Tuesday, October 30, 2007

It's not solidarity, it's shirk?

If you can't see the picture to the left, visit this link. It's not the article I'm interested in, though... just the photo. The subtitle reads:

An Iraqi Shiite prays in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary at a Christian church in Baghdad, Iraq.

I started a thread about this on the whyislam form, because it really bothers me. Unfortunately more people want to debate worshiping idols and so forth, which wasn't really my point.

I was sent an email through an interfaith group I participate in, by one of the Christian members. It should be stated that while there are many Jews and Muslims in the group, there are very few Christians--I find that interesting. So the title of the email was Picture of Muslim and Christian Solidarity... and then the email began "...if only the world could see it."

The email and the photograph both deeply troubled me because this woman--who is described as a Muslim, appears to be making du'a in front of a statue. Not just any statue, but a statue of the Virgin Mary. Since when do Muslims worship in front of statues, really? How does this show solidarity with Christians anyway? I certainly don't respect any oppression of Christians in Iraq but I don't see that praying in front of a statue (and dare I say, to a statue, or to Mary?) is doing anything about it except compromising Islam, compromising tawheed even!

There is no value in interfaith communication, in my opinion, if one faith has to compromise its beliefs for another--and that's not just about Islam, or for Muslims, but anyone.

So when this lady describes this as solidarity, an Iraqi Shi'a praying in front of a statue of Mary, I think that an essential part of Islam, absolute monotheistic belief in Allah, is being misunderstood. I feel like in our own da'wah in this group and for interfaith work in general from now on, the differences in Islam need to be highlighted, so that what you see in this photograph is not ever seen as representative of Islam or Muslims, and so that reason why is fully understood.

How can a Muslim who is devoted solely to Allah, and believes in the absolute lordship of Allah, who would never associate any partner with Allah in love, gratitude, supplication, fear, and who understands that the attributes of Allah belong to him alone... how could a Muslim do this, I really want to know.


brnaeem said...


Sis, I wouldn't jump the gun and assume that the Muslim was praying to the Virgin Mary.

My first guess is that the lady may be a Christian, as it wouldn't surprise me to see an Iraqi Christian dressing like that (similar to a Pakistani Christian wearing the traditional Shalwar Kameez).

My second guess (as the lady is holding her hands in the position of the Muslim dua'a) is that she is indeed a Muslim but has been misguided to believe that its ok to pray to Allah *through* the venerated Maryam (not pray *to* her).

I, like you, simply can't accept that a Muslim would ever raise his/her hands to Jesus or Mary in a way similar to the Christians. Never. ever.

Thus I will make excuses for the sister and for ALL the Muslims who may seemingly be doing something repugnant to my understanding and practice of Islam, and are not worthy of being deemed kafir or mushrik.

Amy said...

AA -

Well I guess putting the word "shirk" in the title of the thread gave the impression I was doing that?

But no, I'm really just more interested in finding a tactful way to reply to this email to demonstrate that this is NOT something that a knowledgeable Muslim would do on purpose.

The first thing I thought when I saw the picture was that this was probably a Christian... but yet the caption says she is Shi'ite. Why? Did the photographer ASK her, or do you think he just assumed based on the way she was dressed? (Probably there is no way to know.) And of course she is holding her hands like a Muslim making du'a (and I've never seen a Christian do that.. nor I have I been to Iraq though so...)

I don't understand what you mean by praying to Allah "through" Maryam...

Of course it is just a picture and there's no way to really know what is happening in it. But I think something should be said, to indicate that this is not something that a Muslim with real understanding of Islam would actually do.

Amy said...

AA -

I just read through it and I didn't actually "jump the gun" and say she was praying to Mary. I mentioned that as a possibility, but just making du'a in front of the statue so it could be construed she was doing that was troubling enough.

Just mentioning that in my own defense.

MyHijab said...

firstly I'd like to point out that photoshop can do anything.

BUT why is this woman described as a shia? How can one ever know?

I think the purpose of this picture was either a) to push the idea of interfaith dialogue (which it has) or b) another way of showing how 'misguided' the shia are, which frankly I am very, very tired of.

I never believe any pic I get through e-mail.

Salam alaikum Amy

brnaeem said...


"I don't understand what you mean by praying to Allah "through" Maryam..."

I was referring to tawassul. Although there are differences of opinion on the practice, when it comes to thinking someone is committing shirk (ie. praying to Mary) versus committing tawassul (ie. praying through Mary), I'll give the benefit of the doubt and defer to the latter.

Allah knows best.

Amy said...

Wa alaikum as-salaam, Myhijab

If you visit the link I cited you see this photograph is featured in an article on CNN online and that she is therein described as Shi'a.

Do we really know she's Shi'a? No. In fact, I seriously doubt it, and am leaning towards the opinion that the photographer probably didn't even bother to ask, and the woman is actually Christian. But I don't know that, it's just my opinion.

However, for a Muslim to do what this woman is doing is very troubling. It's not that I want to attack the woman in the photograph who I don't know anything about at all. Rather, I want to explain to an interfaith audience which considers this to be a beautiful image that it is, in fact, deeply troubling.

Ibn Abd-el-Shafy said...

"she is indeed a Muslim but has been misguided to believe that its ok to pray to Allah *through* the venerated Maryam (not pray *to* her)."

What does it mean to pray to Allaah "through the venerated Maryam"? I respectfully note that these are not your actions; you are simply trying to avoid calling someone kaafir, because you realize that to do so is a major risk. That's a good thing, and I agree with you on that general point.

But on the more important point, our blog host is very correct in voicing doubt about the ambiguity of worshipping Allaah through someone else. It is in fact shirk. There are no two ways about it, and Allaah Himself has spoken very clearly about this,

أَلا لِلَّهِ الدِّينُ الْخَالِصُ وَالَّذِينَ اتَّخَذُوا مِنْ دُونِهِ أَوْلِيَاءَ مَا نَعْبُدُهُمْ إِلا لِيُقَرِّبُونَا إِلَى اللَّهِ زُلْفَى إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَحْكُمُ بَيْنَهُمْ فِي مَا هُمْ فِيهِ يَخْتَلِفُونَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لا يَهْدِي مَنْ هُوَ كَاذِبٌ كَفَّارٌ

"Surely pure religion is for Allah only. And those who choose protecting friends beside Him (say): We worship them only that they may bring us near unto Allah. Lo! Allah will judge between them concerning that wherein they differ. Lo! Allah guideth not him who is a liar, an ingrate." [39:3]

I have left Pickthal's translation as he wrote it out of faithfulness, but in at least one place, the translation could be improved: the last word in Arabic is "kaffaar" which can be understood as the extra-emphatic version of "kaafir". I don't think it gets clearer than this.

As to tawassul being something ambiguous, I have never seen anyone aside from Shia and Sufis advocating its legitimacy, and I respectfully note that you are most certainly NOT of those groups. I am simply pointing out that your point that it is debated ... is as academic as saying that "Jesus being the Son of God" is also debated. Sure it is. But the Christians are most misguided on this point, no matter how many their numbers may reach.

Likewise, seeking to get closer to Allaah by asking Him via a created being: this is allowed in Islaam within limits, first and foremost the attitude of the Muslim should understand that they are only asking so and so to make supplication for them because they believe so and so is a good person. This is allowed, and has many examples in the Sunnah. But the more insidious form of tawassul, asking Allaah based on the holiness of a dead person... has no basis in Islaam, and at its heart presumes that Allaah is obligated to that dead person, and should act based on that. As Imam At-Tahawi said in his great work on the belief of ahl us sunnah wal jamaa3a, this is obligating the Creator based on the Created, and this is simply unacceptable.

أبو سنان said...

You must realise that many Muslims do things like this. If you go to India you will find Muslims that pray at Hindu and Sikh temples, not to mention the smaller amount of Christian churches.

Some Sufi sects indeed recognise prayers to "saints" and prayers at shrines, tombs and the like.

I do not agree with these practices, but they are very wide spread in some areas of the Muslim world.

I think it is a cultural thing, and it is the baine of the Islamic world that so much of what is culture infects and contaminates the religion.

It is also ignorance. Many of these people just have had no real religious or even secular education.

I have traveled all over the "Muslim" world and you'd be surprised what is passed off as Islam and Muslim practices in many places.

Amy said...

AA Abu Sinaan--

It being a "cultural thing" is not an excuse. The very fact that it is a cultural thing is precisely a problem that needs to be remedied!

Not that all culture is bad; a brother I know describes Islam as being a clear stream of water, that as it passes through different places takes on the color of the earth, the color of that place, so as it goes through India it picks up some Indian practices, and as it goes through Africa it picks up some African culture, but the Islam is that stream. And I don't think that culture necessarily is bad for the Islam.

However, when it's leading the people into major major problems which we call shirk and kufr, or anything less that detracts from tawheed, then I think we need to fix it.

Naeem suggested in another post that the only knowledge of creed necessary for the average muslim is what a 10-yr old can understand. If that's what the average Muslim has, then that's not enough, if we see the average Muslim praying in front of a statue, calling on saints, any other veneration or worship of the dead... it might be as much of a problem for this deen as AK-47s and C-4.

brnaeem said...

AA- Ibn Abd-el-Shafy,

May Allah bless you for your comment and for the immense amount of adab you displayed in sharing your thoughts.

“our blog host is very correct in voicing doubt about the ambiguity of worshipping Allaah through someone else. It is in fact shirk. There are no two ways about it,”

I respectfully disagree with the certitude of your statement. Could it possibly be shirk? Yes. Do I definitively believe that supplicating to Allah through someone is shirk? No. Not unless that person makes clear to me that he/she believes in the power of change in someone other than Allah.

Tawassul, as I understand it, does not give any creation the power to cause benefit or harm, as that is strictly in the domain of the Creator.

I don’t think this is the forum to discuss the details of this issue (nor do I believe that I’m qualified), but I still stand by my remark that tawassul is an issue that is debatable. Both sides have legitimate proofs to substantiate their stance.

A cursory search shows that Sunnipath.com has several articles explaining tawassul.

Finally, I’m not defending the practice of tawassul out of any personal affiliations. I’m more picking on the spirit with which we critique practices that we don’t agree with. Because I don’t subscribe to a certain belief or practice does not necessitate its invalidity.


brnaeem said...

AA- Amy,

“Naeem suggested in another post that the only knowledge of creed necessary for the average muslim is what a 10-yr old can understand”

My point was not on the amount of knowledge but the complexity of the knowledge. Meaning that such convoluted issues as tawassul, where is Allah, does Allah have a hand, and so on are not absolutely necessary for each and every person.

“If that's what the average Muslim has, then that's not enough, if we see the average Muslim praying in front of a statue, calling on saints, any other veneration or worship of the dead”

Sis, I think we need to revisit this issue. :-)

A basic understanding of aqeedah does not result in worshipping saints or ascribing a son to Allah. What does it take to worship Allah? He is the Creator, Sustainer, and all the other beautiful names. Don’t worship anyone else.

Honestly, if Maryam (9yr old) learning nothing more about Allah, I wouldn’t be upset. Love Him, Fear Him, Please Him, Answer to Him. Its that simple. Its not brain science or rocket surgery.

After all, when’s the last time you saw a 10 year old committing shirk? ;-)

I heard a story about Prophet Musa (as) walking by an old man and overhearing him making a dua’a. The old man was supplicating ‘Ya Allah, I invite You to my home for dinner. I have not much to offer, but my meager company and some morsels of food. Please accept my invitation.’

This angered Musa who quickly reprimanded that man, ‘Don’t you know this is not the way to address Allah? Show the proper adab with your Lord!’

The man was shocked and quickly apologized. Later Allah (swt) spoke to Musa, ‘O Musa, I sent you to bring the hearts closer to Me, not to turn them away.’

Take from that what you will...

Amy said...

As-salaamu Alaikum Br. Naeem --

I want to say first that I really appreciate the time you're taking to post on my blog. Jazakallah khair--I mean that from the heart.

One thing I have been taught since becoming Muslim, and one thing which resonates with my entire being, is that there is absolutely nothing that can benefit me or harm me except for Allah. This is an understanding of Islam.

If you read Abu Sinaan's post, he was talking about various cultural practices which do involve in one way or another associating a partner with Allah, in veneration or worship or something else.(I.e., it wasn't exactly about the post I made.) The point I was trying sincerely to make was that we should all have a full understanding of creed. A 10-yr old is not accountable for what he/she does in most cases. But I know a 7-yr old who told me that Christmas was God's birthday. Now. I think that we as Muslims need to stick to our Islam and if nothing else, then we need to know what to stay away from and I don't just mean what is "haraam" like zina and pork.

What is even more important is understanding Allah and tawheed and fully believing it. The Meccans didn't think that the idols were actually benefiting them, neither did the people of Abraham, but why did they worship these statues? Why was it such an utterly grave sin then... and isn't it still such now? If there is anything to be strict about, then it needs to be tawheed and I don't think that pushes people away from Allah, not at all.

Shamsuddin Waheed said...


When I first saw this pic, I was shocked. A Muslim praying in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary?

I attended a funeral at a Coptic [Egyptian Christian] Church, and was surprised to see that they also raise their Hands in Du'a, just as the Muslims do. With that in mind, I now believe that this picture may indeed be an Iraqi Christian.

Lets hope we Muslims know better than to engage in the same practices, as we don't need to. We have access to God directly, as he hears the prayer of those who call to him.