Writers, artists and other community members are coming together to save London’s valuable public spaces from privatisation
On a chilly Friday evening last week, local people of all ages gathered at the Granville Centre in South Kilburn for a reading with internationally acclaimed author Zadie Smith. But this was no ordinary reading to the local community: it was an event entitled ‘Saving the Granville with Zadie Smith’. Organised by Dhelia Snoussi and myself, the night was arranged to mobilise support for a campaign to save a community centre which is under threat of demolition from Brent Council to accommodate for unaffordable housing.
The Granville and Carlton Centres in South Kilburn have existed for over 100 years and have hosted everything from weddings to wakes. The council cited that the building as it exists today does not adequately use up all the space available to it. This reasoning was used despite Brent Council’s cuts to youth services in March, and for a space that functioned to serve young people’s activities. Leslie Barson and Deirdre Woods, who run the Save Granville campaign, still run a whole host of activities at the centre. The Otherwise Club, for instance, provides a home and supplementary schooling service with a free community meal every Friday. (Deirdre was also recently awarded the title of BBC Cook of the Year 2016.)
The destruction of public spaces such as this is not unique to Kilburn. The campaign to save the North Kensington Library building in Ladbroke Grove aims to stop the 100-year-old historical site from becoming a private school. Across London, public areas and community assets are becoming contested spaces and being auctioned off by cash-strapped councils. The resulting action often means that valuable public spaces are replaced by private properties, or repurposed as yet more unaffordable housing.
Zadie Smith premised her reading by discussing German architect Patrik Schumacher’s vision for cities like London – cities people are clambering to live in at the expense of the poorest already living there. Smith described Schumacher’s vision as “a complete privatisation of all public spaces – ideas like destroying Hyde Park and filling it with condos and private flats, burying all public housing and asking the people who live there, who he considered of no value, to move out of the cities to let ‘productive people’ (as he put it) live in these spaces.” She concluded that, “These public spaces need to be protected more fiercely than they were before.”
When she was asked by the brilliant chair of the event, Teju Adeleye, why these spaces are so essential to the community, Zadie replied: “It’s a sense of cohesion in a community, so you’re not just isolated families living in these separate spaces. Your social imagination is made so you get to meet people who are not like you, class-wise, faith-wise and race-wise, and taking that knowledge into your social and political life is important. It makes us a little more patient with each other, hopefully so that we make decisions on each others’ behalf that aren’t as brutal as the ones being made now.”
Someone from the audience asked, “How do we as individuals make a difference, how do we save community spaces like this?” This is an important and necessary question when gentrification and redevelopment is framed as inevitable by the media. Often, attempts at fighting back through local activism can feel a perilous and powerless pursuit against powerful organisations, such as councils and developers, where millions of pounds are involved.
“Because they live so much on media approval, that humiliation was a great threat to them,” said Zadie. “The closures are so obviously shameful, so you have to keep that part of them in front of people. If you confront people with the reality of what could be lost, there is no moral case really, there is only the case of profit.”
This was exactly what the Save the Granville campaign aimed to do when the event was organised. For the campaign, that shame was highlighted by the support of someone local to North West London who also happens to be an internationally renowned writer. Confronted by the true value of the Granville and Carlton Centres, the community responded in kind. This was reflected in the diverse, inter-generational audience in attendance.
Later that evening, local poet Zia Ahmed shared his wonderfully witty insights into identity from his perspective as a British Asian growing up in North West London. R&B duo J-Unity, who also live locally, shared a solemn rendition of a track dedicated to the space. Finally, Young Poet Laureate for London Caleb Femi shared his piece ‘Coconut Oil’. The poem was an apt end to a beautiful display of a community reclaiming their space:
“I’ve always wondered, if a town like this begins to lose all of its hair, does it mean the people who live there were cancer? Is gentrification another word for chemotherapy?”
There is hope on the horizon. Communities can be victorious, as the Shepherds Bush Market’s Tenants’ Association showed with their landmark victory to stop £150 million flats being built in the market. But these struggles to save vital public spaces, social housing and community areas will continue. From the Seven Sisters Indoor Market (Pueblito Paisa) in Tottenham to the Brixton Arches, these spaces are of immense value and key to what makes London such a diverse city.
Please sign the petition to support the #SaveGranville campaign in maintaining pressure on Brent Council to keep the centres.
Photos: Mohamed-Zain DadaFeatured photo: IndieWire
If you’re feeling afraid about an anti-Muslim attack,
The brothers on the block always got your back.
Some started down in the streets, but now they gaze firmly above,
So take a little time to show the brothers some love.
They’ve weathered recessions and the ravages of inflation.
So go online and make Taqwa a donation!
The western environmental movement must stop dictating to the developing world and recognise its own complicity in the climate disaster
Recently, my social media timeline has been blowing up with people fawning over David Attenborough and his new documentary, Planet Earth II. I wish someone would produce a version of this huge project containing all of the beautiful shots of the world we live in, but dubbed over with commentary from someone else. Attenborough represents the misleading and colonial rhetoric that plagues much of western environmentalism.
The iconic British broadcaster is known to have reduced the complex political and colonial intricacies of the Ethiopian famine to the assertion that, “there’s too many people there”, while ignoring the fact that your average Ethiopian consumes a minuscule fraction of what is consumed by the average BBC One viewer. “We keep putting on programmes about famine in Ethiopia, that’s what’s happening. Too many people there,” David Attenborough claimed in an interview with the Telegraph. “They can’t support themselves – and it’s not an inhuman thing to say. It’s the case.”
Humans survived on earth for 200,000 years before the industrial revolution. Specific people in specific places are fueling our changing climate, mass extinction and the degradation of the planet. These simplistic and Kissinger-like white western narratives of depopulating the third world, coming from someone whose average viewer consumes more carbon than a small Ethiopian village, don’t help.
Attenborough ignores a large range of exploitative and colonial relationships that lead to these situations. For instance, the Ethiopians he refers to could support themselves if the EU wasn’t stealing their coffee profits with the Common Agricultural Policy. The line is thin between making key development information accessible and brushing over uncomfortable truths, but shifting the cause of famine on Ethiopians is reminiscent of Churchill’s colonial language when he said: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits.” The Bengal Famine wasn’t, of course, their own fault. It was Churchill who stole their grain and refused to channel food aid from the various countries which offered it.
Old Dave, alongside fellow white saviour environmentalist Jane Goodall, is a patron of the charity, Population Matters – formerly the Optimum Population Trust. This charity has claimed that the best response to the refugee crisis is for neighbouring countries to support all refugees. And guess what – the overall global population won’t change whether the refugees head to Lebanon or Britain. Despite this, the charity asserts that Britain should accept no refugees from Syria. Zero. Perhaps it should be renamed ‘Britain’s (White) Population Matters’.
Yes, it turns out that when you claim that sending food aid to Ethiopia is “barmy”, yet enjoy a high-carbon, beef-laden diet (Old Dave is not even a vegetarian since we “evolved as omnivores”), as well as accepting a knighthood from a woman whose carbon emissions probably exceed that of some small countries, you are being a hypocrite. The same goes for when you don’t critique your British compatriots, who watch your documentaries on the British Broadcasting Corporation, using energy that relies on the developing world. David Attenborough is most certainly not using his position wisely.
The focus on population growth is one particularly egregious example of hypocrisy. Women in Mali give birth to, on average, six children each, while American women average at about two. But a typical American family will still produce an astonishing 136 times more carbon than a family in Mali. The British families likely to be sitting in their conservatories comfortably watching nature documentaries on BBC One are not quite as carbon gluttonous as your average American family, but they are not far behind. The population rhetoric claims that the birth rates among poor black and brown women in poor black and brown countries are primarily responsible for the changing climate – people who will undoubtedly be the worst hit by the environmental catastrophe. Ultimately, this is a diversionary tactic to distract from the real culprits: rich white westerners, and the Chinese companies working overtime and burning coal to produce mountains of useless plastic products for these rich white westerners.
The cracks in the predominantly white environmentalist movement are beginning to show. Leonardo DiCaprio’s recent documentary on climate change, Before the Flood, in which he travels to various countries to lecture people on their environmental habits, is one example. About 35 minutes into the documentary, Sunita Narain of India’s Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, shows DiCaprio that what is really needed for climate progress is for the big emitters, including America, to reduce the extravagance of their lifestyles. “Please don’t take this amiss,” she tells him, “but your consumption is really going to put a hole in the planet.” DiCaprio is momentarily defensive before accepting his complicity. There was a glint of guilt in his eye. He was probably thinking about his yacht.
I recently debated the issue of western-led climate movements at the Oxford Union, under the motion that developed countries should impose environmental policies on the developing world. I argued that they should not. The developing world has a long history of imposition from the so-called developed world which, ironically, is comprised of those countries most in need of reforming their environmental policy. This is especially salient given the UK’s recent abolishment of its environmental agency and the election of a US president who believes that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese. Sadly, the west has never asked permission for any type of imposition in the past, whether in the form of direct colonial rule, through regime change, or by way of the infamous structural adjustment loans of the ‘80s. One in three light bulbs in France is powered with uranium from Niger, while the vast majority of Niger’s population lives in rural or urban poverty with no access to electricity. This implies that France continues to have influence over the domestic politics of Niger.
Our leaders here in Britain are equally complicit. After the Oxford Union conference, I was invited to a drinks reception where I found myself (to my shame) arguing with Conservative MP Peter Lilley. He flat-out admitted that the reason the UK does business with an “Islamic monarchical dictatorship like Saudi Arabia” is “because they give us oil”. These are not the people I want determining the environmental future of the planet.
The left in the so-called “developed world” must also reflect and understand its positionality and complicity in the coming climate disaster. Shifting the blame onto the developing world and ignoring the root of the problem, as many national treasures seem to wish to do, will not help in saving humanity. What is needed is a concerted acknowledgement that progress in environmental protectionism and conservation comes not from the Western Academy or western activism, but from indigenous peoples and people of colour (we’ve seen this most recently with the Dakota Access Pipeline).
The commodification and westernisation of environmental discourse is a real threat. For the sake of truth and for the sake of the planet, we must not forget our complicity and not ignore the contributions of those who are already sidelined.Image from: http://bit.ly/2fzRbbQ
British Palestinian filmmaker explains how colonialism is always central to the stories he tells
Piercing looks of suspicion open Saeed Taji Farouky’s short film set in Victorian Britain. Commissioned by Channel 4’s Random Acts, They Live in Forests, They Are Extremely Shy provides a snapshot into the era of an inhumane, but acceptable, curiosity of the wealthy class. The three-minute fiction is set in the Colonial Exhibition of 1886 and shot in sinister black and white, allowing for the contrasting facial expressions of its characters to be laid bare.
The film features Aboriginal actor Tom E. Lewis who plays David, the ‘civilised barbarian’ dressed in his master’s clothing, being led through the exhibition’s artefacts. When he is introduced to “one of our more impressive displays” – a fellow tribesman in a display box – time stands still.
I caught up with British Palestinian director Saeed Farouky, who is also a board member with the Arab British Centre, in between a hectic trip abroad and the Safar Film Festival. We discussed why he chose the story of They Live in Forests and why the film is so interconnected with current struggles.
What was the inspiration behind the story?
I had this image in my mind of a person going into a museum and seeing themselves or their tribe on display. When I started researching the concept, a lot of real events centring around human zoos came up.
There were three in particular: one was about an inuit native Canadian kid called Minik, who saw his father’s bones on display; another was a guy called Ota Benga from the Congo, who toured these kind of colonial exhibitions around the world; and one of them was an Aboriginal man, a native Australian called Bennelong, and that’s the one I fixated on, but combined elements of the three.
For me, the film was always going to be about colonialism.
Did you have any film influences in terms of the style you picked?
Yes, a lot of it was colonial photography – that’s one of the reasons why it’s in black and white – particularly the kind of tableau vivant (‘living picture’) where they would pose people. These images were always about fulfilling the colonial fantasy, racism disguised as intellectual curiosity. They contain so many layers about the subjugation of the human, but also how you can simultaneously denigrate and fantasise about them. They were really influential in the way we shot the film, framed it, created the set and the bodies.
Recent film Embrace of the Serpent shares a few parallels with this. A huge influence was also Hungarian film Werckmeister Harmonies (2000) by Béla Tarr, which is incredibly slow, but absolutely beautiful. It’s about the crumbling of Hungarian society, through the metaphor of a travelling circus.
How do you think racism, disguised as intellectual curiosity, continues to this day?
A lot of documentaries, and even mainstream news, are still heavily influenced by the perception that “our view is superior”. Sometimes you see filmmakers wanting to do the right thing, they say, “Oh I made this film because I want to give a voice to the refugees,” then you watch the film and it’s all about the filmmaker. As a Palestinian, I see this in films about Palestine all the time.
The skill of being a storyteller, journalist or filmmaker is realising how to use your skillset in a conversation with those people. But the vast majority of the time, they approach looking for characters and quotes to fit their stereotypes. And that’s straight out of the colonial history of photography and painting – it’s what’s called orientalism.
How do you avoid this?
You need to approach every story as a collaboration. It means that sometimes you’ll have to start from scratch. It requires a lot of patience as you develop the story. You need to be explicit about what it is you’re doing and the nature of the film.
I took the dialogue with Tom and our two cultural consultants very seriously. I came to them with an idea, but if that idea didn’t fly with them, we would have made a completely different film – even though the script and funding was approved. Tom, especially, verified that this story represented a very serious issue and a very real one.
Tell me about the main character.
The character’s name is David and he’s from the Northern Territory – one of the last areas to be colonised by the British in Australia. In a strange way, it meant they had an advantage, because they knew the history of the massacres, the techniques, and so on. The British weren’t able to just bulldoze the place.
In this fictional world, David is invited as an ambassador to Britain to discuss the future of his northern tribe. He is Victorianised, in the sense that he wears a suit and speaks English, and so on. But then he’s invited to the Colonial Exhibition of 1886, and there he sees the taxidermied body of another Yolngu warrior.
At that moment, he makes a break from being “the good native” to being a real human. He cradles and mourns over the body. I think that, for the first time, he realises who these people are, or he understands the reality of the situation.
Have you had those moments of self-realisation, like David in the film?
Yes, the story is about navigating two cultures and that’s been the story of my life – Palestinian living here in Britain, and in many ways, representing them both.
This is the birthplace of the Victorian epic drama, which is always white, almost always about men, and that’s it. If you want diverse cinema, then you have to really stick your neck out.
There are moments when you realise you are being co-opted, or you realise you’re the token Muslim, token Arab or token woman, and it suddenly becomes clear – and you have to ask yourself, “Am I going to go on with this?” The older I get, luckily, the more willing I am to call bullshit and say I’m not happy with a situation.
What I loved about working with Tom is that this is also the story of his life. He’s half black, half white, and for a time he was rejected by both cultures. He made a film about it called Yellow Fella, about growing up biracial within this very racist system in Australia.
Victorian society was infatuated with the idea of lesser races and those doomed to die. How does the film reflect this history?
The practical answer is that there were colonised people, and indigenous Australians, who came to Britain, but we never hear about them.
The idea of displaying human remains, too, is very controversial – it’s almost never shown in films. The British museums have the largest collection of indigenous, Aboriginal remains in the world. For Aboriginal activists, it’s a big deal to come here and confront, for example, the British Museum, and say, “We want these items back.” The film is part of the process of opening up that dialogue.
Places like the Natural History Museum were born straight out of the Colonial Exhibition in London and would have once had exhibitions which we consider abhorrent.
That’s what I love doing – looking at the sore spots of history and poking them. It’s not about blaming anyone or collective guilt, it’s about acknowledging that this happened.
Is there a collective amnesia about Aboriginals in Australian culture?
They’re absent from popular culture until they can be coopted. I find that as a Palestinian too – there are certain symbolisms, ceremonies, music or dress, that people can latch onto and say, “Now, this is interesting, I want to use this,” but they don’t actually want to engage with the Palestinian cause. Thankfully, the Aboriginals have incredibly strong networks to push for better representation.
Where are the main Aboriginal movements based?
Whereas Aboriginal artworks from other parts of Australia were destroyed along with the people, by the time the colonisers reached the Northern Territory, they started preserving some of the work. Aboriginals from the Northern Territories have been really good at pushing protocols.
Within film, they have this powerful document, which I really want other indigenous people to look at, about how we should treat their culture – characters, stories, images, or art. It explains that you need to engage people and work on the story with them. I hope it can be a blueprint.
Do you think there are comparisons to be drawn between indigenous struggles in Australia and America, in light of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests?
Yes, definitely. Within activism, there is a lot of solidarity between them. One of the main issues is resource extraction, particularly for Australians, because a lot of their mining industries are based where Aboriginal people live. They’re very active in challenging them or coming up with frameworks where it’s advantageous for them.
Why did you make a conscious choice to ask crowdfunders who voted for Brexit to retract their donations?
Honestly, it was a very easy decision for me to make. I understand not everyone who voted ‘Leave’ is racist or xenophobic – in fact, I know some of those people. But they are influencing our lives in ways that they don’t know. For me, it’s just as important to protest the underbelly of those decisions and the implicit effects.
It was a message about a political approach that is against everything that I stand for and the story of my family who are migrants. I didn’t want money in the film that was related to something I consider racist. Sure, I’m willing to forgive a small error, but when it’s something on this scale, for very selfish reasons, that will adversely affect so many people’s lives – I mean, at what point do we draw the line?
What next for you, Saeed?
I’d love to make They Live in Forests a feature length film, but not right away. At the moment, I’m working on a film on contemporary London, which is a lot easier!
Most of my work is about similar themes – being vocal about colonialism and post-colonialism, and the hangovers of that which we’re suffering from. But also about the film industry itself – making a film with a diverse group of people.
I’m also working on a documentary on resource extraction and how it affects the local population. That’s all I can say so far!
Saeed Taji Farouky’s film They Live in Forests will appear on Channel 4’s Random Acts at midnight on Thursday 8th December 2016. Following the broadcast, it will be available to view on the website.
There will also be an exclusive screening in Newcastle on Friday 2nd December, followed by a panel event with Saeed. The event is free, but you need to reserve a place here.Featured film still: S T Farouky / Behind-the-scenes: Andy Berriman
America today is no different than it was yesterday. The sun will shine, the birds will chirp and the clouds will still roll across the sky. We need to move beyond the cycle of panicked reactions to crises, real or perceived, and begin working more systematically to address issues concerning us and our fellow citizens.
Although the prospect of the Alt Right entering the mainstream poses clear challenges for Muslims and racial minorities in this country, every swing state Trump won yesterday was won by Obama in 2008 so it is not simply racist angst at work here. People are insecure and unsettled and Muslims should begin working to position ourselves to be a voice of reason, comfort and direction when Trump fails all of the people Obama failed after his landslide victory in 2008 (most popular votes ever). He will fail them - God knows best.
As alluded to above, there is of course a dangerous racist fringe that feels it is empowered by Trump’s victory. We have to attempt to mitigate its attractiveness by working with others to develop a language of political discourse that creates the psychological space for those desiring a change to actually change in real, deep and perceptible ways. The radical left cannot provide us with that language. Far too many Muslims have adopted the language and politics of the radical left in our efforts to advance the interests of our community. We need to begin speaking confidently in the language that has helped to forge a tradition that has brought more disparate racial, ethnic and national groups together than any force in history. If not now, when? If not us, who?
In conclusion, perhaps the shock so many are dealing with will prove beneficial. There is a higher plan and logic governing these events. Do not despair, work hard and be patient. The passing days will reveal to us realities we are currently ignorant of.
May Allah bless, help and protect us all.
The emptiness of Trump’s political performance is matched only by the unleashed violence of the ideologies he invokes
At the beginning of the summer, when I designed a course around some of the most popular works of science fiction and fantasy in American pop culture, my plan was to introduce college freshmen to the ways in which non-realistic art has tackled moments of great significance in the history of the US. Given the timing of my course, I had expected, of course, to forge some connections between the works on my syllabus and the events that were taking place outside of the classroom.
At some point between watching the media circus that has surrounded the elections and reading a news report that declared Alec Baldwin mimicked Donald Trump so effortlessly on SNL “people felt that it seemed Trump was impersonating Baldwin rather than the other way around,” I came to the conclusion that things were not quite as clear cut as my syllabus would have them seem. At least as far as this election cycle has been concerned, the state of American society is not, as I was trying to teach my students, one in which art imitates politics. Instead, and to the utmost disbelief of this Muslim and immigrant, it is one in which politics has become a dangerously bizarre form of entertainment.
In a presidential race that has produced more than its fair share of both memes and merchandise (the ubiquitous, red, Make America Great Again baseball caps; Nasty Woman t-shirts and mugs), it is difficult to choose just one example of this absurdist entertainment-politics at work. But it should come as little surprise that the strongest contenders have emerged out of a campaign led by a man most recognisable for his stint on a reality TV show and whose very promise to “make [the country] great again” reads more like advertising copy than a coherent political vision. There were Donald Trump’s digs at Ted Cruz’s wife. The press conference with Bill Clinton’s accusers. The moment in the second debate where Trump vowed – in the same ominous timber he used to declare virtually all facts “wrong” – to imprison Hillary Clinton. And there were, of course, the rallies.
Like everything else that the Republican nominee has done on the campaign trail, these moments of showmanship on Trump’s end have been equal parts impulsive egomania and calculated appeal. In the world-other-than-our-own that Trump has created, it doesn’t matter that Enrique Peña Nieto declared Mexico will “never pay for the wall,” or that the candidate’s brags about endorsements have been refuted by everyone from the ICE to the United States military. What matters in the world-of-making-America-great-again is the belief in a collective fiction fostered by Trump, upheld by his supporters, and that invests both with a power they unquestioningly believe they deserve.
One especially perplexing factor related to Trump’s alternative world is that, for some of the candidate’s supporters, it has value first and foremost as an idea. As a Muslim who has been following along in silent terror as the events of the elections unfolded, I was most struck by this while watching Hasan Minhaj’s special report for The Daily Show from within the Republican National Convention. Minhaj, a Muslim himself, designed his report as a tongue-in-cheek response to one of Trump’s most controversial proposals. Declaring that it was time to say goodbye to America, the comedian prepared for the proposed expulsion of Muslims from the US by interviewing attendees about their favorite things to do in their respective states. In almost every single case, the Trump supporters Minhaj interviewed vehemently reassured him that their candidate of choice would never implement the proposed ban. “Donald Trump isn’t going to kick Muslims out,” said one such supporter. “He’s a guy who shoots off the hip,” said another. Like Minhaj, who ends the segment trying to understand why the people interviewed would vote for Trump in the first place, viewers are left with a confusion that gets at the very heart of the performance/politics divide; for these attendees, Trump’s ability and willingness to carry out his threats are not nearly as important as the bravado of his suggesting them in the first place.
Most worrying about the reactions of the RNC attendees is not their disregard for what Trump might do if elected, but rather their obliviousness to what was already happening at the time of the convention and what has only gotten worse since. While Trump himself has contorted the working definition of his Muslim ban so many times it is now barely recognisable, the candidate’s rhetoric – the source of the very same words the attendees glibly describe as “shooting off the hip” – reflected itself in the most violently Islamophobic year American Muslims have experienced to date. In the days following Trump’s call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” hate crimes against Muslims spiked by 87.5 per cent. Today, 11 months after the proposed ban, the list of crimes has grown to include the murder of two imams, a failed plot to bomb an apartment complex inhabited by Somali refugees, and the brutal beating to death of a Saudi college student outside of a pizzeria in Wisconsin.
It is in this space, trapped between the rock of empty political performance and the hard place of all too real daily violence, that Muslims in America find themselves a day away from the election. The negative impact of election season on American Muslims is neither new nor confined to Trump. Yet it is Trump, and the alternate reality that he has created, that have confronted American Muslims with a uniquely difficult challenge over the past year. In this world where facts routinely take a backseat to bombastic performance, the presidential candidate has attracted a following that is split between two camps with equally serious consequences to the community: one is so enraged with the false facts they have taken matters into their own hands, and the second is so entertained by the bombastic performance they (ostensibly) have not noticed the violence that ensued in the process.
As the country reaches the end of what still seems like an interminable process, it is difficult not to consider the lasting ramifications of this election season’s fictions on Muslims and on the nation as a whole. Already, talk of the business mogul launching a television network in the event of his defeat leaves little room for optimism. Indeed, for those of us who have watched in horror as Trump transformed his bid for the presidency into sheer spectacle, the announcement serves a reminder of a decidedly grim scenario the United States now faces: whether in the White House or on Trump TV, the Donald appears intent on a repeat performance.Image from: http://on.cc.com/2eOp6OL
Early-20th century nostalgia and romanticised archeology narratives ignore colonialism and exclude gender and race
Over the last few months of the U.S. presidential election, one candidate in particular has referenced Syria and Iraq so frequently that one might mistake him for a scholar of Middle East Studies. He is not.
On the political stage, Benghazi, Aleppo and Mosul are emptied of all meaning as real places where actual people live. Instead, place-names become signs for right-wing conspiracy theories, or props in an elaborate pretense that Donald Trump – or the average voter, for that matter – is well-informed about U.S. foreign policy. We are not.
The flattening of Muslims and Muslim-majority countries into negative stereotypes is not exclusive to the United States, of course. The majority of UK citizens found the idea of Syrian refugees crossing its borders so abhorrent that they were willing to leave the EU, sink the entire British economy, and call it patriotism. Indeed, British culture is so rife with racist rhetoric that it permeates even that most British of art forms – the period drama.
Years after the series ended, ITV’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot (1989 – 2013), starring David Suchet, is a perennial favourite among fans who are drawn in by equal parts mystery and aesthetic. The 1920s and 30s look far more stylish on screen than they perhaps ever did in reality, even for the most wealthy aesthetes. For added glamour, one of Poirot’s favourite pastimes is travelling to archaeological digs throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
In episodes set in Egypt (‘Death on the Nile’, ‘The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb’), Iraq (‘Murder in Mesopotamia’), or Syria (‘Appointment with Death’, though the novel is set in Jordan), Poirot’s class status is clearly marked by his three-piece summer suit in varying shades of sandstone, a straw homburg, and a small lapel pin in the shape of a vase with flowers, which is as much of a trademark as his waxed moustache.
Poirot’s dapper attire is not so unlike the sartorial sensibilities of Sir Max Mallowan, renowned English archaeologist and second husband of Agatha Christie. Her first marriage, to Archibald Christie, ended badly, with her husband’s infidelity and her own mysterious disappearance. Afterwards, perhaps to escape scandal, Christie went on an extensive tour of Mesopotamia, or present-day Iraq. It was at Ur, famous for its ziggurat and as the birthplace of Abraham, that she met Mallowan. Over the decades that followed until her death, the couple travelled extensively, and she frequently assisted in her husband’s excavations, which informed her novels and, to a lesser extent, the television series.
But the books aren’t really about the Middle East or archaeology, and even Christie’s Come, Tell Me How You Live: An Archaeological Memoir uses archaeology as a metaphor for digging in the past. She writes in the preface: “A final warning, so that there will be no disappointment. This is not a profound book–it will give you no interesting sidelights on archaeology, there will be no beautiful descriptions of scenery, no treating of economical problems, no racial reflections, no history.” This kind of disclaimer is standard boiler-plate language for women writing non-fiction in the early-20th century: women should avoid all claims of expertise, and so Poirot becomes Christie’s alter-ego, emphasis on the ego.
For all of Poirot’s posturing as the world’s most clever detective, Christie’s novels aren’t incredibly profound or informative either. She is great at dialogue (though some of the best lines in the show–as when Dr. Leidner says in ‘Murder in Mesopotamia’, “All I ever wanted to do was dig in the earth and find the secrets that time has buried there.” – never appear in the books), but her descriptions of place are rather sparse. This might be surprising given the show’s lush sets, but Christie’s novels are very much of their time and genre. Popular fiction after World War I abandoned the rich detail associated with Victorian literature; instead, Christie’s novels read almost like plays – there is plenty of dialogue, a few stage directions, and everything else is just flat backdrop. By contrast, the ITV programme works so well because, paradoxically, the modern television camera sees the world through a strangely Victorian eye – every detail is captured, every object is in focus, and every textile preserves its texture.
Like Christie’s memoir, Agatha Christie’s Poirot does not treat economic problems either, though the disparity is obvious, and there’s no historical background, but as for “racial reflections” the series gives more than it perhaps intends. In the archaeology episodes, we see the (almost always male) locals in three classic aesthetic models: large crowds of manual labourers or diggers to add a sense of sublime scale to the digs; the picturesque peasant; or the mysterious suspect hiding in the shadows. These are the same archetypes used throughout British travel literature. In other words, locals are simply racial stereotypes, used as props and plot devices to push along the narratives of the largely Anglo ensemble.
In order to buy into the romance of archaeology, we must ignore the fact that it is (or at least was) largely a colonial project, and that the discoveries we praise would not be possible without the invisible labour of the local populations. In order for the fantasy to work, we must excise the problematic aspects that make us uncomfortably complicit. The alternative is to acknowledge the fact that our idealisation of archaeology in the early-20th century is built on nostalgia – we only remember what we want to remember – and nostalgia is frequently only accessible via white privilege. We see this nostalgia playing out in nationalistic calls to close border or “make America great again”.
I’m not suggesting that we abandon Poirot or other programmes that feature problematic treatments of race, gender or sexuality. There would be nothing left to watch. But we should be more aware of the ways in which these two-dimensional racial stereotypes permeate our culture, and ever more vigilant when we hear them in the mouths of politicians.Image from: http://bit.ly/2esOXL0
Jen Senko’s brilliant documentary, “The Brainwashing of My Dad,” examines the systematic popularizing of the raunchy racism, misogyny, and anti-Muslim bigotry that has come to dominate our political discourse through the lens of her father’s transformation from a normal guy into a mean-spirited nasty bigot. Her father’s “demise,” facilitated by right-wing talk radio, symbolizes what decades of race-baiting, dog whistle politics, misogyny, militarism, schools lacking a civilizing mission and the removal of civics from our classrooms have done to the country at large. How long did the Republican Party think it would take before a base was created that would likely not only vote for Donald Trump, but would rush to defend his many outrageous statements, actions, positions and attitudes?
When African Americans can openly be called scum, savages and worse; when people can be openly encouraged to murder their Muslim neighbors, when women can be commodified, objectified and pornified for years on end on public airways, what sort of language, behavior and attitudes do we expect to dominate our political discourse, and how long did we expect it would take for a demagogue like Donald Trump to emerge in that sewer? The fact that Trump is a viable option for so many Americans should make the political and educational establishments of this country take a long hard look at how they have been doing business. Furthermore, they should understand that Trump will not be the last chicken coming home to roost.
The following is a list of top 30 articles that were found to resonate most strongly with our readers this past year. It covers a full range of struggles and joys we have faced as a community and regularly bridges orthodox and contemporary Islamic knowledge. Articles covered Glimpses of Marital Bliss, inspired us about the Names of Allah, spoke to the unique struggles of our Black and Hispanic brothers and sisters, and stood up against the siege in Gaza. They discussed the role of women preachers, American holidays, how to overcome addictions and more. See the full list below.
There were many articles of significant impact that are not on the list for brevity’s sake. What was your favorite? Leave a comment to let us know!
IN THE MEDIA Your Facebook Posts, and why The Evil Eye is Real by Ubah
On social media, we are increasingly putting ourselves out there in ways that may promote envious feelings in others. Is it 100% our fault? Of course not. But here are a few important things to keep in mind.Films Today – and How the Muslims Killed Dracula by Shibli Zaman
We often bemoan the negative portrayal of Muslims in film and television, including a recent movie that gets the story of Dracula wrong. But who is to blame when we have absolutely no presence in popular media?An Imam’s Review of the Movie Noah by John (Yahya) Ederer
Potential benefits in watching this movie – and why it would be hugely advantageous to Islam and the Muslims if we made high-quality, well-funded, scripturally proper, and well-acted depictions of the prophets and our great history. Also see: Top Documentaries you Should Watch by Junaid AmjadKnow Thyself: Opinion on Hajj Selfies by Suhaib Webb
WOMEN Female Scholars and Preachers in Islam by John (Yahya) Ederer
The beauty of Islam among religions is in its universality, its compatibility with science, and its versatile legal tradition which remains relevant across times and cultures. Here’s why the majority of our scholars throughout history have said that there’s nothing wrong with listening to a woman’s speech unless it is flirtatious or provocative.10 Ways to be a Single and Content Muslimah by Ubah
Tip #2: Let Go of Entitlement. Remember that you are not owed a relationship. Just like the air you breathe or your eyesight and hearing, a decent and compatible spouse is a blessing from Allah (swt).Is it Allowed for Women to Teach Mixed Gatherings? by John (Yahya) Ederer
CULTURE, CUSTOMS, & FIQH Man’s Best Friend?: The Islamic View on Dogs by John (Yahya) Ederer
Reverts may have had a special relationship with their dogs growing up, or still do at the time of reversion. Sadly, the attitude of many Muslims towards dogs often alienates people from Islam. A closer examination of the issue debunks common misunderstandings.American Customs – What is Permissible? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Also see: Caught with My Foot in the Sink… Reasons to Be Proud of Wudu by Abdul Sattar Ahmed and Is the West Inherently Un-Islamic? by John EdererCan a Non-Muslim Person be in the Masjid? by Suhaib Webb
The stronger opinion on the issue of people of other faiths being refused entry into mosques is Abu Hanifa’s that this only applies for the Hajj and ‘Umra (meaning they are not allowed to make Hajj or Umra). Here’s why.Is Saying Jummah Mubarak an Innovation? by Suhaib Webb
Custom is so important that it forms one of the five major axioms of Islamic law. Based on this important principle and the large number of general texts that encourage us to speak well and be gentle to others, it is a stretch to say that such a greeting in an innovation.Can Muslims be Friends with Non-Muslims? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Qur’anic verses should not be mis-understood to prohibit us from making friends with our neighbors, co-workers, or schoolmates. On the topic of Muslim interactions with other faiths including Christians, see also: A Holiday Message from the Life of Omar by Shibli Zaman
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps for Overcoming Addictions or Sin by Reehab Ramadan
Remember the phrase “I am only the next 24 hours.” By the time the next 24 hours have been reached, hopefully our strength will have been regained, if not then we push ourselves a little further—24 more hours.10 Things that Shouldn’t Happen Once you Become a More Practicing Muslim by Ubah
There a few key things that we must all guard against as a result of turning a new leaf or becoming a more practicing (or new) Muslim – such as becoming narrow minded, becoming isolated, or rebelling against family.Beyond Romantic Love – Here’s What’s Missing by Reehab Ramadan
Beyond romantic or sexualized love, where’s the love that would allow me to go out of my way to buy my brother or sister in humanity a gift to bring a smile to his or her face during times of hardship?How Two Words Changed this Man’s Life by Maryam Amirebrahimi
He had never prayed two rak`ah (units of prayer) in his adult life. Two words he heard at his first Friday prayer penetrated through his heart and embraced his soul. The true story of a man’s path back to Allah (swt).
QUR’AN & PRAYER Building Habits as Worship: A Year Spent Quantifying Devotion by Alex Arrick (Guest Author)
How to use free apps for the iPhone or Android such as LIFT to make a regular, daily habit for memorizing the Qur’an. Also see: Stay Focused by PRAYing by by Marwa AbdallaIs the Qur’an a Violent Text or is Your Reading a Tad Off? by Joe Bradford
A lack of context and qualifications lead to blatant misinterpretation. The shallow misinterpretations of religious and irreligious extremists almost always lead to one thing: the escalation of conflict and the promotion of violence, instead of leading to dialogue and mutual understanding.Too Busy for Quran? Check these 3 Tips to Get Rolling by Mansoor Ahmed
Start off by making time after Fajr prayer or after `Isha’ (night) prayer, the two times you are most likely to be at home. Once it is a part of your lifestyle, it becomes easy to sustain. Remember, try a little by little, but with consistency!
OVERCOMING HARDSHIP Living with Depression and Islam by Anonymous (Guest Author)
Every morning I wake up and wish I hadn’t. I want anyone suffering like me to know that there are others that are observant, struggling Muslims and that they feel the way you are feeling. Also see: How to Overcome Sadness and be Happy by Taheerah AlamWith Hardship Comes Ease: Embracing Discomfort by Ismail Shaikh (Guest Author) Think You’ve Failed? Think Again by Jinan Bistaki
Some people always bounce back, but others always seem to crash down. Research has shown that the difference is the ability to see that a closed door somewhere means, at the very least, an open window somewhere else.
CURRENT EVENTS Erdoğan, AKP and their victory in the Turkish Municipal Elections by Shibli Zaman
Erdoğan, the world is watching you; but that pales to the fact that, above all, the Lord of the Worlds is watching you even closer. You can be the greatest leader the Muslim world has seen since the Ottomans whom you repeatedly invoke, or you can fall just like them when they lost their way. Which end of their history you resemble is up to you.
KNOWING GOD, THE MOST MERCIFUL When was the Last Time you Witnessed a Miracle? Al-Hayyiy by Jinan Bistaki
Whenever making du`a’ (supplication), have hope. Remember that “Verily your Lord is Generous (Kareem) and Hayyiy. If His servant raises his hands to Him (in supplication) He becomes shy to return them empty,” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).He has Your Back: Al-Wali by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wali, meaning the Protective Friend of all those who believe. It means that He has your back. He could have just been a ‘friend,’ but some friends are flaky. A protective friend will be there for you through hardship and bad times.Does God Exist? by Salman Khan (Guest Author)
Every person must think for him/herself and find Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) in his/her own way. Don’t choose a life of unhappiness because you choose to be blind or perform our religion physically without spirituality.Love is In Giving: Al Wadud by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wadud. When you are able to point out behavior that shows love, this kind of love is not called hubb in Arabic, because hubb is simply having a feeling of love. This kind of love – one that is apparent and shown – is called wud.
LOVE, RELATIONSHIPS, & GENDER RELATIONS 10 Guidelines for Gender Relations in Islam by Muslema Purmul and Maryam Amirebrahimi
The code of inter-gender relations comes from a noble kind of love. It is generous in giving, while conscious of Allah. It is full of haya.’ Haya’ is sometimes described as ‘shyness’, but misunderstood to mean a desire to hide, to be nervous, overly self-conscious, and unable to communicate.When you Marry for Four Reasons – Don’t Forget Your Reason by Karim Serageldin (Guest Author)
As a practicing psychologist, I was once consulted by a brother in Turkey in need of immediate relationship advice. In summary, the brother’s “emergency” was that he had met a nice religious girl from a good family but was not attracted to her at all. Here was my advice.The Goodbye Hug by Maryam Amirebrahimi
Many of us only hear destructive marriage stories within the Muslim community. However, the reality is that there are so many incredible, beautiful, passionate, fulfilling and compassionate love stories in the Muslim community. Here’s one. A number of the articles from “Glimpses of Marital Bliss” Series were also among the most-read this year. See also: A Love Letter, Will They Say Yes, and He Prayed instead of Fought
I have been living in the Arab world now for almost 3 years. There are some really taxing things here, tiring and frustrating to say the least. But there are also some exciting and uplifting things that keep me going throughout the days. And then, there are the hidden gems. The things that can be overlooked without a second thought, yet if they are given a second thought, they require a third and a fourth thought for one to even begin to benefit from their beauty. It is those things that get me time and time again. It is those things that take my breath away and leave me thankful for being placed in the position that I am in, living in a place where I do not always fit in or feel at home. One of those hidden gems can be found in the phrases that are oft repeated, with little thought, on a daily basis. There are many that could be spoken about, like the wishing of “na’eeman” [lit. blessings] when a person takes a shower or cuts their hair. Like the prayer of “kulli sana wanti tayyiba” [“may every year find you well”] on any happy occasion that occurs yearly. But my favorite has to be one that carries behind it a great story of a great man whom I recently read about, and after reading his story in the tafseer [exegesis] of Ibn Ajeeba, the oft repeated phrase “Ya sabr Ayub” [“O patience of Job”] has never been the same again.
It would be best, before diving into the gem-filled story, to give some information on when this phrase, in the Arab culture, is used. It is used mainly in two situations: 1) When a person is going through something very taxing and is wishing for an intense amount of patience to be poured into them, as a prayer and 2) when a person witnesses someone being ever so patient and is impressed by their firmness upon this patience. Naturally, after hearing that, one would assume that this story is about to be really great and I assure you: it is. The key here, however, is that something very important is done while reading this story: don’t just read it as a work of fiction or non-fiction. Read it as if this story is about you. Read this story as if you have temporarily stepped out of your own shoes, and into those of this amazing man, Ayub, and try to actually feel what he must have been feeling. And with that, all that is left is for me to begin:
Ayub, `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), was a great man and Prophet of the Lord many years ago. He was blessed with many great gifts that surpassed what others around him had been given. He had money in amounts (and some say types!) that surpassed those that were around him. He was given great amounts of land as well as many animals to graze on this land, and these animals varied in types and were of very high quality. He was kind and giving to the poor, he used to care for the widows and the orphans, he would be generous with his guests and accept any traveler into his home. He did all of this as an act of gratitude to God for giving him so much. This is something very unique to note, as for when a person is given such great wealth and great gifts, Satan then tries very hard to get him to be greedy and ungrateful. Satan tries very hard to get the person with such wealth to belittle that which has been given to him, or to become arrogant and not spread the wealth to those who may be in need of it. Satan however, was unsuccessful at whispering into the heart of Ayub (as) with regards to all that he had been given.
It is said that Satan heard the angels in the heaven praising Ayub (as) for all that he had done and was doing. Upon hearing this, Satan felt a twinge of envy (hasad) towards the state of Ayub. Satan, being one who acts upon these twinges of envy immediately, went and pleaded to the Lord of the heavens about his state. He complained to God: “O my Lord, you have blessed your servant Ayub, so he had thanked you. You have removed from him any affliction so he has glorified you. You haven’t allowed any hardship to befall him, but if you did then surely he would be an ungrateful servant.” This was a plea from Satan, and at the same time he was taking a shot at the honor and actual piety of Ayub. He asked God to just give him the ability to afflict Ayub with some hardship, and he told God that He would see the gratefulness of Ayub dwindle away. God then allowed Satan to have control over the wealth of Ayub, and nothing else—allowing him to afflict Ayub. At this Satan was joyous. He called together his troops of jinn and told them the “great” news. One of his troops said that he had been given the power to send storms of fire upon anything, and if Satan gave him permission, he could burn all of the wealth of Ayub by burning his lands. Satan agreed, and sat back and watched his troops burn down the wealth of Ayub. Once this was all over, Satan came in the form of one of the service hands of Ayub, dramatically recalling all that happened to the wealth of this Prophet. Telling him that God had allowed for his wealth to be destroyed. Ayub (as), with complete grace and gratefulness, informed Satan in the form of man, that God was the original giver of this wealth, so God could do as he pleased with this wealth.
Satan now was hit, not only with pangs of envy but also, pangs of despair. He had been sure that had this man who was so blessed, had some of his blessings taken away, he would break. He would not be such a great servant. But Satan, unlike many of us humans, does not give up that easily. When he has a goal, he does everything he possibly can to get to that goal. He went back to his troops for a brainstorming session. One of his troops had another idea. He informed Satan that he had been given the ability to blow harsh winds that would kill any animal that heard this wind. Satan jumped on that idea and sent him to kill all of the living animals that were left on the burnt grounds of Ayub. After all of his glorious animals had been killed, Satan appeared to Ayub as a different man, again telling him of what happened. He informed Ayub that the Lord that he had been worshipping for so long had killed all of his animals. Again, Ayub (as) with pure patience and love for God, replied that God was the one who had given him the animals in the first place, so He could do as He pleased with them.
Satan was hit again with deeper despair, feeling that he was certainly losing his grip on the battle that he had been fighting. Satan returned to God, again with another plea. He argued that God had blessed Ayub with his own health and the health of his children (some say he had 10 children), and this is why Ayub was still holding on, gratefully. Satan assured that if this was removed then Ayub would not remain a grateful servant and that his gratefulness was not based on Love but of contentment with that which had been given. Satan then requested to be given the ability to take away the children of Ayub to prove his point. God granted him this permission. Satan returned to the home of Ayub, and destroyed the home of Ayub, killing all of his children. He then appeared to Ayub as the teacher of his children, limping, as if he too had been hurt in the destruction. He then recalled for Ayub the detailed deaths that his children had faced, making certain to put emphasis on the pain that they may have felt. Ayub was instantly struck with sadness for his children. He fell to the floor and began to pour dirt over his head. Satan rejoiced, finally he had made Ayub be ungrateful. But after an instant, Ayub (as) realized what he was doing and looked up to his Lord, asking for forgiveness and returning to his state of patience. God instantly forgave Him, as He is The All-Forgiving.
Satan was furious. He felt that he had finally won, that finally this man that seemed to be over flowing with patience and gratitude had finally cracked. And before he could even rejoice, Ayub (as) returned to His Lord and His repentance was accepted. His sin was erased. (Take note at the Mercy of God. Take note at the persistence of Satan). Satan went back to God, again despairing and willing to try anything. He told God that the only reason that Ayub was so thankful and so obedient was that he had the most important thing, his health. Satan pleaded with God to allow him to take that away, to prove once and for all that Ayub was not, in his essence, an obedient servant. God allowed him this, but this time with some very important conditions. God allowed him to have rule over his body and health, but he was unable to touch two things: His tongue and his heart.
Satan descended down to Ayub and found him in prostration. He blew through his nose a wind that touched his entire body. It caused him to itch, with no relief. He itched his entire body with his hands, then with tools. The tools were so rough they tore at his skin, but the itch was so strong that he could not stop. His wounds began to fester, to be infected, and to even attract bugs. All of the people in his community who loved him so much began to look down upon him, unable to stand to see his appearance nor smell the stench of infected wounds. They kicked him out, ignoring all the good that he had done for him before. Everyone left him. Everyone. Except for one person, his wife. She cared for him in the trash dump that he had been cast to. She took care of him, and was his companion as much as she could. After much time she began to plead with him to ask God for help. I mean why not, he was a prophet. He in turn asked her how long they had lived in wealth. Her reply was 8 years. He then followed up with asking how long he had lived in sickness; she informed him that it was seven. His reply was that he was too embarrassed to ask God to heal him, if the time of ease overcame the time of hardship.
Satan, in his final attempt, appeared to Ayub’s wife. He told her that he (Satan) was the Lord of the world and that the reason why her husband, Ayub, had been afflicted for so long, was that he turned away from the lord of the earth and looked only towards the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth. He told her that if Ayub were to “simply” make one prostration to Satan, then he could be restored to health and wealth. Ayub’s wife returned to her husband and told him what had happened. Ayub was furious. He knew exactly who she had spoken to, and was angry that his wife had spoken to Satan and that she had tried to act upon his words. She couldn’t take his anger, and she left him as well. Now Ayub was completely alone, with reference to human companions. He turned to God and made the famous du’a that we hear time and time again “Lord hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.” Ibn Ajeeba here says something interesting. He says that the hardship that Ayub was speaking about was that Satan had conspired against him to get him to prostrate to him (Satan). (Why is this the hardship? Because it is said that if we understood the true essence of sickness, we would know that it is an immense gift from God.) God immediately responded to the plea of Ayub and instructed him to go to the nearest water source and bathe in it. He did so, and was returned to his complete health and beauty. His wife, shortly after, returned looking for her husband. She found a handsome healthy man in his place. She asked him if he has seen a man that was rotting and in pain. He laughed and said, “It is me, I am Ayub.” She wouldn’t have believed him except that she recognized his laugh.
Ayub—not an angel, a man. He (as) went through an immense trial, and looked only at God. A man that God used to lay down a map for us to follow when we too are in pain, in sickness and in distress. Of course we don’t always react this way. Of course it may be harder at times to let go and let God. But what we can do is look to him as an ultimate goal. We can use his name when asking God for patience. We can strive to be as close to Him as God will allow. And whenever we are in hardship, we can know that we have someone to relate to. We have someone who went through pain and anguish, and we can see that even in the worst of situations, God can instantly redeem us and make everything more than perfect. May God grant us the Sabr of Ayub in the smallest of matters and the largest of matters.
“Lord, hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.”
“Sins need to be eradicated through the internal fire of regret in this life or the fire of hell in the hereafter.” – Ibn Al-Qayyim
Years ago I came across this quote. I still can’t get over how true it is.
Muslim youth living in all corners of the world face similar struggles in our day-to-day lives. We strive to survive while being surrounded by the societal (and often times, cultural and familial) promotion, acceptance, and idealization of things that contradict the tenants of our faith: pride, lust, greed, extramarital relationships, alcohol/drugs, misogyny – just to name a few.
We are also surrounded by social practices and traditions that can also be pretty un-Islamic: issues such as racism, forced marriages, the withholding of education for females, and tribalism unfortunately exist on grand scales in Muslim societies all over the world.
As Muslim youth, most of us living in the diaspora, we have much to deal with. We struggle to maintain our Muslim identities while at the same time balancing our racial, national, and individual identities as well.
Sometimes it seems that everywhere we look, we are being called to sin. And inevitably, we answer that call.
We fall so many times only to fall again. We try so very hard to create our own, personal spiritual bubbles where Islam is the driving force in our lives, only to have it burst by things like temptation, other Muslims’ biases and discrimination, our own families making it hard for us, stress, our school lives, etc.
And slowly, as our hearts erode, a peculiar type of anxiety eats away at our souls and comes with a little voice in our heads. The voice tells us time and time again that what we are doing is haram (impermissible) or sinful, but we ignore it as we seek to numb the pain—a pain that has surfaced as a result of never being good enough. Never being “Muslim” enough, or “religious” enough, or “Western” enough.
How do we turn our faces from sin when it is everywhere? When it is adulated, respected, and upheld by our very own societies as a noble thing? We become confused – the bad becomes good. We go against our natural instincts. Eventually we become submerged in our own little hells, metaphorical places where internal suffering, sadness, disappointment, and self-loathing manifest. The “internal fire of regret”, as Ibn Al-Qayyim radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) puts it.
This quote teaches me that through one way or another, we will be purified of our sins. It’s up to us whether or not we seek purification in this life (through repentance) or we wait until the next (through the Fire).
I know. We’ve fallen so many times. We’re hurt, sore, and bruised. We are ashamed of our actions, and may even deem ourselves unworthy of seeking repentance. But something must quell that fire in our hearts. Something must quench our desires to be loved and accepted by the One whose love and acceptance is truly the only one that matters at the end of the day.
Say it – Astaghfirullah (I seek forgiveness from God).
I know; it hurts. But it certainly cannot hurt more than what is to come if we let our sins remain in our hearts, our minds, our spirits.
We are more than the sins that we commit. Don’t let the devil fool you. Don’t let those people who are a negative influence in your lives or those who sin openly and proudly fool you either.
We may fall a thousand times, but as long as we try to get back up, there is always hope.
And Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) knows best.
Names of Allah Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIX | Part XXX |Part XXXI | Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI | Part XXXVII | Part XXXVIII
In this journey through Allah’s Names, we have learned about both His attributes of Beauty and of Majesty. The intention is to inspire fear, hope and, ultimately, love. If we misunderstand Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), we may not see the wisdom behind the things that happen in the world or in our personal lives. We might not understand how Allah (swt) fits into our life. We may also find it difficult to love Him, because how can you love someone – deeply love someone – you do not know?
Thus it is hoped that these Names have increased our knowledge of our Creator, and have made apparent how Allah (swt) is with us in every moment.
Today’s Name should inspire in us ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’. These words are sometimes both translated as ‘fear’, thus removing the important distinctions between the two words. In the ‘Sweetness of Prayer’ series, we explained the difference between the different types of fear:
‘Khawf’ is to flee from the thing that you fear, and requires no knowledge of that which is feared. You can be afraid, or have ‘khawf’, of the dark. ‘Khashya’, on the other hand, is fear with knowledge. The more a servant has knowledge of his Lord, the more ‘khawf’ turns to ‘khashya’. As Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
“Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge” (35:28).
‘Hayba’ is fear associated with respect, awe and glorification. You could, for example, fear fire. But the reason for your fear is that the fire may harm you, so fire earns no ‘hayba’; you do not glorify it. However, you could have a certain ‘hayba’ of your father; you could be afraid to do something wrong in front of him, but that fear is out of respect.
Al-Qahhar: The Dominator
Allah’s Name al-Qahhar comes from the Arabic root qaf-haa-ra (ق-ه-ر). It means ‘to dominate over’ or ‘to subdue from above’. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an in Surat al-An`aam;
“And He is the subjugator (al-qaahiru) over His servants. And He is the Wise (al-Hakeem), the Acquainted [with all] (al-Khabeer). (6:18)
Someone with this attribute might be considered a tyrant, which is why Allah (swt) tells us that this attribute is possessed by the One who is also the Most Wise and the One who is Best Acquainted with everything. This reference is also for the benefit of those who doubt this attribute, and might ask “why has Allah not overpowered the tyrants of today, of whom there are many?” Allah (swt) is reminding us that there is ultimate wisdom in whom He chooses to subdue at any point in time. This is where our understanding of the holistic nature of Allah’s Names should come in: we spoke before about how Allah (swt) is Forbearing and Patient, and He gives people – even tyrants – the opportunity to turn back.
Thus we see in the Qur’an that Allah sends Moses and Aaron `alayhimaa as-salaam (may Allah’s peace be upon them both) to Pharaoh – and calling Pharaoh ‘oppressive’ would be an understatement! – telling them initially to speak to him gently. Pharaoh rejects them. Moses then shows him proof of his prophethood. Pharaoh rejects him again, insisting on enslaving the Children of Israel. Finally, Allah (swt) overpowers him by drowning him, using someone from the very people that Pharaoh was oppressing, who grew up in his own house. Such is the way of al-Qahhar, who manifests His power by subduing tyrants through the objects of their tyranny.
This is why Imam al-Ghazali describes al-Qahhar in this way: “The Dominator is the one who breaks the back of the powerful among His enemies… Indeed there is no existing thing that is not subject to the domination of His power, and powerlessness in His grasp. That is all.”
Therefore, when we look at events today and wonder “where is al-Qahhar?”, we should remember the story of Moses. Remember that Moses prevailed. Remember that Pharaoh was overpowered.
Our role is to strive against this oppression, knowing that ultimately this is what we will be asked about, and everything is subjected to the Will of Allah (swt). Indeed, so many tyrannical powers eventually come crashing down, bowing to the will of al-Qahhar. Unfortunately, we may not attribute it to Him, but as Allah (swt) tells us:
“The Day they come forth nothing concerning them will be concealed from Allah. To whom belongs [all] sovereignty this Day? To Allah, the One, the Prevailing (al-Qahhar).” (40:16)
On that Day, all will be apparent. All those who oppressed, in both seemingly small and big ways, will be before Allah, al-Qahhar. Then, there will be no ambiguity.
Living with these Names
1 – Balance fear and hope
Today’s Name might cause us to be afraid. This is not a subject we like to talk to about, because it is so much more reassuring to focus on those attributes that enable us to relax. But remembering that Allah (swt) has attributes of Majesty should instill in us the ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’ described earlier. Moreover, Allah’s Names are to be looked at holistically. He is al-Qahhar and He is also al-Lateef (the subtle, the most kind).
2 – Dominate your lower desires
In previous articles, we talked about how we should emulate the attributes of Beauty. But what about attributes of Majesty? How do we apply them? Al-Ghazali counseled: “The dominator amongst men is the one who subdues his enemies. The greatest enemy of man is his soul, which is within him. This soul is more of an enemy to him than Satan, of whose enmity he is wary. Whoever conquers his passions conquers Satan, since Satan lures him to ruin by means of his passions.”
3 – Use that fear to stop at least one sin
To know that Allah is al-Qahhar is to burn the desire for sin in the heart. Because Allah (swt) is the Dominator, we should fear that perhaps al-Qahhar, al-Mumeet (the Life-Taker) might take our soul as we are committing the sin. This should alert us that despite it seeming as though we are being allowed to oppress our souls, we may still face the fate mentioned in this verse:
“So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of every [good] thing until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair.” (Qur’an, 6:44)
These people used the gifts of Allah (swt) in the opposite manner to that for which they were intended, and then they were seized. In another chapter, Allah (swt) describes to us the people of the garden, who took an oath that they would reap all of their fruits and leave nothing for the poor. Allah (swt) caused their garden to be completely burned to the ground, but the owners of that garden understood the lesson. They willed something, but Allah (swt) overpowered their will, and so they turned back to Him.
Hence, this fear should not paralyze us from doing good, but it should paralyze us from doing bad. We should try to choose at least one thing – like backbiting or lying – and do our best to use this Name to help us stop it.
4 – Do not oppress others
The surest way to earn the wrath of al-Qahhar is to oppress others. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him] (fa laa taqhar)” (93:9). The word ‘taqhar’ comes from the same root of the name al-Qahhar. We should understand that oppression is not simply for unjust leaders or cruel human traffickers. We may also be oppressing others in more subtle ways, and thus we should be diligent to avoid this.
Imam Suhaib Webb talks about lessons from the life of Prophet Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him).
By Macksood A. Aftab
The conflict between science and religion has posed a serious threat to religious authority in the contemporary era. Many advocates of scientism have used the tremendous success of science in modern times to question the usefulness of religion as a means of seeking the truth. For example, Stephen Hawking recently stated in a Huffington Post article, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” More recently the harsh critique of religion based upon various forms of scientism by writers such as Richard Dawkins have escalated the conflict.
Their view assumes that both religion and science have the same purpose, namely of explaining the existence of the universe. Furthermore, the scientific method is considered a more reliable way to achieve this goal. This is primarily so because science deals with physical processes, which can be quantified and measured, whereas religion often resorts to metaphysical references, which cannot be “proven.” Professor Naquib Al-Attas, the celebrated Malaysian Muslim philosopher, summarizes the essential problem. He writes, “A gist of their [those who espouse science as the source for truth] basic assumptions is that science is the sole authentic knowledge; that this [scientific] knowledge pertains only to phenomena.” Excluded from science is anything that does not have a “physical” existence, anything that cannot be empirically studied. Therefore, implicit in a worldview that holds science as the highest authority of knowledge is a denial of God.
As the Nobel laureate Werner Arber, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, writes, “The natural sciences are in a steady search for truth, and so is theology.” This naturally creates two apparently competing methodologies of seeking and determining the truth, which inevitably leads to conflict between theology and science. Although the Catholic Church did generally support science, when the conclusions of scientists came in conflict with church dogma, problems arose. This can be seen in the experiences of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin.
Islamic history, however, took a different course. Despite the existence of a sustained robust scientific enterprise in the Islamic world, an overt conflict between science and religion did not arise. Professor Walbridge of Indiana University points out that “the Islamic world produced no martyrs for science like Bruno and Galileo.” One of the achievements of Islamic civilization was the creation of a worldview in which both theology and science could be accepted in a comprehensive rational framework.
The Islamic tradition of scholastic theology is known as kalam. The two primary schools of kalam are the Ash`ari and its close cousin the Maturidi schools. Both are based upon a rational understanding of God and the Universe, which also seek to rigorously preserve salient features of the Islamic concept of God. This tradition, along with its larger place in the Islamic worldview, can best be understood through the works of one of its main proponents Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE). Richard Frank, a scholar of Islamic theology, describes Ghazali as, “The most important Sunni theologian at a crucial turning point in the history of orthodox Muslim theology.” During his time Islam was emerging from a period of intellectual schism. Ghazali contributed to the development of a consensus on this issue, which was to largely become the dominant Sunni doctrine. Thus the Ghazali scholar and translator Walter Skellie writes, “With him [Ghazali] the religious philosophy and experience of Islam reaches its zenith.”
Demonstrative Proof (Burhan)
The triumph of Ghazali’s epistemology lies in its successful reconciliation of reason with revelation. One key element of this was the allowance of figurative interpretations of scripture, particularly when it relates to assertions that may conflict with what is known via reason. Ghazali sets the bar very high for a scientific proof to over-ride scripture, something he calls burhan. Burhan is demonstrative knowledge or definitive logical proof. According to Ghazali, it held an even higher epistemic status than even scholastic theology (kalam).
Professor Al-Akiti of Oxford writes, “For al-Ghazali, burhan [definitive logical proof], and not kalam, is what he considered to be scientific knowledge, the ‘gold-standard’ in the art of reasoning – a judgment expounded in his Mi’yar al-’Ilm.” The late professor Marmura, a Ghazali scholar, summarizes Ghazali’s attitude towards definitive logical proof as follows:
“A science whose conclusions are not demonstrably true and which are in conflict with the literal assertions of scripture must be rejected. On the other hand, if what is demonstrably true contradicts the literal sense of scriptural language, then the latter must be interpreted metaphorically.”
Having firmly grounded his worldview in rationality, Ghazali proceeds to point out that physical science does not meet the standards of definitive logical proof unless God is added to the equation. This is because science is based upon a flawed assumption, namely that of natural causation. Causation, Ghazali argues, can only guaranteed if God is there to secure it. And importantly, according to Ghazali, God is there to secure it. Belief in God then becomes a prerequisite to the successful pursuit of science.
Causation, God & Science
Ghazali was able to reconcile the most important principle of science (namely causation) with Islamic theological doctrines (as articulated by the dominant Ash`ari school). Ash`ari theology developed in response to certain heterodox formulations of Islamic doctrine (such as those adopted by the Mutazalites and the Philosophers) which had the effect of diminishing key Divine attributes. Some of these formulations share a belief in necessary causation with modern secular scientists. Therefore Ghazali’s critique of their view is particularly instructive in tackling similar issues in the contemporary era.
Some of the main articles of faith in Ash`ari theology are that God is all powerful, He is all knowing and all events occur due to His express will. The Ash`aris therefore believed that all events are directly caused only by God, and not by anything else. God is not merely the first cause but also the immediate cause of every subsequent minor and major event that occurs in the universe. This appears to run contrary to our contemporary understanding of secular science, which rests on the principle of natural causation. Namely, that things (or events) cause other things (or events). For example, we think fire causes cotton to burn when they are brought near each other.
Ghazali questions the principle of necessary causation adopted by certain philosophers. According to Ghazali, this relationship between cause and effect is not necessary. To use his terminology, there is no definitive logical proof (burhan) that it is the cause that is responsible for the effect. He argues that all we observe is a quick succession of events, cotton being brought close to fire and the cotton burning. But a relationship based simply on proximity in time or space does not imply necessary causation. Ghazali famously states, “The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary.”
David Hume in the Western tradition made a similar argument against causation. He asked, “Where is the causal glue” holding together the cause and the effect? Unlike Hume who was led to skepticism, however, Ghazali has an answer to this conundrum. For Ghazali, the causal glue is God. It is God who ensures that the relationship between cause and effect always holds. In doing so, Ghazali has made room for orthodox Islamic theology in which God is the direct cause of everything.
On its surface this line of thinking can be misunderstood to in fact undermine science, as several historians and scientists have thought. For example, the historian Tamim Ansary writes, “Take it however you will, the argument against causality undermines the whole scientific enterprise. If nothing actually causes anything else, why bother to observe the natural world in search of meaningful patterns?” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a preeminent Pakistani scientist, expresses a similar concern with the Ash`ari position, stating that in such a world, “even a speeding arrow might not reach its destination.” In other words, if the cause and effect relationship is not necessary then there would be no sure way to rely on our observations, predict natural phenomena or to do scientific experiments.
Conflict Averted, Science Flourished
This criticism, however, implies a dogmatic belief in science which sidesteps the very real problem of causation. Ghazali does not need to (nor does he) deny causation. He is merely denying necessary causation—namely, that there is no conclusive proof that things can influence other things by themselves. For Ghazali, God is required to ensure that the relationship between cause and effect always hold true. As Frank Griffel, a Ghazali scholar at Yale, writes:
“Trust in God (tawakkul) is a major condition for investigating the natural sciences. Such trust requires the certainty to know that God will not change books into horses or disconnect our knowledge from reality. Given that God habitually creates our knowledge to accord with reality, we can rely on our sense and our judgment and confidently pursue the natural sciences.”
According to this view God could suspend the laws of causation, but He never does and never will. So fire will always burn cotton but this is only true because in every instance of its occurrence God ensures that it is so. In effect, Ghazali has created a framework in which science can operate and the principles of Islamic theology (Divine power, knowledge and will) are also preserved.
Furthermore, Ghazali even located miracles – which he calls strange and wondrous phenomena – within the empirical world. Even miracles were then not Divine acts of suspension of the normal workings of the universe; rather they were unusual phenomena of nature due to causes not immediately clear to us at the moment. The possibility of additional causal chains other than those currently physically observed encouraged further exploration of the natural world. Ahmad Dallal, a historian of Islamic science at Georgetown University writes,
“The aspect that had the most influence on the development of science was the concept of multiple possibilities (tajwiz), the notion that specific natural philosophical explanations (or planetary models) are possible but not certain, and that there may exist alternative explanations for the natural phenomena… this idea was grounded in an epistemological criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics.”
After Ghazali, science in the Muslim world experienced a prolonged renaissance as documented by Yale historian George Saliba. His understanding had the effect of legitimizing science. Science was a discipline ensured by God. It also had the effect of effectively separating theology from physical science. Divine attributes are known through revelation, and science plays no significant role in informing us about these metaphysical matters. On the other hand revelation does not interfere with the workings of science; it is left as an independent discipline within the larger Islamic framework. Dallal explains,
“After Al-Ghazali, the need to invoke religion to vindicate science considerably decreased, not because science was not accepted but because it did not need vindication. Excluding final-cause explorations from science did not compromise the providence of God, which was simply assumed without questioning (bila kayf).”
This worldview rests on the premise that God exists and sustains the Universe. God is not the end goal of science, but rather the starting point. This created an organic and interdependent relationship between science and religion, which essentially eliminated the potential of conflict between the two disciplines. In fact, as professor Muzaffar Iqbal, a philosopher of Islamic science, writes:
“No one thought of them [science and religion] as two independent entities which needed to be related via an external mechanism… This relationship emerged naturally and because the scientific tradition was thoroughly rooted in the worldview created by Islam.”
This worldview was rational. It recognized the primacy of reason and in fact accorded burhan the highest epistemic status. Within this framework secular science is critiqued based upon logical fallacies assumed by its proponents. Science is then presented not as a competing force with religion, but rather as a viable enterprise, as part of a comprehensive worldview that encompasses God. In fact, it is grounded in the assumption of God. This delicate balance, which secured both science and theology, is one of the greatest achievements of medieval Muslim theologians.
Dr. Macksood Aftab is a neuroradiologist, and clinical assistant professor at both Michigan State University and Central Michigan University. He holds a Master degree in History of Science, and is an editor for the Journal of Islamic Philosophy. The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part I | Part II
In the last article, we explored how Allah (swt) exonerated Aisha radi allahu `anha (may God be please with her) and Prophet Joseph `alayhi as-salaaam (peace be upon him) from unsubstantiated and untrue gossip, and we talked about the victims of slander. Today, it’s about the perpetrators of slander. It is about, quite possibly, you and me.
Sometimes in the name of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” we forget the sanctity of our fellow human beings and especially fellow believers. We spread things that are unsubstantiated in a bid to ‘warn others’ about possible deviancy. We are harsh in our words. We assume the worst. We forget that one of the best traits a Muslim can have is “thinking well of the servant of Allah” and for other Muslims to be “safe from his hands and tongue.”
We forget that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) passed by a grave and he warned that the person was suffering in his grave because he would spread gossip. We forget that that person we are talking about may have our good deeds transferred to him simply because he is a victim of our speech.
Scary stuff? It is. The Prophet ﷺ said: “The majority of man’s sins emanate from his tongue.” (Tabarani)
To go back to the examples in our previous article, it was clear that those with power—the minister and the minister’s wife—knew the truth with regards to what was said about the Prophet Joseph (as). But they allowed the rumor to persist and put Prophet Joseph in prison. With Aisha (ra), we have even more details. The people who discussed the rumor were good Muslims. They discussed the scandalous nature of what was said, and in doing so, spread it far and wide. Shaytan created doubt: “Could it actually be true?” Allah admonished the Muslims when He informs us in the Qur’an about what happened:
“Why, when you heard it, did not the believing men and believing women think good of one another and say, ‘This is an obvious falsehood?’” (Qur’an, 24:12)
Now some people might think this example is extreme. We would never spread such a rumor. But rumors and slander and gossip come in all shapes and forms. So if you hear something about someone that is unsubstantiated, do not fuel the fire. We are just as bad as those news networks we criticize, who pick up a story, and whether true or not, run with it.
This is not intended to shut down constructive criticism of public figures. There are ways of bringing people to account. There are ways of disagreeing and critiquing ideas and views, which are beyond the scope of this article. But in the age of the internet, anyone can write a piece and within an hour it is shared and read by many. And it would do us good to reflect on what our role is in this. We must remember that we will be held to account. So let us not put ourselves in a position to be asked about why we were careless in our research, harsh in words, and negative in our basic assumptions about others.
And remember that the Prophet ﷺ taught:
“A person’s eman (faith) is not upright until his heart is upright, and his heart is not upright until his tongue is upright.” (Ahmad)
Many of us pray for the perfect spouse and imagine him or her being a certain way. Sometimes, what we pray for becomes most apparent in difficult times. In this account, a wife talks about the ways in which real life has helped her and her husband grow in their beautiful relationship.
“My husband and I are from two different worlds literally and figuratively, and the thing that binds us together the most is Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) and our undeniable faith in Him (swt). After looking in America for two years, I decided to marry someone from “back home,” i.e. Pakistan. When we first got married, we realized what a huge adjustment it would be for both of us. We had kids right away when he came. He went to school here and got his degree from here, and I supported him financially all during the time that I was a new mother and the only thing I wanted to do was raise my precious firstborn full-time.
Under such circumstances many marriages rightfully take a back seat and the relationship crumbles. We had many big fights over those first few years. Every time we fought I made du`a’ (supplication) to Allah (swt) to make it better, and He did. Our fights never lasted more than a day, and one of us always ended up saying sorry. We couldn’t go to sleep without making up. Throughout our good times and hard times I discovered that I married a very caring and generous man. I also discovered that I needed to accept him for who he was and that I had many bad qualities that needed to be worked out if I was going to stand in front of my Creator on the Day of Judgment. His love for me is shown in always hiding my faults in front of others, in picking flowers for me on the way home from the masjid, in taking care of the kids and giving me some time off, in cleaning up a messy house and in always sharing with me his day to day dealings at work or with his friends. As time has passed we have gotten closer and now I can’t imagine not having him in my life. The kids have really served to bond us together and it warms my heart when our eldest wants to pray because he sees his father praying. Alhamdullilah (praise be to God)!
My husband is not perfect and has many faults, but I know inside there is a light of goodness that gets dim at times and at times shines brightly, and I am committed to stand by him throughout all the times. I used to make du`a’ to Allah (swt) for a pious, kind, gentle husband and now that Allah (swt) has given me a slave of His to love, I must remain thankful, for if I am thankful He will give me more. We just celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary, and I look forward to spending many more with him insha’ Allah (God-willing).”
The Vikings referred to the Abbasid Empire as Serkland. There are a few theories regarding the origin of this name, but it likely originated from the Norse term serkr, which meant tunic or gown. The term was mentioned in the Ingvar Runestones, specifically in the Gripsholm Runestone (Sö 179). They were raised to commemorate those Vikings who died fighting the Muslims on the Caspian Sea under Yngvarr víðförli, whose Norse name and title meant “Ingvar the Far-traveled”.1 Interestingly related to the word serkr, the English word “berserk”—meaning to go crazy—comes from the Norse word berserkr which was a term for Viking warriors who fought in a trance-like rage. They were given this name because they wore the coats of bears, called ber in Old Norse. Thus, berserkr means “bear coat”.2 So the Vikings, or Rūs, as they were called by the Muslims (from which came the later ethnonym “Russian”), saw the Abbasids wearing their long tunics, cloaks, capes and coats and referred to their realm as “Serkland”, the land of the “Serkir”, those who wear long coats. The dignified appearances of the early Muslims left quite an impression.
The Muslims were known for always dressing impeccably regardless of what social class they came from. There was a dignity and respect in the way they presented themselves, and this was markedly observed by even their adversaries. In the famous French prose “The Song of Roland”, which lauds the heroic deeds of the “Holy Barbarian” King Charlemagne in his battles against the Muslims, the leader of the Muslims is described as strikingly handsome and a noble equal to Charlemagne. The song praises him thus:
“An Emir of Balaguet came in place,
Proud of body, and fair of face;
Since first he sprang on steed to ride,
To wear his harness was all his pride;
For feats of prowess great laud he won;
Were he Christian, nobler baron none!”3
In the end, the only way Charlemagne is said to defeat him is with the help of the Archangel Gabriel.
God says in the Qur’an:
يَا بَنِي آدَمَ خُذُوا زِينَتَكُمْ عِندَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ
“O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer.”4
Do we care for our appearance, cleanliness and attire when visiting the mosque? Even if not daily, do we at least in our Friday prayers? Sometimes we do. I often see Africans in their brightly colored gowns and hats, the Indonesians and Malays in their perfectly pressed shirts, gilded hats and sarongs, the African-Americans in their best suits, ties and/or bowties. But what I also see alarmingly too often are sweat-pants, t-shirts, tunics which you know alternate as sleepwear, long faces and disheveled hair. Sadly, I fear that may be the majority in too many mosques.
There is a Prophetic saying:
إِذا أَتَاك الله مَالا فَلْيُرَ أثَرُ نِعْمَةِ الله عَلَيْكَ وكَرَامَتِهِ
“If God has given you an income then display signs of His blessings and generosity upon you.”5
So, there is an element of gratitude and acknowledgement of God’s blessings when you take care of your appearance and utilize what He has blessed you with to look your very best. Yet, the Ottoman era scholar al-Munāwī is also careful to qualify this saying:
“‘And His generosity’ – that which He has bestowed upon you. For in attire is an indication of one’s overall condition, self-worth, self-respect, and hygiene. And it is so those in need will know to go to him, but he must be careful with his intentions and avoid all forms of excess.”6
With this, he also relates an interesting story therein about the famous scholar and successor to the Prophet (ﷺ)’s Companions, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, wearing a shirt costing 400 dirhams. One time he met Farqad al-Sinjī, a known Sufi of the time, which sparked a telling dialog. In the early days of Islam, the Sufis wore coarse wool garments and, for this, some have speculated that the word “Sufi” may originate from the Arabic word for wool, Ṣūf. Farqad said reproachfully to al-Hasan, “O Abū Sa`īd, how soft is your clothing!” To this, al-Ḥasan replied using a lexical diminution7 of Farqad’s name, “O Furayqid! The softness of my clothes does not distance me from God, nor does the coarseness of your clothing make you closer to Him.” Al-Ḥasan then went on to quote the saying of the Prophet ﷺ, “God is beautiful and He loves beauty.” In another narration al-Ḥasan rebuked Farqad’s spiritual arrogance with: “They have piety in their clothing, but they have arrogance in their hearts.”8 Whether relevant or not, Farqad al- Sinjī later became considered a severely defective narrator.
So while we may feel that our theology is sound and we are the people of the true faith, there is something seriously wrong when Christians are in their finest clothes when visiting church on Sunday but we look like we’re running errands when we go for Friday prayers. It reflects our overall attitude, which comes across as clear as day in how we present ourselves and how we allow ourselves to be perceived by those around us. As al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri said, there are those who may dress simply but their hearts are full of conceit. Don’t be content thinking you’re the people of Truth if you don’t even look the part.
A Cornell University psychologist who chaired the conference When to Judge a Book by Its Cover: Timing, Context, and Individual Differences in First Impressions stated, “Despite the well-known idiom to ‘not judge a book by its cover,’ the present research shows that such judgments about the cover are good proxies for judgments about the book — even after reading it.” This research is particularly focused on impressions that are made within mere seconds of seeing someone and the results are that any negative impression garnered within the first few seconds can outlast any and all efforts to dispel them later through explanation or amiable conduct. So we can exhaust every effort in trying to convince our non-Muslim neighbors that we’re good people, but if we don’t look it, they won’t believe it. Fair or not, that is plain science. Would you find it easier to change human psychology or simply pay more attention to how you present yourself?
So, while the Vikings raided our coasts along the Caspian Sea and Charlemagne drove us out of Western France and invaded Muslim Spain, they were so impressed by us that they actually wrote poetry about us. We need to ask ourselves a very serious question: enemies aside, do we even leave that kind of impression upon our non-Muslim friends? Let us answer that honestly in the quiet of our conscience and, if necessary, make changes in our lives accordingly.
- Runelore: The Magic, History, and Hidden Codes of the Runes, p. 38, Edred Thorsson
- Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia, p. 38, Phillip Pulsiano, Kirsten Wolf
- The Song of Roland, 228:3164, Translated from French by John O’Hagen
- The Holy Qur’an, 7:31, Yusuf `Ali translation, 1938
- Recorded by Aḥmad, al-Tirmidhī, Abū Dawūd, al-Nasā’ī, and many others
- Fayḍ al-Qadīr Sharḥ Jami` al-Ṣaghīr, al-Munāwī
- Called Taṣghīr al-Ism in Arabic lexical morphology wherein a word is made diminutive, or to indicate “smallness”, by conforming it to the fu`ayl consonantal skeleton.
- Kitāb al-Zuhd of Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal, Fayḍ al-Qadīr of al-Munāwī, Muḥāḍirāt al-Adbā’ of al-Iṣfahāni, and others.
By Anthony Hardy
“I don’t understand,” said a friend of mine who happened to be an agnostic, “if Muslims here are just as racist as the Christians, why the Hell are you still Muslim?”
This question had never been posed to me in all my years of being Muslim. I had given it ample thought. I hadn’t, however, formulated a cogent, verbal response for it in the event someone asked me.
“I mean,” he continued, “if one of the reasons you converted was because of the race thing, you didn’t get very far. Seems like you may have regressed a bit actually. Just seems like you going through a lot of trouble for this Islam stuff.”
I conceded his point. While some phenomenal Muslims, Black and non-Black, had crossed my path along my trek in this great faith, I can say with unwavering certainty the vast majority of my time as a Muslim has been filled with hardship, isolation, and loneliness. Some converts break and fold under the immense pressure to which they are subjected at the hands of the community and their families. Some apostate as a result. I can’t say I blame them. I wasn’t broken – alhamduliLah (praise be to God) – but I was scarred and bent: the human heart is a fickle and fragile morsel of flesh.
There really was nothing on the outside anchoring me to Islam: with the exception of my younger brother, himself a convert, I didn’t have any Muslim relatives; my culture wasn’t enmeshed in Islam; though I have a strong affinity for the Black Muslim community, I didn’t belong to any community in particular; and because of my experiences and the experiences of loved ones, I didn’t even want to belong.
I responded to my friend’s inquiry, “True, in terms of race, I probably did backtrack a bit. Still, there are some existential considerations for which Islam provides sufficient explanations that no other system of thought I’ve come across has the potential to answer. For that reason, I stick around.”
Islam mandates upon those who embrace its inspiration to submit their ego as best as they can manage to a set of transcendent principles and confers nobility upon those individuals who make earnest attempts to uphold those dignifying principles. Unlike in our society, where one’s worth is determined by wealth, lineage, extent of education, occupation, gender, sexual orientation, physical beauty, physical handicap and – yes – even skin color and hair texture, the notion of submission and adherence to a set of divine principles as the ultimate measure of one’s value is largely independent of the circumstances surrounding one’s genesis into the world or current station in the world and thus lends itself to a humble agnosticism concerning the ultimate worth of others: under such an empowering paradigm, even the jettisoned pauper, pygmy, or orphan has the potential to be a prince or princess in the eyes of God by virtue of character, actions, and outlook.
Each soul is granted a story of its own from its Lord related to where and when He chose to author it. The purpose of those different stories is so that we might all learn and grow from them all and hence from one another. We are meant to be mirrors unto one another. I remain Muslim, among other reasons, because Islam dictates by virtue of tauhīd (oneness of God) that my story and the stories and experiences of my people have intrinsic value for humanity at large, even if many in the world, including and especially Muslims, fail to recognize that value for our skin color, class, culture, or whatever. We are lessons to be heeded and learned. As it stands, large segments of Muslims in America deign to perceive themselves as superior to us because of what Allāh, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), has bestowed upon them out of His Mercy and do not wish to educate themselves with our stories or even has us in their company or communities or families, quite possibly out of the very essence of kufr (disbelief of God) itself, for it was Allāh (swt) Himself who created us as we are.
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”
— Qur’ān, (49:13)
Unfortunately, Muslims have done themselves, their families, their children, their communities, and their religion a grave disservice in their folly. Until Muslims begin to realize the source of their honor is with God alone, until Muslims resume their slave status before God and not to the inventions of men, physical or otherwise, my mother will continue to be correct and Black Muslims or other communities who have contributed or have the potential to contribute so much to Islam in America and throughout the world will only always be just “niggers” or “thugs” or “gangsters” or “scary” or “dime a dozen” or “too dark” or ‘abd or zenci or whatever other derogatory term cultures may design. We must muster the courage to strive against the false gods and false regimes of validation that have taken residence in our hearts and minds for the integrity of the community, for our collective existence in this country, and for the integrity and purity of our eternal souls before our Lord.
I pray for a better way forward. I can’t do it without you.
To sit and dream, to sit and read,
To sit and learn about the world
Outside our world of here and now –
our problem world –
To dream of vast horizons of the soul
Through dreams made whole,
Unfettered free – help me!
All you who are dreamers, too,
Help me make our world anew.
I reach out my hands to you.
– Langston Hughes, “To You”
Each year I let my family know I will not be celebrating Christmas with them. Last year my mother gave us gifts that said they were from Santa Claus. At the time, I was pregnant and it became even more important to me that we distance ourselves from non-Islamic religious holidays. I know growing up how great the time was each year, and I hate making my parents feel so bad. I am not quite sure how to explain it to them anymore. I am stuck between my mother with major anxiety and my husband who doesn’t quite understand why it is so difficult for them. Yet another year is coming, and I now have a little girl, and I have to explain to my mother why I cannot see her at this time of year. I just saw them last month, and my mother already told me she has purchased “Christmas” gifts. What should I do or say to them that will make it easier?
You are having a difficult time reconciling the importance of Christmas for your parents while desiring to raise your daughter adhering to Islamic traditions. It sounds like your husband does not understand the tension you are feeling when disappointing your parents year after year. You and your husband may not have discussed in detail how you would celebrate holidays given that your parents come from a different tradition, before getting married. Since your experience is completely foreign to your husband, he may not understand the significance of the holiday for your parents and the traditions they created with you as a child. It can be very difficult for parents whose children convert to Islam to understand that “family traditions” will no longer be celebrated because of their child’s new beliefs.
You and your husband will need to discuss how you wish to approach holidays with your parents and share this information together with your parents. Every family chooses to manage the holidays differently and these opinions may change as their children grow older. Depending on what you are comfortable with, you may choose to distance yourself from your family all together during the holidays or you may choose to join your parents in their tradition. You and your husband will have to decide together what is the best approach for your family. If you have shared with your parents that you do not celebrate Christmas and they insist on giving you and your children gifts, then you and your husband need to reconcile the idea of accepting gifts from family. Is it a challenge to your faith or an expression of love and generosity from your parents? Emulate the love you have for your parents by understanding where they are coming from and communicating with them your thoughts and views. As your children grow and new traditions develop, your parents may learn to adapt their traditions to what is more comfortable to you and your husband and even join you in your religious traditions as well.
WebbCounselors is a collaborative advice column produced by two WebbAuthors, Amal Killawi, a Clinical Social Worker with a specialization in mental health and marriage education, and Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine, a Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in premarital counseling. Please note that our counselors are not religious scholars and will not issue religious rulings. To read our full disclaimer, please visit our disclaimer page. To submit questions to the WebbCounselors, please email email@example.com.
Names of Allah Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIX | Part XXX |Part XXXI | Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI | Part XXXVII
“Thank you so so much! I really appreciate it,” I wrote to a stranger I had never met. I was so grateful to that man. In my first visit to New York, I had lost my phone in a cab. This phone had all my numbers in it, pictures, saved messages… everything. As silly as it felt to be making du`a’ (supplication) for something seemingly so trivial, I asked Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala (exalted is He), to return my phone. I tried to have conviction that, because I had said the remembrances that day, I had not lost my phone.
Indeed, the next morning, I received an email from the man who had found my phone. A few arrangements were made, and I was reunited with my phone shortly after. As I thanked that man, I turned to Allah (swt) in my heart and said, AlhamduliLah – all praise is due to Allah.
Al-Hameed: the Praiseworthy
It is befitting to learn about Allah’s Name al-Hameed after having studied His Name al-Ghani, as these two Names come together in the Qur’an. Al-Hameed comes from the three-letter root ha-meem-dal (ح-م-د), which is the opposite of the word al-thamm, which means to condemn. Something that is complete and perfect deserves hamd,while something that has faults or is incomplete receives thamm. This praise is accompanied with feelings of adoration, gratitude and submission. Al-Ghazali states:
“God – great and glorious – is the Praised by virtue of His praise for Himself from eternity, and by virtue of His servants’ praise for Him forever. But this comes down to the attributes of majesty, of exaltation, and of perfection, as they are linked to the repetition of those who continually remember Him, for praise involves recalling the attributes of perfection insofar as they are perfect.”
This Name is closely associated with shukr, meaningful thankfulness. But hamd is much more encompassing than shukr. Thankfulness is expressed to someone for a particular deed or favor, whereas hamd is praise and gratitude not simply for overt favors, but for the inherent qualities the praiseworthy possesses. Thus it is said that hamd (praise) is the pinnacle of shukr (thankfulness). Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
“To Him belongs what is in the heavens and what is on the earth. And indeed, Allah is the Free of need, the Praiseworthy (al Hameed)” (Qur’an, 22:64).
Thus Allah al-Hameed is the One we go to with gratitude and humility, praising Him not just for those favors we feel thankful for, but for His very essence and all His decrees. Sheikh Ratib an-Nabulsi has said that al-Hameed is the only One deserving of true praise, which is why we repeat in every prayer:
الحمدلله رب العالمين
All-Praise is due to God, the Lord of the Worlds
The importance of this Name is that Allah (swt) teaches us not to be attached simply to His blessings, but to His essence. Yes, He gives us, and we thank and praise Him for what He gives. But when we think of al-Hameed, it ceases to be solely about the blessing. We are reminded of His inherent attributes, of al-Hameed Himself, and thus we praise Him when things are good or seemingly bad, because they all come from Him. When we realize that good came out of the calamity we were facing, or on the Day of Judgment when we see how we are rewarded not only for our gratitude for the good but for our patience with the hardships, do we embody the spirit of praise, and say wholeheartedly: al-hamduliLah!
And thus His Name: the Praiseworthy, the Praised.
The Prophet ﷺ and Praising Allah
The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) praised Allah throughout his life, whether he was in hardship or receiving many beautiful gifts from Allah. In a famous hadith (narration), Aisha, radi Allahu `anha (may God be pleased with her), saw the Prophet ﷺ praying for so long that his feet became swollen. So she asked him:
“O Messenger of Allah, why do you undergo so much hardship despite the fact that Allah has pardoned for you your earlier and later sins?”
He ﷺ responded: “Afala akuna abdan shakura? – Should I not be a thankful servant?” (Bukhari)
And what did the Prophet ﷺ say as he was praying in the night? Ibn `Abbas relates that the Prophet ﷺ used to say when he stood for the tahajjud (late night) prayer:
“O Allah! Yours is the praise. You are the sustainer of the heavens and the Earth and all that they contain. And Yours is the praise. Yours is the dominion of the heavens and the Earth and all that they contain. And Yours is the praise. You are the light of the heavens and the Earth and all that they contain. And Yours is the praise. You are the king of the heavens and the Earth. And Yours is the praise. You are the Truth. Your promise is true. The meeting with You is true. Your word is true. Paradise is true and the Fire is true. The prophets are true. Muhammad (peace be upon him) is true. The Hour is true…” (Bukhari, Muslim).
The Prophet ﷺ, throughout his hardships, reflected on the nature of this world. And he saw the majesty of Allah’s attributes in all of creation, and in everything that happened. And with awe, humility and gratitude, he makes that du`a’ we see above from all of His heart.
We know that Allah pairs many of His Names and attributes in the Qur’an. One of the reasons is to show us how these Names relate to each other. Al-Hameed is paired with a few Names in the Qur’an: al-Ghani, al-Wali, al-Majeed, and al-Hakeem.
1—Allah says: “O mankind, you are those in need of Allah, while Allah is the Free of need (al-Ghani), the Praiseworthy (al-Hameed),” (Qur’an, 35:15).
If a human being is seen as self-sufficient, that usually causes him to withdraw from people. Since this person does not need people, he may not see any reason to help or to give or to be nice—and he is certainly not perfect in his essence. But truly glory is that Allah (swt) does not need anyone, yet He still gives people, and acts with ultimate wisdom, and is praised.
2—”And it is He who sends down the rain after they had despaired and spreads His mercy. And He is the Protective Friend (al-Wali), the Praiseworthy (al-Hameed),” (Qur’an, 42:48).
You might assign someone to be your lawyer, entrusting him to protect you. But if this lawyer is careless, and loses your case, he would not be praised, neither for his action nor for his essence. But when Allah is your Wali, you cannot help but praise Allah, who defends and protects His intimate friends.
3—”They said, “Are you amazed at the decree of Allah? May the mercy of Allah and His blessings be upon you, people of the house. Indeed, He is Praiseworthy (al-Hameed) and Honorable (al-Majeed),” (Qur’an, 11:73).
Al-Majeed, according to al-Ghazali, is “one who is noble in essence, beautiful in actions, and bountiful in gifts and in favors.” Thus while Allah is the Lord and commands that come from Him do not need to be explained, out of His nobility and bounty He explains many things in the Qur’an. So He is praised for that.
4- “Falsehood cannot approach it from before it or from behind it; [it is] a revelation from a [Lord who is] Wise (Hakeem) and Praiseworthy (Hameed)” (Qur’an, 41:42).
Here Allah (swt) is pointing out to us that if we reflected on His decree, we would praise Him for His wisdom. Because while Allah does as He pleases, He is also the Most-Wise and thus there is always the best wisdom behind His actions.
Connecting to Al-Hameed
- Praise Allah through the good and the bad
The Prophet ﷺ tells us that “AlhamduliLah fills the scales,” (Muslim). One way of retaining blessings is thanking and praising Allah (swt) for them. And through the bad, we should remember that ultimately whatever occurs is out of Allah’s wisdom, He is both Hakeem (all-Wise) and Hameed (Praiseworthy), and therefore we should remember to humble ourselves and praise Him.
- Write down Allah’s Name al-Hameed and then write down all of Allah’s blessings upon you
We know the verse in the Qur’an where Allah states: “And if you should count the favor of Allah, you could not enumerate them. Indeed, mankind is [generally] most unjust and ungrateful” (Qur’an, 14:34).
Interestingly, Allah uses the word “favor”—ni`ma—in the singular, as though saying: even trying to enumerate the blessings of one single favor is impossible! To reflect deeply upon just one favor, and to ponder over its impacts, can fill us with so much awe for al-Hameed.
- Speak well to people
Allah says in the Qur’an, “And they had been guided [in worldly life] to good speech, and they were guided to the path of the Praiseworthy (Al-Hameed)” (Qur’an, 22:24).
In a beautiful reflection, Sheikh Ratib an-Nabulsi says that it is as though the path to Allah al-Hameed is through good speech, as Allah also says: “[…] And speak to people good [words][…]” (Qur’an, 2:83).
A beautiful hadith of the Prophet ﷺ states that: “A person’s faith is not upright until his heart is upright, and his heart will not be upright until his tongue is upright” (Ahmad).
- Praise Allah by using His gifts in His service
The highest form of praise is to use those gifts He has bestowed upon us in His service and therefore in good. But do not be like those who Allah says about them:
“And whoever exchanges the favor of Allah [for disbelief] after it has come to him – then indeed, Allah is severe in penalty,” (Qur’an, 2:211).
Belief is a blessing, but this can apply to other favors as well. If we use those gifts in ways that are unbecoming, then this is the opposite of hamd. The result is that our favors could be taken away, or perhaps worse, we cannot find the joy or sweetness in those favors. If we look at the story of Qarun in the Qur’an, he was given many blessings. He was from the people of Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him). And Allah says, “We gave him of treasures whose keys would burden a band of strong men…” (Qur’an, 28:76). Yet Qarun tyrannized his own people, and had the gall to say, “I was only given it because of knowledge I have.” He did not attribute His gifts to Allah AND he used them for corruption. And what was the result?
“And We caused the earth to swallow him and his home. And there was for him no company to aid him other than Allah, nor was he of those who [could] defend themselves” (Qur’an, 28:81).
May Allah protect us.
“Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds – their Lord will guide them because of their faith. Beneath them rivers will flow in the Gardens of Pleasure. Their call therein will be, ‘Exalted are You, O Allah,’ and their greeting therein will be, ‘Peace.’ And the last of their call will be, ‘Praise to Allah, Lord of the worlds!’” (Qur’an, 10:9-10)