditation on the line between fiction and reality. Divines, whose press screening occurred before the festival opening, features two schoolgirls making their way through the Parisian banlieues. The themes of race and youth exclusion recall 1995’s La Haine, but Divines’ over-earnest attempt to chuck in every social issue it could think of is countered by the tour-de-force break-out performance of the film’s star, Oulaya Amamra – sister of the debut director Houda Benyamina and a compelling presence throughout.

What distinguishes the London Film Festival is its brief to present British cinema to the world. This year the festival celebrates its 60th anniversary, its founding year of 1957 coincidentally also the year that the UK was humiliated in Suez and denied entry by France to the European Economic Community. The continued preoccupations of British cinema confirm the long endurance of its resulting post-imperial identity crisis. In a comic vein, Their Finest delves into British mores in the story of a woman drafted by the Ministry of Information to provide a ‘woman’s touch’ to wartime propaganda efforts.

The gala opening of the festival was provided by Amma Asante’s period piece, A United Kingdom. Telling the true tale of the marriage between the King of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) and white London lass Ruth Williams, played by David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, the film is an example of what has come to be known as the heritage drama’s loving recreation of the imperial era. Although its conventional tale of romance across conflict splits its characters into goodies and baddies, this simplicity becomes a vehicle to present the complexities of decolonisation in a world split between rival claims to national liberation, the beginnings of the Cold War and the designs of international capitalism on Africa’s resources. This is in addition to the deviousness of the dying British Empire in tacit alliance with a South Africa bent on enforcing an ideology of total racial separation.

Rather differently to the postcard images with which heritage presents Britishness to the world, Ben Wheatley – who has already twice appeared at the festival with the fantastic serial killer comedy, Sightseers and then again with the somewhat chaotic JG Ballard adaptation of High Rise – brings the curtain down on this year’s festival with the closing gala performance of Free Fire, an ultra-violent comic heist movie apparently in the mold of Tarantino and the westerns of Sam Peckinpah. Another notable British entrant comes from Andrea Arnold in a departure from her previous depictions of life on British estates, taking on that most American of genres, the road movie, with American Honey.

While Britishness gives the festival its distinctiveness, it is also an unspoken testing-ground for Hollywood’s likely Oscar contenders. The Birth of a Nation, a take on slave revolt in 1831 Virginia, would have received a more prominent placing were its director and star, Nate Parker, not involved in an ongoing controversy regarding an off-screen allegation of rape. Damian Chazelle follows Whiplash with his much-anticipated fable to the classic musical La La Land, while Oliver Stone returns with an account of the ‘soldier, fugitive, patriot, spy, hacker, traitor, hero’, Snowden. And should all this exploration of nationhood leave one with a desire to get away from it all, Arrival gives us a sci-fi paean to intergalactic tolerance through attempts at understanding extra-terrestrials.

Aside from these big releases, The Platform will be back to report on more.

Featured Image:

Categories: Muslim blogs

Choose Wisely!

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Wed, 05/10/2016 - 17:50

One of the reasons many Muslim women find it difficult to find a viable mate is the increasingly large number of Muslim men who are choosing to marry non-Muslim women. Of course this is something that is lawful in Islam. That being said, in choosing a mate one has to consider the fate of the children a marriage may result in. A recent study of religion in America produced the following sobering finding: “It (the study) showed, as other research has demonstrated, that children raised by parents who have two different religions, grow up more likely to have no religion at all.” Choose wisely my brothers.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Shimon Peres Is Dead, But We Mourn the Record of King’s College London

The Platform - Wed, 05/10/2016 - 10:18

An honorary doctorate awarded to the recently deceased Shimon Peres remains an obscenity at a time when his controversial career is back in the spotlight


Post-January exam classes had just started and the mornings were grey and chilly in London. The 2008 Gaza massacre had ended in a unilateral ceasefire on 18th January 2009. The toll was 4,000 homes destroyed, over 1,300 Palestinian dead and many more thousands injured. This destruction was to last, as is common with every Gaza onslaught. According to the UNCHR, 75 per cent of the houses were never rebuilt.

It was the morning of the 20th of that same month, as students made their way to lectures, that a group of 40-strong students entered the Nash lecture theatre at the Strand Campus of King’s College London with banners, placards, slogans and strong resolve. By the afternoon, their number had doubled to 80 students and their online petition had reached 500 signatures. This was the tipping point. The university had awarded Shimon Peres with an honorary doctorate of Laws for his “peaceful solution to conflicts in the Middle East” a mere month before the onslaught started. At the same time, the serving principal, Rick Trainor, decided to stay silent as people were being butchered and put under the rubble.

Students were declaring an occupation to demand that King’s College London (KCL) revoke the honorary doctorate awarded to Peres, alongside demands that included building links with Palestinian universities, providing scholarships for Palestinians to study in the UK and divesting from arms companies. In doing so, they joined the London School of Economics (LSE), The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Essex University in their movement of solidarity with Palestine. Regular rallies and protests outside the Strand and at the Principal’s Office, streams of news reports, and panels with academics from King’s and other universities, characterised the occupation.

The occupation ended with students declaring victory and creating the KCL Action Palestine (KCLAP) society. Its proclaimed aim is: “[to] continue to fight for the end of the siege of Gaza and a Free Palestine on campus and raise awareness about the need to keep building the movement.” Eight thousand pounds were raised to support educational institutions in Gaza and computers and medical equipment were donated do the Islamic University of Gaza. This was in addition to the establishment of scholarships for Palestinian students.

But not all the demands were met. King’s College was vociferous in its refusal to revoke Peres’ honorary degree. Being unable to uphold the honours it initially paid to him, King’s responded to the student protests by arguing that such a revocation, “would have a very negative impact on the College’s ability to be a centre of expertise on Middle East affairs including the peace process itself.” Instead, it opted to write to him directly about the “concerns noted regarding the conflict”. This reaction falls well within the mainstream western narrative, in which famous Zionist politicians are praised as “men of peace” while Palestinians and other victims have to bear seeing such figures pass without any accountability for the crimes they have committed. Failing to revoke his degree was not a way for KCL to retain its expert status – it was a political statement.

Then there were other promises (and half promises) that KCL never delivered. Up until this day, there have been no efforts to create links with Palestinian universities, yet KCL has a working relationship with the Herzilya Institute in Israel, almost secured a year abroad with the Hebrew University, and in 2010, had to end an academic partnership with the Israeli cosmetics company Ahava after significant student pressure. Furthermore, the university never sought an investment policy that would avoid arms companies until the creation of the Socially Responsible Investment Review Committee thanks to renewed student pressure from KCLAP and Fossil Free KCL societies in 2015.


Shimon Peres: a man of colonial pacification

Shimon Peres’ praise as a man of peace stems from his role in the drafting and signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. This is based on a misunderstanding of what the Oslo accords were designed to achieve – the further entrenchment of the Israeli occupation and the theft of land under the false guise of a state in the making. Alongside another eulogised and even martyrised figure, Yitzhak Rabin, Peres scored three victories for Israel: the pacification of the first Palestinian intifada, the deposition of arms and the armed struggle by Fatah, and the relegation of Israel’s responsibility to look after the well-being of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, while still retaining absolute control over these lands and resources.

This can’t be more obvious when it was the very same Peres who actively supported the establishment of the first Zionist extremist groups that settled in the West Bank and who were to gain considerable political power in Israel, such as Gush Eminum and Hilltop Youth. Groups that even his “colleague of peace” Rabin described as the Trojan horse for illegal settlers. It was also Peres who, until the end of his life, continued to thwart any measures that attempted to sanction the settlements. Not dissimilar to the apologism of KCL, Peres justified his position in the name of protecting the “peace process”.

Perhaps most striking of all, is the unwavering standing of this praise in spite of Peres’ brutal shelling of Lebanon which led to the Qana massacre, just two years after he was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize. Even though he tried to distance himself from the crime, a later UN report highlighted that, as prime minister, Peres was repeatedly warned that the Qana camp was packed with refugees taking shelter. Not only that, but Israel knew the camp well – it had a drone that hovered the camp and had occupied it for years after 1982 invasion.

Among Peres’ tainted legacy is his reputation as the architect of Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal in the 1950s, as well as his leading role in the 1956 invasion of Egypt, alongside France and the UK, to establish Israel’s control over the Sinai Peninsula and hand the Suez Canal back to its old colonial masters. During Israel’s repeated Gaza massacres in 2008, 2012 and 2014, Peres acted as a global ambassador for Israel. And as KCL students embarked in direct action against Peres’ eulogisation during Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, Peres dismissed calls by Israeli human rights groups to halt the invasion and he regarded the “national solidarity behind the military operation” as “Israel’s finest hour.” It seems that the letter that King’s College London offered to send him wasn’t at the top of his reading list.

It is for this reason that the student movement, from the National Union of Students to student associations like KCL Action Palestine, UCL Friends of Palestine, and the LSE Palestine Society continue their work and campaign to end their institution’s complicity with apartheid. Year on year, we demand the building of educational bridges between King’s and Palestinian universities, through scholarships and partnerships, and we demand the democratisation of our students’ unions in order to vote BDS resolutions without being censored – and finally, we wish to end our own complicity with the crime of apartheid by working towards full divestment from arms companies and terminating associations with figures like Shimon Peres. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes our campaigns fall to deaf ears. But if Palestinians can keep fighting, so can we.

For peace, justice and equality.

Images /

Categories: Muslim blogs

Sun Setting Into The Western Sea

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Tue, 04/10/2016 - 22:59

Sun setting into the western sea,
More beautiful than Joyce Kilmer’s tree.

Sun setting into the western sea,
Is there a reality onshore she’s trying to flee?

Or is she simply obeying the Divine command -Be!

Categories: Muslim blogs

Trump Vs. Clinton on Debate Night

The Platform - Sun, 02/10/2016 - 22:30

Donald Trump’s shoddy performance in the first presidential debate night indicates that he may not fare well with the undecided electorate 


Donald Trump called into Fox and Friends early Tuesday, reaching out for his security blanket after the unnerving events of the debate night before, and the headlines of the morning. He first targeted the moderator, Lester Holt: “He didn’t ask her about the emails, he didn’t ask her about the scandals. He didn’t ask her about the Benghazi deal.”

He then turned his ire on the microphone. “My microphone was terrible. I wonder – was it set up that way on purpose?”

The mic seemed just fine. We heard with exceptional clarity the sniffles, the constant chants of “WRONG!” and the 51 interruptions, according to Vox. The excuses from the Trump camp were likely induced by a poor performance in the debate, which was overwhelmingly declared a “win” for Hillary Clinton. A CNN poll taken minutes after the debate recorded a 62 per cent to 27 per cent win in her favour, while 18 out of 20 in the network’s focus group of undecided Floridians agreed on a Clinton win. The Los Angeles Times divided the night into five rounds and three reporters scored each of them in real time. Not one gave a single round to Trump.

Truth be told, Trump didn’t start off poorly. He hit Clinton forcefully on jobs and NAFTA. He delivered a succinct and pretty pitch-perfect rebuttal after she admitted remorse for the email saga: “That was more than a mistake. That was done purposely… When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, taking the Fifth so they are not prosecuted… I think it’s disgraceful. And believe me, this country really thinks it is disgraceful also.”

But on the emails front, that was that. Trump was right: Holt didn’t bring the subject up again, nor did he mention the Benghazi attacks. But then, nor did he ask a single question about immigration – neither the Muslim ban nor the Mexican wall was broached once – and we can be pretty certain Clinton would have fired back with gusto on those issues.

Holt purposely played a passive moderator, and it was up to the candidates to steer the conversation into their respective comfortable corners. Trump could certainly have brought up the emails again. There was also a moment when Clinton alluded to the Trump voter base, but the mogul didn’t take that opportunity to uncover the “basket of deplorables” for all to see.

Meanwhile, Clinton cleverly manoeuvred the exchange to suit her agenda: when the discussion turned to her “stamina”, she rotated it back to his comments on looks and drudged up her opponent’s famed misogyny: “He called this woman Miss Piggy. Then he called her Miss Housekeeping because she was Latina. Donald, she has a name. Her name is Alicia Machado and she has become a U.S. citizen and you can bet she’s going to vote this November.”

And just like that, Clinton shaped the conversation into one of many zingers. Yes, they were almost certainly rehearsed, but that was what was required. Incidentally, on the same Fox and Friends segment the next day, Trump reinforced, rather than retracted, his misogynistic comments: “She gained a massive amount of weight and it was a real problem”.

Trump’s advisors were right to be concerned in the lead-up. He was simply not prepared like Clinton was (apparently he even refused to use a lectern during the minimal rehearsals). He relied on improvisation and bluster,  which work with his core supporters at rallies, but fail to translate to the main stage. He even indirectly poked fun at Clinton’s preparedness, which she turned into another witty retort in itself: “I think Donald just criticised me for preparing for this debate. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president.”

The fact is that Clinton’s strategy begun at the very start (well, after the sickeningly false pleasantries of “Donald, it’s good to be with you”– yuck). Right off the bat, she offhandedly mentioned the $14 million loan Trump received as a young man, and contrasted her father with his by describing him as a “small businessman”. Trump fell into the trap immediately. He reacted emotionally, and it was at this early point that tones shifted and volumes rose.

It was all part of a larger tactic by the Clinton camp. If Trump, and thus potential voters, had a sense that his business acumen is his greatest asset for the presidency, then Clinton’s plan was to undercut that. She exposed his failure to pay federal income taxes, and his response was “that makes me smart”.

Clinton highlighted the fact that a lot of his workers have famously not been paid, and he put that down to simply “taking advantage of the laws of the nation”, waiving any sense of ethical responsibility. She dangled bait that he continually took, forcing him to outright lie a number of times before she hooked and reeled him in. When he claimed he never said climate change was a hoax, Clinton pointed to a tweet that backed her up. When discussing the Trade Pacific Partnership, she said, “I know you live in your own reality, but that’s not the facts.”

The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012

Trump’s agitation was clear from his loss of composure and lapse into blabbering language as the debate went on. He babbled about his “winning temperament”. He suggested the hacking of the Democratic Convention could have been done “by somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds”, rather than the Russians. He accused Clinton of trying to “fight ISIS [her] entire adult life” – a claim so preposterous that NPR’s National Security Editor fact-checked it with delightful deadpan: “Clinton has not been fighting ISIS her entire adult life as it has existed in its present form only since 2013-2014.”

In truth, he exasperated himself with ramblings so obviously, that Clinton’s most memorable one-liner to the audience was, “just listen to what you heard.” And just like that, she’d hoisted him on his own petard.

Donald Trump had a bad night. In all fairness, President Obama also exhibited a poor first debate performance in 2012, but bounced back and won the next two. But unlike Obama, Trump possesses a volatility (that “temperament”) that may not lend itself to a general election debate, no matter how prepared he is. As we saw here, he simply has a tendency to become too easily vexed, leading to defensive reflexes, lies and insults. This is a man who is perhaps too stubborn to change with debate homework, and it’s now, in the presence of undecided voters, that all the things he’s uttered in the comfort of his rallies may return to haunt him, and finally affect polls.

Yes, it could be said that immigration is Trump’s strong suit, but it’s contentious. The Khan family controversy still hasn’t been mentioned. Nor has his refusal to disavow David Duke, the former KKK wizard. And it’s safe to say Clinton will find a way in which to thread these into future conversations. My thoughts are that the GOP nominee will only fare worse, not better, in the following debates.

“I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself I can’t do it,” a charitable Trump announced near to the end. I think we can be sure that on October 9th in St. Louis, or October 19th in Las Vegas, he’ll say it.

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Categories: Muslim blogs

John Malkovich Takes On the Good Canary

The Platform - Sun, 02/10/2016 - 20:27

We witness love and abuse from the position of the canary in this new play written by Zach Helm and directed by John Malkovich


When a canary is brought into the flat of a New York couple living on the brink of both disaster and ultimate success, its significance is elusive. In fact, it remains so throughout this new play written by Zach Helm that is enjoying its first outing in an English performance at the Rose Theatre, Kingston. Although the play has been previously performed in French, Spanish, Portuguese and German, Helm acceded to director John Malkovich’s request that the play be performed in French rather than Helm’s native English as it was originally written. Now back in English-speaking Kingston, it transfers beautifully back into the mother tongue. Set in the Rose’s intimate auditorium, the audience is quickly captivated.

Good Canary is a rollercoaster of energy and melancholia, as it journeys us through the mind of a woman who suffered enormous abuse in early life. Her remedy comes out in drugs, writing and keeping the house spotlessly clean. The dialogue is dynamic and real, which is unsurprising as Zach Helm says he wrote from the words of people he once lived with and loved, “self-destructive quasi savants”, meddling with and wrecking the possibilities often posed in one’s youth.

It is a play about youth, idiocy, love, abuse at an early age and all its consequences. As the plot thickens, the relationship between Annie (Freya Mevor) and Jack (Harry Lloyd) also fragments. However, a deep undercurrent of love ensures its continuum. The brilliantly acted dialogue, particularly by the two protagonists, under the direction of Malkovich (yes, the John Malkovich, who in more recent years has directed several theatrical productions) sees Good Canary providing a relief from the often stodgy traditional performances of English theatre you can easily be subjected to, outside the usual venues of the big cultural cities. Instead, Good Canary, and indeed a good many of the recent stagings at the Rose, seem to give this theatre on the edge of London the type of boost to surrounding venues, that a stiff drink might inject to a game of bowls on a sleepy Sunday afternoon.

As the facts of the plot unravel, the audience’s sympathy for Annie and her husband also evolves and alters in balance, but our underlying sympathy for the humanity of the situation that they find themselves in never wavers. To add to the excellent performances and directing, the audience is also treated to some innovative staging where a minimalist set obliges us to focus on the quick fire happenings and rapid changes of mood that ensue.

At the end we are left with much food for thought, analysing so many of the characters’ psychologies and piecing together what made them behave as such. It is only the place of the canary (who never seems to sing) that could have been better indicated as its intermittent positioning is never really exploited or thought through. Another drawback is that we are not presented with any solutions to the near impossible existence of Annie and Jack. Everybody around them is exploiting them and they are willingly giving way to this. At the same time, they are exploiting their own lives and pain, while also being victims to it.

Although Good Canary gives us a slice of this life and offers a window into a web of secrets and lies, steered by the distinctly observational and mostly non-judgemental voice of Malkovich, the production offers no relief or resolutions, only musings that things turned out the only way they could have been. All said, Good Canary provides for an intense experience and one for which you will definitely need a strong drink afterwards.

Good Canary is currently playing at the Rose Theatre until 8th October 2016.

Photo Credit: Mark Douet

Categories: Muslim blogs

“Trumped-Up Trickle-Down” Sexism: Donald Trump and the Woman Question

The Platform - Thu, 29/09/2016 - 23:49

The first debate between US presidential hopefuls Trump and Clinton threw into sharp relief the centrality of gender in this election 


Since the United States Constitution doesn’t really allow us to hold national referendums, we Americans often find that presidential elections are less about who gets to govern next than about where we stand as a nation on a single issue. Monday night’s debate reminded us that this election has become just such a referendum, and the question before us is this: “Can a woman be president — yes or no?” Republicans seem to have been aware of this long before Democrats, and that’s why they nominated a candidate who is the monstrous embodiment of their own contempt for women.

Clinton won the debate the other night not because of she was the superior debater, not because she had a greater knowledge of the issues, not even because she has better policies than Trump. She won the debate because she was able to draw our attention back to the fundamental question about whether a woman can be president without even having to articulate it. That’s why the most important exchange in the debate was one that occurred early and that has been consistently misread by the media. It was the moment when she mocked his “trumped-up trickle-down” economic policies. When she said it she managed to press exactly the right button, and Trump wasted no time in unmasking himself as a thin-skinned, mansplaining, sexist bully.

On one level, Clinton knew that her comment would agitate Trump because it was even more stupidly catchy than his attempts to brand her as “Crooked Hillary”. For a candidate whose debate preparation consisted exclusively of practicing zingers with his buddies during Wrestlemania, Trump must certainly have been caught off-guard by the fact that Clinton beat him to the punch. But something much more important was unfolding than the race to see which candidate would be the first to register a soundbite. As usual Hillary was vastly more subtle than her critics and even her supporters realise.

This particular dig at Trump was remarkable neither for its pithiness nor for its insight into his non-sensical economic policies. What visibly infuriated Trump was not the content of the statement but its very form. It was as if Clinton knew that he would become palpably enraged by her awkwardly deliberate delivery of the line itself, by its mildness and hokeyness. It was the deadliest “mom joke” ever told — poorly delivered, mildly amusing, disproportionately more pleasurable for the teller than the audience, and absolutely lethal in its effects. It was a kind of comedic false flag, a trap to trick the Donald into revealing that he himself was the punchline by allowing his visceral disgust for women to surface so early in the debate. She knew that he wouldn’t be able to let it go, and he fell all over himself trying to prove her right. He slipped into a caricature of masculinity in crisis — constantly interrupting, talking over, and mocking any woman that would dare challenge his adequacy.

Readers accustomed to high political satire or even the insufferable Prime Minister’s Questions were probably unimpressed with Hillary’s banter. The joke was almost too easy, like it wrote itself or was assembled by a committee of humourless bureaucrats. Again, the surface inanity should not blind us to the importance of what followed, especially the moment when Trump addressed Hillary scornfully as “Secretary Clinton” (emphasis on “secretary,” a sullen, sexist reminder of a woman’s proper place in the business world) before stopping to ask sarcastically for her consent — “Is that OK? Good. I want you to be very happy. It’s very important to me”.

What are we to make of this strange and aggressive interruption of his train of thought? Often when Trump interrupts himself in mid-sentence, he makes an absurd claim to a consensus; it’s not just Trump who thinks these things — as he constantly reminds us, “a lot of people are saying it, not just me”. The overture at creating consensus seems even more patronising and aggressive in the context of the debate. He is asking both Hillary and the electorate to acknowledge the misogynistic fantasy that has structured his entire campaign, not just that he can attack and demean a woman during a nationally-televised debate but that he can do so under the cover of magnanimity. It is as if he is admitting through this weirdly hostile gesture that a woman’s happiness is important for the Donald only to the extent that he can be perceived as bestowing it upon her — hence his desire to invest so much time and money in the atrociously sexist Miss USA and Miss Universe beauty pageants.

With a single, haltingly delivered line, Hillary managed to irritate Trump so greatly that he began lashing out at her in an odious and contemptible way. Since no moderator would ever dare to ask Trump such a question directly (if only because of the dread certainty that he would respond by saying that he’d love to see Ivanka in the White House), Hillary had to figure out a way to reorient the debate around the question of whether or not a woman can be president. In doing so, she made everyone watching perfectly aware of what the stakes of this election are.

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Categories: Muslim blogs

2014 Year in Review

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 01/01/2015 - 14:00

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 Amjad

Know Thyself: Opinion on Hajj Selfies by Suhaib Webb

How to understand rulings on photography, and why Hajj selfies can be a form of remembrance of good: worshiping Allah alone, visiting sacred places, love and fraternity, and acts of worship.


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

A detailed breakdown of why there is nothing in the scripture that would prohibit a modest woman of knowledge and character to preach to the masses.


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

Understanding which American customs are permissible or not, and why, including birthdays,  anniversaries, halloween, and more. A practical, most highly read article every year it is posted.

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 Ederer

Can 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 Abdalla

Is 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 Alam

With Hardship Comes Ease: Embracing Discomfort by Ismail Shaikh (Guest Author)

A key lesson learned after a very stressful and long job search experience:  there is growth in discomfort, uncertainty and unpredictability. Why and how we should embrace discomfort.

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

Categories: Muslim blogs

Ya Sabr Ayub

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 24/12/2014 - 14:00

Photo: Tom Gill

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.”

Categories: Muslim blogs

Our Personal Hells

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 23/12/2014 - 19:20

 “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

Photo: Pankaj Kaushal

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.


Categories: Muslim blogs

To Whom Belongs Sovereignty? Al-Qahhar

Imam Suhaib Webb - Mon, 22/12/2014 - 14:00

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

Photo: Joel Tonyan

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.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Lessons from the Prophet Musa

Imam Suhaib Webb - Fri, 19/12/2014 - 14:00

Imam Suhaib Webb talks about lessons from the life of Prophet Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him).

Categories: Muslim blogs

How Muslim Theologians Saved Islamic Science

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 18/12/2014 - 14:00

Photo: Alby Headrick

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:

Categories: Muslim blogs

A Victim of Speech

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 17/12/2014 - 14:00

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)

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Man She Used to Pray For

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 16/12/2014 - 14:00

Glimpses of Marital Bliss: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IVPart V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII

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.

Photo: Danna

“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).”

Categories: Muslim blogs
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