Muslim blogs

Say No To War

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Tue, 04/08/2015 - 17:41

The political theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, famously said, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” If that is the case, war is a politics that we do not need, because it only opens the door to mass murder, under the disguise of a political agenda. As Muslims we should know this all too well, as many of our lands are being ripped apart by the wars that grow out of “righteous” politics.

Perhaps the most repugnant of these wars is the American-backed, Saudi-led destruction of Yemen. Yemen was poor to begin with. Now with the naval blockade, the destruction of the little infrastructure that did exist and the punitive bombings of civilian areas the entire population is threatened with starvation and no one is secure. Innocent people are suffering and dying because of the self-righteous and selfish politicians.

The contending politicians can point condemnatory fingers at whosoever they please, but at the end of the day, the politics leading to this disaster are disgusting. Muslim blood is too precious to be spilled over the cheap politics defining this and the other crises plaguing the Muslim world. We must say no to these politics and the wars they birth. If we refuse to be a party to these charades, the politicians definitely will not take the field and put their lives on the line for their cheap wars. When we all say no, these wars will end.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Tears of The Yearners For The Meeting With God

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Fri, 31/07/2015 - 00:22

“Death is the most inescapable part of life. Upon entering into the world, no one can say, with absolute certainty, if a particular individual will be rich or poor, a glowing success or an abject failure. No one can predict if they, or anyone else, will live a long and healthy life or see their earthly stint end during their youth. No one knows if they will be tried by disease or some other physical or psychiatric challenge. The only thing we can say about life with absolute certainty is that anyone coming into the world will eventually leave it.

Despite the absolute certainty of death, most people fail to reflect on its nature and the finality it represents. Fewer still are those who actually prepare for death by leading lives steeped in the reality that this worldly sojourn is but an introduction to another life, the everlasting life that commences with our death. One of the great gifts of religion, regardless of how it manifested itself in the teachings of a specific Prophet in a particular time and place, is that it brings its adherents face-to-face with death. This confrontation with our mortality is usually coupled with a sense of moral responsibility and accountability.

Perhaps no family of religions has stressed the idea of worldly moral responsibility determining the fate of the soul so much as the Abrahamic faiths, which include Judaism, Islam and Christianity; the latter two faiths being especially insistent in this regard. These are the faiths that have, more than any others, vouchsafed unto humanity the ideas of Heaven and Hell, salvation and damnation, eternal suffering and eternal bliss. The Bible states, “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:10). Similarly, the New Testament states, “I tell you, on the Day of Judgment, people will give account for every word they speak; for by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).

Islam, the youngest of the Abrahamic faiths, is perhaps the strongest in terms of the power and force with which it emphasizes accountability after death. A single Qur’anic verse, in succinct yet stirring words, captures the inevitability of death, the moral responsibility life demands of us, the accountability awaiting us in the next life, the reality of Heaven and Hell and how easily we are deluded by the world into discounting what we will encounter after death. We read, “Every soul will taste death and you will be given your recompense in full on the Day of Resurrection. Therefore, one distanced from Hell and entered into Paradise has triumphed; and what is the life of this world except a deceptive enjoyment” (3:185).”

Excerpted from Imam Zaid Shakir’s introduction to Shaykh Abdullah Ali’s important new book, “Tears of the Yearners.” The book is available at the following website: http://www.lamppostproductions.com/tears-of-the-yearners-s…

Categories: Muslim blogs

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Ummah Films - Wed, 29/07/2015 - 22:15
Categories: Muslim blogs

Black Lives Matter

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Fri, 24/07/2015 - 21:05


My maternal grandfather is a Whitaker from Harris County, Georgia. His grandfather, who went by the name of Rich Eubanks (my grandfather, Richmond Whitaker, was named after him) was a slave, sold to an owner in Harris County from somewhere in Virginia. My maternal grandmother is a Spence. Her grandfather, Will Spence, was a slave also. Unfortunately, we have not been able to trace my father’s lineage, yet.

I mention this little bit of family history to remind my brothers and sisters who have migrated to this country voluntarily, or are descendants of voluntary migrants that some of us are the descendants of slaves, people who were brought here involuntarily, and whose lives were shaped by a vicious system of race-based suppression birthed by the idea of white supremacy. This is a reality unique to African Americans.

What was the operative slogan that characterized that system? To make it brutally plain, “We got to keep these niggers in their place!” An African slave who did not stay in his or her place was dubbed an “uppity” nigger, and he or she was put back in place by being beaten, raped, or killed; in most instances to serve as an example to the other slaves.

We would like to think that this system has died and is a thing of the past, however, when we witness situations that remind us of its continued existence, we are reminded of just how much work is yet to be done in our society. The arrest of Sandra Bland is one such situation. Bland was an “uppity nigger” and the arresting officer was determined to put her in her place even if meant, in his words, “lighting her up.” Now Bland is dead. The reason, as I see it, for not staying in her place.

Whether her death was a homicide or a suicide is irrelevant. It was a direct result of her unwarranted, brutal arrest. As long as this sort of event is a regular occurrence in this country, the “Black Lives Matter” movement will be relevant. As long as the vestiges of a system that was predicated on dehumanizing black folks in this country are present, the “Black Lives Matter” movement will be relevant and it will only be supplanted by “All Lives Matter” when the ratios of stops, frisks, incarceration, police shootings, spending on school districts, access to higher education, liquor stores per square mile, etc. are the same for all demographic groups in this country. May God grant us all the strength, wisdom and courage needed to hasten the advent of that day.

Categories: Muslim blogs

On The Passing of Shaykh Shukri Lahafi

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sun, 19/07/2015 - 07:18

The Muslim world has lost one of its giants with the passing of Shaykh Shukri Lahafi. Despite his stature, it is likely that anyone reading these words who is not from Syria has ever heard of Shaykh Shukri. Before I arrived in Syria, in 1994, to begin my studies there, I too did not know who he was.

Upon arriving in Damascus, Shaykh Shukri was one of the first scholars I met. Our most generous host, Abu Munir Sha’ar, had arranged callighaphy lessons with the Shaykh. A motley gang of Americans made our way through the streets of Damascus to the Shaykh’s apartment for an introduction. Upon arriving at the building housing the Shaykh’s home, we descended down a tight stairwell into a dimly lit, cramped basement apartment. This was the Shaykh’s humble abode.

Only Musa Furber proved to be a consistent student of the Shaykh. I had become involved with other pursuits, although I would visit from time to time. I would also see the Shaykh at every public dhikr and the accompanying lessons that I was able to attend. The Shaykh had a very distinct way of arriving at the various masjids where the Dhikrs would occur. Specifically, on a rugged, Chinese-made black bicycle. He usually had a couple of children on the crossbar and two or three more on the makeshift backseat.

As the attendees filtered into the venue, Shaykh Shukri, with the hint of a smile teasing his lips, would serve water. He was the waterman. This beautiful practice, like his home, like everything about him, spoke volumes about his humility. What exactly is humility? Some define it as assuming a station lower than that one could rightfully claim. By this definition, Shaykh Shukri was truly humble. Why? Because he could claim being a leading scholar in Damascus. He could claim that he was a renowned callighapher. He could claim being a master of the ten canonical readings of the Qur’an. We could add to the list of the things he could rightfully claim, however, he renounced all claims. He was the waterman.

When the great master, Shaykh Abdur Rahman Shaghuri, became too ill to continue commenting on the various texts read at the public dhikrs, that task fell upon my teacher, Shaykh Mustafa Turmani. One day Shaykh Mustafa was unable to make it to the dhikr, and hence, the lesson. The attendees, knowing Shaykh Shukri’s scholarly attainment, asked him to comment on the text. The Shaykh read the text, verbatim, not adding a single word of his own commentary, and then quietly closed the book. His respectful reverence, despite his qualifications, would not allow him to speak in the place of Shaykh Mustafa.

Upon the passing of Shaykh Mustafa, the leadership of the Shadhuli Tariqa in Damascus was assumed Shaykh Shukri. Now, a last, he spoke, and he guided the faithful with wisdom, courage and vision from that time until his demise yesterday.

I write these words with tears welling in my eyes as I remember this humble servant and as I reflect on how blessed I am to have had the honor of sitting in his home, eating his food, been served by his hand, listening to his silence, and benefiting from his state as well as his very parsimonious speech. May Allah grant him the highest ranks of Paradise and may He bless us to elevate ourselves to begin to carry even a small fraction of the load Shaykh Shukri has entrusted to us.

“There is no one who humbles himself for Allah’s sake, except Allah elevates him.” Prophetic Hadith

Shaykh Shukri serving water: http://youtu.be/eMIiajtGB68

Categories: Muslim blogs

On Rebuilding Churches Burned By Terrorists

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Thu, 16/07/2015 - 17:03

If we ask a simple, straightforward question concerning the initiative launched by Faatimah Knight to help rebuild the eight black churches that were either partially or totally destroyed by fire in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Clementa Pinkney, and the murder of eight of his fellow congregants in Charleston, South Carolina, last month, the answer is quite clear. That simple question is: Is it permissible for Muslims to contribute towards building a church? The answer to that question is unambiguous. No, it is not permissible to make such a contribution.

If, however, the question becomes more involved by asking: Is it permissible for Muslims to contribute towards rebuilding a destroyed church belonging to a historically persecuted ethnic minority, the answer, for reasons beyond the scope of this post becomes more involved. If the question becomes more involved by asking: Is it permissible for Muslims to contribute towards rebuilding a destroyed church, belonging to a historically persecuted ethnic minority, which was destroyed by terrorists whose ire is being systematically directed towards Muslims (witness the recent events on Phoenix, Arizona), the answer becomes much more involved.

Finally, if we were to ask: Is it permissible for Muslims to contribute towards the rebuilding of the non-sanctuary of a destroyed church, those parts such as the annex, kitchen, youth center, etc. that are frequently used by Muslims, even to host worship services, along with the caveats mentioned above, the answer would become even more involved, with most scholars, I believe, inclining towards saying that it is permissible. This latter position is one I personally view as proper, for a number of reasons that will be mentioned after Eiid, Insha Allah.

If you agree with this position, and you are certainly free to vehemently reject it, then let us help Faatimah reach her goal of $100,000 to help rebuild those churches on this the last day of her Launch Good campaign. Follow this link and help us make a powerful statement to other members of our community.


Launchgood: https://www.launchgood.com/project/respond_with_love_rebuild_black_churches_support_victims_of_arson_across_the_south

Categories: Muslim blogs

Battling the Banks: Syriza and the Search for a New Europe

The Platform - Mon, 13/07/2015 - 20:34

Dr Louis Bayman interviews Dr Marina Prentoulis on Greece, Syriza and the unprecedented negotiations that have shaken the Eurozone

 

On the 25 January 2015, Syriza, a Greek party whose name stands for ‘Coalition of the Radical Left’, shocked the Greek political establishment by being the first far-left European party to come to power in a generation. The party beat the governing centre-right New Democracy and confined the centre-left Pasok party to a near wipe-out. Barely more than a decade old, Syriza’s success was based on promising a steadfast opposition to austerity, upon which the institutions of the ‘troika’ insist: the European Union, International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, who together fund Greece’s bailout terms.

In what has become an unprecedented test of national sovereignty within the EU, Syriza have been in negotiation with the former ever since forming a government to try and secure concessions that the institutions broadly refuse. On July 5, Alexis Tsipras, the charismatic Syriza leader of the Greek government, took the nation into a referendum on the latest EU conditions, in which the Greek people rejected the conditions by 61%.

In the week since, Tsipras has accepted the very measures that he campaigned against. This morning, he conceded to tough conditions which were soon met with claims that the punishment for Greece is set to continue. The agreement came following a night of marathon negotiations that included the unusual threat of ‘Grexit’, or forcing Greece to ‘temporarily exit’ Europe. The concluded deal keeps Greece within the Eurozone, although on compromised terms.

In an interview conducted prior to the final agreement, we spoke to Dr Marina Prentoulis, Syriza member and Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of East Anglia, to find out the background to the crisis.

Dr Marina Prentoulis

What did the Greek people say ‘No’ to in the recent referendum?

It is a no to austerity. It is not a no to staying in the Eurozone. The Eurozone has imposed cuts as much as possible from people who already have nothing. Its austerity measures do not attack the rich but those on middle and lower incomes and pensioners. Unemployment is at 27% overall and 60% amongst young people; there is a generation that has studied and has no future. If they do find work, it is slavery at 200 Euros a month for a 50 hour week. Pensioners have to provide for unemployed people while having their pensions cut. There is no growth, no jobs, and there have been 10,000 suicides in recent years. It is a war – a huge catastrophe.

Austerity may hurt, but surely it’s only fair to pay what you owe?

Without restructuring and debt relief, the debt will grow more, to 200% of our economy. It’s a myth that we caused the Eurozone crisis by overspending. Greece is 2% of the European economy. Even if all Greeks had been partying for five years with champagne and caviar, we could not have created this crisis. There are big, structural problems there and 92% of the money borrowed just goes back to the banking system as recapitalisation – taxpayers are giving money to banks that took huge risks and are still unregulated, increasing the wealth of a very small number of people. We say screw you; there should be a system which is for the people and provides for them. The gap between rich and poor is increasing; 5% own 95% of the wealth of the planet.

That’s a world problem.

Yes, it is happening in Britain too. Why should people die for the banks?

Syriza is often described as radical. What is stopping it from taking steps like nationalising banks, defaulting on the debts, or even exiting the EU?

Everybody is disappointed that we are trapped between the demand to stop austerity and the demand to stay in the Eurozone. I do not necessarily think that an exit will be a disaster but we do have to prepare it. It would be very anarchic to do it right now, but given how the negotiations go we should start to think about how to manage it. It will be chaos. But there is already chaos in Greece.

Why haven’t negotiations worked?

The EU institutions will not compromise. The Greek government had a clear mandate to go and negotiate change. It seems like the institutions would like to get rid of the less strong countries to create a closer core.

I believe Syriza is the real European force for change. We are not Eurosceptics. A lot of people say we are naïve in wanting to change a neoliberal, market driven Eurozone. But we see ourselves as part of Europe and would like to stay as part of Europe, with guarantees of democracy and solidarity above the nation state. I think the EU as a whole will fail if they don’t address these problems.

Do you mean fail economically, or politically?

Both, and not only in Greece. Right wing Euroscepticism is increasing in France and the UK, in Spain there is a generation now lost to unemployment. The EU could become more democratic, guaranteeing resistance against national abuses of power and against the effects of globalisation, but if it doesn’t then I don’t see any purpose to it.

How is Syriza a new, or different, kind of party?

It was formed in 2004 as an electoral coalition between different left organisations. It was very small, but progressively, after the crisis, it started gaining electoral power, alongside power in the streets; in 2011 the movement of the Squares demanded change, and Syriza was part of this movement, unlike other left parties, like the Communists, who treated the protestors in a patronising way. We have a lot of comrades who have been in movements all their lives, so that is how we gained power.

Syriza has supplanted Pasok, which was the main centre left party but didn’t oppose austerity. What is the danger of this happening to Syriza?

There is always a danger. Pasok came to power in 1981 as a grassroots movement for change. But in the process of trying to change the system, the system changed them, and this is what we call ‘Pasokification’. The only way to avoid this danger is to have very strong grassroots organisations, which we don’t have right now because of the efforts put into getting elected and now the negotiations. Stronger local groups could push the leaders and not allow them to become too comfortable.

How specific is Syriza to Greece?

It is specific to Greece, because of the left traditions we have. Podemos in Spain has similar aims but does not identify specifically as the left, but as an expression of the movements. Syriza does contain lessons that are relevant internationally though: the first is that the Old Left has died because it is totally unable to articulate anything other than dogma. So we move away from the traditional left and get closer to social movements. The question across Europe is: how do we connect parties to social movements?

How can people in Britain support the Greeks?

Learn more – don’t buy the media stories. And go on holiday to Greece! By going there you express solidarity, meet people and discuss the situation. Join the Greece Solidarity Campaign, which creates delegations to Greece and learns from the social networks there about how people provide food, doctors and social assistance for each other. The biggest thing is to take back control of our future, to demand a very different future, where people can go to university without huge debt, and can do things in life that they enjoy. This is what we want and we have to fight here in Britain for it as well.

Image from: http://www.neurope.eu/article/great-greek-offensive-oligarchs

Categories: Muslim blogs

A Question of History: Why Srebrenica?

The Platform - Sat, 11/07/2015 - 13:30

How we select, organise and interpret historical details affects our progression both as individuals and as a society

 

Earlier this week I attended “Mothers of Srebrenica”,  one of hundreds of Srebrenica Memorial Week events taking place in the UK to mark the 20th anniversary of the Bosnia genocide in 1995.

The Bosnian genocide is the greatest atrocity to take place on European soil since the Second World War. Yet despite the enormity of what occurred, it is quite a poorly understood and under-appreciated episode in European history, and it shows how the reasons why we emphasise certain periods of history are intimately linked with our outlook on the present.

In a tiny Central London building, a crammed group of British Muslims, Jews, Christians and those of no faith listened attentively to four mothers from Bosnia, who told us with utmost dignity and yet vividly fresh pain, the horrors they witnessed during the 1992-1995 conflict.

On 11 July 1995 the Bosnian Serb army marched into the town of Srebrenica and systematically murdered 8,372 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. Bodies were buried in mass graves. Later they were partially dug up and re-buried in secondary mass graves in attempts to hide the evidence. It is difficult to listen when a mother tells you that after several years of searching, forensic teams could only positively identify two bones of her teenage son, yet she was happy as she could finally give him a burial. It is difficult to listen to the fact that the youngest victim shot was 3.5 months old while the oldest victim was 106 years old. The list of cruelties inflicted by man on man during the conflict could fill hundreds of pages.

In the midst of all this pain, I find myself asking a question of history: Why are we remembering Srebrenica and no other tragic past genocides? Rwanda’s Tutsi and Hutu conflict, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, Iraq’s Halabja or other misguided endeavours of the 20th century. What is the purpose of remembering these painful episodes of history again, and what is ‘history’ anyway? The most common answer as to why we remember such atrocious historic events is to prevent them from happening again. “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it,” as Edmund Burke said.

The Holocaust is the most widely cited account of such violence, and its memory has been embedded for most of us through countless history lessons at school, TV programmes and Holocaust memorial days. We, as a human race, have recognised the damaging effects of the inter-ethnic or inter-religious hatred that leads to genocides, and are choosing to heavily recount periods in our history such as the Holocaust that – if fully appreciated – would prevent their re-occurrence. This conscious choice has involved a value judgement that proverbially says “this event is worth remembering in detail” compared to others.  But who makes this value judgement, and why does it result in other periods of history receiving relatively less attention, even though they may carry an equal amount of value to society?

The historian plays a pivotal role and his primary weapon is the selection of facts. It is no secret that some historical facts are given more weight than others. Any news journalist reporting a story will know that by picking and omitting which facts to include in a report, he or she can alter the emphasis given to various elements of the story. Similarly the historian uses facts, but he may choose how to record them. History is not just the collection of facts – it is how we select, sort, organise and ultimately interpret them. Thus, perhaps a more mature definition of history acknowledges the inherently subjective role of the historian. “God cannot alter the past, though historians can,” claims Victorian author Samuel Butler, and Winston Churchill once famously remarked, “History is written by the victors.”

One of the key factors driving historians to assign value to specific events is the current social or political climate, as shaped by public discourse. For the Holocaust, post-1945, the attempted extermination of Jews was such a real threat that it has formed a core part of Jewish identity since then, as shown by numerous surveys, and has drawn real interest from wider society. Like the Holocaust, the Srebrenica genocide is also a period of history we have consciously chosen to highlight, but unlike the Holocaust, it has only recently entered the memory of wider society. It took the European Union until 2009 to formally designate 11 July as Srebrenica Memorial Day. Yet many people today will still shrug at you with a confused look when Srebrenica is mentioned.

Increasing xenophobia and religious intolerance across Europe and the world today may have contributed to this gain in momentum. Perhaps, also, an appreciation of the ‘right’ type of multiculturalism to achieve a harmonious European society in the 21st century has been a factor. Sometimes, too, whoever is shouting about it the loudest will be heard. As E. H. Carr suggests in his book, What is History?, history is “a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the past and the present.” Therefore, it is not just a list of facts about the past recorded in text books, but, rather, an active process that inextricably links our past with the challenges we face today.

When we read or listen about an episode of history – as I did very emotionally this week – we are all momentarily historians, uniting in our minds that imaginary spectrum between the present and the past, and searching for solutions to our current problems. I’ve certainly gained a better understanding of the world today from learning about Srebrenica. We must question what other events of the past we are choosing to remember and why. It may tell us more about ourselves and our outlook on the present, than about the past itself.

Image from: http://blogs.ft.com/photo-diary/2014/07/potcari-memorial-srebrenica/

Categories: Muslim blogs

Manos Sucias and the Language of Dehumanisation

The Platform - Sat, 11/07/2015 - 00:56

Manos Sucias offers a refreshingly authentic perspective on race and poverty in the Colombian drugs trade

 

Manos Sucias charts the adventures of two previously estranged Afro-Colombian brothers as they make their way across the Pacific to transport drugs. The premise is simple enough, but there is more to the narrative than meets the eye.

The film places its glaring emphasis on the racism running rife in Colombia, which is unsurprising considering it is a directorial debut by Spike Lee’s protégé: Josef Wladyka. Lee, who produces the film, is known for his stridently honest portrayals of race in America with films such as Malcolm X and Do the Right Thing, so it’s no surprise that he’s thrown his weight behind this project.

The film is set and shot in the Colombian port city of Buenaventura, where poverty, high unemployment and crime intermingle. Delio is a 19-year-old man whose restlessness draws him away from the humdrum of the city and into the arms of local drug traffickers. His older brother, Jacabo, is the chalk to Delio’s cheese: a conservative, tight-lipped fisherman whose past is enshrouded by emotional trauma. When they meet after years of separation, both are seeking escape for very different reasons.

The plot seems somewhat predictable and undercooked as we witness the various obstacles facing Jacabo and Delio. An emotionally fraught relationship, hashed out on a boat off the Pacific, provides a turbulent and slightly clichéd background to most of Manos Sucias. There is no doubt that this was well performed by lead actors Cristian James Abvincula and Jarlin Javier Martinez. However, to focus on this aspect alone is to negate the film’s most pertinent truths.

These truths manifest themselves through the racialised language of the film, in which Wladyka successfully depicts the power structures at play on the ground. High-level traffickers are portrayed as Caucasian Colombians, while the residents of Buenaventura are impoverished Afro-Colombians. The tone is set by the opening exchanges between Jacabo and an unknown drug lord, who addresses him as “blacky.” References are made to the capital of Colombia, Bogotá, but only to state the fact that “there are no black people in Bogotá”.

Dehumanising language is cleverly littered throughout the dialogue, which underlines the crossroads where verbal and physical violence meet. The most shocking of these episodes occurs when one of the gang’s drug enforcers (Hadder Blandon) engages in a remorselessly foul, racist tirade while accompanying the two brothers. What starts as a jovial conversation about the best footballer in South America ends in verbal platitudes that leave Delio incensed, and Jacabo darting a glance at his younger sibling to calm him down.

Wladkya demonstrates a refreshingly conscious understanding of racial distinctions in Colombia and South America as a whole. Mainstream directors often render race as invisible in their representations of worlds that have apparently been set in the 21st-century. As a result, they fall into depicting societies devoid of the auspices of white supremacy. Manos Sucias treads a very different path by presenting a world where class and race intersect.

“Dirty Hands,” the translation of the film’s Spanish title, highlights the very real truth of the ways in which drug trafficking is habitually racialised. The poorest are inevitably the ones desperate enough to undertake dangerous voyages to transport drugs, and they are often the darkest in skin colour in this context. What Manos Sucias may lack in seamless oeuvre, it more than makes up for in its subtly provocative message.

Manos Sucias screened at the East End Film Festival on 9 July 2015. We are partnering with Mydylarama to bring you broader coverage of select film festivals.

Photo Credits: East End Film Festival

Categories: Muslim blogs

How Faith Must Battle Climate Change

The Platform - Sat, 11/07/2015 - 00:03

We must move beyond painfully slow negotiations on climate change and use faith as an inspiration to make immediate changes

 

The release of the landmark encyclical by Pope Francis last month highlighted an issue that until now many faith leaders have largely been silent about – that of climate change. This year in particular has seen a specific movement around climate issues, as world leaders are expected to meet in Paris in December to commit to a deal to address dangerously rising temperatures.

Negotiations have already started taking place, including in the recent UNFCCC in Bonn, Germany, which I had the good fortune of attending on behalf of MADE, along with the UK Youth Climate Coalition. What struck me the most in my visit, however, was the sheer slowness of the negotiations. Meanwhile, speaking to experts and activists, they commented on how delighted they were that, “these are the fastest negotiations I’ve seen in 26 years!” This, of course, raises questions about the bureaucracy of such conferences and whether political discourse can keep up with the rate of damage to the planet.

What’s more, it was striking to see the lack of diversity and representation of UK delegates attending the Bonn conference, particularly Muslim representation – in fact there was just myself and one other. This, in turn, made me question: Why are Muslims and people of other faiths not more involved in these crucial discussions?

In his speech, Pope Francis quoted one of his predecessors, Pope Benedict, who stated: “….creation is harmed ‘where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognise any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.’”

This statement should undoubtedly resonate with the Muslim community well, as God (glory and praise be to Him) has told us numerous times about our responsibility as stewards of the earth – to maintain and look after it, not to exploit it. God reveals in the Qur’an (30:41): “Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to righteousness].”

Islam puts forward a clear moral and religious obligation towards the natural environment demonstrating that it is part and parcel of who we are. Yet the majority of Muslims, as with other communities, have readily bought into the consumerist, capitalist culture which is so heavily contributing to climate change. The constant need to have the latest item, the overconsumption of resources, and the wastage of food and energy has led to a whole host of environmental problems.

Consider how the main sources of our energy – coal, oil and gas – are extracted.  A site needs to be located for extraction, most likely a natural site on land or sea that has not been touched before. The extractions not only cause problems for local residents and habitats, but massive trucks and heavy machinery cause severe land stress. If drilling occurs at sea, there is likely to be an oil disaster. Oil spills have occurred on many occasions leading to huge environmental damage, killing thousands of land and water animals, and affecting communities for decades to come.

Large amounts of CO2 are being churned out as fossil fuels are burnt, adding to the greenhouse gases warming up our atmosphere. We have already seen a temperature rise of 0.80C which has caused more frequent and intense natural disasters than at any other time before, such as droughts in Africa, landslides in China, flooding in Bangladesh, and just last month, heatwaves in Pakistan killing over 1,000 and leaving approximately 14,000 people hospitalised and treated. Imagine, then, what a devastating impact an increase of 80, 40 (as most are predicting), or even just 20, will have on our people and our planet?

A recently published, groundbreaking Lancet Report stressed the severity of climate change on human health and how it will lead to countless deaths. This is particularly the case in countries of the Global South, where the poorest will be the most hard hit, despite contributing the least to climate change in the first place.

All faith traditions emphasise, in some way, our duty towards the environment. While politicians and economists debate political and economic standpoints, we simply do not have time to wait. As Pope Francis’s encyclical explained, it is up to us as people of faith, to make the moral argument that, regardless of politics or economics, we have a responsibility and a duty towards each other, towards our Creator and towards future generations to take action on climate change now.

Last month, MADE, along with its partners at the newly formed Muslim Climate Action, attended the Speak Up Lobby, where thousands of people lobbied their MPs around climate change in the first Prime Minister’s Question Time since the election in May.

We are at a crucial point now where the effects of climate change can still be recoverable – but only if we all become active and engaged. If all individuals make a conscious decision to change their daily life, the shift could be huge. Regardless of the consequences, as people of faith, we must believe that God will hold us each to account for what we have personally done and we must battle, if only for the sake of our souls.

Photo Credits: Taskima Ferdous

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Center: Cult Appeal and Redemption

The Platform - Sun, 05/07/2015 - 20:54

Belonging, dependence and redemption in 72 minutes at the East End Film Festival

 

My sociology lecturer once told me, after I had finished a class presentation, how I would be an excellent cult leader. He said that I was brilliantly charismatic and had this skill of making people believe what I was saying, despite the very fact that everything that left my mouth was utter, and I quote him here, “BULLS**T!” After Watching Charlie Griak’s The Center, what I originally took as a backhanded compliment, I found to be damn right insulting.

The film follows new college graduate, Ryan Marek (Matt Cici), as he tries to struggle through his existential crisis. In his endeavours, he unwittingly stumbles into a cult-like organisation led by the captivating leader Vincent Alexander (Judd Einen). What he thought offered him hope and purpose, he soon realises, in actuality, preys on the weak.

With Silence of the Lambs’ director Jonathan Demme taking on the role of executive producer for this film, I was expecting the conventional movie about cults with satanic beliefs, fire-rituals and naked women proclaiming themselves to the pagan-gods as they feast on their children’s flesh. In fact, I was counting on it, and it was one of the main reasons why I wanted to watch The Center. That was not what I got, and I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised.

With a film that is merely 72 minutes long, I was apprehensive about the storytelling of The Center. However, it is testament to the true artistry of Griak that there was nothing to worry about considering the admirable editing the film appears to have undergone. It is brilliantly shot and not a single frame can be deemed irrelevant. What Griak essentially did was cut the fat out of the film and leave us with a product that has a chillingly real insight as to how an individual can find themselves in a cult-like situation, without fully having realised their journey.

The film illustrates how these types of cult groups make individuals feel a sense of grandeur, not just a sense of purpose, and plant the idea that they are people to envy. I would go so far as to say The Center is extremely relevant in today’s society where, on every news channel, we are fed the barbarism of ISIS, an organisation that offers young men something seemingly worth fighting for. One cannot help but wonder how these men, often teenagers brought up in England and North America, can be led to carry out such heinous acts. This movie is a perfect depiction of that, albeit at a far less extreme measure. The Center demonstrates the brainwashing process, the forced dependence on the organisation, the slow but sure infusing of the idea that the philosophy they live by, the one they are determined to spread, is far superior to all others. In reality, they are hunters, feeding their own egoism by targeting the weak.

What’s most important about this film, though, is that our hero does manage to see the error of his ways, and we are offered a resolution. A resolution that could have been more satisfying. I found myself skipping forward a good few minutes to see if there was an after credit scene to offer a more pleasing ending. Alas, there was none, and so I watched the last scene at least three more times to force myself to be content with it. It worked to an extent.

The Center has now been shown at multiple festivals with great success and many screenings have been sold out. It will be premiering in the UK at the East End Film Festival on 6th July 2015 at 6.30pm at Genesis Cinema.

Will you like the film? I honestly couldn’t say. I imagine it to be rather polarising.

Did I like it? That’s debateable, and I could be deemed an “uncultured swine” because I still wanted to see more blood.

Can I appreciate it as a beautiful piece of art? Absolutely. Griak, who not only directed, but wrote and edited the film, clearly poured his heart and soul into this – and it’s obvious. What could possibly make a piece of art more enamouring than being able to see the artist’s pulse running through it?

The Center will be premiering in the UK at the East End Film Festival on 6 July 2015 at 6.30pm at Genesis Cinema. We are partnering with Mydylarama to bring you broader coverage of select film festivals.

Photo Credits: East End Film Festival

Categories: Muslim blogs

Aboriginal Australia: Enduring Histories, Enduring Civilisations

The Platform - Tue, 30/06/2015 - 01:43

British Museum exhibition maps out the past of the Aboriginal people offering a glimpse into the history and future of Australia’s earliest inhabitants

 

There has been much research into the indigenous populations of Australia, especially of the mainland. The consensus is that the Aboriginal people are the descendants of one of the first waves of human migration out of Africa, and that after exploring Asia they eventually settled in Australia. Their relative isolation from other peoples since that time has resulted in a completely unique culture and way of life.

The British Museum’s Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation is the first exhibition of its kind in the UK. The result of a collaboration between the British Museum and the National Museum of Australia, the exhibition explores the fascinating history of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders through a collection of objects, some of which were collected as far back as 1770, when the first white colonisers arrived on the continent.

The exhibit loosely follows a mixture of themes and historical events and begins with the idea of country. This seems entirely appropriate as the whole philosophy and way of life of both Aboriginal populations and those from the Torres Strait is anchored firmly in the land. Indigenous Australians have been settled in their ‘countries’ (used to denote the area/tribe one is from) for so long that they have formed a deep connection with their environment that informs every aspect of their lives.

This relationship is one of the overriding themes of the objects on display. Animals and natural objects like serpents, stones and sticks are used to represent people and events, and the stories of the Aboriginal dreamtime and Torres Strait Tagai that are expressed in the exhibition’s artwork are powered by the forces of nature and the elements. Knowledge of the natural world extends to the practical, as well as the philosophical and spiritual realms of indigenous Australian culture. Local materials were used ingeniously to create works of art, weapons, and everyday items like baskets and mats, and, as with the native Americans, it was indigenous people and their knowledge of the land that kept early colonisers alive.

As the exhibition progresses from a more Aboriginal ‘dreamtime’ organisation of artwork and artefacts towards a more chronicled exploration of the colonisation of Australia by Europe, we are reminded of the imposition of a supposedly ‘ordered’ European standard upon indigenous cultures in Australia. Memoirs, illustrations and other documents on display do show that not all interaction between white settlers and the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders was negative, and that there were some who were not unfriendly towards the ‘natives’. However, the overwhelming sense is one of sadness at the oppression they experienced and of admiration of their attempts to fight that oppression. Colonisation brought much misery. Foreign diseases like smallpox and tuberculosis wiped out whole tribes, whole swathes of land were forcibly taken, and resistance was met with violence and brutality. The beginnings of Aboriginal activism date back as early as this period. While some took up armed resistance, there were many who sought peaceful ways of opposing encroachment onto their lands and way of life.

One of the most touching objects in the exhibition is a beautifully crafted emu skirt, which was sent by Aborigines in Victoria to the Princess of Wales in 1863 as a marriage gift. This was a tactical move by the Victoria community, who, among other Aboriginal groups, were using gifts and petitions to gain favour from influential outsiders in a bid to protect their land rights. The hope and good intention that must have guided the giving of this gift, and the labour and time that would have gone into fashioning it, is truly heartbreaking in light of the cruelty with which these peaceful appeals for cooperation were met.

As with many indigenous populations, the struggle of Australia’s original inhabitants is ongoing and the effects of colonisation on indigenous communities are still evident. As the exhibition details, the policy of forcible removal of Aboriginal children of mixed race from their families, which began in 1909, was only abolished in 1969 and Aboriginal groups are still embroiled in battles for land rights.

This British Museum exhibition provides a rare opportunity for those in the UK to explore the unique culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait island communities, the challenges they have faced, and the endurance that they have shown in the face of these struggles.  While the exhibition will not provide a comprehensive understanding of indigenous culture and history, it does offer  a fascinating insight into the complex and varied cultures of native Australia, the history of its people, and the attempts of contemporary indigenous communities to revive their culture and religion.

The BP exhibition Indigenous Australia: Enduring civilisation continues until 2 August 2015. 

Photo Credits: Bark painting of a barramundi. Western Arnhem Land, about 1961© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Ramadan Spirit Can Heal Our Fractured World

The Platform - Fri, 19/06/2015 - 17:52

In a world increasingly troubled by greed and intolerance, the deep spiritual training of Ramadan can offer healing 

 

In this year’s month of Ramadan, which is only a few days away, Muslims in the northern hemisphere will have very long days of fasting. In London it is expected to be around 19 hours of voluntary ‘starvation’ from food, drink and physical intimacy. This annual month-long fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam aimed to create ‘God-consciousness’ (taqwa in Arabic) among believers.

Taqwa has a deeper meaning of incessant introspection of one’s inner thoughts and behaviours; that is, to always be on the religious ‘middle way’ and social ‘centre-ground’, away from extremism in all aspects. This 24/7 soul-searching has the potential to guide and propel believers towards living a morally upright life and developing key inner qualities, such as integrity and self-discipline as well as good manners. It has the ability to shape their lives and transform their character towards one with a positive drive for action, for the good of all.

Behind the disciplining of natural thirst, hunger and base desires, fasting prepares believers to contemplate the mystery of our life – our fleeting existence on earth, connection with God, relationships with fellow human beings and obligation to the well-being of our environment. This has a direct impact on our behaviour – humility, patience, fortitude, care and love. Ramadan teaches Muslims the ethos of sharing and caring, extra generosity, respect and giving preference to fellow human beings; these are the values that are greatly needed now, more than ever, in our unequal society and fractured world.

The physically challenging and spiritually intense fasting from dawn to dusk is thus a divine gift to Muslims so they can become harbingers of good to all mankind.

The question is how real is this now?

When it comes to the public expression of religious rituals, Muslims are one of the strongest among faith communities. Whether practicing or cultural, they have a special affinity for fasting during Ramadan; many thoroughly transform their attitude, behaviour and lifestyle for a whole month, in accordance to a Prophetic tradition that says ‘Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving food and drink.’

Ramadan also harvests a unique festivity in Muslim life. Many multiply their charity giving during Ramadan (British Muslims are known as the top charity givers). Recitation and memorisation of the Qur’an are commonplace and some strive to gain an understanding of the text and context.

Being true to Islam means being a good citizen and human being. In fact, the essence of Muslim morality is to be good to others, without being judgemental. It demands from them positive and ethical action, a unilateral undertaking to create a better society.

While other Islamic rituals are noticeable to people around, fasting is not; it represents a unique self-surrender to God. Fasting ‘burns out’ one’s desires and helps to conquer base instincts, such as self-gratification and arrogance. Apart from health and other benefits, it is the most effective way for one’s inner purification.

In the unprecedented commercialisation and sexualisation of our world today, it is easier to fatten our egos, nurture our greed, increase our impatience and succumb to intolerance and hatred of others. The easy accessibility of social media that shrinks the world can enslave us to ever-new technological gadgets. We have very little time to think, reflect and relax, still less time to spend with our near and dear ones – even the treasured children and beloved elders in our own families. We live fast-paced lives; we want to be in life’s fastest lane and beat others, yet we do not foresee the possibility of a potential crash.

Much of the modern way of life is eating away at our souls; we are involuntarily turning into human robots. We avoid discussing tough issues such as morality and ethics, lest we are seen as dogmatic or extremist by others. We have become too rights-based, but expect a higher level of responsibility from others – our elected representatives, governments, the police and public servants.

Fasting is thus an antidote to selfishness and the extreme materialism in our lives. It is a ‘shield against evil’ to survive and succeed in our highly asymmetric world. It reminds believers that real success is not just in our wealth, power and fame but in striving for a better world for all.

A society needs people who strongly feel a sense of duty to all people, a natural civic responsibility – not just for political and social unity but to address our human cravings for peace.

Every year Ramadan brings this unique opportunity to ‘train’ Muslims to find their inner selves, recharge their energy, revitalise their lives and work for common good. Alas, many among them have big contradictions in real life.

In these turbulent days of materialism and individual self gratification, with religious extremism and secular-irreligious backlash in our public life, we need a spiritual regeneration to make our world safer and more humane.

Image from: http://riyadhconnect.com/fasting-day-in-ramadan-around-14-hours-in-saudi/

Categories: Muslim blogs

2014 Year in Review

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

The following is a list of top 30 articles that were found to resonate most strongly with our readers this past year. It covers a full range of struggles and joys we have faced as a community and regularly bridges orthodox and contemporary Islamic knowledge. Articles covered Glimpses of Marital Bliss, inspired us about the Names of Allah, spoke to the unique struggles of our Black and Hispanic brothers and sisters, and stood up against the siege in Gaza. They discussed the role of women preachers, American holidays, how to overcome addictions and more. See the full list below.

There were many articles of significant impact that are not on the list for brevity’s sake. What was your favorite? Leave a comment to let us know!

 

IN THE MEDIA Your Facebook Posts, and why The Evil Eye is Real by Ubah

On social media, we are increasingly putting ourselves out there in ways that may promote envious feelings in others. Is it 100% our fault? Of course not. But here are a few important things to keep in mind.

Films Today – and How the Muslims Killed Dracula by Shibli Zaman

We often bemoan the negative portrayal of Muslims in film and television, including a recent movie that gets the story of Dracula wrong. But who is to blame when we have absolutely no presence in popular media?

An Imam’s Review of the Movie Noah by John (Yahya) Ederer

Potential benefits in watching this movie – and why it would be hugely advantageous to Islam and the Muslims if we made high-quality, well-funded, scripturally proper, and well-acted depictions of the prophets and our great history. Also see: Top Documentaries you Should Watch by Junaid Amjad

Know Thyself: Opinion on Hajj Selfies by Suhaib Webb

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

 

WOMEN Female Scholars and Preachers in Islam by John (Yahya) Ederer

The beauty of Islam among religions is in its universality, its compatibility with science, and its versatile legal tradition which remains relevant across times and cultures. Here’s why the majority of our scholars throughout history have said that there’s nothing wrong with listening to a woman’s speech unless it is flirtatious or provocative.

10 Ways to be a Single and Content Muslimah by Ubah

Tip #2: Let Go of Entitlement. Remember that you are not owed a relationship. Just like the air you breathe or your eyesight and hearing, a decent and compatible spouse is a blessing from Allah (swt).

Is it Allowed for Women to Teach Mixed Gatherings? by John (Yahya) Ederer

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

 

CULTURE, CUSTOMS, & FIQH Man’s Best Friend?: The Islamic View on Dogs by John (Yahya) Ederer

Reverts may have had a special relationship with their dogs growing up, or still do at the time of reversion. Sadly, the attitude of many Muslims towards dogs often alienates people from Islam. A closer examination of the issue debunks common misunderstandings.

American Customs – What is Permissible? by John (Yahya) Ederer

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

Also see: Caught with My Foot in the Sink… Reasons to Be Proud of Wudu by Abdul Sattar Ahmed and Is the West Inherently Un-Islamic? by John Ederer

Can a Non-Muslim Person be in the Masjid? by Suhaib Webb

The stronger opinion on the issue of people of other faiths being refused entry into mosques is Abu Hanifa’s that this only applies for the Hajj and ‘Umra (meaning they are not allowed to make Hajj or Umra). Here’s why.

Is Saying Jummah Mubarak an Innovation? by Suhaib Webb

Custom is so important that it forms one of the five major axioms of Islamic law. Based on this important principle and the large number of general texts that encourage us to speak well and be gentle to others, it is a stretch to say that such a greeting in an innovation.

Can Muslims be Friends with Non-Muslims? by John (Yahya) Ederer

Qur’anic verses should not be mis-understood to prohibit us from making friends with our neighbors, co-workers, or schoolmates. On the topic of Muslim interactions with other faiths including Christians, see also: A Holiday Message from the Life of Omar by Shibli Zaman

 

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps for Overcoming Addictions or Sin by Reehab Ramadan

Remember the phrase “I am only the next 24 hours.” By the time the next 24 hours have been reached, hopefully our strength will have been regained, if not then we push ourselves a little further—24 more hours.

10 Things that Shouldn’t Happen Once you Become a More Practicing Muslim by Ubah

There a few key things that we must all guard against as a result of turning a new leaf or becoming a more practicing (or new) Muslim – such as becoming narrow minded, becoming isolated, or rebelling against family.

Beyond Romantic Love – Here’s What’s Missing by Reehab Ramadan

Beyond romantic or sexualized love, where’s the love that would allow me to go out of my way to buy my brother or sister in humanity a gift to bring a smile to his or her face during times of hardship?

How Two Words Changed this Man’s Life by Maryam Amirebrahimi

He had never prayed two rak`ah (units of prayer) in his adult life. Two words he heard at his first Friday prayer penetrated through his heart and embraced his soul. The true story of a man’s path back to Allah (swt).

 

QUR’AN & PRAYER Building Habits as Worship: A Year Spent Quantifying Devotion by Alex Arrick (Guest Author)

How to use free apps for the iPhone or Android such as LIFT to make a regular, daily habit for memorizing the Qur’an. Also see: Stay Focused by PRAYing by  by Marwa Abdalla

Is the Qur’an a Violent Text or is Your Reading a Tad Off? by Joe Bradford

A lack of context and qualifications lead to blatant misinterpretation. The shallow misinterpretations of religious and irreligious extremists almost always lead to one thing: the escalation of conflict and the promotion of violence, instead of leading to dialogue and mutual understanding.

Too Busy for Quran? Check these 3 Tips to Get Rolling by Mansoor Ahmed

Start off by making time after Fajr prayer or after `Isha’ (night) prayer, the two times you are most likely to be at home. Once it is a part of your lifestyle, it becomes easy to sustain. Remember, try a little by little, but with consistency!

 

OVERCOMING HARDSHIP Living with Depression and Islam by Anonymous (Guest Author)

Every morning I wake up and wish I hadn’t.  I want anyone suffering like me to know that there are others that are observant, struggling Muslims and that they feel the way you are feeling. Also see: How to Overcome Sadness and be Happy by Taheerah Alam

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

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

Think You’ve Failed? Think Again by Jinan Bistaki

Some people always bounce back, but others always seem to crash down. Research has shown that the difference is the ability to see that a closed door somewhere means, at the very least, an open window somewhere else.

 

CURRENT EVENTS Erdoğan, AKP and their victory in the Turkish Municipal Elections by Shibli Zaman

Erdoğan, the world is watching you; but that pales to the fact that, above all, the Lord of the Worlds is watching you even closer. You can be the greatest leader the Muslim world has seen since the Ottomans whom you repeatedly invoke, or you can fall just like them when they lost their way. Which end of their history you resemble is up to you.

 

KNOWING GOD, THE MOST MERCIFUL When was the Last Time you Witnessed a Miracle? Al-Hayyiy by Jinan Bistaki

Whenever making du`a’ (supplication), have hope. Remember that “Verily your Lord is Generous (Kareem) and Hayyiy. If His servant raises his hands to Him (in supplication) He becomes shy to return them empty,” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).

He has Your Back: Al-Wali by Jinan Bistaki

Allah is named Al-Wali, meaning the Protective Friend of all those who believe. It means that He has your back. He could have just been a ‘friend,’ but some friends are flaky. A protective friend will be there for you through hardship and bad times.

Does God Exist? by Salman Khan (Guest Author)

Every person must think for him/herself and find Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) in his/her own way. Don’t choose a life of unhappiness because you choose to be blind or perform our religion physically without spirituality.

Love is In Giving: Al Wadud by Jinan Bistaki

Allah is named Al-Wadud. When you are able to point out behavior that shows love, this kind of love is not called hubb in Arabic, because hubb is simply having a feeling of love. This kind of love – one that is apparent and shown – is called wud.

 

LOVE,  RELATIONSHIPS, & GENDER RELATIONS 10 Guidelines for Gender Relations in Islam by Muslema Purmul and Maryam Amirebrahimi

The code of inter-gender relations comes from a noble kind of love. It is generous in giving, while conscious of Allah. It is full of haya.’ Haya’ is sometimes described as ‘shyness’, but misunderstood to mean a desire to hide, to be nervous, overly self-conscious, and unable to communicate.

When you Marry for Four Reasons – Don’t Forget Your Reason by Karim Serageldin (Guest Author)

As a practicing psychologist, I was once consulted by a brother in Turkey in need of immediate relationship advice. In summary, the brother’s “emergency” was that he had met a nice religious girl from a good family but was not attracted to her at all. Here was my advice.

The Goodbye Hug by Maryam Amirebrahimi

Many of us only hear destructive marriage stories within the Muslim community. However, the reality is that there are so many incredible, beautiful, passionate, fulfilling and compassionate love stories in the Muslim community. Here’s one.  A number of the articles from “Glimpses of Marital Bliss” Series were also among the most-read this year. See also: A Love Letter, Will They Say Yes, and He Prayed instead of Fought

Categories: Muslim blogs

Ya Sabr Ayub

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

Photo: Tom Gill

I have been living in the Arab world now for almost 3 years. There are some really taxing things here, tiring and frustrating to say the least. But there are also some exciting and uplifting things that keep me going throughout the days. And then, there are the hidden gems. The things that can be overlooked without a second thought, yet if they are given a second thought, they require a third and a fourth thought for one to even begin to benefit from their beauty. It is those things that get me time and time again. It is those things that take my breath away and leave me thankful for being placed in the position that I am in, living in a place where I do not always fit in or feel at home. One of those hidden gems can be found in the phrases that are oft repeated, with little thought, on a daily basis. There are many that could be spoken about, like the wishing of “na’eeman” [lit. blessings] when a person takes a shower or cuts their hair. Like the prayer of “kulli sana wanti tayyiba” [“may every year find you well”] on any happy occasion that occurs yearly. But my favorite has to be one that carries behind it a great story of a great man whom I recently read about, and after reading his story in the tafseer [exegesis] of Ibn Ajeeba, the oft repeated phrase “Ya sabr Ayub” [“O patience of Job”] has never been the same again.

It would be best, before diving into the gem-filled story, to give some information on when this phrase, in the Arab culture, is used. It is used mainly in two situations: 1) When a person is going through something very taxing and is wishing for an intense amount of patience to be poured into them, as a prayer and 2) when a person witnesses someone being ever so patient and is impressed by their firmness upon this patience. Naturally, after hearing that, one would assume that this story is about to be really great and I assure you: it is. The key here, however, is that something very important is done while reading this story: don’t just read it as a work of fiction or non-fiction. Read it as if this story is about you. Read this story as if you have temporarily stepped out of your own shoes, and into those of this amazing man, Ayub, and try to actually feel what he must have been feeling. And with that, all that is left is for me to begin:

Ayub, `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), was a great man and Prophet of the Lord many years ago. He was blessed with many great gifts that surpassed what others around him had been given. He had money in amounts (and some say types!) that surpassed those that were around him. He was given great amounts of land as well as many animals to graze on this land, and these animals varied in types and were of very high quality. He was kind and giving to the poor, he used to care for the widows and the orphans, he would be generous with his guests and accept any traveler into his home. He did all of this as an act of gratitude to God for giving him so much. This is something very unique to note, as for when a person is given such great wealth and great gifts, Satan then tries very hard to get him to be greedy and ungrateful. Satan tries very hard to get the person with such wealth to belittle that which has been given to him, or to become arrogant and not spread the wealth to those who may be in need of it. Satan however, was unsuccessful at whispering into the heart of Ayub (as) with regards to all that he had been given.

It is said that Satan heard the angels in the heaven praising Ayub (as) for all that he had done and was doing. Upon hearing this, Satan felt a twinge of envy (hasad) towards the state of Ayub. Satan, being one who acts upon these twinges of envy immediately, went and pleaded to the Lord of the heavens about his state. He complained to God: “O my Lord, you have blessed your servant Ayub, so he had thanked you. You have removed from him any affliction so he has glorified you. You haven’t allowed any hardship to befall him, but if you did then surely he would be an ungrateful servant.” This was a plea from Satan, and at the same time he was taking a shot at the honor and actual piety of Ayub. He asked God to just give him the ability to afflict Ayub with some hardship, and he told God that He would see the gratefulness of Ayub dwindle away. God then allowed Satan to have control over the wealth of Ayub, and nothing else—allowing him to afflict Ayub. At this Satan was joyous. He called together his troops of jinn and told them the “great” news. One of his troops said that he had been given the power to send storms of fire upon anything, and if Satan gave him permission, he could burn all of the wealth of Ayub by burning his lands. Satan agreed, and sat back and watched his troops burn down the wealth of Ayub. Once this was all over, Satan came in the form of one of the service hands of Ayub, dramatically recalling all that happened to the wealth of this Prophet. Telling him that God had allowed for his wealth to be destroyed. Ayub (as), with complete grace and gratefulness, informed Satan in the form of man, that God was the original giver of this wealth, so God could do as he pleased with this wealth.

Satan now was hit, not only with pangs of envy but also, pangs of despair. He had been sure that had this man who was so blessed, had some of his blessings taken away, he would break. He would not be such a great servant. But Satan, unlike many of us humans, does not give up that easily. When he has a goal, he does everything he possibly can to get to that goal. He went back to his troops for a brainstorming session. One of his troops had another idea. He informed Satan that he had been given the ability to blow harsh winds that would kill any animal that heard this wind. Satan jumped on that idea and sent him to kill all of the living animals that were left on the burnt grounds of Ayub. After all of his glorious animals had been killed, Satan appeared to Ayub as a different man, again telling him of what happened. He informed Ayub that the Lord that he had been worshipping for so long had killed all of his animals. Again, Ayub (as) with pure patience and love for God, replied that God was the one who had given him the animals in the first place, so He could do as He pleased with them.

Satan was hit again with deeper despair, feeling that he was certainly losing his grip on the battle that he had been fighting. Satan returned to God, again with another plea. He argued that God had blessed Ayub with his own health and the health of his children (some say he had 10 children), and this is why Ayub was still holding on, gratefully. Satan assured that if this was removed then Ayub would not remain a grateful servant and that his gratefulness was not based on Love but of contentment with that which had been given. Satan then requested to be given the ability to take away the children of Ayub to prove his point. God granted him this permission. Satan returned to the home of Ayub, and destroyed the home of Ayub, killing all of his children. He then appeared to Ayub as the teacher of his children, limping, as if he too had been hurt in the destruction. He then recalled for Ayub the detailed deaths that his children had faced, making certain to put emphasis on the pain that they may have felt. Ayub was instantly struck with sadness for his children. He fell to the floor and began to pour dirt over his head. Satan rejoiced, finally he had made Ayub be ungrateful. But after an instant, Ayub (as) realized what he was doing and looked up to his Lord, asking for forgiveness and returning to his state of patience. God instantly forgave Him, as He is The All-Forgiving.

Satan was furious. He felt that he had finally won, that finally this man that seemed to be over flowing with patience and gratitude had finally cracked. And before he could even rejoice, Ayub (as) returned to His Lord and His repentance was accepted. His sin was erased. (Take note at the Mercy of God. Take note at the persistence of Satan). Satan went back to God, again despairing and willing to try anything. He told God that the only reason that Ayub was so thankful and so obedient was that he had the most important thing, his health. Satan pleaded with God to allow him to take that away, to prove once and for all that Ayub was not, in his essence, an obedient servant. God allowed him this, but this time with some very important conditions. God allowed him to have rule over his body and health, but he was unable to touch two things: His tongue and his heart.

Satan descended down to Ayub and found him in prostration. He blew through his nose a wind that touched his entire body. It caused him to itch, with no relief. He itched his entire body with his hands, then with tools. The tools were so rough they tore at his skin, but the itch was so strong that he could not stop. His wounds began to fester, to be infected, and to even attract bugs. All of the people in his community who loved him so much began to look down upon him, unable to stand to see his appearance nor smell the stench of infected wounds. They kicked him out, ignoring all the good that he had done for him before. Everyone left him. Everyone. Except for one person, his wife. She cared for him in the trash dump that he had been cast to. She took care of him, and was his companion as much as she could. After much time she began to plead with him to ask God for help. I mean why not, he was a prophet. He in turn asked her how long they had lived in wealth. Her reply was 8 years. He then followed up with asking how long he had lived in sickness; she informed him that it was seven. His reply was that he was too embarrassed to ask God to heal him, if the time of ease overcame the time of hardship.

Satan, in his final attempt, appeared to Ayub’s wife. He told her that he (Satan) was the Lord of the world and that the reason why her husband, Ayub, had been afflicted for so long, was that he turned away from the lord of the earth and looked only towards the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth. He told her that if Ayub were to “simply” make one prostration to Satan, then he could be restored to health and wealth. Ayub’s wife returned to her husband and told him what had happened. Ayub was furious. He knew exactly who she had spoken to, and was angry that his wife had spoken to Satan and that she had tried to act upon his words. She couldn’t take his anger, and she left him as well. Now Ayub was completely alone, with reference to human companions. He turned to God and made the famous du’a that we hear time and time again “Lord hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.” Ibn Ajeeba here says something interesting. He says that the hardship that Ayub was speaking about was that Satan had conspired against him to get him to prostrate to him (Satan). (Why is this the hardship? Because it is said that if we understood the true essence of sickness, we would know that it is an immense gift from God.) God immediately responded to the plea of Ayub and instructed him to go to the nearest water source and bathe in it. He did so, and was returned to his complete health and beauty. His wife, shortly after, returned looking for her husband. She found a handsome healthy man in his place. She asked him if he has seen a man that was rotting and in pain. He laughed and said, “It is me, I am Ayub.” She wouldn’t have believed him except that she recognized his laugh.

Ayub—not an angel, a man. He (as) went through an immense trial, and looked only at God. A man that God used to lay down a map for us to follow when we too are in pain, in sickness and in distress. Of course we don’t always react this way. Of course it may be harder at times to let go and let God. But what we can do is look to him as an ultimate goal. We can use his name when asking God for patience. We can strive to be as close to Him as God will allow. And whenever we are in hardship, we can know that we have someone to relate to. We have someone who went through pain and anguish, and we can see that even in the worst of situations, God can instantly redeem us and make everything more than perfect. May God grant us the Sabr of Ayub in the smallest of matters and the largest of matters.

“Lord, hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.”

Categories: Muslim blogs

Our Personal Hells

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

 “Sins need to be eradicated through the internal fire of regret in this life or the fire of hell in the hereafter.” – Ibn Al-Qayyim

Photo: Pankaj Kaushal

Years ago I came across this quote. I still can’t get over how true it is.

Muslim youth living in all corners of the world face similar struggles in our day-to-day lives. We strive to survive while being surrounded by the societal (and often times, cultural and familial) promotion, acceptance, and idealization of things that contradict the tenants of our faith: pride, lust, greed, extramarital relationships, alcohol/drugs, misogyny – just to name a few.

We are also surrounded by social practices and traditions that can also be pretty un-Islamic: issues such as racism, forced marriages, the withholding of education for females, and tribalism unfortunately exist on grand scales in Muslim societies all over the world.

As Muslim youth, most of us living in the diaspora, we have much to deal with. We struggle to maintain our Muslim identities while at the same time balancing our racial, national, and individual identities as well.

Sometimes it seems that everywhere we look, we are being called to sin. And inevitably, we answer that call.

We fall so many times only to fall again. We try so very hard to create our own, personal spiritual bubbles where Islam is the driving force in our lives, only to have it burst by things like temptation, other Muslims’ biases and discrimination, our own families making it hard for us, stress, our school lives, etc.

And slowly, as our hearts erode, a peculiar type of anxiety eats away at our souls and comes with a little voice in our heads. The voice tells us time and time again that what we are doing is haram (impermissible) or sinful, but we ignore it as we seek to numb the pain—a pain that has surfaced as a result of never being good enough. Never being “Muslim” enough, or “religious” enough, or “Western” enough.

How do we turn our faces from sin when it is everywhere? When it is adulated, respected, and upheld by our very own societies as a noble thing? We become confused – the bad becomes good. We go against our natural instincts. Eventually we become submerged in our own little hells, metaphorical places where internal suffering, sadness, disappointment, and self-loathing manifest. The “internal fire of regret”, as Ibn Al-Qayyim radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) puts it.

This quote teaches me that through one way or another, we will be purified of our sins. It’s up to us whether or not we seek purification in this life (through repentance) or we wait until the next (through the Fire).

I know. We’ve fallen so many times. We’re hurt, sore, and bruised. We are ashamed of our actions, and may even deem ourselves unworthy of seeking repentance. But something must quell that fire in our hearts. Something must quench our desires to be loved and accepted by the One whose love and acceptance is truly the only one that matters at the end of the day.

Say it – Astaghfirullah (I seek forgiveness from God).

I know; it hurts. But it certainly cannot hurt more than what is to come if we let our sins remain in our hearts, our minds, our spirits.

We are more than the sins that we commit. Don’t let the devil fool you. Don’t let those people who are a negative influence in your lives or those who sin openly and proudly fool you either.

We may fall a thousand times, but as long as we try to get back up, there is always hope.

And Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) knows best.

 

Categories: Muslim blogs

To Whom Belongs Sovereignty? Al-Qahhar

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

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

Photo: Joel Tonyan

In this journey through Allah’s Names, we have learned about both His attributes of Beauty and of Majesty. The intention is to inspire fear, hope and, ultimately, love. If we misunderstand Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), we may not see the wisdom behind the things that happen in the world or in our personal lives. We might not understand how Allah (swt) fits into our life. We may also find it difficult to love Him, because how can you love someone – deeply love someone – you do not know?

Thus it is hoped that these Names have increased our knowledge of our Creator, and have made apparent how Allah (swt) is with us in every moment.

Today’s Name should inspire in us ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’. These words are sometimes both translated as ‘fear’, thus removing the important distinctions between the two words. In the ‘Sweetness of Prayer’ series, we explained the difference between the different types of fear:

‘Khawf’ is to flee from the thing that you fear, and requires no knowledge of that which is feared. You can be afraid, or have ‘khawf’, of the dark. ‘Khashya’, on the other hand, is fear with knowledge. The more a servant has knowledge of his Lord, the more ‘khawf’ turns to ‘khashya’. As Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:

“Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge” (35:28).

‘Hayba’ is fear associated with respect, awe and glorification. You could, for example, fear fire. But the reason for your fear is that the fire may harm you, so fire earns no ‘hayba’; you do not glorify it. However, you could have a certain ‘hayba’ of your father; you could be afraid to do something wrong in front of him, but that fear is out of respect.

Al-Qahhar: The Dominator

Allah’s Name al-Qahhar comes from the Arabic root qaf-haa-ra (ق-ه-ر). It means ‘to dominate over’ or ‘to subdue from above’. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an in Surat al-An`aam;

“And He is the subjugator (al-qaahiru) over His servants. And He is the Wise (al-Hakeem), the Acquainted [with all] (al-Khabeer). (6:18)

Someone with this attribute might be considered a tyrant, which is why Allah (swt) tells us that this attribute is possessed by the One who is also the Most Wise and the One who is Best Acquainted with everything. This reference is also for the benefit of those who doubt this attribute, and might ask “why has Allah not overpowered the tyrants of today, of whom there are many?” Allah (swt) is reminding us that there is ultimate wisdom in whom He chooses to subdue at any point in time. This is where our understanding of the holistic nature of Allah’s Names should come in: we spoke before about how Allah (swt) is Forbearing and Patient, and He gives people – even tyrants – the opportunity to turn back.

Thus we see in the Qur’an that Allah sends Moses and Aaron `alayhimaa as-salaam (may Allah’s peace be upon them both) to Pharaoh – and calling Pharaoh ‘oppressive’ would be an understatement! – telling them initially to speak to him gently. Pharaoh rejects them. Moses then shows him proof of his prophethood. Pharaoh rejects him again, insisting on enslaving the Children of Israel. Finally, Allah (swt) overpowers him by drowning him, using someone from the very people that Pharaoh was oppressing, who grew up in his own house. Such is the way of al-Qahhar, who manifests His power by subduing tyrants through the objects of their tyranny.

This is why Imam al-Ghazali describes al-Qahhar in this way: “The Dominator is the one who breaks the back of the powerful among His enemies… Indeed there is no existing thing that is not subject to the domination of His power, and powerlessness in His grasp. That is all.”
Therefore, when we look at events today and wonder “where is al-Qahhar?”, we should remember the story of Moses. Remember that Moses prevailed. Remember that Pharaoh was overpowered.

Our role is to strive against this oppression, knowing that ultimately this is what we will be asked about, and everything is subjected to the Will of Allah (swt). Indeed, so many tyrannical powers eventually come crashing down, bowing to the will of al-Qahhar. Unfortunately, we may not attribute it to Him, but as Allah (swt) tells us:

“The Day they come forth nothing concerning them will be concealed from Allah. To whom belongs [all] sovereignty this Day? To Allah, the One, the Prevailing (al-Qahhar).” (40:16)

On that Day, all will be apparent. All those who oppressed, in both seemingly small and big ways, will be before Allah, al-Qahhar. Then, there will be no ambiguity.
Living with these Names

1 – Balance fear and hope

Today’s Name might cause us to be afraid. This is not a subject we like to talk to about, because it is so much more reassuring to focus on those attributes that enable us to relax. But remembering that Allah (swt) has attributes of Majesty should instill in us the ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’ described earlier. Moreover, Allah’s Names are to be looked at holistically. He is al-Qahhar and He is also al-Lateef (the subtle, the most kind).

2 – Dominate your lower desires
In previous articles, we talked about how we should emulate the attributes of Beauty. But what about attributes of Majesty? How do we apply them? Al-Ghazali counseled: “The dominator amongst men is the one who subdues his enemies. The greatest enemy of man is his soul, which is within him. This soul is more of an enemy to him than Satan, of whose enmity he is wary. Whoever conquers his passions conquers Satan, since Satan lures him to ruin by means of his passions.”

3 – Use that fear to stop at least one sin

To know that Allah is al-Qahhar is to burn the desire for sin in the heart. Because Allah (swt) is the Dominator, we should fear that perhaps al-Qahhar, al-Mumeet (the Life-Taker) might take our soul as we are committing the sin. This should alert us that despite it seeming as though we are being allowed to oppress our souls, we may still face the fate mentioned in this verse:

“So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of every [good] thing until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair.” (Qur’an, 6:44)

These people used the gifts of Allah (swt) in the opposite manner to that for which they were intended, and then they were seized. In another chapter, Allah (swt) describes to us the people of the garden, who took an oath that they would reap all of their fruits and leave nothing for the poor. Allah (swt) caused their garden to be completely burned to the ground, but the owners of that garden understood the lesson. They willed something, but Allah (swt) overpowered their will, and so they turned back to Him.

Hence, this fear should not paralyze us from doing good, but it should paralyze us from doing bad. We should try to choose at least one thing – like backbiting or lying – and do our best to use this Name to help us stop it.

4 – Do not oppress others

The surest way to earn the wrath of al-Qahhar is to oppress others. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him] (fa laa taqhar)” (93:9). The word ‘taqhar’ comes from the same root of the name al-Qahhar. We should understand that oppression is not simply for unjust leaders or cruel human traffickers. We may also be oppressing others in more subtle ways, and thus we should be diligent to avoid this.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Lessons from the Prophet Musa

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

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

Categories: Muslim blogs

How Muslim Theologians Saved Islamic Science

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

Photo: Alby Headrick

By Macksood A. Aftab

The conflict between science and religion has posed a serious threat to religious authority in the contemporary era. Many advocates of scientism have used the tremendous success of science in modern times to question the usefulness of religion as a means of seeking the truth. For example, Stephen Hawking recently stated in a Huffington Post article, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” More recently the harsh critique of religion based upon various forms of scientism by writers such as Richard Dawkins have escalated the conflict.

Their view assumes that both religion and science have the same purpose, namely of explaining the existence of the universe. Furthermore, the scientific method is considered a more reliable way to achieve this goal. This is primarily so because science deals with physical processes, which can be quantified and measured, whereas religion often resorts to metaphysical references, which cannot be “proven.” Professor Naquib Al-Attas, the celebrated Malaysian Muslim philosopher, summarizes the essential problem. He writes, “A gist of their [those who espouse science as the source for truth] basic assumptions is that science is the sole authentic knowledge; that this [scientific] knowledge pertains only to phenomena.” Excluded from science is anything that does not have a “physical” existence, anything that cannot be empirically studied. Therefore, implicit in a worldview that holds science as the highest authority of knowledge is a denial of God.

As the Nobel laureate Werner Arber, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, writes, “The natural sciences are in a steady search for truth, and so is theology.” This naturally creates two apparently competing methodologies of seeking and determining the truth, which inevitably leads to conflict between theology and science. Although the Catholic Church did generally support science, when the conclusions of scientists came in conflict with church dogma, problems arose. This can be seen in the experiences of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin.

Islamic history, however, took a different course. Despite the existence of a sustained robust scientific enterprise in the Islamic world, an overt conflict between science and religion did not arise. Professor Walbridge of Indiana University points out that “the Islamic world produced no martyrs for science like Bruno and Galileo.” One of the achievements of Islamic civilization was the creation of a worldview in which both theology and science could be accepted in a comprehensive rational framework.

The Islamic tradition of scholastic theology is known as kalam. The two primary schools of kalam are the Ash`ari and its close cousin the Maturidi schools. Both are based upon a rational understanding of God and the Universe, which also seek to rigorously preserve salient features of the Islamic concept of God. This tradition, along with its larger place in the Islamic worldview, can best be understood through the works of one of its main proponents Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE). Richard Frank, a scholar of Islamic theology, describes Ghazali as, “The most important Sunni theologian at a crucial turning point in the history of orthodox Muslim theology.” During his time Islam was emerging from a period of intellectual schism. Ghazali contributed to the development of a consensus on this issue, which was to largely become the dominant Sunni doctrine. Thus the Ghazali scholar and translator Walter Skellie writes, “With him [Ghazali] the religious philosophy and experience of Islam reaches its zenith.”

Demonstrative Proof (Burhan)

The triumph of Ghazali’s epistemology lies in its successful reconciliation of reason with revelation. One key element of this was the allowance of figurative interpretations of scripture, particularly when it relates to assertions that may conflict with what is known via reason. Ghazali sets the bar very high for a scientific proof to over-ride scripture, something he calls burhan. Burhan is demonstrative knowledge or definitive logical proof. According to Ghazali, it held an even higher epistemic status than even scholastic theology (kalam).

Professor Al-Akiti of Oxford writes, “For al-Ghazali, burhan [definitive logical proof], and not kalam, is what he considered to be scientific knowledge, the ‘gold-standard’ in the art of reasoning – a judgment expounded in his Mi’yar al-’Ilm.” The late professor Marmura, a Ghazali scholar, summarizes Ghazali’s attitude towards definitive logical proof as follows:

“A science whose conclusions are not demonstrably true and which are in conflict with the literal assertions of scripture must be rejected. On the other hand, if what is demonstrably true contradicts the literal sense of scriptural language, then the latter must be interpreted metaphorically.”

Having firmly grounded his worldview in rationality, Ghazali proceeds to point out that physical science does not meet the standards of definitive logical proof unless God is added to the equation. This is because science is based upon a flawed assumption, namely that of natural causation. Causation, Ghazali argues, can only guaranteed if God is there to secure it. And importantly, according to Ghazali, God is there to secure it. Belief in God then becomes a prerequisite to the successful pursuit of science.

Causation, God & Science

Ghazali was able to reconcile the most important principle of science (namely causation) with Islamic theological doctrines (as articulated by the dominant Ash`ari school). Ash`ari theology developed in response to certain heterodox formulations of Islamic doctrine (such as those adopted by the Mutazalites and the Philosophers) which had the effect of diminishing key Divine attributes. Some of these formulations share a belief in necessary causation with modern secular scientists. Therefore Ghazali’s critique of their view is particularly instructive in tackling similar issues in the contemporary era.

Some of the main articles of faith in Ash`ari theology are that God is all powerful, He is all knowing and all events occur due to His express will. The Ash`aris therefore believed that all events are directly caused only by God, and not by anything else. God is not merely the first cause but also the immediate cause of every subsequent minor and major event that occurs in the universe. This appears to run contrary to our contemporary understanding of secular science, which rests on the principle of natural causation. Namely, that things (or events) cause other things (or events). For example, we think fire causes cotton to burn when they are brought near each other.

Ghazali questions the principle of necessary causation adopted by certain philosophers. According to Ghazali, this relationship between cause and effect is not necessary. To use his terminology, there is no definitive logical proof (burhan) that it is the cause that is responsible for the effect. He argues that all we observe is a quick succession of events, cotton being brought close to fire and the cotton burning. But a relationship based simply on proximity in time or space does not imply necessary causation. Ghazali famously states, “The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary.”

David Hume in the Western tradition made a similar argument against causation. He asked, “Where is the causal glue” holding together the cause and the effect? Unlike Hume who was led to skepticism, however, Ghazali has an answer to this conundrum. For Ghazali, the causal glue is God. It is God who ensures that the relationship between cause and effect always holds. In doing so, Ghazali has made room for orthodox Islamic theology in which God is the direct cause of everything.

On its surface this line of thinking can be misunderstood to in fact undermine science, as several historians and scientists have thought. For example, the historian Tamim Ansary writes, “Take it however you will, the argument against causality undermines the whole scientific enterprise. If nothing actually causes anything else, why bother to observe the natural world in search of meaningful patterns?” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a preeminent Pakistani scientist, expresses a similar concern with the Ash`ari position, stating that in such a world, “even a speeding arrow might not reach its destination.” In other words, if the cause and effect relationship is not necessary then there would be no sure way to rely on our observations, predict natural phenomena or to do scientific experiments.

Conflict Averted, Science Flourished

This criticism, however, implies a dogmatic belief in science which sidesteps the very real problem of causation. Ghazali does not need to (nor does he) deny causation. He is merely denying necessary causation—namely, that there is no conclusive proof that things can influence other things by themselves. For Ghazali, God is required to ensure that the relationship between cause and effect always hold true. As Frank Griffel, a Ghazali scholar at Yale, writes:

“Trust in God (tawakkul) is a major condition for investigating the natural sciences. Such trust requires the certainty to know that God will not change books into horses or disconnect our knowledge from reality. Given that God habitually creates our knowledge to accord with reality, we can rely on our sense and our judgment and confidently pursue the natural sciences.”

According to this view God could suspend the laws of causation, but He never does and never will. So fire will always burn cotton but this is only true because in every instance of its occurrence God ensures that it is so. In effect, Ghazali has created a framework in which science can operate and the principles of Islamic theology (Divine power, knowledge and will) are also preserved.

Furthermore, Ghazali even located miracles – which he calls strange and wondrous phenomena – within the empirical world. Even miracles were then not Divine acts of suspension of the normal workings of the universe; rather they were unusual phenomena of nature due to causes not immediately clear to us at the moment. The possibility of additional causal chains other than those currently physically observed encouraged further exploration of the natural world. Ahmad Dallal, a historian of Islamic science at Georgetown University writes,

“The aspect that had the most influence on the development of science was the concept of multiple possibilities (tajwiz), the notion that specific natural philosophical explanations (or planetary models) are possible but not certain, and that there may exist alternative explanations for the natural phenomena… this idea was grounded in an epistemological criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics.”

After Ghazali, science in the Muslim world experienced a prolonged renaissance as documented by Yale historian George Saliba. His understanding had the effect of legitimizing science. Science was a discipline ensured by God. It also had the effect of effectively separating theology from physical science. Divine attributes are known through revelation, and science plays no significant role in informing us about these metaphysical matters. On the other hand revelation does not interfere with the workings of science; it is left as an independent discipline within the larger Islamic framework. Dallal explains,

“After Al-Ghazali, the need to invoke religion to vindicate science considerably decreased, not because science was not accepted but because it did not need vindication. Excluding final-cause explorations from science did not compromise the providence of God, which was simply assumed without questioning (bila kayf).”

This worldview rests on the premise that God exists and sustains the Universe. God is not the end goal of science, but rather the starting point. This created an organic and interdependent relationship between science and religion, which essentially eliminated the potential of conflict between the two disciplines. In fact, as professor Muzaffar Iqbal, a philosopher of Islamic science, writes:

“No one thought of them [science and religion] as two independent entities which needed to be related via an external mechanism… This relationship emerged naturally and because the scientific tradition was thoroughly rooted in the worldview created by Islam.”

This worldview was rational. It recognized the primacy of reason and in fact accorded burhan the highest epistemic status. Within this framework secular science is critiqued based upon logical fallacies assumed by its proponents. Science is then presented not as a competing force with religion, but rather as a viable enterprise, as part of a comprehensive worldview that encompasses God. In fact, it is grounded in the assumption of God. This delicate balance, which secured both science and theology, is one of the greatest achievements of medieval Muslim theologians.

Dr. Macksood Aftab is a neuroradiologist, and clinical assistant professor at both Michigan State University and Central Michigan University. He holds a Master degree in History of Science, and is an editor for the Journal of Islamic Philosophy. The author can be reached at: mackaftab@post.harvard.edu.

Categories: Muslim blogs

A Victim of Speech

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

Part I | Part II

In the last article, we explored how Allah (swt) exonerated Aisha radi allahu `anha (may God be please with her) and Prophet Joseph `alayhi as-salaaam (peace be upon him) from unsubstantiated and untrue gossip, and we talked about the victims of slander. Today, it’s about the perpetrators of slander. It is about, quite possibly, you and me.

Sometimes in the name of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” we forget the sanctity of our fellow human beings and especially fellow believers. We spread things that are unsubstantiated in a bid to ‘warn others’ about possible deviancy. We are harsh in our words. We assume the worst. We forget that one of the best traits a Muslim can have is “thinking well of the servant of Allah” and for other Muslims to be “safe from his hands and tongue.”

We forget that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) passed by a grave and he warned that the person was suffering in his grave because he would spread gossip. We forget that that person we are talking about may have our good deeds transferred to him simply because he is a victim of our speech.

Scary stuff? It is. The Prophet ﷺ said: “The majority of man’s sins emanate from his tongue.” (Tabarani)

To go back to the examples in our previous article, it was clear that those with power—the minister and the minister’s wife—knew the truth with regards to what was said about the Prophet Joseph (as). But they allowed the rumor to persist and put Prophet Joseph in prison. With Aisha (ra), we have even more details. The people who discussed the rumor were good Muslims. They discussed the scandalous nature of what was said, and in doing so, spread it far and wide. Shaytan created doubt: “Could it actually be true?” Allah admonished the Muslims when He informs us in the Qur’an about what happened:

“Why, when you heard it, did not the believing men and believing women think good of one another and say, ‘This is an obvious falsehood?’” (Qur’an, 24:12)

Now some people might think this example is extreme. We would never spread such a rumor. But rumors and slander and gossip come in all shapes and forms. So if you hear something about someone that is unsubstantiated, do not fuel the fire. We are just as bad as those news networks we criticize, who pick up a story, and whether true or not, run with it.

This is not intended to shut down constructive criticism of public figures. There are ways of bringing people to account. There are ways of disagreeing and critiquing ideas and views, which are beyond the scope of this article. But in the age of the internet, anyone can write a piece and within an hour it is shared and read by many. And it would do us good to reflect on what our role is in this. We must remember that we will be held to account. So let us not put ourselves in a position to be asked about why we were careless in our research, harsh in words, and negative in our basic assumptions about others.

And remember that the Prophet ﷺ taught:

“A person’s eman (faith) is not upright until his heart is upright, and his heart is not upright until his tongue is upright.” (Ahmad)

Categories: Muslim blogs
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