Discourses in the Intellectual Traditions, Political Situation, and Social Ethics of Muslim Life Wed, 27 Aug 2014 06:08:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Hassan’s Tale, Part 13 – Zero One One Wed, 30 Nov -0001 00:00:00 +0000 The judge stared at me for a long moment through bushy white eyebrows, then said, "I believe you, young man. I see a lot of desperate people in this courtroom. For most, their desperation brings nothing but loss.

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See the Story Index for a chronological guide to all the stories.


A feeling of euphoria engulfed me. I felt like I was sailing on a sea of warm, amber light. As soon as I had the thought, there I was on a sailboat on the bright Mediterranean, a warm wind ruffling my hair. The sun sparkled on the water like gold. Daniel piloted the boat while Gala set a tray of mezze on a folding table. A boy sat beside me, gliding his fingers through the water. It was Charlie. I somehow knew that wherever we were going, my parents would be there when we arrived. This was the happiest day of my life.

Suddenly the boat began to sink. The ocean turned gray and I began gasping for breath. I wasn't even in the water yet but I was drowning. The blood rushed to my head and my face turned hot. I broke out in a sweat and began to shake. Everyone else on the boat had vanished. It was just me and the gray sea and the sinking boat. My chest felt like it was being squeezed by a python. I heaved for breath, trying to get oxygen.

At the same time, I felt almost peaceful and so warm. The hot sea called to me. “Let it go, come to me, sink down into me and let go.” The boat listed and began to slip beneath the water, and me with it. I knew that I could drown happily. It would be comfortable and warm. All I had to do was open my mouth and let the water into my lungs. Give up.

But what would my father say if I gave up? He would be disappointed in me. And the Prophet, peace be upon him, who had cared enough to come to me in my dream, what would he say? I could not give up. After everything I had survived, after all the battles I had fought, I couldn't die like this.

I fought to get to the surface, using sheer willpower to stay alive. I felt something strike my face, and again, and heard someone say, “Stop that! Let me through, I'm a doctor. I felt air rush into my lungs, and pressure on my chest.

I woke up on my back, staring up at a white ceiling with a long crack running along one side. I was covered in a white blanket. An IV tube ran into my left arm. My stomach ached as if it had been used as the football for the World Cup. My face itched, but when I tried to scratch it, I discovered that my right hand was restrained. I tried to shake it loose and heard the clatter of metal. I was handcuffed to the bed.

I tried to call out, “Hello!” but it came out in a whisper. No one answered, and I felt the veil of sleep descend over me like a black sheet.

I was awakened by a sharp pain as a young Filipino nurse removed the IV and reinserted the needle in a different vein.

“Where am I?” I rasped.

The nurse looked up at me in surprise. “Sam Prancisco General,” she said. “Heroin pinger pop in your stomach. You almost die.”

I remembered the boat, and the sea of warm light. Charlie gliding his fingers through the water. How peaceful it had been. Now I understood why Lena had been unable to fight the heroin dream song. The lure was strong. I was strong enough to see through the siren song to the mask of death on the other side. Perhaps Lena had seen the reality of heroin as well, but she had not been strong enough to stop. When the balloon had burst in my gut, I had seen all the people I loved. What had Lena seen when she was high? What idyl had she been unable to resist?

The FBI were curious about the fact that I spoke American English with no accent. I told them that my real name was Hassan Amir, not Emer Berke, and that I had been born in Los Angeles. The two FBI agents who interviewed me were skeptical at first, accusing me of inventing a fiction to gain American citizenship. But Hassan and I had celebrated our birthdays together on three occasions, because he was exactly one year and one day younger than me. So I knew his birthday, and I gave it to the FBI. I also knew that, like me, he'd been born at Good Samaritan Hospital. They told me that they would check my information and return.

As I lay alone in the hospital room, my mind raced. When the FBI returned, I could see from the looks on their faces that they were halfway convinced.

“There are no adult records for you,” one said. “How do you explain that?”

I explained that my parents had been killed by a drunk driver when I was young. I'd been raised by an aunt in Burbank, then had become homeless after she died of breast cancer.  Eventually I made friends with a Turkish drug dealer who recruited me to smuggle American currency to Turkey, and return with heroin.

None of this was true, of course. My friend Hassan himself had been the one killed by a drunk driver. I happened to know that his parents had returned to Iraq after his death. The aunt in Burbank was a complete fiction.

But I embellished the story with honest details of Hassan's youth in Los Angeles, attending Rio Hondo Elementary, playing guitar in the school band, and whatever else I could remember.

The FBI bought it. I entered the criminal justice system as Hassan Amir. It was a lie, and Islam tells us not to lie. But I could not use my real identity. It was too dangerous.

I pled guilty to the charge of narcotics trafficking. The prosecutor asked for a twenty year sentence, saying that drug smuggling was destroying the fabric of American society. My public defender pointed out that I had voluntarily admitted that I was carrying drugs. The judge asked why I had confessed. I hesitated, took a breath, then told the truth in a quavering voice:  that I had loved someone whose life had been destroyed by heroin addiction. I'd agreed to smuggle the drugs out desperation, but had realized midway through that I could not justify it morally.

The judge stared at me for a long moment through bushy white eyebrows, then said, “I believe you, young man. I see a lot of desperate people in this courtroom. For most, their desperation brings nothing but loss. They learn nothing. But it's been said that desperation is the raw material of drastic change. I believe that you are ready to become a better man. Still, there must be a consequence to your actions. I sentence you to eight years in federal prison. That is the lowest sentence I can give you under the federal sentencing guidelines. So be grateful, and try to find some peace.”


Inspector Katrina Sanchez spat a gob of brown saliva onto the Lower Haight sidewalk. Her husband hated her habit of chewing tobacco and nagged her about it constantly. But a woman had a right to her vices. When you spent your day chasing down the dregs of humanity, you had to relax any way you could.

This was a strange case. The beautiful redhead had at first spun a bizarre tale to one of the uniformed officers. She claimed that she had picked up a homeless man named Mr. Saleh – the father of a co-worker – and brought him home. The homeless man had stabbed her in the back and disappeared into the night. But when Sanchez had shown up to re-interview her, she had reversed, claiming that nothing of the kind had happened, and that she'd simply fallen from her bike onto a fence post.

Sanchez had seen a photo of the woman's back. She knew a knife wound when she saw one.

Even though the woman – Alice – did not want to press charges, Sanchez had a feeling there was more to this story than met the eye. She had a habit of latching on to cases and not letting go. In the male-dominated and racist precinct they called her the Mexican Pit Bull, and she took it as a compliment, though it was not always intended it as such.

Her husband complained about the long hours she worked. But she was a junior inspector in the Mission precinct's Personal Crimes division, and she was a woman. She came to work every day to find a dead mouse wrapped in a tortilla in her desk drawer, or a clipping from a porno mag on her locker, or a chihuahua bobble-head on her desk. She was fed up.

She reminded herself of one of her mother's proverbs: El perro ladra y la caravana pasa. The dog barks, but the caravan passes by. Let the men have their petty jokes. Katrina Sanchez had earned her gold star, but her caravan would not stop until she made lieutenant then captain, and maybe more. And the only way to make that happen was to crack cases like walnuts.

She walked up a short flight of steps to an apartment with a round sticker on the door that bore some sort of foreign writing. Persian, maybe? She rang the doorbell three times, knowing full well that the occupants might be asleep, and not caring.

She rang again, and again, until finally the door was opened by a sleepy-eyed young man with brown skin. He identified himself as Khalil, a Bangladeshi student at SFSU.

“Yes, Muhammad lives here,” he said. “But he's not here.”

“Is that usual, for him not to come home at night?”

“No. But he is an adult. It's not my job to police him. No pun intended.”

“Uh huh.” She spat tobacco juice into the hydrangea bush beside the steps, hitting one of the flowers dead on. “Where do you think he might be?”

The young man stared at the hydrangea bush, then frowned at Sanchez. “I don't know. Maybe at his friend Hassan's house.”

The Bangladeshi disappeared inside the apartment and came back with a phone number written on a slip of paper, and a flyer for a martial arts class.

“What's that sticker on your door, Mister Ka-leel? Some kind of code?”

“Code?” The young man shook his head. “No, Detective.”

“Inspector. San Francisco doesn't have detectives.”

“Pardon me, Inspector. It says, 'Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Raheem'. In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.”

Sanchez spat into the flower bed again. “What's wrong with God bless America?” she demanded. “Or home sweet home?”

The young man held his hands out, palms up. “Well… nothing.”

Sanchez walked back to her unmarked car. Truthfully, she did not care about the sticker on the door, and had no problem with foreigners or Muslims, which this young man obviously was. As a victim of discrimination herself, she was wary of perpetuating stereotypes. But sometimes when you pried at the things people valued, they revealed hidden aspects of themselves. That hadn't been the case with Khalil, but it was time to turn her attention to this Muhammad Saleh, and see what she could pry loose.


“I won't bore you with the details of my life in prison,” Hassan said. “The many institutions that I was transferred to, the amazing and despicable people I met, the constant waiting for everything – waiting for food, waiting for laundry, waiting for doors to open or close, waiting so long to get out into the free world that it starts to feel like an impossibility, or like Jannah. And then there's the explosive violence, like lightning out of a blue sky. I was given a prison number – I still remember it. 83303-011. To the guards, I was a number. I was expected to write my number on any property that belonged to me. I was identified on paperwork by my number, and addressed by my number. Zero One One, they'd call me.

I could write an entire book about those years, and maybe one day I will. For now, I just want to tell you about my friend Jamil, because I wouldn't have survived without him, physically or spiritually.


“The male version of me!” Jamilah said. “I'm glad he was a friend.”

Hassan smiled. “Yes. I didn't meet him right away, though, and at first I was terrified, because I feared that prison life would be like Bakırköy. But it was utterly different. I learned that prisoners – aside from having to work and adhere to prison schedules – are largely left to their own devices. Yes, there are some evil and sadistic hacks – guards, that is – but for the most part it's not the administration you have to fear in U.S. prisons. It's the other prisoners.

I ended up in a high security federal prison that was situated on the prairie outside of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. There was nothing around but miles of tall grass in every direction, with a single tree casting a shadow about a quarter mile to the south. A strong wind blew constantly, but the sky was huge and cloudless.

The prison itself was old. It was the stereotypical complex of massive brick building, with multiple cellblocks containing stacked tiers, steel staircases, and cramped cells with steel bars that slid open and shut. It housed almost two thousand prisoners, from mafia bosses to counterfeiters to drug dealers of all stripes.

The yard was big, with three separate weight piles – “


Muhammad interrupted Hassan's narrative. “What's a weight pile?” he asked.

“Ah. Sorry. You get so used to the lingo that you forget it's not understood by everyone. A weight pile is an open-air weight lifting area, typically a large cement slab with a few dozen machines, benches, and racks for free weights. At El Reno there were three piles. One was open to the sky and the other two were covered by awnings. The open air pile was run by whites, another by the blacks, and the third by Hispanics. If you didn't fit into one of those neat classifications, or if you weren't in a gang, you'd have a hard time making use of the facilities. That was true also for the music rooms – again, there were three – and for the factory jobs, which paid better than standard prison jobs and were in high demand. If you weren't hooked up – connected, in a gang – you'd be run out.

That's what got me in trouble, in fact. I applied for one of the factory jobs – the El Reno factory was a huge metal fabrication plant that employed over 300 convicts – and got it. My first day I was being trained on an assembly line that made steel tubing. A muscular white convict with a moustache, a shaved head and a swastika tattooed on his scalp came up to me and said, “Who you with?”

“No one,” I replied. “What do you mean?”

He sneered at me. “You need to quit this job. This factory is for hooked-up cons only. I see you on this line tomorrow, I'll mess you up.”

I looked away and made no response. I wasn't frightened, exactly. I just didn't have the energy to argue. I wanted to keep my head down, do my time, then get out one day and go on with my life.

I was still at a low point in my iman. I was hardly praying at all. I remembered Allah with my tongue. I woke up and said, 'All praise is due to Allah who gave us life after we were dead, and to Him is the return.' I said Bismillah before I ate, and alhamdulillah when I was done. But I was like a sleepwalker. I had no fight in me, no drive, no ambition. I'd left all those behind in room where Lena died, and behind the closed doors of the Bakırköy mental institution.

There were dozens of Muslims at El Reno, mostly African-Americans but also some Arabs, Pakistanis and even a few white and Hispanic brothers. I'd see them around the compound, wearing kufis and sometimes praying Maghreb in jama'ah on the yard. But I stayed away from them. I was so low spiritually. I felt like a fake Muslim. Those brothers would expect me to join them in Islamic activities and to be strong, and I didn't have that in me.

I quit the factory job like the man told me and went to work in food service, sweeping the floors of the chow hall and picking up trash after meals. The job paid eleven cents per hour, which went into my commissary account. The money could be used to purchase items like toothpaste, canned tuna fish or cookies at the prison store.

A few days later the same mustachioed con approached me as I was picking up litter during the lunch hour. Lunch had consisted of ham, spinach, grits and an orange. Some of the men had left orange peels on the floor.

“Get me a bag of extra oranges,” the man said.

I told him that I was just an orderly and didn't work in the kitchen. Besides, if I were caught I would go to the hole.


“What's a hole?” Muhammad asked. “Is it a real hole in the ground? That's crazy!”

Hassan chuckled. “No. It's what convicts call the detention unit. Administration calls it the Special Housing Unit, or “shoe”. It's a separate cellblock wing where you're locked in isolation around the clock. When you break a rule you go before a lieutenant who can sentence you to any length of time in the hole. Some men are confined there for years. They lose their minds, some of them.

Anyway, the man cursed me. He told me he was an OG – a senior gangster, and that if I didn't do what he said he'd shank me. Stab me, in other words..

Again, I did what the man said. I snuck into the pantry, stuffed some oranges into my pockets, and delivered them to the man in his cell just before the four o'clock count. He laughed and said that I was his punk now, and that I would do whatever he said.

I was shocked and infuriated. In my naivete I'd thought that if I did him a few favors he'd leave me alone. Instead he now seemed to think I was his slave. I told him that he could forget about getting any further favors out of me, and not to talk to me again. He stood up and seized me by the neck, and I went into combat mode. Ever since Lena's death I'd let the world push me around, humiliate me and control me. No more. I'd finally hit my breaking point.

I grabbed the hand that seized my throat, pinning it to myself, then applied a wrist lock that dropped the muscular man to his knees in pain. I smashed him in the face with a powerful knee strike and heard a crunching sound as his nose bone shattered. Then I walked away. I hoped that I had sent a message and that I'd be left alone after that. If I hadn't be so green, I would have known that the opposite was true. I had made a lifelong enemy, one who was part of a powerful gang. I'd started a war.

I returned to my own cell. My cellie, a hugely muscled and profusely tattooed young Samoan nicknamed Tuna, sat on his bunk with a notebook on his lap, drawing, as usual. He was a generally sullen and angry young man who didn't know how to read and write and had never showed much interest in conversation. He spent much of his time drawing pictures of fantasy figures like dragons, ancient warriors carrying broadswords, muscular warrior women in skimpy outfits – that kind of thing.

The cell had a small steel writing desk with a stool bolted to the ground. I sat on the stool and put my head in my hands. I felt utterly lost.

I heard a knock and looked up to see a tall, lean African-American standing in the doorway of the cell. He wore a black kufi with gold embroidery and had a musalla folded and draped over his shoulder. He nodded to Tuna, who nodded back and said, “It's your world, Jamil. We just walkin' through it.” I was surprised. I'd never heard Tuna offer a kind word to anyone. He was normally as reticent as one of the Easter Island statues.

Jamil then smiled at me and offered salam, but I only said, “What's up?”

He held out a plastic bag. “The brothers put together a welcome bag for you,” he said. “We always do this for newcomers. It contains a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, shower shoes, snacks and other items. Also, this prayer rug. So you don't have to use your t-shirt.” He grinned and held the musalla out toward me.

The gift bag sounded good. I could really use those items. But instead of accepting it, I said, “I don't know you. How did you even know I was Muslim?” I knew I was being rude, but life in Bakırköy had taught me to be wary of strangers bearing gifts. No one in these places ever did anything without a motive.

“I'm Jamil,” he said. “One of the brothers saw you performing salah the other day. What's your name?”

“Hassan,” I muttered.

“Ma-sha-Allah. Well I have to inform you Hassan, you're off to a bad start. The word is you made an enemy in the AB.”

“What's the AB?” I said reluctantly. I didn't want to get into a conversation, but I needed to know what he was talking about.

“Aryan Brotherhood. White supremacist gang. The thug you put down – Cutter – is one of their OGs.  I'm not trying to frighten you or pressure you. I'm just telling you the facts. If you join the Muslims we can protect you. If you stay on your own, the AB will kill you. Count on it.”

I felt a surge of resentment. Everyone in here seemed to want me to do something or join something. I just wanted to be left alone.

“I don't have a problem with them,” I said. “One guy tried to pick on me and I stopped it. They should leave it at that. And I don't need your gift bag.”

“It doesn't work like that, akh. But suit yourself. Let me just tell you one thing. Allah is still Allah, no matter where you are. He's still with you, caring about you, keeping your heart beating. You're here for a reason. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said that this world is a prison for the believer. So what's one prison inside another? It's still just prison. This is all temporary.”

“I guess so,” I said.

He nodded. “I'm your brother. I'm not looking to manipulate you. It's not like that with the Muslims in here. If you need me, I'm here. Whatever you're going through, you don't have to do it alone.”

The Aryan Brotherhood came at me the next day. I was walking through the yard, on my way to circle the track. I was staying off the weight pile like Cutter had ordered me. My head felt full of storm clouds. I couldn't close my eyes without remembering Lena on the floor, her blood spreading out in a grid… or the horrors of Bakırköy… How would I get through these eight years? It seemed impossible.

The yard was crowded. Men waited their turn to play handball or use the weight pile. Others sat around on benches, or stood in knots, talking. Suddenly I sensed a bubble of silence around me. I looked around and men were retreating from me, walking away in different directions. I looked behind and there were three white cons making a beeline from three different directions, forming a wedge that would converge on my position.

There was nowhere to go. I was in a part of the yard where it narrowed as it passed between two cellblocks. Ahead was only the track, which was a quarter-mile closed loop with no exits. I would have no cover out there. The track was within sight of the gun towers, but I'd be as likely to get shot as the ABs. Better to make my stand here. I continued for a few yards then ducked behind the corner of the cellblock. As the first of the three men turned the corner, I attacked. It was Cutter, his nose bandaged and swollen. I flicked my fingers into his eyes as I seized his knife arm with my other hand. I elbowed him in the face, directed the knife into his own ribs, twisted his head rapidly one way then the other, and let him drop.

I'd gained some weight since I'd been incarcerated, but I was still much lighter than I am now. I weighed maybe 130, and I had still not recovered fully from Bakırköy. But my body reacted from years of training, going into combat mode.

The other two men stared at me. “You broke Cutter's neck!” one exclaimed. He was about my height, bald, with a thick handlebar mustache. The other man was six and a half feet tall and wide as a tree. He had blonde hair and a long beard that was tied into two braids. Both men brandished wicked looking homemade knives.

“I'm not looking for trouble,” I said. “Your man here tried to punk me. You've got the wrong guy for that. Just leave me alone.”

The smaller man came at me rapidly, thrusting the blade at my belly. I ghosted, changing angles and sidestepping. I slapped him hard across the eyes then punched him in the kidney, dropping him to one knee.

I was prepared to engage the larger man but he held back. The smaller one rose to his feet and came at me again. This time I parried his knife thrust, seized his arm, and snapped his elbow with a palm strike. He fell to the ground with a scream, and I kicked him hard in the temple with the toe of my boot. He was out like a light.

The bigger man regarded me. “Cutter says you insulted him.”

“That's not true,” I gasped, breathing hard. “He tried to make me do things.”

“His neck really broken?”

“I don't think so. Whiplashed.”

“Where'd you learn to move like that?”

“Beirut. I was a soldier.”

The big man raised his eyebrows and ran one hand down his beard. Then he tucked his knife into his waistband. “People call me Viking,” he said, then turned and walked away.

No one witnessed the fight, and no one reported me. I returned to my cell and sat on my bunk. My legs trembled from the adrenaline. I hoped that was the end of it, and the AB would leave me alone after that.

They did not. Three white cons came at me on the catwalk hardly five minutes after the cell doors opened at six a.m., in full sight of hundreds of men and at least two guards in the control booth down on the floor. The AB must have been insane with their desire for revenge. These were all different men from yesterday. I put them all down, breaking teeth and noses, separating one man's shoulder and crushing another man's ankle with a hard stomp. But one of them stabbed me deeply in the side and blood poured down my side and leg.

I was taken to the prison infirmary and patched up under tight security – two beefy guards stood watch the whole time – then sent to the hole, where I spent the next six months in isolation.

I thought a lot about what Jamil had said to me. “Allah is still Allah, no matter where you are. He still cares. You're here for a reason…” The words touched me deeply and I sometimes found tears welling in my eyes.

That's where I met Wolf, by the way. Remember, Jamilah? The homeless man on the street the other day, when your bike was stolen? He was in the cell across from mine.”


“You claimed you didn't recognize him!” Jamilah exclaimed.

“Sorry about that,” Hassan said. “He used to tell stories and make up jokes to pass the time. We'd play twenty questions or hangman. The latter could be comical because neither of us were good spellers. Anyway, I made it up to him later. For ignoring him that day, I mean.”

“I wish you wouldn't lie so much, Hassan.”

“I'm sorry. If I'd admitted I knew him it would have raised a lot of questions that I wasn't prepared to answer.”

“It's fine, akhi,” Layth said. “Go on.”

“A week after I entered the hole,” Hassan continued, “a Muslim came to see me. He was an African-American brother named AbdulQadeer. He told me he was a contractor employed by the Bureau of Prisons. He serviced a dozen prisons across three states, but he said he would stop by once a month if he could. I asked him if I could get a Qur'an and he promptly reached into his leather satchel and brought out a paperback copy of the Qur'an with the Yusuf Ali translation. He also gave me a white kufi and a musalla.

Those things were nice, but the nicest thing of all was that AbdulQadeer talked to me man to man. He didn't talk to me like a free man to a prisoner. He related to me just as if I were any other Muslim in the outside world. It was refreshing and reminded me that I was not just Zero One One.

I began exercising every day, doing push ups and burpees.”


Jamilah laughed. “Burpy?” What kind of exercise is that? Drink a soda then burp?”

“No, silly,” Hassan said.

“I know what it is,” Muhammad said. “Drop to the ground, shoot your feet back, do a pushup, bring you feet forward, stand up, and repeat.”

“Right.” Hassan nodded. “Doesn't need much space. Cells in the SHU are six feet by eight.”

“That's tiny,” Muhammad said.

“I was aware that I had turned a corner,” Hassan continued. “I'm not sure why. Maybe fighting off the ABs had restored my confidence. Maybe it was Wolf and his jokes, or AbdulQadeer's visits that made me feel human and dignified. I was still haunted by the past – Lena's death was a ragged wound – and I still had nightmares and found it difficult to concentrate. But the pain was no longer incapacitating.

It's not allowed to practice martial arts in prison but the good thing about the hole is that most of the time no one is looking. So I began practicing every day. In that place, you have to stay busy or you will literally go insane. I could hear other men talking to themselves all day long, babbling, screaming… Some men would deliberately provoke confrontations with the guards, then strip naked and cover themselves in vaseline or excrement, so that when the Special Tactics Squad came into grab them they wouldn't be able to get a hold.

“That's awful,” Kadija said. “What a nightmare.”

“Some men attempted suicide, and some succeeded. Some reverted to a wild state, growing their hair and nails and refusing to shower.

“You had a shower?” Layth said.

“Not in the cell. Once every three days you're handcuffed behind your back and taken to a shower that's also behind bars. Once you're inside they un-handcuff you and watch while you shower.”

“That's humiliating,” Kadija protested.

“That's how it is. There's no privacy. Whenever you're transferred, you're subjected to a very invasive strip search. You have to shut off your thinking mind and just go through the motions, otherwise yes, it's dehumanizing and humiliating. It's the same when you have a visitor. You're subjected to a naked strip-search afterward. I never had visitors, of course, but I heard about it from others.”

I began reading the Qur'an the chaplain had given me, and praying more regularly. The time passed, and soon I was out of the hole.

I'd thought that maybe the AB would have let the whole thing go. I should have known better. Prisoners have long memories.

Next Week:  Hassan's Tale, Part 14 – Positive Assumptions

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Syrian Crisis Creating a Lost Generation Tue, 26 Aug 2014 11:26:36 +0000 This is cross post, you can find the original here By Hani Almadhoun director of donor development at ANERA The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has now registered one million Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon to escape the war back home. They account for one fourth of Lebanon's population. But that figure sadly […]

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This is cross post, you can find the original here


Hani Almadhoun
director of donor development at ANERA

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has now registered one million Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon to escape the war back home. They account for one fourth of Lebanon's population.

But that figure sadly does not take into account more than 50,000 Palestinian refugees from the Syrian conflict who are now in Lebanon, too. They are not covered by the UNHCR and have found shelter in Palestinian refugee camps that are administered by the UNRWA, the UN agency that is solely responsible for caring for Palestinians. Living conditions in Lebanon's overcrowded refugee camps were already appalling and the influx of new refugees is straining UNRWAs resources beyond measure. Yet, the international community appears to have mostly ignored their plight.

I was in Lebanon to visit projects that the nonprofit I work for has implemented to provide relief and support to Palestinian refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict. My first stop was Shatila camp, five minutes from the center of cosmopolitan downtown Beirut. It may as well have been a world away.

Shatila was set up in 1949 and remains today a maze of mildewy, dark alleyways between ramshackle apartment blocks that are stacked so close to each other the sun never makes it through the windows. Webs of wires and cables hang overhead and kids play in sewage.

I am originally from Gaza, and thought that nothing could be worse than conditions in the camps there. But the night after I went to Shatila, I could not sleep. Believe me, I tried. But what I saw in Shatila was so hopeless. My stomach was upside down. I felt like an only child who had just discovered that all along he had a big family who spoke just as he spoke, valued what he valued, and who lived not too far from where he had lived.

Shatila has little to offer its 15,000+ desperate Palestinian refugees but hundreds still continue to arrive — fleeing the violence in Syria. These newcomers find themselves trapped in a paradox where they have to start again from zero in a place that has virtually nothing to give.

I visited a school named after the Palestinian city of Ramallah where classes are running in two shifts to reach all the children. Yet, access to education for these new refugees is problematic.

Families who fled Syria with just the clothes they were wearing can hardly afford to put food on the table in their makeshift shelters, let alone pay for transportation, school supplies or any education-related fees. Most families are crammed into small rooms or makeshift tents, without proper lighting or sanitation, making it nearly impossible for children to study.

Teenage boys are more focused on finding odd jobs to help support their families and often drop out of class or attend school only occasionally. Some have been out of school for two years or more.

There is rising concern now that a whole generation of future decision-makers and professionals will be lost.

The next day I went up north to Nahr El Bared camp where metal trailers are serving as homes for Syrian and Palestinian families. These boxes were installed as temporary shelters seven years ago in the wake of military clashes that left most of the camp destroyed. Now, rusted and disintegrating, they provide poor protection from the cold, heat or rain. I met a handicapped Syrian man there who had found shelter inside a trailer. Even though the community has little, long-time camp residents collected a mattress, blankets and kitchenware to give to his family. ANERA-sponsored plumbing students installed a new bathroom in his trailer that he can use with ease — something that restores some dignity in his life.

In southern Lebanon I visited the largest camp, Ein El Helweh, home to 70,000. There I met Palestinian refugees from Syria who feed themselves by dumpster-diving and collecting rotten produce from the local market. They are among 60 families living in camp-within-a-camp in makeshift tents. I talked to a father of four whose family was pleased to receive quilts and other relief supplies from ANERA. A successful blacksmith back in Syria, he wondered where he could find work in Lebanon to support his family over the longer term.

Looking around the camp, I spotted Ahmed, a six-year-old boy from Syria who was collecting flowers. I asked, “What for?” He said, “For Auntie Sahar, my teacher!”

Despite all the destruction and uncertainty, this youngster still finds a way make people smile. He, like others I met on my journey around Lebanon's camps were positive and resourceful in spite of nearly impossible conditions. But, for how much longer?

For more than 45 years, ANERA has provided humanitarian and development assistance to Palestinian refugees and marginalized communities in the Middle East.

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What is your legacy? Fri, 22 Aug 2014 04:00:21 +0000 This is a repost, and was originally posted here   A leader is remembered not by what he or she possessed or consumed, not by how much power they had or whether they were charming or beautiful, but by the legacy they leave behind. This is what I want to talk to you about; leaving […]

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This is a repost, and was originally posted here


A leader is remembered not by what he or she possessed or consumed, not by how much power they had or whether they were charming or beautiful, but by the legacy they leave behind. This is what I want to talk to you about; leaving a legacy.

I want to start by saying two things to you which I want you to remember.

The first one is:

1.       “It is in the nature of extraordinary goals to inspire extraordinary effort.”

The second one is:

2.       “It is in the nature of the 'dream' to be impractical.”

A practical dream is an oxymoron.

I want you to remember these two things because I am going to tell you three stories about three people who believed in extraordinary goals and had impractical dreams. To tell stories is a good way to learn, no? Okay here goes.

The first story is about a man who bought a train ticket for the First Class and got into the compartment. But as he was sitting there, a strange thing happened. The Guard came and threw him out of the compartment. Actually, physically threw him out onto the platform. As the man picked himself up from the ground, a dream was born; the dream to set his people free from slavery.

But remember, the dream to set his nation free was born when the man could not even guarantee his own freedom. A very impractical dream. A very extraordinary goal.

The second story is about another man who sat in a prison for 27 years. I have seen that prison. It is a prison on a rock in the middle of the ocean. A rock that is surrounded by the sea which has some of the largest sharks in the world. That nation has the most sophisticated shark repellent technology in the world. You know why? Because they have the biggest sharks. This man sat in that prison without any hope of ever escaping. A lot of the time in solitary confinement. And in that situation he had a dream. The dream was to set his people free from the apartheid which enslaved them in their own land. Once again, a very impractical dream. A very extraordinary goal.

The third story is about another man. This man, when he was young, had a sporting accident in which he lost the use of both his legs and his eyesight was also affected. He was, since then confined to a wheelchair. Then what did he do? He went to get an education in one of the most venerable universities in the world. After he became a scholar, he went back to his people, where he became a refugee in his own land because the invaders and occupiers of his land destroyed his home along with the homes of thousands of others. All his life there, he worked to help his people in their misery to bring some measure of relief to them through medical aid, social help, food, emotional support and by teaching them to fight for their rights.

For this service, he was imprisoned for many years by the invaders and spent time in some of the most horrific prisons in the world. And all the while he had a dream; to set his people free and to have their land returned to them.

Then finally, at the age of 67, on March 22, 2004 while he was returning home from the morning prayers in the masjid, he was murdered by the invaders and joined the honorable list of martyrs.

As we stand here today, there does not seem to be any chance of his dream ever coming true. But he dreamt and others share that dream. The man died but the dream lives because dreamers die but dreams live on as long as there is someone to dream that dream. Once again an impractical dream. An extraordinary goal which inspires extraordinary effort.

The first question I want to ask you after telling you these true stories is:

What is your dream?  

In order to make dreams come true we need perspective.

Perspective is the ability to hold two pictures in your mind: Where you are now and where you want to be. The positive tension between these two pictures will drive you to reach where you need to be.

Without perspective we are either stuck in the current reality and get frustrated or we have our heads in the clouds and no idea of how to realize what we want to achieve.

We all start in the same place….as children. What does that mean? It means that at least initially, our condition depends on others who take care of us. So we get conditioned to look to them to 'make us' happy. And when that does not happen, we blame them.

This leads to the mental model: “Someone else is responsible for my welfare. My role is to feel good or bad about what the other person does. If I am happy, I laugh. If not, I sulk.”

Strangely, many people get stuck in this mental model even when they grow up physically and are in charge of their own affairs and have the power to do things for themselves. Because to grow up, means to take responsibility. To take ownership for all that you say and do and its effect on others and on the world. Not merely to accept accountability but to actively seek it. To stand up and say, “Here I am. You can count on me.” And if things go wrong, as sometimes they will, to say, “I am responsible for what has happened. Here is what I learnt from this. And this is how we will ensure this never happens again.” Most people fear this intensely.

So they are all ready to talk about freedom, but will not actually work to become free.

There is great safety and solace in slavery, in never growing up. In being a 'child' all your life. And you can see so many 50 and 60 year old children. There is much to fear in freedom. Emotional Maturity is therefore not a factor of age of the body but the maturity of the mind.

This voluntary slavery of the mind is not only found in individuals but in organizations, societies and countries. Often among those that are very rich and powerful but choose to be helpless and blame others for what happens to them. They refuse to see that their happiness lies in their own hands. That they can be free of this mental bondage, if they choose.

So my next question to you is:

Do you really want to be free?

What is the key word in that question? Yes, that's right. It is 'really' Do you REALLY want to be free?

Freedom, if you really want it, comes with some choices that you have to make: And these are:

  1. To care more than others think is wise
  2. To risk more than others think is safe
  3. To dream more than others think is practical
  4. To expect more (from yourself) than others think is possible

My dear brothers and sisters, we all start in the same place in another way. We all start as idealists. I have yet to see a child who was not an idealist. We all want to make a difference to the world we live in, to do great things and to be remembered. But how many people actually achieve that? And why not?

Let's see what happens and why.

We all start as Idealists. Then life happens. Things happen where people let us down. Often the very people we counted on to support us. People deceive and lie and cheat and sacrifice long term benefits for short term gains. They are corrupt and this and that and the other. So as all these things happen, we get onto the slide and start sliding downwards.

From being Idealists, we become Optimists (because idealism is tough to put down, especially when you are young and energetic) and then we become Realists, than Pessimists. Along the way we acquire 'advisors'; people with lots of 'education'; who take us aside to 'talk some sense' into us. They tell us, “Look, don't be a fool. Get real. This is the real world. Be practical. Be realistic. Ideals are okay to talk about. They don't work and will get you into trouble. Forget all this. Look around you. How many people do you see actually working for 'ideals'?”

We say, “But look at what Yawar is saying!! What about that?”

Our advisor will say, “Let him talk. What does it matter? That is his job. He is a teacher and trainer. Let him talk. You eat the nice snacks, meet your friends, have a nice time and go home. Forget him. Forget what he says.”

And slowly – if we choose and only if we choose – we also become like our 'advisors'. We become Cynics.

From Idealist to Optimist to Realist to Pessimist to Cynic; on the slide.

Cynics are very popular at parties as they are witty and make cynical remarks and make people laugh. But cynicism is a cancer. It eats the soul from inside. And unlike cancer, it is contagious and spreads.

And in the end, at the bottom of the pile, we become Indifferent. We stop caring what happens. That is the real bottom of the pit.

But remember one thing – all this will happen only if you choose to allow it to happen. It is your choice and you are completely in control of it.

You know why people get angry and fight you when you say idealistic things? Because you remind them of what they were one day. The flame of idealism is possible to dampen. But it is impossible to kill. It will remain alive as long as we live. It dies when we die.

That is the reason people oppose idealists at first. Because when people who have allowed themselves to become cynical and indifferent meet you as an idealist, you remind them of what they were like, long ago. In your eyes they  see a glimpse of their own history and that frightens them. They hate what they chose to do to themselves. They hate the picture of themselves that they see in your eyes. All this while you are not aware of what is going on and you think they are opposing you. But they are not. They are fighting with themselves. They believe that if they can make you shut up, then somehow all will be well. Because they are one of the many who believe this fallacy, that if one can make someone who speaks the truth to shut up; then one can remain comfortable in one's falsehood. They refuse to face the reality that the truth is the truth even if no one speaks it.

The thing to do therefore, if you want to light the lamps of other's idealism, is to ensure that your own lamp never goes dim. The way to do that is never to lower your ideals in the name of expedience, or diplomacy or Hikma. By all means use your wisdom and skill in putting across your ideals in as convincing and acceptable a way as you can, but never lower the standard. For the standard is our only protection against the slide into mediocrity and oblivion.

Remember that no person or nation lives forever. But their thoughts, their goals, their ideals and what they stood for endures long after they have become dust. That is what we stand for; ideals that have stood the test of time and which we carry forward to generations who will come, long after we have gone.

In 1997, a man used to stand outside the White House holding a lighted candle in his hand, a silent protest against the US sanctions against Iraq. He would turn up there every evening and would stand there for a few hours well into the night.

One evening, it was wet, windy and very cold. As usual the man came, wearing a coat with the collar turned up against the bitter cold, and an umbrella to shelter the tiny flame of his candle from the blustery wind.

As he stood there, the guard at the gate, who used to see him every day and occasionally waved to him in friendly camaraderie, came out to him and said, “Man! I know you are committed to this cause. But look at this night! It is so cold and horrible; you are one man, standing here alone, do you think you can change them?”

The man looked at the guard and smiled. “I don't do this to change them,” he said, “I do this so that they will not change me.”

Much has happened since 1997 and history has been written in words of shame by the blood of innocents. However there is one man somewhere who still believes in justice and mercy and that truth will eventually prevail over falsehood. That is his legacy. The legacy of a man whose name we don't know. But his story inspires others. We need such people more than we need those who have the power and use it only for oppression.

I say to you that I am a shameless idealist. I have always been and would like to remain this way until the end of my days. And if I ever start to slip, as can happen to the strongest of us, then I want you to remind me of what I am saying to you today.

So the next question I want to ask you is:

What are your ideals?

Finally I want to close my speech by telling you another true story. This one is about a little boy and the famous writer Loren Eisely. Loren writes that he was on holiday by the sea side when one night there was a big storm. Very early next morning as he was walking on the beach he saw that among the debris of the storm were literally hundreds of starfish which had been thrown up on the sand the previous night. As he walked along, Loren saw someone in the distance doing what looked to him, like a dance. The person was bending down and standing up and moving along as he did this. As Loren neared him, he saw that it was a little boy who was picking up starfish from the beach and was throwing them back into the sea.

Loren was like me. A man of the world with a lot of education and life experience.

He went up to the boy and asked, “What are you doing?”

The boy said, “I'm throwing these starfish back into the sea so that they don't die. They can't move on the sand and if the sun comes out, they will dry out and die. So I am throwing them back so that they will live.”

Loren says, he laughed at this statement. He then proceeded to put things in 'perspective' for the boy. Remember, I told you the importance of having perspective? But there's perspective and there's perspective.

So Loren said to him, “Look, do you realize that on this beach alone there are literally thousands of starfish? And then of course there are hundreds of beaches in the world, on which are thrown up millions of starfish in every storm. You are one kid, throwing one starfish into the sea! For God's sake, what difference does it make?”

The boy looked at Loren; he looked at the starfish in his hand, he turned and threw it far into the waves and said to Loren, “It made a difference to that one!”

Loren writes, “I walked away and kept walking for a long time. Then I returned to the boy who was still there, picking up and throwing the starfish into the sea. I silently picked up a starfish and threw it into the sea. And we did this together for a long time.”

My final question to you is:

What difference do you want to make?

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Tariq Ramadan’s Boycott: A Critical Analysis Thu, 21 Aug 2014 16:01:50 +0000 I had the pleasure of first meeting Dr. Tariq Ramadan during the 2011 RIS Convention when I was covering the event for this publication. It was an amicable meeting; I recall being struck by his down-to-earth attitude. He took the time to have a genuine conversation with people – a rarity at such large events. […]

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I had the pleasure of first meeting Dr. Tariq Ramadan during the 2011 RIS Convention when I was covering the event for this publication. It was an amicable meeting; I recall being struck by his down-to-earth attitude. He took the time to have a genuine conversation with people – a rarity at such large events.

It was the year of the Arab Springs and I remember his insightful talk about the role played by American institutions in kindling the protests in Egypt. The next year I met him again at the RIS Knowledge Retreat where he gave a series of classes entitled, 'Shariah, Sufism and Ethics'. It was a powerful analysis of ethics and spirituality in the Islamic tradition. I recall asking him advice on how to combat the shariah fear-mongering that was going on at the time; he responded with words of wisdom as usual, 'Normalize your presence without trivializing yourself'.

So, I was naturally quite shaken to hear that he had publicly boycotted the RIS and ISNA conventions; especially given his active role in the past several years. While he doesn't use the word 'boycott' is his essay, his action is just that – a public censure of an organization and disengagement to achieve particular goals. I found his stance particularly troubling, and more importantly, ineffective. The reason being that he fails to adequately answer the essential questions for a successful protest: why boycott, how long to do it and what needs to be done to address the underlying concerns of the boycott.

Dr. Ramadan's first allegation against RIS is that it remains 'apolitical'. I find this charge particularly disingenuous given that speakers, including himself, frequently address political issues at the convention. I clearly recall the atmosphere at the 2008 convention when Israel started its bombardment of Gaza; outrage and condemnation was outspoken. A fundraising session that year, led by imam Zaid Shakir in the main halls, raised over $100,000 within a half hour for the victims.

When the civil war in Syria started and Bashar-al-Assad began his atrocious crimes, the speakers did not shy away from expressing their disgust with him. When Ghaddafi was captured and killed, Dr. Ramadan was the one who voiced the unacceptable way in which his case was handled. These are just a few examples I can recall from my numerous years as an attendee and volunteer. Perhaps RIS isn't political in the way Dr. Ramadan would like it to be, but to accuse convention of being silent on political issues is an unfounded assertion.

Dr. Ramadan's second and more serious allegation relates to the speakers at RIS. He accuses these speakers of supporting dictatorships, despots and all the oppression they perpetrate. He fails to elaborate on who these speakers are and neither does he bring proof as to why he believes some of the leading Muslim preachers are supporters of tyranny and war crimes.

Those well informed on sectarian politics of the Middle East assume they know who and what he's referring to; the rest of us are baffled and in utter confusion by this accusation. In his blog post, he refers to these people in convoluted terms such as 'some speakers' who follow the 'sufi' trend. This has implicated all the scholars at the convention and we're left wondering: could he be referring to Shaykh Hamza, perhaps its Habib Ali, may be imam Zaid, what about Dr. Jackson, or is it anyone associated with Mufti Ali Gomma or the late Shaykh Buti ?

Professor Ramadan's elusive approach only opens the doors to speculation, conjecture and confusion. By disparaging the moral character of the scholars that Muslims so deeply trust and rely on for spiritual guidance, he has sown the seeds of doubt in their hearts – his boycott will do nothing to remove it. Not only will his move lead to political rifts, it also creates a spiritual crises built on doubts and division.

In the worldview of the Dr. Ramadan and his supporters, the immoral stances of their opponents are obvious – to the average American or Canadian RIS attendee they are not; most are clueless about the subject matter in the first place. If he was going to make such egregious allegations in public, especially on a matter generally debated in inner scholarly circles, he should have taken the liberty of at least supporting and clarifying his claims. Sure, we hear of the occasional tweet here and a facebook post there, but those hardly offer the degree of certainty required to establish such bold claims.

Instead of identifying, confronting and refuting the people he so vociferously opposes, Dr. Ramadan sanctimoniously declares them to be puppets for tyrannical rulers. He neither engages in a debate with them nor does he give these scholars a chance to clarify the basis of their positions. Using unsubstantiated claims masked in ambiguity he fosters the very phenomenon of partisan politics he's trying to combat.

I am certain Dr. Ramadan has convincing arguments to back up his views, but his failure to elucidate them for us only breeds suspicion and bars us from the opportunity to judge for ourselves. If the scholars speaking at our conventions have indeed committed such serious transgressions, we deserve to know with absolute clarity before we decide to boycott them.

As for his boycott of ISNA, the professor offers much more concrete reasons; his approach, however, is still divisive and ineffective. The grievances he has expressed about ISNA's unacceptable silence over deeply troubling aspects of U.S. domestic and foreign policy are universally shared by American Muslims. These Muslims, however, have not decided to boycott ISNA over it.

Instead, the recent events have lead to serious introspection and have stirred a much needed debate on how Muslim engage with government institutions. These issues will no doubt be raised and discussed at the upcoming convention; Dr. Ramadan could have been an important voice in influencing change but he has decided to not be present at these meetings.

ISNA is at an important cross-roads; it has become manifestly clear that its current engagement model has shortcomings which need to be seriously re-examined. It has to determine an approach where it can collaborate with institutions of power without being stifled by them or compromising its integrity. Glenn Greenwald, like many others, have stressed the need for an effective outsider-insider strategy for engagement. ISNA will certainly fall under the 'insider' category; its mandate is not like that of CAIR – which always seems to be in conflict with institutions of authority. It needs to transform itself into a effective lobbying group which can advocate on behalf of Muslims without being paralyzed by fear. Now, more than ever, it needs friends, not boycotters.

Dr. Ramadan's boycott no doubt succeeds in putting pressure on ISNA and kindling up much needed discussions, especially given the support he has received from fellow speakers. However, this pressure comes at a cost. He has chosen to take a highly divisive route and no doubt has burned many bridges with the Muslim leadership in North America. Given his influence, the move has also galvanized many of his supporters who too are re-considering their attendance at the convention. ISNA is the one of the few institutions American Muslims could look up to as a representative of their interests; being publicly chastised and boycotted by a leading Muslim academic is bound to create division at a time when unity desperately needed.

Furthermore, the more important shortcoming of this move is that Dr. Ramadan has offered no concrete actions that need to be taken to address the issues he raises. How long will he and his supporters disengage from two of the largest gatherings of Muslims in North America? Blanket boycotts with no clear demands and deadlines are pointless and ineffective. What steps exactly does he want RIS and ISNA to take? We'll never know the answers to these questions.

Professor Ramadan felt it a moral obligation to dissociate from organizations he had serious political disagreements with. Instead of the method he employed, he could have easily taken a less divisive and more effective route.  This could have been achieved had he publicly published detailed criticisms of ISNA and RIS with suggestions for actions they need to take. He could have then, like many others, privately declined attending the conventions; his absence would then be more meaningful to the organizers as well as the attendees. I am thinking of something along the approach Shaykh Hamza Yusuf took to highlight his disagreements with ISNA over the moon sighting issue.

The current approach taken by Dr. Ramadan is rash and its impact is temporal. He has picked a fight with the very people he needs to be advising; its unlikely they'll be receptive to what he has to say if he does't resort to more diplomatic methods. No one questions the legitimacy of the criticisms he has offered or the concern for good that drives his actions. However, this highly controversial approach has lead to greater harm, in this author's opinion, because it engenders disunity amongst Muslims, casts doubts on the integrity of our scholars and fails to provide any tangible solutions to the exceedingly complex challenges our community faces today.

Ed Note: We encourage discourse and writers on Muslimmatters have a variety of individual points of views including this post; this should not be taken as a Muslimmatters 'position'.

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4 Thoughts on Condemning People Doing Terrible Things Thu, 21 Aug 2014 01:52:44 +0000   Here are four thoughts that normally go through my head when folks ask for individual American Muslims to condemn some foreign group of people claiming Islam while doing terrible things: 1) Muslims regularly speak out when people try to abuse our faith or use it as cover for atrocities. It seems that a combination […]

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Here are four thoughts that normally go through my head when folks ask for individual American Muslims to condemn some foreign group of people claiming Islam while doing terrible things:

1) Muslims regularly speak out when people try to abuse our faith or use it as cover for atrocities. It seems that a combination of things limit the reach of our voice: we are not good at getting our message out and people often are not truly interested in what Muslims actually have to say.

2) Personally, I'm tired of playing the condemnation game and I find it a bit offensive when people question if I disagree or am appalled when some crazy people do horrible things, while claiming that they are Muslims or that they are acting in accordance with Islam. That's because it should be expected that I'm appalled and the question itself makes me wonder about the questioner. It makes me think that when atrocities are committed in the name of something they identify with do they support the atrocity?

3) I've also noticed that there is a huge double standard or in the best cases severe cognitive dissonance in the people who regularly ask for or “need” to hear condemnations from others. They tend to broad brush groups, while ignoring either the problems in their own communities or more commonly the fact that they openly support things that directly contradict their stated values when done in support of causes they are sympathetic to. This brings me back to wondering if/when the shoe was/is on the other foot would/do they speak up?

4) If it is the case that we struggle to live values-based lives, avoid hypocrisy and create a better world, it is not/shouldn't be considered hard to be against people abusing one's own faith or cause. It is much more difficult to be morally consistent in all areas of our lives.

The world needs a lot more honest introspection and a lot less finger pointing. Gandhi told us a long time ago to be the change we wish to see in the world.

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Lunacy in the Levant: Deconstructing the ISIS Crisis Tue, 19 Aug 2014 04:00:26 +0000 by imam Luqman Ahmad Genocide, murder, rape, mass executions, beheadings, the persecution of Christians, the persecution of Muslims, the persecution of Yazidis, a religion that most of us have heretofore never heard about, and a level of Muslim extremism that sends chills down your spine. This is the perceived reality of the ISIS phenomena which […]

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by imam Luqman Ahmad

Genocide, murder, rape, mass executions, beheadings, the persecution of Christians, the persecution of Muslims, the persecution of Yazidis, a religion that most of us have heretofore never heard about, and a level of Muslim extremism that sends chills down your spine. This is the perceived reality of the ISIS phenomena which many people call a crisis. Despotic, bloodthirsty leaders, foolish followers, whole families slaughtered, and the image of a prepubescent Muslim boy holding up a decapitated head as if it were a fish that he might have caught in the local creek. Such are the workings of people who claim to be the puritans of Islam, sanitizing the path. Babies, shot point blank in the head, and scenes of outright savagery, all in the name of Islam. Thanks to world-wide (and largely controlled and censored) broadcast and social media, this is part of what makes up the images of Islam and Muslims in the 21st century.

The ISIS crisis in the Levant is not the only episode of Muslim ideologues run amok, or of Muslim on Muslim fratricide or of tribal wounds flared into full scale civil war; it's going on in many places, and it just didn't start during this century, or the last century for that matter; this is centuries old behavior and a chronically diseased spiritual and mental state that has always plagued parts of the Muslim world, and which traditionally has largely been ignored by the rest of it. The gruesome scenes of bloodshed that we are witnessing today are just individual examples of a much larger issue, which is total lack of regard for the most sacred things of our faith by people who claim to act in the name of our faith.

It seems that the most prominent casualties in all of this carnage, specifically in the case of ISIS, are the very things that our Prophet ﷺ had declared sacred on the day of Arafat during his Farewell khutba (sermon); Innocent blood, honor, and wealth and property. The very things that we were commanded to hold dear, are the very things that have become casualties of sacrilege. This is not to dismiss the carnage that recently took place in Gaza or the sectarian violence of Muslim on Muslim killing and strife that is going on in Syria, Libya, in the Mali, and in Northern Nigeria with Boko Haram.

There are so many theaters of violent and visceral discord going on in the Muslim world that if you were to pay attention to or weigh in on any one of them, you run the risk of being accused of ignoring the other. Some of it is Muslim against non-Muslim and some of it is Muslim against Muslim. If you talk about the carnage in Iraq, then someone will say; well what about the Palestinians in Gaza (another tragedy), and if you talk about the civil war going on in Libya, that seems to be engineered by the West, then someone will say well, what about BOKO Haram, and their kidnappings and murders, and so on.

The sad reality is that there is a very deep rooted mindset in parts of Muslim world, and even amongst Muslims living in the West, that is prone to dismiss the sacredness of blood, honor and wealth, in favor of your group, your sect, your spiritual leader, your race, your ethnicity, or your nationality, or your profit margin. There is a pandemic culture of sectarianism that drapes the Muslim world and that has extended well beyond its borders. It represents itself as racism, tribalism, nationalism, regionalism, terrorism, sect, sub-ideology, and political aspirations, all with the same result; Muslim killing, violence, savagery and butchery, all in the name of Islam, in the name of Allah, or in the name of, of all things, justice. People make, break, and change alliances and allegiances all the time in the Muslim world, so many times, we don't even know the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. We'll cheer on one group one moment and demonize them the next. We never really know who is paying who, to do what, who is supplying who, who's selling out to who, who is lying and who is telling the truth, who it is that are simply misled, who it is who are profiting, and who is it that are just plain evil.

Most of us are just online, and media driven spectators to all of this, for various and sundry reasons. Some of us are drawn to the sensationalism but indifferent to the underlying problem, others are truly concerned and looking for answers and still others have given up, and see no hope to the problem of widespread Muslim on Muslim killing and what it means to our civilization. Still, this confluence of spectacularly violent, and unconscionable incidents of Muslim savagery, all converging at once in real time, is leaving its mark of death, trauma, suffering, anger, and confusion. Yes, it is enough to make your head spin and propel you into a complete state of apoplexy. In the middle of it all, some of us are concerned, and rightfully so, about the image of Islam and Muslims in the world. On this point, I got news for you; what we need to be really concerned about is not just our public image; but about the people that we have become, and the state of our collective morality. This is not about public relations here; what we are dealing with is a severe and seemingly growing moral dysfunction in our ranks.

I'm not ignoring the horrendous acts of violence, aggression, and political manipulation directed at Muslim groups and countries by non-Muslim actors, states, and military corporations; the bombs, bullets, grenade launchers, armored personnel carrier, flak jackets, goggles, boots and uniforms, and all the instruments of war and mass destruction cost money, and their non-stop use is making some people very wealthy. Some of these instances of violence going on in the Muslim world is simply a matter of pre-orchestrated warfare engineered and financed by outside entities, where they supply all the tools of carnage and sit back and watch as Muslims kill each other, while wealthy financiers, greedy contractors, and unscrupulous weapons manufacturers count their profits.

Network and cable television is replete with political analysts opinions about which Muslim group should be armed to fight which other Muslim group, and with what kinds of weapons, for how long, and how many advisors, and at what level of technical assistance. Knight to King's rook four; like a chess game with the Muslim people as pawns. After the destruction of homes, towns and infrastructure, they send in contractors to profit again at the expense of poor indigenous Muslim populations. Why so many of us fail to see the pathetic irony in that, is beyond me. But that's a topic for another article.

The bottom line is that there are more Muslims killed, maimed, and made homeless refugees by other Muslim than by anyone else. There is absolutely no justification for rape, the killing, torture and maiming of the innocent, for murdering women, children, and elderly men tending to their farms, no matter what their race, religion, nationality, or ethnicity.

There is no moral justification for forced conversion to Islam; not ever. We have become almost completely desensitized and nearly oblivious to our own moral failings as a Muslim civilization. Muslims certainly are not the only people with modern moral challenges. However, as Muslims, we are responsibly for our own moral condition. I'm relatively certain that these sad but news worthy events we are talking about will soon fade into history and will be all but forgotten about in our short term memory, but the diseases of violent, Muslim on Muslim sectarianism, and the unhealthy penchant for massacre and the taking of innocent lives, will remain, only to raise its ugly head again in the near future. I don't claim to have the solution to all of this but I will say this; things will not change for us, until we change. And Allah knows best.


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Dr. Ramadan “Boycotting” ISNA and RIS – What Do You Think? Mon, 18 Aug 2014 10:00:31 +0000 Back Story: Dr. Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Muslim academic and writer, announced that he was going to boycott the ISNA and RIS conferences this year. His contention with ISNA was that they were not doing enough to speak out against policies that adversely affected American Muslims, and with RIS that they were supportive of Sufi speakers that gave […]

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Back Story: Dr. Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Muslim academic and writer, announced that he was going to boycott the ISNA and RIS conferences this year. His contention with ISNA was that they were not doing enough to speak out against policies that adversely affected American Muslims, and with RIS that they were supportive of Sufi speakers that gave theological and popular cover for undemocratic leaders in the Muslim world. His follow up interview is here.

ISNA and their supporters responded here and here saying that they did speak truth to power, and not being at the table meant that their voice (and subsequently that of American Muslims) would not be heard at all.

RIS has said little so far.

A few scholars have lined up in support of Dr. Ramadan, including Omar SuleimanAbu Eesa Niamtullah and others.

So where does that leave you? Well, that is for you to work out, but as someone who is an intrigued bystander (I am not particularly a fan of any of the parties involved and do not live in North America) I thought I would share some of my thoughts.

1. Public Boycotts and Private Advice


One of the main points of contention from the ISNA/RIS supporters is the manner in which the advice was given – publicly rather than in private. There is an argument to be made about giving advice privately. However, when the mistake is public, or on public policy by those in authority, then it may create greater fitna to advise in private. It leads to a lack of trust by the general Muslim public in both parties – the group deemed to be in the wrong (for not giving them a chance to explain themselves publicly) and the group that are advising (for being supposedly silent).

We saw this when a ṣaḥābi raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) publicly scolded Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) for having twice the amount of garments from the war booty on as compared to everyone else. This act of publicly taking the leadership to task had a two-fold benefit – Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) was afforded the chance to explain that his son had given him his share, and the Muslim public were reassured that there was no corruption at the heart of the Caliphate.

2. When Leaders and the Public Differ on Strategy


ISNA argued quite strongly that the strategy of 'engage at all costs' is the only correct way forward. Any other strategy would be pointless and counter-productive. This ignores the fact that, sometimes, leaders need to accept a strategy that they believe to be flawed in order to preserve the unity and loyalty of their community.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) himself showed us this when he accepted the younger ṣaḥābah's desire to fight at Uhud instead of defending from Madinah (as was his preferred option) in a council. Even though it turned out the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was right, and the decision led to the tragedy of Uhud, it prevented a greater tragedy of disillusionment and disunity amongst the ṣaḥābah at a critical juncture.


3. Misrepresentation or Oversimplification?

people who disagree with me

Looking at this debate, I'm struck by how one side is oversimplifying the discourse into a stark message of engage or don't engage, when in fact it is the parameters of how and who to engage with that is being questioned. Honesty about this crucial fact (i.e. the opposing view has some valid basis and is worthy of consideration) is vital.

When Caliph Uthman raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) and Abu Dharr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) disagreed about the corrupting influence of the vast amounts of wealth that had been flooding Madinah – they each stated their cases without stereotyping or oversimplifying the other. Uthman raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) was of the opinion that it was not the quantity of money but whether or not it had been purified by zakāh and sadaqah that was important. Abu Dharr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) feared that even ostensibly purified wealth would corrupt the egalitarian spirit of Madinah. Whilst the ṣaḥābah didn't agree on everything, they didn't oversimplify each other's views in order to avoid engaging in serious and honest debate… and neither should we.

4. When Scholars are Made into Leaders

Malcolm _X_quote_2

The broader issue is there is a serious debate going on about how the Muslim community should deal with the many challenges it faces. This requires leaders to forge a clear strategy, after gaining the confidence and loyalty of the community.

Instead, we find ourselves in a situation where scholars/imams are being made into surrogates for leaders. Although the two are not mutually exclusive, they are not the same thing. This is where the problem – and the potential solution – lies, in my opinion.

A leader (or leaders) need to arise that can articulate a vision for Muslims in the West, and in America — a vision that balances the need for engagement with the maintenance of dignity; a vision that unites different factions and methodologies; a vision that inspires hope and a unity of purpose, not just a uniformity of views.

These are just some of my thoughts… what are yours? Share them below.


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MuslimKidsMatter | Stereotypes About Homeschooling: The Kids’ Response Sun, 17 Aug 2014 16:00:13 +0000 Stereotypes About Homeschooling: The Kids' Response By Nur Kose and Zaynub Siddiqui The school year will be beginning for many kids around the world.  Many kids are wondering what this year will be like.  Will they go to a public school or a private school?  Will they begin the adventure of homeschooling? People are often curious […]

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Stereotypes About Homeschooling: The Kids' Response

By Nur Kose and Zaynub Siddiqui

The school year will be beginning for many kids around the world.  Many kids are wondering what this year will be like.  Will they go to a public school or a private school?  Will they begin the adventure of homeschooling?

People are often curious about families who homeschool.  As homeschoolers, we have encountered many questions including numerous misconceptions about the way our school works.  Some kids think we're totally lucky, while others pity us.  Many have mixed feelings about us, wondering if it's okay to befriend us or thinking that we're weird because we study at home.

There are many articles and books out there about the homeschooling experience from the parents' perspective.  What's missing is how the kids, the homeschoolers themselves, view their way of schooling.  Two homeschoolers in two different states, we have decided to collaborate and write a bit about how we feel about homeschooling.  We want to chase away some stereotypes and common misconceptions that so many people we have met have about us.

Stereotype #1: Homeschoolers Sleep All Day and Play All Night

Many people think that just because we're at home all day, we don't seriously study.  Perhaps they believe that receiving a proper education requires neat rows of desks and chairs in classrooms as is the norm in schools throughout the world.  Many may believe that staying at home isn't conducive to learning while in fact one's home is the best place to learn and grow as a family.  As homeschoolers, we are able to use this to our benefit, learning practical life applications and school studies at the same time.  And yes, many homeschoolers actually wake up and sleep at an appointed time and follow a certain study schedule throughout the day.

Stereotype #2: Homeschoolers are Not Smart

One slightly frustrating misconception that people often have about homeschoolers is that we're not very smart or are not capable of learning well and that's why we pulled out of school.  Even when people think they understand homeschooling, they are often surprised when they find out I get A's and have won nationwide academic competitions during my years homeschooling.  What people don't understand is that the world of homeschooling is very broad.  Just as all sorts of kids make up a public or private school, the same can be said for homeschoolers.  Students even vary within one family.  One of my brothers, for example, is great at memorizing facts and this helps him get good grades on exams.  My other brother, however, often has trouble remembering many important facts.  Unlike my first brother, though, he shines with creativity, always ready to make something with some paper and glue or experiment with various supplies in the kitchen.  “Smartness” can't be easily determined by a set standard.  Everyone learns differently and excels in something different.

Stereotype #3: Homeschoolers are Geniuses

Then there's the other group of people who assume that homeschoolers are natural geniuses and can zip through grades without much effort.  Sure, there are lots of homeschoolers around the world who have demonstrated superior skills and homeschoolers are often the ones to win major competitions.  It's also true that many homeschoolers are a grade or two ahead.  With the flexibility of homeschooling, they have been able to finish studying the material for a grade more quickly than others have.  However, this doesn't mean that simply being a homeschooler will make you a genius or that homeschooling requires little work to achieve high results.

To make an assumption about the academic capabilities of homeschoolers based on a few homeschoolers you know is neither fair nor accurate.

Stereotype #4: Homeschooling is So Boring

Many think that, as said before, we sit around all day. This is, in fact, very untrue.  Homeschooling comes with so many opportunities and lessons that normally any student in school would not be able to participate in. We meet amazing people and have the chances to go and explore places.  Oftentimes, parents make a homeschooling essay or lesson out of all sorts of experiences. For example, I once went on a week-long trip to Dallas,Texas. Distracted by the wonders of the trip, I had not gotten a chance to study during the week.  During the plane ride home, my mom whispered to me, “I expect an essay about our Dallas trip in two days.”  Some homeschoolers do complain that homeschooling is boring, but these are often the ones who have not been to public or private school before and are not able to really compare the two.  And of course, kids without many siblings to homeschool with would probably not have much fun.

Stereotype #5: Homeschooling is All Fun

Sometimes kids who attend public or private school are jealous that homeschoolers get to go to Chucky Cheese's in the daytime or go traveling for long periods of time during the school year.  Many often think that homeschooling is always fun, picturing us studying in pajamas, munching on cookies while studying algebra.  And it definitely is true that much of the time, homeschooling is lots of fun.  We do get to go places other kids can't when they're in school and we get to tell kids who go to school stuff about what happened at daytime get-togethers. Usually my mom doesn't go out during the daytime, deciding to focus on our studies instead.  Sometimes, however, when we were younger and she was invited to a mothers' gathering, she would take the bunch of us with our bags of schoolbooks. The host would set aside a room for us to study in.  It was often weird to be the only kids there, except for the little toddlers and babies running around making a ruckus and sometimes grabbing our pencils.  We'd often feel special to be the only kids able to witness these get-togethers among the other kids in our community.  Other times, just like any public or private school, homeschooling isn't so much fun.  We also worry about our grades, get frustrated by exams, and refer to subjects we don't like as boring.

Stereotype #6: All Homeschoolers Homeschool Alike

Homeschoolers all have different ways of teaching and planning. Some join groups in which multiple parents teach all their kids together.  Some study alone at home with just the parents and the kids.  Some study through online courses and communicate with their own teachers through the Internet or phone.  Others don't work on their regular studies much and do the minimum amount of homeschooling because they might be doing a professional sport or memorizing the Qur'an. Some homeschoolers are more structured with set hours each day to study while others are more flexible and study at random times throughout the week. Teaching isn't restricted to the way of public schooling and neither is learning. You can learn through anything if want to.  In many homeschools, parents teach important skills through hands-on learning.  One homeschooling family we know learned about raising hens in a year-long project.  The parents incorporated math in the project while the kids carefully measured boards to build the chicken coop.  Caring for the hens taught science and responsibility.  The kids even had English lessons by reporting about the hens and writing articles about their experiences.  Such methods of learning inspired the children more than plain old facts in their textbooks and bland assignments about things they have never experienced.  Such kids are more likely to pursue their studies on their own because of their interest in such projects.

Basically, there are so many ways to homeschool that you can be pretty certain that any two homeschoolers you know study differently.  Don't make assumptions about all homeschoolers based on what you have seen in someone else.

Stereotype #7: Homeschooling is not “Real School”

When people make comments like “don't you wish you went to real school?” I always get annoyed, saying that I do go to real school.  Does studying at home mean that I am not getting a real education?  Have the last seven years of my life been unreal??  If so, why did I just beat you by twenty points in that vocabulary bee?  Maybe unreal is better than real.

Stereotype #8 All Homeschoolers are Antisocial and Awkward

Many people will come up to me and ask, “Where do you go to school?” I reply with a small smile, “I homeschool.” Then it gets so quiet that you can hear the crickets.  Everything gets awkward and the girl looks at me with pity and I can tell she is mentally questioning my social life, which really isn't fair. In fact, before homeschooling, while attending a public school I was so shy to the point that if someone called my name I would feel like hiding under the table in fright. Homeschooling brought me out of my shell and made me communicate with people more.  Just because I don't talk to kids my age every day does not mean my communication skills are undeveloped.  I regularly attend workshops and Islamic events with my family and when I interact with other community members, they remark that I appear more mature than many others my age.  What we really don't get is why people assume that a traditional school environment is a better environment for kids to grow up in than a homeschool.  How can kids ever mature and learn real-life lessons if they're stuck with other immature kids their age forty hours a week?

Stereotype #9: Homeschoolers Don't Dream About Going to College

When I first encountered the question, “So, do you plan to go to college?” I was momentarily shocked by the implication of the question.  Did people really think that just because I was homeschooled, I wasn't interested in pursuing higher education?  Did people really think that I just stayed at home for fun and didn't care about the future?  However, I eventually allowed myself to realize that such a misconception wasn't entirely the questioner's fault.  There are, in fact, many homeschoolers who do not plan to attend college due to other studies or family circumstances.

Stereotype #10: Homeschooling is Restrictive

This absolutely must be the most untrue stereotype ever.  Upon separately interviewing a number of homeschoolers (the kids), we discovered that most of them enjoy homeschooling because of the freedom it provides.  One homeschooler remarked that she gets to learn faster than kids in public school because she studies at her own pace.  Another girl stated that she loves being homeschooled because her mom allows her to organize a plan for her daily work on her own.  Being homeschooled, she gets special privileges.  All the homeschoolers we interviewed agreed that the best part of being homeschooled is the freedom it offers.

We have probably had the best experiences as young adults, having so many opportunities. We have entered competitions and attend events normal students would never be able to attend, written books for children, and have talked to people that you don't meet everyday. Most of all we are able to learn about life the real way, learning how to navigate and search for opportunities rather than worrying about our next period.  We can advance in topics that we excel in and use that to make a difference in the world. As a homeschooler, I've read college level books and have written articles for a really cool website :) and excelled in my photography more than I would have ever been able to if I were in school.  Since our parents get to decide on our curriculum, we get to incorporate religious studies with our other subjects.  For example, while learning about Egyptian history, my mom adds Prophet Musa's story in, allowing me to learn from different perspectives.  With homeschooling, we can learn about the things we want to, such as Islamic art, Islamic history, and Islamic science.  We can include Qur'an reading and memorization in our daily schedules.

People have always commented on how cool I am and how lucky we are because of all the opportunities we have.  One of the best parts about being homeschooled is that our parents realize many things about us that they wouldn't have been able to discover had we gone to a regular school.


Although you may have heard many stereotypes about homeschooling, try to think of it as a unique experience, not something that's there for weird people.  Just as public and private schools offer different methods of learning, homeschooling is a special way for kids to bloom as they learn about life with the people they love most.

About the Authors:

Zaynub is thirteen years old and is in eighth grade.  She enjoys debating and is an aspiring photographer.  She also has a special passion for reading, writing, and using social networks.  Zaynub was born in Pennsylvania and raised in California.  She currently lives in Washington D.C., USA with her parents, sister, and brothers.

Nur Kose enjoys reading, writing, and riding her bike.   Having recently turned 16, she is enjoying starting to drive.  Nur is starting 12th grade through Indiana University's online high school diploma program.  When she is not studying, she is leading the 99 Orphans Team (of which she is president), trying to get articles for MKM (of which she is editor), or managing her room (of which she is boss).  She also blogs at Nur lives in Delaware, USA with her parents and four younger siblings.

(Attention, writers!  Muslim Kids Matter is a regular feature at Muslim Matters.  New articles for kids are posted every other Sunday.  You're welcome to send in your entries to

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What do #Ferguson, Anti-Black Racism, Muslim-Owned Liquor Stores, and Detroit have to do with Gaza? Fri, 15 Aug 2014 07:49:14 +0000 30% of American Muslims are Black. Every 28 hours a Black person is killed by someone employed or protected by the US Government. What affects the Black community affects us—all life matters, Black life matters. It is crucial that we take a good look at what is going on in the working class city of […]

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30% of American Muslims are Black. Every 28 hours a Black person is killed by someone employed or protected by the US Government. What affects the Black community affects us—all life matters, Black life matters. It is crucial that we take a good look at what is going on in the working class city of #Ferguson and why it is important for the Muslim community to stand in solidarity with our Black brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends and coworkers.

Last Saturday in St.Louis County, Missouri, an unarmed 18-year-old student named Michael Brown was shot and killed by someone from the Ferguson Police Department. His body was left out in the sweltering heat for 4 hours. He was walking with a friend near his grandmother's house. This killing came soon after a father of six, #EricGarner, was choked and killed to death by the NYPD and it was caught on a cell phone. Following a vigil after his death, riots erupted in Ferguson, and if you want to know why they are rioting watch this video. Vigils, protests and civil unrest were met by armored officers, GI joed up in surplus combat gear from the Iraq and Afghanistan war.

Colorlines reports that besides “…racial profiling, police shootings and lack of transparency surrounding their investigation has for the past few years been a subject of local concern.”   One of the only Black elected officials who had been doing citizen journalism, Alderman Antonio French, was arrested. Journalists were arrested and tear-gassed—coincidentally, the same American-made tear gas used by the Israeli army. It was extremely twilight zone-ish seeing folks in Gaza sending Ferguson protestors tips and tricks on teargas via Twitter, but started making sense when according to a St. Louis County Police department press release the former Chief Timothy Fitch, along with law enforcement officials from across the United States, visited Israel to “learn how Israel's police, intelligence and security forces prevent terror attacks.”

A Lesson in Structural Racism

Let's look at the underlying problems, not the symptoms, and see how we, as a community, can try to understand what is happening. Many of us conflate individual bias with racism; racism is bias plus power. 

Structural or Institutional Racism – a system of societal structures that work interactively to distribute generational and historic advantages to groups of people based on race and that produces cumulative, race-based inequalities.

Aggressive police tactics and racial disparity are the core of this struggle in this town. Ferguson, near St. Louis, Missouri, is 60% Black, yet almost all the police force is white. Last year, Black Missouri residents were 66% more likely to be stopped by police, and more likely to be arrested, even though white residents were more likely to be found with contraband.                                                                               In the two-minute video posted to YouTube Sunday night, in a digitally altered voice hacktivists Anonymous delivered a strict list of demands for local police and legislators, “Anonymous will not be satisfied this time … with simply obtaining justice for this young man and his family,” the voice says, “Anonymous demands that the Congressional Representatives and Senators from Missouri introduce legislation entitled 'Mike Brown's Law,' that will set strict national standards for police conduct and misbehavior in the USA.”

“No Justice, No Peace”

This protest cry was heard when 50,000  protesters took to the streets of Washington DC for Gaza. It was again heard in Ferguson. As we see in Gaza, true peace cannot exist without justice. Natasha Lennard writes that 'to urge that citizens remain “peaceful” all-too-wishfully asks for a peace that does not exist.'  Much respect to the Muslim community in St. Louis for sending this letter in solidarity to the Brown family. But were Muslims out en masse as they were for the rallies for Gaza? Justice should not mean 'just us' as Br Dawud Walid says eloquently in his khutbah and writes about here.

Far too many of us use words like 'those K%^lu and ab#$d” to demonize and criminalize an entire race without looking at any underlying factors, especially the structural racism that exists in this country from mass incarceration, housing policy and employment and education practices to even how and where highways were built.

Muslim-Owned Liquor Stores

Many Muslim businesses were looted and destroyed by some of the protestors in Ferguson. It is easy to look at pictures of looting occurring in the city and perpetuate stereotypes. I am categorically not supporting the looting, especially of businesses like these, but I do want to comment on an aspect of Muslim business in inner cities across the US, especially because so much media focus in on property damage instead of  loss of human life.

As one imam calls it, “The most disgusting ironies of Muslim life in the United States.”  Muslim liquor stores in the corners of inner cities and Black neighborhoods is an epidemic problem. Downtown Baltimore, DC, Oakland, LA – name any city in the United States and I will find you tons of Muslims who own liquor stores there. This practice is exploitative. Many of these areas are food deserts, where there are no grocery stores, no safe places for families to shop and for Muslims, many of whom are immigrants, to come and open stores in areas with high concentrations of existing liquor stores that contribute to the crime in the area is really problematic.

The liquor store business is highly lucrative, pumping out $2 billion out of the inner cities. Little children who have no place to buy a candy bar are introduced to alcohol a few steps from their homes and schools because our Muslim brothers choose to partake in the free economy and wring the system. With each visit to buy anything from bread to cashing a check, alcohol abuse is normalized. Many store owners often don't live in the areas, as it is deemed 'unsafe' for their own families.

According to a Brookings Institute report, “Although the relationships are complex, the high concentration of liquor stores in the inner cities, the ready availability of beer and hard liquor, and the high incidence of alcohol abuse are deeply implicated in the troubled homes, disorderly neighborhoods, and dangerous streets there.”

“Alcohol use has been associated with assaultive and sex-related crimes, serious youth crime, family violence toward both spouses and children, being both a homicide victim and a perpetrator, and persistent aggression as an adult. Alcohol 'problems' occur disproportionately among both juveniles and adults who report violent behaviors.”

The report further states that neighborhood disorder takes many forms — “public drinking, prostitution, catcalling, aggressive panhandling, rowdy teenagers, battling spouses, graffiti, vandalism, abandoned buildings, trash-filled lots, alleys strewn with bottles and garbage. But no social disorder is at once so disruptive in its own right and so conducive of other disorders and crime as public drinking.”

We know ourselves how damaging the effects of alcohol can be when we are not even allowed to assist, account or transport alcohol because of the multitude of sins that can come from it. It is abhorrent in itself to call a race 'animals' and then to provide them the very means that God has forbidden, precisely because it ignites the animalistic behavior in all of us, regardless of the color of our skin. Are these businesses making the community or destroying it? Remember Muslim or not, they are also the Ummah of our Beloved.  

Anti-Black Individual Bias and the Global Ummah

I was at my daughter's homeschooling review and the reviewer, after pleasantly chatting for a while, asked me personal questions about where I grew up and my ethnicity. “You are the first Pakistani/Indian who has spoken to me this way.”

Needless to say I was shocked, especially since I know we have many 'desi' home-schoolers in the area. She went on to say, “I grew up in Chicago and many Pakistani corner store owners would look at us like we would steal something, they called us names that they thought we could not understand, but we did.”

If you have ever wondered why some of your Black Muslim brothers and sisters may not be as hyped about the Palestinian cause, or any other cause overseas—although there are many vocal Black voices here who support justice globally—allow me to share some of their voices and points that made me pause and reflect:

“To be brutally honest, Muslims from other countries expect you to donate to their native country, but won't invite you to their home for iftar or Eid, won't make you feel welcome at the masjid (where their nationality is in the majority), and most likely wouldn't donate to charities that support individuals who are African-American and Latino (both Muslim and non-Muslim).”

Not going to assume collective guilt, but how do you expect a people to feel your pain when you call them 'ab$%d” and sell them haram? How do you think you are looked upon?

“Umm yeah. I'm like so y'all asking me to send money and aid overseas but you selling pork liquor and lottery tickets (all haram) to MY people and I'm supposed to be cool with it? NO.”

Men who come from overseas are seen as exploitive predators, as they come to the inner city to pick up women — many who are working the streets because they are victims of sex traffickers — instead of representatives of the Sahaba whose ethics spread Islam to Southeast Asia through their business and trade. And on top of that, if a Black man asks for an Arab or South Asian sisters' hand in marriage he is told he cannot even look at them, let alone ask for her hand in marriage.

After Brown's murder, the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, especially on Twitter, showed how mainstream media paints a narrative of young Black men, picking and choosing what is shown. Looking at this is an important exercise in examining how many of us are influenced by what is shown about African Americans on TV and movie screens, and examining our own racial bias.

Criminalizing a race-hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown shows how mainstream media paints a narrative of young Black men — Hena Zuberi (@HenaZuberi) August 11, 2014

The State of Many Inner City masajid

Last year, I was given a tour of inner city masajid in Baltimore and I was dismayed at the state of several masajid. If every dollar that we spend in masajid in the 'burbs was matched, and community centers were built by Muslims in the places they are needed the most, Islam in America would be a force of positive social change that we wax so eloquently about. It is about time that we go beyond the homeless feedings, Eid gifts and coat drives and start building institutions and safe places for young men and women in inner cities.

This is the kind of institutional building that we need to be doing for the da'wah and for the betterment of our wider communities. As we know that we are all the ummah of the Beloved, Muslim or not. We have a collective responsibility to want the best for others, no matter their religious or non-religious affiliation. Our neighbors have a right upon us.

ISNA 2014 and the Water Crisis in Detroit

On a related note because it has been on my mind, how many American Muslims know what is going on in Detroit (the economic and water crisis) where the largest Muslim organization is holding its convention? I bring this up because 30 percent of American Muslims are Black and it is vital that their issues and voices be heard.

This is what it means to be poor in #Detroit, where water prices are twice the national average. Exorbitant water bills come in that working class families can't afford so the water gets cut off, leading to unsanitary conditions, which means now you are scared of losing your kids.

“Many parents in homes without water are sending their children to live with family or friends for fear of losing their sons and daughters to Child Protection Services.”  The Detroit Water and Sewage Company supplies water to nearly the entire metropolitan area, but it is set up in such a way that it doesn't have the power to increase rates in the suburbs, only for city residents.

Structural racism again. 83% of the population is African-American. 

Some immediate proactive things that your Muslim community can do:

  • Sign this petition
  • If you are attending the ISNA convention this year in Detroit than learn about the water crisis there. You can use this website to donate to vetted folks who are suffering from unfair water bills
  • Mobilize and join the protests for issues aside from the ones that affect Muslims and your ethnicity/race
  • Every masjid in the United States should be talking about Ferguson, social and racial justice and structural racism in this country at Friday prayers (request it from your imam).
  • Learn about Anti-Black racism.
  • Confront your own stereotypes and racism- stop the next person who you see use words that are racist, that dehumanize or criminalize any race.
  • Give salaam to a Black brother and sister as they walk into the masjid.
  • Invite Black voices to speak at the masjid or community center to share their experience.
  • If you know someone who owns a business that sells liquor, introduce them to organizations like iman who have helped some Muslim store-owners turn their businesses into grocery stores or replaced the liquor with fresh produce. Here is an awesome incentive and if you don't have one in your city start one. Look at how this indigenous Muslim community tackled the problem of liquor stores and all that they bring with them to the neighborhood. This is Islam.
  • Have the masjid that you attend adopt a masjid in the inner city to hold joint fundraisers and events to build the bonds of brother and sisterhood.

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
Frederick Douglass


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37 Simple Ways to Make your Youth More Rewarding Fri, 15 Aug 2014 04:00:48 +0000 By Amina Edota Do you always dream of the years ahead when you will hit your first million, memorise the Qur'an, or break some world record? Or perhaps you jump, to a few months ahead – getting published, married or launching an online business. Whatever your big dream is, you know what I'm talking about, right? […]

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By Amina Edota

Do you always dream of the years ahead when you will hit your first million, memorise the Qur'an, or break some world record? Or perhaps you jump, to a few months ahead – getting published, married or launching an online business.

Whatever your big dream is, you know what I'm talking about, right?

The reality is that tomorrow may never come. And those dreams may remain just as they are – Dreams!!! So while it is OK to dream, you need to wake up and build rewarding habits that will aid you towards your goals.

Seek opportunities with your youthful zeal and energy. And there are many of such opportunities in youth, as our beloved Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) advised: Utilise your Youth before Old Age.

Since new habits take time and consistency, make it a priority so you can capitalize on your youth. Use it for practice upon practice. Don't take your youth for granted.

Let's get started with some simple actions…

1. Avoid Complaining. This world is far from perfect and you can't always have what you want. Rather than dwell on what is wrong, focus on the good and be thankful for every blessing of your youth. And remember, this life is a test.

”We test you by good and by evil as a trial” [Q21; V35]

2. Shun Ignorance. You can't worship Allah with incorrect knowledge. If you know Allah, then you can worship Him as He deserves. Seeking knowledge of Allah, the Almighty and Majestic is therefore compulsory on you. Ignorance is not an excuse.


”And know that there is none that is rightfully worshipped except Allah…” [Q47; V19]

3. Make the Qur'an your daily manual. Be consistent with reciting a fixed amount of Qur'an daily. Read, reflect and make sure you act upon what you read.Do not be among those who forget to read or reflect.

This is the Book (the Qur'an) whereof there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqun [The pious and righteous persons who fear Allah much]” [Q2.V2]

4. Uphold the Sunnah. Learn about Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him); emulate his manners, respect him, obey him and teach others about him. Love his family and companions and stay far away from all that he has prohibited. Do not say – It is ONLY sunnah.

”Say if you love Allah, then follow me: Allah will love you and forgive your sins. Verily, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” [Q3.V31]

5. Keep good company. Stay with those who remind you of Allah and the Hereafter. Seek companionship of people who bring out the best in you and stay away from toxic individuals – including the haters and complain bags.

”Friends on that day will be enemies of each other, except the righteous” [Q43: V67]

6. Focus on the positive. Keep your intention, thoughts and words positive. And leave your affairs to Allah. It reduces negative stress levels and will keep you on the right track towards your goals.

Certainly, Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him)” [Q3.V159]

7. Take a daily step towards your goals. Break down your goals and do one simple action each day so as not to get overwhelmed. Don't worry about perfecting things. Just make sure you maintain consistency as you progress.

8. Set yourself up for some accountability. Get a buddy or a mentor to check up on your milestones as you try to achieve big goals. And let there be some consequence for negligence.

9. Follow up a good deed with another good one. Think of the day when you will receive your book of deeds either in the right or left hand, depending on your deeds. Then make that choice with even the tiniest deed.

Abu Dharr relates that the Holy Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Do not disdain doing the least good, even greeting your brother with a cheerful face” (Muslim).

10. Smile. It is Sunnah; it is also charity and makes you look good and feel good. Smile before your teeth fall out.

11. Listen. Aim to truly listen to others before you open your mouth to speak. Good listening is a gift you can share with others. It fosters understanding and cooperation.

12. Call someone to Islam. It can be a neighbour, colleague or classmate. Tell others about Tawhid – Oneness of Allah and the Message of His Final Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

Call unto the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation” [Q16:V126]

13. Show gratitude for even the simplest act. Learn to say 'thank you' for every simple act or favour upon you. Be generous with your appreciation for every kind act.

14. Spread Salaam. Always give greetings of peace or reply when greeted first with what is better.

15. Give Charity. Give away something you have not used for a while. It is likely you won't miss it, someone's life will be changed and you will also get a reward.

Give some charity today even with half a date.

16. Forgive. People may hurt you with their words, actions or inactions. Similarly, some ugly memories may linger which pierce through the heart and feel just like yesterday. But still forgive and move on.

Learn to forgive and forbear. Do you not desire that Allah should forgive you?” [Q24: V22]

17. See no evil, hear no evil. Your body and senses are a blessing from your Creator. Use them only for good and for what will be pleasing to Him. Preserve your mind and body.

”The ear, the eye and the heart shall all be called to account” [Q17:V36]

18. Volunteer. Share an invaluable part of yourself – whether it's a skill, knowledge or time. Be among those who bring benefit to others. And remember that sharing is caring.

19. Never stop learning because life never stops teaching. And be consistent with the supplication;

”My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” [Q20:V114]

20. Accept mistakes and failures. Making mistakes is human. Do not allow this to paralyze your life. Make sure you take lessons from hem.

21. Check yourself. The mirror does not lie, does it? Use your inner conscience as a mirror and guide to check yourself and bring yourself to account as no other person can.

22. Stay awake after Fajr and do something beneficial – writing, listening to a lecture, reading the Qur'an or book of Tafsir. Utilise the blessings of the morning time and jumpstart your day with an active brain.

23. Make sincere du'a for someone in his/her absence. It could be for a friend who is childless or a colleague seeking to know about the purpose of creation or a neighbour who is going through a financial crisis. You will be rewarded with a blessed response, 'And same to you'.

24. Keep your tongue moist with the remembrance of Allah. Engage in Dhikr of Allah with your tongue and presence of heart. Sheikh al -Islam Ibn Taimiyyah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said, ”The remembrance of Allah is like water to the fish. What would happen to the fish if it were separated from the water?”

25. Keep in touch. Call, send an email or SMS to a family member you have not been in touch with for a long time. Be pleasant. You will rekindle a blessed relationship and strengthen the ties of kinship.

26. Honor your parents. Whatever the generational gap, be patient with your parents. Treat them with excellence and show them love as you would want to be loved by your children. Ask Allah to guide them and to grant them the best station in Paradise.

27. Make a budget. Take a close look at your earnings and spending; are they in sync? Can you reduce your debt, save more or give more in charity? Draft a plan today and stick with it.

28. Keep silent. Button those lips if you have nothing good to say. Say NO to backbiting and gossip. Avoid the traps of he said- , she said-.

29. Apologize when wrong. Saying sorry makes you stronger not weaker.

30. Watch what you eat. Make sure your diet is healthy and permissible. And do not overeat. Your body is an amanah. You will be questioned about it. Use your diet to fuel your worship.

31. Go Offline. Stay offline for one day or at least most of one day. Check yourself, renew your intentions and think of ways to boost your faith. Terrified of falling behind on updates? Don't worry, there will always be newer updates.

32. Pray Tahajjud. Wake up in the last part of the night and pray at least two units of prayers. It gives you a chance to have your duas answered and sins forgiven. Don't miss out!

In a Hadith Qudsi, Allah says, ”Is there anyone asking of Me that I may give them? Is there anyone asking forgiveness that I may forgive them?”

33. Ask Allah. It is easy to ask close friends and family members for some of our needs without remembering to ask the One who provides for all our families and friends. What do you need right now? Ask Him.

”Your Lord has said: Call on Me: I will respond to you”. [Q40:V61]

34. Practice what you preach. Have you ever been asked by a 5 year old, 'why do you say don't shout at your little brother, but you are shouting yourself?' If you can't live by your words, mind what you demand or expect of others. Be the model you want to see.

35. Get active. Take a walk or bring that skipping rope out and get moving. Don't wait to get to a gym for an ultimate fitness plan. Become active and keep your body healthy and fit.

36. Enjoy good decent jokes. You may have that special uncle or friend who keeps a growing collection of jokes and pulls out some new ones each time you get together or wirelessly. Lol! It's OK to laugh it off without breaking the roof.  

37. Relax. Take some time off to unwind and put your feet up. Don't work 24/7 or run the risk of getting low on your physical and mental energy. You deserve some rest; your body has rights over you.


Your Turn:

This list is by no means exhaustive.What can you add to it from your own life experiences? Which of the above actions would you recommend to others; And what other simple actions can you start today for a more rewarding youth? Take a moment to add to the list below…



Amina Edota is a Writer and a Mentor. She is passionately committed to inspiring the Muslim Youth to act on the opportunities of their youth. Join her for tips, insights and reminders for the Muslim Youth (





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