Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Letter to a Would-be Mujahid
By Imam Zaid on 14 December 2010

Recent developments have forced me to put some things on hold to write you this letter. You might ask how I know you. I have met you at student events, in mosques, and at conferences. I have listened to your arguments and I have made my counter arguments. Oftentimes, my arguments have been somewhat formal. I figured I would write you a letter, since that is a lot more personal and less formal. Perhaps this way you will be more inclined to listen.

To begin with, whenever you are criticized for your bloody, anarchistic ideology, you point to the bloody abuses of the American war machine or their Zionist accomplices. This diversionary tactic on your part does not impress serious and thoughtful people. It is simply an abdication of your moral responsibility. It is as if you are saying you reserve the right to violate established Islamic principles, such as those guaranteeing the protection of innocent life, because the American military or the IDF do no respect innocent Muslim life. That would be a credible argument if the American military or the IDF claimed to be operating on the basis of Islamic principles. They don’t, but you do. I hope, without further elaboration, you can immediately sense the moral dilemma you are creating for yourself.

Along those lines, please allow me to remind you of something else. Your misguided attempts to kill and maim innocent Americans only make it easier for the American military to kill more Muslims with greater impunity. Your actions help to create a political climate that removes any moral restraint from the actions of the American military, the IDF and soon the forces of India’s increasingly Hindu nationalist armed forces. You see, fear is a very potent emotion and when it is carefully manipulated it can lead to very irrational politics. That most extreme form of those politics is called genocide.

Fear can be especially dangerous when it is combined with another emotion, insecurity. You are so divorced from reality that you probably haven’t noticed that a lot of Americans are extremely insecure right now. Especially, the white middle class or what is left of it. They don’t know if they will soon lose their homes, if they will have a job tomorrow, if their money will be in the bank next week, if they will be able to send their children to college or if their retirement funds will be stolen or totally devalued. Those insecurities combined with the spectre of the “Muslim terrorist next door” are a lethal combination that a group of people called demagogues is exploiting to justify an all out war on Muslims.

Those demagogues use the fear of you to prevent people from building the kind of grassroots, popular, movements that are necessary to challenge the corporate rape of our society and from challenging the destructive logic of permanent war. For example, remember the growing movement to challenge the new invasive TSA screening procedures at airports? Did you notice how it disappeared after the would-be mujahid in Portland allowed himself to be trapped into the scheme to blow up the Christmas tree ceremony? Do you think the timing was accidental? It is a shame that you and your ilk are so mindlessly complicit in such schemes.

Now you think the mujahideen can win an all out war against the Americans. Look at what the mujahideen are doing to them in Afghanistan. Sorry, but Afghanistan is not what all out war looks like. I’ll give you a clue what all out war looks like. Remember a couple years ago when the Israelis were bombarding the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Muslims, for all of their courage, couldn’t do anything except appeal to outside powers to stop the carnage? Or a few years before that when Jenin was flattened? Think of the scale of that devastation expanded to encompass all of the major cities of the Muslim world. Imagine America unleashing a new generation of “tactical” nuclear weapons being designed to be used specifically against Muslims targets raining down on Muslim capitals and there is no Muslim strategic deterrent available to stop it. AK-47s and RPGs will be of no avail. Imagine the calls to human rights organizations to stop the slaughter finding no ears to hear them because the neo-fascist forces your stupidity has helped to unleash have swept those organizations away in its maddening torrent.

I have heard you counter that such an argument is a manifestation of a lack of faith. God has promised the believers victory. Indeed, He has. However, it is very pretentious of you to assume that someone who murders women, children and innocents with blazon impunity in the Name of God are the believers that victory has been promised to. He has promised the believers victory, but that promise is not unconditional. God is not going to give victory to people who murder in His Holy Name.

I applaud your courage, but how it manifests itself puzzles me. You have the courage to fly halfway around to world to engage in an armed struggle, but you do not have the courage to knock on your neighbor’s door to explain Islam to him or to give him your take on world affairs. I am also baffled at how you can smile in his face, but are ready to blow him up if he happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. What calculus do you use to assume he would not be amenable to your message? What has he done to you to be the target of your bloodlust?

You claim a refined understanding of Islam, so refined that you can make grave decisions concerning life and death, decisions with huge strategic implications –yet you seem to perceive nothing of the divine wisdom of your being in this country. You have an opportunity to be an educator at a time people are looking for a new way. You have an opportunity to be a guide at a time people are looking for a new direction. You have an opportunity to provide a source of spiritual solace at a time people are confused, angry and afraid. You have an opportunity to be a fierce advocate for truth at a time when lies are transforming the image of your religion and the direction of your country. You have the skills, the command of the language, the knowledge of the people to do all of that and more, but you choose to run away from this battle to join one you do not even know who the commander is.

Did I say that? “To join a battle you do not even know who the commander is.” No! I didn’t say that. Do you think that if the FBI can send fake mujahids into mosques all around America to find confused, vulnerable Muslims, develop fake bomb plots, with fake bombs, for very real political objectives, the CIA couldn’t do the same thing abroad? No, wait a minute. Didn’t the CIA build the Afghan mujahideen network? Didn’t what’s his name, Zbigniew Brzezinski, describe the Afghan operation as the CIA’s finest hour?

They would never use fake mujahids, operating through fake websites, to recruit confused and desperate Muslim youth to engage in operations that keep the climate of fear alive, would they? They wouldn’t do that to keep support for bloodsucking, treasury-draining wars alive at a time when there is no money for the poor, the elderly, health-care, education, infrastructure or investment in the green economy. No! It’s preposterous. Those would be psychological operations (psych ops) and that would be cheating. America never cheats, we’re the good guys!

I apologize, I’m tripping. On a serious note, I hope you don’t one day end up feeling as stupid and abused as young Antonio Martinez or Mahomed Osman Mohamud, the Somali kid in Oregon, are probably feeling right now. They have been tricked, deceived, used, and abused by fake mujahids and then thrown in a dungeon to rot for the rest of their lives. Do you think your fate will be any different? Don’t be a fool.


Imam Zaid Shakir

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Shaykh Suheil Laher's (MIT Muslim Chaplain and Harvard PhD candidate) has a very useful blog post on hadith authentication. Here is an excerpt:

How do hadith scholars grade ahadith? Do they all share the same criteria or are there different views? Have they restricted their efforts to scrutiny of the chain of narration (isnad), or did they take the content (matn) into consideration too? What should I do if I am troubled by the content of a particular hadith?

There is general agreement amongst hadith scholars on the criteria for hadith authentication. Some criteria relate to the transmission (isnad), and others to the content (matn).

Transmission Criteria

There are five principal conditions which must be satisfied for the isnad. Lack of any of these conditions generally implies weakness in the narration. (However, weakness does not necessarily imply uselessness or total rejection of the narration. There are different grades of weak narration. As in a court of law, even a dubious witness’ testimony, though not totally credible, might still cast some light on matters.)

1. Continuity of the chain (i.e. each narrator must actually have had contact with the narrator ‘above’ him, from whom he is claiming to narrate).

2. Moral uprightness of each narrator (an inobservant or sinful Muslim, who is evidently careless even about his religious practice, cannot be expected to be careful enough to reliably transmit hadith).

3. Retention of each narrator (someone with a poor memory cannot be relied upon to transmit hadith accurately, unless he writes down hadith upon hearing them and narrates only from his manuscript).

4. Freedom from irregularities (if A, B, C, D, E and F all heard a hadith from X, but F narrates it differently than A, B, C, D and E, then even if F is upright and generally reliable, this particular narration of his will be considered irregular.)

5. Freedom from flaws (there are other, more subtle flaws in the isnad, which can be detected by experts in hadith science, who have familiarity with information about the narrators, and with a large corpus of narrations and the correlations and divergences between them.)

Of course, the above is just an overview, and there are many more details. These five criteria are universally accepted by hadith scholars, although they may differ on some finer points, and they may also vary in their proficiency in applying the criteria.

Read the rest at his website.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

[A LA Times Op-Ed]

A law we don't need

Oklahoma's amendment prohibiting courts from considering Islam's Sharia law in decisions is the product of fear-mongering.

By Michael A. Helfand

Oklahomans have a plan to save the country. It doesn't address the reverberations of the financial crisis or outline a way to pay for social services on a limited budget. Instead, they've fashioned a "preemptive strike" against Islamic law in the United States. Last week, 70% of Oklahoma's electorate approved this amendment to the state's Constitution: "The [Oklahoma] Courts … when exercising their judicial authority … shall not consider international law or Sharia Law."

Oklahoma isn't alone. Arizona is considering a bill that would prohibit state judges from "rely[ing] on any body of religious sectarian law or foreign law," and a similar bill has just been introduced in the South Carolina Legislature. Whether more states will hop on the bandwagon may depend on the outcome of a lawsuit filed in Oklahoma federal district court that contends that the amendment violates the 1st Amendment. But the amendment is not just of dubious constitutionality; it's dangerous and unnecessary on the merits.

Rex Duncan, a Republican state representative in Oklahoma and a sponsor of the amendment, has explained that part of its purpose is to ban religious forms of arbitration: "Parties would come to the courts and say we want to be bound by Islamic law and then ask the courts to enforce those agreements. That is a backdoor way to get Sharia law into courts. There ... have been some efforts, I believe, to explore bringing that to America, and it's dangerous."

Get the best in Southern California opinion journalism delivered to your inbox with our Opinion L.A. newsletter. Sign up »

In reality, such arbitration is well established. For nearly half a century, Jewish, Christian and Muslim tribunals have operated in the United States in concert with government courts. These tribunals preside over matters of religious ritual and also apply religious law to a wide range of disputes between individuals and even commercial entities. Parties, in keeping with shared beliefs and values, can voluntarily agree to submit employment, divorce, contractual and various other types of disputes for resolution. State and federal courts currently treat such religious tribunals as they do all other arbitration panels that litigants can seek out as an alternative to going to court. And, as long as the tribunal and its decisions meet certain standards, government courts routinely "confirm" them — that is, render them legally enforceable.

To some, the prospect that the "Save Our State" amendment could challenge this process would be a positive development. In fact, if we were to buy into some of the characterizations propounded by some pundits and politicians, we might think that religious arbitration could force U.S. courts to allow dismemberment or stoning as a form of punishment. But if the awards of religious tribunals are to be enforced in court, the hearings must comply with various procedural requirements, the arbitration agreements cannot be unconscionable, and the awards cannot contravene state and federal laws. Indeed, under the aptly titled "public policy exception," courts cannot enforce any arbitration award, including one issued by a religious tribunal, that undermines U.S. public policies.

For example, parties before a religious tribunal have a right to an attorney that cannot be waived. The tribunal must give notice to the parties regarding all hearings. And it must accept all relevant evidence and allow parties to cross-examine witnesses.

When it comes to the decisions themselves, just as a court cannot enforce a contract to hire a hit man, a court cannot enforce an arbitration award that requires something such as stoning or caning. Nor could a court confirm a religious tribunal's child custody decision without making its own independent determination as to what was in the best interests of the child. In the words of a New York court, "An arbitration award that deprives a party of a constitutional right to seek redress or protection in a civil or criminal matter is against public policy."

But that alone isn't a reason to maintain the tradition of religious arbitration. This form of justice sometimes provides legal redress that the state and federal courts cannot.

Consider a case in which a pastor, imam or rabbi is given a lifetime contract (a relatively common practice) that allows his or her congregation to terminate his or her employment only for cause. Somewhere down the line, the congregation decides that its religious leader is no longer doing the job. Accordingly, the congregation terminates the contract. But the pastor, imam or rabbi might very well disagree that there was cause for the dismissal. Where does he or she go to bring that claim?

The answer is not in state or federal court. The establishment clause of the 1st Amendment prohibits government courts from rendering a view regarding religious doctrine. And deciding what the appropriate responsibilities of a pastor or imam or rabbi are, and whether they have been fulfilled, would generally amount to rendering such a view. As a result, the court could only dismiss the case. However, the pastor, imam or rabbi could turn to a religious tribunal, and a U.S. court could later confirm the decision and give it legal force.

Legislation banning religious arbitration is deeply misguided. The decisions of religious tribunals are unenforceable unless they comply with public policy. And we need them to address cases that constitutional doctrine prohibits from being litigated in government courts. In the end, allowing state and federal courts to "consider" the findings of religious tribunals for the purposes of "confirmation" doesn't violate cherished religious freedoms, it enhances them.

Laws like Oklahoma's "Save Our State" amendment pander to unfounded fears. Instead of saving the nation, they merely add to its list of problems.

Michael A. Helfand is an associate professor of law at Pepperdine University and associate director of the university's Glazer Institute for Jewish Studies.

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Deeper Implications of Muslims Targeting Innocent Civilians
By Imam Zaid on 02 November 2010 (URL)

This essay, written in the immediate aftermath of the failed New York City bomb attempt [1], will examine some of the theological implications of Muslims violating civilian immunity. I have written elsewhere why attacks against innocent civilians are in opposition to fundamental teachings of Islam. Unfortunately, there are some Muslim ideologues that sanction such actions and a growing number of Muslim civilians and noncombatants are being killed by their coreligionists, in Iraq, Afghanistan [2], and elsewhere. For these reasons, the argument that follows is more than merely hypothetical. This article is being reprinted in the aftermath of an alleged plot to mail bombs to Chicago-area synagogues from Yemen.

Western military commanders, politicians and philosophers who have sanctioned the widespread bombing of civilian populations –owing to the industrialization of war and its being wedded with nationalist ideology during the 19th and 20th centuries- realize that their actions involve a dangerous moral leap. The following passage from Phillip Meilinger’s work on the moral implications of modern warfare illustrates this point:

The Fall of France in 1940 left Britain alone against Germany. The ensuing Battle of Britain, culminating in the Blitz, left England reeling. Surrender was unthinkable, but it could not retaliate with its outnumbered and overstretched army and navy. The only hope of hitting back at Germany and winning the war lay with Bomber Command. But operational factors quickly demonstrated that prewar factors [emphasizing precision bombing of military objectives] had been hopelessly unrealistic. …Aircrew survival dictated night area attacks, and, in truth, there was little alternative other than not to attack at all. Moral constraints bowed to what was deemed military necessity, which led air leaders down a particularly slippery slope. [3]

That slippery slope led to wanton massacres of civilians that were unprecedented in history and they culminated in the nuclear incineration of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Muslims who would sanction gross violations of civilian immunity, owing to strategic desperation, are entering on a similarly slippery slope. However, there is a huge difference between the norms that govern western strategic thinking and those defined by Islam. Namely, western norms are socially constructed while those defined by Islam have their origin in revelation –the latter as understood by Muslims. Hence, from a Muslim perspective, and that perspective is critical for the argument we are making, western norms are subject to change with changes in social, political, economic and especially technological considerations, while Islamic norms are transcendent. [4]

The idea of total war, which holds that there is no distinction between the combatant and noncombatant elements of an enemy population, and that both groups can legitimately be targeted by an armed force, is ancient. The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), as documented by Thucydides, involved both the mobilization of entire populations for the war effort and likewise the eradication of entire populations, such as the inhabitants of Milos. During the Middle Ages, the Mongol invasion of the Muslim heartland of Asia could be described as a campaign of total warfare that left unimaginable death and destruction in its wake.

The existence of total war campaigns during early historical periods is accompanied by efforts to extend immunity from violent conflicts to civilians. Plato, various Roman philosophers, Medieval Christian theologians, orders of knights and in the early modern period, theorists such as Francisco de Victoria and Hugo Grotius all advocated various degrees of civilian immunity from the scourges of war.

In the western intellectual tradition, thinking surrounding this idea during various historical epochs was associated with prevailing views of just and unjust actions as well as the self-interest of relevant societal actors, as opposed to clear and deeply rooted scriptural pronouncements. This was true even among Christians. Hence, we do not see meaningful discussions on limiting the destructiveness of war among Christian theologians until the 4th Christian Century with the work of St. Augustine.

In Europe, changing conditions and circumstances have led to changing positions on the issue of civilian immunity. For much of the latter Middle Age the prevailing European views were dominated by ideas emerging from the Catholic Church’s Peace of God movement, and the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. The advent of the nation-state in the aftermath of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 would introduce a new epistemology to govern thinking around strategic affairs, even though Medieval Christian thinking still informed attitudes and policies related to civilian immunity, at least until the French and Industrial Revolutions.

These nearly simultaneous developments led to the idea that the civilian infrastructure needed to support a modern war effort was so essential to its successful prosecution that it transformed civilians into combatants. As a result, beginning with the Napoleonic Wars and the American Civil War, conflicts in the West would witness the erosion of civilian immunity –at least until the aftermath of the World War Two.

Unlike the situation prevailing in non-Muslim lands, the idea of civilian immunity among Muslims has been rooted in clear scriptural pronouncements from the prophetic epoch. Qur’anic passages establishing the sanctity of innocent life (Q. 5:32) and not expanding hostilities to noncombatants (Q. 2:190) coupled with prophetic strictures against killing women, children, monks, and other noncombatants created the basis for a strong and enduring Muslim ethic governing civilian immunity. Although there have clearly been instances when some Muslim rulers and commanders have not respected that ethic, it has generally remained a restraining factor throughout Muslim history. [5]

Among its greatest fruits has been the existence of large non-Muslim populations in historical Muslim empires, the general lack of forced conversion of non-Muslim populations, a lack of genocidal massacres undertaken by Muslim armies [6], and the peaceful coexistence of Muslims and other faith communities in areas such as Andalusia, Bosnia, Palestine and Iraq, historically.

As changing geopolitical and technological realities dictate changes in the norms governing the intentional targeting of civilians in western strategic thinking, there is no inherent damage to the integrity of western secular thought. Indeed, the socially constructed nature of those norms only serves to reinforce the secularity of the process whereby they are arrived at and the analytical methods governing their assessment. This is not the case for the transcendental Islamic ideal governing civilian immunity. When it is abandoned by Muslims, a critical aspect of the religion itself in abandoned.

As Dr. Tim Winter (Abdul Hakim Murad) [7], expanding the work of John Gray [8] and others, argues, when that abandonment occurs in the modern context, it is precisely because the transcendental Islamic ideal has been forsaken or lost. Muslims who target civilians are robbed of any moral high ground in their struggle with opposing forces and are left naked before the bitter winds of political expediency. If expediency demands suicidal murder, bombs in mosques and marketplaces or in the heart of western cities then in the view of those who have entered upon this vile path, so be it.

At the heart of the Islamic ethic regarding the sanctity of innocent life is the following verse in the Qur’an, alluded to earlier:

Owing to that [first instance murder] we ordained for the Children of Israel that whosever takes an innocent life for other than retribution for murder or murderous sedition in the land it is as if he has killed all of humanity, and whoever saves a life it is as if he has saved all of humanity. Our Messengers have come to them with clear proofs, yet even after that many of them exceed limits in the land.[9] (Q. 5:32)
من أجل ذلك كتبنا على بني إسرائيل أنه من قتل نفسا بغير نفس أو فساد في الأرض فكأنما قتل الناس جميعا و من أحياها فكأنما أحيا الناس جميعا و لقد جاءتهم رسلنا بالبينات ثم إن كثيرا منهم بعد ذلك في الأرض لمسرفون

This verse emphasizes that the immunity extended to innocents is a principle that was upheld by all of the Prophets. Hence, the specific mention of the Children of Israel, who were the recipients of a long line of Prophets, and the mentioning of the Messengers at the end of the verse.

The idea that to discard the immunity that is extended to innocents is to abandon an indispensible part of the divine law is emphasized by Imam al-Qurtubi in his commentary on this verse (Q. 5:32). He states:

The meaning is that whoever makes it lawful to take the life of a single innocent person has made everyone’s life lawful, because he has rejected the divine law [establishing the prohibition of killing innocents] [10].
المعنى أن من استحل واحدا فقد استحل الجميع لأنه أنكر الشرع

Abandoning the divine law when one makes the blood of innocent people lawful to shed is emphasized from a deeper perspective by Imam Fakruddin al-Razi in his commentary on the same verse. He states:

When he [a murderer] resolves to intentionally kill an innocent person he has given preference to the dictates of his bloodlust and anger over the dictates of obeying God. When this prioritization occurs, in his heart he has resolved to kill anyone who opposes his demands, were he capable of doing so. [11]
أنه لما أقدم على القتل العمد العدوان فقد رجح داعية الشهوة و الغضب على داعية الطاعة و متى كان الأمر كذلك كان هذاالترجيح حاصلا بالنسبة إلى كل واحد فكان في قلبه أن كل أحد نازعه من مطالبه فإنه لو قدر عليه لقتله

The murderous campaigns undertaken by some misguided Muslims that have led to the massacre of thousands of civilians in the Muslim world and that are now threatening the innocent people in this country are not manifestations of Jihad, as some claim. Rather, they are a mirror image of the godless murderous mayhem and carnage this country has inflicted on the innocent civilians of many Muslim countries, and, as explained above, it involves an abandonment of the prophetic legacy.

Every Muslim who is concerned for the future of his or her faith and the future of the prophetic legacy in the world is morally obliged to work in whatever capacity he or she can to stop attacks that target innocent civilians by any party –Muslims or members of other communities. The basis for this moral obligation is powerfully stated by Imam Razi in his commentary on (5:32). He mentions:

If all of humanity knew that a single individual intends to exterminate them they would undoubtedly try their utmost to prevent him from obtaining his objective. Likewise, if they knew that he intends to kill a single person then their seriousness and exertion in trying to deter him from killing that person should be just as great as it would be in preventing their own mass murder. [12]
هو أن جميع الناس لو علموا من إنسان واحد أنه يقصد قتلهم بأجمعهم فلا شك أنهم يدفعونه دفعا لا يمكنه تحصيل مقصوده فكذلك إذا علموا منه أنه يقصد قتل إنسان واحد معين يجب أن يكون جدهم واجتهادهم في منعه عن قتل ذلك الإنسان مثل جدهم واجتهادهم في الصورة الأولى

The reason for this is that the life of a single innocent person has the sanctity of the lives of all humanity. This is an ideal we cannot let die. If we allow it to die who will revive it? Human history has shown how quickly we can begin a free fall into murderous madness once we have entered upon the path that justifies murdering innocent civilians and other noncombatants. If the American military and the warmongering interests supporting it are guilty in this regard we condemn them in the strongest terms, and if our fellow Muslims are guilty we must likewise condemn them.

The only difference between the two cases is that when the American military kills innocent civilians it is violating principles of human rights and worldly conventions, which, as we have seen with the current arguments justifying torture, are subject to change or being discarded altogether. When Muslims do it, we are betraying our faith and the legacy of the Prophets, peace upon them, who have left us a wealth of timeless, enduring wisdom.

[1] I am not assuming that Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American who has been arrested in association with this bomb plot is guilty. The investigation is ongoing and his guilt has yet to be established. The affair does provide an occasion to discuss the issues that are raised in this essay.
[2] This statement does not discount the existence of black or psychological operations that are undertaken against Muslim civilians by the security apparatuses of Western powers at war in the Muslim world, along with their agents and surrogates. However, it is undeniably true that an increasingly large number of the attacks against Muslim noncombatants are being undertaken by Muslims themselves.
[3] Quoted in Ward Thomas, The Ethics of Destruction: Norms and Force in International Relations (Ithaca, London: Cornell University Press, 2001), 90.
[4] The transcendental nature of Muslim norms does not deny the human effort that went into translating those norms into policy. Hence, like their medieval Christian scholastic counterparts, Muslim theologians struggled to define the scope and limits of civilian immunity.
[5] For an insightful study of the generally peaceful nature of Islam’s spread among non-Muslim peoples, and its respect for them see Professor Thomas Arnold, The Spread of Islam in the World: A History of Peaceful Preaching (New Delhi: Goodword Books, 2001).
[6] The most notable exception to this assertion is the Armenian Genocide that occurred in Ottoman Turkey in 1915. This controversial tragedy occurred during the waning years of a Muslim world governed by a viable Islamic tradition, and after Turkey had been transformed into a nationalist, quasi Islamic state led by the Young Turks. By that time, the Sultan was a powerless figurehead. For most of the Ottoman reign Armenians were a self-governing minority that enjoyed the protection of the rulers in Istanbul.
[7] See Abdal-Hakim Murad, Bombing Without Moonlight: The Origins of Suicidal Terrorism (Bristol, England: Amal Press, 2008). Murad convincingly demonstrates how Muslims who engage in wanton attacks against civilians are merely extensions of a deeply-rooted history of such violence in western civilization. Likewise, he shows how Muslims who would justify such violence openly reject the Islamic tradition of patience and restraint in strategic affairs.
[8] See John Gray, Al Qaeda and What It Means To Be Modern (New York: The New Press, 2005). Gray argues that the philosophy of al Qaeda owes more to the positivism of Saint-Simon and Comte than to any traditional Islamic influences, and its organizational structure is a reflection of 21st Century globalization.
[9] Their exceeding limits lies in the continuation of their murderous ways.
[10] Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Qurtubi, al-jami’ li ahkam al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1995), 3:147
[11] Muhammad b. ‘Umar Fakhruddin al-Razi, mafatih al-ghayb (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1995), 4:344
[12] Ibid., 4:344
Lauren, sister-in-law of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, writes about the response to her recent conversion to Islam in this Guardian piece.

It is five years since my first visit to Palestine. And when I arrived in the region, to work alongside charities in Gaza and the West Bank, I took with me the swagger of condescension that all white middle-class women (secretly or outwardly) hold towards poor Muslim women, women I presumed would be little more than black-robed blobs, silent in my peripheral vision. As a western woman with all my freedoms, I expected to deal professionally with men alone. After all, that's what the Muslim world is all about, right?

This week's screams of faux horror from fellow columnists on hearing of my conversion to Islam prove that this remains the stereotypical view regarding half a billion women currently practising Islam.

On my first trip to Ramallah, and many subsequent visits to Palestine, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, I did indeed deal with men in power. And, dear reader, one or two of them even had those scary beards we see on news bulletins from far-flung places we've bombed to smithereens. Surprisingly (for me) I also began to deal with a lot of women of all ages, in all manner of head coverings, who also held positions of power. Believe it or not, Muslim women can be educated, work the same deadly hours we do, and even boss their husbands about in front of his friends until he leaves the room in a huff to go and finish making the dinner.

Is this patronising enough for you? I do hope so, because my conversion to Islam has been an excuse for sarcastic commentators to heap such patronising points of view on to Muslim women everywhere. So much so, that on my way to a meeting on the subject of Islamophobia in the media this week, I seriously considered buying myself a hook and posing as Abu Hamza. After all, judging by the reaction of many women columnists, I am now to women's rights what the hooked one is to knife and fork sales.

So let's all just take a deep breath and I'll give you a glimpse into the other world of Islam in the 21st century. Of course, we cannot discount the appalling way women are mistreated by men in many cities and cultures, both with and without an Islamic population. Women who are being abused by male relatives are being abused by men, not God. Much of the practices and laws in "Islamic" countries have deviated from (or are totally unrelated) to the origins of Islam. Instead practices are based on cultural or traditional (and yes, male-orientated) customs that have been injected into these societies. For example, in Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive by law. This rule is an invention of the Saudi monarchy, our government's close ally in the arms and oil trade. The fight for women's rights must sadly adjust to our own government's needs.

My own path to Islam began with an awakening to the gap between what had been drip-fed to me about all Muslim life – and the reality.

I began to wonder about the calmness exuded by so many of the "sisters" and "brothers". Not all; these are human beings we're talking about. But many. And on my visit to Iran this September, the washing, kneeling, chanting recitations of the prayers at the mosques I visited reminded me of the west's view of an entirely different religion; one that is known for eschewing violence and embracing peace and love through quiet meditation. A religion trendy with movie stars such as Richard Gere, and one that would have been much easier to admit to following in public – Buddhism. Indeed, the bending, kneeling and submission of Muslim prayers resound with words of peace and contentment. Each one begins, "Bismillahir rahmaneer Raheem" – "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate" – and ends with the phrase "Assalamu Alaykhum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh" – Peace be upon you all and God's mercy and blessing.

Almost unnoticed to me, when praying for the last year or so, I had been saying "Dear Allah" instead of "Dear God". They both mean the same thing, of course, but for the convert to Islam the very alien nature of the language of the holy prayers and the holy book can be a stumbling block. I had skipped that hurdle without noticing. Then came the pull: a sort of emotional ebb and flow that responds to the company of other Muslims with a heightened feeling of openness and warmth. Well, that's how it was for me, anyway.

How hard and callous non-Muslim friends and colleagues began to seem. Why can't we cry in public, hug one another more, say "I love you" to a new friend, without facing suspicion or ridicule? I would watch emotions being shared in households along with trays of honeyed sweets and wondered, if Allah's law is simply based on fear why did the friends I loved and respected not turn their backs on their practices and start to drink, to have real "fun" as we in the west do? And we do, don't we? Don't we?

Finally, I felt what Muslims feel when they are in true prayer: a bolt of sweet harmony, a shudder of joy in which I was grateful for everything I have (my children) and secure in the certainty that I need nothing more (along with prayer) to be utterly content. I prayed in the Mesumeh shrine in Iran after ritually cleansing my forearms, face, head and feet with water. And nothing could be the same again. It was as simple as that.

The sheikh who finally converted me at a mosque in London a few weeks ago told me: "Don't hurry, Lauren. Just take it easy. Allah is waiting for you. Ignore those who tell you: you must do this, wear that, have your hair like this. Follow your instincts, follow the Holy Qur'an- and let Allah guide you."

And so I now live in a reality that is not unlike that of Jim Carey's character in the Truman Show. I have glimpsed the great lie that is the facade of our modern lives; that materialism, consumerism, sex and drugs will give us lasting happiness. But I have also peeked behind the screens and seen an enchanting, enriched existence of love, peace and hope. In the meantime, I carry on with daily life, cooking dinners, making TV programmes about Palestine and yes, praying for around half an hour a day.

Now, my morning starts with dawn prayers at around 6am, I pray again at 1.30pm, then finally at 10.30pm. My steady progress with the Qur'an has been mocked in some quarters (for the record, I'm now around 200 pages in). I've been seeking advice from Ayatollahs, imams and sheikhs, and every one has said that each individual's journey to Islam is their own. Some do commit the entire text to memory before conversion; for me reading the holy book will be done slowly and at my own pace.

In the past my attempts to give up alcohol have come to nothing; since my conversion I can't even imagine drinking again. I have no doubt that this is for life: there is so much in Islam to learn and enjoy and admire; I'm overcome with the wonder of it. In the last few days I've heard from other women converts, and they have told me that this is just the start, that they are still loving it 10 or 20 years on.

On a final note I'd like to offer a quick translation between Muslim culture and media culture that may help take the sting of shock out of my change of life for some of you.

When Muslims on the BBC News are shown shouting "Allahu Akhbar!" at some clear, Middle Eastern sky, we westerners have been trained to hear: "We hate you all in your British sitting rooms, and are on our way to blow ourselves up in Lidl when you are buying your weekly groceries."

In fact, what we Muslims are saying is "God is Great!", and we're taking comfort in our grief after non-Muslim nations have attacked our villages. Normally, this phrase proclaims our wish to live in peace with our neighbours, our God, our fellow humans, both Muslim and non-Muslim. Or, failing that, in the current climate, just to be left to live in peace would be nice.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sh Dr Hussain Abdul-Sattar has a nice manual on hajj with spiritual/internal insights for various stages of the pilgrimmage.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An article from Shaykh Hamza Yusuf's new blog..

When You're a Statistic
10/17/2010 11:07:24 AM

When You’re a Statistic
It’s been said that a liberal is just a conservative that hasn’t been mugged yet. Sometimes it takes something traumatic to wake us up to the realities of our situation, and to force us to rethink our beliefs and behaviors.

Americans are essentially civil and decent people and not prone to violent reactions, but now millions of Americans are being exposed to a profoundly radical and extremely distorted view of Islam, which is that 1) Islam is an evil religion; 2) it was born in the crucible of violence, and engenders violence in its followers; and 3) a significant number of American Muslims are actively working to undermine the government of this country, and to establish shariah law.

These ideas may sound outlandish and farfetched, but some of the major websites promoting such views get hundreds of thousands of visitors each month. The trouble with such misinformation is that when someone wants to learn about Islam and Googles, for instance, shariah law and women, they’re likely to see an image of a girl with her nose cut off. Worse yet, most of the top ten articles returned from such a search are not expository articles explaining what shariah actually is ­­– they are articles propagating the idea that the shariah is evil.

Hence, even if people sincerely search for information about Islam, they are likely to get misinformation and anti-Islam propaganda. Moreover, even educated people are having a harder time sorting the wheat from the chaff, distinguishing what is accurate from what is propaganda against Islam. There are also a lot of very negative emails circulating on the Internet either misquoting Qur’an and hadith or quoting out of context.

In fact, if you walk into a bookstore today and simply browse under the subject of Islam, about half the books are anti-Muslim or written by apostates from Islam who actually hate Islam. If a person scans the shelves for a book on the Qur’an, the best looking book that catches their eye could very well be The Infidel’s Guide to the Koran, and so one starts to read it, and it distorts Islam using the sources of Islam, such as Qur’anic verses or hadith. The verses quoted are explained without historical context, and are used to distort the holistic message of the Qur’an.

It is easy to make Islam look like the most evil religion on the planet using quotations from primary sources. It is also easy to do the same with Christianity, Judaism, or any other world-religion, but most people, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins notwithstanding, know that Judaism and Christianity are not evil. However, they do not know that about Islam because we have allowed other people to define Islam. Look in the bookstore sections about other religions, and you’ll see a vastly different set of books. For instance, you will find nothing negative about Judaism in the section on Judaism, and if you did, rest assured that major Jewish activist organizations would soon have a slew of volunteers writing to the publishers and the bookstores and have the book pulled from the shelves in record time. The Christian section is so vast as to overshadow the few titles that present Christianity in less than a positive light. Even the section on Wicca and Paganism comprises of titles mostly like, How I Found Inner Peace by Worshipping the Moon and How Satan Can Cure Your Migraines.

*** *** ***

In Alice in Wonderland, when Alice questions Humpty Dumpty about his usage of words, he says, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

Alice responds, “The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

Humpty Dumpty replies, “The question is which is to be master – that’s all.” That is, which definition is going to be definitive?

When we say “Islam,” is it the beautiful religion of peace and spiritual elevation that sustains millions and millions of people during their journeys through life and inspires countless good deeds, or is it the violent, misogynistic, anachronistic medieval madness that is now infecting America?

When we say “jihad,” does it mean an honorable struggle for social justice and the internal struggle with our own selves against the ego, envy, pride, miserliness, and stupidity, and the universal right to defend one’s land or one’s home from aggressors, or does it mean brutally and barbarically chopping off heads, cutting off noses, lopping off ears, flogging women, or blowing up innocent people for simply not being part of the faith?

Who is going to define the words? Is it going to be every Tom, Dick, and Humpty Dumpty? Are we going to leave it for those who have passed through the looking glass and are living in Wonderland where black is white, up is down, and right is wrong, and where, like the queen reminds Alice, “Sentence first – verdict afterward” is how things work? Who is going to decide?

This unrelenting and hateful messaging is taking an effect over time. We can see this in the changes in public views of Islam. In polls taken immediately after 9-11, most people did not have a negative view of Islam. That has changed dramatically now. The majority of people in the United States do have negative views of Islam now. This is because the people who want to propagate that narrative have been working hard. They have been funding organizations, funding the publication of books, getting anti-Muslim messages on TV shows, and in general, they have been the only voices heard by most Americans. Muslims have been sleeping through this, or else simply watching in horror as the propaganda takes hold.

Here is what happens. Most people out there who do not like Islam or have a negative view of it are not going to do much, as most people mosey along through life and do not think about much other than their own concerns and preoccupations. However, talk-show hosts, editorial writers – what Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point calls “mavens, connectors, and influencers” – are reading the negative books on Islam that are best sellers, such as Islamic Infiltration; Muslim Mafia; Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerable Religion; Infidel’s Guide to the Qur’an; Why I am Not a Muslim; Infidel; Islamic Invasion – and a lot of these books are being sent to congresspersons and senators. The majority of people in this country do not read books or even newspapers, but many watch Fox News. They listen to talk-show hosts. They listen to Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Bill O’Reilly. And these pundits have access to millions of Americans and for many of them, this is the only view of Islam they’re getting.

Now, you have some media figures, such as Keith Olbermann, who do attempt to present another view, but he and those like him are more often than not preaching to the choir. You also have court jesters who can speak the truth without losing their heads, such as Jon Stewart, and millions tune in to such programs, but such audiences are considered either pinheads or potheads according to the other camp. These shows do not reach the large segment of Americans who are conservatives (or even moderates) and who need to hear a different and more accurate portrayal of Islam. I don’t want to be Manichean about this, as many of the right-wing voices also address other issues that are necessary to address and are often ignored by the left. They are not hearing any counter voices because we have not made strategic alliances in the conservative community.

According to a recent study, over 50 percent of Evangelicals believe that people outside of Christianity can go to heaven, but only 34 percent of that same group believes that Muslims can go to heaven. There are millions of people out there who think that all Muslims are hell bound.

Among that segment of society, there are people whom the Qur’an terms sufahah. These are the fools, the idiotic people – the jahilun: people of ignorance, impetuousness, and zealotry. Every community has such people in it. The Muslims have them; the Jews have them; the Christians have them; the secular humanists have them. Every community has sociopaths or irrational people who may even slit the throat of a Bengali taxi driver because he said, “Yes, I am a Muslim.” Those people are going to be empowered increasingly. And people are more susceptible to new villains during times of economic hardship. As the unemployment rate rises and crimes increase, and people are looking for new targets for their aggression, why not a Muslim? Already, we’ve had “Burn the Qur’an Day” – will it be “Mug a Muslim Day” next?
*** *** ***

Our choices are clear. We can sit here and watch all that is happening and think that things are fine. We can think to ourselves, “My neighbors are fine; everybody is nice to me at work.” But if that is what you think, you are living in a bubble. And your bubble is about to burst. I have been watching a trend that is getting worse and worse. And if something is not done, if there is nothing done to countervail, no other mitigating force, things are headed in a dangerous direction. Newton’s law of physics applies here as well: Bodies at rest will remain at rest, and bodies in motion will remain in motion, unless acted upon by an external force.

We have a body of messaging in motion, and it is hateful, it is effective, it is well-financed, and it is having its impact on opinions that were at rest before 9-11. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “Civil strife is asleep, and may God curse the one who wakens it.” This hadith indicates that calamities are waiting to happen, and people’s passions are easily aroused. This is a recurring phenomenon over the ages and all around the world. Just ask a Bosnian refugee in America how his Serbian neighbors turned on him and his family after being friends for all their lives. This happened through a powerful and violent campaign of propaganda waged by Serbian nationalists allied with certain extreme elements in the Orthodox Church. The result was tragic, but people thought then as we do now: that could never happen here.

Unless there is another force out there to counter this, Muslims are going to wake up in a very different America, an America that has drifted far from its own admirable and noble ideals, and they are going to wonder what happened.

What happened was that you were asleep. Just like people slept before. People forget that the 1920’s in Germany was one of the most liberal periods. But there was hyperinflation, high unemployment, a lot of social problems, and before they knew it, they democratically elected fascists into power. The fascists did not seize power; they were democratically elected. Right now, we have several angry and hateful candidates in close races in the House and the Senate and even governorships. You can say, “Oh, well, they are only a handful of people.” But this is how it starts. And in hard times, people turn to demagogues. And they are waiting in the wings.

I plan on writing next about what Muslims can and should do to counter this wave of anti-Islam propaganda.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Impact Investing’ Teeters on Edge of Explosive Growth

Published: October 9, 2010

Jonathan Weber writes a column for The Bay Citizen
The Bay Citizen

A nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization providing local coverage of the San Francisco Bay Area for The New York Times. To join the conversation about this article, go to baycitizen.org.

Conferences can be a good indicator of the health of an industry, and by that measure the emerging sector of “social entrepreneurship” appears to be booming. The third annual SOCAP conference last week in San Francisco drew more than 1,300 people paying as much as $1,395 a ticket, and you could feel the energy among the amalgam of philanthropists, foundations, investors and idealistic entrepreneurs.

The idea that it’s possible to marry hard-nosed capitalism and bleeding-heart causes has been around awhile, with philanthropic institutions working hard to be more business-like even as many businesses pay more attention to the social and environmental impact of their operations.

But the notion that for-profit companies with a social mission at their core could constitute an “asset class” is fairly new. And though there are myriad challenges in making it real, there is genuine progress.

One piece of the puzzle is a handful of investment funds recently established to finance businesses that address social problems, especially in the developing world. Emboldened in part by the success of the micro-finance industry, which provides loans for small-scale businesses, new funds like Ignia Partners promise the magic combination of strong profits and social impact.

For Ignia, which invests in fields like affordable housing in Latin America, “profit is a great engine” if the objective is reaching a lot of people, said Álvaro Rodríguez Arregui, the managing partner. “We have pressing issues, and we need greater scale” than traditional charities can provide, he said.

Ignia, with more than $100 million under management, appears to be the only such fund to attract institutional investment so far.

Another important component of this new sector is mechanisms to determine what constitutes an “impact investment.” A trio of social entrepreneurs has created a certification system called B Corp. — think of LEED certification for green buildings — and last week started a parallel initiative aimed at investors. Just as Standard & Poor’s provides ratings on bonds, this effort, the Global Impact Investing Rating System, would provide social ratings for companies and funds.

“There is a huge community interested in doing business in a different kind of way,” said Andrew Kassoy, a B Lab founder. “But we can’t have a marketplace without some kind of standards.”

Paul Needham, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur with a background in the computer business, exemplifies the most important component of this: creative entrepreneurs with an idea that could make both money and a difference. His company, Simpa Networks, is working on a solar power system that could bring affordable electricity to remote homes and businesses.

Mr. Needham’s first financing was a $40,000 grant from a nonprofit. He then went looking for angel investors, finding one who believed in the dual purpose. “He has given to philanthropies in the past,” Mr. Needham said, “but he’s tired of giving away money and wants to do social good through investment.” A consultant, Miguel Granier of Invested Development, was brought in to help the investor, John Shine, evaluate both the social worth and business potential of Simpa.

Simpa is also counting on offshoots of the micro-finance industry to help poor people buy the systems — an indication of the many interconnections in the impact-investing world.

I know from experience that the biggest obstacle to all of this is the mindset of many investors. When I was raising angel capital for New West Publishing, the company I started in 2005, I pitched it to people who cared about the Rocky Mountain West and believed in both the mission of the business and the financial opportunity.

But many investors I approached wanted to know whether I was offering a business opportunity or soliciting a charitable contribution — requests they evaluated on different terms.

Kevin Jones, a serial entrepreneur who created the SOCAP conference, said such attitudes were evolving rapidly. “There is a changing investor mindset,” he said. “There is a true moral hunger for a new asset class.”

Mr. Jones cited a recent study showing that some $120 billion of investment capital — much of it from wealthy families — is looking for a socially productive, and profitable, home.

Still, it remains an open question how quickly that moral hunger will translate into signatures on checks. The Bay Area especially is full of both investors and entrepreneurs who want to make a difference, and make a profit, too. We’ll soon see whether meaningful numbers of people can really do both.

Jonathan Weber is the editor in chief of The Bay Citizen.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Sunday, August 15, 2010

As I prepare for my upcoming sabbatical (more about that later in sha'Allah!), during which I intend to spend most of my time in my hometown of New York City, I was pleasantly surprised by a recent commentary by CNN's Fareed Zakaria (a Harvard man I believe!) on the Lower Manhattan Islamic Center controversy. Check it out.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Inna li-llahi wa-inna ilayhi raji`un. (To God do we belong and to Him do we return.) The noted caller (da`iyah) and pioneer, Goolam Hoosen Patel (1915-2010) has passed way. Shaykh Goolam is the great-grandfather of our own Ustadh Na'eel Ca'jee and his brother Dr Masood Ca'jee.

Monday, May 24, 2010

As some of you may know, starting this fall, I on leave from my position as Harvard Islamic Society Chaplain for the 2010-2011 year. In sha'Allah, during my time off, I will be spending time with relatives who are facing some health challenges as they get older, in addition to working on several interesting writing and research projects. Al-hamdu li-llah, there will be a Visiting Islamic Society Chaplain who will be serving the community until I return in sha'Allah. The interim Chaplain will be announced soon, probably in another more formal announcement which I will send out soon in sha'Allah. While I am away, do feel free to contact me via e-mail, facebook, twitter, etc as I will be available by all the usual methods in sha'Allah.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A video capturing Imam Mohammed Magid explaining several aphorisms (hikam) and statments (aqwal, sign qawl) pertaining to the nature of gratitude (shukr) toward Allah (God).
In the wake of the alleged Times Square Bombing, Shaykh Zaid Shakir writes on the Impermissibility of Targeting Civilians in Combat.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wise words from Shaykh Dr Abdullah Hakim Quick on the importance of unifying one's personality as a Muslim. See the "Two faced Person" here.

Friday, May 07, 2010

In a recent paper "Ihsanic Gatherings" by our friend Prof Aaron Spevack, he writes, commenting on the importance of not allowing orientational differences and matters of disagreement to become a source of division and disharmony in the our communities:

"It is a simple model. Create your spiritual and social comfort zones where you can do your thing without causing division and separation in the community, and bend over backwards to honor, respect, and connect with your fellow Muslims in the greater community. Make husnul khuluq (perfected and beautified character) the priority in your community interactions, and serve the greater community in any and every way you can. Respect the inherent differences in our communities, and learn the etiquette of disagreement as it relates to commanding the right and forbidding the wrong.

As mentioned in the previous installment of the Suhba Papers, I believe we should make the perfection of our character the central focus of our community interactions and activities, as perfection of character is a means to every good, be it spiritual upliftment, serving those in need, or political activism. When we make this our focus, and follow the simple model above, we are well on our way to creating win-win interactions within our diverse communities. And Allah alone gives success."

Thursday, April 08, 2010



Islam Awareness Week


Adhan in the Yard
Listen to the melodious Islamic call to prayer between classes.

TIME/VENUE: Daily, 1 p.m.; steps of Widener Library

* * *

Meet the Muslims!
Want to learn to wrap a turban? Or get a henna tattoo? Take a break from work to speak with
Muslim students and enjoy calligraphy, henna tattoos, and delicious ethnic foods.

TIME/VENUE: April 8, 8 p.m.; Adams UCR

* * *

Open Friday Prayers
Take this chance to observe the Friday prayer, Jumu'ah,
and get an intimate firsthand look at the religious lives of Muslims.

TIME/VENUE: April 9, 1:15 p.m.; Lowell Lecture Hall

* * *

Light Upon Light: An Illuminating Evening of Poetry
Sip tea from around the world and explore the beautiful, expressive, and diverse
world of Islamic poetry in more than 10 languages.

TIME/VENUE: April 9, 7 p.m.; Thompson Room, Barker Center

* * *

Islamic Book Displays
During the week, don't forget to check out the Islamic books
on display at the Harvard Coop and the Harvard Bookstore.

* * *

PLEASE VISIT OUR WEB SITE: http://www.harvardislamicsociety.org.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Ma sha'Allah! Our brother and brother Chaplain Sohaib Sultan, along with his fellows at Princeton, recently facilitated an intriguing conversation between Prof. Sherman Jackson and Prof Cornell West. A
video of the event is available on-line.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Taught by Harvard's Muslim Chaplain, Taha Abdul-Basser:

Reviving Our Hearts

A five session series on Imām al-Ghazālī's the Iḥyā ʿUlūm al-Dīn.

Regarded by many as the greatest work of its type, Iḥyā ʿUlūm al-Dīn (Revival of the Religious Sciences) is the product of a lifetime's effort of struggle and realization. Recognized as the mujaddid (renewer) of his era and dubbed "Hujjat al-Islām" (lit. "the Proof of Islam"), Imām Abu Hamid al-Ghazālī (450-505 AH/1058-1111 AD), a theologian-methodologist (usuli) and leading Shafi`i jurist, offers practical foundations for the seeker.

In sha'Allah, over the course of five sessions, a brief exploration will be undertaken at the hands of our very own Chaplain, Taha Abdul-Basser.


* Session 1 Introduction to Iḥyā ʿUlūm al-Dīn : April 2nd

Sira of Imam Abu hamid al-Ghazali, motivation and aim of the work, position in the our tradition

* Session 2 'Ibadat (Devotions) : April 9th

The Rights of Allah on you

* Session 3 'Adat (Customs) : April 16th

The rights of Allah's servants on you

* Session 4 Muhlikaat (Destroyers) : April 23rd

Blameworthy qualities from which the heart-mind must be cleansed

* Session 5 Munjiyaat (Rescuers) : April 30th

Praiseworthy qualities with which the heart-mind must be embellished

Contact Fahim Zaman or Naeel Cajee for information. Please Forward Widely!

-HIS Islamic Learning

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

may Allah reward Ustadh Abdullah Anik Misra for his precious answer to a question that was posed by some one who was experiencing doubts about his practice of Islam. The entire question and response is included below.

Question: How can I convince my self about the truth of Islam and that my ceremonial actions like salat and dua have any effect? I converted when I was a teenager and have been practicing regularly. Yet, for everything else in the universe, or at least for the things I care about, I observe cause and effect.I do an action and an effect is produced. But with invocation, prayer, and dhikr no observable effect is produced. I have not experienced peace in the remembrance of Allah. Shaytan feels closer to me than Allah. Then I keep hearing from Christian coworkers, classmates, etc. how such and such miracle occurred in their lives or how they got a sign from God - and I think they honestly believe what they say. What should I do? Please advise.

Answer: In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful,

As salaamu alaikum brother,

I want to tell you that what you have done is very brave- trying to get help to clear your doubts about the Truth is something that is necessary for any Muslim to do. Many people live and suffer with the disease of doubt in silence for years while it takes a toll on their mental, spiritual and even their physical health.

It is also very reassuring that despite this issue, you keep up your worship to Allah through the five daily prayers. However, we must not think for a moment that we are doing a favor to Allah; rather it is He who is doing us a great, incalculable favor, a sign of His immense generosity that engulfs us even while we have been unmindful of Him.

First, we will look at why you might feel emptiness in your worship, then your confusions regarding God and His existence and how to solve that, then finally, why these problems might be occurring and the cure for it.

Why Does My Prayer Feel Like an Empty Ritual?

Part of the reason that people feel emptiness in their prayers is because they feel that by praying and fasting and supplicating, they are doing something to benefit Allah, and that He should feel obliged to reimburse them for their efforts. Then, they desire certain outcomes that their limited insight feels is best for them, and that if those do not occur, then Allah has not answered them, so they become despondent.

Rather, do we ask ourselves how Allah can possibly owe us anything, when, long before we were even created, in His infinite knowledge, He willed that we would be guided as Muslims today? Did He not choose you and I out of billions of people to believe in Him?

What did we do in pre-eternity, what great act of piety, what service, what obedience, for which our creation and guidance was recompense? Nothing whatsoever.

What was there before this entire world of cause and effect and ups and downs and desires and actions? Allah alone, and His pure largess and mercy.

So is it not fitting that we worship Him out of a profound sense of gratitude, solely because He alone deserves to be worshiped, rather than for outcomes, as if He has to pay us back for acts of worship that He guided us to in the first place?

When we choose freely to worship Him (even after He makes us inclined to do so), He creates the act and enables us, then we acquire that prayer in our account of good deeds, then He Himself appreciates it and rewards us for something He created. That is the reality for our devotions. They are in fact a gift from Him to us, not the other way around. Knowing this should change the state of our worship, insha Allah.

The Wordly Returns of Sincere Worship

The scholars of Islamic spirituality say that the one guaranteed (though not obligatory) worldly effect of sincere obedience (such as prayer) is the tawfiq, or divine facilitation, to do more good deeds. This is much more beneficial than any worldly thing to ask for, and of course, the rewards in the Hereafter are permanent.

Still, none of a believer’s prayers are unheard: they are either answered, or something harmful is averted in its stead, or delayed till the Hereafter where the result is better.

Perhaps the reward for your steadfast prayers and devotions for all these years since you became Muslim is that, even through your difficult times of doubting the very One who gave you all of these blessings, He still enables you to worship Him and keeps you connected to Him, out of His love and divine concern for you.

He, Most Gracious and Merciful, is what is keeping us from falling into disbelief at all times, not our practice, though He can make that a means to attach ourselves to Him. Seeing Allah’s gentle hand behind the blessings in our life can uplift us so much, and seeing how He has saved us from so much potential harm as well can make us appreciate what we have now and feel content.

Know Your Lord – Study the Science of Beliefs

Sometimes, we as Muslims confuse our priorities in this religion. One might think that having small doubts about the existence of the Creator whilst continuing outward practice is the relatively better position to be in, rather than having firm faith while slipping in and out of practice due to laziness.

Both are bad and undesirable, but the preference of the former over the latter is putting worship (’ibadah) before the One who is worshiped (al-ma`bud), which doesn’t make sense. The first obligatory duty upon us as Muslims – rather, as human beings - is to know Our Lord. Everything else follows after firmly confirming that knowledge in our hearts [al-Dardir, Sharh Kharida al Bahiyya].

That’s why it is highly recommended for us all to study at least one basic primer in Islamic Beliefs with a qualified teacher. This primer can be one that lists the general beliefs that a Muslim needs to have without explanation if it is readily followed.

However, in an age where doubt and confusion are widespread, a work should be studied which allows the beginner to logically understand how it is necessary that this world have a Creator who is unlike His creation, and why Islam’s teachings on the nature and qualities of the Creator make it the indisputable religion of truth. In the case of someone who has doubts, it becomes an obligation to seek that knowledge. Seeker’s Guidance offers a course on Islamic Beliefs that I would personally recommend everyone to take.

Then, once one sees how Islam’s view of God is the necessary truth that accurately reflects and applies to what actually exists, the message from God which carried the proofs for this knowledge and obligated us to believe (al-Qur’an) can be verified as true, after which the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) can be verified as true, after which one can be convinced, as you asked, of the truth of Islam as a religion in all its various aspects.

It is also worth reminding you that, years ago, you made a conscious decision to accept Islam, Alhamdulillah. You came as a result of seeing the truth in it; of being sure and knowing that Allah is One and that Islam is His religion. What has changed? Don’t sell yourself short in thinking you don’t have faith – you might actually have all you need to discern truth from falsehood, but the problem is lying in your outlook.

After all, you are seeking this help and trying to convince yourself because you know deep down inside this is the truth- not because some other non-truth has convinced you and is dawning on you, and you are afraid to admit that. The issues you bring up are not well-formulated lines of reasoning, but scattered doubts mixed with emotions. If you had been led totally astray by disbelieving in the truth of Islam, you might not have felt disturbed about this; if there wasn’t some good in your heart, you would never be concerned about this. Then what is the problem?

This is where it is important to understand the role of baseless misgivings (wasawasa) and the effect that they can have on the Muslim’s heart and mind, tempting even firm believers into thinking that they don’t really have faith, or to doubt something they know exists as rationally and necessarily true, but can’t see.

Baseless Misgivings in One’s Faith – Shaytan’s Weapon of Choice

The Devil (shaytan) is mankind’s sworn enemy, as Allah Most High tells us in the Qur’an. After his own straying from Allah Most High’s pleasure and subsequently being cast out of divine favour, he vowed that he would lead all of mankind astray, out of envy for the close relationship that Adam (peace be upon him) and his progeny (us) shared with their Lord.

His main influence is by the fact that he whispers evil thoughts into our hearts. Then, we take these suggestions, and begin to repeatedly think about the evil (or less good) action, until it becomes our own thought, which then leads to determination, then to action.

One thing I have learned is to constantly remind yourself that not every thought you have is from your own mind- especially the gross ones and ones we wouldn’t repeat. When the Devil whispers doubts into people’s minds, sometimes they mistaken them for our own, and feel disgust and shock for thinking such a gross thought, then they blame themselves over and over, allowing themselves to re-expose their mind to the thought repeatedly, till it actually does start confusing them, until it finally settles and becomes an internal struggle.

To have these fleeting doubtful thoughts, at the initial stage, is something normal, and to seek refuge in Allah Ta’ala from the Devil immediately is the remedy. Do not let those thoughts grow, rather, say “a`udhu billahi min ash-shaytan nir-rajeem” and if you pondered on the thought, seek forgiveness (istighfar).

It is narrated from Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him), who ascribed it back to the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) that he said, “Truly, Allah has overlooked for my Ummah that which is whispered, or the which is thought about in the lower self, as long as they do not act upon it, or speak about it.” [al-Bukhari, Sahih]

He also narrates that people from amongst the Companions came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and consulted him: “We surely find within ourselves things that one of us would consider an enormity to even speak about.” So he [peace and blessings be upon him] asked, “And you have really found that [within yourselves?]“ “Yes,” they replied. “That,” he replied (peace and blessings be upon him), “is clear faith.” [Muslim, Sahih]

You mentioned that you felt the Devil was closer to you than Allah Most High. It is true that the Devil “runs in the children of Adam like the circulation of blood.” [Bukhari, Muslim]. You feel so sure of this, yet, the Devil can make you doubt even his existence as well, because if he admits his existence to one with doubts, isn’t it plainly obvious that the One who created him must exist?

Perhaps the feeling of the Devil being closer is actually about how you spend your time- do you, from your side, make yourself closer to your vain desires and ego, or to Allah? What are the hidden departments in your life which you need to address? Often, it is our connection to sinful or vain things that we overlook that causes us to feel emptiness.

We may feel far from Allah at those times, but is Allah far from us? No, never! Allah Ta’ala says in the Qur’an:

“And when My servants ask you concerning Me, then [tell them] surely, I am near. I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he calls on Me. So let them hear My call and let them trust in Me, in order that they may be led aright.” [al-Quran, 2:186]

So knowing that Allah Ta’ala is closer to us than the Devil or anything else, if we act on the second part of the verse, namely to call on Allah sincerely and to rely and trust in Him to fulfill our every need, we get the result, which is being led aright, which is the means to attaining success in both this world and the Hereafter.

Someone might look at people of other faiths and think that they experience peace. Most of feeling tranquil is a mental thing; anyone can do that if they put their mind to it, even if they do the worst of things at other times, or worship false gods or have corrupt practices. That false sense of “peace” can mislead them into self-satisfaction and contentment with misguidance; it also doesn’t guarantee anything beyond this-worldly feelings.

But true peace is from Allah, al-Salam, when the believer combines truth with his/her love for the Divine, because He says: “Indeed! It is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts find rest.” [al-Quran, 13:28].

If a person chooses their religion based on what makes them feel good, and not based on whether they are worshipping the one true God the way He wants and deserves to be worshiped, who, or what exactly are they worshiping then? Their Lord, or simply their own base desires and fancies? In conclusion, these issues are simply things in our mind that we have to deal with by taking positive steps to developing a meaningful relationship with Allah Ta’ala.

May Allah Ta’ala make it easy for you and us to stay on the Truth of Islam and may He shower His love and mercy upon us and the entire ummah of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.

I tell myself all of this first and foremost, and then remind others. And Allah knows best.

Abdullah Anik Misra

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ivy Muslim Conference, Feb 6-7, 2010

Al-hamdu li-llah, we are very excited about the upcoming Ivy Muslim Conference, Feb 6-7, 2010. I encourage Harvard students to contact the Islamic Society about logistics (e.g. coordinating transportation to New Haven).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A lovely excerpt from Imam Muwaffaq al-Din al-Maqdisi's Wasiyya [Advice], a 6th/12th century work on spiritual excellence (ihsan).

[Imam Muwaffaq al-Din al-Maqdisi said:] al-Hasan ibn Ja`far, may Allah have mercy on him, related that his father proclaimed:

“I prayed the `Eid prayer in the desert, then I stayed by myself in a secluded area and I happened across an old woman who was making supplication. She was saying, ‘The people have left my presence, but my heart does not shiver in devotion! Hope is lost! Possessor of all Goodness and Truth! I turn away from the truth, increase me in devotion and longing! Lord! Have mercy on me in my weakness and old age! I go out among the people, but I hope for You! Do not let my hope be lost according to what I am hoping for!’” The man said, “If this is her state, what should I be doing right now?” (From al-Maqdisi, Muwaffaq al-Din, A Word of Advice (Canada: HTS Publications) 2006, 73-74.)