Muslim blogs

Footsteps in Fame Lane

The Platform - Tue, 02/09/2014 - 10:46

The recent passing of some of our most beloved actors brings to mind others also lost in recent years

 

For many, actors prove to be more than just a form of entertainment. They become role models and friends, in spite of the majority of us having never met our celeb idols. With the latest deaths of Robin Williams and Lord Richard Attenborough, it’s time for a journey of remembrance for some of our favourite actors who have passed away in recent years.

Lord Richard Attenborough

Perhaps one of Britain’s most prominent actors, Richard Attenborough sadly passed away on the 24th ofAugust 2014, aged 90, only five days before his 91st birthday. His career spanned six decades, and he was most known for his role in the Jurassic Park franchise and his Oscar award-winning direction and production of Ghandi. Though his participation in Spielberg’s sci-fi action adventure films made him recognised, his most heart-warming role was as our favourite Santa Claus in the 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

The New York Times referred to him as “perhaps the most ambitious and widely admired American actor of his generation.” Philip Seymour Hoffman died at the age of 46 from acute mixed drug intoxication earlier this year on 2 February 2014. He portrayed Truman Capote in the film Capote, earning him an Oscar for best actor, but we probably love him best for his bad guy role in Mission Impossible III. Having completed his involvement in The Hunger Games before his death, Hoffman will still be appearing in the final two-part film, Mockingjay.

Richard Griffiths

The uncle we all hated to the wizard we all loved, Richard Griffiths, who played Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter series, died from heart surgery complications on the 28th of March 2013. He also starred in Hugo, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and Attenborough’s Ghandi, among other films. He may have been the Muggle we all despised, but the man himself, we’ll miss.

Paul Walker

Much-loved onscreen street racer Paul Walker met a tragic end after his car crashed into a concrete light pole and two trees while on his way to a charity event on 30 November 2013. Walker’s breakout parts consisted of teen movies such as She’s All That and Varsity Blue. However, we all fell in love with the blue-eyed heartthrob after he played Brian O’Conner in the action movie, The Fast and The Furious. He had reprised his role in all but one of its sequels and is still set to appear in the seventh instalment.

Michael Gough

Before Michael Caine assumed the role of Batman’s beloved butler, Michael Gough adopted the part of Alfred Pennyworth in all four of the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher series. Despite the revival of a very dark Batman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, Gough will always remain in our minds as one of the best Alfreds to have graced our screens. In addition to this, performing for over sixty years, Gough is credited with an astounding number of 180 contributions on IMDB to the world of cinema. He died on the 17th of March 2011, his cause of death unknown.

Patrick Swayze

Once a teen idol, Patrick Swayze was taken by pancreatic cancer at the age of 57 on 14 September 2009. Swayze became one of the most appealing men in cinema after he took on the role of Johnny Castle in the romantic, coming-of-age drama Dirty Dancing. Swayze’s name became common in hip hop culture, the phrase ‘…and I’m Swayze’ meant to be ‘like a ghost’ after he starred alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Demi Moore in the movie Ghost. It was the highest-grossing film of 1990 and featured the iconic clay scene, which established Swayze’s title as the sex symbol of the 90s.

Heath Ledger

Actor and director Heath Ledger died on the 22nd of January 2008 at the young age of 28. Ledger, much like Robin Williams, suffered from depression, and also experienced insomnia. The two conditions coinciding led the actor to accidently overdose on sleeping pills, anxiety medication and painkillers. Ledger’s passing was only a few months after he finished filming his role as the Joker in Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. The part posthumously awarded him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and several other awards. Though he finished filming for the Batman movie, his death occurred mid-production of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell agreed to complete the role Ledger was playing, and all their earnings for the film went to Ledger’s daughter to secure her economic future. Starring in only nineteen movies, Heath Ledger originally found his way into the hearts of millions when he played Ennis Del Mar in the epic romantic drama Brokeback Mountain, and he hasn’t left since.

Though not mentioned in the list above, as we travel down memory lane it is worth mentioning James Avery, Cory Monteith, Whitney Houston, Cliff Roberson, John Ritter and Brittany Murphy, admired talents who are with us no more. And, there are many more stars who have latched on to our affections over the years: music artists, comedians, TV personalities and many more. May they all rest in peace.

Image from: http://www.therakyatpost.com/life/movies-life/2014/08/25/richard-attenborough-top-five-films-directed/
Categories: Muslim blogs

He will always be with you: Al-Baaqi – the Everlasting

Imam Suhaib Webb - Mon, 01/09/2014 - 13:00

 

Photo: Brian W. Tobin

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

When Ramadan ended this year, I felt my heart break. There is always a sadness with the departure of Ramadan, but usually it is mixed with the excitement of Eid.

Not this year. This year felt different.

Perhaps it was because I didn’t accomplish what I wanted. But I also felt that Ramadan, our companion, left me. And with that came a feeling of abandonment. Walking to the mosque to pray the Eid prayer, I reflected on my melancholic state. My friend who was feeling the same way said, “I feel like Allah is leaving us.” As is human nature, we were attached to something temporary. Something that we know would come and go. Something that is a means to Him but is not Him. So I had to remind us that Allah is al-Baaqi, and He remains after everything disappears. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) tells us in the Qur’an:

“And there will remain the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honor.” [Qur’an, 55:27]

The Name al-Baaqi and its derivatives come from the root baa-qaf-ya, which means: to remain, continue and to be permanent. Al-Ghazali tells us that “the everlasting is such that the projection of its existence into the future has no end.”

So the root of our heartbreak is attachment to that which does not last, whether it is to the spirituality of Ramadan or another human being. And this is where we can see how intimately Allah knows us. He tells us His attribute of permanence—He is al-Baaqi. When everything else leaves or dies, He is with us. There is no heartbreak if we are attached to Him—He will always remain. As He tells us Himself:

“Whatever you have will end, but what Allah has is lasting. And We will surely give those who were patient their reward according to the best of what they used to do.” [Qur’an, 16:96]

The magicians during the time of the Prophet Musa `alayhi sallatu wa sallam (may God send his peace and blessings on him) understood this. When they saw Musa’s (as) staff turn into a real snake—unlike their trickery—they bowed down to Musa (as), and declared their belief in His Lord. Pharaoh was livid. He threatened to torture them and crucify them. But they said:

“Indeed, we have believed in our Lord that He may forgive us our sins and what you compelled us [to do] of magic. And Allah is better and more enduring.” [Qur’an, 20:73]

That last sentence is key. They said Allah is more enduring (abqa, from the same root). It did not matter what Pharaoh did to them. Pharaoh would die one day but Allah (swt) would remain. And the deeds done for Him will endure.

So when Ramadan ends, our relationship with Him should continue. Even if we wasted the whole of Ramadan, Allah’s attributes outside of Ramadan will not change. He is still the One who accepts you when you return, who forgives you when you mess up, and who has more mercy on you than your own mother. He is al-Baaqi. He tells us:

“O son of Adam! As long as you invoke Me and plead to Me, I will forgive you whatever you have committed, and I will not make much of it. O son of Adam! If your evil deeds reach the borders of the sky, and then you ask Me for forgiveness, I will forgive you. O son of Adam! If you bring forth the earth full of errors, then you meet Me while you do not associate anything (or anyone) with Me, I will bring forth for you its full of forgiveness.” [Tirmidhi]

So just like we work hard to make temporary things last, let us work even harder for the ultimate permanence. As Allah tells us: “Wealth and children are [but] adornment of the worldly life. But the enduring (al-baaqiyaat) good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for [one's] hope.” [Qur’an, 18:46]

Spare yourself the heartbreak and the pain of separation. Work on the things that remain, for He who remains.

** The article on Allah’s Name al-Mumeet also gives us ways to strive for what will remain.

Categories: Muslim blogs

A Typewriter Resurgence

The Platform - Sun, 31/08/2014 - 02:56

What legacy technologies teach us about productivity, design and creativity

 

In a bustling Portobello Market, I extend an inquisitive finger and firmly depress the individually framed letter ‘A’. A hammer springs immediately into action, surging forward and ‘thwacking’ its centre place upon the inert ribbon of a 1912 Corona No.3 typewriter. How fulfilling!

Like the Walkman, VHS and PC are destined to be, the typewriter, to most, is a forgotten and mysterious machine consisting of clunky mechanical levers and messy ink ribbons. Nowadays, it is found mainly in dramatic movie close-ups and used as theatrical shop decor to represent something worth saying. But beyond the QWERTY keyboard legacy we are left with, this classic icon of simplicity and discipline still has a place in today’s connected world of hashtags and trends. Here are some reasons why:

01. Focus 

The typewriter is a piece of equipment dedicated to the sole purpose of writing. As modern device manufacturers scramble to compete with one another, multiscreen functionality and over-populated interfaces offer connectivity and features that often distract more than enhance. Creativity loves constraints; the sheer absence of a screen interface forces you to turn inward, and while this may be a drastic departure for some, a similarly filtered approach can be found in apps and devices designed with this in mind.

02. Permanence

There is no delete key. Every word matters! Although iterations are vital to evolve any idea, an imaginary world of infinite second chances is misleading and can hinder progress. The initial blank sheet stage is often the most intimidating hurdle for any new idea to overcome. Encouraging the decisiveness to hammer out that complete yet imperfect first draft can be invaluable for ideas to take form.

03. Design

Let’s face it, hearing the ‘thwack’ and feeling the satisfying ‘ding’ to celebrate the end of every line is rewardingly theatrical when compared to the grey plod of plastic keys, or the empty nudge of a touchscreen.

Design is psychological as well as functional and aesthetic. How and why we say something is sometimes as important as what we say. This explains why printed books have remained relevant, and in some cases gained a luxury status over the vast offerings of unread free e-books. A one-off sheet of individually-stamped letters, which are immune from copy and paste, shares the same exclusivity and investment of a tangible hand-written note.

While a literal resurgence of typewriters is unlikely, the timeless principles behind it, and other legacy technologies remind us to ‘learn and understand the rules, and then break them’. Ideas and companies which survive redefining transitions are typically able to focus on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of what they do, instead of just ‘what’. These include transitions from typewriter to PC to tablet, from river to railway to aeroplane, and from horse to automobile and eventually, driverless electric vehicle.

But for those who are not quite ready to bid farewell to the creative romance of the typewriter, while yearning the modern convenience of ‘backspace’, here are three options:

01. Hanx Writer iPad App

The current App Store hit, ‘Hanx Writer’, conveniently converts your iPad into a virtual typewriter complete with entertaining graphics and sound effects. Additional models are available via in-app purchases.

02. USB Typewriters

A premium tactile option, ‘USBTypewriter’ offers fully custom converted units in addition to DIY conversion kits to up-cycle manual machines to become digital peripherals.

For a more forgiving option closer to home, the recently Kickstarter-funded ‘QwerkyWriter’ is a typewriter inspired USB/Bluetooth keyboard entirely purpose-designed and manufactured.

03. Ebay/ Various Markets

For the truly dedicated and adventurous among us, nothing beats acquiring an authentic antique machine. With characteristic aluminium chassis, stylish logotypes and unique sounding mechanisms, these can be found at a spontaneous premium at various markets in varying conditions, or at a fraction of the price on eBay.

Ultimately, a typewriter or any such device serves only as a technological platform to share ideas. Regardless of what we use, it only really matters if the idea we communicate is worth spreading.

Image from: http://typewriterdatabase.com/1941-remington-streamliner.2391.typewriter
Categories: Muslim blogs

A Caesura in Pakistan: The Crisis in Islamabad

The Platform - Thu, 28/08/2014 - 20:53

Many thousands have mobilised in what is a tense standoff with the government

 

Since its inception in 1947, Pakistan has been through a revolving door of democratic and military rule. It has never been renowned for its stable governance, and the current standoff between Imran Khan, leader of the country’s second largest party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and the Pakistan Muslim League-Noon (PML-N)  government is just another example why.

The 2013 elections marked a historic milestone for the country. It was the first time a democratically elected government had passed on the baton to the next, after completing its five year tenure. There are those who give the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) all the credit for this handover, though they must keep in mind that it was in large part possible because of the cooperation of the opposition and the head of the military – both stringently opposed to any form of extra-constitutional intervention.

The elections were overseen by Fakhruddin Ebrahim and took place under the tenure of the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudry, men implicitly trusted by Imran Khan and most of the general public at the time.

Things have now changed however, with Imran Khan blaming Iftikhar Chaudry of being part of a conspiracy to rig the elections, and Fakhruddin Ebrahim of being incompetent or disinterested in preventing it.

At first, the results of the general election as a whole were never disputed. It was widely accepted that the country had elected the PML-N with a heavy mandate. There were only accusations of foul play in certain constituencies as opposed to the whole electoral process.

Imran Khan requested that the government undertake an impartial investigation in four sample constituencies, with fingerprint verification; in the event that results indicated something untoward had taken place, the investigation’s scope would be broadened in order to identify flaws that needed to be addressed for electoral reform.

To say that the government mishandled the situation might be an understatement. It instead took a hard line stance against the proposal and fought tooth and nail to prevent any sort of impartial investigation. In fact, critics argue, when the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) chairman, Tariq Malik, looked to open an investigation, he was maligned and forced out of office.

It was also revealed that despite official regulations, a special magnetic ink required for verification purposes was not used, thus making checking the authenticity of the votes difficult.

One of the constituencies that Imran Khan had asked to investigate was NA-122, where, shockingly, he had been defeated by PML-N’s Ayaz Sadiq in what many called perhaps the biggest upset of the election.

Despite the dubious nature of the victory, PML-N supporters on social media reacted with glee as their party not only stonewalled an investigation, but also appointed Ayaz Sadiq as Speaker of the National Assembly. A Facebook post went viral mocking the fact that Imran Khan had to refer to Ayaz Sadiq as “Mr Speaker.”

This sort of antagonistic approach and lack of respite from the courts is the reason cited by Imran Khan for launching his protest movement. Months ago, a frustrated Khan had threatened to march into the capital with a million supporters unless his demands were met.

The government panicked, fully believing Imran Khan to be capable of gathering those numbers, and proposed negotiations for electoral reform. Emboldened by the government’s response, Imran Khan was accused of falling victim to his own hype, rejecting all negotiations until after the ‘long march’.

Already faced with the threat of Tahir ul Qadri, an anti-government televangelist with thousands of loyalists around the country, the government went into self-preservation mode, arresting PTI workers and blocking roads to the capital with shipping containers.

One could blame the barriers placed by the government, or the adverse weather, but there was no denying the fact that the long march itself had a poor showing. Imran Khan had promised a million man march, but only a small fraction of that number actually turned up on the day.

Many missteps ensued, including lack of preparation for heavy rain, and Khan going back to his mansion in Bani Gala for the night, despite having promised to stay with his supporters throughout. Several major analysts were comfortable in labelling this as an enormous disaster and perhaps the end of Imran Khan’s political career. His critics argued that before the long march, Imran Khan had had the government on the ropes and would have had significant leverage in the negotiations. He was likened to a poker player who had forgotten he was bluffing.

But slowly and steadily, the numbers grew and the protest picked up steam.

The protest movement now consists of dharnas, or daily sit-ins that grow from a couple of thousand people to tens of thousands. The size of the crowd depends on who you ask. Agencies answerable to the government might put the crowd to twenty thousand or less, while supporters on the ground estimate it to be over a hundred thousand people. They might not be the millions promised, but still a sizeable number of people on the streets. In the past few days, coordinated dharnas have taken place all across the country with massive crowds coming out in Lahore, Sialkot and the former capital Karachi to show their support for Imran Khan and the PTI.

The PTI want electoral reforms and for the individuals responsible for rigging the previous elections to be held accountable. They want the Prime Minister to resign because they believe that an impartial investigation is not possible with him at the helm. They also refuse to accept the results of 2013 and are calling for midterm elections after a caretaker government has been set up. Furthermore, the party has called for a civil disobedience movement and tendered resignations in the National Assembly to pressurise the government.

Despite the government and critics predicting an eruption of violence, the protests have been completely peaceful until now. It is argued that the PTI is putting economic stability and recovery at risk, with Khan standing accused of putting his personal ambitions of becoming the Prime Minister ahead of the betterment of the country. Critics also fear this whole situation is delegitimising democracy and empowering the military, some going so far as to brand Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri of being ‘puppets of the establishment’.

It is unlikely that Nawaz Sharif will tender his resignation, and Imran Khan has painted himself into a tight spot after declaring that he would not accept anything else.

Apprehensively, parallels to Egypt are being drawn, where the sitting Prime Minister had refused to hold midterm elections despite millions of people demonstrating on the streets, leading to a military takeover. That is the last thing that anyone in Pakistan should want.

Last ditch negotiations are currently underway between the protesting parties and the government, with the Prime Minister having called in the army to act as a mediator and guarantor. Needless to say, the whole nation is watching with bated breath

Image from: http://www.dawn.com/news/1125273
Categories: Muslim blogs

Reaching the Source

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 28/08/2014 - 13:00

Photo: Sharyn Morrow

By Noha Gomaa

The other day I passed by my University and noticed a blood drive taking place.  I have seen blood drives before, ads and signs asking people to give.  They became so frequent and like any other advertisement, I would just walk by.

But that day I was curious.  I turned around and decided to walk behind the curtains and peak inside.  I saw several people lying down, needles in their arm, their fists clenched, and a bag that would fill up with about a liter of their streaming precious blood.

Some of the donors looked tired yet there was something about them that seemed peaceful and I felt it from where I stood.  I asked one of the volunteers about the duration of the procedure and she said 15 minutes.  This meant that after 15 minutes, they are done giving blood and have possibly saved up to 3 lives.

I stood there and pondered upon the idea of how one could give away some of their blood to save others.  How it is physically possible for us to sacrifice something that is part of us, flowing and circulating into our bloodstream, feeding every single cell and organ in our body, without harming it in any way. It is our source of life and what we need in order to function, to live, and to survive.   Yet, people like me and you are giving part of it away, even multiple times during their lifetime.

I realized how Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) does indeed give us plenty because He is the Most Generous and that we actually do not need all of our blood in order for us to function, to live and to survive.  It’s true that after some has been given away, soon our body replaces what has been taken.

So why do we have more blood than we actually need?

He also gives us many gifts such as money, shelter, food, water, clothing, time, and health.  And the same way some of us are able to donate a portion of our blood without risking our health, we can also give some of our money, our time, our clothes, and our food without affecting our ability to function.

We tend to take things for granted and assume that everyone has what we have.  But in reality, for someone who is involved in a car accident or is suffering from an illness or battling cancer, that one liter of blood can mean their life.

Similarly, that extra clothing in our closet that we hardly wear, the food that is stacked in our fridge that rots by the end of the week, and our time that we spend vegetating in front of the television set – these could be things that someone else is in desperate need of.

The answer to my question became clear in my mind.  Allah (swt) is the Most Generous and is teaching us the importance of giving.  “And spend [in the way of Allah ] from what We have provided you,”(Qur’an 63:10)

He has blessed each one of us in many ways with something that we can offer.  It may even just be a helping hand for an elderly woman crossing the street carrying heavy groceries.

I am reminded that everything that we have is not actually from our “hard work” or “good luck”.  Everything is from Allah (swt):  “To Him belongs what is in the heavens and on earth and all between them, and all beneath the soil,” (Qur’an 20:6). When we live by this mindset, we come to realize that we are only tools, a means used by Allah (swt) to help others.

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) said: “God has ninety-nine names, one hundred minus one.  The one who enumerates them enters Paradise,” (Abu Huraira).  Allah (swt) gives us, in our small way, an understanding of Him through His Revealed Names and we can exemplify these qualities and attributes in our daily lives.  By donating blood, money, time, services, or goods, Allah (swt) provides us with the opportunity to experience a hint of His beauty through generosity and kindness.

Since Allah (swt) is the Most Generous, the source of all Generosity, how else can we find our way towards that source, towards Allah (swt) where He is, to Paradise except through actions that exemplify His beauty and Revealed attributes?

Even more beautiful is knowing that all that is with Allah (swt) is never lost. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ tells us, “You will never give up a thing for the sake of Allah (swt), but that Allah will replace it for you with something that is better for you than it,” (Ahmad).  So, When we give blood, Allah (swt) sustains us with a replacement and recent studies show that donating blood is as good for your health as it is good for the receiver.  So then what are we losing when we give?

On my way out from the blood drive, I asked a woman resting and drinking her juice how she felt after giving blood.  She said, “I bled to help someone else, someone I’ll never meet but someone whose life may be saved in part because of me.  And this makes me happy.”

This woman may not be Muslim.  She may not even realize the power of her generosity; but, she showed me something, that somehow, we are irresistibly drawn towards Allah’s attributes, without even knowing it.  When we do them, we feel good.  It is an act that is loved by Allah (swt), an act that takes us closer to our original nature, to our Home, nearer to our Lord, to the Source of it all.  Allahu Akbar. (God is the Greatest.)

Categories: Muslim blogs

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 27/08/2014 - 13:00

Photo: Matt Carman

Originally posted in 2007.

What do you think of when you see a Muslim doing something considered wrong?

Ever look down on them? Think you are better than them? It’s really easy to be self-righteous. It’s even easier to fall prey to this attitude if you sport the outer ‘righteous’ look.

But let’s ask ourselves this question: has Allah written us amongst His righteous servants? Or is that a title we have only given ourselves?

Check this:

I was once sitting at the da`wah (outreach) table on my college campus and a female student approached it. She asked if she could have a Qur’an, and of course, I was happy to give one to her. Then she said, “Can I ask you a question?”  The question sounded kind of deep, so I invited her to sit next to me on the empty chair. She took up the offer.

“Please don’t judge me,” she began. SubhanAllah (glory be to God)! The courage it must have taken for her to come and speak to me, for her to begin with that statement.

After reassuring her, how could I judge her? She began—

She told me that she was Muslim and she became involved in a relationship for the first time in her life with a Muslim guy. Her intention was for long term, but she felt so terrible doing it. She told me when she is with her boyfriend, she feels horrible, even though she thinks she is supposed to feel good. She told me that she knows that this is such a big sin, that she wants to stop, but that it is just so, so hard. And she asked me: Can Allah forgive me?

While this girl was speaking, I was looking at her thinking: look at the struggle she is going through for the sake of God. She hates what she is doing because she knows it’s something He would not be pleased with, she wants so much for God to forgive her, but it is so hard for her to leave what she knows she shouldn’t do.

Her desire to repent became so intense that she came to me, a girl she has never even seen before, who could easily judge her, and poured out her heart. She was so desperate in her wanting to know: Could Allah forgive her? Could He really forgive such a sin?

I told her—man, God is THE MOST MERCIFUL! He will forgive ANYTHING when you turn to Him! I kept telling her about God’s Mercy, about how He is so, so happy to accept the repentance of His creation.

We kept talking about how God must be pleased with her internal struggle because she clearly wants to gain His pleasure despite her difficulty. We looked at the Holy Hadith, where God talks about us and says:

“O child of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O child of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O child of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it.” (Ahmad)

She was overwhelmed with emotion. I then shared with her a supplication that, if said with firm belief in the morning or evening, and if death happens on that day or night, the person who said it would be amongst the people of Paradise.

The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon us) taught us the chief supplication (sayyidul istighfaar) of asking for forgiveness as follows:

اللَّهُمَّ أَنْتَ رَبِّي لا إِلَهَ إِلا أَنْتَ خَلَقْتَنِي وَأَنَا عَبْدُكَ وَأَنَا عَلَى عَهْدِكَ وَوَعْدِكَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُ أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ شَرِّ مَا صَنَعْتُ أَبُوءُ لَكَ بِنِعْمَتِكَ عَلَيَّ وَأَبُوءُ لَكَ بِذَنْبِي فَاغْفِرْ لِي فَإِنَّهُ لا يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ إِلا أَنْتَ

Allahumma anta rabbi, la ilaha illa anta, khalaqtani wa ana abduka [if you’re a male]/amatuk [if you’re a female], wa ana ‘ala `ahdika wa wa`dika mastata`tu. A`udhu bika min sharri ma sana`tu, abu’u laka bini`matika ‘alaiya, wa abu’u laka bidhanbi, faghfirli, fainnahu la yaghfiru adhdhunuba illa ant.

O Allah! You are my Lord! None has the right to be worshipped but You. You created me and I am Your slave, and I am faithful to my covenant and my promise as much as I can. I seek refuge with You from all the evil I have done. I acknowledge before You all the blessings You have bestowed upon me, and I confess to You all my sins. So I entreat You to forgive my sins, for nobody can forgive sins except You. (Bukhari)

And of course, the most intimate way of feeling close to Allah is to come to Him, from the depths of one’s heart, in the language easiest for oneself, with the words coming from one’s own soul, asking for His forgiveness.

Reflect

I want you to go back to your original answer when I first posed the question. What would you be thinking of someone you see doing something you feel is wrong?

Yes, in that moment, that person might be outwardly sinning if that is what they are doing, but perhaps internally they are struggling and fighting every time they commit the sin, and are continually seeking to turn back to God. Perhaps in some people’s eyes, this person is a ‘sinner’ (and who amongst us is not?). But perhaps in the Sight of Allah, they are more beloved to Him because of their sincere struggle, than those of us who can easily fall into feeling arrogant about our Islamic activism, our Islamic appearance, or our ‘hard-core’ connection with Rabb il`alameen  (the Lord of the Worlds). We need to be careful. Are we really connected? Am I really connected?

And don’t get me wrong: the struggle of those who are trying to stay upright and please God Almighty is a weighty, honorable and noble one.

But for those of us who might have ‘been there’ and left it, and then feel arrogant that we’re no longer involved in the “ways of the sinners,” and perhaps even might feel better than others because we’re so pure and special, then my advice to myself is what Omar  radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) advised, “Take account of yourselves before you are audited.”

Or in the words of Ice Cube, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”

Categories: Muslim blogs

Eastern Texts Meet Western Quills: The First English Translation of the Qur’an

The Platform - Tue, 26/08/2014 - 00:13

British Islamic and Quranic history spans centuries and includes significant influence in the English Civil War 

 

When asking people about the first English Qur’an, the response is frequently a reference to the 1930 translation by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall. Less frequently an excited voice speaks of the George Sale Qur’an of 1734. However, British Islamic – and Qur’anic – history extends long beyond that, in a rich account of theological study, political negotiations and self-discovery.

The entrance of the complete Qur’an into the western world is in fact traced back to the Middle Ages. The first translation into a European language, Latin, was completed by the English scholar Robertus Retenensis. It was entitled Lex Mahumet Pseudoprophete (The Law of Mahomet the False Prophet) and was completed in 1143. The translation enjoyed popularity and wide circulation, and was later to become the main basis for further contemporary translations into Italian, German and Dutch. Between 1480 and 1481, not long after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, the first bilingual translation into Latin with accompanying Arabic appeared, composed by the Jewish convert to Christianity, Flavius Mithridates. In 1647, Andrew Du Ryer produced the first French translation in Paris. This first direct translation from the Arabic text since the Middle Ages was a marked improvement from those produced in the years since 1143.

Title page for the first English translation of the Qur’an (1649) by Alexander Ross

It was from Du Ryer’s translation that the first English translation was produced in 1649: The Alcoran of Mahomet by Alexander Ross. It was rendered from the French rather than the Arabic, making it an indirect translation with all the associated problems of inaccuracy. Nonetheless, the Ross translation is important both as the first complete print of an English Qur’an and also for the significance of the time in which it was produced.

Alexander Ross (1591-1654), Clergyman and writer.
Engraving in 1653 by Pierre Lombart, (1612 or 1613-1682)

The early modern period endured a time of upheaval in Christian Europe in both religious and national identity. In addition to the tensions created by increasing conflicts between Christian sects, the expanding Ottoman Empire placed considerable pressure on Christendom. Islam was expanding both demographically and geographically, through the superior military might of the Muslim Ottomans and the conversions of European Christians to Islam. The faith simultaneously threatened and attracted Christian Europe as both conflict and conversion flourished. Richard Knolles, an early English historian who in 1603 wrote  the first major English text on the Ottoman Empire, The Generall Historie of the Turkes, commented in it on the impossibility to ‘set downe the bounds and limits’ upon the Ottomans who accept ‘no other limits than the uttermost bounds of the earth’.

The Ottoman threat made the translation and dissemination of the Qur’an a matter of urgency to inform the public of the ‘true’ Qur’an (according to how the polemical translations would portray it), prevent further conversions, and educate people on how to draw Muslims to Christianity. The threat was particularly real for Britons who suffered from conversions, piracy, and the general military might and economic superiority of the Islamic Empire.

Besides the external troubles from the Ottoman faith, Britain was also undergoing significant upheavals from within. The English Civil War between the Parliamentarians and Royalists was underway, with 1649 seeing the conclusion of the second war, the execution of King Charles I and the establishment of the short-lived English Republic. That this year produced the first English translation of the Qur’an merely four months after the fall of the monarch, and by Ross who was a known Royalist and beneficiary of Charles I, is no coincidence.

The publication of the Qur’an at this central moment in the re-defining of Britain’s identity and national dynamics is an historical event whose significance has been neglected. To argue that the Ross Qur’an was minor and coincidental would be a mistake. The translation enjoyed popularity during the seventeenth century, subsequently overriding the George Sale Qur’an of 1734 to become the first translation printed in the United States in 1806.

Published soon after the regicide and establishment of the English Republic, under which there were serious upheavals in the Church of England, the translation was arguably a response to a government considered by Ross, a previous chaplain to the executed King, as heretical for executing their divinely anointed monarch and restructuring the holy Church. Here, the translation of the Muslim holy book entailed an attack upon a despised government through comparison to a rejected faith: Islam. In the introduction and appendices, the authorities are accused of ‘instability in religion’ and compared unfavourably to the heretical Muslim Turks. However, even as the authorities are faulted for being ‘too like Turks,’, soon after Ross admiringly describes the Muslims: ”… how zealous they are in the works of devotion, piety, and charity, how devout, cleanly, and reverend in their Mosques, how obedient to their Priests, that even the great Turk himself will attempt nothing without consulting his mufti”.

While the Turk may be heretical, the authorities were both heretical and immoral; in character the Muslims were deemed better. In one breath condemned for being Turk, in another condemned for not, the instability of British identity and the struggles to frame it in this difficult moment is evident. Through the internal conflict of civil war, where a sense of the English self was destabilised, the English Qur’an became a medium through which to turn to the stable Turk as a balancing figure in the process of self-negotiation; one to compare against and, in spite of the Christian reflex against an infidel, to emulate.

Significantly, this attitude to the Ottomans is also portrayed by the Parliamentarians. The 1649 Secretary for Foreign Tongues and famed poet, John Milton, praised the Muslims for their ability to ‘enlarge their empire as much by the study of liberal arts as by force of arms.’ Like Ross, the authorities were torn between rejection and admiration of the Muslims, employing this heathen other as a balancing figure in understanding English identity and projecting aspirational paths of political advancement.

Ultimately, Ross’ translation became not only the first English Qur’an, but a text of the English Civil War and a crucial tool in its political struggle and negotiation of a national identity. Through the turbulence of conflict, the Islamic holy text found itself transported and adopted into a new realm, one that was experiencing the pangs of its rebirth, and impacting at the very roots of the conflict. The Qur’an became a symbol of the ideological struggles of the revolution, leaving its indelible mark on British identity and history.

Image from : http://www.lib.unimelb.edu.au/collections/special/exhibitions/knowledgethroughprint/exhibition/introduction.html
Categories: Muslim blogs

Eastern Texts Meet Western Quills: The First English Translation of the Qur’an

Imam Suhaib Webb - Mon, 25/08/2014 - 13:00

By Lubaaba Amatullah

When asking fellow Muslims about the first English Qur’an, the response is frequently a reference to the 1930 translation by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall. Less frequently an excited voice speaks of the George Sale Qur’an of 1734. However, British Islamic – and Qur’anic – history extends long beyond that, in a rich account of theological study, political negotiations and self-discovery.

The entrance of the complete Qur’an into the Western world is in fact traced back to the Middle Ages. The first translation into a European Western language, Latin, was completed by the English scholar Robertus Retenensis. It was entitled ‘Lex Mahumet Pseudoprophete’ (‘The Law of Mahomet the False Prophet’) and was completed in 1143. The translation enjoyed popularity and wide circulation, and was later to become the main basis for further contemporary translations into Italian, German and Dutch.1 Between 1480 and 1481, not long after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, the first bilingual translation into Latin with accompanying Arabic appeared, composed by the Jewish convert to Christianity, Flavius Mithridates.2 In 1647, Andrew Du Ryer produced the first French translation in Paris. The first direct translation from the Arabic text since the Middle Ages3 , it was a marked improvement from those produced in the years since 1143.

Title page for the first English translation of the Qur’an (1649) by Alexander Ross

It was from Du Ryer’s translation that the first English translation was produced in 1649: ‘The Alcoran of Mahomet’4 by Alexander Ross. It was rendered from the French rather than the Arabic, making it an indirect translation with all the associated problems of inaccuracy. Nonetheless, the Ross translation is important both as the first complete print of an English Qur’an and also for the significance of the time in which it was produced.

Alexander Ross (1591-1654), Clergyman and writer.
Engraving in 1653 by Pierre Lombart, (1612 or 1613-1682)

The early modern period endured a time of upheaval in Christian Europe in both religious and national identity. In addition to the tensions created by increasing sectarian conflicts among Christian sects, the expanding Ottoman Empire placed considerable pressure on Christendom. Islam was expanding both demographically and geographically5 , through the superior military might of the Muslim Ottomans and the conversions of European Christians to Islam.6 The faith simultaneously threatened and attracted Christian Europe as both conflict and conversion flourished. Richard Knolles, an early English historian who in 1603 wrote The Generall Historie of the Turkes, the first major text on the Ottoman Empire in the English language, commented in it on the impossibility to ‘set downe the bounds and limits’ upon the Ottomans who accept ‘no other limits than the uttermost bounds of the earth’. The Ottoman threat made the translation and dissemination of the Qur’an a matter of urgency to inform the public of the ‘true’ Qur’an (according to how the polemical translations would portray it), prevent further conversions, and educate people on how to draw Muslims to Christianity7 . The threat was particularly real for Britons who suffered from conversions, piracy, and the general military might and economic superiority of the Islamic Empire.

Besides the external troubles from the Ottoman faith, Britain was also undergoing significant upheavals from within. The English Civil War between the Parliamentarians and Royalists was underway, with 1649 seeing the conclusion of the second war, the execution of King Charles I and the establishment of the short-lived English Republic. That this year produced the first English translation of the Qur’an, merely four months after the fall of the monarch, and by Ross, who was a known Royalist8 and beneficiary of Charles I9 , is no coincidence.

The publication of the Qur’an at this central moment in the re-defining of Britain’s identity and national dynamics is an historical event whose significance has been neglected. To argue that the Ross Qur’an was minor and coincidental would be a mistake. The translation enjoyed popularity during the seventeenth century, subsequently overriding the George Sale Qur’an of 1734 to become the first translation printed in the United States in 180610 .

Published four months after the regicide of Charles I and the establishment of the English Republic, under which there were serious upheavals in the Church of England, the translation was arguably a response to a government considered by Ross, a previous chaplain to the deceased King, as heretical and sinful for executing their divinely anointed monarch and restructuring the holy Church. Here, the translation of the Muslim holy book entailed an attack upon a despised government through comparison to a rejected faith: Islam. In the introduction and appendices, the authorities are accused of ‘instability in religion’11 and compared unfavourably to the heretical Muslim Turks. However, even as the authorities are faulted for being ‘too like Turks,’, soon after Ross admiringly describes the Muslims:

”… how zealous they are in the works of devotion, piety, and charity, how devout, cleanly, and reverend in their Mosques, how obedient to their Priests, that even the great Turk himself will attempt nothing without consulting his mufti…”12

While the Turk may be heretical, the authorities were both heretical and immoral; in character the Muslims were deemed better. In one breath condemned for being Turk, in another condemned for not, the instability of British identity and the struggles to frame it in this difficult moment is evident. Through the internal conflict of civil war, wherein a sense of the English self was destabilised, the English Qur’an became a medium through which to turn to the stable Turk as a balancing figure in the process of self-negotiation; one to compare against and, in spite of the Christian reflex against an infidel, to emulate.

Significantly, this attitude to the Ottomans is also portrayed by the Parliamentarians. The 1649 Secretary for Foreign Tongues and famed poet, John Milton, praised the Muslims for their ability to ‘enlarge their empire as much by the study of liberal arts as by force of arms.’13 Like Ross, the authorities were torn between rejection and admiration of the Muslims, employing this heathen other as a balancing figure in understanding English identity and projecting aspirational paths of political advancement.

Ultimately, Ross’ translation became not only the first English Qur’an, but a text of the English Civil War and a crucial tool in its political struggle and negotiation of a national identity. Through the turbulence of conflict, the Islamic holy text found itself transported and adopted into a new realm, one that was experiencing the pangs of its rebirth, and impacting at the very roots of the conflict. The Qur’an became a symbol of the ideological struggles of the revolution, leaving its indelible mark on British identity and history.

 

Lubaaba Amatullah is joint Editor-in-Chief of The Platform (www.the-platform.org.uk). When not consuming tea or waxing lyrical on the glories of British chocolate, she pursues a PhD in English Literature exploring England’s early encounters with the Islamic world.

 

  1. Abdul-Raof, Qur’an Translation: Discourse, Texture and Exegesis [Routeledge, London, 2001], p. 19
  2. Ziad Elmarsafy, The Enlightenment Qur’an [Oneworld, Oxford, 2009], p. 3
  3. Elmarsafy, The Enlightenment Qur’an, p. xi
  4.  Alexander Ross, The Alcoran of Mahomet, Newly translated out of Arabique into French by the Sier Du Ryer, Lord of Malezair, and Resident for the King of France, at Alexandria. And Newly Englished for the satisfaction of all who wish to look into the Turkish Vanities [London, 1649]
  5. Nabil Matar, Islam in Britain: 1558-1685 [CUP, Cambridge, 1998], p. 17
  6. Matar, Islam in Britain, p. 19
  7. Elmarsafy, The Enlightenment Qur’an, p. 4
  8. Nabil Matar, “Alexander Ross and the First English Translation of the Qur’an,” The Muslim World, Vol. 88 [1998], p. 84
  9. Matar, Alexander Ross and the First English Translation of the Qur’an, p. 82
  10. Elmarsafy, The Enlightenment Qur’an,, p. 9
  11. Ross, The Alcoran of Mahomet: A Needful Caveat
  12. Ross, The Alcoran of Mahomet: A Needful Caveat
  13. John Milton, ‘Prolusion 7’ in Complete Prose Works of John Milton, 7 vols., gen. Ed. Don M. Wolfe [New Haven London: Yale University Press, 1953-1983], vol. 1, p. 299
Categories: Muslim blogs

The Platform’s Third Anniversary Competition!

The Platform - Fri, 22/08/2014 - 13:46

Your chance to WIN! 

To celebrate our third anniversary, The Platform has teamed up with Tate Britain, Atlantic Books, and Ahmad Tea to offer three lucky winners the following prizes:

Special Treat One: Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson, following our interview with the author. Read the interview here.
Special Treat Two: Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs publication, following our writer’s review of the exhibition. Read it here.
Special Treat Three: A delicious tea set for three lucky winners. Because everyone deserves to relax and eat biscuits!

 

 

To be in with a chance of winning, all you have to do is like the competition post on our Facebook and Twitter, comment on what subjects you like or would like to see on The Platform, and share this post.

Competition posts will be published on Facebook and Twitter on Saturday August 23 at 12pm GMT.

 

Terms and Conditions:
1.       The competition is open to UK residents only.

2.       To enter via Facebook, you must like The Platform on Facebook.

3.       To enter via Twitter, you must follow The Platform on Twitter.

4.       Entrants get two entries if participating via both Twitter and Facebook.

5.       This competition closes by midnight on 31 August 2014, and a winner will be announced on 2 September 2014.

The winner must accept/claim the prize within one week, otherwise a substitute winner will be announced.
Categories: Muslim blogs

The ‘Islamic State’ Monstrosity: Can the Middle East Rise Up From the Ashes?

The Platform - Fri, 22/08/2014 - 00:41

ISIS is yet another addition to decades of cruelty suffered by the Middle East; the West cannot ignore its role in the crises

 

The Arab world, the heart of ancient civilisation and birthplace of the three Abrahamic faiths, is now haunted by a mounting monstrosity: the so-called Islamic State (IS). Their latest online video release purporting to show the beheading of US journalist James Foley by a killer with a British accent is shocking. Muslims across the world have expressed their abhorrence to this group; the main British Muslim umbrella group, the MCB, has called their actions psychopathic violence.

IS’s atrocities are just a horrible addition to many years of cruelty in the region. For decades tin pot dictators, power-hungry militaries and monarchical autocrats have played havoc with their own people – killing opponents, bulldozing cities, gassing villages, pilfering state wealth, and above all, allowing foreign powers to turn the region into a theatre of war and anarchy. Some did this in the name of Arab nationalism and others used religion as a political ploy.

All this started with the dismal social degeneration of the once powerful Ottoman Empire and its disastrous support for Germany in WW1 a century ago. The political naivety of the collapsing Ottomans and mindboggling Arab opportunism was then used by the British Empire to orchestrate an anti-Ottoman revolt from its Arab provinces. In a secret Sykes-Picot Agreement Britain and France decided to bring strategically important Ottoman Arab territories into their sphere of influence; with artificial boundaries they created pliant Arab states.

WW1 caused death and destruction on an industrial scale; most deceitfully it sowed the seed of long term enmity between the Arab people. The worst case was in historic Palestine which, because of the Balfour Declaration, created a generational conflict between two people – the Jews and Muslims.

Fast forward: today the Middle East is reaping what was sown 100 years ago. The reign of terror in Baathist Syria and Iraq, military autocracy sapping the energy of Egyptian people and depravity of Gulf monarchies (with varying degrees) have some links with European colonial enterprise designed to milk Arab wealth.

The continuous brutalisation of the Palestinian people and Israeli illegal settlement expansion – with direct or indirect support from the US and its allies – has proved long term lethal. Gaza carnages by the Israeli military machine every few years is one such example.

However, the latest nail in the fractured Arab body came from the illegal US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which took place in spite of international outcry. Driven by a neoconservative agenda and with breathtaking arrogance, the US jettisoned all international legality in Iraq; it was imperial hubris at its worst. Under a US ‘shock and awe’ barbarity Iraq, once a centre of Muslim civilisation, saw a replay of Mongol savagery of 1258. The Geneva Convention was thrown out of the window and the world witnessed the death, destruction and humiliation of a people by an occupying power.

When the world’s sole superpower adopts a ‘might is right’ policy, autocratic forces elsewhere find cues to do the same to their adversaries; the result is a ‘Law of the Jungle’ and loss of moral compass that we see now in many parts of the world.

The demonic evils of the IS, which is neither Islamic nor a state, has horrified us all. By terrorising and killing ordinary people and posting revolting images online, the group is handing over massive propaganda weapons to Islamophobes everywhere.

We must not forget the fact that IS is, in-part, a by-product of a brutal and immoral invasion of an independent Iraq by America, not dissimilar to the way Al-Qaeda emerged after Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Dangerous proxy wars are now haunting Iraq and Syria, following sectarian lines In spite of historic theological and political differences between Sunni and Shia Islam, the Muslim world was spared from a bloodletting that Europe saw between the two branches of Christianity in the Middle Ages. The current Sunni-Shia violence, though a sign of extreme degeneration within today’s Arabs, has something sinister behind it – the impact of foreign domination.

Nobody expects the US and its close allies to come and rescue the Arabs from their current misery; but it is for their own ‘national interest’ in an inter-connected world that these global powers avoid replicating their past misdeeds. Beggaring the neighbour is not only unethical, but also counter-productive in the long run. The Arabs expect some degree of ethics in the Middle East policy from the US and its allies; but what they see now is double standard. Is the blood of ordinary people killed by IS’s cruelty in Iraq different from the blood of innocent people in Cairo’s Rab’a massacre last year?

Iraq is trying to form a unity government under domestic and international pressure, it is vital America and its allies make sure their humanitarian assistance does not end up in another ‘mission creep‘.

America, still an unrivalled global military force, has an extra obligation to be fair for the sake of world peace. Like a wheel global power rotates, the US will one day lose its supremacy; common wisdom demands it does not remain on the wrong side of history for so long.

Meanwhile the Arabs will not be in such a perilous state forever. They have a uniquely rich religious heritage to stand up and have also a history of shaping destiny themselves when they are at their worst. What they probably most need now is a new breed of trusted leadership with vision, wisdom and political acumen. They have missed a golden opportunity of the 2011 Arab Spring due to the dearth of this political leadership, and also because of conspiratorial vested interests. But one day, hopefully not too long in future, they will rise up again and unshackle themselves from this continuing humiliation.

No light may now be visible at the end of the Middle East tunnel, but it is just a matter of time when this new force will rise from the ashes.

Image from: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/iraq-turmoil/isis-scud-dud-missile-likely-not-operational-us-officials-say-n145916
Categories: Muslim blogs

Healing Through Laughter: Remembering Robin Williams

The Platform - Thu, 21/08/2014 - 14:33

His characters gave affection and joy, but Williams struggled to find his own

 

Maybe it shouldn’t surprise us that the world has reacted to the death of Robin Williams as if we all lost a playful, dear uncle. This sudden, untimely departure was of a global celebrity familiar to several generations of our collective childhood. His self-inflicted death was at the opposite pole to the good feeling he seemed so eager to fill his audience with.

When tears and disbelief subside, the first act of mourning is praise. How we choose to eulogise the deceased helps work out what that person meant to us in life, and when the departed is a famous person, this meaning assumes a shared character. In the case of Robin Williams, grief gave an occasion both to debate the blight of mental illness (including an insightful article in these very pages), and moreover to express an instant and sincere affection. What I want to delve into here was what it was in the roles he played that encouraged such affection, and at the same time, invoked concerns of a beleaguered attempt at healing.

Amidst a versatile career, what jumps out from Robin Williams is his excellence at playing the clown. Perhaps everything looks bigger when you’re a child, but I remember just how huge Good Morning Vietnam appeared on its release, Williams’s elongated vowels booming out the title catchphrase from his serviceman’s radio booth in every trailer. From the classroom in Dead Poet’s Society, the kids’ front room in Mrs. Doubtfire, or as a genie looming from Aladdin’s magic lamp, his films gave space to a larger-than-life, bravura spontaneity tumbling forth like a force of nature.

This built on Williams’s apprenticeship as a New York stand-up before landing a part as Mork first in the TV sitcom Happy Days and then the spin-off Mork and Mindy, where each episode gave him time simply to improvise to camera in extended comic monologues. Whether on chat shows or caught by a journalist’s mic, his wise-cracking had a relentlessness that would make Groucho Marx blush. And so his film roles had the odd status of seeming more rounded than the man did in real life. On film he embraced emotional vulnerability, even sentimentality. In his equal comfort with both comedy and sentiment, if not in personal style, he was matched only by his comic contemporary Tom Hanks.

This meant that though playing the clown, Williams also played teacher, guide, and mentor to people adrift in a broken or frightening world – that is, to us, his audience members, as much as to the characters he met onscreen. Patch Adams is emblematic of this, the doctor who heals breakage and trauma with humour. It is to be regretted then that this ability to heal through comedy was not something that, in his darkest hour, extended to Robin Williams himself.

But his roles provide an insight into this final tragic lack of healing also. He repeatedly played characters unable to partake of the restorative sense of belonging they brought to others. The unorthodox teacher he plays in Dead Poets Society is cast out by the stern public school hierarchy; Aladdin’s genie is a guide, but still a slave; the android he plays in Bicentennial Man sorrowfully comes to realise the emotional fullness that constitutes what it means to be human.

More than any actual place, the men he played were most often shut out of the family: the divorced man in Mrs. Doubtfire, the devoted husband who after a car crash descends to Hades to search for his wife in What Dreams May Come, the grieving father in Homicide: Life on the Streets (one of his acclaimed TV roles, scripted by David Simon prior to writing The Wire). Even in a comic fantasy like Jumanji, he leaps out after 26 years imprisoned in the titular board game and into the suburban American street to run off looking for his lost mother and father.

While Patch Adams is then emblematic, the template is set by Mork, the childlike alien sent to observe the quirks of human behaviour that he can never fit into. This desire, pushed to desperation, informs the outright creeps that he played: think of the sad loner in One Hour Photo, who in his fantasy life participates in the happy home of a family whose intimate moments he develops in his isolated photo booth.

The desire for affection his many characters displayed did not make Robin Williams a freakish exhibit. Williams’s fame coincided with the era of Oprah’s couch, ushering in the modern way in which we think of ourselves, of our heroes, even of our society: that is of individuals in need of healing after suffering the traumas of a broken environment. Williams’s performances participated in the changing way of understanding American manhood as the once old-style masculine heroism became outdated. Films like Good Morning Vietnam and The World According to Garp refer directly to the predicament of how to think of manliness after Vietnam and feminism. This ambiguity is however no less present (and not necessarily any more progressive) by underlying a film like Mrs. Doubtfire, where a divorced father must work out what place a man may have when he is declared unwanted.

It is a cultural commonplace to remark on the tears of a clown, and to draw attention to the tragedy that lurks behind its mask. What is special about Robin Williams is that those tears were placed upon the mask itself. Williams may well have been the object of his audience’s affection, for no other actor’s roles are so marked by their consistent desire to win affection, in its comic and its emotional aspects. It is here that we can understand the reaction to Williams’s death by what he meant to us in life.

 

Image from: http://movies.mxdwn.com/feature/remembering-robin-williams-philip-seymour-hoffman-and-patch-adams/
Categories: Muslim blogs

The Digital Dunya: Why I’m OK With Mediocre

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 21/08/2014 - 13:00

Photo: Mark J P

It took me a very long time to realize this, but as soon as I did, I found myself shuttled into a new realm of liberation.

I am fine with being mediocre. Let me explain.

In this tech-savvy day and age, religiosity has found a new medium for expression: the internet. It is through this medium that so many Muslims have become the staple of everyone’s newsfeeds or YouTube playlists.

Social media’s ability to construct ideal self-representations has given birth to a new generation of Muslims: local and international super-stars whose quotes are “re-tweeted” and photos “liked” by the hundreds.

Even us laypeople have found a niche in this digital dunya (life): our bios, statuses, posts, and pictures are manifestations of our religious self-perception. Soon enough, the way others perceive us may ultimately be changed as well. With every piece of religiosity we share online, our piety and rank may increase in their eyes.

Now, I’m not saying online da`wah (spreading the message of Islam) and the like are bad things at all. Indeed, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t benefit greatly from the pages/blogs/videos of certain people. And I truly ask that Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), blesses each and every one of these individuals. But what I want to discuss is the greater social implication of what it means to be a Muslim in this internet age.

I feel as though there is pressure on those of us who engage with social media to up the notch to which we express our religiosity. It could be through that display picture highlighting our meticulously placed hijab or perfectly groomed beard. Or how about mentioning in our bios that we’re a “Muslimah/Muslim,” and our religious belief is “The Deen of Allah”, we are “proud memorizers of the Qur’an” and our location is the “Dunya” – catch my drift? It also seems that things like uploading hjiab fashion videos online, engaging in what are called “Muslim Vines” (seriously), or posting/sharing a multitude of Qur’anic verses are the thing to do as a Muslim engaging online.

In hipster fashion, I feel as though everywhere I look, I come across a new speaker, sheikh, student of knowledge, or video extraordinaire. I also feel as though a dichotomy has been created amongst the younger Muslim generation. That is to say, you’re either strictly deen (religion) – everything you share is Islam related – or…you’re not.

I don’t know what it is, but something feels weird about being bombarded with all of this. What does it really mean to be a Muslim online?

The liberation that I spoke of earlier came once I realized that it is totally fine to just be mediocre – a regular Muslim, doing regular things. My Islamic endeavors may not be highlighted in a tweet or photo, but that does not negate its existence. I may not be a speaker, video-blogger, or anyone “known”, but my obscurity from the world does not translate to obscurity in the sight of Allah (swt). It’s okay to be mediocre…average. I don’t mean mediocre in the deen – we should ALWAYS seek to better ourselves as Muslims daily, but what I mean is that in order to fulfill our duties as Muslims, we don’t need to be seen as online super duper stars. We don’t need the world to know every little minute detail of our religious lives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a BIG advocate for online da`wah, but in my opinion, creating these digital hyper-religious caricatures of ourselves can do more harm than good.

It’s frightening to realize just how much of our religious spheres have permeated into the online sphere. Is nothing sacred anymore? I mean, in our supreme displays of religiosity, our initial intentions may have become lost. For instance, the disparity between our online-selves and real-life selves may be alarming. We’ll either realize this and seek to change ourselves, or devastatingly – and more often than not – we may convince ourselves of our own greatness. We may overlook the fact that although the Qur’anic verse we shared may have gotten hundreds of “likes” or “shares,” our real Qur’an sits unread. Or despite the fact that although we share everything like pics from the Islamic study-circles/events/conferences we’ve attended or carefully choreographed engagement/wedding photos, much of our real-life personal relationships lie in shambles.

I’ve realized that so many of us – speakers, shuyookh and laypeople alike spend way too much time online. Lord have mercy. Where on Earth do some people find the time to post lengthy, complicated fatawah (Islamic rulings)? Or engage in such useless drivel or petty arguments? How much of our time is sacrificed honing, editing, and perfecting our online pseudo-religious selves? And how much of this time is spent perfecting our characters and relationship with Allah (swt) in real life?

To those who may feel like they’re doing something wrong by not being a prominent face in the hipster-like digital dunya scene – don’t sweat it. You’re not doing anything wrong, you’re just being bombarded by folks who seem convinced that everything they’re doing is right.

Here’s a quote I came across recently that reflects the point I’ve tried to get across with this piece:

“Just because someone doesn’t use Facebook as a platform to expound about Islam/religion, or plaster Islamic symbols all over it, does not mean they are not religious people. You don’t know whose worship is better or whose heart is purer based on something as trivial as Facebook–it is a poor vehicle to judge people. Also, people contribute to Islam in different ways or even give dawah in ways other than social media. Some religious people use Facebook as a source of entertainment/downtime, thus their Facebook isn’t religiosity-focused while others still fear riyaa and thus deliberately do not mention their Islamic practices on Facebook. Think twice before you judge a Facebooker by their cover”—Olivia K

Just a little food for thought.

And Allah (swt) knows best.

Categories: Muslim blogs

“Police Brutality Must Be Defended”

The Platform - Thu, 21/08/2014 - 06:40

The recent murder and violence in Ferguson highlights the endemic brutalisation and dehumanisation of the black community

 

“Police Brutality Must be Defended.” This is essentially the message that Americans are getting from the outrageously inconsiderate response that the murder of a young person of colour –in broad daylight – is drawing from authorities. The murder was point-blank, cold-blooded gunfire.

Many are using the term “executed.” This is apt as the victim was shot repeatedly, including in the head. Adding insult to injury, the murder was committed by an on-duty policeman, and the victim was an unarmed minor, who held his hands in up the air, saying, “don’t shoot”. Police are supposed to “protect and serve” their communities. And yet, this on-duty policeman executed a young, unarmed member of the community.

With the fact that justice is not being served, and that police violence against a community in upheaval is ongoing, the simple and sinister phrase “Police Brutality Must be Defended” rings only too true. Whilst the governor officially declared Martial Law through a “state of emergency” executive order on August 16th, reports circulated of sold-out t-shirts and protests in support of the murderous officer in the nearby largely white community.

I am not using the names of the victim or the killer, and I am not using the name of the community. This is a deliberate choice, and not a cold move: the recent murder is not an exceptional occurrence. It happens all the time. Per a recent newscast by Melissa Harris-Perry, white policemen shoot and kill unarmed black men on an average of twice a week in the US. Unarmed members of communities around the country are routinely killed by the very police force that is there to “protect and serve” them. These kinds of murders happen all the time; the truth is cold. It is general. It is abstract. It is that much more real and immediate to people of colour across the country who are generalized as dangerous and less-than-human, and whose lives are abstracted as expendable.

The imbalance of power and privilege that enables police violence against people of colour to occur on a daily basis also conceals it, devaluing the lives at stake. The retaliation that the police force is exerting upon the citizens protesting the recent killing is completely baffling if one does not understand this as an intensification of routine abuse. The routine media occlusion of this commonplace abuse has culminated in ironic results: police have been treating reporters with the same oppression and brutality that they are serving the protesters.

“The First Amendment Must be Suppressed”

It is impossible to read these events and not consider the parallels in regard to the restriction of media reporting, and the dehumanization of a minority population, which are also ongoing in the Gaza conflict. It is this vision that prompts me to link the phrase “Police Brutality Must be Defended” with two more: “The First Amendment Must be Suppressed,” and, yes, “Israel Must be Defended.”

A friend and I were surprised – but not surprised – to find that the post which she wrote on her Facebook wall containing June Jordan’s “Poem About Police Violence”, was invisible to her friends. Some Facebook filter attuned to language about killing cops has rendered her post invisible. This is but one small example of the suppression of speech and the skewing of news stories in this event, not unlike what we have been seeing with regard to the Israel-Gaza situation.

Thankfully, we have other means of finding information. My experiences with tumblr have felt the least creepy, and twitter hasn’t disappointed either. A brief internet search of hashtags such as #ferguson, #policebrutality, #mikebrown, #handsupdontshoot, #iftheygunnedmedown, and many more, should yield some information for those who are interested in finding out what’s really happening.

For instance, when a curfew was declared in Ferguson, citing “lootings” as a problem that needed to be stemmed, images cropped up on social media showing community members of color convening in front of stores in order to keep them safe. Another image that has been making the rounds is of someone pouring milk into a tear-gas victim’s eyes outside of a McDonald’s, with the caption “protesters broke into McDonald’s to get milk for tear gas victims”. Beyond these responses to allegations of looting as justification for a curfew enforced by police in riot gear, one might pause to note that the word and concept of “looting” is primitivising and brutalising in its arcane resonances. It is also misleading, as James Baldwin lays out in a quote that has been making the tumblr rounds. Further, “looting” seems absurdly benign when placed in contrast with armored vehicles and relentless tear-gassing, which, by the way, is an abortifacient.

“Israel Must be Defended”

One thinks of the situation in Gaza, and the use of the word “rockets” by the Israeli Defense Ministry as bearing similar primitivising and brutalising overtones which somehow warrant a disproportionately violent retaliation. Honestly, what are “rockets,” in the face of all of the latest and most lethal war technologies that Israel has at its disposal? Nadia Abu El-Haj, in a recent article criticizes the description of the carnage in Gaza as “self-defence,” and rightly so.

This, too, is painfully reminiscent of the Trayvon Martin verdict last summer, in which George Zimmerman was indicted on grounds of self-defence as protected by Florida’s arcane “stand your ground” law. This law presumes and exercises a racist and misogynist heritage. It does not serve to protect the most underprivileged in the community, as the latter are the most devalued as humans, tied to a legacy of minority subjects as property. They form a population not protected by the rhetoric of self-defence.

As events continue to unfold in both zones of crisis, this notion of “self-defence” must be challenged. If we understand what we are witnessing to be massacres of populations that have been historically and rhetorically dehumanised by the dominant population, the notion of “self-defence” by the dominant and powerful “more humanised” aggressor is indeed deeply questionable.

Image from: http://www.ibtimes.com/ferguson-missouri-clashes-between-police-protesters-persist-1660368
Categories: Muslim blogs

Is it Too Late for Some of Us?

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 20/08/2014 - 13:00

Photo: xalamay

By Hamza Nabi

Bismilah. Alhamdulillah. Was salatu was salamu ‘ala Rasoolillah. Amma ba’d.

(In the name of God. All praise be to God. And peace and blessings on the Messenger of God.)

There are things we are supposed to learn in life. Balancing our fear of God’s Punishment and our hope in God’s Mercy. Figuring out a way to earn a livelihood. Embodying character traits such as honesty, altruism, patience and loyalty. Dealing with people justly, doing our best not to tread upon the rights of others and forgiving when our rights are not duly respected. Of course, the list goes on and on.

There is something about this list that is different than other lists. The average to-do list has boxes beside each point to indicate whether the task has been completed or still needs to get done. The list of things we are supposed to learn in life isn’t that simple. This list has levels and stages. This list does not have an exam at the end, nor a completion date. The contents of this list are all a work in progress. Everyone has a level and a stage but there are very few who will get straight A’s on this report card. And that is important. It is important to recognize because this recognition breeds humility. It is important to recognize because this recognition renders arrogance an impossibility. There will be tests along the way and we might get indications as to how well we are doing, but we will not really find out until it’s all over. Until it is too late.

So. As people who wish to be successful in every facet of our lives, how do we improve ourselves? How do we attain the ranks which give our hearts peace? How do we know whether or not it is “too late”? Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), has given us the clear answer to this. As long as we are alive, it’s never too late. No matter how much we wrong ourselves, there is always a path to redemption. The road to sincerity is never too far away. The thief has forgiveness. The adulterer has forgiveness. The one who commits shirk (belief in more than one God) knowingly is clearly not a Muslim, yet her/his acceptance of Islam wipes this away.

Some say it sounds too easy, it’s too good to be true, things don’t just work that way. What they fail to realize is that it’s not that easy. It’s really not. To be real. To be honest. To be sincere. To be truthful. All of this takes a lot of strength. Rectifying oneself after a lifetime of misconduct is not as easy as it sounds. Even after knowing what is right, look at how many people fall short.

There is no running away from Allah, except to Allah (swt). The sooner we recognize that, the better. The sooner we understand that and act according to its implications, the sooner our lives will be much happier and far more peaceful.

Our mistakes give us two things. They present a greater challenge to do better. Textbook recidivism. Yes, it’s a liability. Yes, we need to put more barriers up to keep us from falling. Yes, our mistakes can change our mindset and we can either adopt a lax attitude, or fall into excessive cynicism about ourselves and others. These mistakes, however, have also been given the ability to add to our sincerity. To strengthen our resolve. To understand that we don’t want to be disgraced when we stand before our Lord. Some honest reflection allows us to understand that we cannot change the past. It is up to us to use our past constructively, or let it affect us destructively. This goes along with another benefit that we need to actively identify and seek. Our increased ability to learn from the mistakes of others that stems from the learning process we underwent is priceless. The goal is to minimize our mistakes and continuously improve ourselves. Aim high. There are people whose choices are between good and a greater good—bad leaves the equation after a certain point.

Where we will end up depends on a lot of factors. Our best bet is to truly give it our all. Again, easier said than done. Sometimes we will slip where we least expect it. Many times we will find ourselves exceeding our own expectations. If our general direction is up, then we are on the right track. If we are falling, then we better catch ourselves quick. The sooner the better. Do not let it be “too late.”

 

Thanks for reading.

Categories: Muslim blogs

How to Speak to a Gay Sibling

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 19/08/2014 - 13:00

Photo: madlyinlovewithlife

Question:

My 18-year-old sister recently told me that she was gay. Not only that, but she was also in a relationship with a girl whom we all thought was her best friend. And to make matters even worse, she said she was not sure she felt Muslim anymore.

Obviously, I was shocked. But I love my sister; I have practically raised her since she was little. So I listened patiently (she has a history of mental health/anxiety/self-harm issues) and I told her that, while I did not agree with her life choice, I loved her no matter what. I feel that the worst thing I could have done at that time is to reject her. I did not even go down the ‘it is un-Islamic’ road—she already knows that, and she is struggling with it.

Now, we have long conversations about how/if Islam fits into her life. I know I cannot force her to remain in the faith if she does not want to, but I feel so lost myself that I am running out of things to say.

I guess I am not asking if her being gay is ‘halal’, but rather looking for advice on how to deal with a loved one going through something like this. She has obviously gone through hell and back alone, and now finally she feels like she can confide in someone about ‘who she really is.’ Given her background of poor mental health, I am loathe to do or say anything that could tip her balance the wrong way. I just do not know how to support her, and if in doing so I am going against my own beliefs in the process. Her well-being is the most important thing to me right now.

Answer:

It sounds like maintaining a positive relationship with your younger sister is very important to you. Her identification as being gay and questioning the role of Islam in her life further confirms for you the importance of maintaining a positive relationship with her. You have been able to approach her with compassion and empathy but you also question whether this challenges your own personal beliefs.

By maintaining open communication with your sister, you are modeling empathy and understanding for her struggle.  By loving her, you also realize that you cannot change her, but you can be there for her if/when she has concerns or questions. If you feel that she respects your boundaries and does not impose her choices on you, then you are engaging in a mutually respectful relationship.  Maintaining open communication with her does not mean you accept what she is doing, but rather that you have a loving heart towards her as your sister, and do not wish to break the bond of a family relationship.

WebbCounselors is a collaborative advice column produced by two WebbAuthors, Amal Killawi, a Clinical Social Worker with a specialization in mental health and marriage education, and Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine, a Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in premarital counseling. Please note that our counselors are not religious scholars and will not issue religious rulings. To read our full disclaimer, please visit our disclaimer page. To submit questions to the WebbCounselors, please email webbcounselors@suhaibwebb.com.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Where Mental Illness Is Concerned, ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ Is Not a Legitimate Question

The Platform - Fri, 15/08/2014 - 23:01

It’s time for an honest discussion about depression and suicide beyond media hype and cultural valourisation

 

In the summer of 2007, at the end of a long, rainy week incidentally filled with free cocaine, I made a serious attempt to take my own life.

I am alive. In fact I live an incredibly happy life. But the memory of depression remains vivid, and my depression will return. On depression and suicide, I feel qualified to speak up.

Robin Williams, that wonderful man, completes suicide, and suddenly everyone has an opinion. “Genie – you’re free”, some said. No, he isn’t. He’s dead. He is exactly the opposite of free.

I’m a ditzy, garrulous English grad who likes cats and goes to lots of festivals. Relatively normal, you might say. Yet I was only 12 when I learnt to really hate myself. At 15 – when I was still getting gold stars at school for writing stories – I gave away my best CDs just before half term, planning to use the timeout of teachers’ and parents’ attention to get away with suicide.

I finally did it aged almost 20, because an inviolable realisation came upon me that nothing would ever change. I would always be this person, and that meant I would always feel this way. The only sensible thing I could do was end my life. It certainly felt like a rational choice. I thought it would free me. At the time I was Christian, and I was pathetically eager to ‘go home’, to God, where I would be loved and there was no more pain.

The problem with depression is that it robs you of perspective. It creeps up on you: you are gradually engulfed by a huge tarpaulin of self-disgust, and it all seems perfectly objective and normal. Nobody suddenly wakes up one day thinking of themselves in totally different terms, thinking that killing yourself might be a legitimate option, and often, eventually, the only option.

But one day you do wake up and there it is, and the next day too, as far into the future as your myopic mind’s eye can see. Usually, at some point, most likely with treatment, it then lifts just as gradually as it came.

“Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?”

Albert Camus’ famous question, “should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?”, will be familiar to anyone with severe depression. I am certain this question would have been familiar to Robin Williams. Is this really a choice?! Only someone with a seriously skewed perspective, in which literal life-and-death decisions and inconsequential options assume equal significance, could even entertain such a question.

But ‘suicide is a choice’ is a myth which refuses to go away. It continues to be discussed as if the options – coffee or death? – were in any way equal, or the question legitimate.

I lost two of my friends to suicide last year and I do not believe, as a third (also suicidally depressed) friend said, that it was “a choice they’ll never have to live to regret”. Only the myth of an “easeful death”, and a culture which cannot cope with conceptualising the loss of personal agency – of actual choice – could create a space where this logic survives and flourishes. My friends did not choose; they died from treatable illnesses, because their illness had temporarily removed their capacity to sense the worth in living. And part of our response as a culture is to discuss the ‘choice’ they made? Well-intentioned as it may be, I find it obscene.

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s gorgeous line “I have been half in love with easeful death” tells you everything you need to know about the seductiveness of suicidal ideation. This romanticisation of suicide as the ‘other option’, the alternative to the ignobility of human suffering, is preserved in the literature, art and myths of every people throughout history.

The fact that depressed people, searching for an alternative to their present suffering, find themselves thinking more easily of death than of change, is at least partly a result of our cultural attitudes to suicide, which we invoke and perpetuate every time we murmur ‘they’re in a better place now’.

Suicide is not a way out, but the opposite

In truth, if your interior life feels like total irreconcilable shit, or even just grey, pointless awfulness, death still offers no real alternative. You need to look for a balance of treatments or strategies which can assuage or cure those feelings, or you need to hold on, until it passes. Those are your alternatives. Suicide is not a way out of mental illness, but the opposite: it cuts off any route to recovery.

We’ve got to start facing the horror of death. It is usually horrible and is almost certainly final. And if we found unnatural death as abhorrent as we ought to, we all might work a damn sight harder to stop killing each other.

If we did – if the government and the press did – what then? My friends, who deserve to keep and enjoy their lives, would not be dying because there are ‘no beds’ in psychiatric hospitals; keeping people alive would be valued above not annoying millionaires with extra taxes; we would not act like confused vultures picking through an emotional carcass every time we lose someone; and perhaps ISIS or the occupation of Palestine would never have come into being.

Robin Williams’ life should have been his own. Depression ensured it was not, not fully. Voyeuristic empathising and speculation in the press and elsewhere only serve to rob him once more of full ownership of his life. Let him keep the darkest feelings of his own mind; they died with him. He is dead. He was a wonderful man.

Depression is a treatable illness

But we who are left, how do we survive? Thanks to campaigning in recent years, we have a new understanding of mental illness; we are more aware that it can happen to anyone.

Consequently it becomes even scarier: when it was something that happened only to freaks, victims, or ‘the weak’, you (not me, I’ve been there and got the T-shirt) could still imagine you were safe.

Well, has my experience ‘made me stronger’, at least? Was there a silver lining to my suicide attempt? Was it at least, as the Independent suggests, a cry for help which DID come in time?

For a long time, no. Nothing was gained, only lost: time, a boyfriend. A perfectly good tent.

Trying to kill myself did lead me to a kind of freedom, but not freedom from life, or suffering: those notions are not real.

My freedom was the realisation that, if I have decided to die, if I have even semi-seriously considered killing myself, then from that point on my life is my own.

“Why shouldn’t I go through another day?”

I can unhook myself from the societal sausage machine and pursue health, wealth and happiness on my own terms, because what’s the worst that can happen? It can’t be worse than death. Suddenly no shame, no stigma, no pressure, no comparison with others, no humiliation, no failure, exists. Why shouldn’t I take antidepressants? Why shouldn’t I go through another day?

The problem is that this freedom is only accessible if you corporeally survive.

So, don’t kill yourself! Things may be shit, and you will definitely think you’re being totally objective about it, but you aren’t, trust me. And whatever our mythology has led you to believe, you’ve got nothing to gain by ending it now. Do something else instead. If you don’t like coffee, have tea. Hey look, it’s not even you asking that question – coffee or death? – it’s depression. And when’s he ever made you happy?

Different things help different people. These are the things that helped me: mirtazapine, cycling, lovers, pets, a great GP and a great CPN (community psychiatric nurse). A quiet home but a good party now and then. Forgiving myself. Allowing bad, better, and okay days, without panic about their implications. (Though to be honest, it was mostly the mirtazapine for me – that’s right, Daily Mail, I’m ‘hooked on antidepressants’ and you’ll never get them off me!)

My depression is going to come back; it’s the nature of my brain. And when it does I may not see the upside for quite a while – that’s the nature of depression. But don’t believe the hype. In my experience, life with a mental illness gets better, not worse, as you get older. Life gets better.

 

Image from: http://www.listal.com/viewimage6087027
Categories: Muslim blogs

Reflections on Friendship

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 14/08/2014 - 13:00

Photo: Theo Wright

Coming out of Ramadan, our souls are more raw and perceptive. That cuss word or the gossip that we freed our tongue and hearing of during Ramadan feels like ice on sensitive teeth. There is pain and irritation. And leaving Ramadan to the humdrum of daily life brings with it the very things we tried to avoid. Like a broken chair we never get around to fixing, we become accustomed to those things that are damaging to the soul. And sometimes this comes from those closest to us—without any deliberate ill-feelings—and it dots our hearts with the black spots that the Prophet ﷺ(peace be upon him) warned us against. In this regard, the Prophet Musa `alayhi assalatu wassalam (peace and blessings be upon him) made a powerful du`a’ (supplication):

“And make for me a counselor of my family,
Aaron, my brother.
Increase through him my strength
And let him share my task
That we may exalt You much
And remember You much.
Indeed, You are of us ever Seeing.” [Qur'an, 20:29-35]

Musa (as) asks for strength from Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) given through one of the closest people to him—his brother. But he does not only ask for moral and physical support. There is a purpose behind it: to remember Allah and to glorify Him.

As social beings, we need people. We need strong relationships. Whether an introvert who is more comfortable with intimate one-on-one conversations or an extrovert who loves to be around a lot of people, that connection with other people is something that we crave. And so we are instructed in Surat al-Kahf, which we are encouraged to recite once a week for its reminders, to:

“Keep yourself patient [by being] with those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, seeking His countenance. And let not your eyes pass beyond them, desiring adornments of the worldly life, and do not obey one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance and who follows his desire and whose affair is ever [in] neglect.” [Qur'an, 18:28]

We are human and we need reminders. True friendship is one that brings light in both the dunya (this life) and the akhira (the Hereafter). If you have just one person be to you like Harun (as) was to Musa (as), or better yet a group of people like the youth of the cave, you will constantly be moving forward in your relationship with Allah (swt) because your relationship with His creation is based on goodness. And Allah is Good and only accepts the Good.

And if you feel sad for yourself because you don’t have anyone, put your trust in Allah (swt). He brings people into our lives—gems—and we can facilitate that by working on our relationship with Him. Good always recognizes good and indeed attracts it, as the Prophet  ﷺ tells us:

“Souls are like conscripted soldiers; those whom they recognize, they get along with, and those whom they do not recognize, they will not get along with.’” (Bukhari)

So cultivate light within yourself, and light in your relationships. And hold on to those gems that you do have, because truly, anyone who reminds us of Him can only be a gift from Him—and what does a gift represent except love from the Gift-Giver?

Categories: Muslim blogs

Gaza and the Stars

The Platform - Wed, 13/08/2014 - 02:01

The celebrity courage and fear of airing views loudly on the interwebs 

 

With the death toll at over 2000, celebrities of all kinds have emerged to voice their reaction to the recent massacres in Gaza. Conversely, with the great deal of attention that stars receive, a lot of celebs have been pressurised into retracting their comments and apologising for any offence caused to their pro-Israel fans. Some celebrities have taken to posting more diplomatic comments, seeking to appear to be on both or neither side. Either way, the events in Gaza have sparked reactions beyond just the general public.

 

Musicians

Rihanna was among the first to tweet the popular hashtag, #FreePalestine, but as quick as she was to post it, she was even quicker to delete it due to a barrage of complaints from pro-Israel fans. The deletion of her tweet was met with equal amounts of criticism, and some sarcastically declared that we are all human – for at least all of two seconds. Since then, Rihanna has tweeted a far more non-biased comment.

Let’s pray for peace and a swift end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict! Is there any hope?…. pic.twitter.com/jHD56KXkcu

— Rihanna (@rihanna) July 15, 2014

One Direction’s Zayn Malik was another who tweeted the hashtag, but unlike his fellow star, the young pop singer refused to delete the tweet despite incensed pro-Israel fans. He received numerous responses with threats of boycotting the band, including death threats. There were a few that were less hostile, but displayed heartbreak over the singer’s loyalties. Nonetheless, Malik has stood by his comment. Ironically, One Direction was shaped on X Factor, a show run by Simon Cowell, who donated $150,000 to an Israeli soldiers’ charity. Other artists have exhibited their disapproval of Israel, such as rock legend Brian Eno, who questioned the justification of Israel’s actions. Likewise, John Legend, nine times Grammy award winner, has tweeted his frustration over the recent events.

So sick watching our Secretary of State have to grovel so hard to tell Israel how much he loves them while Israeli cabinet shits on him

— John Legend (@johnlegend) July 30, 2014

For those asking, of course I believe the Palestinian and Israeli people all deserve peace, freedom, justice and genuine human rights.

— John Legend (@johnlegend) July 30, 2014

Selena Gomez was another who voiced her desire to see peace in Gaza through the use of social media. On Instagram, Gomez posted a picture quoting, “It’s about humanity. Pray for Gaza”. The post generated over 668,000 likes, but not without criticism from other fans, as well as fellow celebrities. Joan Rivers, faced with Gomez’s humanitarian streak, attacked the 22-year-old’s intelligence, claiming that she probably doesn’t even know how to spell Palestinian. Rivers defended Israel’s right to annihilate the Gazan population, using the bizarre comparison of New Jersey being wiped out for bombing New York.

 

Athletes

Footballer Joseph Barton was condemned for his support of Palestine after he tweeted that the conflict is not a war, but ethnic cleansing. He went on to assert what many of the public have already protested:

If this was anybody else but Israel the West would intervene. It cannot continue. Innocent children being slaughtered. This must stop.

— Joseph Barton (@Joey7Barton) July 25, 2014

His tweets were attacked by fellow footballer, Yossi Benayoun. Still, Barton justified his views proclaiming, ‘… you cannot and should not kill innocent children…’. He ended his multiple tweet length retort, not with a quip to his peer, but a well-wishing to him and his family, proving to be the bigger man. Barton has continued to channel his views on Twitter and has recently posted his congratulations to Sayeeda Warsi for her resignation.

I respect anybody that takes a stand against injustice. Easier to stay silent and look after No.1. Well done @SayeedaWarsi #Gaza

— Joseph Barton (@Joey7Barton) August 5, 2014

Among other sportsmen, Dwight Howard also tweeted and deleted #FreePalestine, claiming it was a mistake and swore to never comment on world politics again. Like Rihanna’s deletion, this caused uproar from pro-Palestinians and started the trend, ‘Howard the Coward’. That said, other NBA players such as Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson have shown their distaste for Israel’s actions by calling off their visit to Jerusalem as a way of protest. Furthermore, former international footballer turned actor, Eric Cantona articulated his anger towards the French President Francois Hollande for his support of Israel.
 

Actors and Brits

Mark Ruffulo, known for playing the Incredible Hulk in The Avengers, has also used Twitter to campaign against Israel’s violent regime. He often posts articles depicting the horrors happening in Gaza, and even tweeted an article conveying Hamas’ blamelessness in the kidnap and killing of the three Israeli teens that started this now month-long attack. When a fan expressed that Hamas is using human shields, the actor responded asking the person to use their heart when coming to such conclusions.

Wow. It Turns Out Hamas Didn’t Kidnap and Kill the 3 Israeli Teens After All http://t.co/WpqHckSErT via @intelligencer

— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) July 26, 2014

@LaneShari1 Do you honestly think these people, these fellow human beings, would use their own children as shields? Use your heart.

— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) July 21, 2014

Actors such as Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and other Spanish stars signed an open letter condemning Israel’s genocide in Gaza, but not without backlash from actor Jon Voight, who called them ‘ignorant’.

British actor and comedian Russell Brand, too, stood in Palestine’s defence, having a very public spat with Fox News anchor Sean Hannity. On his satirical YouTube series, ‘The Trews’, Brand took apart Hannity’s intimidation tactics and suggested the anchor-man carried traits of a terrorist, thus igniting a Twitter argument. Hannity went on to host a panel discussion in which he ridiculed Brand. The comedian actor, undeterred, made a follow-up video where he again picked apart Hannity’s show bit-by-bit on his ‘bigoted world view’.

Amid other Brits, Piers Morgan has taken to Twitter to vent his condemnation, and has continued with a stream of tweets within this theme. More recently, he questioned when Israel will be labelled a terrorist state, just like the group they claim to be fighting.

Israel’s making a massive mistake with this monstrous child-slaughtering military strategy. Someone needs to rein @netanyahu in… fast.

— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) July 31, 2014

At what point does Israel’s current military strategy become the very terrorism it professes to be fighting? #gaza #schools

— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) August 3, 2014

Last but not least, Irish actor Emmett J Scanlan, known for his portrayal of anti-hero Brendan Brady on Hollyoaks, similarly took to Twitter during the commonwealth games.

On 1 channel the heartbreaking scenes of #Gaza on another the heartwarming scenes of the #Commonwealth Same world,worlds apart. Fucked up

— Emmett J. Scanlan (@EmmettScanlan) July 30, 2014

We couldn’t agree more.

Image from: http://www.reveal.co.uk/showbiz-celeb-gossip/news/a476797/justin-bieber-back-with-selena-gomez-star-hints-at-reunion-with-photo.html
Categories: Muslim blogs

Restoring the Balance: Compassion for God’s Creation

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 12/08/2014 - 13:00

Photo: Marji Beach

By Shabaana Kidy

With the developments of the 21st century, we have come to expect variety, ease and speed in the way we buy and sell. However, most of us might not realize how the intense demands of the consumer culture we find ourselves in have put immense strain on all areas of production. We hear frequent horror stories of laborers in Cambodia and China who work long shifts under terrible working conditions to satisfy demands for clothing and electrical items. We see chemicals and pesticides used to grow bigger, juicier fruits and vegetables that are just the right shape and size. And we see a serious and worrying decline in the levels of animal welfare to respond to heavy demands for meat and poultry.

Laying hens, for example, are often reared in cages in which each hen has an area barely the size of an A4 sheet of paper. These hens never experience the outdoors or feel the warmth of the summer sunshine. Their entire lives are spent in a small cage, around the same size of an average microwave, which is traditionally shared by 6 to 8 hens (see this infographic). The regular movement and behavior that a chicken would normally engage in, such as flapping its wings, perching, foraging and dust-bathing, is prevented due to the lack of space. When farmers are asked about these conditions, they respond that allowing birds a larger space would massively affect the egg yield and they would not be able to respond to the demand. Over 300 million chickens in the US live in these cramped cages and in the UK, 50% of all eggs come from caged hens.

Similarly, chickens that are reared for consumption are forced to grow in extremely cramped conditions, with little or no access to sunlight. These chickens are bred to grow much faster than normal and as such are more likely to get heart and leg problems which cause great suffering to the animal. Larger animals such as cows and sheep also face cramped indoor conditions and a lack of attention when animals fall ill due to the need for farmers to have larger herds to keep up with demand.

Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) has commanded justice towards all of creation and the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) was known for his unending kindness and compassion towards people and animals. In several stories narrated from his lifetime, we see the level of concern the Prophet ﷺ had for everyone and everything around him. The story of the woman who gave water to a thirsty dog and was rewarded with paradise1 , despite spending much of her life in sin, and similarly the woman who treated her cat unjustly and was punished for doing so,2 are examples of the clear evidence in the Islamic tradition for looking after Allah’s creation.

Allah (swt) states in the Qur’an that He has created animals for us:

 “He created man from a sperm-drop; then at once, he is a clear adversary. And the grazing livestock He has created for you; in them is warmth and [numerous] benefits, and from them you eat. And for you in them is [the enjoyment of] beauty when you bring them in [for the evening] and when you send them out [to pasture]. And they carry your loads to a land you could not have reached except with difficulty to yourselves. Indeed, your Lord is Kind and Merciful.” (Qur’an 16:4-7)

Humans have been given a degree of authority over animals; the relationship between humans and the animal kingdom is a delicate balance. Whilst Allah (swt) has granted us the permission to take the life of an animal for the sake of eating and clothing, it’s important that we realize that this is a permission granted by Allah (swt) and in turn we carry two principle obligations:

1. That we treat the animal with dignity, respect and kindness during its lifetime.

2. That the life of the animal is taken in Allah’s name and fulfilling all the necessary conditions of the sacrifice.

As a community, we tend to focus heavily on the latter and ignore the former, without realizing that we are involved in a system which abuses and mistreats the creation of Allah (swt).

Imagine this: Your best friend gives you a precious gift – something that she or he has shaped, moulded and made just for you; maybe a jewellery box or a painting that she or he spent hours on. Imagine that you then left it to one side. In fact, you damaged it, knowingly. The example of Allah (swt) is far greater. The permission granted by Allah (swt) for us to eat meat is a gift from the Most Beneficent. To neglect—in fact to mistreat and abuse—that gift makes us undeserving of that privilege.

To abuse the gift is to be ungrateful to the One who bestowed it upon you.  

There is a deep disconnect that has emerged between us and the animal kingdom. I remember growing up constantly surrounded by animals, from the pet cat, to weekend trips to the safari park, and visits from the animal man in primary school (although the ethics of that might be debatable). Most children today however, have little or no interaction with animals and many children fear them. We see animals as unclean and inferior. It is no surprise then that we can go to the supermarket or butcher, pick up a chicken or cut of lamb or beef, and take it home without for a moment considering the animal that has given its life for our sake. By eating such meat without looking at the conditions that the animal was reared in, we indirectly support the continual exploitation and abuse of animals, and show deep ingratitude towards Allah (swt).

How do we respond?

There are a number of things we can do:

1)     Currently there are a small number of farms and outlets which offer halal, ethical meat and poultry. Do some research in your local area and see what is available. If you can access them, go for it!

2)     Buy free-range eggs. Most grocery stores have free-range eggs available and have to mark those eggs that come from caged hens. You know the conditions that caged hens live in—so choose free-range.

3)     Reduce your meat intake. As a community, we consume huge amounts of meat and chicken, and this places enormous strain on farmers to meet the demand.

But it’s too expensive!

A major concern for Muslim families is the difference in price between the mechanised, mass-produced meat/chicken/eggs compared with free-range. This is a real problem for families, especially due to the current financial situation that faces us all. Each family knows their situation best and how much free-range produce they can afford. You do not need to switch your entire weekly shop to a free-range one if that is not financially possible—but try to buy free-range once in a while, with the aim of switching over when you can afford to do so. The most important thing is that we all make some sacrifice and move towards free-range.

“Never will you attain the good [reward] until you spend [in the way of Allah ] from that which you love. And whatever you spend – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it.” (Qur’an 3:92)

On an individual level, we each need to do what we can and identify where we are able to make sacrifices. However on a community level, a shift in thinking is massively needed. During Prophetic times, meat was a luxury. In fact this was the case throughout history in different communities and cultures (think of Sunday Roast, or weekend family meals like meatloaf). It is only recently that we have become so accustomed to such huge amounts of meat, often making it a daily feature of the menu! Maybe we need a little more self-evaluation and introspection—are our demands for meat and poultry sustainable? Is the cost to animal welfare worthwhile? Is the cost to our relationship with Allah (swt) worth it?

Ultimately, can we make do with less?

To do so would seem to be taking a step back—why eat meat once a month when you can have it every day, right? However, growing in a way that is sustainable means not detracting from the ability of future generation to cater for their own needs, or exploiting others (whether that is people—think cheap labour in developing countries—or animals and the environment).

It takes a strong heart to make the conscious decision to reduce consumption, but it’s something inherent in our tradition. Every year in Ramadan, we make the conscious decision to do just that—to display self-restraint perfectly, to place Allah (swt) above our bodily desires, to make do with less.  You can reduce your meat intake—we all can, but the question is one of will.

If we as a community reduced our meat intake, the demand on the meat industry would start to drop, thereby allowing farmers to invest more into ensuring better welfare for their animals. Reducing meat and poultry intake would mean we have the finances to pay for one wholesome, well-treated chicken once a week, rather than three ill-treated chickens in the same time period. It’s a decrease in the physical sense but an increase in the spiritual one.

Centrally, the discussion on animal welfare is symptomatic of a wider problem we are faced with—one of confidence in our faith. Do we scuttle down the corridors of history fearing the challenges of widespread mass-production and globalization? Or do we hold firm to our principles of justice and fairness, having the confidence that our faith is a holistic one and can adequately respond to challenges given the chance? The only disservice currently, is the lack of confidence amongst Muslims about who they are. We’ve reached a point where we are hanging onto our faith by the skin of our teeth—sticking rigidly to the letter, whilst forgetting the spirit of our beautiful deen (way of life).3  We’re obsessed with ensuring that our meat is halal in the sense of dying a ‘correct Islamic death’, but have little concern over how the animal was treated during its lifetime. If we are to lose the spirit of Islam, which promotes justice as one of its central tenets, we risk losing the beauty of our faith.

  1. Narrated by Abu Huraira, Muslim
  2. Narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar, Bukhari
  3. Ramadan, T. (2009), “Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation”, Oxford University Press.
Categories: Muslim blogs

Assisted Dying: The Way Up or the Way Out?

The Platform - Tue, 12/08/2014 - 01:28

The debate surrounding the legality of assisted suicide shows society’s changing perceptions on the value of life

 

Last month, right-to-die campaigners and families of the late Tony Nicklinson, suffering from Locked In syndrome, and Paul Lamb, a man left paralysed from the neck down after a car accident, had hoped to appeal to the UK supreme court to make it legal for chronically ill and disabled persons to be helped to die in the UK with the assistance of a doctor. After hearing their appeal, it was rejected by the supreme court on the basis that the issue is one that must be decided by government, and not by the courts. It is currently being discussed in parliament and, if passed, would allow a change in the law that would permit doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to those who are terminally ill and deemed to have less than six months to live.

But, is this debate still relevant? We live in a contemporary, enlightened society, where most imaginable things are now conceivable and if I decide I don’t want to live anymore, I should have the right to do as I like. We are no longer restricted by circumstance or impossibility; autonomy is our most valued possession, and exponential advancement and innovation is what makes us human.

However, the question of assisted suicide makes me wonder where we are heading as a civilisation. Our intuition and intellect is taking us to a world completely under our control, and a place where suffering and pain no longer need to exist. We no longer just survive; we live. Because that’s the way it should be.

But as we career towards this seemingly blissful utopia free from war, disease and hardship, should we not stop to wonder what it is that makes the difference between surviving and living? With every hardship comes ease, whether you understand this as karma or a statement of relativity, it follows that the two are inextricably linked, and there is no good without some bad. Despite human innovation producing more and more incredible advances, we will never rid the world of suffering. The benchmarks may change, but suffering will always be felt.

With the improvement of living standards, eradicating polio and being one-step closer to curing HIV, we still and will always find reasons to feel suffering. As our standards increase, the threshold for what it means to suffer, inevitably, decreases.

Our society may bear the effects of this evolution with changing ideas of what defines a life that is worth living. However much we think we’re autonomous in our decisions and in our opinions, to a varying degree, collective outlooks inevitably mould our own. This link between our surrounding culture and us paves the way for a slippery slope with regards to assisted suicide. Would having the option to die available – to commit suicide in a dedicated clinic under the prescription of a doctor – have an effect on our society’s ability to cope with hardship? Would removing the stigma and taboo from the act of suicide make it an option more readily considered by those searching for a way out? The exclusivity of assisted suicide only to the terminally ill may also be blurred, making it a viable option for any, terminally ill or not, with access to a doctor. Which is exactly the vision of Dignitas founder, Ludwig Minelli; speaking with the Guardian in 2009, he said that “everyone should have the right to end their life, not just the terminally ill, but anyone who wants to” and that he passes no moral judgment on their wishes, stating that he is working in line with the “atheist basis of self-determination”- self-determination being the essence of free will and an expression of having ultimate control over our fate.

Conversely, legalising suicide in this context, removing the stigma and abhorrence from the act, has the capacity to not only legitimise a “black market” practice, but also open the lines of communication for those seeking to end their lives. Potentially resolvable issues may be overcome but, more importantly, if they do decide, death can be sought with dignity with no fear of reproach of loved ones.

Given the status our society has given liberty and self-rule, how much we value individualism and self-reliance, it is difficult to question the morality of helping someone who, with full capacity, has requested to die. But, despite this level of autonomy being so pivotal to our collective psyche, is one so boundless a blessing or a curse?

What is often ignored in this debate, in favour of honouring personal autonomy, almost to no end, is how transforming assisted suicide, terminally ill or not, into a cultural norm will affect wider society. Despite it being tempting to live and let live, death impacts more than the person who dies. It has, and most likely will always be, one of the few frontiers we as humans can never conquer; it can only be accepted.

Death has an insurmountability about it, a level of its own autonomy and finality that gives life its sanctity. As we exist now, in this dynamic, unstable evolution, death is the only certainty we truly have – a humbling element reminding us that we will never have absolute power over our own fate. If life is not valued, what have we left to value? And on whose terms will we decide how much our lives are worth? My personal fear is that life will become quantifiable, with rippling effects on us as a community to regard a less-than-perfect existence as of lesser value.

If there are people who are not terminally ill wanting to die, should this not be considered as a failing on us as a society? That we have failed one of our own, failed to support a fellow human being who has been pushed to the point where they have no way out? Is assisted suicide, an act of absolute self-determination, a solution we’re comfortable to have available to anyone who wants it?

Nietzsche famously said “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” We cannot eradicate suffering, but we can change our standpoint. I, unfortunately, cannot claim to offer any solutions to this tortuous, emotive issue but, perhaps a change of perspective is needed. How much value can we place on a life lived without any suffering?

Categories: Muslim blogs
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