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Update#2: MM’s 2008 Presidential Elections Post-Mortem: Yes We Can, Insha’Allah

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Updated#2 (Nadim’s input)- The following is the MM’s team thoughts and views on the Elections. After my intro, don’t miss the pieces by Yasir Qadhi, Yaser Birjas, Navaid Aziz, Abdul Nasir, others – Amad

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Comments CLOSED. Time to focus on what the Shayookh said, instead of arguing.

My fellow Muslims, especially my fellow American Muslims, Assalam Alaikum.

We are now passing from election hype to a surreal sense of what just happened in American history– a black man with none of the “required pedigree” taking over the leadership for the most powerful nation in the world. We all know that Obama really had no “business” running for the Presidency as a viable candidate, let alone winning it. But he did, and he nailed a slogan that will go down in history as one of the most genius political creations ever, “Yes, we can”.

What happened on November 4, 2008 will be discussed, argued, and deciphered for ages. The pundits and academics will make a living out of this election for decades to come. So, this “citizen-journalist” won’t bore you much more with more of the same. Rather, I want to take you through a quick journey of politics on MM:

Political discussions on MM have brought out the worst and best among us. We saw the entire spectrum of Muslims commenting on these grounds, from those who wanted Muslims in the West to live as if they were really not living here (i.e. completely divorcing themselves from society), to those who cannot have enough of the American dream, soaking it up as if they were given the keys to Jerusalem.

After we got past the voting-blocK, we heard from both sides of the McCain and Obama camps, truly an opportunity for Muslims to grow beyond sloganeering, and looking at the issues.

I know there are many of you who would prefer an apolitical Islam-only MM, and I respect your desire for that. At the same time, there are many others, including me, who have found this political awakening of sort quite rewarding; what we believe is our own little way of contributing to the Ummah in the West. So, I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the first group for the high-dose of politics over the last few weeks, and want to thank the second group for the encouragement and the support for MM-politics.

A few final thoughts before I leave you with the words of those whose opinions far outweigh mine, in both value and quality.

As I left for work in the morning, my feelings of happiness were all relative: relative to what could have been had it not been Obama. I know that the “Muslim” mistake with Bush in 2000 has been rubbed in at every opportunity. But as Muslims, we learn from our mistakes; we don’t stop trying. And perhaps this is a mistake again, wallahu ‘alam, but I would rather try and make a mistake, than not try at all.

And so, I leave you with two words regarding Obama: cautious optimism. Obama’s choice for Chief of Staff has served well to emphasize the need for caution, and for tempered expectations. Studies in human psychology have shown that a sense of loss is much harder to take than a sense of gain, e.g. losing money that you possessed feels much worse than not gaining the same amount that you were expecting to receive.

I urge you to not put political participation behind you, not to leave it for a short sprint every 4 years. If we continue to depend on political chicken-feed every presidential elections, then we will never get to a point where the politicians will actually start paying attention to us. I cannot but emphasize the importance of involvement in local politics, the city councils, the civic clubs, the school boards, and so on. This is where things happen, and where we can make a difference, and where we can go in with the motto:

“Yes, we can insha’Allah (God-willing)”

And then perhaps by the next election, we will also be able to say,

“Yes, we did mash’Allah (God willed it)”

May Allah forgive me for all my errors.

Your brother, Amad S.

Enough of me, time for the REAL deal…

Yasir Qadhi tells us not to be guilty of hope [Jump to his piece]:

How much more so, then, are we deserving of feeling hope and optimism, when a candidate who WILL directly affect our lives and the lives of millions of people across the world has been elected.

Navaid Aziz, watching from up above (Canada that is), is pleasantly surprised [Jump to his piece]:

Besides all of the hype involved, it was nice to see that American Muslims seem to have a genuine concern for their country and its well being

Yaser Birjas shares a short, but deep thought [Jump to his piece]:

Many people such as Martin Luther King died dreaming for something even less than that, and now here I am living to see some history in the making.

Abdul Nasir Jangda is relieved [Jump to his piece]:

NO MORE SARAH PALIN! Well at least not for a couple of years.

IbnAbeeOmar shares a more interesting story, his struggles between a mother’s order to vote, and a desire not to [Jump to his piece]:

She [mom] said go, the lines are short. I said ok, I’ll see, I have some work to do. A few minutes later she called again.

SaqibSaab, a true Chicagoan at heart, revels in Obama’s ascension, though he treads with caution [Jump to his piece]:

For one, they should’ve had the starting lineup intro for the Chicago Bulls play, with an all-star Chicago “starting lineup”. Oprah, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Kanye West, Michael Jordan, and finally, the man of the hour, Barack Obama.

Abu Bakr doesn’t buy the hype [Jump to his piece]:

I believe in the principle of voting in order to avert the greater of two evils, however I chose not to vote in this election.

Neither does Ahmad Al-Farsi [Jump to his piece]:

I was more afraid of, if I voted for him, thereby endorsing him, and he went off and killed many more Muslims in Afghanistan or Pakistan or elsewhere, that I would feel quite accountable for having voted for him. So, Alhamdulillah, I decided to protest the election by not voting.

Tariq Ahmed (AbuAbdullah-the Houstonian) takes a more philosophical approach [Jump to his piece]:

Take note of the moment in history. As Rome turned the tide against Persia, so America has reached a milestone in its continuing epilogue to the end of slavery in these lands.

Siraaj Muhammad mixes up the optimism and the caution perfectly [Jump to his piece]:

Obama’s victory over McCain last night was an emotional one on many levels. There is now hope at the end of the dark tunnel that was George Bush’s presidency these past eight years

Nadim reminds us to be realistic [Jump to his piece]:

Let’s be realistic, in politics, nothing is what it seems. America has a new leader, but can the winner change the rules of the game?

And finally, here’s a special short one-liner from the other Canadian, AnonyMouse (who also tells us that she checked the news on Obama after brushing her teeth and before breakfast, which is a big deal) :

My summary: Everyone is way too excited, and we’re all going to be disappointed no matter who’s elected… The End :D

signed Zainab bint Younus

Yes, “AnonyMouse” is anonymous no longer. Is this bigger news than Obama winning or what??

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YASIR QADHI

Indeed, all praise is due to Allah, and may peace and salutations be upon the prophets of Allah.

When the Muslims were in Makkah, there was a major war raging in a nearby land; a war that was, relative to its time, of cataclysmic proportion. It was being fought out between the only two super-powers of the era. And even though the Muslims themselves had nothing at stake in that war, even though any win or loss to either side would cause no immediate change in their lives, the Muslims were emotionally attached to one side against the other. Their spirits, their hopes, their optimism, all centered on the army of Heraclius, the emperor of Rome, as he fought against Khusrau Parvez, the King of Sassanid Persia. These early Muslims felt an affinity for the Christian Heraclius as he fought against the fire-worshiping Zoroastrians. So, when the news came that Heraclius had been defeated, the Muslims were in fact dejected, and the pagans of Makkah boasted to the Muslims that their ‘team’ had lost. It was at this occasion that Allah revealed the first few verses of Surah al-Rum, which gave them the optimistic prophecy that even though Heraclius had lost this battle, he would win a future one, in a few years. Many years later, the Prophet wrote a letter to Heraclius, and Heraclius heard the message of Islam. While respectful of it, he did not convert. Throughout this entire time, the Muslims were not reproached or reprimanded for their feelings of hope towards Heraclius and the Roman Empire.

How much more so, then, are we deserving of feeling hope and optimism, when a candidate who WILL directly affect our lives and the lives of millions of people across the world has been elected. For those who wish to make Muslims even feel guilty for this hope, I say that our religion is a religion of optimism and a religion of reality. We should feel optimistic, at all times, and take the best from every situation. And between the two candidates that were running for the highest office in the most powerful country in the world today, it was clear in the eyes of many, which of these two was more inclined to peace, and which was more inclined to war. It was clear who was able to inspire with hope and optimism, and who was more inclined to inspire through fear and hatred of ‘the other’. It was clear who had more intelligence and common sense, and who could not even think clearly enough to choose a qualified running mate.

Make no mistake about it, though. Barack Obama is no messiah, and, as an American political leader, he will inevitably do things that will enrage people around the world, and yes, sometimes even us. But looking at the alternative, in my opinion and the opinion of many in the know, the message was clear: he was the better candidate overall, at this time and place, for Muslims, for America, for the world. And if it so turns out that those who voted for Barack Obama were wrong, well, they can say, in full conscience and with no fear of reprimand, ‘O Allah, this is what was apparent to us when we chose, and only You knew the future and what it held.’

Indeed, we thank Allah who will judge us for the sincerity of our intentions rather than the unintended consequences of our actions.

It is indeed an historic moment for this country, when a black leader, with the middle name of Hussein, the son of an African visitor to this land, raised far away from the bastions of political power, can actually win the highest office. It is an historic moment, and I am proud to have witnessed it. But the election yesterday was not about supporting the persona of Barack Obama as much as it was about the scathing indictment of the previous administration. When people voted yesterday, they voted not for Barack, but against the current administration. Obama did not win because he was Obama, but rather because he was for change. And to me, that is huge reason to be optimistic about this country.

There is much good in America, and we need to channel that good and help it overcome the bad. Keep in mind that while Obama won a resounding victory in the electoral votes, he only had a slight lead in the popular vote (52% to Obama, 46 % to McCain). And while it is overly simplistic and wrong to claim that all those who voted for McCain were supportive of the current administration’s policies, it is not an exaggeration to state that a fairly large percentage of them would be averse to the positive vision of change that Obama claims to want. And that is a scary thought, one that sobers us up the reality, and shows us that there is a lot of work to do ahead.

As an American, I cannot help but feel a sense of joy, a sense of optimism for the future, and the work ahead for all of us. And as a Muslim, I sincerely pray that Allah wants good for this country, and that He places people in power that will bring about that good through them, and through all of us. The Obama campaign might have stopped now, but our campaign as Muslims, in spreading the truth and calling for justice, never stops as long as we remain in this world.

In this moment of elated happiness, when the nation itself seems swept away with the raw emotion of victory, let us remember that true victory is one’s spiritual victory in winning the pleasure of Allah. Let us keep in mind that leaders come and go, nations rise and fall, and one day, after having witnessed much happiness and sorrow, we too shall depart, leaving this world with only our deeds to show.

May Allah make us all beacons of light, calling people to the truth, and being a shining example for others to follow.

Yasir Qadhi
New Haven, CT
Nov 5th, 2008

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NAVAID AZIZ

One of the more appealing Muslim authored articles I stumbled upon during the whole election fiasco was the article written by Br. Zaid Shakir entitled: “Vote for me and I’ll set you free“. Not wanting to focus so much on the content of the article, it basically summarized all the things that the up and coming president would need to say, and more importantly do, to get the affairs of the country in order. What I would like to focus on is the title of the article itself, and how it relates the mindset of the average Muslim American voter.

Now, Br. Shakir may have not necessarily been thinking about the frame of mind of the average Muslim American voter when he wrote the article, but I believe the title is nonetheless very applicable. After having observed all the debates and discussion surrounding the two respective candidates one thing that definitely stuck out, like a sore thumb, was how Muslims actually believed that it was this up and coming president that would change their lives, and basically “set them free.” Now such sentiments are not only understandable, but perhaps also expected after GW Bush’s eight years in power that have left the country in shambles. Amongst all of those sentiments the greater picture faded away and perhaps was even lost. What is that greater picture? You need not look further than the American dollar bill: “In God we trust”. Yes, with a new president comes great hope and possibly great change, but at the end of the day nothing happens except by the will and power of the almighty. So why is it we witnessed debates about which candidate we should vote for, and heard khutbahs about why we need to be more politically aware, yet nowhere in those lengthy sermons and debates did anyone mention putting our trust in Allah and supplicating that He grant victory to the one that will be the most beneficial for Islam and the Muslims in America. The president is just a means. God is the one that controls your fate.

“Over all those endowed with knowledge is the All-Knowing” (12:76)

Not wanting to be a total cynic, I was pleasantly surprised at the interest that Muslim Americans showed during these elections. Besides all of the hype involved, it was nice to see that American Muslims seem to have a genuine concern for their country and its well being. It is such glimpses of hope that allow me to believe that American Muslims will one day unite under a centralized opinion and use that united voice to fight for justice, human rights, and a rectification of domestic and foreign policy. When one is living in a land of democracy, it is only foolish not to make the best of it when one can, while never forgetting that there is no replacement or second to the sharee’ah of Allah.

“And who is better in judgment than Allah for a people who have firm Faith.” (5:50)

May Allah rectify the affairs of Muslims in America and everywhere else, and return this Ummah to the honor and respect it once had.

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YASER BIRJAS

I truly felt more republican on some issues than democrat but couldn’t imagine McCain-Palin in the White House. The only thing that struck me while I was watching both McCain and Obama’s speeches, that I was watching a truly historical event. Many people such as Martin Luther King died dreaming for something even less than that, and now here I am living to see some history in the making.

How positive or negative the impact of this in the future was not really an issue to me at that moment. The issue was to believe that with hard and sensible work, with enduring prejudice and all kind of stereotypes things by the will of Allah can happen. Silence or negativity during those difficult moments of our time were definitely not an option.

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ABDUL NASIR JANGDA

This was a very interesting and important election for many reasons that have been elaborated upon. I found this election to be of special interest to me, primarily due to the thumping the republican party received both locally here in North Texas and of course nationally. We have been suffering locally, nationally, and even worldwide on the republican watch. So it was nice to see them deal with the consequences of their actions and policies.

NO MORE SARAH PALIN! Well at least not for a couple of years. She’s saying she wants to run for president. Looks like Tina Fey doesn’t have to worry about a job. :)

Another point that struck me was how far the African American community has been able to come in half a century, despite all the challenges and adversity they faced. It was fascinating to see how things have developed.

Lastly in deciding whether or not to participate in the voting process, we should remember to be respectful towards each other and treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Allah knows best.

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IBN ABEE OMAR

I have perhaps one of the most interesting journeys of the 2008 election (of the MM staff maybe anyways). I have struggled to some extent with where I stand on voting, ultimately deciding that I was not going to partake in the election. My only reason for participating would be with the premise of choosing which candidate would be better for the Muslim Ummah – if such a conclusion could be reached. While debating the issue of who was really the lesser evil, I could not decide. I feel Obama is better for America, but I don’t know that it translates into who is necessarily best for Muslims everywhere. And while I understand the arguments of those opposing voting on Islamic grounds, I also personally feel that those allowing it in our situation – using the tools available to you to better your situation until you have a better alternative – have the more compelling argument.

While trying to come to grips with who was better for the Muslims, my gut told me Obama was. I could not help shake my guilty conscience though, that still gnaws at me from 8 years ago. If you recall, back then the “Muslim thing to do” was to vote for Bush. I did my civic duty as a Muslim and made sure I voted for him. I have regretted it every day since.

I learned that while it’s important to be involved in society, I concluded that voting didn’t need to be one of the ways – legitimate an option for us it may be. I realized that I simply could not identify the lesser of two evils simply based on campaigning and empty stances on canned issues, especially when despite Obama’s anti-war stance he is still anti-Palestine. Therefore, I decided to abstain from voting in this election, as I did in the previous election.

Then, in the span of 30 minutes, everything got turned upside down. Parents have a tendency to do that. My mom, of all people, called me while I was working asking me if I had voted. I said no. She said go, the lines are short. I said ok, I’ll see, I have some work to do. A few minutes later she called again. I again made some excuse. Then she called a third time, and I said I would see about it after going to the Masjid – except this time she got frustrated and said to go ahead and go now and not to miss out.

I am now in what you might call a predicament, a conundrum of sorts. She’s not ordering me with something I consider to be blatantly haram, and having an argument with my parents about voting is not my idea of a nice evening at home. So I said khayr, I will obey my mother and go out and vote. Birr al-walidayn overrides an issue of ijtihad such as this in my mind (I have a tendency to create fatwa situations in real life that others would never even think of hypothetically).

The story doesn’t end there. I walk in and feel uncomfortable just being there. I made a quick du’a, something along the lines of being guided to whatever was going to be best for me in my affairs. I go to the table, whip out my registration card, and hand it to them. My registration card is from around 1999-2000 (wow I feel old). My name is not in their list. The address on my card was from when I lived at home and was going to college. No problem they said, they’d find where I could go vote and started checking my previous address. That didn’t help much because in the last 5 years I have moved probably 4 times, including a 2 year stint in another state. And that’s what got me. My registration expired while I was in the other state, and the post office is not allowed to forward mail for voter registration, so I never received my renewal notice. My ‘civic duty’ when I moved back to my present state would have been to re-register as a resident of the state and be eligible to vote. So I re-registered, but I was not allowed to vote today. So Alhamdulillah, I made my mom happy, and I feel at ease for not voting for someone that I might regret later.

As I write this, Obama looks like a run-away winner. I’m happy that he won as opposed to McCain, but what I have learned from 2000 is not to get too excited. Make dua’ for the Ummah, it’s much more important. I pray that Allah (swt) makes our affairs easy here, puts barakah in our dawah efforts, makes it easy for us to combat the negativity spread about us here, and saves the Muslims from the disasters we have seen abroad in the past 8 years.

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SAQIBSAAB

As a Chicagoan, it was something else to see Obama take the victory right in my own home city. I knew people who went to Grant Park for his victory speech and even saw some Muslims I knew on TV. This election and the events that led up to it were truly something else. On a humorous note, my wife and I jokingly kinda wished they would’ve increased the “Chicagoness” of the celebration. How so? For one, they should’ve had the starting lineup intro for the Chicago Bulls play, with an all-star Chicago “starting lineup”. Oprah, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Kanye West, Michael Jordan, and finally, the man of the hour, Barack Obama. The bench would consist of Common, Derick Rose, Roger Ebert, Mike Ditka, Al Bundy, Bill Murray, Lupe Fiasco, the Perfect Strangers, Steve Urkel, Christian Bale as Batman from The Dark Knight, okay now I’m just getting carried away.

As a recent college graduate looking for a job in a recession, I’m both relieved the republican party of McCain lost and the democratic Obama team took the stage. As Imam Suhaib said, Obama’s more about socializing the benefits for the masses, not privatizing them. I personally like Obama’s constant focus on the middle to lower class of America and not on supposed plumbers making $250,000+ a year.

As a Muslim, I have two feelings. Firstly, I’m relieved McCain and Sarah Palin weren’t elected. Besides the fact that Palin is a walking embodiment of epic fail, their campaign carried a lot of blatant much anti-Muslim baggage. I’m glad the likes of Gayle Quinnell, the McCain supporter that didn’t trust Obama because he was “an Arab,” won’t have any more say in things than they deserve.

The other feeling I have is of concern for all Muslims in their support for Barack Obama. Most Muslims I know voted and supported Obama, either on the basis of his superior domestic policies or the negative characteristics of McCain and his ilk. Obama’s the candidate who explicitly stated supporting the closing of Guantanamo Bay. That, amongst other reasons, is why we can consider him a lesser of two evils. However, I really advise us Muslims to take Obama’s victory with a grain of salt.

Obama has stated he wants to send forces into Pakistan, as well as increase focus in Afghanistan. This is very worrisome for me as a Muslim, because with the way US Foreign policy goes, invading primarily Muslim lands has been nothing short of disastrous.

So while we may get excited and get somewhat emotional of having the candidate we voted for win, I want to remind everyone that Barack Obama is not perfect. He is not a savior or Mehdi for us, and he is not our avenue for sole trust in all affairs. He’s a human being, and a politician at that. Therefore, he is going to make mistakes. Better to believe this now, and remember it when conflicts between the US’ interests come between ours, especially on a foreign level.

We ask Allah protect us and bring us justice.

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ABU BAKR IBN NASIR

I believe in the principle of voting in order to avert the greater of two evils, however I chose not to vote in this election. The following are my concerns about Obama:

  1. It seems he will be continuing the war in Iraq for the foreseeable future.
  2. He is pro-Israel.
  3. He is indicated his readiness to expand the Afghanistan war into Pakistan.
  4. On the domestic front, he approved the Patriot Act.

I would honestly like to believe that with a Democratic Congress and President, there will be an improvement on the civil rights front, but the Democratic Party has been complicit in the gross civil rights violations of the Bush Administration.

I hope I am wrong and that the two wars come to an end soon, but I think that the ongoing economic troubles in the US and the tenacity of the military insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq will have more to do with it than the election of Obama.

I think if the economic troubles continue to grow, the government will be under more and more pressure from the public to end the war. This would be a dilemma however for Muslims in America because the public will also be more receptive to anti-Muslim demagoguery of the sort that has already been seen in many European countries.

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AHMAD AL-FARSI

For a while before the election, I was seriously contemplating voting for Obama, simply because I was quite scared of what McCain would do to the Muslim world, were he to be elected. However, as days got closer to the election, I began to think to myself that, in spite of his rhetoric, Obama probably would not be that different from the status quo. Sure, he said he wants to end the war in Iraq (and I’m not sure if I even trusted him on this one), but he said that in conjunction with saying that he will re-double the military effort in Afghanistan, which implies North Pakistan as well. In addition, hearing Joe Biden’s excessive drooling over Israel, and Obama’s approval (and many times outright praise himself), made me think that basically, although we might see SOME slight improvements under Obama, things would basically stay the same.

At the end of the day, I was not really 100% convinced that Obama would be the lesser evil… maybe 50% sure, but not sure enough to give my endorsement… and I was more afraid of, if I voted for him, thereby endorsing him, and he went off and killed many more Muslims in Afghanistan or Pakistan or elsewhere, that I would feel quite accountable for having voted for him. So, Alhamdulillah, I decided to protest the election by not voting. To those who would criticize my action as “inaction,” I remind that in many countries, people purposely do not vote as a way of voicing their disapproval of the system, and as a way of showing that whoever is elected does not hold the support of the people. Sure, that lack of support did not occur from Americans this election cycle (as people came out in record numbers), but it occurs from the individual, Ahmad AlFarsi, who refused to show his support for either candidate. I think if Ron Paul, or someone who held his non-interventionist views on foreign policy, were running, I would have voted for that candidate.

Although I did not vote, as I did not wish to give my official endorsement, I was closely following the results of the election, still hoping that McCain would lose. I don’t have a TV, so I followed on CNN.com. I saw Pennsylvania go Obama, then Ohio, and saw that he had 207 votes without counting any of the west coast states, so at that point I knew he had it in the bag. When CNN officially announced that Obama won, despite my serious doubts about him, I couldn’t help but feel happy… if for no other reason, then simply because a presidency by a man named Barack Hussein Obama, who has three very foreign sounding, and two Arabic names, would mean that no matter how racist or prejudiced other Americans wanted to be, they would have to swallow the fact that their president has the middle name Hussein and has close family ties to Muslims, and that his name doesn’t sound white or European in the least bit. That in and of itself, is seen by me as form of progress in this country, and it’s a true, “in your face” to all the racist rednecks that still live here. Of course, I’m still hoping that the ultra-right wingers were correct, and that Obama has been a closet Muslim this whole time… who knows, Insha’Allah, on inauguration day, maybe he will pick up the mic, and begin his speech with “Inna al-hamdalillaah, nahmaduhu wa nasta’eenuhu wa nastaghfiruh…” :) too bad that’s not happening … unless we start giving him some serious dawah starting now… get his half-brother Malik Obama in on this, Insha’Allah :)

As a side note, I do have one criticism of Muslim groups that have been advocating Muslim voting. I believe that at times it is being done in such a way that an average Muslim who knows little about his religion will be misled into thinking that secular democracy is legitimate from an Islamic point of view. We should be able to advocate voting, while still mentioning the disclaimer that we do not believe that secular democracy is Islamically-legitimate form of government for Muslims; rather, we are only picking the lesser evil. wa Allahu a’lam.

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T. AHMED

Innalhamdolillah. There is no deity worthy of worship other than Allah. The Lord of Abraham and Isaac. The Lord of Moses and Jesus. The Lord of Muhammad and of every human being. May prayers and blessing be on all the Prophets of Allah.

Indeed Allah is the One Who Rewards, and He is the One Who Advances and the One Who Delays. And Allah does no injustice, ever, to anyone. Allah has taught us in the Qur’an that the wakeels of those who defy Him, the ones in whom the ingrates place their trust, are false idols. While Allah is the One on Whom believers rely. But more than that, Allah is our Mawla, the One Who Can Act on our behalf, while the disbelievers who call on other than Him, have no one to answer them. Yet Allah answers the prayers of anyone who calls on the Lord alone.

The Prophet salallahu alahi wasalam taught us that no one knows what future Allah has Decreed for him until he witnesses it, so a person must strive all the time for what is good and place his trust in Allah. That is tawakkul, that is reliance on Allah: striving combined with trust. Verily, the Prophet taught the truth, Alhamdulillah.

So there is no people on earth who should believe more than Muslims that righteous works will be rewarded. And there is no people on earth who should be more steadfast in good works than the Muslims. So how is it that we are a people who constantly say what cannot be done? We have become a people in need of a reminder.

Allah does not disdain to use even a mosquito as an example. And He has used mighty nations who were in Kufr as examples to all the Muslims, and I remind you now of the Surah revealed about the Romans. How Allah told of the loss that Byzantine Rome was suffering against the armies of the Persian Empire. The example is important for us for many reasons: the Muslims were disheartened at the plight of the Romans because the Muslims loved the Christians who also worshipped Allah. And the idolaters of Makkah who persecuted the Muslims were glad for the Persians who were also engaged in shirk, taking false deities besides Allah.

And in that surah, Allah uplifted the Muslims with the foretelling of a Roman victory in the years to come. That bears highlighting, too, Allah uplifted the Muslims with a Promise of victory for the Christian empire.

So, I pray that Allah will accept my joy for America on the occasion of the outcome of its Presidential Election.

In electing a black man, the son of a black Kenyan Muslim and a white Kansan Christian, America has done something good. Something on the scale of the defeat of Persia by Rome. And all Muslims should take note, and take heart.

Take note of the accomplishment. A man whom other black politicians had judged as brash for wanting to seek the office he has now won, did not constantly seek out reasons for failure. He sought out the means to succeed. Did he call out to Allah, perhaps by other names such as “God”? I do not know, and only Allah Knows. And I do not want any of the rights of Allah, among them Allah’s Sovereign Right as Lord of All Creation to dispense sustenance, victory, and acclaim to Whomever He Wills. Verily Allah Does as He Pleases, and for me is only to accept His Will with humility.

Take note of the moment in history. As Rome turned the tide against Persia, so America has reached a milestone in its continuing epilogue to the end of slavery in these lands. America was torn apart by a Civil War largely over chattel slavery, which in America had become the most vile incarnation of slavery in history. Before the Civil War, the Supreme Court of the United States in Dred Scott v. Sanford would declare that slaves were not people. And a president from Illinois would emancipate all the slaves. And one hundred years after that president was assassinated, an iconic black preacher would be assassinated for continuing to dream of racial equality in America. We are now some 400 years after the first Africans were brought to Colonial America, and a descendant of their free cousins in Kenya has been elected President of the United States because he and millions of Americans never gave up hope.

Take heart. For Allah has given us an example of His willingness to reward the persistence of hope, and our hope is in Allah. As Muslims, we must never forget the lessons of our Lord. And we must always strive to do what is good. Take heart from the victory of this nation over its own worst demons, and commit yourselves as I do myself to increasing justice for Muslims and all peoples in every corner of the world.

And always, always remember, with the Mercy of Allah, yes, we can.

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SIRAAJ MUHAMMAD

When I began watching the primary debates what seems like ages ago, I made two picks, one for the Democrats and one for the Republicans – I believed this race would be between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the two most telegenic and oratorically formidable candidates in the race, not to mention strongly competent on the issues facing the nation.

What I did not anticipate were the obstacles both candidates would face about their backgrounds and positions, nor did I properly estimate John McCain’s resilience and wider appeal to moderates as I had thrown him in with the rest of the neo-cons due to his position on the Iraq War. Obama persevered and Romney fell, while McCain found new life away from what is often called “The Base”.

Obama’s victory over McCain last night was an emotional one on many levels. There is now hope at the end of the dark tunnel that was George Bush’s presidency these past eight years. A non-caucasion was finally president, and one could not help but feel emotional watching so many black americans in tears.

Listening to McCain’s concession speech, I thought to myself, had this man speaking now been the one running the race throughout, respectfully and dignified, rather than the gnashing at the teeth campaign reminiscient of George Bush’s Rove run campaigns, he most likely would have faired better and perhaps even won.

And Obama’s speech…that was one for the books (and youtube replays). It struck the right chord at a time when people are so desparately in need to believe that whatever challenges they face now, they have an opportunity to rise to the occasion and do and be better than they had been these past 40 odd years.

One final note of caution – though I’m sure you’ll have read many posts already on being wary of Obama, I would additionally add that Muslims now more than ever have to be vigilant of their interests domestically and globally. The Muslim community supported Bush precisely because it viewed Clinton and his actions in the way we are now viewing Bush (Iraq sanctions, Afghanistan sanctions, etc). The democrats are now the majority in the House, the Senate, and of course, they run the White House as well. My experience has been thus far that it is always good to have a balance between the two parties rather than an imbalance, otherwise, the government abuse runs rampant, and we do not want Muslims to be one of the casualties as a result of that.

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NADIM

Obama has turned a page in the American history. He was able to get people united around a central simple idea: yes, we can change the world, if we want to. Above all the debates of ideas and political readiness, Obama has embodied the power of the will. However, let’s not fool ourselves by the euphory of the moment. The first Afro-American President in the history must also have taken some positions against his owns, change some of his ideals, work with the dark side to be where he is today. Let’s be realistic, in politics, nothing is what it seems. America has a new leader, but can the winner change the rules of the game? I doubt…

#Current Affairs

Questions About My Political Activism | Imam Omar Suleiman

Imam Omar Suleiman

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Imam Omar Suleiman activism

Bismillah Al Rahman Al Raheem,

I thank Allah for the blessing of in person interactions. The simple joy of meeting your brother and sister in the Masjid with a smile and salaam that removes the shaytan from our hearts. The ability to ask questions clearly and immediately bury hatchets (which some forgo for destructive emails and WhatsApp threads even with their neighbors). I’m blessed to live in the incredible Valley Ranch Islamic Center community where I serve as Resident Scholar in a voluntary capacity. Members of my Masjid and the Dallas community can approach me and ask me anything about something I’ve said or something being said about me, and we walk away as brothers and sisters. I had the same blessing in New Orleans where I served as full-time Imam for 6 years. And I am blessed to meet people around the country and around the world that I love for Allah. Those are lifelong bonds that I pray continue in the hereafter under Allah’s shade. 

I also thank Allah for the online world that allows people to connect in good when otherwise they would not have been able to benefit. Without social media and expanding ways of technology, good content and avenues for charity would be far more limited. I’m grateful for all of you that have connected with me and prayed for me over the years. I don’t want to take away from any of that. With that being said, the online world does of course have its pitfalls. There can be a lack of mercy and husn al dhann (good assumptions) with one another, and widespread gossip and slander. It’s also uniquely destructive to those who garner large followings even due to good reasons. It’s very easy to praise someone you only know through videos and pictures, as it is to tear them down. Allah has tested some of us with fame through this machine, and it is a mighty test. I pray that Allah allows all of the people that I’ve been blessed to benefit in this world to be witnesses for me on the day of judgment, and that He not shame me or raise me amongst the hypocrites who didn’t practice what they preached. 

As the great sage Imam Ibn Al Jawzee (ra) said, “Know that if people are impressed with you, in reality they are impressed with the beauty of Allah’s covering of your sins.” It is very easy to deceive and be deceived through a screen. I pray that Allah allow any unjust critiques that I receive to be an expiation for all the undue praise I receive. People are usually imbalanced in their love and hate. The test is whether that love stops you from correcting your brother when he is wrong, or that hate that causes you to swerve from justice.

With that introduction, I’d like to address questions about my political positions and affiliations. Why? Because I do believe in accountability and transparency. Deceptive voices should be ignored, concerned ones shouldn’t. Certainly, there are falsehoods and hit pieces that often are disguised as legitimate critiques. But there are also legitimate critiques and/or requests for clarification. Over the past several years, I have had both types forwarded to me. I am not concerned with those who use deception to falsely portray me or my work. I am concerned about those who genuinely have questions, and don’t have them answered. I have sought to clarify my own political positions through my work on numerous occasions such as here, here, and here. I will quote some of that content here. But I hope this will be a thorough article that can be referenced any time in the future when questions about who I am and what I represent are brought up. Moreover, I hope it can be a conversation starter about what types of political frameworks are actually beneficial to the community.

The Foundation and Legitimate Differences

I believe that the Quran and Sunnah should be the foundation for everything that we do, public and private. That means never exceeding their boundaries, and also manifesting their calls. Many people forget the latter, and only focus on the former. If the only time the Quran and Sunnah are invoked in discussions of activism and justice is to shut down something deemed illegitimate or impermissible, we suggest that our divine sources have stagnated and are unable to converse with the world around us today. I believe in amplifying the beautiful solutions from our religion to confront the ugly realities of the climate around us. The Deen is rich and beautiful. The Seerah is an incredible guide to everything in life. Through Yaqeen Institute, I had the blessing of doing the 40 on justice series that spanned for over a year and a half where I hoped to articulate a Sunnah-lens to the issues around us. My goal is to now develop that into a book. I believe the person and message of the Prophet (saw) speaks to us as clearly now as it did in the year 620, and that everything we do should be in accordance with it.

There can be reasonable debate about the Sunnah and how it’s lived in certain aspects around us. Some use Hudaybiya to justify every form of engagement and say things like, “if the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) were alive, he would do this.” I don’t want to project anything on the Prophet (saw). My attempt is to draw from his Sunnah, not legitimize my shahawat. There are areas where the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) showed compromise, but he never lost clarity. While the treaty of Hudaybiya had to omit “Al Rahman Al Raheem” from the name of Allah, and “RasulAllah” from the name of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), none of the companions were confused about their realities.

The legitimate debates around how to truly implement the Sunnah today largely emanate from what aspects of the Prophetic call are it’s defining features, and what our priorities and timelines, political or otherwise, should be. Tawheed is the foundation and primary basis for it all. As for what aspects of the call are defining features, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was sent us a mercy to the worlds, defined his mission as perfection of character, said that Allah loves gentleness in all of His affairs, and was revolutionary in his compassion to everything around him. That doesn’t mean he didn’t at times get angry or use power to eliminate evil. He was not limited by his mercy, but always enhanced by it.

As for priorities and timelines, even the companions frequently differed. There are examples from the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), and after. During Hudaybiya, Ali (ra) did not want to erase from the treaty what the Quraysh wanted him to. Omar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) wanted to proceed forth to Makkah that very moment. The companions found themselves unwilling to accept that they would have to turn back. Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) saw things the way the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saw them. Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) advised the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in those difficult times how to get everyone on the same page despite those strong feelings.

The debates about this were deep in many aspects of Fiqh (jurisprudence) after the death of the Prophet (saw), none so more than regarding political issues. We know the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us to seek both justice and stability. But at what point and at what cost is it permissible to challenge the power structure? No one was ambiguous about tyranny, but they differed greatly as to how to challenge it. In the first massive fitna to engulf the community, the painful debate over the assassination of Uthman  put Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) on the defensive about whether or not he was interested in pursuing his killers in the first place. He was of course, but believed in stabilizing the Khilafa before pursuing the assassins to not cause more bloodshed. When Omar Ibn AbdulAzeez (ra) who pushed legendary reforms in his 2 year Khilafa was questioned by his son about some of the things he wasn’t pursuing, he responded, “Oh my son, do you want me to try to compel them upon the religion all at once, so that they abandon it all at once?”

My work politically revolves around eliminating suffering, domestically and abroad. This shapes how I view militarism, poverty, policing, mass incarceration, environmental issues, healthcare, immigration, and torture. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “find me amongst the oppressed. Are you given aid and support by Allah except by how you treat your most vulnerable?” I believe that we as Muslims, especially those who claim orthodoxy, should assert ourselves in these areas. This doesn’t mean that I think this is the only area in which Muslims should be active. Different people should work in different areas of good, and not undermine one another. Good efforts should be complementary to each other. My background suits this particular role. I grew up with deeply humanitarian parents, worked as a field coordinator in disaster relief, and feel strongly moved towards these causes. While most came to know me through Islamic lectures, I have never not been involved in these things. Fighting exploitation and oppression are part and parcel of our religious identity. Not only should Muslims be present in these areas, they should be leading the way. And that’s not because it’s good political strategy or public relations, but because it’s scriptural imperative.

I’m also concerned with Religious Freedom and think we should assert our right as a Muslim community, as should other communities, to live out our faith unhindered, and our institutions un-harassed. Conservatives tend to leave Muslims out in their calls and lace them with other forms of bigotry we can’t stomach, and liberals often alienate religious communities like Orthodox Jews, Black Churches, Muslims, etc. while claiming to be for pluralism and inclusivity.

I cannot in good conscience support anything that is opposed to the Sunnah, even as a matter of political expediency. I believe in working together with communities on things we agree upon, and learning to respectfully coexist with things we don’t agree upon. On such affairs, I maintain political neutrality with religious clarity and relationship building that allows us to have these hard discussions as human beings seeking to reduce societal tension and promote the common good. I use multi-faith work as a blueprint for this. If people can harmoniously coexist despite strong beliefs about God, purpose, salvation, and scripture, surely they can learn to coexist on political issues that are of far lesser consequence to them in their worldviews. 

All of this warrants discussion on priorities, pragmatism, gradualism, and political programs. As Muslims, we should have vibrant disagreements that start off with: 1. What Allah and the Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) deem as good is good, and what they deem as bad is bad. 2. People can disagree on how to apply those realities to the world around us without obscuring the lawful and the prohibited. 3. People should maintain good assumptions about one another and not accuse their intentions when they disagree. 

At the end of the day, these are largely areas of Ijtihad and we’re all on the same team.

Pictures and Associations

I rarely request anyone to take pictures with me, but I never turn them down. I have my reasons for that. It is primarily a personal decision I formed after going to the funeral of Muhammad Ali (may Allah have mercy on him) in Louisville. I was deeply moved by how everyone from the shuttle driver, to the hotel clerk, to the gas station employees, etc. had a story about meeting him. He never turned down a request, and that meant something to people. My colleagues and I differ on this issue. On one hand, we don’t want to feed celebrity culture. On the other hand, we don’t want to disappoint, hurt, or leave people feeling slighted. This is where I’m at on this, and I don’t think I have it in me to say no to someone who asks for a picture. 

My “associations” are widespread because I engage numerous spaces. I get invited to conferences and campuses, mosques and festivals. Anywhere I go, I try to be courteous to people and that should not mean an endorsement of all that they do or stand for. I do not believe appearing in a picture with someone or in a common space is me promoting them, or even them promoting me. 

Guilt by association is the most deceitful way of targeting someone. It’s what the Khawarij do. It’s also what Islamophobes have been doing to take down every Muslim leader in the community since 9/11. They draw the association as wide as possible, then associate you with every position through that association making it impossible to defend yourself.

My positions are only the ones I actually espouse.

Platforms and Panels

As for platforms and panels, I typically will not turn them down unless I feel like the platform itself is so biased that I won’t be able to speak my mind, or there is no value in my opinion even if I’m allowed to speak it. Most recently I sat on a panel at the Texas Tribune Festival on religious freedom with Sr. Asma Uddin from the Freedom Forum Institute, and staunch republicans like Rep. Matt Krause and Kevin Roberts, the Executive Director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. I’m in dialogue at an event early next year with the most prominent evangelical preacher in the country. I often share the stage with staunch liberals who agree with me on issues of militarism, torture, policing, and immigration, but are quite hostile to religion. I try to do right by my part on panels regardless of who else is serving on it. The only time I would participate in a public boycott of a panel or platform is if it’s a collective push to purge someone who has just taken a position or done something that would inherently tarnish the panel or platform. I did this, for example, in the wake of the Rabaa’ massacre with scholars who legitimized it. When I’m invited to a highly partisan place like the Texas Democratic Convention, I try to be very specific with my subject matter (where I spoke about children victimized by policy here and abroad, and brought up Gitmo and Abu Ghraib).

How Do I Choose Whether or Not to Accept an Invitation

Istikhara (prayer) and Istishara (consultation). I have turned down many high profile events because I thought my presence would be tokenizing and unsubstantial. With my invocation in Congress, I literally forwarded the invite to my teacher and asked him whether or not I should do it. He advised me to go forward and give an invocation that would leave people thinking. I hope that was achieved even though I must admit I wasn’t expecting the flurry of attacks afterwards. Imam Siraj traces the beginning of the avalanche of hate against him to his invocation in congress, but I had hoped that all the relationships I had built would ward off some of that.

Most of my invites are not so confusing, but some of them are. Have I regretted accepting certain invites? Yes. But I don’t lament too much over them so long as I did proper Istikhara and Istishara.

Demonstrations, Coalitions, and Alliances

In our tribal politics in America, platforms are wide and coalitions are narrow. I believe in the exact opposite. I believe we should have specific issues that we determine important and meaningful, and form broad coalitions around those specific issues. This way the work is focused, the ally-ship is clear, and the advocacy is unproblematic. When it’s a bunch of people working on a small set of issues, the issues dominate the conversation as opposed to who is at the table. It’s about what we’re at the table for. 

So if we’re going to organize a march on the border, against ICE deportations, or against police brutality, I don’t care who else is coming to march or where they stand on other issues. This to me was the essence of Hilf Al Fudul. The tribes came together for one purpose of supporting those who were exploited because they didn’t have the protection of belonging to powerful classes, and the Prophet (saw) said he would take that pledge in jahiliya or Islam.

Partisan Politics

I don’t believe in uncritically adopting a platform, or letting a party take advantage of our vulnerability. We need to challenge Democrats just as strongly as we do Republicans, while remaining independent and principled. We have a right to an agenda like any other community. Politicians should have to work for our vote, and we shouldn’t shy away from where we differ with candidates even when we vote for them.

You can read my article on voting here in which I lay out those principles.

As a side note on endorsements, I’ve only endorsed 2 candidates in my life, one a Muslim candidate for city council and another a candidate for county chair. With the Beto campaign against Ted Cruz last year, who I believe is the most dangerous man in the Senate for various reasons, I particularly reached out to the campaign to clarify some concerns about the criminalizing of BDS. I applauded him for taking the time to meet me and clarify those concerns. With the recent news on his  comments on revoking the tax-exempt status of religious institutions, I once again reached out to those who I know from the campaign to register the community’s disapproval and was able to have a fruitful conversation about it. And no, I’m not endorsing him or any candidate for president right now.

Left vs Right

I wrote an article in the Dallas Morning News about transcending the left/right divide. In it, I said, “Most of the religious presence in our political discourse seems to be superficial with the religious left and the religious right often simply representing nothing more than the political left and the political right with collars.”

I believe Muslims should be engaging well-meaning people on different issues from different backgrounds. While the political right may have taken on an overtly Islamophobic posture, there are conservative religious groups that may be willing to work with us and dialogue on issues of mutual concern. I welcome that 

We need to be a part of constructing the moral center in America instead of waiting for it to happen without our input whether its on domestic or foreign policy. We don’t have to adopt anyone else’s blind spots. We can talk about the child from Guatemala and the child from Gaza. We can talk about the sanctity of the child in the womb, and the sanctity of the child in the cage. We can talk about Gitmo and Abu Ghraib abroad, and our own mass incarceration systems at home. If some Republicans are the only ones willing to speak about the Muslim Uighurs in the name of religious freedom, we can work with them on that.

Not everyone has to work in all of these spaces simultaneously, but we should appreciate those who do so long as they don’t forsake their principles in the process.

On Engaging Government

This is a hard one so I’ll break it down into a few things:

  1. Local, State, Federal

I strongly believe in the idea of most politics being local, and that Muslims need to have a strong presence in city and state government. My invitation to Congress was due to my local work with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson who has been an incredible ally to our community. I think it gets trickier at the federal level. I’ve personally never been inside the White House under any administration for an Iftar or otherwise, but I don’t fault all who have. I know some who have tried very hard to do right in those tricky spaces. I was invited to the last Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department and declined. I think this is the trickiest space of them all, and wish those who engage it well. My hope is that anyone who does engage it raise our issues and make it clear to the community that they are doing so. I have never participated in CVE work, nor has Yaqeen ever taken CVE money, and I am opposed to it as a framework due to how it’s used exclusively against the Muslim community.

I differentiate between patriotism and nationalism and believe that our government should be held accountable for its violation of human rights like any other government. And war crimes have spanned administrations of both parties for a very long time.

  1. Foreign Governments

I am particularly skeptical of many Muslim governments considering the role that installed dictators and despots have played in suppressing the Muslim community worldwide. They have been the greatest violators of our rights, and the most shameful purveyors of Islamophobia as evidenced by the support given to China’s genocide of the Uyghurs. I don’t think it’s impossible to work with foreign leaders on specific issues, but that it requires crystal clear clarity from those who do on the issues those governments are criminally implicated. Granting religious legitimacy to tyrants who have themselves harmed or enabled harm towards the global community is incredibly dangerous. And it is important to not become co-opted by the lesser aggressors from the Muslim world. While some foreign leaders do better than others on certain issues, they will consistently disappoint on others. None of them should be able to buy the silence of the American Muslim community.

On Muslim Politicians

No politician, Muslim or otherwise, deserves our uncritical support for their political positions. Every Muslim, politician or otherwise, deserves our dua for their guidance and wellbeing. 

This is a tricky reality to navigate. When they take bold political positions, they should be qualifiedly praised specifically for those actions. When they do things that are problematic, they should be measuredly criticized specifically for those actions. We should want them to do well, and want well for them. As politicians, they naturally make decisions that they have to be accountable to the public for. As brothers and sisters, we should pray for them to make the right decisions and be enabled with and for the truth. As a community, we can’t put it on them to save the Deen. There will be more politicians that will come up in coming years, and our Dawah needs to continue independent of them while reminding them with good manners, supporting them with Dua and Naseeha, and politically engaging them like any other politician.

 

“Donate your reputation to Allah.” by Imam @OmarSuleiman504 Click To Tweet

Callouts

I will not engage in mudslinging or callouts personally, even when they’re against me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something that I could easily respond to with one line. But Allah is sufficient for me, and He is the best disposer of all matters. I would hope people can see through unfair attacks. And even when they can’t, I trust that Allah will make the best of the situation and I’d rather not take the community on a ride. Through one of these particular episodes, my teacher and friend told me, “Donate your reputation to Allah.” That stuck with me. If I’m doing what I’m doing for His sake, I shouldn’t be too bothered when other than Him deals with me uncharitably. If I am, I need to work harder on my own intentions.

As for others, I will not use social media to put people on blast. I discuss concepts, not people. Now two fair questions arise from this:

  1.  Can one assume that because I’ve supported people by name in certain contexts, but not criticized them by name, that I support all of their positions? I understand why people could derive that conclusion, and it’s not something I’ve particularly figured out. I don’t think ambiguous cheap shots are the solution either. I personally don’t burn bridges with people in fear of wronging them, and in hopes that I can still advise them. I feel like that’s the best I can do. I hope that people can appreciate that approach not as the only approach, but as an approach.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) used to employ the language of “what is it with a people that do such and such” (ما بال أقوام يفعلون كذا وكذا ) without actually naming the person in several narrations. This could be seen by some as passive-aggressive, but it’s about clarifying the concept and not focusing on the individual. I typically will try to employ this approach, and will sometimes fall short of it.

  1. Should there not be those who explicitly address wrongdoings, fairly hold leaders accountable, and ask important questions? There absolutely should be, but with good character and fair critique. We can’t adopt the tactics of Islamophobes against our own community. Half-truths, guilt by association, casting aspersions on character, etc. are grievous sins. They also take away from the legitimate critiques. Unfortunately, social media seems so drenched in toxicity that it seems impossible to discuss things with balance. With that being said, we need more forums to have important conversations and I can’t blame people in the meantime for feeling left out of those conversations and confused. As a rule of thumb, try to keep things depersonalized and to the issues. And when you have to say something critical of your brother or sister, try to say something about their good as well. 

What is considered public vs. private

There seems to be this prevailing idea that if it isn’t posted or tweeted, it’s not public. I try to be open in discussion with brothers and sisters when they meet face to face and am much more willing to discuss sensitive issues then. I don’t know of any basis in the Sunnah that would suggest social media is the only way to have a public position. I don’t mind being quoted in what I say in my halaqas or public settings, but simply don’t prefer to engage in certain discussions on social media.

Yaqeen’s direction and funding 

I am not Yaqeen. My political activism is not Yaqeen. I serve as the President of the organization with one vote on the board. I am blessed to work with an incredible team of over 60 people and growing that believe in the mission of the organization to foster a strong viable Islamic identity that preserves the religion in the hearts of our future generations, takes back the narrative from Islamophobes of all sorts, and demonstrates a path forward that doesn’t depart from our divine sources. Some of the writers are my teachers. Others come from entirely different backgrounds. I contribute a tiny fraction of papers myself, but am fulltime in my role as the President of the organization. Yaqeen set out to be as encompassing as possible of Muslim scholars and academics that believe in commitment to the religion, and contributing to the world through it. I believe strongly in institutions that are bigger than personalities, and that is the culture we try to foster from within.

As for our methodology, we have a course and a paper out soon from our scholars which should clarify further what we view as valid means of interpretation, and valid opinions. We try to do extensive peer review and allow opinions to be published within the fold of Islamic acceptability. 

We have extended our hands to Muslim organizations around the country and world to partner in good, and never charge a dime for our content. And for the sake of maintaining independence and integrity, Yaqeen has never taken money from any government entity or foundation that espouses ideas that would delegitimize it. Al hamdulila, all of it is through generous private donors that have found benefit from our content and I’m grateful to each of them for it.

Mistakes

Let me start with the personal. Anyone that serves as an Imam, activist, or representative of the community will be put in awkward situations frequently. Part of growth is learning from those mistakes and being wiser in future situations. I will still inevitably be put in compromising situations and pray that Allah guides me to deal with them with wisdom and rightful guidance. I will continue to listen to people who lovingly point those mistakes out to me in hopes that I do better in the future. May Allah reward them all. And I will take the best of unforgiving critiques and try to still benefit from them. May Allah reward them also if they’re done in sincerity, and forgive them if done for other reasons.

As for the communal, we haven’t figured out a way to host reasonable disagreements that involve various segments of the community. Yaqeen is meant to be a platform to foster some of that within our scopes of research, and some sites like Muslim Matters have also sought to be that when issues of concern arise. Over the past few years, I’ve had the blessing of being a part of an annual retreat that brings together various Islamic scholars of different backgrounds to foster unity amongst ourselves and create space for critical conversation. Sadly there are too many other divisions that exist in the community though to be remedied through that particular space. I think the community has felt locked out of certain discussions, and I can’t blame them for feeling that way. 

Solutions

Clarity. People like myself who are involved in multiple worlds need to not leave the community out of our thinking and articulate our frameworks better. I own that, as I have made many assumptions about what the community did or didn’t think about my positions.

Spaces. I’ve been blessed to be a part of forming some wonderful onsite spaces and forums where we have had some of these difficult conversations. I want to be a part of forming some of these spaces online with the realistic expectation that they will never equal the blessing of sitting with one another. I hope our community invests in more retreats where scholars of different backgrounds, activists, etc. can come together and discuss tough things, and then produce their findings. 

The Rope of Allah

Allah tells us to hold firm to the rope of Allah. The rope isn’t a political idea or opinion, it’s divine revelation. We are bonded by it and should honor that bond. We can disagree with each other and still love each other. We can debate ideas intelligently without descending into tactics unbefitting of the ummah of the Prophet (saw). We should be just with one another and not use the ways of our enemies against each other. I’m sure not everyone agrees with my framework above, and I may also change some of my opinions as time goes on. I pray that none of it ever swerves from what is established through the divine sources, or into anything divisive, hateful, or unjust.

The Quran speaks of justice, unity, and accountability. Those themes are not contradictory in Allah’s book, nor do they have to be in our lives. The Sunnah manifests that in a way that we can all learn how to conduct ourselves. This doesn’t mean we excuse everything in the name of Adab, it means we use Adab even when holding people accountable.

I end with this: Yunus al-Sadafi reported: I have not seen anyone wiser than Al-Shafi’i, may Allah be pleased with him. I debated him one day over an issue, and then we separated. He later met me and took my hand, then he said, “O Abu Musa, can we not continue to be brothers, even if we disagree on an issue?”

May Allah keep us united upon good, faithful to Him always, carriers of His Prophet’s way, and beneficial to the entirety of humanity. May He forgive us for our shortcomings, guide us to the straight path, and remove from us all that displeases Him in our worship and work.

اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ أَنْ أَضِلَّ أَوْ أُضَلَّ أَوْ أَزِلَّ أَوْ أُزَلَّ أَوْ أَظْلِمَ أَوْ أُظْلَمَ أَوْ أَجْهَلَ أَوْ يُجْهَلَ عَلَىَّ

O Allah, I seek refuge with You from going astray or stumbling, from wronging others or being wronged, and from behaving or being treated in an ignorant manner.

Read: Our Brothers Who have Transgressed Against Us | Imam Omar Suleiman

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Zahra Billoo Responds To The Women’s March Inc. Voting Her Off The New Board

Zahra Billoo

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Women's March Board

Earlier tonight, I was voted off the Women’s March, Inc. national board. This followed an Islamophobic smear campaign led by the usual antagonists, who have long targeted me, my colleagues, and anyone else who dares speak out in support of Palestinian human rights and the right to self-determination.

The past 48 hours have been a spiral of bad news and smear efforts. Part of the smear campaign is motivated by opponents of the Women’s March, because the organization has traditionally challenged the status quo of power and white supremacy in our country. However, much of the campaign is driven by people who oppose me and my work challenging the occupation of Palestine, our country’s perpetuation of unjust and endless wars, and law enforcement operations targeting the American Muslim community.

The Women’s March, Inc. is an organization I once held dear. I spoke at the first march, spoke at regional marches every year after, spoke at the convention, participated in national actions including the original Kavanaugh protests, and worked to mobilize Muslim women for their efforts.

During the past few years right-wingers, from the President’s son to the Anti-Defamation League and troll armies, have targeted the Women’s March, Inc. For so long, I’ve admired their resilience in speaking truth to power, in working together, and in never cowering. Over and over again, the co-founders of Women’s March, Inc. put their lives on the line, winning power for all women in all of our diversity. The Women’s March, Inc. that voted me off its board tonight is one that no longer demonstrates the strength that inspired millions of women across the country.

To see and experience its new leaders caving to right-wing pressure, and casting aside a woman of color, a Muslim woman, a long-time advocate within the organization, without the willingness to make any efforts to learn and grow, breaks my heart. This isn’t about a lost seat, there will be many seats. The Women’s March, Inc. has drawn a line in the sand, one that will exclude many with my lived experiences and critiques. It has effectively said, we will work on some women’s rights at the expense of others.

To be clear, anti-semitism is indeed a growing and dangerous problem in our country, as is anti-Blackness, anti-immigrant sentiment, Islamophobia, ableism, sexism, and so much more. I condemn any form of bigotry unequivocally, but I also refuse to be silent as allegations of bigotry are weaponized against the most marginalized people, those who find sanctuary and hope in the articulation of truth.

In looking at the tweets in question, I acknowledge that I wrote passionately. While I may have phrased some of my content differently today, I stand by my words. I told the truth as my community and I have lived it, through the FBI’s targeting of my community, as I supported families who have lost loved ones because of US military actions, and as I learned from the horrific experiences of Palestinian life.

In attempting to heal and build in an expedited manner within Women’s March, Inc., I offered to meet with stakeholders to address their concerns and to work with my sisters on the new board to learn, heal, and build together. These efforts were rejected. And in rejecting these efforts, the new Women’s March, Inc. demonstrated that they lack the courage to exhibit allyship in the face of fire.

I came to Women’s March, Inc. to work. My body of work has included leading a chapter of the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization for over a decade, growing it now more than six-fold. In my tenure, I have led the team that forced Abercrombie to change its discriminatory employment policies, have been arrested advocating for DACA, partnered with Jewish organizations including Bend the Arc and Jewish Voice for Peace to fight to protect our communities, and was one of the first lawyers to sue the President.

It is not my first time being the target of a smear campaign. The Women’s March, Inc., more than any place, is where I would have expected us to be able to have courageous conversations and dive deep into relationship-building work.

I am happy to have as many conversations as it takes to listen and learn and heal, but I will no longer be able to do that through Women’s March, Inc. This action today demonstrates that this organization’s new leadership is unable to be an ally during challenging times.

My beliefs drive my work, and I am not seeking accolades or positions of power. These past few days have been the greatest test of that. My integrity, my truth, and my strength comes from God and a place of deep conviction. I will continue my work as a civil rights lawyer and a faith-based activist, speaking out against the occupation of Palestine and settler-colonialism everywhere, challenging Islamophobia and all forms of racism and bigotry in the United States, and building with my community and our allies in our quest to be our most authentic and liberated selves.

Onward, God willing.

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Obituary of (Mawlana) Yusuf Sulayman Motala (1366/1946 – 1441/2019)

Monday, September 9, turned out to be a day of profound anguish and sorrow for many around the world. In the early morning hours, news of the death of Mawlana* Yusuf Sulayman Motala, fondly known as “Hazrat” (his eminence) to those who were acquainted with him, spread. He had passed away on Sunday at 8:20 pm EST in Toronto, after suffering a heart attack two weeks earlier.

Dr. Mufti Abdur Rahman ibn Yusuf Mangera

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Dar Al Uloom Bury, Yusuf Sulayman Motala

A master of hadith and Qur’an. A sufi, spiritual guide and teacher to thousands. A pioneer in the establishment of a religious education system. His death reverberated through hearts and across oceans. We are all mourning the loss of a luminary who guided us through increasingly difficult times.

Monday, September 9, turned out to be a day of profound anguish and sorrow for many around the world. In the early morning hours, news of the death of Mawlana* Yusuf Sulayman Motala, fondly known as “Hazrat” (his eminence) to those who were acquainted with him, spread. He had passed away on Sunday at 8:20 pm EST in Toronto, after suffering a heart attack two weeks earlier. (May the Almighty envelope him in His mercy)

His journey in this world had begun more than 70 years ago in the small village of Nani Naroli in Gujarat, India, where he was born on November 25, 1946 (1 Muharram 1366) into a family known for their piety.

His early studies were largely completed at Jami’a Husayniyya, one of the early seminaries of Gujarat, after which he travelled to Mazahir Ulum, the second oldest seminary of the Indian Sub-Continent, in Saharanpur, India, to complete his ‘alimiyya studies. What drew him to this seminary was the presence of one of the most influential and well-known contemporary spiritual guides, Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi (d. 1402/1982), better known as “Hazrat Shaykh.” He had seen Mawlana Zakariyya only briefly at a train stop, but it was enough for him to understand the magnitude of his presence.

Mawlana Yusuf remained in Saharanpur for two years. Despite being younger than many of the other students of Shaykh Zakariya, the shaykh took a great liking to him. Shaykh Zakariya showered him with great attention and even deferred his retirement from teaching Sahih al-Bukhari so that Mawlana Yusuf could study it under his instruction. While in Saharanpur, Mawlana Yusuf also studied under a number of other great scholars, such as Mawlana Muhammad ‘Aqil (author of Al-Durr al-Mandud, an Urdu commentary of Sunan Abi Dawud and current head lecturer of Hadith at the same seminary), Shaykh Yunus Jownpuri (d. 1438/2017) the previous head lecturer of Hadith there), Mawlana As‘adullah Rampuri (d. 1399/1979) and Mufti Muzaffar Husayn (d. 1424/2003).

Upon completion of his studies, Mawlana Yusuf’s marriage was arranged to marry a young woman from the Limbada family that had migrated to the United Kingdom from Gujarat. In 1968, he relocated to the UK and accepted the position of imam at Masjid Zakariya, in Bolton. Although he longed to be in the company of his shaykh, he had explicit instructions to remain in the UK and focus his efforts on establishing a seminary for memorization of Qur’an and teaching of the ‘alimiyya program. The vision being set in motion was to train a generation of Muslims scholars that would educate and guide the growing Muslim community.

Establishing the first Muslim seminary, in the absence of any precedent, was a daunting task. The lack of support from the Muslim community, the lack of integration into the wider British community, and the lack of funds made it seem an impossible endeavour. And yet, Mawlana Yusuf never wavered in his commitment and diligently worked to make the dream of his teacher a reality. In 1973 he purchased the derelict Aitken Sanatorium in the village of Holcombe, near Bury, Lancashire. What had once been a hospice for people suffering from tuberculosis, would become one of the first fully-fledged higher-education Islamic institutes outside of the Indian-Subcontinent teaching the adapted-Nizami syllabus.

The years of struggle by Maulana Yusuf to fulfil this vision paid off handsomely. Today, after four decades, Darul Uloom Al Arabiyya Al Islamiyya, along with its several sister institutes, also founded by Mawlana Yusuf, such as the Jamiatul Imam Muhammad Zakariya seminary in Bradford for girls, have produced well over 2,000 British born (and other international students) male and female ‘alimiyya graduates – many of whom are working as scholars and serving communities across the UK, France, Belgium, Holland, Portugal, the US, Canada, Barbados, Trinidad, Panama, Saudi Arabia, India and New Zealand. Besides these graduates, a countless number of individuals have memorized the Qur’an at these institutes. Moreover, many of the graduates of the Darul Uloom and its sister institutes have set up their own institutes, such as Jamiatul Ilm Wal Huda in Blackburn, Islamic Dawah Academy in Leicester, Jami’ah al-Kawthar in Lancaster, UK, and Darul Uloom Palmela in Portugal, to just mention a few of the larger ones. Within his lifetime, Mawlana Yusuf saw first-hand the fruit of his labours – witnessing his grand students (graduates from his students’ institutes) providing religious instruction and services to communities around the world in their local languages. What started as a relationship of love between a student and teacher, manifested into the transmission of knowledge across continents. In some countries, such as the UK and Portugal, one would be hard-pressed to find a Muslim who had not directly or indirectly benefited from him.

Mawlana Yusuf was a man with deep insights into the needs of Western contemporary society, one that was very different from the one he had grown up and trained in. With a view to contributing to mainstream society, Mawlana Yusuf encouraged his graduates to enter into further education both in post-graduate Islamic courses and western academia, and to diversify their fields of learning through courses at mainstream UK universities. As a result, many ‘alimiyya graduates of his institutes are trained in law, mainstream medicine, natural medicine and homeopathy, mental health, child protection, finance, IT, education, chaplaincy, psychology, philosophy, pharmacy, physics, journalism, engineering, architecture, calligraphy, typography, graphic design, optometry, social services, public health, even British Sign Language. His students also include several who have completed PhDs and lecture at universities. His vision was to train British-born (or other) Muslim scholars who would be well versed in contemporary thought and discipline along with their advanced Islamic learning, equipping them to better contribute to society.

Despite his commitment to the establishment of a public good, the shaykh was an immensely private person and avoided seeking accolade or attention. For many decades he refused invitations to attend conferences or talks around the country, choosing to focus on his students and his family, teaching the academic syllabus and infusing the hearts of many aspirants with the love of Allah through regular gatherings of remembrance (dhikr) and spiritual retreats (i’tikaf) in the way of his shaykh’s Chishti Sufi order.

During my entire stay with him at Darul Uloom (1985–1997), I can say with honesty that I did not come across a single student who spoke ill of him. He commanded such awe and respect that people would find it difficult to speak with him casually. And yet, for those who had the opportunity to converse with him, knew that he was the most compassionate, humble, and loving individual.

He was full of affection for his students and colleagues and had immense concern for the Muslim Ummah, especially in the West. He possessed unparalleled forbearance and self-composure. When he taught or gave a talk, he spoke in a subdued and measured tone, as though he was weighing every word, knowing the import it carried. He would sit, barely moving and without shifting his posture. Even after a surgical procedure for piles, he sat gracefully teaching us Sahih al-Bukhari. Despite the obvious pain, he never made an unpleasant expression or winced from the pain.

Anyone who has listened to his talks or read his books can bear testimony to two things: his immense love for the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his love for Shaykh Mawlana Muhammad Zakariya Kandhlawi (may Allah have mercy on him). It is probably hard to find a talk in which he did not speak of the two. His shaykh was no doubt his link to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) in both his hadith and spiritual transmissions.

Over the last decade, he had retired from most of his teaching commitments (except Sahih al-Bukhari) and had reduced meeting with people other than his weekly dhikr gatherings. His time was spent with his family and young children and writing books. His written legacy comprises over 20 titles, mostly in Urdu but also a partial tafsir of the Qur’an in classical Arabic.

After the news of his heart attack on Sunday, August 25, and the subsequent effects to his brain, his well-wishers around the world completed hundreds of recitals of the Qur’an, several readings of the entire Sahih al-Bukhari, thousands of litanies and wirds of the formula of faith (kalima tayyiba), and gave charity in his name. However, Allah Most High willed otherwise and intended for him to depart this lowly abode to begin his journey to the next. He passed away two weeks later and reports state that approximately 4,000 people attended his funeral. Had his funeral been in the UK, the number of attendees would have multiplied several folds. But he had always shied away from large crowds and gatherings and maybe this was Allah Most High’s gift to him after his death. He was 75 (in Hijra years, and 72 in Gregorian) at the time of his death and leaves behind eight children and several grandchildren.

Mawlana Yusuf educated, inspired and nourished the minds and hearts of countless across the UK and beyond. May Allah Almighty bless him with the loftiest of abodes in the Gardens of Firdaws in the company of Allah’s beloved Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) and grant all his family, students, and cherishers around the world beautiful patience.

Dr Mufti Abdur-Rahman Mangera
Whitethread Institute, London
(A fortunate graduate of Darul Uloom Bury, 1996–97)

*a learned Muslim scholar especially in India often used as a form of address
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