Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Food & Fellowship?

A few weeks ago, a local all-girls college sent their freshman to the masjid to observe a prayer and listen to a presentation on Islam. I spoke to give the perspective of a woman who had converted--it's something I've done several times before. And almost every time I do it, I get the same question, how my family reacted.

In fact I get asked about my family quite a lot, though I try to avoid answering as much as I can. I don't even feel like I blog about them all that much--at least, considering what an important part of my life they used to be. Used to be, because things aren't the same.

Some of you who have been reading my blog for a while might remember the disaster I mentioned after last Christmas. And then again, you might not, since I breezed over it pretty quickly though the experience for me was nothing short of traumatic. But one of my biggest problems last year was that I simply hadn't done enough to keep in touch with my family throughout the year. And a lot of tension which I had been avoiding sort of built up at once.

Alhamdulillah, though, this year has been different. Better, overall. I've made plenty of mistakes, that's for sure, but have also seen improvements. For instance, now that I live much closer to my parents, I visit them more. I visit every week, sometimes several times a week, and make a point of trying to be kind and helpful to my parents. While my brother and his fiancee are living there as well, I get to spend time with them. And I've made a point of seeing one of my sisters and keeping in touch with her by phone.

So I've decided to try to spend Thanksgiving with them--since it is one of the rare occasions they all gather together. I can't say I'm really looking forward to it... I'm more anxious than anything else.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On Teaching Methods

If you give someone a book, and tell him to read it, are you teaching him anything?

I don't think so.

Now, what if you read the book to him--are you teaching him then?

I still don't think so. In fact, then you're only insulting his intelligence.

But what if you take the book and turn it into a powerpoint presentation, and read the powerpoint slides--then are you teaching?

No. That would compound the insult, and probably discourage him from ever picking up the book himself.

Where are all the good teachers?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pushing them Away

What would you say to someone who pushed away a convert to Islam? To someone who pushed away someone who was interested in Islam?

I mean, suppose some non-Muslim is visiting the mosque--and someone comes up to the guest and tells him or her to leave, while fussing about the way he or she is dressed. What do you say to that person, who did the anti-da'wah?

Another example: a sister has recently decided to embrace Islam but is on her own, without any network of Muslims around to help her out. She wants to learn how to pray, so she calls the mosque and tries to get in contact with someone. She does make contact and decides she wants to attend a class offered by the imam--she just needs a ride. So the volunteer to pick her up talks to her, and discovers that she is a new convert, and thus concludes that the class she wants to try out is too deep for her and that she shouldn't go. What do you say to the person who discouraged her from learning Islam?

Both of these situations are real, unfortunately, and it breaks my heart to see people snubbed in this fashion. In the second case in particular, I guess I'm surprised that there are people around whose knowledge makes them arrogant. When someone wants to learn about Islam, they have to start somewhere--praying is the best start. But to discourage someone from attending a class because they are too new to Islam? That mentality just makes me sick. We as Muslims should be more welcoming--especially when people are knocking down our doors to learn--and not turn them away because they don't meet our artificially high standards. Time to open our doors, and open our hearts, and invite the people in. Why isn't it happening?

A Little Bit of Knowledge

It's a dangerous thing, as the aphorism goes. But isn't it preferable to total ignorance?

One of my good friends has recently been exposed, I think, to Orientalist criticism of Saheeh al-Bukhari, and unfortunately it's begin to injure her faith. I don't really like to see Muslims trying to meld traditional views of Islam with Western views--especially when they give precedence to the Western side of the equation. In fact, it's something I've had to fight with as a convert--that sometimes my own cultural views have colored the way I saw Islam.

For instance, it's easy sometimes to bash Arabs or Desis for a cultural more than strictly religious understanding of Islam, but Americans have similar problems. We have a cultural lens as well, and sometimes that does us more harm than good when trying to really understand Islam.

And this perspective which could be cultural or Western or just related to the present times presents a person with a particular set of biases. So when he looks at Islam--or specifically, when he looks at the Prophet (saws) who lived in a different time and place, in a different cultural milieu, he might see some violations of our modern/western ideals that would trouble him. Or, I could say they would trouble him because he assumes that modern society is more civilized, more knowledgeable, and more ethical, etc.

So when he begins to start reading hadith--especially but not necessarily from Western critics--without any sort of commentary or explanation, without any background on the biography of Muhammad, without any kind of background knowledge on the culture of the time, it's easy to assume (unfortunately, and inaccurately in my opinion) that the Prophet (saws) acted in the horrible and atrocious ways that Islamophobes prefer to believe.

I'm sad that such criticism even exists, which refers to the Messenger of Allah (saws) as being a pervert, a racist, a misogynist, a pedophile, a rapist, an overall evil man who massacred Jews (or anyone else in his way.) But what really troubles me, more than the existence of such offensive claims, is when a Muslim might be led to actually believe it, due simply to inadequate basic understanding of the subject at all.

Hanging around on boards like the Catholic Answers Forum has shown me plenty of ahadith which are taken to illustrate the Prophet (saws) in a poor light--I doubt that anyone could surprise me with something new. But I suppose for someone seeing these things for the first time. I won't say that I understand them all, or that I could explain them. But what can I do, or what can anyone do, to help prevent Muslims from falling into this trap? When their own sources and pre-existing biases are used against them?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Why are Ilminars so late?

I'm not sure how it happened, exactly. Maybe it was trying to download Muhammad Alshareef's Ramadan Journal, or maybe it was signing up for my first Al-Maghrib Seminar in Atlanta (which I won't be attending anyway.) But somehow I started getting emails about "Ilminars."

Has anyone besides me noticed a bizarre fascination with the world ilm by the Al-Maghrib folks? (IlmFest, IlmQuest, IlmFruits, Ilm Summit, and Ilminar?) It is quite possible that you might not have received this ilmformation:

ilm·in·ar –noun
High Powered LIVE webinars presenting beneficial Ilm(Knowledge)

So anyway, there is a Qur'anic Sciences Ilminar on Wednesday. In case you aren't getting these emails and you want to attend, here's the RSVP link with more information.

What kind of bothers me, though, is that it doesn't start until 9:50pm. EST (Which I think is really code for starting at 10pm with 10 minutes of buffer time.) I tried listening to one of these webin-- er, ilminars before, and it was interesting but at the same time I was sooo ready to fall asleep for the last half hour, and I didn't know how long it was going to last. And it started at 8:30! I could kind of understand 8:30, so people on the West Coast can listen too. But really, I'm kind of disappointed that this one starts so late.

I really hate to start listening to something and then hoping that it will end soon just so I can sleep. But I anticipate this one to last at least an hour and a half... meaning 11:30 before I can go to sleep. And I wouldn't be surprised if it goes longer, up until midnight. So I wonder if maybe I shouldn't just skip it for being too late?