Monday, November 26, 2007

When Good Ideas Go Very Bad

The case of Muhammad the Teddy Bear

As if the image of Islam had not already been attacked enough by outsiders, now we must contend with our own people destroying the image of Islam. The recent conviction of a woman in Saudi Arabia on charges of adultery after being raped was not only against the spirit of Islam, it was against reason. Now we must contend yet again with the very people who claim they are defending Islam, while tearing down the ideals of compassion and understanding.

Gillian Gibbons of Liverpool, England has been arrested in Khartoum, Sudan and charged with insulting Islam and/or the Prophet of Islam. I understand the need for laws against these actions; I firmly believe that your freedoms (of speech or religion) should not impede or override my own freedoms. However in this case, we have see this good idea go very bad.

Ms Gibbons is a schoolteacher who made the critical mistake of allowing her class of 6 and 7 year-old children name a class teddy bear. Following a British national curriculum course designed to teach young pupils about animals and this year's topic was the bear. She explained what it meant to vote and allowed the children to vote on a name for the bear, which garnered such suggestions as Abdullah, Hassan and Muhammad. Muhammad was chosen by 20 out of 23 students as their favorite name.
Each child was then allowed to take the bear home at weekends and told to write a diary about what they did with it. The children's entries were collected in a book with a picture of the bear on the cover and a title, which read, "My name is Muhammad."

For this horrific crime Ms Gibbons will be charged under article 125 of the criminal code, which covers insults against faith and or religion. For This crime she faces the possible punishments of up to six months in jail, 40 lashes or a fine. The reasoning behind this is, in as much as I have been able to discover, is that it is forbidden in Islam to portray an image of a Prophet. It was not until this past Sunday, several months after the project had been initiated, that complaints of several parents led to her arrest. It is not surprising that the Ministry of Justice has no comment as of yet, perhaps needing more time to understand themselves the exact nature of the crime and how to explain it to the teacher, and by default her co conspirators of 6 and 7 year-olds, as well as the unavoidable media that this case will be sure to draw.

When other Muslim teachers who had children in her class were not offended, I find it interesting that we should buckle under the pressure of the few, who have mistakenly attacked this project as some form of defamation of the Prophet of Islam. For any discerning person who possesses any rational capability for reason, we would have just asked ourselves first – How is this possibly related to the Prophet any more then the millions of men and boys alike who share the same name? Not being satisfied with out own conclusions perhaps we would have gone to the teacher herself and asked her to explain her position, as none around her including the Muslim teachers she worked with felt she would have ever intentionally insulted Islam. Ley us hope that this whole case has been blown out of proportion and those involved realize it. Ms Gibbons did nothing wrong and is a victim of tragic ideals gone wrong, and now she and her students are fordced to deal with understanding what they did wrong, when in fact they did nothing wrong. May Allah guide us all!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Flower of Islam Blossoms During War

It is not unusual to meet soldiers who have embraced Islam during the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, but it is not as often we read of the higher-ranking soldiers who accept the mercy of Islam. NATO International Security Assistance Force Commander for the Ghazni Province in Afghanistan, Captain Cormier Michael has publicly embraced Islam during his current post in the region. Captain Michael, who commands the 300 ISAF troops in Ghazni, has been studying books on Islam for the past five years, which lead him to the conclusion that ‘Islam is the first religion’.

The past ten months in Ghazni has only reinforced his beliefs, being impressed by the actions of his personal translator as well as the community around him. The ceremony held for his acceptance of Islam was attended by The Ghazni governor, district chief, provincial council members, local officials, elders, ISAF soldiers and students who celebrated with him for over 3 hours. Abdul Wahed as he is now known after changing his name gave a brief speech during the ceremony and during an interview afterwards added that: "Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood, but terrorists and extremists are bringing a bad name to it."

Even during war, with all of its trials and tribulations, the purity and truth of Islam has opened another heart. This is just another in a long line of soldiers who have experienced this rejuvenation of faith, let us hope it continues and eventually helps to force the hand of the US government, making them abandon their tactics of occupation and devastation. When the people you send to destroy, become of those you seek to destroy, how long can you continue?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Al-Qaradawi on Iran

The prominent Islamic scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has once again made news headlines after a recent interview for Islam Online. When speaking on Iran’s nuclear projects the Sheikh said “Why should Iran or any other Muslim or African country be banned from having nuclear power while Israel and the US itself already have nuclear bombs?” and indeed we should ask ourselves why, or better, why not. Iran is one of the most stable countries in the region and arguably the most democratic. Iran is also a member of Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, which entitles it to pursue civilian nuclear energy. Needles to say, regardless of Israel’s official policy of “nuclear ambiguity”, its refusal to become a signatory of the Nuclear Non Proliferation treaty, the numerous private accounts its nuclear weaponry or its own admission the UN and moreover the US turn a blind eye (leaving it as the only nuclear country in the Middle East) while attempting to persecute Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

When asked about the possible actions against Iran if it continues its nuclear program Sheikh al-Qaradawi said, “It is obligatory on all Muslims to resist any possible attack the US might launch against Iran. Iran is a Muslim country which all Muslims should defend” After reading this I found several articles criticizing him for these words and I must say I was sorely dismayed that many of these criticisms came from Muslims. In Islam we refer to all Muslims collectively as our Ummah or nation, community or even family. Indeed we refer to each other as brothers and sisters and yet here I find people condemning this brave man for stating the obvious. Nowhere in our glorious history was it acceptable to sit idly by watching the invasion and persecution of our people, yet today we find excuses and blame those who seek to speak out against this.

Upon these answers he was asked about Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh’s Fatwa which warned Muslim men against being involved in conflicts outside their countries like the ongoing war in Iraq without getting permission from the rulers of their countries, al-Qaradawi said that this fatwa does not apply to the situation in countries like Iraq, Palestine and possibly Iran if it is attacked by the US. “When a Muslim country is invaded by some other country, all Muslims who are capable of doing jihad should spare no efforts in defending the invaded country. It is not true that Muslims should not go outside their countries to defend their fellow Muslims unless they get permission from the ruler of their country,” If anyone disagrees with Sheikh al-Qaradawi’s opinion on this I ask them, tell me who is actually leading the Muslim Ummah? What leaders are actually ruling by sharia? What countries are actually doing anything to ease the suffering of their brothers without putting themselves first?

We need to stop seeking to please the others, and go back to pleasing Allah, protecting our people, and standing up for what is Islamic and morally right (even if it is not politically right) and it is only through the efforts of such brave men not afraid to say what they believe in that we will learn and hopefully be inspired enough to actually do something. Going with the flow of the river is easy and will get you to your place faster then going against the flow but if that place is corrupted and hostile then you should go against it and return to where your from.

In the words of Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini the “Adoption of such stances by Islamic scholars will play a crucial role in preventing the U.S. and its allies from achieving their ambitious goals” Indeed Sheikh al-Qaradawi’s calls are not calls for wars of agression, they are calls for the prevention of hostility by giving forewarning of the dangers of starting unjust and illegal wars (see, Iraq) that will be resisted.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fasting and the month of Sha’baan

The month of Sha’baan is upon us and with Ramadan fast approaching and it is time for us to reflect upon the merits of fasting as well as the month of preparation, the distinguished month o f Sha’baan. While the merits and virtues of fasting can tend to become a rather in depth topic, I hope to at least offer a glimpse into the reality of its blessings.

Fasting is a fundamental principle in Islam, prescribed by Allah in his word, Al Quran:

“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint, - (Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (Should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (With hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will, - it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew.” Surah Al Baqara 02:183-184

But is this really an act suffering we are forced to endure with no purpose? Of course not! Allah is the Most Merciful, Oft Forgiving

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah's Apostle said, "Allah said, 'All the deeds of Adam's sons (people) are for them, except fasting which is for Me, and I will give the reward for it.' Fasting is a shield or protection from the fire and from committing sins. If one of you is fasting, he should avoid sexual relation with his wife and quarreling, and if somebody should fight or quarrel with him, he should say, 'I am fasting.' By Him in Whose Hands my soul is' The unpleasant smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the smell of musk. There are two pleasures for the fasting person, one at the time of breaking his fast, and the other at the time when he will meet his Lord; then he will be pleased because of his fasting.” Sahih Al Bukhari Volume 3, Book 31, Number 128:

Allah’s mercy is ever abundant when we see that while “fasting is for Allah” it is still a protection for us against transgression, a shield which we will be rewarded for carrying. These examples abound, showing the mercy of Allah if we only take to heart (and action) that which he has prescribed for us.

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah's Apostle said, "Fasting is a shield (or a screen or a shelter). So, the person observing fasting should avoid sexual relation with his wife and should not behave foolishly and impudently, and if somebody fights with him or abuses him, he should tell him twice, 'I am fasting." The Prophet added, "By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, the smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the smell of musk. (Allah says about the fasting person), 'He has left his food, drink and desires for My sake. The fast is for Me. So I will reward (the fasting person) for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times." Sahih Al Bukhari Volume 3, Book 31, Number 118

Allah has rewarded our patience and perseverance with the knowledge of its virtues, yet he still in his infinite Compassion goes further, multiplying the rewards of our good deeds by ten. But Allah does not need us it is we that need him, so be sincere in your actions:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

The Prophet said, "Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e. Allah will not accept his fasting.)" Sahih Al Bukhari Volume 3, Book 31, Number 127

Now that we have reflected upon the act of fasting itself, let us look further into the month of Sha’baan and why it is important. The Prophet's example (the best) is all we need see to realize the virtues of Sha’baan:

“'A'isha, the Mother of the Believers (Allah be pleased with her), reported that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) used to observe fasts (so continuously) that we said that he would not break, and did not observe (them) till we said that he would not fast: and I did not see the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) completing the fast of a month, but that of Ramadan, and I did not see him fasting more in any other month than that of Sha'ban.” Sahih Muslim Book 006, Number 2580

While we know Ramadan is a sacred month in which we offer ourselves with fasting for the entire month, there are clear examples that the Prophet himself took advantage of Sha’baan to offer voluntary fasting more so then in any other month. It is important to note that the Prophet made a clear distinction between fasting and not fasting, and never fasted a full month besides Ramadan. An example for all, our Prophet was balanced:

Narrated Humaid:

I asked Anas about the fasting of the Prophet. He said "Whenever I liked to see the Prophet fasting in any month, I could see that, and whenever I liked to see him not fasting, I could see that too, and if I liked to see him praying in any night, I could see that, and if I liked to see him sleeping, I could see that, too." Anas further said, "I never touched silk or velvet softer than the hand of Allah's Apostle and never smelled musk or perfumed smoke more pleasant than the smell of Allah's Apostle." Sahih Al Bukhari Volume 3, Book 31, Number 194

So let us not go too far or not far enough. Let us follow the example of the Messenger of Allah and take advantage of Sha’baan:

'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) did not observe fast in any month of the year more than in the month of Sha'ban, and used to say: Do as many deeds as you are capable of doing, for Allah will not become weary (of giving you reward), but you would be tired (of doing good deeds); and he also said: The deed liked most by Allah is one to which the doer adheres constantly even if it is small. Sahih Muslim Book 006, Number 2582

Let us take the blessings of our good deeds in Sha’baan and use them to prepare for Ramadan. Take advantage for ourselves with the fasting, and take advantage for all with our good deeds which will multiplied ten fold. In the end I wish only to remind it is the duty of every Muslim, man and woman to fast, and it is one of the actions that guarantees our place with Allah.

“For Muslim men and women, - for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in Charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah's praise,- for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward. Surah Al Ahzab 33:35

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Who are we?

In an era marred by the shadows of mistrust and ignorance there lie a people so misunderstood that abuse and aspersions are cast upon them with not much more then an apathetic response. International condemnation of Islam and Muslims has become a common place in the media where apologists seeking to pacify the general populations offer the meekest defenses for who and what we are.

We come from the four corners, we are Arab and Asian, we are European and American, we are white and black, we are Sunni and Shiaa, we are male and female, we are Muslim. We are those who follow the path of Allah as laid before us in the miracle of miracles, Al Quran. What is it that makes men from America, Russia, Egypt, and Pakistan brothers? Islam.

Regardless that there is currently between 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide the larger portions of non-Muslim societies remain ignorant of Islam and Muslims. What have we done as Muslims to allow them access to view us as more then the sensational headlines they read? Why do we sit as the stoic observer as their politicians use us as a political publicity tool?

We should not sit idly by allowing others to define who we are; we should stand up and let them see what a Muslim really is. So let us ask ourselves – who are we? Are we the crazed terrorist, rifle in one hand and bomb in the other? Or are we the UN loving apologist desperately seeking to just “fit in”? Do we need to present a bland subdued version of Islam, or is it the firebrand version of Islam calling for Jihad that we should hold up for all to see?

Islam is the perfect middle path as Allah has made clear - “Thus, have We made of you an Ummat justly balanced, that ye might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves” Surah Al Baqara (2:143) - we have a balance between the extremisms of reckless immorality and overzealous prudence so we should not allow others to so easily pigeonhole into one category or another. Surely we have the best example for us - "Verily you have in the prophet of Allah an excellent model." Surah Al Ahzab (33:22) – so why don’t we follow this model? Until we as both individuals and as an Ummah can realize what Allah commands we will never be successful; until we know Islam we will never know ourselves.

"You are the best people ever raised for the good of mankind because you have been raised to serve others; you enjoin what is good and forbid evil and believe in Allah." Surah Al Imran (3:111)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Great Divide - A brief history

Primarily when one looks at the divisions between Sunni Muslims and Shi'a Muslims they would logically see political differences that too an outsider’s point of view seems fairly insubstantial. While there is hundreds of thousands of pages written on this subject, I will endeavor to try shed some light on the subject, and hopefully we can all understand a little better exactly what the division is.

In 632 CE the beloved prophet of Islam passed from this world, and regrettably it was this singular event that would shape the Muslims world for centuries to come. Instead of a unifying event that caused the Muslims to come together closer, the opposite happened. Immediate reaction was one of angst and uncertainty. No successor had been directly named which presented problems as the majority of his Sahaba were inclined to elect a successor from among those who were most qualified. Upon their selection, the prophet’s close friend and companion Abu Bakr was given the title of Khalifa and asked to lead the Muslim ummah. After Abu Bakr it was then Umar ibn Al Kattab who was to lead, as it came to Uthman after him. The last of Al-Khulafa-ur-Rashidun (The Rightly Guided Khalifa) was Ali bin Abi Talib the prophets cousin and son-in-law.

It is Ali ibn Abi Talib that stands at the center of this controversy. While Ali himself did not demand to become a Khalifa at all, let alone become the first, there were however others who believed that the Khalifa of the Muslim ummah should come directly form the prophets line, specifically pointing to Ali and his lineage. To support their claims they refer to several hadith, which purportedly name Ali as the successor in one manner or another. From this point on the division would only grow.

Twenty-Five years later, after Abu Bakr as Saddiq, Umar ibn Al Kittab, and Uthman ibn Affan had all raised the mantle of Khalifa, Ali ibn Abi Talib was raised to Khalifa of the Muslim Ummah. While Ali proved to be of the highest standards and moral virtue, his time as Khalifa was marred by internal strife and conflict with several groups choosing to rebel against him, most notably Uthman’s cousin Mu’awiyah, the provincial governor of Syria, who under the guise of demanding justice for the killers of Uthman refused to accept Ali’s Caliphate. While Ali was able to overcome most of his battles, he could not subdue Mu’awiyah, and was eventually forced to negotiate some form of truce with him.

Shortly thereafter in the year 661 CE Ali ibn Abi Talib was betrayed and assassinated leaving even more uncertainty for those of Ahul Bayt -The People of the House (of the Prophet) – who followed Ali. Mu’awiyah would not accept Ali’s designation of his eldest son Hassan as Khalifa so he furthered his own claims as he pressed Hassan who would eventually yield the Caliphate to Mu’awiyah and relinquish his pursuit of it until Mu’awiyah death. Hassan however would not outlast Mu’awiyah, as his life would tragically end as his father before him and the two Khalifa before him, at the hands of an assassin. Hussein, Ali’s second son abided by his brothers agreements and did not pursue the Caliphate while Mu’awiyah was alive, understanding that it would pass back to him upon the death Mu’awiyah. Upon his death Mu’awiyah’s son Yazid attempted to usurp the Caliphate from Hussein.

The Shi’a see Yazid as a dissolute and illegitimate ruler who usurped Caliphate and betrayed the Prophets line. More then anything Yazid is seen as the one who commanded his armies to go against Hussein in what would become known as the Battle of Karbala. In an attempt to force Hussein to accept his leadership Yazid sent a force of at least 4,000 soldiers who surrounded Hussein at the Iraqi city of Karbala. After demanding his acceptance from Hussein and his family, Yazid was refused which angered him so much that he ordered them all killed. Hussein led a force of 72 men plus their women and children against the 4,000 or more soldiers from Yazid, the resulting slaughter would mark one of the most important dates in Shi’a history. Hussein and his followers were slaughtered and by many accounts their heads were brought back to Yazid. The heroic tales of Hussein and his men against insurmountable odds caused revolts and rebellions for almost 12 years.

The division between what would become known as the Sunni and Shi’a was now set. The lineage of Mu’awiyah and Yazid established the Umayyad Dynasty, passing the Caliphate down a hereditary line while pushing the Shi’a further away. In 750 CE the Umayyad dynasty had been all but destroyed by Abu Al Abbass al-Saffah during the Battle of Zab (on the shores of the Great Zab River in Iraq). When Abu Al Abbass al-Saffah, with considerable support from the Shi’a, overthrew the ruling Umayyad dynasty the Shi’a assumed that the great grandson of Hussein, Jafar As-Saiddiq would be made the Khalifa. However the arrangements for the ascension of Jafar had not been finalized when Abu Al Abbass died in 754 and Al Mansur, Abu Al Abbass’ son, in turn killed Jafar so that he could seize the Caliphate for himself. Al Mansur founded the Sunni dominated Abbasid Dynasty, which lasted until the thirteenth century.

The Prophet Muhammad led us in both our physical and spiritual needs, and so it has been that religion and politics have become entwined in Islam. The most common ways to control people are politics and religion, so it is not that hard to see how and why political leaders have used and manipulated religion to further their own causes as have religious leaders used and manipulated politics to suit their own needs. So it has been for over 1300 years, the political machinations of corrupted leaders have led to hardening of a division which should not exist, causing retaliatory actions from one side or the other as they seek retribution for the wrongs of the past.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Great Divide

What exactly is the difference between the Shi’a and Sunni Muslims? What is it that makes them hate each other enough to shed the blood of our Ummah so willingly? It is a question I have pondered for many years, but never as much as I have since the invasion of Iraq by America. Since 2003 I have seen the Shi’a and Sunni Muslims of Iraq fight each other harder then they have fought the people who are occupying their lands. I felt it is time to delve deeper into the situation to try and discern a meaningful reason for why we should spill the blood of our own brothers.

The majority of Muslims, both Sunni and Shi’a believe in the basic principles of Salat (Prayer), Sawm (Fasting), Hajj (Pilgrimage) and Zakhat (Charity). Both Sunni and Shi’a believe in Tawheed (Generally referred to as The Oneness of Allah) and in the Rasul Allah Muhammad (Prophethood of Muhammad.). Fundamentally speaking, Shi’a and Sunni appear conform to the same boundaries.

Let us now move beyond the fundamentals of Islam, and look further for the differences. To help understand Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) the majority of Muslims look to a specific Madhab or school of thought for guidance. These madhab are named after the Imams who started them and for the Sunni they are, Hanafi (Imam Abu Hanifa), Shafi’ (Imam Shafi), Hanbali (Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal), Maliki (Imam Malik ibn Anas) with the Shi’a following the Ja’fari madhab (Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq). This is where we begin to see the differences appear between the Sunni and Shi’a as the Sunni follow the four madhab while the Shi’a refer to only the one, and while Sunni can recognize the Ja’fari madhab, the Shi’a do not follow the other four either preferring the Ja’fari over all others because of his direct lineage from Ali ibn Abu Taleb.

The lineage of Ali ibn Abu Taleb is where the break between Shi’a and Sunni becomes visible. Not only by way of the Ja’fari madhab but also in the ways of succession after the Prophet, specifically regarding Al-Khulafa-ur-Rashidun. The Sunni view as the majority of Muslims did at the time, that the Caliphate should go to Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, followed by Umar ibn al-Khattab, who was followed by Uthman ibn Affan, which made Ali ibn Abu Taleb the fourth and last of the ‘Rightly Guided’ Calipha. For Shi’a, the first three Calipha are summarily dismissed because they believe the line of succession from the prophet should have fallen directly to Ali ibn Abu Taleb who had become the head of Ahl al-Bayt (People of the Prophets House).

Ahl al-Bayt seems to be the driving divide between the Sunni and Shia. Both Sunni and Shi’a use Quran and Hadeeth to support their claims, but if this is what is really dividing us – why? Why must we divide ourselves becoming so dynamically opposed to each other that blood flows when we meet?

In the 1950’s at the prestigious al Azhar University in Egypt several Sunni and Shi’a scholars came together to form the ‘Dar al-Taqreeb al-Madhahib al-Islamiyyah’ or ‘Center for bringing together the various Islamic schools of thought’. This would help lead Sheik Mahmood Shaltoot, the head of Al Azhar to issue a fatwa in 1959 which authenticated the Ja’fari Madhab as a legitimate school of thought, thus meaning the Shi’a are not outside the boundaries of Islam.

I am neither promoting nor detracting from either Sunni or Shi’a, my goal instead has been to try and shed some light into the political differences that seem to have caused a major division within our Ummah. It imperative that we determine each other as Muslims and respect our rights as brothers because only then can we begin to truly move forward as one Ummah. I leave you with this thought, a saying I have seen numerous times…

"Once the sword is unsheathed among my followers, it will not be sheathed until the Last Day."