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Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Strikes Personal Chord with Loss of Friendship

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By Mona Shadia
Up until about four months ago, I called a pro-Israeli Persian Jew my best friend.

She and I were initially drawn to each other through an appreciation for a commitment to our respective faith — Islam for me and Judaism for her. We saw each other as representatives of the strong, intelligent women we seek and appreciate. We connected through various other life experiences, ones that Middle Eastern women encounter in America, like our struggle with a culture in America that defines beauty differently from our kind of beauty. We connected through a yearning for peace and freedom in the Middle East — Iran for her, Egypt for me, Jews and Muslims for both of us.

We connected through a craving for authentic love, the kind where there’s mutual respect and shared religious connection between a man and a woman. We found a connection through an appreciation for the Middle East’s rich culture, its intoxicating romance, extravagant music, seductive beauty and ancient civilization. We connected through heartbreak.

When it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a subject that would inevitably be discussed considering our respective religions, we found a common ground in wanting peace for both sides, in rejecting injustice and murder. We also felt that the foundation upon which our friendship stood was unshakable by this conflict.
I used part of a column I wrote about life as a Muslim in America for a local newspaper to showcase how through our friendship peace is possible, how peace is the ultimate goal and the ultimate liberator on earth.

Although we didn’t always agree on everything, we provided for each other a safe place to discuss the conflict. She knew I was a supporter of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel as a peaceful measure to pressure it to give Palestinians their freedom, to stop the continued illegal building of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to eliminate the more than 50 Israeli laws that distinguish and discriminate against Palestinians living in Israel.

She knew it all, and when she felt differently about some of my views I always refrained throughout our friendship from challenging her. I did it in the name of compromise, peace, friendship, the bread we broke together and the laughter and tears we shared. I also knew that she struggled to justify the immoral and criminal behavior and policies of Israel, and I didn’t want to make it harder on her.

There were times when I felt a deep sense of guilt for not presenting the Palestinian side more forcefully in our conversations. After all, I openly criticized Arab nations and Muslims for their shortcomings and the destruction of which they’re responsible. How can I not do the same in the face of all injustices?

Things changed when she fell in love with a man who didn’t have the capacity for our kind of intelligent dialogue or debate.

Although I didn’t notice it at first, his tendency to slip a few hateful words here and there against Muslims and Arabs and lash out unexpectedly revealed his character to me overtime.

But the real problem was her attitude also changed. She was less inclined to talk about a solution and always concerned that Israel is being unfairly pointed out.

Then came the day when I posted a Los Angeles Times op-ed that identified Israel as an Apartheid state.

The boyfriend exploded, insulted me, my profession, journalism and journalists and told me that because I have Jewish friends, I should think twice before sharing these sort of articles or holding these beliefs.

There seemed to be no middle ground: To him, I either supported Israel or I was the enemy.

And my friend’s reaction? Silence. The reaction of the rest of our mutual friends, who also support Israel? More silence.

Here was I: someone she had known for years, with whom she had shared friendship, heartbreak, laughter. And there was he: someone she had known for less than a year.

I realized something through her silence, and the rest of the mutual friends’ silence. This silence wasn’t actually about the nature of her relationship with him or her desire to protect it. I realized her actions personified the current culture and attitude of Israel and its supporters: The Israeli culture of hate and vengeance that is unwavering even with the systematic murder and dehumanization of Palestinians. It is a culture that is not interested in prosecuting the mobs of settlers who torment, torture and burn alive Palestinians. A culture celebrated by Knesset members, rabbis and public figures.

And silence is what led that culture to where it is today. Because criticizing Israel and suggesting that its policies and behavior are reminiscent of crimes committed by others throughout history is considered a betrayal, self-hate or equated with hating Jews and being anti-Semite.

Criticizing other countries — like Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Mexico — and taking them to task for their behavior is viewed as an honorable and important cause. Criticizing Israel’s actions are equal to being anti-semitic, anti-Jewish, anti-democratic, immoral.

It was very tormenting for me to walk away from our friendship. She and I would at times talk about the day we’d both be married to our dream husbands and how our kids would grow up together — Muslims and Jews, side by side. But I knew stepping away was the best option for me. She didn’t look back and I wouldn’t allow myself to remain in any sort of a relationship where I wasn’t valued and appreciated.

But even after I stepped completely away from both of them, the hostility on her partner’s part continued. After Israel began its Operation Protective Edge, killing more than 2,000 people, injuring thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands, I received an unsolicited message from him telling me to enjoy the destruction Israel was causing to the Palestinians. He told me to not mess with the Jews, hurtling unspeakable insults about my gender and religion my way.

What I came to understand is this behavior was not the ranting of one crazy man. This for me became a snapshot of the culture and attitude Israel breeds. It’s a snapshot of the Israeli Defence Force soldiers who post celebratory photos of the destruction they do to the Palestinians. It’s a snapshot of the more than 90 percent of Israelis who are supportive of the ground incursion and don’t want a ceasefire. A snapshot of the Israeli leaders who call for revenge and who describe Palestinian children as snakes who should die. It is a snapshot of the chants on Israeli streets of no more schools in Gaza because there are no children left. A snapshot of the attacks and intimidation toward those Israelis and Jews who are speaking out against the occupation and murder of Palestinians. It is a snapshot of how the occupation continues and what has justified the dehumanization of a whole group of people.

This silence is what is keeping this culture alive and thriving. The silence is what brought it to where it is today.

The irony of course is this is exactly how six million Jews were killed: It was due to silence.

Mona Shadia is an Egyptian American writer and journalist living in Southern California

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Amatullah

    September 2, 2014 at 4:00 AM

    So heartbreaking to lose a trusted bestie.. All for a guy with immoral values! Huh.
    May Allah replace her for you with someone even better.

  2. Avatar

    Mow Sow

    September 2, 2014 at 2:44 PM

    Good stuff !! I love the punchline at the end ! But I think it is crucial for people to understand that the media plays a big role in the radicalization of Israeli society and that this radicalization is the tool used by Israeli politicians to accomplish their political gains. Because things did not used to be like that before the right wing wackjobs took power in Israel. Also the settlers movements is another thing that exercise a huge bully power on the government itself.
    So hate has more of a political motive and a land theft tool. The indirect result is the radicalization of the entire society, that takes hate for the sake of hate.. exactly like what the nazi regime did to German people, and everyone followed.
    We need to warn about this phenomena at every occasion .. especially that we see it happening under our own eyes in our own backyard.

  3. Avatar

    Joyce Larsen

    September 2, 2014 at 8:04 PM

    I have heard a quote by someone living in Germany at the time of the horrible crimes committed against the Jews. He said
    “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” – Martin Niemoller-

    As Muslims, we must speak out against all injustice- and this is where Allah (swt) commands us to rise above human tendencies- even if it is against “our” own people…. who we may even love. Silence kills.

  4. Avatar

    Sara

    September 3, 2014 at 1:34 AM

    This was a great post. It is sad to see such issues come between people. Inshallah, if it is good for your akhirah, deen and dunya I hope that eventually your friend will come around. Sometimes friendships need distance and time to become stronger than they were before.

    You said something that is puzzling.

    You said…

    “The Israeli culture of hate and vengeance…It is a culture that is not interested in prosecuting the mobs of settlers who torment, torture and burn alive Palestinians.”

    You make it sound that EVERY Israeli has hate and vengeance in their heart. I don’t deny that from childhood, many (but not all) Israeli’s are taught to hate, and distrust the Palestinians and to see them as the enemy.

    Unfortunately we have that on the Palestinian and Muslim side too. If you ever lived in the Middle East, you will hear many Arabs refer to Jews as pigs or dogs. Even during Friday sermons. I have seen and hear this first hand for many, many years.

    You can even see it in Arab And Iranian media. I have seen cartoons on Iranian State TV which teach kids that Israelis are cunning, liars and so on. You can see them on Youtube if you don’t believe me. that doesn’t mean that Iranians have a culture of hate. It just means that the Iranian government takes part in propaganda just like many governments around the world.

    Alhamdulilah I am a Muslim. And the injustice that is happening to Palestinians is horrific. But I cant deny that this culture of hate (towards Israelis and Jews) exists among Muslims, Iranians and Arabs too.

    What is disappointing here is the author of the article above has with the brush of her pen painted every Israeli as being hateful, when we know that isn’t true.

    How do we feel when people say that “Islam teaches terrorism”?

    Don’t we feel upset and angry?

    Dont we feel frustrated when the news portrays Muslims as “jihadis” and “extremists”?

    We know that Islam teaches only good. And yet, we are judged because of the actions of certain misguided groups.

    And yet what you wrote above is doing the same thing to Israelis.

    This statement “The Israeli culture of hate and vengeance…It is a culture that is not interested in prosecuting the mobs of settlers who torment, torture and burn alive Palestinians.” is essentially creating more hatred and ignorance among us and not conducive towards peace and understanding at all.

    Imagine if i said the following statements

    “The black culture teaches gun violence and gang mentality”

    “The Saudi Arabian culture teaches controlling and abusing women”

    “Islam teaches terrorism”

    Can you see how the racist and ignorant the above statements are?

    We shouldn’t make such black and white statements.

    You also mentioned that Israeli’s have a culture of “silence” towards injustice. That too is not true either.

    Many Israeli’s are vocal about the injustice that their government is committing towards the Palestinians. Many Israeli soldiers defected from the army and refused to serve because of the injustice.

    That is like me saying that American Muslims have a culture of silence because The USA government went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan and killed hundreds of thousands.

    Anyways….let us not do to others, what we dont want done to us.

  5. Avatar

    tut

    September 3, 2014 at 3:01 PM

    More fool you for taking a pro-Israeli as a best friend

  6. Avatar

    Sara

    September 4, 2014 at 1:10 AM

    It seems muslimmatters is censoring comments. I had posted a comment expressing my opinion and it has not been published. My comment had no profanities or anything distasteful.

    • Avatar

      Aly Balagamwala

      September 4, 2014 at 9:45 AM

      Dear Sara

      Your comment had been flagged due to some reason by our filters and was approved by me earlier today. We do censor comments that don’t comply with our Comments Policy but in this case it was just a comment waiting for approval.

      Best Regards
      Aly

      Comments Team Lead

      • Avatar

        Sara

        September 4, 2014 at 5:41 PM

        Jazakallah khair akhee. Does that mean all of my comments will be flagged and not published from now on?

        I wonder if my IP is blocked.

        Allahu Allam

        • Avatar

          Aly Balagamwala

          September 5, 2014 at 8:39 AM

          Was specific to one comment not a regular thing.

          Aly

  7. Avatar

    scorpius

    September 4, 2014 at 10:03 AM

    “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is a chant by Pro-Palestinian protesters

    “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

    Hamas Covenant. So, the Palestinians want to wipe out Israel and the Jews and The majority of Gazans support them through their vote.

    Add to that Hamas using Gazan civilians as human shields. Add to that the Anti-semitic attacks by Palestinians against Jews in many European countries and you begin to see the nature of the Pro-Palestinian crowd: hatred of jews and thirst for vengence.

    When you see the “culture of hate and vengeance that is unwavering even with the systematic murder and dehumanization” you’re not looking at your Zionist friend; you’re looking in a mirror.

    • Avatar

      GregAbdul

      September 5, 2014 at 10:32 AM

      Scorpius you are right but you are typical. You can clearly see the hate and wrong done by the other side. It is your excuse to condemn an entire people and to refuse to see their humanity and for you to refuse to see them as individuals and for you to refuse to see a world where they are given basic human rights. While you paint your side as Lilly white and right. Either you are a white Christians engaged in subtle KKK behavior (some not whites are less than) or you are Jewish and you, like many in Israel are showing signs of Stockholm Syndrome.

  8. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    September 4, 2014 at 12:11 PM

    I thank Muslim Matters for being such a well-run, informative website. Palestine is really so much on my mind. I am black American. As such, I constantly deal with questions of identity and authenticity, of what it means to be truly Muslim black and American in America in 2014 and beyond. I love Jews, but I am not on the side of the Israeli government when it comes to the Palestinians. I see the fundamentals of a powerful Muslim Jewish alliance. We are both high-achieving minorities.
    What separates us Israel. What I am tired of is that when I try to talk to non-Muslims, they assume a basic part of my religion is hating Jews. I just read a Muslim magazine. Sami al Arian this and Gaza that…. We spend so much energy talking politics under the guise of standing up to oppressors, that we end up misleading the entire West about what are supposed to be our core beliefs. There is a hadeeth where a companion says, if someone were to put a blade to his throat, he would recite the Kalimah to that person. I am wrong for not giving the source so please call me out if I am spreading falsehood. I am trying to be brief.
    Our first obligation is to make the world know that we believe God is One. He has no partners. God is not in need of any special trick in order to forgive His creation. His only demand is that we NEVER associate any thing or person with Him and His majesty. This is the message of Muhammad. This the message we are supposed to carry forth with our very lives.
    I am not supposed to die over Palestine, just because Muslims are there. The Jews will never allow a full Palestinian state. In America, the Native Americans were pushed into reservations and they died by the millions. This the equivalent of the Muslim demands for a two state solution. Why, when you know the people you are dealing with will never fairly divide the resources of the region, would you insist on a line where they have resources you have no say over?
    In the West (I am a Western Muslim) in America, the power lies with the vote and the goal is always the vote. This is how we fight the oppression: with sound arguments based in democratic traditions combined with the vote. This is why I am dumbfounded. The obvious solution and goal for the Palestinians is FULL Israeli citizenship. If the Palestinians demanding Israeli citizenship it will force America to back away from Israel and once the argument is successful, it will gives Palestinians an equal political say in the region’s resources. It saddens me that we have let this issue define us as Muslims.
    Hamas should not set the agenda for Muslims living in America. In the West our obstacles are clear. We should be about freedom of worship, free from discrimination and dispersing the truth given to us by God through His Prophet. This is my uniformed opinion. I thank Allah for making me Muslim. I love all the Muslims in the world because of Allah’s blessing, but I am confused at how we don’t understand mass communication and long-term ideological stands the way Allah blessed our Prophet to understand them.

    Allah is the Most High. Peace and blessings be upon the messenger of Allah.

    • Avatar

      scorpius

      September 4, 2014 at 9:39 PM

      Full Israeli citizenship for Palestinians is a good, workable idea if this were 10 years ago. But in the interim the people of Gaza elected Hamas with all their racist and genocidal ramblings. Now the people of Israel can’t afford to let those same people vote.

      • Avatar

        GregAbdul

        September 5, 2014 at 10:14 AM

        People make stupid votes. That’s a part of democracy. The hope of democracy is that after the people make stupid votes, they get to see the results and make smarter votes as they move forward. The Palestinians need a lot of development, but they only have one path and their mistakes are not an excuse to ban them from the equality that is due to all people, regardless of religion or race.

      • Avatar

        Sara

        September 6, 2014 at 3:18 AM

        Hamas are resistant fighters. How much land has israel stolen? How many lives has israel taken?

        Did you really expect the people of palestine to just sit back and take it?

        The french had resistance fighters to combat the cruelty of king louis. South africa had resistance fighters to fight the racist apartheid regime.

        Israel is reaping what it has sowed all these years

    • Avatar

      Iman

      September 12, 2014 at 2:29 PM

      well said. let’s leave aside politics and focus on God and the mission at hand. pray globally, dawah locally.

  9. Avatar

    Iman

    September 12, 2014 at 11:47 AM

    honestly, i don’t think the choice the author made to see her friend’s reaction as a manifestation of a particularly israeli trait (being silent about current wrongs) is entirely correct. it’s understandable, and useful to talk about a larger issue, but i really think she just took the position she did to keep her boyfriend and not lose him, and to accommodate his needs in a way many women do, for the sake of the same harmony you talk about – harmony in their relationship with a man they love. she did not participate in insulting you, and she did not want to come out against her man, so she took the middle road: silence. i can understand and sympathize and i think you as her friend should as well. she wants to get married- just like you talk about – do you want her to sacrifice her possible marriage for you?

  10. Pingback: PALESTINIAN-ISRAELI CONFLICT STRIKES PERSONAL CHORD WITH LOSS OF FRIENDSHIP | PASS THE KNOWLEDGE (LIGHT & LIFE)

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    L Glaser

    January 9, 2015 at 9:10 AM

    I find it funny, when a comment support the author, Mona Shadia, a thumbs down response is ignored and only thumbs up ratings are registered. When the comment is not supportive of the author, any rating works. Very biased website.
    As for content, Mona is certainly entitled to her opinion, but her viewpoints are similar to the man she attacks, i.e. ALL Palestinians or ALL Israelis are evil.

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The Unexpected Blessings of Being Alone

Juli Herman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believe it Or Not, We Are All Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, Isn’t Being Alone Bad?

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

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

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

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

Being Alone Has Its Own Perks

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

We Come Alone, Leave Alone, Meet Allah Alone

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

Open grave

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

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

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

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israel, occupied Palestine

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

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

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

1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens

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

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

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

2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower

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

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

3)  Military aid and complicity of tax-payers

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

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

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

4) The Israeli lobby

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

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

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

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

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

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This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible

Who Accounts For This Pillar of Islam

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Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji

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

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

No, it’s not ikhtilaf

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

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

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

Show Your Work

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

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

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

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

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

Bubble Charity

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

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

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

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

Dawa is the new Jihad

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

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

No Standards or Accountability

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

The Shift to Meaninglessness

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

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

Footnotes:

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

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