Monday, April 28, 2008

Kung Fu Islam

Last week I went to see a movie, mostly because I was bored and didn't want to go home. And what did I go to see, but The Forbidden Kingdom! Probably not in line for movie of the year, it was a good way to (shame on me) waste some time. On the other hand, I guess it wasn't completely wasted since I can make a blog post on it, right?

Basically it's a "kung fu" flick with a white kid who gets transported back in time, and to China, with a mission to return some magical staff to the Monkey King (played by Jet Li... lol.) The big headline about the movie was that it was a collaboration between Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

But anyway, both characters sort of play martial arts masters, teaching the white kid some kung fu. And that's what is really interesting. (Interesting to me anyway, probably not to some kung fu enthusiasts.)

First of all, did you know that the meaning of "kung fu" doesn't mean fighting or martial arts? The character in the movie didn't--he just wanted to learn kicks and punches and that sort of thing. But like in the Karate Kid, kicks and punches aren't the first thing the master teaches the student. If you remember that film, you probably remember the master teaching the student "wax on, wax off" to begin with, and the reason is that the student first needs to develop the strenghth or the tools to be able to properly practice the martial art. Before he can start punching, kicking, or even blocking, he needs to develop strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance.

In The Forbidden Kingdom, the kung fu master tells the student the meaning of "kung fu." Do you know what kung fu is? It is effort exerted over time in order to acquire skill. Any skill. And he went on to describe how kung fu could apply to art, or music, or any other kind of skill.

And it struck me as a brilliant concept. I know what has happened to me as I began to study Islam, and it might have happened to other people as well. It's all too easy for me, or maybe anyone, to learn a little Qur'an, learn a couple ahadith, and pretend to be a faqih (jurist.) But it's kind of like a beginner trying to punch and kick when he doesn't even know how to stand properly, or even breathe properly.

At any rate, I've been thinking a lot about how important it is to have a good teacher. Tomorrow inshaaAllah I am hoping to pick up a book from the Islamic Bookstore about the four imams. It's called, The Four Imams. I remember hearing a story about Abu Hanifah, I think, and that he showed a lot of respect for his teacher by helping him around the house and being a kind of servant to him. I'm not sure of the details but I hope to find out soon inshaaAllah. At any rate, it's a nice story that is good to think about when we want to approach Islamic knowledge.

Because in actuality the knowledge is a gift from Allah--imagine that it is like pure water. But what happens if you put pure water in a dirty container? It becomes dirty water. So we need to work on ourselves constantly while we acquire knowledge--constantly purifying ourselves. And even if we don't get the knowledge we at least can be purified inshaaAllah.

Another analogy is from the movie I mentioned. While the boy is asking his teacher to teach him complex stances and moves and forms, showing off his knowledge of these things, the teacher is filling up his cup. And as the hot drink reaches the brim, the teacher keeps pouring, as the student begs him to stop pouring because the cup is full! And the teacher simply tells him, "I know," and asks him how he expects to fit any more drink in a cup that is already full. He then tells the student to empty his cup. Of course the analogy is that the student's cup was full of what he thought he already knew, when in fact without the basics, all his knowledge was useless, so he needed to start with an empty cup--humble, and ready to learn.

InshaaAllah we can all be humble before our teachers, and behave with such manners and etiquette, with such sincere love and longing for Allah, that our teachers are happy to fill us with their knowledge, instead of pouring into a full cup of dirty water.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

First Visit

I remember my first visit to the masjid. It was the day after I said shahadah--I said shahadah over the phone on a Thursday night. And on Friday afternoon, after work, I went by the masjid, wearing a pair of long pants and a loose button-up blouse with elbow-length sleeves. I considered it a more modest outfit than what I could have worn--a knee-length skirt, short-sleeve, low cut blouse--though I know I still wasn't entirely covered.

So a few months after that, after I had begun to practice Islam and started going to MSA events, I remember having a discussion at a meeting about non-Muslims going to the masjid, and how to treat them. A rude remark was made about a woman (theoretical, to my knowledge it's not something that happened) who would visit the masjid for the first time wearing shorts. According to the speaker, such a woman should not be allowed to enter the masjid.

Apparently, she was supposed to know better... "It's the masjid!" Like everyone is automatically aware of Muslim customs, despite the fact they might not have ever had any contact with Muslims? Some people don't know better, is my point.

I wouldn't keep her out of the building, though, as it would be profoundly rude. So the best thing to do is to gently explain that it's appropriate to dress modestly in a house of worship, and take the opportunity to give da'wah.

And if you know someone who wants to visit a mosque, it might be wise to inform them ahead of time that they should wear long pants and sleeves. I think if they are politely told early on, there won't be a shock or any offense when they arrive.

Wondering what to tell someone before they visit a mosque?

Perhaps, that they might be expected to remove their shoes, and that it would be courteous to wear modest clothes. It's also useful to know that men and women usually don't mix or mingle in the masjid--something Muslims try to avoid in general. So to explain that there are separate spaces for men and women early on is useful. Some people want to know why there are footsinks in the bathroom, something else which is easy to explain. It's also polite to be quiet, especially in the prayer hall, where anyone might be praying or reading Qur'an. Because above all, the purpose of the mosque is for worship. Is there anything I left out?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

And all that other stuff...

Uh, whoops... sorry if anyone was notified of another post that.. somehow got posted before I ever wrote anything. I was thinking I'd make a follow-up of my last post, Why We Take Our Shoes Off.

I've noticed another problem that seems to be slightly more common with sisters at the masjid, about laying down random stuff they happen to be carrying in the prayer line. Purses... bookbags... umbrellas... And no, I'm not going to complain about people bringing this stuff into the masjid--it hardly matter. The problem is just when they lay it down in the middle of the prayer line. They don't see it that way, I'm sure, because when they lay it down, it's on the end.

What happens is that they try to join the prayer as quickly as possible, and so their stuff gets strewn all around, pretty much wherever it lands. I'm not opposed to people placing their purses and things (baby carriers?) in front of them--it doesn't bother me (or probably anyone else) one bit. But sometimes they just drop it beside them... which will leave a gap in the row, or someone else will have to move elsewhere. That makes it a little impolite.

But when I walk in to pray, right behind someone who has dropped all their things at the end of the row to catch the rakah, it means that I might miss it trying to move their things out of the way so other people can join that same row. (This has happened, but I want to point out that the sister did apologize before I said anything, and it wasn't a big deal.)

So this here is just a gentle reminder to people who leave things behind them or beside them when they join the row, that it's likely people will come after them joining the row. Please place them somewhere that won't be in the way. :-)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Why We Take Our Shoes Off

Mosque CarpetsHaving played hostess to a number of different non-Muslim groups visiting our mosque, this issue of taking off one's shoes in the mosque has manifested itself in some interesting ways. I'm afraid some people even might have the wrong idea about why shoes are removed inside the mosque.

Before the expansion had opened, but while the old musallah had been closed, we were forced to hold our da'wah presentations in the gym. Most activities took place in the gym--including the prayers. But several of our visitors were "regulars," from school groups whose instructors regularly sent their classes to the mosque for presentations. They were well-aware that shoes needed to be removed inside the prayer hall, and informed their students ahead of time.

For these presentations in the gym, we had to explain to everyone that they could leave their shoes on. Frankly, if I were to walk across a gym floor, I'd rather leave my shoes on. But this is a much easier problem to deal with than the reverse, which is an audience previously unaware they would be removing their shoes--for sometimes this can make people uncomfortable.

Because it's so common for shoes to be removed inside a mosque, and to see shoe racks near the doors, I thought it would be worthwhile to explain (if I can, inshaaAllah) the purpose for this behavior.

Some people, if they were asked why Muslims remove their shoes in a mosque, would respond by vaguely saying "out of respect." Respect for what, or for whom? Do Muslims need to pray with their shoes off? Some people might say yes, others might say no. The answer is: not unless their shoes have impurities on them. So it isn't necessarily for the prayer, but is it to respect the space? I have heard some people say that the masjid is "sacred ground," like when Moses (s) was told to remove his shoes in front of the burning bush because he was on sacred ground.

But refer to a hadith reported in Sahih Muslim where the Messenger of Allah (s) in explaining the differences between other messengers and himself (s), says "the earth has been made sacred and pure and mosque for me, so whenever the time of prayer comes for any one of you he should pray whenever he is." If the earth has been made sacred, pure, and a mosque, then how can we say that inside the walls of a mosque are sacred and we must take our shoes off?

Man Praying BarefootIn fact, we have traditions about the Prophet Muhammad (s) praying with his shoes on. Anas bin Malik was asked the question, if Muhammad prayed with shoes on, and he answered yes (reported in Bukhari and Muslim.) But the condition about the shoes being free of impurities comes from another hadith in Sunan Abu Dawood, on the authority of Abu Sa'id Al-Khudri. In this hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (s) was leading his companions in prayer, and during the prayer he removed them and placed them to his left. His companions copied the behavior, removing their shoes, and at the end of the prayer the Messenger of Allah (s) asked them why they did so, and of course they replied that they saw him remove his shoes. At this point, the Prophet Muhammad (s) explained that the Angel Gabriel had come to him during the prayer and told him that there was some filth on them, which is why he (s) removed them. So he told his Companions at that point to check their shoes before coming to a mosque and if they were dirty, to wipe them off and then pray in them.

Given that story, one might expect for Muslims to pray in their shoes in the mosque. And in fact, Muslims were instructed (according to another hadith in Sunan Abu Dawood) by the Prophet Muhammad (s) to pray with their shoes on to differentiate themselves from the Jews.

So returning to the question--why remove our shoes? And the answer has to do with the different nature of our mosques today, and our shoes. Because walking on the carpet with shoes will soil it, we should remove them. And that is the fatwa on this particular issue. Additionally, the carpets are considered waqf, meaning they should be preserved and maintained in good condition. Dirt on the carpets is likely to upset the people who will be praying on them, which is why we should take our shoes off. Praying with shoes.

So, simply because shoes carry dirt, and dirt will soil the carpets on which people prostrate, it is not appropriate to walk on the carpets with shoes. It is perfectly fine, however, to pray with shoes when praying outside the mosque--like at home, at work, in the park, etc.--so long as you ensure they are free from impurities.

At the mosque, on the other hand, if you are taking off your shoes to walk on the carpet, please be sure to neatly stow them on the appropriate racks. :-)

Shoe rack at a mosque

Sunday, April 20, 2008

More to praise

With the recent opening of the masjid here in Raleigh, it's not too hard to find things to complain about.

But despite all the complaints, or noise I might have made thus far, I just wanted to say that there is a lot more being done right. The efforts of the masjid administration and committees should be commended, really, for all the work they have been doing and all their help to transform the place into more than just a pretty building, but into a real beating heart for the community.

It's too easy to say that the rooms aren't really soundproof (very obvious when you make sujood to a chorus of crying children), and there's still no video equipment and that's true. It's also easy to say that the children wouldn't settle during the prayer and the women were talking through the program. But I guess it's harder to respect the efforts which have been made to help. So inshaaAllah I am going to try to mention these things, based on what I saw last night at the opening event.

To start with, the obscure new rule about strollers not being allowed in the building--somehow the word did get out and the sisters are cooperating. MaashaaAllah. May Allah reward the sisters who repeatedly had to explain this rule, and the sisters who are following it. Strollers are a problem because they block hallways and doorways--which can be a real safety hazard.

In addition the volunteer sisters last night were determined to keep food out of the new prayer area--that didn't make most people very happy, but it's something that must be vigilantly enforced, I think. Refreshments, you see, were being served across the hall, and naturally some wanted to return to the prayer hall with their food but they were kept out, and the sisters who kept them out often had to be strong in that but they were also polite, so I commend them. MaashaaAllah. May Allah reward them for setting that good example.

There was a liaison between security on the ground floor, and also up with the sisters. She was there to have someone come up and turn off the alarm (when someone attempted to leave through the emergency exit--which sets of an alarm). She also could call downstairs with her walkie-talkie to have the volume of the sound system changed when the sisters would not be quiet. Somebody was definitely thinking ahead. MaashaaAllah.

Here are some other points that are very nice. The chandeliers are pretty, the carpet is soft, the tile in the lobby downstairs is very elegant. There is lots of space, and just when you think the space might be filled up there is even more space that opens up. The new bathrooms are nice and usually clean. There are windows to let in natural light in the halls upstairs and downstairs. There's space behind the musallah which can be used for classes, lectures, presentations, etc. Plenty of racks for shoes, too.

And on Friday, children were kept out of the main prayer hall, kept in the side rooms, most ladies put their shoes up on racks, and 95% or so were quiet during the lecture. With all those women there, and it went so well. It was very frustrating to have to listen to crying babies during the salaat though, as usual--just a sign that there needs to be better soundproofing. Actually, just a proper seal or some carpet underneat the door--there's about a one inch gap which doesn't do much for soundproofing.

All the same... there really is more good than bad, despite what I say.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Video of New Masjid

The expansion of the masjid in Raleigh is pretty much finished, now, and it is open to the public. Someone has taken some pictures of the construction of the old masjid, and the new masjid, plus the steps in between, and made a video out of it. MaashaaAllah.

So for anyone curious about what the Raleigh Masjid looks like... enjoy.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nourishment of the Heart

Adhkar As-SabaH wa Al-Masaa'Last Friday the imam gave a class for sisters on the topic of dhikr. That combined with Br. Naeem's thoughts on the same subject inspired me to write this post.

The summary of the message is really that remembrance of Allah (which we call dhikr) brings tranquility to the heart. And this isn't even a claim that we humans can make, but rather a promise by Allah. "Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest!" (13:28)

And elsewhere Allah tells us to remember Him: "Therefore remember Me, I will remember you. Give thanks to Me, and reject not Me." (2:152)

In sacred hadith collected by Imam Al-Bukhari and narrated on the authority of Abu Hurayrah, Allah says, "I am as My servant thinks I am. I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assembly better than it. And if he draws near to Me an arm's length, I draw near to him a fathom's length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed."

There are numerous benefits in the remembrance of Allah, because it:
  • Expels the Shaytan, and pleases Ar-Rahmaan
  • Eases sadness, and brings joy
  • Strengthens the heart and the body
  • Brings brightness to the face
  • Makes other people like you
  • Provides awareness that Allah is watching you
  • Leads to Allah's remembrance of you
  • Removes stains from the heart (along with repentance and istighfar)
  • Is a good deed, and good deeds wipe out bad deeds
  • Preoccupies the tongue from bad talk (like gossip, lying, backbiting)
  • Leads to plants in Paradise
Remembrance of other people is a disease, and remembrance of Allah is the cure. A heedless tongue--a tongue that does not remember Allah--is like a blind eye. It does not serve its purpose. So to clean our hearts and serve Allah in Islam we need to remember Allah. And then we can expect Allah to remember us with His Mercy.

"Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest." (3:128)

Success for Sisters?

Last night (Sunday night) I attended a class at the masjid after maghrib. The community here is still trying to determine the best way to utilize the space available--not just the gender split issue which I've already covered here and here, but also for classes, lectures, and other activities.

So after the prayer, there was some time spent while the organizers tried to figure out if they should hold the class in the main musallah, go upstairs, or in the partitioned room behind the musallah--the last option being their final decision. Someone then began setting up chairs for the class--much to my dismay, with a few rows up front by the teacher, and then a few chairs in a back corner of the room.

Now, if you were to walk in on this arrangement somewhere other than a mosque you might think that those corner chairs are either extra, or for some people not participating in the class. But in fact, that was where the sisters were expected to sit!


Yes, I have a problem with that. You might be thinking now of the hadith which says the best rows for men are the first rows, and the best rows for women are the last rows. And may I remind you that it is talking about prayer--and when it comes to prayer I fully and whole-heartedly agree. But in a class, listening to a speaker, I disagree entirely.

One thing I learned way back at college orientation is that the students who perform the best in a class are those who sit in the front row, and in the center--a T shape, if you will. And have you ever noticed that the most expensive tickets at a concert or sporting event are those nearest to the front? The reasons are obvious--by sitting in the front, by the teacher, students are able to read more of the instructor's body language. They are closer to him, more likely to make eye contact, more likely to maintain concentration. The teacher is able to interact with them more, and the students interact more with the teacher. Students in the front are less likely to be distracted--as the objects of distraction between them and the teacher are few.

On the other hand, students in the back have to look through rows of people to see the teacher, and are more likely to be distracted by all the objects (students, etc) between them and the teacher. They are also more likely to be distracted by anything behind them, because their proximity to the instructor is less, and therefore concentration is lower as well. Not to mention that in some cases, without amplification or a sound system, it is even more difficult to hear!

This is obvious--that students in the front are able to perform better in class because they are benefiting the most from the teacher.

And yet in this class at the masjid, where are the sisters expected to sit? In the back corner--where they are unable to see the instructor (the floor being level and the teacher sitting down), unable to hear him until he gets a microphone, and where they see rows of brothers in front of them whose slightest movements are obvious, but also have to suffer from late-comers who all must walk in front of the sisters to get a chair and sit down.

Not all classes I attend are like this, by the way. Most actually separate the class with a gap in the center, with a group of brothers to the right of the instructor, and a group of sisters to the left. (Or in some cases vice versa.) In fact, the instructors at the Bayyinah Institute actually require this--"equal opportunity but separated seating" for brothers and sisters.

So I'm not suggesting that men and women should mix--in fact I don't like having to sit right beside a dude in my engineering classes even and avoid it whenever possible. But I am saying that sisters should be able to sit at the front as well, and if they aren't allowed to do so then they are really being shafted for that class.

They are being denied the opportunity to benefit as much as the brothers are, and faced with more difficulties (seeing and hearing) and more distractions in the class.

It shouldn't be acceptable to make sisters sit in the back corner where they cannot see or hear as well. And for the record I attempted to move the row of chairs for sisters nearer to the teacher, only to have the other ladies move their chairs back. So I am not blaming a single group, here, but I think the point needs to be made that success in the class is easier and more likely for students who sit up at the front, and sisters should not be denied that opportunity. Ever.

Being Patient

I feel kind of bad for my misogynist post--and at the same time a little good. Kind of like the feeling you get from biting into a very rich piece of cake. The "I shouldn't do this" feeling even though you know it feels good.

I will say that I tried not to write it (that's not an excuse btw) but I was so fitful after leaving the masjid Saturday that I couldn't even sleep. Ranting about other people, though, that calmed me down. I wonder if I should be worried about that?

You see, I know I'm not the only person with that perspective, because I've shared my complaints with several of my friends. I also know that people who disagree with me have good reasons for that as well. I want to point out though that my complaint was not with the mosque administration (who I have found to be very fair-minded) and not with Islam (which I believe is perfectly just.) It clearly wasn't a gripe against all Muslims, but a few who were offending me with their behavior.

Is ranting the appropriate response? No, of course not. That's what impetuous and selfish people like me do. And even as I wrote, I wished I could have the patience and serenity to just explain kindly to those sisters that what they are doing isn't appropriate. From leaving shoes in front of the door, to lining up sideways, to deliberately making the lines crooked by not standing on the line, to letting their children run wild during the prayer. The problem is that I couldn't summon any kindness, being too overcome with anger and frustration. And even then, I think if I were to try telling people what to do with that attitude, I would certainly not get their cooperation.

And rather than ranting, it would be better to ponder possible solutions to the problems. And that is a frustrating quest--largely because it is out of my hands. It's not up to me to decide how the space is going to be utilized--that is, for women to be upstairs or downstairs, and if they are downstairs where exactly. And that is a problem which upon resolution should (I hope) make improvements in other areas easier.

About the shoes--I think the only way to solve it is to consistently keep telling people to put up their shoes, and not let them leave them at the door (when they could walk a mere 3ft to stow them!) But who wants to stand outside the prayer hall during the prayer telling people about shoes? Maybe when I'm cycling or something.. haha.

About the children in the prayer hall--I have noticed someone who is on the womens' committee speaking to the offending sisters, so hopefully that is something that can improve as well.

So anyway, I know that if I want things to change I should try to change them and ranting is the most immature way to respond. It doesn't help solve the problem. But it does make me feel better to expend the dark energy that unfortunately just builds up when I go pray at the masjid. And I don't want anyone to get the opinion from me that I don't see my own problems. There might very well be sisters at the masjid who complain as ferociously about me and my own behavior--like deliberately praying downstairs. And there might be sisters who are bothered but try more patiently to "correct" me as they see fit.

In which case I would say that we all need guidance. Period.

A "very good" story

Every year here at work, each employee has a performance review. I'm technically a temporary part-time employee so it's not required for me to have one but my boss prefers to so every year in April (not sure why it's in April, but it is) we sit down and talk about my work.

Because I tend to only work in the afternoon, and I don't come in on Wednesdays, I don't have a lot of contact with all my coworkers. (Kind of a bonus for me, really, since they are all men, and usually I can do most or all of my work without having to spend a lot of time with any of them.) But sometimes it happens that I don't have advance notice for things... like performance reviews.

Now I expected it coming up, just didn't know what day it would be. It happened on Thursday (notice that I wasn't in on Wednesday, so I didn't know until I came in.) That day I was wearing a new pair of white pants, which I cleverly managed to find at a bargain of $7. (By the way, they were the first pair of pants I had bought myself since October of last year... and only $7!) The problem with new white pants though is that they act as a kind of magnet for... everything else which might be wet or sticky and brightly colored.

So when I went to lunch, I knew I had to be extra careful about not getting them dirty--especially with performance review coming up. And for whatever reason I opted to eat some chicken things in an orange sauce... and was especially careful. After I finished I was quite pleased with myself that I hadn't gotten any on me at all, and I go back to work. Well, as I'm about to swipe my ID I see my reflection in the glass door, a huge smudge of sauce... not on my pants, but on my shirt. Not pleasant, of course, but my shirt was brown so I wasn't too upset. Although I was very confused--I thought I hadn't made any mess at all.

So I go inside and straight to the bathroom, holding my purse in front of the smear because... well it was kind of embarrassing. So I go to the bathroom and wash it out, now have a big wet spot but I think it has time to dry--I dry what I can with paper towels and adjust my hijab. I was wearing one of these enormous hijabs that day, that literally goes down to my waist if I don't keep it up... these big hijabs which very modestly cover the chest also make it difficult to see straight down. Maybe only a woman would know what I'm talking about...

So anyway, I then back up in front of the mirror and see, much to my dismay, a little orange spot on my nice white pants. So I go back to the sink and prepare to start washing it out and as I look down at my pants I see on the opposite leg more orange sauce--a very large smear around my knee and several more splotches further down.

Ridiculous. And I had thought I didn't spill ANY sauce! So I started to panic and tried to wipe out the sauce as best I could, knowing I wouldn't be able to get it all out. My review was in 30 minutes, after washing it out I just went back to my desk hoping it would dry fast.

It didn't, really.

I don't think the sauce was too terribly obvious, as I did a good job washing it out. And I was sitting behind a desk in my supervisor's office anyway. I don't think he noticed. But how frustrating! To have been so careful and yet still see this sauce having its way with me and my britches.

The review went okay by the way--I got "very good" which my fiance thinks might not have been "excellent" because I appeared somewhat untidy... sheesh. But I found out that my plans have less mistakes than some of my coworkers, which is exciting, because they all have more experience and they work faster than I do.

Later that night I managed to find more orange sauce in strange places: some got on the back of my purse, and then smeared on my shirt afterwards whenever I put it on my shirt. Again, shirt was brown and largely obscured by hijab.) But to keep finding it... oh so frustrating! I've washed the pants now and they're so white and clean except for the spots. Looks like I might need to pull out the bleach and go to town.

Did I learn a lesson? Ehh... not really.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I must be a misogynist

Because I hate women.

No, don't give me that look, that just because I am a woman I'm supposed to think women are wonderful people. I don't think that. Clearly, I hate women. And I am in a fitless rage at the moment and have been unable to sleep out of sheer frustration at some women in my community. No doubt my post will anger, even infuriate some--most especially my readers in my own community.

But I just can't take it anymore.

The masjid here just opened a new portion of the building, including a musallah on the second floor especially for sisters (henceforth known as the fake musallah.) According to some people (men and women alike unfortunately) this means that women can't or shouldn't pray in the real musallah, the main one on the first floor. I tick these people off when I refuse to go upstairs to the fake musallah, and instead choose to pray behind the men. They usually let me know, as if I'm some poor stupid lass who can't figure out how to use stairs.

But in reality, every time I choose to pray upstairs in congregation (I have no problems praying up there solo), I become so angry, so infuriated that I cannot concentrate on my prayer whatsoever. Tonight I pretty much stormed out and threw a fit in my car, I was so upset. (After praying isha in the fake musallah tonight, that is.) I'm still throwing a fit 7 hours later, really.

Why do I get so angry at the women while praying upstairs? Various reasons... I'll list them.

First, because the women won't shut up. In the real prayer hall, people know better than to carry on their casual and audible conversations in the musallah--so they take it to the lobby. There is no lobby upstairs so the women use the fake musallah as their cafe to chit-chat when salaat is not going on. This is only a minor issue, because there is at least a private room secluded where I can pray in private if I show up and there is a group of sisters monopolizing the fake musallah with their pointless conversation.

Secondly, because the fake prayer hall serves as a dual-purpose play room. There is infact a play room upstairs, adjacent to the fake musallah. And there is a door to another secluded room for mothers to pray who have small children. And then there is a door from that room into the fake musallah itself. So this means that children can (and do) amuse themselves by running from the play room into the secluded room, into the fake musallah, into the hallway, back into the playroom... and so on. Despite having a play room, they also choose to run back and forth across the fake musallah. Usually this is behind the sisters praying in a row, but not always. Even when there is only enough room to prostrate, children still sometimes choose to run in front of this entire row! So they chase each other, giggle, scream, fall down and cry, and stomp around, all in the fake musallah, during the prayer. What is the point of a play room if the kids are still going to play in the prayer hall? Why can't the women control their kids!?

Thirdly, the sisters seem to have a problem observing basic congregational prayer etiquette. Like straighting the lines. And filling in the gaps. And starting the row in the center behind the imam. It isn't difficult to tell where the imam is downstairs, although it is not possible to actually see him. But still sisters insist on lining up starting sideways or in a corner instead of in the center. So tonight for example, the sisters somehow decided to line up in the front left corner of the fake musallah (against all logic) and as usual failed to fill in the gaps, and as usual could not manage to keep the line straight, despite having clear rows on the carpet!

Fourthly, the sisters collectively refuse to place their shoes on the shoe racks. They walk upstairs I suppose, take their shoes off as they open the door to the fake musallah, and walk right on in. Leaving their shoes in front of the door. Repeat after me: safety hazard!! And yes, already sisters have tripped on these shoes while exiting the fake musallah. (And can I point out that this is NEVER a problem downstairs where the brothers ALWAYS store their shoes?) And before you start telling me "maybe they don't know," be aware that after jummah sisters have repeatedly been instructed to place their shoes on racks. The racks are only three feet away from the doors!! Three feet! Why can't a person walk three more feet to put their shoes up instead of leaving a disaster pile of shoes at the doorway? Is bending down too much trouble? When I see this I've made a habit of removing them and putting them on racks--as have other like-minded sisters. We've also when seeing a sister leave her shoes there, informed her that she needed to use the racks. But still it happens... I exit the room and there are the shoes. I'm sorely tempted to collect them all and throw them in a dark room forcing the sisters to go on a search to find them. Really, it's absurd.

Fifthly, the audio/visual disaster. It is a disaster. There is absolutely no visual equipment (as had been promised!) to provide sisters with a view of the imam--for khutbahs or khaaterahs or even the salaat. There is a wall around the front of the room which is glass from about 3ft high up to the ceiling, so it is possible to see the imam if you look down from standing immediately against the wall. If you are far enough away from the wall to allow yourself space to prostrate, then you are too far away to have a proper angle to see the imam. So it doesn't count. No video equipment like I said, even though I had been told on several occasions that there would be a large screen television for sisters to see the imam. This results, quite naturally, in more chatty sisters who instead of listening to the talk will just carry on their own conversations! Leaving the other sisters with no recourse but to attempt to listen, without the aid of line of sight. This is a problem that DOESN'T happen downstairs. They brothers do not talk inside the real musallah during a lecture. Sisters do not shut up! Perhaps a television would not even help the problem--it's just another reason for me to hate women and their chatty selves. It is a problem that stems from the separation... or really seclusion of women in a separate and unequal (clearly deficient!!) area. And tonight I had to suffer from a very poor sound system. Whether it is the quality of the speakers or the volume being too high, the sound was clipping--very unpleasant to listen to... and anything that makes the Qur'an unpleasant to hear, and the salaat difficult to follow is not a good thing in my opinion. It's probably not a woman's fault, but the fact that women have to pray upstairs by themselves and it's men who control the sound system leaves me good reason to still hate praying upstairs in the fake musallah.

And last of all, praying upstairs in a separate room from the imam and congregation, does not feel like praying in congregation at all. The fact that anyone thinks there is a problem with women praying behind the men (when the Prophet saws said the best rows for women are the last rows) is another reason for my frustration at the fake musallah being upstairs and totally separated from the men. I am not even convinced that it is Islamically permissible really. I mean, does it make sense for my husband to lead me in prayer while he is downstairs and I am upstairs in my room with the door closed? Even if I can hear him? It doesn't. Does it make sense to follow a salaat while hearing the imam on the radio even if it's live? Or to follow a prayer on satellite television or streaming video on the internet? It doesn't make sense and I think what we're doing at the masjid now isn't much different--to be in a completely separate room from the imam, where it is not possible to see him (or the rows of the congregation), or to hear him except through artificial means (the sound system), hardly constitutes a single congregation, in my opinion.

So I hate it. I hate being up there with the women who don't like being part of the real congregation. I hate the women who leave their shoes strewn about for others to trip over. Who use the prayer hall as a venue for inane conversation, who leave their trash laying around, who and who talk during the lectures.

And worst of all I hate the people (this includes men) who come to me to say "Sister, there is a musallah for girls upstairs," as if I didn't know, as if to say I'm not welcome at the masjid if I can be seen, as if I am second class, and as if there is a problem with my praying behind the imam.

So I've done it now... made everyone angry. Oh well.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Convertitis - Personal Reflections (Part 3)

PianoRecently on the WhyIslam Forum, someone brought up the Convertitis article written by Umm Zaid. I had previously expounded on the article with my own thoughts in two posts, Convertitis Defined and Qur'an Only.

Some brothers and sisters on the forum had commented on how the high iman following their conversion enabled them to begin a very rigorous practice of Islam, and how they viewed that as commendable, even preferable to their present fluctuations in iman.

I know when I converted I got a rush of iman, and made progress (briefly) towards doing things I didn't have the courage to do before. It only lasted about 16 hours before my first real exposure to practicing Muslims, at which point I fell back where I was in the first place. That place was believing in Allah and the Qur'an but somehow assuming I had all the knowledge I needed to really practice Islam, and that I knew more than the other Muslims who were just misguided. I have to say, though, that the longer I have been Muslim, the less I know about Islam. And alhamdulillah. I really look forward to learning more about Islam--the first step has been learning how much I really don't know.

The problem with convertitis is that iman naturally fluctuates, and for those who make Islam a burden right off the bat with drastic changes, they have a hard time maintaining those changes. That's why you see that a person rather than just having high iman and strong practice of Islam, they will actually start "correcting" other people with bad manners, or start pushing Islam strongly without wisdom behind it, just because they don't know any better, and then they get burnt out.

Piano TuningThere is the analogy of a piano. If a piano hasn't been tuned in a while, and you have someone come tune it, he'll have to come back the next day and tune it again, and then come back after a couple days, then again after a week, a couple weeks, until he comes about every 6 months or so to keep it in tune. You see, even though you tuned it once, it still tries to go back to how it was, and you have to keep tuning it. I think people are the same way, it takes work to make real change. So when a person might get burnt out, and their iman is low but they have started all these new and unfamiliar practices, it can get tediously difficult to maintain, and ultimately push them out of Islam.

The Prophet (saws) said that Islam is easy, and whoever makes it a rigor it will overpower him.

When I actually started practicing Islam, my constant du'a was "Oh Allah, make Islam easy for me." And alhamdulillah--it was.

(note of reference: I got the piano analogy from Muhammad AlShareef's Fiqh Ad-Da'wah Lecture.)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Revisiting Sympathy

About a month ago I made a post about the decision of the local Islamic school to exclude the Diary of Anne Frank from their curriculum. I had been told that the school administrators did not want to encourage sympathy--that is, sympathy for Jews. I thought it a problem, exacerbating already strained relations and emotions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Just last week I became aware of the fruits of that decision. A class at Duke University has been visiting our mosque a few times over the last couple months in a partnership to tutor some of the students at the Islamic school, and also learn some themselves about Islam and Muslims. Last Friday was the last session at the mosque, and it involved a panel with some members of the community. I was there on behalf of the da'wah committee only to facilitate the event, and found that the beginning topic was not what had been scheduled, but a fierce condemnation of some 'behavior' of some student at the school during a tutoring session.

The Duke students asked about the curriculum, and the brother on the panel just simply condemned the act and insisted it had nothing to do with the school. One sister on the panel described the importance of justice in the world and why the class needed to be sure to vote.

What was the behavior that had so upset the class?

Written in the student's workbook, "Kill the Jews."

The tutor who found it was Jewish. So was the teacher of this class at Duke. Isn't that embarrassing?

And the brother insisted that it had nothing to do with the curriculum, and that nothing needed to be added to the curriculum to encourage tolerance and respect. I beg to differ! And I can't help but relate the issue to the fact that the school deliberately wants to avoid sympathy for the Jewish people because of Israel today. I see that as a systemic attitude of the school administration which has crept into the classroom.

Sure, it has probably been helped by the attitudes of parents and reactions to friends and family who might be suffering in the Middle East. But I don't think that is a fair excuse. I think the community is deliberately trying to foster a hatred of Jewish people, and I don't think it's fair.

I'm not even talking about being politically correct, here, but being fair, being just, being upright. Some things are wrong, plainly wrong--and this is one of those things. I was very upset that the panelists could not simply say so, and that they tried to excuse it, that they tried to wipe over it, and refused the idea of any changes for improvement.

The shame is on us.


Some of you might have noticed an earlier post I decided to remove. Thanks to a comment by Br. Naeem I decided to reflect a little further on the topic and let the post take a slightly different (and I think more optimistic) direction. The post was originally titled 'Watch out for Munafiqoon' and has now been changed to 'Guarding Our Deen.'

I do think it is important to watch out for Muslims in disguise, but only in the sense that we strive to preserve and maintain our faith. It is a problem, I think, hypocrisy. But making takfir, calling people out, that is not the solution.

Islam being the largest religion, growing in ranks, it undoubtedly sparks hatred in the minds of many people who would rather see their own success, who see themselves locked in a battle for truth. There are enemies, and the larger Islam becomes the greater it seems to threaten--so there is no reason to relax the da'wah and feel accomplished. The challenge is still in front of us.

Guarding Our Deen

So now we probably all know that Muslims outnumber Catholics. Not that it should surprise anyone, by the way, but in case anyone had doubts, we now know officially thanks to the Vatican. And we trust the Vatican, right? Well, anyway. It is definitely worth pointing out that Christians in total still outnumber Muslims, roughly 3 to 2. So I wouldn't exactly start screaming "We're number one!" from rooftops or anything because it's sticky.

On the other hand, we can clearly see the successful growth of Islam to over a billion adherents. And yes, we should absolutely glorify Allah (swt) and praise Him. Although, we must also continue to convey the message of Islam to the world--including to the Muslims, I might add. How is it that we have so many people in the same religion who, yet, refuse unity in matters of deen?

The Prophet Muhammad (saws) gave da'wah in Mecca for 13 years, and Islam grew. He migrated to Medina and continued to give da'wah--so we must learn the lesson that da'wah never stops. And we must use da'wah to establish unity among the Muslims, and bring them together, to increase justice in the world, to show humanity the real truth of Islam.

We must, we absolutely must guard our deen, we must guard the scholars who have been given the inheritance of the Prophet (saws) which is the knowledge of Islam. The strength of Islam is in its wisdom, and in its truth, in the Qur'an. And that is our tool, the soft and gentle power of Islam. We must let the true teachings of Islam prevail and dominate the hateful propaganda which is broadcast to inspire fear and blind hatred of Islam, and Muslims. We have the truth, though it is hidden and obscure at times. It is time for Muslims in one united voice to raise the banner of submission to God, of truth, of justice, of a way of life leading to peace.