Monday, September 29, 2008


That's right. A chemical attack, the victims children. A chemical weapon attack against children in Dayton, Ohio. Why isn't this making bigger news? Because the victims were Muslims?

Personally, I'm outraged. I'm extremely upset, and not just at the fact that it's been three days before I even heard the news!! And how can this be called anything other than a terrorist attack? Where is law enforcement? What are they doing to find whoever is responsible for such a sinister crime?

You might not have realized this, though. In fact I haven't seen it written, but Friday was the 27th night of Ramadan. During taraweeh prayers, on a night which many people (correctly or not) think is Laylat al-Qadr, they try to spend the night in worship, a night better than 1000 months. So probably the most crowded night at the mosque--and the children's room is gassed. The children are attacked. Where is the national uproar?

Terrorist Attack in Dayton Ohio. She took the words out of my mouth.

American Terrorists Gas Muslim Children During Ramadan. On Mujahideen Ryder.

Chemical irritant empties Islamic Society of Greater Dayton's mosque. From Dayton Daily News.

Muslim Children Gassed at Dayton Mosque After "Obsession" DVD Hits Ohio. Daily Kos.

I really think all Muslims should regularly keep an eye on the Muslim Matters blog. They've just posted on this, please go read: In the Wake of “Obsession” Hate-DVDs: Muslim Children Gassed in Ohio Mosque.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Who is Obsessed?

Somebody is. I have to admit that I feel rather apathetic about this anti-Islam DVD campaign (yes, that's what it is). I've been hearing about it every day since about a week before the distribution so I almost have too many thoughts to blog.

But it's time I wrote something again, isn't it?

So in case you haven't heard about this DVD yet, here's news: some secretive front for an Israeli lobbying group has spent an estimated $15 million to $50 million distributing this wacky propaganda film in political battleground states. My state happens to be one of them. And even though I don't subscribe to a newspaper, this DVD was also distributed in a local non-subscriptive weekly publication, and I picked it up from my parents' house. (They were interestingly enough out of town for the whole week and I was watching the house.)

At that point, I had already heard about the DVD being distributed by the N&O. Or let me clarify, distributed as a paid advertisement with the N&O. But I didn't know it was also being distributed by other local papers. Or that it was being distributed nationwide in this election's presumed swing states. Not exactly a pleasant surprise.

But here I'd just like to say a few things about the DVD, the reaction, and my thoughts.

First of all, this "insert" with the paper looks pretty trashy. The above image is on the CD and one side of the cardboard insert--with some reference to CNN & FOX emblazoned across it. There were short quotes recommending it--like one from the producer of the TV Show 24. (Did you ever wonder if maybe the lines between reality and television were being blurred?) Overall, the insert gave me the impression first that this was some movie coming out. A scary, R-rated movie. Just look at the image above! Some exploded buildings and some man who appears to be leading an army in a period film whose face is covered. If you listened to 'The Way Ahead' CDs from Zaytuna you might remember when Sheikh Hamza Yusuf talked about mental frames, and all the negative images people have about covering faces. Anyway, if the image tries to say anything at all, it would be, I think, "Radical Muslim Terrorist Nukes America." That bottom image reminds me of that scene in Independence Day where the city of Houston is nuked.

So already even the image suggests an overexaggerated threat. I am taking a class right now that pretends to seriously study 'Terrorism' under the guise of 'Peace & War in the Nuclear Age.' In fact, just two nights ago I was reading a chapter about how easy it would supposedly be for a "non-state entity" to acquire/manufacture nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. And yet the supposed "terrorists" are throwing rocks and blowing themselves up. I'm thinking "bogeyman," what about you?

So one night at my parents' house I made the time to watch this DVD. After getting emails for a week and a half asking me to write to the editor and voice complaints against this DVD in some way or another, I thought that it might be really an atrocious view of Muslims. It was, but frankly it really surprised me.

I expected the attempt to be PC--by claiming at the beginning that there are some Muslims who aren't "radical" or "extreme" or "terrorist" or any of those other key words, and that Muslims are peaceful, blah blah blah, when it said "this film is not about them." That's kind of like saying there are apples and there are pears and that the film is about apples, not pears, while then proceeding to convince you that pears are apples. Twisted analogy, sorry.

The footage of the two towers, attempts to hijack words like "jihad" and "shaheed," (martyr) and general demonizing of Muslim peoples were all expected. Finding Arab people (1, 2, 3) to utterly condemn Muslims (er, I mean, uh, radicals?... oh wait, no I don't) was no surprise.

But here's what did surprise me: footage of Neville Chamberlain after achieving "peace for our time" in Munich. What does WW2 have to do with "radical Islam?" And the answer the DVD gives to this question truly borders on bizarre--and really, it gives away the Clarion Fund who is apparently the 501(c)(3) behind the distribution of the DVD. If you watch this DVD, you won't need a team of reporters and CAIR and all to tell you who is behind it.

Because somebody really is obsessed--not somebody Palestinian, or Iranian, or Lebanese. But somebody is quite plainly blind in their hatred. The film actually goes to tremendous lengths to try to link the Nazi worldview in 1938 with Islam. That's right--pretending that Muslims are Nazis. Who would find such a distinction most poignant? But since a large portion of the film, probably 20 minutes or so, was spent explaining the verge of WW2, clearly the take-away message wasn't the typical Muslim bashing but something far more sinister.

Now, the USA is currently at war in two countries--Iraq, and Afghanistan. But al-Qaeda wasn't really painted the enemy in this DVD. Supposedly foreign policy is key, since we see this DVD distributed in swing states prior to a presidential election. Somebody wants to have people thinking about terrorism (and not the economy, perhaps) when they vote. But specifically who is demonized in this film?

Palestinians, Iranians, and Lebanese. Palestine, Iran, and Lebanon. Why?

You see footage of one khateeb after another reminding the congregation of the plight of some of their Muslim brothers. Khateeb after khateeb in Iran, Palestine, and Lebanon anyway. You see Muslim soldiers (er, uh, terrorists? the line is blurred) that can be identified with Hezbollah, or Hamas, and you see them saluting. Something totally insignificant perhaps... unless you see it right after watching Nazi troops "heil Hitler." Then it will strike you, perhaps... they are saying that Muslims are Nazis.

That's right. When Muslims try to defend themselves against an aggressor that has cheapened their lives and stolen their property they are painted as the minions of an evil dictator bent on world domination. The DVD goes to great lengths to establish this (entirely fanciful) connection in the viewer's mind--something which I for one had never seen before.

Now, what was the response? A campaign of letters to the editor really doesn't make much of an impact in my mind. So when asked to sit with a laptop outside Taraweeh prayers asking sisters to log in and send a pre-formed email, I refused (not just once but several times.) The weekend after the distribution of the DVD, a number of letters did make it in to the paper--some by prominent members of the community. Now CAIR is looking in to the matter and has apparently filed a complaint with the FEC.

But what about me? I'm still confused. I watched the video, and I don't really feel threatened. But I do think someone is obsessed--and not some Palestinian, Lebanese, or Iranian Muslim who prays five times a day. Instead, someone who dug up WW2 Nazi footage for producing this video, whoever thinks that Muslims are like Nazis trying to exterminate Jews or anything like that--that person is, I think, obsessed. As reflected in the DVD aptly titled 'Obsession.'

It's not about "radical Islam." Not really. I even wrote on a message board for my terrorism class a few weeks ago that radical Islam doesn't exist--that it's just a word used to try to make a distinction among "good" and "bad" Muslims (according to the West, anyway), and to try to demonize people who speak or act in the best interests of their country and Muslims instead of the best interests of Israel or the USA. Primarily, in this video, those would be Palestinians, Lebanese, and Iranians.

So anyway--what's my solution? Since I don't care to flood the paper with letters (for distributing a paid advertisement... it's not like they passed it out for free) what do I think we should do?

Come on. Let's talk about Islam. Plan an open house, set up a booth, organize debates, dialogues, lectures--that's the least you can do. Find your talent, whatever it is, and use it in the way of Allah. If it is graphic design, if it is programming, if it's medicine, writing, or even babysitting, find a way to help the Muslims. There are a few more days left in Ramadan--if you are going to pray Taraweeh and the Imam is reading you a beautiful du'a asking Allaah Muslims and gathering them together, don't just stand there and cry. Take it to heart, and act. When you hear him ask for your righteous deeds to be accepted, don't let shedding a few tears be the end of them--keep up your deeds after Ramadan.

It's amazing to me, and sad at the same time, to stand in a room full of women shaking and sniffling when they hear about the state of this ummah but yet they then go home and stay there for the rest of the year instead of taking any action to change their affairs.

Our Ramadan boot camp is almost over. Whatever it was you accomplished--reading Qur'an, memorizing, praying your daily salawat (prayers) on time, praying Qiyyam ul-Layl, donating to the poor, or just visiting the masjid regularly, let it only push you towards more righteousness and not prevent you from it.

(If you're interested, here's a rebuttal to the claims in the video:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Helping New Muslims in Ramadan

Sometimes I get the impression that especially in this blessed month of Ramadan, my brothers and sisters would like to help any new converts to Islam that they know.

And it makes Ramadan a great time to be a new Muslim!

Alhamdulillah, this is my third Ramadan and by far it has been my most isolated one, mostly because I've needed so much time to myself to do the homework I have been assigned this semester. But I wanted to share (for new Muslims and "veteran" Muslims) some ways that my new family (of brothers and sisters in Islam!) has made Ramadan really special for me in the past.

Biryani - Click for CreditOne thing I love about the community here in Raleigh is that the masjid makes an effort to feed singles and travelers every night in Ramadan, ensuring that they have someone to break fast with, and some food to eat. It was nice to know that even if I had nowhere else to go for iftar, I could always go to the masjid. A few years ago it was only a few days out of the week and subhanallah now they do it every day. And because it's at the masjid, this provides a nice opportunity for Muslims to come to the masjid to break fast, pray maghrib, eat a meal, and then pray isha and taraweeh as well--although the best benefit is getting to be around other Muslims at iftar time. My first Ramadan, that brotherhood/sisterhood environment at iftaar time was what made the biggest impression on me, so I hope that we Muslims don't take it for granted. (And if you attend the IAR I think you should definitely consider donating to this cause!)

Aside from iftaars at the masjid, I also benefited from the iftaars held by the MSAs (Muslim Student Associations) at my university (NCSU) and other local universities (UNC-CH.) They are once a week, and again there's a big turn-out of Muslim students to break fast, and usually a short talk or program as well. As a new Muslim (and college student) this was a great opportunity for me to simply meet other Muslims on campus.

Now in addition to these iftaars which were held regularly, I was also invited to people's homes for iftaar--even people who I didn't know that well. So at these I had the benefit of breaking fast with lots of Muslims I didn't even know before, or didn't know well. I would encourage anyone who is planning to host an iftaar at their house to invite any new Muslims you might know. A lot of times a new Muslim doesn't have a large social network to break fast with and this is a great way to make them feel like they are a part of the community.

So, after taking care of the food, how else to help a new Muslim? I am so indebted to my former roommate for helping me establish three really good Ramadan habits--taraweeh, qiyyam, and suhoor. Suhoor is on to the food again so I won't spend much time on that--except to say that it's hard to start a new schedule of getting up really early to eat so encouragement on that point was really helpful to me.

About the taraweeh--I have to admit, the first times I went to pray taraweeh I was bored, and it was very difficult for me to stay. And I mean, to stay for 8 rakaat. I was uncomfortable and exhausted and understood none of what was being recited. I spent most of the time thinking about how hot it was, how much my legs or feet hurt, and wondering when it would be over. When we would make it in to ruku' I could feel my back cracking, and when we went into sajdah I was thankful for the relief it gave my legs. So it was very difficult to go, every night. But even my first Ramadan I went to Taraweeh about a third to a half of the nights in the month, and the people around me continually encouraged me to go. By the end of the month it did start feeling better (spiritually... my legs still hurt) just to go and pray, but I don't think I would have kept it up unless people had kept telling me to go.

The next year I went and it was easier--I couldn't really understand the recitation but since I had taken a class in Arabic grammar at least and I knew some vocabulary, I would distinguish some words and so listening was different. And this year I have tried to go most nights, and I actually end up standing much longer than I ever had before (standing on carpet now makes it so much easier!) and understanding entire phrases that are recited, and sometimes even whole ayaat since I've been following a word-by-word translation outside of taraweeh. So really it is getting easier--but I don't think I'd be able to say that if I hadn't kept going even when I didn't understand.

And the other big habit was praying qiyyam ul-layl at the masjid in the last 10 nights--they pray this in the last third of the night, in addition to the taraweeh. And that made a huge difference for me every time I did it--especially making lots of du'a in the long prostrations. Without my roommate I don't think I would have prayed all that much in previous Ramadans, or even in this Ramadan since now it's getting easier.

So I think 2 main ways to help a new Muslims this Ramadan would be, inviting them for iftaar or making sure they have somewhere to go, and encouraging them to perform extra acts of worship.

A new Muslim might not understand all that happens in his first Ramadan--the i'tikaf, the qiyyam, the taraweeh, the suhoor even, and might not be able to take advantage of all this extra worship for that reason. So to be encouraged, and invited to these activities is really helpful.

And this way the convert can start to feel like they are benefiting more from Ramadan, and also that they are a real part of the community, and partake in the wonderful blessing of brotherhood and sisterhood among Muslims. :-)

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Women of My Mosque

Islamic Center of Raleigh
A few weeks ago, another blogger mentioned some problems of having a women-friendly mosque. Women want to come to the mosque, of course... but they want peace and quiet, and feel like the burden of disciplining unruly children during the prayers has fallen on them when mothers (and fathers) neglect their part.

In fact, at my masjid many women have not come to taraweeh prayers for a long time because for many years (and years ago) they were so bothered by the annoying screams of dozens of children during the prayer. So I wanted to take this opportunity to really commend the women at my masjid for the efforts that they currently undertake to ensure that taraweeh prayers are peaceful for all the sisters who attend. If someone else at another mosque has a problem with sisters and children causing disruptions maybe they can use this as a model inshaaAllah.

The masjid building now has two floors where people pray, one for brothers (downstairs) and one is basically for sisters (upstairs.) There is a musallah upstairs for the sisters, with an excellent sound system to hear the imam from downstairs, as well as a large screen high-definition TV screen showing the imam (useful for khutbahs as well, if not so much for salaat.) This room is only used by sisters who do not have any children. No children are allowed in the room--so the carpet stays clean, the room is quiet to hear the imam without any mother needing to tend to a child, or any kids running between the rows.

Beside this prayer room is a smaller "play room" which has been adapted to include praying carpets and also has a sound system to broadcast the recitation of the imam, so that mothers of children up to 2 years old will be allowed to attend taraweeh prayers upstairs, praying with sisters. In the past children this age were sent to childcare because there were not separate rooms but now this is the alternative we have, a separate room for mothers of small children who really might have a hard time in babysitting anyway.

But all the other children, ages 2 and up, are sent to babysitting. The masjid actually HIRES babysitters to be there every night, and then some sisters volunteer for the busier nights to watch the kids and to also register them in as they arrive to keep track. Past the age of babysitting, girls must be upstairs, boys must be downstairs. The babysitting actually takes place in another building on the premises, where there is also set up speakers to hear the prayer, and some room for sisters to pray there as well, if they wish.

There are also 1-2 sisters volunteering each night in Ramadan as security to make sure that no children end up in the main prayer halls to disturb the salaat, and to make sure that there are't any older children running around in the building at all. They can also direct sisters to the appropriate room, or to babysitting, if they don't know where everything is. This way inshaaAllah everybody has a pleasant experience.

I know this is probably a problem for many communities, but alhamdulillah, it's something that is addressed very well here. The entire effort is coordinated and implemented by the Women's Committee, and frankly it's pretty impressive. :-) Last year we did not have the upstairs floor so all children (even babies) had to go to babysitting. But alhamdulillah there was no crying and wailing--EVER--the whole month. :-) It can happen!

And so far this Ramadan there hasn't been any problems (at least, not that I'm aware of.) And taraweeh is a very blessed and wonderful experience. May Allah reward all those sisters who sacrifice their time to ensure things run smoothly for everyone else.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Flesh and Bones

Sometimes I have heard people criticize Islam for being maybe "too ritual" or focused on the ritual aspect of worship in preference to the spiritual. I really don't think that is the case at all, but that actually Islam has a nice balance between the both.

As a Christian, something I longed for (before I even heard of Islam) was a form for the prayer. It troubled me from an early age that I didn't know how to approach God for help. This might seem like something that one needn't worry about--just call on God, right? But for me, it did not some appropriate to simply make demands of God or to fill my prayers with a wish list, i.e., "please give me this, and this, and that, and the other thing..." The focus just seemed all wrong. And I don't mean to belittle anyone, or the importance of making du'a and supplicating to God, but prayers like that for me felt devoid of all spiritual content.

So when I hear a Christian, for example, say that he can pray anytime he wants, as if a Muslim is somehow restricted in his prayers by the motion of the sun, I understand that he cannot grasp the true beauty of the salaat. Because for someone not familiar with it, the salaat might look like an "empty ritual." Recite this, stand like this, bow and say this, prostrate and say that--and so on. Because it is scripted, and because it is a ritual, it might seem devoid of spiritual connection. But what is so beautiful about the salaat is not it's ritual aspect, but its spiritual content. I do think that bowing and prostrating before our Creator is humbling and has a powerful effect on the heart, but when a person focuses on the meaning and content of the prayer it means so much more than just a ritual.

And recently I heard someone give the analogy that the prayer itself is like a skeleton. And she did not flesh out (pardon the pun) this analogy but as I reflected on it, it seemed even more profound. And it applies to all the pillars of Islam actually, but here I'll focus on the prayer. The ritual of the prayer is like a skeleton--and a skeleton is not alive. But without bones, the other tissues of the body have no structure, and no support. Even if there are muscles and skin, organs and so forth, without the skeletal structure the body would just lie limp in a pile, unable to do anything.

I broke my arm when I was a kid and had to wear a cast on it for several weeks--but even if I ignore the pain of the event, I remember that my entire arm was almost useless. I couldn't do anything with it (especially for the first few weeks) and just because the bone was broken.

While bones alone don't make up the entire body, they are essential to its function. If there are only bones, then there is just a skeleton--essentially dead! If a person maintains the prayer in form alone, the analogy is like a dry skeleton: dead. Spiritually the prayer is dead.

But what if there is muscle and skin, without bones? This is how I kind of see prayer in some other religions, namely Christianity. There is spiritual content for sure--love for God and awe at His creation--but there is no form. So the prayer might be alive, but it's almost useless. It can't do anything, go anywhere.

So in Islam we have the form--the skeleton. But if we don't flesh it out, it's just dead, empty bones. So we need to focus on caring for the spiritual components of the prayer, analogous to flesh. This means in the prayer we should be concentrating on our love for Allah, His Greatness and His Mercy.

So I guess in this month of Ramadan, here is something to think about--don't let your salaat be dead bones, just the skeleton, but bring it to life.