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What About Thy Hallowed Freedom of Speech?

Ali Shehata

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lastsupper.jpgBefore I get too far and people wrongfully accuse me, I wish to be clear that I am indeed very much in favor of free speech and very thankful that I do not have to be afraid of what I say in this country. This though does not detract from what many people feel is an abuse of this great privilege of ours in America and elsewhere.

Case in point was the absolute bipartisan insanity over the supposed depiction of the Prophet Muhammad (saas- may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) that divided the Muslim and non-Muslim West. On one side, some enraged Muslims wrongfully lashed out at society in various riots, acts of terror and general acts of mayhem. To be fair though, far more Muslims expressed their disapproval through peaceful demonstrations and actions designed to educate the public in general on who the Prophet Muhammad was and why we love him so dearly.

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On the other side too there were those in the non-Muslim world who defiantly proclaimed their right to depict the Prophet in any way they wished – insulting or not – as guaranteed by the freedom of speech. Again, to be fair though, a large number of other non-Muslim Westerners disagreed with this position as voiced to me by one airplane seat-mate of mine who was visiting the US from Denmark. She reported to me that on the contrary, a number of surveys in her country had shown a majority of Danes were unhappy with their government’s position and felt there was very much a difference between freedom of speech and respecting someone else’s feelings.

Seeing the obvious support for the freedom to insult and disrespect that seemed to predominate – at least as portrayed in the media – I was thus quite surprised two months ago to read about how a number of outraged Catholics in Austria succeeded in having a sacrilegious painting of the Last Supper removed from Vienna’s Roman Catholic St. Stephan’s Cathedral museum. They were no doubt appropriately offended by the so-called “work of art” by celebrated Austrian artist Alfred Hrdlicka which depicted “a homosexual orgy” of the Apostles as Hrdlicka described it. This homo-erotic version of Christ’s Last Supper immediately came under fire by Church patrons to the museum as well as across the Christian world where bloggers in both Europe and the US rightfully decried the painting as a “blasphemy” and “desecration”.

Instead of invoking the almighty right of freedom of speech though, something amazing happened – the museum respectfully took down the painting at its Cardinal’s request just over a week after the ‘Religion, Flesh and Power’ exhibition had opened. Cardinal Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, said through a spokesman regarding his decision, “This has nothing to do with censorship, rather corresponds with the understood “reverence for the sacred”. He continued, “It is also an act of respect towards those believers who feel this portrayal offended and provoked them in their deepest religious sensitivity.”

As Muslims who believe in the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, we have a great love, admiration and respect for the Messiah, Jesus the son of the Virgin Mary (saas). Just as we were offended by the sacrilegious depiction of our beloved Prophet Muhammad in newspaper cartoons, we are equally offended to the highest degree by any portrayal – visual, written or otherwise – of any of the great Prophets of God. As a Muslim, I am still horrified that although the Last Supper painting was removed there continue to be other works of “art” that remained in that display like that of a Crucifixion picture showing a soldier simultaneously beating Jesus and holding his genitals.

So in conclusion, although it appears to me to be a double standard, I am very pleased to see that freedom of speech was not abused to keep such a piece of trash masquerading as art in the Cathedral museum. I also hope this will lead to further discussion and reflection in the Western world regarding a delineation between freedom of speech and “reverence for the sacred” so that we may truly become a global civilization that respects all of its members.

 

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Dr. Ali Shehata is the author of Demystifying Islam: Your Guide to the Most Misunderstood Religion of the 21st Century. Dr. Ali is an Emergency and Family Medicine physician currently living in an area of central Florida. He was born in Maryland to parents who had immigrated to the US from Egypt. He has studied Islam mainly through traditional methods among various scholars, du'at and students of knowledge here in the US.

36 Comments

36 Comments

  1. Avatar

    ummafnaan

    June 9, 2008 at 4:19 AM

    Assalmu alaikum,

    I can’t say I know what it is like to live as a muslim in the West. The only time I came close to that was when I spent 5 years in the UK while doing my A-levels and degree. And I must say it was the worst five years of my life as a practising Muslimah. I questioned how it was that I had to live among people who wud insult Allah and my Beloved Nabi and there was nothing I could do about it.

    I also found the whole freedom of speech thing to be quite hypocritical. On the one hand it is perfectly ok to insult the Creator of the universe, but I could get locked up for denying the Holocaust and saying I despised homosexuals made me ‘homophobic’.

    I have lived my whole life in Africa, Nigeria to be precise. And I know how the muslims over here deal with people who dare to insult Allah Azza wa Jal and His Beloved Messenger (saw), and I also know what can happen to anyone who openly declares to be gay. And call it barbaric, uncivilised or whatever, but I believe that I wouldnt trade our principles in anyday for the so called ‘civilised and advanced’ western lifestyle. Cos to me to be able to live in the Western World today and be fully accepted and welcomed, you would have to compromise on your islam big time. And if you refuse to compromise you join the bandwagon of the likes of Ali Tamimi et al. May Allah hasten their release. Ameen.

    I pray that we all live to see the day when the banner of islam will once more be raised up high and when Allahs soldiers will silence His enemies for good.

    The lecture below is by Imam Anwar al Awlaki and I feel it says it all.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao5PUvxUFl4

  2. Avatar

    ummafnaan

    June 9, 2008 at 8:15 AM

    Salam,

    Just one more thing. Though my knowledge of the deen is not that vast, from the little that i know, the concept of freedom of speech is alien to islam. Time and time again we are warned both in the Qur’an and Sunnah about watching what we say with our tongues.

    1) Our Beloved Messenger (saw) clearly tells Mu’adh Ibn Jabal that majority of the people that will be dragged on their faces and thrown in the hell fire, will be as a result of what their tongues have uttered.
    2) The slanderer gets lashed for daring to dishonour his brother with his tongue, while the backbiter is likened to one who its the flesh of his dead brother.
    3) We are strictly forbidden from engaging in idle talk.
    4) He (saw) clearly states: “Let him who believes in Allah and the last day say something good or remain silent”.
    5) We are forbidden even from insulting the ‘gods’ and worship of other faiths lest they in turn insult Allah and islam.

    Hence I respectfully, but strongly disagree with any muslim who promotes this concept of ‘freedom of speech’, except if they mean the freedom to:
    a) Recite the praises of Allah
    b) Speak a good and kind word to our brothers and sisters
    c) Enjoin the good and forbid the evil
    d) From the Blessed tongue of our Nabi: “Speak the word of truth in the face of a tyrannical ruler”

  3. Avatar

    anon

    June 9, 2008 at 9:51 AM

    “And I know how the muslims over here deal with people who dare to insult Allah Azza wa Jal and His Beloved Messenger (saw)”

    Ooooh, how scary. Seriously lady. The problem is not with people who insult God but with people who have backwards mentalities like yours. Who feel that only they are entitled to express their opinions, good or bad, on matters or religion and God because “we have the truth” and all other criticisms must be silenced with physical violence or prison. Ridiculous. I hope that one day in the future you welcome yourself into the 21st century.

    And newsflash. Saying you despise homosexuals does make you homophobic LOL. If I said that I despised muslims for no other reason that that they were muslim I would probably get every single person on this site lambasting me with “bigot, islamophobic, racist, blah blah blah” so why are gay guys any different? Oh, cause your religions tells you to hate them and that they are disgusting? Well maybe I follow a religion that tells me muslims are disgusting and I should hate them. I guess that I wouldn’t be an islamophobe anymore. I would just be doing my religious duty (as you are, clearly)

    Good article btw. I had heard about that painting and found it to be rather gross but figured what the heck, In the end people can paint what they want. Although it did amuse me to read that the painter received death threats or something. Way to go freedom of speech lovers.
    In the end, where most people stand on the issues of freedom of speech generally boils down to where they were raised, irrespective of religion. Umm Afnaan was raised and lives in a culture that considers it acceptable to do personal harm to those who speak against what the majority believes, hence the anti freedom of speech rhetoric. While the author of the article, (who I shall assume practices Islam just as much as UmmAfnaaan does) is pro freedom of speech most likely due in part to either an upbrining in a society like that or an extensive education in an uncensored society. Or it could be neither of those and he just has amazing powers of reason.

  4. Avatar

    ummafnaan

    June 9, 2008 at 10:11 AM

    Anon

    It is clear from ur comment that u are not a muslim and as such will never understand what Allah and His Messenger means to a true muslim. I am therefore not interested in having an exchange of words with u. And as I mentioned previously, my religion does not permit me to indulge in idle talk.

  5. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse

    June 9, 2008 at 1:24 PM

    While I too am glad that such a disgusting depiction of the Prophet ‘Eesa (‘alayhis-salaam) was removed from public viewing, the double standards infuriate me.

  6. Avatar

    Philip "Ahmed" Brown

    June 9, 2008 at 1:27 PM

    Freedom of speech can be abused just like any other right. Awfully ironic how the situation with the painting worked out compared to the Danish cartoons of Muhammad (s.a.s.)

    On another note, how can freedom of speech be forbidden in Islam? We are free to say whatever we please, within certain guidelines like those sister ummafnaan outlined above (i.e. don’t slander, lie, etc). This is much like America’s “right to bear arms”: You can carry a weapon, but you’d better be licensed, over 21, not going crazy…i.e. sure you have the right to own a weapon, but you’d better follow the rules. The Western concept of freedom of speech permits everything and anything, so there is an obvious difference from the Islamic standard, but I would prefer to restrict that right to kind speech anyhow.

    If someone more knowledgeable could address freedom of speech in Islam, that would be awesome.

  7. Avatar

    Aboo

    June 9, 2008 at 2:22 PM

    You shouldn’t really be showing the pic of the supposed depiction of Jesus and his disciples at the table.

  8. Avatar

    Safia

    June 9, 2008 at 3:10 PM

    I think much of the issue is that Muslims are perceived to be forcing their values upon the Western world. Though it’s disrespectful for us to depict the Prophet in that manner, it isn’t so for the non-Muslim West, which has a history of mocking all religion. Though I do agree that there is a definite double standard here, I’m not sure the best option is to ban or censor all material that may be offensive to any one group. There’s a huge difference between ‘freedom of speech’ which may cause offense and hurt feelings to one group, and something that can incite hatred against a group and may be considered hate speech.

    That said, I’m still trying to decide where I stand on the issue.

  9. Avatar

    Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    June 9, 2008 at 6:27 PM

    Important point brother Ahmed Brown.

    Saying something like Muslims believe in free speech…or I am against free speech…or I am for free speech….none of these mean much of anything.

    “Free speech” as a certain understanding based on the first amendment to the U.S. constitution and the court decisions that have interpreted that amendment.

    Other countries besides the U.S. (like Canada or in Europe) may believe in some sort of “free speech” but they do not have first amendments like the United States and so what that means practically and even philosophically is different.

    Many Muslims have argued that Islam provides for a certain kind of free speech, and I don’t necessarily think that has to be wrong but it is obvious that the mindset and worldview that produced most modern notions of free speech is utterly alien to any mindset or worldview known at the time of the Prophet (saw) or during the classical Islamic period when most of what we accept as the Islamic tradition was formulated.

    So, there are some hard questions and serious work that needs to be done to address such questions in our time in a meaningful way from an Islamic point of view. Pointing out double standards is fine, sloganeering about free speech from either side is to be expected but not really meaningful…but none of this really gets to the actual substantive issues involved as far as I can tell.

    And Allaah knows best.

  10. Avatar

    abc

    June 9, 2008 at 6:42 PM

    Maybe the reaction, which isn’t protests in the street all over the world, but rather a tame request, is the reason the issue doesn’t get blown out of proportion.

    Muslims get vilified because we over-react, and we over-react because we get vilified. The cartoons were offensive, yes, but not worth riots, and those riots overshadow the numerous tame, moderate voices. We come across as a hypersensitive ignorant community for the ‘western intellectual elite’ to point fingers at and mock muslims even more, when really, there’s enough sensibility and rationality within our own ranks to possibly make a difference in a less aggressive way. I like to think of a playground: bullies love to pick on kids that cry or fight back in ways that are ineffective, like names throwing punches in the air, but would probably leave a kid who’s sensible and unfluttered alone, coz he’ll get boring to pick on. Muslims need to become boring to pick on!

    As for freedom of speech in the United States, there is legal precedent in supreme court decisions against irresponsible and hate speech.
    The classic example of this is whether you have a right to scream ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, knowing very well that it is false, and that you endanger others’ lives by potentially causing panic, . According to the law as interpreted by the US supreme court, if something is going to incite violence or hate (racial, homophobic, religious) it is an offense. Its not that anyone can say whatever they want- there is an element of responsibility that comes with the right, much like the right to bear arms doesn’t automatically give you the right to shoot anyone without having to be responsible. Look up supreme court rulings for Schneck vs United States, from 1919 that uses the theater example, or Brandenburg vs Ohio from 1969 that uses the phrase ‘imminent lawless action’, ie hate speech, threats etc.

  11. Avatar

    Hamdi

    June 9, 2008 at 7:16 PM

    The hipocrisy of the West in this regard goes without saying. I mean, there are Western countries that implement thought crimes. Just look at the case of David Irving.

  12. Avatar

    Philip "Ahmed" Brown

    June 9, 2008 at 8:50 PM

    Jazech’Allah khair Abu Noor!

  13. Avatar

    Ibn Masood

    June 9, 2008 at 11:53 PM

    Interesting post. Also, Jazakallahu Khair to umm Afnaan and Abu Noor for their excellent comments.

  14. Amad

    Amad

    June 10, 2008 at 8:39 AM

    Aboo, the picture will be changed soon inshallah. JazakAllah khair.

  15. Avatar

    whawha

    June 10, 2008 at 10:17 AM

    As Salaam Alaikum,
    I believe that people should be allowed to expres themselves in anyway that they like as long as it is not harmful to other people (such as advocating someone’s death) and isn’t defaming another person based on lies (like randomly calling someone a pedophile). I mean sure these people can say it, but they should be prepared for hte consenquences, such as a lawsuit or even jail time when you advocate that someone be murdered.

    It’s very complicated.

    What I do know, concerning Muslims, according to the Quran we are suppose to just turn away when someone is speaking evil. We are suppose to let them be.

    The way that Muslims advocated for the death of those cartoonist is completely outrageous.

    salaam

  16. Avatar

    Talha

    June 10, 2008 at 12:25 PM

    Abu Noor, you’re right on the mark. Muslims shouldn’t just jump on every single word that gets bandied out (freedom, democracy, and what have you), and jump on every bandwagon. We must analyze the connotations of words, the culture and context in which the principles behind them were developed, and then study their compatibility with Islamic principles.

    To not do so would be intellectually dishonest.

  17. Avatar

    lois

    June 10, 2008 at 1:04 PM

    An excellently written article, Mr. Shehata. And there are some very insightful and thought-provoking comments as well.

    I’m on a personal mission to understand Islam as well as I can (and I wish all Americans, indeed, people everywhere would). Forums like this one are enormously helpful.

    One of the things I’ve learned is there are many, many different “brands” under the umbrella of Islam, well beyond Shi’a and Sunni, and for people to lump the actions of a few extremists onto the whole population is very, very wrong. And, I think that might be the root of the debate over free speech.

    Americans fiercely — and correctly — guard their First Amendment rights. We believe it is the cornerstone to guaranteeing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness under the Constitution. We believe there should be as few restrictions on it as possible (the crowded theater example cited above is one, because it is a DIRECT incitement to violence). We also believe in strict separation of church and state. Therefore, freedom of speech does not protect anyone — or any religion — from being offended. I, too, have been disgusted by so-called “art” depicting someone urinating on Jesus, etc. — and I understand why the cartoons offended so many Muslims. In Denmark, however, as in the US, they aren’t seen as direct incitements to violence, simply mockery, and thus don’t constitute a reason to restrict them.

    As I see it, there are many Muslims who understand this principle and accept it, and there are many who do not. Regarding those who do not, I respect their view — but the national laws trump religious traditions every time, whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish, if those traditions require restricting speech. Under the First Amendment, many things offending many people can be, and have been, said. But many injustices have also been brought to light. Furthermore, we could not have given the world some of the astonishing things we all enjoy had not freedom of speech been in place — the refrigerator, telegraph, telePHONE, cures for many diseases, the list goes on.

    I’m not saying others haven’t contributed to the world’s well-being as well. But I’m convinced that it was a climate of openness — protected by the First Amendment — that provided such fertile ground here in the US.

    I often wonder why those who don’t believe in free speech — whether Muslims or otherwise — come here to live, since something so fundamental clashes with their tradition. I was raised on the maxim “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and if I felt I couldn’t, I wouldn’t go to Rome. I’m not like those xenophobes who advocate “kicking ’em out” — I only hope they see reason, someday.

    It does make me angry, however, to see what’s going on in Canada right now with the Maclean’s/Mark Steyn case. Canada has kangaroo-court “human rights tribunals” that are not accountable to law in any way, shape or form, but they have the power to stifle free speech without accountability. Mark Steyn is, indeed, a very polemical writer, and he turns off a lot of people with his one-sided view of Islam. But he never advocated direct violence, and thus does not deserve to be silenced. The result of this trial will be, I fear, even more negative stereotypes being placed on Muslims at large. Because of the publicity, hundreds of thousands will buy the book at the core of the trial, and will be swayed by it. Millions of non-Muslims will view this as “yet another attempt” by Muslims to “take over the world.”

    What to do about it? There are scores of excellent books on the market that address Muslims and non-Muslims, and the issues they generate. To me, one of the best is “Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think” link to Amazon And, friend by friend, acquaintance by acquaintance, I’m trying to spread the word. I think this forum is an excellent place, as well, for educating everyone, non-Muslim and Muslim alike. Someday, I believe, we WILL come together in harmony and understanding.

    But remember — can’t do it without free speech!

  18. Avatar

    Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    June 10, 2008 at 1:18 PM

    abc,

    Thanks for your comments.

    By the way, if one does look at Schneck v. United States, I think almost all of us would agree that the case was wrongly decided by the Supreme Court. In fact, the Court itself in subsequent decisions refined its own test as to what type of speech could be prohibited to a much narrower ground. (In Schneck itself, the defendant had mailed out literature to prospective draftees encouraging them to resist being drafted into World War I). Of course, the issue of free speech during war has been a touchy one historically. People interested should read the work Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terror by Geoffrey Stone (you can get it at a bargain price from amazon.com here:

    http://www.amazon.com/Perilous-Times-Wartime-Sedition-Terrorism/dp/0393327450/ref=pd_bbs_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1213116645&sr=8-3

    The hate crime speech issues are quite tricky as well (see R.A.V. v. St. Paul)

    So, you are correct to of course point out that every type of system, including even the U.S. under the First Amendment which is probably one of the most liberal free speech regimes ever, has some type of limits on speech. At the same time, we should also be clear that there is no chance that something like the cartoons purportedly of the Prophet (saw) or these other religiously blasphemous or offensive items we’re discussing here would ever be allowed to be made illegal in the United States.

    Some people may be familiar with the Falwell — Hustler case in which the magazine published a completely made up story about Min. Falwell having sex with his own mother. This was found by the court to be protected speech which the government could not outlaw nor could Hustler be required to pay any damages for its slander.

    The traditional Shari’ah views on Free Speech and the 1st amendment understanding, as a said before, come out of different worldviews and cannot easily be reconciled.

    As abc and others have pointed out, however, there is a distinction between the legal issues and personal and community relations, etc. So, one can attempt to address concerns with private parties and can sometimes prevent hateful or hurtful speech in that way. Because there is a wider 1st amendment culture in the U.S. or free speech culture in the West that goes beyond legal issues, some people will sometimes react negatively to private entities censoring or even to people censoring themselves, but there are no legal issues raised by such practices. The 1st amendment only applies to government attempts to stop speech.

    And Allaah knows best.

  19. Avatar

    Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    June 10, 2008 at 1:32 PM

    Lois,

    Thank you for your well-informed, well thought out and well argued comments.

    I agree with almost everything you said.

    The only quibble I would have is the “if you’re going to come here, accept the way “we” do things here” part.

    The United States has a long and complex history and is today and has always been made up of diverse groups of people who have always disagreed and contested the way to do things including around issues of freedom of speech.

    Everyone here who wants to should engage in and contribute to that ongoing discussion — there is no settled way that “we” do things, a brief study of the history of free speech or any other legal concept in this country would make that clear. Interestingly enough, the majority of Muslims who are immigrants themselves would probably agree with this misguided notion that there is a single settled “American” way that things are done and that people who come here have to accept it. That’s due to their own experiences of other places, their desire to fit in and to succeed and their own ignorance of U.S. history.

    Their children who are born and raised here and all the rest of us who have only known this country of course would never accept the notion that our own ideas are somehow foreign to the one correct “American” way of doing things.

    I hope you catch what I’m saying.

    Again, thanks for adding your perspective and May God reward your efforts to learn more about Islam and Muslims and to promote understanding and interaction between different groups of people. This is why God made people different, so that we can know each other better!

  20. Avatar

    DrM

    June 10, 2008 at 2:05 PM

    Theres no such thing as a free lunch or free speech. The whole thing is a charade of hypocrisy. If you agree with the usual suspects its “freedom of speech,” if you don’t its “hate speech.” Dixie chicks anyone?

  21. Avatar

    abc

    June 10, 2008 at 7:16 PM

    Abu Noor,
    Thank you for the details on the legalese, I didn’t intend to start a first amendment interpretation thread. I’m in no way saying that the supreme court decisions about free speech are right or wrong, was just pointing out that free speech can and has been curtailed by law, there’s been precedent, and as you pointed out, various decisions that have gone against prior rulings and all i was doing was pointing out that ‘free’ isn’t free.

    DrM, free speech is a legal right, which doesn’t guarantee that individuals will tolerate that right of yours, but then again, they have the right to dissent. “hate speech” has a narrow definition in legal terms, but in the popular media, it gets thrown around and the speaker gets attacked. Which is why you need people on your end who can defend views without getting personal in their attacks.
    Say something that doesn’t agree with the majority view, you’ll get allegations and mudslinging galore in the media, the internet etc, but you probably can’t be sent to prison for it. That isn’t true in many countries. Try criticizing the monarchy in the Middle East.

  22. Avatar

    Faiez

    June 10, 2008 at 10:07 PM

    Anwar alAwlaki is the man

  23. Avatar

    Charles

    June 12, 2008 at 10:49 AM

    There’s an interesting article in the New York Times today on this topic called “Unlike Others, U.S. Defends Freedom to Offend in Speech”. The link is http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/12/us/12hate.html?partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=all

  24. Avatar

    DrM

    June 13, 2008 at 5:35 PM

    Nice try “abc” but I’ve heard this fashionable and convenient spiel before. “Freedom of speech” is a myth, no where in the world are you allowed to say whatever you want. The fact of the matter is theres a very blurry line between “free” speech and “hate” speech. As for “criticizing the monarchy in the Middle East” the reality is that these are client regimes of the West, so why the false pretense? Dixie chicks ban mean anything to you? Or perhaps Michele Malkin’s idiotic Dunkin donuts fiasco? Don’t even get me started on how zionism is the sacred cow in the western world. You may very well get thrown in prison and have your reputation destroyed, ask Samy Al-Arian.

  25. Avatar

    ummafnaan

    June 13, 2008 at 11:55 PM

    DrM

    May Allah reward you.

    It seems that the Western ideological campaign has really succeeded in brainwashing a lot of our brothers and sisters. I can’t believe there are people who believe ‘free speech’ exists even in the west. As I said earlier, try openly denying the holocaust or even quoting one of the many ahadith where Rasulullah (saw) talks about the muslims fighting and defeating the Jews at the end of time and see if you do not at the very least, spend a month in solitary confinement for ‘inciting hatred’.

    Oh Ummah of Muhammad (saw), WAKE UP!!!!!!

  26. Avatar

    DrM

    June 14, 2008 at 2:25 PM

    Jazakallah Khair Ummafnaan,

    I’m currently doing a series of posts titled “Immigration, Integration and the Illusion of Inclusion” on my blog. I’ll be addressing this “freedom of speech” rabbit which the usual suspects like to pull out of their hat, all the while self-censoring themselves on other topics. I might have to create a “freeDumb of speech” file section for this as well.

  27. Avatar

    Mary (also known as Lois)

    June 14, 2008 at 7:17 PM

    Abu Noor Al-Irlandee, thanks so much for your answer.

    (By the way, I’ve posted under different e-mails on this website, as I have two I use interchangeably and often forget which one I’ve used before — sorry for any confusion! I use “Lois Lane” as a reference to my profession of journalism. My real name is Mary — I’ll try to remember only to use that e-mail here.)

    You said: “The only quibble I would have is the “if you’re going to come here, accept the way “we” do things here” part.”

    Fair enough — and I didn’t mean it to come across as xenophobic. I truly can’t understand how someone could live somewhere whose culture was so diametrically opposed to their own beliefs. I can only see it as painful in the extreme, especially for devout Muslims. Trying to raise modest young women, for example. And for the more conservative believers, who advocate the harsher punishments of Sharia law, it’s got to seem downright impossible. I’d never get along in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, to speak for myself.

    What I meant was we do things the way we do because, by and large, it works for most of us. We celebrate diversity and pluralism, and the only way to protect that is to protect freedom of speech as unrestricted as possible. Of course, there ARE cases (which have been tried in courts of law) that restrict certain speech — yelling “fire” in a crowded theater when no fire exists, for example. But these restrictions are very rare; and, as I say, must be challenged in court to become legal precedent. The burden of proof on speech that is alleged to incite hatred is an imminent danger to the person (or group) being hated. Simply being wrong, or insulting, won’t hold up in court. Nor should it.

    And that’s where that particular thought was leading. Americans believe the proper forum for objecting to something someone said or printed is in the public forum, i.e. letters to the editor or personal opinion columns. They become resentful when someone tries to circumvent this by lawsuits or “human rights tribunals” Canada-style. These actions are seen as “whining” and underhanded, and only serve to even more tarnish the view of Muslims. This is something that frustrates me, as I’ve learned not only is understanding possible, but very much “doable.” But as regards free speech, generally speaking, Americans believe the truth will out, given enough time in the public debate. (Which should be as unfettered as possible.)

    Frankly, I wish many more Americans would come to websites like this one so they can learn more. Talk about the value of free speech! I’ll do my best to get the word out.

  28. Avatar

    abc

    June 14, 2008 at 9:27 PM

    from the economist:
    Islam and the West- When religions talk
    http://www.economist.com/world/international/displayStory.cfm?story_id=11543233

  29. Avatar

    Jim C.

    June 16, 2008 at 12:38 AM

    I don’t know how far freedom of speech applies in Austria, so I will discuss it from the USA perspective.

    In the USA the removal of this art would involve no double standard. It would be perfectly legal and would not violate freedom of speech.

    The first amendment to the US Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    It’s CONGRESS that must not make laws to restrict speech. There are obvious exceptions, the classic example being shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

    The museum is private, owned and operated by the Cathedral (and thus by the Catholic Church). In the US they could display or reject any art they want. You could make an argument about artistic freedom, but the answer to that is that it isn’t a law that prevents the artist from displaying it there. There is no law against creating such art or displaying it elsewhere.

    From the US viewpoint, there is no comparison between this and the cartoons published in Danish newspapers.

    A closer comparison would be if, say, cartoons portraying Muhammad in homosexual acts were posted in a museum owned by Muslims. There no one would have real objection to the cartoons’ removal.

    I remind you of Ofili’s “Holy Virgin Mary”, displayed in the Brooklyn Museum. The depiction of the mother of Jesus included daubs of dung and photos of women’s external sexual organs. There were protest demonstrations and much public outcry. But the “art” remained. The most violent thing that occurred was that someone tried to deface the “art” with white paint. There were no actual riots. No one was killed.

  30. Avatar

    Mary

    June 17, 2008 at 10:22 PM

    I’m sorry to have to say this, but speaking as one of the very few who wants to advance the Muslim viewpoint, if only for the sake of fairness, you are making it very hard.

    I would have liked to have put forth reasoned opinion “out there” in the general discourse. Because general discourse demands a reasoned answer. I’m a non-Muslim who wants to answer.

    But I’m finding no support, here.

    I’ll continue to try and advance the public debate. But I have to say I’m very disappointed in any support to be found here.

  31. Avatar

    DrM

    June 18, 2008 at 5:07 PM

    Nice straw man arguments, Jim. Freedom of Speech does not exist anywhere in the world, only someone living in Disney land believes otherwise. The main difference being that the Catholic Church has not had a war declared on it, with multiple Catholic nations under brutal foreign occupation. The killings only happened after trigger happy police shot Muslim demonstrators(the majority of the demonstrations were peaceful BUT the media only focused on a handful of violent ones) following the REPUBLICATION of the cartoon in Europe 4 months after the initial provocation.
    Don’t worry though, I’ll be posting a complete time line on the Danish hate cartoons. Watch for it…

  32. Avatar

    Jim C.

    June 18, 2008 at 6:20 PM

    From wiki: “A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.”

    DrM, kindly point out whose position I misrepresented and what their true position is.

    I’ll assume you meant freedom of speech. Yes, freedom of speech does exist, but there are exceptions (such as the one I pointed out) so it’s not absolute. There is no such thing as absolute freedom of any kind. All thinking people know this.

    But I’ll add my personal opinion: if we do protect/restrict speech, it must be protected/restricted equally without regard to race, religion, or gender. If we protect speech offensive to one religion, we must equally protect speech offensive to all other religions.

  33. Avatar

    badfrog

    June 19, 2008 at 2:46 PM

    As a Christian and an American, there are things in the Koran and especially the Hadiths that I find hateful and objectionable. I will not enumerate them here, you already know what some of them are. On the day in the USA that hate speech is made illegal, papers will be filed to supress the Koran and Hadiths, and there is an excellent chance that at least some of them will be upheld.

    If Mark Steyn’s work is supressed in Canada, the Koran and Hadiths will also be supressed as there is much in them that is interpreted as a direct call to violence, pedophelia, and hatred.

    Be careful what you wish for, as you may get it.

  34. Amad

    Amad

    June 19, 2008 at 3:13 PM

    I guess badfrog, then the bible being actually worse in terms of possible interpretations, would also be subjected to the same issue.

    How you interpret is an important aspect of the issue.

  35. Avatar

    Jim C.

    June 19, 2008 at 4:29 PM

    Answer to Wilders’ “Fitna” shelved.

    http://www.nisnews.nl/public/290208_3.htm

    The film was “one of the plans for participating in the debate that Geert Wilders has aroused with his proposal to ban the Koran. After extensive research, linking Bible quotations with real political events and acts of violence however produced an insufficient basis for a thorough journalistic production.”

    Oops.

    Amad, perhaps you know of someone who could do a better job. I personally would really like to see such a film.

  36. Avatar

    Abû Mûsâ Al-Ḥabashî

    June 20, 2008 at 12:13 AM

    Now that’s a strawman.

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

Omar Usman

Published

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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#Current Affairs

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

Shaykh Tarik Ata

Published

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. 

Fatima Asad

Published

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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