Monday, January 28, 2008

The Stumbling Block--Why some Christians can't embrace Islam (yet)

She believes there is only one god--Allah.
She believes that Muhammad was Allah's Messenger.
She believes the Qur'an is Allah's word, revealed to Muhammad.
She accepts the pillars of Islam as worship for Muslims.
She has started wearing hijaab even around non-Muslim friends and family.

And yet, she is not a Muslim. Why?

She cannot relinquish the idea that Jesus died for her sins.

Her story is not exceptional, and I think that many Muslims might not understand her position--in fact, I'm not sure I understand, though I might have been in her shoes myself. Until recently I didn't know how many women actually wear the hijaab before converting--in my case it was a while after, that I was ready to do so. But after talking to a number of women who have converted to Islam, I see that this belief of Christians, ingrained since birth, holds many back for a while before they overcome it.

Some of them can even logically refute it--but why does it hold such sway, such influence that it prevents them from embracing Islam? How does someone hold the idea that Muhammad is a Messenger of Allah (saws) and still believe that Jesus is their savior?

Allah says:
O Mankind! The Messenger hath come to you in truth from Allah: believe in him: It is best for you. But if ye reject Faith, to Allah belong all things in the heavens and on earth: And Allah is All-knowing, All-wise. (An-Nisaa 170)
O Mankind--Yaa Ayyuha An-Naas!! The Messenger has come to you. Not just to Arabs, not just to Muslims, not just to Gentiles, not just to non-Christians, but to all of mankind. He has come from Allah.

And then Allah says:
O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not "Three" - Cease! (it is) better for you! - Allah is only One Allah. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as Defender. (An-Nisaa 171)
To the "Christians" and the Jews, Allah says to avoid extremes, exaggerations, excesses in their religion, in their deen. And only say about Allah what is true. And then we see the extreme, the lie which has been uttered against Allah, and the correction of it. Christians are to say, we see here, what Jesus, Al-Maseeh, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, was, and no more. Not divine, not a savior. And what about a Trinity? Allah says to not say it: laa taqooloo thalaathatun. Why? Because Allah is only one (waahid) ilaah. Why would Allah say that? Because saying "three" violates tawheed, doesn't it? Isn't this the most major sin in Islam?

So as long as Shaytaan can convince people that they should not reject this teaching regarding Jesus that his death saves them from sin, then he is keeping people from accepting the oneness of Allah. He makes them afraid to deny Jesus, but what does Allah say?
The Messiah does by no means disdain that he should be a servant of Allah, nor do the angels who are near to Him, and whoever disdains His service and is proud, He will gather them all together to Himself. (An-Nisaa 172)
I think it's fascinating to refer to Jesus in this ayah exclusively as Al-Maseeh, the Messiah, as Christ. This is his title of course, the words being similar in Arabic, Aramaic, and Hebrew (Maseeh, Messiah, Meshiach, respectively). Christians use this title thinking it means that Jesus is divine, or a redeemer, the son of God (which Allah corrects in the previous ayah), and other things--they use the title to afford Jesus a status higher than is fitting, so Allah bestows honor here on servitude, or maybe "honor" isn't the right word. We are all to be slaves of Allah, servants, and to do so we must obey. The righteous attributes here are submission and obedience, and humility. But pride and arrogance, as Allah explains in the following ayah, are deserving punishment. Anyway, Allah describes Jesus, the Messiah, as being a willing, submitting, obedient servant to Allah. And then Allah reminds:
But to those who believe and do deeds of righteousness, He will give their (due) rewards,- and more, out of His bounty: But those who are disdainful and arrogant, He will punish with a grievous penalty; Nor will they find, besides Allah, any to protect or help them. (An-Nisaa 173)
Allaah will forgive and reward those who believe (in Allah and His Messengers, as mentioned in the ayah 171: fa'aaminoo billaahi warusulihi) and work righteousness. The Christian believes that forgiveness is for those who believe in the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus washing away sins, which Allah corrects here. And in the last phrase of the ayah--other than Allah there is no protector, or defender--also refutes the idea entertained by Christians that their salvation depends on Jesus.

The passage here is concluded with two more ayaat:

O mankind! verily there hath come to you a convincing proof from your Lord: For We have sent unto you a light (that is) manifest. (An-Nisaaa 174)

Then those who believe in Allah, and hold fast to Him,- soon will He admit them to mercy and grace from Himself, and guide them to Himself by a straight way. (An-Nisaa 175)

We see here that all of mankind is again being addressed, right? That there is proof, a light sent down... the Qur'an. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir for more on that.) But more importantly, all proof has come from Allah so there is no excuse for not accepting what one reads in the previous ayaat. What more proof is needed that the Christian claims about Jesus are wrong? Holding fast to Allah here is also holding to the Qur'an.

So not only is the claim of Christians refuted here, and the belief about Jesus which tends to block people from fully embracing Islam. But also, Allah is saying how to overcome it--that's what the last ayah is saying, isn't it? That people should believe in Allah and His proofs, and hold on to that. And doing so will result in mercy and grace from Allah, and says that Allah will guide these people to Him on a straight path. That's what we pray for in salaat, in Surat al-Fatihah, Ihdinaa as-Siraat al-Mustaqeem. Guide us to the straight path. So guidance results from believing and "holding fast" and this is guidance from Allah, guidance on a straight path, one without deviation. A path of Islam, a path that can lead the person to Paradise.

Any (and all) mistakes are from myself--please correct any errors you might find.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Propaganda, Rhetoric, and Wasted Votes

Lately I've been kind of a junkie when it comes to politics... a junkie who OD'd maybe. I had to take a break. But now everyone else seems to get more interested so I feel like I should at least keep up with major developments. Who do I support? If you look way back in my archives you'll see... Mike Gravel! And... most of you probably don't even know who that is. Some people still don't know who Ron Paul is. Dennis Kucinich dropped out yesterday I think, and while I'm sure most people know who it is, they wouldn't've voted for him. The really crazy thing is I always thought I leaned Republican! And I really don't trust Democrats any more than Republicans.

But my basic take on politics is thus: If I'm going to have to pay exorbitant taxes (as I do) then I would much rather my taxes pay for health care for poor little me (I can't afford insurance) than to buy guns, bombs, tanks, airplanes, etc., for killing people who don't even have access to water, much less health care.

It's pretty clear from watching debates that the candidates are all a bunch of liars who say one thing to one crowd, and another thing to another crowd. Lain padang lain belalang (Malay proverb literally meaning 'different field has different grasshopper'). The shift of rhetoric between New Hampshire and South Carolina among Republicans really caught me off guard. Suddenly they were all (excepting Ron Paul) trying to prove how much like Reagan they were. I think all these candidates would pretty much run the Constitution into the dirt if they could, and wouldn't think twice about using nuclear weapons if given the opportunity.

Although each candidate has his own special brand of evil, it's nice to know that Fred Thompson has dropped out. (And now Giuliani and Huckabee need to follow!) In case you missed it, you can probably watch this on youtube, but in the SC Republican debate hosted by Faux news, the moderator asked the candidates about recent "tension" in the Strait of Hormuz. He asked specifically if the candidates agreed with the ship's captain or commander, to not engage in hostilities. I can't really read minds of course but I feel like I could on this question.

You see, in South Carolina you have a lot of pro-military types. So the candidates had to say they agreed with the commander because it was his ship and who are they to tell him what to do? See, if I were a commander I wouldn't want some second-rate governor or senator trying to second-guess what I did. And so they said as much, that he made the right decision. But then... they went on to suggest all sorts of sinister outcomes and take a very hostile warmongering stance and it sounded like they wanted nothing other than an opportunity for all out war! It was really absurd what they were saying. Huckabee gave the Iranians a warning, "Be prepared, first, to put your sights on the American vessel. And then be prepared that the next thing you see will be the gates of Hell!" And Thompson chimed in, "I think one more step, and they would have been introduced to those virgins that they're looking forward to seeing." That's right folks, these men are running for president. Well, one is. Thompson has dropped out at least.

Unfortunately South Carolinians liked Thompson... just not enough to vote for him. And here I think is the myth of a wasted vote. In the primaries, there is no excuse for voting for someone you don't like. I don't get it. People tell me "Ron Paul doesn't have a chance," and the only way that is true is if people don't vote for him... because they think he doesn't have a chance. Ron Paul pretty much sucked at that debate. You know, when responding to the same question mentioned above, he mentioned how these other candidates were ready to start WW3 and Brit Hume made fun of him, which made me angry. Technically they all said they supported the do-nothing decision. I guess after working for Foxnews so long, the moderator wasn't able to pick up about how eager all the candidates were to talk about blasting Iran to smithereens--like Ron Paul said, ready to start WW3!!!

On the Democratic side there is a whole other kind of drama--it's just ugly. I want to know who is circulating the bogus email that Obama is a Muslim. Seriously, Fox and CNN covered the middle name mystery a year ago (it's on youtube if you don't believe me) and proved that 1) the "madrasa" he attended in Indonesia was actually quite progressive (and "not Wahhabi" as if they know what that even means) and 2) he's attended the same church for many years, proudly a Christian. And yet you have billboards in South Carolina saying Obama is a Muslim.

And by the way--they are using that as an insult. Should I be offended? If you want to talk about a country going to hell in a handbasket... so much for freedom of religion, right?

There is also the extremely pro-Israeli note he allegedly sent to Ambassador to the UN Khalilzad a few days ago--I'll credit Naeem for that, since I found out about it from him. I'm of the opinion that it is also a fake, especially how it bizarrely appeared on Haaretz and JTA and nowhere else (um, where did they get it?) in the midst of an Israeli discussion about whether or not Obama would be good for Jews. Suspicious. My friend who is going to be a lawyer inshaaAllah really thought it was fake just based on the informal and unprofessional style of the letter. And I've known he was fairly pro-Israel from his AIPAC speech last year, but this is just a little bit... obtuse.

I guess I'm done writing now.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Who cares about a Big Mac?

I take pride in the fact that I've never in my life eaten a "Big Mac." Not once. Nor do I have any intention to. Nor do I even know what comes on it! And I don't care. But the primary religious code as it were of this country is the 10 Commandments. I did grow up learning about religion and even though I'm not a Christian anymore (and have never been Jewish), I do think it's relevant to know the 10 Commandments and I do know them.

But I remember watching some news channel recently polling people on the street to see if they knew these--and overwhelmingly the Big Mac won. In fact, most people couldn't even name 4 or 5 of the commandments while they were able to name all 7 ingredients of the Big Mac. There was a survey done of about 1000 Americans prompting the street poll... the street poll which confirmed the results of the survey really.

But what's interesting is that even among people who claimed to attend church weekly couldn't even name them. (I say claimed because they seemed to not remember that prohibition of lying was one of them...) They would say "There's a lot of thou shalt not" (they grew up with the KJV I presume) and "Uh... don't kill?" This was several months ago and if you google "Big Mac 10 Commandments" you'll probably find plenty of stories on it.

I brought it up a few weeks ago to my dad while he was trying to convert me back to Christianity. He put himself in the category of people who know the Big Mac but not the 10 Commandments. I found that strange... very strange... I know my dad doesn't go to church often but he does read his Bible and is very strongly Christian, so I was surprised.

As I recall, many "conservatives" were in quite an uproar about having the Ten Commandments pulled from a judicial building not long ago. Why the fuss? Clearly they aren't important to Americans... not important enough to even know them!

Last night I was watching Bill Maher and poking fun at the Bible was a happy topic of his. He was saying first that many Christians don't even seem to know these (and if you don't know them how can you follow them I wonder?) and then saying that some of them were "stupid."

According to him, not making idols and swearing are "stupid" rules while only things like "don't murder" are important. Someone else mentioned to me recently that he wasn't sure why shirk was such a grievous sin in Islam but because he understood the reward for monotheism, he just accepted it. That made me think about the rights Allah has over us--it seems natural to me alhamdulillah.

And Allah has brought you out from the wombs of your mothers while you know nothing. And He gave you hearing, sight and hearts that you might give thanks (to Allah)." [16:78]

We ask not of you a provision. We provide it for you. And the good end is for the Muttaqeen (the ones who fear Allah)." [20:132]

Allah created us and sustains us--the greatest blessing, really. He forgives us when we mess up and has such mercy on us that we can never repay, and from that perspective I start to understand the magnitude of denying Allah. Shirk is to associate something with Allah--something else that created us perhaps, or something else that sustains us. Imagine a child saying to his mother while suckling at the breast, "I feed myself and do not need you to hold me and nourish me." Of course it wouldn't happen but just think about the image... the mother could just let go, but she doesn't. Allah nourishes us and sustains us. Those first two commandments sort of sum it up--violating them would be associating something with Allah, denying His right over us.

May Allah protect us from shirk and make us among the muttaqeen.

Tips for the Self-Deluded

Once upon a time I read this book: "He's Just Not That Into You." Why? I thought it looked amusing and I accidentally spilled coffee on it, so I felt compelled to buy it. It's basically a guide for women who are dating or trying to date (or marry) men who... well, aren't interested in the same things. Below are the titles of the chapters... basically a summary of the whole book.

  1. He's just not that into you if he's not asking you out;
  2. He's just not that into you if he's not calling you;
  3. He's just not that into you if he's not dating you;
  4. He's just not that into you if he's not having sex with you;
  5. He's just not that into you if he's having sex with someone else;
  6. He's just not that into you if he only wants to see you when he's drunk;
  7. He's just not that into you if he doesn't want to marry you;
  8. He's just not that into you if he's breaking up with you;
  9. He's just not that into you if he's disappeared on you;
  10. He's just not that into you if he's married (and other insane variations of being unavailable);
  11. He's just not that into you if he's a selfish jerk, a bully, or a really big freak.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Loving Allah

In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate; There is nothing deserving worship except Allah, and all praise is for Him.

It might be said that the "spirit" of all our actions as Muslims is, or ought to be, our love for Allah swt. It brings coolness to the eye (is that a fair way to use that idiom?) and motivates us to increase our acts of worship.

Allah, the Generous, has given us the gifts of this life: our hearing, and sight, all the faculties we need to survive in this world. The love of everything else in this world should emanate from the love of Allah swt. He endears Himself to His servants, doing things to make us love Him, so the love is (or should be) mutual.

Allah swt loves for us to turn to him after we commit sins.
Anas b. Malik reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: Allah is more pleased with the repentance of a servant as he turns towards Him for repentance than this that one amongst you is upon the camel in a waterless desert and there is upon (that camel) his provision of food and drink also and it is lost by him, and he having lost all hope (to get tbat) lies down in the shadow and is disappointed about his camel and there he finds that camel standing before him. He takes hold of his nosestring and then out of boundless joy says: 0 Lord, Thou art my servant and I am Thine Lord. He commits this mistake out of extreme delight.
Naturally our hearts incline towards a love of Allah. All provision, tranquility, and peace in our hearts is a favor from Allah swt. And to love Allah swt more fully we must understand the bounties He has given us.

We can love Allah swt through his names: the Forgiving, the Merciful, the Generous, the Protector, the Gentle, the Clement. Only believers can truly love Allah swt, as the disbelievers turn away from Allah and take partners in what they love. That's why believers love Allah most.
5:54 O ye who believe! if any from among you turn back from his Faith, soon will Allah produce a people whom He will love as they will love Him,- lowly with the believers, mighty against the rejecters, fighting in the way of Allah, and never afraid of the reproaches of such as find fault. That is the grace of Allah, which He will bestow on whom He pleaseth. And Allah encompasseth all, and He knoweth all things.
And who truly believes?
The Prophet said, "By Him in Whose Hand my soul is, (you will not have complete faith) till I am dearer to you than your own self."
And of course Allah swt has more right to be loved by His servants; he provides for us, has mercy on us, and forgives us for our sins. Allah loves His servants but does not require anything from us.

How can we love Allah swt?

1) Reciting the Qur'an and reflecting on its meaning. If you love someone, then you love to read his words--the letters he might have written you for example; if you love Allah then why wouldn't you love to read His words, the Qur'an? The Qur'an is addressed to the believers, who should listen attentively to the words of Allah swt. And reciting even a letter of the Qur'an earns a reward. In fact the Qur'an will be an intercessor on the Day of Judgment for those who recited it. But regarding the topic at hand, our love for Allah swt will grow with reading the Qur'an.

2) We should draw nearer to Allah swt by performing extra voluntary acts of worship (nawafil). Acts of worship are not just rituals, but when done properly they affect our hearts. Allah swt says that His servants can draw nearer to Him first by performing obligatory acts of worship, then voluntary acts of worship. This includes extra prayers and fasting.

3) To continue remembering Allah swt with the tongue, heart, and actions. Remembering Allah with the tongue is even considered an act of charity, something for which we will be rewarded, but it is also a way to increase our love for Allah swt.

4) By giving preference to what Allah swt loves, instead of what we prefer. We should not admit any partner in our love for Allah swt--when we act on our own desires in preference to what Allah loves, then we are in a way granting ourselves more importance and love than our Lord.

5) By witnessing the names and attributes of Allah swt and to feel them in the heart. In the Qur'an, Allah has shown us His names, His attributes, that He is Forgiving, and Merciful, Gentle, and Loving. That He is near to us and always listening when we supplicate to Him. So we should call on Him often and know He is listening, that He is All-Hearing. And He is Oft-Forgiving so we should beg for His Forgiveness.

6) By witnessing the favors that Allah swt has given us.

7) By humbling our our hearts in front of Allah swt. Our love for Allah swt can increase when we understand that we are His servants, and that He is Merciful. Humility allows us to fully understand the many favors Allah swt has given us, and to appreciate them without arrogance and that appreciation can foster more love for Allah.

8) By increasing time in privacy with Allah swt, by asking forgiveness in the last third of the night. Devoting this extra time when we might like to be sleeping to Allah... He descends to the lower heaven at this time and wants to forgive us, we only need to ask.

9) By sitting with those who are truthful in their love of Allah swt. The comparison is of sitting with a seller of perfume vs. a blacksmith, and how the presence of one creates a different and more pleasant effect than the other.

A condition for loving Allah swt is that if you want Allah swt to love you, follow the Prophet (saws).

Signs (proofs, tests, etc) that we love Allah swt are that we love to meet Allah, that we give preference to what Allah loves and avoid following our whims, that we avoid disobeying Allah. Love and obedience of Allah swt go hand in hand--sins are not proof someone does not love Allah. Other signs are that we love the words of Allah and the messenger, and that we love the people of faith.

Allahumma musarrifal-qulubi, sarrif qulubana `ala ta`atika (O Allah! Controller of the hearts, direct our hearts to Your obedience).

These are some of my notes from a recent lecture... I'm not sure of the original source... please notify me for any corrections.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

No Lamb this Eid

I'm not sure whether this story ever got a lot of news. I had some trouble finding any updates on it, so I think not. The best article I could find is in the local newspaper. Here's the gist...

Eid al-Adha, a couple weeks ago, is a Muslim holiday honoring Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. Part of the celebration is for each family to sacrifice an animal, like a lamb for example. Now, here's an interesting bit of trivia for those of you who might not live in North Carolina. In the great North state, there are more pigs than people. More pigs. Gross, huh? Hog farming is a major industry here. But we don't slaughter hogs for Eid, no way. But I guess some of these hog farmers raise lambs too.

In fact, there's a little farm in a neighboring county that would sell lambs to Muslims to slaughter for Eid al-Adha--for those Muslims who wanted to slaughter personally instead of just donating the money or whatever else they do. Anyway, for one reason or another, 250 lambs is a "mass slaughter" that apparently requires special sanitation. So some little Johnston County judge decides to impose a 10-day ban on the farm, so the Muslims couldn't come slaughter the lambs there on Eid.

Now, a group got together to ask the judge to lift the ban for this celebration, but he seemed to think that this (alleged) sanitation ban was more important than the constitution's guarantee of freedom to exercise religious rights. And so he denied their request, said that the Muslims could go somewhere else for the slaughter. Okay, there aren't exactly a whole lot of places to slaughter lambs--pigs are of course definitely out of the question. So saying that all these families can just go somewhere else is just the sort of arrogance we've come to expect from the justice department, isn't it?

If you read the article, you'll see some of the suggestions they gave--taking the animal home and slaughtering it there. Imagine, your neighbors see you slaughter a lamb in your yard, what they gonna think? And you want to talk about sanitation? Hunters around here will string up the deer they shoot, cut it up, and distribute the meat among their friends. But can Muslims do that? Oh nooooo.... somehow it's okay if it's good ol' country boys cutting up the deer they just shot in the woods, but the Muslims slaughtering a lamb for religious purposes? Oh no. The country might fall apart, right?

But alhamdulillah, another farm was found. And this you won't find in the paper so I'm reporting this to you as "hearsay." About an hour's drive in the other direction of aforementioned farm, many Muslims found another place for their slaughter. And so they drive on out there, completely different county of course, no ban... and guess what sort of a lucky surprise is waiting for them?

Local cops!

With cameras, getting images of cars, license plates, and no doubt the drivers of the cars. I'm not sure if they went to watch the event as well. But their presence was not necessary and could have been threatening, even.

So what's the deal? Why are Muslims being harassed and giving such a hard time about this sacrifice? These judges can't seriously want people to start slaughtering animals in their living rooms. The fact that the "law" is now stepping in on purely religious matters--it doesn't seem to have anything to do with sanitation now, does it? And seeing as how it was a 10-day ban, right over the Muslim holiday...

Now, if the fact that the entire business reeks of religious discrimination, I'm astonished at how this sort of thing is allowed, while "slaughterhouses" in this country can operate while abusing the animals, by beating them, sometimes animals are scalded in boiling water when the slaughter knife doesn't kill them. Is this entire country's meat business so screwed up?