Thursday, November 30, 2006

Nafs in the way

I really love talking about Islam... answering questions, or just discussing things and learning more. A friend of mine and I were eating lunch on Tuesday, talking about two situations I've seen just recently. She and I both do the da'wah table on Mondays and have enjoyed talking to different people about the beauty of Islam. The two situations were interesting questions I received over the weekend. The first was from a woman who is considering Islam... it was, can I be a Christian Muslim? I'm not going to answer it here, but it's such a beautiful question to me... perhaps because I was in those shoes and I wanted the best of both worlds or some kind of compromise for a while. The other question was more difficult actually, and was not one I was prepared to answer.

Why am I not ready to take shahadah?

It had some setup, a list of beliefs I had set up with a particular progression I'd learned about at the ICNA Convention over the summer. A logical progression, I believe in this, and this, and this, etc... and the questioner sympathized with the beliefs I had listed (only one God to Muhammad as a Messenger and the choice to follow them) but the question (above) remained.

I looked into my self first, what kept me from taking shahadah? It was fear. Fear of this that and the other, you name it. And I hate being afraid of things... in fact have challenged my fears in order to conquer them. But I did my share of shaking and quaking before I was ready, definitely. (Who knew?)

Discussing this with my friend, her immediate response was the nafs. The internal self, resisting the more spiritual inclinations we have, the self that is clinging to this world and not the next, the self obsessed with the hear and now, not reflecting on it to learn and progress. I consider this to be a more comprehensive response than the one I came up with, because ultimately that fear is a result of the nafs.

And I hate to say it, but I've seen the nafs, lately, get in the way of someone's deen, and it is an ugly smelly beast called arrogance. When we think we have knowledge and wisdom, we think we have the answers, don't we? Convenient, that nobody can tell us we're wrong! We rely on our own understanding and experience to judge the world, instead of... and this is huge... trusting God, and the wisdom of the Messenger. I think it is the nafs that makes us say... I want this, and I know better so I should be able to have this, even if it's wrong in Islam!!

I am obsessed with Islam in a pretty interesting way that has baffled many of my friends and family. I just love it... but as a religious way of life, not any specific culture. It's not Arabs I fell in love with, head covers, camels, or the desert. And I force myself to see this life on earth as only (and nothing other than) a doorstep to another world. What I want in this world is only things that will help me in the next, that's what I should want, right? (Not saying I'm perfect because I'm definitely not.) Why would anybody want different? I don't understand why anyone would claim that he knew better, that sliding outside of this tradition was a good thing if he was really focused on the next life. Or how anyone could try to dictate someone else's life by his own experiences--saying I had this therefore you need to have this. And anyone who doesn't have that... what? The "this" I'm referring to is a cultural upbringing. Being raised Arab does not make one a Muslim, I don't care what values of Arab culture you (the reader) may see, it does not imply Islam. God didn't make us all Arabs, and not all Muslims are Arabs. Having a culture that has Islam existing within it does not imply any superiority of your upbringing, and it is not enough for Paradise, that much is certain.

So saying that everyone needs this culture that is really not Islam, that in fact in many ways actually contradicts Islam, is foolishness. What people need is Islam, and it can be compatible with so many other cultures. What kind of nutjob really thinks that he'll get into Paradise because he was raised as an Arab, and someone else won't make it because he didn't have that upbringing but converted? And does he think his children will be fine because he is raising them Arab, without any Islam from his wife? Does he think they will be better off than children with two parents more concerned with Islam than any culture? I don't think so. In fact, I think it's about the biggest mistake a person could make, and it only comes from one place--

It comes from the overwhelming temptation and allure of this life, over the next. Finding superiority in our own selves, finding satisfaction only in our own desires--what is this but nafs?

May God save us from our selves!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Wage War on the Pope

By being nice to Catholics.

In fact, be nice to all Christians.

In fact, be nice to everyone.

Then this man or anyone who listens to him will have no basis to establish that Islam is wicked or evil, inhumane or violent. Tonight after a movie with some sisters I stopped by Barnes & Noble for some coffee... and grabbed a few magazines to read. I picked: Foreign Policy (which is neocon propaganda), TIME, and a special edition of US News that was about Prophets.

So the neocan mag was disturbing--that's why I picked it. I had never before seen or even heard of this publication so it was a new experience. There were three main "articles" I read in it. First, a statement by an Israeli author (I forget for whom he wrote the piece originally) about why Israel didn't really lose the war. It seemed a kind of propaganda to me directed against Hezbollah, to encourage Zionists, neocons, whomever, that Israel really was stronger than it seems, and that Hezbollah is weaker. More or less, that Israel has and should maintain the power and authority to continue to smack Arabs around without any fear of retribution.

The next article I read in it was the cover story, the reason I picked it up. It was about how Muslims (Islamists? No, just Muslims) are planning a nuclear attack against America. The "report" divulged such information as expense reports--how much it would cost to get these supplies, etc--and the practicalities for a team of terrorists to plan such a nightmare. The authors asserted not that their scenario was a possibility, but it was an imminent event which we should be looking out for. "We" I guess being neocons reading the magazine, who should now suppose that every Muslim is an expert on building bombs, and is trying desperately to get a hold of some uranium. This is how paranoia spreads, people. This is why schizos shoot down Afghan mothers in the street.

And the third article was... disturbing as well, to say the least. It started out describing how politicians who supported the neocon policies were advantageous to their cause. It proceeded to discuss how to ensure the survival of their movement in the next few years. One striking remark, that in fact a previous reader had highlighted, was that the US needs to bomb Iran before Bush leaves office!! You heard it here first. Unless you, like me, pick up such rubbish while sipping a decaf mocha at 10pm on a Sunday night.

The article in TIME which I read sparked the title of this post. It was about the pope's upcoming visit to Turkey. It's clear that Benedict has no love for Islam, and I've read a multitude of accounts regarding why, many along the lines of trying to unite Europe under Christianity (and therefore by pitting them against Islam,) but this particular article seemed to consider him to be trying to reform Islam himself. At least, that's how I understand it right now, when it suggests that he is calling for Muslims to further denounce the violence done for Islam.

You know what that looks like to me? He's trying to set Muslims against Muslims, get us to fight ourselves out. Is that a cynical understanding I have? Trust me, my heart bears no great love for the violence which terrorists claim is justified by my peaceful religion. I want nothing more than for them to understand that what they call Islam is so evil as to not even be recognizable as the faith I practice, and why. But is painting all Muslims with the same bloody brush fair, in order to get us to distinguish ourselves? I detest the labels for Muslims... moderate, liberal, fundamentalist, etc, and don't want to be defined by them, or to define others by them. They serve to separate and not unite the ummah. And such claims by not only the Pople are an attempt to get Muslims to classify themselves--this can't be done. Even though only one side is correct... the saying goes that the squeaky wheel gets the oil. All the attention, all the press--this goes to the group making the most noise, and the noise is explosive.

So we as Muslim are facing a sentiment from the West in general that grows fiercer by the day. Fueled by unrest in Baghdad, political failures in Palestine, and especially by a prejudiced media and leadership in this country (USA), the hatred of Islam and misunderstanding of Muslims grows. It is now a beast that must find its demise before it wreaks even more havoc on the Muslims of the world--and it can be fought in the simplest of ways, by fighting it in ourselves.

Responding to hatred with hatred fuels the animosity. Reacting without aggression, however, but with patience, and with calm but clear insistence regarding the truth, we can demonstrate what we represent--actions speak louder than words, right? Then all the claims about us evaporate, unsubstantiated.

Please tell me it's more than a pipe dream.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

So the last time I posted... was when? Why?

My life has been busy, and it has been stressful, and alas there has been little time to sit and think about what's going on (and there have been days when the thinking simply brought tears so I tried to avoid it...) This should be an easy time. I am under relatively little academic stress at the moment--being out of school for the first of five days today. Work is troubling, I'm trying to be a little more dedicated to my work since it's getting harder and I seem to be getting more responsibility. I really need to apply myself more in my engineering classes. Yesterday.

So a few weeks ago I was in a wreck... lost my car. Just this weekend I've purchased a new car... it doesn't seem that I am allowed to upload the picture, unfortunately. It's a red ford focus. My mom helped me a lot with it and I'm really grateful to her, and I have no idea how to show her.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving... so I'm baking pies. I guess I'll bake them in the morning? This reminds me I should take the cool whip out of the freezer. I'm really looking forward to the time spent with my family. I really hope that I don't have to deal with people's attitudes tomorrow... that could just ruin it... uhoh am I pessimistic already?

Next note... tonight I watched a show called Criminal Minds... oh boy. The show is about these profilers for serial killers. Every show, a new killer (or two?), and the team tries to find out who it is, why they're killing, how to stop them... good guys get the bad guys basically. Well this week, the guy to profile was a detainee in Guantanamo prison. This is interesting, because you imagine from the previews that you're going to get a bad view of Islam here with this wacko preaching jihad is killing Americans. Well... maybe you do, because he does that.

But what is really astonishing is the two main profiler characters, the wise and seasoned Gideon and the young but extremely intelligent Dr. (I forgot his name), have a better grasp on Islam (though knowing no Arabic) than the Muslim guy! In reality! First step, Gideon uses the man's faith as a weapon, really, to get him to "open up." Instead of following normal interrogation tactics where the man is stripped, beaten, humiliated, not allowed to pray, etc., Gideon allows him to pray, tells him which direction, ensures he has water for ablution, hands him some clothes, etc. Now he's manipulating the guy, but the reason for doing so is to prevent a large-scale terrorist attack (this is the plot.)

So they engage in dialogue, the crazy Arab person and Gideon, with the crazy man saying that he is on jihad and that killing Americans is jihad, that they aren't innocent (rather, that the kids in a shopping mall are somehow responsible for 3rd world poverty?) and that he is at war. It's kind of gross, really (criminals are that way.) But here it's interesting. Gideon tells him that the Prophet (pbuh) was in Mecca preaching peace for 13 years. (True statement! And incredibly important to understand in today's world--many non-Muslims forget this.) But then the reply (from crazy) is that when the Prophet pbuh when to Medina the command for violence became clear. The other profiler in the background explains (mostly for the audience) that this is talking about the "verse of the sword" that supposedly cancels the previous commands for peace. He actually explains that this is what some Muslims (i.e., the ones who like to strap bombs to themselves) use to justify violence.

Then the topic is dropped and it's not sufficiently explained that the command was actually not for violence. The crazy man elaborates on his view which described in further detail how he understands that violence is an appropriate reaction. What was flat out astonishing is for the crazy man to quote part of a verse (i.e., "kill the infidels" and I HATE that word!) and Gideon follows up by repeating the restriction, explaining the command to stop, to allow people to practice religion.

And then of all disgusting things the crazy man tries to get Gideon to "revert to Islam." Can you believe it? I was disgusted and insulted by that. As if by reverting to Islam one becomes a superior person.

So there was good and bad in this episode, I guess. I really didn't like it... the "sleeper cell" was actually a "homegrown" group mostly from prisons. I guess that will lead people away from the racial profiling issue. But a problem I see arising from this is in an imaginary discussion with a non-Muslim. He (theoretically) asks me why Muhammad pbuh was so violent. I explain that for 13 years in Mecca the Prophet pbuh taught peace. But then the entire value of that teaching is ignored while the person wants to focus on the permission to fight. That part of the teaching is neglected, I think--the person is aware of it but not in depth, and they don't or won't understand the concept of a prophet of peace, with respect to Muhammad, like Jesus was a prophet of peace. They can't understand it because they are aware of it but de-emphasize it. One extra note, I did like how the Dr. guy (who has a photographic memory) mentioned that even though "terrorists" use jihad to mean "holy war," the words "holy" and "war" never appear next to each other in the Qur'an. The statement itself is totally meaningless, but the point of it, I think, explaining that jihad doesn't actually mean holy war, was nice to see being asserted. He made another good point that I can't seem to recall right now. Oh well.

So anyway, Muhammad pbuh was a prophet of peace, and we as Muslims should demonstrate this for them. Call to peace, call to salam. Don't ask for vengeance, but remember that God is forgiving and merciful.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Hurts like ----

Last week I got in a car wreck... mostly okay except being sore and some bruises on my arm (including my finger which is still swollen.) My car is done for, and the insurance is paying me some money for it, so inshallah this week I can try to look into getting another one. For the time being a friend of mine has let me borrow hers, may Allah reward her.

I've been thinking about the value of leadership, lately. Such a highly valued skill nowadays is to be able to lead, and to get people to like you. But the thing is, as soon as you become a leader, people hate you. I never really encountered this hatred until recently, and it's torn me up. There are things now that I just don't know how to handle. Criticism of my marital status, assumptions (incorrect ones) about my opinions, personal attacks on my character, and even a death wish... I just don't know how to handle it, or how to make it stop. I've never wanted so badly to run away from anything as much as I wanted to run away from this--all this from Muslims--and the only help is from non-Muslims. What's wrong with the world? It makes me hurt.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Islamic Studies

The masjid here offers two Sunday classes for women only--Islamic Studies (1 and 2) and Arabic (1 and 2). I've been meaning to go for a long time--I tried going in the spring but just didn't make it all too often, and have had the same problem in the fall now. But this week I had extra incentive to go (and I made it, alhamdulillah.)

Friday night I usually try to go to the mosque if there are lectures because they're helpful to become informed about Islamic history, current events, community affairs, and other interesting topics. This past Friday was the 3rd lecture (there had already been 2 on the topic though I don't think it's a series or anything, or at least wasn't originally intended to be) on the Islamic Khilafa. The Fall of the Islamic Khilafa, it was called, and it went over the internal weaknesses which basically brought the fall of the khilafa. The idea is that we start to understand what is good about the khilafa and what went wrong so we can fix the problems and later on institute a khilafa again.

Now I must admit that I know very little about Islamic history, so I really learn a lot at these. Everything said that I hear and write down, basically, is something more than I knew before (since I knew nothing to start with!) But this is why I was at the mosque on Friday. I had gone for isha prayers (I was running a little bit late when I got there so I left my things in the car so I could make the prayer, which I did entirely, btw) and then after the prayer headed back out.

Well while I was putting on my shoes I see my friend Yasmin (who is president of the MSA) talking to a woman (who wasn't wearing hijab, which stands out in the mosque) I didn't recognize. She's smiling and points at me a time or two so I wonder what's up and walk over. The woman is interested in Islam, so I talk to her for a minute, and find out she's going to the Islamic studies class on Saturday (which is usually on Sundays but for an unusual circumstance this weekend). Then I see my friend Sarah and give her a hug while I start going out to my car... she's bored so she comes with. Then another friend catches up who wants to ride to KFC for some macaroni and cheese. (??? People eat that stuff???) So we all go... and I grab my stuff out of my car (including a Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam that I had handy) to take notes and we go to KFC then come back. And the woman is still there so I hand her this book, and she's also talking to Fatima (who teaches the class, and who is very knowledgeable, and happens to be the woman who taught me to pray, as well) who said something nice about me (that I'm on the "fast track" in learning about Islam) which made me feel pretty good. But yay, I got to give her the book and try to see her the next day.

So Saturday... I made it! I tend to feel a little bit "high" after these classes. Lectures about Islam, usually, leave me feeling this way. (Thus I like to come back!) But yes, the woman was there too. And she told me she had read about half the book and was enjoying it. It's not a long book, but covers the "high points" of Islam, and I hope she can benefit from it. She's also read about half of the Qur'an she said. Kinda neat. :-) I did get to talk to her a a little bit after the class before going home.

The class itself was... exciting as usual. As a text, she's using 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam' by Yahiya Emerick, which is pretty interesting, actually! The Islamic Studies 2 class is the Sirah (also using the Yahiya Emerick book) but this was just the level 1. Inshallah, I'll be taking this class, Islamic studies 1, and also Arabic 1. We went over chapter 4 of this book, which is called 'All About Allah.' Now last night I went and read the previous three chapters which were a great read and now am reading through chapter 4 to remember from yesterday. I really wish more people, non-Muslims, would make an effort to read books like this. It's straightforward and clear, comprehensive and explanatory, and from a Muslim! Instead of coming from non-Muslims... and the author is actually fairly critical of Western scholarship about Islam (that is, how poor said "scholarship" is. The beginning chapters mostly just point out why it's important to learn about Islam.

If you think about it, those of us raised in the West--did we really study it? I remember my world history class... it went like this: prehistoric people... Greeks and Romans... the early Church... the Crusades (from the *ahem*Christian*ahem* perspective--didn't even mention who was fought or why, just that Europe united with the church).. the enlightenment... the renaissance... revolutions... modern wars. We called this WORLD CIV. As in, world civilizations. What world civilizations did we discuss? Western European ones. Fascinating. The impact of Islam on Western thought was completely ignored, such that you'd think it didn't exist. Isn't that interesting?

But it is actually prett important. Thomas Aquinas, it seems, got his ideas about reconciling science with theology from Islam! How many ideas inspiring the Protestant Reformation came from Islam? Interesting...!

Now I'm out of time but I'd like to talk about some stuff I learned in the class but... it can all be summed up in this phrase:
God is soooooooooooooooooo merciful!!!

Let's not forget that. :-)

Why the worst

You can thank Gold for this one. Here I was at work, too sleepy to do any homework, trudging through some websites and leaning back to read a book I've got now and then read my email... hmm... I could blog while I'm sitting here. :-)

I don't really want to go over my awful 'Eid day, but for those of you I haven't told yet, it went like this:

Decided to skip class and not be pressed for time in the morning. Then got dressed(up) and went to school. Parked on campus to go print off some notes for me to study (had a test that day) before getting picked up to go to the prayer by someone else. I step out of the car (and lock the door as is my habit) and put on my coat (was chilly out) and the wind blows the door closed. Inside the car are my keys, my phone... everything else. Meh. This was 9:30.

So I tried to get in, failed, went to one of the towers we have to call campus police... an officer finally shows up and tries to get in, he fails. Then he gives up. By now it's 10:30 and we can't get in to the car and he wants to leave! What am I supposed to do!? So I he lets me use his phone to call AAA. They finally get there around 11:30 (by the way, the prayer was at 10:45 :-( grr) and he tries to get in, using different tools. He can't. Finally we roll the window down after figuring the locks aren't good for anything and discover that, in fact, the locks weren't good for anything. They were busted up by the officer before. The driver's side door won't open, period. The passenger's side door wouldn't open from the inside, only from the outside (at least the key worked on it!)

But I had missed the prayer. I did have an exam coming up--and that I totally failed. On top of not being especially well-prepared (because the weekend I should've been studying for it was the last weekend of Ramadan) I was emotionally frazzled about how I was going to fix my car (and if I could even afford it) and just feeling miserable on top of that from being out in the cold all morning. Failed.

And I spent the rest of the day feeling equally miserable and didn't do a single "festive" thing all day. It was quite sad. :-(

I took my car to be fixed on Tuesday and Wednesday and they couldn't even get the panel off. Later I called a locksmith (at my dad's urging--how a locksmith could possibly repair anything when not even a mechanic could get the panel off to expose the locks was beyond me) who of course could do nothing. And finally took it to the dealership, on Wednesday, who fixed it (alhamdulillah!) for a price that I could afford, which was very nice.

Now I no longer have to perform gymnastics to get into and out of my car, very nice.

So anyway... that was the worst Eid ever.