Monday, June 30, 2008

Five times the blessing

The last few days, as I mentioned in my last post, have been pretty awful. They are getting better, alhamdulillah... and alhamdulillah. The best part of every day though is the salaat. Especially dhuhr and asr, for some reason, because it really causes an interruption in whatever I'm doing. When I have to take a break from everything and just remember Allah, it is so powerful to let all my worries and concerns come out. In one sense I am going to my Lord, but in another, He is calling me to Him. It's almost like He is checking in on me at each of these times--even though He is All-Aware, and a Witness over everything.

Last week, on a Catholic forum I sometimes visit, some posters were criticizing the fact that Muslims must pray five times a day. First, they didn't think it was right or appropriate to have to stop work during the day to remember God. Then they said that they (Catholics) prayed more during the day than Muslims do and that they can do it without "bothering" anyone else. Praying when they get up, before their meals, and a few other times--I can't remember what all they mentioned. For a Muslim to hear something like that, it's almost a little laughable.

Because Muslims "pray" at all these times too, and more. It's what we call supplication though, or du'a, and not the salaat which is the 5 daily prayers. Because the 5 daily prayers are a ritual in addition to all that--and many people pray even more than those 5 ritual prayers in a day. It's kind of like the bare minimum, that a person stops his day to pray at these times.

And why during stated times? Why not just, whenever? This is such a blessing I think we Muslims all too often overlook. Because it's precisely when we are busy doing worldly matters that we need to be reminded of Allah. That we need Him to check on us. And then the remembrance of Allah becomes part of our daily routine.

So when the prayer time comes and the adhaan makes, we really should hurry to go pray, to remember Allah. It's the most important meeting of our lives, five times a day--maintenance for our bodies and our souls, a chance to focus on our purpose, to let go of our worldly concerns and place our tiny problems before Allah Almighty, Lord of the Worlds. And He is listening to us!

What a blessing we have, how merciful is our Lord.

Friday, June 27, 2008


The last few days have been really awful--there's just no other way to put it. If I had to describe what I felt like right now, I'd say it's like a dirty rag someone has been trying to clean so they dip it in the water and keep wringing it out. Wrung out. Hung out to dry maybe, but more precisely in a constant state of wringing.

And I've been making du'a, my eyes and face stained red from tears... if anyone is reading this, please make du'a for me. I can't say why, just please...

Last night I moved into a new place. It wasn't a pleasant experience, the moving. I'm glad it's over though. The image in the picture is the view from my new room. It's a lake. It is such a peaceful scene but it does nothing to calm the storm in my heart right now.

Oh my Lord, help me!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Music Lessons

Piano Keys - Click for Photo CreditI started playing the clarinet in 6th grade, determined to be good at it. And not just good, but exceptionally good. The best. I practiced every day. And I excelled far above the students in that beginner-level class. In fact, when I was in 7th grade I was placed in the 8th grade (advanced) band instead of 7th grade (intermediate) and actually placed above some other 8th grade students. By 8th grade I placed 5th in the county, and being somewhat disappointed with that performance, I placed 1st in the district (which is larger than the county, about 1/5 of the state and my district had some of the strongest schools.) A few months after that I went on to place 4th in the state. So I wasn't the very best, but I was up there with the best. In high school I went on to consistently place in the top 3 in district and the top 10-15 in the state until my senior year when I placed in the top 10 at district (can't remember exact placement).

So for those seven years, I set my aims to be the best I could, and consistently performed at the top level for clarinetists my age. In my youth I spent a lot of time alone, in my room, practicing. It took hours of practice. Hours a day. And I learned a lesson: hard work pays off. Practicing pays off.

The lesson has reinforced lately--I don't play the clarinet anymore. In fact I sold it for twice what I paid for it last year and still feel like it was stolen. But I do play the piano. I never had formal piano training as I did with the clarinet, so I'm mostly self-taught. Although, I do think that only a real pianist would be able to tell the difference. Just like I had to spend hours playing the clarinet, I found that practicing piano consistently would make me better. I can literally see the improvement. I can play a song faster, I can play it more accurately, I can sing along. I can begin to perfect it by just spending some time and effort on it, on a regular basis. I may pick a song to play, and really butcher it the first time through. But then I can come back the next day and it'll be better. And I can come back a third day and it begins to feel natural, and each day it gets better and better--if I keep practicing.

This is the lesson--even if I have to suffer through something painfully slowly, just to finish it, I know that if I do finish it, and make myself get through it, I know that putting that effort in will yield marked improvement. I know that regular consistent practice is key, and I know that it pays off. I know it does, I have the experience to prove it.

So for the last week, I have been studying tajweed. There were basically two levels offered by Bayyinah when they were here--101 and 102, but I seemed to be between the two.

The first level, 101, was instruction in the basic letters and accents in the Arabic language. It was for people who had not been exposed to Arabic before, and/or were not able to recognize letters and their sounds in the Qur'an. I was past that--I could pick up a mushaf and read it, albeit very slowly.

The second level, 102, was instruction in the rules of tajweed, beginning with phonetics, moving on to accents, rhythm, and stopping/starting. The basic prerequisite was the ability to read a mushaf... although I think my slowness put me early on in the bottom of the class.

So you want me to say that I practiced for a week and now I'm an expert? Uhh, nope! But since I have been reading Qur'an every single day for about 10 days now, I have noticed that I am reading much faster. Of course, since a lot of time I'm reviewing what I've already read I can read those parts much faster, but even new material I can read faster than I could at the beginning of the class. Alhamdulillah.

So I did take the second class and learned the basic rules of tajweed, and I'm glad. The first class ended with reading single words together. The second class we were reading whole surahs, one ayah (or part of an ayah at a time) instead of sounding out each letter. I won't say that my tajweed is great or anything (it's definitely not) and I'm not proficient at reading either. But I can get through, and the practice is only making me better. And because of my experience in music, I know that consistent practice is necessary to improve performance, and I know that consistent practice does improve it. It works.

And because I am talking about Qur'an now, the book of Allah, I know there are other benefits to making an effort to read it.

On the authority of Abu Harayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Prophet (PBUH) said: Allah the Almighty said:
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.

The fact that I am going toward Allah (SWT) an arm's length--i.e., by trying to read the Qur'an--means I know that He will come nearer to me--by making it possible to read and understand it. and I know that because I am trying to get closer to Him, that He will come closer to me. I am doing what little I can, but I have the confidence of knowing that even the little steps I take towards my Lord are multiplied, and that He is taking large steps towards me.

So I am practicing reading Qur'an--even though I'm not perfect at reading, and worse at reciting, I do want to get better. So I keep trying, keep practicing. One benefit is that I get better. Another is that I'm rewarded for my effort (of course assuming my intention is to sincerely worship Allah (SWT).) Another is that I can soon read and recite even better--to worship Him more. And that I can more easily learn the meanings, and understand what I am supposed to do. It's a win-win-win situation. There's no reason not to try to read Qur'an, even if it's hard now, even if it's slow, even if I make mistakes. There is only the submission to Allah (SWT), and that is every reason to keep practicing.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Balancing Jihad

Minaret - Click for Photo Credit About a year ago, I was asked to give a short (20 min) presentation on Islam to a group of campus police officers. Unfortunately I wasn't very well prepared--I had a presentation that was geared towards social studies students in my arsenal but that's about it. I hadn't been trained in speaking to law enforcement so overall I don't think it was one of my best. However, I did try to include topics which would be interesting or useful to them, rather than what might be interesting to students in a world religions course.

One topic I decided to include briefly was jihad. It intrigued me at the time how Muslims vs. non-Muslims view the concept of jihad. As we all know, the West will almost universally translate the word jihad to mean "holy war." And Muslims typically object to that translation as it is not only incorrect, but also imbued with negative connotations which don't help at all when historically examining the Muslim world. Unfortunately, the objections force emphasis on the other end of the spectrum--a personal, internal struggle. The average Joe isn't going to be able to reconcile two concepts so very far apart, I think--it's likely he will choose one interpretation to be correct, and one to be false. Now, while some people (I'm talking about Western non-Muslims) do take the opinion that jihad is in fact a peaceful internal struggle. But I think the majority opinion is the opposite--that jihad is violent, Taliban-esque, funded by Saudi Arabia, and trying to bring down the American "Empire." And they conclude that all of us Muslims who say jihad is personal, internal, or spiritual--they say we're liars.

Now, I'm not trying to blame the Average Joe for not being able to fully understand the concept. Perhaps the problem is the way we as Muslims think and talk about jihad. Maybe it is an issue we are afraid to talk about? Maybe we find the idea of a physical jihad (even though this certainly exists in Islamic history) to be somewhat at odds with American ideologies and try to downplay or ignore it. Or maybe we're just afraid of being labelled a terrorist if we dare say that jihad actually can (and sometimes should) mean fighting.

So, I'm writing this post in response to Naeem's post, Reclaiming Jihad, to share what I have learned from my sheikh about explaining the balanced concept of Jihad. I now typically include a slide on jihad in the presentations that I give to non-Muslims (from churches, schools, etc.,) although I tend to omit it in shorter presentations unless the issue comes up as a question from the audience. The slide itself is very simple, but frankly I think it offers a decent way to describe jihad to non-Muslims, and something that might benefit the Muslims as well.

Linguistic Meaning
Despite all the bad press it gets, the word jihad does not equate to holy war. And in fact that is one of the worst and simultaneously most common misconceptions about jihad. To better understand the meaning of an Arabic word, we go back to its root and literal meaning. The word jihaad comes from a 3-letter Arabic root, J/H/D, or the verb jahada. This word means to exert effort, to struggle, or to strive. So the word we are talking about, jihad, has to do with struggling or striving, and with regard to Islam we mean striving for the sake of our Lord, Allah (SWT).

Four Categories
When we sat down with the sheikh to develop this slide, he described jihad to us as having four types or four categories of jihad. Each of the four is necessary to explain, because leaving one out leaves one with an unbalanced impression of jihad. The four categories are:
  1. The struggle against the Self
  2. The struggle against Satan
  3. Delivering the message of Islam (da'wah) while being patient
  4. Using force -- Restricted to an Islamic state
Looking at the fourth one is probably making your blood pressure rise already. But calm down--we'll get there and explain it once we've gone through the other three.

(1) Jihad Against the Self

Self - Click for Photo CreditThis kind of jihad means striving to control the desires of the self. Our selves are hungry when we don't eat--our body literally tells us when it is time to eat. But yet, in Ramadan, Muslims act against the desires of the self, by refusing to eat even though they are hungry. The self is pleased with the physical world, and the things that give our bodies pleasure can try to lead us away from the path of righteousness. So we have to constantly struggle against our selves to keep our life in balance--spiritual and material.

For example, Muslims have to get up before the crack of dawn, every single day of the year, to make one of the five obligatory prayers. This task alone is a struggle for many Muslims in several regards. To start with, it means that the Muslim has to go to bed on time--especially when the prayer is at a very early time (4:30am) the next morning. That might mean foregoing activities which happen at night. It also means the Muslim has to leave his bed when it might be very cold outside. And on a cold, dark, maybe rainy morning, rousing oneself from the warmth of the bed can be very difficult, as the self tells the body to keep sleeping, to stay in bed where it is warm and cozy. On the other hand, it is a struggle to overcome that desire for sleep, to get up and wash up, and for some even go to the masjid to pray. This is an example of struggling against the self.

(2) Jihad Against Satan

Satan - Click for Photo CreditThis kind of jihad is similar to the first, but instead of tackling a person's own physical desires, he must also face the whispers of Satan (Shaytaan) who will come and try to lead him away from the path of righteousness. Muslims consider Satan to be a real enemy of the believers, and in fact all mankind, who tries to direct people away from God's path. The whispers are only one tactic, causing a person to get angry, or to talk about people behind their backs, and forget that what they are doing is wrong. The whispers will give a person excuses to delay his prayers and avoid doing good deeds.

An example of Satan's whispers that Muslims have to deal with constantly is during the five daily prayers. As soon as the prayer begins, it seems an endless string of random, irrelevant, or even useful facts, questions, or ideas pop into the person's mind. Maintaining concentration through all that and blocking it out can be a real, continuous struggle. During the prayer a Muslim is in many ways having a conversation with his Lord, and should be focused on that task, physically, spiritually, and mentally.

(3) Delivering the Message of Islam With Patience

Patience - Click for Photo CreditThis is a single category, don't be confused by thinking that patience alone as a jihad is a new category--having patience through difficulties could fit into either of the above categories, but this kind of jihad is referring to the patience one has when giving da'wah.

Da'wah--inviting people to the way of Islam--begins by simply conveying the message. And anyone who has actively engaged in giving da'wah to non-Muslims, or even Muslims who aren't attached to Islam, knows that sometimes the audience does not want to hear the message of Islam. They may ignore it, or worse, they might begin to mock Islam. They might mock other believers, or scholars. Even worse, they might slander the Prophet Muhammad (saaws), or ridicule the Qur'an, and even Allah (SWT). They might get hostile with the person who is trying to give da'wah--and that is where the patience comes in.

In the Sirah of the Prophet Muhammad (saaws), the hardest day of his life was not, as some might think, the Day of Uhud. It was actually the day he (saaws) went to Ta'if to tell the people there about Islam. But they didn't want to hear it, and in fact they were so hostile to the message and the messenger (saaws) that they sent their children running after him, throwing stones at him. But did he react with anger, or hostility in return? No. The Messenger of Allah (saaws) asked his Lord (SWT) to guide their children to Islam. This is true patience in conveying the message of Islam, which is the third kind of jihad.

The reason this category precedes the fourth is that in the life of the Prophet (saaws), this kind of jihad came first. The da'wah with patience came before any physical altercations was even allowed for the Muslims, meaning they were tortured in their own town (Makkah) but they did not have permission from Allah (SWT) to fight back.

(4) Jihad with Force

Umayyad Mosque - Click for Photo CreditOnce the Muslims emigrated to Medina, the first Islamic state was officially established. Instead of living as a small minority in a city hostile to their way of life, when they emigrated they became responsible for protecting the new state. That is why we say this kind of jihad is restricted to an Islamic state--it was not allowed for the Muslims until they moved to Medina. This category is also further broken down into two parts--force that is defensive, and force that is offensive.

A defensive jihad means that the Muslims (who are fighting defensively) did not initiate the conflict. It simply means that if they are attacked, that Muslims were given the right to fight back to defend themselves. It's important to note that for 13 years in Mecca the Muslims were not allowed (by Allah!) to fight back--not until they were in Medina. When they were allowed to fight, we can read in the Qur'an what means:
Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not do aggression, for Allah loves not the aggressors. Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors...(Qur'an 2:190-191)
The significance of the bolded portions is that the Muslims were allowed here to fight only those who had engaged them in fighting. They were not allowed to begin fighting another group.

Some time after the Muslims were allowed to fight defensively to protect themselves against aggression, Allah (SWT) eventually allowed them to fight offensively. Why? To end oppression, to allow the spread of da'wah (note: to allow it, not to force islam on anyone), to prevent the torture of Muslims, and to end the oppression of people who are interested in learning about Islam but are forcefully prevented from doing so. This kind of jihad must be declared by a Muslim khalifa, and is an act carried out by an Islamic state, and not a "rag-tag" group of dissatisfied youths. And as it happens, though there are 56 Muslim countries, there is not an Islamic state with a khalifa.

Jihad Today
So if we don't have an Islamic state with khalifa, should we not do jihad? The answer is that we (by "we" I mean those of us Muslims who are in the West) are doing the first (3) kinds of jihad mentioned here, and must continue to do these three. Remember that the Islamic state in Medina was not established by jihad--so jihad is not a means to establish an Islamic state. The path to follow in that regard is the da'wah, by conveying the message of Islam.

Please forgive me for any mistakes I've made--they are my own. Anything good is from Allah.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Fairest of Them All

Snow WhiteWhen I was little, I always figured that "fairest of them all" meant the most beautiful. But considering that Snow White literally had skin as white as snow, perhaps "fairest" was referring to skin tone, instead of beauty--or are the two synonymous?

As I grew up, having fair skin was definitely a trait that would get listed in the negative column. The pretty girls were tan. The really beautiful girls had rich, dark, skin. Now as I spend my time around Muslim girls--many of whom have beautiful dark or olive skin tones, they feel like they don't quite fit into a society of whites, and don't quite admire their skin color like I do.

I was explaining to some friends last night how I remember a girl I went to high school with, walking across the gym floor at some sort of assembly. She was wearing a black miniskirt revealing her legs--and the girls behind me were snickering, making fun of her very fair, very light, very white skin. Have fair skin was almost like an illness, we were all supposed to 'get a tan.' My sister used to sit in the sun wearing baby oil to try to darken it--do you realize what kind of burns this causes? I recall being embarrassed to wear shorts early in the spring (before being able to spend time in the sun) because my own legs were so pale. I used to love that during band camp I would get a tan--and consequently refused sunscreen at times.

It's really sad that from such an early age, girls are trained to not be comfortable with their own bodies.

I'm not sure if this pressure has faded just since I've grown up, or because my friends now are mostly Muslim. I don't think Muslim girls, growing up, are able to totally escape the snickers and nasty remarks from their adolescent peers. However, I think that women who cover (and I'm not even talking about the headscarf here but just wear long clothes, pants/skirts and full sleeves, for example) are able to feel at least a little more comfortable with themselves and their bodies, because they aren't trained to expose themselves to everyone they meet. (Sadly, that doesn't mean that other Muslimahs, in private, are never cruel critics of the beauty of others.)
But on the other hand, I think that covering is not just about interacting with men. It can protect a woman from her own ego, and from jealousy.

Regardless of a woman's height, weight, skin tone, or hair, she ought to be able to respect herself enough to refrain from criticizing her peers, and to look into her own mirror and see that she too can be the fairest of them all.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Blind But Now I See?

Glasses - Click Link for Photo CreditAlhamdulillah, this weekend I got to spend some time with my family. My nephew, who is 3 years old, has just recently gotten some glasses. Aside from the fact that he just looks adorable with them on, he is now able to see so much better--can focus on objects to play with, plus letters and numbers so he can learn much faster now. It turns out he was extremely farsighted, especially in one of his eyes, unable to focus, and his eyes were crossing when he would try. But now he has glasses, and now he can see. His mom said that he won't even take them off--pretty remarkable for a three year old, adjusting to this new object on his face. But they made such a difference for him that he won't take them off except to sleep.

I was talking to one of my friends the other day about how life changes when someone becomes guided--that it is like they could sort of see the world, but it was blurry. Everything was literally out of focus--the purpose of life, relationship with God, family relationships, economic perspectives, morality, etc. And then the guidance from Allah (SWT) is like those prescription eyeglasses, which bring everything in to focus.

When someone has been guided, he can begin to look at the world with new clarity. If a person is trying to live a "good" life, he will still have trouble making the right choices without the guidance from Allah (SWT). From the basics of worship, to how to treat one's parents, and how to deal with money--Islam gives us, the Muslims, this focus, to see what is important in life. We are able (inshaaAllah) to see what is most important, we are able to follow the law. And if the law is like a road (and the word shari'ah is somehow related to the word for street), then how can a person drive without proper vision? He cannot see the signs, the streetlights, the lines on the road, or the other cars. How confusing!

But yet, if a person was born with bad vision, he wouldn't know that anyone else could see the world differently. He wouldn't know that his vision was bad, because he would have nothing to compare it to. Just like somebody who has never been exposed to Islam wouldn't know the difference between having that guidance and living without it.

But then once someone is able to see clearly--once he puts on those glasses--he won't want to return to his previous state of blindness. Just like we as Muslims should cling to our Islam, and cling to the Qur'an and the Sunnah of our Prophet (saaws) which put this dunya, and our lives into focus.

Is then one who doth know that that which hath been revealed unto thee from thy Lord is the Truth, like one who is blind? It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition;- (Ar-Rad 19)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Doomed? (part 1)

Last Friday's post at Organic Muslimah (Will She Go to Hell?) got me thinking. Especially since I'm starting to get involved with some youth activities, it's been bothering me what a simplistic outlook on the world has been conveyed to children in the guise of Islam.

Now I'm far from an expert (I never attended Islamic Sunday School), so correct me if I'm wrong. But it seems like the basic message taught to Muslim kids these days is that one category of activities is fard (mandatory), another category of activities are haraam (forbidden), and if you don't follow the rules, you're going to Hell. And everyone who isn't Muslim? They're going to roast in Hell, too.

Very simplistic, isn't it? And sure, that is useful as little kids aren't prepared to accept the finer subtleties of fiqh, and a healthy fear of hellfire is certainly a good thing. But what you end up with are people who think that since they do the fard, and avoid the haraam, they are getting Jannah (Paradise) and everyone else is getting Hellfire. Ouch.

That is bound to leave a person wondering, just like the persona in Organica’s post, what about the people who lived before Muhammad (s), before Islam, before Shari’ah? In fact, as a Christian I had been seeking an answer to a similar question—what would happen to people who lived before Jesus (s), who didn’t have the opportunity to accept him or believe in him (who Christians believe died for their sins.) I wasn’t satisfied with the answers, as clearly Christianity abandoned the religion at the time of Jesus (s)—the law is gone, and I could see no reasonable explanation why people today wouldn’t have to follow the same or at least similar law as the people before Jesus. It never made sense that people would have to follow a different path to salvation. And what about the people who weren’t blessed to be in the nation of Israel? They didn’t seem to have any way at all of getting to Heaven before Jesus! (s)

So to see a Muslim struggle with a similar question is puzzling to me, because I embraced Islam partly because of the answer to this question. Abraham (s) wasn't Jewish, and he wasn't Christian--but yet he is a great patriarch in both of those traditions. He never, according to the Bible, mentioned belief in Jesus (s). So? Why should that be the cornerstone of my belief? Why the change? But Allah answers this question for us--Abraham (s) was on the true path of Islam, submission to God. Before Muhammad, after Muhammad--Islam is the same, the deen (although not necessarily the law--Shari'ah) is the same. So what happens to people before Muhammad (s)? They were sent messengers too, Allah tells us He sent a messenger to every nation. And if they still didn't get the message, we know that Allah is Just in His Judgment. Our obligation as Muslims is to believe in all of the Messengers of Allah--and that Muhammad is the very last one. The people before would only have to believe in what Allah told them through His messengers, but essentially the message, the way of life, it never changed.

This is one of the many logical truths which demonstrated to me the real beauty of Islam. On the other hand, I think people get confused about how they should view non-Muslims, and many people take the simplistic approach of reserving God's mercy for themselves, and God's wrath for everyone else, though it's not their place to do so. Mostly, I think that approach is a result of an overemphasis on either hope, or fear, where balance should be maintained. InshaaAllah I'm going to cover these topics in subsequent threads.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Smoke Choke

Smoky RaleighSo this is Raleigh... are you having trouble seeing through that haze? Yeah, me too. This is not a morning fog, or smog. It's just plain smoke.

I first noticed it walking past the windows at work... by noon, any fog should be long gone (especially in this heat) and being unable to see the sky is always pretty strange unless it's raining.

So I looked up the weather forecast and discovered that wildfires in the eastern part of the state were the source of smoke which moved in to the city today. And apparently, because of the wind, won't be moving out until Saturday.

I'd like to say it's just a minor inconvenience, but it's pretty serious. The smoke is everywhere--you walk outside, and you're inhaling smoke. And if the odor of it alone doesn't bother you, in a few minutes just breathing will get difficult. We noticed it in the office when people started leaving for lunch--opening the door lets in the smoke, causing everyone in the office to start coughing. Going outside is even worse, of course, so that inhaling it begins to burn before too long.

I don't bring this up just to complain--there's not anything anyone can do about it anyway. But just to remind us of how fragile we are, and our dependence on air. That said, a hurricane headed this way to clean it all out sounds really nice right about now.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

This thing called Interfaith

This past weekend the Raleigh Masjid played host to a small council of imams in the area, called the CIC (which I think stands for Carolina Islamic Council.) From what I can gather, it's comprised of the leaders of local Islamic communities, who meet a few times a year for a few lectures open to the community and alo other discussions they hold in private. I never really knew about it until they came here this weekend.

But one of the presentations was offered by a local brother on giving da'wah. And he described all the different kinds of da'wah we do at our masjid... which sounds really impressive if you're giving or listening to a presentation about it. In reality, it seems difficult to scrape up volunteers for all these activities we apparently do.

But one kind of activity which tends to draw criticism from the Muslim community is that which falls under the heading of "interfaith." In fact, our da'wah committee has a branch called "interfaith." But it's probably not what people might fear on the issue of interfaith--which is, an agreement among participants that everyone's religion is equally valid. But what is done here is actually rather limited--it involves coordination and communication between local churches, synagogues, and mosques, and some informational exchanges between them.

The flagship of this branch is an activity called One God, Three Faiths. Notice "three faiths," and not "interfaith;" while Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all teach belief in One God, the religions are different. The way it works is that each participating group--10 members from a church, synagogue, or mosque--hosts everyone else at their house of worship for dinner, and discussion. They rotate so each group gets to host, and everyone gets to visit the different places of worship.

In the process, they learn about the different religions, primarily through social contact. The presentations focus on a specific theme, each group presenting the view of their religion. For example, one theme was Abraham, and everybody got to explain the importance of Abraham in their faith, as the event progressed.

This kind of activity is of course an opportunity to give da'wah, because there is a willing audience, and the chance to explain Islam. But frankly that's not what was going on. More recently, however, some newer members are approaching the task with the greater obligation of presenting Islam as strongly as possible, pointing out the differences.

Some people might suggest that such an environment is more suited for highlighting similarities--and that is the trap of interfaith work, to avoid the distinctiveness, and when it comes to Islam and da'wah, that is really something to be focused on. By that, I mean tawheed.

At the conference, it was pointed out that the nature of this activity is not true interfaith, but more presenting Islam in an environment where other religions are also able to present their view, and was considered acceptable. I was glad to see the activity take a turn towards more aggressive da'wah in recent months, and hope that we as Muslims can summon the courage to discuss our deen in any setting. Because that is our obligation before Allah.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Racing to Forgiveness

I remember the first time I said a "swear" word. I was about 5 or 6 years old, it was in the driveway to my house, and it came out like this, "What the hell..." My dad was there--and he glared at me, then dragged me into the house. I remember getting my mouth washed out with soap by my mom (yes, that really happens) and from that point on, being terrified of even uttering a word like "hell" or, heaven forbid, anything worse!

When I was growing up we used to call them "cuss" words--slang from "curse," I reckon. And thanks to that early childhood experience, I tried to keep them out of my vocabulary. But by the time I was in high school and college, I didn't try as hard. I learned that if I would watch more TV or movies which used those words, they could more frequently come to mind in bad situations, a problem I rectified by trying to avoid that kind of entertainment where such language (profanity) was common. Eventually, such words really only came to mind when I was angry. And it's fascinating how real anger can inspire the most disgusting thoughts. That has, in the past, been one of the worst ways I would exercise my anger--yelling at people, using bad words.

As Muslims, though, we are supposed to restrain our anger. It's so important that even the pinnacle of strength is being able to control it--the weak ones are those who are controlled by it. In fact, restraining anger is one of the characteristics, given in the Qur'an, of the people of Paradise.

In Surat Ale Imran(3:133), Allah (swt) says, what can be translated as
And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous...
Not just stroll towards forgiveness at a leisurely pace, but race towards it. Race towards what Allah has promised. Allah describes a single garden, jannah, as wide as the heavens and the earth for those who have taqwa. But who are those who have taqwa? The next verses explain:
Who spend [in the cause of Allāh] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allāh loves the doers of good;
The first characteristic mentioned is the spending, or giving in charity. When we are well-off, have just received a bonus or tax refund, it's pretty easy to spend... or at least, easier than when times are hard, and it looks like the last few dollars might not stretch until the next payday. But Allah is describing those who spend in both cases--something to remember the next time we consider giving charity but hold back because of our own circumstances.

The second characteristic relates to my story at the beginning--restraining anger. But the Arabic is more akin to swallowing anger. Like it boils up, from deep inside, ready to spew out on anyone nearby, anger needs to be swallowed--and that is what takes the strength, and control. In my case anyway, if I'm tempted to yell or use bad language, swallowing is a very appropriate metaphor. Taking the anger and just pushing it back down, refusing to let it's ugly head breathe fire on anyone around me.

The third characteristic expounds on the second, and that is to forgive people for the wrongs they have done. Since we should be racing towards forgiveness from our Lord, it's to be expected we should try to be forgiving of others, of their wrongs against us.
And those who, when they commit an immorality or wrong themselves [by transgression], remember Allāh and seek forgiveness for their sins – and who can forgive sins except Allāh? – and [who] do not persist in what they have done while they know.
The fourth characteristic is quickly remembering Allah, and repenting for sins. Of course we should repent for what we have done wrong, but this verse is describing the person who remembers Allah immediately and repents immediately, and then avoids what they have done wrong, knowing that it's wrong.
Those – their reward is forgiveness from their Lord and gardens beneath which rivers flow [in Paradise], wherein they will abide eternally; and excellent is the reward of the [righteous] workers.
And then, after describing the characteristics, Allah reminds us again of the reward: forgiveness, and gardens. Gardens, jannaat, plural. So first Allah says to race towards forgiveness and a garden, then says who the garden is for, and then says that the reward is really gardens, which He then describes--more beautiful and lasting than anything on the earth.

Photo 1 Credit
Photo 2 Credit

Friday, June 06, 2008

Masjid Etiquette Follow-Up: Do's and Don't's

A few months ago I made a post on general Masjid Etiquette, which received a mention in Ijtema that it was mostly things not to do at the masjid. That wasn't my intention exactly, so since then I've wanted to follow up. Because today's khutbah is about masjid etiquette, I thought this would be a good time to review it. A lot of the material is the same, but this list is based on the Imam's Khutbah, the text of which is posted on the masjid website, as linked. I have organized it into Do's and Don'ts, for convenient reading, starting with the Don'ts, and provided the appropriate references (daleel) when available.


  • Don't run to catch up with a rakaa - The Prophet (S.A.W.) said,"If the prayer started, then do not join it running, and join it walking and quiet, and pray whatever you caught up with, and make up for what you missed." [Bukhari & Muslim]

  • Don't distract those who are praying, even by reciting Qur'an - The Prophet (S.A.W.) said,"The praying person is in contact with his Lord, so let him concentrate on whom he is in contact with, and do not raise your voices over one another with Qur’an." [Ahmad]; Assa'eb (R.A.) said: "I was in the Masjid, and a man called me, I turned to him and there was Omar (R.A.). And he said: "Bring me these two men", then I brought them to him. Omar asked: "Where are you from? They replied from the people of At-Ta'ef. He said: "If you were from the people of Al-Madinah, I would have hurt you because you raised your voices in the Masjid of the messenger of Allah (S.A.W.)." [Bukhari]

  • Don't pass in front of someone who is praying - The Prophet (S.A.W.) said, "If the passer in front of the praying person knew how much sin he committed, it would have been better for him to wait for forty than to pass in front of him." [Bukhari & Muslim]

  • Don't spit in the masjid - The Prophet (S.A.W.) said, "Spitting in the Masjid is a sin and its expiation is clean it." [Bukhari & Muslim]

  • Don't conduct buying/selling transactions - The Prophet (S.A.W.) said, "If you see some one selling or buying inside the Masjid, say to him: May Allah not make your trading profitable..."

  • Don't yell out for lost items - The Prophet (S.A.W.) said, "...And if you see someone crying out inside the Masjid something he has lost, say to him: May Allah not restore it to you, for the Masajid were not built for this."

  • Don't leave the masjid after the adhaan without praying with the jama'a - Abu Hurairah (R.A.) said, "The prophet (S.A.W.) ordered us, when we are in the Masjid and the Salah is called for, not to leave the Masjid until we pray." [Ahmad]


  • Avoid offensive smells (i.e., onion, garlic, tobacco) and wear clean clothes - 'Umar (R.A.) used to say while on the Minbar: "I saw the prophet (S.A.W.) when he found their smell (garlic, onion) from a man in the Masjid, he ordered him to be taken out." then 'Umar said: "If you must eat them, then cook them well." [Muslim]

  • Say a supplication - On the way to the masjid, the prophet (S.A.W.) used to say: "O Allah, make in my heart light, in my vision light, on my right light, behind me light, in my nerves light, in my flesh light, in my blood light, in my hair light, and in my skin light."

  • Enter with right foot first - The Prophet (S.A.W.) used to say, "In the name of Allah, O Allah, open for me the gates of your mercy" when he entered the masjid. [Muslim] Ibn 'Umar (R.A.) used to step with his right foot first when he entered the Masjid, and step out with his left foot first when he walked out of the Masjid. [Bukhari]

  • Greet everyone in the masjid with salaam, even if they are praying - Souhaib (R.A.) said: "I passed by the prophet (S.A.W.) while he was praying and gave Salam to him, he replied to me with a gesture." [Bukhari & Muslim] And Ibn Omar (R.A.) asked Bilal (R.A.): How did you see the prophet (S.A.W.) reply to them (his companions) when they gave Salam to him while he was engaged in prayer?" Bilal said: "By spreading his palm."

  • Pray two rakaa before sitting - The Prophet (S.A.W.) said, "When one of you enters the Masjid, he should pray two Rak'ah before sitting down."[Bukhari & Muslim]

  • Use a sutrah - The Prophet (S.A.W.) said: "If you pray, then pray toward sutrah (some barrier) and get closer to it." [Bayhaqi] "Between the place of his prostration (S.A.W.) and the wall there was no room more than sheep pass." [Bukhari & Muslim]

  • Keep the masjid clean and in good shape - The companions of the prophet (S.A.W.) used keep the Masjid clean. Abdullah bin Omar (R.A.) used to put perfume inside the Masjid when Omar (R.A.) sat on the Minbar to deliver Friday speech. [Abu Dawud]

  • Greet the people while leaving the masjid - "When one of you joins a gathering he should greet those present; and when he leave them he should greet them because the first salutation is not better than the last one." [Abu Dawud & At-Tirmidhi]

  • Leave with the left foot first -The prophet (S.A.W.) used to say: "In the name of Allah, O Allah open for me the gates of your blessings, O Allah protect me from Satan."

Please forgive me for any mistakes. And feel free to check the other post for more things which one should do, or not do, at the masjid.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Heat Advisory

According to the Wikipedia entry for Severe weather terminology, a heat advisory is:

Extreme heat index making it feel hot, typically between 105 °F to 110 °F (40 °C to 43 °C) for 3 hours or more during the day and at or above 75 °F (24 °C) at night. Specific criteria varies over different county warning areas.

After several months of light spring weather here in Raleigh, temperatures comfortably below 80F through much of May, the first few days of June have shockingly jolted into 90's, prompting weathermen to issue a heat advisory.

But yesterday a sister posted a reminder about the warm weather. A reminder that with rising temperatures, people shed their clothes and tend to act more shamelessly, presenting Muslims with a greater fitnah around them. It was a reminder that Allah is All-Aware, that He knows our struggle, and a reminder that the fire of Hell is hotter than what we might be suffering here on earth.

Sisters in hijab around here often get remarks like, "Aren't you hot in that?" and of course we're all hot. But there are some benefits of covering up in the summer. Loose clothes (and our clothes should be loose anyway) are cool and breezy. If they are loose, they allow sweat to be effective in cooling the body and trap cooler air. Not to mention getting good air circulation from loose-fitting pants, skirts, and loose long sleeves--they also protect the skin from the harsh light of the sun, even better than sunblock!

For someone like me, with very fair skin, that's important to protect against sunburn in the short term, and skin cancer in the long term. Alhamdulillah, I haven't had to suffer sunburn, except on my face, since I started wearing hijab.

So anyway, covering in light, loose clothes might even be cooler than uncovering. But since most people do take the heat as an opportunity to go about half-naked, we as Muslims should all try to lower our gaze.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Marriage À La Carte

I have an opinion about polygyny--I don't think it's an evil monster, but I do think everyone should be responsible about it. Those who aren't give other Muslims a bad name, but worse, fling themselves against the boundaries of Islamic law, possibly infringing on the rights of others.

I have a problem with the sort of man who would pursue a woman to be his second wife, and devote to her alone all his free time. As if, because the woman is not his wife, he isn't responsible for being fair with his time! The horrible injustice of this to the first wife pains me. Imagine the scenario--after weeks of intense courtship, during which the prospective couple has spent just nearly all their evenings (after work until midnight and beyond) and weekends together, they spontaneously wed without any prior announcement to the community.

The wife, aware that her husband is seeking another wife despite her own objections, is forced to endure weeks of neglect while her husband doesn't feel the need to be fair to her because the other woman isn't his wife. He somehow thinks he won't be accountable for how he spends his time. I have a problem with the man, and I think I even have a problem with the other woman who approves of that behavior. Undoubtedly her heart and hormones are steering her off the proper course, but she should consider the position she is leaving the wife, as she alone monopolizes his time.

So I don't have a problem with polygyny per se, but the abuse of it by some men. I truly love how women are honored and respected in Islam--guaranteed rights often abused by various societies. Unfortunately, there are in fact people in this world, Muslims, who deem important only their own rights, the obligations of women, while remaining silent and ignorant on the rights of women! Many of them will, for example, strongly advocate the right of men to take a second wife, without a word on their capability of treating them fairly. They proclaim the right of men to know where their wife is, and that she not speak to other men, but freely engage in flirtation and romance with women to whom they are not married. They describe their own jealousy as admirable, and their anger as acceptable--but for a woman to respond to her own jealousy or anger, is deemed intolerable! What hypocrisy is this?

Islam is not a religion in which we can pick and choose what we like and dislike. Allah SWT says what can be translated as, "It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when Allāh and His Messenger have decided a matter, that they should [thereafter] have any choice about their affair. And whoever disobeys Allāh and His Messenger has certainly strayed into clear error." (33:36)

We cannot claim our rights while disowning our responsibilities--that is the nature of oppression, and tyranny. The Prophet Muhammad (saaws) reminded his Companions to "Fear Allah concerning women! Verily you have taken them on the security of Allah, and intercourse with them has been made lawful unto you by words of Allah." (Muslim) That hadith goes on to list the rights of the wife, and of the husband. Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as "And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable." (2:228) This is Islam, a religion with guidance and wisdom from our Lord. It is imperative that we heed His words, and those of His Messenger, and not strip our brothers and sisters of their rights, which are from Allah.

For my part, I hope that men who do pick what they want, especially in marriage rights, don't make up a majority--for sure, there are not many such among my acquaintance, and I prefer to believe (in absence of proof to the contrary) that these are the exception rather than the rule.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Resurgence of Scholarly Thought

For the past several weeks I've had the opportunity to take a class offered by the imam at my masjid about the differences between the four major schools of fiqh. It was a very interesting class, just wrapped up, and this weekend I finally received a copy of The Four Imams. But aside from the basic material of the class, the sheikh gave us a new perspective on scholarly thought and ijtihad in the modern Muslim world.

He explained that after a time of intense scholarly pursuits, during which Muslims pursued knowledge with fierce dedication, the students of knowledge began to simply follow their teachers. Rather than basing a fatwa on daleel (proof) and ijtihad, they would provide a fatwa of a previous scholar, with that scholar being the authority rather than the verses from the Qur'an, hadith from the Prophet (s) or Companions or other sources which were used. Ultimately that led to a breakdown of the intellectual struggle and stifled advances in Islamic thought. Scholars would train exclusively in one school of jurisprudence, and some people (laypeople I presume) even considered that to change one's madhhab was equivalent to changing one's deen--even converting to another religion like Christianity after being Muslim.

I think it's important to understand that kind of development, intellectual regression if you will, because the dearth of capable scholars leaves many Muslims today prone to be misguided.

Let's take for example the medical field--we have seen in this century amazing new advances is in medicine. Advances in medicine are possible because there is an abundance of doctors and research facilities. People collectively view advancement as important and so resources are devoted to the task. As more people study and practice medicine, the brightest minds are given a forum in which to excel, and funds are directed towards that pursuit.

Why shouldn't the study of Islam be the same way? That we devote our resources towards it--that the brightest minds among the Muslims follow a path that not just reviews and copies what has been done before, but continues to flourish with fresh new perspectives analyzing the past and synthesizing a means for the future. The medical field has developed a culture in today's world, but the study of Islam should do the same. A culture that respects the scholars and puts Allah first, which understands global currents but advances the cause of Muslims worldwide, for the sake of Allah.

That has to begin with thought--introspection. Looking inside our past and revitalizing it. I think this is happening today--Muslims are increasingly active in da'wah to Muslims and non-Muslims. They seek to convey the message to those who haven't heard it, teach it to those who accept it, and implement it among those who embrace it. It is a slow process but that's what we see--slowly but surely the scattered ashes of a united ummah are fusing together, congealing to construct a new house for the Muslims. But without the solid bricks of knowledge, the house can only be shaky, and weak, at best.

Many Muslims today are also seeking knowledge--even in the West, students from overseas are founding new schools and institutes to make knowledge more accessible to Muslims who would otherwise be isolated from the powerhouses in the Muslim world. It is a trend I think we should encourage--yes, it is important to have doctors, lawyers, journalists, etc., but we cannot progress as a single nation unless we understand what binds us together, and that is Islam. The scholars of the past have left us towers, which over centuries have begun to decay and fall. We need to make it a priority, to teach ourselves about Islam, to teach our children, and the rest of the world.

I have immense respect for those who have elected to carry the banner, those who devote hours, days, months, years to the pursuit of Islamic knowledge--may Allah reward them.

Nuptial Impropriety?

1. Boy sees girl.
2. Boy pesters girl's wali.
3. Boy meets girl.
4. Boy woos girl.
5. Boy marries girl.

That seems simple enough, right? But let's start complicating it. Boy is married--let's call him Zayd. The girl knows--let's call her Zaynab. The wife (we'll just call her Zayd's wife) knows her husband is courting a second wife, even over her objections. At some point between steps 4 and 5, let's say 4.5, all parties--Zayd, his wife, his children, and Zaynab--all meet to discuss the situation. Naturally Zayd's wife still objects but is given very little say in the matter.

Zaynab is easily wooed by Zayd, accepts the notion of polygyny and is even convinced of Zayd's capacity to be fair and just between wives. After a few weeks of intense courtship, Zayd and Zaynab get married at the spur of the moment, with the consent of Zaynab's wali of course, but in privacy with respect to the rest of the community. Thereafter, Zaynab proceeds to introduce the man to her friends, inquiring as to their opinion of her new husband.

Now, doesn't it seem more logical to petition one's friends for opinions before contracting the marriage? I'm not a fan of overly long engagements myself, and to publicize an engagement which is not certain can be difficult for some couples, if they decide in the end to not get married. But somehow, "Surprise, we got married today!" doesn't seem like the right course.

If the thought "Did Zayd tell his wife about the marriage?" is going through your head, I'm sorry to tell you the answer is "Not yet." And when asked when he planned to tell her, he said "In three days." What is the significance of three days, I wonder? I'm still wondering.

I sometimes gauge how appropriate an activity might be by how much I wish to keep it to myself--the inherent shame associated with it is a kind of guide suggesting that it is probably not a good thing. And if a marriage has to be kept secret at the beginning--from friends, family, spouses--then is it really such an occasion for joy?

And if considering someone for marriage, why not introduce the person beforehand? Why not ask, before signing the contract, what other people think?

Because for me, "Surprise, we got married today!" followed by, "What do you think?" with a coy wink seems to only engender the following response, "You didn't seem to want to know before, and I doubt you'd appreciate what I think right now." After all that skirting around, my opinion is far from favorable.