Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I recently decided to make my personal fitness a priority in my life. When I did that... things changed. I'm at a critical, life-changing stage of my life. Some doors are closing (those of you who know me know what I'm talking about) and I'm looking ahead at one more semester of school that I can really, for the first time, focus on entirely.

And while I've been on winter break for a couple weeks, what should I do with my time? I decided to make fitness a priority, like I said. It's not that it wasn't important before... it just ranked somewhere below religion, school, and work. So, if I can say, it earned a recent promotion. And what a change! I joined a gym and hired a personal trainer--and the pain in my legs at the moment is testimony to the fact that I'm working on this particular goal harder than I ever have in my life.

I decided that it was important, that it was possible, and now I've started making progress. Joining the gym was one thing, but I think with the trainer I think I'll be able to have even more success with motivation and encouragement, so I'm really optimistic about my results as well.

On the other hand, I'm looking at the suffering in Gaza and wonder when we, as Muslims, are going to make it a priority to take care of our brothers and sisters. Is signing a petition making Gaza a priority? Donating a few dollars to a charity? Writing to Congressmen? Attending a protest? Maybe it is, but I don't think so.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Visiting a Mosque: FAQs

I was recently asked to produce an article for the masjid to post with some answers to commonly-asked questions people have about visiting the mosque. I feel like I'm walking a thin line--I don't want to answer questions about Islam in general, or specific question that would be better answered in person. But I do want to give people a general idea about what to expect when visiting, and perhaps how to prepare themselves. This is what I have so far:

What should I wear?
It is most appropriate to wear modest, loose-fitting clothes. For men, it is better to wear long pants, and for women to wear pants or full-length skirts or dresses, with long sleeves. Muslim women typically wear a headscarf as well.

Why do we take our shoes off?
It is appropriate to remove one's shoes before entering the prayer area at a mosque, so that the floors and carpets aren't covered with dirt--after all, that is where people pray.

Where are the women praying?
During the prayer, men and women do not mix. It is typical for women to either pray behind the men in the same room, or in a different room which affords them more privacy. At the Islamic Center of Raleigh, women pray upstairs in the ladies' prayer hall for special events, or downstairs in a special enclosed area behind the main prayer hall.

What are the footsinks in the bathroom for?
Muslims are supposed to be in a state of physical purification before making the prayer, which includes washing the feet.

What happens when people join the prayer late?
They will join the prayer already in progress, and after the imam (leader of the prayer) has finished, they will complete what they missed.

How do Friday prayers work?
Friday is the day of congregational prayers for Muslims--so a short sermon followed by a short prayer at the mosque in congregation is substituted for the regular noon-time prayer. The service begins with the call to prayer, followed by a lecture (rather, two short lectures with a brief pause in the middle). After the lecture (called a khutbah), another call to prayer is made and the congregation stands to follow the imam in the prayer.

A few more guidelines...

Cell phones
A ringing cell phone is a distraction to any service at the mosque--please silence or power-off phones when entering the building.

Talking during prayer
If you need to talk to someone during the prayer (while you are not praying, of course,) please take the conversation outside the prayer hall into the lobby or hallways so as to not distract those who are praying.

Not standing/walking in front of someone praying
If you are walking through the prayer area and come across someone who is praying, please walk behind, instead of in front of him.

Shaking hands with opposite gender
Please be aware that many Muslims do not shake hands with anyone of the opposite gender. That is, men do not shake hands with women, and women do not shake hands with men. Unless he/she extends his/her hand first, it is better to not extend yours.

Can you think of anything I've left off, which probably ought to be included? Jazakumallahu khairan!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Arabic Pronouns

I came across this neat blog today, which was recommended to me by Google Reader. How did he know I'm trying to learn Arabic? Anyway, the blog has a cool image of a hand with the Arabic pronouns on them so you can learn them (if you don't know them.)

I remember when I was taking the Bayyinah 201 (Arabic Grammar) class with Br. Nouman, we had to learn these pronouns. And alhamdulillah, much of what I actually learned in that class I can still remember and grasp when reading Qur'an--including pronouns.

One exercise we did in the class to learn the pronouns was that the brother would recite the Arabic pronoun (for instance, "huwa") and the class would recite the meaning (in this case, "he.") Now mostly the class was Desis and some African-Americans but mostly Desis. I mean, why should Arabs need to take a class in Arabic grammar? So if you can imagine listening to a class full of desis following along after the instructor like this:


Huma-->Those 2



Huma-->Those 2

Hunna-->Those women

Anta-->You (m)

Antuma-->You 2



Welcome to North Carolina. :-)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Enjoining the Good

I am, at present, in the last stages of a Bayyinah course on the Qur'an (103). I of course think it's a wonderful course... but then I've never met a course on the Qur'an I didn't like. The course covers so much that is pertinent to Muslims on an individual and social level (all from the Qur'an), I wish more people were able to take it. But for now I'd only like to share a few reflections.

First, some background: we started with four passages in the Qur'an (Surat al-`Asr, Ayat al-Birr, Surah Luqman 12-19, and Surah Fussilat 31-36) to describe mankind's salvation as depending upon four points. In short, the points are belief, (in Allah, messengers, and the Hereafter) manifested by intentional righteous deeds, amounting to encouraging the right, while staying steadfast on patience.

When it comes to tawaasaw bil haqq or enjoining the good, we spent time talking about jihad and da'wah. And using three passages in the Qur'an, we examined the characteristics of three types of Muslims. The passages are first, Surah 61, called As-Saff, which describes a true and well-developed believer; the second is Surah 62, called Al-Jumu'ah, about the average, everyday believer; and the third is Surah 63, called Al-Munafiqoon, which is obviously about the hypocrites.

I know if you look back over my 3-part series on Da'wah, you'll see that hypocrites are listed with the non-Muslims among people to receive da'wah. And now they are listed among the Muslims. It's an interesting difference but the classification seems to me to be correct in both cases. Because you can't call a person a munafiq, and for sure the munafiq would seem to be among the Muslims in the first place. So when you're enjoining the good, encouraging the Muslims (i.e., instead of calling non-Muslims), you will then be talking to the hypocrites as well, even though you might not immediately know them as such.

If you read Surat al-Munafiqoon, you notice that the hypocrites make excuses and try to divert people from the way of Allah. Then we see that the hypocrites have a pleasing appearance--they might make the first row of fajr every morning, for instance, keep a nicely trimmed beard or wear a jilbab. At the same time, they always feel under attack. This surah describes the hypocrites as being arrogant and evasive when reminded of Allah--when called to seek forgiveness from Allah is what it mentions, but couldn't that also mean, evasive when asked to come listen to lectures, or halaqas, or salaat? Just some thoughts.

If we look to the previous chapter, we see the characteristics of the average, everyday believing Muslim, whom we might be trying to remind of Allah. First we see a comparison to the Children of Israel who were given knowledge--but without acting on it, it becomes the example of a donkey carrying volumes of books on its back. Muslims I think should really look at this example--because it's talking about Muslims, and it's a good example for all those debates about fiqh issues, for instance. But in this surah we read about Jumu'ah prayer, which is a time to remind the people about Allah--and isn't that ultimately the point, to remind people of their obligations to Allah? And that remembrance is through salaat, through the Qur'an--and what is the purpose of the khutbah anyway, if not remembrance of Allah? So we should be developing khateebs who can deliver sermons that will wake up the people and encourage them in the religion. Oh yeah... tawaasaw bil haqq!

And the other surah, the first one I mentioned, is number 61, Surat As-Saff, which describes the believers standing in rows, and there are basically two times believers would be standing in rows, right? Firstly in the salaat, and secondly in battle. In rows as a collective body is how the Muslims should be, even when it comes to jihad (i.e., no "sneak attacks," right?) We see in this surah an example from the Jews and from the Christians who refused the proofs of their messengers (Musa and Isa respectively). And then Allah promises to the believers a double reward--a reward if they are killed, and that is the Garden, and a reward if they live, which is victory!

May Allah make us among the believers who love Him, love His Messenger, and striving in His Cause.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Duke's Muslim Chaplain

For the last week I've been taking a Bayyinah class (103) at nights--offered by Br. Wisam. I'd recommend others to take it but since it won't be offered for at least another year or two, it doesn't seem useful.

But because I am taking it now, there are a few things in my mind lately about Islam--if you read Surat al-'Asr, for instance, to see those among mankind who are not in loss, and what they do. They believe, do (intentional) righteous deeds, enjoin the good, and stay steadfast on patience. So when I heard, yesterday afternoon, a story on NPR about the new Muslim Chaplain at Duke, that's what came to my mind.

The chaplain has an interesting story, coming from Turkey. As my Muslim readers probably know, Turkey is considered to be far more secular than religious, even anti-religious. And how does it happen that a boy whose parents have no interest in practicing religion, winds up travelling the world to pursue and advance the cause of that religion?

Simple enough. He saw his friends practicing Islam, and the contentment which they derived from it.

So when you find someone among your group who doesn't have as deeply religious background as you might have, don't rebuke him or expel him. Bring him (or her) in, and gently encourage them towards the practice of Islam, by following it yourself.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dealing with People

I think that everybody should read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

Especially Muslims... in particular, those Muslims who want to give da'wah. The best of people who called to Islam didn't need a book like this--and if we follow his example (saws) then we wouldn't need it either. But it's my view at least that this book can help people (like us) understand better ways of dealing with other people.

Even though its title, How to Win Friends, sounds sinister and deceitful, like you're trying to get something out of another person, the book seems to me more about good manners and etiquette than sales. (And I do hate to compare da'wah to sales.)

You see, one problem the Muslims seem to have today is that they tend to offend and arouse resentment in other people whenever they talk about Islam. Maybe they are berating in public (rule: always let the other person save face,) or shouting "Haraam, Haraam!" (rule: don't criticize) , or never owning up to their mistakes (rule: admit your wrongs quickly & emphatically.)

So I see the book as being incredibly useful in trying to deal with other Muslims and non-Muslims. And I mean useful when organizing events, on committees, in dialogues or debates, when trying to encourage someone to adopt a religious practice (e.g., prayer, hijab), or abandon something that is forbidden (e.g., alcohol, interest), and not just in standard da'wah.

Some of the tips in the book (you can view a summarized list of them here: Summary) struck me as being especially relevant in giving da'wah, so I want to post about them. One brother I know even recommended this book as part of a da'wah training program, at the first or second level, as he thought it was important enough for anyone calling to Islam to understand these techniques in dealing with people.

Local Eid Photos

The local newspaper sent a reporter and photographer to the Eid prayer on Monday (Eid Mubarak everyone!) and so there are some pictures up.

Pictures of Eid al-Adha

And in case you were wondering... yes, there were women there too. Lots of women. They just didn't get their pictures put up on the internet.

It was really nice. The khutbah was clear, and since they only had one khutbah it went pretty smoothly. In the past they've had an Arabic khutbah followed by an English translation, and unfortunately at the conclusion of the Arabic a great many people would stand and begin greeting or leaving or getting doughnuts or balloons or whatever is there, making it nearly impossible for people to hear the English khutbah. (Especially in the sisters' section, where I think this phenomenom was a lot worse.) Yet... alhamdulillah. One khutbah, most people kept put and with the arena's sound system it was not too difficult to hear and understand the khateeb.

And the arena did get so crowded that there were brothers praying in the stands (not easy to make rows like that, either.)

But overall it was nicely done. May Allah reward everyone who helped before, during, and after the prayer to make it go so smoothly.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

How many days of Eid?

Eid StampI received an interesting complaint a few nights ago, about the scheduling of a Bayyinah class coming up. The class is intensive, at 3 hours a night for 10 nights, and it starts the day right after Eid. And that's where the complaint came in. I'm not really sure who was in charge of scheduling the class, but I doubt there was much flexibility in the first place. And it didn't bother me at all, since I figured I would have the day of Eid to celebrate plenty--and for me "celebrate" only means visiting with some friends. Since this Eid falls during my exam week, I don't think there will be much celebrating I can do.

But what I didn't realize is that some people celebrate this Eid for several days. To them it's not a 1-day holiday as it has been to me, but a multi-day event with parties and gatherings and gift-giving. So important is the celebration that some people could consider even a class on the Qur'an obtrusive and unwelcome on their holiday. I can't think of much I would rather do with my time, personally, which is why I found the complaint interesting.

But it got me wondering--why is Eid celebrated for so long? I don't mean to criticize at all, I just don't understand it. Someone has argued to me that Muslim children must put up with the obvious celebrations of other holidays (like Christmas and Easter I guess) and so we as adults owe it to them to make the Eid days extra-special. For me, I would consider getting out of school, getting presents, getting to eat lots of sweets and hang out with friends to be pretty cool--but I didn't know that Eid was supposed to be competing with Christmas.

Does anyone know why Eid is so many days... ? Or why people are so insistent on celebrating for so many days?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Convert or Revert?

I have mixed feelings about the use of the term revert. In general I avoid having to use convert or revert altogether by just saying I embraced Islam or became a Muslim. Just this weekend though I was at the mosque and got into a conversation with a man there who, when I mentioned how long it had been since I converted, informed me that he preferred the term revert, as if he were correcting me.

I guess I don't like to be corrected... hm.

Anyway, I don't mind if other people choose the term revert as opposed to convert. It doesn't really bother me, and I don't mean to fuss at anyone who prefers it that way. But to me, that word (revert) carries some negative connotations that I don't like to associate with my decision to embrace Islam.

But first let's see why anyone would say revert in the first place. The word convert is the obvious choice for someone who changes his or her religion, that being one meaning of it. In other words, going from one thing to another thing--that's a conversion. The word revert on the other hand, means going from one thing to another also, but it actually means going back to what something was before. Where I work, we use the word revert to describe traffic signal operation forcing the signals to turn back to red lights.

So when a person says that he or she reverted to Islam, undoubtedly he means that he went back to being Muslim--that he was a Muslim before, then was not Muslim for a time, and then returned to Islam. Now if a person was raised outside the faith of Islam, does that make sense?

Perhaps it does--the logic is based on the following hadith, which is reported in Saheeh Muslim:

Abu Huraira reported from Allah's Messenger (may peace be upom him) many ahadith and one amongst them is that he is reported to have said: An infant is born according to his (true) nature. It is his parents Who make him a Jew, a Christian, just as a she-camel gives birth to its young ones. Do you find any deficiency in their limbs? You cut their ears (i. e. after birth).

Born according to the fitrah, to be precise--his true nature. To those preferring the term revert, the true nature is Islam, therefore implying that a person is actually born Muslim--in fact, that every person is born Muslim, and then raised as something else (if not raised as a Muslim.)

That bothers me a little bit, because the hadith doesn't actually say that a person is born Muslim. And I always have understood Islam to be willful submission and surrender, therefore it has to be a conscious decision. I never made that decision as a baby, so I don't see that I could have been a true Muslim at birth. So when I discovered Islam as an adult and chose to embrace it, I was making a conscious decision to convert, not revert. I was going from what I was (a Christian), to something else (a Muslim.) I wasn't going back to being Muslim since I didn't consider myself to have been a Muslim before that.

So I suppose the difference hinges upon the way the word fitrah is interpreted--whether it means what I understand it to mean, true inclination towards monotheism and purity, or whether it means the way others understand it, that a child is actually born as a Muslim, despite not being aware at all of the faith of Islam or making any decision to accept or reject it.

ForwardAnd at any rate, that's why in general I prefer to use the word convert instead of revert. In case anyone wondered. But I'm not trying to bash anyone for disagreeing with me--I know I seem to be in the minority. If I said that I reverted, to me that would undeniably mean that I went backwards, back to being a Christian, so my tongue stumbles over ever saying that. Because to me, it means going back to something, something I remember, or going in a backwards direction. And I don't remember ever being a Muslim until I said shahadah, and since then I intend only to move forward.