Thursday, October 30, 2008

Terrorism, Schmerrorism

This semester, I signed up for a class called "Peace and War in the Nuclear Age."

I thought it might have something to do with the Korean War, the Cold War, De-colonization, Vietnam, maybe the wars in the Middle East, maybe something to do with Cuba.

But it's a class about "Terrorism," instead. A bogus class, if you ask me, with no underlying themes and tons of lame propaganda. We have wasted time assessing pre-9/11 NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) threats from State and Non-State actors (read: Iran and Al-Qaeda.) Does that even make sense? Our text, you see, is from 1998, but students are consumed with modern political posturing over Iran and radikal muzlims.

The students in the class have practically no understanding of the term "Foreign policy," have hardly any background in world history, and an extremely neo-conservative arrogance about "spreading democracy." One student recently "informed" me that Jimmy Carter was responsible for the "Islamic Revolution" in Iran.

Overall, everytime I try to do work for this class I find that I get angry so that I'm seeing red, my blood pressure rises and I start to cry. It's so frustrtating. So I haven't done any work for the class in about two weeks, just due to the sheer frustration of dealing with my classmates. On top of that, I find the instructor to be utterly useless, dictating assignments from on high with no feedback or communication with students (and being an online class... how difficult is it for him to email once in a while?) I find that for students who already had preconceived notions about terrorism, this class confirms it for them. For students with an open mind, the class might, if they are looking closely, expose them to double standards from the American government.

But for my part, I am really just fed up with the class, with the students, with the instructor, and with the retarded assignments which offer nothing in the way of learning or thinking. The one interesting thing about the class is we have to write a research paper. Although, we can write it about almost anything we want--as long as we tie it back to terrorism in one form or another.

I still haven't picked a topic, though. Any ideas?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My dear sister, don't cut

Imagine a group of 9th grade girls sitting in a cafeteria. Their table is near the corner and out of the way so nobody can see very well what's going on. One girl slides her sleeve up her arm, indicating a fresh wound, "From last night," she says. She points to another scrape on her arm from a few weeks past. Another girl shyly exposes several scars on her own arm, while another explains that the girls should cut their thighs or bellies instead--so their parents won't see the scars. A fourth girl tells them, "That's so stupid, why do you do that anyway?" She is convinced that they "just want attention."

If someone pressed a knife to your neck, wouldn't you want some attention? If you found yourself being pulled into a dark alley against your will, wouldn't you want some attention? If you were drowning, wouldn't you want some attention? If you saw a house on fire, and knew there were children inside, wouldn't you want some attention? Some help?

I am sad to report that a story like this one isn't as rare or fictional as we might like to believe. And the argument of the 4th girl, that these girls are "stupid" and "just want attention," is a common response. Sadly, not a helpful one.

I have been trying to get my 9th grade Sunday school class (all girls) to talk about some issues that might be bothering them, and someone mentioned girls who cut themselves. I don't if any of these girls who were present do this or not, but most of them knew someone who did. It's not an issue I ever gave very much thought to, so I decided to spend sometime this week researching the phenomenom.

And I discovered that it does happen a lot. And, as I understood from the girls, it happened as a response to some abnormal stress in a girl's life. Relayed to me, for example, was the story of one girl who cut gave the excuse that her father had cheated on her mother.

Unfortunately adultery isn't something so rarely seen these days--we find our politicians and celebrities engaging in it, no wonder that average moms and dads have no immunity either. But would you have imagined, if you were the girls father, that your behavior would cause your teenage daughter to inflict injuries on her body?

If we are to believe statistics that 1 in 10 girls self-harm each year (i.e., cut themselves), that is no small number to ignore. And I for one don't think it's fair at all to label girls who cut as "stupid" or just "attention-seekers." It is very likely that they are seeking attention for a very legitimate reason--they are unable to deal with stress in their life. They might be more sensitive than most, or dealing with very strange experiences, such as infidelity between their parents, or abuse. The cutting actually seems to be a way for them to relieve stress--a kind of screaming that is private, and silent.

What about the showing off? I don't think the girls are showing scars to gain popularity, but they do it really as a cry for help. They won't show parents, for example--thus the idea of hiding the cuts where they can't be seen (belly or thighs.) But even the girls who cut their arms might make a point of wearing long sleeves. But they show others--why? I think the girls really might need help.

One girl in my class told me someone had talked to her about cutting, and it was clear to me at least that the girl was looking for help. Now the young sister wasn't sure exactly what to do, and I don't know what to do. A lot of what I read suggested that first just listening might help, and that going to the girl's parents or family (who in fact might be the cause of the stress) wouldn't necessarily be the best way to help.

I tried to convey to the girls the importance of listening to people when things are going wrong with them, and just listening even if they don't know what to do to help--the girl just might need someone to listen and be a friend. Also I tried to help them understand that it was something serious, and not something "stupid." If a girl was cutting herself in order to cope, it meant she was unable to find another way of coping with her problems. So either a more productive way of coping with stress is needed, or perhaps the removal of stress. And ultimately I sort of encouraged them to listen and not to mock.

It's also worthwhile to point out that it seems like some teens, perhaps instead of or in addition to cutting, might deliberately over-medicate (even with household drugs) or perhaps turn to more serious kinds of drugs.

I would like to hear someone from the Muslim community comment about this, since I don't think it is a safe assumption at all that Muslimahs would be immune from choosing this kind of response to stress in their lives. Reading the stories of some girls who were cutting, stories of abuse, just presented so nonchalantly, it really brought me to tears. If anyone reading could offer some religious or spiritual insight in to the problem of girls cutting themselves, I would really appreciate it.

Dear Congressman

Dear Congressman Price,

I know our relationship hasn't always been the best. I was reluctant at the beginning--even when you visited my high school to encourage an interest in the political process among juniors and seniors, I had a low opinion of you. Like my parents, at the time, I thought "Republican" was the way to go--and that meant somehow you were the bad guy.

But you've managed to keep your seat time and time again, and now as a slightly older and more mature voter, I look at you differently. I remember seeing you at the fundraising dinner for the Muslim American Public Affairs Council--that organization does not impress me, but that you made an effort to show up at an event for Muslims did. I realized then that you weren't afraid of Muslims like some of your fellow Congressmen are.

And since then, I've started to understand your role in the Congress. Sure, reading Charlie Wilson's War gave me new eyes towards Appropriations Committees! Your place as Chair of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee undoubtedly colors my opinion of your usefulness in the Congress, and knowing that you aren't afraid of Muslims has convinced me that you are a good person to be in your job, especially with the intense distrust I seem to have of most members of Congress.

I also remember that letter you wrote to Secretary of State Rice about Blackwater, about the fundamental injustice of failing to hold private contracting firms against the law, if they broke it. And I remember your bill, which was passed, to make sure that the government was able to prosecute crimes of contractors in war zones (like Iraq), because the last thing we need is an armed force who is above the law--even above our own laws!

I also recently learned that you helped evacuate a number of Arab Americans who were stuck in Gaza during the Lebanon War. I can point out that the first Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison, has endorsed you. And more poignantly, a good friend of mine who interned in your office has provided for the Muslim community a beautiful heartfelt endorsement.

I was rather astonished when I read, however, that MAPAC had endorsed BJ Lawson who is challenging you for the seat. I heard some of my friends describe you as a bureaucrat (in the pejorative sense) a party Democrat, and a strong supporter of Israel. And then some of your supports amongst the Muslims argued that Lawson was influenced heavily by Ron Paul, an extremist in the Congress.

As it happens, I did support Dr. Paul and fundamentally agree with many of his principles. Reviewing Mr. Lawson's site I read his opinion that, "Democracy is simply tyranny of the majority," as a reason that we should not attempt to force democracy on the Middle East--a region with very little interest in it. The more I learn about him, I find that I do agree with many of his principles, and I would like to see a Congress with many people like him.

Unfortunately, I see Congress as a body that needs not an individual whom I support in order to act on my behalf, it actually needs a large group of like-minded Congressmen in order to get much done. And it would be helpful if those Congressmen can follow the leadership of a president who I feel is acting in the best interests of the country rather than his party.

And it is because I am so hurt already by the damage of a Republican Congress and a Republican White House that I am ready to see it all change. And even though I like Mr. Lawson, even though I might have supported him in better days, I feel that you are able to do more good right now than he could, and so it is more important for you to keep your seat.

But even though I feel like I might vote for you today, the question is whether my support will last for still another week...

Friday, October 24, 2008

How to Irritate By Email

I'm sure the rest of you have plenty of useless email you have to sort through daily--a couple videos of McCain or Palin, election endorsements, dancing potatoes, announcements of upcoming local activities, requests for volunteers, and so forth. But that's not the kind of irritation I'm talking about.

I received an email today from someone who had a question for me. And being honest, the way the email was formed was so insulting and demeaning to me that I didn't want to respond at all. And when I did reply it was generally to deny him what he wanted. And really it was just the manner of "speaking" in the email which did actually hurt, and that alone was the reason that I was so disinclined to offer any help to the brother who was asking.

Because email is so pervasive as a means of communication nowadays, I wish people would develop their etiquette and manners when using the internet to deal with others. I am confident that if people would just in general be more polite and considerate when asking others for help, they would be more likely to find the help they are looking for and more. Behaving rudely, on the other hand, will probably only create enemies and prevent people from accomplishing their objectives. So better to be nice--chances are it will pay off.

So I want to list a few problems with the email I received today, and why it made me so upset. Just some background information on the prior correspondence: The brother first asked his question of me in a much more polite and considerate email, and I responded by asking for more information, since I was afraid that I didn't entirely understand what he was asking in the first place. Now, in his defense, he might have had a really bad day by the time he got around to writing this email to me, but by pointing out what about it was so offensive might help someone else (or me) in the future to remove such indicators that might also imply the writer is just horribly rude and self-interested.

1. The introduction: "Sigh.." Instead of greeting the recipient (me), the person writing this email decided to begin with a written declaration of a non-verbal expression of frustration. He typed out "Sigh.." instead of starting with any kind of greeting at all. Immediately this says to me, "I don't care about you, you are causing me trouble and I want you to know that I am mad at you." I can't see how I did anything to deserve such ire, so I feel that I am put on defense right away.

2. Restating the problem: Instead of answering my questions, (I only asked two), the email I received basically said the same thing as the original email--only now, instead of explaining or rephrasing as I had requested, he simply treated me as if I was being stupid and deliberately refusing to understand him.

3. All-Caps: Another problem in the brother's restating of his original email is that in addition to not adding anything new at all to help me explain, he would occasionally CAPITALIZE some words, as if to emphasize his frustration at having to repeat himself. But I didn't ask for repetition, I asked for explanation. And I wasn't getting it.

4. Got it?: Also, while restating the same request as the previous email, the author now chose to end each sentence with the phrase, "Got it?" as if he is berating a child--at least, that's how I felt. Since he isn't talking to me in person, I can't really answer whether I "got it" or not--if I could, I would say no and ask him to kindly rephrase it so I can try again. But because this is an email, and clearly the author does not want an actual response to his question, it serves no purpose at all except to be rude. The next three sentences in the email (after the opening "sigh") all ended with "got it?" (There were only 4 sentences total...) So excessively using this phrase in such a manner was both demeaning and insulting--inconsiderate of whether I "got it" or not, and perhaps also an attempt to just force an answer out of me. In fact, it made me angry.

5. Spelling it out: Another technique employed by the writer, as if he were determined to hurt my feelings, was deliberately spelling out a particular word. I had asked him to clarify what he meant by using that word, since I was not familiar with it being used in such a context. (That's what I had written to him.) But instead of clarifying the meaning, he opted once to CAPITALIZE the word, and the second time to s-p-e-l-l i-t o-u-t. Even over the phone or in person this technique would be considered rude. But he is not speaking with the risk that I am confusing one word for another--I can clearly read it. But employing this technique was again a show of frustration on his part, or else a calculated attempt to offend me. And still he failed to explain the usage, which is all I'd requested in the first place.

6. Implying reader stupidity: The next offense was the use of the following phrase, "I can't imagine of speaking more simpler english than this..." Now, for someone who is a native English speaker, this phrase reeks of the arrogance of a non-native speaker who seems to think he knows English better, but doesn't, as evidenced by a small mistake. So in this phrase, the writer is telling me that I must be too stupid to understand English, and he can't possibly make it any simpler. So he's refusing to answer my original requests, and insulting me to boot as if to imply that the reason I can't understand him is a deficiency in my intelligence or linguistic capability.

7. Salutations: It's only worth mentioning that to top off the email, there was no salutation at all. And that is probably worse than anything he could connive to conclude.

Overall, the email told me that he didn't care at all for my input, he probably regretted asking me in the first place, that he found me to be a stupid or ignorant person incapable of helping him. It's really sad, then, that the subject of the email was the brother is planning to give a speech about da'wah. And I can pretty much guarantee that da'wah like the way that brother treated me would send people running as far and fast from Islam as their legs will carry them.

And I know anyone can get frustrated with something and have that frustration come off unintentionally towards the recipient of an email. But this particular note had so many offenses I thought it might be worth pointint out... for anyone else who is trying to ask for help via email, be nice. You'll have much more success that way.

InshaaAllaah I might write a follow-up post about tips to avoid coming off as an egotistical misogynistic self-interested clown.

Minara in Raleigh

It's official--Zaytuna's Minara Program will be coming to Raleigh inshaa-Allaah next month, November 15th and 16th (2008.)

If you haven't found yourself floating in a deluge of emails about it, and haven't been able to come by a registration form, here is what you're looking for: Raleigh Minara! You can visit that link and register and find out about all the details.

Or, you can email me. But what will happen if you email me for registration forms is I will simply forward your email on to someone who has them (as I do not have them.) But she's incredibly busy planning the more intricate details of the event, so please, just visit the website.

So, what is the Minara program? It is a 2-day workshop covering the topic: Agenda to Change our Condition. As far as I can tell, the instructors (Imam Zaid Shakir and Sh. Hamza Yusuf) will be emphasizing taqwa and sincereity as means of improving our state as Muslims.

The event will be at the McKimmon Center, and you do have to register. So hurry and do that before seats run out.

No Posts in a Week? What!?

My bad...

Seriously though, I have been busy. Doing what, you might ask? Well, it's a good question. I did have a test this week (and after recently re-discovering the joy of getting A's on tests I wanted to actually study.) I also had a little bit of homework to catch up on, something neat in my Microwave Engineering class called a "Smith Chart." That's what the funny looking circle chart thing is at the top of this post.

In fact, it's so neat what you can do with this nifty little chart. And even though the engineers use language that might make you think it's complicated (like "impedance matching" and "shunt inductance") it's really such a neat tool that in all my years of studying engineering, I'm still kind of marvelling at the simplicity of it. You get to use it by printing off a chart like that (takes up the whole page) and drawing even more circles on it with a compass.

But school wasn't my main concern this week--I was part of a team that was giving presentations to some freshman college students visiting the mosque. The entire freshman class has to take this particular course, and so we get about 250-300 girls each semester, about 1/3 each night over three nights. So this week, we hosted them on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings.

We start with an overview about Islam based on a presentation we have created, which is supposed to take 30 minutes or less. They have to read about Islam beforehand so the presentation is less a descriptive study of Islam, and more a normative one, talking about what Muslims believe about Allah and the Qur'an for example. And then we usually have a sister who has converted tell her story about becoming Muslim. (That was my role this week, each night.) And then they will observe the prayer with a brief explanation about the importance of prayer in Islam, and answer their questions.

It's always fun to see the different questions they might have, and giving the presentations back-to-back helps us figure out what we could do better and what is very ineffective. One of the most interesting remarks that I've heard from the students though is that after listening they found that most of the stereotypes they had about Muslims were dispelled--even though we actually spent very little time battling misconceptions compared to just presenting Islam as straightforwardly as possible.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What are your daughters reading?

Edward's Meadow? Hmmm!I loved reading when I was growing up--though it's rather amusing why. Someone that I looked up to recommended a book to me that was way beyond my comprehension at the time--Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke. (You might remember this from a post I made a few months ago.) It was an incredibly difficult book for me to read, but I read it anyway, and when I finished, I asked for more. I went on to read the next three books in what became a series. And my love for reading really took off, as I became so intrigued by the amazing stories of these characters. I was in 6th or 7th grade at the time, and to be perfectly honest with you, I was reading about some very adult themes, and I didn't even realize it.

I explored the science-fiction section of the library, found authors that I liked, and stories. And once in a while I would come across a book that... well, it wasn't written for an audience at my age. I didn't really care, I didn't focus on things I didn't understand and just went through them anyway. But I really wonder...

Movies today, and even TV-shows, have ratings so parents are aware of what could be inappropriate content. But you don't find ratings on books. But I really wonder if maybe there should be?

A good friend of mine was recently telling me about a book she was reading. I was actually getting annoyed because I expect if someone is going to tell me what they are reading that they will actually tell me what happens--5 minutes worth explaining the first chapter only might find me rapidly losing interest. But I picked up on a few things: "vampire," "Seattle."

CoverA few days later I was sitting in a Sunday school class listening to the girls chat about what books they were reading--and something started to sound familiar. So I took what I remembered from the first chapter my friend had explained and asked them--sure enough, the same book. It's called Twilight, by the way, and is followed by 3 more already in print, and a another still in progress. Now I'm hearing about this book everywhere, it seems--a film based on the first book will be released in December of this year.

I mentioned to my friend that some of the girls had expressed thoughts that something in the book (romantic in nature) might not be appropriate for them, and she scoffed that it was just because they are Muslim.

So I know that Muslims tend to crack down a little on movies and television, as well as music and often magazines. But I wonder if popular fiction also deserves some criticism? I think reading is great--it's been shown to improve vocabulary, spelling, reasoning... thinking! A friend of mine who teaches 7th grade says that the students at that age are vastly more prepared to think critically about the world if they are students who have been reading books. On the other hand, students who didn't had more difficulty thinking about the world in broader terms. So reading is important... but maybe we should be a little critical of what we read? Or not? Maybe if we raise our children right in the first place something like this won't be a problem?

I'm curious what people think. :-)

Republican Playbook?

I have had the extreme displeasure to decide to visit my parents on the nights of the last two presidential debates as well as the vice-presidential one. What happens is that I am driving home from somewhere or other and don't feel like going home just yet so I keep on going a little further and stop by my parents' house--where my brother and his fiance are also staying. But since my own political views sharply diverge from those of my family, if I don't keep my mouth shut it's likely the event can turn downright hostile.

If it were up to me, I wouldn't deliberately watch the debates. First of all I don't have a TV, and second of all the rhetoric is useless to me in forming an intelligent opinion about either candidate. The debates to me serve merely as an exercise to see if I can determine what the candidate is not saying, since what he actually says is little more than banal talking points about something at best tangential to the questions he is asked.

But I do appreciate listening to the kind of analysis I might hear on the Diane Rehm show, for example. And yesterday I heard something really interesting that I just thought I'd share. The guest explained three basic tactics of Republican campaigning that have succeeded in getting them elected over the last 25-30 years.

(1) Tax increases on anyone mean that you (dear voter) will be paying higher taxes. If you listen to a lot of campaign rhetoric from Republicans, you will hear this either directly or indirectly. Even if the Democrat is only describing a tax hike on the super-super rich, the Republican will try to make it sound as though every single American will also feel the brunt of increased taxes. I think this tactic is in fact rather dishonest.

(2) The Government's Budget deficit is due to wasteful discretionary spending on small public service programs. Basically what you hear in this case is the candidate saying that the Democrat's choice to support a museum or local park or something like that is breaking the bank. Republicans traditionally favored small government and balanced budgets (I think? maybe in a world before W.?) so saying that the Democrats are to blame for the out of control spending because of supporting museums and science grants is an attempt to win votes, clearly. But I don't think it's really true--President Bush has tremendously increased the national debt but I really think that it's the major campaigns which are responsible... like the war, for example. But if Republicans are truly worried about a budget deficit, then they will need to cut back spending (cutting small programs won't be enough, they will have to cut big ones, and that means defense as well!) and also increase their income.

(3) Democrats only get elected by voter fraud. I guess this is a claim Republicans make--that scandals in voter registration, busing fake voters around to different districts under false names, are the only way Democrats get in to office. I guess conservative Americans view "liberals" as being immoral and deceitful, while they would never even consider such dishonesty in politics. Whatever. Can't we see now how district attorneys have actually lost their jobs for admitting that there in fact isn't this grand voter fraud scheme? I feel like Republican candidates are almost urging their voters to resort to treachery in response to this threat of voter fraud.

So I thought about calling this post "Lies Republicans Tell to Get Elected," but I didn't think it was fair to suggest all Republicans are liars (as if Democrats were a bastion of honesty or something.) I just thought it was an interesting point I heard on the radio, and wanted to share.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What is the Purpose of the Sunnah?

This morning I received an interesting question, one that I think might actually be somewhat common among people who are learning about Islam, either to convert or after converting. And it comes up because of the person's background and previous understanding of religion.

The essence of the question, which asks for the purpose of the hadith or the sunnah, reveals the impression of the person asking that they might be like the rulings or dogma of the Catholic church, and correspond to catholic life and behavior. So the questioner wants to understand the differences in the Hadith/Sunnah in Muslim tradition to dogmas/rulings in the Catholic tradition.

What might not be obvious is the tacit impression of the Qur'an in relation to the Bible. Because what the above question assumes is that the Qur'an is actually like the Bible, and therefore Islamic teachings outside of the Qur'an (namely Sunnah) are analagous to extra-Biblical literature.

But in fact, there is absolutely no equivalent to the Qur'an in Christianity. The statement that the Qur'an is the 'Muslim Bible' or something similar is inherently flawed and misleading. Unfortunately I frequently hear Muslims make this incorrect comparison when speaking to Christians (or worse, to other Muslims, permitting the propagation of this misunderstanding.) There might be a temptation to describe the Qur'an like the Bible because Muslims do believe in previous revealed scriptures--the Torah, and the Gospel, for example. And Christians and Jews are called 'People of the Book,' while 'Bible' means 'Book.' But you might be wondering what the problem is with likening the Qur'an to the Christian Bible, so allow me to explain.

The Bible is a collection of texts, spanning centuries, some of which can claim divine inspiration, and some of which cannot. It is not a single revelation like the Qur'an which has been preserved in its entirety as one complete volume. Rather, it consists of two major pieces, the "Old Testament" and the "New Testament,", the development of each taking centuries without any proof or determination to distinguish actual revelation from mere storytelling. The Bible includes, for example, the Torah, but the two terms are not interchangeable. Loosely, we can understand the Torah to be the first five books of the Bible, namely Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, sometimes called the Books of Moses (p). (Can you imagine why?) The remainder of the Old Testament includes other books like the Psalms, and texts known as "Prophets" and "Writings." All these varieties of literature comprise the Old Testament, which was considered to be a single collection during the life of Jesus. Today the same collection of texts is sometimes called the "Jewish Bible." While it includes the Torah, it also includes many other texts and so cannot be equivalently referred to as the Torah.

The second major piece of the Bible is the "New Testament." Some Muslims also make the mistake of referring to the entire New Testament as the Gospel, or the Injeel (a term in the Qur'an meaning Gospel), but once again, the New Testament is also a collection of texts--and not revelation to Jesus (p). In fact, it is simply books written about him, or about or part of the movement after him (which might not even fall under the category of what we know today as Christianity.) Regardless of that point, the New Testament books were all written after Jesus's ascendancy--decades, even centuries (according to some opinions) afterwards, and are not at all revealed, though in general Christians might consider them all to be "inspired" by what they call the "Holy Spirit."

The Qur'an however is a single volume, comprehensively revealed to Muhammad (saws) through the angel Gabriel, who Muslims call the Holy Spirit. And during its revelation which took place during the life of Muhammad, he and his Companions collected it by memory and in writing to preserve entirely. It is, in fact, the Speech of the Almighty--verbatim, revealed through Gabriel to Muhammad (saws.) It is not the words of any human being, or the interpretation of God's words by any human being. So primarily, the nature of the Qur'an is what distinguishes it from the Bible.

Now, the question at hand was not about the differences between the Bible and the Qur'an, however I think that a proper understanding of that distinction is necessary to properly understand the answer which is to follow.

Because the Qur'an is unique even among religious scripture, the proper analogy of the Sunnah should become more profound. Rather than appearing like extra-Biblical literature written after the time of Jesus (p), the Sunnah is more like actual texts in the Bible, which endeavour to describe and explain the teachings of Jesus.

That's right, I said that the Qur'an is unique, and the Sunnah (or Hadith) is kind of like the Bible--specifically like the Gospels of the New Testament.

Why? Because the Sunnah, the Hadith, these are the teachings of Muhammad (saws)--the things he said, the things he did, and what was done in his presence while he approved. And are you thinking, but the Qur'an is the teachings of Muhammad (saws)? Remember what I said before, that the Qur'an is unique in its nature in that it is the Speech of Allaah, His words exactly, perfect and precise. Not the words of Muhammad (saws). But Muhammad (saws) did not utter only the Qur'an. He did not hide in his house and emerge only to recite the revelation which Allah had bestowed on him--he taught his Companions by interacting with them, by sitting with them and talking to them, and traveling with them. His actions were a source of teaching them as well as his words. And that is the Sunnah! After his death (saws), his companions continued to transmit his teachings, his own words, in addition to the Qur'an, although separate from the Qur'an.

And for this reason it's better to understand the Sunnah as his teachings rather than as a book or a collection of narrations, even though we can only understand the Sunnah this way because that is how our scholars have transmitted and verified the sayings which have been attributed to Muhammad (saws).

So after establishing that the Qur'an is unique, the verbatim speech of Allaah revealed through Gabriel to Muhammad (saws), we say that the Sunnah is the teachings of Muhammad (saws) in his words and actions, as witnessed by his Companions, and transmitted to us through their narrations. And what is the purpose of the Sunnah? What is the purpose of the lessons which Muhammad (saws) taught his companions?

The purpose is to teach us Islam, to teach us how to implement Islam in our lives, and to teach us how to understand the Divine Guidance and Remembrance, the Qur'an. It is to permit us to follow the divine injunction in the Qur'an to "obey the Messenger." Because Muhammad (saws) was not sent as a prophet to his companions only or to Arabs only, but he was sent as a mercy to all the worlds, as a messenger for all of mankind.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fun New Toy!

So... I got an iPhone this weekend! And I am seriously amazed at everything it can do. As it happens, I've never before had an iPod but now I'm having to get used to iTunes to really start using the iPhone--I imagine I can listen to podcasts and various lectures through it, now, instead of just via CDs in the car and what have you. So for that reason it's actually pretty cool!

Also, thanks to some of my friends who also have iPhones, I downloaded some really really neat applications for it. To start with, there's one program to display the prayer times and also the Qiblah (as well as a map!) It's called Guidance. The other neat program is iQuran, which allows you to download individual surahs to read or listen (Husary available on the free version), and you can even set it to repeat the ayahs if you want to try to memorize them.

I can also just spend my time using Google Reader to catch up on some of my favorite blogs, like MuslimMatters. I really think every Muslim should keep a regular eye on the MuslimMatters blog, just to stay informed of matters relating to Muslims.
Are there any other neat programs for Muslims for the iPhone? Let me know...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

And Continuing with the Qur'an

I always find it kind of strange if someone asks me to lead salaah. And no, I'm not talking about Amina Wadud-styled congregations, but just a group of women (only). And since there are times I spend with women only, I have upon occasion been asked to lead salaah.

Why is it strange, you might be wondering? Well, because I don't know very much Qur'an. At all.

In a previous post, Starting with the Qur'an, I talked briefly about my relationship with the Qur'an. And if you didn't notice, memorization hasn't exactly taken off for me yet. I know only a few surahs from the 30th juz by heart. And I have only just started learning proper tajweed so I can tell you that my recitation certainly leaves plenty to be desired.

But that caused me to wonder why, especially when I'm around other converts (who have been Muslim sometimes much longer than I have), I might be asked to lead the prayer. Maybe some people are shy and don't want to be heard, or for other reasons feel uncomfortable leading it. But what I really wonder is how much Qur'an do other converts know? And how did they learn it?

In fact, I've been too shy to ask anyone (i.e., converts) this question--how much Qur'an they know, and how they learned it. I'm afraid of sounding kind of pompous when I ask (how could that be possible, when I am counting surahs I know, instead of juz?) since I actually think that they don't know very much. And obviously, I'm not talking about converts who go on to become our imams and scholars, but the average sister who probably learns just enough for her prayers.

The only way I can imagine they will learn is how I started learning--by listening to a recording over, and over, and looking at a transliteration of the Arabic. And really this isn't a great way to learn--if a person makes mistakes, there is nobody to correct them, and what happens over time is that the recitation begins to sound more and more anglicized such that the meaning in many places is lost or changed.

What would be great for me, at least, and maybe for others, would be if adults (specifically converts but others as well) could attend the kinds of classes which are presently only available to children--those which teach students in memorization along with proper pronunciation and possibly even while reading, with someone who can correct them. But so far, as great as I think my community is, I have not seen any program at all which aims to help adults to memorize the Qur'an--even to memorize very small chapters for their salaah. I'm not sure if other communities have such a program, or teachers, but I do think that there should be some more priority overall given to learning the Qur'an--for adults, and not just children.

And yes, I know that many adults have learned this already while they were children. Alhamdulillah. But many adults have also forgotten it, and we should also remember to teach those Muslims who have been guided from other paths and did not have the advantage of memorizing Qur'an at an early age.

And We have certainly made the Qur'an easy for remembrance, so is there any who will remember? 54:17

Obsession by Mail

I visited my parents last night and found that I had a new Obsession DVD addressed to me (since I still list their house as my regular mailing address.)

If you recall, I was watching their house when the DVD originally came out and swiped their copy from the Cary News, but noticed that somebody had opened this one which came in the mail, though it was addressed to me. (And as far as I can tell, they didn't receive one of their own.) I'm not sure whether they watched it or not.

What is the deal with the distribution of this DVD? At this point it's beginning to get excessive. Surely by now some people have received three copies, maybe even more.

I would like to see a da'wah campaign from the Muslims using a similar method--mass-mailing a da'wah postcard or something like it. Or maybe an oversize post-card as a supplement to the newspaper. Maybe the masjid could do that to advertise for an upcoming open house (which I hear, unfortunately, won't be until January at the earliest.)

Monday, October 06, 2008

Starting with the Qur'an

It's a common question for people to ask--how I found Islam, or why I converted. And usually I don't have time to answer in 3 parts, so I instead share my short answer, which is basically this: "The Qur'an."

Yeah, I know, it's not even a complete sentence. But all the da'wah given to me (prior to Islam) was not even nearly as effective as the time I spent reading the Qur'an on my own. It was convincing to me that Islam was the truth--cleared any questions of doubt about the authenticity of the Qur'an or of the Bible, and inspired in me a hope and faith that simple reading had never done for me before.

And because I grew up as a Christian, I already believed in God and Messengers and Scriptures--all I had to do was progress from belief in Jesus as the son of God to belief in him as a Messenger (4:171) and to accept the Qur'an (2:2) and believe that Muhammad was a messenger (36:3.) And just reading the Qur'an helped me get there.

So since embracing Islam, I have felt like I had a special relationship with the Qur'an. To start with, I had read the whole thing. Now that doesn't seem like a very big deal to me now, since I know people who read it every week, or every month, or at least ever year--but having read it once was significant to me. However, progressing up that ladder presented a challenge for me from the very beginning. You see, I read not the actual Qur'an but I read an english translation. Not quite the same thing.

And of course, after converting my relationship with the Qur'an had to take on a number of dimensions. To start with, I had to learn (i.e., memorize) at least some for my prayers. And for months, I recited "Qul huwa Allahu Ahad..." twice in every salaat, because after Al-Fatihah, it was the only surah that I knew. And even memorizing that little bit was difficult. Memorizing these surahs for me basically meant listening to them repeated throughout the day (maybe even a hundred times or more) while looking at a transliteration and following along. In the end, it meant trying to reproduce the sounds I heard on a recording.

So by then I had two dimensions--first, I had read a complete translation in English, and secondly, I had learned to reproduce sounds using the aid of transliteration to memorize very small sections of the Qur'an. Using this same method, I was able to learn two more short chapters that year (Al-Falaq and An-Naas.)

For the most part, memorization took place without comprehension. But then I was able to add a third dimension to my relationship with the Qur'an, and that was to learn the meanings of the chapters I was reciting, word by word. Being able to understand the meanings (especially of Al-Fatihah) helped me immensely to concentrate more during the prayer.

Unfortunately, eventually I forgot the specific meanings of some verses and didn't end up memorizing anything new for a while. But I did take a beginner's class in Arabic for sisters at the masjid. Yep, we used that "Alif Baa" book everyone seems to be using, and we did 1-2 letters a week, or so. I say "or so" because sometimes we wouldn't do any letters at all. But we learned how to write the letters and how to recognize them (skills that seemingly go hand-in-hand), and how to construct words, and a little bit about how to pronounce the letters as well--though practice makes perfect on that count.

Having constructed my own flashcards to learn these letters quickly on my own, after getting 3/4 through the class I rushed to the end so I could register for the Bayyinah class that was coming to town. And I am so glad I did that--because even though by the time the class started I was a tremendously slow reader (slower than instructor Nouman Ali Khan suggested would be good enough for this class), I was still able to benefit, innumerably. And since that particular class has not returned to Raleigh, I can't imagine what wealth of knowledge I might have missed entirely had I never enrolled. (Although, I should add that several of my friends almost had to drag me to this class, as due to other commitments I had actually missed the first 3 days--a mistake I don't plan to let happen again, for any such class.)

So at this point I hadn't really learned any more Qur'an but I was able to read--albeit slowly. Taking the class with Br. Nouman helped me to recognize words, types of words, and meanings of words while reading and while listening. It helped me concentrate more during my salaat (especially during Salaat ut-Taraweeh the following Ramadan) and it did actually improve my ability to read. I attempted then to memorize a few more chapters of the Qur'an (from the 30th juz)--and I succeeded. But now instead of following a transliteration, I would actually read the Arabic while listening to a recording.

As helpful as Br. Nouman's class was, because I didn't follow through in the end (i.e., attend all the seminars--a challenge while working two jobs and going to school full-time) I wouldn't say it added a new dimension to my relationship with the Qur'an, although it did increase my love for the Qur'an and multiplied my desire to study it more.

This year, however, I was able to add a new dimension, and that was through taking the Bayyinah 101 Tajweed class with Br. Wisam Sharieff. Allah has made it possible for me to continue the follow-ups so that the class has truly been able to benefit me. Alhamdulillah. Studying tajweed helped me in a few ways--the first of which was correcting my pronunciation of a few letters. I had been practicing these letters for years now but in some cases simply did not understand the distinction between some letters. But in very short time I was able to pronounce them from the correct places, with the proper sounds. The next way the class helped me was by improving my reading. Mostly, just reading more helped--but with a new surah each week (from the 30th juz), time to practice and review it slowly at my own pace, along with the rules of tajweed, by Ramadan I was able to read new sections of the Qur'an without the painstaking construction process which in the past had been such a hindrance to me in reading and reciting and even memorizing the Qur'an. So since taking the class (and especially in Ramadan) I've been able to about double the amount of Qur'an that I had memorized--but with substantially less effort. It became much easier to read, to recite and to memorize. And the more I read, the easier it becomes to recognize words and attach meanings to them. But I really can't describe the feeling of being able to recite, on my own, something from the Qur'an--and that is the next dimension for me, reciting.

So I was able to (1) Read the translation to grasp at meaning, (2) Memorize by hearing without comprehension, (3) Read the Arabic without comprehension, and (4) Recite the Arabic without comprehension.

And now I have two things to work on--comprehension, and memorization--essentially combining all four of those dimensions. In fact, those are the same things I had to work on at the beginning, but now both have become easier. I feel like I have the tools in place, tools that some other people had at their disposal from an early age--and I want to write about that next. But at this point in my life, I feel like my relationship with the Qur'an has taken shape and now it only needs to grow.

Turned to the Dark Side?

Some experiences are just too sad to share.

Friday, October 03, 2008

What am I up to?

It's true, my posting really slowed down in Ramadan. And I don't regret that. In fact, I feel like I've recently been released from a ball and chain--aka my laptop.

I went to the ISNA convention over Labor Day Weekend, and I remember Sh. Hamza Yusuf saying something during one of his big speeches there--basically, that if you wake up in the morning and the first thing you think about is checking your email, that you have a problem. And he also said it was a problem if the first thing you think of was breakfast, or snoozing, or something else, anything other than remembering Allaah and wanting to pray.

Unfortunately, I couldn't just completely avoid my computer for the entire month. In fact, my lab TA was kind of miffed to discover I don't even check my school email on a daily basis. (The university refuses to allow me to have it forwarded to gmail, which I do check more often.) But I have to use the computer to find out homework assignments, test dates, lab data, even do some coursework for my online class. But overall my internet usage did go down--I generally stopped reading blogs and posting on my own (with a few exceptions... I did make a point to keep up with MuslimMatters regularly, twice a week or so, even if I didn't read all the posts, just to see what was up.)

And alhamdulillah. Now I don't feel such a tremendous need to check my email right away when I get up, or when I get home, etc. And that's a nice feeling.

Another thing I did this month, in the first two weeks especially, was write a short story for the MuslimMatters Short Story Contest. I'm glad I did that, first because it helped me remember a story that is actually strong and emotional and something that I could use in trying to explain khushoo' in salaat.

In the weeks before Ramadan, I noticed many people making special resolutions for Ramadan--to read more Qur'an, stay away from doubtful things, for example. I didn't really do that, because I wasn't sure what to do. I had this feeling that I didn't want to commit myself to doing something in Ramadan that I would (deliberately) end up leaving after Ramadan. So I made a few private goals (right, private, so I won't be sharing them) of things that I definitely intend to maintain henceforth.

But there was one opportunity I really didn't want to pass up, even though I wasn't sure where I would find the time for it. And that was a special Bayyinah Ramadan class, a cover-to-cover reading of the Qur'an in English. Roughly a juz a day, for 3 hours a day, every day. Alhamdulillah. I feel like I didn't benefit as much as I could have from it, but only because of a shortage of effort on my part, for missing some days or parts of some classes.

And while I should be able to say after that, that my relationship with the Qur'an has improved, I don't think I can say that unless I maintain, or keep up my own reading of the Qur'an regularly (and I mean daily) in English, to build on what I have learned.

One small goal I wanted to accomplish this Ramadan was the memorization of a few more chapters from the 30th Juz. I am sure that this is a problem which plagues many converts, and adult Muslims who didn't have the benefit of Qur'an classes growing up. And I'm actually very disappointed overall that there is not more done to help to community (communities, all over North America) in this respect.

I am actually embarrassed to admit how little of the Qur'an I have memorized, after being Muslim now for three years. And I'm afraid to ask how much my friends know, and other converts, for fear of actually sounding arrogant about how much I know, when I know practically nothing! In fact, I think I might have to write a whole post on this subject alone. Learning and practicing tajweed improved my ability to read Qur'an so much that I have been able to get to a new level with memorization, so that I can commit much more to memory, and much quicker, and with greater comprehension. And I really hope and pray to continue memorizing Qur'an.

Ultimately I'm sad to see Ramadan go--and more sad than I have been in the past. But now I know a lot of things that I must to--personal spiritual goals, and also some directions I think that I should push along with the community. Eid Mubarak... now it's time to get busy.