Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I came across an interesting article in Forbes that was published two days ago. The article was essentially about the need for more fuqaha'. Although this piece--and others like it that have appeared in the press recently--stress the need for more traditional Islamic ethicists within the context of one particualr field (i.e. contemporary finance) it should be noted that the need actually pressing in several areas of human activity--including (but not limited to) the following:

military ethics
intellectual property ethics
environmental ethics
medical ethics

Monday, January 21, 2008

A precious study by Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah on the well-known issue of qiyam jama`at maqam al-qadi, i.e. a community of Muslims collectively fulfilling the role-function of the Islamic judiciary in the absence of a qualified magistrate. This issue is of obvious importance to Muslim communities living outside locales in which there is an Islamic judiciary, as medium to advanced students of fiqh, can recognize. Enjoy. More comments to follow later, in sha'Allah!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The following are notes from my recent appearance on "The Family Tree," a local Boston radio program on WRBB 104.9 hosted by local activist, Ms. Latifa Ziyad Turner.

In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate.

May peace be upon you.

I testify that there is no god but Allah, alone without partner. I testify that Muhammad is Messenger of God and His Servant.

Today I want to speak to you about speaking truth to power.

Speaking truth to power is an expression that one can hear on people's tongues a great deal nowadays. It means to point out a flaw, to say that something is wrong, to note that all is not right, in the presence of authority, of the wealthy, of those in command. Many think of it as a political act: Speaking out against a war, for example. This is speaking truth to power. This is important. However, speaking truth to power is more: it is a comprehensive practice that applies to the external, the internal, the personal and the social.

God says: "O you who have believed, fear God and say a word that hits goes to the points (qawlan sadidan)." The commentators notes that this 'word that goes to the point' refers to the Statment "there is no god but Allah." The statement really does "hit home": all other truths flows from it. A person who lives this truth is drawn, pulled by the demands of basic consistency, to live true in every area of his/her life.

The Prophet Muhammad (may peace and upon whom) taught that the best struggle, the best jihad, is a word of truth in the presence of a tyrannical leader. This is speaking truth to power.

The Prophet Muhammad (may peace and upon whom) taught the believers to speak truth even if it is difficult. And speaking truth can be difficult. When every one around you, for example, says that making money is what life is about--and the truth is that making money in itself can not save any one--then speaking and living truth can feel like swimming against the current.

Faith is intricately linked with speaking truth to power. We bear witness that there is no god but Allah, the One, the Only, the Lord of all that exists, the All-knowing, All-powerful. This means that we know that only God can benefit us or harm us. Not our boss, our leaders. A person that internalizes this is freed from the paralysis of fear of every would-be tyrant.

Speaking truth to power means being ready to hear the truth when in position of responsibility. As husbands, are we ready to hear truth from our wives? As parents, our we ready to hear truth from our children?

It means pointing out what is wrong with ourselves. God tells us in the Qur'an to stand up as witnesses even if against our relatives and own folk. This requires us to be real with ourselves.

The Prophet (may peace and upon whom) taught that speaking truth to power can be an expresion of loyalty: "'Religion is loyalty.' They said 'To whom.' He said 'To God, His Book, His Messenger, to the leaders of Muslims and Muslims in general'"

May god makes us people who speak truth to power in the comprehensive sense of the expression and illuminate our hearts.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A week or so ago, I literally stumbled across some complaints that have apparently been made by workers at an Indianapolis-based real estate group against their employer. The employer is poised to act as the manager of an aspiring shari`a-compliant real estate fund (see below for use of the term "aspiring"). Since I am a member of the fund's shari`a consultant committee, I am very interested in these claims. I have not verfied the claims and therefore can not comment on them or their consequence, should they be verified, for the shari`a compliance of the fund once it comes up for review. In sha'Allah, I will update this space as more information becomes available to me. I have contacted an individual, mentioned in several press reports and blogs, who is apparently familiar with the details of the complaints. I am waiting for more information from this individual.

For now, I would like to make a few quick remarks:

* In traditional Islamic ethics (fiqh), treating one's workers fairly is an obligation (wajib). This obligation is indicated by the general signification of multiple passages (ayat) of the Qur'an and multiple, explicit Prophetic traditions (ahadith). As such, this obligation has been transmitted--and related issues discussed--in detail by master ethicist-jurists across centuries of Islamic intellectual history.

* The fund has not yet been launched. Therefore, of course, the fund has not been reviewed by the committee for shari`a compliance. To repeat: the committee has not opined as to the whether the fund is shari`a-compliant. (Hence the use of the phrase "aspiring shari`a compliant fund.")

* The committees known in the shari`a compliant finance sector (aka the "Islamic finance" sector) as "shari`a supervisory boards" are, in essence, ethical compliance review boards. I therefore strongly encourage any party that is aware of possible ethical violations to bring these issues to the attention of the ethical boards of the shari`a compliant financial entities in question. This is why such boards exist. This tactic has been effective on numerous occassions in the past.
Q: How can one become more sincere?

A: You become more sincere by realizing (i.e. deepening and concretizing) your awareness of the One who is the only worthy target of your actions, Allah (God). This is done in many ways. Among them are the following:

* Reflecting on Creation (e.g. the sun, the moon, the stars, the sky, the water cycle, vegetation, animals, human beings themselves, your own body, etc) in order to comprehend what they indicate of Allah's Beauty and Majesty

* Reflecting on the afterlife (e.g. the Tribulations of the Grave, the Questioning by the Two Angels, the Resurrection, the Gathering, the Accounting, Crossing the Bridge)

* Performing your obligations

* Striving for mindfulness in your prayer

* Shunning bad deeds

* Mentioning Allah frequently

* Reciting and reflecting on the Qur'an

* Monitoring yourself scrupulously, both inwardly and outwardly

* Taking yourself to task

May Allah make us all servants of His who single Him out as the target of all our deeds and states.
A typically beneficial post from Imam Zaid (may Allah preserve him) on "Islam and Honor Kilings"

By Imam Zaid Shakir

Posted Jan 5, 2008

For that reason, we ordained for the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul for other than murder or spreading corruption in the land, it is as if he has killed the whole of humanity… Qur’an 5:35

One of the gravest charges levied against Islam, in terms of its alleged antipathy towards women, is the claim that it encourages a phenomenon known as honor killings. This un-Islamic practice consists of the murder of female family members who are seen as dishonoring their families through real or perceived acts of indiscretion, such as premarital sexual relations or unapproved dating. This charge has been intensified recently due to the tragic murder of a Pakistani Canadian teenage girl, Aqsa Parvez.

The practice of honor killings has absolutely no sanction in the Qur’an, the Prophetic practice, or in the evolved systems of Islamic law. In the case of fornication or adultery, the only way a charge can be levied against an individual, male or female, is through confession, which is discouraged, or by four people actually witnessing the male organ penetrating the female. Even if four people witnessed a naked man engaged with a naked woman, but could not actually testify that they witnessed penetration, their testimony would be rejected.

In a somewhat related issue, it should be noted that in three of the four Sunni schools of law, as is the case with all of the major Shiite schools, pregnancy is not a proof of fornication, as the possibility of rape exists in such a case. Therefore, if a single woman were to become pregnant, according to the overwhelming majority of Islamic jurists, there is no basis for punishing her. In the few well-publicized instances where a pregnant woman has been threatened with death, the minority opinion of the Maliki School of law was unjustly evoked, as occurred in Nigeria, or criminal malfeasance occurred as is the case in Pakistan.

In the case of dating, there is no Islamically-mandated punishment for a male or a female seeing a member of the opposite sex against the wishes of their families. Such situations should be handled with counseling, compassion and a healthy dose of common sense. Muslim immigrants who have migrated to the West should realize that they have placed their children in an environment where there is a tremendous amount of anti-Islamic peer pressure. This is especially true if they have placed their children, as was the case of the young lady who was recently murdered in Canada, in public schools. Children who succumb to that pressure should not be seen as “bad” kids, for by the standards of the society that has shaped them, no matter how strong their home environment is, they are normal. To kill a female guilty of an offense such as dating or dressing like her peers under such circumstances is nothing short of cold-blooded murder, and no Islamic authority can argue otherwise. < /P>

The overwhelming majority of Muslim societies are free from the practice of honor killing, although it does endure in some parts of the Middle East and South Asia. According to statistics released by the United Nations in 2000 there are approximately 5,000 deaths annually from “honor” killings. Even if one killing occurred due to such barbarity, it would be one too many, as the Qur’an emphasizes.

However, to use the existence of such killings to smear Islam shows the desperation and misplaced priorities of many of those levying such attacks. Most of those deaths are the pathetic acts of sick individuals, who are far removed from the letter, as we have shown above, and the spirit of Islam. An example of such an individual is Muhammad Riaz, a British Muslim of South Asian descent who died as a result of a fire he set to burn to death his wife and four daughters, allegedly because his wife resisted his attempt to arrange marriages for his daughters. His wife and daughters did perish in that fire. To present Riaz, whose daughters had neither fornicated nor dated, as anything other than a sick individual is a sad attempt to defame Islam.

To attack Islam from this angle is a case of misplaced priorities because it can distract attention from far graver abuses of women that demand immediate redress. For example, the State Department estimates that approximately 800,000 women and girls are trafficked as sexual slaves annually. The overwhelming majority of these females are taken from and sent to nominally Christian countries.

Over the last five years well over one thousand women have been kidnapped and then gruesomely murdered in Guatemala. Their bodies usually turn up after a few days, mutilated and in some instances with messages such as “death to bitches” written on them. To date only three men have been incarcerated in connection with those attacks. Would it be proper to thereby conclude that the “Christians” of Guatemala, an overwhelmingly Christian nation, have no regard for the suffering of their women? Of course it would not.

At the end of the day, attacks such as the one that resulted in the death of Aqsa Parvez are acts of domestic violence resulting from rage that emanates from a total neglect of Islamic teachings. Ms. Parvez lost her life due to such violence and perhaps there are a few other instances where Muslims women in Canada or here in the United States, have been similarly victimized. However, these instances should be kept in perspective. In the United States there are approximately 1,200 women killed every year by their husbands or intimate partners. There are other “Christian” nations where murders of this type are even higher.

The United States, Guatemala, and other countries we could mention where similar abuses occur are Christian nations. However, it would be disingenuous to use such statistics as an indictment against Christianity. These issues are an affront to humanity and require our collective attention. Until we all view the problem this way, we are in jeopardizing the health and integrity of our society.

Saying this is not to minimize the gravity of so-called honor killings to the extent that they do occur in Muslim societies. As Muslims, we are commanded to be committed to justice. That commitment entails that as a community we oppose in the strongest terms “honor” killings and take immediate action to end such a practice in our communities.

Practical steps include the following:

1. Emphasize that such killings have no sanction in the Qur’an, the Prophetic practice, or in Islamic law.
2. Declare anyone guilty of involvement in honor killings to be a cold-blooded murderer.
3. Encourage judicial authorities to enact the harshest penalties possible for anyone accused of involvement in such killings.
4. Educate our Muslim communities, especially in the West, about the un-Islamic nature of honor killings, and the pressures, nuances, challenges and complications facing young Muslims, male and female in the West.
5. Work to eliminate the double standards, and to expose the hypocrisy that exist in our communities, generally, concerning attitudes and standards relating to the indiscretions of males as opposed to females.

In conclusion, Islam honors the female, and values femininity. It is up to every Muslim to translate teachings in that regard into a beautiful reality that helps to elevate the status of women in all societies. Honor killings, domestic violence in general, murders of the type terrorizing women in Guatemala, female sexual slavery and trafficking, pornography, especially its more violent manifestations, are all crimes against humanity that we should oppose in the strongest terms and work strenuously to eliminate. If our women are not safe, physically, emotionally, spiritually, or psychologically we are all at risk, for without women men are incomplete, and without men women are incomplete. Our Prophet, peace and blessings of God upon him alluded to this complementariness when he said, peace upon him, “Women are the complimenting halves of men.” Let us all work harder to make our societies whole.