A lot of talk in the Islamosphere centers around the perception of Muslims by non-Muslims and by the media. “The media portrays us all as terrorists, they only cover Islamic terrorist attacks. We’re all tainted by association, because public perception is twisted by media portrayal,” the argument goes.
But this sentiment only examines the symptoms. It’s my view that the behavior of the Muslim ummah itself is a significant contributor to the underlying cause. It’s long past time to acknowledge our own culpability, in both action and inaction, in how we are perceived and portrayed. Fortunately, by taking responsibility for our own role in how we are perceived, we also empower ourselves to take ownership of it, reclaim it, change it.
In the following series of posts, I’m going to explore this: our failure of engagement from the grassroots level to established Muslim organizations, how media works, how and why our media messages fail, and improving civic and media relations (the two go hand in hand).
But I’ll also look at remedies: writing more effective press releases, focusing and controlling one’s message, ways to leverage new media and social networking tools, developing a sensitivity and attention to the comments of non-Muslims who seek to genuinely engage with us, the importance of overcoming the Muslim reticence to cultivate long-term, healthy relationships with local and national media outlets, and grassroots tips.
I’ll start at the grassroots level and build upwards and outwards.
Underneath everything else, the root of Muslim culpability in how it is perceived and portrayed is the ummah’s powerful inclination towards isolation and separatism. This pervades everything in the chain from grassroots on up, and needs to be kept uppermost in mind as we explore solutions throughout the chain of communications and relationships with those outside the Muslim ummah. We have been separatist and isolationist for far too long, and now to our own detriment.
At a simple, grassroots, individual level, we must begin engaging with our community as citizens first, Muslims second. I know that seems uncomfortable on the surface, and understand I’m not advocating we deny our faith or go into hiding — in fact I’m proposing we need to be more visible — but more visible as citizens who just happen to be Muslim, as opposed to Muslims who are preoccupied mainly with our Muslimness to the exclusion of our civic duties and neighbors.
We need to stop being defensive Muslims and start becoming concerned civic participants.
We need to understand that the Muslim ummah is not the only ummah we are a part of.
How to do this?
A) Get involved locally: go to a town hall meeting, your school’s PTA or the school board, neighborhood association, etc. Find a civic cause and get involved. Invite your neighbors for dinner. Join a gym. Lend a lawn mower. Join any kind of recreational or social group, be it bird watchers, chess club, green causes, Democrats, Republicans, whatever.
In short: If you’re in America because of the opportunities it affords, then do your part and participate.
The key is to connect outside of our sphere, human to human, person to person, townsfolk to townsfolk.
(More than just civic engagement, it’s increasingly important to do and document good deeds and actions. Look for more on this in a future post outside this series).
B) If you’re a Muslim blogger and/or a follower of Muslim blogs: Congrats, you’ve worked very hard, shukriya for all you’ve done, mash’allah, you did great work!
In fact, your blogging was so awesome, you’ve won a vacation! Here’s your temporary exit visa from Blogistan!
Go visit some other part of the internet. Take a long hiatus from blogging about Muslim issues that — let’s be real here and call a spade a spade — are pretty much only read and discussed by other Muslim bloggers blogging about Muslim issues. I’m not saying that kind of exchange shouldn’t happen, of course it should. I love the Islamosphere and we need that internal discourse, but we need to shake any delusions about the Islamosphere’s true external reach and influence on non-Muslims. There are ways to improve that reach that I’ll address later in this series, but currently that reach is not much at all.
Start a section on your blog (or set up a new one) about what’s happening in your city. If you’re personally involved in some of the community steps mentioned above, then blog on those. Link with other community bloggers, comment on their blogs, comment on your city newspaper or TV station web sites (most of those now have reader commenting mechanisms). How much and when you want to point to your Muslim blogging interests at this stage is up to you, but the key is to build a local voice and presence that actively demonstrates civic interest and concern. For that kind of audience and targeting, building your civic cyberidentity is more important than showcasing your Muslim one, at least initially.
Here’s my throwdown: I challenge every Muslim blogger to blog on something else other than Muslim issues for their next three posts. Make it local to your community. Post a link to it on the comments below.
Can you, will you do it?
Both these activities — individual civic activism and playing a part in the local blogosphere — have an additional benefit of setting the stage for a better long-term relationship and presence with local (and ultimately national) media. How media outlets work, the Muslim reticence to develop media relationships and the Muslim failure to deliver effective lasting messages to the media — and how that can be turned around — will be addressed in the next post.
If Muslims are not willing to be known and be identified as fellow citizens — fully participating in and concerned about our civic community — then the only Muslims our neighbors will ever know about, are those Muslims that make the news when they commit senseless violent acts.
Our present isolationism has guaranteed that our civic communities know no other kind of Muslim.
But by undertaking some simple steps, we offer the civic ummah a wealth of positive experiences with Muslims — alternative experiences that can counteract the perception we’ve allowed to flourish by our separatist stance.
More to follow…
Swallowing Your Pride For A Moment Is Harder Than Praying All Night | Imam Omar Suleiman
Iblees was no ordinary worshipper. He worshipped Allah for thousands of years with thousands of prayers. He ascended the ranks until he accompanied the angels with his noteworthy worship. Performing good deeds was no issue for him. He thanked Allah with his prayers, and Allah rewarded him with a lofty station in Paradise. But when Adam was created and given the station that he was, suddenly Iblees was overcome by pride. He couldn’t bear to see this new creation occupy the place that he did. And as he was commanded to prostrate to him, his pride would overcome him and doom him for eternity. Alas, swallowing his pride for one prostration of respect to Adam was more difficult to him than thousands of prostrations of worship to Allah.
In that is a cautionary lesson for us especially in moments of intense worship. When we exert ourselves in worship, we eventually start to enjoy it and seek peace in it. But sometimes we become deluded by that worship. We may define our religiosity exclusively in accordance with it, become self-righteous as a result of it, and abuse people we deem lesser in the name of it. The worst case scenario of this is what the Prophet (peace be upon him) said about one who comes on the day of judgment with all of their prayers, fasting, and charity only to have it all taken away because of an abusive tongue.
But what makes Iblees’s struggle so relevant to ours? The point of worship is to humble you to your Creator and set your affairs right with His creation in accordance with that humility. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that whoever has an atom’s worth of pride in their heart would not enter paradise. The most obvious manifestation of that pride is rejecting the truth and belittling someone else. But other subtle manifestations of that pride include the refusal to leave off argumentation, abandon grudges, and humble yourself to the creation in pursuit of the pleasure of the Creator.
Hence a person would rather spend several Ramadan’s observing the last 10 nights in intense prayer seeking forgiveness for their sins from Allah, rather then humble themselves for a moment to one of Allah’s servants by seeking forgiveness for their transgressions against him, even if they too have a claim.
Jumah is our weekly Eid, and Monday’s and Thursday’s are our weekly semblances of Ramadan as the Prophet (s) used to fast them since our deeds are presented to Allah on those days. He said about them, “The doors of Heaven are opened every Monday and Thursday, and Allah pardons in these days every individual servant who is not a polytheist, except those who have enmity between them; Allah Says: ‘Delay them until they reconcile with each other”
In Ramadan, the doors of Heaven are opened throughout the month and the deeds ascend to Allah. But imagine if every day as your fasting, Quran recitation, etc. is presented to Allah this month, He responds to the angels to delay your pardon until you reconcile with your brother. Ramadan is the best opportunity to write that email or text message to that lost family member or friend and say “it’s not worth it to lose Allah’s forgiveness over this” and “IM SORRY.”
Compare these two statements:
The Prophet said: “He who boycotts his brother for more than three days and dies during this period will be from the people of hellfire.”
He also said:
“I guarantee a house in the suburbs of Paradise for one who leaves arguments even if he is right.”
Swallowing your pride is bitter, while prayer is sweet. Your ego is more precious to you than your sleep. But above all, Allah’s pleasure is more precious than it all.
Can I Give My Zakat To An Islamic Educational Cause?
As Ramadan nears its end, many Muslims are thinking about paying their zakat in the last ten nights. But what is a worthy cause to which we can give our zakat and, in particular, what do the scholars have to say on this issue?
A number of Islamic educational and media institutions in the West have in recent years been highlighting their ‘zakat-eligible’ status. The list of these institutions is quite long. In the US, they include this website, the al-Madina Institute, the Yaqeen Institute, Zaytuna College, and the Ta’leef Collective. In the UK, they include Cambridge Muslim College. Some of these institutions focus on covering the cost of tuition for students who would otherwise be unable to pay, but others are focused on running an institution whose raison d’etre is Islamic education.
But some might wonder how such institutions can receive zakat? A common belief is that zakat is meant only for the poor and destitute and that such institutions would, therefore, be ineligible. This is sometimes reinforced by the way that a minority of scholars, including learned ones, might deal with these issues.
Last year in the UK, a respected scholar stated emphatically that “none of the scholars” in Islamic history until modern times had ever said one can give zakat to causes like supporting institutions that promote Islamic education. He asserted that only modern scholars permitted the spending of zakat on such matters in the name of the fī sabīli-Llāh category (which I will explain below). The same British scholar reiterated a similar view in the past couple of weeks, but this time said that his view was the opinion of the “vast majority of scholars”.
The average Muslim may find such conflicting claims confusing. How is it that some scholars say zakat cannot be given to Islamic educational causes, while a large number of prominent Islamic educational institutions, presumably led by Islamic scholars, are directly soliciting zakat funds?
The main reason for this is the existence of difference of opinion (ikhtilāf) among scholars regarding who or what is deserving of zakat payment. The Qur’an (9:60) sets out eight categories of zakat-eligible recipients. While people today often think of zakat as being due to the poor and needy, they only explicitly form two of these categories.
The basis on which many of the aforementioned scholarly institutions claim zakat-eligible status is the category of fī sabīli-Llāh which translates to “in God’s path.” Historically, the more dominant interpretation of this zakat-eligible category was that it referred to jihād in God’s path, i.e. zakat was to be given to people engaged in military expeditions on behalf of the Islamic community.
However, some medieval scholars, and a remarkably large number of modern scholars, appealing to the fact that the Prophet highlighted that jihād was ultimately for the sake of making God’s word prevail (li-takun kalimat Allāh hiya al-‘ulyā), have argued for a far broader understanding of this zakat-eligible category.
Jihād, as a concept, is of course incredibly broad in Islam. For example, one finds in a sound hadith that the Prophet said: “Engage in jihād against the polytheists with your wealth, your lives, and your tongues.” Additionally, some of the verses in the Qur’an that enjoined jihād were revealed in Mecca where military jihād was not yet permitted.
Because of this, a minority of medieval scholars argued that the fī sabīli-Llāh category of zakat recipients could entail payments made to support any righteous acts, while others argued that the category was ultimately about upholding and strengthening Islam specifically through da‘wa initiatives that cause God’s word to prevail of which education is one of the most effective tools.
Indeed, giving seekers of sacred knowledge (ṭullāb al-‘ilm) was deemed a legitimate form of zakat payment according to all four schools of law. Clearly, the respected British scholar cited above was inaccurate in his claim that “none of the scholars,” or only a small minority of them, viewed the fī sabīli-Llāh category as referring to anything other than military engagements.
Among modern Arab ulama, the view that the fī sabīli-Llāh category of zakat recipients can apply to Islamic da‘wa and educational initiatives has perhaps become the dominant position on this issue over the last one hundred years. This is true of all major ideological orientations, whether Salafi, Neo-traditionalist, or Islamist.
Thus, for example, arguably the most important Salafi scholar of his generation, the first Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaykh Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm Āl al-Shaykh argued that the most deserving recipient of the fī sabīli-Llāh category of zakat was the cause of da‘wa, and responding to sources of doubt about Islam. Reportedly it is also the final opinion of his most important successor, Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azīz b. Bāz. Among living Salafis, this is the position of senior scholars outside the Saudi religious establishment as well, such as Shaykh Salmān al-‘Awda and Shaykh Ṣāliḥ al-Munajjid (may Allah liberate them from their unjust imprisonment).
It is also the position of senior scholars of the Azhar and Egypt’s Grand Muftis for many generations from the 20th and 21st centuries. In our own time, this includes Neo-traditionalist scholars like ‘Alī Jum‘a and Abdullāh b. Bayyah. While the latter prefers a more restrictive interpretation for the category, he permits the more expansive interpretation in his fatwas.
Among Islamist (Ikhwān) oriented scholars, one finds Shaykh Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī, author of what is perhaps the most comprehensive work to be written on the fiqh of zakat in Islamic history, promoting such an understanding as well. His two volume work, which addresses the major debates surrounding the fī sabīli-Llāh category in great detail, has also been translated into English. Among younger Islamist-leaning scholars, the encyclopaedic Mauritanian scholar and master of the Sharia sciences, Shaykh Muḥammad al-Ḥasan al-Dadaw argues that the fī sabīli-Llāh category may even be used in the establishing of educational endowments.
The above is only a selection of voices among those who are supportive of promoting Islamic educational causes on the basis of the fī sabīli-Llāh category of zakat. With due respect to scholars who would argue otherwise, it is clear that this is not only a legitimate legal opinion on this question but may well be the dominant view of many of the leading scholars of modern times.
Our communities are best served by an Islamic discourse that acknowledges the richness and diversity of our great religious tradition rather than restricts it to a narrow range of opinions. As the Prophet said to the Bedouin who prayed for God to exclusively show mercy to himself and the Prophet, “You have constricted what is vast!” (laqad ḥajjarta wāsi‘an).
Since there are a very large number of scholars who have recognised initiatives that promote the sound understanding of Islam to be eligible for receiving zakat, our community is best served by the accurate portrayal of the valid difference of opinion on such matters in which members of the community may legitimately seek to follow either opinion without claiming that the position adopted by others is illegitimate.
In an era in which the sound understanding of Islam is threatened by Islamophobic forces from without and extremist forces from within, we all recognise the importance of Islamic education as a central concern for contemporary Muslims to prioritise. May we all support this cause, whether through zakat or by some other means.
#UnitedForOmar – Imam Omar Suleiman Smeared by Right-Wing News After Opening Prayer at US House of Representatives
Sh. Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives yesterday, May, 9th, 2019 at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas.
Immediately since, right wing media platforms have begun spreading negative coverage of the Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists as well as criticism of Israel policies.
News outlets citing the criticism have pointed to a post from The Investigative Project on Terrorism or ITP, as the source. The ITP was founded by and directed by noted Islamophobe Steven Emerson. Emerson’s history of hate speech has been documented for over two decades.
Since then, the story has been carried forward by multiple press outlets.
The immediate consequence of this has been the direction of online hate towards what has been Imam Omar Suleiman’s long history of preaching unity in the US socio-political sphere.
“Since my invocation I’ve been inundated with hate articles, threats, and other tactics of intimidation to silence me over a prayer for unity,” Imam Omar Suleiman says. “These attacks are in bad faith and meant to again send a message to the Muslim community that we are not welcome to assert ourselves in any meaningful space or way.”
MuslimMatters is proud to stand by Imam Omar Suleiman, and we invite our readers to share the evidence that counters the accusations against him of anti-semitism, bigotry, and hate. We would also encourage you to reach out, support, and amplify voices of support like Representative E.B.Johnson, and Representative Colin Allred.
You can help counter the false narrative, simply by sharing evidence of Imam Omar Suleiman’s work. It speaks for itself, and you can share it at the hashtag #UnitedForOmar
At an interfaith panel discussion, three North Texas religious leaders promoted understanding and dialogue among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Amid a vexed political and social climate, three religious leaders in North Texas—a priest, an imam, and a rabbi—proved it’s possible to come together in times of division. Source: DMagazine.com
The congregation, led by Imam Omar Suleiman, penned more than 150 cards and letters. source: WFAA News
“We must recognize that the white supremacy that threatens the black and Latino communities, is the same white supremacy that spurs Islamophobia and antisemitism,” -Imam Omar Suleiman
Source: Bend The Arc
“When any community is targeted, they need to see a united faith voice — that all communities come together and express complete rejection of anything that would pit our society against one another more than it already is.” -Imam Omar Suleiman
Source: Kera News
Source: The Carter Center
Imam: After devastating New Zealand attack, we will not be deterred
“My wife and I decided to take our kids to a synagogue in Dallas the night after the massacre at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh to grieve and show solidarity with the Jewish community. My 5-year-old played with kids his age while we mourned inside, resisting hate even unknowingly with his innocence…” Source: CNN