Kuhel Khalid brings surreal experiences of war to an experimental production at Camden’s People Theatre and the Cockpit
September 11th, symbolically named, is the debut London play by Iraqi director Kuhel Khalid. His plays have been performed in Canada, US, Iran, Syria and Iraq, where he set up his theatre company Red Zone, named in contrast to the ‘Green Zone’ area of Baghdad, where foreigners and governmental departments are usually based.
I went to see the production at the Camden’s People’s Theatre, which from the outside looks like a nondescript council block, but this small, intimate theatre holds big ambitions as a space for innovative and unconventional plays. It supports emerging artists, such as Kuhel, and plays that tackle the political, social and culture issues of the present time. The play, September 11th, despite being named after the attacks that took place nearly 16 years ago, aims to explore issues of Arab identity, western paranoia and the effects the wars on terror have had on contemporary Middle Eastern society since that day.
The play has five main characters, each emblematic of a component in the chaotic and dehumanising milieu of war: a clergyman figure who doles out retribution, a rebel who is abused and swears vengeance, a woman wearing a burka who personifies the female victim of war, a hunchback figure who exemplifies depravity, and a smartly-dressed woman who is complicit in some of the violence, but is also victim to it. The characters, each through physical theatre and sparing dialogue, depict scenes of the grotesque realities of war where extreme violence is commonplace and the desire for religious deliverance prevails.
This play sets out to explore these weighty themes through use of allegory and symbolism. For instance, the backdrop of the stage is a large unfinished painting of the Twin Towers, which an artist slowly works on finishing throughout the play. Bakhoor or incense burners, illustrative of both Arabic culture and the process of purification and healing, are situated next to the clergyman’s pulpit on the stage. And a sacrificial lamb carcass lies at the front of the stage alluding to its strong resonance in Islam.
I spoke to Kuhel, aged 34, about the play and he told me that his style has been fundamentally shaped by the five wars he has lived through. Experimental theatre is important to him because “there is no logic in life,” he says, referring to the traumatic experiences he has witnessed and recreated in his plays. “I try to create a mood in my play of constantly being at unease,” he explains. He aims to paint a picture of the atmosphere in Bagdad, which in addition to the presence of foreign troops, experiences regular sectarian violence.
It is important to Kuhel to bring the sensory experience of Baghdad to British audiences, he adds, because these experiences are what have shaped him as a person. The bizarre instances of actors dropping to the ground in his plays and the constant presence of an austere street sweeper come from experiences that that run painfully deep. The falling actors resemble the time he witnessed an actor gunned down next to him while working in Iraq – the shock of seeing a once living person become lifeless in an instant. The street sweeper character comes from a memory of seeing a Baghdadi street sweeper piling limbs on the road side after a car bomb had detonated, which killed Kuhel’s close cousin. These memories are etched into him and resurrect themselves in his plays.
Through these connected scenes of absurd and surreal brutality in September 11th, Kuhel re-enacts the visual and physical experiences of living in a war zone, giving the audience a sense of what it can do to people and what it destroys. This play attempts to explore valid questions earnestly: who are we, and what can we trust?
The use of allegory to encapsulate trauma and scenes of war works well for the most part, but at times, it notably falters. For example, the symbolism the characters are meant to represent, though bold and daring, risks falling into the stereotypes it attempts to tackle. Certain scenes are reduced to spectacle, and meaning, if any, becomes difficult to discern. But what holds the play together are the actors’ brilliant and impassioned performances and Kuhel’s sobering and powerful style of storytelling.
Kuhel presents an authentic vision in this carnal yet noble play and leaves audiences, as promised, confounded and with “more questions” than before. The importance of such authentic voices cannot be understated in the current political climate.
Best-selling novel and upcoming film The Shack invites us to reassess how we interpret the holy trinity and to recognise the inclusivity and compassion that it represents
Central to the theology of what are called the ‘three great’ (Abrahamic) monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is the declaration: “The Lord our God (Jehovah; Allah) is One.” While the belief that there is only one God is essential to all three religious identities, Christianity has always had an added conundrum, insisting that God is ‘Three-in-One’, traditionally depicted as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This is known in theology as the Trinity which, while not a word actually used in Hebrew or Christian scriptures, was used from about the 4th-century onwards. If true, then it should have made of ‘Christianity’ a revolutionary, authentic, world-changing way of life and the fulfilment of the entire direction of Judaism towards the revelation of the long-awaited Messiah (or “Christ” from the Greek χριστος christos). Indeed, for a minority from among the Jews and then non-Jews (“Gentiles”) for the first three centuries following the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, it was so. However, for the last 1,700 years, this has clearly not been the case.
In his classic study The Trinity, Karl Rahner, a German Jesuit, writes: “Christians are, in their practical life, almost mere ‘monotheists.’ We must be willing to admit that, should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious [Christian] literature could well remain virtually unchanged.”
This seems largely true, notwithstanding fervent claims by certain movements such as the Pentecostal and Charismatic wings of the Evangelical denominations to have re-appropriated the power and ‘person’ of the Holy Spirit. The Trinity may well have remained a misunderstood pre-occupation within a Christian enclave had a certain William Paul Young not written what has become an all-time best-selling novel (over 20 million copies sold to date), The Shack.
For the first time since the 4th-century Cappadocian Fathers (from Cappadocia, in modern day south-eastern Turkey), the Trinity has become the inspirational topic of dinner table dialogue and cappuccino conversations. Ten years since its publication, The Shack continues to inspire, excite, enrage or transform its readers, to varying degrees.
First, the book: what is all the fuss about? The Shack is published as fiction and tells the story of one man’s “Great Sadness” which is turned into a Great Hope. Mackenzie Allen Philip’s youngest daughter is abducted during a family holiday and all the evidence points to her having been savagely murdered in a remote and derelict lake-side shack. Four years after the tragedy, Mack receives a bizarre note in his mailbox inviting him to return to the shack for a weekend. Even more curiously, the note is signed “Papa” – the very personal name that Mack’s wife, Nana, uses for God.
Upon arrival, Mack encounters the Papa of the note in the person of a large, black, African-American woman. He then gets to meet the ‘other’ aspects of God: Jesus, the son, depicted as a not-especially-handsome, brown man of Middle-Eastern origin, and Sarayu, an Asian woman, typifying the Holy Spirit. As the story unfolds, Young, through Mack, asks the big questions, like: “Where is God in the midst of human tragedy, unspeakable pain and suffering?” The answers he gets and which are played out in the book are astounding and, according to thousands of verifiable testimonies, absolutely life-changing.
Even so, the book’s implications concerning the identity and persons of God have divided Christian opinion – the fundamentalist, Evangelical wing of the Christian church in particular – with many taking issue with the presentation of God the Father as a woman and, ‘worse’, a black woman. In addition, depicting the Holy Spirit also as a woman has further challenged traditional interpretation and exposed the corporate ignorance of just who this third person is supposed to be.
In fact, the Holy Spirit as female is a fundamental element of Hebrew Scripture and has been since, literally, the beginning. This identification has been hiding in plain sight. Indeed, the Hebrew book, Genesis, opens with these famous lines: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving [literally, ‘brooding’] over the surface of the water.” The Hebrew word throughout the Old Testament for Spirit is Ruach, a feminine noun. Furthermore, the Genesis account goes on to state, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness,’…God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”
While traditional doctrine rightly states that God is neither male nor female (but both male and female) no observer of Judaism, Islam or Christianity can fail to notice the vehemently patriarchal nature of these three religions and the absence of any female element in the portrayal of God.
Repeatedly quizzed about the ‘shocking’ depiction of God the Father (Papa) as an African-American woman, author Young explains that words are metaphors and that he was seeking to avoid common stereotypes about the person and nature of God. Most of all, he was eager to avoid what he calls the “Gandalf-with-attitude” image of a stern, distant, difficult-to-please and demanding, white Father figure. He is also aware from his own experience of just how traumatic and loaded the term ‘Father’ is for so many of us today.
While The Shack clearly tackles our image and understanding of God from an arguably Christian perspective, its themes are not meant to be exclusive, or even Christian. In a conversation with “Jesus” in the book, Mack is struggling to understand what being a Christian means. “‘Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian,’” Jesus replies, pointedly. He goes on to explain: “‘Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.’”
Mack then asks if he means that all roads lead to him. “‘Not at all,’ smiled Jesus… Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.’”
Because of the above scene (among others), Young has been accused of ‘Pluralism’, by which it is argued that all religions lead to the one, true God. The above quotation suggests otherwise, but does imply a second charge brought against the book which is of ‘Universalism’. To this criticism, Young accedes, insofar as Christian Universalists hope and believe in the ultimate redemption of all mankind. Crucial to this idea is that God’s judgements are not retributive, as both Catholic and Protestant (especially Evangelical fundamentalist) traditions have always claimed, but restorative.
Not only does The Shack aim to enlarge our vision of who God is, but also how much more there is to God than our feeble metaphors or allegories can grasp and iterate. Since the publication of the book, a lot has happened in modern Christian theology and practice, not least of which is the way that a totally new understanding and interpretation of what was always supposed to be a Trinitarian faith: God as Three-in-One, is ‘hot’ news again. In fact, a number of commentators have realised that it is not a new understanding so much as a recovered one. Indeed, there has emerged a whole new dimension of modern theology being promulgated by people described as “The New Trinitarians”.
One independent theologian had been grappling for years with Trinitarian theology and the implications of what he saw as the traditional misrepresentation of the Gospel by all organised Christian traditions, when he was urged to read The Shack and recognised in it the ideas he had been working through.
Dr. C. Baxter Kruger is founder of the Perichoresis groups in America and Australia. The group name comes from the 4th-century Cappadocian Fathers who coined it as a description of the nature of the relationship among the Trinity. Perichoresis (from Greek: περιχώρησις perikhōrēsis, “rotation”) is a term referring to the relationship of the three persons of the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to one another. We get the word ‘choreography’ from it and, in addition, the relationship has been called The Great Dance (see Baxter Kruger, The Great Dance) and The Divine Dance (see Fr Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance).
So impressed was Kruger by the themes explored in The Shack that he wrote a theological study, titled The Shack Revisited. At one point he explains: “that this triune God, in amazing and lavish love, determined to open the circle and share the Trinitarian life with others. This is the one, eternal and abiding reason for the creation of the world and of human life. There is no other God, no other will of God, no second plan, no hidden agenda for human beings. Before the creation of the world, the Father, Son and Spirit set their love upon us and planned to bring us to share and know and experience the Trinitarian life itself. Unto this end the cosmos was called into being, and the human race was fashioned, and Adam and Eve were given a place in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son himself, in and through whom the dream of our adoption would be accomplished.”
Rather than our traditional monarchist view of God, whereby there is a pyramidal, hierarchic chain of command (even among the trinity), The Shack offers a completely new paradigm. In another theological exploration of the book, Finding God in The Shack, Randal Rauser, associate professor of historical theology at Taylor Seminary, Edmonton, Canada, summarises this alternative (page 15): “The question here concerns whether the Father is ultimately in charge of the Trinity so that the Son and the Spirit eternally submit to him. Or could it be that the Father is as submitted to the Son and Spirit as they are to him? Deciding whether there is authority and submission or mutual submission within God could have radical implications for how we organize our relationships here on earth…The view of The Shack is that all the divine persons are submitted to one another and to the creation, and so all human persons should also be submitted.”
Regardless of the theological implications and the often-heated discussions surrounding The Shack, it has clearly had a huge impact on the over 20 million readers, not only of Christian persuasion, but of all faiths and none. In the Foreword to The Shack Revisited, Paul Young explains: “The Shack was never intended to be a systematic theology or another book of pragmatic proof texts useful for badgering unwitting unbelievers into religious submission. It is fiction and it is a story. It is an utterly human tale, rife with the mystery of journey and failure, of loss and uncertainty, of deep and precious desires and questions.”
Not only have the book’s sales been stratospheric, but its message is about to gain an even wider audience. Liongate have now finished making and editing the film, The Shack, directed by Stuart Hazeldene (Life of Pi and The Blind Side), and starring Sam Worthington (Mack), Octavia Spencer (Papa), Aviv Alush (Jesus) and Tim McGraw (Mack’s friend, Willie), due for release next month.
Whatever one gets from reading The Shack, or through experiencing the (text-faithful) film version, it is through the eyes of our spirits and the ears of our hearts that revelation comes, rather than our limited intellect. As Randal Rauser concludes (page 160): “Perhaps the most we can hope for is to attain glimpses of the beauty, harmony, and unconditional love at the heart of God.” There can, surely, be no better hope for our beleaguered world.
Book: The Shack by William P Young (Hodder & Stoughton General Division, 2007)
Film: The Shack directed by Stuart Hazeldene – US release date 3rd March 2017Image from: http://bit.ly/2lLn2tC
A powerful insight into mass incarceration and modern slavery through our prison systems
Ava DuVernay’s powerful documentary 13TH, now available on Netflix, chronicles the rise of the US prison-industrial complex. The documentary is named after the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, the act credited with ending slavery. However, a clause in the Amendment makes it legal for the government to treat criminals as slaves as a form of punishment.
The documentary explores how America holds 25 per cent of the world’s prison population despite making up only 5 per cent of the world’s population. Using testimonies from former prisoners, activists, politicians and intercutting footage from US media, 13TH argues that the demonisation of black people continued long after the official end of slavery. Starting with the notoriously racist 1915 film Birth of a Nation and referencing Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs in the 1980s, the documentary argues that black people had to first be dehumanised in order for people to consent to their mass imprisonment.
This was accompanied by changes to the law which now mean that an estimated 1 in 3 black men will enter the prison system. While this figure is startling, the documentary highlights the legal changes that have led to this number – the discrepancy between jail times for crack vs. cocaine users, the increased use of minimum sentencing, ‘three strikes and you’re out’, and the Crime Bill of the 1990s. Each has been designed to target working-class black and brown people.
More importantly, the documentary looks at the collusion between corporations who benefit financially from the prison system and politicians who push through these policies. While incarcerated, inmates will be forced to work either for free or for a pittance to help create products for large US corporations as well as the US government. Their cheap labour helps companies make more money.
Prisoners are also given sub-standard food, charged extortionate prices for phone calls, face daily abuse from prison guards and can be held in inhumane detention, such as solitary confinement, for 23 hours a day for several years at a time. Once a prisoner is released, they may find that their punishment does not end. In many US states, convicted felons can no longer vote, obtain jobs or have access to benefit programs. All of this happens despite their spent sentences; they are, in fact, stripped of their rights for the rest of their lives.
One of the more powerful scenes of the film shows crowds of white people in the 1950s attacking a black man as he walks alone in the street, while recordings of Donald Trump’s campaign speeches play in the background. This is intercut with images of black men and women being attacked at Trump rallies. Although the documentary was made prior to his election, this scene clarifies what Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan was: a call to return to the “good ol’ days” when white people could terrorise people of colour with impunity.
The issues this film raises has close parallels with the targeting of Muslim communities in the United States. “Terrorist” is another racially-charged category of “criminal”. As Republican congressman Sean Duffy put it earlier this week, white terrorists are totally different. Media representations which paint all Muslims as ‘bad’ has led to increased fear among the American public, while fake news has been used in the rise of the ‘alt-right’, a convenient name for white supremacism and fascism. It is this process of ‘othering’ to stoke fear and hatred which has led to a host of human rights abuses against people who are Muslim or ‘look Muslim’, indeed anyone who is brown, has a beard or covers their hair. Could this explain why 1 in 3 Americans support Donald Trump’s Muslim ban despite it being wholly unconstitutional and counter to the values that America was allegedly founded upon?
Beyond DuVernay’s documentary, it is clear that this is not just an American problem. Prisons in the UK have become increasingly privatised as G4S and Serco take over their management more and more. There is a big push to build super prisons around the UK, because this warehouse-style housing of inmates is thought to be the most cost-effective. What’s more, the emphasis on running prisons for profit has led to deteriorating conditions across the prison sector. Last year alone saw two large prison riots, one in Birmingham and the other in Bedford. The Birmingham riot was blamed on poor staff training and a reduced workforce, which prompted the justice secretary to demand that G4S pay the bill for using public funds to quell the unrest.
Taking race into consideration, it is important to note that black Britons make up 10 per cent of prison inmates in the UK despite totalling only 2.8 per cent of the overall population. A landmark prison review headed up by David Lammy found that black people are also more likely to be handed a custodial sentence for drug offences than their white counterparts, and more likely to be found guilty of an offence in a Crown Court. The review is ongoing but does hint at a similar racial discrepancy to that which we see in the film.
There has also been a startling push to get more inmates working while in prison here in Britain. Private companies like One3one Solutions are tasked with attracting businesses to use prison labour. Initiatives such as this are advertised to the public as a way to equip prisoners with skills, but many simply view this as way to create a prison industrial system similar that of the United States. The film 13TH shows us the horrors of such a system. It is up to us to decide if we allow for it here.Image: official poster
As we work for justice in this world, let us never lose sight of the fact that ultimately we are not living for this world we are living in it. We search assiduously for the program that will assure the most abundant share of justice for ourselves and those we support. This is fitting as we are urged in the Qur’an to be upright witnesses and advocates for justice. It is more fitting though that we strenuously search for the right religious program, as we will inevitably leave this world and move on towards our reckoning in the next.
Along these lines something I read this morning in Shaykh Jamaladdin al-Qasimi’s abridgement of Qut al-Qulub struck me as an amazing program which we should and easily could adopt as our religious program. He relates: “That he (the believer) does not become comfortable with sin; that he does not eat from an unlawful income; that he restrains his tongue and hand from abusing the honor and wealth of people; that he gives sincere advice to people out of compassionate concern for them; that he is pleased with what pleases them and saddened by what saddens them. [Finally], he is sincere in all of the actions that he undertakes for God, Most High.”
Note: I have translated the word “Muslims” in the original text as “people.” The acceptability of this translation is affirmed by textual evidence, which indicates that the relevant advice mentioned here is applicable to all people.
One man asked another with a bit of a stutter
Has Trump got you down in the dumps?
The other man said I’m doing just fine and here is the reason why.
The birds yet sing, the sun yet shines and the clouds still float across the sky.
The children still play, the lovers still love and the philosophers are still asking, “why?”
India’s recent cash crisis was the result of a good decision implemented poorly and has cost the country financially and politically
The decision by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to withdraw 500 and 1000 rupee notes from circulation overnight, a move called demonetisation, was a measure designed to cut down on corruption and ‘black money’. In theory, it was a drastic but necessary measure to tackle an age-old problem in India and is technically still the right decision. But the rapid implementation of the decision in a largely cash-based economy has led to disastrous consequences for the country as a whole and placed Modi’s premiership under self-inflicted pressure. The lack of an appropriate modern financial infrastructure, such as bank accounts, use of credit and debit cards, and contactless payments like Apple Pay, has further exacerbated the negative effects of demonetisation.
The term ‘black money’ applies to funds which are hidden from tax authorities and are, therefore, illegal. For instance, when someone is attempting to buy a house in India, the seller may offer the property for 120,000 rupees, but when the property is sold he records the sale down officially as 100,000 rupees – pocketing 20,000 rupees for himself. He will only be taxed on the first 100,000. As the transaction is conducted purely in cash, the money is hard to track, and once the cash is circulated back into the system through everyday spending, the illegal activity is virtually untraceable. This sort of illicit transaction happens on different scales all over the country and is a known, and essentially accepted, part of the Indian economy. The percentage of those who pay income tax differs depending on which source you refer to, but it is usually less than 5 per cent of the population, and in 2013 it was only 1 per cent according to official government figures. This is frighteningly low in a country with a population of around 1.2 billion people.
Given that the black economy accounts for up to 20 per cent of India’s GDP, it is not surprising that this problem has been tackled through similar demonetisations in the past. In 1978, under then Prime Minister Morarji Desai, the government decided to remove 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 rupee notes. Prior still, in 1946 the 1,000 and 10,000 notes were withdrawn. Modi’s decision is therefore not without precedent. Negative consequences were also seen back then as a result of the removal of the notes. In 1978, the Times of India reported the rising prices of agricultural products such as edible oils, while India Today reported a 5-10 per cent drop in prices of gold and diamonds.
Prime Minister Modi’s decision
On the evening of 8th November, 2016, Modi announced the surprise decision to demonetise the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes and render them illegal to use as cash. They were replaced with new 500 and 2,000 rupee notes. Overnight, people found their money was worthless.
The high value 500 and 1,000 notes were chosen for withdrawal because they were the notes most frequently used as black money, but also because together they made up 85 per cent of the cash in circulation. This meant that everyone from the humble tea seller to the high-ranking business executive was left less able, and in some cases completely unable, to pay for anything.
What’s more, as people attempted to exchange the withdrawn currency for the new tender, many banks struggled to cope with the increased demand and ATM machines ran dry of money. Huge queues and crowds ensued, as well as some stampedes and scuffles, as people scrambled to exchange their cash.
The lack of a modern banking and financial infrastructure in India is likely to pose longer-term struggles and consequences as this decision trickles down. For example, only 27 per cent of villages reside within 5km of a bank and nearly 40 per cent of Indians have no access to any financial services at all. As a result, the country needs to spend time, money and effort to actually be in the correct state for the demonetisation policy to have its desired effect. Ultimately, the few that do pay tax already have bank accounts and avoid black money benefit. The majority of the population, especially the poor who rely on cash to survive, look to be facing a period of financial hardship. Whether the measure will actually reduce corruption is also far from guaranteed.
The future for Modi and the BJP-led government
Prime Minister Modi and his party now face a lot more scrutiny and pressure. For a country which ranked 76 out of 168 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, the reasoning behind his decision is logical. On the other hand, the speed and extreme nature of its implementation calls into question whether the appropriate research was conducted and the measure wholly thought through. It is unclear why the government did not stagger the withdrawal of the notes with, for instance, the 500 notes first and the 1,000 later.
Modi has since defended keeping the decision secret, which is understandable, given that an announcement would have allowed some to skirt around the change. Yet there is no reason the necessary element of surprise could not have been maintained with a staggered approach. Other measures could have been used to implement demonetisation more smoothly, such as introducing the new 2,000 rupee note first, circulating it into the system, and then declaring the 500 and 1,000 notes withdrawn. A further measure could have involved utilising and expanding new technologies, such as Payse and others, prior to getting rid of the notes. This would have also benefited India in the long term by accelerating the country to a better financial infrastructure. This can and is being performed now, but much of the damage has already been done. The prime minister then put himself in a fragile position by calling for 50 days to allow the government to sort things out, but if he doesn’t his opposition will be ready to pounce and it is possible that his time in office could come to an end.
It is clear that India is currently undergoing a period of massive instability and change as the decades’ long fight against corruption and black money reach a significant milestone. Modi took a huge gamble in his effort to try and reduce this problem, but there was a clear lack of critical thinking in the process. Of course, India is not the only country to struggle with corruption, but it is the way that corruption has seeped down to every section of the populace which makes it such a big problem. From paying off a policeman to avoid a traffic punishment to Bollywood stars using their fame and fortune to escape serious crimes, corruption is visible and widespread. The demonetisation strategy may be drastic, but it is extreme measures like this that may be necessary to vanquish corruption once and for all.Image from: http://on.wsj.com/2fwFer9
Chaos or Community
The events of this past weekend, beginning with the Trump Administration’s anti-Muslim executive order and culminating with the murder of six Muslims at a mosque in Quebec have sent chilling signals to the Muslim community in North America.
Many Muslims are not surprised by these developments, knowing the full history in America of some of the forces Trump represents as well as how dangerous racially-induced hatred can become. This is especially true when that hatred becomes wedded to a political agenda. Most Muslims, however, are shocked and filled with fear and anxiety.
What is to be done? First of all, we cannot allow ourselves to be consumed by fear. Fear mongers, regardless their religion, are dupes of Satan. We are commanded in the Qur’an (3:175) not to fear them. We must be courageous and patient.
Secondly, we cannot allow ourselves to allow the hatred directed towards us to fill us with hate. “The hate that hate produced” was an inaccurate and inapplicable statement when it was first directed towards the Nation of Islam in 1959 and we have to make sure it is never applicable to Muslims in our nation today.
We must counter hate with love, fear with hope, division with unity and chaos with community. These are things we Muslims should see ourselves doing not out of desperation or expediency. We should do them because this is what our religion teaches us (Q: 41:34).
Thirdly, we have to look at what other people are threatened with by the cabal in Washington, DC. African Americans face the prospects of an expanded prison system and the cancerous growth of the mass incarceration regime by the “law and order” president who has threatened to make “stop and frisk” the law of the land. We know well the implications of those dog whistles.
Our Latino brothers and sisters face the decimation of their families and communities by the threatened deportation of millions of their people. Native folk face the further desecration of their lands, the expanded exploitation of their resources and total governmental disregard in terms of doing anything that would address the burning issues such as suicide, alcoholism and the systemic poverty that ravages the lives of far too many in their communities.
Jews face the recrudescence of dangerous and destructive levels of anti-Semitism, which not only pose a threat to their communities but to the very foundation of our national ideals. Realizing this helps us to keep the challenges Muslims face in perspective.
It is heartening to witness the outpouring of support from so many people from all of the communities mentioned above, and beyond. They showed up at airports this past weekend, not just to protest, but in many instances to help free Muslims who had been unjustly and illegally detained.
We must stand with them all. We are all in this together. We must also begin to communicate with our neighbors, coworkers, fellow students and fellow citizens to let them know who we are and what we stand for. This crisis we find before ourselves has been in the making for over a decade, largely because we sat back and remained silent as people possessing a visceral hatred for Islam and Muslims defined our religion and community to the public. Those people are now in power. We can no longer afford to be silent.
Finally, we must become a community of universal voter registration and keen political consciousness. The 2018 midterm election will be one of the most important in American history. It will be a referendum on the future of this country. What will be at stake is the continuation of the program to make America great “again” or to work to make it great.
Great “again” means glorifying a past that included genocide, slavery, Jim Crow, Chinese exclusion, Japanese internment, anti-Semitism and a host of other memories the folks who want to make America great again find to painful to remember so they simply choose to forget.
Great means continuing to come together as a people to work towards a system of mutual respect, while encouraging each other to bring forth the best of our respective traditions, histories and experiences to build an exemplary community.
Ultimately, as Dr. King reminded us, we have a choice between chaos or community. It is up to each and every one of us to do our part to ensure that we choose community.
The legendary singer, actor and activist, Harry Belafonte, recently referred to the advent of the Trump presidency as the Fourth Reich, the heir apparent to Hitler’s Third Reich. Others have expressed similar sentiments. While the nature of Trump’s campaign and the dark forces it has helped to unleash, along with the composition of his cabinet, are harbingers of challenging and difficult days, his administration is not and can not be the Fourth Reich.
Demographic realities work against the creation in America of the kind of social solidarity which undergirded the Nazi state. There are far more white Americans who are at odds with the worst aspects of Trump’s agenda than those who favor it. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of Native peoples, African Americas, Latino Americans, Asian Americans and other minorities who are collectively close to becoming the majority in this country would vehemently oppose the imposition of a fascist program. The American polity itself along with its institutions at the federal, state and municipals levels is far too deep and multivariate to evoke any comparisons with the Weimar Republic. Saying that, however, does not mean that we must not be extremely vigilant going forward. History has a way of bringing the most startling surprises at the most unexpected times.
So what is to be done? The people of good works must continue to do the good works which define and distinguish their lives. Strive to be a better person, neighbor, coworker, fellow student as well as a more conscientious and well-informed citizen. The loving people whose actions are motivated by love must continue to love and work from the foundation of their love. We cannot allow the merchants of hate to purchase our souls for a trifling price. No price can be put on our love and we should proclaim to anyone caring to listen that we will not auction it off to the lowest bidder. The times are not bad until we allow them to change who we are.
Most importantly, we cannot allow veiled threats or overt acts of intimidation to silence us or remove us from the arena of struggle. Difficult times call out the best in us. Abraham Lincoln would likely not be considered the greatest American president were he not challenged by the circumstances of the Civil War and the threat of the dissolution of the Union. The oration and character of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would not have been so sterling had they not been exposed to the tumultuous caldron of the 1960s.
Our times do not call for us to be Abraham Lincolns, Malcolm Xs or Dr. Kings. They do demand that we all play our part as courageous, visionary citizens responding to the call to preserve the foundations of our republic. Those of us who are Muslims should join our fellow citizens in glorious peaceful protest, such as the historic women’s march tomorrow in Washington DC. We should never lose sight of the fact, however, that while Islam, to a certain extent, was born in protest, it is not a protest religion and that the primary purpose of our community is to help people remove the stain of hatred, racism and xenophobia from their hearts and minds freeing them to become filled with the love of their Lord. That is ultimately the foundation for peace, brotherhood, sisterhood and a good life in this world. It is also the key to salvation in the next.
The following is a list of top 30 articles that were found to resonate most strongly with our readers this past year. It covers a full range of struggles and joys we have faced as a community and regularly bridges orthodox and contemporary Islamic knowledge. Articles covered Glimpses of Marital Bliss, inspired us about the Names of Allah, spoke to the unique struggles of our Black and Hispanic brothers and sisters, and stood up against the siege in Gaza. They discussed the role of women preachers, American holidays, how to overcome addictions and more. See the full list below.
There were many articles of significant impact that are not on the list for brevity’s sake. What was your favorite? Leave a comment to let us know!
IN THE MEDIA Your Facebook Posts, and why The Evil Eye is Real by Ubah
On social media, we are increasingly putting ourselves out there in ways that may promote envious feelings in others. Is it 100% our fault? Of course not. But here are a few important things to keep in mind.Films Today – and How the Muslims Killed Dracula by Shibli Zaman
We often bemoan the negative portrayal of Muslims in film and television, including a recent movie that gets the story of Dracula wrong. But who is to blame when we have absolutely no presence in popular media?An Imam’s Review of the Movie Noah by John (Yahya) Ederer
Potential benefits in watching this movie – and why it would be hugely advantageous to Islam and the Muslims if we made high-quality, well-funded, scripturally proper, and well-acted depictions of the prophets and our great history. Also see: Top Documentaries you Should Watch by Junaid AmjadKnow Thyself: Opinion on Hajj Selfies by Suhaib Webb
WOMEN Female Scholars and Preachers in Islam by John (Yahya) Ederer
The beauty of Islam among religions is in its universality, its compatibility with science, and its versatile legal tradition which remains relevant across times and cultures. Here’s why the majority of our scholars throughout history have said that there’s nothing wrong with listening to a woman’s speech unless it is flirtatious or provocative.10 Ways to be a Single and Content Muslimah by Ubah
Tip #2: Let Go of Entitlement. Remember that you are not owed a relationship. Just like the air you breathe or your eyesight and hearing, a decent and compatible spouse is a blessing from Allah (swt).Is it Allowed for Women to Teach Mixed Gatherings? by John (Yahya) Ederer
CULTURE, CUSTOMS, & FIQH Man’s Best Friend?: The Islamic View on Dogs by John (Yahya) Ederer
Reverts may have had a special relationship with their dogs growing up, or still do at the time of reversion. Sadly, the attitude of many Muslims towards dogs often alienates people from Islam. A closer examination of the issue debunks common misunderstandings.American Customs – What is Permissible? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Also see: Caught with My Foot in the Sink… Reasons to Be Proud of Wudu by Abdul Sattar Ahmed and Is the West Inherently Un-Islamic? by John EdererCan a Non-Muslim Person be in the Masjid? by Suhaib Webb
The stronger opinion on the issue of people of other faiths being refused entry into mosques is Abu Hanifa’s that this only applies for the Hajj and ‘Umra (meaning they are not allowed to make Hajj or Umra). Here’s why.Is Saying Jummah Mubarak an Innovation? by Suhaib Webb
Custom is so important that it forms one of the five major axioms of Islamic law. Based on this important principle and the large number of general texts that encourage us to speak well and be gentle to others, it is a stretch to say that such a greeting in an innovation.Can Muslims be Friends with Non-Muslims? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Qur’anic verses should not be mis-understood to prohibit us from making friends with our neighbors, co-workers, or schoolmates. On the topic of Muslim interactions with other faiths including Christians, see also: A Holiday Message from the Life of Omar by Shibli Zaman
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps for Overcoming Addictions or Sin by Reehab Ramadan
Remember the phrase “I am only the next 24 hours.” By the time the next 24 hours have been reached, hopefully our strength will have been regained, if not then we push ourselves a little further—24 more hours.10 Things that Shouldn’t Happen Once you Become a More Practicing Muslim by Ubah
There a few key things that we must all guard against as a result of turning a new leaf or becoming a more practicing (or new) Muslim – such as becoming narrow minded, becoming isolated, or rebelling against family.Beyond Romantic Love – Here’s What’s Missing by Reehab Ramadan
Beyond romantic or sexualized love, where’s the love that would allow me to go out of my way to buy my brother or sister in humanity a gift to bring a smile to his or her face during times of hardship?How Two Words Changed this Man’s Life by Maryam Amirebrahimi
He had never prayed two rak`ah (units of prayer) in his adult life. Two words he heard at his first Friday prayer penetrated through his heart and embraced his soul. The true story of a man’s path back to Allah (swt).
QUR’AN & PRAYER Building Habits as Worship: A Year Spent Quantifying Devotion by Alex Arrick (Guest Author)
How to use free apps for the iPhone or Android such as LIFT to make a regular, daily habit for memorizing the Qur’an. Also see: Stay Focused by PRAYing by by Marwa AbdallaIs the Qur’an a Violent Text or is Your Reading a Tad Off? by Joe Bradford
A lack of context and qualifications lead to blatant misinterpretation. The shallow misinterpretations of religious and irreligious extremists almost always lead to one thing: the escalation of conflict and the promotion of violence, instead of leading to dialogue and mutual understanding.Too Busy for Quran? Check these 3 Tips to Get Rolling by Mansoor Ahmed
Start off by making time after Fajr prayer or after `Isha’ (night) prayer, the two times you are most likely to be at home. Once it is a part of your lifestyle, it becomes easy to sustain. Remember, try a little by little, but with consistency!
OVERCOMING HARDSHIP Living with Depression and Islam by Anonymous (Guest Author)
Every morning I wake up and wish I hadn’t. I want anyone suffering like me to know that there are others that are observant, struggling Muslims and that they feel the way you are feeling. Also see: How to Overcome Sadness and be Happy by Taheerah AlamWith Hardship Comes Ease: Embracing Discomfort by Ismail Shaikh (Guest Author) Think You’ve Failed? Think Again by Jinan Bistaki
Some people always bounce back, but others always seem to crash down. Research has shown that the difference is the ability to see that a closed door somewhere means, at the very least, an open window somewhere else.
CURRENT EVENTS Erdoğan, AKP and their victory in the Turkish Municipal Elections by Shibli Zaman
Erdoğan, the world is watching you; but that pales to the fact that, above all, the Lord of the Worlds is watching you even closer. You can be the greatest leader the Muslim world has seen since the Ottomans whom you repeatedly invoke, or you can fall just like them when they lost their way. Which end of their history you resemble is up to you.
KNOWING GOD, THE MOST MERCIFUL When was the Last Time you Witnessed a Miracle? Al-Hayyiy by Jinan Bistaki
Whenever making du`a’ (supplication), have hope. Remember that “Verily your Lord is Generous (Kareem) and Hayyiy. If His servant raises his hands to Him (in supplication) He becomes shy to return them empty,” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).He has Your Back: Al-Wali by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wali, meaning the Protective Friend of all those who believe. It means that He has your back. He could have just been a ‘friend,’ but some friends are flaky. A protective friend will be there for you through hardship and bad times.Does God Exist? by Salman Khan (Guest Author)
Every person must think for him/herself and find Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) in his/her own way. Don’t choose a life of unhappiness because you choose to be blind or perform our religion physically without spirituality.Love is In Giving: Al Wadud by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wadud. When you are able to point out behavior that shows love, this kind of love is not called hubb in Arabic, because hubb is simply having a feeling of love. This kind of love – one that is apparent and shown – is called wud.
LOVE, RELATIONSHIPS, & GENDER RELATIONS 10 Guidelines for Gender Relations in Islam by Muslema Purmul and Maryam Amirebrahimi
The code of inter-gender relations comes from a noble kind of love. It is generous in giving, while conscious of Allah. It is full of haya.’ Haya’ is sometimes described as ‘shyness’, but misunderstood to mean a desire to hide, to be nervous, overly self-conscious, and unable to communicate.When you Marry for Four Reasons – Don’t Forget Your Reason by Karim Serageldin (Guest Author)
As a practicing psychologist, I was once consulted by a brother in Turkey in need of immediate relationship advice. In summary, the brother’s “emergency” was that he had met a nice religious girl from a good family but was not attracted to her at all. Here was my advice.The Goodbye Hug by Maryam Amirebrahimi
Many of us only hear destructive marriage stories within the Muslim community. However, the reality is that there are so many incredible, beautiful, passionate, fulfilling and compassionate love stories in the Muslim community. Here’s one. A number of the articles from “Glimpses of Marital Bliss” Series were also among the most-read this year. See also: A Love Letter, Will They Say Yes, and He Prayed instead of Fought
I have been living in the Arab world now for almost 3 years. There are some really taxing things here, tiring and frustrating to say the least. But there are also some exciting and uplifting things that keep me going throughout the days. And then, there are the hidden gems. The things that can be overlooked without a second thought, yet if they are given a second thought, they require a third and a fourth thought for one to even begin to benefit from their beauty. It is those things that get me time and time again. It is those things that take my breath away and leave me thankful for being placed in the position that I am in, living in a place where I do not always fit in or feel at home. One of those hidden gems can be found in the phrases that are oft repeated, with little thought, on a daily basis. There are many that could be spoken about, like the wishing of “na’eeman” [lit. blessings] when a person takes a shower or cuts their hair. Like the prayer of “kulli sana wanti tayyiba” [“may every year find you well”] on any happy occasion that occurs yearly. But my favorite has to be one that carries behind it a great story of a great man whom I recently read about, and after reading his story in the tafseer [exegesis] of Ibn Ajeeba, the oft repeated phrase “Ya sabr Ayub” [“O patience of Job”] has never been the same again.
It would be best, before diving into the gem-filled story, to give some information on when this phrase, in the Arab culture, is used. It is used mainly in two situations: 1) When a person is going through something very taxing and is wishing for an intense amount of patience to be poured into them, as a prayer and 2) when a person witnesses someone being ever so patient and is impressed by their firmness upon this patience. Naturally, after hearing that, one would assume that this story is about to be really great and I assure you: it is. The key here, however, is that something very important is done while reading this story: don’t just read it as a work of fiction or non-fiction. Read it as if this story is about you. Read this story as if you have temporarily stepped out of your own shoes, and into those of this amazing man, Ayub, and try to actually feel what he must have been feeling. And with that, all that is left is for me to begin:
Ayub, `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), was a great man and Prophet of the Lord many years ago. He was blessed with many great gifts that surpassed what others around him had been given. He had money in amounts (and some say types!) that surpassed those that were around him. He was given great amounts of land as well as many animals to graze on this land, and these animals varied in types and were of very high quality. He was kind and giving to the poor, he used to care for the widows and the orphans, he would be generous with his guests and accept any traveler into his home. He did all of this as an act of gratitude to God for giving him so much. This is something very unique to note, as for when a person is given such great wealth and great gifts, Satan then tries very hard to get him to be greedy and ungrateful. Satan tries very hard to get the person with such wealth to belittle that which has been given to him, or to become arrogant and not spread the wealth to those who may be in need of it. Satan however, was unsuccessful at whispering into the heart of Ayub (as) with regards to all that he had been given.
It is said that Satan heard the angels in the heaven praising Ayub (as) for all that he had done and was doing. Upon hearing this, Satan felt a twinge of envy (hasad) towards the state of Ayub. Satan, being one who acts upon these twinges of envy immediately, went and pleaded to the Lord of the heavens about his state. He complained to God: “O my Lord, you have blessed your servant Ayub, so he had thanked you. You have removed from him any affliction so he has glorified you. You haven’t allowed any hardship to befall him, but if you did then surely he would be an ungrateful servant.” This was a plea from Satan, and at the same time he was taking a shot at the honor and actual piety of Ayub. He asked God to just give him the ability to afflict Ayub with some hardship, and he told God that He would see the gratefulness of Ayub dwindle away. God then allowed Satan to have control over the wealth of Ayub, and nothing else—allowing him to afflict Ayub. At this Satan was joyous. He called together his troops of jinn and told them the “great” news. One of his troops said that he had been given the power to send storms of fire upon anything, and if Satan gave him permission, he could burn all of the wealth of Ayub by burning his lands. Satan agreed, and sat back and watched his troops burn down the wealth of Ayub. Once this was all over, Satan came in the form of one of the service hands of Ayub, dramatically recalling all that happened to the wealth of this Prophet. Telling him that God had allowed for his wealth to be destroyed. Ayub (as), with complete grace and gratefulness, informed Satan in the form of man, that God was the original giver of this wealth, so God could do as he pleased with this wealth.
Satan now was hit, not only with pangs of envy but also, pangs of despair. He had been sure that had this man who was so blessed, had some of his blessings taken away, he would break. He would not be such a great servant. But Satan, unlike many of us humans, does not give up that easily. When he has a goal, he does everything he possibly can to get to that goal. He went back to his troops for a brainstorming session. One of his troops had another idea. He informed Satan that he had been given the ability to blow harsh winds that would kill any animal that heard this wind. Satan jumped on that idea and sent him to kill all of the living animals that were left on the burnt grounds of Ayub. After all of his glorious animals had been killed, Satan appeared to Ayub as a different man, again telling him of what happened. He informed Ayub that the Lord that he had been worshipping for so long had killed all of his animals. Again, Ayub (as) with pure patience and love for God, replied that God was the one who had given him the animals in the first place, so He could do as He pleased with them.
Satan was hit again with deeper despair, feeling that he was certainly losing his grip on the battle that he had been fighting. Satan returned to God, again with another plea. He argued that God had blessed Ayub with his own health and the health of his children (some say he had 10 children), and this is why Ayub was still holding on, gratefully. Satan assured that if this was removed then Ayub would not remain a grateful servant and that his gratefulness was not based on Love but of contentment with that which had been given. Satan then requested to be given the ability to take away the children of Ayub to prove his point. God granted him this permission. Satan returned to the home of Ayub, and destroyed the home of Ayub, killing all of his children. He then appeared to Ayub as the teacher of his children, limping, as if he too had been hurt in the destruction. He then recalled for Ayub the detailed deaths that his children had faced, making certain to put emphasis on the pain that they may have felt. Ayub was instantly struck with sadness for his children. He fell to the floor and began to pour dirt over his head. Satan rejoiced, finally he had made Ayub be ungrateful. But after an instant, Ayub (as) realized what he was doing and looked up to his Lord, asking for forgiveness and returning to his state of patience. God instantly forgave Him, as He is The All-Forgiving.
Satan was furious. He felt that he had finally won, that finally this man that seemed to be over flowing with patience and gratitude had finally cracked. And before he could even rejoice, Ayub (as) returned to His Lord and His repentance was accepted. His sin was erased. (Take note at the Mercy of God. Take note at the persistence of Satan). Satan went back to God, again despairing and willing to try anything. He told God that the only reason that Ayub was so thankful and so obedient was that he had the most important thing, his health. Satan pleaded with God to allow him to take that away, to prove once and for all that Ayub was not, in his essence, an obedient servant. God allowed him this, but this time with some very important conditions. God allowed him to have rule over his body and health, but he was unable to touch two things: His tongue and his heart.
Satan descended down to Ayub and found him in prostration. He blew through his nose a wind that touched his entire body. It caused him to itch, with no relief. He itched his entire body with his hands, then with tools. The tools were so rough they tore at his skin, but the itch was so strong that he could not stop. His wounds began to fester, to be infected, and to even attract bugs. All of the people in his community who loved him so much began to look down upon him, unable to stand to see his appearance nor smell the stench of infected wounds. They kicked him out, ignoring all the good that he had done for him before. Everyone left him. Everyone. Except for one person, his wife. She cared for him in the trash dump that he had been cast to. She took care of him, and was his companion as much as she could. After much time she began to plead with him to ask God for help. I mean why not, he was a prophet. He in turn asked her how long they had lived in wealth. Her reply was 8 years. He then followed up with asking how long he had lived in sickness; she informed him that it was seven. His reply was that he was too embarrassed to ask God to heal him, if the time of ease overcame the time of hardship.
Satan, in his final attempt, appeared to Ayub’s wife. He told her that he (Satan) was the Lord of the world and that the reason why her husband, Ayub, had been afflicted for so long, was that he turned away from the lord of the earth and looked only towards the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth. He told her that if Ayub were to “simply” make one prostration to Satan, then he could be restored to health and wealth. Ayub’s wife returned to her husband and told him what had happened. Ayub was furious. He knew exactly who she had spoken to, and was angry that his wife had spoken to Satan and that she had tried to act upon his words. She couldn’t take his anger, and she left him as well. Now Ayub was completely alone, with reference to human companions. He turned to God and made the famous du’a that we hear time and time again “Lord hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.” Ibn Ajeeba here says something interesting. He says that the hardship that Ayub was speaking about was that Satan had conspired against him to get him to prostrate to him (Satan). (Why is this the hardship? Because it is said that if we understood the true essence of sickness, we would know that it is an immense gift from God.) God immediately responded to the plea of Ayub and instructed him to go to the nearest water source and bathe in it. He did so, and was returned to his complete health and beauty. His wife, shortly after, returned looking for her husband. She found a handsome healthy man in his place. She asked him if he has seen a man that was rotting and in pain. He laughed and said, “It is me, I am Ayub.” She wouldn’t have believed him except that she recognized his laugh.
Ayub—not an angel, a man. He (as) went through an immense trial, and looked only at God. A man that God used to lay down a map for us to follow when we too are in pain, in sickness and in distress. Of course we don’t always react this way. Of course it may be harder at times to let go and let God. But what we can do is look to him as an ultimate goal. We can use his name when asking God for patience. We can strive to be as close to Him as God will allow. And whenever we are in hardship, we can know that we have someone to relate to. We have someone who went through pain and anguish, and we can see that even in the worst of situations, God can instantly redeem us and make everything more than perfect. May God grant us the Sabr of Ayub in the smallest of matters and the largest of matters.
“Lord, hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.”
“Sins need to be eradicated through the internal fire of regret in this life or the fire of hell in the hereafter.” – Ibn Al-Qayyim
Years ago I came across this quote. I still can’t get over how true it is.
Muslim youth living in all corners of the world face similar struggles in our day-to-day lives. We strive to survive while being surrounded by the societal (and often times, cultural and familial) promotion, acceptance, and idealization of things that contradict the tenants of our faith: pride, lust, greed, extramarital relationships, alcohol/drugs, misogyny – just to name a few.
We are also surrounded by social practices and traditions that can also be pretty un-Islamic: issues such as racism, forced marriages, the withholding of education for females, and tribalism unfortunately exist on grand scales in Muslim societies all over the world.
As Muslim youth, most of us living in the diaspora, we have much to deal with. We struggle to maintain our Muslim identities while at the same time balancing our racial, national, and individual identities as well.
Sometimes it seems that everywhere we look, we are being called to sin. And inevitably, we answer that call.
We fall so many times only to fall again. We try so very hard to create our own, personal spiritual bubbles where Islam is the driving force in our lives, only to have it burst by things like temptation, other Muslims’ biases and discrimination, our own families making it hard for us, stress, our school lives, etc.
And slowly, as our hearts erode, a peculiar type of anxiety eats away at our souls and comes with a little voice in our heads. The voice tells us time and time again that what we are doing is haram (impermissible) or sinful, but we ignore it as we seek to numb the pain—a pain that has surfaced as a result of never being good enough. Never being “Muslim” enough, or “religious” enough, or “Western” enough.
How do we turn our faces from sin when it is everywhere? When it is adulated, respected, and upheld by our very own societies as a noble thing? We become confused – the bad becomes good. We go against our natural instincts. Eventually we become submerged in our own little hells, metaphorical places where internal suffering, sadness, disappointment, and self-loathing manifest. The “internal fire of regret”, as Ibn Al-Qayyim radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) puts it.
This quote teaches me that through one way or another, we will be purified of our sins. It’s up to us whether or not we seek purification in this life (through repentance) or we wait until the next (through the Fire).
I know. We’ve fallen so many times. We’re hurt, sore, and bruised. We are ashamed of our actions, and may even deem ourselves unworthy of seeking repentance. But something must quell that fire in our hearts. Something must quench our desires to be loved and accepted by the One whose love and acceptance is truly the only one that matters at the end of the day.
Say it – Astaghfirullah (I seek forgiveness from God).
I know; it hurts. But it certainly cannot hurt more than what is to come if we let our sins remain in our hearts, our minds, our spirits.
We are more than the sins that we commit. Don’t let the devil fool you. Don’t let those people who are a negative influence in your lives or those who sin openly and proudly fool you either.
We may fall a thousand times, but as long as we try to get back up, there is always hope.
And Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) knows best.
Names of Allah Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIX | Part XXX |Part XXXI | Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI | Part XXXVII | Part XXXVIII
In this journey through Allah’s Names, we have learned about both His attributes of Beauty and of Majesty. The intention is to inspire fear, hope and, ultimately, love. If we misunderstand Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), we may not see the wisdom behind the things that happen in the world or in our personal lives. We might not understand how Allah (swt) fits into our life. We may also find it difficult to love Him, because how can you love someone – deeply love someone – you do not know?
Thus it is hoped that these Names have increased our knowledge of our Creator, and have made apparent how Allah (swt) is with us in every moment.
Today’s Name should inspire in us ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’. These words are sometimes both translated as ‘fear’, thus removing the important distinctions between the two words. In the ‘Sweetness of Prayer’ series, we explained the difference between the different types of fear:
‘Khawf’ is to flee from the thing that you fear, and requires no knowledge of that which is feared. You can be afraid, or have ‘khawf’, of the dark. ‘Khashya’, on the other hand, is fear with knowledge. The more a servant has knowledge of his Lord, the more ‘khawf’ turns to ‘khashya’. As Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
“Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge” (35:28).
‘Hayba’ is fear associated with respect, awe and glorification. You could, for example, fear fire. But the reason for your fear is that the fire may harm you, so fire earns no ‘hayba’; you do not glorify it. However, you could have a certain ‘hayba’ of your father; you could be afraid to do something wrong in front of him, but that fear is out of respect.
Al-Qahhar: The Dominator
Allah’s Name al-Qahhar comes from the Arabic root qaf-haa-ra (ق-ه-ر). It means ‘to dominate over’ or ‘to subdue from above’. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an in Surat al-An`aam;
“And He is the subjugator (al-qaahiru) over His servants. And He is the Wise (al-Hakeem), the Acquainted [with all] (al-Khabeer). (6:18)
Someone with this attribute might be considered a tyrant, which is why Allah (swt) tells us that this attribute is possessed by the One who is also the Most Wise and the One who is Best Acquainted with everything. This reference is also for the benefit of those who doubt this attribute, and might ask “why has Allah not overpowered the tyrants of today, of whom there are many?” Allah (swt) is reminding us that there is ultimate wisdom in whom He chooses to subdue at any point in time. This is where our understanding of the holistic nature of Allah’s Names should come in: we spoke before about how Allah (swt) is Forbearing and Patient, and He gives people – even tyrants – the opportunity to turn back.
Thus we see in the Qur’an that Allah sends Moses and Aaron `alayhimaa as-salaam (may Allah’s peace be upon them both) to Pharaoh – and calling Pharaoh ‘oppressive’ would be an understatement! – telling them initially to speak to him gently. Pharaoh rejects them. Moses then shows him proof of his prophethood. Pharaoh rejects him again, insisting on enslaving the Children of Israel. Finally, Allah (swt) overpowers him by drowning him, using someone from the very people that Pharaoh was oppressing, who grew up in his own house. Such is the way of al-Qahhar, who manifests His power by subduing tyrants through the objects of their tyranny.
This is why Imam al-Ghazali describes al-Qahhar in this way: “The Dominator is the one who breaks the back of the powerful among His enemies… Indeed there is no existing thing that is not subject to the domination of His power, and powerlessness in His grasp. That is all.”
Therefore, when we look at events today and wonder “where is al-Qahhar?”, we should remember the story of Moses. Remember that Moses prevailed. Remember that Pharaoh was overpowered.
Our role is to strive against this oppression, knowing that ultimately this is what we will be asked about, and everything is subjected to the Will of Allah (swt). Indeed, so many tyrannical powers eventually come crashing down, bowing to the will of al-Qahhar. Unfortunately, we may not attribute it to Him, but as Allah (swt) tells us:
“The Day they come forth nothing concerning them will be concealed from Allah. To whom belongs [all] sovereignty this Day? To Allah, the One, the Prevailing (al-Qahhar).” (40:16)
On that Day, all will be apparent. All those who oppressed, in both seemingly small and big ways, will be before Allah, al-Qahhar. Then, there will be no ambiguity.
Living with these Names
1 – Balance fear and hope
Today’s Name might cause us to be afraid. This is not a subject we like to talk to about, because it is so much more reassuring to focus on those attributes that enable us to relax. But remembering that Allah (swt) has attributes of Majesty should instill in us the ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’ described earlier. Moreover, Allah’s Names are to be looked at holistically. He is al-Qahhar and He is also al-Lateef (the subtle, the most kind).
2 – Dominate your lower desires
In previous articles, we talked about how we should emulate the attributes of Beauty. But what about attributes of Majesty? How do we apply them? Al-Ghazali counseled: “The dominator amongst men is the one who subdues his enemies. The greatest enemy of man is his soul, which is within him. This soul is more of an enemy to him than Satan, of whose enmity he is wary. Whoever conquers his passions conquers Satan, since Satan lures him to ruin by means of his passions.”
3 – Use that fear to stop at least one sin
To know that Allah is al-Qahhar is to burn the desire for sin in the heart. Because Allah (swt) is the Dominator, we should fear that perhaps al-Qahhar, al-Mumeet (the Life-Taker) might take our soul as we are committing the sin. This should alert us that despite it seeming as though we are being allowed to oppress our souls, we may still face the fate mentioned in this verse:
“So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of every [good] thing until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair.” (Qur’an, 6:44)
These people used the gifts of Allah (swt) in the opposite manner to that for which they were intended, and then they were seized. In another chapter, Allah (swt) describes to us the people of the garden, who took an oath that they would reap all of their fruits and leave nothing for the poor. Allah (swt) caused their garden to be completely burned to the ground, but the owners of that garden understood the lesson. They willed something, but Allah (swt) overpowered their will, and so they turned back to Him.
Hence, this fear should not paralyze us from doing good, but it should paralyze us from doing bad. We should try to choose at least one thing – like backbiting or lying – and do our best to use this Name to help us stop it.
4 – Do not oppress others
The surest way to earn the wrath of al-Qahhar is to oppress others. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him] (fa laa taqhar)” (93:9). The word ‘taqhar’ comes from the same root of the name al-Qahhar. We should understand that oppression is not simply for unjust leaders or cruel human traffickers. We may also be oppressing others in more subtle ways, and thus we should be diligent to avoid this.
Imam Suhaib Webb talks about lessons from the life of Prophet Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him).
By Macksood A. Aftab
The conflict between science and religion has posed a serious threat to religious authority in the contemporary era. Many advocates of scientism have used the tremendous success of science in modern times to question the usefulness of religion as a means of seeking the truth. For example, Stephen Hawking recently stated in a Huffington Post article, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” More recently the harsh critique of religion based upon various forms of scientism by writers such as Richard Dawkins have escalated the conflict.
Their view assumes that both religion and science have the same purpose, namely of explaining the existence of the universe. Furthermore, the scientific method is considered a more reliable way to achieve this goal. This is primarily so because science deals with physical processes, which can be quantified and measured, whereas religion often resorts to metaphysical references, which cannot be “proven.” Professor Naquib Al-Attas, the celebrated Malaysian Muslim philosopher, summarizes the essential problem. He writes, “A gist of their [those who espouse science as the source for truth] basic assumptions is that science is the sole authentic knowledge; that this [scientific] knowledge pertains only to phenomena.” Excluded from science is anything that does not have a “physical” existence, anything that cannot be empirically studied. Therefore, implicit in a worldview that holds science as the highest authority of knowledge is a denial of God.
As the Nobel laureate Werner Arber, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, writes, “The natural sciences are in a steady search for truth, and so is theology.” This naturally creates two apparently competing methodologies of seeking and determining the truth, which inevitably leads to conflict between theology and science. Although the Catholic Church did generally support science, when the conclusions of scientists came in conflict with church dogma, problems arose. This can be seen in the experiences of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin.
Islamic history, however, took a different course. Despite the existence of a sustained robust scientific enterprise in the Islamic world, an overt conflict between science and religion did not arise. Professor Walbridge of Indiana University points out that “the Islamic world produced no martyrs for science like Bruno and Galileo.” One of the achievements of Islamic civilization was the creation of a worldview in which both theology and science could be accepted in a comprehensive rational framework.
The Islamic tradition of scholastic theology is known as kalam. The two primary schools of kalam are the Ash`ari and its close cousin the Maturidi schools. Both are based upon a rational understanding of God and the Universe, which also seek to rigorously preserve salient features of the Islamic concept of God. This tradition, along with its larger place in the Islamic worldview, can best be understood through the works of one of its main proponents Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE). Richard Frank, a scholar of Islamic theology, describes Ghazali as, “The most important Sunni theologian at a crucial turning point in the history of orthodox Muslim theology.” During his time Islam was emerging from a period of intellectual schism. Ghazali contributed to the development of a consensus on this issue, which was to largely become the dominant Sunni doctrine. Thus the Ghazali scholar and translator Walter Skellie writes, “With him [Ghazali] the religious philosophy and experience of Islam reaches its zenith.”
Demonstrative Proof (Burhan)
The triumph of Ghazali’s epistemology lies in its successful reconciliation of reason with revelation. One key element of this was the allowance of figurative interpretations of scripture, particularly when it relates to assertions that may conflict with what is known via reason. Ghazali sets the bar very high for a scientific proof to over-ride scripture, something he calls burhan. Burhan is demonstrative knowledge or definitive logical proof. According to Ghazali, it held an even higher epistemic status than even scholastic theology (kalam).
Professor Al-Akiti of Oxford writes, “For al-Ghazali, burhan [definitive logical proof], and not kalam, is what he considered to be scientific knowledge, the ‘gold-standard’ in the art of reasoning – a judgment expounded in his Mi’yar al-’Ilm.” The late professor Marmura, a Ghazali scholar, summarizes Ghazali’s attitude towards definitive logical proof as follows:
“A science whose conclusions are not demonstrably true and which are in conflict with the literal assertions of scripture must be rejected. On the other hand, if what is demonstrably true contradicts the literal sense of scriptural language, then the latter must be interpreted metaphorically.”
Having firmly grounded his worldview in rationality, Ghazali proceeds to point out that physical science does not meet the standards of definitive logical proof unless God is added to the equation. This is because science is based upon a flawed assumption, namely that of natural causation. Causation, Ghazali argues, can only guaranteed if God is there to secure it. And importantly, according to Ghazali, God is there to secure it. Belief in God then becomes a prerequisite to the successful pursuit of science.
Causation, God & Science
Ghazali was able to reconcile the most important principle of science (namely causation) with Islamic theological doctrines (as articulated by the dominant Ash`ari school). Ash`ari theology developed in response to certain heterodox formulations of Islamic doctrine (such as those adopted by the Mutazalites and the Philosophers) which had the effect of diminishing key Divine attributes. Some of these formulations share a belief in necessary causation with modern secular scientists. Therefore Ghazali’s critique of their view is particularly instructive in tackling similar issues in the contemporary era.
Some of the main articles of faith in Ash`ari theology are that God is all powerful, He is all knowing and all events occur due to His express will. The Ash`aris therefore believed that all events are directly caused only by God, and not by anything else. God is not merely the first cause but also the immediate cause of every subsequent minor and major event that occurs in the universe. This appears to run contrary to our contemporary understanding of secular science, which rests on the principle of natural causation. Namely, that things (or events) cause other things (or events). For example, we think fire causes cotton to burn when they are brought near each other.
Ghazali questions the principle of necessary causation adopted by certain philosophers. According to Ghazali, this relationship between cause and effect is not necessary. To use his terminology, there is no definitive logical proof (burhan) that it is the cause that is responsible for the effect. He argues that all we observe is a quick succession of events, cotton being brought close to fire and the cotton burning. But a relationship based simply on proximity in time or space does not imply necessary causation. Ghazali famously states, “The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary.”
David Hume in the Western tradition made a similar argument against causation. He asked, “Where is the causal glue” holding together the cause and the effect? Unlike Hume who was led to skepticism, however, Ghazali has an answer to this conundrum. For Ghazali, the causal glue is God. It is God who ensures that the relationship between cause and effect always holds. In doing so, Ghazali has made room for orthodox Islamic theology in which God is the direct cause of everything.
On its surface this line of thinking can be misunderstood to in fact undermine science, as several historians and scientists have thought. For example, the historian Tamim Ansary writes, “Take it however you will, the argument against causality undermines the whole scientific enterprise. If nothing actually causes anything else, why bother to observe the natural world in search of meaningful patterns?” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a preeminent Pakistani scientist, expresses a similar concern with the Ash`ari position, stating that in such a world, “even a speeding arrow might not reach its destination.” In other words, if the cause and effect relationship is not necessary then there would be no sure way to rely on our observations, predict natural phenomena or to do scientific experiments.
Conflict Averted, Science Flourished
This criticism, however, implies a dogmatic belief in science which sidesteps the very real problem of causation. Ghazali does not need to (nor does he) deny causation. He is merely denying necessary causation—namely, that there is no conclusive proof that things can influence other things by themselves. For Ghazali, God is required to ensure that the relationship between cause and effect always hold true. As Frank Griffel, a Ghazali scholar at Yale, writes:
“Trust in God (tawakkul) is a major condition for investigating the natural sciences. Such trust requires the certainty to know that God will not change books into horses or disconnect our knowledge from reality. Given that God habitually creates our knowledge to accord with reality, we can rely on our sense and our judgment and confidently pursue the natural sciences.”
According to this view God could suspend the laws of causation, but He never does and never will. So fire will always burn cotton but this is only true because in every instance of its occurrence God ensures that it is so. In effect, Ghazali has created a framework in which science can operate and the principles of Islamic theology (Divine power, knowledge and will) are also preserved.
Furthermore, Ghazali even located miracles – which he calls strange and wondrous phenomena – within the empirical world. Even miracles were then not Divine acts of suspension of the normal workings of the universe; rather they were unusual phenomena of nature due to causes not immediately clear to us at the moment. The possibility of additional causal chains other than those currently physically observed encouraged further exploration of the natural world. Ahmad Dallal, a historian of Islamic science at Georgetown University writes,
“The aspect that had the most influence on the development of science was the concept of multiple possibilities (tajwiz), the notion that specific natural philosophical explanations (or planetary models) are possible but not certain, and that there may exist alternative explanations for the natural phenomena… this idea was grounded in an epistemological criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics.”
After Ghazali, science in the Muslim world experienced a prolonged renaissance as documented by Yale historian George Saliba. His understanding had the effect of legitimizing science. Science was a discipline ensured by God. It also had the effect of effectively separating theology from physical science. Divine attributes are known through revelation, and science plays no significant role in informing us about these metaphysical matters. On the other hand revelation does not interfere with the workings of science; it is left as an independent discipline within the larger Islamic framework. Dallal explains,
“After Al-Ghazali, the need to invoke religion to vindicate science considerably decreased, not because science was not accepted but because it did not need vindication. Excluding final-cause explorations from science did not compromise the providence of God, which was simply assumed without questioning (bila kayf).”
This worldview rests on the premise that God exists and sustains the Universe. God is not the end goal of science, but rather the starting point. This created an organic and interdependent relationship between science and religion, which essentially eliminated the potential of conflict between the two disciplines. In fact, as professor Muzaffar Iqbal, a philosopher of Islamic science, writes:
“No one thought of them [science and religion] as two independent entities which needed to be related via an external mechanism… This relationship emerged naturally and because the scientific tradition was thoroughly rooted in the worldview created by Islam.”
This worldview was rational. It recognized the primacy of reason and in fact accorded burhan the highest epistemic status. Within this framework secular science is critiqued based upon logical fallacies assumed by its proponents. Science is then presented not as a competing force with religion, but rather as a viable enterprise, as part of a comprehensive worldview that encompasses God. In fact, it is grounded in the assumption of God. This delicate balance, which secured both science and theology, is one of the greatest achievements of medieval Muslim theologians.
Dr. Macksood Aftab is a neuroradiologist, and clinical assistant professor at both Michigan State University and Central Michigan University. He holds a Master degree in History of Science, and is an editor for the Journal of Islamic Philosophy. The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part I | Part II
In the last article, we explored how Allah (swt) exonerated Aisha radi allahu `anha (may God be please with her) and Prophet Joseph `alayhi as-salaaam (peace be upon him) from unsubstantiated and untrue gossip, and we talked about the victims of slander. Today, it’s about the perpetrators of slander. It is about, quite possibly, you and me.
Sometimes in the name of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” we forget the sanctity of our fellow human beings and especially fellow believers. We spread things that are unsubstantiated in a bid to ‘warn others’ about possible deviancy. We are harsh in our words. We assume the worst. We forget that one of the best traits a Muslim can have is “thinking well of the servant of Allah” and for other Muslims to be “safe from his hands and tongue.”
We forget that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) passed by a grave and he warned that the person was suffering in his grave because he would spread gossip. We forget that that person we are talking about may have our good deeds transferred to him simply because he is a victim of our speech.
Scary stuff? It is. The Prophet ﷺ said: “The majority of man’s sins emanate from his tongue.” (Tabarani)
To go back to the examples in our previous article, it was clear that those with power—the minister and the minister’s wife—knew the truth with regards to what was said about the Prophet Joseph (as). But they allowed the rumor to persist and put Prophet Joseph in prison. With Aisha (ra), we have even more details. The people who discussed the rumor were good Muslims. They discussed the scandalous nature of what was said, and in doing so, spread it far and wide. Shaytan created doubt: “Could it actually be true?” Allah admonished the Muslims when He informs us in the Qur’an about what happened:
“Why, when you heard it, did not the believing men and believing women think good of one another and say, ‘This is an obvious falsehood?’” (Qur’an, 24:12)
Now some people might think this example is extreme. We would never spread such a rumor. But rumors and slander and gossip come in all shapes and forms. So if you hear something about someone that is unsubstantiated, do not fuel the fire. We are just as bad as those news networks we criticize, who pick up a story, and whether true or not, run with it.
This is not intended to shut down constructive criticism of public figures. There are ways of bringing people to account. There are ways of disagreeing and critiquing ideas and views, which are beyond the scope of this article. But in the age of the internet, anyone can write a piece and within an hour it is shared and read by many. And it would do us good to reflect on what our role is in this. We must remember that we will be held to account. So let us not put ourselves in a position to be asked about why we were careless in our research, harsh in words, and negative in our basic assumptions about others.
And remember that the Prophet ﷺ taught:
“A person’s eman (faith) is not upright until his heart is upright, and his heart is not upright until his tongue is upright.” (Ahmad)
Many of us pray for the perfect spouse and imagine him or her being a certain way. Sometimes, what we pray for becomes most apparent in difficult times. In this account, a wife talks about the ways in which real life has helped her and her husband grow in their beautiful relationship.
“My husband and I are from two different worlds literally and figuratively, and the thing that binds us together the most is Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) and our undeniable faith in Him (swt). After looking in America for two years, I decided to marry someone from “back home,” i.e. Pakistan. When we first got married, we realized what a huge adjustment it would be for both of us. We had kids right away when he came. He went to school here and got his degree from here, and I supported him financially all during the time that I was a new mother and the only thing I wanted to do was raise my precious firstborn full-time.
Under such circumstances many marriages rightfully take a back seat and the relationship crumbles. We had many big fights over those first few years. Every time we fought I made du`a’ (supplication) to Allah (swt) to make it better, and He did. Our fights never lasted more than a day, and one of us always ended up saying sorry. We couldn’t go to sleep without making up. Throughout our good times and hard times I discovered that I married a very caring and generous man. I also discovered that I needed to accept him for who he was and that I had many bad qualities that needed to be worked out if I was going to stand in front of my Creator on the Day of Judgment. His love for me is shown in always hiding my faults in front of others, in picking flowers for me on the way home from the masjid, in taking care of the kids and giving me some time off, in cleaning up a messy house and in always sharing with me his day to day dealings at work or with his friends. As time has passed we have gotten closer and now I can’t imagine not having him in my life. The kids have really served to bond us together and it warms my heart when our eldest wants to pray because he sees his father praying. Alhamdullilah (praise be to God)!
My husband is not perfect and has many faults, but I know inside there is a light of goodness that gets dim at times and at times shines brightly, and I am committed to stand by him throughout all the times. I used to make du`a’ to Allah (swt) for a pious, kind, gentle husband and now that Allah (swt) has given me a slave of His to love, I must remain thankful, for if I am thankful He will give me more. We just celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary, and I look forward to spending many more with him insha’ Allah (God-willing).”
The Vikings referred to the Abbasid Empire as Serkland. There are a few theories regarding the origin of this name, but it likely originated from the Norse term serkr, which meant tunic or gown. The term was mentioned in the Ingvar Runestones, specifically in the Gripsholm Runestone (Sö 179). They were raised to commemorate those Vikings who died fighting the Muslims on the Caspian Sea under Yngvarr víðförli, whose Norse name and title meant “Ingvar the Far-traveled”.1 Interestingly related to the word serkr, the English word “berserk”—meaning to go crazy—comes from the Norse word berserkr which was a term for Viking warriors who fought in a trance-like rage. They were given this name because they wore the coats of bears, called ber in Old Norse. Thus, berserkr means “bear coat”.2 So the Vikings, or Rūs, as they were called by the Muslims (from which came the later ethnonym “Russian”), saw the Abbasids wearing their long tunics, cloaks, capes and coats and referred to their realm as “Serkland”, the land of the “Serkir”, those who wear long coats. The dignified appearances of the early Muslims left quite an impression.
The Muslims were known for always dressing impeccably regardless of what social class they came from. There was a dignity and respect in the way they presented themselves, and this was markedly observed by even their adversaries. In the famous French prose “The Song of Roland”, which lauds the heroic deeds of the “Holy Barbarian” King Charlemagne in his battles against the Muslims, the leader of the Muslims is described as strikingly handsome and a noble equal to Charlemagne. The song praises him thus:
“An Emir of Balaguet came in place,
Proud of body, and fair of face;
Since first he sprang on steed to ride,
To wear his harness was all his pride;
For feats of prowess great laud he won;
Were he Christian, nobler baron none!”3
In the end, the only way Charlemagne is said to defeat him is with the help of the Archangel Gabriel.
God says in the Qur’an:
يَا بَنِي آدَمَ خُذُوا زِينَتَكُمْ عِندَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ
“O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer.”4
Do we care for our appearance, cleanliness and attire when visiting the mosque? Even if not daily, do we at least in our Friday prayers? Sometimes we do. I often see Africans in their brightly colored gowns and hats, the Indonesians and Malays in their perfectly pressed shirts, gilded hats and sarongs, the African-Americans in their best suits, ties and/or bowties. But what I also see alarmingly too often are sweat-pants, t-shirts, tunics which you know alternate as sleepwear, long faces and disheveled hair. Sadly, I fear that may be the majority in too many mosques.
There is a Prophetic saying:
إِذا أَتَاك الله مَالا فَلْيُرَ أثَرُ نِعْمَةِ الله عَلَيْكَ وكَرَامَتِهِ
“If God has given you an income then display signs of His blessings and generosity upon you.”5
So, there is an element of gratitude and acknowledgement of God’s blessings when you take care of your appearance and utilize what He has blessed you with to look your very best. Yet, the Ottoman era scholar al-Munāwī is also careful to qualify this saying:
“‘And His generosity’ – that which He has bestowed upon you. For in attire is an indication of one’s overall condition, self-worth, self-respect, and hygiene. And it is so those in need will know to go to him, but he must be careful with his intentions and avoid all forms of excess.”6
With this, he also relates an interesting story therein about the famous scholar and successor to the Prophet (ﷺ)’s Companions, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, wearing a shirt costing 400 dirhams. One time he met Farqad al-Sinjī, a known Sufi of the time, which sparked a telling dialog. In the early days of Islam, the Sufis wore coarse wool garments and, for this, some have speculated that the word “Sufi” may originate from the Arabic word for wool, Ṣūf. Farqad said reproachfully to al-Hasan, “O Abū Sa`īd, how soft is your clothing!” To this, al-Ḥasan replied using a lexical diminution7 of Farqad’s name, “O Furayqid! The softness of my clothes does not distance me from God, nor does the coarseness of your clothing make you closer to Him.” Al-Ḥasan then went on to quote the saying of the Prophet ﷺ, “God is beautiful and He loves beauty.” In another narration al-Ḥasan rebuked Farqad’s spiritual arrogance with: “They have piety in their clothing, but they have arrogance in their hearts.”8 Whether relevant or not, Farqad al- Sinjī later became considered a severely defective narrator.
So while we may feel that our theology is sound and we are the people of the true faith, there is something seriously wrong when Christians are in their finest clothes when visiting church on Sunday but we look like we’re running errands when we go for Friday prayers. It reflects our overall attitude, which comes across as clear as day in how we present ourselves and how we allow ourselves to be perceived by those around us. As al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri said, there are those who may dress simply but their hearts are full of conceit. Don’t be content thinking you’re the people of Truth if you don’t even look the part.
A Cornell University psychologist who chaired the conference When to Judge a Book by Its Cover: Timing, Context, and Individual Differences in First Impressions stated, “Despite the well-known idiom to ‘not judge a book by its cover,’ the present research shows that such judgments about the cover are good proxies for judgments about the book — even after reading it.” This research is particularly focused on impressions that are made within mere seconds of seeing someone and the results are that any negative impression garnered within the first few seconds can outlast any and all efforts to dispel them later through explanation or amiable conduct. So we can exhaust every effort in trying to convince our non-Muslim neighbors that we’re good people, but if we don’t look it, they won’t believe it. Fair or not, that is plain science. Would you find it easier to change human psychology or simply pay more attention to how you present yourself?
So, while the Vikings raided our coasts along the Caspian Sea and Charlemagne drove us out of Western France and invaded Muslim Spain, they were so impressed by us that they actually wrote poetry about us. We need to ask ourselves a very serious question: enemies aside, do we even leave that kind of impression upon our non-Muslim friends? Let us answer that honestly in the quiet of our conscience and, if necessary, make changes in our lives accordingly.
- Runelore: The Magic, History, and Hidden Codes of the Runes, p. 38, Edred Thorsson
- Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia, p. 38, Phillip Pulsiano, Kirsten Wolf
- The Song of Roland, 228:3164, Translated from French by John O’Hagen
- The Holy Qur’an, 7:31, Yusuf `Ali translation, 1938
- Recorded by Aḥmad, al-Tirmidhī, Abū Dawūd, al-Nasā’ī, and many others
- Fayḍ al-Qadīr Sharḥ Jami` al-Ṣaghīr, al-Munāwī
- Called Taṣghīr al-Ism in Arabic lexical morphology wherein a word is made diminutive, or to indicate “smallness”, by conforming it to the fu`ayl consonantal skeleton.
- Kitāb al-Zuhd of Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal, Fayḍ al-Qadīr of al-Munāwī, Muḥāḍirāt al-Adbā’ of al-Iṣfahāni, and others.
By Anthony Hardy
“I don’t understand,” said a friend of mine who happened to be an agnostic, “if Muslims here are just as racist as the Christians, why the Hell are you still Muslim?”
This question had never been posed to me in all my years of being Muslim. I had given it ample thought. I hadn’t, however, formulated a cogent, verbal response for it in the event someone asked me.
“I mean,” he continued, “if one of the reasons you converted was because of the race thing, you didn’t get very far. Seems like you may have regressed a bit actually. Just seems like you going through a lot of trouble for this Islam stuff.”
I conceded his point. While some phenomenal Muslims, Black and non-Black, had crossed my path along my trek in this great faith, I can say with unwavering certainty the vast majority of my time as a Muslim has been filled with hardship, isolation, and loneliness. Some converts break and fold under the immense pressure to which they are subjected at the hands of the community and their families. Some apostate as a result. I can’t say I blame them. I wasn’t broken – alhamduliLah (praise be to God) – but I was scarred and bent: the human heart is a fickle and fragile morsel of flesh.
There really was nothing on the outside anchoring me to Islam: with the exception of my younger brother, himself a convert, I didn’t have any Muslim relatives; my culture wasn’t enmeshed in Islam; though I have a strong affinity for the Black Muslim community, I didn’t belong to any community in particular; and because of my experiences and the experiences of loved ones, I didn’t even want to belong.
I responded to my friend’s inquiry, “True, in terms of race, I probably did backtrack a bit. Still, there are some existential considerations for which Islam provides sufficient explanations that no other system of thought I’ve come across has the potential to answer. For that reason, I stick around.”
Islam mandates upon those who embrace its inspiration to submit their ego as best as they can manage to a set of transcendent principles and confers nobility upon those individuals who make earnest attempts to uphold those dignifying principles. Unlike in our society, where one’s worth is determined by wealth, lineage, extent of education, occupation, gender, sexual orientation, physical beauty, physical handicap and – yes – even skin color and hair texture, the notion of submission and adherence to a set of divine principles as the ultimate measure of one’s value is largely independent of the circumstances surrounding one’s genesis into the world or current station in the world and thus lends itself to a humble agnosticism concerning the ultimate worth of others: under such an empowering paradigm, even the jettisoned pauper, pygmy, or orphan has the potential to be a prince or princess in the eyes of God by virtue of character, actions, and outlook.
Each soul is granted a story of its own from its Lord related to where and when He chose to author it. The purpose of those different stories is so that we might all learn and grow from them all and hence from one another. We are meant to be mirrors unto one another. I remain Muslim, among other reasons, because Islam dictates by virtue of tauhīd (oneness of God) that my story and the stories and experiences of my people have intrinsic value for humanity at large, even if many in the world, including and especially Muslims, fail to recognize that value for our skin color, class, culture, or whatever. We are lessons to be heeded and learned. As it stands, large segments of Muslims in America deign to perceive themselves as superior to us because of what Allāh, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), has bestowed upon them out of His Mercy and do not wish to educate themselves with our stories or even has us in their company or communities or families, quite possibly out of the very essence of kufr (disbelief of God) itself, for it was Allāh (swt) Himself who created us as we are.
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”
— Qur’ān, (49:13)
Unfortunately, Muslims have done themselves, their families, their children, their communities, and their religion a grave disservice in their folly. Until Muslims begin to realize the source of their honor is with God alone, until Muslims resume their slave status before God and not to the inventions of men, physical or otherwise, my mother will continue to be correct and Black Muslims or other communities who have contributed or have the potential to contribute so much to Islam in America and throughout the world will only always be just “niggers” or “thugs” or “gangsters” or “scary” or “dime a dozen” or “too dark” or ‘abd or zenci or whatever other derogatory term cultures may design. We must muster the courage to strive against the false gods and false regimes of validation that have taken residence in our hearts and minds for the integrity of the community, for our collective existence in this country, and for the integrity and purity of our eternal souls before our Lord.
I pray for a better way forward. I can’t do it without you.
To sit and dream, to sit and read,
To sit and learn about the world
Outside our world of here and now –
our problem world –
To dream of vast horizons of the soul
Through dreams made whole,
Unfettered free – help me!
All you who are dreamers, too,
Help me make our world anew.
I reach out my hands to you.
– Langston Hughes, “To You”