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The Depths of Vanity -Ruth Nasrullah

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surgery.jpgA few weeks ago I was scheduled for endoscopic sinus surgery and a septoplasty. Since moving to Houston I have suffered from chronically clogged sinuses and allergy symptoms and finally decided to see an ENT specialist, who ordered a CT scan and on the next visit showed me the films, pointing out the ghostly impression of my ineffective sinus tracts. She recommended the surgery, blithely telling me that she had had it herself and was at the mall shopping two days later. That sounded good to me, so I scheduled it.

As the date for the procedure came closer, I started doing more research and found that the procedure is a lot more serious than my doctor had led me to believe. If you can stomach it, search “endoscopic surgery” on youtube (as I did) and you’ll see that the doctor goes into the nose, alters the shape of the deviated septum, then makes her way up into the sinuses, re-shaping and excising portions of them along the way, with the goal of clearing inflamed sinuses and making more room for air to pass through them. It looked disgusting and painful. I spent the week prior to the surgery trying to decide if my symptoms really warranted this surgery. I even had a dream in which the doctor carved tunnels through the inside of my face. By the morning of the surgery I was very, very nervous.

I was actually on a stretcher, in a gown, with an IV in my arm when I decided not to go through with it. When the anesthesiologist came by, the first thing he said was that I was going to be in a lot of pain today and over the next few days and that it would be several weeks before I would feel “normal” again. I lay there and cried for a bit and finally decided there was nothing so wrong with me as to merit the severe pain, swelling, bleeding, restriction of activity, and even the risk – which my doctor did not tell me about – of having to have repeat procedures, endoscopic irrigations, etc. When I left the hospital intact and pain-free it was such a relief.

Among my considerations in the week prior to the surgery was that maybe from an Islamic standpoint altering my anatomy wasn’t the right solution. As I said, if you really want to know, check out a youtube video and you’ll see what they do with their little clipping and clamping and sucking instruments. I would have no problem with surgical treatment of something life-threatening or dangerous, such as a tumor or cyst. But to undergo it electively is another story.

I wrote an article for Azizah magazine a couple years ago about plastic surgery from an Islamic standpoint. The virtually unanimous consensus of Islamic authorities is that elective cosmetic surgery runs contrary to Islamic principles. Many of the sources I interviewed quoted these verses from the Qur’an:

Allah did curse him [Satan], but he said: “I will take of Thy servants a portion Marked off;
“I will mislead them, and I will create in them false desires; I will order them to slit the ears of cattle, and to deface the (fair) nature created by Allah.” Whoever, forsaking Allah, takes Satan for a friend, hath of a surety suffered a loss that is manifest. (An Nisaa, verse 118-119, Yusuf Ali translation)

The message is that vanity is a base emotion which diminishes your humility in the sight of God and your reverence for what he has created. Although my sinus surgery wasn’t intended to alter my appearance, it was intended to make my breathing easier by “improving” the shape of my nose and sinuses.

The day after my canceled surgery I read this article in the NY Times about a Lasik procedure gone wrong – the author, Abby Ellin, ended up among the small percentage of patients whose vision is decreased, not improved, by the procedure. She writes, “In our quick-fix culture, we forget that there are risks with any surgery, elective or not.” She was less fortunate than me. Somewhere along the way she didn’t absorb the idea that, as she points out, surgical “success” is relative and may mean something different to the doctor than to the patient.

Interestingly, she starts the article by acknowledging that it was vanity that led her to the procedure. Although my surgery was not cosmetic, we were both guided by the idea that remodeling the anatomy is a good way to improve your body’s function. But I’d bet she would agree with me that unless you have a high-risk or life-threatening condition, maybe it is better just to be humble and live with your flaws and challenges.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Avatar

    MR

    May 13, 2008 at 7:19 AM

    May Allah (swt) make it easy for you. Ameen!

    I’m assuming you get bad allergies. Do you get headaches as well?

  2. Avatar

    True Virtues

    May 13, 2008 at 7:21 AM

    This may sound INCREDIBLY weird, but the symptoms you speak of, try replacing the milk you drink with organic raw milk (difficult to find and in some states it is illegal to sell), it’s highly recommended by some osteopaths, naturopaths, alternative medicine doctors and even some well-renowned strength coaches. Check http://www.realmilk.com/ for more info and to see if you can get some where you live.

  3. Avatar

    Ruth Nasrullah

    May 13, 2008 at 8:58 AM

    Thanks, MR. I get really bad headaches some mornings when I wake up congested – I suspect because I didn’t breathe properly during the night! Part of my problem is allergies/reaction to the incredible pollution here in Houston, but also as the doctor showed me on CAT scan, my sinuses are narrowed and my septum is deviated. There are times when I can actually hear the contents of my sinuses moving slowly through them – they’re actually that constricted. That’s why it seems like a good option would be to reshape the sinuses, but as with Lasik surgery you have to wonder if changing your body is really the way to go. The day of my canceled therapy I bought some eucalyptus products that so far offer minimal relief, but some.

    True Virtues, my first reaction is how gross! But I’ll check it out.

    What I really should do is find a good book on the medicine of the Prophet (SAW).

  4. Avatar

    True Virtues

    May 13, 2008 at 9:01 AM

    Check Ibn Qayyim’s book on Medicine of the Prophet (saw). If you the background of organic raw milk on the real milk website, you’ll kind of get an idea of what they’re talking about.

  5. Avatar

    ignorantmuslim

    May 13, 2008 at 1:30 PM

    I had septoplasty and turbinate reduction surgery done about 3 years ago.

    It was probably one of the best decisions i ever made in my life. After everything healed up, I realized that I had spent my whole life thinking that having constantly clogged sinuses and blocked nostrils was normal.

    In addition to the surgery, I started to get allergy shots, which made a huge difference in my eczema and other stuff alhamdulillah.

    As soon as my daughter is old enough, I plan to have her start the allergy shots and maybe the septoplasty if it’s needed too. She has apparently inherited all of my problems, and it’s tortuous seeing her suffer.

    I highly recommend getting these things done if the doctor feels that way.

    It’s not like botox or cosmetic surgery – this is a correction to an actual defect, like a cleft palate. It’s just not externally visible.

    wa Allahu ta’aala a’lam

  6. Avatar

    foodi

    May 13, 2008 at 2:07 PM

    hm.. while your doctor may have behaved unprofessionally in his flippant recommendation for the surgery and inadequate explanation of the risks / after effects, i can say that i recently underwent a septoplasty for a similar tho lesser problem. I have for years suffered from restricted airflow through the left side of my nose and this creates a problem for me while sleeping and especially during sinus infections..

    yes there was swelling and a moderate amount of pain ( it is surgery afterall), but within a week i was back to my normal day to day activities. and not to mention, my breathing is much much easier, alhamdulillah.

    i suspect that perhaps you over reacted to the prospect of surgery? either way, maybe you should find a better doctor.

  7. Avatar

    Anisa

    May 13, 2008 at 2:29 PM

    Interesting piece. BarakAllahu Feeki

  8. Avatar

    mcpagal

    May 13, 2008 at 2:47 PM

    Salaam, hope you’re feeling well now iA :P

    I think no matter what kind of surgery you’re going for, watching videos or looking at pictures is a bad idea to begin with. You’re not exactly going to go ‘Oh, that looks fun’ and go for it once you’ve seen it – even if it’s important. I’d understand that type of research if you’re a surgeon or have some sort of medical background – that way you’d be able to understand the pictures/videos, and not get irrationally freaked out. You’re better off reading about the procedure, and avoiding sensational stories of worst case scenarios made real – there’s risk associated with everything, you just have to weigh it against the need.

    I totally agree that elective cosmetic surgery is Islamicly wrong, but I worry about the extent you can take that to. Maybe not in your case, since you had other reasons for not wanting the surgery. But take wisdom teeth extractions – for most people they’re not completely essential. I had mine out because they were impacted, and the gum around one occasionally became infected and inflamed. Was that altering Allah’s creation? After all, Allah clearly willed that I should have impacted teeth, and they weren’t harming my health (just my quality of life!). It took me like a week to recover from mine, and of course there were risks associated – like nerve damage or jaw breakage. Rare, but risky nonetheless.

    Or take orthodontic treatment – most people get it for aesthetic reasons, and again technically you’re changing Allah’s creation. Shouldn’t people with malocclusions just stick to having badly aligned teeth as Allah decreed, and take the associated non-fatal problems as a test from Him – decay due to poor access, risk of trauma, psychological damage of people bulling them for their buck teeth, etc etc…

    You could even that logic to cleft lip, or other deformities that wouldn’t directly cause death. Slippery slope really. Isn’t it safer to say if there’s a sound medical reason for the procedure and it’s not purely for vanity, it’s okay? And I don’t think relief of pain = vanity.

    (by the way, the most disgusting surgery video I ever saw was of the removal of nasal polyps [<– no pictures in these links thankfully!]. I can deal with blood and gore, but for some reason watching fleshy masses in the nose being drilled out with suction really turned my stomach).

  9. Avatar

    samira

    May 13, 2008 at 3:49 PM

    get hold of a copy of the Medicine of the Prophet (pbuh). In sha Allah you’ll find something in there.

  10. Avatar

    Ruth Nasrullah

    May 13, 2008 at 4:01 PM

    Good points by everyone, especially McPagal’s idea of a slippery slope and what constitutes necessary versus unnecessary “alteration.” I agree that the doctor’s attitude – even up to when I was being prepped for surgery, when she just dismissed my concerns – probably influenced how I saw the surgical option. She barely tried any medical treatment before jumping to surgery. However, one of the things that made me feel like I was going for something unnecessary was that my symptoms didn’t seem to be as severe as other people’s. It made it seem all the more “elective” and like I was choosing to get remodeled on a whim.

    FWIW, when I researched the plastic surgery story all the knowledgeable sources I interviewed said plastic surgery for something like a cleft palate is completely okay, as is anything that is life threatening or severely impacts someone’s quality of life.

    What about Lasik? Where on the spectrum do you think that falls?

  11. Avatar

    Gohar

    May 13, 2008 at 8:08 PM

    If’s it’s halaal (i.e. not contradicting 4:119) then i can’t see myself turning down Botox when i’m older. It looks fab. You don’t want to reach a stage when you can’t bear to look at your own face in the mirror.

    Having said that, i suppose its then hard to criticize others for running after nosejobs and silicon implants, as they will inevitable often use the same argument for what they are doing, although the two scenarios do still feel different to me.

  12. Avatar

    Nadia

    May 13, 2008 at 8:24 PM

    Alhamdulillah it’s good that you did your own research and stuck to your instincts and didn’t get the surgery done. Some people have told me to do the laser eye surgery as a “quick-fix” to my weak eyesight, but I’m always too suspicious of such procedures and the risk involved which has kept me away from them so far. Contacts work just fine! But I’ll say again that I’m glad you were able to make a decision you were comfortable with mashallah, instead of relying on your doctor’s words, like most people end up doing.

  13. Avatar

    Ruth Nasrullah

    May 13, 2008 at 8:49 PM

    I’m already at a botox-able age ;) but I don’t think I’d do it. There are far more changes that come with middle age than wrinkles, and you just have to find a way to accept them.

  14. Avatar

    Siraaj Muhammad

    May 13, 2008 at 11:15 PM

    I had one of my front teeth knocked out many years ago by an repeated elbows to the face (grabbing a rebound next to a college basketball player) and had to have surgery for that. I remember that day, they had someone who was seeing it for the first time, and the dentist told that person, you may not be able to handle it the first time, so be ready to leave, and leave he did, within one minute. I didn’t feel any of it and the tooth works quite well, alhamdulillaah.

    Siraaj

  15. Avatar

    Afzal

    May 15, 2008 at 7:40 AM

    I use a nasal drop for the congestion and it helps alot.

  16. Avatar

    Abu Hafsa

    May 15, 2008 at 10:17 AM

    Salam,

    I think you just chickened out and are using the religion as an excuse.

  17. Avatar

    Ruth Nasrullah

    May 15, 2008 at 10:31 AM

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Abu Hafsa. I didn’t cancel the surgery because of religious reasons.

  18. Avatar

    mcpagal

    May 15, 2008 at 5:30 PM

    Lasik is laser eye surgery right? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it really.. I mean, the alternatives are wearing glasses (which aren’t exactly natural) or contacts (which have just about the same effect as surgery except with more hassle). It’s not really vain, it’s just for convenience. Personally, I’m sticking with contacts right now – I’d be too worried to mess with my eyes. I know the chances of something going wrong are remote, but if you did end up with damaged eyes you’d regret it forever. It’s not really fixable…

    Here’s another one: orthognathic surgery. It’s basically the process of moving the jaws – either making the top one bigger and the bottom one smaller if the patients lower jaw sticks out too far (with the bottom teeth in front of the top one); or the other way round if the bottom jaw is too far back. It can make a huge difference to a persons life, but it’s really invasive (since they’re basically breaking the bone up and re-setting it). Is that okay? Does bad jaw alignment count as a deformity?

    There’s also surgery that can be done to pin ears back if they stick out too much – I think that’s bordering on the unnecessary side, since you can cover up sticky-outy ears with your hair or whatever, and there’s no medical need. But can you explain that to a kid who’s getting bullied for their ears?

    I saw a program on TV a while ago, it was about this guy who had a huge tumour covering his whole face. It really was hard to look at, and he stayed at home a lot because of the abuse he got on the street. The fact was, it wouldn’t have gotten so bad if he’d had surgery at an earlier age when it hadn’t progressed so much – but his mother was a Jehovah’s witness and refused to let him have a blood transfusion :(

  19. Avatar

    Atif

    May 16, 2008 at 11:48 AM

    I know that Sr. Ruth weighed the benefits against the risks/harms, but if you improved your quality of life, wouldn’t that make you a better worshipper of Allah (by being less sick and offering more quality ‘ibadah)? I haven’t seen this mentioned yet. This intention would be one of the biggest factors for me if I had such a decision to make.

  20. Avatar

    Abu Hafsa

    May 16, 2008 at 4:54 PM

    Sister Ruth,

    You’re welcome.

    Our deen makes things like this very easy.

    Everything we do in life has a risk asosciated with it. We weigh the risk/benefit according to the best of our abilities, then pray salat-ul-istakhara and then go ahead with our decision, relying on Allah (SWT). It’s quite simple.

    There is no need to come up with philiosophical./religious gymnastics because you felt squeamish going under the surgeon’s knife. And BTW, every surgical procedure is like what you saw on you tube – and it looks pretty bad to most lay people.

  21. Avatar

    Rema

    October 9, 2008 at 9:54 PM

    A little late I know…. but I was just informed of this article today.

    InshaAllah i’m scheduled to have this surgery at the end of the month. I have never been able to breath through my nose properly for as long as I can remember. I never thought it was a big deal until recently. I found out that constantly breathing though your mouth is not healthy becuase there is nothing to filter the air like in your nose. Without proper airflow, other symptoms also arise like not sleeping properly, headaches, etc. InshaAllah I hope that the surgery will help me and improve other areas in my life as well.

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#Current Affairs

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

Shaykh Tarik Ata

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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.

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. 

Fatima Asad

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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.

“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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OpEd: Breaking Leases Into Pieces

Abu Awad

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Ali ibn Talib raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him)once said, “Know the truth and you’ll know who’s speaking the truth.” 

I am based in Canada and was recently having coffee with friends. In the course of the conversation, a friend (who I consider knowledgeable) said that it’s okay to pay interest on a leased car because interest doesn’t apply to lease contracts. This completely caught me off guard, because it made no logical sense that interest would become halal based solely on the nature of the contract.

I asked him how this can be true and his response was that the lease contract is signed with the dealer and the interest transaction is between the dealer and the financing company so it has nothing to do with the buyer. Again, this baffled me because I regularly lease cars and this is an incorrect statement: The lease agreement is signed with a third party financing company who is charging you directly for the interest they pay the car dealership. Therefore, any lease contract that has interest associated with it is haram. This is the same as saying your landlord can charge you interest for his mortgage on a rental contract and this would make it halal. I tried to argue this case and explain to my friend that what he was saying was found on false assumptions and one should seriously look into this matter before treating riba in such a light manner.

Upon going home that night, I pulled out all my lease contracts (negotiated to 0% mind you) and sent them over to my friend. They clearly showed that a bill of sale is signed with the dealer, which is an initial commitment to purchase but the actual lease agreement is signed with a third party financing company which is charging you interest directly. If this interest rate is anything above zero it is haram (anything which is haram in a large quantity is also haram in a small quantity).

To my dismay, instead of acknowledging his mistake, my friend played the “Fatwa Card” and sent me a fatwa from a very large fatwa body in North America, which was also basing their argument on this false assumption. Fortunately for me, my friend pointed out the hotline number and the day and time the mufti who gave the fatwa would be available to answer questions.

I got in touch with the scholar and over a series of text messages proceeded to explain to him that his fatwa was based on a wrong assumption and for this reason people would be misled into leasing cars on interest and signing agreements with financing companies which are haram.
He was nice enough to hear my arguments, but still insisted that “maybe things were different in Canada.” Again this disappointed me because giving fatwa is a big responsibility – by saying “maybe” he was implying that full research has not been done and a blanket fatwa has been given for all of North America.

It also meant that if my point was true (for both Canada and the United States) dozens of Muslims maybe engaging in riba due to this fatwa.

The next week I proceeded to call two large dealerships (Honda and Toyota) in the very city where the Fatwa body is registered in the US and asked them about paperwork related to leasing. They both confirmed that when leasing a new vehicle, the lease contract is signed with a third party financing company which has the lien on the vehicle and the dealer is acting on the financing company’s behalf.

It is only when a vehicle is purchased in cash that a contract is signed with the dealer. This proved my point that both in the US and Canada car lease contracts are signed with the financing company and the interest obligations are directly with the consumer, therefore if the interest rate is anything above 0% it is haram. I sent a final text to the mufti and my friend sharing what I had found and letting him know that it was now between them and Allah.

1. As we will stand in front of Allah alone on Yaum al Qiyamah, in many ways we also stand alone in dunya. You would think that world renowned scholars and an entire institution would be basing their fatwas on fact-checked assumptions but this is not the case. You would also think that friends who you deem knowledgable and you trust would also use logic and critical thinking, but many times judgment is clouded for reasons unbeknownst to us. We must not take things at face value. We must do our research and get to the bottom of the truth. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says to stand up for truth and justice even if it be against our ourselves; although it is difficult to do so in front of friends and scholars who you respect, it is the only way.

2. There are too many discussions, debates and arguments that never reach closure or get resolved. It is important to follow up with each other on proofs and facts to bring things to closure, otherwise our deen will slowly be reduced to a swath of grey areas. Alhamdulillah, I now know enough about this subject to provide a 360 degree view and can share this with others. It is critical to bring these discussions to a close whether the result is for you or against you.

3. Many times we have a very pessimistic and half hearted view towards access to information. When I was calling the dealerships from Canada in the US,  part of me said: Why would these guys give me the information? But if you say Bismillah and have your intentions in the right place Allah makes the path easy. One of the sales managers said “I can see you’re calling from Toronto, are you sure you have the right place?” I replied, “I need the information and if you can’t give it to me I don’t mind hanging up.” He was nice enough to provide me with the detailed process and paperwork that goes into leasing a car.

Finally, I haven’t mentioned any names in this opinion and I want to make clear that I am not doubting the intentions of those who I spoke to; I still respect and admire them greatly in their other works. We have to be able to separate individual cases and actions from the overall person.

May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) guide us to the truth and rid of us any weaknesses or arrogance during the process.

Aameen.

Ed’s Note: The writer is not a religious scholar and is offering his opinion based on his research on leasing contracts in North America.

Suggested reading:

Muslim’s Guide to Debt and Money Management Part 6

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