Friday, December 28, 2007

The Bottom of the Well

I live in North Carolina, and like many states in the Southeast, NC is suffering from a pretty outrageous drought. To tell the truth, it's lasted for several years, but every summer they act like it's new. And then they start pulling out water restrictions. I remember some when I was in high school--how you weren't supposed to water your grass on certain days of the week, and only at night. That is, if you own your home. But if you are a big corporate office you're allowed to water whenever you like. That's how it seemed anyway.

So this last year, with increasing drought severity, the cities and counties imposed further water restrictions on their citizens. It took until October before non-essential car washing, grass-watering, etc., was stopped by state agencies!! I remember a few months ago a local TV station had their sprinklers on, but a sign up to inform scowling water conservationists that they were using well water instead of city water. As if that actually made a difference!

We get rain now--it didn't rain over the summer--but of course it's never "enough." Installing more efficient faucets and hoses, and constantly checking pipes for leaks is another way the local governments are trying to get the best use of the remaining water. But when you hear "45 days of water remaining" you think people would get a clue. I can't help but wonder what will happen when the water really does run out.

But imagine for a minute, an emotional well. A reservoir of hope, passion, love, and anger that typically remains balanced. And imagine a trying situation that sucks on that well, pumping out the last remaining drops--what's left? Have you ever felt depleted? That you gave all you had to something, and got nothing back? Feeling that your soul has just dried up? I haven't written in a week and the truth is that the last week has just been a very long stressful nightmare. With school over, my personal life decided to smack me around.

No, I don't mean my fiance; and truth is he has been nothing but calmly and patiently supportive through it all. So what happened? After I turned 24 on Friday, I began to be tested with problems I don't think anyone should ever have to suffer. To start with, I've become intimately acquainted with some of my reproductive organs. I'll spare my poor readers the details except to say that there is something red involved just about every single day since November 12th with increasing intensity, peaking Saturday night/Sunday morning, around 3-6am. Again, I'll spare the details. After that had mostly calmed down it hasn't been so bad since, but has come pretty close twice now, most recently Thursday morning. About time I go to the doctor, then, eh? Oh, if only I could. But I spoke to my sister this afternoon and she has been diagnosed with all of the following: endometriosis, adnomiosis, polycystic ovaries, and uterine fibroids. So which one of the following is plaguing me, or am I just stressed out? Or, all of the above? Garr. InshaaAllah will be seeing a doctor next week.

And the other problem... my family. Tuesday of course was Christmas, and I had decided some days beforehand that I was going to be there, one way or another. Unfortunately, to my family that meant that I was determined to ruin their Christmas and was seeking attention. In fact, I hadn't even seen some of them in over a year. I got a call while I was still in bed on Tuesday informing me that I was not supposed to come, I was not allowed to come, I shouldn't come... whatever. That was my sister on the phone and I told her I was going anyway, and I did. And I had to argue with her over the phone and her list of excuses as to why I shouldn't participate, then I met my mother at the door and had to listen to the same, and after going through her, my brother-in-law. He spent quite a bit of time insulting Islam and Muslims, insulting me personally, (again I'll spare the details because they are actually quite painful to me) and then I finally got in the house.

I can write all that in a few sentences, but the emotional toll was severe. And there was no quick recovery to allow me to really enjoy spending time with my family. The more I think about it, in fact, the angrier I become at all of them. Anger isn't healthy. But what they did was wrong, plainly wrong. I think excommunication would be easier. If I didn't fear being punished eternally for turning my back and severing ties, I would easily have done so. And standing up to my family that way was the hardest thing I have ever done. I recall a hadith which describes truly maintaining relations with family is not to treat them well when the reciprocate, but to re-establish ties after they have been severed. Being told I am not welcome is the same thing as severing ties, isn't it. So is showing up anyway re-establishing them? How can I keep reaching out when it only fosters hatred for them in my mind? I don't know.

But that well of love and affection and compassion for my family, has nearly dried up. There's nothing left there but mud--anger, and frustration, and sadness.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Scam Called Islam

The last few weeks (months?) have been pretty stressful for me. I had a lot to do, and unfortunately my schoolwork fell way behind. It's gonna cost me. But now I'm into the break I have a few weeks of no school! This is the first really nice long break I've had since last winter! About three weeks long. Anyway, the combined stress of the last few weeks, in addition to low faith and a bumpy spiritual path led me to write this post: I need some motivation.

I got some wonderful, very helpful replies. But today someone Anonymously left me a not-so-motivational comment. I'm reposting it here, in case any of you would like to respond to it as well.

Oh, no. The worst is yet to come. When you get yourself with three to five kids trapped in KSA where women aren't considered bright enough to drive or vote, here they are punished for being gang raped and you are far away from your family and even finding comfort food is a challenge and then you realize that you've been driven there by the ridiculous scam called Islam, THAT is when you will see the worst. I wouln't put myself in that position if I were you.

The interesting part is the little rhyme "scam called Islam." I think it was a woman who wrote this--note the emphasis on issues especially pertaining to women. Driving, voting, gang rape (undoubtedly the Qatif girl issue), distance from family, and comfort food. It could be a guy trying to make me reconsider by perceptively selecting issues to which I'd be naturally more sensitive, but I think it was a woman.

So let's see, I am fully aware that women are not allowed to drive in Saudi. I'm also aware of some small campaigns to change that, but it's not something that bothers me so much now, not being able to drive. I also have realized, after watching in participating in the political process for several years now, that there is very little I can do just by voting for changing policy. I vote but people are still being tortured and candidates won't even call it that; I vote but still I end up paying some ridiculous amount of taxes despite the fact that my income places me in a poverty bracket. So... barking up the wrong tree with that. A more serious issue: gang rape. With all the information out on the internet, in the blogosphere, about that case, I would imagine that nobody would be dumb enough still to believe that the woman was being punished for being raped. In fact, if you do believe that, I'm not really sure I can do much to change your mind. But I do encourage you to spend a little more time researching.

I think whoever wrote this probably hasn't been following my blog if he thinks that my family is close to me. In fact, living only a few miles away but their refusal to even see me is pretty rough. Since I can't visit them, talk to them, meet them anyway, I don't see how being on the other side of the planet will change much in that department. It's hardly worth saying anything about 'comfort food.' I'm not the sort to eat a tub of chocolate ice cream (ugh, just the thought makes me sick) or other kinds of junk food to make me feel better. Junk food has a nice habit of making people feel worse anyway, and it's not like I won't be able to eat anything but rice, so... just because moving to KSA would be a nightmare for someone else, doesn't mean it would be for me.

And to the person who left it: you aren't me, and you don't have to put yourself in any position that makes you uncomfortable, like moving to the desert. But what you decided to do was insult my faith ('scam called Islam') because some people choose a way of life different than yours. No wonder you didn't leave your name.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tearing up

Local news is pretty useless sometimes but while waiting for national news (also useless, but it's a laundry day thing) this afternoon I was watching, and there was a little story about this 6-year old girl who had called 911 when her mother had a seizure. Whoever structured it did a really nice job at pulling heart strings somehow. And I thought it was just me, you know, maybe wacky hormones or something, since I started to cry without any good reason.

But after showing it, they cut back to the two anchors who happened to be ladies. (The dude had the day off.) And wouldn't you know it? You could tell, that they had both started to cry too!! LOL!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Feminist Sci-fi

Last week on Tuesday I went to my parents' house for a little while after my foreign policy exam, and picked up some things I had left there. Mainly, a couple picture albums and a book which had been hiding in my closet ever since I had moved into that house 6 or so years ago. The book was labeled "Novels." It wasn't all novels, but "books" was too vague, and most of it was fiction anyhow. There were a few books of plays (Ibsen and lots of Shakespeare) and a book of short biographies (Profiles of Courage) by the late JFK.

But the only reason I went looking for these books in the first place was this: to find a book I had read many years ago, vaguely recalled, in order to read it again. And I found it! And I read it this weekend, while my fiancé was held hostage by the Saudi French bank. It was almost as good as I remembered... and worth writing about.

It's called The Shore of Women, by Pamela Sargent, and is Copyright 1986, but this book was only published in 2004. I found it in the science-fiction/fantasy section of Barnes & Noble years ago, and, finding the title rather strange and the back-cover teaser interesting enough, and decided to give it a try. Here is what's on the back cover:

In order to survive after the violent holocaust of a nuclear war, the women of Earth expel men from their cities, using superior technology to call them back only for loveless, deceptive reproduction. Posing as goddesses, the women exercise tight control over the unknowing fathers of their children, guiding the men's religious faith and sexual desires to suit their own purposes. Birana, a young woman with many questions about this way of life, is forced to face those questions head on when she is exiled from the comfortable world of women, her very survival now dependent upon the men she has been taught to loathe and pity her entire life.

Arvil, a young man with his own questions about the reality of the goddess, wanders the wild countryside alone after the cruel slaughter of his band. He soon finds himself the sole protector of Birana, the strange woman who has much knowledge about the ways of the goddess, but few of her powers. As Arvil and Birana struggle to survive in a world hostile to them both, they discover feelings for each other they had thought impossible. Their reconciliation of these feelings ultimately threatens to rip apart the fabric of both their societies.
So basically... the women live in cities, and the men live in the wild. The women had erected 'shrines' where the men would visit and "pray" using a device called a mindspeaker to communicate their thoughts to a woman who might answer on the other end--a woman in the city. They would also pray on their own other places, but the other benefit of the shrine was that sometimes they would have visions--virtual-reality interactive sex. And then, sometimes they would be "called" to actually go to the cities which they called enclaves and would after more visions would have their semen taken (while they were unconscious pretty much) which the women would use to inseminate themselves, and reproduce. There were a few women in the city, the higher echelon if you will, who were actually allowed to have boy children, the other women were only allowed to have girls. The boys after a certain age had most of their memories wiped and were sent out into the wild, usually with the father, but he wouldn't know that. In fact, the poor men just considered it a sign of status, how many times they had been called, how many boys they had been given.

Both societies were homosexual. For the women it was consensual, but for the men... sometimes was, sometimes wasn't. They best to come by was the visions but that didn't restrain everyone from exercising their will on younger boys. Brutal. The men of course were taught to worship women, and then they would receive these "blessings" in the shrines or enclaves if called (blessings... the VR...). The women were pretty much taught to loathe men. Thought them disgusting, beastly, etc. But want to know what's really brutal? If a group of men gathered together, to get stronger, develop new skills, cultivate the land, form some semblance of a civilization... they would be destroyed by the women with high-tech super blast-o-rays. (No they weren't called that in the book.) This was considered to be a sign that they people had defied the will of the "goddess." So mostly the men kept in small groups, killing each other for food, control of water sources, etc.

So... maybe you're wondering why I thought this book was so interesting that I could read it in two or three sittings? Think about it... absolute segregation... gender superiority... exaggeration of biological differences between men and women. Think about it... a world where it's perceived that men are deficient in civilizing qualities like control over anger, compassion.

There is a part of the book where the two characters find a small group of inbreeds for whom the table is slightly turned. The women in this group are sure that women somewhere have this power or magic to exercise over men and they are just missing it. The men, however, have realized that they in fact are stronger than these women and are convinced that women are holding the world captive with superior technology because they lack strength. And these men have forced their women into submission, to obey them on command, serve them, and please them on demand pretty much (not taking no for an answer.) Even when a woman is pregnant a man might force her to serve him food, standing for a long period of time while he sits. And yet they still try to reproduce and a baby is a real treasure (especially, oddly enough, if it's a girl.) They aren't sophisticated enough to realize that the lack of genetic diversity is causing their babies to die early on, though.

I think that part of the story is really interesting, for contrast. The whole book though really emphasizes for me that men and women instead of one serving the other (as is so often implied in religious cultures) or the two competing with each other (as is implied in many modern secular cultures) really ought to complement and help one another.

Why isn't that obvious to everyone else?

Friday, December 14, 2007

On Modesty...


So last night I was at Barnes and Noble not studying wireless communications. I wanted to read, and the most interesting book I picked up was this: A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue by Wendy Shalit.

In fact, I read the first half of it while I was there and really really enjoyed the author's perspective. She is a Jewish woman who was raised in Wisconsin and as she explains early on in the book, was exempt from sex education classes in elementary and middle school. As she grew up, she found herself with a different sort of moral compass with regard to modesty--and which was most obvious in college, with regard to sex.

The book was written less than 10 years ago when the author was (I think) in her early twenties. Not much has changed since then. It's interesting from a lot of perspectives--you can probably find it in the 'Women's Studies' section of the bookstore or library, and it deals with a number of issues facing women today. And it's not turning out prudish minor versions of Ms. Manners, either. In fact, to me it was more about respect for women without degrading femininity.

Sometimes the world seems so crazy, with feminism attacking femininity, castrating masculinity and trying to produce a society devoid of gender distinction. A world, for example, where one society says that another is oppressing women by... calling them women! You see, recently I've explained to a couple different people that Islam actually does not oppress women, and acknowledging differences actually can improve cooperation, understanding, and foster happiness between men and women while the opposite... seems to have a more disastrous effect.

The author explores (through the portions of the book I can best remember) how women are taught to appreciate casual sex even though their natural reaction inclined them to feel degraded by it. How unfulfilling they found hooking-up with men, expectations to put out, with little emotional incentive to do so. She wrote about how the way men acted 200, 100, even 50 years ago towards women. Things certainly weren't "equal" with a man being strongly discouraged from visiting or talking to a woman he didn't know. If he wanted to meet her, he was supposed to go through a friend or relative. Acknowledgement on the street was not appropriate unless the woman initiated it!

Suffice to say, even though the author is not Muslim and hardly mentions Islam at all (I think I read "chador" once) as Islam was hardly in the minds of anyone 4 years before 9/11, what she talks about is very intriguing as a Muslimah living in America. And I think it should be for anyone who thinks that women in modest conservative societies are necessarily oppressed.

It's really an excellent read (though I admit I've only read half... can't wait to read the rest!) and so far I recommend it to anyone, to everyone. For women who are modest to appreciate their choices. And for those who aren't to reflect on their own (possible) dissatisfaction with life today.

I have more I want to write on this topic as well, but alas--I'm out of time. More to come inshaaAllah! (Though don't hesitate to comment!)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Introduction

It’s the name my parents gave me, and by which my family calls me. The name on my cubicle wall and the name I sign on my homework, exams, essays and checks. The name in the mobile phone contact lists of all my friends, the name in my grandmother’s address book. The name on my driver’s license, the name on my bank card. The name of a file on my best friend’s computer, with pictures, videos, and short notes and poems I’ve sent. It’s the name my nieces shout when they hug me around the waist, and the introduction called before I walk on stage. It’s the name I hear on my fiancĂ©’s lips to heighten the anticipation of my wedding day. It’s my name. Amy. Don’t ask if I am going to change it, I’ve been over two years since I embraced Islam, and still have no need for a new name with a taa marbuta to make me a Muslimah. I simply declare that I bear witness, and I do with all my heart, that there is no god except Allah and Muhammad is His messenger.

I cling to my short and simple name, for neither exceptionality nor practicality, but simply out of choice and the absence of a reason to change it. So when I am asked for my name I give it: Amy. Should I hear, "Your Muslim name, dear" as if I would respond differently, then I need only affirm, "That is my name."

There you have it. My name is Amy and I am from North Carolina. From home-made ice cream and sweet tea back porch cook-outs. From pickled steaks and fresh tomatoes, lazy afternoons and muddy-bottomed swimming holes. The last 24 years have been a blast, but I’m ready to make my escape. I’ll turn in pine tree forests for sandy dry deserts, cute pink bikinis for flowing black abayas, and baseball caps for headscarves and face veils. I’m ready to cross an ocean and a continent, to transplant to the Magic Kingdom, the Land of Sand, the Arabian Peninsula, the Land of Islam. I’m ready, just as soon as I acquire the peskiest of paperwork, 6 years in the making: bachelor’s of science in electrical engineering. For now I’m stuck reading flow charts instead of ahadith and protocols instead of fiqh. While drying out in the desert of dunya, my heart aches to study Islam, just waiting to be quenched by the ocean of Qur’an.

An engineer by training, writing failed to strike my fancy until I entered the blogosphere with a few months of Islam behind me. A year later I realized I had something worth saying, worth reading, worth blogging so I write it down and expose it to the criticism of the world here on my blog. And thus my alias: as ‘Abu Hanifa’ was not a true kunya for an Islamic scholar, neither is ‘Ibnat al-Hidayah’ a true name, but rather a metaphorical one. Daughter of Guidance, of Hidayah from Allah subhaanah wa ta’ala, as I feel I have been guided through the Qur’an, a Book of Wisdom from the Most Merciful. And from that side shows my other identity: my name is Amy, but who I am is a Musilmah, one who submits to the will of her Lord and follows his guidance.

As-salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullaahi wa Barakaatuh

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Did the USA have a foreign policy during the Cold War?

I said no. In fact, I spent four pages writing in very small letters, how the answer to this question was actually no. That was the better part of my History of US Foreign Policy final.

The instructor gave us 5 questions ahead of time, and said the exam would be two questions of the five, which she selected, and we would not have a choice. Surprise! The exam, in fact, was actually all five questions, and we had to select two ourselves which we wanted to answer (except for undergrads, who all had to answer the first question and only got to choose one other of the remaining four.) The first question I had to answer (being undergrad and all) was to say whether George Kennan (Long Telegram, X article) or Walter Lippmann was right about the Cold War and containment. Now, my plan to prepare for this question, if I should encounter it on the exam, was to read the paper I wrote at the beginning of the semester comparing the two arguments. Unfortunately, I saved this task for last, and was unable to find said paper, and thus relied on my memory from several months ago. And in the end I wrote a horribly weak essay filled with generalities. I finished in 38 minutes.

In order to make up for it, the next question I chose to answer allowed me much more freedom to dive into specifics, at least in comparison to the topic, and give a wide range of concepts and philosophies we had studied over the semester. The question, as the title of this post, was to determine whether the United States had a real "foreign policy" or responded haphazardly to events which came up.

On first glance, to be honest, I think it looks like more haphazard responses than anything consistent at a policy level. Exhibit A: Henry Kissinger. He, for one, was completely preoccupied with superpower relations (that would be American-Soviet relations) and only would deal with the Third World as necessary... often reacting with a tardy and poorly thought out response--like coaxing South Africa into invading Angola.

But there were major themes and objectives which presidents and their advisers used to construct policy. These were mostly consistent throughout the period, and to some extent have been ubiquitous since the birth of the American nation in affecting policy--from continental expansion, to the Monroe Doctrine, to Containment and the Cold War and even in the War of Terror. I described those themes which I asserted stemmed from ideology as the glue holding the policies together, but not policy itself.

I am sad my history class is over now. It was tough, but I learned so much (when you know nothing, it's easy to learn a lot.) And in fact, what I learned was useful... unlike what I learned in my networking or controls engineering classes.

Don't talk to me about Muhammad

A few weeks ago I performed a musical number to an audience of about 150 people. I sang... a song. It was my first (and only) public vocal performance, to an entirely female audience--so please, nobody leave a comment about how I was using my voice to attract any men. There were none, and that was conditional. I sing a lot, though--in the shower, in the car, in the apartment by myself... typical places. Never figured I was cut out for singing in public--especially since all prior public performances for me were instrumental: I played the clarinet. I also used to play piano to accompany my brother and sister who would sing along, at family gatherings now and again. More for fun... I always figured they sang better anyway. (And hey, they couldn't play the piano, so..!)

Anyway, I was part of the group planning a party for new muslimahs shortly after the last Eid, and they were looking for different kinds of entertainment and I sort of volunteered--even though I was already MC-ing and had been interviewed for a video shown during the program. (Oh yes, lots of people recognized me after the party... I made lots of quick friends.) I thought this song would be nice for the audience to hear... and at least from the reviews I've heard, people did like it.

In fact, over half the audience was crying when I was done. (Haha, not because I was so bad. Ever hear the Tiki Room Song? "I should sing solo!" "Si! So low that no one can hear you!") I think the tears were a result of the very powerful lyrics. In fact, I cry sometimes when I listen to it. So I wanted to post the lyrics which I sang (and I didn't sing the entire song, by the way,) and clear up any confusion for those who mistakenly thought I wrote it.

The nasheed is called About Muhammad, by Dawud Wharnsby.

It would be such a pleasure to have you come along with me,
I accept your gracious offer of kindness and company.
But as we walk along young man and as you help me with my load,
I’ve only one request as we travel down this road,

Don’t talk to me about Muhammad.
Because of him there is no peace and I have trouble in my mind,
so don’t talk to me about Muhammad
and as we walk along together we will get along just fine,

That man upsets me so, and so much more than you could know,
I hear of his name and reputation everywhere I go.
Though his family and his clan once knew him as an honest man,
he’s dividing everyone with his claim that “God is One”

So don’t talk to me about Muhammad.
Because of him there is no peace and I have trouble in my mind,
so don’t talk to me about Muhammad
and as we walk along together we will get along just fine,

He’s misled all the weak ones and the poor ones and the slaves,
They think they’ve all found wealth and freedom following his ways.
He’s corrupted all the youth with his twisted brand of truth
convinced them they all are strong, given them somewhere to belong.

So don’t talk to me about Muhammad.
Because of him there is no peace and I have trouble in my mind,
so don’t talk to me about Muhammad
and as we walk along together we will get along just fine,

Now before we part and go, if it’s alright just the same,
may I ask, my dear young man, who are you? What is your name?

Forgive me - what was that? Your words weren’t very clear,
my ears are getting old - sometimes its difficult to hear.
It is truly rather funny, though I’m sure I must be wrong,
but I thought I heard you said that your name is Muhammad......

Muhammad?

Ash hadu allaa ilaha illa Allah wa Ash hadu anna Muhammad ur-Rasulullah.

Oh talk to me Muhammad!
Because of you I now have peace for you have eased my troubled mind!
Oh talk to me Muhammad
and as we walk along together we will get along just fine,
and as I travel down life’s road I will get along just fine.

For a video of the artist performing it himself: http://youtube.com/watch?v=zKv3Vi46Fac

Or if this works for you:

Friday, December 07, 2007

Something Granddaddy Taught Me

I've read somewhere, or maybe heard it said before, that as you get older, a great way to keep your memory sharp is to constantly exercise it, with activities like crossword puzzles. Crosswords are easy--and my granddaddy was an expert. He would work about two of them everyday. And watch Jeopardy. In my estimation, he was a pretty smart man.

I haven't seen him in a while, though. Shortly after my grandmother died, my uncle and aunt began to take care of him, and now they've moved him far away from here, to the other side of the country basically. Whereas before he was only a few hours away, now he is much further so we never get to see him. My parents were going to take care of him but they moved him instead. So I haven't seen him in... years. He is in his late 80's, and he suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Nobody really noticed it, I think, until my grandmother died, except for her. She said he had something wrong with his brain, and nobody understood.

But Granddaddy taught me something which put me among the ranks of those who seek out something far more challenging intellectually satisfying than Sudoku and Crossword Puzzles. If you are asking what sort of puzzle might inspire me to rip it out of the newspaper and stuff it in my purse... the answer is: cryptoquote. Basically, a cryptoquote is an obscure saying by a lesser-known individual (or an anonymous one) which has been encoded, letter by letter. Each letter exchanged for another one in the alphabet--not in order, mind you. You have to guess each letter, but then it follows through the whole quote.

As an example: XWTFMPXXWI is LONGFELLOW. The encoded 'X' corresponds to the letter 'L' while the letter 'W' corresponds to an 'O.' Indeed... the example is hardly enough to get you started. In my case anyway, I don't know how many times I read the instructions and never figured out how to systematically decode a quote. But I'm curious if any of my wiser and more clever readers can.

If needed, I may gave hints in the comment section (in case anyone gets stuck...) But this one is pretty easy. If you get the answer... please post it! :-) (Yes, I already know the answer.)

M FWP OABALQGS CL W QCKO CN GWQML

WDAOMBW, WLJ QUA CLGS OATOAQ M UWRA

FWP QUWQ M JMJL'Q PQKJS GWQML UWOJAO

ML PBUCCG PC M BCKGJ BCLRAOPA FMQU QUCPA

XACXGA. -- JWL HKWSGA

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I need some motivation

It's been a while, I'll admit, since the last time I really felt my faith sink. Why does that happen? The ups and downs were regular, even frequent, after I first became Muslim. And for a while thereafter. Iman was a roller coaster, I went up and down, and around in circles. I'm sure people always go through phases that are better and worse than others, but--and I am grateful for this--I haven't gone through a bad one for a while. I've had stress, and problems, but sinking faith? Not really.

So why now? Misplaced loyalty, perhaps. Maybe stress and mental fatigue, worries about meeting my obligations--financial, and academic. Maybe it's hormonal. Probably some combination of all of the above. After having a good little cry this afternoon, and a few minutes of sulking (I had no more time to spare) I went to meet with someone who is interested in Islam. I've been meeting with her about once or twice a week for the last month or so, as a mutual friend has graciously offered us free meals when we come there to talk about Islam. (Meals, with drinks, hot tea, and baklava to boot, I might add.)

But today I sat outside the restaurant, reluctant to go in. I wasn't ready to talk about Islam, not favorably, as I had, today, come across different offenses to my nature and sensibilities. (I'm not saying what they were exactly, suffice to say they were personal and highly emotional issues... thus the reaction I had, perhaps.) Probably not the best time to give da'wah, when you're dragging your faith like a ball chained to your ankle.

But after about 10 minutes of pouting, sulking reflection, I toughened up, faked a smile, and went on inside. As I arrived, she was finishing a chapter in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam, which I had loaned her some weeks back, on Jihad.

Now wasn't that interesting? It was almost a relief, really, because I truly believe that the concept of jihad is the most noble framework for a military policy outlining proper objectives and conduct for dealing with any kind of enemy. In fact, it's hard for me to see any kind of martial combat taking place outside the context of jihad to be corrupt, injust, and by very nature oppressive. So I can easily speak highly of jihad, even with my faith dragging on the floor.

And that actually eased me, somewhat, and the conversation did open up and I opened up. Fell down again, metaphorically, when the night was over, though. So I went for a walk when I got home... it didn't do much to help either. And here I am. Still feeling cheated, abused, and like a loser. Wish I knew why. And wish things would change.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Radical Christians?

Radical...

1. of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference.
2. thoroughgoing or extreme, esp. as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company.
3. favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms: radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.
4. forming a basis or foundation.
5. existing inherently in a thing or person: radical defects of character.

I don't understand this word, when applied to religious people, especially in a negative context. But I'm not posting to discuss semantics. Instead, I'm curious what people think about this particular video:



That Christian missionaries are all over the place thinking they're saving people from hell doesn't surprise me. (I grew up in churches affiliated with the SBC.) However, if the government is supporting this, helping this... hmmmmmmm.... that kinda bothers me. Anyway. The same words out of the mouths of Muslims (rather than Baptists) would light a fire of hatred and rhetoric about 'spreading by the sword' and other nonsense. I just wonder. Thoughts?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Locked in my apartment

I tend to take for granted that I live in a country where common sense and courtesy aren't far out concepts. I would never have imagined such silliness as I am about to describe coming from a landlord here.

You see, our apartment building had a very nice breezeway with carpet. Before renovations. Yet the entire complex is now being renovated and guess what? The nice carpet? Gone. In favor of what? Some kind of concrete, apparently. Why? Well my first objection is because I really liked the carpet, especially on the stairs... which are now just painted metal (ew!). Looks very tacky anyway.

But concrete, as you may know, takes time to dry... and I live on the second floor so escaping out through the porch (which for me is a balcony) is not really an option! The problem is if I don't leave my apartment in time, i.e., before they put down the concrete, I'm locked in basically or else it will be ruined.

Yes, they did give us warning. First a week-long window when we had to be prepared that we couldn't enter our second floor apartments for the day (between 8am and 5pm!). And then a specific day--last week we got a note saying today was the today. Well I forgot and slept in this morning and when I got up... hmm... couldn't go out. So I was pretty much stuck in the apartment until late afternoon when I had to go to class.

Unfortunately... someone (one of my neighbors) forgot about it too, and had to venture onto the wet concrete before it dried. (You see how inconvenient this is, that we can't get into our homes for a day--maybe we're spoiled?) So the company has to come back again tomorrow to fix it. So irritating. All for this ugly green concrete.

I would've thought that our landlord would have a little more courtesy than have this stuff put in that is going to be so inconvenient for the tenants... not to mention really ugly.

But apparently not! I hope I get out in time, tomorrow!

The creepy bad smell from the fridge

For the last two weeks or so, there has been a very bad smell in the back of my fridge. I haven't found it yet. Which is kind of shocking because I have had to throw out not a small amount of food which has long outstayed its welcome in the icebox.

If you think about it... it's gross. It makes eating food out of the fridge that much harder, knowing that the food has been in a place that smelled like... that. But now for two weeks I've been throwing out cold, hardened baklava, rice and kabobs, orange jello, old grapes, a half-eaten candy apple... in an effort to find the smelly culprit. I haven't found it yet--none of what I've pulled out has smelled remotely like the noxious odor that nearly knocks me out as I open the door... and of course it still smells... perhaps even worse than before. (Not a good sign!) Now there were a lot of leftovers that are being eaten and so space is clearing out, but it's still too full apparently for me to find the problem.

Now maybe I have a habit of throwing things out of the fridge. I really hate to see things in there which I have no intention of eating. It should only be allowed to stay if I do intend to eat it! That's my rule. For my readers who have read way back from last May... you might recall when I threw out all expired and "questionable" foods belonging to my roommates when I moved in with them.

But I have heard that there is something bad with throwing food away. Perhaps this is why some people I know just keep filling up the fridge and freezer until the space is exhausted and things begin to smell? Islamically--I am asking--is there something wrong with throwing food away? Should I be more diligent about eating the browning lettuce and moldy bread? I don't really understand why there is a problem with throwing things away--I'm not talking here about cooking a meal, eating a portion, and throwing the rest out. Saving it and eating as much as I can I don't mind. But eventually it goes bad, before I can finish it... can't keep it. I don't really feel like I'm being "wasteful," and I don't think it's any better to store food in the fridge until it goes bad to have an excuse for not eating it again.

You see, someone told me that people's food will run after them on the Day of Judgment... and to me, that makes no sense at all. Is that something parents just say to their kids to make them eat? Or what?

Not sure why it is that I so hate having old food around, but it's very difficult to cook for just one or two. The fact that it builds up in the fridge and begins to smell, and there is an accompanying guilt trip to throwing it away just makes it worse. If it were up to me, I would throw everything away that wasn't going to get eaten, or eaten in the near future. Throw it away or throw it "out" (breads and such for birds and so on.) I wouldn't let it sit in the fridge (like that candy apple--not mine!--that had been in there for a month, or the baklava since Ramadan.)

I just don't understand. If you don't want it... why keep it? Just my thoughts. Interested in what other people think or do about this.

Oh, and when I was a kid I learned this little song that was supposed to encourage us to eat what was put in front of us:

I love broccoli, it's such a tasty sight!
And liver makes me quiver, with sheer delight!
I always clean my plate, morning, noon, and night,
I'm thankful for each bite!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Hijab - Not a symbol

Some of my more intimate acquaintances may know this about me: that I didn't always think hijab was mandatory or obligatory for women. (If you find this to be especially shocking, please take a deep breath before reading on...)

In fact, my first introductions to Islam involved arguing against the necessity of hijab. (Another deep breath please.)

Even when I finally decided to start wearing hijab, I was not fully convinced that as a Muslimah, I needed to. (Calm down... it's ok.)

I started to wear it by challenging myself, to prove covering was not too difficult for me, and to conquer any fear which might have up until then prevented me. Aware that I needed to wear it to pray, I accepted it (begrudgingly) but as a full-time habit, I disagreed. Yet I wore it anyway, to prove I could, to decide whether I should, and to proudly declare that yes, I am Muslim, and I'm not afraid to say so.

The secret was that I liked wearing it, once I started. I felt uniquely feminine, and dignified. I identified with it, and began to appreciate it. And finally I did accept it as an obligation (long after I started wearing it), succumbing to the vastly overwhelming opinion of scholars that it is, in fact, obedience to Allah.

Before my change of attitude, taking off the hijab to visit my family, or to work out at the gym, did not bother me so much - a minor inconvenience, only slightly uncomfortable. Yet afterwards, it became a more serious issue, one that has been aggravating my familial relationships for the last year. In front of my immediate family I don't mind to take it off but with my sisters' husbands around, I feel loathe to uncover--which they take as an offense. (How the male mind might reach that conclusion, I am left to wonder.)

Yet as I become increasingly convinced of the necessity and propriety of covering my body (I prefer to say covering my body rather than covering "my hair" or "my head") I refuse to waver on this principle. I assert that I am covering out of obedience to God, and that not only should I be permitted to wear hijab but that I in fact must wear it and nobody can reasonably nor sensibly object.

To say that I must make a decision whether to cover and sever familial ties, or to join my family by uncovering as per their wishes, truly calls into question the obedience of Allah, of the Creator, over that of the creation. Wearing hijab does not symbolize that I am Muslim. Covering is not symbolic of my faith. It is an act of faith, and notice the distinction.

Today, I wear it not to say that I am a Muslim, I simply wear it because I am Muslim and Allah has commanded me to. The observation that "some Muslim women don't wear it and they want to fit in" has no impact on the instruction for women to cover, no more than a drunkard on the prohibition of alcohol. "Some Muslims" don't pray either, but alhamdulillah I am not one of them. I choose to practice Islam, and I love to practice Islam, and Allah has made it easy for me.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Etiquette at the Masjid

I really like that women are generally welcome at my masjid and not prevented or discouraged like they might be "back home." Attending the masjid in this predominantly non-Muslim environment can really benefit women, new Muslimahs. In fact, part of the benefit for them is the presence of other Muslimahs who can help them as they begin their journey in Islam.

However, it is unfortunate to see poor etiquette at the mosque, even more so to see it from women. Such behavior adds fuel to the fire of ignorance--of people discouraging women's presence. They begin to say foolish things like "women don't know how to behave" or suggest that women aren't intelligent enough to act appropriately at the mosque... and other things of that nature. It's truly unfortunate.

But I myself have a problem with women who attend prayers, jummah, lectures, etc., and misbehave. Being permitted to come to the masjid, they have failed to adopt a proper etiquette and end up disturbing other worshipers. One suggestion to our mosque's 'education committee' (who recently surveyed the masjid to gather input for new classes and activities) was to teach the sisters etiquette of attending the mosque. What sort of etiquette should be observed? I thought I'd make my own suggestions here. (And by the way... this goes for men too!)

If you have any corrections please let me know; otherwise inshaaAllah I may make individual posts on each of these, backing them up with evidence so it's more than just my opinion. If I said anything wrong, please forgive me (and correct me.)

  1. Ibaadah is first priority. The purpose of the masjid is ibaadah (worship). Everything else has lower importance--basketball or other sports, getting food from the kitchen, socializing, etc. Ths masjid should remain a suitable environment for the worship of Allah. Inside a masjid this typically means prayer and reading or reciting Qur'an.
  2. Quiet during adhaan. It is appropriate to listen to the adhaan and even quietly recite along with or repeat after the muadhdhin (caller). Trying to talk through or over the adhaan is not appropriate.
  3. Quiet during salaat. Shouldn't this go without saying? I mean during the jama'at prayer, there is no good reason for making a lot of noise while people are trying to pray. Sometimes the prayer might extend out of the general musallah, or have open doors. People can thus hear conversations in other rooms, like the lobby or even in the "dining area" at my masjid. Sometimes children are running around and screaming, which is distracting for everyone who can hear it, or who is bumped into. They should, instead, be trained to stay near their parent in salaat if possible, or if not--should not be brought to the masjid to pray. Sorry, but it's not a playground, and all that running around is distracting. Sometimes the child gets hurt or lost and begins screaming for his/her parent or sibling, which is very distracting to everyone--and seriously, everyone can hear it. Or sometimes the child will scream to be held or something else and the mother or father refuses to acknowledge him/her. This only makes the child scream and fuss even louder--to the parent: you are not doing anyone any favors by letting your child scream like this.
  4. Not speaking in a loud voice. Because people often perform prayers throughout the day--not just during the congregtational prayer times--speaking in a loud voice in the masjid, especially in the prayer hall, can be very distracting to those trying to pray and read Qur'an. Especially when sisters are separated by a partition but in the same room, brothers and sisters need to be more careful because it's quite possible there are others in the hall who cannot be seen. Naturally, this excludes classes and lectures which might take place in the prayer hall.
  5. Refraining from idle talk. While on the topic, though, idle chatter should be avoided in the prayer hall, as it might distract people trying to worship. In a quiet space even soft voices can carry. Because the masjid is ultimately for ibaadah, it would be better to take casual chat conversations to a place where they won't be a bother.
  6. Punctual attendance at lectures and classes. This includes jummah. Late arrivals disrupt the class already in attendance, and sometimes require the speaker to repeat or review material already covered initially. In that respect it is rude not only to the teacher but also to the rest of the class or audience. (Especially at jummah, brothers and sisters arriving late are all distracting to the sisters in the back, who have to watch people standing and praying in front of them, obscuring the view of the speaker.) Of course for jummah, there are angels sitting at the door to record who comes in, and at the adhaan they go inside to listen to the khutbah. So if you arrive after that... your name is not written down. More incentive to arrive early!
  7. When arriving late for prayer. If you do arrive late to a prayer, please be courteous when joining. Make takbeer and join the congregation in the salaat. If a raka was joined after ruku', then the entire raka needs to be repeated after the prayer. So when the imam finishes with "salaam..." then you should stand up and make-up what you missed, quietly. It is appropriate to join the back row and fill in all the spaces. If there is no more room, then a new row should start directly behind the imam, and more latecomers fill out to the right and to the left. Sisters, if the row starts in the back, should begin a new row in front.
  8. Straighten lines and fill in gaps. When standing for prayer in congregation, the line should be straight, standing side-by-side, starting behind the imam and filling out to right and left. Everyone in the line should move towards the center to fill in gaps so there are no large spaces between anyone. In a mixed congregation, men should begin their rows in the front, and women from the back, to ensure separation and space. For sisters, if the rows start in the back and are full, you must begin a new row, in front of the previous row. They should also not block entrances if the doors are in the back, preventing rows from being formed in front.
  9. Praying with a sutrah. Because Muslims are not supposed to walk in front of a person praying, if an individual is praying outside of the congregation (sunnah prayers, or fard prayers alone), he should either pray close to the wall in the direction of qiblah, or place an object in front of him while praying, so people do not walk in front of him to disrupt his prayer. If someone does not have a sutrah in front it is best to place one there for them or walk a safe distance in front so as not to bother them even though they were negligent to demarcate their space. I have heard that if they have no sutrah, then there is no harm in walking in front of them. It is not necessary to have a sutrah if praying on congregation, except for the imam, whose sutrah acts for the congregation.
  10. Wudhu facilities. I have heard it is better to make wudhu before going to the masjid to pray. However, if one is making wudhu at the masjid, he should be courteous and clean, not leaving a mess or puddles behind for anyone who comes in afterwards.
  11. Obstructing entrances. It is common for entrances/exits to become blocked by crowds, especially after a prayer or event, as people greet each other on their way out. However, they tend to block shoe racks and the door, making it difficult for others to leave. If anyone wishes to socialize immediately afterwards, it would be better to do so away from the doorways.
  12. Shoes. In order to keep the carpet clean, because many people are pressing their faces against it, it is appropriate to remove one's shoes before entering the prayer hall. This goes for children as well, who may unwittingly drag dirt all over the carpet--not to mention that they shouldn't be running around inside the prayer all, as I think I mentioned elsewhere. Many masajid have a rack for shoes--this should be utilized to keep the space clear of shoes in walkways and other spaces. It also makes it easier to find shoes later on.
  13. Watching children (keeping them quiet). I am sad to say that I have seen children running around unsupervised in the prayer hall during lectures (not to mention prayer!) They had no parent watching them and they would run in and out of all the doors, playing (at times roughly) with each other and not keeping quiet either. This is a distraction to people trying to pay attention, or to pray, and it is also not safe for the children. The masjid is not a babysitter, and unless a child is left with babysitting, there is no guarantee anyone is watching him. I have also seen children running around and playing before, during, and after prayers, inside the musallah! It is a prayer hall, not a playground, and should be treated as such.
  14. Parking. This shouldn't have to be said, but it is very inappropriate to avoid parking rules when visiting the masjid. Handicapped spaces should be reserved for those who need it. No parking zones should be respected, as well as the streets and driveways of the neighbors of the masjid. Parking in illegal zones is a quick way to earn a fine, but also the scorn of the police, and can make it difficult for the masjid administration to deal with the city leadership.
  15. Door for sisters. Many masajid have a door designated for the sisters--it is allowed for women to enter through other doors, and getting a smirk and curt reply "This is a door for brothers only, you have to go around back," is very rude. What if the sister were handicapped and the only space was in the front? Or it was raining? The door for sisters is to allow women to enter without having to mix with the men, if they find that uncomfortable. For that reason, brothers have no business using that door.
  16. Two rakaat to greet the masjid. It is appropriate, when arriving at the masjid for a lecture or prayer, or to recite Qur'an, etc., to "greet" the masjid with a two raka' supererogatory prayer before sitting down. Generally times "not" to pray, though, are after 'asr before maghrib, and after fajr before sunrise, and also during sunrise and sunset, and as the sun is at its zenith. This should even be prayed if one is late to jummah.
  17. Not talking during khutbah or lectures. Talking during the khutbah will invalidate the jummah for that person--even giving salaams! Everyone should be quiet and listening--not socializing, catching up on the latest news or gossip, disciplining their children, etc. Talking disturbs the people around you--yes, they can hear--and at times can even bother the speaker. Necessary conversations should be taken outside.
  18. Mind your BO. Especially before jummah and eid it is good to take a bath (ghusl), and even make oneself smell nice (although women shouldn't wear perfume if going out in public.) Eating a lot of raw garlic and onions can give a person a sort of odor which is unpleasant to be around, and would be distracting to those praying beside. Similarly cigarette smoke has an odor which can also be smelt by those standing in prayer around someone who has just smoked. So out of consideration, we should try to be clean before going to the masjid to pray.

Aqeedah Notes 2 - Belief in Angels


We (mankind) are not alone in the universe, but there exist beings we cannot see.
Attitude towards angels:
  • believe they exist
  • believe they are created out of light
  • believe they follow the command of Allah
  • details only known to Allah
  • not believing in angels = kufr? (An-Nisaa 136)
  • quality of the righteous to believe in the unseen
Physical Characteristics of Angels
  • created before Adam
  • little known about them
  • some present for creation of mankind
  • created out of light - luminous creatures
  • do not eat, sleep, or reproduce
  • free from 'animal' desires
  • above sins
  • ability of metamorphosis
    • may take other forms/shapes
    • Gabriel to Mary, form of a man
    • Gabriel Hadith (hadith Jibreel) in front of Companions
  • have wings
    • 2,3,4, and Allah can increase in creation (Faatir 1)
    • Muhammad (s) saw Gabriel with 600 wings (Fath al-Baree?)
  • obey the command of Allah (An-Nahl 50, At-Tahreem 6)
Number of angels only known by Allah. (Al-Muddaththir 31)

Attitude of angels toward Allah
  • obey Allah absolutely
  • honorable servants (of Allah)
  • act according to Allah's command
Attitude of angels toward humans/earth
  • obedience to Allah includes carrying out tasks (the will of Allah) on earth/in universe
  • some delegated to take care of
    • sun
    • moon
    • galaxies
    • mountains
      • an angel of the mountain offered to protect Muhammad (s)
    • care of womb of mother
      • write provision
  • help humans to worship
  • supplicate on behalf of the believers
  • help humans keep away from evil
    • Gabriel chosen to deliver the message (Qur'an)
  • angels guide and inspire men to goodness
    • Shaytaan whispers evil promises
    • but angels whisper good promises, guidance to truth
  • exhort and encourage people of knowledge
    • lower their wings to the student of knowledge
Belief in Angels
  • must believe in angels, including some specific ones
    • Jibreel/Gabriel - Messenger
    • Mika'eel - provision and sustenance
    • Israfeel - will blow the horn on the last day
    • Malik - takes care of the hellfire
  • believe they are protecting us
  • believe they are writing down our deeds
  • believe souls taken by angel of death
  • believe angels carry the throne of Allah
Effect of belief in Angels
  • impacts our daily life
  • know angels watching when we sin, recording our deeds
  • helps us to have patience, tranquility to know:
    • angels are with us
    • worshiping Allah with us
    • consoling us in grief
  • part of the unseen, belief in unseen characteristic of believers

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Philosophy (bka Atheist) Club

Atheist AtomThis week I was invited to a small group discussion about atheism vs. faith. The original group was mostly atheist/agnostic and after discussion among themselves they thought it would be interesting to invite religious people to come discuss with them, to add another viewpoint. So there were quite a few Muslims (in proportion, 4 of us) but no Christians managed to make it.

A lot of atheism and agnosticism these days tends to begin with objections to Christianity, I think, more so than faith in general. But if we overlook that, the only way atheists typically need to defend their stance is against Christians. Against Islam, it's slightly different, and so, because there were not actually any Christians present, the main focus of discussion was belief or disbelief in the existence of "God."

We, the Muslims, each had a different approach which, uncoordinated, seemed to hinder productive discourse, unfortunately. But I think everyone (except perhaps, me) had valid points to initiate the discussion. I'm posting so I can think about them, and share them. For example, what is "God?" How do you define "God" so that you don't believe in it? For perhaps, your (atheist) definition of God is not my (religious/muslim) definition; maybe we don't believe in the same thing, and do believe in something else. That question was not explored as deeply as it might have been.

Another approach was to just lay out Islam in a neat package, inviting the listener to reflect on the wisdom in it. The problem with that approach, though, was that the audience was more preoccupied with "If there is no God in the first place, then why do I care about a particular religion or what it says?" So to the atheist, I think, any discussion of religion isn't important because the foundation of it--the existence of God--is not assumed. (In fact, the opposite is!)

One thing that I don't really understand about atheism, is why theories to describe the natural world (such as evolution, natural selection) are deemed incompatible with faith. There is, as yet, no explanation for the creation or beginning of the universe. Is it "just there?" What made it go bang? Evolution does not explain that. I remember a professor of mine asking once whether the universe was causal, and one student smartly replying that it depends on one's perspective. Yet if we ask who created the universe, and respond that God did, the atheist will ask "but who created God?" And the answer? God is not part of the creation. Entirely outside it, above it, beyond it, whatever preposition you prefer. So God is above all these rules and theories which attempt to explain reality. At some level, physical laws fail to hold, though they are practical enough for everyday observations. But to the atheist mind, there are always going to be some rules which govern the universe, whether we know them now or not. Instead of allowing an All-Capable and All-Aware deity to be the explanation to rules they cannot explain, they favor believing in laws and principles which have not even been imagined, much less verified scientifically.

I think that's a silly position, kind of like saying, "I don't accept your explanation because you have no logical, scientific proof... therefore there must be another explanation even though I have no logical, scientific proof for it."

To an atheist, atheism is default. I.e., if you can't prove God exists, then it's better to believe He doesn't. To a believer, and the other 95% of the world, you can't prove that God doesn't exist, and the natural default is to believe God exists, and belief is the natural default. As a Muslim, I explain this by the fitrah--that everyone is born with a pure nature which understands the existence of one God and seeks understanding on that point.

But once I get there, I don't really feel like arguing any more. Once the atheist says "it's human nature" to do such and such, or believe this way or whatever... I just kind of rest my case. If it's your nature to believe in God, and you think that you're superior (through intelligence or whatever) to your nature that you reject it so you can lay off the humility with faith demands of you... that's just the kind of arrogance which earns the term kaafir.

Convertitis - Qur'an Only (Part 2)

When a Muslim embraces Islam, from another background or even from an Islamic background with new dedication, he or she may be at risk for "convert-itis." His upbringing, his prior religious experience, his outlook on the world, and his expectations of faith or religion all play a role in the way he adopts Islam into his life.

Some converts, upon embracing Islam (more specifically, saying the shahadah and thereby declaring their faith in Islam) choose to not change their behavior for their new "religion." Even the basics, like refraining from alcohol, pork, or zina, is too much to ask of them. Maybe they will make minor changes like these, but decide that hijaab isn't practical or they don't like it, that a beard doesn't flatter them or is too itchy, that five daily prayers is just too much. Is this convert-itis? Not the way we typically see it, because it's another extreme. In fact it's the opposite extreme typically described, where the convert tries to do everything they think is "islamic" while completely abandoning their old habits.

Yet in both cases, convert-itis manifests itself with one similarity--complete adamance about the correctness of that person's opinion. The convert eagerly engages in debates about the importance or relevance of issues like hijaab or the beard, the science of hadith, and ritual worship. In the case of the convert who refrains from actively practicing Islam, causes may be over-emphasis on "Christian" ideals and teachings in preference to those of Islam.

For example, Christians are aware of Jesus instructing the Jews to avoid praying on street corners and such where they do so in order to be seen, and rather to pray at home in private. When some Christians adopt Islam, they may have a problem with salaat, a ritual prayer, and consider "prayer" to be a private, personal thing. Ergo, they reject that it must be in Arabic, performed a certain way at certain times, and preferably in a group.

Other times, the convert may reject in Islam what reminds them of Christianity, as a certain practice may have been debunked so strongly that the person decided to become a Muslim in the first place. For example, when some Christians learn that the Bible is not the authentically verified, preserved "word of God" which they were taught to believe, they gladly embrace the Qur'an--entirely revealed, entirely preserved. However, in their zeal for the Qur'an they reject the traditions from the Prophet Muhammad (s) with the same fervor with which they reject the Bible. In doing so we can easily argue they 'throw the baby out with the bathwater,' and they become infected with a dangerous disposition inclining them to reject the very foundations of Islamic worship. Among other criticisms of mainstream Islam, they accuse Muslims of worshiping the Prophet Muhammad (s), just like Christians worship Jesus (s). Na'oodhubillah! They view themselves as being a sole minority on the straight path and reject all traditional Islamic scholarship in the issues which they choose to debate.

So even though they decided to become Muslim, they did not accept the Islam in front of them, finding it flawed and therefore attempt to change it or branch off according to their own opinions and understanding.

It is dangerous, because just like the other kind of convert-itis where the Muslim adopts the most hard-line opinions, both are attempts at "purifying" what they see as a path which has been corrupted one way or another. And even though both paths are almost diametrically opposed to each other, the root of the problem is the same. They still see Islam in black and white and consider they themselves alone to be the ones who are truly guided.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Aqeedah Notes 1 - Belief in Allah/Tawheed


Aqeedah:
  • Knowledge precedes action - e.g., in order to pray, must have correct knowledge of prayer
  • First knowledge should be tawheed - foundation, or root (as of a tree)
  • Then ask Allah for forgiveness
  • Some scholars say that behavior reflects knowledge of aqeedah.
  • Correct belief is a condition for acceptance of deeds (worship.)

Iman: belief, and acting upon that belief
  • a good word, deeply rooted, branches into the sky
  • laa ilaha illa Allah
  • Believe in: (ref: Al-Baqarah 285, An-Nisaa' 136, Al-Baqarah 177, Hadith Jibreel)
  1. Allah
  2. Angels
  3. Books
  4. Messengers
  5. Day of Judgment
  6. Divine Preordainment (good or bad)
  • Our purpose is to worship Allah (Adh-Dhariyat 56), so learning about Allah is of prime importance in this life
  • Must know rights of Allah over His servants
  • To worship Allah and never associate partners with him - reward is in Paradise

Belief in Allah means to have firm belief that Allah is Lord, Owner, Creator of Everything, that he alone is the one who deserves:
  • worship
  • prayer
  • fasting
  • hope in mercy
  • fear
and is free of all deficiencies.

Three Areas of Tawheed
  1. Oneness of Lordship (Tawheed ar-Rububiyyah)
  2. Oneness of Godship (Tawheed al-Uluhiyyah)
  3. Oneness in Names and Attributes (Tawheed bi al-Asmaa' wa as-Sifaat)

1. Tawheed ar-Rububiyyah: firm belief (conviction) that Allah is Lord of everything, and the only Lord.
  • Rabb in Arabic: father is lord of family--protects, provides, cares for
  • Malik: owner and possessor, (disposer of affairs)
  • legal definition: believing Allah is Creator of creatures, owner, life giver, life taker, answers supplication, changes, actuates, has power over, provides for, sustains, withholds from creatures, increases and decreases, and that only Allah does the above

Mankind created on a fitrah
  • Imam Abu Hanifa was asked "Who is Allah?" His answer gave an example describing the sea, that when man is traveling on the sea and finds trouble, Allah is who he beseeches for help.
  • Even the disbelievers in Mecca knew that Allah created them. (See Surah Yusuf 106, 31, and Az-Zukhruf 87)

2. Tawheed al-Uluhiyyah: confirmed belief that Allah is the true God and all other "gods" are false/vain; Allah is real/true, all acts of worship (inwardly and outwardly) must be devoted to Him.
  • Fear of Allah - greater than fear of anything else
  • Love of Allah
  • Hope for Mercy
  • Supplications only to Allah
  • According to Ibn Taymiyyah, tawheed al-uluhiyyah differentiates monotheists from polytheists, and to die without tawheed al-uluhiyyah is to die as a polytheist. (Risaalat al-Hasana wa as-Sayyiah
  • All other "gods" not Allah are not worthy of worship.
  • Prophets sent with message to worship Allah alone. (Hud, Saleh, Shu'aib, etc.)

Obligations of Tawheed al-Uluhiyyah
  1. Sincere dedication of love to Allah--no object of love greater than or equal to Allah (al-Baqarah 165)
  2. Devoting supplication, reliance, and hope to Allah alone in matters where He alone has power (Yunus 106, al-Ma'idah 23, al-Baqarah 218)
  3. Fearing only Allah (An-Nahl 51, Yunus 107)
  4. Dedication of all physical and verbal forms of worship to Allah alone (An-Nisaa' 116)
3. Tawheed bi al-Asmaa' wa as-Sifaat
Three foundations:
  1. Placing Allah (swt) above likeness to human beings, and free beyond imperfections
  2. Belief in the names and attributes in Qur'an and Sunnah without detracting from, expanding upon, altering, or nullifying them
  3. Abandoning desire to ascertain the form of the attributes
  • An-Nahl 74: So put not forth similitudes for Allah
  • Al-Ikhlaas 4: And there is none co-equal or comparable unto Him
  • Ash-Shura 11: There is nothing like unto Him

This tawheed is damaged by:
  1. Tashbeeh - Comparison (of attributes of Creator to attributes of created, eg Christians)
  2. Tahreef - Distortion (through false interpretation, change, alteration)
  3. Ta'teel - Negation (of Divine attributes, and denying their existence in Allah
  4. Takyeef - False interpretation (in form or essence)

2 Kinds of attributes:
  1. of person of Allah (i.e., knowledge, might, hearing, speech...)
  2. of action (will, power, laugh, joy, wrath, descending...)
  • Should not suspend attributes to say what something is "like"
  • No similarity between humans and Allah
  • Should not try to explain in a different way
  • Should not negate, say is merely metaphorical, etc

Proper names - Attributes
Al-'Alim, Al-Baseer, Al-Qadeer (derived from tri-literal root)

Ayat al-Kursi
Allah! Laa ilaaha illaa Huwa (none has the right to be worshiped but He), the Ever Living, the One Who sustains and protects all that exists. Neither slumber, nor sleep overtake Him. To Him belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. Who is he that can intercede with Him except with His permission? He knows what will happen to them (His creatures) in this world, and what will happen to them in the Hereafter. And they will never encompass anything of His knowledge except that which He wills. His throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them. And He is the Most High, the Most Great.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Convertitis Defined (Part 1)

When I became Muslim, and even more so when I began to practice Islam seriously, I was warned about getting "convert-itis." What is convertitis?

It's a made-up word to describe when converts immediately immerse themselves in their new lifestyle, adopting only the strictest and most severest attitudes and strongly criticizing anyone who disagrees with them--especially those without such a strict interpretation as they themselves have.

You can see it in brothers and sisters--and not just from converts but sometimes even when people "recommit" themselves to the deen. For sisters, you have someone who just became Muslim and then immediately starts wearing niqaab and telling other sisters that their Islam is deficient or something if they don't wear niqaab too. Brothers you will see stop shaving their beards and wearing kufis (or whatever those little hats are called) and thowbs and not talking to women anymore. Both will stop eating any meat that is not halal-dhabiha and make a fuss about it to their hosts. Non-muslims (including family, and old friends) and even some less-strict Muslims are referred to as "kuffar."

So maybe you're reading and thinking, "Well, what's wrong with that? Why does it have to be an -itis?" Nothing wrong with wearing niqaab, is there? Or a kufi? Or a beard? Or modesty in inter-gender relations? Or eating eating islamically slaughtered meat? Nope, nothing wrong with these things, in and of themselves. However, these are all external behaviors. They are incredibly emphasized by laypeople (hijab/niqaab, beard, dhabihah) but they are not the heart of Islam.

When someone decides to embrace Islam, it's usually not because they want to change their wardrobe or go on a diet. It's because something about Islam was appealing on a spiritual and intellectual level, because out of faith, a path clearly defined as worshipping Allah (swt) and following the example of the Prophet (saws) makes the most sense.

The first transformation should be internal, a new focus, desperation, repentance. It almost always is. So what brings on convertitis? When the new Muslim gets caught up in external displays of piety. Things which should not be used as indicators of a person's faith are, in fact, used for just that purpose, and the new convert wants to emulate piety, or at least the appearance of it. And they go to an extreme, unfortunately.

If the convert starts making big and drastic changes, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain them. Trying to change too fast either to earn respect, fit in, or even out of the best intention to please Allah swt, the inertia will eventually catch up with them... and it sometimes can even pull someone out of Islam. Because all these external behaviors failed to satisfy or change the internal ones that the convert was looking for in the first place. So maybe the result is feeling let down, and isolated.

So the real problem with convertitis is that too much change, especially external change, too quickly, becomes difficult to maintain and can ultimately end up pushing a new Muslim out of Islam.

Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet (PBUH) said, "The religion (of Islam) is easy, and whoever makes the religion a rigour, it will overpower him. So, follow a middle course (in worship); if you can't do this, do something near to it and give glad tidings and seek help (of Allah) at morn and at dusk and some part of night."

InshaaAllah I will follow up on this topic, as I have a lot I want to say about it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Overheard...

My professors say some of the silliest things sometimes... I thought I'd start sharing them.

You can learn a lot from consumer-oriented television.
(About an OnStar commercial with a famous race car driver and automobile computers.)

If I could write an opera of the Cold War, there would be a Greek Chorus to keep chanting "Who lost China? Who lost China? Who lost China?"
(To demonstrate the lasting influence of Truman's "loss" of China in 1949 and the effect on Cold War policy.)

Remember the sound that a modem used to make? Kzzsssccchhhwezzzzchvhwwhhhssszzzz? It sounded like a duck that swallowed a kazoo? What was it called? Right, a handshake!
Duck who swallowed a kazoo... classic!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

But it's not Qur'an

Some people get a little prickly when you bring up the Qur'an, and start a sentence with "The Qur'an says" or "Allah says" or "We read in the Qur'an that" and you continue in English. In fact we had a sheikh here a few weeks ago who hammered this point, the absolute importance of learning Arabic and not relying on translations. The Qur'an is actually in Arabic. It was revealed in Arabic--that's what it says (although in Arabic, of course.) Translated "We have revealed to you an Arabic Qur'an."

What tends to amuse me, however, is how after making so much fuss about not saying "The Qur'an says" he proceeded to do exactly that, later in the presentation, without clarifying the translation. Kind of made me roll my eyes. As long as people understand that what we read in English is not actually Qur'an, and assume that when we refer to the Qur'an without specifying the redundancy that we are referencing a translation, is it such a big deal to leave it out?

Just a thought.

But translations do matter. With Qur'an, they are not authoritative, definitive, because if all of Qur'an is a revelation from God, from Allah, it's not just the message that matters, but the words, and even the placement of the words. Because that is how Allah revealed it.

Now, I was having dinner with a lady last night and she asked me whether there really is a big difference in translations. I told her that sometimes there could be, and gave her an example. The one which came to my mind had confronted me in an odd way a few weeks ago, the first ayah of Surat al-Burooj. Waalssama-i thati alburooj. (Translit from here.)

A Muslim sister I know asked me when my birthday was. So I told her, and then she named the corresponding zodiac "sign" for my birthday, asking if that was correct. It was, but I responded by saying kind of tongue-in-cheek that I am a Muslim so I'm not interested in that sort of thing. But didn't you know, she says, that Allah swears by the Zodiac in the Qur'an? Excuse me??

See, I was fairly confident at that point that astrology was haraam, and with how she was asking for my birthday and that of my fiance I was a little suspicious. So with my face disturbingly contorted I ask her where Allah supposedly does this and she tells me Surat al-Burooj. So I make a mental note to check this out, and I went on about my way. I did finally look this up, but I couldn't find "zodiac" anywhere. In the translations for Burooj I see things like:
By the heaven, holding mansions of the stars,
Allah is swearing by something, by the use of "wa" (waaw) in the beginning of the ayah, like in Surat al-Asr (by time, waalAAasri) or in Surah Ya-Seen (by the wise qur'an, waalqur-ani alhakeemi). This is actually something I learned in my Arabic class. So, according to my friend, Allah is swearing by the Zodiac. Hmm. It just so happens I know the second word in the ayah, too. As-samaa'. The sky, or the heaven. One repeated phrase I've come to recognize, as-samawati wa l-ard, the heavens and earth. The sky and the zodiac are not the same thing. I get the impression the ayah is talking about constellations. Holding constellations of stars. There's a huge difference between constellations, and zodiac, in particular using the zodiac for astrology.

If any of you happened to look at the Yusuf Ali translation, however, you might have seen this:
By the sky, (displaying) the Zodiacal Signs;
Ahh... that's where it comes from. And I can see now why this sister might have gotten the impression... well anyway. I explained at dinner that yes, translations can really matter and gave this example, because sometimes the translator may improperly convey the message, or may use words that his audience might associate with something else, or a translator might not even understand. So we decided that yes there can be big differences in translations.

Cover of Saheeh International Paperback Qur'anAnd then I recommended the translation which has been recommended to me (or to audiences in which I am sitting) many, many times: Saheeh International. I heard of it first through my Arabic instructor from Bayyinah, then by a number of friends of mine who speak Arabic and English who prefer it, and since then by a graduate student from Al-Azhar and another American sheikh who I think also studied at Al-Azhar. In fact, I've not heard anybody recommend another translation who has been aware of this one. One of my friends even showed it to me saying they gave it away at the airport in Saudi Arabia last year when she went on Hajj. It's the one I read, it's the one I prefer to read (when reading in English) and prefer to use in da'wah as well. Unfortunately it's been difficult to find it online, while other translations (Yusuf Ali, Pickthal, Shakir, etc) are more readily available online (as they are older and more well-known up until recently).

But today I found a downloadable version of it, so even when I don't have my personal edition handy I do at least have a version now on my laptop. (Not on my work computer though.) You can download it here: http://imaanstar.com/quran.php The first download is the Hilali/Khan translation and it includes transliteration along with each ayah presented in Arabic (Qur'an) and translation. The Saheeh International download also includes the Arabic ayah along with the translation. I can't copy the Arabic text from it, and I'm not sure if I can copy/paste the english either, but having access to Qur'an even without a text to carry around is very handy. Both versions are search-able as well. May Allah reward the brother whose efforts made this translation even more accessible.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Overheard at College

One of my professors is Greek. I don't mean in a fraternity or anything like that--he's actually Greek. So he frequently jokes, saying "Is it clear? Or am I speaking Greek?"

He said something today though, that kinda struck me, and made me think (yet again) that college is really dumb. He said, "This won't be on the exam, I just wanted to give you a hard time today." We were talking about using a Taylor Series error correction in computer communication. To be honest, I wasn't really paying attention... kind of wishing I had paid more attention to Taylor Series in the first place in my freshman calculus class, because every time it seems to come up I get sort of clueless. The problem is that it was the last thign we studied in that class, and by then I had realized that calculus was not all that tough, and everything we were learning in this class I had already studied in high school. I placed out of 1st semester but had to take 2nd semester because AP Calc didn't cover Taylor Series. That means... I had to waste a whole semester to learn Taylor Series, and I didn't even learn it! Haha.

One class I took as a freshman was early American literature. I took it because other classes were full and I needed a lit class. I hated American lit in high school, but to be fair I did gain an appreciation when I studied it again in college. There are two things about that class that stick out in my mind. The professor told us we weren't mature enough to read Moby Dick, and we had to promise to read it when we turned 30. And he also told us not to take the advice of anyone over 30.

Why? Because as people age they become more cynical and are likely to caution you against doing what you ardently desire to do. It's obvious really, among younger crowds, anything is possible. You can do anything you set your mind to. But our elders tend to urge caution over passion. I'm not so obnoxious I think as to not take such advice, but I do resent it. From some of my friends, from some of my parents, the ones who expect me to follow the road that has been paved for me. Divergence earns disdain.

I don't think knowledge can be quantified, or that success fits in a mold.

About taking advice, that professor said that people who were unable to live their dreams seldom advise others to follow theirs. They have resigned themselves to passivity and thus encourage like behavior from the youth. I'm not quite ready to do that.

By the way, I don't mean to offend anyone or make blanket statements about anyone in particular (including people over 30.) I just thought I'd share some musings, so please accept my apologies if I seemed rude.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Admission of Ignorance


Sorry. I really did just avoid my blog for a week. I didn't reply to comments (I have now, by the way, to the last couple comments on the partition post--being sufficiently humbled thanks to one comment-er in particular) or make new posts, or even really read other people's blogs that much.

So I caught up, leaving quite a few comments on some folks' blogs (please forgive me for that!) And now am paying attention to mine again.

In the meantime, I tried out a new webforum. Maybe I was bored with whyislam or curious to see people discussing the issues I was studying (from my class on 'aqeedah)--and I didn't like what I found, to be honest. I didn't realize quite how off-handedly brutal some people can be on the internet regarding 'aqeedah. BrNaeem left a comment recently when I mentioned I was taking the class in the first place about how people like to argue these issues... and I admit: he was right, I was wrong. It can really make your head spin!

So three words I've come to cherish in the last few weeks are simply, "I don't know." Or the emphatic version, "I just don't know." And something I think I'm beginning to believe is that sometimes the answer to a question really doesn't matter, and that "I don't know" actually is a sufficient answer.

Last night I was actually skimming through pages I could find about the 40 Hadith of An-Nawawi, and in so doing recalled or skimmed across the following two, which I think are presently relevant:

Leave that which makes you doubt for that which does not make you doubt.

Part of the perfection of one's Islaam is his leaving that which does not concern him.

Now it might seem (as I have read in the explanations of these two) that the first is about halaal and haraam and what is not clear between the two, and the latter about not being a busybody.

But what is on my mind is delving into a realm of theological questions which lacks definitive, clear, precise answers. I find two people, both with tremendous knowledge (from my stance anyway, they seem to have tremendous knowledge) arguing about such minutiae as to give you a headache, both having a different opinion, and both basing it on research and evidence. It's just so confusing, I'd rather not even ask the question. Moreover, the answer would have practically no impact on my faith except to collect me into one group or the other with a leader and a label.

So these issues really don't concern me, to use the wording of the latter hadith, and the answers are doubtful and contradictory. So I don't see a reason to preoccupy myself with them to the exclusion of more relevant issues. Instead, I should probably just focus on improving my own understanding of Islam and applying that to my life.

I know this post was kind of vague and non-specific... but I don't want to open that box of debate inviting someone to explain his take on those kind of issues which are confusing me lately. I'm happy to say when approaching certain questions now, that I just don't know, nor do I find the answer to be of my immediate concern.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Miscellaneous Monday

Book Cover - GleijesesIf I haven't mentinoed this before, I have to write a two-page paper every week for my US Foreign Policy class, after reading about 200 pages. This week we read some stuff by the professor herself, but mostly out of this book: Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976; by Piero Gleijeses.

The papers are due Mondays at 6pm, so I tend to not blog very much on weekends since I'm consumed with reading and writing for this class. And usually I'm writing up until the last minute. Today I finished a little early so... I'm writing. Just some miscellaneous things.

The maintenance guy at my apartment complex is not shy about walking into people's homes. In fact, we've reported him for coming in without knocking during the day. You see, though, he knocks... but then barges in. He used to. It's better now, he waits a little bit. Although I did tell him to wait at the door one time so I could get my scarf and he... came in anyway. At least I made it to my bedroom first.

He's even come into my bedroom when I wasn't covered once to check the vent (yeah I know some people gonna flip at that remark, and I was irritated too) but it's just very awkward. Now I know to just keep a scarf on all the time if he's around. I didn't know he'd be coming by today (I never know, to be honest) and before I had gone for work I was praying dhuhr in my bedroom. I left the door open to my room though since I was the only person there... and I'm praying. He knocks. Knocks, "Maintenance!!" and knocks again. Comes in, probably saw that my laptop was on in the living room and announces his presence... no response.

He came to work on the toilet, right, so he comes to the back of the apartment, and my bedroom is across from the bathroom. And aha! He sees me standing there so informs me (whilst I'm praying) that he is going to work on the toilet.

Does he need my permission or something? It's not like I'm using the toilet at present. But I'm standing in prayer and I think he might have realized it then because he didn't say anything after that. Ehhhhhhh, well I was amused. :-)

I couldn't stick around to chat (not that he's the type I'd like to chat with) because I had to go to work so I apologized and ran out, assuring him that yes it really was okay to work on the toilet. Weird, huh?

--------

I just wanted to add... Facebook is out of hand. You know that "requests" block on the right side of your home page? So, I have 2 friend requests, 2 event invitations, 3 group invitations (all normal so far) but then 1 entourage invitation (eh, what?), 1 superpoke! friend request (excuse me?), 1 pirates vs. ninjas invitation (ok this is getting dumb) and 1 warbook invitation.

I'm sure some other people have many more than that... so I just wonder, isn't facebook getting a little over the top? I mean, when I joined you could network with people in your classes to conspire on homework but now... you can't even put you school schedule in it. The bigger it gets, the more lame it gets. Pirates vs. Ninjas. Right.