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A Muslim’s Guide to Facebook Arguments (and online ridiculousness in general)

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Dr. O blogs at Muslim Medicine, a site that strives to serve only the freshest grade-A certified abiah ḥalāl comedy. Contact your local ḥalāl butcher for more details.


Times were much simpler a couple of decades ago, weren’t they? Back when you’d collect hundreds of those free AOL trial CDs and pop them in, listen to the ear-grating internet dial tone for half an hour, and then wait eons for a simple website to load while making sincere du‘ā’ that your family members don’t pick up the phone. Back then the internet was something new and exciting- Muslims had yet to discover its near endless virtual pastures, and as such, we actually had a lot more time to ourselves.

 

What kids nowadays think Muslim life was like before the internet existed.

 

Yes kids, its true! Life for Muslims somehow miraculously existed before Al Gore “invented” the internet. We had to painstakingly look stuff up in things called “books” and get our daily news from archaic scriptures known as “newspapers.” Oh and the debate over whether music was permissible or not? Trust me, you’d declare music a crime against the Ummah too if you ever saw someone walking around wearing this laughable ancient device:

If you actually know what this is, then you’re old.

 

With the advent of the internet, you and I can now summon thousands of links and resources to a near bottomless trove of sites in a matter of seconds, and then share that information with hundreds of others in just a few minutes. Communication between us is lightning fast, and people can reach one another in ways that we didn’t even think was possible a decade ago.

But the age-old rule still stands true- that wherever there are Muslims hanging around, there are bound to be Muslims arguing over ridiculous things. Not surprisingly, the internet is now the boxing ring for our new generation of Shaykh Googles and Mufti Wikipedias to profess their scholarly expertise and argue with one another with far more advanced tools of divisiveness, or as they say nowadays according to modern cyber tajwīd: “trolling.”

 

 

You don’t have to look far to find young internet scholars debating over beard lengths, or berating “less practicing” or “less educated” brothers and sisters over eating nacho cheese Doritos or watching TV shows, or even finding Muslims spending hours viciously arguing back and forth over trivial things.

It’s a shame that such incredible tools of spreading knowledge and building enlightening discussions such as Islamic Forums, Message Boards, group E-mail threads, Twitter feeds, and YouTube comment threads instead descend into embarrassing hotbeds of heated fights and countless hours of wasted time. And of all these online mediums, the biggest culprit of all is Facebook.

So how does it all go down, you ask? Surprisingly, it’s quite predictable: 

 

You know you’ve seen that. And you know it doesn’t end well. But boy, is it entertaining to watch.

Most Facebook arguments usually begin over something innocuous, like posting up a status about your favorite food and having the conversation continue until someone unknowingly posts something about eating pop-tarts, and out comes a fiery Muslim with a quick mouse-click trigger prowling the internet looking for a good opportunity to stroke the mighty beard of morality.

 

But who are the characters behind these arguments? Haha, that’s a great question, and I’m glad I asked it of myself. Take out a pen and notepad, my friends, and keep a sharp eye out for these tell-tale signs of a good old Muslim verbal tussle:

 

THE INSTIGATOR

 

THE JUNIOR INTERNET SCHOLAR

 

THE DRAMA QUEEN GOSSIPER

 

THE CYNICAL CRITICIZER

 

THAT ONE JUDGMENTAL GUY

Spotting trouble online early on and avoiding it, diffusing it, or negating it is only part of the solution, but it doesn’t completely solve the disease we have as judgmental, gossipy, and argumentative folk. Espousing proper Islamic manners of disagreement, etiquette of mutual respect and understanding, and patience with those we don’t see eye to eye with is a prophetic legacy that applies even to our online lives, just as much as it does to our dealings in person.

“I guarantee a house in Jannah for one who gives up arguing, even if he is in the right; and I guarantee a house in the middle of Jannah for one who abandons lying even for the sake of fun; and I guarantee a house in the highest part of Jannah for one who has good manners.” [Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) – reported by Imam Abu Dawud]

The internet may have completely revolutionized the way we interact with one another, but it certainly didn’t change the way we’re taught to conduct ourselves as Muslims. And above all else, it’s always best to ask yourself if the hours you spend arguing with other people online is truly worth giving up your house in the wondrous Eternal Gardens of our Lord.

Hailing from New York, Dr. O is a current medical student who blatantly misappropriates his study time by posting absurd articles lampooning the weird things he often notices within the Muslim community. His articles often contain unhealthy doses of odd wit and humor, sprinkled with overly-pretentious medical-jargon, but covered in a sweet milk-chocolate coating of small sincere life lessons. Despite not actually having a medical license and pretending to impersonate an actual physician online, Dr. O aims to heal patients with just a tiny bit of bitter advice contained within a sugary pill of light-hearted laughter. He hosts his own blog, Muslim Medicine, at http://www.muslimmedicine.net.

34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. Pingback: A Muslim’s Guide to Facebook Arguments (and online ridiculousness in general) - MuslimMatters.org

  2. Avatar

    Nida Ninjabi

    March 19, 2012 at 3:39 AM

    As’salaam Walaikum,

     This was awesome, jazakAllah for the laugh and pointing out out internet common sense! plz keep it up! especially the humor!

  3. Avatar

    Frank James

    March 19, 2012 at 5:00 AM

    haha. great article with nice pictures. makes me wanna think twice before i post or comment on facebook. i save my controversial stuff for twitter
     “the mighty beard of morality”

  4. Avatar

    zzzxtreme

    March 19, 2012 at 7:12 AM

    great read

  5. Avatar

    Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

    March 19, 2012 at 7:40 AM

    Dr. O you da man! This was great humor and covered all that is wrong with us :)

  6. Avatar

    AbuMuhammed

    March 19, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    nice one.

  7. Avatar

    Usman

    March 19, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    One of the most important online articles this whole century.

    IMHO.

    • Avatar

      Usman

      March 19, 2012 at 11:00 AM

      Err sorry, I meant decade. But maybe it will be for the century to come : )

      • Avatar

        Usman

        March 19, 2012 at 12:01 PM

        As a bearded person, though, I do object to the “stroking the mighty beard of morality” bit. And I’ve encountered a lot more anti-beard discrimination from Muslims than from non-Muslims. 

  8. Pingback: A Muslim’s Guide to Facebook Arguments (and online ridiculousness in general) | Saluting Prophet Muhammad صلّى الله عليه وسلّم

  9. Avatar

    Dawud Israel

    March 19, 2012 at 2:00 PM

    Nice. So many mores you can add to this. Its funny how people’s Facebook statuses make you want to avoid them. 

  10. Avatar

    nicole j. h. m.

    March 19, 2012 at 2:05 PM

    had to smile at this…i notice all of the different types of facebook arguments happening quite a lot, but it seems like the drama queen one is especially alive and well. and i think that the first drama queen status should also include something about how the sister posting it just really hates drama. that’s always there. and one of the comments to that status always says something about haters. ;)

  11. Avatar

    Yasmin

    March 19, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    Jazakallah khair for thus much needed and very fun to read post!

  12. Avatar

    Serena

    March 19, 2012 at 8:40 PM

    haha had fun reading this. it was informative and a great reminder! jazakallah khair! The hadeeth at the end clinches it!

  13. Avatar

    siraaj

    March 19, 2012 at 8:55 PM

    Great article, and now by acknowledging that this was a good article, I have affirmed in a passive-aggressive way that others on here need to read and benefit :D

  14. Avatar

    Ayesha Khan

    March 19, 2012 at 10:59 PM

    Nice Article!

  15. Avatar

    Aziza

    March 20, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    Love it SubhanAllah. We just gotta laugh at ourselves sometimes.
    “When I eat them, it feels like I’m celebrating Eid in my mouth.”

  16. Avatar

    Profafzal

    March 21, 2012 at 3:08 PM

    How can I move on without praising the wit and humor of Dr. O. I hope when you finally graduate and report it online, I will be your first partient (doesn’t matter what you specialize in)…

  17. Avatar

    Zafarkhanpesh

    March 22, 2012 at 12:51 AM

    Jazakumullah Khair Dr. O……… It really nice article and a final stamp by quoting the Hadith .
     

  18. Avatar

    Layla

    March 23, 2012 at 2:16 AM

    Funny article, now I’m glad I don’t have facebook, but all that is discussed above an apply to out other everyday interactions as well

  19. Avatar

    Charming Calming.

    March 25, 2012 at 10:03 PM

    This blog parallels many people’s discourse on the internet and their posts and debates whether Muslim or not. You find religious, anti-religious, political etc discussions everywhere on the net with many taking high moral grounds and putting down others for their views. One I didn’t see here is “the contradictor” – the one who contridicts everything others say just for the air time whether they are right or wrong and attempts to back their point up with weak paraphrased hadith and ayats and fatwah. The fatwah police. lool all this is true of so many Insha’ALLAH I learn to recognize this behaviour in myself and avoid it. A couple years ago, when I was new to facebook, I got into a few moral high ground arguements and religious debates with attackers of Islam and Muslims who would play the halal and fatwah police cards. I could waste hours of heated back and forth with them. But I learnt to read the signs and keep away and not to get involved in a discussion already heated because often they would all suddenly turn on you when all you wanted to say was something like “peace! Calm yourselves before you give yourselves an anorism!”  lol. But what can you do but give gentle advice (or laced with comedy, like with this article)

  20. Avatar

    Nietskaya

    March 26, 2012 at 5:20 PM

    obviously I want to point out that the prophet is in no position to grant anyone any favour from Allah ……… but I don’t want to start a FB feud ;)

    • Avatar

      ibrahim

      April 1, 2012 at 1:51 AM

      the Prophet (alayhi salat wa salam) actually is in such a position, as in the hadith in Bukhari “Allah is the Giver and i am the distributor (qasim)” and in the verse in sura Tawbah, “Allah will give us of His blessings, as will His Messenger”. 

      • Avatar

        Guest

        April 3, 2012 at 1:08 AM

        and there we go…come on brother Yahya, Siraaj and Dawood…lol

  21. Avatar

    Dr. O

    April 4, 2012 at 6:19 PM

    JazakumAllahu khairan for all of the feedback and commentary, everyone! I really enjoyed reading through the comments, and I apologize for not posting any individualized responses. But insha’Allah I wish you all a nice, enjoyable, and argument-free internet experience!

  22. Avatar

    Yes

    April 11, 2012 at 8:24 PM

    I like how Zainab is clearly a guy.

  23. Avatar

    Kamila

    April 15, 2012 at 9:23 AM

    This is hilarious but so true

  24. Pingback: A Muslim’s Guide to Facebook Arguments (and online ridiculousness in general) | All the small things

  25. Avatar

    Bela_khanz

    May 8, 2012 at 5:18 PM

    Brilliant!

  26. Pingback: We're All Guilty of This

  27. Avatar

    Quran Study Online

    June 23, 2012 at 12:27 PM

    kids to learn the Holy Quran. All you need is a PC, headset with a microphone and a broadband internet connection.

    http://www.myquranlesson.com/quran-reading/

  28. Avatar

    berserk hijabi

    February 23, 2013 at 1:39 AM

    OMG guys. Let’s talk about the enzyme content in cheese,my research shows it’s derived from beef.

    This ios so funny but so true!! JAK akhi!

    P.S I love cheddar cheese.

  29. Avatar

    Freshly Humorized

    March 13, 2013 at 12:10 AM

    Hahaha this is so cool! Love your articles Dr.O. Jazakallah khair ^_^

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The Unexpected Blessings of Being Alone

Juli Herman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believe it Or Not, We Are All Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, Isn’t Being Alone Bad?

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

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

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

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

Being Alone Has Its Own Perks

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

We Come Alone, Leave Alone, Meet Allah Alone

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

Open grave

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

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

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

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israel, occupied Palestine

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

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

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

1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens

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

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

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

2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower

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

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

3)  Military aid and complicity of tax-payers

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

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

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

4) The Israeli lobby

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

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

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

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

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

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This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible

Who Accounts For This Pillar of Islam

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Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji

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

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

No, it’s not ikhtilaf

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

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

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

Show Your Work

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

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

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

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

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

Bubble Charity

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

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

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

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

Dawa is the new Jihad

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

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

No Standards or Accountability

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

The Shift to Meaninglessness

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

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

Footnotes:

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

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