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Insights from the New Gallup Report: Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom and the Future

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The new Gallup report was released earlier today. MuslimMatters had an embargoed copy to prepare this review coinciding with the release. The full report is available in English & Arabic here: Abu Dhabi Gallup Center

In early 2009, Gallup released its report “Muslim Americans:  A National Portrait.” This report, one of the first major attempts to start responding to the pressing need for reliable information about the American Muslim community, emphasized a couple of major points.  The report emphasized the findings that the American Muslim community was the most culturally diverse faith community in the United States.  It also emphasized that American Muslims in general were highly educated compared to other religious groups.  On the other hand, the report also noted that young Muslims in the United States were less likely than young people of other faith groups to report that they were “thriving” and were more likely to report emotions such as anger.

Now, in August of 2011, as we approach the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center have released a new report – Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom and the Future.  (As one can see, Gallup consistently uses the term ‘Muslim Americans.’  Others more commonly use the term ‘American Muslims.’  Although I prefer the term American Muslims, I will probably switch back and forth in this summary.)  Not only does this new report allow us to take a fresh look at attitudes among American Muslims but it also gives a chance to begin to assess some changes in attitudes between 2008 and 2011.  While 2008, with the election of Barack Obama, was widely seen as an optimistic time for American Muslims, the three years since have seen continuing economic problems in the United States, continuing and even expanding U.S. wars in Muslim majority countries, and the increasingly vocal and visible Islamophobia campaigns in the United States.  These have included the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy and the “Anti-Shari’ah” campaigns.

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In light of these issues, it is perhaps surprising that this report finds that the percentage of American Muslims considered “thriving” has increased more than that of any other group.  The report’s authors speculate that possible reasons for this positive change may have to do with American Muslims having a more positive view of the economy than they did three years ago, and with what the report found was continued widespread support among American Muslims for the performance of President Obama, with nearly eight in ten approving of Obama’s job performance – by far the highest of any major religious group.

The report examines the political engagement, social engagement, and spiritual engagement of Muslim Americans.  It does not attempt to examine the sticky question of how many Muslims there are in America, which I think is an important one for us to get a handle on as we seriously attempt to plan for the future of Muslims in this country.  It finds that American Muslims, as compared to other faith groups are more likely to have confidence in the honesty of the country’s elections, although Muslims still lag far behind other religious communities in terms of voter registration.  It is not clear how much of this has to do with the percentage of Muslims in America who are not citizens of the country.  Muslims also, perhaps unsurprisingly in light of tensions arising out of the “war on terror” report lower levels of confidence in institutions such as the FBI or the U.S. military  than do other faith groups.  In many, though certainly not all, communities in the U.S.,  the military and law enforcement are often highly trusted institutions.  Along those lines, Muslims in America continue to believe at much higher numbers than other faith groups, that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were mistakes, and that the negative perceptions of the United States in many Muslim majority countries is due to the actions of the U.S. rather than false information spread by those countries’ leaders.

One of the charges that is sometimes made against national Muslim groups such as CAIR or ISNA is that they are extremist groups which do not represent the mainstream of the community.  While most of us who are active in the Muslim community would find the characterization of such groups as extremist to be unfounded, this report does interestingly ask Muslim Americans which national group do they find to represent their interests.  While CAIR followed by ISNA and then MPAC come out as the most representative based on the answers to this question, the reports authors conclude that “no national organization represents a large percentage of American Muslims.”  CAIR was named as most representative of their interests by a little more than 10 percent of American Muslims.  ISNA was named by around 5 percent and MPAC by 6 percent of males but only 1 percent of females.  When asked which of a list of national Muslim organizations represented their interests, 55 percent of American Muslim males and 42 percent of females responded that none did.

As further evidence to fight against the idea that Islam itself teaches its followers to embrace violence against innocents, American Muslims, more than any other faith group of Americans, responded that violent attacks by individuals or small groups were never justified (89 percent of American Muslims).  American Muslims were also more likely than any other religious group to say that violent attacks by militaries on civilians were never justified (78 percent).  A majority of American Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and Mormons all said that violent attacks by the military on civilians were “sometimes” justified.

As mentioned above, one of the most alarming findings of the 2009 report was that only 40 percent of American Muslim youth age 18 to 29 could be classified as thriving.  This was significantly lower than the youth of other religious groups and went against the general trend where young people are more likely to be thriving than older members of the same community.  This report finds those phenomenon to have disappeared.  65 percent of American Muslim youth age 18 to 29 are now considered thriving, which is on par with other religious groups, and obviously the enormous positive change from 40 to 65 is much more than any other group experienced during this time period.  To be honest, I find this remarkable change to be a little puzzling, especially in light of widely perceived increases in the visibility of Islamophobia in the media, and this deserves further examination.  The positive numbers are somewhat consistent with other results found in the report which find that in addition to having a generally positive view of President Obama’s performance, American Muslims have an optimistic outlook on the economy in general and on their own communities, although they still may report significant economic or community problems.  I also think, as I mentioned when discussing the results of the 2009 report, that we have to consider the diversity of the community and that the Muslim community in America contains large segments which are economically well off and large segments which are economically struggling.  Still, there does seem to be a general optimism among the community which is reflected in these survey results.

Another interesting phenomenon in some of the survey questions is that Jewish Americans in general are less suspicious of American Muslims than are other faith groups.  They are less likely to question the loyalty of American Muslims to this country or to believe that American Muslims are sympathetic to Al-Qaeda.  This should serve to remind the community that despite the ongoing Israel/Palestine conflict and the noisy role that certain Jewish voices play in Islamophobia campaigns, the majority of American Jews are more likely to relate to American Muslims as a fellow religious minority here in the United States, which is deserving of protection from discrimination and bigotry and support when persecuted or attacked.  These numbers back up what has been the experience of so many of us, that while there may be a few Jewish individuals or organizations that seem to be part of the anti-Muslim noise machine, whenever one looks to see who are our greatest allies in resisting these same voices, invariably one will find that they are disproportionately Jewish.

I encourage readers to dig into the detailed results here and start a discussion regarding the issues I have mentioned above and all the others addressed in the report.  The greatest value of these studies is to provide some actual empirical evidence which can move us beyond the realm of mere anecdote or of talking purely based on our own subjective experience about what American Muslims (and other groups) think and believe.  However, no one or two reports are going to conclusively answer any questions.  Often they can serve as much as anything to open up questions about how they should be interpreted or what else we would like to know.  So let the discussion begin.

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Muslim American born in Brooklyn, NY with Guyanese parents currently living in Virginia working full-time as a web developer.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Abu Noor

    August 2, 2011 at 12:30 PM

    The report is available now at the Abu Dhabi Gallup website linked at the top of the article. It is available in english, arabic, and bilingual editions.

  2. Avatar

    Yasmin Raoufi

    August 2, 2011 at 12:38 PM

    Very informative article! I had no idea that the Muslim community was the most culturally diverse faith community in America. Also, I know that the Pew Research Center also conducted a survey on Muslms in America and the results will probably come out in late August so we should also look at the results of that survey as well.

  3. Avatar

    MW_M

    August 2, 2011 at 12:39 PM

  4. Avatar

    Aly Balagamwala

    August 2, 2011 at 2:37 PM

    Excellent scoop. Timely reporting.

  5. Avatar

    Hafsa

    August 2, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    yea i read this–was really surprised by this at first but then thinking about it…im not too surprised…because really the only time i hear bout ISNA and ICNA is when they have their conferences (which i always hear negative things about the environment) and during ramadan (which i always hear about how they disagree bout the moonsighting, etc)..

    • Avatar

      Hena Zuberi

      August 2, 2011 at 3:27 PM

      That was one of the very interesting aspect of this survey- that American Muslims do not identify with an organization as representative of themselves. But in reality that is a reflection of the state of our masajids- the infighting and lack of cohesive vision and unity.
      Great work Brother Amad and Abu Noor.

      American Muslims were also more likely than any other religious group to say that violent attacks by militaries on civilians were never justified (78 percent). A majority of American Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and Mormons all said that violent attacks by the military on civilians were “sometimes” justified.

      This makes sense when so many see their brothers and sisters in faith being killed overseas and in a essential teaching of our faith..

      I too do not understand the difference in the responses from two years ago about ‘thriving’? Despite so many losing jobs and homes in our communities. May be many are finally comfortable with being fully American and fully Muslim. Credit to our shuyookhs and blogs for spreading this message.

  6. Amad

    Amad

    August 2, 2011 at 3:49 PM

    Thanks Abu Noor! Great work.

    I was also a bit surprised about the Jewish American views on Muslims, but when one thinks about it, it makes sense. I think this highlights the difference between a few major Jewish organizations that are mostly extremely pro-Israel (like AIPAC) and the average Jewish American. I would suspect that the Zionist/pro-Israel orgs and followers don’t represent the average Jewish American with regards to sentiments about Muslims. I have seen this in my own personal experience too. The voices of the few hawks in the Lobby are amplified much more than their real representation. We see this with support of Obama too. One would think that no Jewish American would support Obama based on what comes out of the main Israel Lobby elements. But in fact, the majority continues to be behind him.

    It would be amazing to see what the results would be for the same survey in UK for example, where demographics and immigration dynamics are very different.

    I spend a lot of time with British Muslims, mostly those born and raised in UK. And regardless of their religiosity, they all generally have little to no patriotism for UK, and also tend to be very pessimistic about their country and life there in general. We end up having great debates on the merits of being “thankful” to the nation that gave you so much opportunity… but anyway that’s a tangent for another day :)

    • Avatar

      Susanna Speier

      August 6, 2011 at 6:29 AM

      Amad, I enjoyed reading your comments and wanted to weigh in:

      Supporting and protecting the rights of religious minorities has always been central to. Like many Jewish Americans, my family immigrated to the United States to escape religious persecution and intolerance.

      About a year ago, when extremist American politicians started getting all weird and creepy about the 51 Park Mosque and Community Center, I curated this series of Politiku (political haiku) for my Huffington Post column. The perspectives are, as one might expect, quite diverse. The expressed concern for religious tolerance, however is consistent.

      -Susanna

      • Amad

        Amad

        August 6, 2011 at 8:08 AM

        Thanks Susanna for stopping by.
        I read your piece and your style is quite awesome!

        I do remember when ADL came out against Park51, which I found quite disheartening. There was a time when many of us would recommend Muslims go to local ADL chapters in lieu of CAIR for discrimination issues, as ADL was better equipped to handle! I think that’s still true in many ways as chapters and national organizations don’t always see eye to eye on everything. After the episode, I had a discussion with a Jewish friend from school, whose uncle sits on the ADL board and he was equally disappointed.

        Hope we can cross-post some of your future material.

        Thx again.

  7. Avatar

    Hassan

    August 2, 2011 at 5:09 PM

    Quite shocking, about the Obama approval rating among the Muslims. I would have thought opposite.

    • Avatar

      Muslim

      August 4, 2011 at 11:09 AM

      It is not so shocking when you think about it. Don’t forget, the poll is about “American” Muslims. Do not underestimate the link between increased integration and increased brainwashing and political unawareness of the American Muslim community.

      Watching CNN, Foxnews, MSNBC, NBC Nightly News and the Daily Show with John Stewart does not make an individual politically aware and is NOT a good source of information when one actually wants to make an intelligent decision on a specific person in the public spotlight.

      As American Muslims work harder, and harder and work longer hours, get involved in many different lines of work in the public and private sector and get further integrated into American soceity and slowly lose their connections to their countries of origin, they will start to fall for the same propaganda like the rest of Americans. For example, that this country is the “best country” in the world (if there is such a thing) or that our values and concern for human rights is far above any other nation’s, etc.

      An average American Muslim’s religion (and by that I DON’t mean their religious identity as a group, but their true religious values) or mind will not guide their political opinions. What will guide them is whatever political party or political ideology (liberal, conservative, left, right, libetarian, etc) they begin to become more attached to as they watch more and more TV every night after a long day of work. It is the inevitable truth.

      The reason why I say this is the LACK of truly Islamic education in the US and the GROSS lack of concern for it. The number of Muslims in America versus the number of truly Islamic schools that teach the traditional Islamic sciences, traditional secular sciences that elevate the mind such as classical logic, rhetoric, etc, and that think “outside the box” and do not just take a US public school as their model or framework and just throw in two Islamic classes a year, is VERY low.

      I am not saying there won’t be any politically aware American Muslims. I would, however, take a guess and say that the percentage of Muslims in America who would actually be well informed about current events and political issues would be the same percentage of non-Muslim Americans. Maybe a bit higher depending on how much the Media is attacking or defaming American Muslims at any given time. But in regards to other current events going on around the world that are not Muslim related, American Muslims will NOT be really aware of them just like the rest of Americans.

      I know that sounds pessimistic, but ask your average American Muslim about U.S. economic and militaristic intervention in Latin America, and they will have NO idea. They might just mention Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro and not know why they mentioned their names. And unfortunately, THAT is what it truly means to be integrated into American Society.

      Unless American Muslims have a GREAT concern for the education of this nation, and focus our attention and financial wealth on creating institutions of learning, not just for Muslims but for the entire nation, all I see the same story playing out.

  8. Avatar

    Perseveranze

    August 2, 2011 at 7:41 PM

    Islam is the most diversely followed religion, Alhamdullilah. May Allah(swt) guide everyone.

  9. Pingback: US Muslims more opposed than other groups to violence against civilians

  10. Avatar

    Mohammed Khan

    August 4, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    50% of American Muslims don’t attend even Jumuah prayers. That stat shows how far away we American Muslims are from Islam. The same 50% attend the masjid only about once a month! May Allah guide all of us. *SIGH*

    The above depressing stat is on page#45.

    Usamah ibn Zaid (rah) says: The Prophet SAWS says: “He who leaves Three Fridays without an excuse then Allah will write him amongst the hypocrites.”

    source & grade: al-Suyuti says SAHIH in “al-Jami’i al-Sagheer” #8590.

    Ibn Abi Shaybah from al-Fadl bin Dakeen from Zuhayr from Abu Ishaq from Abu al-AhwaS from ‘Abdullah and ‘Affan from Humad bin Salamah from Hameed from al-Hassan and it is from Suffiyan al-Thawri and ibn al-Mubarak and Marwan ibn Mu’awiyah from ‘Awf al-A’arabi from Sa’eed ibn abi al-Hassan that ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (ra) says: “He who leaves three consecutive Fridays; he has discarded Islam behind his back.

    There are other severe warnings for missing Jumuah congregation.

  11. Avatar

    Tom

    August 7, 2011 at 2:33 PM

    Lack of masjid attendence is due in large part, I would imagine, to inability to leave work or school, sectarian issues (racial and ideological divisions) and gender partitioning (I know this puts off a HUGE number of Muslim women).

    • Avatar

      Maajid

      August 13, 2011 at 6:55 AM

      So, the women will come to pray if there was no partitioning or they need partitioning?
      Need partitioning is understandable, but what is so major to abandon salah in masjid if they have a women’s section! And what is so great if they had no partition between men and women… these are just lame excuses which people makeup.

      • Avatar

        Tarannum

        March 25, 2012 at 8:41 AM

        This is not a lame excuse. When I go to a masjid with a prtition it makes me feel unwelcome. I can’t see who is talking to me. If I join in the middle of the prayer specially dhuhr or asr where there is no loud recitation I can’t even confirm which position I should be in. If I have a question or suggestion there is no way of getting it to the Imam right away like the brothers can. We we not have enough examples of the sahabiat speaking up in the Masjid with concerns or questions. Men may not understand this until they are put in that situation. So please don’t call this a lame excuse.
        Alhamdullilah our local masjid just opened 2yrs ago and decided to follow the Sunnah and not have a partition. That is the one masjid that is so peaceful, welcoming and open to everyones concerns. Alhamdullilah.

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Torment And Tears: The Emotional Experience of Tawbah

Have you ever had that moment where, all of a sudden, you remember something that you said or did in the past, the severity of which you only realized later on?

That sharp inhalation, shortness of breath, the flush of humiliation, the sick lurching in the pit of your stomach as you recall hurtful words, or an action that was so clearly displeasing to Allah… it is a very physical reaction, a recoiling from your own past deeds.

It may not even be the first time you think about those actions, it may not even be the first time to make istighfaar because of them… but sometimes, it may be the first time that you really and truly feel absolutely sickened at the realization of the gravity of it all. It might not even have been a ‘big deal’ – perhaps it was a cruel joke to a sensitive friend, or not having fulfilled a promise that was important to someone, or betraying a secret that you didn’t think was all that serious.

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And yet… and yet, at this moment, your memory of that action is stark and gut-wrenching.

It is a deeply unpleasant feeling.

It is also a very necessary one.

The Act of Tawbah

Tawbah – seeking forgiveness from Allah – is something that we speak about, especially in Ramadan, the month of forgiveness. However, it is also something that we tend to speak about in general terms, or write off as something simple – “Just say astaghfirAllah and don’t do it again.”

In truth, tawbah is about much more than muttering istighfaar under your breath. It is a process, an emotional experience, one that engages your memory, your soul, and your entire body.

The first step of tawbah is to recognize the sin – whether seemingly small or severe – and to understand just how wrong it was. Each and every one of our deeds is written in our book of deeds; each and every deed will be presented to us on the Day of Judgment for us to be held accountable for. There are times when we say things so casually that it doesn’t even register to us how we could be affecting the person we’ve spoken to.

As RasulAllah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) once told A’ishah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her),

“You have said a word which would change the sea (i.e. poison or contaminate it) if it were mixed in it.” (Sunan Abi Dawud)

The second step is to feel true remorse. It’s not enough to rationally acknowledge that action as being sinful; one must feel guilt, remorse, and grief over having committed it.

Tawbah is to feel that sucker-punch of humiliation and guilt as we recall our sins: not just the mildly awkward ones, like a petty fib or mild infraction, but the genuinely terrible parts of ourselves… ugly lies, vicious jealousy, violations against others’ rights, abuse.

Some of us may be actual criminals – others of us may seem presentable on the outside, even religious, maybe even spiritual… and yet have violated others in terrible ways. Abuse comes in so many forms, and some of us are perpetrators, not just victims.

Facing that reality can be a gruesome process. 

It is a necessary process. Token words, glib recitation of spiritual formulae, those do not constitute tawbah in its entirety. Rather, it is a matter of owning up to our violations, experiencing genuine emotion over them – true humiliation, true regret – and striving not to be that person ever again. 

Much as we hate to admit it, we have our own fair share of red flags that we create and wave, even before we get into the nasty business of committing the worst of our sins. Tawbah isn’t just feeling bad for those Big Sins – it’s to recognize what led us to them to begin with.

It requires us to acknowledge our own flaws of character, of the ease with which we fall into certain behaviours, the way we justify the pursuit of our desires, the blindness we have to the worst parts of ourselves. Tawbah is to sit down and face all of it – and then to beg Allah, over and over, not just to forgive us and erase those specific actions, but to change us for the better. 

This experience is so much more powerful than a mere “I’m sorry,” or “omg, that was awful”; it is an act that embodies our submission to Allah because it requires us to make ourselves incredibly emotionally vulnerable, and in that moment, to experience a deep pain and acknowledge our wrongdoing. It is to hold your heart out to Allah and to beg Him, with every fiber of your being, with tears in your eyes, with a lump in your throat, wracked with regret, to please, please, please forgive you – because without it, without His Mercy and His Forgiveness and His Gentleness and His Love towards us, we have no hope and we will be utterly destroyed.

Surah Araf Verse 23

{Rabbanaa thalamnaa anfusanaa, wa illam taghfir lanaa wa tar’hamnaa, lanakunanna mina’l Khaasireen!}

{Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers!} (Qur’an 7:23)

This experience of tawbah is powerful, emotional, and heartbreaking. It is meant to be. It is a reminder to us of how truly dependent we are upon our Lord and our Creator, how nothing else in our lives can give us joy or a sense of peace if He is displeased with us. It is a reminder to us of how deeply we crave His Love, of how desperately we need it, of how His Pleasure is the ultimate goal of our existence.

Finally, there is the step of resolving never to commit that sin again, to redress the wrongs if possible, and to follow up the bad deed with a good one.

The vow is one we make to ourselves, asking Allah’s help to uphold it – because we are incapable of doing anything at all without His Permission; the righting of wrongs is what we do to correct our transgression against others’ rights over us, although there are times when we may well be unable to seek another individual’s forgiveness, whether because of distance, death, or otherwise; and the good deeds to undertake as penance are numerous, whether they be sadaqah or increased ‘ebaadah.

But it doesn’t end there. And it never will.

Tawbah is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. It is not even a once-a-year event, or once a month, or once a week. It is meant to be a daily experience, a repeated occurrence, in the earliest hours of the morning, in the depths of the last third of the night, during your lunch break or your daily commute or in the middle of a social gathering.

Tawbah is a lifelong journey, for who amongst us doesn’t commit mistakes and errors every day?

All we can do is beg of Allah not only for His Forgiveness, but also: {Allahumma ij’alnaa min at-tawwaabeen.} – O Allah, make us amongst those who are constantly engaging in repentance!

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Moonsighting Gone Wrong, Again.

Moonsighting is just not working out.

Atleast not for our community here in the Toronto area. As I speak to my friends in other large (read: fragmented) communities, such as those in the UK, I hear similar tales of confusion, anxiety and horror. The problem in these communities stems from the fact that there are numerous moonsighting organizations in the same area, all following different methodologies for declaring Eid and Ramadan. This naturally results in a catastrophe and Muslims from the same family living in the same city are forced to celebrate the holidays on different days.

To give you a taste of how (and why) things went wrong in this year’s Ramadan declaration, here’s a summary highlighting the series of events as they unfolded. (Reminder: Ramadan was expected to start on Friday, April 24th or Saturday, April 25th 2020 in North America)

  • Wednesday, April 22, 10: 13 pm EST: Crescent Council of Canada (CC) declares Ramadan to start on Friday, 24th April based on the fact that it received no reports of moonsighting sighting on Wednesday night. This committee follows global moonsighting and it declared Ramadan so early because it was already the 29th of Shaban based on the lunar calendar it follows (for most of North America, the 29th of Shaban was to be on Thursday). So, starting Ramadan on Saturday was simply not an option for the group (as it would have meant observing 31 days of Shaban). Also to note is that this group gives precedence to official declarations from authorities from Muslim-majority countries, even if these declarations conflict predictions of visibility charts and astronomical calculations. It argues that testimony of witnesses takes precedence in the sharia over astronomical data.
  • Thursday, April 23rd, 7:27 pm EST : The Hilal Council of Canada (HC), another committee in the area that follows global sighting, states that there has not been any sighting of the moon in any country, including South and Central America (it is past sunset in most of the Muslim world by now). The committee decides that it will wait till sundown in California to receive the final reports before making a declaration. Confusion starts spreading in the community as one organization has already declared Ramadan while another claims no one in the Muslim world saw the moon. Note that HC does not accept moonsighting reports if they contradict astronomical data.
  • 8:39 pm: Confusion continues. The CC claims that Saudi Arabia, UAE, Malaysia, Turkey and a host of Muslim countries have declared Ramadan. The committee thus feels validated in its original declaration which it made on Wednesday night.
  • 8:48 pm: More confusion: California-based CrescentWatch.org also claims that moonsighting reports from the Middle-East and Africa are all negative. People naturally start wondering how so many countries supposedly declared Ramadan if there were no positive sightings.
  • 9:40 pm: The Hilal Committee of Toronto and Vicinity, the oldest moonsighting group in the city, declares Ramadan to start on Saturday the 25th of April. Since the committee did not receive any positive reports by sunset from areas in its jurisdiction, it declared Ramadan to commence on Saturday. This committee follows local moonsighting and doesn’t rely on reports from the Muslim-world. Two of the three major moonsighting groups in the city have declared Ramadan on different days at this time. Residents are confused whether to fast the next day or pray tarweeh as its almost Isha time.
  • 11:11 pm: The HC finally declares Ramadan to start the next day, i.e. Friday, based on confirmed reports from California. Mosques following the HC advice to pray tarawih – an hour after Isha time had already entered. After an anxiety filled and frustrating evening, residents finally know the positions of the various moonsighting groups in the city. Now they just have to decide which one to follow!
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This baffling circus of contradictory declarations is nothing new; it has become a yearly occurrence. Last year we saw the exact same series of events unfold and the same confusion spread throughout the community; it is entirely expected that the same will happen again in future years.

Our leadership has decided that it is acceptable to put the average Muslim through this nerve-racking experience every year. For Eid declarations, the experience is far worse as thousands are often waiting till midnight to decide whether to go work the next day or send their children to school. The stress and anxiety this decision causes for the average person year after year is simply unacceptable.

Popular advice in these situations has been to ‘follow your local masjid’. However, this idea is impractical for large communities where there are numerous local mosques, all following various opinions. It is also impractical for the thousands who simply don’t frequent the mosque and are not tied to a particular organization. The layperson just wants to know the dates for Ramadan and Eid; it is an undue burden on them to research the strength of various legal opinions just to know when to celebrate a religious holiday with their families.

Only one way forward: astronomical calculations

There have been numerous sincere attempts to solve these long-standing problems associated with moonsighting over the past 50 years – all have failed. I have documented in detail these attempts, the reasons for their failure and argued for the only viable solution to this problem: astronomical calculations.

Since its introduction in 2006, Fiqh Council of North America’s calculations-based lunar calendar has proven to be the definitive solution for communities struggling to resolve the yearly moonsighting debacle. An example of such a resolution is the 2015 agreement by some of the leading mosques in the Chicago area who put aside their differences and united behind FCNA’s calendar. This approach has brought ease and facilitation for the religious practice of thousands of Muslims in that community.

While the use of calculations has been a minority position in Islam’s legal history, it has a sound basis in the shariah [1] and has been supported by towering figures of the past such as Imam Zakariya al-Ansari and Imam Ramli. Given the challenging circumstances we find ourselves in now, it is incumbent on scholars of today to revisit this position as a means of providing much needed relief to the masses from this lunar quagmire.

References:

[1]  From SeekersGuidance: Scholars upholding this can be traced all the way back to the first Islamic century. The textual basis for this opinion is the hadith narrated by al-Bukhari, “When you see it [the new moon of Ramadan] then fast; and when you see it [the new moon of Shawwal], then break the fast. If it is hidden from you (ghumma ‘alaykum) [i.e. if the sky is overcast] then estimate it (fa-qdiru lahu);” (al-Bukhari, hadith no. 1900). The last verb, fa-qdiru, can be validly understood to mean calculation. Of the scholars who held this, are Abu al-‘Abbas b. Surayj (d. 306/918), one of the leading founders of the classical Shafi‘i school, the Shafi‘i scholar and renowned mystic Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072), the leading Shafi‘i judge Taqi al-Din al-Subki (d. 756/1355), the Shafi‘i legal theorist al-Zarkashi (d. 794/1392), the renowned Maliki legal theorist al-Qarafi (d. 684/1285), and some Hanafi scholars. The late Shafi‘i commentator al-Qalyubi (d. 1069/1659) held that all sighting-claims must be rejected if calculations show that a sighting was impossible, stating, “This is manifestly obvious. In such a case, a person may not fast. Opposing this is obstinacy and stubbornness.” See al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 31-4. The leading scholar of the late Shāfi‘ī school Muhammad al-Ramli (d. 1004/1596) held that the expert astronomer was obliged to follow his own calculation as was the non-astronomer who believed him; this position has been used by some contemporary Shafi’i scholars to state that in the modern world, with its precise calculations, the strongest opinion of the Shafi’i school should be that everyone must follow calculations; see ‘Umar b. al-Habib al-Husayni, Fath al-‘ali fi jam‘ al-khilaf bayna Ibn Hajar wa-Ibn al-Ramli, ed. Shifa’ Hitu (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2010), pp. 819-22. See also the fatwa of the Hanafi scholar Dr Salah Abu al-Hajj (http://www.anwarcenter.com/fatwa/معنى-حديث-لا-تصوموا-حتى-تروا-الهلال-ول) last accessed 9/5/2016) which states, after arguing against relying on calculations, “However, the position of [following] calculations is the position of a considerable group of jurists, so it is a respected disagreement in Islamic law, whereby, if a state were to adopt it, it is not rejected, because the judgment of a judge removes disagreement, and the adoption of a state is [as] the judgment of a judge.

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#Current Affairs

COVID19: Calling The Conscientious

Violating borders, scaling every wall and traveling faster than a rumor, COVID19 is now around nearly everywhere. It has reduced nations and societies, low and mighty, to their knees, demoted all preoccupations to insignificance and is threatening to torch everyone in its path.

The imperial hubris of nations, with and without nuclear weapons has crumbled. Mighty militaries have been reduced to mere spectators. Borders are closed. Markets have tumbled. Even the gods amongst humans – rulers, monarchs, dictators, religious heads, generals, billionaires, movie stars, icons of sports and music –have been forced to recede from the limelight. Neither they are in control nor can they perform. All of them are forced to surrender by an unseen microscopic speck with an insatiable appetite to devour humankind, bit-by-bit, part by part.

A pre-COVID19 world is now a blurred memory. It was not long ago that we were a different planet and a different people. Neither hand-sanitizers nor masks were precious enough to purchase let alone hoard, or even think about. YouTube was popular but not so much for videos on how to wash hands or what to do when self-quarantined. And, shaking hands were a norm and we used to respond with a “bless you” to our neighbor’s cough or sneeze.

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That was pre-COVID19.

Places of worship are already shut down and airports, train stations and shipping ports are shutting down. Boulevards and avenues are eerily silent. Shopping malls and theaters stand abandoned.

This is post-COVID19.

Yet, there are flashes of hope and inspiration. Medical professionals and health care workers are fighting to save mankind, a patient a time. Our ill equipped and fatigued hospitals are abodes of our new heroes and true patriots. And no less are trash collectors, grocery workers, truck drivers, postal workers, fruit pickers among others whom we took for granted all along.

Covid-19 is not just the biggest story of our time, it is the only story.

Amidst a piercing cacophony of politicians’ press conferences and public interest advisories, we cannot afford to miss out the soft whispers of COVID19.

It is telling us to pay more attention to the under-estimated meaningful over the hyper-marketed mundane. Its whispers remind us to remember that we are but a mere mortal. We are reminded in the Quran that God made us from a mere speck (40:67).

Not, too long ago, we seldom had to remind ourselves that we are human. Not too long ago we could afford to be enemies of ourselves. Humans were enemies of humans, fighting and taking life of those considered ‘others’. We fostered division … “them” and “us,” “citizens” and “illegals.” COVID19 has spoken: no more. We stoked exclusion … “black, brown and white,” “conservative and liberal,” and “urban and rural.” COVID19 has spoken: no more.

In its sweeping trail of destruction, COVID19, is imploring us — harness my power to cause dread in each one of you, across borders, across genders, across races — and unite. COVID19 is challenging us: find a common cause against me. When any of you find an antidote against me, may that be a reason for your coming together, even if right now I have forced you to stay away from each other – six feet part.

COVID19 is an equal opportunity and a non-discriminating enemy, which will kill no matter how we worship, what we eat, where we live. One touch strikes all with equal precision.

Today, as we face an existential threat from a mortal molecular foe, we must remind ourselves about what matters most, our humanity and not our race and nationality.

The truth is that long before COVID19 struck us, we were sick. We spread viruses; hate and bigotry, we held thoughts of xenophobia for those who did not deserve it. We wallowed in bias and built echo chambers. COVID19 exposed all of our pre-COVID19 shortcomings.

Coronavirus will kill us for a while, but then in the end, we will overpower it. But before that happens, all the human deaths would be in vain if we don’t realize that in a world of such threats, we never needed to have been at each other’s throats.

In fear and panic, people resort to extreme behavior, it amazes us with their capacity for wisdom and kindness, or stupidity and cruelty. COVID19 is beseeching us to reclaim and regain our humanity of compassion and kindness. It is telling us to come together to fight our common battles. It is forcing us to wash our hands of all sins of our past and then lock our hearts and hands and build a world where meaning must matter more than the mundane.

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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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