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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. Avatar

    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

    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. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    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

    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. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    abu ameerah

    May 7, 2007 at 9:36 PM

  12. Avatar

    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

    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. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    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

    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.

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  20. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    Solomon2

    May 19, 2007 at 10:44 PM

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

  24. Avatar

    Sulayman was a Muslim

    May 20, 2007 at 3:32 PM

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

  25. Avatar

    Solomon2

    May 20, 2007 at 6:03 PM

    “murderers turn into demons when they start killing?

  26. Avatar

    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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I Once Spent Ramadan Semi-Quarantined, Here’s How It Went

Even though it was over 10 years ago, the memory of that Ramadan is seared into my mind.

I’d just taken my first consulting job – the kind in the movies. Hop on a plane every Monday morning and come home late every Thursday night. Except, unlike in the movies, I wasn’t off to big cities every week – I went to Louisville, Kentucky. Every week.

And because I was the junior member on the team, I didn’t get the same perks as everyone else – like a rental car. I was stuck in a hotel walking distance from our client in downtown, limited to eat at whatever restaurants were within nearby like TGI Friday’s or Panera. This was a pre-Lyft and Uber world.

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A couple of months into this routine and it was time for Ramadan. It was going to be weird, and no matter how much I prepared myself mentally, I wasn’t ready for it — Iftar alone in a hotel room. Maghrib and Isha also alone in a hotel room. Suhur was whatever I could save from dinner to eat in the morning that didn’t require refrigeration.

Most people think that with the isolation and extra time you would pass the time praying extra and reading tons of Quran. I wish that was the case. The isolation, lack of masjid, and lack of community put me into a deep funk that was hard to shake.

Flying home on the weekends would give me an energizing boost. I was able to see friends, go to the masjid, see my family. Then all of a sudden back to the other extreme for the majority of the week.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that Ramadan with the prospect of a quarantined Ramadan upon us. I wish I could say that I made the most of the situation, and toughed it out. The truth is, the reason the memory of that particular Ramadan is so vivid in my mind is because of how sad it was. It was the only time I remember not getting a huge iman boost while fasting.

We’re now facing the prospect of a “socially distanced” Ramadan. We most likely won’t experience hearing the recitation of the verses of fasting from Surah Baqarah in the days leading up to Ramadan. We’re going to miss out on seeing extended family or having iftars with our friends. Heck, some of us might even start feeling nostalgia for those Ramadan fundraisers.

All of this is on top of the general stress and anxiety of the COVID-19 crisis.

Ramadan traditionally offers us a spiritual reprieve from the rigors and hustle of our day to day lives. That may not be easy as many are facing the uncertainty of loss of income, business, or even loved ones.

So this isn’t going to be one of those Quran-time or “How to have an amazing Ramadan in quarantine!” posts. Instead, I’m going to offer some advice that might rub a few folks the wrong way.

Make this the Ramadan of good enough

How you define good enough is relative. Aim to make Ramadan better than your average day.

Stick to the basics and have your obligatory act of worship on lockdown.

Pray at least a little bit extra over what you normally do during a day. For some, that means having full-blown Taraweeh at home, especially if someone in the house is a hafiz. For others, it will mean 2 or 4 rakat extra over your normal routine.

Fill your free time with Quran and dua. Do whatever you can. I try to finish one recitation of the Quran every Ramadan, but my Ramadan in semi-quarantine was the hardest to do it in. Make sure your Quran in Ramadan is better during the month than on a normal day, but don’t set hard goals that will stress you out. We’re under enormous stress being in a crisis situation as it is. If you need a way to jump-start your relationship with the Quran, I wrote an article on 3 steps to reconnect with the Qur’an after a year of disconnect.

Your dua list during this Ramadan should follow you everywhere you go. Write it down on an index card and fold it around your phone. Take it out whenever you get a chance and pour your heart out to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Share your stresses, anxieties, worries, fears, and hopes with Him.

He is the Most-Merciful and Ramadan is a month of mercy. Approach the month with that in mind, and do your best.

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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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Criticism, Accountability and the Exclusion of Quran and Sunnah – Critiquing Ahmed Sheikh’s Critique

Let me begin by making two things clear. First, this article is not seeking to defend the positions of any person nor is it related to the issue of CVE and what it means to the Muslim American community. I am in no way claiming that CVE is not controversial or harmful to the community nor am I suggesting that affiliations with governments are without concern.

Second, this paper is meant to critique the arguments made by the author that encourage holding Islamic scholars accountable. I encourage the reader not to think of this article as an attempt to defend an individual(s) but rather as an attempt to present an important issue through the framework of Islamic discourse – Quran, hadith supported by scholarly opinion. In that spirit, I would love to see articles providing other scholarly views that are contrary to this articles. The goal is to reach the position that is most pleasure to Allah and not the one that best fits our agenda, whims, or world views.

In this article I argue that Islamic scholars in America cannot effectively be held accountable, not because they are above accountability but because (1) accountability in Islam is based on law derived from Quran and hadith and this is the responsibility of Islamic experts not those ignorant of the Islamic sciences. And to be frank, this type of discourse is absent in Muslim America. (2) Muslim Americans have no standard code of law, conduct, or ethics that can be used to judge behavior and decisions of Muslim Americans. I do believe, however, that criticism should be allowed under certain conditions, as I will elaborate in the proceeding paragraphs.

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To begin, the evidence used to support the concept of holding leaders accountable is the statement of Abu Bakr upon his appointment to office:

O people, I have been appointed over you, though I am not the best among you. If I do well, then help me; and if I act wrongly, then correct me.

This is a well-known statement of his, and without a doubt part of Islamic discourse applied by the pious companions. However, one should take notice of the context in which Abu Bakr made his statement. Specifically, who he was speaking to. The companions were a generation that embodied and practiced a pristine understanding of Islam and therefore, if anyone were to hold him accountable they would do it in the proper manner. It would be done with pure intentions that they seek to empower Abu Bakr with Quranic and Prophetic principles rather than attack him personally or with ill intentions.

Furthermore, their knowledge of the faith was sufficient to where they understood where and when the boundaries of Allah are transgressed, and therefore understood when he was accountable. However, when these facets of accountability are lost then the validity of accountability is lost as well.

To give an example, during the life of Abu Bakr, prior to appointing Omar (ra) as his successor he took the opinion of several companions. The prospect of Omar’s appointment upset some of the companions because of Omar’s stern character. These companions approached Abu Bakr and asked him “what will you tell Allah when he asks why you appointed the stern and severe (ie Omar).” Abu Bakr replied “I will tell Him that I appointed the best person on earth,” after which Abu Bakr angrily commanded them to turn their backs and leave his presence.

Fast forwarding to the life of Uthman, large groups of Muslims accused Uthman of changing the Sunnah of the Prophet in several manners. Part of this group felt the need to hold Uthman accountable and ended up sieging his home leading to his death. Now, when one researches what this group was criticizing Uthman for, you find that Uthman (ra) did make mistakes in applying the sunnah that even companions such as Ibn Mas’ood expressed concern and disagreement with. However, due to the lack of fiqh and knowledge, these Muslims felt that the actions of Uthman made him guilty of “crimes” against the sunnah and therefore he must be held accountable.

With this I make my first point. A distinction between criticism and accountability must be made. Ibn Mas’ood and others criticized Uthman but, since they were scholars, understood that although Uthman was mistaken his mistakes did not cross the boundaries of Allah, and therefore he was not guilty of anything and thus was not accountable.

Holding Muslim scholars accountable cannot be justified unless evidence from the Quran and hadith indicate transgression against Allah’s law. Thus, before the Muslim American community can call for the accountability of Dr. Jackson, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, or others, an argument founded in Quran and Sunnah and supplicated by scholarly (classical scholars) research and books must be made.

It is simply against Islamic discourse to claim that a scholar is guilty of unethical decisions or affiliations simply because CVE is a plot against Muslims (as I will detail shortly). Rather, an argument must be made that shows how involvement with CVE is against Quran and sunnah. Again, I emphasize the difference between criticizing their decision because of the potential harms versus accusing them of transgressing Islamic principles.

To further elaborate this distinction I offer the following examples. First, Allah says in context of the battle of Badr and the decision to ransom the prisoners of war,

“It is not fit for a prophet that he should take captives until he has thoroughly subdued the land. You ˹believers˺ settled with the fleeting gains of this world, while Allah’s aim ˹for you˺ is the Hereafter. Allah is Almighty, All-Wise. Had it not been for a prior decree from Allah, you would have certainly been disciplined with a tremendous punishment for whatever ˹ransom˺ you have taken. Now enjoy what you have taken, for it is lawful and good. And be mindful of Allah. Surely Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (8:67-69)

In these verses Allah criticizes the decision taken by the Muslims but then states that ransom money was made permissible by Allah, and therefore they are not guilty of a punishable offense. In other words, Allah criticized their decision because it was a less than ideal choice but did not hold them accountable for their actions since it was permissible.

Another example is the well-known incident of Osama bin Zaid and his killing of the individual who proclaimed shahadah during battle. Despite this, Osama proceeded to slay him. Upon hearing of this the Prophet (s) criticized Osama and said, “did you see what is in his heart?”

Although Osama’s actions resulted in the death of a person the Prophet (s), did not hold Osama accountable for his actions and no punishment was implemented. Similarly, Khalid bin Waleed killed a group of people who accepted Islam accidentally and similarly, the Prophet (s) criticized Khalid but did not hold him accountable.

Why was there no accountability? Because the decisions of Osama and Khalid were based on reasonable – although incorrect – perspectives which falls under the mistake category of Islamic law “And there is no blame upon you for that in which you have erred but [only for] what your hearts intended. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful” (33:5)

The previous examples, among others, are referred to in Islamic discourse as ta’weel (interpretation). There are many examples in the lives of the companions where decisions were made that lead to misapplications of Islam but were considered mistakes worthy of criticism but not crimes worthy of punishment or accountability.

Ta’weel, as Ibn Taymiyya states, is an aspect of Islam that requires deep understanding of the Islamic sciences. It is the grey area that becomes very difficult to navigate except by scholars as the Prophet (s) states in the hadith, “The halal is clear and the haram is clear and between them is a grey area which most people don’t know (ie the rulings for).”

Scholars have commented stating that the hadith does not negate knowledge of the grey entirely and that the scholars are the ones who know how to navigate that area. The problem arises when those ignorant of Islamic law attempt to navigate the grey area or criticize scholars attempting to navigate it.

Going back to Ibn Taymiyya -skip this part if you believe Ibn Taymiyya was a dancing bear- I would like to discuss his own views on associating oneself with oppressive rulers. In his book “Islamic Political Science” (As Siyaasa ash Shar’iah) he details the nuances of fiqh in regards to working with or for oppressive rulers.

It would be beneficial to quote the entire section, but for space sake I will be concise. Ibn Taymiyya argues that the issue of oppressive rulers should not be approached with a black and white mentality. Rather, one must inquire of the relationship between the person and the ruler.

One can legitimately adhere to the verse “And cooperate in righteousness and piety” (5:2) while working for an unjust ruler such as: “performing jihad, applying penal laws, protecting the rights of others, and giving those who deserve. This is in accordance to what Allah and His messenger have commanded and whoever refrains from those things out of fear of assisting the unjust then they have left an obligation under a false form of asceticism (wara’).”

Likewise, accepting a position under an unjust regime may prevent or reduce the harm of that regime, or prevent someone mischievous from taking the position and inflicting even more harm, then such an association is Islamically valid. Furthermore, someone working in a particular department is not responsible or accountable for the crimes being committed in another department nor are they guilty of “cooperat[ing] in sin and aggression” (5:2). He ascribes these fiqh rulings to the majority of scholars including Abu Hanifa, Malik and Ahmed.

The argument against those who are affiliated with the UAE is simply not grounded in fiqh or supported by clear evidences from the Quran and hadith. How does being part of a peace forum make the participants guilty of the crimes in Yemen? The claim that such participation enhances the influence of these regimes is not necessarily consistent with Quran and hadith.

Dr. Jackson, I argue, is in line with Islamic discourse when he says that being part of such initiatives does not mean he agrees with all they do. The same goes for CVE. As Ibn Taymiyya suggests above, participating in such programs is Islamically justifiable if the goal is to reduce the harm and this is what Dr. Jackson claims. Ibn Taymiyya gives the example of someone working as a tax collector for a ruler who unjustly takes taxes from his citizens. If the individual can reduce the amount being taken then his position is Islamically valid.

One might state that such a claim – reducing the harm – is naïve and an excuse to justify their affiliations. No doubt this is a possibility, however, I once again quote Ibn Taymiyya,

“The obligation is to bring about the benefit to the best of their ability and or prevent the harm or at least reduce it. If there are two possible benefits then the individual should pursue the greater of the two even if it leads to losing the lesser. If there are two possible harms to prevent then they should prevent the greater of the two even if it results in the occurrence of the lesser.”

There are ways of determining whether a persons is clearly excusing himself. At the same time, the debate as to whether the benefits outweigh the harm is almost always within the grey area mentioned above. Thus, it is irresponsible to attack Islamic scholars and call for their accountability for positions that are not clearly against Quran and hadith.

Another rebuttal might claim that the rulers during the time of Ibn Taymiyya were better than present day rulers and that his fiqh was addressing his realities which are inconsistent with ours. My response is that although that is true, Ibn Taymiyya’s teachings are not built on contextual realities that are only effective in those realities. Rather, his teachings are built on principles that are formulated in a way that renders it capable of measuring a particular context. In other words, it acts in a way that considers the realities and context as part of the equation and decision process.

A third rebuttal might claim that Ibn Taymiyya, like many others, warned of the harms of befriending rulers. Again, this is accurate, however, an important distinction must be made and that is between spiritual advice and fiqh rulings. An issue can be spiritually problematic but permissible fiqh-wise and this differentiation is seen in the lives of the companions and spiritualists in general.

For example, the companions rejected many worldly pleasures out of zuhd and wara’ (two forms of asceticism) and not because they are forbidden. To be more specific, a person may restrict themselves from drinking green tea not because it is forbidden by Quran or hadith but because of they view it as a desire that distracts them from the next life.

Similarly, the discouragement scholars expressed towards relationships with rulers was because of the spiritual harms and not because of an unequivocal prohibition against it. This is an important facet of Islamic discourse that should be recognized by the Muslim community. That is, a person can critique an issue from various angles (for example the psychological harms of political rhetoric and how it effects a person’s spirituality) while remaining neutral to Islamic law. What I am trying to say is that legitimate criticisms can be made about a particular issues without having to bring a person’s Islamic credibility into the discussion.

To conclude, I’d like to once again emphasize a distinction between criticism and accountability. Criticism is justified when the criticizer is qualified in the topic and when the one being criticized has made a mistake. Accountability is legitimate when a person has transgressed red lines established by Islam itself. But, in order for such accountability to be valid one must invoke the Quran and hadith and here lies the problem.

In the several articles posted against UAE and CVE, Quran and hadith are excluded and such has become Muslim American discourse – we are Muslims who invoke Allah and His messenger yet exclude their words from the conversation. I remind the Muslim American community and myself of the following verse “And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result” (4:59).

I would like to pose the following questions to the Muslim American community:

  • Under what code of law and ethics should scholars be held accountable? In other words, what standards do we use to deem a scholar accountable or guilty? Who determines these laws and principles? Is it other scholars who are well versed in fiqh? Is it American standards or perhaps Muslim American activists and whatever is in line with their agenda?
  • Who or what institution has the authority to hold scholars accountable?
  • To what extent do we consider Quran, hadith, fiqh and scholarly opinions in determining illegal actions, problematic decisions, and or immoral behavior?
  • Are these laws and principles only applicable to scholars or are other Muslim leader figures held to the same standards?
  • Are all scholars “dancing bears” who have no credibility? If not, who, in your opinion, is trustworthy and credible and why do you think so? Is it because they are following Quran and Sunnah, or because they fit activism?
  • Do you believe that certain celebrated Muslim American activists / politicians present theological and moral problems to American Muslims that are corrupting their faith and behavior? Should they be held accountable for their statements and actions? What about the various Muslim organizations that invite them as keynote speakers and continue to show unwavering support?
  • Do you believe it is fair to say that these celebrated activists are not responsible for clarifying to the community their controversial positions and statements because they are not scholars or seen as religious figures?
  • Do you believe that activism is dominating Muslim American discourse and do you believe that there is a serious exclusion of Quran and hadith in that discourse?

I hope the community will acknowledge the concerning reality of the exclusion of Quran and hadith from our affairs. Until we live up to the standards of Quran and sunnah our criticism will only lead to further division and harm.

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#Society

Do You Know Why Uzma Was Killed?

#JusticeForUzma is a campaign that highlights the many terrible ways household help is treated in places around the world. Here, Fatima Asad writes about how she is raising her children to be the change they want to see in their society. 

Last week, Pakistani society was struggling with the story of the horrific murder of Uzma, a teenager, who worked as a house maid in the city of Lahore. The 16-year-old was allegedly tortured for months and then murdered by the woman she worked for…for taking a bite from the daughter’s plate. #JusticeForUzma is a campaign that highlights the many terrible ways household help is treated in places around the world. Here, Fatima Asad writes about how she is raising her children to be the change they want to see in their society. 

By Fatima Asad

Living in Pakistan, my children realize that within the gates of our neighborhood, they will see no littering, they will not experience water or electricity shortages and certainly, no one will be knocking on the door begging for food or money. The reason they have this realization is because I make it the day’s mission to let them know about their privilege, about the ways they have been blessed in comparison to the other, very real, living, breathing little girls and boys outside those gates. Alas, my children come face to face with those very real people as soon as the gates close behind us.

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“Why are there so many poor people in Pakistan, Mommy?” they ask, quite regularly now, unsatisfied with the answers I’ve provided so far. The question perpetually makes me nervous, uncomfortable, and I hastily make a lesson plan in my mind to gradually expose this world’s truths to them… ahista, ahista…(slow and steady).

But on days like these, when we find out about the death of yet another underprivilged young girl (they’re becoming redundant, aren’t they?), on days like these, I want to hold them, shake them, scream at them to wake up!

Wake up, my child! Beta jaag jao.

Do you know why that little girl we see outside, always has dirt on her face and her hair is in visible knots?

It is because, there are too many people who can take a shower anytime they want, who have maids to oil, brush and style their hair.

Do you know why there are children with no clothes on their backs?

It is because, there are too many of us with too many on ours. There are too many of us with walk-in closets for mothers and matching wardrobes for their infant daughters. We obsess about tailors, brands, this collection, last season. How often do we hear or say “can’t repeat that one”, “this one is just not my thing anymore…”

Do you know why there are children with their cheeks sunk deep in their skulls, scraping for our leftovers in our trashcans?

Because there are too many of us, who are overstuffed with biryani, burgers, food deliveries, dinner parties, chai get-togethers, themed birthday cupcakes, and bursting appetites for more, more, more, and different, different, different.

There are too many of us craving the exotic and the western, hoping to impress the next guest that comes to lunch with our useless knowledge of foods that should not be our pride, like lasagna, nuggets, cinnamon rolls, banana bread, pizza, minestrone soup, etc.

There are too many of us who do not want to partake from our outdated, simple traditional cuisines… that is, unless we can put a “cool” twist on them.

Do you know why there are children begging on the streets with their parents? Because there are too many of us driving in luxury cars to our favorite staycation spots, rolling up the windows in the beggars’ faces.

We are rather spent our money of watching the latest movies for family nights, handing out cash allowances to our own kids so they won’t feel left out when going out.

Do you know why there are mothers working during the days and sacrificing their nights sewing clothes for meager coins? Why there are fathers, who sacrifice their sleep and energy to guard empty mansions at the cost of their self-respect? Because there are too many of us attending dance rehearsals for weddings of the friends we backstab and envy. Because there are too many of us binge-watching the latest hot shows on Netflix, hosting ghazal nights to pay tribute to dead musicians and our never-ending devotion for them, and many more of us viciously shaking our heads when the political analyst on TV delivers a breaking report on a millionaire’s private assets.

Do you know why there are people who will never hold a book in their hands or learn to write their own names? Do you know why there will never be proof that some people lived, breathed, smiled, or cried? Because there are too many of us who are given the best education money can buy, yet only end up using that education to improve our own selves – and only our own selves. There are too many of us who wear suits and ties, entrusted with building the country, yet too many of our leaders and politicians just use that opportunity to build their own legacies or secret, off shore accounts.

Do you know why children, yes children, are ripped apart from their parents, forced to provide their bodies and energies so that a stranger’s family can raise their kids? Because, there are too many of us who need a separate maid for each child we birth. Because, there are too many of us who have given the verdict that our children are worth more than others’.

Because, there are too many of us who need a maid to prove to frenemies our monetary worth and showcase a higher social class.

Because, there are too many of us who enslave humans, thinking we cannot possibly spoil our youth, energy and time on our own needs, our own tasks, our own lives.

Because, there are too many of us who need to be comfortable, indulged, privileged, spoiled, educated, satisfied, excited, entertained and happy at the expense of other living souls.

And we do all this, thinking—fooling ourselves into believing— that our comforts are actually a way of providing income for another human being. Too many of us think that by indulging in our self-centered lifestyles, we are providing an ongoing charity for society’s neediest.

Too many of us are sinking into a quicksand that is quite literally killing us. This needs to stop immediately. This accelerating trend of possessing and displaying more isn’t going to slow down on its own- in fact, it’s become deadly. Too many of our hearts have hardened, burnt to char.

More of us need to sacrifice our comforts, our desires, our nafs so others can have basic human rights fulfilled. More of us must say no to blind consumerism, envious materialistic competition and the need for instant gratification so others can live. We may have the potential to turn into monsters, but we have exceedingly greater potential to be empathetic, selfless revolutionaries. Too many of us have been living for the here and now, but more of us need to actively start thinking about the future.

Do we want to raise generations that will break bread with the less fortunate or do we want to end up with vicious monsters who starve and murder those they deem unworthy? The monsters who continue to believe that they have been blessed with more, so others can be given less than they are entitled to.

It is time for change andthe change has to start from within these gates.

#justiceforuzma #justiceformaids

 

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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