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80-20 Principle: 3 Ways Masjids Cater to a Small Minority At The Expense of the Congregation in Ramadan

Ramadan in the long summer days is not easy. This is not said as a complaint, alhamdulillah. Rather, it is stated as a general observation. No matter how difficult Ramadan may seemingly be, we willingly embrace the challenge for a higher purpose. This enthusiasm, however, does not preclude making sure we are not making things more difficult than they need to be.

The long summer days present a number of challenges for the everyday Muslim with a family. Most of us dads are sleeping after isha/taraweeh (around 12:30-1:30am), waking up for suhoor at something like 4 am, possibly catching an hour of sleep before work, and then napping before iftar.

Add to the mix children who want to take part.

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Sprinkle in an exhausted mom who is also fasting on top of that, and you’ve got a crazy fun situation.

I’m not highlighting these difficulties as a complaint. Alhamdulillah, the more challenging it is, the sweeter the reward. The crazier it is, the better the memories when we look back. But it is important to set the stage a little bit to add some context in understanding the challenges of your masjid’s congregation.

I’m going to highlight 3 issues that I feel cater to a small (and probably confrontational/vocal) minority of the masjid.

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1. Iftar at the Masjid

This varies greatly from community to community. The first issue is the frequency of iftar at the masjid. Now some places, alhamdulillah, have an open iftar daily. That’s great.

Some places have iftar only on weekends, or selected days. The rationale behind this decision making is that  the masjid will get dirty, it’s too expensive, and it’s too much work. Sorry, but why else do you fund raise all year for the wonderful services the masjid is supposed to provide?

There is a large percentage of our population that only frequents the masjid in this month. There is another segment of our population that doesn’t have a Muslim family to break fast with. There is yet another segment of our population that cannot afford to buy food but are too embarrassed to ask (and yes, they live near and around the rich suburban masjids as well). There’s a segment of the population who simply prefers meeting people at the masjid and making iftar in a large group.

The question to be raised is – did the people in charge of making the decision take all these factors into account when setting the masjid policy? Or was it set based on the wants and needs of a small handful?

That’s one issue. The second issue is the type of food. Families with young kids, and many younger families as well as many elders in general are trying to eat healthy – especially in Ramadan. Yet, when you go to the masjid, the vast majority of the time there is greasy, often spicy, heartburn inducing food being served. Kids get pizza – every time.

This doesn’t mean that we need to have Desi food or Arab food. It also doesn’t mean that we need to serve kale smoothies for iftar. It just means that the majority of your congregation probably doesn’t eat the same as you do, so try to pick a menu that appeals to a larger audience. Even with a small amount of dishes it is feasible. Replace the token (lettuce, carrot, onion, and ranch) salad with something that a person can eat as a meal (Chicken Caesar salad, Greek salad, etc.). Replace a salan or curry dish with a baked meat item. Have a vegetable dish that’s not cooked in grease. These are a couple of simple tweaks that will allow you to retain an overall ethnic flavor (if you wish) while still accommodating a wider audience.

2. Masjid Logistics

We’re already familiar with the issues regarding women’s prayer spaces. This is going to be more about the kids.

Newer masjids have introduced what they feel is an innovative and amazing solution. That is to put parents with kids in another room. This way, the people in the main hall can pray in peace. And the parents can pray in, well, a zoo. Okay maybe that’s too harsh. Perhaps it’s more appropriate if we call it praying in the time-out room. I’m all for creating a separate space for kids, but we need to have some boundaries.

Sisters accommodations are usually already small, then they force them to split out into a general space and a kids space. Here is what happens in the sister’s kids space. Moms with younger kids are forced to pray in there with their children because they’re too young to be left alone. Moms with older kids can’t stay in the larger area because the other sisters will yell at them. But they also don’t want to pray in the kids room because it’s a zoo. So they tell their kids to go in the kids room, while they stay in the main area. This turns the younger moms, who are trying their best to raise their iman by some iota and praying taraweeh (behind  a broken speaker) into de facto babysitters. Instead of praying, they’re now breaking up fights, yelling at kids, and keeping them from slamming doors and running around. Well, as this happens, the people from the main area start complaining that there is too much noise and to keep it down. It culminates with the imam making an announcement on the mic for the parents to please control their kids. To really cap it off – most of the times there is not a kids area on the men’s side. It’s only on the sister’s side. So if a brother happens to bring a kid who makes even a peep, he’s told to send the kid over to the sister’s side.

We’ve got an older generation who complains all year that younger people aren’t involved. Then when the younger families show up in Ramadan, they don’t want to be disturbed or have any part of it.

I think the time-out room is a terrible idea, even as more and more masjids see this as a sophisticated solution. I personally cannot stand praying in those rooms, and refuse to go in there with my kids. It is impossible to pray when the kids are in a confined space all yelling and screaming and jumping around and beating each other up. Call me old school, but I think parents should pray with their kids in the main hall and, you know, parent them. How else are they going to learn?

At the same time, as much as we want to have undisturbed prayers, the congregation needs to learn to ease up on this issue. Many people act as if they pray 365 days a year with pristine khushoo’ and one baby crying in the 14th rakat of taraweeh is going to destroy it’s delicate balance.

An even better option is to build masjids with a youth lounge, let the youth hold their own taraweeh, and then have their own activities. It’s not just that we need to stop favoring needs of the small minority – maybe it’s finally recognizing that there is not a one size fits all solution. We need multiple solutions.

3. Taraweeh

Most people I know this year are debating whether to even pray taraweeh or not. This is due simply to the schedule factor. Take a look at who is left in the masjid for the last 2 rakat of taraweeh compared to the first 2 rakat.

Let’s ignore for a second whether 8 is preferred or 20 is preferred. The real question to ask is – how best can we serve our congregation? How can we best set up our process to allow them to pray isha in the masjid, pray taraweeh with the imam, and still be able to make it back for fajr in the masjid in the morning? How can we make sure taraweeh is an enjoyable experience?

Instead of going through the various options and problems (many of which I think are obvious), I’ll put my proposed solution. I’m sure many will disagree with it, or even find it heretical, but that’s ok. Let’s at least get a discussion going because what we have now is not working.

For summer Ramadans: Pray 8 rakat taraweeh. Recite at a normal pace like you would in Maghrib or Isha. Don’t go so fast so that no one can enjoy it, or rush the rest of the prayer so much that no one can squeeze in dua in sujood.

Spread out your completion of the Qur’an. By that I mean don’t complete it in taraweeh only, but utilize Fajr, and Isha as well. You can also add Qiyam in the last 10 nights to help finish on time. This significantly eases the burden and allows for a 15 minute khatirah after 4 or 8 rakat. You can read a little bit extra on weekends if needed as well. But this would allow someone who has work the next morning to be able to pray peacefully, with serenity, and in a reasonable amount of time. It also enables them, more importantly, to get the reward of praying with the imam instead of having to figure out how many rakat they need to sacrifice every night just to survive (and wake up for fajr).

This makes it very reasonable to pray Isha, taraweeh, and witr within one hour (or even less – especially if you make up for time with longer Qiyam in the last 10 nights).

For winter Ramadans: Pray 20 rakat taraweeh (unless the majority of your congregation prefers 8). Complete the Qur’an only in taraweeh, and have a khatirah after 8 rakat.

Too often we try to pick one solution (usually however a board member used to do it “back home”) and enforce that over the whole month no matter what. We should be a little bit more flexible.

The concern of the average congregant is to enjoy the prayer, hear a nice recitation, feel the peace of prayer, make dua, get a short reminder, and still be ready for the next day. Instead, we cater to the 3 people who are belligerently hardcore about 8 vs. 20, who complain about the taraweeh not being fast enough, or the khatirah being too long or short. We cater to the 5 people who have the freedom and flexibility to pray until 1 am because they don’t have work the next morning.

We deprive 98% of the congregation from completing the prayer with the imam to cater to 2% of the crowd. The hadith mentions the reward for praying with the imam until he finishes—even though it is Sunnah to complete the Quran there is ample scholarly support to have ‘an amount recited that will not burden people or lead them to stay away from the congregation’ (here is another general fatwa) .

Facilitate what brings the most reward to the people in a way that is easy for them.

The bottom line is a shift in mindset. It’s talking to the congregation to see what they want, what they need, what their pain points are, and then figuring out how best to serve them.

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Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters and Qalam Institute. He teaches Islamic seminars across the US including Khateeb Workshop and Fiqh of Social Media. He has served in varying administrative capacities for multiple national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow his work at ibnabeeomar.com.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Siraaj Muhammad

    July 3, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    Great article with a strange title (80/20 principle?) =P

    IFTARS
    Was speaking to the imam of our masjid where they hold iftars regularly, one concern the board of our masjid was that because it’s a very small building to begin with, the only place to eat is the masjid floor itself and food odor becomes an issue. I suggested dry foods, but getting people to listen will be a challenge.

    LOGISTICS
    Agreed about what you said on how they’re dealing with kids, I never speak up or complain about it, but I hate it when aunties are yelling at young mothers and kids as though this is what they were created to do in life. Beyond of course, just sending kids away.

    TARAWEEH
    I’m making my decisions daily based on energy levels. Some nights, I do 8, some 20. At the community level, I think it makes sense to think in terms of weekdays and weekends, shortening the prayers on the weekdays (Sun – Thurs night) and extending them on weekends (Fri – Sat) night since most everyone can sleep in the next day.

    Siraaj

    • Omar Usman

      Omar Usman

      July 3, 2014 at 3:22 PM

      LOL had another point expanding on that.. but deleted it in revision process.. still sounds cool so left it :P

      • Avatar

        01marmar

        July 4, 2014 at 6:11 PM

        Salam Aleikum and Ramdan Kareem to all!
        Dear Brother Omar Usman..
        your article made me feel like I attend the most progressive masjid in the world!
        Alhamdudillah! Your article made me feel like I am part of a generation who takes things into their own hands because I see the solutions that we have implemented in our community.
        I want to share my thoughts with you because your article features challenges and I feel that it is important to recognize what is not working as well as to recognize what IS working and what IT TAKES to make things work in our communities.
        We live in Cincinnati, Ohio. I work for iyde.org, which is a non-profit dedicated to developing communities through mentoring training and character development programs that support the infrastructures of each individual community. One of our products is The Ramadan Taraweh’s Children’s Enrichment Program (CEP).
        CEP’s are a revolutionary model of child engagement in the community during Ramadan to facilitate a spiritual atmosphere for those praying Taraweh while at the same time taking advantage of this blessed month to educate children and develop their love for Islam, our beloved prophet, their masjids and each other.
        How does it work? It’s quite simple, INSTEAD of offering a separate room or a baby sitter, we bring trained staff and instructors and a fun curriculum for 26-30 days of Ramadan to the masjid. Children are registered and they are given access to this program every night of Taraweh (in the case of the Clifton Masjid we are not offering the program on Wednesdays) This year’s curriculum is In The Footsteps of the Beloved and it explores the excellence in character of our beloved prophet. Every night we offer a supervised Isha prayer for the children ( we take them to the whole process of making wuduu and doing dikhr, a special imam is provided just for them), a different character trait of our beloved prophet is presented as the ultimate example for us to follow in each lesson, a craft, activity or game is offered and then at closing we dismiss children with an activities handout for parents to take home and review with the children. The program is offered for children ages 4-10.(Alhamdudillah just last night we had 50 children attend this program which lasts for the duration of the first 8 rakat, to give you an example of how popular the program is Alhamdudillah.)
        WHAT DID IT TAKE TO MAKE IT HAPPEN?
        Alhamdudillah this is not our first rodeo. This is not the first year we offer this program and this is not the first year that the issue of cost has been raised. In order for us to make things happen we must charge a minimal price that either the community o the masjid absorbs. Having 8-12 staff a night to run the program, materials cost, and our time creating a meaningful curriculum comes with a price.
        Ironically, for all the benefit that this program brings (every night we have parents telling us how much their children want to come to the masjid, that their children learned stories, that they could finally pray in peace, etc.) it seems to be a difficult concept for a lot of people to understand that making a change IS A CHOICE THAT COMES WITH A SMALL price. In addition most people have a hard time wrapping their mind around the concept of CHILD EDUCATION AND FUN during taraweh rather than straight up zoolike babysitting.

        Over the years the struggle for us was not that people did not want to have the program but that there was a lack of commitment to picking up the tab. Interestingly enough in this month of generosity decision makers had concerns about whether it was worth paying a small fee, or if we should offer it fisabillilah. Every year that went buy the avenues of funding the program changed, every year less and less there were objections to paying and more support from the decision makers. There was a period when some community people decided to do a similar program themselves (at that time Alhamdudillah we were engaged by other masjid so our program was offered somewhere else anyway). At the end of their trial these community members became greater supporters of having us run the program because they learned the hardship that comes with offering the program and the skill and $$ that it requires.
        A few days ago I hear from an organizer that these were the best $$ spent on iyde and CEP. I guess what I am pointing out is that every one in the community has a responsibility towards making their dreams come true and making their communities become what they wish them to be. If Allah SWT wills anything can happen. My partner’s children and my children are now all grown, they in fact are part of the staff for the program. When our children were young we wanted to have this kind of program and that’s why we started thinking about how to make it happen. It took some perseverance and some sacrifice Alhamdudillah, but inshallah we have a part of a dream that Allah SWT granted us. People can pray now at ease, children are happy, learning and loving to come to their masjid, inshallah may our intentions stay pure and we benefit for anything that we the children learn while with us… we are ALhamdudillah not yet exhausted but happy going home at 2ish in the morning to rest a little and get ready for the next CEP night!. Ramadan Mubarak!
        check us out at http://www.iyde.org

  2. Avatar

    BNB

    July 3, 2014 at 5:39 PM

    As for the iftars, the flip side is that while everyone can use free food for 30 days, you can hardly ever find someone to help out with distribution and cleanup. It is easier to donate money these days, but put that money in a pile and it won’t run a masjid sitting there. Masajid need people’s time – and people don’t give it. There are usually a few dedicated maskeens that get crushed every day with those chores. And yes, technically the masjid could hire a company to provide this service at charge, but then people don’t donate that boat load of money in most masajids to have a 30 day food service. People get very upset when the Board talks about cutting down on the days of iftar if there is not enough help – and for a while would even get motivated and start helping out. But fact of the matter is that except for a minimal (and generally insufficient) number, most people lose persistence to do it for 30 days. Additionally, people lack general common sense when it comes to taking precautions and keeping the masjid clean (this lack is usually only apparent in the masjid, not at their homes). Fine examples of this: leaving half empty cups of rooh-afzah in prayer halls and against carpeted walls, leaving date seeds in window frames and floors. Throwing trash without changing out bags if they are full. Sticky spills that are not cleaned, etc. etc. But hey, who speaks for the evil Board members :) We want free food. Like REAL FREE food.

    • Avatar

      nh

      July 3, 2014 at 10:32 PM

      I’m with you. I think masjid iftars should only be encouraged for those truly in need and eating there should require helping out. A very large number of ppl go for free food that they don’t have to cook. These iftars suck boat loads of money that is sparse to begin with.

  3. Avatar

    Olivia

    July 3, 2014 at 7:08 PM

    Excellent point about masjid logistics with kids. I do not go to taraweeh with my kids, or I haven’t in years, and last year before I had my fourth child was the first time i did in years and let me tell you I was pretty sure the Afghani mafia was going to pay me a visit and lob tomatoes at my house :P

    Because our masjid is small, the classroom where the kids go isn’t so bad. I will never forget the last time I tried to pray with my kids way back in Chicago, where we had to pray in the basement and the carpets from the ifthar were still left out and we had to pray on them, with all the bits of food stuck in them. The kids were psychotic and one of them managed to start a fire in the microwave. Try having khushoo in that mess. Sadly parents have a different mentality when its suddenly the “kids” area. Seriously don’t come to pray taraweeh if you follow the opinion you can’t move in salah to control your kid and moreoever your kid is on a sugar high and has the manners of a monkey. The same can be said of the womens section in general when its a separate room. If people are not in the same room as the imam, they suddenly start chit-chatting bc theres no accountability. These of course are the same aunties who cant keep their traps shut at juma who expect children to blend in with the wall at taraweeh.

    Last year when I went it was a smaller masjid with just a handful of kids, but honestly the aunties there think its their Divine order to police the mothers who then are expected to police their children who are *in the classroom* into absolute silence. I tell them why do you come to the masjid if you don’t want to hear any noise? If you hearing the slightest peep, or God forbid a baby cry, ruins your salah, why aren’t you praying in silence in your bedroom? I don’t know how these women really have khushoo when I tell you their ears aren’t listening to the recitation but the slightest sound from a room down the hall with the door closed.

    And don’t get me started on how, as you said, there is no space for fathers to be with small kids, which means he can’t bring them or they go unsupervised. Is this some masculine scheme to insure the men’s section is always free of people under 10? And if women always have kids, who didnt rub two brain cells together and realize the women’s section needs to be big enough to hold both women AND the mass amounts of children they have? There’s just no way my 7 or 4 year old can go to the masjid with their dad while i stay home with the baby. Only my 9 year old goes with her dad bc she pray alone on the women’s side.

    • Avatar

      Nesreen.

      July 13, 2014 at 3:23 PM

      Thanks Olivia, this reflects everything I feel about interacting with Muslims at mosques. If I didn’t genuinely enjoy the experience of taraweeh during Ramadan at mosques, or just being inside a mosque to be honest, I wouldn’t even bother going to the mosque at all,. Sometimes, the way many Muslim men and women act and treat others just puts me off going anywhere where Muslims gather.

      What’s sad about it all is that when these issues are pitched, they are usually just dismissed as petty problems that women just have to deal with, “because the ummah, dear sister, has more serious issues to deal with, so please, kindly, if you may, sort out your priorities”.

      “Is this some masculine scheme to insure the men’s section is always free of people under 10? ” Haha, love this.
      Why some Muslim dads choose to be around their kids ONLY when they’re happy, fed, clean and well-behaved, and supposedly ‘can’t’ take care of their kids during taraweeh, is beyond me.

  4. Avatar

    Shahin munshi

    July 4, 2014 at 2:56 AM

    Alhumdulillah we have 2.5 here at Memphis Islamic Center! Kids room could use work but I know we just don’t have space! :)

  5. Omar Usman

    Omar Usman

    July 4, 2014 at 6:16 PM

    01marmar – that is truly awesome! I love how funding became less and less of an issue after people saw the value of it.

    re: iftar – our mentalities are jsut different. investing in daily iftar is more than about feeding people, its about creating a community and strengthening the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood. have some faith that doing these acts will bring more barakah in the community. as for manpower, in masjids that have regular ifars, you often see people volunteering daily that you otherwise dont see throughout the year. do the work for a higher purpose and Allah (swt) will provide. making decisions based on a scarcity mentality will always lead to failure.

  6. Avatar

    Hafizain

    July 5, 2014 at 5:08 PM

    There are so many problems with these “solutions” (especially the Taraweeh solution) I can’t even begin to address them. Like wow lol

  7. Avatar

    Isa

    July 6, 2014 at 3:19 AM

    Reading the article and the replies, the issues come down to a leadership problem. All masjids I have seen are organized as either a membership collective or as a private waqf. Both systems tend to fail on two key points : 1. they do not engage the community in consultation (shura) and 2. They do not establish a service-program organization (unity). As a consequence, the many problems outlined here arise.

    1. Meals SHURA— try polling the people. I wonder if healthier options are wanted. People who gave been fasting tend to want rich, high energy foods. UNITY— ask every adult to be responsible to clean their area and the area of their children. Consider organizing work parties (rotate or fixed, assign or get sign-ups) for set-up, service, clean-up. These activities need Amir’s. While your at it, consider recycling, or better yet, everyone bring their own reusable tableware. Make it fun….

    2. Child care. SHURA— try discussing problem instead of ignoring. Use discussion to find solutions and encourage better parenting and patience all around. UNITY— ask every adult male or female to take charge of their kids. Ask a couple of men to gather the teen boys together to supervisor them. Women/teen girls. Often there are lectures— do the kids have topics they want? Infants and toddlers belong with mom, but a mothers could pool resources so half or a third of the moms watch the kids on alternating nights. Other solutions include paying a few teen girls. The CEP is a good idea.

    3. Program. SHURA/UNITY— are we afraid talking about controversies makes them worse? I live in a community where 8 and 20 could go either way with equal satisfaction. There are ways to make people happy, and IT CAN BE EXPLORED

    Salams and Mabruk!

  8. Avatar

    linda

    July 6, 2014 at 2:01 PM

    im sorry but I don’t agree with this article when it comes to the logistics part. When it comes down to it, children are a blessing bestowed upon some of us by Allah (swt) but they can also be a fitnah. It is really sad to see that a lot of muslim children nowadays do not have the correct manners and ettiquettes which is very apparent in the masjids.

    Whoever has been blessed with children needs to ensure that they take FULL responsibility for them because when children misbehave and turn the masjid into a zoo, this is due to a lack of discipline and parenting. I have seen kids misbehaving in masjids and their mums are just sitting there on their iphones allowing their kids to run riot. Fathers must also take responsibility for their lack of parenting. I know this may sound harsh but as a revert I can tell you that even non muslims e.g. Christians teach their children to behave a certain way at church because it is a place of WORSHIP!

    Subhanallah how can we be muslims, worshipping Allah alone upon the straight path yet our muslim children have no respect for the masjid nor do they understand its high status and cannot differentiate how to behave when in a masjid or playground?????
    Also dear sister Olivia, don’t take this the wrong way but no one is supposed to go to the masjid with the intention to hear any “noise” except for the recitation of the quran. If sisters’ kids make so much noise where they distract other worshippers then it is the parents of these children who will be held accountable. If children are misbehaving and distracting worshippers then don’t come to the masjid, you can pray taraweeh at home and you can have peace and quiet there because your children can be put to bed. Im sorry but you cannot expect worshippers with no kids to stay at home and leave the masjid for those worshippers who have kids who don’t understand how to behave in the masjid.

    I am a young revert sister with no muslim family and I couldn’t gain the same benefits praying taraweeh at home as I could praying in the masjid for two main reasons:
    1) I am limited in my memorisation of the quran and…
    2) I have no peace and quiet at home living with non believers, if I pray through the night out loud or even recite quran during the day I get abused and oppressed.

    I hope you keep this in mind, especially the last point because for some muslims the masjid is a SERIOUS life saver for their eemaan, without the masjid I have no refuge nor do I have anywhere to worship Allah in peace and there are many others out there just like me so please love for you brother what you love for yourself and take others into considerstion. No one is complaining about young babies crying but children above toddler age running around, screaming, shouting, fighting is EXTREMELY distracting.

    May Allah increase us all in eemaan this month and shower us with his mercy and save our necks from the hellfire and grant us and our families jannah amen.

    The masjids must be used for worship as that is their intended purpose:

    “And [He revealed] that the masjids are for Allah , so do not invoke with Allah anyone”
    Surah Jinn (72), ayah 18

  9. Avatar

    Amina

    July 6, 2014 at 3:26 PM

    I stopped going to the masjid with my kids because sadly they’re not welcoming to children, just now I was told our local masjid didn’t want toddlers there, I don’t understand this, how do they expect the kids to grow to love the masjid if they won’t even allow them there. I can understand being upset with teens and older kids because they’re not behaving right but toddlers don’t understand. Its very sad. All churches have area for kids and babysitters that get paid by the church and it doesn’t cost the parents a penny, the masajids can afford this but they don’t want to because they don’t see kids are being important part of the community sadly. They have a lot of money they collect from the community yet they won’t provide this basic need.

  10. Avatar

    kr156

    July 6, 2014 at 5:55 PM

    Let me begin by saying that I thoroughly, completely 100% agree with the first two issues (and proposed solutions) that you have brought up. Bravo. Hats/Kufis off. Fist pump. Job well done, Mashallah.

    However, there are serious problems with the third issue that you have raised as well as the proposed solution. Attending Taraweeh is a sunnah, it’s not obligatory that everyone attends. Even attending Isha prayers is not obligatory upon women and children (of course, we should do our best to ensure that masjids have adequate, well-lit, well-ventilated, good-acoustic, aesthetically-pleasing and inviting prayers spaces for our sisters, that’s an issue for another time).

    A masjid has to facilitate the practice of fard ‘ibadat within the community because that’s what those put in authority of the masjid will be held accountable upon. So a masjid is responsible for ensuring that those who want to pray the 5 prayers, for example, have the ability to do so. However, when it comes to the Sunnah, the masjid should not whimsically change positions based on convenience at certain times of the year. A flip-flopping between 8 and 20 rak’ahs demonstrates that a masjid practices convenience rather than established practice. This is not to open the door of 8 rak’ahs vs 20 rak’ahs, but when a masjid restricts itself to 8 rak’ahs, what of the sizeable number of attendees that want to pray 20 rak’ahs as the historical Muslim community has done over the centuries? It’s one thing if a masjid has always been an 8 rak’ah masjid, then people know that if they want to pray 20, you find another masjid. But when there’s more flip-flopping then a politician on 8 vs 20 at Masjid X, this creates confusion among people. When you have a 20 rak’ah taraweeh, it allows those who want to pray 4/8/12/etc to pray as much as they want and then leave when they want. By going to an 8 rak’ah in the summer, the masjid that used to pray 20 rak’ahs has deprived those who want to pray 20 of the barakah of all 20 rak’ahs.

    The masjid also should facilitate people’s access to barakah. Completing the Qur’an in Taraweeh is a wonderful and underrated barakah that we should appreciate because the historical Muslim community did so. It is more rewarding than listening to speeches and tafseers in Ramadan. The idea of spreading out the recitation into Fajr/Qiyam has not been the practice of the historical Muslim community. The Companions established that the Qur’an was to be completed during taraweeh. Many attendees attend taraweeh knowing that at least they can hear the Qur’an once during the month of Ramadan simply by attending taraweeh. To use Fajr/Qiyam for the recitation deprives these people of that, since many people attend one masjid for taraweeh (easier parking, more melodious recitation, etc) and another for Fajr (closer to home, etc). And now by including the recitation in Qiyam, we are further reducing the number of people that can heroically make it to all Fajr/Isha/Taraweeh/Qiyam at a single masjid in order to have the barakah of listening to one entire recitation!

    The idea that we should shorten the taraweeh to make time for a khatirah is perhaps the most problematic suggestion because it suggests that we should sacrifice a sunnah for the sake of a nafl. It’s good to have a khatirah, no doubt, but not at the expense of sacrificing a greater rewardable act of worship. On an exam, one doesn’t do the extra credit questions before the actual test questions.

    The word taraweeh itself means “rests (plural)”. It’s supposed to be difficult and lengthy and thus there are rests that are built into it so that the imam/congregation can rest. The Qur’an is a long book (mashallah), it can’t be cranked out with proper tajweed in a short amount of time. Taraweeh isn’t meant to be a one hour P90X spiritual workout and you’re done. It takes time — when taraweeh was done by the Companions in Makkah, they would make tawaf during the 4 rak’ah breaks! — and we should appreciate the deliberate pace of that time. Too much of our lives revolve around making everything more efficient and regimented. Ramadan is about letting go our desires, including our admittedly modern need to control time artificially. Praying 20 rak’ahs usually takes a little over 90 minutes (based on personal experiences as well as speaking with other huffaz). To try to squeeze everything into 60 minutes to save 30 minutes by sacrificing these elements is problematic, especially if this were done in major masjids. Certainly, in places where the night is very short (such as in London, UK, as in the answer given by Mufti Ibn Adam, Isha starts at 11:10 and Sahoor ends at 2:45), consideration may be given to not reciting the entire Qur’an, but there is still enough time for a vast majority of masjids in the continental US to do a moderately-paced taraweeh that allows for a khatm. We shouldn’t change the historical practice of the Muslims just because we’re unable to do it; if we can’t do it, alhamdulillah, no problem, but the practice should remain because it’s an identity symbol for the Muslim community.

    (Alternatively, if Ramadan is too tough here in the summer, the earth of Allah is vast…admittedly, this is a bit of a straw man argument).

    The principle of 80-20 that was the theme of this post shouldn’t imply that we swing the pendulum to the extreme and deprive that 20 percent (usually closer to around 40% in most masjids when it comes to taraweeh) the opportunity to pray all 20 and listen to the Qur’an being recited once in taraweeh because a bunch of people are tired or have to go to work. Those who are tired or have other obligations can leave at any time, they are not being forced to stay for all 20 (as in the case of being forced to eat greasy food or masjid logistics). But we shouldn’t deprive the sizeable number of those who wish to practice the historical practice of the Muslims, especially when their wanting to practice this doesn’t negatively affect the other majority.

    To conclude, I highly enjoyed the first two issues and giving practical solutions for each. However, and with due respect, perhaps you may wish to reconsider the import of the third issue and its proposed solutions, and how that matters to Muslims.

    –Kamran M. Riaz

    • Omar Usman

      Omar Usman

      July 6, 2014 at 7:43 PM

      salam.. KR always look forward to your feedback :)

      I actually don’t really disagree with you all that much. Let me clarify 2 quick points before getting to the crux of mine-

      1) I’m not advocating taraweeh be cut short in favor of a khatirah. i should have worded that more clearly, i was trying to make a point of balancing what the congregation wants. i meant that most places already have a khatirah of varying length, 15 is a good way to still have one w/o compromising taraweeh too much.

      2) im not advocating flip flopping, realistically to do one policy for summer and one for winter means “flip-flopping” every 10 years or so :)

      Lastly the crux of what im saying falls on this-

      The average congregant knows and looks forward to the reward of praying with the imam until the imam finishes. as far as im aware (and i may be wrong) this is the most explicit sacred text in regards to actual reward/barakah of praying at night in Ramadan.

      I was praying at a masjid the other night that does 20. There were close to 15+ rows for the first 8 rakat, and the khatirah. As soon as the 9th rakat of taraweeh started, they were down to 1.5 rows. This means only at best, 10% of the congregation is really being served by longer taraweeh, while 90% is unable to complete recitation with the imam.

      Now someone might say these 90% are lazy, and they wouldn’t pray with the imam anyways, but i dont think that’s the case, and thats just based on personal experience. A lot of those that left, did so, because they had no choice if they were going to survive the next day.

      My bottom line point is simply this – I’m not saying my solution is right, or your solution is right, or anyone else’s. What i AM saying, is that masajid need to take the congregation’s needs into account when making any of these decisions. If your masjid has a 40% retention for 20 rakat at 90 minutes, then maybe that solution is fine there. But if a masjid has 5-10% retention, then maybe it calls for a bit of re-evaluation.

      Given what is actually happening on the ground, I see that the vast majority being deprived is the one who wants to pray with the imam all night but is unable to. It may differ from masjid to masjid and city to city. Each community should at the least critically assess what it’s doing and how it’s serving their congregation.

      Again, it might not be a one-size fits all. Maybe we need a youth taraweeh, working professionals taraweeh, and a regular taraweeh :)

  11. Omar Usman

    Omar Usman

    July 6, 2014 at 7:31 PM

    Re: Kids – it’s amazing how different perspectives are based on whether someone has young kids or not. just food for thought :)

  12. Avatar

    ZAI

    July 6, 2014 at 10:35 PM

    Thank you for the article.
    Well articulated concise points and good ideas presented.

    Re: kids in the masjid, both extreme sides of the issue need to find a middle ground.
    It isn’t fair to tell women to stay home and deprive them of tarawih because of
    children in general…not every masjid has child care facilities(though we really should replicate
    the success some newer masjids have had with this through better financial planning, including
    setting up more reliable revenue sources for our masjids). Seriously, a kid crying here
    or there, or a few misbehaving every few minutes is not the end of the world. Chill out.

    On the other hand, crying infants or occasional misbehavior aside…some of our kids
    are REALLY disruptive CONSISTENTLY. I’ve seen kids…usually the same ones…
    fighting, yelling, running everywhere, etc. without any intervention at
    some masjids. THAT is too much to ask other congregants to tolerate. Sorry, but that
    is outright wahshi behavior and the parents are NOT even trying. It ain’t cute or funny. Discipline
    the kid or find something for them to do like playing Mario Kart on a silenced Ninetendo 3DS
    …and if one can’t or won’t, then stay home or take turns with husband/wife alternating
    babysitting.

  13. Avatar

    M.S.

    July 7, 2014 at 4:29 PM

    Salaamu aleykum:

    When I saw the “80-20” reference, I was thinking this was going to be an article based on the Pareto principle that said something like 80% of the outcomes come from 20% of the inputs. (I thought the article was going to be expose the 80% of masjid-issues in Ramadan coming from 20% of people. Now that would have been a nice read. But I digress.)

    Anyways……

    On the matter of the Iftar, I think br. Omar has some very good points especially on the nutrition part – I will get to that later inshaAllah.

    However, on the matters of providing the ifar dinner itself (including the arrangement of food deliveries, paying for the food and some of the cleaning issues), I don’t think it is entirely the masjid managers or administrators fault if people notice shortcomings in those areas. I am not a masjid administrator myself, but I have seen the hardship masjid staff at my local masjid have to deal with providing the iftar dinner on a daily basis. It is mind boggling the crowds that show up sometimes, and it hurts me to say this but there seems to be a barbaric nature that overtakes some people when they see they are getting free food. It is unfortunate and really sad to see people, who have faith, and are striving towards attaining the mercy, forgiveness & pleasure of Allah, leave their homes and come to a house of Worship, and/or other community center, just to misbehave, leave uneaten or half-eaten food, leave trash everywhere, misuse facilities and unleash their absurd manners onto others. (I will not even get into the issue of manners of some people’s children. Not the toddlers, the older ones.) The scenes before, during and after a typical iftar dinner sometimes resemble a war-zone, and we have to lay majority of the blame on the customers. Maybe the administrators can share some blame for poor management but one has to ask, where is the akhlaq and where are the muslims with good akhlaq? Walaahi, this is something that has to start from one’s home before it is manifested at the masjid iftar dinner tables.

    As far the nutrition goes, I think br. Omar also makes a very good point on the menu. However, the reality on the ground is that it is expensive to try to feed healthy food to lots & lots of people. My local masjid made a promise to not fundraise for iftar on the first weekend….by day 5 or 6 of Ramadan, they broke the promise and were soliciting funds for iftar. Kind of embarrassing but I don’t think they had a choice because the crowds were more than what they were anticipating. I also know of another masjid a while back that used to fund-raise every night after Maghrib prayers, just so they could make the bill for next days’ iftar. Most iftar attendees who ate at that masjid were non-contributors, so it fell on the masjid administrators to try to feed hundreds & hundreds of people on a shoe-string budget. I am thinking those mediocre budgets can only allow for so much variety. So, my best suggestion is for someone (or a group of friends) to make it a daily routine to donate fruits or a veggie platter to the iftar dinner line-up. You may not be able to feed everyone but at least you may share something nutritious with someone, and who knows, maybe you may alter the mindset of a few people, once they see the value of adding more healthier fruit & veggies to their diets. But overall, I think it is a lost cause to try to fight the tasteless iceberg lettuce and greasy carb-filled iftar culture.

    As far the Taraweeh prayers goes, if one cannot manage staying up and completing a full Taraweeh, it maybe be better to leave early, so one does not miss the Fajr prayers the next day. Praying the 8 or the 20 rakahs are both valid, and no Imam or masjid posse should be too surprised that people may favor one Taraweeh flavor over another. No one needs to get heart-burn over that, it is a Sunnah prayer. However, the 2 rakahs of Fajr prayers are obligatory, no one should miss that prayer to prove a point to others of the importance of their school of thought on Taraweeh prayers. (It would be awesome to one day see a fajr prayer with a packed masjid, like the 2 opening rakahs of the first night of Taraweeh.)

    May Allah accept our fast, forgive our sins, shower us with His mercy in this month, and grant us an entry into paradise from the door of Ar-Rayyan.

    Wa salaamu aleykum

  14. Avatar

    Aali Khan

    July 11, 2014 at 8:08 PM

    I dont agree with Iftar/food at masjid daily point at all. Unless its a bare minimum iftar of dates, drink , and any other appetizer people choose to bring in. Anything more than that including huge dinners and massive emphasis on food is a real distortion of the purpose of the masjid. The masjid is a place of prayer and ibadah and community congregation around the motivation of Islam. Sadly most people use the it just to freeload on food. It becomes the prime consumption of the masjid in ramadan for people to just eat free food and takes away from the point of ramadan and the masjid itself which is for ibadah not to feed well off people free food. Also not to mention we are talkign abt hundred if not in the thousand plus range daily for these iftar dinners! Thats thousands of dollars over a month worth of donation that could have gone to a better cause then feeding people who for the most part can afford to be fed. The ironic part is every city has its poor population, but you wont see many of them at these iftar dinners, its usually the people who least need free food the frequent these and ultimately its distracts away from the primary primary purpose. IBADAH.

  15. Avatar

    ssiam

    July 13, 2014 at 1:28 AM

    I stopped actively going to masajid when my daughter was born, specifically because of the distraction I endured while attending prior to being a mother.

    I’m a revert, so I have plenty of experience about how churches do things. They have a “nursery” area where very young children are taken to play and not distract the worshippers. Older children go to “children’s church”, where they get kid-friendly lessons.

    It’s frustrating on several accounts at masajid:

    1) Women are expected to take care of the children. Usually, even men who come alone with children will drop their kids off on the ladies side to either be looked after or to play with the kids. This adds unnecessary distraction for women who are there to focus on their emaan and pray.

    2) A masjid is a place of worship. Unless there is a specific community function (iftar, BBQ, kids’ festival) happening, I don’t know why mothers try to bring all of their kids there all the time. We are given permission – even encouraged – to pray at home; children are one of these reasons. It is not fair to the single or non-parent women who come to focus on their faith to be distracted by noisy children running around, screaming, climbing on them and interrupting their salah.

    3) Children are a blessing from Allah, alhumdulillah; however, they are still children. How many of us can pray one prayer at home without being bothered or slightly distracted by our children – especially the young ones? It’s also unfair to them to take them to a place where they must be quiet and reverent, but they don’t even understand why.

    4) Logistically speaking, there is usually no space for children in masajid where women are only allotted a room – or a partitioned area. Unless the masjid has a separate space for parents with children (for BOTH men and women), it should be discouraged to bring young children to the masjid because of Points 3 and 4.

    5) Most young children do not understand the purpose of what we are doing at masajid. They can prostrate and mimic their elders, but most do not comprehend the acts of reverence and worship. This is why Allah does not command children to fast, to offer salat, etc. They are not mature of mind – much less body. So, try as we may to get them to settled down and be quiet, it’s very difficult.

    After being irritated, interrupted and distracted for years at my local masajid, I made the decision to not take my daughter to the masjid until she was old enough to behave and act appropriately. The one time I caved (when we visited my sis-in-law in Jordan) and took her for isha’a during Ramadan, my fears were fulfilled, and we left before tarawih began. Not because she was an obnoxious child running around. But because she was 3 1/2, and she was disturbing me. And if she was disturbing me, I know she was bothering others.

    As she is nearly 7, the time is fast-approaching for her to begin participating in daily salat on a regular basis. Yet, even at 6 1/2 years old, she still isn’t 100% mature enough to understand the reverence and purpose of prayer. We teach her about Islam, she takes Islamia, Arabic and tajweed courses at school, and she is very vocal about curiosities and appreciations within our beautiful religion. However, in the end, she is still 6 1/2. And I’m still not ready to take her to the masjid with me to offer prayers.

    Once she can allow me to get through 2 rakah without calling my name, tapping me on the shoulder or running all around me, then I’ll contemplate introducing her to a new arena of practicing Islam. Until then, I am content to pray at home, teach her about Islam and our duties, and encourage her to act appropriately in regard to observance of salah.

    I mean to offer all of my insights and personal reflections only as such – personal reflections. I am not trying to pass judgment on anybody, or any parent. I’m merely sharing my reasons for avoiding the masjid with my child. May Allah grant us all peace and barakat, and may He allow us to convene for His sake and the sake of worshipping Him alone. Ameen.

    • Avatar

      01marmar

      July 13, 2014 at 12:34 PM

      Salam aleikum Rahmatullah Wabarakatuh Dear Sister.
      I appreciate all the points that you made especially as I am a convert as well, and because I am a convert and had the same gut reactions and objections at some time towards children behaving in a distracting manner, I humbly offer you a coouple of thoughts on the matter. I came to realize that child rearing in the middleEast as well as in the Asian countries reflects the 7 7 7 prophetic principle in a degree that for Westerners is intolerable precisely because our church experience was different. The 7 7 7 principle basically is one by which parents are to play with their children til the age of 7 then educate them for the next 7 and become their friends in the next 7.
      I don’t believe that either the Western or Easter system is better, but I believe that there value and truth to seek from any part of the prophetic model. The realization that I came to is that if we felt that there were challenges with children in the masjid, getting rid of children or simply closing the door to the “infractor” mothers who in some degree or another had interest in attending the masjid was not a long term viable or wise solution because our job as a community is not to close doors on people who have the least degree on interest of coming to masjid. Our job is to create a new culture that reflects the respect that we want for the prayer and welcoming to all members. SAW is the best in exemplifying tolerance. We find examples like when the Sahaba were angry at the man who urinated in the masjid but SAW dealt with him in the best of manners.
      I want to emphasize that I would much prefer to have a quiet atmosphere at the masjid but that I feel very strongly that it is not my place or anyone’s place to prevent people with an ounce of initiative to come to masjid from coming and that it is my responsibility to work first on my focus on the prayer and on my nafs (to this Im reminded of the sahaba who had an arrow and needed to have it removed and he told the person who was gonna remove it that he should wait until he staarted his Salah because in this state of Salah he never noticed anything because his focus was on Allah) I am not like him at all unfortunately, but these are my models that help me understand that perhaps sometimes I should be cautions because I don’t know how I will be called to account if I become the reason of someone staying away or going away from the masjid or from their community or from Islam.
      Finally Alhamdudillah we live in America and even with obstacles in our way we can transform our communities to something balanced through hard work, Perhaps becoming the person who struggles for a separate space for mothers and classes and space for children can be a wonderful struggle for someone in your community that takes them straight to Janah al Firdous.
      All good comes from Allah and all mistakes in this note are mine, please forgive me if anyone is offended by anything I say, I remind myself first and i was not with any ill intent but in the Spirit of this beautiful Blessed month

      • Avatar

        01marmar

        July 13, 2014 at 2:31 PM

        And on the second point I would like to add two beautiful stories that represent the amazing beautiful wisdom of the Muslim scholars of the past. A student of knowledge had traveled long to find a famed scholar. After a long and difficult journey he had arrived excitedly to ask the scholar various questions specific to practices in the town where the student came from; to which the scholar every time responded that he did not know. The student of knowledge was bebafled and so he mentioned it to the scholar who answered that he did not know because he had never been in that area and that he could not make a fatua on a place and culture that he did not know. The second story is about another scholar who during Ramadan had traveled to a town and arrived at magrib with his students. He laid down for a bit and woke up to find that his students had engaged in argumentation with the locals over the issue of whether the Taraweh should be prayed in 8 or 20 rakat. When the people saw the scholar they asked for his decision as he was going to lead the taraweh. The scholar answered that there would NOT be taraweh that night because Taraweh is SUnnah and Unity in the community is Fard and that since the Fard in unity had been broken there was no need for the sunnah that night.
        The masjid traditionally has not been only a place of worship but a place of unity and a place for people to engage with each other and feel at home. In our model of Islam we should never lose sight that SAW arrived and built masjids to make them the center of Islamic LIFE and UNITY for our UMAH not sterile buildings void of life.

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Coronavirus

Alternative Eid Celebrations In The Midst Of A Pandemic

“Eid-al-Quarantine” is what my sister has so fondly dubbed our upcoming Eid al Fitr this year. I find myself asking, “How are we going to make Eid a fun and special celebration this year in the midst of a dangerous pandemic?” With a little bit of creativity and resourcefulness, this Eid can be fun–no matter the current circumstances. This post will provide you with some inspiration to get your alternative Eid preparations underway! 

Special note: Shelter-in-place restrictions are lessening in many places in the United States, but this does not give us the green light to go back to life as normal and celebrate Eid in the ways we usually would have in the past. I am no health expert, but my sincerest wish for all Muslims throughout the world is that we all err on the side of caution and maintain rigorous precautions.

In-person gatherings are going to be much riskier in light of public health safety concerns. I do not recommend that people get together this Eid. Keep in mind, as well, that this is a big weekend for all Americans, as it is Memorial Day Weekend and crowds may be expected in places like parks and beaches. 

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Eid Day Must’s

Just because you are staying in, doesn’t mean that all of the Eid traditions have to go. Some may be exactly the same, some may be slightly adjusted this year. 

  • Get dressed up, even if it’s just for an hour or two. This might be a good chance to do hair and make up for sisters who normally don’t on Eid because of hijab or other modesty concerns. 
  • Take your family pictures, as usual. 
  • Decorate your house, even if it’s just with some fresh flowers in a vase or hanging up some string lights. (This time, I think sharing pictures of your setup may  have some more wiggle room.)
  • Find a way to pray Eid salah at home, if your local imam mentions a way to adapt for the current situation or check out this MM article
  • Eat some good food, and make sure to feast. 
  • Take that infamous Eid nap. 
  • Greet loved ones (phone calls, video calls, text messages, voice/video messages, make and send Eid cards).
  • Give and receive gifts. (Electronic ways to transfer money/checks in the mail, dropping off gifts to homes/sending gifts in the mail/having an online order pick-up in-store. You may also choose to do a gift exchange, if not this weekend, next). 

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Virtual Parties

Virtual celebrations are a great, safe, option. The best thing about virtual hangouts is that people from all over the world can “come together” to celebrate Eid. This can be as simple as talking and catching up, or can be as orchestrated as a full-out party including games. Keep in mind, the games and virtual parties aren’t only for the kids–everyone should have fun this Eid! We recently threw a virtual birthday party for our one-year-old and it was quite the experience. 

  • Split guests into different calls (kids’ call, adults’ call; men’s call, women’s call)
  • Party agenda for a rigorously planned party so everyone knows what to expect
  • Party games, either with certain items that everyone has (or can easily and quickly purchase) or games that do not require much else besides an internet connection 
    • Games requiring physical items (think of items that everyone is likely to have and think of carnival-type games):
      • Soccer ball juggling or basketball shooting competition
      • Water balloon toss
      • Timed races (three-legged, holding an egg in a spoon, etc.)
    • Games with little to no special equipment
      • Online Pictionary https://skribbl.io/
      • Online Scrabble
      • Video games
      • Charades
      • Taboo (we do this for our cousin game nights with pictures of cards that one person sends to people from the opposite team)
      • Scattergories
      • Bingo
      • Mad libs
      • Speaking games that take turns going around a circle (going through the alphabet saying names of animals or colors or foods, rhyming words [we played the last two lines of “Down by the Bay” for our son’s birthday party])
      • Movement game (Simon says, dancing if you’re into that [“Cha Cha Slide,” dance-off, passing along dance moves as was a TikTok trend I heard of, simply dancing…])
      • Games like in Whose Line is it Anyway? or like the “Olympics” (specifically the “middle games”) that I wrote about way back
  • Performances
    • Skits prepared by one family or even across households
    • Reciting a poem or surah or singing
    • Other showcases of talent, by individuals or not
  • Gift Exchanges (I’ve been doing this virtually since 2013 with friends/distant family members.)

Alternative Virtual/Group Celebrations

Being “together” isn’t always gathering for a party, and that’s what I think most people miss during the forced isolation caused by the pandemic. There are many things you can do to get ready for or celebrate Eid with loved ones even if you’re not together. 

  • Share special recipes with each other or plan to serve the same meals.
  • Coordinate Eid outfits or attempt to do matching henna designs.
  • Send Eid pictures to family and friends.
  • Prepare and cook meals or clean or decorate while on a video call (you don’t have to be talking the entire time).
  • Watch the same movie or show (whether that’s something everyone does as separate households or you do concurrently/even with a video or phone call running. This might be a good time to watch Hasan Minhaj’s “Homecoming King” and do the 10 things it invites us to do.)
  • Go through family pictures or old videos together. Maybe even create a short slideshow/video of your favorites. 
  • Story time full of family legends and epic moments (the best Eid, a difficult time of sickness, immigration or moving story, new baby in the family, etc.). Someone build the fire and get the s’mores going.

Alternative “Outings”

In the same breath, it’s so refreshing to go out and do something fun, not just stay cooped up in your house, right? Seriously. 

  • Check out a virtual museum tour
  • Go on a nice drive to some place you love or miss going to, like drive by the masjid or school or a beautiful area (but stay in your car if there are other people around)
  • Watch an Eid Khutbah (or a regular one) on Eid day (make it special by listening outside in your yard or as a family where you pray).
  • Create a movie theater experience inside the home (that might just mean some popcorn and homemade slushies).
  • Get carry out from a favorite restaurant (if it’s open), and finally have the motivation to take a longer drive if needed
  • Make fruit or gift baskets for friends and family and drop them off at their homes
  • A “paint night,” or some other craft, that everyone in the family participates in
  • Decorate your car and drive around to show it off to friends (I’ve heard there’s an actual Eid car parade at various masaajid in Chicago

Interesting Alternative Community Celebrations I’ve Heard About

Some communities are getting super creative. As I mentioned above, a handful of masaajid in Chicago (Orland Park Prayer Center, Mosque Foundation, and Islamic Center of Wheaton as well as Dar Al Taqwa in Maryland) are putting together Eid drive-thru car parades. I’ve heard of different communities, whether officially sponsored by the masjid or just put together by groups of individuals, having a drive-in Eid salah, in which families pray in their cars in a rented drive-in theater or parking lot (Champaign, Illinois and a community in Maryland). I’m  definitely impressed with that last option, and I’m waiting to hear about more creative ways to get together and worship and celebrate.

So, what am I doing for Eid (weekend) this year? All the must’s, inshaAllah, including getting extra dolled up and making donuts from biscuit dough. A “game night” (virtual party) with alumni from my MSA. A gift exchange party with my cousins as well as another gift exchange party with classmates from my Arabic program (we’ll send unboxing videos out instead of meeting at the same time.) Check out a local college campus we’ve been dying to drive around. Binge a few episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender newly released on Netflix and do some online Memorial Day sale shopping. Le’s put a tentative on all of those, haha.

At the end of the day, Eid al Fitr is about acknowledging the month of worship we engaged in during Ramadan and spending quality time with loved ones. It doesn’t really matter what that quality time looks like–as long as it is intentional, this Eid will be special no matter what, inshaAllah. Who knows, this might be one of the best, most memorable holidays ever!

Eid Mubarak!

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#Current Affairs

A Response To Habib Ali Al-Jifri’s Comments On Uyghurs

Toqa Badran and Aydin Anwar respond to the statements made by Shaykh Habib Ali Al-Jifri

Ghulja

Protests preceding the Ghulja Massacre, 1997

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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.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

By Toqa Badran, Aydin Anwar 

We acknowledge that those individuals who have devoted their lives to the spiritual empowerment of others are to be admired and respected. The Ulema often serve as beacons of guidance and sources of emulation for the Ummah with their scholarly and moral leadership. Their critical role means that they are also expected to speak and act according to a higher standard of truthfulness and ethics. Bearing this in mind makes it especially dismaying and hurtful to witness inaccurate comments from a famous preacher and scholar who should be a part of this heritage of high intellectual rigour and superior moral conduct. It is even more problematic that these erroneous statements pertain to a group of fellow Muslims presently experiencing almost unprecedented duress to criminalize and eradicate their religion and cultural identity. 

It is unfortunate that Habib Ali al-Jifri, a popular scholar in the Arab world, in a recent lecture has misused his platform by propagating information that is all at once incorrect, biased, and otherwise detrimental to the lives of an entire Muslim nation colonized and oppressed by China. Although he tepidly acknowledges that China has done wrong to Uyghurs and is not fully innocent, a number of his claims remain inaccurate and deserve to be corrected. This article attempts to walk through some of these inaccuracies, and correct such claims that ultimately work to delegitimize and downplay the deplorable reality of Uyghurs and other Turkic-Muslim peoples, such as Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, of East Turkistan (renamed and referred to as Xinjiang, meaning new territory in Mandarin, by the Chinese occupation). 

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#1: Shaykh Ali al-Jifri claims that only around half of Uyghurs are Muslim

The first glaring error made by the shaykh is his statement that only around half of the Uyghur population is Muslim. His error may have been a result of confusing the presently reported demographic makeup of East Turkistan with the religious composition of the Uyghur people. While the Uyghur and indigenous inhabitants of the region are overwhelmingly Muslim, the Han Chinese population has climbed drastically from only 6% in 1949 to an estimated 40% – due largely to incentivized migration and other – settler colonial programs embarked upon by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This statistic itself may be unreliable as many undocumented Uyghurs are unaccounted for and, in recent years, scores of Uyghur prisoners and forced laborers have been forcibly transferred to mainland China. 

If, however, al-Jifri meant to propogate the notion that only half of Uyghurs are Muslim, this is another matter altogether. To deny the self-professed Islamic faith of the utter majority of Uyghur people is to commit one of atrocities perpetrated by the CCP itself — the denial and erasure of this long persecuted population’s faith. As for the rootedness of Islam among this people, it has been the predominant religion among Uyghurs in East Turkistan– long before Egypt, or even the Levant, became majority Muslim societies during the Mamluk era. Much of the Islamicization of Central Asia and the Turkic world has been credited to the Karakhanids – a group of Turkic tribes who lived in the Uyghur homeland and converted to Islam in the 10th century (4th century Hijri), after their ruler Sultan Abdulkerim Bughra Khan entered the faith (Svat Soucek. A History of Inner Asia. Cambridge University Press. 2002, pp 84).

Uyghurs were also historically part of the Chagatay Turkic Khanate, whence the rulers of the Mughal Dynasty — who ruled much of India for over two centuries — hailed. Tasawwuf-inflected preaching was a key driver in conversions among these Turkic tribes in ways reminiscent of Islam’s spread at the hands of itinerant Hadhrami Sufi scholars and merchants — from whom Habib Ali hails  — across the Indian Ocean littoral and Nusantara (Malay world).

Map of East Turkistan in relation to the rest of Central Asia. East Turkistan is the same size as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada combined. 

Source: International Crisis Group

Starting with the aforementioned Karakhanids in the 10th century, Islamic institutions were founded and devoted to the study of theology, natural science, arts, music, and more. These institutions allowed for the emergence of hundreds of prominent Turkic scholars, who helped shape and record Islamic, Turkic, and specifically Uyghur history through their works: The likes of Mahmud Kashgari’s Dīwān Lughāt al-Turk, the first comprehensive dictionary of Turkic languages. Yusuf Khās Hājib’s Kutadgu Bilig, a mirror-for-princes in prose from the 11th century that shed light on Turkish-Islamic history and culture, and is perhaps one of the earliest surviving Turkic works in the genre of akhlāq (Islamic morality and ethics). The Turks of the region have also been greatly impacted by the Yasawī sufi order which helped make communal dhikr gatherings part and parcel of Uyghur culture. The influence of sufism is also evident in the prevalence of  Sufi shrines — most of which have since been systematically destroyed or left abandoned after being blocked off with barbed wire by the CCP.

The survival of old Quranic manuscripts from the area, as well as manuscripts from the 19th and 20th century, testify to the centrality of the Islamic intellectual tradition and its preservation within Uyghur culture. Thousands of beautiful mosques were constructed throughout the region, many of which have been demolished in recent years by the CCP regime. Had they not been places of great significance and visitation, it begs the question as to why the Chinese government would  bother razing them. Kashgar, the historic capital of the Karakhanid Empire and “jewel” of the Silk Road, became a prominent center of learning and hub showcasing the rich Uyghur past. Yarkend had also been a particular center of Islamic learning and culture for centuries, with dozens of madrasahs present in the last decades of the nineteenth century. It even holds Queen Amanisa Khan’s shrine, where the 12 Muqam (classical Sufi dance and song performance pieces that are a central Uyghur heritage form) were established. 

It is now clear that not only have the vast majority of Uyghurs been Muslim since the 11th century at least, but that the history of East Turkistan cannot be separated from that of the greater Muslim world. Like most Turkic Muslims, Uyghurs have traditionally belonged to Ahl as-Sunnah (the mainstream and overwhelming majority of Muslims), the legal school of Hanafism, and have immense love for the noble Ahl al-Bayt (family and descendants of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ). Uyghurs had even established a maqam (shrine) dedicated to the 8th century scholar and descendant of the Prophet ﷺ, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq – through whom Habib Ali traces his lineage back to the Prophet ﷺ – near the town of Khotan in East Turkistan, which was destroyed by the CCP. If segments of Uyghur society are not practicing Muslims today, it is mostly due to the Communist repression since WWII, just as Soviet anti-religious repression led to the radical decrease in religious literacy and practice in neighbouring Turkic republics. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy and heartening to see that some of the Central Asian republics are currently experiencing a gradual revival of Islamic observance thanks to the demise of oppressive policies, hinting at how the Uyghur religious life could flourish if and when repressive policies in East Turkistan cease.

Before and After of Imam Jafari al-Sadiq shrine. L-R Dec 10 2013, April 20, 2019. 

Photograph: Google Earth/Planet Labs 

The systematic aggression with which the Chinese government has sought to stamp out the works produced by Uyghur scholars and the many ancient Muslim cities scattered across East Turkistan is evidence of their historical importance. From banning the publication of texts in the Uyghur language, closing all religious spaces, and transforming historic sites into propaganda centers for the dissemination of a sanitized, non-religious, and state-sponsored Uyghur identity, it is clear that the CCP feels not only threatened by Uyghur culture, but is aware of its power in maintaining a social fabric worthy of any independent nation. 

And with all of the aforementioned said, we pose the question: Even if the majority of Uyghurs were not Muslim as the shaykh incorrectly claimed, does this excuse Muslims elsewhere of their duty to stand against oppression? Over the course of his commentary on the plight of the Uyghur people, the shaykh himself asked the audience why we [Muslims] are only angry when China oppresses Uyghurs and not the Buddhist Tibetans. Not only does this question contradict his initial premise that the Uyghur community cannot be referred to as overwhelmingly Muslim, but also deeply confuses the listener: “Are we to fight against oppression, regardless of the religion of the oppressed, or not?” We would argue that it is not only an obligation for Muslims, but for all people to resist their own oppression and the oppression of others — especially if this oppression manifests as the criminalization of the most fundamental practices of a people’s faith, Islam in this case. The East Turkistani independence movement itself has always allied itself with those of the Tibetan, Palestinian, and Kashmiri people. It has been incorrectly posited by the shaykh that Uyghurs have only been oppressed for the last 3-5 years. While this is demonstrably false, through the decades-long occupation Uyghurs have faced, what is worse is that he makes this claim in order to draw a false equivalence (between East Turkistan and the Tibetan people) in the hopes of delegitimizing the plight and cause of those in East Turkistan. Worse still, is that when the shaykh is confronted with the truth of the 70+ long years of Chinese colonization of Uyghur lands, he contests its factuality by responding that if China were really so bad then we would see the individual politicians responsible for the colonization personally affected by the Chinese Coronavirus. We question the legitimacy of this apparently necessary correlation and will do so again later in this paper. Furthermore, now that we know that the Uyghur identity is as much an Islamic one as his own Arab identity and that Chinese oppression has been occurring for almost a century, do the scholar’s recommendations change? 

#2: Shaykh Al-Jifri claims that the question of Uyghur oppression is a political, not religious, one 

We would like to preface this section by making it clear that Islam rejects the false dichotomy between the religious and the secular. What is “political” is not necessarily devoid of religious significance, and what is “religious” is not necessarily apolitical. While the Sharia’s precepts pertaining to siyasah (governance and ‘urfi/customary-public law) are mostly general, with few exact prescriptions established by the sources of Sharia (al-adillah al-sharʿiyyah), Muslims have always conceived of politics as a space bound by Islamic morality and ethics, akhlāq. As with any other dimension of human life, a person’s moral culpability before God extends into the domain of the “political” just as it extends into the domain of the economic, familial, ritual, etc. 

While it is true that colonization is often understood as a political phenomenon and not a religious one, religion has featured prominently both as a pretext and the locus of subjugation in China’s crimes against the Uyghur people. China brands its campaign against the Uyghurs as a fight  against “Islamic extremism” in an attempt to ride on the coattails of the global “War on Terror” thereby garnering  sympathy for its policies — including the imprisonment of millions of Turkic peoples into concentration camps and prisons — and insulate itself from backlash it would otherwise face as a result of its inhumanity in East Turkistan. Like Modi’s India and many Western nations, China exploits the world’s frenzied paranoia surrounding “Muslim terror” to justify its crackdown on innocent Muslims.

“Ubiquitous scene on the streets of  #Xinjiang these days. Men and women (inc. the elderly) trudging around with enormous clubs, part of the ‘People’s War’ on terrorism.” – David Brophy, Nov 15th 2017 

We acknowledge, however, that if this matter was purely religious, and not political, we would see Hui Muslims, who do not have a territorial claim at stake, rounded up into concentration camps and being subject to the same forms of oppression Uyghurs and other Turkic people are. However, this is not the case. Huis have historically been left largely undisturbed for the sake of maintaining the CCP’s facade of religious acceptance — or at most they are subject to the usual disruptions any religious group faces under the anti-religious CCP. Historically, the Hui have been staunch supporters of the Chinese state, and even played a critical role in the dismantling of the first East Turkistan Republic of 1933 and the second of 1944.. This did not spare them, however, from the current religious crackdown they and other faith groups like Christians face, once again highlighting the inextricably religious dimension of the CCP’s supposedly merely “political” project. As though rounding up innocents into concentration camps and subjecting an entire people to violations of fundamental human rights as part of a larger campaign of ethnic cleansing and cultural destruction would be anything less than heinous, even if religion played no role in the matter.

Much of Uyghur and, by extension, all Central Asian Turkic identity, has centered on religion; Uyghurs and other Turks are Muslim, just like Malays have been Muslim based on historical development in the past millennium. Historically, up until the 1930s, Uyghurs were not commonly referred to as “Uyghurs” — they and other Turkic Muslims of East Turkistan were simply referred to as “Musulman” (Muslim), “Turki” (Turk), or “yerlik” (local). This truth further explains why China has been so adamant in removing religion from the lives of East Turkistanis — Islam is so critical to the history and culture of the Turkic presence that the CCP knows that, without it, East Turkistanis will be left weak and purposeless– easily converted into malleable forced worshippers of the party, and indistinguishable from the rest of China’s largely atheist, but nominally Confucian, Buddhist or Taoist Han majority. Not to mention that they are then exploited in China’s massive hypocritically capitalistic labour scheme — which most of Chinese masses also suffer from. 

Claiming that the oppression is not a religious matter implies that Muslims need not care about the Uyghurs out of religious concern, while in reality our blood should be boiling knowing that the rights of God and His worshippers are being violated by the CCP. Muslims around the world rightly condemn and stand in solidarity against zionist oppression in Palestine, though, by the shaykh’s standards, this would be appear a purely political project undeserving of collective Muslim outrage. The Israeli state-apparatus oppresses Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike. The CCP has singled out Muslims, however, especially those in East Turkistan, as the targets of their brutal project. Again, we see that this is both a religious and political issue against which all Muslims and conscientious human beings should speak and fight. Just as we all wish for the freedom of Palestine sooner rather than later, we should pray, speak, and fight for the freedom of our brothers and sisters in East Turkistan.

Practicing Islam is categorically forbidden in East Turkistan, despite China’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. Islamic texts and names are banned, practicing most of the five pillars of Islam is forbidden, and centuries old Islamic institutions have been destroyed and converted into communist propaganda centers. Religious scholars (ulema) have disappeared, sentenced to life in prison, or killed.

These tragedies are never publicized within China’s borders — and their occurrence is aggressively denied by the Chinese media apparatus. Instead, the media tokenizes and highlights a few religious acts, in reality no more than complex theatrics which the government has directed in order to showcase the power of “CCP Islam”. Journalists and political actors from other countries, especially Muslim ones, are invited to East Turkistan to witness a beautiful charade of “harmony” and happiness that, in reality, is no more than an open air prison for the Uyghurs. Albanian academic and journalist, Dr Olsi Jazexhi, was one of these visitors, who later reflected on his experiences and observations on such a CCP-sponsored trip. He and other journalists toured many mosques with the CCP’s aim being to show to the outside world that there are mosques, and indeed religious freedom, in East Turkistan. Jazexhi recalls venturing into one of the mosques near Urumqi’s Grand Bazaar and finding only a store. He also recalls his visit to a concentration camp or what China calls a “vocational training center”:

“The center was in the middle of the desert. It was a kind of Alcatraz, and by its appearance, we were expecting to find some criminals, terrorists, and killers, and people who were dangerous to society. When we went there, the criminals presented us with a concert. These poor boys and girls who were being held there since many years. They were told to dance to me; Uyghur dance, Chinese dance, and Western dance. The authorities wanted us to film them only dancing and smiling and singing. They were all speaking Chinese, even though they were Uyghurs [sic].” 

Jazexhi, a dual Albanian and Canadian citizen, was later fired from his university position in Albania — demonstrating the reach of Chinese economic blackmail diplomacy. The professor was blacklisted by China due to his truthful reports on East Turkistan, highlighting the CCP’s suppression of criticism abroad, even within the context of academia, with its diplomatic and economic pressure. 

Scene from a staged tour of a ‘vocational training center’. Uyghur detainees are playing music to show  ‘harmony’ and ‘happiness’ inside the camps. Source: BBC 

Of course, this harmony would not be complete without the millions of Han Chinese who have been settled, with the aid of the government, within the borders of East Turkistan. While Uyghurs are systematically transported outside of the borders of their homeland and into mainland China to work as forced laborers or to be imprisoned and “reeducated”, it is hard to ignore the demographic erasure of Uyghurs in East Turkistan. As more and more Han Chinese are brought into Uyghur land to replace the displaced natives, the CCP razes ancient mosques, homes, and sanctuaries to make room for the new settlers. 

Photo from Gilles Sabrie: “Sledgehammer: The Chinese say Kashgar must be destroyed because it is susceptible to earthquakes” (TIME

These settlers act both as continuous reminders of the disappearance of Uyghur autonomy as well as wardens over the remaining Uyghur population. There have been many accounts of Han Chinese living with Uyghur families in their homes as “big siblings”— feeding the government information on the family’s every move and assisting in Uyghur imprisonment for even the smallest of religious offences. Aside from simple demographic engineering and ethnic cleansing, the Chinese program of destroying Uyghur cities and patrimony is intended to deracinate East Turkistanis from their culture and make them self-internalize that they are a people with no heritage, and to imprison them in easy-to-surveil panopticons with Han colonialists wardens. Destroying ancient cities and heritage is an old authoritarian communist strategy, reflecting the idea brillianty summarized by Alexander Solzhenitsyn that “to destroy a people you must first sever their roots.” 

Muhammad Salih Hajim (82), widely known as the first scholar to translate the Quran to modern Uyghur, is amongst one of the martyred and was killed in detention in January 2018. Source: RFA

One former prisoner, Adil Abdulghufur, in an interview with our co-author, Aydin Anwar, recounted how he was beaten unconscious by Chinese prison authorities and forced to wear a 25 kg cement block for a month hung by a thin string around his neck after saying “Bismillah” (in the name of God) in his sleep. Countless Uyghur women and men, who have been sent to camps and prisons due to religious practice have been raped, forcibly sterilized, drugged, and their bodies used for organ harvesting. Uyghurs are punished with long prison sentences; one Uyghur woman was sentenced to 10 years in prison for promoting the wearing of headscarves, a Kazakh man was sentenced to 16 years in jail after Chinese authorities found audio recordings of the Quran on his computer, and several Uyghur refugees we have spoke with said that even saying the Muslim greeting Assalāmu Alaykum (Peace be upon you) can get them locked up for 10 years. Saying Insha’Allah (God-willing) is also prohibited. In one of the many documentaries published on the dystopian existence of the Uyghur people, VICE interviews a woman who states her charged crime was the learning of the Quran and the Arabic language. A man, later in the documentary, details how he was punished for refusing to eat pork even while imprisoned. By many accounts, the word God or Allah itself must be replaced with “Party” (Chinese Communist Party), or the name of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

Portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping shaking hands with Uyghur Imams placed in Kasghar’s historical Id Kah (Eidgah) mosque in East Turkistan. Note that the picture is facing the congregants in the direction of Muslim prayer – Qiblah. Source: David Brophy 

#3: Shaykh Al-Jifri claims the reason people are fighting for East Turkistan is because they do not want China to build the so-called ‘New Silk Road’ and become 2x as strong as America economically

This claim reduces the East Turkistani freedom movement to a China vs America binary– thereby completely erasing the decades of occupation East Turkistan has endured under China. In 1759, the Manchu Qing Empire invaded East Turkistan and made it its new colony. Uyghurs rebelled against Qing rule, and in 1863 were able to break free and establish Kashgaria under their leader Yaqub Khan, now known as East Turkistan. Two decades later, the Uyghurs were invaded by the Qing again, and, this time, the Uyghur homeland was formally incorporated under the Chinese empire as “Xinjiang”. Chinese nationalists overthrew the Manchu Qing Dynasty in 1911, putting East Turkistan under the rule of Nationalist China. The Uyghurs carried out numerous rebellions and were able to establish the East Turkistan Islamic Republic in 1933 and 1944, both of which briefly lasted before the Chinese government reoccupied the region through the military intervention and political interest of the Soviet Union. The most recent occupation started in 1949 when the Communist Party of China came to power, and since then, millions of East Turkistanis have been subject to various forms of brutal systematic genocide. 

The Declaration of Independence of the Islamic Republic of East Turkistan, November 12, 1933 Note: As is visible, the local ulema/scholars spearheaded the effort for independence.

It is deeply condescending to not only delegitimize the efforts of a Muslim people in standing against their oppressors, but to also deem them to be no more than American pawns. Indeed, Xi Jinping’s China seeks to continue solidifying Chinese hard power in East Turkistan while working towards the larger CCP strategic goal of establishing China as a global hegemonic power with a new Chinese-dominated global economic-political order, via the multi-trillion dollar One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative. This strategic-economic project — the largest the Eurasian Landmass ever seen — spanning over 70 countries via railroads, gas pipelines, and other infrastructure projects, is one of the greatest attempts of China to secure itself a superpower position in the 21st century. Without East Turkistan, deemed by the CCP the “Chinese gateway” to Eurasia and the West in general, the entire OBOR initiative’s immediate feasibility is truly brought into question. In addition to this strategic importance East Turkistan, the land of the Uyghurs is also extremely rich in oil, gas, and coal. According to a 2016 Congressional Research Service report, the region contains the second-highest natural gas reserves and highest oil reserves of any province-level jurisdiction of China, reportedly producing more than 30 BCM of natural gas in 2015. 

A statement that reduces the intention of the freedom movement to a simple modern economic enterprise further belittles the rich history of a people that once lived with centuries of independence, and its rightful effort to reclaim its full rights and freedom. The Uyghurs played a crucial role in establishing the Koktürk Khanate (552-744), the Uyghur Khanate (744-840), the Kara-Khanid Khanate (840-1212), Gansu Uyghur Kingdom (848-1036), and Idiqut State (856-1335). They lived co-independently in the Mongol Empire, even playing crucial roles in its administration through Gengiz Khan’s usage of the Uyghur yasa law system and the Uyghur script. After the Chagatai Khanate, East Turkistan was integrated into the Turkic-Muslim milieu of the larger Turkistan stretching from the Caspian to Mongolia including cities and polities like Bukhara, Samarkand, Kokand, etc. with scholars, traders and others moving east and west. Thus, it is truly ridiculous to understand the issue of Uyghur colonization solely through a lens of Sino-American politics. The colonization of East Turkistan began long before China was a real contender in the quest for international political-economic hegemony, and will continue –ceteris paribus– long after a change in the foreign policy of either the United States or China. The recent interest American politicians have taken in the plight of the Uyghurs has never even clearly crossed into the realm of East Turkistani independence– it is Uyghur, Turkic, Muslim, and anti-colonial activists who are at the forefront of the East Turkistani independence movement. Just as it was completely understandable that Afghans accepted American assistance in the fight against Soviet occupation, and that the Viet Cong accepted Chinese assistance to protect against American invasion on the other hand, the Uyghur crisis is so dire that the people are justly tempted to accept the assistance of any powerful nation against the century long Chinese oppression they have faced. Had China, under the yoke of CCP, not suffocated the Muslim peoples inhabiting East Turkistan, Uyghurs could maybe regard China differently…

The only way to secure Uyghurs and other East Turkistanis their essential rights — to practice their faith, operate economically, and take pride in their rich culture and history without fear of imprisonment, assault or death — is to secure the sovereignty of their occupied homeland. For many Uyghurs, the human rights/autonomy discourse is dead. The Chinese government has proven over the course of its long occupation that it can never guarantee Uyghurs the safety or the freedom they deserve. Although China claims Uyghurs to be one of its “proud 56 ethnic minorities”, it sees Uyghurs not only as foreigners, as made clear with their completely distinct language, history and culture, but also as existential threats to its despotic power. As internal but “foreign” threats, the Uyghur people have been imprisoned, enslaved, indoctrinated and murdered. There can be no going back after this horror. The only solution is for the Uyghur people, completely foreign to China, to formally exist outside of the jurisdiction of the Chinese government as their own nation.

#4: Al-Jifri asks how COVID-19 can be divine punishment if Communist Party authorities themselves remain untouched by the virus

While we agree with al-Jifri that we are in no position to state definitely whether any worldly occurrence is a direct act of Divine punishment, we question a few of the implications presented during the lecture. For example, the shaykh asks how the coronavirus pandemic can logically be considered Divine punishment if the individuals, who made the governmental decisions resulting directly in the oppression against Uyghurs, themselves remained unscathed by the virus. We respond: How can a virus which has debilitated the economy and social structure of a country, whose government is committing genocide against millions of colonized peoples, including millions of Muslims, not be? This article does not aim to delve into a metaphysical discussion on the nature of blame and culpability, but we can simply ask how the shaykh knows that none of those individuals he identifies did not fall ill. 

Additionally, we question why such a punishment could not target an entire corrupt regime — or even a complicit or apathetic populace — and not simply certain individuals, who he might deem actually culpable. 

The fact of the matter is this: We do not know how many of the Uyghurs who are trapped in concentration camps, prisons or forced labor factories, have been additionally subject to this seperate CCP oppression — a virus which only became as terrible of an international menace as it has due to the deception and inadequacy of the CCP. We hope their number is very low, but also understand that the illness of Uyghurs does not indicate that the CCP is any less problematic or morally horrific in its dealing with the virus and with the regime’s colonial holdings. The shaykh  also asks why other oppressors would not be more deserving of a plague such as this one. To this we repeat the shaykh’s  question to himself: Who are we to question God’s methods? The burning of the Amazon is not certainly a punishment for the South American nations whose borders it crosses, or it may be a punishment for humanity at large — we cannot know. 

It does not take an act of divine punishment for us to recognize the immorality of an action or event. We do not wait for lighting to strike us down before we realize we may have committed a misdeed. In the same way, we do not know if COVID -19 is divine punishment, but we do know that the oppression of Uyghurs is a moral outrage and requires immediate international action, especially from fellow Muslim brethren. 

 As previously noted, we do not seek to act as interpreters of God’s will. On the contrary, we only seek to act according to a well-established Islamic tradition of taking ʿibrah, a lesson derived from a moral experience, from what we observe in the world. Even while carefully performing this observation, we acknowledge that our derivations are zannī, or of uncertainty. This being said, we believe that our history and faith have so clearly called for justice and religious freedom that to ignore the direct suppression of Islam or Muslims, especially through means as violent and cruel as those practiced by the Chinese Communist Party, is to commit a definitive moral misdeed.

This kind of deduction by ulema and regular Muslims alike has been practiced for centuries. One pertinent example is of an individual named Mirza Ghulam of Qadiyan, who apostatized from Islam in the late 19th century as a claimant of prophethood, and experienced a rather gruesome death due to dysentery. His downfall has been commonly interpreted (taʾwīl) as punishment, for his attempting to act as a divinely ordained prophet of God. This kind of informed and qualified interpretation has been performed for centuries and is allowed for any individual so long as they ultimately believe in the finality of the Knowledge and the Will of God. W’Allāhu Aʿlam (God knows best).

Action Items & Closing Notes

We do not seek to find out the intention of Habib Ali al-Jifri’s speeches on the situation of our Uyghur brothers and sisters – he may have simply been misinformed. What we can do, however, is question the sources of his information and highlight the graveness of his actions and words. The fact of the matter is that millions of Muslims are detained by China for committing simple acts of faith that people elsewhere have the pleasure of doing each and every day– including saying “Bismillah” before they take a bite of food. As we observe Ramadan currently, it is devastating to think of the Uyghurs, who are forced to eat and drink, let alone drink alcohol and eat pork, during the holy month to prove their “innocence” from Islam to the Chinese government. While we sit with our families and break our fast, Uyghurs and other Turkic people suffer silently in thousands of prisons and labor camps far from their families. 

This scholar, or those who have misinformed him, have not only dismissed the CCP’s violations against our religion and the Ummah at large, but have also attempted to disincentivize hundreds of thousands of free Muslims from aiding the Uyghur people in their plight against the CCP.

We ask that you to pray that the oppression of the Uyghur people ceases as soon as possible; but also urge you to boycott Chinese or Chinese-made products likely to be reliant on Uyghur slave labor; to actively spread the word on the suffering of East Turkistan; and to build interest groups and networks to pressure governments to lower their dependency on China, while increasing economic and political collaboration between Muslim people. Change starts with and around each and every one of us; inquire about Uyghur-East Turkistani exiles in your area and country, and organize your communities to help stranded Uyghur orphans, students and other disadvantaged individuals survive as Muslim Uyghur people with their culture. Lobby for issuing Uyghurs passports and securing Uyghur emigres refugee-asylee status and protection. Stop “extradition-repatriation” of Uyghurs to China. Call for a united diplomatic effort of Muslim, Arab, and/or Turkic and others concerned for freedoms countries against China’s atrocities. They should act according to inter-state relations and not as slavish would-be vassal states, and hold a respectable diplomatic stand vis-à-vis China from our countries.

We ask that you get your universities involved by both raising awareness on campus as well as by assessing your university’s relationship with China. Check to see if your school has a Confucius or China Institute. These entities often serve as a public educational arm of the Chinese government abroad, and are controlled by the CCP — thereby enabling them to exercise soft power all over the world. Insist that these institutes make a statement and acknowledge the atrocities faced by those in East Turkistan, and call them out if they do not. Call for a double background check for Chinese researchers lest they actually be informants as often happens in the U.S. Countless events and panels discussing the horrors committed by the CCP have been canceled by universities around the world due directly to Chinese pressure. Call for university endowments to divest from China. Finally, call on your school to increase funding for Uyghur/Turkistani studies and to set up scholarships and grants to assist exiled Uyghur students and scholars — their lived experiences are essential to hear, accept, and make sure fewer people have to go through again. 

 It is important to ensure the political and economic independence of academia– without which generations of students will maintain worldviews colored by propaganda and complicit in the oppression of millions. Insist that your school cuts ties with Chinese bodies violating academic freedoms, similar to how Cornell cut ties with a Chinese university. Hold your universities accountable regardless if they are directly complicit in, or just silent on, the human rights abuses China commits. Demand that these important institutions divest from these China and the CCP. 

We have seen large-scale protests across the Muslim world, especially in countries, whose governments have remained silent against the oppression in East Turkistan for fear of Chinese retribution, and hope to see even more people push their governments to pressure the CCP. The shaykh encourages members of the audience to maintain an Islamic guiding moral principle and to act on it. We agree with this wholeheartedly — but we vigorously disagree with his calls to (in)action. Instead of focusing only on ourselves and our individual economic and academic developments, we also hope to fight for the Uyghur and other Turkic people’s ability to do the same — to practice their faith, live without fear of imprisonment, and in a homeland that is formally their own. This is not a hopeless cause– our voices can and must be heard, inshAllah. 

عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ رضي الله عنه قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ إِنْ قَامَتْ عَلَى أَحَدِكُمْ الْقِيَامَةُ وَفِي يَدِهِ فَسْلَةٌ فَلْيَغْرِسْهَا

From Anas Ibn Malik, Allah be pleased with him: The Prophet Muhammad, the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him, said: if the day of judgement is upon you, and in your hand is a seed, plant it. 

Action Items:

  1. Keep making Dua for the oppressed of East Turkistan and the world
  2. Boycott Chinese products– do not be complicit in slave-labour
  3. Raise awareness on the plight of Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause, learn more at SaveUighur.org
  4. Work towards reducing your country’s economic dependence on China
  5. Build alliances with all people of conscience to demand a cessation of China’s oppression of all faith groups, be it Muslim Uyghur, Hui, Christian or Tibetan Buddhist
  6. Encourage and promote fairer trade and commerce with Muslims and others rather than China
  7. Inquire about Uyghur diaspora members in your area. Organize to help out orphans, widows, and students.
  8. Pressure governments to provide legal protection to Uyghur refugees-exiles by either citizenship or refugee-asylee status. Stop the “extradition-repatriation” of Uyghurs to China! 
  9. Get your universities-endowments to divest from China. Raise awareness about Chinese espionage and hired guns in academia. Demand academic and financial support for Uyghur scholars and students. Request more academic attention and funds for Central Asian, Uyghur, Turkistani studies.

Dislclaimer: The authors acknowledge Habib Ali’s willingness to retract his statements, and appreciate his dua for the oppressed Uyghur when faced with rightful criticism. However, the retraction came to our attention towards the very end (on May 12, article published May 14) of writing the piece (a month long process) and despite being a welcome move, does not remove the falsehood of most of his takes. He only corrects the first item from his otherwise totally-problematic takes. After an online correspondence with Uyghur activist Abdulghani Thabit, Habib Ali only corrected his statement number 1 from the longer talk. The three other misleading takes remain and were thus addressed in the piece. The authors tried their best to give all due respect to someone who dons the mantle of ‘scholar’. Our intention is not to attack Habib Ali or any other scholar, rather we seek to use his misleading commentary (corrected albeit in part by the Shaykh later) as a segue into educating the largely ignorant Muslim masses susceptible to Chinese propaganda on Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause.

Here is a condensed Arabic version of this article translated by Imam Abdul Jabbar

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Ramadan

Podcast: Revisiting Women-Only Tarawih | Ustadha Umm Sara

I still remember the first time I heard of a women-only Tarawih congregation. I was about 10 years old and my father had told me that Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (1914–1999), a prominent Indian Hanafi scholar of the past century, had written a book about his mother (d. 1968) who was a hafidha (memorizer of the Quran) and had mentioned she would lead women in Tarawih. Shaykh Nadwi had written:

“What a beautiful era it was when they (his mother and aunts) all would recite one juz each in Tarawih. They would follow the fatwa of some scholars and have their own congregation in which there would be a woman Imam and women followers. Their Tarawih congregation would go on from after Isha till almost Suhoor time. All of them would recite Qur’an very beautifully with impeccable pronunciation. If it’s not disrespectful I would say that they recited better and more accurately than many of today’s scholars. Their heartfelt passion and natural melody would add even more beauty to this. I recall one time I stood for a long time watching my mother recite as she was leading Tarawih. It felt as if rain was descending from the heavens. I still have not forgotten the beauty of that moment.” (Nadwi, 1974).


The full original piece that this podcast is based on may be read here.

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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.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Podcast recorded and produced by Zeba Khan

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

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.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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