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Losing Her Heart in Egypt: Amr Kassem 1987-2013

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By Asma Hussein

Teaching myself how not to lose hope

 

“Think not of those who are killed in the Way of Allah as dead. Nay, they are alive, with their Lord, and they have provision. They rejoice in what Allah has bestowed upon them of His Bounty and rejoice for the sake of those who have not yet joined them, but are left behind (not yet martyred) that on them no fear shall come, nor shall they grieve. They rejoice in a Grace and a Bounty from Allah, and that Allah will not waste the reward of the believers.” (Ale Imran; 169-171)

My husband, Amr Mohamed Kassem who was 26 years old, returned to his Lord on Friday after Asr. He was shot through his chin and the bullet exited the back of his neck. He was at a protest in Alexandria, calling for justice for all those who had been killed mercilessly by the army in the previous days and weeks all over Egypt.

Yesterday morning I went to the morgue at a nearby hospital in Alexandria to see Amr before he would be washed and buried in the next few hours. When I arrived, there were many people waiting outside the doors to see their own family members as many people were killed the same day as Amr. Some of Amr’s friends and relatives were there, too. After waiting for a while, I entered the room where his body was lying on a table, covered by a long blanket.

I stood beside him and uncovered his face, and there he was, my love, lying there cold even though I had seen him strong and happy and smiling less than 24 hours before that moment. I stroked his beard, part of it was still soft, but part of it felt hard because of the dried up blood. His nose was bloodied and he had a cut beside his eye but he was beautiful, even in death – silent as though sleeping. I touched his lips and his cheeks, they were cold.

I stood there for some time looking at his face, feeling as though my heart was being repeatedly run over by a truck. I refused to cry loudly but tears were streaming down my cheeks, and I told him “I love you Amr, I know that you always wanted to die for the sake of Allah, and you got what you always hoped for inshaAllah, and I’m so proud of you. Ya Allah forgive his sins and accept him as a shaheed and reunite me with him in the hereafter. Ya Allah make me patient in knowing that it was his appointed time and that, by Your will and Grace, he is alive with his You as a shaheed.”

I didn’t leave him until I was ready, I’m not even sure how long I was standing there. At the end, I kissed his cheek and told him that I would see him later inshaAllah, then covered his face and left the room.

The janazah was after Asr, there were hundreds of people there – his friends, his colleagues from school, extended family. He was a very beloved person to many. There was no dry eye, but everyone was speaking only good words and saying Alhamdulillah that Allah took him in the best way anyone can die in this world. We prayed on him, and I went outside to see a crowd of hundreds of men carrying his shrouded body towards the cemetery. The women didn’t follow, we were waiting until he was buried to go to his grave and make duaa. After some time, his mother and I and some female relatives walked towards to cemetery and were making our way to where he was.

Suddenly I notice all the men around me yelling for us to go out the side door, to run. I didn’t understand what was happening but I started hearing loud bangs behind me, rocks being thrown at us and all the men telling the women to run. So I ran and ran without looking behind me, I was hit on my cheek by a large rock while I was running, but alhamdulillah, some of Amr’s friends saw me and told me to run ahead of them so they could be behind me and make sure nothing happened to me. The people who attacked us were thugs who had heard there was an “ikhwani” funeral (although my husband was not from the ikhwan, he was just a religious man who believed in something called right and wrong). Many people were injured, some with stab wounds, but as far as I know, there were no causualties alhamdulillah. (Update: unfortunately I heard that 2 people were killed during these events, innalillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’oon).

Even in death, Amr’s enemies hated him and all those around him! But their hate means nothing to me, after all if an enemy of God hates you, then that is a sign that you are, God-willing) on the right path.

Dear friends, my heart aches in a way I never knew a heart could ache. I miss him whenever I am awake and dream about him when I’m asleep. He was the best kind of husband a woman could ever hope for, kind, generous, soft and loving, but also strong and brave. His clothes are still hung up on the hooks in our room, as though he’s going to walk through the door and change into his pajamas before he sleeps. His friend gave me Amr’s wallet and cell phone at the janazah, but his wedding band was missing, we still don’t know where it is…I wish that I had it.

But through all this, I can’t say anything except innalillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un, and continue to make duaa for him. I refuse to dishonor him or myself by asking God “why” he took him or thinking “if only he hadn’t gone to the protest on Friday, he would be alive.” No, it was Amr’s time to return to Allah, I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt. And although I wish I had more time with him in the dunya, I sincerely look forward to reuniting with him and being his wife, if God allows me, in Paradise. In Jannah time does not end, there is no fear of being separated from your loved ones. I believe with every inch of my heart that our love was truly a love that can last from this world to the next.

Ya Allah, You reunited Musa’s mother with him after she put him in the river. Ya Allah, You reunited Yaqub with his beloved son Yusuf after many years of painful separation. Ya Allah, You are the Only One who can reunite me with my beloved in the hereafter, so Allah I ask you to not prevent me from being with him again.

Last night after we came home, we received a call from a friend of a relative – someone who had witnessed first hand what happened to Amr after he was shot. [editor’s note: Amr was shot by a sniper.] She told us that he didn’t die right away, he was alive for a few moments. His left hand was holding his chin where the bullet had entered, and his right index finger went up, and he said clearly “ashhadu anna la illaha ilAllah, wa ashhadu ana Muhammadun rasoolullah” and he had a huge smile on his face, as though it was his wedding day. When I heard this, I couldn’t help but cry that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) had honored me just by letting me know this wonderful person and allowing me to have his child.

My friends, your words of encouragement have not gone unnoticed. I have nothing but love and respect for you all, and I know now so much more than before that as Muslims, although we have many faults in our community, when we come together we are truly a force to be reckoned with. Your support and love and duaa have touched me greatly. I will undoubtedly need your continued duaa and support when I return to Canada inshaAllah.

I ask Allah to let me never stray from His path, for my own sake and my daughter’s, and also for Amr’s sake – to honor him in the way that Allah chose for him to die.

Ya Habibi ya Amr. Ya Habibi ya Amr. Ya Habibi ya Amr. I hope that right now your soul is in a green bird, and you are flying through Jannah, eating and drinking from its provisions and are close to the throne of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), where you will never shed another tear or ever feel any sense of loss or suffering. You are my love in this world and the next inshaAllah, you are in my heart always, you are in my prayers always.

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Faiza M D

    August 19, 2013 at 11:11 PM

    May Allah accept your husband as a shaheed and reunite you with him in Jannah. Aameen

  2. Avatar

    Mama3uae

    August 20, 2013 at 12:17 AM

    Thank you, sister, for sharing your life experience with us. It brought me to tears.. It’s so hard what you went through…MashaAllah, you are an incredible woman and I admire you for your strength and iman. May Allah (swt) answer all your dua’as and continue to bring peace and faith in your heart and your child’s, until you are reunited inshaAllah in jennah al firdous with your beloved Amr, and may He accept your dear husband as shaheed inshaAllah.

  3. Avatar

    AA

    August 20, 2013 at 3:13 AM

    May Allah forgive dear Amr and accept him as a Shaheed. May Allah grant you the best comfort possible and provide halal sustenance for your and your child. May Allah give us the opportunity to die as strong muslims, in the best of circumstances.

  4. Avatar

    dhaadhamishka

    August 20, 2013 at 4:41 AM

    May allah grant him jannath n reunite u with him. Maasha aallah.

  5. Avatar

    Saharish

    August 20, 2013 at 6:43 AM

    May Allah grant your husband jannatul firdous and give you and the rest of his family great patience and reunite you in jannah. Ameen.

  6. Avatar

    broAhmed

    August 20, 2013 at 7:32 AM

    Salaams sis. Asma. Thank you for taking the time to write this. It reminded me of the shortness of life and what it means to be a both a man and a good husband. I admire your certainty that this was br. Amr’s time and your steadfastness in the face of adversity. These qualities are a gift from Allah.

    In one of the articles where you’re being interviewed, you mention how difficult it is to imagine your 9-month old baby growing up without her father. I have a Bosnian friend who lost his father during the war there. The father died while my friend was either very young or not yet born. My friend acknowledged to me one time that it was difficult growing up without his dad, but he was still proud of what his father had done. Tell your daughter about who Amr was: the man, the husband, the father, just as you have told us here. Even if it is difficult for your little Ruqaya growing up without her baba, you can still inshaAllah make her proud of the father she hardly knew in this life.

    Allah is fully capable of making easy even the most difficult of situations. May he give you and your daughter Ruqaya ease and happiness in this life and the next, make you both amongst the steadfast, and reunite you both with Amr in the Hereafter. Masalaama.

    • Avatar

      broAhmed

      August 20, 2013 at 7:36 AM

      Clarification: my friend’s father died fighting in the Bosnian War. This was what my friend was proud of.

  7. Avatar

    Marina

    August 20, 2013 at 9:02 AM

    Inshaa Allah, Allah will grant him Jannat and give patience and stength to you to bear this irreplaceable loss. Thank you for sharing. Our prayers are with all the muslim brothers and sisters.

  8. Avatar

    Sona

    August 20, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    Brought me to tears. It’s one thing to hear a story on the news and feel bad, its another to hear the story from the actual family.. I cannot even imagine what you’re going through but may Allah ease your pain, reward you for uttering only that which pleases and praises Him, and may He reunite you with your husband in jannatul-firdous in the company of the best Muslim, our Nabi (SAW).

  9. Avatar

    Mulla

    August 20, 2013 at 12:54 PM

    May Allah bless you and grant you both Jannatul Firdaus.

  10. Avatar

    Yameenuddin Ahmed

    August 20, 2013 at 2:29 PM

    May Allah reward you immensely in this world and hereafter and may Allah reunite you with Br. Amr in aakhirah insha’Allah. Allah (swt) is Kareem and what He decides for us is the best. May Allah protect and preserve you and make yourself and your son great assets of Ummah. This is how ahl-al-eman should be.

  11. Avatar

    Tahira Afzal

    August 20, 2013 at 11:19 PM

    May Allah accept all your Dua’as for him as you asked and may Allah grant him the highest level in Jannah and may Allah reunite you with him in Jannah and make your daughter Salehah Ameen. You make all women of Eman proud by being so brave. May Allah make things easy for you Ameen. He looks and sounds like a man of Jannah indeed Insha Allah.

  12. Avatar

    Muhammad Mateen

    August 21, 2013 at 1:46 AM

    Have no words to express my feelings after reading such a beautiful writing from a wife for his loving husband. Muslim women must read this and show the same courage, strength and Imaan.

    May Allah s.w.t. be with you my sister in Islam, may you see and meet your husband in every dream, may you feel him around every time, may Allah s.w.t. reunite you and your daughter with your husband hereafter – Aameen!

  13. Avatar

    Muhammed Ali

    August 21, 2013 at 2:35 AM

    Allahu-akbar, may Allah grant him the highest station in Jannah, and give you and your family strength and courage during these difficult times, and may you be joined together again, in sha Allah.

    Ameen

    Ya Allah have mercy on our brothers and sisters where ever they may be in need. ameen.

  14. Avatar

    Sayem

    August 21, 2013 at 4:24 AM

    As Salamu Alaikum, May Allah help you and give you more patience. In Sha Allah, you will reunite with your husband soon, it’s just a matter of time In Sha Allah.

  15. Avatar

    Sister Pakistani

    August 21, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    May Allaah accept brother as a shaheed, forgive him, and provide your family with sustenance. Sister, I am marveled at your courage and your true eemaan in accepting qadhaa wal qadr. may Allaah SWT allow our daughters and sisters and mothers with this eemaan in accepting qadhaa of Allaah SWT in our lives. may Allaah SWT give you strength in this life and re-unite you and your daughter and your family with your husband in jannatul firdaus.

    May Allaah SWT give us tawfeeq to have a good end and an end of a shaheed.

  16. Avatar

    Faisal

    August 21, 2013 at 3:21 PM

    Alhumdullillah sister Allah has given you immense courage and imaan…. May Allah grant brother Amr all the bounties of Jannatul Firdaus….. I cry for him but i cry more for our weak imann!! May Allah guide us & protect us……. Brother Faisal (India)

  17. Avatar

    Muneera

    August 21, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    Sis Asma, This article is heart breaking and inspiring at the same time :’-( we are all praying for you .. we are all with you. May Allah keep you strong like this always i know its not easy but this is another test from our Lord.

    Your sister from Toronto,

  18. Avatar

    Saracen

    August 22, 2013 at 1:57 AM

    What an inspiring article! It reminds us of how short life is, how our circumstances can change in a split second, and it teaches us steadfastness in the face of adversity. May Allah grant our brother the reward of a martyr and patience for our sister.

    “It is He (Allah) who has sent his Messenger with guidance and the Religion of Truth, that He may make it prevail over all other religions, no matter how much the disbelievers hate it.” (Qur’an, 9: 33)

    The revival has already started. Allah has selected His servants from amongst the most pious to lead the way.

  19. Avatar

    Zaheer

    August 22, 2013 at 2:04 AM

    Salaam, mods: how is it that such a comment appears here? I’m all for free speech (not really, especially when it’s this inane), but this adds no value and is completely incendiary. Maybe there is something in the Comment’s Policy about some authors moderating their own articles, and the fact that moderators can’t monitor every single comment. Still, this comment should be removed, Insha-Allah.

    • Avatar

      Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

      August 22, 2013 at 7:44 AM

      WaAlaikum Assalam:

      Since moderators can’t moderate 24/7, sometimes the comment stays there until moderators see it and act on it. Once we see such a comment we act on it. However, in this case, you have not replied to the comment in question and hence we are not sure which comment you are referring to. Please let us know (unless we moderated it already).

      Regards
      -Aly

  20. Avatar

    Q-d

    August 22, 2013 at 2:51 AM

    إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ

  21. Avatar

    fawadkhan

    August 22, 2013 at 9:55 PM

    i cant believe barbarism in Egypt i saw one video i have no words.i have no words for those who have show determination i hvnt seen as such determination that such Egyptian showing.O Allah help them Please Allah help them

  22. Avatar

    Atiya

    August 26, 2013 at 11:55 PM

    Inna lilaahi wa inna ilaihi raji’oon. May Allaah grant this man and the countless others who lost their lives fisabeelillaah the highest place in paradise without reckoning. May Allaah give his wife, his baby and his family and the families of all the other martyrs Sabr. Ameen.

  23. Avatar

    Shiraz Azad

    August 29, 2013 at 10:38 AM

    May Allaah grant Amr and all those who die for Allah’s sake, the highest place in Jannah. Ameen!

  24. Avatar

    rahman ramesh

    September 1, 2013 at 4:53 AM

    By Allah azza wajal, my wife, children and I pray for Amr and you and, insha Allah, both of you will be united in Jannatul Firdaus where you can see Allah azza wajal’s Face everyday! Be strong and bring up your child well. Take care…… from us in KL, Malaysia.

  25. Avatar

    Sobia Khan

    September 8, 2013 at 8:09 PM

    Subhan Allah Sister Asma – May Allah azza wajal grant Br. Amr the great status of shaheed, forgive him and elevate his status and grant you and all your family the best of Sabr and accept from you your beautiful patience and grant you both eternity together in the highest level of Jannah with your progeny. May Allah grant you a life in this dunya filled with love and aafiya. My heart aches for you as I am also a wife in love! May Allah bless you in this life and in the hereafter. May Allah ease your pain and the pain of all of our brothers and sisters suffering.

  26. Avatar

    AM

    September 21, 2013 at 7:31 PM

    Truly inspiring. You and your husband are both a source of strength and courage for us. May Allah SWT accept Amr’s Shahadah inshaAllah. May Allah grant every ease and happiness to you and your daughter and all your relatives in this world and reunite you with Amr in the here-after.

  27. Avatar

    Dina El-Mosalami

    December 19, 2013 at 8:45 PM

    Ya habebty.. Your story is the most moving I have read in a very long time. But what makes me at ease is how much of a true mo’mena you are. I hope someday I can reach the level of your beautiful beautiful faith. Pick a new wedding band for Amr, keep it in mind. The ones you gave each other in dunya will not last, pick two new ones for your akhira with him. Smile and thank Allah, you have been blessed with real love in dunya and inshaAllah in akhira as well. It is almost time for fajr in Egypt now, and I am about to make my tahajjud. This tahajjud is for you, may Allah reunite you with habibik in the akhira and grant you the highest level of Jannah with him.

  28. Pingback: January 2014 Favourites | Mellow Muslimah

  29. Avatar

    Tasneem

    May 12, 2016 at 5:43 PM

    Beautiful articles … Harsh realities

  30. Avatar

    Syed Areeb

    December 8, 2017 at 3:12 AM

    May Allaah bless you abundantly and always help you in times of distress, indeed it is your true reliance and faith in Allaah that you were able to take all of this in a way that suits a responsible and observant Muslim.
    My heartiest wishes for you and Ruqayya’s well being

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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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