Muslim blogs

10 Guidelines for Gender Relations in Islam

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 21/10/2014 - 13:00

By Muslema Purmul and Maryam Amirebrahimi

Reconstructing Beauty Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII

A Clarification on Beautifying Gender Relations Within the Community

Co-ed Love for the Sake of Allah? Part 1 | Part 2

Photo: Pictoscribe

I was standing next to the grave, supplicating quietly to Allah for the man we just buried. He was a family relative, loved by many alhamdulilLah (praise be to God). As I stood there, a few other women came and also started to supplicate. They spoke aloud in a low voice, “We never heard anything but good from you or about you, so we ask Allah to accept all your good deeds and forgive your sins, and accept you into Paradise…” I was touched by something in this moment. I didn’t know them personally, we didn’t exchange words but I was taught by their example. They displayed the most beautiful adab (manners) of brotherhood and sisterhood for their deceased Muslim brother, who was not directly related to them. Subhan’Allah (glory be to God), when the heart is pure, the “rules” emanate naturally without effort. Everything in their manner, speech, and conduct was modest, respectful and filled with noble love.

The code of inter-gender relations comes from this noble kind of love. It is generous in giving, while conscious of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala (exalted is He). 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. This is not the meaning of haya’ and it’s a real shame that men and women are sometimes taught social anxiety in the name of haya’. Haya’ comes from consciousness of Allah (swt)—that a servant of Allah would feel too “shy” to commit an open and indecent sin in the presence of the Most High, that they feel humbled in the presence of the Creator, so they honor His creation. The believer is not a show-off for any of their blessings. Rather they are grateful, and hope to use their many gifts in the service of their Lord. One of the most graceful ways to serve Allah (swt) is by serving and honoring His creation, in the manner that He approves. This is our code as brothers and sisters.

“The believing men and believing women are allies of one another.” (Qu’ran, 9:71)

The 10 Principles


  1. Be sincere in your interactions.

The Prophet ﷺ (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) taught us, “Truly, actions are according to their intentions.”1 All interaction with God’s creation is a reflection of our interaction with the Creator. When a person truly relies on God and seeks Him first and foremost, they let go of the need for approval from others and seek it only from Him (swt). As a result, the way they work with others has to do with God’s approval, not that of others. When we deal with the opposite sex, it’s important to make sure we are not *needy for some form of approval from them, and especially the kind that should only be sought from a spouse (ie: sexual attention, seeking their admiration). However, God loves for us to love and respect our brothers and sisters. If we’re seeking God’s approval in our interactions then we open our hearts in a noble way towards one another with the best of manners. Facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and the general energy brought into interactions should be respectful and professional. One who is sincere in seeking only Allah’s approval and not wanting something from the people will find it very natural to follow the rest of the guidelines.

What this looks like in person: Imagine you’re speaking to a boss, a professor or perhaps an older individual in the mosque. In most situations, even if you were buddies with that person, you’d still have a level of respect in your interactions with them that would be different from your friend at school. Do the same thing when you interact with someone of the opposite sex. It doesn’t mean you need to be cold. You need not be overtly rude or intimidating. If you are typically a really humorous and laid back person, you don’t need to radically change your personality so that the person/people you’re with don’t laugh. Just be yourself in a professional and courteous way.

What this looks like online/social media: Be mindful of your online conversations and avoid saying what you would feel uncomfortable having your parent or someone you respect overhear. Question your intentions before commenting or messaging. Only you and God know if what you’re doing is for the right reasons. This is one of the most powerful and dynamic limits of Allah (swt) because it actually builds your confidence. The habit of checking and renewing the intention develops a foundation of sincerity between you and Allah, and of good-will between you and His creation.


  1. Make your interaction purposeful and professional.

There’s an Islamic legal maxim that states, “The origins of things is permissibility.” In other words, unless there is something that is expressly prohibited when it comes to interactions and worldly issues, it is allowed. However, when it came to the issue of gender relations specifically, some scholars used a different maxim: “The origin of inter-gender interactions is impermissibility, unless expressly permitted.” In other words, inter-gender interaction, unless there was an absolute necessity, major benefit attained, major harm prevented, or something not considered harmful in a particular cultural context, would generally be avoided.

These scholars also cited the principle of sadd al-tharee’ah—that whatever leads to a prohibited act in and of itself becomes prohibited. In this regard, cultural context becomes increasingly important. This is because in some cultures, specific actions may be misunderstood as an invitation to something prohibited, while in others, it is simply a respectful interaction.

As an example, a polite joke about the weather with the cashier at a grocery store is seen as neighborly small talk in the United States but can be understood as flirting in a different cultural context. For this other culture, scholars may consider the polite joke prohibited because it would lead to un-lowered and lustful gazes and conversation that points to something more. But to apply the latter understanding to our context in the west would be a great disservice. Here, the action and words do not imply sexual interest in the least, but rather is received as acceptable, polite conversation. And even in the same context, to overdo it leads to a misapplication of the law and the creation of a sub-culture that is foreign to the spirit of Islam. Shaykh Al-Rasuni mentions that the overextension of the legal principle sadd al-tharee’ah can create extremism and turn perfectly halal situations into haram ones.2 So it should be applied with care, lest we turn Islam into something it is not.

If you look at both approaches—“The origin of interactions is allowed except what is prohibited,” and “the origin of interactions is prohibited except what is allowed”—they both lead to the same conclusion: Interactions should be purposeful, there should be a reason that is not suspect according to a particular culture, there are limits and it is not a complete free-for-all.

What this looks like in person: The on-campus Muslim Students Association (MSA) holds a meeting to discuss an upcoming event. There is purpose in their reason for coming together. They do not have to robotically and mechanically only ask “yes” or “no” questions, sticking to a script to ensure every word has a specific purpose. There can be polite small talk in asking about each other’s schoolwork and checking in on each other’s families. Now again, things go back to intention (point 1). On the outside things can be purposeful, but if on the inside things are not, it leads to Allah’s displeasure. A brother can tutor a study group of brothers and sisters for a class they are taking in college together in a noble way. He can also do so to enjoy the attention and admiration of the sisters and use that space for his own desires. On the outside no one may notice the difference, but on the inside Allah (swt) always does. A blessed interaction is both purposeful on the outside and pure on the inside.

What this looks like online/social media: Keep it purposeful and professional. No need to play online games with someone of the opposite sex. No need to start private conversations or comment in an over-relaxed, joking manner on posts or pictures.From emails, the messaging on social media, SnapChat, etc.—don’t do anything that you would be ashamed to do in front of someone you love and respect, like the Prophet ﷺ. Know that Allah (swt) sees you above all, and wants your honor and integrity to be protected.


  1. Cover your ‘awra (nakedness).

In short, the ‘awra of men is from their naval to their knees. However, it is highly encouraged for men to cover beyond this. In other words, it’s not modest to show up without a shirt or a super tight one and skinny jeans, exposing a brother’s form. For women, even in the most lenient opinions, the minimum that should be covered is everything but the face, hands, and feet, in loose, non-form fitting, opaque clothing. Traditionally some scholars allowed kuhl and powder as allowable make-up, and some allowed the plucking of eyebrows in our times. There are opinions that are much more encompassing, but deliberately being shared here is the base minimum for anyone interested in following a valid scholarly opinion within our tradition.

An important point of clarification is needed here. When we think of a woman’s public dress in Islam, the Prophetic understanding was that it was a level more modest than that of men. There is an incident where the Prophet ﷺ gives a companion a thawb (dress) and later sees that companion and asks him why he does not wear it. The companion says he let his wife wear it. To this the Prophet encourages him to tell his wife to wear something under it because he fears that her form would show if she wears it without a layer under it (the way a man would). In other words, the ‘awra of a woman requires an additional standard of looseness.3

Now, what does that mean for men and women struggling to maintain these general dress guidelines? Does that mean they should not be permitted into Muslim spaces when the opposite sex will be present, nor organize campus or community events? Absolutely not! All should be welcome; all of us struggle with different aspects of our worship and this is simply one that’s more obvious because it’s outer. Principle number 4 means each of us are responsible for what we see. At the same time, even if one does not normally cover the full ‘awra, when it comes to sacred spaces such as the Masajid as the Houses of Allah, we should make an extra effort to wear our most God-pleasing clothing there, as a way of showing extra deference to our Creator. This is not an act of hypocrisy; it’s an act of respect. This is simply an explanation of guidelines while recognizing each person has their own journey, struggle, and varying abilities to perform. The scholars also differentiated between `awra ghaleetha and `awra khafeefa: that some body parts or more `awra’ than others. A person may try to grow gradually in their dress hoping to ease the path toward following all its guidelines.

A couple of critical points to take into consideration:

A. Hijab for women is not about Men.

When Muslim women are asked why do they wear hijab, the simple answer is, “Because God asked me to” not “Because men asked me to.” Hijab is about Allah (swt) and submitting to His will and trusting His way. It’s an incredibly spiritual act especially today because you must strive to remove the desire for human approval completely in order to practice it well. Allah (swt) says, “that is purer for you.” Hijab is a purification. For some, hijab may help purify the tendency towards vanity. For others, it is simply a constant physical reminder that our goal in life is to please our Creator. The experience of hijab for many is described as “liberating” and “a divine gift” as it encourages us to recognize our own spiritual and intellectual center, and compels us to honor, even celebrate this most sacred part of ourselves as we deal with the world.

B. Hijab is not meant to erase physical beauty, but honor it.

What happens if a woman covers herself appropriately, and people still feel tempted by her or are attracted to her? Beauty is not a woman’s ‘fault’, and she is not asked to hide because others can’t control their feelings. Rather, they must lower their gaze and purify their thoughts.

Ibn Abbas said: “A beautiful woman, from among the most beautiful of women, used to pray behind the Prophet ﷺ. Some of the people used to go to pray in the first row to ensure they would not be able to see her. Others would pray in the last row of the men, and they would look from underneath their armpits to see her. Because of this act, in regard to her, Allah revealed, “And We have already known the preceding [generations] among you, and We have already known the later [ones to come],” (Qu’ran, 15:24).4

In this incident, Allah (swt) does not reveal that a barrier be put up to block off the view of the women’s side. He does not ask the woman to not come to the masjid. She is not told to wear niqab. She is not asked to pray in the last lines. Allah is addressing the men and these are verses revealed after the command of hijab was in place. Allah is telling them that He knows what is in their hearts. Hijab is not to remove all beauty from a woman. Rather, it is to let her define her sense of beauty by donning the dress and character that pleases God.


  1. Lower your gaze.

God commands the believing men and women to lower from their gazes in the Qur’an.5 The imperative word here is “from.” Scholars have commented that looking at each other in and of itself is not prohibited, for if it was the word “from” would have been omitted in the command. However, the command indicates there are some gazes that are not allowed, and this based on Prophetic guidance includes the lustful gaze as well as looking at what is considered ‘awra. Yet, it is common practice for men and women in Muslim activist settings to avoid looking at one another directly in the eyes or in the face, and they are dressed modestly. Some scholars have mentioned that this is praiseworthy as a form of respect. However, in the greater western context, not making eye contact is usually considered awkward and can be seen as distrustful and in an instance like this, we can take our general cultural custom to inform the way we interact within the aforementioned Islamic boundaries.

What this looks like in person: Therefore, in general, the best way to fulfill this requirement is to simply avert your gaze specifically if you find yourself attracted to someone, not to check anyone out, and to avoid looking at certain areas of the body you should not be looking at anyway—most especially if they are uncovered. Otherwise, it’s permissible to simply look a person in the eyes politely when having a conversation. This applies both inside of and outside of Muslim spaces.

What this looks like online/social media: When you put up a picture on social media, be cognizant of what other people are seeing. And if you wouldn’t make a crazy duck face or show certain body parts to a person of the opposite sex in person or look at those things in person, do not post that type of picture or send that picture over SnapChat or stare at those pics if they’re sent to you (which, btw, why are they being sent to you?). Do not deliberately spend time staring at a picture of someone of the opposite sex without purpose. When commenting on a picture—even if it’s of the same gender—avoid statements such as, “Hey sexy!” or “Hot!” especially when you know that person has friends of the opposite sex who will also see those pictures and those comments in their newsfeed.


  1. Keep it public.

The Prophetﷺ taught us “…Satan is the third person in an isolated area (khalwah) where there is only a man with a (non-mahram) woman…” (Ibn Al-Atheer – Sahih).

This narration indicates that being alone with one person of the opposite gender who is not a direct relative (mahram) is prohibited in Islam. Being alone constitutes any space which is locked and opaque, or open but totally isolated.

What this looks like in person: In person: Meet in public spaces. Whether it’s in the library or an off-campus café, make sure your professional organizing happens in a public space and at an appropriate time. Even in a public space, a suggestion is to bring a respectful third person or a group of people to make sure you and the other person are not the only ones together, as a way of maintaining a professional environment. This also changes a bit as you grow in different life stages.

If you’re in high school and working on a project, you should definitely bring other people along if you meet outside of school in a café or somewhere informal. If you’re in your fifties and you’re meeting to discuss masjid board policy away from the masjid, meeting in a public space should be sufficient without needing “chaperones.” Imams, for example, have office hours at the masjid, and leave the door open or open their blinds so others can see in, if the door is closed to protect confidentiality. For non-Imams and work spaces, if what you need to meet about is private, like needing crucial advice, simply meeting in a public space should be sufficient as long as you’re both aware of being respectful and keeping things professional. If you can bring a third person who can sit somewhere nearby who is not able to hear the conversation, consider this option. This is not to suggest you and the other person meeting together, in a public space, are going automatically to do something lewd if you don’t. It’s simply to protect your hearts, words and yes, long-term actions, from going down the path of regret—and instead allow both persons to engage each other in a way that inspires true respect and noble love for Allah (swt).

What this looks like online/social media: When applicable, have a third person involved. For example, if you are a female organizing an event and you are emailing a male, yet you know that another male or female is also involved in that specific aspect you’re emailing about, then simply include them in the conversation. Some people when they have to work closely with someone of the opposite gender, simply let them know that they have given their email password to their spouse or trusted sibling, in order to allow everyone to feel like the door to the room is open rather than locked. Others choose to make phone calls when they’re around people and the person they are calling is aware of that fact. The point isn’t to constantly have yourself monitored, it’s really to just build a repertoire between one another in your interactions. By not feeling fully alone together, the relationship remains fraternal and professional.


  1. Protect your reputation.

At the outset, it must be stated that the concept of a reputation is misused at times. Sometimes, parents do not allow their daughters specifically to do certain things that they consider immodest or immoral within a specific cultural context due to a fear of what others may say about them. This sometimes causes young women to feel angry and frustrated and often blame Islam for being restrictive when in reality, it’s a specific concept their family has about what is and isn’t appropriate. Misusing the concept of protecting one’s honor has negative and unnecessary ramifications. And yes, people should make 70 excuses for what they see or hear about others. However, at the same time, there is a place in Islam for protecting our reputation and not putting ourselves in situations where another believer may feel concerned about us.

What this looks like in person: This is exactly what the Prophet ﷺ did when walking with his wife Safiya radi Allahu `anha (may God be pleased with her). Someone saw them and the Prophet ﷺ said, “This is Safiya!” They were surprised and said, “Prophet of God! We would never think you had a girlfriend or something like that!” The Prophet ﷺ responded, “Yes, but Satan travels through people like blood through the body.”6 The Prophet’s ﷺtechnical circumstances were halal but he wanted to make sure it was clear and not misunderstood.

What this looks like online/social media: The unfortunate reality of a sister or brother having an inappropriate or unnecessary online relationship has repercussions. For example, with an MSA brother, a sister may become a counselor-like friend and sometimes falls for the brother. The brother sometimes though, turns to her not because he wants to marry her, but because he perhaps enjoys that relationship with a female without having to commit to her and at times, may lead her on. On the flip side in another example, a sister may enjoy informal, intimate conversations and a certain brother’s attention; she may not be interested in marrying him, but enjoys the relationship and may sometimes lead him on. In both scenarios, the sister and brother may get a reputation for being easily used, desperate or whipped. Brothers and sisters: this is about respecting yourself enough that you do not allow yourself to be put in suspect situations that can harm your well-being and reputation in your specific context.


  1. No touching.

The Messenger ﷺ stated, “It is better for an iron rod to be driven into the head of a man, than for him to touch a woman who is not permissible for him.” (Mu’jam al Kabir) Though the word ‘touch’ here is understood by some scholars to be a euphemism for fornication, generally the principle is applied for all unnecessary (non-medical, etc.) touching, as derived from the Prophetic biography.

God tells us, “And do not come near unlawful sexual intercourse.” Not touching is a preventative measure as to what can come that’s greater. The Prophet ﷺnever shook hands when he took the Pledge of Aqaba from the female companions, though he did with the men. This shows at the very least that touching, even by shaking hands with the opposite gender, is not generally encouraged. There should be no casual high fives, no hugs, no physical interaction between sexes who are not closely blood related or married. Not even if you’re “promised” to one another and going to be married soon. Unless you have your written marriage contract (known as the “katb al-kitab” or “`aqd” or “nikah” in different cultures and sometimes considered an engagement after the contract is signed), no physical touching should happen.

But what about shaking hands in our specific context,, as a known form of greeting and professionalism?

Consider Shaykh Yusuf Qaradwi‘s and Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah‘s discussions on the issue. His allowance, with caveats, must be read and understood, as it provides an alternative to the typical discussion on prohibition. If you choose not to shake hands, make sure you politely decline with class and creativity. Ensure it’s done in ways that would help hearts feel closer to you rather than turn away in aversion.


  1. Be respectful of people’s personal space and levels of comfort.

We deal with different Muslims from different backgrounds. We do not want to impose our gender interaction cultural norms on them. We should try to engage them with what is comfortable for them, without giving up our own rights. This is just basic consideration for how others feel, male and female. Once the Prophet ﷺ even changed the way he was sitting out of his consideration for the modesty of Uthman (ra):

Aisha reports: The Prophet ﷺwas lying down in his house with his thighs or his calves exposed. Abu Bakr asked permission to enter and was permitted while the Prophet ﷺ was in that position and he came in and spoke with him ﷺ. Then, Umar asked permission to enter. He was granted permission and came in and spoke with him ﷺ while in that position. Then, Uthman asked permission and the Prophet ﷺ sat up and straightened his clothing. He was then permitted and came in and spoke with the Prophet ﷺ. After he had gone, Aisha said: Abu Bakr entered and you did not get up for him or worry about him and Umar came in and you did not get up for him nor worry about him but when Uthman came in, you straightened out your clothing! The Prophet ﷺ said: “Should I not be shy of a man around whom the angels are shy?” (Muslim)

This is a true act of love for Allah (swt), and such consideration for the comfort levels of the other should be practiced across genders as well.

What this looks like in person: Some people from other countries or ways of thinking do not talk to unrelated members of the opposite sex for any reason (unless an absolute emergency) and are even uncomfortable giving salam (greetings of peace). In our western context, scholars have encouraged men and women to spread the salam to build a sense of support and community especially as a religious minority. Generally speaking, it is praiseworthy to initiate the salam and an obligation to respond to it,7 regardless of gender, unless you have good reason to believe it would be understood as flirtatious to do so. If you know someone is uncomfortable, do not put them in an awkward situation—even with something as simple as the salam. At the same time, a man from such an environment may feel uncomfortable with women in the same prayer space and want them to leave. For this, women should ***not*** be expected to leave because of someone else’s discomfort; women should take their Islamic right to worship in the House of God. In this example, it is the other person who needs to practice consideration of her rights.

Another example is to not stand too close to each other when you are talking. If you can smell their breath, shampoo, or deodorant then you are standing too close. If someone takes a step back everytime you take a step forward, then realize they prefer a bigger gap between themselves and you and stop inching forward.

What this looks likes online/social media: If you friend request someone of the opposite gender on Facebook and they don’t confirm, respect their privacy. If someone always CCs a third party when they email you, try to reply all and respect that. When we treat each other with nobility, it fosters trust.


  1. Speak in a decent manner.

Perhaps there is no single behavior that more clearly defines our manners than speech. Allah (swt) has many commands about speech in the Qur’an. Its content should be good and decent (2:235). Its tone should be straight-forward (33:70). It should not be made soft on purpose (33:32). It should not be loud and arrogant (31:19). There should be no vain or excessive speech (23:3).

This is interesting as 90% of communication is non-verbal, and most perception comes from our tone of voice. And nothing affects tone of voice like intention. When the intention is good, speech is naturally unaffected and straight-forward, good in both content and delivery. The best way to examine our own hearts sometimes is to use our speech as a window to ourselves so we can ask, “What is going on inside?”

What this look likes in person: Speech is normal. This may appear humorous but as a dear sister once asked, “Why didn’t anyone just tell us to be normal?” In her situation, she was working and wanted to make da`wah (call to Islam) to her co-workers by showing how friendly and extra helpful a Muslim can be. Slightly sheltered in her upbringing, she went out of her way just to be very excited and supportive all the time and it was unfortunately understood as something else. Her version of ‘nice’ was over the top. She realized later that co-workers of the opposite gender, according to the advice of the Human Resources department, simply were to engage each other in a straight-forward, ‘normal’ way which is what Islam encourages anyway. Her speech was simply a mistake; but others actually make the mistake in their intention too. Don’t deliberately try to use an attractive sounding voice, don’t deliberately laugh and giggle for the purpose of drawing flirtatious attention, don’t extend conversations endlessly just to stay in the presence of another person. In other words, just be normal!

What this looks like online/social media: Don’t flirt, don’t be excessive in praise, or dismissive and disrespectful in joking. Use language that you wouldn’t feel shy of the Prophet ﷺ witnessing, knowing Allah (swt) always does.


  1. Ensure your circumstances are safe.

One of the conditions for allowing women’s travel alone is safety and ensuring the place of stay. In general, for both men and women, Personal Safety (life, health) in itself is considered one of the greater objectives of Islamic Law. Keep in mind, two people don’t need to be in complete isolation for it to be unsafe.

What this look likes in person: If you’re a sister, going to a brother’s apartment, or a brother going to a sister’s apartment to study for example, even if it is shared with others—that is unsafe. Going into a public parking lot that is empty to get class notes at an odd hour of the night is unsafe. The point is, whether man or woman, be smart about where you meet, choose an appropriate time, and ensure it’s in a safe space.

What this looks like online/social media: Do not put personal information like where you live on your Facebook or other online site. If you’re “checking in” somewhere online, let it be somewhere public and attended by people. For example, if you are at the beach when it’s deserted at night, do not “check in” live on sites or social media where your location can be tracked by strangers, or even people you don’t know well.


Finally, the pursuit of marriage is the reason many young people get involved in relationships or put themselves in situations they later regret. Marriage is a noble intention, and should be pursued nobly. A guiding principle is the ends don’t justify the means in Islam. The space of Islamic work may be a place where people meet potential spouses, but the work should not be used as an excuse to get attention under the guise of being interested in marriage. Once a person realizes their interest in marriage towards someone is a sustained interest, they should take a respectful and responsible approach. That means, be like Musa, `alayhi as salaam (peace be upon him), and talk to her family. Or be like Khadijah (ra), and talk to a reputable friend, preferably married, who can find a tactful way to recommend you. It is permissible to approach the person you’re interested in directly, specifically if you know that’s their personal preference as well since not everyone has a supportive or present family. However, make sure it’s done with respect. When you’re respectful in both means and method, you can pursue your intention for marriage through its blessed path, and continue your Islamic work/volunteering on its own blessed path.

Inter-gender relations can be tricky, but remember: Just be normal! With the right intention, with purpose, and with efforts to try our best with the general guidelines God has revealed for our work together, we can focus on ensuring that our relationships lead to benefiting ourselves, our families, our societies and the world at large, with God’s will.

It is hoped that this inter-gender relations summary be of service to brothers and sisters everywhere. May Allah (swt) ennoble our character, manners, and disposition with what pleases Him most. May He allow us to practice both the spirit and letter of His guidance for us. May He forgive our many shortcomings and mistakes. May Allah increase us in His remembrance, gratitude, guidance, and beautify our worship. May He accept from us all. Ameen.

  1. Bukhari
  2. al-Raysuni, Ahmad
  3. Kuwaiti Encyclopedia of Fiqh, `awra’
  4. This hadith is found in ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, Tayalisi, Baihaqi, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, and Nasai and it is judged SAHIH by Albani. He includes it as #3472 in his Silsilat al-Ahadith as-Sahih
  5. Qur’an 24:30-31
  6. Bukhari
  7. Qur’an 4:86
Categories: Muslim blogs

Diamonds in the Dust: Underrated TV Shows

The Platform - Sat, 18/10/2014 - 01:17

Daring, imaginative and explosive shows are taking over our television screens but not quite getting the recognition they deserve


It seems as if television series are taking over the realm of cinema with actors like Matthew McConaughey (who has recently won an Oscar), Kevin Spacey and Kevin Bacon taking on TV roles. And it’s not just actors. It appears that instead of making movies, DC comics is opting to beat Marvel by creating some of the best superhero shows such as Arrow and new shows, The Flash and Gotham.

However, without big names behind them eliciting mass attention, other shows get left in the dirt, no matter how epic they may be. Listed below are some of the more underrated shows of our time.



NBC/Sky Living

Whether you know him as Thomas Harris’ creation due to Anthony Hopkins’ legendary portrayal, or even as just a cannibalistic myth, we all know the infamous figure that is Hannibal Lecter. NBC’s Hannibal is based on Harris’ novel, Red Dragon, and stars Mads Mikkelson as Lector, and Hugh Dancy as the FBI Special Investigator Will Graham, who has the self-torturous talent of being able to empathise with murderers.

The show will be starting its third season sometime early-to-mid-2015, and it will have you curling your lip in disgust even as it awes you with its use of cinematography and visual arts, making the most brutal of deaths look somehow beautiful.


Melissa & Joey

ABC Family/E4

On a lighter note, Melissa Joan Hart’s family comedy is another show you should be watching but probably aren’t. The programme follows council woman, Mel Burke, as she struggles to raise her teenage nephew and niece, who have lost their parents to prison after a Ponzi scheme. Left penniless from said Ponzi scheme is Joey (Joey Lawrence), whom Mel hires as her male nanny. Hilarity ensues.

With comedy shows often trying too hard to earn a couple of laughs, frequently using sexual references as a comedic tool, this show takes a different stance. It uses family dynamics, overturns stereotypes, and at the root of it, is a feel-good family sitcom. Also, it includes my favourite cliché of characters who hate each other so badly that they fall head-over-heels in love.

The show is set to premier its fourth season on October 22 with 20 episodes lined up.


Bates Motel

A&E/Universal Channel

Alfred Hitchcock, Master of Suspense, brought Norman Bates to life in his film Psycho. As a result, he had a fair few of us hesitating to take a shower for fear of an oncoming dramatic theme tune and a bloody knife attack, which has subsequently been responsible for numerous myths and legends. In this prequel, Bates Motel takes Norman Bates and drags him back to his adolescence, revives his mother – and throws in a brother too. The show is, in one word, amazing.

British actor Freddie Highmore plays Norman and Vera Farmiga plays Norma, the mother. The chemistry between the two is indefinable, and because of that, slightly uncomfortable, which is no doubt exactly what the show is going for. It has you contemplating just how close a mother and son can be before it’s too close.

The show is now on Netflix and its ten-episode third season is to be released sometime in 2015.


Orphan Black

BBC America/BBC Three

Where to start with Orphan Black. Perhaps with Tatiana Maslany, who is worthy of all the bows. Not only does Maslany play the lead role of Sarah Manning, she plays multiple roles. Not one, not two, but… I may have lost count. The show revolves around a cloning conspiracy, where Maslany performs an unprecedented success in making every single version of herself appear as a different person, each with a different personality and history. There’s the suburban housewife, who is really a secret badass with a not-so-secret drinking and prescription drug problem, and then the Ukrainian psycho, who you ironically find quite endearing despite her casual attitude to slitting a throat. There’s even a male version that Maslany pulls off perfectly.

The show will resume with its third season in 2015.



Cinemax/Sky Atlantic

Last, but most certainly not least, Banshee is a fictional town in Pennsylvania with a large Amish community. Fresh out of a 15-year stretch, an unnamed ex-con played by Anthony Starr steals the identity of the town’s new sheriff, Lucas Hood, after the man is murdered before he even starts the job. In doing so, new Hood dispenses his own version of justice while still dabbling in criminal activity himself. By his side is his tech savvy, no bullshit friend, Job, who isn’t quite as accustomed to the country life.

The show mainly centres around two crime lords trying to get to Hood, one to kill him and the other to manipulate Hood into turning a blind eye to all his deviance. The show is explosive with twists and turns at every end. It also deals with raw subjects of racism, religion and conflict, particularly between Native Americans and new age Americans.

The show is to release its third season in 2015.


Though these shows may not get the nominations they deserve, they are little diamonds in the dust.

Warnings: With the exception of Melissa & Joey, all shows are prone to heavy scenes of violence, brutality and graphic imagery of death. Banshee and Orphan Black contain nudity and sexually explicit scenes.

Image from:
Categories: Muslim blogs

A Second Look at Islamic Schools

Imam Suhaib Webb - Fri, 17/10/2014 - 13:00

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to shed light on some overlooked positives of Islamic schools, not to claim that Islamic schools are a right fit for each child. Due diligence must be used by parents in determining whether their local Islamic school meets the needs of each of their children. In addition, no school can ever replace the parenting that a child receives at home. For any education to be worthwhile, parents need to be involved in the positive mental, social and spiritual development of their children.

To some Muslims, the words “Islamic school” immediately conjure negative connotations: backwards mentality, lower standards of education, strict supervision, unprofessional attitude, and so on. In fact, even supporters of Islamic schools for younger children would shun the idea of sending a middle-schooler or even a high-schooler to an Islamic school, saying, “I want to expose my child to the real world.” This article is written in response to the aforementioned points.

Offering “Real World” Experience in an Islamic Environment

There is a misconception that sending your child to an Islamic school completely alienates them from the rest of society. In reality, Islamic schools function just as public schools do, but offer the safety and comfort to children that is much-needed during their formative years. What part of sending our children to an Islamic school takes them out of the “real world?” Could it be our own subconscious feelings of inferiority that cause us to feel this way?

Shedding the “Mom and Pop” Image

Many critics of Islamic schools are locked in a time warp when most schools were run as family businesses.  Today, not only are many schools run by credentialed principals and administrators, but they also only hire credentialed teachers. In addition, many schools undergo a grueling evaluation process to become nationally accredited, eliminating the potential for sub-standard educational practices. The bar has been raised years ago to meet the community’s expectations and demands for quality education as well as a healthy, spiritual environment.

Developing a Positive Identity

In a book titled, “The Worried Child,” author Paul Foxman, PhD, addresses the issue of a lack of a religious/ethnic identity as a source of anxiety in children (p 94). The author also mentions that children who belong to a religious minority can feel “out of place, misunderstood, or even ostracized by their peers” when there are few or no other children of their religion in the same school. While some public schools have a sizable Muslim population, students may still feel the overwhelming effects of being in the minority. Foxman’s statement points to a positive aspect of sending our children to Islamic schools. There is a clear contribution to the positive development of a child when they have a strong sense of belonging. In addition, another study on identity and mental health states that belonging to and understanding one’s identity promotes an overall sense of well-being (see Erikson, 1968; Marcia, 1966).

Although understanding and feeling comfortable with one’s identity can be accomplished outside of an Islamic school, sending one’s child to an Islamic school can establish these feelings as part of a holistic approach. While children learn about Qur’an, its language, and the history of Islam, children also get to partake in Muslim celebrations and understand special events en masse, as part of a larger group. In this way, the child who attends an Islamic school will tend to develop positive self-esteem in a natural setting–one that does not seem forced or artificial.

Providing a Healthier Environment

Oftentimes, parents feel that by fifth or sixth grade, their children have received enough education in a Muslim environment, and so they want to send them to a public school, specifically to adapt to the “real world.” While Islamic schools do not shield children from the negative aspects of popular culture, there is a clear difference in the overall environment one’s child remains in for eight hours of school every day.

Those of us who attended public middle and high schools growing up can attest to the strong culture of dating, peer pressure to drink, to try drugs, to attend Homecoming and Prom, and so on. Despite being one of two Muslims in the entire school, I had an overall positive school experience. Nevertheless, the choice to constantly reject all the above was, at times, overwhelming.

To prepare our children for college and the workforce, we feel the need to ensure that our children interact with the “outside world” for experience. However, the years from middle school to high school feature the greatest hormonal changes. Being surrounded by scantily-clad students and couples of all types in extremely intimate situations is a very common, everyday occurrence in public high schools.

Increasing Pressures in a Sexualized World

Here’s something to consider: why knowingly provide an environment where a teenager is inundated with such temptations, if a viable Islamic school is a feasible option? With the popularity of Facebook and the ease of creating an online alter-ego, and the increasing pressure to have sex, to question one’s sexual identity, coupled with a teenager’s increasing hormonal changes, why not alleviate this pressure by sending your child to an institution that encourages and teaches the complete opposite?

While some may say, “well, get used to it,” let us instead realize that the middle and high school years are as intense as no other period in a student’s life. College campuses do have similar issues, but not to the same extent as in high school.  In addition, peer pressure is more avoidable in college, as students have a wealth of peers to choose from and class schedules are varied and staggered. Furthermore, in terms of their development, many students are more mature in college than in their earlier teenage years.

The Prophetic Example

Finally, let us look at the example of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) on this last point.  Amina, Prophet Muhammad’s mother, made the effort to send her son to be raised in the desert, where the environment was more pure. Times have changed, but the idea of sending our children to a successful Islamic school to protect them should still be seen as positive and not negative.

Once during the Prophet’s youth, he had wanted to attend a wedding in Mecca with some other boys to see what such a festivity would be like. Just outside the place, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ could hear music and dancing. Before he entered, he suddenly felt tired and decided to sit. He fell asleep and did not wake up until the next morning. If there were any person who should keep up-to-date with what is going on in society, so that he may know how to give da`wah (to invite others to the path of Allah) or so that he could understand his people, it would be Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Yet, Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exhalted is He) chose to prevent him from attending this event for his own protection.


After all is said, it is time to shed our old views on Islamic schools and take a fresh look at what they have to offer. As a mother of four children who went to four different Islamic schools since 2005 (the change of schools being due to moving), it is my experience that these schools provide quality education within a safe, moral environment. Are Islamic schools perfect? No, but do the benefits far outweigh the negatives, contributing to an overall positive, spiritual and educational experience? Yes.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Is Saying Jumu’ah Mubarak an Innovation?

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 14/10/2014 - 13:00

The Question

Recently, I saw a lecture on YouTube with a man claiming that saying, “jumu`ah mubārak (a blessed Friday)” on Fridays is an innovation? Is that true?

The Answer

Scholars of fatwā (legal opinions) divided acts into worship and customs. Both are central to our faith, and scholars gave each a tremendous amount of attention. For that reason, the first Ph.D. granted at al-Azhar University in the 20’s was on Islam and Custom.

Customs and Cultures are Embraced by Islām

Custom is so important that it forms one of the five major axioms of Islamic law. Al-Qādi al- Hussein al-Shāf’i wrote, “Utilization of custom is one of the five principles that Islamic Law rests on.”

Imām al-Syūtti mentioned them in Kawkab al-Sāti saying,

“Certainty does not remove doubt, and Islam removes every harm.
Hardship brings ease and custom (for fiqh) is a reference point
A few added a fifth: that every act of a person is based his intention.”

Custom in the Tradition

`Abdullah bin Masūd used to say, “What the Muslims deem as good is good.”

In Imām al-Bukhāri’s collection of authentic hadīth (saying or tradition of the Prophet ﷺ – peace be upon him), under the chapter on commerce, we find an interesting title for the 95th section:

بَابُ مَنْ أَجْرَى أَمْرَ الأَمْصَارِ عَلَ مَا يَتَعَارَفُونَ بَيْنَهُمْ فِي الْبُيُوعِ وَالإِجَارَةِ وَالْمِكْيَالِ، وَالْوَزْنِ، وَسُنَنِهِمْ عَلَ نِيَّاتِهِمْ وَمَذَا هِبِهِمِ الْمَشْهُورَةِ

Chapter: Where there is no fixed judgement, the traditions and conventions of a community are referred to – Customs and Norms is an Important Part of our Faith

Commenting on this, Imām bin Hajar wrote, “The purpose of this title is to establish the reliance on custom in Islamic law.”

That is not to say that any custom is recognized by Islam. For more on that, consult a local scholar or see the books of usūl al-fiqh (principles of Islamic jurisprudence).

The Ruling on Customs and Day to Day Affairs is Permissibility

Imām Ibn Taymiyyah wrote, the foundations of Imām Ahmed’school are two:

  1. Customs are permissible unless there is a clear text that forbids them.
  2. Acts of worship are forbidden (to invent) unless there is a clear text that allows them.

Then, he defined custom saying, “Customs are habits of people pertaining to food, drink, clothing, transportation, speech and other such normal day to day activities. Thus, they should not be forbidden unless by Allah or his Messenger ﷺ through an explicit text, a general one or a proper analogy. If not, then the general ruling for them is permissibility.”

We understood from Ibn Taymiyyah’s definition that customs divide into two parts: words and deeds.

Ibn Hajar said, “Custom plays a role in determining the explicit meaning of words.” Implying that if a person uses a word that is exclusive to his culture, the known custom is used to determine its implications. For that reason, Imam al-Dardīr noted that the Māliki’s coined an axiom, “Customs are like conditions.” From the important usage of words are greetings and salutations.


Scholars agree that greetings fall under mu`amalāt (day-to-day activities), and they are part of customs that are related to speech. Since the general ruling on customs in permissibility, then greetings that are free of evil are considered permissible. For that reason, when Talha (a great companion of the Prophet ﷺ) greeted K`ab with the good news of the latter’s forgiveness, the former was not censured by the Prophet ﷺ, K`ab or the other companions (Allah be pleased with them all).

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. Imām al-Sakhāwi noted this in al-Tahina bi al-Shūr wa al-‘Ayād (Greetings Upon Months and Holidays) in greater detail.

May Allah bless us with tawfiq (success).

Suhaib Webb

Categories: Muslim blogs

Why I Look Forward to RIS

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Mon, 13/10/2014 - 16:11

Virtually everyone I know who has attended the Reviving the Islamic Spirit Conference (RIS) since its inception feel that it is the best large Islamic Conference they have attended. I definitely feel that way. The organizers have done an amazing job in creating a highly professional event that truly leaves most attendees feeling revived and re-energized, prepared to face the daily challenges awaiting them upon returning to their homes with greater energy, resolve and vision. I look forward to that boost every year.

Like any human endeavor, RIS is not perfect. Some of its imperfections have been highlighted this past summer by a series of very public criticisms. This brief message is not to call into question the substance of those criticisms. I have had the opportunity to speak personally with some of those who feel the conference is not as inclusive as it could be, and I appreciate both the honesty of their observations, and the brotherly concern, which moved them to share them. At the end of the day, like Tariq Ramadan, a very high-profile critic of RIS, whom I have not yet had the opportunity to speak to in person, they want to see a better conference, and that is the foundation of their critique. May Allah bless them all.

Even before those criticism came to light, others, such as Canadian Muslims with Disabilities (CAM-D) have complained of the need for the conference to be more accessible to Muslims challenged by various disabilities. I know that the organizers of the conference have tried to address some of their concerns, but they will readily acknowledge that they have much more to do in this particular regard. Yet others criticize the conference from other, justifiable, directions. Members of our community should not be hesitant to raise issues that concern it, for we would all readily admit that constructive criticism is one the most fundamental requisites for improvement in any endeavor. RIS is no exception.

Having said that, what has been accomplished by the organizers has proven to be a powerful, life-changing experience for many of the attendees, beginning with those individuals who each year proclaim their Shahada at the conference. In addition to the benefits accruing to those Muslims attending, the annual coat drive, food drive and other social service programs, programs which the organizers are seeking to expand, thousands of non-Muslims benefit from RIS. As a result, the entire community in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has come to see the RIS as a source of positive Muslim involvement in the life of the wider community.

For many Torontonians, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, RIS is a source of great civic pride. In this age where Muslims are increasingly viewed by many in North America as menacing outsiders, the organizers should be commended for what they have accomplished. They have created, from scratch, without the aid of any Muslim country or major political party or organization, a powerful institution that serves as a testimony to the beauty of our religion at a time when there is so much making to appear ugly.

At the end of the day, the conference is dedicated to reviving the spirit of the attendees. Other conferences are dedicated to other purposes, some strictly political, some more eclectic in their approach. In my estimation, RIS has done a wonderful job accomplishing its mission. May Allah protect this unique gathering and may He reward the organizers immensely for what they have been blessed to achieve. I look forward to seeing you all in Toronto, Insha Allah!

Categories: Muslim blogs

He Has Your Back: Al-Wali

Imam Suhaib Webb - Mon, 13/10/2014 - 13:00

Photo: Brook Ward

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


We have different categories of friends. Some friends are fun to hang out with, but that is pretty much it; you cannot exactly rely on them. Other friends are there for you but don’t always give you the best advice. But there are some friends – or that one friend – that truly has your back. The friend you would call to bail you out, because you have no doubt that they will, no matter how much trouble you are in. This friend is actually protective of you. Think for a moment: do you have a friend like that?

Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala (Exhalted is He), tells us that He is that Protective Friend. He is al-Wali. Allah says in the Qur’an:

“And it is He who sends down the rain after they had despaired and spreads His mercy. And He is the Protective Friend (al-Wali), the Praiseworthy.” (Qur’an, 42:28)

When looking into the root of this word, we cannot help but feel close to Allah (swt). The nuances that come with understanding His Names and the relationship of those Names with us shows us the beautiful intimacy of Allah’s knowledge of His servants. Al-Wali comes from the three-letter root: w-l-y. The root of the word means to be very close, without any barrier. For example, if someone was sitting somewhere, the person right next to him – not separated by anyone else – is the one yaleehi or the wali:

وجَلَسَ ممّا يَلِيني، أي يُقارِبُني

Hence it also has the following meanings: to be a friend and a helper; to defend and to guard. Al-Ghazali states that al-Wali is also “lover and protector.”

And so what does it mean for Allah (swt) to be al-Wali – the Protective Friend? It means that He has your back. He could have just been a ‘friend,’ but some friends are flaky. Abu Abdullah ‘Amr bin Al-’as, radi Allahu ‘anhu (may Allah be pleased with him), said that he heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ (peace be upon him) saying openly not secretly, “The family of so-and-so (i.e., Abu Talib) are not my supporters (awliya’). My supporter (wali) is Allah and the righteous believing people. But they (that family) have kinship with whom I will maintain the ties of kinship.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

He is the true Wali, demonstrating His closeness to you and His protectiveness of you. This beautiful verse encapsulates how Allah (swt) manifests this attribute in our lives:

“Allah is the wali of those who believe. He brings them out from darknesses into the light…” (Qur’an, 2:257)

Allah says He is the Protective Friend of those who believe. Nouman Ali Khan explained that Allah did not use the word mu’minoon meaning “the believers.” He said “those who believed.” Who are they? They are the people who have entered into iman (faith) but it has not settled in their hearts yet. He is the Protective Friend of those people! Not the perfect ones, but the ones who struggle- the ones who are not there yet. And how is He a Protective Friend? He has the constant attribute of pulling them – pulling us, those who go up and down in their faith – out of darknesses, and bringing us into light. Not just one time, but over and over again. Just like He forgives over and over, He has your back always.

This is the general meaning of Allah (swt) being al-Wali. There is the general meaning of this Name, and then the specific one- the wilaya of those who are close to Him. Look at what Allah al-Wali said to the Prophet ﷺ:

“And be patient, [O Muhammad], for the decision of your Lord, for indeed, you are in Our eyes…” (Qur’an, 52:48)

While we all enjoy this friendship with Allah (swt), those who take their relationship with Him seriously, and do what they can to cultivate this relationship and be true slaves of the Most-Merciful, receive the special protection and friendship. This is alluded to in the hadith qudsi, where Allah (swt) tells us that:

“Whosoever acts with enmity towards a closer servant of Mine (Wali), I will indeed declare war against him. Nothing endears My servant to Me than doing of what I have made obligatory upon him to do. And My servant continues to draw nearer to Me with the supererogatory (nawafil) so that I shall love him. When I love him, I shall be his hearing with which he shall hear, his sight with which he shall see, his hands with which he shall hold, and his feet with which he shall walk. And if he asks (something) of Me, I shall surely give it to him, and if he takes refuge in Me, I shall certainly grant him it.” (Bukhari)

By focusing on what Allah loves – the obligatory acts – we begin on this journey of closeness to Him. And it is not just by doing the actions, but understanding the true meaning behind them: seeking to connect to Him with our prayer; restraining the lower self when we fast; being humble when we give charity; and remembering that we are brothers and sisters when we perform the Hajj (greater pilgrimage). Then by moving on and adding those things that are voluntary, we become beloved to Him, and then become part of His special friendship and protection. Al-Ghazali states that the one who is a wali of Allah befriends His friends, and shows enmity towards His enemies. And who are the enemies? “One’s own [lower] self and Satan.” The fruit of that is having neither fear nor grieving (Qur’an, 10:62).

We have countless examples from the life of the Prophet ﷺ. The people of Qureish in Makkah were planning on assassinating the Prophet ﷺ. On that night, he escaped Madinah with his closest friend, Abu Bakr (ra), but they were followed by his would-be assassins. So the Prophet ﷺ and Abu Bakr hid in the Cave of Thawr, but they were followed there too. They were inches away from being discovered by their persecutors and with calm, the Prophet ﷺ said to Abu Bakr (ra): “Do not be sad, Allah is with us.” And they were not discovered and were able to make it to the security of the city of Madinah.

Look at what happened to Aisha (ra), the beloved wife of the Prophet ﷺ. She was the subject of a horrible rumor that attacked her very character and morals. But she was very sick for a whole month, and had no idea what was going on. That sickness was a protection for her. When she was better and finally made aware of the rumors, she was devastated. But that only lasted 3 days. She was hoping the Prophet ﷺ would receive a vision declaring her innocence, but something even more amazing happened. Verses of the Qur’an were revealed in Surat an-Nur (the Chapter of Light), so that there could be no ambiguity about her innocence.

In understanding this concept of wilaya, we need to go beyond the superficial. It is not just external protection that Allah (swt) gives; it is also the internal strength and tranquility that enables us to withstand the external hardships that is gifted to us. There will always be external struggles in this world, especially when we are striving to do good. The life of the Prophet ﷺ was not easy, nor was it for the companions or those who strived and continue to strive for justice and goodness for His sake. But the awliya’ (the recipients of His special friendship and protection) are given a tranquility to continue, and the vision to see beyond the superficial nature of things.

So do not worry. Allah (swt) is your Protective Friend. He has your back. Strive for Him and be ambitious in your goals, and do not let fear prevent you from doing good. As the Qur’an tells us:

“Indeed, my protector (wali) is Allah, who has sent down the Book; and He is an ally to the righteous.” (Qur’an, 7:196)

May we enhance the relationship with the Best Friend we could ask for, our Wali, Allah (swt).

More on Al-Wali in this article:

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Art and Ethics of Chocolate-Making

The Platform - Mon, 13/10/2014 - 00:44

Indulging in the art of chocolate-making at home is lavishly satisfying but the disturbing reality of cocoa production continues


If your only relationship with chocolate is to consume it, you may never have considered chocolate to be an art. For me, it is an art. At my first event selling chocolates, I joined a bunch of creative stallholders selling handmade goodies, from cards to jam. My little selection of flavoured chocolates was the nouveau arrive and I was delighted by the enthusiastic response of those who had never encountered homemade chocolate before. I was also quite amused by the tentative nibbles at my chilli-lime hearts and comments of “no thanks, I prefer Cadbury”. Of course, handmade chocolates aren’t for everyone.

In order to demystify handmade chocolates, here are some facts. Firstly, chocolate is only made from scratch by exquisite chocolate-makers, and believe me, you’ll know this by the price tag. Secondly, there is a difference between chocolate-makers and chocolatiers — chocolate-makers are generally bean-to-bar chocolate tailors, while chocolatiers tinker around with good quality coverture (chocolate with extra cocoa butter, perfect for melting and moulding). Thirdly, and so not to upset the connoisseurs among you, there is a distinctive difference between chocolatiers with names like of Amano and Valrhona — the crème de la crème of the chocolate world — and novices like me who begin start-up chocolate businesses at home. In this article, I’m talking about the latter.

My very small business grew out of a hobby. For me, the art of chocolate is in the melting, tempering and forming of the chocolate into individual little creations, filled or flavoured, moulded or hand-dipped, and each hand-decorated. Handmade chocolates are made in small batches, using fresh ingredients in unique combinations. Arguably, they have more personality and more originality than the sugary toothache-inducing masses you find on supermarket shelves (sorry Cadbury-lovers)! For these reasons, chocolatiers like to self-style as artisans. The word may be too liberally-applied, but it doesn’t stop me from regarding my steel bowl of melted chocolate as a vat of paint, uninspiring in its current state, but able to produce versatile, stunning effects.

Chocolate-making is not so tricky when you master the basics. All it really requires is patience, practice and consistency. If you’re working without professional equipment, the main toil is in the tempering. The crafting of chocolate all begins with a nice big bowl of coverture, which needs to be melted to about 45°C and then cooled back down to 30°C. It sounds easy but it’s not — tempering controls the crystallisation of cocoa butter which produces smaller-sized crystals. This gives the chocolate a shiny look and a nice clean snap. If you temper your chocolate incorrectly, you end up with uneven crystals, blotchy white patches, and a finished product that is better off concealed in your tummy than presented on a plate.

While tempering is the tedious foundation of chocolate work, the fun is in the flavouring. I am inspired by international favourites, like Indian chai-latte or French confiture de lait. I also like to balance delicate fruit and floral flavours like rose essence, lemon and orange zest with rich white or dark chocolate. Foraged ingredients make the most satisfying fillings and – dare I say – are much more exciting in chocolates than they are in pies or jams. I particularly like the combination of fresh fruit in chocolate: foraged blackberries and raspberries blitzed, de-seeded and formed into a ganache, or fresh mint whipped into cream and poured into dark chocolate.

The fiddly part of chocolate-making is the moulding and the shaping. To make moulded chocolate hearts for example, tempered chocolate needs to be painted into heart-shaped moulds to create cases, which are then cooled, filled with ganache and topped up with more tempered chocolate. After leaving it to set, the hearts will (hopefully) drop out of the moulds. Hand-dipped chocolates are a little easier but involve several steps, beginning with creating the chocolate ganache, cooling it, cutting it, cooling again, hand-dipping each piece into melted chocolate, and then finally decorating.

For those who have watched the film Chocolat (2000), chocolate-making invokes that toiling yet glamorous image of chocolatier, Vianne Rocher, crafting beautiful chocolates in her kitchen ready for selling in her little village shop. Yes, there is a huge amount of satisfaction in rolling balls of truffles between your palms and dipping piped ganache into velvety white chocolate. But behind the glamour of the chocolate world is a serious question of ethics. If you’ve never questioned where our cocoa comes from, there is another film about chocolate that you may want to watch.

In 2001, global chocolate companies like Nestle, Mars and Barry Callebaut signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol, setting out an action plan to eradicate the worst forms of child labour from cocoa supply chains by 2005. This deadline was not met. In 2010, Roberto Romano, an award-winning filmmaker who sadly passed away last year, decided to document cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast to see if anything had changed. His documentary, The Dark Side of Chocolate, highlighted that the disturbing connection between child slavery and cocoa production had not ceased despite a decade passing since the protocol. In West Africa, children as young as seven were being sold as slaves to cocoa farms by parents who couldn’t afford to care for them, or were being kidnapped directly off the streets by cocoa farm traffickers. The Ivory Coast is where approximately 42 per cent of the world’s cocoa comes from and is used in many of our well-loved brands. By making this documentary, Romano brought the issue directly to consumers’ attention, exerting pressure on major chocolate companies to again address the protocol.

When I began making chocolates, my exposure to the realities of cocoa-farming influenced me to buy ethical chocolate coverture. You may have noticed that some of our high street chocolate brands have switched to Fairtrade, including some products of Mars (Malteasers), Nestle (Kitkat) and Kraft (selected Cadbury bars). But what about coverture chocolate? Cocoa Barry, a company that had originally signed the protocol, are one of the few chocolate suppliers who now offer Fairtrade alternatives for chocolatiers. But there really are very few ethical alternatives out there. And indeed, as the consumer demand for ethical chocolate grows, suppliers of coverture have to start responding. I believe the demand for Fairtrade chocolate should be vocalised louder by those in the artisan industry, as well as its consumers. Chocolate-making is an art, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of ethics.

Image from:
Categories: Muslim blogs

A Myriad of British Gifts at the 58th BFI Film Festival

The Platform - Sat, 11/10/2014 - 20:25

The 58th BFI London Film Festival showcases a cocktail of films that are to radiate the coming year


When the rain-soaked red carpets lie on Leicester Square it can only mean one thing: the London Film Festival is making its annual appearance, with attendant glamour and grit. It lasts 12 days, which is incidentally not the only thing it has in common with Christmas. The myriad of daily gifts include a showcase of filmmaking talent that will lighten up your lives over the coming year. There have been no lords reported a-leaping, at least not since Guy Ritchie took early retirement, but one Björk bailing on her planned appearance to promote the multimedia musical tribute Björk: Biophilia Live. She left one of her two directors, Peter Strickland, to face the press alone.

The film festival is large, diverse and aims to combine artistic prestige alongside commercial potential, with Brad Pitt’s vehicle Fury closing the event. It is a fully international event, but never let it be said that The Platform is not responsive to the mood of the times in post-imperial Britain. With that in mind, we are going to concentrate for the first of our festival dispatches solely on the films of our own fear, united isle.

The opening night was heralded by the gala premiere of The Imitation Game. The film follows the life of mathematical genius Alan Turing, responsible for the prototype of the computer. Turing was also a member of the Bletchley Park code-breakers, participant in the high pressure, secret and eventually successful efforts to decipher the German Enigma codes. This enterprise played a vital role in the defeat of the Nazis in the Second World War.

You might imagine that someone who helped determine the modern world would be garlanded with honours, but not Turing. He was rewarded by being arrested in 1952 for ‘gross indecency’ – because he was homosexual – and chemically castrated. Not long afterwards, he committed suicide. Clearly, sentimentality was not what made the British state great.

This film is solid stuff, making good, ensemble drama out of its period piece setting. There are strong performances from Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, and especially Benedict Cumberbatch, who takes the starring role. Collectively, they convey the conflicting emotions of the tale.

As a film, it is an example of how a nation’s artworks can be used to gain new understandings of the past, and how it can mark the changes in social attitudes that occur across the span of one lifetime. Last year, Turing was given a posthumous royal pardon for his conviction and his relegation to obscurity seems finally over. While the film’s sometimes formulaic conventions do not offer much in terms of path-breaking artistic flair, its presentation of eccentricity, rivalry and passionate obsession makes for compulsive viewing.

Historical memory and national character look like they will be no less present in other UK films on show, which are yet to be released as this article goes to press. In this centenary year of the start of WWI – which has seen Conservative education minister, Michael Gove, try to rescue its legacy as a noble sacrifice – Vera Brittain’s WWI memoir, Testament of Youth, brings to the screen the account of a nurse faced with the horrors of those wounded by war.

Given that our nation is once more at war, no less resonant is the dramatic target of ’71, a handheld scramble through the street-to-street fighting that met the British presence in Belfast. Jack O’Connell plays fresh-faced squaddie, who finds himself adrift in urban warfare and dependent on the clemency of the locals.

Bringing some more old-fashioned craft to the British entrants, A Little Chaos sees Kate Winslet playing a landscape gardener in the court of Louis XIV in Versaille. It is a film that promises to combine love and horticulture with the charms of courtly gossip. It will also be intriguing to see how Britain’s leading realist director, Mike Leigh, brings to life the last dyspeptic years of the English painter William Turner in Mr Turner, played by Leigh’s regular, hangdog acting muse Timothy Spall. At the other end of the painterly spectrum, the great living painter and character, as well as smokers’ rights activist, David Hockney, is profiled in the documentary Hockney: A Life in Pictures.

Celebrations of one aspect or another of British heritage are rather thick on the ground, but there are also several films that show a somewhat different side of our nation’s culture. The Goob interweaves impoverished blight with a sense of thoughtful lyricism in the life of the titular 16-year-old. The protagonist is a mistreated school-leaver who tries to take on the violent cruelty of his stepfather. The film’s imaginative ugliness somewhat brings to mind an entrant from last year’s festival, The Selfish Giant.

Night Bus looks like it will offer an amusing take on that most venerable of the capital’s public institutions, the nocturnal public transport system. But it is The Duke of Burgundy that confirms the brilliance of one of our most accomplished and interesting directors, Peter Strickland – yes, the same director stood up by the enchantingly temperamental Björk. Full of mystery and invention, he succeeds in crafting a vision of sensuality exceeding rational understanding in this picture of the dreamy disturbance of entrapping love.

Image from: Testament of Youth /
Categories: Muslim blogs

Updated: How the Muslims Killed Dracula

Imam Suhaib Webb - Fri, 10/10/2014 - 13:00

Vlad Țepeș (Dracula) Source: Wikipedia

Author’s Note 10-10-2014: I wrote “How the Muslims Killed Dracula” in 2010 in hopes of telling the little known story of an unsung hero, Radu cel Frumos the Voivod and warrior of Wallachia who led the battle against the genocidal mania of his own brother, Vlad Ţepeş, known in infamy as Dracula. Since then, the article has been shared thousands of times, translated into multiple languages and built upon by other talented authors with greater detail than presented in my article. Unfortunately, it has also been copied not so discretely or elegantly without any credit to me. In one instance it was even plagiarized by an infamous sympathizer of terrorism twisting the information in the article for his nefarious ends. Simply put —mostly good, but occasionally bad— it got around. I thank you for that and I am sure Radu and his dear friend Sultan Mehmet II thank you as well.

Who would have thought that 117 years after Dracula was introduced to the western world by Bram Stoker he would ever be seen as a hero. But, sadly, in today’s geopolitical climate and all its medieval saber rattling it seems that anyone who ever brutally massacred Muslims will be reinvented as a hero. But this weekend a seemingly ridiculous sci-fi/quasi-historical film that butchers the historical narrative of Vlad Ţepeş and completely reverses the antagonists with the protagonists will be hitting a theater near you. The film tries to evoke parallels to Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” by painting a picture of an invading army, who happen to be Muslims, being opposed by a local prince who must resort to the most grotesque forms of violence in order to repel them. As many of you may be seeing the film —though I actually hope you don’t— I’d like you to take some points into the theater with you:

The film depicts an invading Muslim army demanding the children of the poor conquered Christians from whom Vlad Ţepeş (whom I will henceforth refer to as Dracula) supposedly rises as a rebel leader. This is pure nonsense.

Dracula’s father Vlad Dracul II and their clan, the House of Drăculești, had been dutiful allies of the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman Turks actually fought John Hunyadi, the bitter enemy of the House of Drăculești, in order to place Vlad Dracul II upon the throne. So, not only were the Ottoman Turks not the enemies of Dracula’s family, they actually fought to put them in power. (As an aside, John Hunyadi is the patriarch of the Corvinus family who are portrayed as vampire royalty in the “Underworld” films.)

Furthermore, the father of Dracula himself offered the Ottoman Turks the military service of Wallachia’s young boys to train in the Ottoman Turkish military which was, by far, the greatest military in the world at that time. Not only that, he even offered his own two sons, Dracula and Radu, to serve in their army and to be raised as Muslims. You can read about their childhood in Ottoman Turkish military service in my article.

So why did Dracula rise up against the Ottomans? The opportunist that he was, the reason is simple: Gold. Even though the Christians had lost nearly every single Crusade against the Muslims, in 1459 at the Council of Mantua, Pope Pius II called for yet another Crusade against the Muslims. At that time, the Muslim world was championed by the Ottoman Empire. Pope Pius II gave Matthias Corvinus, Dracula’s rival and son of John Hunyadi who was Dracula’s father’s rival, an astounding amount of gold. No less than 40,000 gold pieces which was enough, in and of itself, to raise and build a whole new army and navy. Dracula simply wasn’t going to let his rival get all the pie to himself. It was at this point that Dracula took the House of Drăculești from being allies of the Ottomans to being their enemies.

We often bemoan the negative portrayal of Muslims in film and television. We get angry when we see absurd portrayals of our prayers and traditions on shows like “Homeland”. But who is to blame when we have absolutely no presence in popular media? I’m sorry to say, we are ultimately to blame. If we will not get involved in and excel in the media from journalism to producing, acting and directing and the plethora of niches in-between and beyond, then we risk our stories almost certainly being told by those who do not favor us. Case in point, in the 4 years since my article was written, I’ve had multiple hit-and-run queries to join an effort to tell this amazing story of the real historical Dracula in film. But in the end, no Muslim, nor even parties sympathetic to just plain telling the truth, ever took up this project. So guess what happened? “Dracula Untold.” That was an opportunity lost. But this is a story that has been told countless times over. It’s not too late for Radu, the heroic brother of Dracula, to have his day.

Originally Posted November 2010 

Born in the Ottoman Principality of Wallachia, Romania in 1435 AD, he was known as Radu al III-lea cel Frumos to his Romanian countrymen, Yakışıklı Radu Bey to the Turks, Radu al-Wasim to the Arabs, and Radu the Handsome in English. This ally and childhood friend of Sultan Mehmet II was instrumental in the conquest of Constantinople for Islam. Radu’s participation in that conquest ensured that Mehmet II would go down in history as “Fatih,” or “Conqueror.” Radu was the Ottomans’ secret weapon against the Safavids to the East and the Serbs, Romanians and Hungarians to the West. The Muslim world owes much to this hero of Islam, yet they recorded little other than cursory references to him, perhaps for fear of taking away from Fatih Sultan Mehmet’s limelight. The Byzantines recorded Radu as a reviled despot due to their hatred for his conversion to Islam and instrumental role in ending the Byzantine Empire.

Yet, this Ottoman general had a greater war, a war against darkness. He hunted the very progenitor of the vampire legend who impaled his enemies and drank their blood – Vlad al III-lea Ţepeş, also known as Vlad Drăculea, who would go down in infamy as, simply, Dracula. The character of Professor Abraham Van Helsing was no more than a figment of Bram Stoker’s terrifying imagination, but Sultan Mehmet II and Radu cel Frumos were perhaps the first and only true vampire hunters in history.

The Blood Brothers

Looking back, Radu’s devotion to Islam and to Sultan Mehmet II could be traced to the political alliance of their respective fathers before them. Vlad II from the House of Drăculeşti (“House of the Dragon”) was an ally and vassal of Sultan Mehmet’s father, Sultan Murad II. Vlad II had 4 sons: Mircea II, Vlad IV Călugărul (“The Monk”), Vlad III who would come to be known as Dracula, and Radu III cel Frumos (“The Handsome”). As a gesture of unity with the Sultan, Vlad II offered his sons, Dracula and Radu, to serve the Ottoman Sultan. Under the Janissaries they studied the Qur’an, Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Islamic Theology and Jurisprudence, and, coveted above all, Turkish military strategy and tactics of war.

The Ottoman special forces who held a higher status both militarily as well as socially than the rank and file were the Janissaries and the Sipahis. The Janissaries were the elite infantry of the Ottoman military as well as the personal bodyguards of the Sultan and his family. The Sipahis were the elite cavalry who surrounded the Sultan in battle and would be sent to deal with the most stubborn of adversaries. They were the commandos and special forces of their day. Though the Sipahis were almost exclusively Turkic in origin as demanded by Sultan Mehmet II himself in his treatise of law entitled Kanun Nameh-e-Sipahi (“Law Book of the Sipahis”), the Janissaries, within whose ranks Dracula and Radu found themselves, were conversely converts to Islam.

The young Dracula continually abused and rebelled against his hosts earning himself imprisonment and castigation. Due to the heavy handedness of the Turks in response to his insolence, he developed a compounded and complex series of grudges. He hated his father for allying with the Turks, which he saw as a betrayal of the Order of the Dragon to which his father had sworn an oath. The Order of the Dragon was a Christian fraternity whose sole aim was to wipe out Islam from the Balkans forever. Dracula hated Radu for his successes and the favor the Turks bestowed upon him. He was filled with jealousy for the then young Mehmet II who, like him, was a prince, but, very unlike him, lived in splendor. He was also jealous of his brothers Mircea and Vlad the Monk due to what he perceived as his father’s preference for them. His sentiments for Mircea however, would teeter between jealousy and awe. It is from him that the young Dracula learned the terror tactic of impaling thousands to create forests of the dead.

Radu remained faithful to Islam and the Sultan and spent his entire life in battle on the frontiers of the Ottoman Empire, vanquishing the most difficult adversaries of the Empire. His natural knack for battle was unparalleled even amongst the Janissaries and elite Sipahis of the Ottoman military, and he would be called upon frequently to subdue any foe that seemed insurmountable. It is reported that he turned the very course of Near Eastern history when he stopped the mighty Ak Koyunlu from overrunning the Ottomans, an event that, if not stopped, would have definitely changed the faces of both the Middle East and Europe today. For this very reason, he was called upon to face the threat from his homeland of Wallachia that neither the elite Janissaries nor the Sipahis could route.

The Conquest of Constantinople

“On the third day after the fall of our city, the Sultan celebrated his victory with a great, joyful triumph. He issued a proclamation: the citizens of all ages who had managed to escape detection were to leave their hiding places throughout the city and come out into the open, as they were to remain free and no question would be asked. He further declared the restoration of houses and property to those who had abandoned our city before the siege, if they returned home, they would be treated according to their rank and religion, as if nothing had changed.” (George Sphrantzes, 1401-1478, Byzantine Christian chronicler and witness of the fall of Constantinople)

It was a time of relief and rejoicing. It was a relief for the inhabitants of Constantinople who expected a prompt culling following the fall of their city. It was a time of celebration for the entire Muslim world for this historical conquest of a city that has remained, to this very day, the capital of the Turks. Yet as Sultan Mehmet II rode into the city victorious, a glance over to his childhood friend and chief of the Janissaries, Radu cel Frumos, son of Vlad II Duke of Wallachia, may have served as a sobering reminder that to the North, beyond the spoils of Byzantium, their fiercest enemies lay in wait. Among those enemies was the most feared of them all, Dracula, who just so happened to be Radu’s own brother.

The Rise of Dracula

Opportunistic betrayal was the way of Wallachia’s rulers and in one such brief betrayal, Vlad II silently allowed his older sons, Mircea and Vlad IV, to launch an insurrection after which Mircea impaled all his prisoners upon stakes. The young Dracula loved the sight of this and later joined Mircea in further insurrections against the Ottomans as well as the rival Dăneşti clan supported by the Hungarian warlord, John Hunyadi. Ultimately, Hunyadi overran Dracula’s father, slew him in the marshes of Bălteni and blinded and buried Mircea alive at Târgovişte. Hunyadi installed a Dăneşti prince, Vladislav II, over Wallachia. In his ambition and lust for power, Dracula put aside any vengeful sentiments for his slaughtered father and brother and allied with Hunyadi and served him as an adviser. As John Hunyadi went to face the Turks at Belgrade in modern day Serbia, Dracula attacked and slew Vladislav and took the throne for himself. As fortune would have it, a plague broke out amongst Hunyadi’s camp, infecting him which lead to his death. Sultan Mehmet was severely wounded in the battle. These events left Dracula to rule Wallachia uninterrupted for 6 years. It was the only time he ruled his home for so long.

The Impaler

“I have killed men and women, old and young… We killed 23,884 Turks and Bulgarians without counting those whom we burned in their homes or whose heads were not cut by our soldiers.” (Dracula, in a letter to Matthias Corvinus bragging of his tyranny)

As Sultan Mehmet approached what appeared to be a fetid balding forest of rotting trees in the distance he soon realized the horror of what he approached. They were so close to their destination – the Wallachian capital of Târgoviște -that he was in no mood for this puzzling sight. But the figures became more clear as the steeds in the cavalry grew unruly and the infantry felt ill. Before him stood 20,000 impaled bodies of innocent men, women and children, all victims of Dracula in that winter of 1462.

Dracula’s Muslim upbringing, albeit abandoned in deference to opportunity, and fluency in Turkish enabled him to move about the Ottomans’ most secured camps freely as a Turk without being noticed. This had deadly consequences for the Muslims. Dracula had entered Serbia with his men all dressed as Turkish Sipahis and slaughtered all the Muslim villagers, and those non-Muslims friendly to them that they could find. The intent was to leave a horrifying memento for Sultan Mehmet whom they knew to be soon taking their capital city. They erected this unholy monument in a bid to alarm the Sultan and terrorize his troops in hopes that they might turn around and retreat home.

What is remarkable is that there are no records of mass desertion of Ottoman troops after witnessing this. They pressed on unflinchingly. However, some historians have suggested that Sultan Mehmet II lost his taste for hunting down the ‘vampire’ following this invasion of Wallachia and left the task up to the only one who was capable of hunting down Dracula and killing him. After taking the Wallachian capital of Târgoviște, Mehmet returned home, leaving the hunt to Radu. After all, it would take someone who knew the mind of Dracula to defeat him, and none fit this bill better than his own brother.

This event earned Dracula the name of Vlad Ţepeş, the Romanian word “Ţepeş” meaning “Impaler”. Legend has it that if you look closely at the word you can see Dracula’s fangs dangling beneath as a hidden warning to the vampire’s terrible lust for blood.

Radu vs. Dracula: Brothers in Blood

As Târgoviște was taken, Dracula fled towards Transylvania in hopes of finding refuge with John Hunyadi’s son Matthias Corvinus. As was typical of Dracula’s opportunism and lack of reverence for religion, he offered to become Catholic in order to win Corvinus’ favor. He scorched the earth and slaughtered all the living in his path leaving a wake of desolation and writhing impaled bodies. He would not give up his homeland to the Muslims that easily. He began a beleaguering campaign of guerilla warfare that the elite Ottoman Sipahis could not endure. It is said he slaughtered 15,000 of the Ottoman soldiers in one single night. Still, as the mightiest of the Ottomans fled, Radu was undeterred seemingly driven by what can only be interpreted as an austere piety, to end the bloody reign of his haplessly misguided brother. None remained to fight Dracula save Radu and his fellow Romanian Muslim Janissaries.

The brothers fought lingering battles for the throne of Wallachia and Radu’s control of the region increased staggeringly with Dracula receiving less and less support from Matthias Corvinus in Hungary. In a strange twist of fate, Corvinus, the one to whom Dracula retreated, had him imprisoned for 12 years on charges of high treason. The people of Wallachia and their Christian nobles had enough of Dracula’s terror and put their support behind Radu who was pronounced Voivod, Prince and Ruler of Wallachia in 1462. Radu ruled the land prosperously for 11 years until his death while Dracula wasted away in a Budapest prison patiently waiting to rise again from the darkness.

Dracula’s Release and Final Battle

After Radu’s death in 1473, Dracula was released from prison. He immediately assembled an army and invaded Bosnia, slaughtering its Muslim population and impaling 8,000 on stakes in a forest of human bodies. Once again, Dracula had arisen from the darkness with the objective of eliminating Islam from the Balkans forever. He finally acquired the throne of Wallachia after his departed brother, but only for a month. Sultan Mehmet invaded Wallachia to remove this profanity from the throne his dear friend Radu had vacated in death. In 1476 the forces of Sultan Mehmet faced the forces of Dracula in Bucharest, Romania. Dracula’s army was overrun in a blitz and all were killed, including Dracula himself. The vampire had been slain. News of this did not suffice. His head was cut off and preserved in a jar of honey and sent to Constantinople. There, in a fitting end, Dracula’s head was impaled upon a stake in the center of Constantinople for all to see. There was to be no doubt or mystery.

The Muslims had finally, at last, killed Dracula.


  • Dracula: Essays on the Life and Times of Vlad Ţepeş, Kurt W. Treptow
  • Vlad III Dracula: The Life and Times of the Historical Dracula, Kurt W. Treptow
  • The Complete Dracula, Radu Florescu, Raymond T. McNally
  • Vlad Ţepeş, Prince of Walachia, Nicolae Stoicescu
  • Tarikh al-Dawlah al-`Uthmaniyyah  fi-l `Usur al-Wusta (Arabic), Dr. Mahmud al-Huwayri
  • Al-`Uthmaniyin fi-l Tarikh wal-Hadharah (Arabic), Dr. Muhammad Harb
  • Tarikh al-Dawlah al-`Uthmaniyyah (Arabic), Dr. Ali Hassoun
  • Al-Sultan Muhammad al-Fatih (Arabic), Dr. Sayyid Ridwan `Ali
Categories: Muslim blogs

Is The Quran A Violent Text Or Is Your Reading A Tad Off?

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 09/10/2014 - 13:00

Photo: Asim Bharwani

By Joe Bradford | Originally Posted on

An Open Letter to Atheist Muslims

Dear Self Described Atheist Muslims,

Let’s start with what I am not going to do.

I am not going to accuse you of never knowing anything about Islam. Most of you have grown up in Muslim families, attended Muslim Sunday school, gone to Muslim summer camp, etc. You know the drill and the day to day of what many Muslims experience, especially in a communal sense. Also, I will not accuse you of being sympathetic to the bigotry and hatred projected towards Muslims. Despite your self-declared apostasy and atheism, I am sure that when you are in line in the airport, pulled over for a minor traffic violation, or opening an account at a bank, you are wholly identified as an “other” and your “Muslimy” name doesn’t help you in the least. I get it. You are still, like it or not, culturally tied to the community that you have identified with much of your life, despite now rejecting the faith that that community holds dear.

A Number of Assumptions

There are several of you who have written on this topic. See herehere, and here. You say you want to help. I am sure you do. Your advice to Muslims that label themselves as “moderate” can be summarized in a few bullet points:

  • Muslims believe in the Qur’an as “God’s literal word” and this you say needs to stop
  • Muslims claim that the Qur’an is misinterpreted, while terrorist groups around the world use the same text to justify violence; this you claim, shows that something is missing.
  • Claims that the Qur’an contains metaphor, allegory, and is an interpreted document are just unacceptable, because unless all Muslims around the world accept these interpretations, then no one can accept them.
  • The only way past all of this is to admit that the Qu’ran is an errant document, can be changed or discarded, and for Muslims to adhere not to an ideological identity but instead to a community identity.

I will not engage in appeals to emotion by waxing poetic on my background growing up as a Muslim. You know “as a distraught teen, I never X. Then I did, and my life changed because then I could Y, which lead me to Z…” all the while peppering the conversation with where I’ve lived and all of the random factoids on how Muslims around the world revere the Qur’an unrelated to the topic at hand that I know about. We get all that, because you’ve already said you identified with Muslims as a community of people.

What I do want to talk to you about is your propensity to conflate your years, if not months, in Sunday schools around the world as some form of expertise on Islamic thought, theology, and scripture. Clearly, by mere frequency of mentioning that you’ve attended Sunday school, or that you’ve lived in a Muslim majority country (extra points if you mention the KSA or the UAE) you are more than well qualified to speak about issues that members of other faiths reserve for clergy, subject matter experts, and seminarians. This is something that many of you are not in the least qualified to do. In fact, if having lived in the Middle East is somehow indicative of your familiarity with Muslim doctrine, scriptural veracity, and its theological underpinnings, then living and studying there makes one more than qualified to comment on these issues. So at risk of sounding condescending and/or vain, I must state for the record that I am qualified to speak on issues of interpretation of religious texts. I have undergraduate degree in “Shariah and Islamic Studies” from the Islamic University of Medina. I hold a Master of Islamic Law degree from the same university. I have studied in faculty and privately with scholars, professors, and experts from around the Muslim world. I did say at the beginning that I’m not going to accuse you of never knowing anything about Islam. You do know something. But I will say that this one thing, namely Qur’anic interpretation, is something you severely lack expertise in to put it politely. You’ve based a lot of what you’ve said on several assumptions. Let’s talk about the assumptions above and some of the issues related to them.

Who Speaks for Islam

Who really speaks for Islam? This is a crucial question when we talk about interpreting religious texts. We hear it all the time: Muslims do not have formal clergy. This is a true statement, well at least in part. It does not take into consideration that “clergy” is a term with considerable cultural baggage, namely the sacerdotal function of the priesthood in Christianity. By sacerdotal I mean “relating to or denoting a doctrine that ascribes sacrificial functions and spiritual or supernatural powers to ordained priests.” So yes, Muslim Imams and scholars are not imbued with supernatural powers, although they do fulfill a function in the community. Some of those functions are merely pastoral in nature, while others are scholarly and interpretive. The Muslim “Shaykh” or religious scholar is probably a lot closer in concept to the Jewish Rabbi than he is to the Catholic priest. Depending upon where he is in his studies and the role he fills in any given community, he may be a bit of a chaplain and counselor as well.

In the end of the day, there is a broad self-regulating body of scholars that parse issues of interpretation and applicability to any given context. They are sometimes known as Muftis, Shaykhs, and as Imams (although this latter title is paradoxically reserved in Islamic circles for functional community prayer leaders as well as paragons of spiritual and juristic leadership).

The Dilemma of Interpretive Egalitarianism

We are faced with a dilemma when talking about interpretation: Either everyone’s interpretation is valid or it isn’t. If it is, then in reality regardless of whether Muslim’s call themselves “moderate” or not, your opinion of them and what they believe really matters very, very little in the large scheme of things. If everyone’s interpretation, on the other hand, is not valid, then there must be some qualifications for engaging in interpretation. I’d go on about the qualifications for those involved in interpretation of texts, but the details of that are beyond this article. The least we can say is that when someone makes a claim about the application of a verse to a particular context, the uninitiated will almost always ask “Is she qualified to do so?” much like when a person advises you to undergo a medical procedure the uninitiated will ALWAYS ask “Is she qualified to do so?” So if there are those that are qualified, through years of study to speak on the interpretation of the Qur’an and its application to a given context, then again your opinion and what they believe in reality matters very, very little in the large scheme of things.

We seem to be at an impasse then. If we can no longer juxtapose our personal ideas of what the Qur’an says against the average “moderate” Muslim. We aren’t referencing scholarly opinion to validate our personal ideas about what the Qur’an says. In this case, how are we to know if the root cause is as stated again and again: the moderate Muslim’s inability to recognize scriptural inerrancy? In other words, the Qur’an makes people “Kookoo for Cocoa Puffs” crazy, so why won’t they just give it up?

Is the Qur’an a “Violent Text?”

Before we talk about reconsidering the infallibility of the Qur’an, let’s talk a little about the idea that the Qur’an justifies violence and is the catalyst for violence in the Muslim community. A recent Pew study showed that when asked about violence against individual civilians is justified, about 23% of respondents in 15 Muslim majority countries said that it can often or sometimes be justified. Crazy right! I know, it a shocker. But what is even more shocking, is when respondents from the US, Canada, East and Western Europe were asked a similar question, 24% of all respondents said the same thing. What is it that allows a large segment of the Western world to allow (even if only sometimes and in certain situations) violence against individual civilians? Is it the Qur’an? Certainly not. Is it the Bible? Highly doubtful. Is it popular media? Not sure. Could it be some other combination of factors? Possibly, but let’s leave that to statisticians and political scientists. We can only judge based on results. So far, violence and/or support for violence against individuals among all populations regardless of religion or region seem roughly split 25%/75%.

“God’s Literal Word” and the Qur’an as an Errant Document

Do Muslims believe the Qur’an to be God’s “literal” word? Yes and No. Yes, in the sense that the Qur’an is seen as representing the exact words of the original text as revealed by God. And No, in the sense that the Qur’an is not a book that is devoid of metaphor and allegory. What would be more correct then is to say that Muslims believe the Qur’an to be “God’s immutable word” because they believe it to be unchanging over time and unable to be changed.

I know, I know. You say that even this change in definition is not enough. You say the Qur’an is used by violent terrorists, and “moderate” Muslim claims of the Qur’an being misinterpreted just don’t cut it. Even if “moderate” Muslims accept their own interpretations, until all Muslims around the world accept these interpretations, then they are useless. But the Qur’an is written in a human language, and languages do not work the way that you want them to. They are ambiguous, equivocal, and indefinite at times. One word may have several meanings. One sentence may mean numerous things when read in or out of context. A group of sentences may be stated in a certain context or time, then no longer be applicable. The author of those sentences may include them for historical value, but not make them effective or part of the story line. All of these topics are included in the disciplines studied to interpret the Qur’an, because all of these topics are inherent to understanding language.

“Strike [them] Upon the Necks”

Therefore, when I read in the Qur’an “so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip” (Qur’an, 8:12-13),  I naturally say “Wow, that sounds really bad!” But when I back up and read the ENTIRE verse, and see that the verse begins with a conjunction, “When your Lord inspired to the angels, “I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip” and then immediately calls the reader’s attention to God’s command to a group of angels, not men. For the rational, fair-minded individual who understands what function language plays in speech, he should immediately realize that:

  1. This verse is not speaking to me or any other human, and
  2. The conjunction is for “…tying up words and phrases and clauses. (here’s a link if you forgot)

Because of the conjunction, he will read a few verses before this to see what the overall context is, and find out what this is referring to. Earliest exegetes of the Qur’an state that this is referring to Angelic assistance to the Prophet and believers during the Battle of Badr.

Yes, you don’t have to believe that this took place. And you certainly don’t have to believe in Angels, God, Angelic military forces, or anything of the sort. However what you do have to do is allow language to function the way it is supposed to. Allow texts to speak without projecting a particular meaning on to them detached from the text and the context. You claim that moderate Muslims aid bigots by not accepting the Qur’an as fallible, and thus fall into the same category as the “extremists” who also believe the Qur’an to be immutable.

Perversion of Texts for Political Gain

What you fail to recognize is that you have projected an extra-textual meaning (the general use of violence in this case) onto a verse revealed about and speaking directly to an incident in medieval history (angelic hosts attending a medieval battle). Even if we do not accept the exegesis provided in the link above tying this to the Battle of Badr, the language of the verse is clear. This is not a general exhortation to commit violence in the name of religion. None of us are angels (literally or figuratively).

The problem here is two-fold: You have not contextualized. You have not interpreted. You have not even allowed language to function as it should. Because the plain language composing this verse and surrounding it does not denote general, wanton violence against individuals. What you have done is misrepresented and perverted a text by injecting shallow meaning into a verse which aligns itself with your preferred construing of this text. In this case, that objective would be the necessity to reject it due to a perceived command to commit violence. This is outside of what the text and context actually denote, but if that allows you to appeal to your idea of the Qur’an as errant, so be it. This is not only disingenuous, it is the same thing that extremists do to bend texts to justify their use for violence. This is but one example of why the words we use, how we use them, and how we read them matter. There are many, many other examples of this, not just in the Qur’an but even in our own expressions and speech.

What Is The Problem?

Immutability is not the problem. Unqualified interpretation is. Those that take dichromatic stances as to what the Qur’an means are extremists. To solve these problems we need to let languages and interpretive disciplines function as they are designed. I find it telling that 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.

Image from JPAllen, Flickr. labeled for reuse with modification.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Turkey’s Duty to Kobane Is Questionable

The Platform - Thu, 09/10/2014 - 01:15

The rhetoric of the western left assumes the cause of Kurdish fighters in Kobane taking little notice of historic events, Turkey’s current responsibilities and its positioning in the Middle East


As the situation intensifies between ISIS and Kurdish fighters in Kobane, on the Syrian border with Turkey, increasing attention has been given to how Turkey reacts. Fellow NATO member, the US, is now using airstrikes against purported ISIS targets, but Turkey’s lack of military action so far has prompted hostile reactions from both western media (in particular the left) and from Kurds themselves. Major protests have taken place in many of Turkey’s chief towns and cities, and clashes between police and Kurdish demonstrators have left at least 12 people dead. But where does the assumption that Turkey is somehow neglecting its duty by not providing military aid come from? And who does Turkey owe an obligation to? The idea that Turkey, as a nation state, would and should do anything other than, first and foremost, protect its own interests is a problematic one.

The picture that has been painted is one of Turkey willfully withholding support to those in need of it, right on their own border. That somehow, by not joining the US in taking military action, they are implicitly supporting ISIS. However, the reality is much more complicated. The first thing that must be considered is that the groups that Turkey is now being asked to arm and support with military aircraft are the very groups that have, for the past 40 years, been in an intense and bloody struggle with the Turkish state in trying to create an independent Kurdistan within Turkish borders.

It is also widely known that during this period of armed conflict, separatist groups like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), received military training in the areas of Syria that are now embroiled in the struggle against ISIS forces. This creates the first dilemma for Turkey; the PKK, despite democratic progress under President Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), is still recognised as a terrorist group in Turkey. Therefore, the decision to arm them is not one that Turkey will take lightly. After all, by helping the Kurds against ISIS, Turkey would essentially be defending territory that the PKK and its armed Syrian sister group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), are hoping to establish as modern-day Kurdistan within Turkey’s borders. In many ways, this could pose as much of a security threat to Turkey as having ISIS on its border would. Although Turkey has enjoyed a good diplomatic and commercial relationship with the Kurdish state of northern Iraq, the Kurdish groups that operate within Syria and south-eastern Turkey pose far different geopolitical and ideological challenges – including this threat of establishing an independent Kurdish state within Turkey.

Whilst the PKK have, in the past few years, abandoned the aim of attaining full independence in favour of more regional autonomy, the establishment of a Syrian Kurdistan could change this. The western left may consider autonomy for minorities in the Middle East as an ideal to strive for, but in the context of the Middle East, which, like Africa, was carved up by European colonial powers according to their own interests, there is a fine line between independence and division. Within the context of Turkey, where the trauma of the disbanding of the Ottoman empire is still embedded within the nation’s psyche, the need to hold together the relatively small territory that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk managed to salvage after the First World War, is great. Therefore, the prospect of supporting separatist groups like the PKK is not an appealing one.

Does then, Turkey owe it to its own considerable Kurdish population to protect Kurds across the border? Well the simple answer to this is no. While Turkey has a duty towards its own Kurdish citizens – one which it has not always fulfilled – it holds no such obligation to those outside of its borders. In fact, the anger directed towards the Turkish state by Kurds who believe it should be defending their “ethnic brothers” is simplistic in itself. Indeed, if Turkey should be revising its own ethno-nationalist narrative, which it should, then it should not support Kurdish ethno-nationalism by compromising its own interests.

Ironically, Turkey’s involvement in Kurdistan is what groups like the PKK have been campaigning against, and the expectation that Turkey should defend the Kurds stands in stark contradiction to the aspirations of Kurdish independence which entities like the PKK have effused. This contradiction was highlighted last night when Salih Muslim, leader of the PYD, called on Turkey to aid the Kurds in Kobane, but also declared that a ground operation by Turkish troops would be seen as an “occupation”. The idea that Turkey should somehow act as a neo-Ottoman patron, benevolently interfering on behalf of its regional subjects is not one that is accepted by the international media when Erdogan is peddling it, so why is it that type of behaviour is more acceptable when suggested by others with the vociferous support of much of the western world?

As the Turkish president recently declared, Turkish help is a possibility, but it comes at a price – Kurdish support in overthrowing Syrian President, Bashar-al Assad. Turkey had also made it explicitly clear that if the USA and UK helped to create a buffer zone on the Syrian border, the Turkish armed forces would have defended this area. While this would have worked in Turkey’s own interest, it would also have created a safe haven for Syrian refugees and provided an extra security measure against the ISIS advance. Even the French president has applauded the suggestion, while America and the UK are still considering it.

Let us also not underestimate the importance of humanitarian aid. Since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, Turkey has absorbed more than one million refugees. This is roughly the same number of Syrians that have been permitted entry to Europe since 2011. Additionally, there are over 16,000 refugees from the Iraqi Kurdish Yazidi minority staying in Turkish shelters. Turkey, in line with NATO, and against considerable opposition from its own public, has provided logistical and financial support to the Syrian opposition, and out of that has arisen a serious Islamist threat. Now, unlike the USA and Europe, the biggest threat that ISIS and other militant Islamist groups pose to Turkey is through the spread of their ideologies – not their military. Therefore, the obvious answer for Turkey is not military intervention outside of its borders, but to stem any foothold that such groups may be seeking to promote within Turkey itself.

Finally, for all the criticisms of hesitancy when it comes to the call to arms, Turkey does not, unlike western countries, have the option to “withdraw” when the consequences of their intervention become apparent. Turkey must think carefully about its involvement in the region, as any actions and consequences will be felt immediately on its own doorstep.

While Turkey has much to work on in regards to the obligations it holds to its own Kurdish citizens, the idea that they are somehow duty-bound to aid Kurds outside their borders is simply unrealistic.

Photo Credits: AA Photo / Hurriyet Daily News
Categories: Muslim blogs

Man’s Best Friend? The Islamic View on Dogs

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 08/10/2014 - 13:00

In my days before Islam, I was never much of a fan of dogs. Some of the guys I ran with had Pits and Rottweilers, maybe trying to look all macho, and my family had a couple dogs, but I never had a dog. Other 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. I can remember a very unfortunate event where my indoctrination to Muslims’ cultural exaggeration about dogs pushed some of my family away from Islam.

Twelve years ago, I was invited for Thanksgiving weekend to my brother’s house, whom I had not visited since I had embraced Islam a couple years before then. As many people do, he and his wife had a dog that they felt was part of their family. I was not aware of this until we arrived. So the dog came to the door with him, which really bothered me, and I made a big deal out of it. I basically commanded my brother to put his dog outside. I had not been this way before Islam, so he was thrown off by it. When he asked why the fuss, I told him, “Because it is filthy.” Here’s the funny part: he said, “Oh no, man, you don’t understand. We gave him a bath last night!” I then reframed my argument to be more in line with the hadith that we all know, “No, it’s actually its saliva.” He said, “We brushed his teeth too. And I think I read somewhere that dogs’ mouths are actually cleaner than those of humans!” He actually has somewhat of a point.

For that whole weekend, I did not hear the end of his wife’s constant jabbing. “What kind of religion…,” and “Maybe if Muzlims learned to appreciate dogs they wouldn’t be so violent.” The crazy thing is that, generally speaking, they were in the right, and the attitude I had adopted from hanging around Muslims for a couple years was – according to strong classical interpretation – misrepresenting Islam!

So what does Islam say about dogs? Let’s start with the Qur’an. Dogs are only mentioned three times in the Qur’an, none of them negative in any way. Two of those mentions actually praise dogs as companions of people!

In Surat al-Ma’idah, God says that of the good things that are permissible to you are the animals which you hunt that your dog fetches for you. (Qur’an, 5:4).

In Surat al-A`raf, God is blaming the one who has been guided to the truth yet chooses to follow their desires. He likens that type of person to a dog that pants whether you shoo it away or leave it alone (Qur’an, 7:176). The verse simply refers to how dogs often just pant all of the time regardless if they are active, scared or just sitting there, whereas a human should think, ponder and react to things accordingly; especially when it comes to divine guidance.

Lastly, we have the famous story of the pious youth who were guarded by their dog, in the beginning of Surat al-Kahf (Qur’an, 18).

So clearly, this anti-dog attitude is not inspired by the Holy Qur’an.

The problem with cultural Islam is that much of it is an exaggeration of scripture. People go overboard in their interpretation or application of our scripture. The case with Muslims’ aversion to dogs is indeed rooted in authentic ahadith (pl. saying or tradition of the Prophet ﷺ – peace be upon him). Some of these ahadith, when read by themselves, do indeed give that idea. Most people do not know the scholarly discourse on such ahadith, especially when it comes to combining the texts or understanding their application in juristic derivation.

The first hadith I will mention has a couple variants, all carrying the same meaning and ruling. I will never forget when I heard this hadith; it was at a lesson on jurisprudence with a prominent scholar. The shaykh (scholar) was just reading the text to us nonchalantly and giving the commentary for our notes: “And the black dog should be killed, according to the authentic hadith[!]” I remember thinking to myself, “What? Did I just hear him right?” So I begged to differ, “Why is that?” He then made some sense out of it, “Only the jet black one, since according to the ahadith, it is a vicious beast or a devil.” I then said, “That is not true. I have seen many black dogs that are not vicious beasts.” So the shaykh said, “You only kill it if it threatens you,” to which I responded, “Then why are we singling out all jet black dogs? That could lead to a misunderstanding.” The shaykh responded, “Because the Prophet ﷺ specifically pointed it out that way.” I then responded, “Maybe he was talking about a specific dog, and not all black dogs?” The shaykh came back, “But we have many authentic texts, with varying authentic narrations, which means they should be taken in their general meaning!” I was like, Jazak Allahu Khayran, shaykh, (May God reward you) while thinking to myself that I need to review the claim, regardless of the shaykh‘s scholarship, because my understanding of scripture and innate spiritual disposition did not accept this interpretation.

The Command to Kill Dogs?

The Prophet ﷺ commanded us to kill dogs and later he said there is no reason for people to kill dogs. Then he allowed people to use dogs for hunting and herding. (Bukhari)

“If dogs weren’t a nation among God’s creation, I would have commanded you to kill all of them. So just kill the jet black one.” (Tirmidhi, 1486)

Someone asked Abu Tharr, “What feature is there in a black dog which distinguish it from the red dog and the yellow dog?” He said: “O, son of my brother, I asked the Messenger of Allah ﷺ as you are asking me, and he said: The black dog is a devil.” (Muslim, 4:299)

“There are five harmful animals that can be killed at any time; a snake, a vicious dog, a crow, a rat and a scorpion.” (Bukhari)

The Prophet ﷺ also prohibited the killing of any living creature without reason. (Muslim)

The Maliki’s stated that the final two ahadith abrogated all of the others, and thus it is prohibited to kill all dogs, except the harmful one that threatens you (see Mawahib al-Jaleel and Rawda al-Talibeen). The majority are of the opinion that there was some danger or harm posed by dogs, which was later removed, and the need for killing the dogs was abrogated except the black dog, the wisdom behind that ruling only God knows. In the next section, I will show how the ahadiths about dogs’ purity are directly related to this issue. But before that I refer you to this recent piece of news.

The Purity of Dogs

No scholar from any school of thought ever claimed that one should make abultion (wudu) as a result of touching any part of a dog. That is because the issue of removing najasat (legal impurities) has nothing to do with ablution. Removing impurities is done by pouring water over the spot.

The Prophet ﷺ said, “If a dog licked/drank from a cup then first scrub it with dirt, then wash it or pour water over it seven times.” (similar variants in authentic narrations)

The Shafi`ees and Hanbalis use the above-mentioned as proof for the impurity of the dog’s saliva and mouth, and by analogy, its body. The Hanafis and a handful of Hanbalis, including Ibn Taymiyya, hold that the hadith proves the impurity of the dog’s saliva and not its body, since the hadith is specific to the mouth/saliva.

The Prophet ﷺ said, “A Muslim man was walking in the desert dying of thirst when he found a well. He went down in to drink and upon coming out he notices a dog lapping hard dying of thirst. So he climbed back in and filled his shoe with water. He gave the dog to drink and God forgave his sins. The companions then asked the Prophet, ‘Are we rewarded for helping beasts?’ The Prophet then said, ‘Helping any living thing has a reward!’” (Bukhari)

“During the lifetime of Allah’s Apostle, the dogs used to urinate, and pass through the mosques (come and go), nevertheless they never used to sprinkle water on it (urine of the dog.)” (Bukhari, 174)

The Malikis and Thahiris do not understand from the first hadith that any part of the dog is impure; not its body or even its mouth (see al-Sahrh al-Sagheer). They understand the first hadith to be an act of worship, and that dogs are not impure, rather the spit is defiled in some way, and so we must scrub our drinking vessels seven times. They use the second and third hadiths to prove the dog’s purity, since there was no warning of otherwise.

The Malikis hold that the practice of Madinah during the time of the tabi`een (the 1st generation of Muslims after the death of the Prophet ﷺ) was that dogs are not impure. They believe this understanding was influenced by these ahadith, in conjunction with the verse from Surat al-Ma’idah about using hunting dogs, which bring our prey back to us with their mouth. The ruling was made in Madinah, and Imam Malik was the Imam of Madinah, trained by the students of the prominent companions, so I tend to lean toward their opinion on this one for relevance.

Finally, I would like to read you a specific opinion that brings sense to this whole misunderstanding in these texts. “Al-Qadi said in al-Muqaddimaat, ‘This hadith [dog licking the vessel] is justified by a meaning understood which is not legal impurity. Rather, it is to protect one who drinks from the vessel from the possibility of the dog being rabid and thus infecting the person by ingesting its saliva. So for this reason, the command was to scrub it seven times with dirt, as we see that number often used in healing sicknesses.’ Ibn Rushd then comments that he prefers this explanation as the “Maliki way” rather than to just say that the dog’s saliva is pure, and that we just clean it in obedient worship without knowing the wisdom.” (Bidayatul-Mujtahid). See this link.

I agree with the scholars that have rightly logically understood this whole matter as being a past outbreak of rabies, where the Islamic value of preserving life and health had to outweigh the sanctity of the life of dogs, and obliged us to wash all potentially ingestible dog saliva. Therefore I hold that dogs are not in any way impure, and that there is nothing impure with petting and even getting licked by a dog. It makes perfect sense to me that the reason for killing the black dog was that there was a particular type of black dog which was rabid or violent in some way, and that is why the Prophet ﷺ called it a devil.

Even if you are to stick with the literal interpretation of some texts about the dog’s impurity, it is a strong opinion among scholars that the dog’s coat is not impure. Even if it does lick you, then according to the majority all you have to do is wash that spot with water to remove the impurity. So guys, there is no need to make a scene around dogs.

Keeping a Dog

“Whoever would keep a dog for other than hunting, herding or farming will lose a great reward every day.” (Bukhari)

The majority of scholars agree that an analogy can be made for all dogs of benefit, such as guarding the house or helping the blind. The ruling according to the majority is that it is haram (forbidden) to keep a dog simply as a pet/companion. (Al-Mawsoo’ah al-Fiqhiyyah)

The Maliki opinion is that the hadith does not indicate prohibition, rather it is makrooh (disliked). There is also a rare opinion from a handful of Malikis that all of the prohibitions on owning a dog were abrogated, and thus keeping a dog as a pet is permissible. (Kifaya al-Talib al-Rabbani)

Perhaps the second hadith on this subject is somehow related to the first.

“The angels (of blessings) don’t enter homes with statues, drawn pictures of live beings or dogs.” (Bukhari/Abu Dawood)

This hadith indicates that for some reason, angels of blessings (not protection or writing deeds) do not like to go into homes with dogs. The hadith seems to support the Maliki ruling of dislike, but still, it is not something a Muslim should do, since it is frowned upon by authentic scripture. For this reason, and God knows best, it is best for a Muslim only to keep a dog for some necessity mentioned in the first hadith. After all, if you must have a pet, you can always get a cat or a fish. That being said, those who insist upon keeping dogs as pets in their house have some – albeit small – support in the classical interpretations; it is not something that is established as a sin based on a clear, explicit text that would make someone a heretic or deviant for breaking the rule while deeming it permissible.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Eid Mubarak!

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Wed, 08/10/2014 - 02:01

As we conclude our celebration of this Eid holiday, let us all take time to recount the many blessings we enjoy. Although it is certainly true that there are many places in our Ummah that face persistent strife, and we have a responsibility to do all that we can to help alleviate the suffering of those afflicted in those areas, we must acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are living in peace and tranquility.

Among the foremost blessing we enjoy is the blessing of security. We are reminded in the Qur’an of this in the context of our Lord mentioning the ways He blessed the Quraysh. He mentions, “The One who has fed them, driving away hunger, and granted them security from fear (106:4).” May this blessing be extended to everyone.

During this season let us rejoice, but let us never allow our celebration to move us away from the remembrance of our Lord. The Noble Messenger (Blessings and peace upon him) reminded us of the essence of these festive days we find ourselves in when he said, “They are days of eating, drinking and remembering Allah. So eat, drink and remember Allah. Visit your parents, friends and relatives; restore relations with those you may have fallen out with. Be the one to initiate that restoration.

What better advise can we receive in this regard than that offered by our Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah upon him), “Join relations with those who break them with you; give to those who deny you; and pardon those who oppress you.” What better time for all of us to begin the process of healing our social wounds than during this blessed season.

None of the conflicts we see in those parts of the Umma that are currently being tested by strife would exist were it not for the open animosity and treachery some Muslims are visiting on others. Let us join strained or possibly shattered relations, let us give freely and let us be people of magnanimity, quick and easy to pardon and forgive. Eid Mubarak!

Categories: Muslim blogs

Know Thy Self: Opinion on Hajj Selfies by Suhaib Webb

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 07/10/2014 - 13:00

“Malcolm X at Prayer,” Richard Saunders/Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture


It seems every week there is a new internet conflict. Over the last few days, people criticized me for posting my Hajj selfies. What is your opinion about this?


That is a sad question, and I find it strange that people have the time to look at other people’s pictures and criticize them. With that being said, I will address this issue from four perspectives:

  1. Are pictures forbidden?
  2. Principles for understanding texts.
  3. The importance of collective good.
  4. Intentions should be left to Allah alone.

Are Pictures Forbidden?

Some may censure others from taking pictures because they believe that taking pictures is forbidden, invoking the “consensus” of the scholars. While it’s an opinion held by some scholars, there is certainly no consensus that taking pictures is forbidden. Al-Azār and other religious bodies, as well as the bulk of scholars, consider pictures allowable, as long as the picture does not present something evil.

Misuse of a Famous Text

Folks may mention the prophetic tradition in which he ﷺ (peace be upon him) curses those who “mold idols.” That is understandable because the word for idol making and the word for photography are the same in Arabic (taswīr). However, their meanings are different. During the time of the Prophet, taswīr meant to mold idols. Today, it means photography. Sadly, this reflects a person’s ignorance of the principles for iftā (the craft of issuing fatwa), the rules for interpreting texts, and his/her knowledge of Arabic.

An Important Axiom and Its Application

One of the most important axioms that guide the craft of issuing a ruling is, “Concern is given to the meaning, not the name.” This axiom has four applications:

  1. Something declared harām (unlawful) in the Prophet’s lifetime stays forbidden, even if someone changes its name. For that reason, the Prophet ﷺ said, “Towards the end of time, a group from my community will seek to make alcohol permissible, calling it by a different name.” Thus, even though later generations changed the name, it is still forbidden because of its substance. The name is a non-factor!
  2. Something that was permissible during the time of the Prophet ﷺ then later generations gave it a name of something forbidden. That stays permissible, because concern is for the substance, not the name.
  3. Something unknown during the life of the Prophet ﷺ, if understood to be forbidden by the scholars, stays forbidden even if later generations named it after something permissible.
  4. Something that was not known during the time of the Prophet ﷺ that is permissible remains as such, even if later generations named it after something forbidden. An example of this would be qahwā (coffee) which was originally the name for an ancient intoxicant.

Photography falls under the fourth category because it did not exist during the time of the Prophet ﷺ. Using statements of the Prophet ﷺ as if they are referring to what is understood today as meaning taswīr is equivalent to putting meanings in the mouth of the Prophet ﷺ!

An Example That Illustrates this Error

In the twelfth chapter of the Qur’an, the word sayyārah is found. Today, the word siyyārah means a car. At the time of revelation, it meant travelers.

“And there came a company of travelers; then they sent their water drawer, and he let down his bucket. He said, “Good news! Here is a boy.” And they concealed him, [taking him] as merchandise, and Allah knew of what they did.” (Qur’an, 12:19

Based on the logic of those who take the word of the Prophet ﷺ used for idol making to imply its contemporary meaning of photography, the above verse would be interpreted as:

“And there came a “Lexus, BMW, Mercedes (any car)“; then they sent their water drawer..”

Shaykh Muhammad al-Shanqiti wrote “Photography did not exist during the era of the Prophet ﷺ or the great scholars of Islamic Jurisprudence. It became an issue afterwards. Thus, the sacred texts that the word taswīr appears do not imply what we know today as photography. That, because the word taswīr used during the Prophet’s time implied what it meant in that context: idols made of stone, clay, wood or drawn by hand. Thus, whoever explains the word used by the Prophet to mean photography has interpreted the sacred texts without their correct meanings, contexts and has spoken about Allah without knowledge.”

Another Axiom: A Conflicting Purposes Renders Analogy Problematic

One of the major sources of Islamic Law is qiyās. Qiyās was defined by al-Qādi al-Baydāwi as, “Connecting an act that has no ruling, to an act from the scared sources that has a ruling, because of a shared purpose.” What is important to us is the last part of his definition, “a shared purpose.” This means that if the traits are different, then the ruling from the sacred sources cannot be matched to the act that has no ruling. In the case of taswīr (idol making), we find that the reasoning for its forbiddance during the time of the Prophet ﷺ was “emulating (mudāha) creation,” and in other narratives, for explicit forms of worship. When we think of photography today, that is not its purpose. In fact, the general purpose of photography is to remember and recall things. Thus, this is an illogical analogy for which a ruling is not applied. 

The Name is Debatable

Shaykh ‘Abdūl Halīm Mahmūd stated that photography should not be called taswīr but “capturing an image,” because photography is “capturing light, not molding an image from clay or drawing one.”

Hajj Selfies

As for Hajj selfies, then there is nothing wrong because they are a form of remembrance of good: worshiping Allah alone, visiting scared places, love and fraternity, and acts of worship. 

An axiom states that “Anything that does not contradict the sacred law and helps a person remember God is commendable.”

Allah says, “And we certainly sent Moses with our signs, [saying], ‘bring your people from the darkness to the light and remind them of the days of God.’” (Qur’an 14:5)

A cursory glance at the reliable works of Qur’anic tafsīr (exegesis) shows that scholars from the earliest days consider this verse an encouragement to recall God’s grace and his blessing. That was the opinion of Ibn ‘Abbās, Sufyān Imām Mālik and others.

Do Not Judge People’s Intentions

In that vein, taking pictures of sacred moments is commendable as long as a person’s intention is correct. The job of the rest of the community is to assume the best and encourage good. While pictures are a debatable act, questioning a person’s intention, or having an evil assumption about a person doing good is highly repugnant.

Finally, these images are important tools for da`wah (calling to Islam) to be shared with neighbors, co-workers and friends. In an age where there are so many bad images of Islam everywhere, I find it astounding that folks would blame positive efforts that humanize our community and our acts of worship.

Allah knows best,
Suhaib Webb

Categories: Muslim blogs

Child Refugees in the USA: An Illegitimate Debate

The Platform - Mon, 06/10/2014 - 21:06

Young, desperate immigrants and refugees to the USA are caught between two sides of a debate on “principles” after having suffered in their home countries and again in this democratic society


In recent years, crushing poverty, gang violence and the flow of illegal drugs – each year worth more than the GDP of some of their home countries – have forced increasing numbers of children to flee their homes, mainly in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. These children travel hundreds of miles to the United States, where there is a chance that the government will grant them asylum due to their circumstances. Arriving without adult guardians, as “unaccompanied minors”, they are supposed to undergo a process to determine if the nightmares forcing them to flee were bad enough to earn them some shelter.

Right now, tens of thousands of these kids languish in warehouses, indefinitely awaiting that process. Adding insult to injury, some of the seedier, viler legacies of spoiled American entitlement have energised right-wing activists to confront and terrify the children, most notably this summer in the city of Murrieta, California. These anti-child thugs, the latest in a long tradition of nativist alarmists, held protests demanding that the kids be turned away. Disappointingly, President Obama responded promptly, calling for a speed-up in deportations. The collaboration between right-wing activists and an ever-accommodating democratic president has already begun to bear its bitter fruit. At least one of the children that Obama deported is already dead.

Is it really about principles over suffering?

The message that these refugee children are sending is clear, and it’s at the centre of this essay, even if the stories on television are more about the “principles” of a select number of Americans: “we need help”. Adults in this country need to take the pleas seriously. To treat this life or death situation as secondary to personal opinions is frivolous and callous.

As happens all too often in affairs of this kind, political expediency gives greater weight to the complaints of the comfortable than the anguish of the vulnerable. To curry favour, or to escape deserved condemnation, the concerned public is told by the politicians that this issue is not about children suffering so much as it is about principles.

Enter the corporate media

The corporate media can frame things by amplifying the right-wing principle: a desire to maintain an unwelcoming, paranoid society, forever on the lookout for threats. The frenzied, hostile and judging fantasy of nativist hate transforms the children; little hands extended in yearning for rescue undergo a metamorphosis into dirty, unrecognisable appendages projecting forward lustily into all corners of The Homeland by an obscene desire to wrest away the tools utilised in honest labour by more deserving servants.

This terrified and self-absorbed narrative, as stupid as it may be, serves a useful purpose. It gives the corporate media a group of good guys (or bad guys for you lefties out there!) to contrast against the evil refugee kids, who look like replacements for the earlier immigrants and that makes them scary.

These attention-seeking-holier-than-thou foot soldiers of air-conditioned leisure get a lot of airtime on TV, because they confirm that the sadness at the heart of a consumerist society cannot be gentled away, no matter how many bags of chips, Sunday catharses, motivational YouTube videos or addictions they indulge in. Instead of addressing these serious social problems, they project their self-loathing outward. “It’s not about anybody’s suffering – it’s about my principles.”

The “other” side of the argument

The pro-refugee, pro-immigrant counter-protestors – themselves also liberally festooned in all manner of red, white and blue regalia and sharing a similar view of their colonial family histories – insist that principles, like those enshrined in the constitution, show us how we can make good Americans out of these kids. Just give them a chance.

But this is not a story about America and its promise, no matter how many flags people wave. Nor is this about the red-faced temper-tantrums of over-privileged conservatives. This is a story about the suffering that dominates too many and too much of our lives. The attention to such combined performances of conservative xenophobia and model immigrant patriotism serves to distract from our responsibility to change how we work and live together in a society filled with flimsily-concealed, but all-too-real, hierarchies operating to exploit women, children, immigrants and people of colour.

Observers looking for a concrete case illustrating current liberal versus conservative positions on immigration in the U.S. would need to look no further than to the memorandum Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) enacted by the Obama administration in mid-2012. DACA, applying to undocumented immigrants under 31 years of age meeting certain requirements, does not allow for a “pathway to citizenship”, the key liberal phrase in this debate, but enables individuals to stay in the country and to find work legally. The Republican House majority symbolically neutered DACA in August of this year, as the Murrieta story persisted; however, this measure will stall in the Democrat-led Senate.

Both of these positions on DACA offer a vision of a neoliberal world order that puts the needs of employers exploiting immigrants above any other consideration. The liberal efforts aim to rationalise tight capitalist control over a fully transparent economy, while the conservatives prefer racialist authoritarianism, leaving the reality for millions of workers as it is: a monumental open secret.

Who stands to gain?

Let’s call into question the classic binary of good versus evil required by the infotainment industry by pointing out that refugees and migrants are great, awesome people. And let’s insist that dehumanising rhetoric is unacceptable in our society and cannot be buried beneath flags and vignettes about hard-working ancestors.

While migrants and refugees – not to mention millions of people who may “look” or “sound” like them – are exposed to unrelenting stigmatisation and discrimination, they are too often treated as a blank slate to be covered in the epithets or defences offered by those who deny or affirm their humanity.

This dynamic works to the advantage of those who demonise the refugee or migrant. The liberal left attempts to play a lose-lose role of referee between the business interests who amass epic fortunes on the backs of migrants, and the conservative Joes and Jane Sixpacks who use the politics of hate to drive refugees and immigrants into more precarious flight. Whether from or into the hands of the government or businesses, this dynamic tragically illustrates the priority of poverty wages over basic necessities and protections in this country. The mainstream media reinforces this country’s most easily digested stories about immigrants – constructed on a social, historical, and cultural foundation that reinforces the employers’ narrative first, the xenophobes’ next, with a little room for the perspective of those who model the “right way” to assimilate.

Putting our foot down

We can make the choice to protect these children and to demand decent wages for all workers, wherever they were born. Many people in the U.S. would agree that businesses shouldn’t profit from desperation – but instead of supporting a movement to put down our collective foot and say, “No one who contributes to society should be paid poverty wages, starting today,” we are encouraged by the framing of the immigration debate to argue whether certain workers deserve reasonable treatment at all.

And that’s simply not the debate we should be having.

Photo Credits: AP / Rebecca Blackwell
Categories: Muslim blogs

Defiance and Defeat in ‘Still the Enemy Within’

The Platform - Sat, 04/10/2014 - 15:26

New documentary on the miners’ strikes tells a story of bravery and community in the face of Thatcher’s reforms


If you wondered what the fuss was about when Margaret Thatcher died last year, or why Conservatives wished her the first state funeral since WWII leader Winston Churchill, this excellent documentary, directed by Owen Gower, will give you some idea.

Weaving together an impressive array of archive material, Still the Enemy Within presents a convincing narrative of how the Conservatives’ showdown with the miners became the central confrontation in their war on trade unionism.

Mining was the backbone of British industry and a rich seam of working class culture. Entire villages existed due to mining, and they had a strong sense of their own power. A previous miners’ strike in 1974 had brought down Edward Heath’s Conservative government, for which the Conservatives were still seeking revenge ten years later. The film includes the colliery bands, political songs, closely-woven banners proclaiming ‘Unity is Strength’, social halls and mutual support networks that were the products of over a century of mining history.

Seeking revenge on this source of defiance to the employers, on 6 March 1984 the National Coal Board (NCB) announced the closure of 20 pits with the loss of 20,000 jobs. Interviewees tell of their initial excitement as mass walkouts spread the breadth of the country. But it soon became apparent that the ordinary rules of engagement would not apply. Chancellor Nigel Lawson compared the confrontation to planning to take on Hitler. Thatcher herself notoriously stated that in the Falklands they had fought the enemy without; now it was time to take on ‘the enemy within.’

Those who say modern Britain has never had a civil war overlook the year-long miners’ strike, and concerted efforts were needed for the government to win it. The police force was militarised and made pit villages zones of occupation. In one set-piece confrontation at Orgreave coke-processing plant, thousands of mounted police charged strikers, injuring many dozens and arresting their leader Arthur Scargill. Regularly beaten, detained and denied freedom of movement, the legal rights of miners were disregarded, and the media maintained no scruple in its offensive against the miners’ cause. Courts seized the union’s funds, but cruellest of all was the strategy to starve the strikers back to work. Interviewees tell how benefits were withdrawn from strikers’ families, and of the consequent divorces and suicides, as well as of children scavenging for sea coal in the harsh winter (several of whom died).

By 3 March 1985, after a national fundraising movement resolving ‘They Shall Not Starve’, the National Union of Miners (NUM) voted to return to work. The NCB proceeded to close all but a handful of the country’s pits. Britain’s ex-mining villages, its trade union movement, but also its industrial pre-eminence, have never recovered.

The documentary’s greatest asset is the excellent interviewees, who remain convinced that, though beaten, they were right. They tell of how their lives transformed as they became protagonists in an event of international significance. Women who began cooking soup in food halls emerged as political leaders. Social attitudes were changed forever, and we hear the founder of Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners give an even more moving account of his time in the pit villages than anything that appears in Pride.

This is a history of those who built the strike. It would have been interesting to hear reflections from those who opposed the miners at the time, and the trade union leaders who stewarded the strike to defeat, but they maintain only a ghostly presence from the archive footage.

Combating the strike totalled £37bn, but the documentary ends considering its incalculable cost to the social fabric. Our current society of zero hours contracts, a deregulated economy in protracted crisis, sullen political disengagement and separation of the lower orders by our Etonian government into ‘shirkers and strivers’, forms the combined legacy of the miners’ defeat. Now 80 per cent of the UK’s coal is imported, while in a final irony, privatisation has seen UK energy return to state ownership – by being bought by French and Chinese state companies.

As a political philosophy, the basic trade union principle to stick up for each other seems a relic from a different age. But the miners’ endurance demonstrates values whose appeal remains undimmed. The interviewees offer hope in a different possible future, not of individualist greed, but one based on community, mutual aid and social solidarity, and the dignity of one’s labour.

Still the Enemy Within is showing in selected cinemas from 3rd October 2014.

Photo Credits: John Sturrock
Categories: Muslim blogs

Eid in America: Who Do You Greet and Meet on Eid?

Imam Suhaib Webb - Fri, 03/10/2014 - 13:00

By Maryam Mir

Many Eid moon phases ago, I was a new Muslim convert. I have gone to several Eid events during those lunar phases. And like those phases, time has changed some of my views on such joyous events. I still attend though, I do.

I love the anticipation of preparing Eid clothes the night before, or, as energy is sometimes lacking these days, the morning of. Searching for my mother’s vintage seventies turquoise watch and ring, maybe a necklace given by a beloved sister so many years prior, and the Algerian silver bangle I snatched from my eldest daughter.

Recently, to add to my attire, a beautiful purple embroidered pashmina sent from the shores of Malaysia to the deserts of Arizona graced my old shoulders. While I definitely miss Eids of the past with many of my Muslims sisters I have met across the globe, I feel a connection to them still when I am able to wear a cherished gift from them.  Not so long ago a surprise package brought cries of appreciation amidst fond memories.

Another memory sticks out in mind too of preparing for Eid. The chore of ironing clothes before hand has always plagued me. To this day, a sister friend from orbits past still loves to tease me on ‘my skill’ of ironing twice a year.

And then there is the morning of Eid itself nowadays. Rushing out the door to arrive in time by urging my husband, “Let’s go, go. Come on old man!”

On arrival, even parking is a thrill. Who will double park, who will invent new parking spaces, and who will actually observe the parking rules. Glancing at people exiting their cars in their finery is also a delight.

Seeing the children in their beautiful shawar kamiz’, abayas, thobes and the colors, oh, the colors of Eid are dear to behold.  The crimson reds, the majestic blues, royal purples, vibrant yellows and oranges.

Attending Eid events now is with more experience, experience shaped through years of a tougher, crustier, desert skin added over my sensitive one. Such experiences began here:

Our community in Tucson first held it’s Eid celebrations at Christopher City. Christopher City was the University of Arizona’s family and international housing complex, which had event rooms to use for special occasions.

As a young convert new to the Muslim community in Tucson, I remember vividly my first Eid function in the Santa Rita room of Christopher City. My husband and I were told there would be an Eid dinner for everyone there.  Although I was very much a newbie, I wanted to go.  After all, it was my new holiday and I was ready to celebrate.

As we walked thru the entrance towards the two halls, tables of food were set in the entry hallway to serve us dinner. After I got my plate of rice, lamb, and salad, I went into the event room to join the other women for our Eid dinner.

A few women were already there. They were settled with their food plates, drinks, babies in carriers and kids in strollers or running here and there. More women came as time passed.

I found a place to eat. And did, with satisfaction. It was good, really, really good. The aromas and tastes of deliciously cooked food, full of flavor, zest, was such a turn of life food events for me.

Those delicious morsels of rice, lamb, and even the salad, were beyond what I had been accustomed to. I was a scrawny girl who grew up on boiled water, cigarette ashed mashed potatoes and pork chops surrounded by adults with hi-balls of vodka with orange juice. This  was quite a profound change.

While the dinner itself was a grateful celebration,  what was not a hit on the menu was during the entire time not one person came over to me to wish me Happy Eid or to sit with me.

I finished my Eid dinner and left the room to find my husband. I wanted to go home, now. I told him about how awful I felt. How no one talked to me. I cried. He listened. Back at that time, we were both new to the community. He did not know any of the men folk to ask, “Will your wife be there to meet my wife, she’s new to all of this…?” There wasn’t much he could do to help me verbally thru other channels in the community but he did help me by listening.

I bring this memory up now as a reminder to myself and anyone else who may care to listen in; of the adventures yet to come this Eid, the prayers, parties, dinners, clique dinners, and so on and so forth:

What if you and I see a new face at our Eid prayer? A dinner or picnic?

And if we do, will we take the time to greet, welcome them?

They may be a non Muslim guest. They may be a new convert to Islam. They may be a new member of your community or someone who has been unmosqued and is now courageously stepping back into the realm.

No matter where we are, if we see a new face, one item is clear on the menu; they need our greeting.

Don’t let them go home in tears of frustration or anger.

Give them a nice memory to take home with. I guarantee you they will hold it in their hearts and maybe some day share with others.

Eid Mubarak To You All.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Air Strikes Re-Scorch Syria

The Platform - Wed, 01/10/2014 - 20:35

The legitimate Syrian revolution has long been buried with the rise of new enemies including ISIS and western airstrikes


James Foley. Steven Scotloff. David Haines. These are the names of the western journalists reportedly killed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a group receiving great attention from the international community.

What has been under-reported is that ISIS is also responsible for the killing of thousands of Syrians, including Syrian journalists, such as Bassam Raies. But this isn’t a competition; no one is elbowing their way through the media to present themselves with a who-has-suffered-more-at-the-hands-of-ISIS award. This is because the answer is clear: the suffering of Syrians – whose plight the world has brushed aside as it becomes increasingly aroused by the notion of “fundamentalist Muslims” – will ultimately be the forgotten victims of this conflict. Although ISIS has been involved in perpetrating many unforgivable and inexcusable acts, this does not downplay the root cause of their creation, which is the existence of a brutal regime and the deliberate, calculated and systematic massacres this regime has carried out over the last four years.

The beheading of western journalists by ISIS is apparently the “green light” the international community requires to carry out air strikes in Syria, with Barack Obama and David Cameron stating that they will show that “Britain and America will not be cowed by barbaric killers” and that they “will be more forthright” in the defence of their values. Yet the Assad regime has also been involved in the killing of many western journalists, such as Marie Colvin, and humanitarian workers, such as Abbas Khan. These incidents do not seem to generate enough political energy to “defend our values”. Double standards are rife.

The scale and horror of the atrocities wrought by the regime are such that no one in the international community is able to quantify how many Syrians have been killed with any degree of accuracy; a ballpark figure of 200,000 was given and now “in excess of 200,000” is usually stated. The international community has done nothing when confronted with evidence, in the form of over 55,000 pictures showing more than 11,000 prisoners of the regime being tortured to death, and 150,000 more at risk of suffering the same fate.

The Assad forces have continued to do as they please with very little international media coverage and attention. The country continues to undergo further devastation on a daily basis, with the destruction of vital infrastructure being used as a weapon to starve those who oppose the regime, and leaving half of the country’s rapidly declining population in desperate need of emergency humanitarian assistance. Most people have forgotten that on 15 March 2011, an uprising began against a tyrannical regime. Given the way that events have unfolded, many have begun to question the legitimacy of the Syrian revolution and its place in the context of other events across the Middle East. In addition to this, many have been influenced by the regime’s rhetoric in classifying the uprising as a sectarian movement consisting largely of extremists. 
All of this has resulted in the Syrian struggle being draped in the garbs of anything other than that which it initially sought to represent. However, amid the terrors of the conflict, many Syrians continue to strive for what they set out to do with awe-inspiring levels of hope, charisma and fortitude.

Since the very start of the uprising, social media has been engaging those involved in the revolution, through mediums such as Facebook, where voters choose a theme every week. The themes range from showing support to individual regions in Syria, which may have significantly suffered during that particular week, to showing solidarity with conflicts elsewhere in the world. This process is still ongoing and highlights important issues that ordinary Syrians feel strongly about.

The people of Kafranbel continue to paint comic pictures and raise banners with slogans addressing current affairs in the context of the Syrian revolution. Without fail, whatever happens in any region of the world, from the death of Robin Williams to one of Obama’s speeches, the people of Kafranbel provide their own take on what they see, and they always add their own sincere, and often humorous, touch. This has continued in the face of the ongoing violence in Syria.

In areas not under ISIS or government control, councils have been set up to try and ensure that lives continue to function as normal, for example, by ensuring a safe and adequate supply of water and food. In fact, aid-workers in Syria frequently comment on how such areas are more willing to address issues than in government-controlled areas.

Aside from the politics, many in Syria have come together for the betterment of their current lives and for the lives of future generations. The protests that continue in Syria, the many social-based initiatives that have been born, and the continued struggle most Syrians face without any serious international acknowledgement of their situation is undoubtedly admirable. What needs to be emphasised is that although some positive initiatives have been outlined above, it shouldn’t overshadow the dire situation most Syrians are living in, but rather demonstrate that, for many, the essence of their original uprising is still the core of their work and belief. This essence that has been lost in international talks.

Beyond the tales of destruction, there are glimmers of hope. But as the situation evolves, and as the international community decides which stories are worth discussing, the situation is only deteriorating. International air strikes have killed at least 20 civilians, as this human rights source reports. Although the ultimate aim is, allegedly, to weaken and destroy ISIS, it is a somewhat farcical endeavour given that no serious action was taken to deal with the reason for ISIS’ existence – the far-bigger killing machine of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.

The Syrians face many enemies, including the government, ISIS and international apathy, and they now have to deal with international air strikes. The air strikes will bring yet more death and destruction to a region that has more than enough of both.

Image from:
Categories: Muslim blogs

London Fashion Week: A Spring Full of Jewels

The Platform - Sat, 27/09/2014 - 23:49

Designers from both Britain and around the world came together for London Fashion Week 2014 to showcase a runway of creations ranging from the simple to the angelic


Out of the depths of London Fashion Week of September 2014, a multi-designer show emerged, featuring a glittering line-up of British and international designers preparing us for the spring and summer seasons.

The show, named Fashion International, was held at The Whitehall Suite, Royal Horseguards Hotel, and showcased a range of designers from diverse backgrounds. This included a collection which came about following the Gaza conflict, with proceeds going towards the welfare of Palestinians. In addition, a compilation from an exemplary designer was presented – the first deaf designer I have come across – who worked with digital printed fabric designs. Each producer had a vision which contributed towards their creations – each faction told its own story in beautiful blends of fabrics, colours and cuts.

We bore witness to beautiful stone and jewel-embellished jackets, shorts and dresses. Furthermore, to put the proverbial cherry on the cake, angelic evening gowns and show-stopping pieces made the evening memorable, giving us a hint of what’s to come and preparing us to add some sparkle to our wardrobes.

Here are a few of the pieces which stood out starkly against the competition:

Embellished Shorts

Delna Poonawalla’sKaleidoscope Karma’ ensemble displayed geometric prints and fluid silhouettes with leather-trimming, presenting a soft, dreamy collection. Many pieces, such as the cute cut short, were beautifully embellished with beads, sequins and embroidery. The soft colour palette of pastels reflected the ambience of spring.

The Crochet Butterfly

Valdini Angels’ ‘Be Unique’ line presented a delightful assortment of elegant designs in various handmade motifs and shapes. The collection featured neutral-coloured pieces overlain with crochet motifs containing small jewelled elements. In contrast, we also saw bright and vibrant prints, creating beautiful silhouettes. My favourite piece of the assemblage was the large butterfly-like crochet theme on the dress. It was simple but bold.

The Flag of Pain and Hope

‘Gaza: The right to humanity’ by Wajahat Mirza was inspired by the Gaza movement and the Palestinian flag. The black in this selection represented mourning, white for peace, green for hope, and the red for bloodshed. This was manifested in fluid evening gowns, georgettes and soft tones of velvet. Each piece was beautifully draped, formulating sophisticated, stunning and eye-catching pieces.

Floral Prints

Sharon M Osborne brought the ‘silent perspective’ as a deaf sign-language user. Her influence was her interpretation of the world as she sees it. Her garments were created using the finest bespoke digitally-printed designs and laser-cut leather. Osborne’s collection was based on florals and pastels, with items that reminded me of the 1960s. The shorts were pretty and playful, and the unique combination of Silk Crêpe de Chine and leathers created a very interesting medley of crisp textures and shapes.

The Elusive Jewel

The Daniel Syiem ‘Amaranthine-Everlasting Style’ series was natural and organic, using natural dyes and organic weaved materials with simple designs. The light colours combined with vibrant statement pieces exhibited something authentic. The collection included clean-cut blazers, as well as a bold terracotta-colour jumpsuit. A unique piece of this array, which I found spectacular, was the basic long earring that formed a continuous necklace.


Colour Blocks

Lenie Boya’s ‘Voyage’ formation featured refined minimalism with asymmetrical cuts and primary colours; blue, off-white, red and black. Inspired by Picasso, the designer’s ingenuity was to create wearable art fragments. The collection was chic with a splash of colour on black, making each dress unique. The final piece in this line-up was a black velvet dress with a tulip structure beginning across the chest and framing the face of the model.


Omar Mansoor’s display was a dazzle of bright colours – red, turquoise and gold. The collection was a mix of fun and demure. It featured semi-precious stones, including turquoise, alongside hand-woven, crochet-decorated, flowing gowns in pure silk, crepe and chiffon.

Omar Mansoor told us that Mata Hari, a Dutch dancer and spy, was his key inspiration for the line, hence the mixture of styles. His preferred item, he asserted, was the last piece on the runway. The dress has a pure silk lining and a turquoise-coloured tulle overlay, with hand applique. It is a wonderful piece which can be worn for a multitude of occasions. The collection was expressive of a confident and playful, but elegant, individual.

Each designer brought show-stoppers within their creations, with fusions of designs, fabrics, patterns and shapes. The show was an innovative interpretation of fashion and design from across the world, as well as the combined perspectives of people from different walks of life.

Image from: Omar Mansoor's 'Mata Hari' Collection
Categories: Muslim blogs

The Best Days of this World

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 25/09/2014 - 13:00

Originally Posted in November 2009

By Zahra

The Virtues of the first 10 days of Dhul Hijjah1 :

1. Ahadith (narrations) of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him):

قال النبي –صلى الله عليه وسلم-( مامن أيام العمل الصالح فيها أحب إلى الله من هذه الأيام قالوا يا رسول الله : ولا الجهاد في سبيل الله قال ولا الجهاد في سبيل الله إلا رجل خرج بنفسه وماله فلم يرجع من ذلك بشئ) رواه البخاري

The Prophet ﷺ said: “There are no days in which good deeds are more beloved to Allah than during these days. The Sahaba said: O Rasul Allah [Messenger of God], not even jihad in the path of Allah? He ﷺ said: Not even jihad in the path of Allah except for the man who goes out in the path of Allah with his life and his wealth and returns with neither of them.”

وقال ( أفضل أيام الدنيا أيام العشر) رواه البزار وصححه الالبانى.

And he ﷺ said: “The best days of this world are these ten.”

2. Allah swears by these 10 days in the Qur’an:

قول الله تعالى:2 سورة الفجر (1-2)، قال ابن كثير رحمه الله: المراد بها عشر ذي الحجة

Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) says: “By the dawn, and by the 10 nights,” [Qur'an, 89:1-2]. Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn al-Zubayr, Mujahid and others of the earlier and later generations said that this refers to the first ten days of Dhul Hijjah. Ibn Katheer said: “This is the correct opinion.”

قال تعالى:3 سورة الحج(28)، قال ابن عباس: أيام العشر

Allah says: “…and mention the name of Allah on appointed days,” [Qur'an, 22:28]. Ibn ‘Abbas said these are the ten days.

3. These ten days are better than Ramadan:

قال المحققون من أهل العلم: أيام عشر ذي الحجة أفضل الأيام، وليالي العشر الأواخر من رمضان أفضل الليالي.

Most scholars adopt the opinion that these days are better than the last ten days of Ramadan. However, what holds the last ten days of Ramadan at a higher status is the Night of Power (Laylat ul-Qadr) which is equivalent to one thousand months (83.33 years).

تضاعف فيها الحسنات قال ابن عباس”: العمل فيهن بسبعمائة ضعف”

The rewards are multiplied in these days. Ibn ‘Abbas said: “(The reward for good) deeds are multiplied seven hundred times in these days.”

قال الاوزاعى: “بلغني أن العمل في أيام العشر كقدر غزوة في سبيل الله يصام نهارها ويحرس ليلها إلا أن يختص امرء بشهادة”

Al Awzaa’i said: “I was informed that good deeds during the ten days are the equivalent (in reward) to a battle in the path of Allah, in which the day is spent in fasting and the night in safeguarding, except if one is bestowed with martyrdom.”

In Ramadan, doing good deeds and struggling in worship, especially during the last ten nights, is easier than during these days for a few reasons. Firstly, the atmosphere of the month of Ramadan, whether culturally, spiritually, or traditionally, makes it easier to focus and strive. Secondly, the shayateen (devils) are chained. So, to get that drive and direction we had in Ramadan is much harder when we have most likely fallen out of “Ramadan mode.” However, since the `ibada (worship) is more difficult, the reward is greater. So let’s keep this in mind and get ready to really work hard.

The Plan of Action for these 10 days:

1. Really feel this blessing and realize that it is an opportunity of a lifetime, because none of us know if we will witness these 10 days again.

كان خالد بن معدان يقول( إذا فتح لأحدكم باب للخير فليسرع فاءنه لا يدرى متى يغلق عنه

Khalid bin Mi`dan used to say: “If the door for good is opened for one of you, then rush (to take advantage) because you don’t know when it will close.”

2. Have high aspirations in your worship and use the examples of the ijtihad (diligence) of the saliheen (righteous) as motivation.

3. Take advantage of the opportunities to get the reward of Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) while being elsewhere.

قال-صلى الله عليه وسلم-( من صلى الفجر في جماعة ثم قعد يذكر الله حتى تطلع الشمس ثم صلى ركعتين كانت له كأجر حجة وعمرة تامة تامة تامة

The Prophet ﷺ said: “Whoever prays fajr [the pre-dawn prayer] in congregation and then sits in remembrance of Allah until the sun rises, then prays two rak`aat [units of prayer], he has the full reward of Hajj and `umrah (the lesser pilgrimage).”

4. Perfect the fara’idh (obligatory actions):

Often times we become busy trying to do extra deeds, but neglect the fact that perhaps maybe what is obligatory upon us is not at the level it should be. There is no way for a person to become close to Allah (swt) other than through the obligatory actions, as is apparent in the famous hadith qudsi (sacred narration) in which Allah (swt) says: “My servant does not become closer to me by anything more beloved to me than what I have obligated upon him.”

Reasonable Goals:

1. Khatm (Complete Recitation) of Qur’an:

It is equivalent to more than half a million hasanaat (good deeds) during these days. Let’s try to complete the recitation of the Qur’an during these days, ending by `Asr (the afternoon prayer) time on the day of `Arafah (the ninth day of Dhul-Hijjah) and spending from `Asr to Magrhib (the post-sunset prayer) in du`a’ (supplication).

2. Qiyam al-Layl (Late Night Prayer):

Rasulallah (the Messenger of God) ﷺ said: “Whoever stands in prayer, reciting 1,000 verses, is written among the muqantareen.” A qintar (the root of muqantareen) is equal to 70,000 dinar. The recitation of the last two ajzaa’ (parts) of the Qur’an is equivalent to 1,000 verses.

3. Extra Salah (Prayer) During the Day:

The Prophet ﷺ said: “There is not a Muslim who prays twelve rak`aat per day, other than the obligatory prayers, except that a palace is built for him in paradise.”

4. Dhikr: The best form of worship to do in these ten days as apparent in the hadith (narration):

Ibn `Umar said that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “There is no day more honorable in Allah ‘s sight and no acts more beloved therein to Allah than those in these ten days. So say tahlil ['There is no deity worthy of worship but Allah: La ilaha illAllah'], takbir ['Allah is the greatest: Allahu akbar'] and tahmid ['All praise is due to Allah: alhumdulillah'] a lot.” [Ahmad, 7/224]

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “The best du`a’ is du`a’ on the day of `Arafah, and the best thing that I or the Prophets before me have said is ‘There is no god but Allah, alone, without any partner’ [La ilaha illa'llah, wahdahu la sharika lah].” [Muwatta, Malik].

7. Reviving the Sunnah of Takbir ['Allahu Akbar']:

Ibn `Umar and Abu Hurairah radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleases with him) used to go out in the marketplace during the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah, reciting takbir, and the people would recite takbir when they heard them.

8. Fasting:

The reward of fasting is great, so imagine how much that reward would be multiplied in these days. If one can’t fast all of the 9 days, then at least on the day of `Arafah as it is the greatest day.

Abu Qatadah reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Fasting on the day of ‘Arafah is an expiation for two years, the year preceding it and the year following it. Fasting the day of `Ashura is an expiation for the year preceding it.” [This is related by "the group," except for al-Bukhari and at-Tirmidhi.]

The Prophet ﷺ said “There is no day that Allah will free people more than the day of `Arafah.”

`Ali (ra) used to advise people to say, “O Allah, free my neck from the fire,” on the day of `Arafah.

9. Du`a’:

Especially on the day of `Arafah, but also at anytime. Keep in mind the times where du`a’ is more likely to be accepted and ask during those times.

    • The last third of the night
    • Between the adhaan and iqaamah
    • During the rain
    • In sujood
    • On Friday
    • While fasting

10. Sadaqa (Charity):

Give sadaqa during these days, since the reward is multiplied tremendously.

11. Tawbah (Asking for Forgiveness):

Continually renew repentance.

12. Establish Ikhlas (Sincerity) in `ibada (Worship).

13. Check and renew intentions at all times.

The Day of `Eid

On the greatest day, remained focused as it is still part of the first 10 days which are the best days of the year! Try not to get too caught up in celebrating that you stop doing the worship that you were doing the first 9 days.

The day of ‘Eid is a day for visiting family and performing the sacrifice for one who is able.

  1. the last month of the Islamic calendar and the month of pilgrimage
  2. وَالْفَجْرِ، وَلَيَالٍ عَشْرٍ
  3. وَيَذْكُرُوا اسْمَ اللَّهِ فِي أَيَّامٍ مَّعْلُومَاتٍ
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