Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Gun Rights Fantasy

I really don't understand why, after such tragic events, in this case shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, people are still more concerned about their right to have a gun than their right to live. But the strangest remark that I have heard is that if every teacher were carrying a gun then no children would've been killed. Seriously?

This is what I call a fantasy. It's a fantasy that if everybody were carrying a gun nobody would have to use it. Gun ownership correlates with gun violence. And also accidental discharge. It seems to me that gun rights activists, proponents of lighter restrictions on gun ownership, are deluded if they think that everyone carrying a gun is safer than only law-enforcement carrying a gun. The more guns that are around, the easier it is for folks who shouldn't have them to get them.

Sure, if someone is determined enough they might be able to get a gun anyway. But it would be a lot harder to keep them out of the hands of crazies who shoot up school and movie theaters. The reality is that the more people have guns, the more people use guns, and the more people can get guns, the more people will die because of guns.

Guns do kill people, and they're very good at it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What War on Christmas?

One of silliest headlines in the news these days is about some alleged war on Christmas. As if there is some concerted effort on the part of the media or maybe non-Christians to eliminate Christmas from American culture. Or perhaps just to eliminate the religious part of Christmas.

And you know that by saying there's a religious part of Christmas means there's part of Christmas that's actually not religious, right?

But if there is any sort of war on Christmas, then I think Christians lost it a long time ago. Maybe they lost it when they decided to hold the celebration around the time of the winter solstice in the first place. Or maybe they lost it when they started making Santa and home decorations more important than any religious symbol. Even when you find a nativity scene in the home of a religious family, when is it not dwarfed by the scope of other decorations? We see wreaths, lights, garland, lawn decorations and of course the huge Christmas tree (or trees, some homes now erecting more than one) boasting its own lights and shiny ornaments.

To me, most of the myths surrounding Santa Claus seem to violate religious principles. For instance, telling children that it is Santa who knows whether they're being behaving correctly or not ascribes to him a power which should belong only to God. Doesn't it compromise a child's moral compass when he's told that he needs to be good because Santa will know rather than because God will know?

And let's not forget that because Santa does not exist, just telling children that he does is already a lie. And I'm sure it's a practice in many households that some if not all of the gifts parents buy for their children are assumed to have been delivered from the NorthPole. Consequently children don't learn to express gratitude as they are instructed to believe that a mythical figure is bringing their gifts rather than their parents or other family members.

And I really wonder when it became so offensive for somebody to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Personally, I don't mind somebody telling me "Merry Christmas" even though I don't celebrate it as a holiday. But what I don't understand is the logic that says the person who celebrates Christmas should only say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays." I don't go out of my way to tell people "Happy Eid" when I know that they're non-Muslim.

But I have a theory. It seems that a quick and reliable way to turn people's opinion against someone or something is to start by telling them that they are already enemies. ("Why do they hate us?") Telling them that the other side already hates them. And then they are led to believe that the best response to the hatred that supposedly already exists is more hatred in response. I think that is how FOXNews is poisoning its audience against Muslims (for starters) and also others who don't share their same worldview.

 

Sunday, July 01, 2012

On Loving the Prophet

When I came to Islam, I found the following ayah especially meaningful:

O people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians)! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, nor say of Allah aught but the truth. The Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, ("Be!" - and he was) which He bestowed on Mary and a spirit created by Him; so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not: "Three!" Cease! (it is) better for you. For Allah is One God, Glory be to Him (Far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is All-Sufficient as a Disposer of affairs. (4:171)

By telling the reader (me, in that case) that it's better to just not say three, I understood that the very concept of the Trinity in Christianity was distorting my perception of God. Consequently, just throwing it out simplified things immensely. I felt like I couldn't call myself a Christian after reading this ayah, and it was one of my first big steps in coming to Islam.

But with my background in a religion that has gone to an extreme in elevating its Messenger, I have had a cautious view of the role of the Messenger I learned about in the Qur'an--the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), peace be upon him. I mean that I have struggled in learning to love Muhammad (pbuh) the way so many other Muslims seem to do so naturally.

I didn't swap one Messenger for the next, and shift my love accordingly. Instead, I came to understand the proper role of Jesus as a Messenger of God, and additionally, to accept Muhammad (pbuh) as a Messenger of God as well. And I became very fearful of the excessive and profuse love which I believed, when directed towards Jesus, led to the misunderstanding of his role and unjust elevation of his status by Christians.

When I started to learn about Islam, and even when I decided to convert, it was with very little knowledge about Muhammad (pbuh). For me, the power of the Qur'an was the means in which I found guidance, and by accepting it as the truth, I accepted Muhammad (pbuh) as a Messenger even though I knew almost nothing about him.

Since then, I've had to learn to find balance between the following. First, an ayah declaring Muhammad (pbuh) is only a Messenger, and second, a hadith which demands also a love of the Messenger.

Muhammad (SAW) is no more than a Messenger, and indeed (many) Messengers have passed away before him. If he dies or is killed, will you then turn back on your heels (as disbelievers)? And he who turns back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to Allah, and Allah will give reward to those who are grateful. 3:144


Anas radi Allahu ‘anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Prophet ﷺ said, “None of you will have faith till he loves me more than his father, his children and all mankind.” (Bukhari)


Of course, there is no conflict between these two. And it is easy to grasp the need to obey the Messenger, given the specific exhortations to do so in the Qur'an. Loving the Messenger, however--acquiring that love--that's what was new for me.


When I would hear Muslims talk about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), what struck me was that they did so with more respect, more reverence, and more love than even Christians had when talking about Jesus. Perhaps that's why I was so cautious--because from my perspective, it seemed that Muslims loved Muhammad (pbuh) even more than Christians loved Jesus, and Christians thought Jesus was divine! 


And over time, I learned more about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) through interacting with Muslims, taking classes on the Seerah and learning more about his life. But I continued to feel my love for him inadequate, compared to that of other Muslims. You could say I just didn't get it. 


But last weekend I had an interesting realization, due in part to another class I took about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh.) It was an AlMaghrib class that came to Seattle called The Prophet's Smile. And while the subject was primarily the characteristics of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), I was able to reflect on how his life has affected me personally. 


Though I have heard many times, occasionally in gruesome detail, about the struggles he went through in his life, and what he suffered, I was never able to personally relate to it. I understood it in a purely abstract sense, and without having grown up loving this man, it wasn't immediate or natural for me to sympathize. 


But then it occurred to me that if not for his persistence in delivering the message, and his prayers for his ummah, I might not be a Muslim today. And because I really believe that being guided to Islam is a very special gift from God, it strikes me now the critical importance of the Messenger to establishing Islam as a way of life on Earth, as extensively as is currently is. 


When I hear about how he was stoned in at-Ta'if, for example, instead of just feeling bad about what he went through, I think--he endured that so I could find Islam, so many centuries later. That he suffered abuse from his own family members so I could be a Muslim. And that he worshiped and prayed at night for the Muslims until his legs were swollen so that guidance would reach even me


And that thought brings a flood of tears to my eyes and an overwhelming emotion. Realizing that no other human being has had such a tremendous impact on my ability to receive God's message of guidance as he, I finally start to truly love him. 


May Allah's peace and blessings and mercy be upon him and his family and his companions. 

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Why Learn to Read Arabic?

Even though many Muslims are taught how to read the Qur'an from an early age, for various reasons many still don't know how to read the Qur'an in Arabic as adults. Some were never taught, some converted to Islam as adults and never got the chance to learn.

But now it's become easier than ever to start learning Arabic, even for adults who never learned the Arabic alphabet. Many masajid offer classes for beginners, and so do various online institutes, all to help Muslims attain their Qur'an goals. So why would a Muslim who can't read Arabic start learning?

First, to gain the blessings of reading the Qur'an in Arabic. How could you read the Qur'an in Arabic--the language of its revelation--without knowing how to read Arabic at all? And every letter of the Qur'an that we read is a blessing. In fact, Allah rewards us just for reading the letters of the Qur'an--

Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allah, he will have a reward. And that reward will be multiplied by ten. I am not saying that “Alif, Laam, Meem” is a letter, rather I am saying that “Alif” is a letter, “laam” is a letter and “meem” is a letter. (At-Tirmidhi)

A second reason to start learning Arabic is to learn how to properly recite the Qur'an. Proper recitation is a science in itself, but something that even a beginning student of Arabic can start to learn. After learning the basics of reading, it's natural to learn the rules of recitation in order to beautify the recitation of the Qur'an.

A third reason is to start memorizing more Qur'an for salah, and even to memorize the entire Qur'an. It's very difficult to memorize Qur'an without being able to read Arabic, and memorization also requires the ability to recite Qur'an properly. But after learning how to read and recite, we can start memorizing.  And the amount of Qur'an we have memorized will determine our rank in Paradise--

It will be said to the companion of the Qur’an: Read and elevate (through the levels of the Paradise) and beautify your voice as you used to do when you were in the dunyaa! For verily, your position in the Paradise will be at the last verse you recite! (Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi)
And lastly, we should learn to read Arabic so that we can begin studying the Arabic language, and then we can understand the meaning of the Qur'an while reading and reciting it.

The world of the Qur'an opens up once we begin to read and recite it--this is the very first right that the Qur'an has on us, and it is our responsibility as Muslims to read the Qur'an. Reading Arabic is the first step--if we can't do that yet, then it's time to learn!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

He said that Arabic is too hard

Several years ago, I was just starting to learn Arabic. And while taking a class at the mosque to learn the Arabic script, I went to a bookstore and found a few books on learning Arabic. I was a big fan of bookstores in those days, and would spend hours in there reading parts of different books that I couldn't afford to buy. But on the day that I happened to pick up these books on Arabic, an Arab man found me and asked me about studying Arabic. Then he went on to tell me how difficult the Arabic language is and how nobody can learn it unless they learn it from birth.

But I believe he was wrong.

I had a lot of opportunities for learning the Qur'anic Arabic in my first few years as a Muslim--not something that everyone can boast--and alhamdulillah now I can understand the vast majority of the Qur'an when I read or hear it, and hope to gain 100% comprehension within the next year. I'm certainly not going to be composing any Arabic poetry, or writing books in the language, but I'm pretty close to completing my goal of being able to understand the entire Qur'an in Arabic, without requiring a translation.

And I think that many Muslims have that same goal--to be able to read the Qur'an in Arabic and understand it. And honestly, it's a reasonable and realistic goal. Allah made it easy for us. Even though we might hear teachers say that the Qur'an is the most eloquent of Arabic language, and hear random Arabs say that Arabic is the most difficult language ever, we shouldn't buy into a myth of an unreachable Qur'an. No, we might not all be scholars of Arabic language, producing awe-inspiring poetry or even conversing in the language fluently. All we need is to be able to understand the Qur'an--not every last detail, not writing a tafseer, but to comprehend the text even at a basic level. And that is an amazing gift.

Don't be turned off by the naysayers, skeptics who think that Arabic is too hard. If your goal is the Qur'an, then inshaaAllaah you'll find it well within reach.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Transformed By the Qur'an

I usually insist, when people ask me why I embraced Islam, on the importance for me of reading the Qur'an myself. While there are less relevant details I try to omit--why I felt compelled to read it in the first place, for instance--I focus on this point because it is truly what changed my heart.

Obviously, I read a translation. And even then, there's much I read which I still didn't understand. But from the first page, I read voraciously, daily, whenever I had the time. I didn't read a passage here or there, or hear random quotations fired like bullets by a preacher, but I had a personal, intimate dialogue with the Qur'an myself.

I don't think it's possible to have a similar dialogue with any other book--the miraculous nature of the Qur'an and its compelling inimitable rhetoric capture the mind and the heart of the reader. And so it's not surprising that those who hear the revelation and disbelieve in it are so scorned. At the same time, can I ever be grateful enough to have been guided by means of the Qur'an? That my heart was opened to its call?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Preparing for Your First Ramadan

If you have embraced Islam sometime in the last year, then you're probably preparing right now for your first Ramadan. If you've not grown up with exposure to Muslim cultures, then you might discover many new customs, habits, clothes, and foods these days. Hopefully you'll make many new friends in addition to all the spiritual benefits and blessings that come with the month of fasting.

But while many Muslims look forward to Ramadan months in advance, if this is your first you might be feeling anxious--so I'd like to offer a few tips to help ease any worries ahead of time.

Intention


Much can be said about the importance of intention (niyyah) in Islam. We're told that we need to "make intention" before beginning any act of worship, like wudhu or prayer, and this goes for fasting too. But when it comes to Ramadan, and fasting in particular, you might find that with the correct intention, you are able to focus on and commit to an act more than if you were just doing it for yourself. So remind yourself that you are fasting for the sake of Allah, to follow His commands, and to seek His mercy and forgiveness.

Tips

  • Make your intention at the beginning of Ramadan to fast for the month for the sake of Allah, seeking His forgiveness. 
  • Renew your intention daily before fajr to remind yourself why you're fasting. 
  • While you make intention, take an opportunity to review the start and end times of the fast for the day on your timetable. 


The Days of Ramadan


As soon as you can, get your hands on a prayer timetable. You're going to want to keep track of a few things during Ramadan (and all year round, so if you can get a yearly table for your area, you should.) For Ramadan, you'll want to know when it starts, the dates of certain days and nights, like which are even and which are odd, and when the 27th is, for example, when it ends, the time to start fasting and the time to stop fasting, and all prayer times throughout the day.

The First Day
It's not always possible to know ahead of time when exactly Ramadan is going to start because Muslims follow a lunar calendar for determining religious holidays. But you can have a pretty good idea. Each one of the 12 months is 29 or 30 days long, and the month before Ramadan is called Sha'ban. You'll want to find out from your local mosque when they expect Ramadan to be.
A note on moonsighting--it's unlikely that all mosques in your area will have the same start and end dates of Ramadan, because some use different criteria for sighting (or not sighting) the moon. You should pick one that you trust and stick with it. 
They might have a date confirmed already based on astronomical calculations, so you'll know when to start fasting. Or, they might tell you when the 29th of Sha'ban will be, after which they will wait to see if the moon has been spotted. If it is spotted, then Ramadan officially starts that night. You'll want to check their website or call someone who might know in order to find out, if you're not able to attend maghrib and isha prayers at the masjid yourself.
In a Muslim calendar, the night precedes the day, so the first of Ramadan will start at maghrib prayer, and taraweeh prayers will begin on that night after Isha prayer. 
If it is not spotted, then it means Sha'ban is lasting 30 days instead of 29. So do not fast on the 30th, but Ramadan will begin at maghrib the next day without any question of moon-sighting.

And don't forget to make your intention to fast for the month of Ramadan!

Tips

  • Find out when Ramadan starts by contacting a local mosque. 
  • Get a hold of their prayer timetable as soon as you can--they might publish one before Ramadan, but should definitely have one afterwards. 
  • Make plans for finding out if Ramadan has started--know which website to check, or number to call, if the date isn't already set. 


The Night of Power
The Night of Power, Laylat al-Qadr, is a special night in the last 10 nights of Ramadan when your du'aa are most likely to be answered, so you definitely want to catch this night in prayer. It will be on the last odd nights of Ramadan, so you should keep an eye on your calendar/timetable. Many people believe it is on the 27th so you might find even bigger crowds at the mosque on those nights. Be prepared, and arrive early!

Tips

  • Make a small list of things you would like to make du'aa for, either before Ramadan or when it starts. 
  • Use it to remember what you want to ask for throughout Ramadan and especially on the Night of Power (and all the nights it might be.)
  • Try to arrive early at the mosque in the last days of Ramadan--consider breaking your fast there!



The Last Day and Eid
The end of Ramadan comes with similar confusion, unless your mosque has already determined the dates. If the moon is sighted after the 29th, then Ramadan is only 29 days, and the following day will be the holiday Eid al-Fitr. If not, then you'll fast one more day and Eid will be after that. There's no fasting on Eid but lots of takbeer--saying Allaahu Akbar.

When You're Fasting

Starting the Fast
Another reason you'll want a timetable is to know what time in the morning the fast officially starts. It begins at the start time of the fajr prayer, so on your timetable that might be labeled as Fajr or possibly as Imsaak. This is probably going to be pretty early in the morning (especially during these longer summer days) but you still should get up to have a small snack or meal (called suhoor) before beginning the fast. Be sure that you're done by the time the fast begins.
A note on prayer times--they are based on the location of the sun in the sky and they will change daily and vary geographically. If you are travelling during Ramadan, you'll need to know the prayer times for all locations you'll be. You can find this online if you don't know of a mosque in the area. Many smartphones also have apps with prayer times, which you can adjust by changing your location. I use Guidance for my iPhone. 
It's a good idea to renew your intention to fast at this time as well! The food you eat at suhoor is going to last you through the morning. Drink plenty of water and avoid having too much sugar early on. If you have a habit of drinking caffeine, you might want to drink some coffee with your suhoor to avoid getting headaches during the day.

Tips

  • Drink plenty of water at suhoor time to stay hydrated throughout the day. 
  • Avoid sweets for suhoor which will make you hungry later on. 


During the Fast
While fasting you need to abstain from all food (even gum) and water, as well as marital relations. You can resume all of this at night while you're not fasting.
A note on medical conditions--if you need to take regular medications, or have an illness which might prevent you from fasting, you should see a doctor to make sure it is safe, and see if you need to adjust your medication schedule. If you are still not able to fast, then you might be able to make up the days later if it's temporary, or feed a hungry person for each day if it's permanent. 
Tips

  • Be extra-conscious of your behavior, and avoid lying, backbiting, gossip, and useless talk while fasting. 
  • Use the fast as a chance to tell people about Islam. 



Ending the Fast
As soon as the adhan is called for maghrib prayer, at sunset, you can break your fast. This is called iftaar.  There is a du'a that you should make, and it's recommended to break your fast with dates and water. Then pray maghrib and enjoy your meal, and don't forget to thank and praise Allah and ask Him for forgiveness.

It's likely that you will have many opportunities to share an iftaar with other Muslims, and I would advise you to take advantage of these opportunities as much as possible. Many mosques host iftaars, sometimes donated and sometimes for a small charge. Look out for community iftaars, or if anyone invites you to a dinner at their home. This is a great way to learn more about Islam and Muslims through interaction, time to spend with Muslim friends you know, and to make new friends, while you share in the blessings of Ramadan.

Tips

  • Learn the du'aa to say when breaking the fast. 
  • First break your fast with dates and water, and then pray maghrib before eating your meal. 
  • Eat light and small quantities of food so you still feel fresh when you go pray taraweeh!


Taraweeh


Every night of Ramadan (starting with the 1st night, which will be before you've started fasting) there will be Taraweeh prayers during which the Qur'an will be recited, basically cover to cover over the 29-30 days. This starts after ishaa prayers at night, and will be either 8 rak'ahs or 21, recited in units of 2. There will probably be a short break after the first 4, and some people might leave after 8, or after 11, if the congregation is performing the witr prayer at that time. You can leave then, if you want, and pray witr in the masjid with the group or at home before suhoor. Or you can wait for the completion of 20 rak'ahs, followed by the 21st which will be the witr.
A note about witr--the word means "odd" and is basically a single unit of prayer, usually following 2 or more units, often separately but sometimes attached. (I.e., 2+1, or 2+2+1, etc, or sometimes 3.) This is a highly recommended prayer, in addition to the mandatory 5, which is prayed at night. It can be prayed anytime after ishaa prayer before fajr comes in, but it's recommended to pray it later, after sleeping. 
Praying Taraweeh can be really rewarding, even if this is your first Ramadan and you don't understand a word of Arabic. Try to attend as much as you can to listen to the Qur'an being recited. To help understand what is being recited, read the translation before you come. And it's a much more rewarding experience than, say, watching TV. If you have some regular shows you watch, plan ahead to record them or stream them after Ramadan, so you can spend as much time as possible during Ramadan in worship.

Tips

  • Read a translation of the passage before coming to the prayer so you'll understand more of what's being recited.
  • Bring a bottle of water to help you hydrate between the prayers. 
  • Come early so parking won't be a problem. 
  • You can pray witr at home when you get up for suhoor if you didn't pray it at the mosque. 


Days of Not Fasting


It's a reality that most women will not be fasting for a few days in Ramadan, and it's nothing to be embarrassed about. You can still attend iftaars--the other ladies will understand why you won't be fasting. For days of menstruation, you'll need to make up the fasts later in the year, before next Ramadan, so keep track of how many days of fasting you missed.
A note about menstruation--as soon as you notice it, you should break your fast. Do not pray salaah or fast during this time. You can resume fasting on a day when your period has completely finished before the time of fajr, but you can resume praying as soon as you make ghusl
If you are pregnant or nursing, it might be best to check with a scholar for the ruling on making up fasts missed due to pregnancy or nursing. There is agreement that it is permissible to break the fasts, but different opinions regarding whether to make them up or feed a person for a missed day.

If you are travelling or too sick to fast for a few days during Ramadan, then you should make up the days later in the year.

Tips

  • If you're not fasting and need to make up days, mark the days on your calendar or timetable so you know how many to make up. (Don't throw it away until you've made them all up!)
  • If you're attending an iftar and haven't been fasting, let others go first in getting food as they have been fasting. 


Eid al-Fitr


The holiday at the end of Ramadan is called Eid al-Fitr. The festivities begin after maghrib once Ramadan is officially over, by praising and glorifying Allah. It is good to repeat lots of takbeers at this time, until the Eid prayer in the morning. You should find out ahead of time where and what time the Eid prayer will be--and expect to arrive early. Whether at a mosque, convention center, hotel, or fairgrounds, traffic will probably be a problem. Planning to arrive early (at least 30 minutes before prayer time) is a good way to ensure you have enough time to wait in the traffic, park, and walk to the designated area.

The Takbeer
What you'll hear people repeating from maghrib the night before, up until the gathering and time of prayer, is the following:
Allaahu Akbar Allaahu Akbar Allaahu Akbar (Allaah is greater x3)
Laa Ilaaha Ill-Allaah (There is no god except Allaah)
Allaahu Akbar Allaahu Akbar
Wa Li-llaahi-lHamd (And to Allaah is all praise)

Feel free to join in!

The Prayer
The Eid prayer is much like a regular two-rak'ah prayer like fajr, prayed in congregation, though the takbeer phrase "Allaahu Akbar" will be repeated in the prayer more times than usual. The imam will usually explain this before it starts--just follow what he and the congregation do. After the prayer will be a short sermon, which you should sit and listen through before greeting everyone around you.

The Festivities
Try to find out about Eid activities in your area--there might be Six Flags visits, fairs for children, parties, and other activities to celebrate on Eid and the following days. Have fun!

Ramadan Mubarak!

I appreciate your feedback as comments and by email. If you have additional tips or recommendations, can correct any mistakes, or would like to re-post the article, please do let me know! Anything good is from Allah. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How to Keep Women Out of Your Da'wah Project

I feel connected to American Muslim Da'wah Projects, having found Islam and grown as a Muslim with the help of volunteers working for Islam here in the US. Through networks of da'ees spanning the country, and even the globe, I've seen countless people find and embrace Islam. And the diversity of people seeking information about Islam requires a diverse pool of volunteers who can connect with them.

Unfortunately, now and again a da'wah project, or a voice within one, might seek to promote homogeneity among volunteers. But a da'ee in the USA is likely to face both men and women from different races, countries, and cultural backgrounds, and I think that an organization that doesn't include diversity in its volunteers is going to have trouble reaching an American audience. Specifically, a volunteer base that doesn't include women won't be effective in reaching women.

A majority of converts to Islam are women, so it seems strange to me that anyone giving da'wah would try to impede the participation of women in the da'wah effort. And it seems outright hypocritical to suggest that it's not appropriate for a Muslim woman to engage in dialogue about Islam--if it's wrong for a Muslim woman to talk to men to give da'wah, then how is it okay for a Muslim man to talk to women for the same purpose? Clearly the best approach is for women to be available to speak to women, and for men to be available to speak to men. And given that Islam is frequently under attack regarding its treatment of women, isn't it much more powerful for women themselves to dispel the common myths fueling those attacks, rather than men whose attitudes may inadvertently confirm them?

With women embracing Islam at three times the rate of men or more, we need more women giving da'wah, not less, who can answer the questions and provide follow-up to women learning about Islam. But I've still seen women prevented from being effective in da'wah by policies and more frequently by other volunteers who oppose their participation.  Here's some signs it might be happening in an organization you're working with.


1. Women are not invited to participate. 
This could happen a number of ways--is the organization really only open to a select "boys' club" of friends and colleagues, without inviting the community to participate generally? Is advertising restricted among a male-only circle via email, or in a masjid? If only men are being contacted to participate as volunteers, or serve on the board, then the crucial input of the community's sisters is being neglected.

2. If women come to your meetings, they must sit in another room. With the door closed. 
Segregation can go too far. Picture a board meeting taking place in one of two adjoining rooms, where all the male board members sit except for one sister who is expected to sit in the other room with the door closed--she can neither see the other board members nor hear them well, and cannot be seen or heard herself. I'm sure that in a professional setting, these men wouldn't dare suggest that their female coworkers sit in another room, so why ask it of female board members? Separation prevents a few flow of ideas and places a barrier not just to seeing the opposite sex but from their contributions. Literally locking women out does not encourage them to participate or to voice their ideas; it devalues their opinions. And even if they try to participate, physical barriers prevent them from being heard and taken seriously by other members. This is not professional, and it's not the way an organization should conduct itself. Meetings should be open for fluid communication where everyone's voice can be heard equally.

3. The email list is used to express disapproval with women's participation in the organization.
Politics do not belong on mailing lists--it's unprofessional and immature--and the mailing list of an organization or a da'wah project should be treated with utmost professionalism. Are the members not representing Islam, after all? Using the mailing list as a means to voice one's opinion cheapens the discourse and turns people off. Using it to protest the contributions of women is not only offensive but can sabotage the productivity of the organization. Sending articles to promote segregation and marginalization of women in other countries, for example, only serves to isolate and attack women volunteers. The way men and women are separated in Saudi Arabia, for instance, might work fine for the Saudis but as a model won't translate well in the USA. Arguing about how the Saudis do it is neither relevant to the work of da'wah nor beneficial to an American da'wah project.

There are many da'wah projects tailored to American audiences, taking into account the different culture and attitude volunteers might face here in the USA rather than in Muslim countries they might have come from. Participation of women is one factor that American da'wah workers need to consider--if they want to keep women out, I'm sure they can. A bad attitude and behavior like I mentioned will keep many away--myself included. But what kind of da'wah is that, really?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Road Trip Number 3

In just two short weeks my husband and I will begin our third road trip together. The first was our honeymoon, from Raleigh to Seattle in December 2009. Our second was last summer (2010), driving from Seattle to Dallas so I could attend an Arabic program, and our third will be the return trip from Dallas back to Seattle.

Our first cross-country road trip took over two weeks even though a direct, all interstate route might have taken a third of the time, but we had so much fun that we've enjoyed seeing other parts of the country as well. Our first trip took us through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to the US Space and Rocket Center in Alabama, through Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona and up to the Grand Canyon after a snowfall. We stayed a few days in beautiful Sedona before breezing through Death Valley, and driving up the Oregon coast along US-101.

For our second trip, we wanted to visit a few more national parks, and stopped at Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and the Rocky Mountains. So between these two trips, we managed to drive through all the Western states except for one--Utah. And when planning this particular trip, we made sure to include at least one of Utah's many national parks on our route. Unfortunately, we won't be able to make too many times since we're pressed for time, but I think we will still have plenty of nice sights to see.

The Route (tentative)


View Larger Map


So in shaa Allaah this year's road trip (June 2011) will start with us leaving Dallas, TX on June 24th, heading westward towards Carlsbad, NM where we'll visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park.


From there we'll go north through Roswell (maybe stop and look around if there's anything fun there) and then towards Albuquerque, west across New Mexico and then across the NE corner of Arizona, crossing the Colorado River in Page and heading up into Utah. The only park we'll be visiting is Zion National Park, in the SW corner of the state.

After visiting Zion National Park we'll be taking the fastest route back to Seattle, through Salt Lake City then cutting across Idaho and Oregon before reaching Washington state.

Of course the last time we were in the American Southwest, it was December--not very hot. In fact, pretty chilly at some altitudes, with several feet of snow falling at the Grand Canyon. While we traveled last summer, the parks we visited were further north (temperatures dropped below freezing the night we spent in Montana) and at high altitudes so we mostly had comfortable temperatures, except in the Rockies, where it was a bit cold at the top. But this time we'll be facing a lot of arid heat--the National Park Service says that summer days in Zion NP are usually 95-110 degrees F but hopefully being in the early part of the summer it won't be quite that hot.

Any recommendations for summer travel? Additional sights to see along our route? Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Punctuality

You might think that because the day of a Muslim is built around prayers which need to be performed at specific times, that Muslims would be fairly punctual people as a rule. But this seems not to be the case, even though I've heard several scholars remind listeners of the importance of being on time. I remember Shaykh Yaser Birjas indicating to students at a seminar that they should arrive for class like a mu'adhdhin arrives for prayer. (He has to arrive early enough to be ready to call as soon as the time for prayer comes in.) This suggests that Muslims should be acutely aware of time as part of their preparation for prayer, or class, or anything else.

After becoming Muslim, though, I started hearing plenty of jokes about a tendency of Muslims towards tardiness. Although, the observation relates mostly to religious and social functions because late arrivals to work or school often result in disciplinary action. I find American society generally to be less tolerant of tardiness than Muslims (so kudos to the Muslims for being so forgiving) but this can result in some confusion for the American Muslim community.

I heard the story of a convert who made the observation, on his first visit to jumu'ah prayer, that when he arrived--at the indicated time--only a few people were present, but during the sermon people continued arriving until the hall was filled by the time of the prayer. Yet I don't think this experience is rare.

Similarly, I've noticed that when attending Islamic lectures and classes, most respected teachers endeavor to begin and end on time. While helping to organize a 4-week da'wah training program a few years ago, I learned an important lesson regarding punctuality. The class was supposed to begin early on a Saturday morning, and though a few people showed up early, there were crowds coming through the door even after the "start" time. I wanted to wait for the students to settle in--and that was a mistake. The imam of the masjid told me that even if some people were still arriving, I should still start on time, and end on time.

To start with, punctuality is respectful of people's time--if they showed up on time, they shouldn't have to wait for the program to begin. Moreover, ending on time allows people to leave for other engagements they may have planned, instead of detaining them longer than they expected. And also, if an event fails to start on time, what incentive is there to arrive on time?

Since my own lesson on punctuality, I've made a point of observing when speakers (scholars, imams, community leaders, teachers, etc.) deliberately start on time--or as best they are able, when faced with logistical delays--and end on time. I understand it to be a part of the etiquette of being a speaker--of being a teacher, or an imam, and have found that the more knowledgeable, respected, and elder teachers usually strive for punctuality, even when students are late. For that reason, I don't accept that tardiness is religiously appropriate behavior--since it's not from the etiquette which I have witnessed from religious scholars.

I've even seen some scholars who seem to be as strict about punctuality as my high school band director--for us, it was an enforced rule. Students late to rehearsal would have to perform push-ups or run laps. Arriving late for a trip would mean getting left behind--nobody would wait. And if our rehearsals ran over schedule, even by as little as five minutes, the director would shorten the next day's rehearsal by the same amount. Breaks came regularly--and if they were delayed, then they were extended also. (Noting that breaks were usually barely 3-5 minutes, enough time to sit and drink water.)

When I'm in a class or a lecture where the speaker goes on--beyond an hour, sometimes beyond two, I find myself becoming irritated and even resentful towards the speaker, while my concentration plummets. Especially when scheduled breaks have been neglected by the speaker.

How is a student supposed to feel after arriving on time and waiting over an hour or more for an instructor, who then proceeds to lecture for an hour or two without giving students a break? I think the only way a student can feel, in that situation, is that the instructor lacks respect for his time, leading the student to not respect the instructor.

So I'll emphasize again why tardiness is not something seen in the most erudite of scholars, and why I don't believe that it is religiously appropriate. And I maintain that view despite the prevalent disregard for time in some Muslim cultures.

Unfortunately, punctuality can even be an inconvenience in a culture with more lenient and flexible schedule. My husband stresses the importance of arriving promptly to dinner parties--that is, he wants to arrive at the time indicated on the invitation. However, I find myself stalling our departure in order to avoid inconveniencing the hostess. Since most guests tend to arrive 30 minutes or more late, she might not be fully prepared for guests if we arrive "on time." And she might struggle trying to make conversation with me while still cooking and cleaning, leaving me in an awkward position while he goes off to another room with the host.

On the other hand, an American crowd might be expected to arrive 5-10 minutes before the scheduled time. That's why there can be some confusion. Of course, punctuality should be the norm for all events, but I'm not sure what it would take for people to accept that on a wide scale. It's not easy to enforce it with other people, but the least we can do is enforce it on ourselves and make punctuality a fixed attribute for which we are known.