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Am I Teaching Contempt? -Ruth Nasrullah

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I coordinate an “Islam 101” class at my masjid. Most of our students are Muslims who recently converted. Although we teach them aqeedah and basic aspects of Quran and sunnah, we also guide them, whether intentionally or not, in viewing the world through Muslim eyes. Since I’m less a teacher and more an organizer and friendly guide, I especially contribute to this practical aspect of life as a Muslim. It can be a precarious job, as I learned recently.

One of our students is a young man in his early twenties who embraced Islam last August. Since then, he hasn’t had a great deal of religious education except for the Islam 101 class. He still hasn’t told his family he’s Muslim, and he is still taking baby steps toward integrating Islam into his daily life. Although some converts throw themselves wholeheartedly into practicing the deen immediately after converting, some of us take a slower path, making our lives more Islamic a little bit at a time. This was true in my case. It took me a couple years before I started wearing hijab full-time, and it’s only been recently that I’ve felt comfortable excusing myself from meetings or other activities to go pray. This student is in that same phase, and he relies at least in part on those of us in “teaching” positions – whether formal or not – for cues as to how Muslims behave. A couple weeks ago it came home to me how careful we must be in these interactions.

Irshad Manji had recently come to Houston to speak and I mentioned it to this student. I don’t even remember the context. He had never heard of her and asked who she was. I explained with some disdain that she was a member of a group that identifies itself as “progressive Muslims” and went on a little bit about how proponents of “progressive” Islam stray from or reject outright the tenets of Islam.

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A week later he mentioned to me that he had seen Manji interviewed on a local cable talk show. He spoke with such a scowl, such an expression of utter distaste, that I was taken aback. He’s a pretty mellow guy; it was unsettling to see him so contemptuous.

And I thought to myself, what have I done? Here was an impressionable new Muslim still making his way through the fundamentals of his faith and I had taught him to scorn. Should I have withheld my criticism of Manji? Obviously not, but perhaps I should have withheld my tone of disgust. Am I there to teach hatred and derision?

Many Muslims engage in furious criticism of people with whom they disagree or whom they see as the foes of Islam – progressive Muslims, Jews, the far right, the media – and if you stop to think about it maybe our contempt is wrong. I once heard an imam from the pulpit call Jews “the filthiest people on earth.” Is such loathing productive? Or does it cut us off from solutions and activism?

I need to remember that every word I say is as much a lesson for a new Muslim as the Islam 101 curriculum, and I should choose my words with great caution. Converts carry great potential to be the vanguard of Islam in America. If we teach them to hate and scorn those with whom we disagree we will never thrive, either as Muslims or as Americans.

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26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. ibn alHyderabadee

    May 4, 2007 at 12:20 PM

    asSalaam ‘alaykum

    subhanAllah this is the same questions I tend to ask myself regarding dealing with the muslim youth.

    Usually we like to do baby steps with them….and totally ignore other aspects such as contemporary speakers/personalities, various groups, controversial issues and such. The usual answer that I give is – In my opinion we shouldn’t talk about this right now…..if you have specific issues that are directly affecting your daily life due to this then we can discuss them. Usualyy they will forget about ti and never bring it up again, or if they are really adamant about it then it means we can have a long discussion regarding this.

    The idea to put it off is perhaps we might be able to discuss this with them when they have developed in their Islamic thoughts and ideas, and if we do it too early, the way they process this information can be harmful not only to themselves but to others around them as well.

    Even though converts and Muslim youth coudl be totally different, there are some problems that they have in common.

    Allahu ‘alam

  2. Amad

    May 4, 2007 at 12:30 PM

    ASA.
    I believe there has to be some balance in this. We cannot simply ignore elements that may be harming our religious interests. Just like we wouldn’t ignore it if the interest was of a non-religious nature.

    I think the more important question is HOW, WHEN and WHERE that should take place:

    -HOW to approach the subject and maintain objectivity and sincerity?
    -WHEN is there need to do so? For e.g. the Manji incident, I find the timing of that discussion to be right. Because Manji was in town and that would be the appropriate opportunity to warn a new Muslim against her excesses.
    -WHERE should this be done? On the pulpit, in a halaqah, in private? Only the most important criticism, one based on imminent danger, should reach the pulpit, in my humble opinion. Private discussions tend to be best, because then you don’t have others jumping in to give their own 2-cents.

    The question surely touches on the challenges that we face in our lives, even on this very blog. Do we stay quiet in the face of a barrage of progressives, for instance, such that they continue to misguide the unknowing Muslims? Or do we risk engaging in polemics that turn off other Muslims by assuming we are all about ‘refutations’. It is a difficult situation, one that needs to address the three points I mentioned above.

    Great post!

  3. Solomon2

    May 4, 2007 at 3:26 PM

    Interesting. What I have observed is that some people convert from one religion or sect to another because of contempt: they feel their “new” religion or observance gives them license to feel contempt, openly or secretly, for their former co-religionists or family or culture. Whereas they may have experienced outright rejection had they expressed this contempt to their fellows, by joining a new group they may be supported instead.

    In other words, it wasn’t the need to feel close to G-d that drove their conversion, but their need to alienate themselves from the people around them.

    Of course, I don’t know if this is how the young man you describe feels, but if it is, you aren’t responsible for it. I don’t know what you could do to ameliorate his attitude. I suppose you must still use words carefully around him, lest his condition be exacerbated.

  4. Ruth Nasrullah

    May 4, 2007 at 4:51 PM

    Hi Solomon2. I haven’t met anyone in the position you describe, although I’m sure it happens more frequently than we might think. No doubt their faith can’t last too long.

    Brs. Amad and ibn alHyderabadee, you both make excellent points.

    Where I went wrong wasn’t really in what I told the student but how. I was contemptuous and scornful, and I transmitted that viewpoint to him.

  5. Solomon2

    May 4, 2007 at 5:23 PM

    Yes, after a time they grow embittered, then angry. They think the world (or somebody) “owes” them something in return for their faith.

    I come across Jews and Muslims like this all too often. Can’t say I know what to do about them, either.

  6. JDsg

    May 5, 2007 at 10:53 PM

    Salaam ‘alaikum.

    It’s also possible, you know, that his contempt for Manji may have been his own, that your own influence on his feelings may have been minimal. One presumes that this young man can think on his own. ;)

    Allahu alim.

  7. Ahmad AlFarsi

    May 5, 2007 at 11:49 PM

    Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullaah,

    I don’t feel that hatred or contempt is inherently wrong. It can be wrong, but it can also be good, even necessary in some instnaces. Likewise, love is not inherently good; it can be good, and even necessary in some cases, but in other cases it can be wrong.

    Just as there is love for the sake of Allah, there is ‘hate’ for the sake of Allah. We love Allah, His Prophets, and the people of Tawheed, likewise, we hate shirk/kufr and its people for their shirk/kufr. Of course, as Sh. Salman al-Oadah mentioned in his article that was posted on this blog earlier, that does not mean that we cannot have a natural love/affinity to a non-Muslim who is close to us (such as family), but that cannot become a ‘religious love’.

    i.e. as Muslims, we do have a ‘religious hate’ for the kuffar in general for their kufr, but we do not hate them as a person or anything like that. And it is possible to also have ‘natural love’ for a kafir who is close to you (while also having ‘religious hate’ for him because of his kufr).

    From what I have learned, the concept “hate the sin, love the sinner” is not an Islamic concept… for the sinner had the choice, and he chose, to commit the sin.

    Furthermore, when we say ‘hate’, we do not imply rudeness or injustice, as the default with all people who are not fighting against us is that we show them birr (kindness) and qist (justice).

    (all these disclaimers are necessary, since the English word ‘hate’ carries with it many connotations that we are not necessarily advocating…)

    However, the case is even more complicated with Manji, as I feel that she is one of the people actively fighting against Islam.

    And Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala knows best.

  8. Amad

    May 6, 2007 at 12:31 AM

    ASA, referring to Br. Ahmad’s points, it is essential to read the following series by Sh. Salman Al Oudah:

    Between Natural and Religious Loyalties

  9. Solomon2

    May 7, 2007 at 8:56 PM

    as Muslims, we do have a ‘religious hate’ for the kuffar in general for their kufr, but we do not hate them as a person or anything like that.

    As one of the kufrs out there, I assure you that a sufficiently large population of those who call themselves Muslims draw no such distinction and my life would be at peril if I was in their environment and they felt that the law could not restrain them.

    As a matter of survival, it is important to distinguish between Islam in theory and how it is actually practiced. For us non-Muslims, the Muslim who kills in the name of Islam, citing religious hate as the motive, is one we must worry about. The fact is that large segments of the Muslim world celebrated the 9-11 attacks and still celebrate attacks against Israelis. Jews, by contrast, excommunicated the small number (one!) of their own who commit such deeds.

    I realize the some of the emotions that my preceding paragraph may have evoked. I will remind you that the Muslim scholar Averroës made it a point to distinguish between philosophical truth and religious truth. Religious truth is that which Muslims take on faith. Philosophical truth is that one obtains through a system of reasoning; usually philosophical truth is that which actually is.

    IMO, when Muslims cite Israeli or American or Western “crimes” that have no foundation they are expressing “religious truth”. Trouble starts when Muslims start mixing up “religious truth” with “philosophical truth”.

    This is nothing new. When the Almohades took over from the Almoravids in the eleventh century, they took great offense from the idea that two truths could exist. They “modernized” Islam by burning almost all of the books of Averroës, to the great acclaim of the populace.

    Such are the uses that contempt and hatred have been put to in Islam. Are they really to be encouraged further, Ahmad?

  10. abu ameerah

    May 7, 2007 at 9:19 PM

    As’Salaamu Alaikum wa’Rahmatullah!

    Well…I would just like to say that I LOVE nearly everyone on the MuslimMatters team (in a Halaal way of course)!

    @ Solomon2:

    You seem kinda scared man. Also, I think you have a confused and somewhat warped understanding of history. Since I don’t care for any long-winded or emotional debate … I will just have to give you a cyber hug…

  11. abu ameerah

    May 7, 2007 at 9:36 PM

  12. Solomon2

    May 7, 2007 at 10:07 PM

    1) I had my neighbor murdered by a newly-converted Muslim when I was fourteen. That was scary. He fled the U.S. to Iran and a career as a movie star, which shows his conduct was accepted by other Muslims. That’s even more scary.

    2) I note that it is one thing to claim I have a “warped understanding of history” and another thing entirely to prove it. “Religious truth” versus “philosophical truth”, perhaps?

    3) You wish the Muslims here peace and the blessings of G-d. I get a hug. Hmmm.

  13. Amad

    May 7, 2007 at 10:25 PM

    Solomon, we don’t need another troll… if you want to talk about how bad Islam is, feel free to move to LGF or jihadwatch, you’ll have plenty of supporters there.

    If you have a question, ask it. We have no idea about the veracity of your tales of woe… and even if they were true, murderers exist in every nation and belong to every religion and non-religion in the world. Get over it.

  14. Solomon2

    May 7, 2007 at 10:29 PM

    Sorry, didn’t mean to troll, nor should I have poured out my tsorres upon you all. Right now, I’m most interested in what Ahmed AlFarsi has to say.

  15. Ahmad AlFarsi

    May 8, 2007 at 12:50 AM

    Dear Solomon,

    As one of the kufrs out there…

    Slight correction in terminology, a person who denies the truth is not a “kufr” (disbelief), but rather, a “kafir” (disbeliever). I pray for the guidance of all those who have not yet tasted the sweetness of faith, so that they may become Mu’minoon (believers), by the will of Allah.

    As for what you wrote about “hate causing Muslims to do …”, perhaps you did not read the latter part of my post, which should make it evidently clear that, as long as the kuffar are not fighting against us, we treat them with birr (kindness) and iqsat (justice).

    The article linked by Amad to Sh. Salman should also clarify these issues in detail if Allah wills.

    Finally, I think it is utterly ridiculous that you say, “as a matter of survival”… as though your life or well-being is at all in danger??? Stop deluding yourself man! Almost equally ridiculous is your theory of “religious vs. philosophical truths.” The theory is easy to deconstruct… Islam = TRUTH, philisophy does not!

    But back to the main point… Muslims loathe disbelief more than we loathe any other crime… this should explain why ‘religious hate’ is a necessary part of faith. However, as I mentioned twice already, Islam also commands us to treat all mankind, Muslim or not, with kindness and justice, as long as they are not fighting against us… nor does ‘religious hate’ mean a Muslim cannot have ‘natural (non-religious) love’ for a non-Muslim… so there is no way that true ‘religious hate’ can lead to injustice.

  16. Ahmad AlFarsi

    May 8, 2007 at 2:33 AM

    Solomon,

    With someone (you) who writes the following on his blog:

    A practical present-day dilemma is almost upon us: I imagine that Israel will soon have to decide whether or not to attack Iranian and Arab nuclear installations with Israel’s own nuclear weapons. If not, Israel’s eventual destruction is assured. If so, then at a minimum tens of thousands of civilians will be killed, as production facilities and weapons depots are deliberately located in heavily populated areas.

    What will Israel do? It is my opionion that the correct moral judgment is to proceed with the attack. The Holocaust showed that the human condition is not improved when a few million Jews are mercilessly slaughtered or enslaved for the pleasure of warlike and racist thugs.

    one must really wonder who is the one whose ideology leads to crime and injustice… (hint: it’s yours). That is truly disgusting…

    All praise is for Allah, our beautiful religion of ISLAM would NEVER lead to the justification of mass murder of innocents, even though we love and hate for the sake of Allah.

    Peace be upon those who follow the guidance,
    Ahmad

  17. Amad

    May 8, 2007 at 9:42 AM

    Solomon, you mentioned

    “The Holocaust showed that the human condition is not improved when a few million Jews are mercilessly slaughtered or enslaved for the pleasure of warlike and racist thugs.”

    And is it not ironic that a nation that faced so much destruction and hatred should in turn became the aggressor and the destroyer-in-chief of another nation (the Palestinians)? I mean if anything, one would imagine that having faced a holocaust, the Jews would be the last people to inflict injustice and terrorism on another people. Cordoning a whole nation off, restricting their movements, treating Arabs within their territories as second-class citizens, refusing the return of the sons of the land, and many other injustices. I have to add that there is a large sector of the Israeli people who disagree with hardliners such as yourself. In fact there is more open discussion and more questioning of Israeli policies WITHIN Israel than here in America (as evidenced in the Haaretz newspaper for example).

    Don’t worry, Iran will not attack Israel… their heritage is usually inclined at fighting Sunnis more than other nations. Also, they are not stupid… they recognize that a tiniest of attack that hardly kills one person will be met by a full-blown murderous attack from Israel that will obilerate the country. That is how Israeli tactics have worked so far: “we’ll kill 10 for every 1 of ours”. And when you expand that to wars, it probably will be exaggerated.

    Solomon, your whole site is focused on your motherland Israel. It is people like you, living in America, which disallows our nation in becoming a fair arbitrator in this conflict.

  18. Pingback: Islamic Lessons or Brain-washing sessions? « Tariq Nelson

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  20. Judge Dredd

    May 10, 2007 at 2:18 PM

    My Religion:
    I have taken the “slow” road.
    I am worried about the interpretation of Islam by some teachers.
    There are so many opinionated teachers out there. That’s not bad in itself but when they all start wanting you to follow their individual strand of thought it begins to remind me of a saying in the Hadith about the demise of “learned men”.
    So far I have got most of my information from books and “trusted” Sunni web sites.
    I was scared of going to the mosque at the beginning but now find a mosque where ever I am travelling in which ever country and try to visit it for at least one prayer.
    I do most of my prayers in private.
    I never interrupt meetings in the “secular” world for prayers – I perform my missed prayers as soon as I can afterwards.
    I am trying to quit the secular world and God Willing I will find a life that is filled with proper worship of God coupled with an ethical business life.
    I pray and seek guidance from the only ONE who can give it.
    I try to find ideas on the net from the Ummah and I try to contribute ideas and funds as I feel guided.
    Some would say all this makes me a bad Muslim and some would say its ok.
    I try to keep my religion private between me and God.
    I pray for guidance for myself and the Ummah.

    My life as a Muslim in the West:
    I am absolutely fed up of the demonisation of Muslims.
    I hear some Muslims who say that you should keep your views to yourself so that you do not upset the non-believers and idol-worshippers. But when those views are about standing up for one’s own rights and dignity, then I see no compromise.
    I believe that all Muslims need to speak out and “write out” on the web.
    I often have creeping doubts though about airing my views on the net because it feels satanically cabalistic and you can see the likes of the solomons everywhere voicing their fabricated opinions as a prime example of the cabalistic “rumours”. I would hate to end up spending all my time battling my wits against a cabalistic Satan on the net when I can use that time to learn about Islam. But if I don’t do anything then they will win their war of hearts and minds and secure the demise of my brothers and sisters around the world. For now I will voice and air a few opinions here and there.
    It’s better than letting the irrational ones voice their views. Its better than letting the likes of the solomons post their fabrications unchecked. It’s better than letting those who pretend to be Muslims or the Hirsi’s and others post their rantings to give the Muslim world a dark colour. It is better than letting all this go unchecked and letting “them” win the psychological world war of hearts & minds.

  21. Solomon2

    May 15, 2007 at 1:33 PM

    Al Farsi: Muslims loathe disbelief more than we loathe any other crime… this should explain why ‘religious hate’ is a necessary part of faith.

    How ironic. Westerners commonly use the word “disbelief” to describe those persons who deny the plain truth in front of their eyes, those whose minds refuse to process information under the influence of their previous beliefs: (Example: “He looked on in disbelief as his family was mudered.”)

    I read Salman’s stuff but I am having trouble comprehending its real-world applications.

    Almost equally ridiculous is your theory of “religious vs. philosophical truths.” The theory is easy to deconstruct… Islam = TRUTH, philisophy does not!

    Not my theory! Averroës’.

    Islam also commands us to treat all mankind, Muslim or not, with kindness and justice, as long as they are not fighting against us

    That can be a very big loophole, depending on what “fighting against us” means. If a non-Muslim says “No” to a Muslim, does this rule not justify his treating the kafir [thanks for the correction] with injustice and contempt?

    one must really wonder who is the one whose ideology leads to crime and injustice…

    It was not an easy judgment. Yet you offer only a condemnation, not a critique.

    our beautiful religion of ISLAM would NEVER lead to the justification of mass murder of innocents, even though we love and hate for the sake of Allah.

    Please define “innocents”; I think you’re definition is different than mine.

    Amad: is it not ironic that a nation that faced so much destruction and hatred should in turn became the aggressor and the destroyer-in-chief of another

    It has happened plenty of times in human history; that does not make the practice correct. Nor is it what Israel is doing to the Palestinian Arabs now.

    one would imagine that having faced a holocaust, the Jews would be the last people to inflict injustice and terrorism on another people.

    Do you think then that Arabs, having been largely shielded from the horrors of the two world wars of the twentieth century, are more likely candidates to do so?

    Judge Dredd: My life as a Muslim in the West:
    I am absolutely fed up of the demonisation of Muslims.

    Did not the terrorists of 9-11 turn into demons? Are you doing something to help prevent such demonisation now or in the future?

    For now I will voice and air a few opinions here and there. It’s better than letting the irrational ones voice their views. Its better than letting the likes of the solomons post their fabrications unchecked.

    Specify any “fabrications”, please.

  22. Judge Dredd

    May 19, 2007 at 6:37 AM

    Solomon2:
    “Did not the terrorists of 9-11 turn into demons? Are you doing something to help prevent such demonisation now or in the future?”

    Did not the Israeli Zionist murderers turn into demons when they started killing innocent Palestinians children, women and elderly? Are you and the Anti Democratic League (ADL) doing something to help such demonisation now or in the future?

  23. Solomon2

    May 19, 2007 at 10:44 PM

    JD: Circular arguments are invalid. Try harder, please.

  24. Sulayman was a Muslim

    May 20, 2007 at 3:32 PM

    Solomon, your last comment displayed your lack of intellect. Get smarter please.

  25. Solomon2

    May 20, 2007 at 6:03 PM

    “murderers turn into demons when they start killing?

  26. Adbullah Umar

    June 11, 2018 at 9:45 AM

    As Salam Alaikum,
    This is actually a very simple issue. You approach this issues the way that the Prophet (saw) would approach it. This is our guide and this is what will keep us in the pleasure of Allah (swt).

    We shouldn’t allow any new Muslim to be exposed to misguidance and the “progressive” type of proponent offers only misguidance. The Prophet (saw) should always be our reference in issues of character and he (saw) would not allow any misguidance to corrupt a new Muslim.

    Any influence which leads a Muslim astray is unacceptable and you simply have to convey that message to the student in a way that the Prophet (saw) would do it. Explain with kindness and intelligence why they should avoid this influence and teach them the things that are in error about their ideas.

    ALWAYS turn to the behavior of the Prophet (saw) to find your answers first in situations like this. It will always guide you to the correct approach. I promise.

    If this student gains understanding and helps others to avoid misguidance you have secured increased blessings for yourself and others. Do not fear the opinions of the creation, but only seek to uphold the truth regardless of what people will say.

    May Allah (swt) protect and guide you through all affairs… He has already provided you with all of the answers… alhamdulillah.

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