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

  • 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


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: 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.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Yee-haw! It's Cary Band Day!

Okay, when I was growing up, I didn't like cowboy flicks. I am a girl after all. But I always found them kind of... boring? I mean, the themes aren't really the kind which appeal to young girls--maybe young boys but mostly I think they're geared for men. Nothing wrong with that.

But my roommate loves Westerns so we see 'em once in a while; more to the point, I've been able to watch a few and just... enjoyed them more. Especially the Cowboys, which my dad tells me he watched when he was young, and he remembered seeing it in the theater. (I think he had just enlisted then.)

It has a really well-known theme--composed by John Williams. He's a well-known composer... Star Wars, Jaws, E.T., Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Harry Potter 1-3 and way more films I can't even think of off-hand. I got to play the song in high school when I was the Triangle Wind Ensemble, a group of non-professional performers, who were very very talented and dedicated to their instrument. Many were band directors, some played as a hobby. But having fully matured on their instruments, playing with them was not at all like playing with high school or even college bands--it was actually fun!! Which I always thought playing music should be. We had a few very dynamic conductors in that band, too. I also played the song in college. It's a very upbeat theme... a few clarinet solos (gotta love that!) When I played it in college I got to play the solos actually. They were, in fact, some of the last licks I played on my clarinet before I sold it.

Magnificent Seven is another film with a well-known theme. Well-known to me anyway; my high school band used the music as their half-time show when I was in 8th grade. Yeah... so I didn't get to play it. But I lived pretty close to the high school so I got to listen to it after school several days a week as they practiced. I couldn't wait to be in marching band. And in fact, marching band really defines my high school career. It takes up a lot of time, you know... practicing at least 3 days a week after school for a few hours, plus every other Friday night or so for a home game, not to mention traveling every weekend to a competition!

And competition season ended the first weekend in November... on Cary Band Day. Yes, you got it, I went to Cary High School--this was an issue of pride while I was in HS, and even in college (hey, aren't they the ones with the really good marching band!?) The Cary Band Day competition was huge. Most band competitions would get 10-20 bands, but CBD would consistently have over 30, sometimes over 40 bands registering!! It was also exceptional because it maintained a traditional type of competition--the parade competition. Most competitions nowadays are only field show, but one of the major functions of a marching band (let's face it!) is marching in parades (for Christmas, homecoming, etc) and CBD kept hosting the parade competition in the morning, and the field show competition in the afternoon/evening.

In fact, at one point there were so many bands that they had to adjust the field show timings and put things out of order so bands could march in both, if they had to go early in the morning. There were two separate awards ceremonies because so many bands were participating. There were six classes (normally there are 3, or 4... or at some big competitions 5...) because there were so many bands, and what was astonishing to me was how many not just little bands but how many big bands came!

The program would sometimes last until 10pm or even 11pm (on time!) and going over the allotted time in set-up/tear-down was a major penalty because keeping schedule was so crucial. Learned a bit about discipline doing that, I guess.

Anyway, Cary Band Day is this weekend--it is the 49th annual!! I love the season of fall, I have so many great memories of it from being in band, traveling on weekends. It's sort of an "alumni" thing to go back and watch, I've been back every year since I've graduated, and I might stop by again this year, too, just to see. In my opinion, the Cary Band has actually gone downhill quite a bit... in all respects. In decorum, in performance etiquette, in performance quality and difficulty... they're just another marching band, now.

But I'm glad to see they have 26 bands registered already in five classes. Another thing to note--we would have to go into exhibition twice that day, for the two awards ceremonies (so smaller bands could go on home! and too many bands for one awards ceremony!) We also had to march the parade, of course... wrapping it up at the end.

And of course it was a long parade. One special thing about us though, until we got a new and rather more apathetic band director, is we would play the entire route. We would only take short rests while marching, but playing most of the time, just for all the people the whole length who turned out to watch. And then volunteer to help keep things running, and play again in the afternoon, and once more a show in the evening.

The cool weather we finally are having (this year's summer lasted extraordinarily long and it's finally starting to drop into the 40's and 30's (F) at night) really makes me remember. It's in the air. If I'd been driving through Cary I know I would have seen the banners that are draped around town the week before. Kind of exciting. :-)

So here's a memory I'm sharing with the world...

I'd like to put some of the pictures up, but I can't find a way to do that right now. I might have to come back and add some. Anyway... thanks for reading!

(Number One, Sir!)