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The Preface: Blogging MANA’s (Muslim Alliance in North America) 2nd Annual Conference, Philadelphia, 2008

Amad Abu Reem

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 Click here for complete coverage of MANA’s Second Annual Conference

The Preface: The next few days will be dedicated to blogging the MANA conference, that ended earlier today. While I am still recovering from “pretender-journalist”-fatigue, I thought I would at least introduce the topic while its still fresh in my mind.

manacard.jpgMANA (Muslim Alliance in North America) held its 2nd annual convention in the city of “brotherly love and sisterly affection”, Philadelphia at the Philadelphia Convention Center. Philadelphia of course is a historically significant city, and is now significant to Muslims for the obvious and large presence of Muslims in the city, to the point that some call Philly a “Muslim city”. Thus the site’s choice was strategic in this sense.

A few months ago, we decided that it was necessary for MuslimMatters.org to blog about the conference, because of its importance in the “indigenous” community. Also, since we have seen a flavor of what we loosely call the “indigenous-immigrant” divide on the internet, we felt that MM could provide an online platform to first recognize, then heal, and finally build the bridges between the two communities moving forward– if only to play our small part.

Being closest to Philadelphia, the blogging responsibility fell on me, and I was on my way to MANA Friday afternoon with Yasir Qadhi, who was scheduled to speak at the Conference for the first time. The invitation extended to Shaykh Yasir by MANA was in itself a step forward for both Yasir and MANA, as MANA recognized the need to diversify both its guest-speakers and its audience, and YQ recognized the need to be engaged with the “forgotten” community.

The two days that I was at the conference were focused on interviewing several of the guest-speakers at the Conference, including: Imam Johari Malik, Joshua Salaam, Esam Omeish, and many others. While I also had Ihsan Bagby, Sherman Jackson, Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, Zaid Shakir and Siraj Wahaj on my list of desired interviewees, it became quickly obvious that these individuals were engrossed in conference activities, and I’ll have to get who I can get. I also took hundreds of photos.

I am especially thankful to Imam Johari Malik, one of the key figures in the conference and MANA itself, for affording nearly 40 minutes of private time to give an interview on the conference, and on a tangent, discuss the blogosphere. It is great to see our Imams in tune with both the old media and the new media. And more importantly to recognize that the future belongs to the “new media”, which still includes the blogosphere, though who knows what the internet will evolve into tomorrow! I am also thankful to Br. Sultan Mohammed, nephew of the late Imam WD Mohammad, who arranged spiffy press-passes for our MM contingent and tried his best to arrange some interviews for us.

First, an important disclaimer and recognition: I am not quite cut out for field-journalism! There are some things that you can do, and there are others that aren’t quite in your “area of expertise”. Writing in your private space, at your own pace, is quite a different task from grabbing people on the spot to interview on video, while still trying to take notes and observations about conference organization, speakers, speeches, etc. Yeah, you can have a few canned questions, but the need to improvise with different “types” of interviewees can be quite challenging. I also realized that while my cousin Urooj (my helper and “amateur photographer”, may Allah reward him for his patience and stamina) and I were graciously given press-passes, our teeny camera and camcorder were no match for the professional equipment that REAL press people were carrying around! It was almost embarrassing, but hey, this is only a hobby (I think!). Note to myself: take equipment that at least appears serious next time!

Not only was I a bit unprepared and unbecoming of a “real” journalist, the pressure was redoubled when Imam Johari announced and praised the presence of Muslim Matters in front of a large audience (700+) in a key-note evening session on Friday. This led to one of the moments you want to put behind yourself as soon as possible! As the Imam was mentioning MM, he also seemed to be looking around, as if suggesting that people from MM stand up and be recognized. Shaykh Yasir who was sitting next to me started nudging me about it, so I finally just stood up and waved. Well, as you might have guessed, I am not sure recognition was on Imam Johari’s mind, because he didn’t quite notice me and moved on! Another note to myself: wait for a specific “call of recognition” before standing up in a big crowd! :)

Overall, and remember this is only a preface, I enjoyed my experience in meeting people, getting different perspectives, and above all, breaking out of my “regular” circles, to be in an Islamic conference where I was a minority in a sea of “indigenous” African-American brothers and sisters. I enjoyed meeting Br. Tariq Nelson again, appreciated the private pep-talk from Imam Johari Malik, met some other people that I only kind of knew from the internet (like Dr. Esam Omeish), Abu Muslimah (who came as an attendee), and networked with many others. My new, spiffy MM business cards came in really handy too alhamdulilah (shout-out to Saqib & iMuslim for creating the design). Some other highlights and memorable moments:

  • Sitting at the banquet with Malcolm X’s personal dentist, Br. Abdul Salaam (I found this tid-bit him on the net thanks to Shaykh Google). He was sitting by himself on the banquet table no. 71, the table to which I was assigned. He was happy to see some company, and we immediate hit up a conversation, talking about Malcolm X, Imam WD Muhammad, Chicago and the future overlap of MANA and WD Muhammad’s own conference. Pretty cool to meet someone who had literally had a hand in shaping Malcolm X’s image :)
  • Being overwhelmed by a community, which for me (and I am sure many others), didn’t really exist when I thought of Muslims in America. Yes, we all know “they” exist, but how much have we really interacted with them, and gotten to “know” its people, and its history?
  • Being as much of a minority in MANA as I remembered (and some will remember this) at QSS conferences– the former being a sea of African-Americans, and the latter a sea of Arabs.
  • Seeing history in the making, of real changes, of real social impact that  is part of MANA’s agenda– a conference that is not just talk, but rather walking the talk. Take the example of the “Healthy Marriage Initiative”, for instance, which all the Imams at the conference became signatories to.
  • Recognizing that MANA wasn’t interested in breaking out a new movement based on color; rather indigenous itself was an evolving definition, one that included 2nd generation desis, Arabs, and one that was even expansive enough to include immigrants who believed in being part of the American social fabric, like Br. Altaf Hussain (not to be confused with Altaf Hussain, the exiled leader of MQM; trust me, those two are as different as clay and fire (in that order ;) ).
  • Understanding MANA’s interest in the uplifting of Muslims in the inner-cities, who are predominantly African-American. And who better to understand the issues and needs of these inner-cities than the people of MANA? Though we should remember, and this I hope will continue to be MANA’s future, that the responsibility for helping these less-fortunate brothers and sisters lies in the hands of all Muslims, not just BAMs. What more MANA is about, can be best described by MANA (see “About Us“). Readers will get a better feel of MANA’s objectives through the interviews inshallah.
  • And finally, listening to Sherman Abdul-Hakim Jackson’s roaring speech at the banquet, where he tied many threads together for a message as coherent, deep and lasting as only he could have put together. A message that resonated not only with the BAMs in the audience no doubt, but also with the immigrants and indigenous Americans in the making!

May Allah reward all the organizers, speakers and participants of MANA for putting together quite an event.

Stay tuned for more inshallah (soon)…

Imad Shaykh is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from Wharton. He has been involved with Texas Dawah, Clear Lake Islamic Center and MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Imad is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Avatar

    MR

    November 30, 2008 at 10:19 PM

    Can’t wait!

  2. Avatar

    Tahira

    November 30, 2008 at 11:23 PM

    I look forward to reading more about the MANA conference.

  3. Amad

    Amad

    November 30, 2008 at 11:38 PM

    No more pressure folks!! Just kidding :)

    I hope Allah allows us to deliver a bit of the spirit of unity and reconciliation inshallah.

  4. Avatar

    OsmanK

    December 1, 2008 at 2:56 AM

    I never knew philadelphia had a muslim presence.

  5. Avatar

    sis

    December 1, 2008 at 4:21 AM

    Salam

    Were the lectures recorded?

    This conf. seems to have been integral in the dialogue of Muslims in America. Share the benefit, y’all!

  6. Avatar

    Al-Madrasi

    December 1, 2008 at 8:41 AM

    Amad,

    “pretender-journalist”, you are qualified as full journalist, your articles are far better than many articles. may Allah reward you here and hereafter for all your good work. Looking forward to listen to the interviews. Barakallahu feek

  7. Avatar

    abdul-alim

    December 1, 2008 at 11:05 AM

    As Salaamu Alaykum,

    Brother Amad, to me you are the best journalist in this world, and may Allah reward you for covering MANA. I haven’t heard one word from any of those so-called full journalist. Not one word from anybody, except tor the Muslim radio programs in Philadelphia this Saturday. I’m also, looking forward to listen to the interviews.

    Was Salaam

  8. Avatar

    EAUSTRIA S. Sabir

    December 1, 2008 at 11:49 AM

    Asalaam Alaikum Please send me information on the mana conference that was held in Phile. this past week end. On work shops etc. .Look to hear from you soon. As Salaamu Alakum.

  9. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse

    December 1, 2008 at 2:12 PM

    Masha’Allah, both the conference and your own experience sound like they were quite exciting! JazakAllahu khairan for taking on this task which you clearly found out of your league, purely for the sake of Allah and MM ;)

  10. Avatar

    aideh

    December 1, 2008 at 2:28 PM

    good intro. I’m looking forward to reading MM’s insight/thoughts on the MANA Conference.

    I share the sentiment of feeling like the minority in the indigenous community that predominantly makes up MANA.(It makes me think, how must they feel when they are the minority, majority of time and how they must feel when their issues are rarely if ever addressed within communities that don’t contain as many indigenous Muslims) In fact, my family and myself were present at the 2nd annual conference of MANA (dang they did pretty good for only their second!) as well and voiced exactly the same feeling to one another. I can’t deny it. It was a weird feeling, especially coming from Houston where the community is very diverse yet very Indo-Pak (maybe more Pak than Indo) majority in terms of certain Islamic events. And even though we ourselves are Arab, we seem to have gotten used to being with Pakistanis/Indians and have some kind of understanding into the South-Asian-American culture. However,(disclaimer) those feelings we did not perceive as negative in the least. We saw it in a positive light, a point that was also mentioned in this article, that we got to see part of the Muslim community in a light that we rarely ever get to see. It was humbling and enlightening to say the least! It made me realize how important it is that Muslims of all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds strive to understand and communicate with one another in order to sincerely act as one Ummah// Instead of acting like parts of a jigsaw puzzle scattered all over the place, not caring about coming together an act of coming which can only serve to complement and complete one another.

    I enjoyed the main event titled “Bridging the Ummah” in particular as well as the first main event (the title alludes me). I had actually contemplated skipping the first main event, expecting a boring and long (it was long but in a good way) introduction that has nothing to do with anything and makes teens slip out of their seats unheard and unseen while their parents are snoozing in their chairs—I guess experience from some other conferences (no names but its not the one in Dec alhamdulillah) made me have those apprehensions. But I’m glad I gave it a chance and I’m glad to say I was happily surprised (and not bored!)

    All in all, i thought it was a very well-organized event masha’Allah. I was so surprised to hear it was only their second conference with the apparent success that they had not only in numbers but also in terms of organization, (they actually start on time and not thirty minutes after the lecture was scheduled to be–excluding Jumuah Khutbah/Salaah) and the diversity of topics (and very interesting!) and speakers. Its rare to find these topics being addressed (and by their respective speakers). Even the fashion in which these topics are addressed are very unique and refreshing. MANA is off to a great start! May Allah continue to make them successful in all their hard-earned efforts in bringing together the Muslim Community and bringing a positive light to a part of the Ummah that is just as important and fundamental as their immigrant counterparts and their 2nd and 3rd generation offspring..

    haha I just wrote a mini article of my own but there’s so much I felt and learned that I just couldn’t resist sharing.

    JazakomAllahu kheiran, I appreciate the coverage and I look forward to reading about it, insha’Allah.

  11. Amad

    Amad

    December 1, 2008 at 3:58 PM

    jazakumallahkhair everyone for your kind comments. I think the interviews will be a good reminder about the pretender part :)

    Abdul-Alim, I wish I saw you there… if I wasn’t so completely tied-up, I would have come and picked you up for it. May Allah allow us to meet again soon. For everyone’s benefit: Br. Abdul-Alim was the first person I met in Philadelphia when I relocated from Texas to the Northeast. I had asked for contacts on the AlMaghrib forum, and Br. Abdul-Alim was the first to respond. Not only that, his hospitality to a stranger-brother, i.e. me, was immense. And that was one of my many wake-up calls that brotherhood extends beyond our own culture and our own desi or Arab cliques. Br. Abdul-Alim represents the best of the African-American brothers that Philadelphia, the “American-Muslim city”, has to offer :)

    Br. Abdul-Alim, I would like to add that one thing we learned from Texas Dawah Conventions is that you have to go AFTER the journalists. We know that the media is not running after Muslims to cover positive events, so I hope inshallah that MANA will build bridges with journalists/editors of Philly Enquirer and other media outlets in Philadelphia. I hope they had sent out a press-release to all media outlets.

    While our first experience at Texas Dawah was in being FORCED to respond to allegations, in future years, we had positive coverage nearly every year in Houston Chronicle. Part of the credit goes to brothers like Iesa Galloway there. This reinforces the need for a strong Public-Relations person within the organizational team, someone who is trained and preferably already has links with people in the local media.

    Sr. Aideh, I am glad that you wrote. Makes our burden a bit easier and adds more dimension to our experiences. If you would like to write a full post on it, we would definitely consider posting it… but its all about timing… so if you can get it in by today/tomorrow, that will be great i.e. IF you like to write something.

  12. Avatar

    Farhan Khan

    December 1, 2008 at 5:17 PM

    I guess I’m just totally naive about this immigrant-indigenous divide. I never noticed it at my masjid…at least amongst the HS kids I’ve looked after at our masjid. They really don’t care about race and such, to them its like “The best amongst you is the best at basketball”.

  13. Avatar

    abdul-alim

    December 1, 2008 at 6:18 PM

    As Salaamu Alaykum,

    Brother Amad, thank you for the accalades, but that was not me, it was Allah’s Qadar. Also, we are commanded to “want for your brother what we would want for ourselves”. So, when you ask for help, how could I not try to help you if I could. Allah has always helped me. Therefore, it was my pleasure to be of any assistance to you (the servant of Allah) that I could.
    When I talk to some of the Imans I know I will tell them about your insights, advice and the need for a strong Public-Pelations person. I think that is truly needed.
    All weekend long, I told my wife I felt like I was missing out on something by not being at MANA. I would have probably been in awe to see (finally) the Imams that I’ve listened to on tapes and CD’s for so many years, in one place. Insha-Allah I’ll be there next year.This is great thing that you are doing ( Islamic Journalism) and I pray that Allah reward you in this world and the next for your efforts. Also, I’m looking foward to seeing you again, Insha Allah.

    Was Salaam

  14. Avatar

    usman

    December 1, 2008 at 11:00 PM

    i actually know a few ppl who went from my community…inshallah i will ask them how it was…and leave a few comments here

  15. Avatar

    Abu Dharr

    December 3, 2008 at 10:00 AM

    Assalaamu alaikum everyone,

    I think it’s important to bear in mind that, while Philadelphia is being ‘discovered’ by some Muslims as the “Black Baghdad” of the US, and while other Muslims are smug or indignant that it took the immigrant-Muslim community this long to ‘discover’ this – there are differences amongst prominent black groups under this umbrella called MANA.

    I could go into this in detail – but that would be time consuming, and in my opinion, not very beneficial for anyone. Let it be said – some of those “differences” are substantial, going beyond mere differences of opinion in fiqh. But, as our tradition informs us, differences are a MERCY. And like any Divine mercy, a thankful heart is incumbent on us all.

  16. Amad

    Amad

    December 3, 2008 at 10:29 AM

    JazakAllahkhair Abu Dharr. But I didn’t quite understand the first paragraph… I mean not about the differences, but what you mean about the discovery in Philly?

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The Unexpected Blessings of Being Alone

Juli Herman

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My seven-year old son sat on the ground, digging a hole. Around him, other children ran, cried, and laughed at the playground.

“He’s such a strange kid,” my oldest daughter remarked. “Who goes to the playground and digs holes in the ground?”

In an instant, scenes of my ten-year-old self flashed through my mind. In them I ducked, hiding from invisible enemies in a forest of tapioca plants. Flattening my back against the spindly trunks, I flicked my wrist, sending a paper shuriken flying towards my pursuers. I was in my own world, alone.

It feels as if I have always been alone. I was the only child from one set of parents. I was alone when they divorced. I was alone when one stepmother left and another came in. I was alone with my diary, tears, and books whenever I needed to escape from the negative realities of my childhood.

Today, I am a lone niqab-wearing Malay in the mish-mash of a predominantly Desi and Arab Muslim community. My aloneness has only been compounded by the choices I’ve made that have gone against social norms- like niqab and the decision to marry young and have two babies during my junior and senior years of undergrad.

When I decided to homeschool my children, I was no longer fazed by any naysayers. I had gotten so used to being alone that it became almost second nature to me. My cultural, religious, and parenting choices no longer hung on the approval of social norms.

Believe it Or Not, We Are All Alone

In all of this, I realize that I am not alone in being alone. We all are alone, even in an ocean of people. No matter who you are, or how many people are around you, you are alone in that you are answerable to the choices you make.

The people around you may suggest or pressure you into specific choices, but you alone make the ultimate choice and bear the ultimate consequence of what those choices are. Everything from what you wear, who you trust, and how you plan your wedding is a result of your own choice. We are alone in society, and in the sight of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) as well.

The aloneness is obvious when we do acts of worship that are individual, such as fasting, giving zakah, and praying. But we’re also alone in Hajj, even when surrounded by a million other Muslims. We are alone in that we have to consciously make the choice and intention to worship. We are alone in making sure we do Hajj in its true spirit.

We alone are accountable to Allah, and on the Day of Judgment, no one will carry the burden of sin of another.

مَّنِ اهْتَدَىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا ۚ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۗ وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولًا

“Whoever accepts guidance does so for his own good; whoever strays does so at his own peril. No soul will bear another’s burden, nor do We punish until We have sent a messenger.” Surah Al Israa 17:15

On the day you stand before Allah you won’t have anyone by your side. On that day it will be every man for himself, no matter how close you were in the previous life. It will just be you and Allah.

Even Shaytaan will leave you to the consequences of your decisions.

وَقَالَ الشَّيْطَانُ لَمَّا قُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَعَدَكُمْ وَعْدَ الْحَقِّ وَوَعَدتُّكُمْ فَأَخْلَفْتُكُمْ ۖ وَمَا كَانَ لِيَ عَلَيْكُم مِّن سُلْطَانٍ إِلَّا أَن دَعَوْتُكُمْ فَاسْتَجَبْتُمْ لِي ۖ فَلَا تَلُومُونِي وَلُومُوا أَنفُسَكُم ۖ مَّا أَنَا بِمُصْرِخِكُمْ وَمَا أَنتُم بِمُصْرِخِيَّ ۖ إِنِّي كَفَرْتُ بِمَا أَشْرَكْتُمُونِ مِن قَبْلُ ۗ إِنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

“When everything has been decided, Satan will say, ‘God gave you a true promise. I too made promises but they were false ones: I had no power over you except to call you, and you responded to my call, so do not blame me; blame yourselves. I cannot help you, nor can you help me. I reject the way you associated me with God before.’ A bitter torment awaits such wrongdoers” Surah Ibrahim 14:22

But, Isn’t Being Alone Bad?

The connotation that comes with the word ‘alone’ relegates it to something negative. You’re a loser if you sit in the cafeteria alone. Parents worry when they have a shy and reserved child. Teachers tend to overlook the quiet ones, and some even complain that they can’t assess the students if they don’t speak up.

It is little wonder that the concept of being alone has a negative connotation. Being alone is not the human default, for Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was alone, yet Allah created Hawwa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) as a companion for him. According to some scholars, the word Insaan which is translated as human or mankind or man comes from the root letters that means ‘to want company’. We’re naturally inclined to want company.

You might think, “What about the social aspects of Islam? Being alone is like being a hermit!” That’s true, but in Islam, there is a balance between solitary and communal acts of worship. For example, some prayers are done communally like Friday, Eid, and funeral prayers. However, extra prayers like tahajjud, istikharah, and nawaafil are best done individually.

There is a place and time for being alone, and a time for being with others. Islam teaches us this balance, and with that, it teaches us that being alone is also praiseworthy, and shouldn’t be viewed as something negative. There is virtue in alone-ness just as there is virtue in being with others.

Being Alone Has Its Own Perks

It is through being alone that we can be astute observers and connect the outside world to our inner selves. It is also through allowing aloneness to be part of our daily regimen that we can step back, introspect and develop a strong sense of self-based on a direct relationship with Allah.

Taking the time to reflect on worship and the words of Allah gives us the opportunity to meaningfully think about it. It is essential that a person gets used to being alone with their thoughts in order to experience this enriching intellectual, emotional and spiritual experience. The goal is to use our thoughts as the fuel to gain closeness to Allah through reflection and self-introspection.

Training ourselves to embrace being alone can also train us to be honest with ourselves, discover who we truly are, and work towards improving ourselves for Allah’s sake. Sitting with ourselves and honestly scrutinizing the self in order to see strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement is essential for character development. And character development is essential to reach the level of Ihsaan.

When we look into who we want to be, we are bound to make some decisions that might raise eyebrows and wag tongues. Being okay with being alone makes this somewhat easier. We should not be afraid to stand out and be the only one wearing praying or wearing hijab, knowing that it is something Allah will be pleased with. We should not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in even if it makes us unpopular. Getting used to being alone can give us the confidence to make these decisions.

Being alone can strengthen us internally, but not without pain. Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that people who dissent from group wisdom show heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the sting of social rejection. Berns calls this the “pain of independence.”

All our prophets experienced this ‘pain of independence’ in their mission. Instances of different prophets being rejected by their own people are generously scattered in the Quran for us to read and reflect upon. One lesson we can extract from these is that being alone takes courage, faith, conviction, and confidence.

 

We Come Alone, Leave Alone, Meet Allah Alone

The circumstances that left me alone in the different stages of my life were not random. I always wanted an older brother or someone else to be there to rescue me from the solitude. But the solitude came with a blessing. Being alone gave me the time and space in which to wonder, think, and eventually understand myself and the people around me. I learned reflection as a skill and independent decision-making as s strength. I don’t mind being alone in my niqab, my Islam, or my choices. I’ve had plenty of practice after all.

Open grave

You are born alone and you took your first breath alone. You will die alone, even if you are surrounded by your loved ones. When you are lowered into the grave, you will be alone. Accepting this can help you make use of your moments of solitude rather than fear them. Having the courage to be alone builds confidence, strengthens conviction, and propels us to do what is right and pleasing to Allah regardless of human approval.

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Why Israel Should Be ‘Singled Out’ For Its Human Rights Record

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians.

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israel, occupied Palestine

Why is everyone so obsessed with Israel’s human rights abuses? From Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to North Korea to Iran. All these nations are involved in flagrant violations of human right, so why all the focus on Israel – ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? Clearly, if you ignore these other violations and only focus on Israel, you must be anti-Semitic. What else could be your motivations for this double standard?

This is one of the most common contentions raised when Israel is criticized for its human rights record. I personally don’t believe in entertaining this question – it shouldn’t matter why an activist is choosing to focus on one conflict and not others. What matters are the facts being raised; putting into question the motives behind criticizing Israel is a common tactic to detract from the topic at hand. The conversation soon turns into some circular argument about anti-Semitism and the plight of the Palestinian people is lost. More importantly, this charge of having double standards is often disingenuous. For example, Representative Ihan Omar has been repeatedly accused of this recently and her motives have been called ‘suspicious’ – despite her vocal criticism of other countries, especially Saudi Arabia.

However, this point is so frequently brought up, I think that perhaps its time activists and critics simply own up to it. Yes – Israel should be singled out, for some very good reasons. These reasons relate to there being a number of unique privileges that the country enjoys; these allow it to get away with much of the abuses it commits. Human right activists thus must be extra vocal when comes to Israel as they have to overcome the unparalleled level of support for the country, particularly in the US and Canada. The following points summarize why Israel should in fact be singled out:

1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens

When Iran and North Korea commit human right abuses, we don’t have to worry about everyone from journalists to clerics to average students on campuses coming out and defending those countries. When most nations commit atrocities, our journalists and politicians call them out, sanctions are imposed, they are taking them to the International Court of Justice, etc. There are instruments in place to take care of other ‘rogue’ nations – without the need for intervention from the common man.

Israel, however, is unique in that it has traditionally enjoyed widespread ideological support, primarily from the Jewish community and Evangelical Christians, in the West. This support is a result of the historical circumstances and pseudo-religious ideology that drove the creation of the state in 1948. The successful spread of this nationalistic dogma for the last century means Israel can count on ordinary citizens from Western countries to comes to its defense. This support can come in the form of foreign enlistment to its military, students conducting campus activism, politicians shielding it from criticisms and journalists voluntarily writing in its support and spreading state propaganda.

This ideological and nationalistic attachment to the country is the prime reason why it is so incredibly difficult to have any kind of sane conversation about Israel in the public sphere – criticism is quickly seen as an attack on Jewish identity and interpreted as an ‘existential threat’ to the nation by its supporters. Any attempts to take Israel to account through standard means are thwarted because of the political backlash feared from the country’s supporters in the West.

2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower

The US is Israel’s most important and closest ally in the Middle-East. No matter what war crimes Israel commits, it can count on America to have its back. This support means the US will use its veto power to support Israel against actions of the UN Security Council, it will use its diplomatic influence to shield any punitive actions from other nations and it will use its military might to intervene if need be. The backing of the US is one of the main reasons why the Israeli occupation and expansion of the colonial settlement enterprise continues to this day without any repercussions.

While US support might be especially staunch for Israel, this factor is certainly not unique to the country. Any country which has this privilege, e.g. Saudi Arabia, should be under far great scrutiny for its human rights violations than others.

3)  Military aid and complicity of tax-payers

US tax-payers are directly paying for Israel to carry out its occupation of the Palestinian people.

Israel is the largest recipient of US-military aid – it receives an astonishing $3 billion dollars every year. This aid, according to a US congressional report, “has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.”

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians. Activists and citizens thus have a greater responsibility to speak out against Israel as their government is paying the country to carry out its atrocities. Not only is this aid morally reprehensible, but it is also illegal under United States Leahy Laws.

4) The Israeli lobby

The Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful groups in Washington and is the primary force for ensuring continued US political support for the nation. It consists of an assortment of formal lobby groups (AIPAC, Christians United for Israel), think-thanks (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), political action committee or PACs, not-for-profit organizations (B’nai B’irth, American Jewish Congress, Stand for Israel) and media watchdogs (CAMERA, Honest Reporting). These organizations together exercise an incredible amount of political influence. They ensure that any criticism of Israel is either stifled or there are serious consequences for those who speak up. In 2018 alone, pro-Israel donors spent $22 million on lobbying for the country – far greater than any other nation. Pro-Israel lobbies similarly influence politics in other places such as the UK, Canada, and Europe.

5) One of the longest-running occupation in human history

This point really should be the first one on this list – and it is the only one that should matter. However, because of the unique privileges that Israel enjoys, it is hard to get to the crux of what it is actually doing. Israel, with U.S. support, has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since 1967. The belligerent occupation, over 50 years old, is one of the longest, bloodiest and brutal in human history.

Israel continues to steal land and build settler colonies the West Bank – in flagrant violation of international law. It has implemented a system of apartheid in these territories which is reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa. The Gaza strip has been under an insufferable siege which has made the living conditions deplorable; it has been referred to the world’s largest ‘open-air prison’. In addition to this institutional oppression, crimes committed against Palestinians include: routinely killing civilian protesters, including teenagers and medics, torture of Palestinians and severe restrictions on the everyday movement of Palestinians.

The brutality, consistency and the duration for which Israel has oppressed Palestinians is alone enough reason for it being ‘singled out’. No other nation comes close to its record. However, for the reasons mentioned above, Israel’s propaganda machine has effectively painted itself as just another ‘liberal democracy’ in the eyes of the general public. Any attempt to bring to light these atrocities are met with ‘suspicion’ about the ‘real’ motives of the critics. Given the points mentioned here, it should be evident that the level of support for Israeli aggression is uniquely disproportionate – it is thus fitting that criticism of the country is equally vocal and unparalleled as well.

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This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible

Who Accounts For This Pillar of Islam

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Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji

As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations.  We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.

Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion.  Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone.  There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.

No, it’s not ikhtilaf

The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat.  The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.  

It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined,  free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically,  the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.   

The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds.  We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?

Show Your Work

We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules.  In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.  

Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.

You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2

Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them?  Why or why not?

Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts?  What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.

Bubble Charity

In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor.  There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.

The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.   

As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent.  Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.

People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble.  Fisabilillah.

Dawa is the new Jihad

Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past.  Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.  

Indeed dawah is a broad category.  For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah.  Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.   

No Standards or Accountability

Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.  

The Shift to Meaninglessness

Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.

Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it.  It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.

Footnotes:

  1. The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
  2. In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.

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