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Necmettin Erbakan: Father of the Turkish Evolution

Dr Muhammad Wajid Akhter

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On the 27th of February 2011, an 86 year old Turkish man died in a hospital in Istanbul. However, he was no ordinary person. Necmettin Erbakan was one of the great Muslim leaders of the last century and a reviver of Islam in Turkey. The son of an Ottoman Qadi, Necmettin was born into a turbulent and unsettled world. The Ottoman Empire that had ruled large parts of the Muslim world for five centuries had just been dismembered and the Caliphate was abolished 2 years before he was born. His pious family were now faced with an entirely new reality – the aggressive militant secularism of Mustafa Kemal.

Within a few tumultuous years, Turkey had gone from being the last bastion of the Islamic world to a strange land where the absolute majority were Muslims but the adhan was banned in Arabic, Medrasa were closed down and all displays of faith disparaged. The fez and the veil were discarded as if they were chains holding back the march of progress. [1] The emphasis on Muslim unity was replaced with an even greater emphasis on Turkish Nationalism. To top it all off, the one-time Ghazi (or Islamic Warrior) Mustafa Kemal had now transformed himself into a “benevolent” dictator who was infallible, cultivating an increasingly extreme personality cult. [2]

The Turkey that Erbakan grew up in was one in which it was profoundly disadvantageous to be a man of faith, yet this did not dent his zeal. In his years at University, he used to lead the prayers for the few students who still followed even the most fundamental tenets of Islam. Interestingly, his colleague who performed the duties of the muezzin was Suleyman Demirel, who would go on to become the President of Turkey as well as an implacable foe. Soon after graduating as a mechanical engineer, Erbakan set forth his vision of a post-Kemalist Turkey that would return to the religion of Islam in a manifesto called “The National View.” [3]

He founded a party by the same name to help bring about this transformation. The party began to gain popularity and just as it was about to achieve critical mass, it was banned.

He then set up another political party with the same aim, but this too was banned. Undaunted, Erbakan picked himself up and started the process again. This time, due to infighting between the other parties, he actually got to become Prime Minister. However, the military elite decided that they could not tolerate a leader who openly believed in promoting brotherhood and cooperation between Muslims at home and abroad. Just over a year after he became Prime Minister, they sent in the tanks and forced him out. [4] Erbakan was back to square one again.

But Erbakan was more than just a politician with an Islamic outlook. In a lifetime of struggle and sacrifice, he kept the flame of Islam burning during the darkest days of the secular repression. His regular Islamic speeches and refusal to be cowed by intimidation, lifetime bans, and military coups showed to his countrymen and the world that not all Turks had abandoned the faith of their forefathers. Perhaps another leader would have been tempted to give up or turn to violence. The fact that Erbakan never despaired of raising Islam to its rightful place at the heart of the Turkish nation speaks volumes about his faith and determination.

Today, the President and Prime Minister of Turkey are his former students [5] and Turkey moves ever closer to taking its rightful place at the heart of the Muslim world. All this would have been unthinkable before a young engineering graduate decided that he must begin the process of change in his society. Necmettin Erbakan had his shortcomings; however, it is impossible to imagine the evolution in the psyche of the Turkish nation without him. Lest we become complacent, his final words, “work hard” were a reminder to his followers that the process of changing the situation of the Muslim Ummah is just beginning. May Allah have mercy on the soul of Necmettin Erbakan who earned his name “star of the faith.”

WAJiD Dr. Muhammad Wajid Akhter - Doctor, Medical Tutor (Social Media, History & Medicine) - Islamic Historian - Founder of, and current board member to Charity Week for Orphans and needy children. www.charityweek.com - Council member, British Islamic Medical Association

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Musa

    June 7, 2011 at 3:25 AM

    Great article… May Allah bless the man and the people in turkey working for Islam… I guess the current Turkish prime minister is one of the best Muslim rulers in this time. He is strengthening Turkey’s Muslim relations, and has visionary foreign policy.

  2. Avatar

    Abu Kamel

    June 7, 2011 at 4:16 AM

    As salam alaikum

    May Allah forgive him of his wrongdoings and misguidance and have mercy on him.

    It is unbecoming to speak poorly of the dead, but the matter of Erbakan politics should be made public as they currently affect how Muslims around the world percieve politics.

    Erbakan deemed it was necessary to work within the existing political system of Turkey to bring about change. This, except that Turkey’s system was strategically designed to resist Islam, to repress it, to halt its natural growth. Erbakan stepped down when the military ordered him to despite being elected by a majority. This showed his willingness to avoid harming Muslim people. But it also shows that the system of Turkey was NOT worthy of compliance and obedience as it stood.

    In this instance, when the Prophet Muhammad (saaw) was offered all kinds of worldly powers in exchange for his compromise and compliance with Jahili Makkan system, he refused. He refused t comply with a system designed to oppress, to spread corruption, to perpetrate association with Allah.

    This is the correct methodology of political action. Compliance with tyranny, oppression, corruption does not serve the cause of Islam.

    From Allah we come, to Allah we return.

    • Avatar

      Usama

      June 7, 2011 at 6:40 PM

      As Salamu Alaikum,

      If you try to overthrow the system and you fail, you and your followers will face a great deal of harm. Many times in this world you simply have to work within the system until you are strong enough to offer an alternative.

      Usama

      • Avatar

        Kashif H

        June 7, 2011 at 9:17 PM

        Nobody should have been protesting in Tahrir Square in Egypt then, since they could have faced “great harm” in doing so.

      • Avatar

        Abu Kamil

        June 8, 2011 at 5:27 AM

        Nobody should be protesting in Syria or bahrain then, since they will face “great harm” in doing so.

        • Avatar

          Usama

          June 8, 2011 at 6:44 PM

          The difference between Turkey, and other countries such as Egypt and Syria, is that in Turkey, Islamists weren’t always the majority, or even a respectable minority–Kemalism and Secularism was embraced by a lot of people, and Islam’s basis was effectively eroded, so many Turks lost attachment to it. If there was a revolution, very few people would have been a part of it, it would have been crushed immediately and suffered a further greater setback.

          Because Muslims in Turkey have been working within the system all these years, and not engaging in open rebellion, change has come and Islam is becoming a respectable presence.

          And by the way, don’t think for one second that what has happened in Egypt is a good thing–Egypt is full of fasad. Moreover, the military is extremely powerful at the moment, and trampling on people’s rights.

    • Avatar

      ZAI

      June 8, 2011 at 5:38 PM

      Didn’t Rasulallah agree to the Hudaibiyyah truce that contained many clauses unfavorable to Muslims? Didn’t many Sahabah, including Umar(R), not see the wisdom in it at the time but realize it later on? Was his strategic vision and wisdom not eventually realized when Makkah fell?

      Incremental change is NOT a negative thing necessarily.
      If the system allows for it and one can also avoid violence, anarchy and civil war…why is it not better to change the system that way?

      Unfair to compare the situation in Turkey over the century to straight out brutal dictatorships like Egypt, Bahrain or Tunisia. Incremental change is/was not POSSIBLE there because the uncle at the top would resort to crushing protests as in Syria or Bahrain, or throwing people in jail enmasse and rigging elections as in Egypt.

      Turkey has MANY flaws, but it is still a real democracy where governments can be peacefully changed and incremental slow progress made through the system. They’ve been moving in a positive direction: Erdogan is freeing up the public arena and introducing many laws to protect the rights of religious people and end discrimination against them and he is also slowly and steadily sidelining the secular ideologues in the military or opposition from carrying out coups or interfering in government. They are even going to amend the constitution to reflect the changes, a mandate by about 70% of the Turkish population that plans to vote the AKP back to power.

      Incremental progress within the system is not a bad thing if the system allows for it to be done. Even if it’s a struggle and we won’t see its fruits in our lifetimes, perhaps our children or their children will…and that’s preferable to anarchy and civil war. Fighting or mass rebellion where hundreds or thousands will die should be a last resort and taken only in places like Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, etc. where there is ZERO chance the dictator will allow any change…

  3. WAJiD

    WAJiD

    June 7, 2011 at 9:29 AM

    Asalaam alaikum brother Abu Kamel,

    JazakAllah khairun for your comment. I actually agree with what you are saying.

    However, for the general public, the aim of the article was to inform them of someone who had worked hard for the cause of Islam (in the way he felt was best) and perhaps inspire them to do likewise inshaAllah.

  4. Avatar

    BrownS

    June 7, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    Very interesting article. Jazakallahu khair. I’ve always been fascinated with this man.

  5. Avatar

    HFZ SP

    June 7, 2011 at 2:16 PM

    Having just returned from Turkey, I, together with my friends were disgusted and saddened to see the state of Islam in an Islamic country. The Islamic environment, we thought was a million miles away from being islamic. However, after reading about its modern Islamic history, it must be said the Islamic state of the country is also a million miles further away from the Islam during the time of Ataturk. So overall, Alhumdulillah, Alhumdulillah the country is heading in the right direction regardless of its pace.

    P.S it was sickening to see the hundreds of Turkish flags with the face of a man who caused unimaginable damage to Islam. Although not as pertinent as practising the Islam, who knows, maybe in the next century the government may ban his face from flags and replace it with someone who deserves to be like Necmettin Erbakan. (may Allah reward him abundantly, ameen)

    • Avatar

      Abu Kamil

      June 8, 2011 at 5:34 AM

      Having just returned from Turkey, I, together with my friends were disgusted and saddened to see the state of Islam in an Islamic country’

      Turkey is NOT an Islamic country
      It is a SECULAR country
      secularism is enshrined in the constitution
      in fact, most turkish political parties (even islamist like AK or Refah) have to give allegiance to a secular state and secularism, just like the president does when he gives the oath of office.
      Turkey is NOT Saudi Arabia or Iran…Its not even a pakistan or malaysia (where islam is only state religion)

      • Avatar

        HFZ SP

        June 8, 2011 at 9:52 AM

        Yes secularism maybe enshrined in its constitution without a state religion but only because of Ataturk and his efforts to make it as such, had another guy with a religious side such as Necmettin Erbakan or even Recep Tayyip Erdogan it may have been different. The majority (more than 90%) of the Turks are muslim so there should still be some form of an islamic environment and it is because of the huge % of muslim in Turkey which make me and many others consider Turkey to be a Muslim country.

  6. Avatar

    Nahyan

    June 7, 2011 at 6:39 PM

    That was very insightful.

    May Allah reward him and continue to improve the state of Turkey and its people

  7. Avatar

    Carlos

    June 7, 2011 at 7:21 PM

    I do not profess to be a scholar of Turkish politics, society or culture, but I do know some things about Turkey. It is unique in being a Muslim nation with an openly secular state. I believe that commitment to state secularism, an idea that has done so much to maintain peace and justice, and to advance humanity in the Western world, is part of the reason why Turkey is more economically, politically and socially developed than most other countries in the “Muslim World.” The Muslim World should be proud of Turkey, or at least respectful of it. The Turkish experiment is admirable, and reflects well on Islam. The Turkish experience shows that state secularism and Islam are not necessarily incompatible.

    Turkey’s commitment to secularism, however, was taken too far, when its military interfered with democracy by nullifying the results of fair elections. The military should stay out of governing. While secularism in government is an important component of freedom, justice and human dignity, democracy is also important. People need to feel they have a fair say in governing themselves, or they might not respect the rule of law, and might not accept the results of elections that their side loses. If political change cannot be accomplished through peaceful means, what happens? Anybody?

    Any party that seeks to gain and maintain power through peaceful means should be allowed to make its case to the voters, and to engage in and even win free and fair elections, even if that party is one that advocates theocracy. And if Islamic governments make Turkey more of a theocracy, that is okay, as long as the freedoms of individuals are respected, as long as the theocracy does not seek to undermine the democracy that put it in power, and as long as is does not seek to maintain its power through force. All governments must respect the will of the majority and the rights of individuals, and a religious government is no exception. The alternative is dictatorship, the loss of freedom and human dignity, and, potentially, conflict.

    • Avatar

      Drm

      June 9, 2011 at 11:55 PM

      Well, you were right about one thing, you’re not a scholar of Turkish politics. In fact your opinions are largely based on pro-western nonsense. Here’s a newsflash, the overwhelming majority of Muslim countries are failed secular(including Saudi Arabia) banana republics which were carved out by Europe. Ataturk was not even a Muslim, but a sabbtean Jew of the Donmeh tribe, much like the rest of the “young Turks” which played a key role in the destruction of Armenian population and the Ottoman Khilafa.
      Learn some real history for a change.

      http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2633759824917228395#

      • Avatar

        Carlos

        June 11, 2011 at 3:44 PM

        Drm, with all due respect, how can you seriously write that Saudi Arabia is a secular state? Non-Islamic places of worship are illegal there. State-enforced sharia is practiced there probably more strongly than almost anywhere else in the world, including even public corporal punishment. Women are not even allowed to drive a car or go anywhere without a male relative. And, if SA is a banana republic, then they must have a whole lot of bananas to be able to afford all the things they can afford. I presume you are implying the US really controls SA. I find that hard to believe, considering SA is overflowing with oil and money, and the US practically has to go to SA with hat in hand, asking for both. And to call the most powerful and absolute monarchy in the world a “republic” is ironic.

        True, some of the borders in the Middle East were drawn by European colonial powers, but how much influence have European countries had in that region since World War II? I have been to the ME, and I would hardly describe the society and government I witnessed there as being secular. Of course, one does not need to physically go somewhere to learn about it. If that were the case, only Neal Armstrong and a handful of other American astronauts would know anything about the Moon, and nobody would know anything about the other planets, stars and galaxies. One can learn plenty about the Middle East from books, newspapers, magazines, internet, etc. I have read much in my life, and little of it suggests, to me, that the majority of Muslim countries are actually secular republics.

        I just read the Wikipedia articles on Ataturk and the Young Turks, and did not see anything indicating they were Jewish, other than a reference to Ataturk’s religious opponents accusing him of being a secret Jew (which sounds suspiciously like the way some American nationalists accuse Obama of being a secret Muslim, despite there being no evidence of that).
        Even if, for the sake of argument, Ataturk’s ancestry might possibly have contained some people who were Jewish by ethnicity or religious persuasion, what does that have to do with what we are discussing? I thought we were discussing secularism in Turkey, not Judaism in Turkey. I am having trouble understanding what you are trying to communicate.

        You imply that I am more ignorant of Turkish history than you, but your posting does not provide any enlightenment on the subject, either for me or for the other readers. I would go to the video link you provide, but my computer does not have a sound card. :-(

  8. Avatar

    Serhat

    June 10, 2011 at 4:54 AM

    Esselamu Aleykum ve Rahmetullah ve Berakatuh,
    Hayr Fridays to all Muslim brothers and sisters.

    This is Serhat from Istanbul – Turkey [Masters Degree in Computer Science – New York]

    I see you guys talking about Muslims of Turkey. I would like to give my opinion as well. Man count is nothing. Quantity is not important. What important is that true believers. Imagine a country with 100 million people or more but people are so called Muslim. They drink alcohol or they do zina they talk behind each other and they don’t stick together against Kufr. On the other hand if there is a small country or small group in a country with people obey Allah c.c. and Prophet Muhammad s.a.v. its a lot more precious then first example.
    I would like to remind this Ayah to all of you:
    Sure: Baqara 2-249:
    So when Talut departed with the forces, he said: Surely Allah will try you with a river; whoever then drinks from it, he is not of me, and whoever does not taste of it, he is surely of me, except he who takes with his hand as much of it as fills the hand; but with the exception of a few of them they drank from it. So when he had crossed it, he and those who believed with him, they said: We have today no power against Jalut and his forces. Those who were sure that they would meet their Lord said: How often has a small party vanquished a numerous host by Allah’s permission, and Allah is with the patient.

    Talut was heading fight with greater enemy. And Allah c.c. even eliminated munafiqs withing them.
    Now Talut has even smaller army but ALL TRUE BELIEVERS and we know who won the war.

    Now Turkey has changed over the last decades. Thanks to Mahmut Ustaosmanoglu (Efendi Hazretleri) leader of Nakshibendi Tariqah and other Tariqah leaders.
    Now thousands of his followers follows shariah and sunnah. They wear hijabs and men are in proper dresses gown etc. Please see 2011 umrah picture:
    http://img197.imageshack.us/img197/2981/mahmudefendihazretleri2.jpg

    This is important because for decades we were pushed away from Islam and forced to cut bears change dresses etc. They collected qurans. They forbid everything about Islam. Now Elhamdulillah we are coming back.
    Key is the Shariah. If we live Shariah then we will live the life we deserve.

    Little info about Turkey and Islam.
    As you all know Turkey is in the middle of eastern and western world. Land of Turkey has been attracted by khafirs for centuries. So we have had more pressure then other Muslim worlds. Recently western world started playing with mid-east and you all see what is happening. But this game has been played on us for centuries. Now looking back and i see every place Ottoman Empire lost having a chaos such as Palestine, Chechnya, Bosnia etc…
    Because Islam lost its amir al-mumin. And Muslims could not stick together. They fought with each other and who won ? Others.

    We have to live shariah and we have to love each other. Islam is hard to live and follow alone. Join a group but make sure they follow shariah.

    Esselamu Aleykum

  9. Avatar

    truthbetold

    June 23, 2011 at 2:03 AM

    What kind of a Muslim collects money (10 mio DM) for the cause of Bosnia, deposits it in a bank and consumes riba? Erbakan’s right hand man, Mercumek, did that in 1994.

    Erbakan’s “Lost Trillion” Case:
    In 2003 Erbakan was sentenced to two years and four months for falsifying documents to cover up the misuse of state funds granted to his Welfare Party.

    Islam in Turkey means only a means to gain worldly power. Never mind the official Muslim rate 99% or the 50% of the votes in the last 3 elections for the “Muslim” parties. The real practicing Muslims (who have at least established the salah i.e. 5 daily prayers on time!!!) are around 1-3 % of the population. Unfortunately we have never understood and appreciated Allah Azza wa Jal’s deen so we elect only munafiqun as our leaders and follow the kuffar down the lizard’s hole. If neither a mu’adhin calls the adhan nor the imam gets up for fajr because of a stupid football match and nobody shows up at the mosque except the one who almost missed it, what else can I say?

    May Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala forgive us and have mercy on us. Without Him we are truly lost!

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#Society

Eid Lameness Syndrome: Diagnosis, Treatment, Cure

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How many of you have gone to work on Eid because you felt there was no point in taking off? No Eid fun. Have you ever found Eid boring, no different from any other day?

If so, you may suffer from ELS (Eid Lameness Syndrome). Growing up, I did too.

My family would wake up, go to salah, go out to breakfast, come home, take a 4+ hour nap and then go out to dinner. I didn’t have friends to celebrate with and even if I did, I wouldn’t see them because we stuck to our own immediate family just as they did.

On the occasion that we went to a park or convention center, we would sort of have fun. Being with other people was certainly better than breakfast-nap-dinner in isolation, but calling that a memorable, satisfying, or genuinely fun Eid would be a stretch.

I don’t blame my parents for the ELS though. They came from a country where Eid celebration was the norm; everyone was celebrating with everyone and you didn’t have to exert any effort. When they moved to the US, where Muslims were a minority, it was uncharted territory. They did the best they could with the limited resources they had.

When I grew up, I did about the same too. When I hear friends or acquaintances tell me that they’re working, doing laundry or whatever other mundane things on Eid, I understand.  Eid has been lame for so long that some people have given up trying to see it any other way. Why take personal time off to sit at home and do nothing?

I stuck to whatever my parents did for Eid because “Eid was a time for family.” In doing so, I was honoring their cultural ideas of honoring family, but not Eid. It wasn’t until I moved away that I decided to rebel and spend Eid with convert friends (versus family) who didn’t have Muslim families to celebrate with on Eid, rather than drive for hours to get home for another lame salah-breakfast-nap-dinner.

That was a game-changing Eid for me. It was the first non-lame Eid I ever had, not because we did anything extraordinary or amazing, but because we made the day special by doing things that we wouldn’t normally do on a weekday together. It was then that I made a determination to never have a lame Eid ever again InshaAllah.

I’m not the only one fighting ELS. Mosques and organizations are creating events for people to attend and enjoy together, and families are opting to spend Eid with other families. There is still much more than can be done, as converts, students, single people, couples without children and couples with very small children, are hard-hit by the isolation and sadness that ELS brings. Here are a few suggestions for helping treat ELS in your community:

Host an open house

Opening up your home to a large group of people is a monumental task that takes a lot of planning and strength. But it comes with a lot of baraka and reward. Imagine the smiling faces of people who would have had nowhere to go on Eid, but suddenly find themselves in your home being hosted. If you have a big home, hosting an open house is an opportunity to express your gratitude to Allah for blessing you with it.

Expand your circle

Eid is about commUNITY. Many people spend Eid alone when potential hosts stick to their own race/class/social status. Invite and welcome others to spend Eid with you in whatever capacity you can.

Delegate

You can enlist the help of close friends and family to help so it’s not all on you. Delegate food, setup, and clean-up across your family and social network so that no one person will be burdened by the effort InshaAllah.

Squeeze in

Don’t worry if you don’t have a big house, you’ll find out how much barakah your home has by how many people are able to fit in it. I’ve been to iftars in teeny tiny apartments where there’s little space but lots of love. If you manage to squeeze in even two or three extra guests, you’ve saved two or three people from ELS for that year.

Outsource Eid Fun

If you have the financial means or know enough friends who can pool together, rent a house. Some housing share sites have homes that can be rented specifically for events, giving you the space to consolidate many, smaller efforts into one larger, more streamlined party.

Flock together

It can be a challenge to find Eid buddies to spend the day with. Try looking for people in similar circumstances as you. I’m a single woman and have hosted a ladies game night for the last few Eids where both married and single women attend.  If you are a couple with young kids, find a few families with children of similar age groups. If you’re a student, start collecting classmates. Don’t wait for other people to invite you, make a list in advance and get working to fend off ELS together.

Give gifts

The Prophet ﷺ said: تَهَادُوا تَحَابُّوا‏ “Give gifts to increase love for each other”. One of my siblings started a tradition of getting a gift for each person in the family. If that’s too much, pick one friend or family member and give them a gift. If you can’t afford gifts, give something that doesn’t require much money like a card or just your time. You never know how much a card with kind, caring words can brighten a person’s Eid.

Get out of your comfort zone

If you have ELS, chances are there is someone else out there who has it too. The only way to find out if someone is sad and alone on Eid is by admitting that we are first, and asking if they are too.

Try, try, try again…

Maybe you’ve taken off work only to find that going would have been less of a waste of time. Maybe you tried giving gifts and it didn’t go well. Maybe you threw an open house and are still cleaning up/dealing with the aftermath until now. It’s understandable to want to quit and say never again, to relent and accept that you have ELS and always will but please, keep trying. The Ummah needs to believe that Eid can and should be fun and special for everyone.

While it is hard to be vulnerable and we may be afraid of rejection or judgment, the risk is worth it. As a survivor and recoverer of ELS, I know how hard it can be and also how rewarding it is to be free of it. May Allah bless us all with the best Eids and to make the most of the blessed days before and after, Ameen.

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#Current Affairs

Were Muslim Groups Duped Into Supporting an LGBTQ Rights Petition at the US Supreme Court?

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Muslim organizations, Muslim groups

Recently several Muslim groups sent an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court to support LGBTQ rights in employment.  These groups argued“sex” as used in the Civil Rights Act should be defined broadly to include more types of discrimination than Congress wrote into the statue.

A little background. Clayton County, Georgia fired Gerald Lynn Bostock. The County alleged Bostock embezzled money, so he was fired. Bostock argues the real reason is that he is gay. Clayton County denied they would fire someone for that reason. Clayton County successfully had the case dismissed saying that even if Bostock is right about everything, the law Bostock filed the lawsuit under does not vindicate his claim. The case is now at the Supreme Court with other similar cases.

The “Muslim” brief argued the word “sex” should mean lots of things, and under the law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act), LGBTQ discrimination is already illegal.  American law has developed to provide some support for this argument, but there have been divisions in the appellate courts. So this is the exact sort of thing the US Supreme Court exists to decide.

The Involvement Of Muslim Groups

In Supreme Court litigation, parties on both sides marshal amicus briefs (written arguments) and coordinate their efforts to improve the effectiveness of their advocacy, there are over 40 such briefs in the Bostock case. Groups represent constituencies with no direct stake in the immediate dispute but care about the precedent the case would set.

The Muslim groups came in purportedly because they know what it’s like to be victims of discrimination (more on that below). The brief answered an objection to the consequences that could come with an expansive definition of the term “sex” to include gay, lesbian, and transgender persons (in lieu of its conventional use as synonymous with gender, i.e., male/female). In particular, the brief responded to the concern that “sex” being defined as any subjective experience may open up more litigation than was intended by making the argument that religion is a personal experience that courts have no trouble sorting out and that, like faith, courts can define “sex” the same way.

While this may be interesting to some, boring to others, it begs the question:  why are Muslim groups involved with this stuff? Muslims are a faith community. If we speak *as Muslims* is it not pertinent to consult with the traditions of the faith tradition known as Islam, like Quran, Hadith and the deep well of scholarly tradition?  Is our mere presence in a pluralistic society enough reason to ignore all this and focus on building allies in our mutual desire to create a world free of discrimination?

Spreading Ignorance

In July of 2017, the main party to the “Muslim” brief, Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), was expelled from the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Convention bazaar.  I was on the Executive Council of the organization at the time but had no role in the decision. The reason: MPV was dedicated to promoting ignorance of Islam among Muslims at the event. The booth had literature claiming haram was good and virtuous. Propaganda distributed at the table either implied haram was not haram or alternately celebrated haram.

For any Muslim organization dedicated to Islam, it is not a difficult decision to expel an organization explicitly dedicated to spreading haram. No Muslim organization, composed of Muslims who fear Allah and dedicate their time to Islam can give space to organizations opposed the faith community’s values and advocates against them in their conferences and events.  Allah, in the Quran, tells us:

immorality

Indeed, those who like that immorality should be spread [or publicized] among those who have believed will have a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And Allah knows, and you do not know.

It would be charitable to the point of fraud to characterize MPV as a Muslim organization. That MPV has dedicated itself to promoting ignorance of the religion within the Muslim community is not in serious dispute.  The organization’s leader has been all over the anti-Sharia movement.

Discrimination against Muslims is bad, except when it’s good 

The brief framed the various organizations’ participation by claiming as Muslims, we know what it is like to be on the receiving end of discrimination. This implies the parties that signed on to the Amicus petition believe discrimination against Muslims is a bad thing. For at least two of the organizations, this is not entirely true.

MPV is an ally of another co-signer of the Amicus petition, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).  Both have records that show an eagerness to discriminate against Muslims in the national security space. They both applied for CVE grants. Both have supported the claim that Muslims are a national security threat they are somehow equipped to deal with. I have written more extensively about MPAC in the past; mainly, it’s work in Countering Violent Extremism and questionable Zakat practices.

MPAC’s CVE  program, called “Safe Spaces,” singled out Muslims as terrorist threats. It purported to address this Muslim threat. In June of 2019, MPAC’s academic partner released an evaluation Safe Spaces and judged it as “not successful” citing the singling out of Muslims, as well as a lack of trust within the Muslim community because of a lack of transparency as reasons why the program was a failure. Despite its legacy of embarrassment and failure, MPAC continues to promote Safe Spaces on its website.

MPV was a vigorous defender of MPAC’s CVE program, Safe Spaces.  MPV’s leader has claimed the problem of “radicalism” is because of CAIR, ISNA, and ICNA’s “brand of Islam.”

Law Enforcement Approved Islam

In 2011, former LAPD head of Counter-Terrorism, Michael P. Downing testified during a congressional hearing on “Islamist Radicalization” Downing testified in favor of MPV, stating:

I would just offer that, on the other side of the coin, we should create opportunities for the pure, good part of this, to be in the religion, such as the NGOs. There is an NGO by the name of Ani Zonneveld who does the Muslims for Progressive Values. This is what they say, “Values are guided by 10 principles of Islam, rooted in Islam, including social equality, separation of religion and state, freedom of speech, women’s rights, gay rights, and critical analysis and interpretation.” She and her organization have been trying to get into the prison system to give this literature as written by Islamic academic scholars. So I think there can be more efforts on this front as well.

Downing was central to the LAPD’s “Muslim Mapping” program, defending the “undertaking as a way to help Muslim communities avoid the influence of those who would radicalize Islamic residents and advocate ‘violent, ideologically-based extremism.” MPAC was a supporter of the mapping program, which was later rejected by the city because it was an explicit ethnic profiling program mainstream Muslim and secular civil rights groups opposed.  MPAC later claimed it did not support the program, though somehow saw fit to give Downing an award. Downing, since retired, currently serves on MPAC’s Advisory Council.

Ani Zonnevold, the President and Founder of MPV, currently sits on the International Board of Directors for the Raif Badawi Foundation alongside Maajid Nawaz and Zuhdi Jasser.

MPV has also been open about both working for CVE and funding from a non-Muslim source, the Human Rights Campaign, and other groups with agendas to reform the religion of Islam. It’s hard not to see it as an astroturf organization.

Muslim Groups Were Taken for a Ride

Unfortunately, Muslim nonprofit organizations are often unsophisticated when it comes to signing documents other groups write. Some are not even capable of piecing together the fact that an astroturf organization opposed to Islam, the religious tradition, was recruiting them to sign something.

There are many Muslims sympathetic to the LGBTQ community while understanding the limits of halal and haram. Not everyone who signed the brief came to this with the same bad faith as an MPV, which is hostile to the religion of Islam itself. Muslims generally don’t organize out of hostility to Islam. This only appears to be happening because of astroturfing in the Muslim community. Unfortunately, it was way too easy to bamboozle well-meaning Muslim groups.

Muslims are a faith community. MPV told the groups Islam did not matter in their argument when the precise reason they were recruited to weigh in on the case was that they are Muslim. Sadly, it was a successful con. Issues like the definition of sex are not divorced from Islamic concerns. We have Islamic inheritance and rules for family relations where definitions of words are relevant. Indeed, our religious freedoms in ample part rest on our ability to define the meaning of words, like Muslim, fahisha, zakat, daughter, and Sharia. Separate, open-ended definitions with the force of law may have implications for religious freedom for Muslims and others because it goes to defining a word across different statutes, bey0nd the civil rights act. There would be fewer concerns if LGBT rights were simply added as a distinct category under the Civil Rights Act while respecting religious freedom under the constitution.

Do Your Homework

Muslim organizations should do an analysis of religious freedom implications for Muslims and people of other faiths before signing on to statements and briefs. A board member of MPV drafted the “Muslim” Brief, and his law firm recruited Muslim nonprofit organizations to sign on. CAIR Oklahoma, which signed up for this brief, made a mistake (hey, it happens). CAIR Oklahoma’s inclusion is notable. This chapter successfully challenged the anti-Sharia “Save our State” law that would have banned Muslims from drafting Islamic Wills. Ironically, CAIR Oklahoma’s unwitting advocacy at the Supreme Court could work against that critical result. For an anti-Sharia group like MPV, this is fine. It is not fine for a group like CAIR.

CAIR Oklahoma is beefing up their process for signing on to Amicus Briefs in the future. No other CAIR chapter signed on to the brief, which was prudent. CAIR chapters are mostly independent organizations seemingly free to do whatever they want. CAIR, as a national organization needs to make sure all its affiliates are sailing in the same direction. They have been unsuccessful with this in the past several years. CAIR should make sure their local chapters know about astroturf outfits and charlatans trying to get them to sign things. They should protect their “America’s largest Islamic Civil Liberties Group” brand.

Muslim Leaders Should Stand Strong 

American Muslims all have friends, business associates and coworkers, and family members who do things that violate Islamic norms all the time. We live in an inclusive society where we respect each other’s differences. Everyone is entitled to dignity and fair treatment. No national Muslim groups are calling for employment discrimination against anyone, nor should they.

However, part of being Muslim is understanding limits that Allah placed on us. That means we cannot promote haram or help anyone do something haram. Muslim groups do not need to support causes that may be detrimental to our interests.  Our spaces do not need to be areas where we have our religion mocked and derided. Other people have the freedom to do this in their own spaces in their own time.

Some Muslim leaders are afraid of being called names unless they recite certain words or invite particular speakers.  You will never please people who hate Islam unless you believe as they do.  Muslims only matter if Islam matters.

If you are a leader of Muslims, you must know the limits Allah has placed on you. Understand the trust people have placed in you. Don’t allow anyone to bully or con you into violating those limits.

Note: Special thanks to Mobeen Vaid.

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A New Eid Tradition: Secret Gift Exchange

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Eid Al Adha, Eid Gift Exchange

Gift exchanges–they’re common traditions for many gift-giving holidays in America. I’ve participated in gift exchanges in religious and secular contexts and I’ve loved being a member and even a host of them in the past! This past Eid al Adha and Eid al Fitr, I organized a secret gift exchange (we called it “Secret Bakra” from the Urdu “bakra” which means goat) with my siblings, cousins, and their respective spouses who live all over the US and it was one of the most memorable and fun things I have ever done for Eid in my life! The best part of a gift exchange like this is that I don’t have to feel the pressure of gifting 13 people gifts every Eid, but I feel as if I have!

Here’s a quick guide and some tips to help you and your family or friends organize an Eid gift exchange!

Gift Exchange Basics

A gift exchange requires: 

  • a group of 3 to 40 people
  • a budget range for the gift
  • deadlines for sending/receiving gifts
  • an organizational system to assign members who they will be giving gifts to

Optional parts of a gift exchange can be:

  •  some sort of exchange party (in-person or virtual)
  • gift recommendations/interests for each person to help nudge the gift-giver in the right direction)
  • an anonymous/secret exchange system with a reveal during the party/after everyone has gotten their gifts

Why a (Secret) Eid Gift Exchange? 

Following the Sunnah and Bringing People Together

The most important motivation anyone can have to organize or participate in a gift exchange is taken from a hadith of the Prophet (S) in which he says, “Mutual gift-giving increases the love between people.” This hadith can be taken as advice for a way to bring people closer together and with the intention of following the teachings of the Prophet (S). 

Celebrating Eid and Creating Meaningful Traditions

Another important motivation is to celebrate Eid, as the Prophet (S) has mentioned is a main annual holiday for Muslims, and to also make Eid special for you, your family, a group of friends coworkers, masjid volunteers, etc. Not only is it important for individuals and families to establish Eid traditions that everyone can look forward to (Eid shouldn’t just be fun for kids!), but it is particularly important in communities in which Muslims are a minority. I’ve always been a firm advocate for making fun, memorable Eids with exciting, wholesome Eid traditions and festivities. 

Manageable Way to Give Gifts within a Large Group of People

A gift exchange is a great way to give gifts in a large group of people without breaking the bank and without exhausting yourself trying to think of gifts for a bunch of people and then buying or making them. My cousins and I have gotten closer more recently due to an upswing in family weddings, and I really felt like giving all of them gifts last Eid.  But realistically, I didn’t have $200 to get all 9 people in this group a decent gift, or the time to make 9 gifts that were meaningful and special for each person, or the energy to come up with different gifts for all 9 individuals. A couple of years ago, my husband and I sent ice cream gift cards and personalized Eid cards to each one of our cousins (allocating $5 per cousin per family). It felt great to extend an “Eid ice cream on us” gesture, but for $45, it didn’t seem like we really got much of a bang for our buck. By doing a Secret Bakra Gift Exchange, we both spent under $30 total for our gifts, but it felt like more of a meaningful gift.  It also felt like each one of my siblings/cousins gave a gift to everyone in the group–and that’s the magic of gift exchanges! Although we didn’t give and receive 9 gifts on Eid, we all came together to celebrate our family ties and Eid in a special way and everyone felt like they scored on Eid. Lastly, if there’s a dedicated group of people that you always do a gift exchange with, such as extended family in my case, theoretically everyone will end up giving everyone else a gift when you consider probabilities if you do a gift exchange every Eid for enough years, right?  

Bridging the Gap: Togetherness Despite Age, Distance, Financial Means, etc.

One thing that was super magical for my cousins and I this past Eid was having the feeling that we celebrated Eid together. We’re always lamenting the fact that we seldom get together and rarely with all of us or talking about how if we were closer to each other then we’d do xyz awesome, fun things together all the time. This gift exchange wasn’t just about giving each other gifts–it was also about making time for a video call in which we all made it despite being strung across three different time zones and having work/school the next day to unwrap our gifts and wish each other a blessed and joyous Eid. It was also about creating a more tight-knit group and welcoming the newcomers to our extended family (we’ve had two weddings in one year and we’re all still getting to know the new spouses and vice versa). We’re all different in many ways–age, gender, religiosity, personality, etc.–and we may interact with each other (and even be fond of each other) at varying levels. Doing an anonymous gift exchange is a great way to force a person’s hand into making a greater effort to connect with another person in a wholesome, beautiful manner. Lastly, we considered our budget range to accommodate our financially-dependent younger cousins in high school, our unemployed bunch, our students, etc. No one felt burdened by the price tag for the gifts and everyone felt like they made a meaningful contribution no matter what their lifestyle or financial means allow. 

eid gift exchange

Tips on Making Your Secret Gift Exchange Easy, Fun, and…Did I Mention Easy?

With the business of worshipping in Ramadan and Dhul Hijjah on top of daily life struggles, who has the time to monkey around with extra nonsense like a gift exchange for Eid? Following these tips will help YOU pull off a great gift exchange with minimal time, effort, stress, and hiccups! (These tips will be particularly useful for people conducting a long-distance gift exchange.) 

  • Use a self-generating exchange system like “Elfster.” Have one person do it (it only takes 5 minutes to set it up) and send out the sign up link. You can even take turns every time you do a gift exchange. This way, nobody has to sit out the game because the website takes care of matching people in the group and can also let an administrator get in behind the scenes in case a problem arises (like someone doesn’t send their match a gift.) For the rest of the participants, signing up takes less than 5 minutes if you’re a first-time user and less than 2 minutes if you already have an account. The site draws names, notifies everyone of who they received, provides your match’s address, etc. It basically takes out all of the headache stuff that would discourage someone from wanting to organize one of these exchanges.  It can also allow for anonymous messaging, which can be handy for contacting your match to inquire about clothing sizes, color preferences, delivery options/issues, etc.
  • Set a budget range that’s friendly for the people of less financial means in mind. Think of the spread of your participating group members and make the exchange accessible to those who have the least means. Gifts don’t have to be expensive to be meaningful and you don’t want to set a $80 budget if someone in the group is struggling to make ends meet every month. My recommendation is to choose a budget range so that each person isn’t busting their brains to try to get a gift as close to $15.00 as possible, for example. Determine whether or not you’d like to include shipping costs inside this budget. If someone is making a gift, then estimate how much you’d buy whatever is made if you got it from the store (this is probably a bit harder than just buying something that has a price tag associated with it.) Give a $3-7 range around a price point everyone seems comfortable with. Our budget for the last exchange we did was $12-17. Most participants bought gifts at the $14-17 range (which I think is better.) Some good budget range recommendations I have are the following: $14-17, $15-18, $18-22, $20-24, $25-29. For a higher budget: $28-33, $38-42, $48-53. 
  • Set a strict deadline for receiving the gifts before Eid and keep in mind your gift exchange party date/time. Make sure everyone knows that they need to have the gift delivered on or by a certain a date. Don’t have a “send by” date, that doesn’t really make any sense, and don’t have a deadline that spreads across a couple of days because it’s too confusing. My personal recommendation for the deadline is to have the deadline at least one or two days before the earliest day anyone in your group might be celebrating Eid (#MoonWars). This way, everyone can take care of their gift before the Eid madness sets in which can make Eid more enjoyable because no one is stressed out about their gift being delivered on time, and it gives a little bit of a buffer if there are any complications with delivery or fulfilling an order/shipment. 
  • Virtual exchange party: set it before Eid prayer. Eid day is just too crazy because people have a lot of things going on. Now take into consideration the fact that people celebrate Eid on different days…exactly. If you set your virtual exchange party for the night before the earliest Eid’s prayer, you’re nearly guaranteed to be able to catch everyone because no one will have an Eid dinner invitation for that night. Additionally, it will feed into the excitement for Eid which will be on the next day or two. 
  • Alternative virtual exchange party. You can have everyone send a video recording of themselves opening their gift on whatever day the gift deadline is or whatever day you want to have your “party.” This way, everyone can participate despite schedule conflicts. If there are a handful of individuals who can’t make the actual party, you can also have them send videos beforehand instead of joining into the party on the video call. This might also be helpful if you’re doing an exchange party in-person if you can have the one or two people who can’t make it video-call in or send video recordings beforehand (if it’s before, then that person would need their gift before the party.)
  • Anonymous gift-sending and guessing who the gift-giver is. Make sure that the person giving the gift does not reveal their identity in any way, whether that’s putting gifts in a dark room before the party starts or making sure that their name is not on the package being sent at all. What we like to do is to have the person guess who they think gave them the gift after they’ve opened it. Our rule is that if the person guessed correctly, then the gift-giver should confirm it was indeed them that gave the gift. This is one of the most fun parts of the exchange party in my opinion.
  • Have a code word in your package to signify that it’s a gift from the Eid exchange.  Let’s face it–online shopping is convenient and becoming increasingly so. It’s more likely than not that you will order something from online during the gift exchange, so in order to prevent confusion, include a code word in the name of the person you’re sending the Eid gift to. We chose to write “Bakra” as the middle name, so it’d look like “Muhammad Bakra Ahmad” on whatever package was intended to be their gift for the Eid gift exchange.

I hope all of these tips were useful! If you end up doing this Eid gift exchange in your family, let us know what the best gifts were this time around! 

Here are the gifts that we had in our Eid al Fitr gift exchange this past June!

  • Juvia’s Masquerade Eyeshadow Palette
  • NASA Worm Logo Shirt + The Great Wave off Kanagawa Tapestry
  • Jade Roller for Face
  • Music Record
  • Nose Frida
  • Campfire Mug
  • DSLR Camera Remote
  • Llama String Art Kit
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** + Knife Sharpening Stone
  • Philadelphia Eagles Sun Hat
  • Golden State Warriors Mug

May Your Eid Be Blessed!

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