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#NeverForget: My Son’s 9/11 Homework Project | Remembering What They Want Us to Forget

Hena Zuberi

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Yesterday my son brought home a school project on 9/11 and he couldn’t understand why I snapped at him—’#NeverForget‘ is not just a slogan. Today I apologized to him for not giving him an interview about where I was and what are my worst memories of the day, and what exactly happened on 9/11. He said, “It’s okay, Mama. My sisters told me your about friend, Rahma.”

I haven’t spoken to my boys about her or even about what happened that horrific day in detail; it’s so much harder explaining it to a boy, especially a boy who will grow up be a brown man in this country; a brown, bearded man. One who I want to raise knowing Justice and Peace. #raisingMuslimmen

We lost Rahma on 9/11 en route to Los Angeles on Flight 11. She was going to be a mother. I hadn’t seen her since her engagement as I had left the US. After coming back, I had taken time for granted—marriage, motherhood, you think you have all the time in the world to catch up. But you don’t. ‘By Time, Indeed mankind is in loss’, Quran 103:1-2

I hate having to remind people of her death, but #everylifematters and her life mattered. Maybe her life doesn’t fit into the narrative because she was a Sri Lankan/Japanese Muslim, her husband Micky —a Greek convert to Islam, and their unborn baby, an American, who would have been the same age as my Zayni this year. 13.

Love you Rahma! God took you and gave you a maqam (a status) that we can only pray for. Girl, ask about me if you don’t see me there. Jannah, InshaAllah.

The memories of all the hundreds of thousands of people who have died on and after 9/11: here in the US, in Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, is something we will never forget, even if we try to.

How do I explain to my son what this world has become after 9/11, with the creation of more terror, more death and destruction.

Maybe one of the questions in that school interview project should have been: How many loved ones have you lost in a terrorist attack?

6.

Umm… I should say 7.

Yesterday, my cousin Amna passed away. They say she had leukemia for the past 6 months, but I think she died of a broken heart, a terrorized heart. Her body was not making healthy blood cells. Would yours, if your soul had been ripped apart? She was raising 3 boys: Abdullah, Hamza, Hafeez. She raised a Muslim man, Abdullah. A bright, beautiful, brown man-16 he was. Completed his memorization of the Quran.

‘He was glowing [that day as he left for Jummah], so I took a photo of him on my phone,” she said sharing a rare photo of his, something that she rarely did in this age of selfies. He walked his grandfather, his ‘buddy’, my uncle who dropped gems of wisdom with classic snark, to the Parade Lane masjid in Rawalpindi Saddar, in the officer’s residential colony,  to pray Jummah. Early so they could be in the first row, near the imam. They never came back. Death by suicide bomb attack.

Martyred. Allah must really want them in Heaven, my nephew and uncle, the suicide bombers not so much, son. …Despite what the Islamophobes try to sell you and extremists try to tell them about the 72 virgins.

‘The attack definitely had an anti-military angle to wreak vengeance against military personnel for not stopping the US drone (pilotless planes) strikes in the area,’ said analysts.

I am worried about Hamza and Hafeez, they needed a mother’s love to nurse the pain of losing their brother to radicals. They needed their grandfather’s wisdom to bear the loss of their mother. Ya Allah, watch over them.

But they have their father, Col. Kaleem Zuberi, and Mamu sahab (Uncle) and Mami sahab (Aunt) raised a fine Muslim man. He balances his Deen (religion) and his Dunya (world) like very few. Amna Baji and Kaleem Bhai were one of those couples that were totally in tune with each other. Both of them are my cousins and I grieve for his loss, his sweet love, but sometimes mothers ask Allah for some strange things and after 5 years, Amna Baji is with her Abdullah.

I grieve for him, and her and Rahma, and those who died innocently in the Twin towers,those died to help them ie Salman Hamdani, a first responder and for Nabila’s grandmother. The 9-year-old who came to testify to our Senate about her grandmother, who was shattered to death on Eid day by a US drone and countless others.

I also grieve for the young men who are used as suicide bombers and the families they leave behind: what horrific circumstances crushed their youthful spirits? What propaganda brainwashed their dreams? Who used their youthful brown bodies for what gain? What injustices made them break the sanctity of a masjid on a Friday? How devalued were their lives for them to devalue other lives? Where were their mothers?

Coming back to my son, how do I tell him about Rahma, without telling him about Abdullah? It’s all connected. How do I explain to my American son of Pakistani origin that his cousin was killed because Uncle Kaleem is an army man who works to protect the land where my mother lives, by groups who are “against those officers and ministers who are American by hearts and minds and Pakistani just by faces.”

It’s so complicated, dear 4th grade teacher, this project of yours.

What do I want him to remember about 9/11? Let’s see.

After 9/11 terrorist attacks have doubled in Pakistan; since the War on Terror started over 35,000, 49,000 people have been killed in Pakistan, 24,000 by terrorist attacks in 2001-2008.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organizationreports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 childre

Nicolas J. S. Davies writes on Alternet: The U.S. dropped 17,500 bombs during its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. It conducted 29,200 air strikes during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. U.S. air forces conducted at least another 3,900 air strikes in Iraq over the next eight years, before the Iraqi government finally negotiated the withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces. But that pales next to at least 38,100 U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan since 2002, a country already occupied by U.S. and NATO forces, with a government pledged by its U.S. overlords to bring peace and justice to its people.

The Obama administration is responsible for at least 18,274 air strikes in Afghanistan since 2009, including at least 1,160 by pilotless drones. The U.S. conducted at least 116 air strikes in Iraq in 2009 and about 1,460 of NATO’s 7,700 strikes in Libya in 2011. While the U.S. military does not publish figures on “secret” air and drone strikes in other countries, press reports detail a five-fold increase over Bush’s second term, with at least 303 strikes in Pakistan125 in Yemen and 16 in Somalia.

And now we have ISIS, luring our young men and women into radicalization, and drums are starting to beat for another war, luring our young men and women into combat. Brown bodies on both front lines.

It’s a long story, my son. Never Forget.

Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of Muslimmatters.org. She is also a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. She serves on the board of the Aafia Foundation and Words Heal, Inc. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. A mom of four and a Green Muslim, she lives and preaches a whole food, organic life which she believes is closest to Sunnah. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. hena.z@muslimmatters.org Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.

30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Avatar

    John Howard

    September 11, 2014 at 7:20 PM

    Can I make a couple of observations here? The comment about brown people keeps being an underlining theme throughout her discourse. Why is that? It is a delination between the “whites “and the “browns”. Nowhere does she mention the fact that there in the US they are all supposed to be all Americans but I sense a stong separation in her mind between the two colours. In fact she does not recognise that she is an American. She seems ro me that she defines herself as a brown person but nowhere as an American. Does she feel she is an American? I wonder?
    Because you see the one over riding factor that is still THE concern in the west is are you Americans/British/Western first or will you always support the Ummah over the countries that give you protection, sustenance, security and freedom. It doesn’t go away no matter how you may hope it does. Loyalty to the state is a paramount bastion of why there are nations We may not agree with all the actions of the government at the time but all of us are expected to be loyal to the country and the people of the country NOT to an outside group. If we dislike or even hate actions of governments then we have the process of voting them out which is the greatest act that we have.
    I do expect to be shouted down here but as a non muslim but these are the factors that arise in conversation among us “kuffars”. I know muslims keep saying they shouldn’t have to prove their loyalty but the reality is you do. It is perhaps unfair and for the vast majority of you it is true but the acts done in your religion’s name is what we see and in many cases the deafening silence from moderate muslims

    • Avatar

      ZAI

      September 12, 2014 at 5:27 PM

      Mr. John Howard,
      My brother in humanity….I often agree with you and you make a lot of valid
      points regarding Islam, Muslims or the false dichotomy of civilizational conflict
      a lot of extremists from all sides engage in. You’re really off the mark here tho
      brother.

      Author has not stated or even hinted at any kind of segregation from the national
      mainstream, let alone disloyalty, pan-Islamism or disdain for non-Muslims.
      If anything she is pointing out the REALITY that many Muslims happen to be
      “brown” and are based on that stereotype and many others, sometimes
      singled out for abuse. I don’t know if you live in the United States, but skin color
      playing a part in acts of abuse is very common. Sikhs, who aren’t even Muslim,
      have been targeted for acts of violence based on ignorant stupid stereotypes and
      I’d be surprised if anyone need to even be presented with evidence of what
      African Americans go through on a daily basis. Refer to the recent incident in
      Ferguson, MO if you do need an example though.

      Sister is expressing regret that her son, who is “brown” skinned and might have a
      beard, will unfortunately be subjected to stereotypes and abuse for a crime
      that he didn’t commit nor will ever support. Based on ignorance, assumptions
      of collective guilt and ridiculous stereotypes.The question is not only if WE
      see ourselves as citizens and part of the western societies in which we live, but
      ALSO if others see us that way as individuals. Sorry man, but many don’t. Her
      point is valid and stands.

      • Avatar

        John Howard

        September 12, 2014 at 10:25 PM

        Thank you for your comments. As I expected I have received a lot of negatives but you are looking from a muslim perspective as i look at it from a non muslim one. Whether you like it or not you as a majority have to understand that there is a very strong feeling or perception of mistrust towards the followers of your religion. Every day we see on our news media showing the excesses of islam in Syria Nigeria Libya etc. Now you can claim that this is all one perspective that is anti islam but the facts are these excesses are not anti bias but reality.
        The over riding fear in non muslims is you do not believe as a true muslim in democracy it is not part of your core belief in your faith. You do not as a true muslim believe in the separation of powers between faith and state.
        The state is not perfect but is the glue that allows all people of all colours faiths and beliefs to live together in a more or less harmonious manner. A religious state by its very concept cannot do that because regardless of what faith is in power it will always discriminate against minorities. It will demand that the overiding laws are based on the one criteria – theirs. We in the west have spent centuries in blood and gold to get to the level that we have today. You would have to agree that living in the west is a far better prospect for everyone than that in muslim countries why else have tens of millions of millions of you have fled here?
        The basic tenet that we ask for ALL migrants and citizens is a respect for that acceptance of the the core values that we espouse. We want no we demand that equality must be in all aspects from religion to colour and colour is the easiest one to understand because it is the easiest to see and discriminate against. Western countries have bent over backwards in the last 40 years or so to rise above this discrimination. We have enacted laws to make this a crime and more so a hate crime. We try to teach our children and ourselves to see past the colour of a person’s skin and see the person. I really don’t believe that this woman has arrived at this . There is still the underlying belief that you are the victims and frankly it has become not only tiring but really irritating in the extreme. After 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in London there were racial acts against muslims but taken in the context of what happened it was very very mild. Compare the number of killings of mulsims in the US and the UK for these outrages to the deaths and riots in the middle east over the burning of the quran. The fact is the west has acted with amazing restraint towards its muslim citizens. yes you have have been spied on and your privacy invaded but let us be fair the acts by members of your faith were hardly mild.
        I am British and proudly so. I accept people regardless of their colour and I am trying to accept and understand your faith even though I have received a lot of discrimination from the followers of islam. While you continue to believe you are the victims you will continue to be treated not only as the usual suspects but also as the enemy. We have empowered you with protection from our extremists we now expect you to return the same favour.
        Here in Britain we have had more people join the jihadists in Syria than have joined the British Army. Can you see why we have this distrust ? Both here and the US there has been very strong efforts to unite you with us but again this lady and so many of you choose to differentiate yourselves from the rest of us.
        I don’t know if the basic tenet of your religion and state are one can be surmounted but if we are to live in peace and some harmony then it has to be faced and you as a minority and that is what you are will have to come to a compromise. And the start can be with and you will excuse my language the bullshit regarding colour as the start.

      • Avatar

        ZAI

        September 13, 2014 at 7:01 AM

        Mr Howard,
        We are speaking here about the authors concerns over racism-colorism affecting innocent Muslims, including possibly her son. If you want to talk about separation of church and state, the need for Muslims to accept it’s non-negotiability in the West, as well as certain non-negotiables such as freedom of speech, gender equity, etc. in the West…those are different subjects. In fact I’d probably agree with your sentiments more than I would the stances of many theocratic or politically orientated Muslims.

        She has made no wrong point simply bringing up the pertinent issue of racial stereotyping though. The fact that it isn’t mandated by law or that it is an exception rather than the norm doesn’t mean it isn’t a factor at all and that she shouldn’t worry whatsoever. Again, please refer to the recent case of police brutality in Ferguson, MO or google what African Americans call “the talk” that all African American parents must give their male children on dealing with government authority. It is disingenuous sir, to ask all minorities to bury those concerns or be quiet about them simply because it isn’t the official law of the land or not something done by the majority. She has a right to that sentiment as a practical reality…not because she’s playing the victim card as it were. A concern isn’t a condemnation of the whole sir.

        Not being an American, perhaps you don’t fully understand the depth of racism’s entrenchment in many segments of this society. This is a nation sir, where NRA supporters, bigots, militarists, and conspiracy nuts have held rallies declaring our president to be a traitor, foreign born, socialist “Hitler” and are still demanding to see his birth certificate…and that’s the PRESIDENT, let alone Muslims, Sikhs or whomever. I don’t know what the dynamics are in England…based on what little I know I’d most likely agree with you that there is a serious problem in the Muslim community there that is completely disproportionate to their demographic numbers.It is disconcerting to read how many British Muslims have supported or even joined ISIS compared to countries like the US, Germany or France where the Muslim population is much higher. I don’t know what the reasons for this are and wouldn’t conjecture. Maybe you can enlighten me.

        In any case, you cannot gauge the loyalties of entire populations sir, especially living in a free society. I am sure many white British folk have also opposed British military policy and not joined the British armed forces. That is hardly a gauge of loyalty to citizenship in a free democracy that has a professional army. There ARE many Muslims serving in the American armed forces by the way. The question is whether Muslims support certain non-negotiable like separation of church and state and freedom of speech, and whether they support the civil-democratic process and institutions. I’m sure that’d be a great discussion, so would be glad to have it. For the purposes of this article though, I see nothing wrong in what the author said.

      • Avatar

        M. Mahmud

        September 14, 2014 at 1:11 PM

        Greetings John Howard

        “The over riding fear in non muslims is you do not believe as a true muslim in democracy it is not part of your core belief in your faith. You do not as a true muslim believe in the separation of powers between faith and state.”

        Muslims do not believe any other legislative system except that which is imposed by Allah is acceptable. There is no such thing as separation of church and state. Those who call to such are disbelievers whether they claim they are Muslims or not.

        Even as early as the time of an-Nabi (sallahualayhiwasalam) a man was executed by Umar RA after he sought a judgement other than Allah’s.The first leader after the death of an-Nabi sallahualayhiwasalam is Abu Bakr RA and he literally fought and killed the people who refused to pay the religiously mandated tax known as zakat. And the consensus of the companions of the Prophet sallahualayhiwasalam and that of the scholars of this nation is that an open apostate is to be executed. That clearly isn’t anything of the separation of masjid and state you’d prefer. History speaks quite clearly on this matter.

        Perhaps you should consider if you are fearing the wrong thing. Perhaps secularism really isn’t the best idea? Consider that.

        • Avatar

          John Howard

          September 16, 2014 at 9:07 AM

          All I can hope for then is that you are a very tiny minority because what you are advocating is confirming that we non believers fear most . If as you say that muslims to be true muslims must stand by Islamic law over man made law then how can you live in OUR societies and expect to be trusted or accepted? What this portends for the future between your culture bodes ill for peaceful relations between us

      • Avatar

        M. Mahmud

        September 17, 2014 at 5:56 PM

        “All I can hope for then is that you are a very tiny minority because what you are advocating is confirming that we non believers fear most . If as you say that muslims to be true muslims must stand by Islamic law over man made law then how can you live in OUR societies and expect to be trusted or accepted? What this portends for the future between your culture bodes ill for peaceful relations between us”

        Hope is a thing with feathers and while this bird is perched on your shoulder it will soon, whenever Allah wills, fly away. Because as more Muslims become aware of their religion, in tandem they will also reject man made laws because they are commanded to by their Lord. You can invade Muslim countries, you can keep Muslims uneducated and you and strive to cause failure to Allah’s religion but no matter what your efforts are their will always be Muslims who will follow the path of their earliest predecessors, the companions of an-Nabi sallahualayhiwasalam and struggle to establish Allah’s religion on the earth even though the disbelievers may hate it.

        I advise you to stop dreading this inevitable outcome and consider for a moment that perhaps you are on the wrong side of history.

        • Avatar

          Aly Balagamwala

          September 18, 2014 at 1:41 AM

          This thread is drifting too far from the subject matter of this post so consider further comments on this thread closed.

          Best Regards
          Aly

          CommentsTeam Lead

    • Avatar

      Hena Zuberi

      September 12, 2014 at 10:53 PM

      Hi john this was written by me a few years ago. Hope it answers a few of your questions.
      http://muslimmatters.org/2011/09/14/home-is-where-the-heart-is-an-american-muslim-mourns-on-911-2/

      • Avatar

        John Howard

        September 12, 2014 at 11:59 PM

        I am very pleased to read what you wrote previously . Please read my second missive regarding my concerns as well. The core issue as I said is still the demarkation between the state and the faith This is an issue that continues to be skirted around. Faith and state MUST be separate There can be no argument on this issue. As I said in my last post a secular state is the glue that holds ALL types together as a state/nation / society. No where in history has there been a religious state that could hold such a diversity of people fairly and equally Some may claim they did but only on the terms that were agregious to minorities in many ways. I do not doubt your love for the US but and this is the but do you love muslims (your umah) above the country that gives you that security and all the other atributes you want and accept. ?

  2. Avatar

    Abu Abdillah

    September 11, 2014 at 9:26 PM

    Wow, the color of your loved ones’ skin seems more a focal point than anything in spite of Allah’s statement: “Verily the most noble of you with Allah are the most pious.” However, these it days Islam is becoming viewed an ethnicity as opposed to a religion so I shouldn’t be surprised.

    • Avatar

      A. F. Colak

      September 11, 2014 at 10:01 PM

      Your comment is idiotic, absurd, quite pointless and insensitive. Her mentioning the color of her son’s skin has nothing to do with her own views concerning skin color, nor any sort of association that she makes with skin color. Instead, it has to do with the fact that most Americans associate the looks of a person from the subcontinent, with terrorism, and many people, in her sons life will probably try to blame him for the atrocities committed on that day. What she is worried about is how she can prepare her son against the prejudices that he will face because of that skin color. How you can see some sort of relationship between the ayah you quoted and what was written in the article is beyond me.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      September 12, 2014 at 11:15 AM

      Dear Brother in Islam,
      Please read poetry. If you haven’t read something poetic recently, pick up a book of verse. Not every written word is literal, there are often multiple layers of meaning.

      • Avatar

        Abu Abdillah

        September 12, 2014 at 12:38 PM

        So what is the metaphoric meaning of brown skin? And, I have studied both English and Arabic–pre-Islamic and Islamic–poetry as well as other forms of literature and have yet to come across a phrase so blatantly literal that it is nevertheless somehow figurative.

  3. Avatar

    nadia

    September 12, 2014 at 2:37 AM

    I too as a muslim thought it was strange how the word brown kept coming up. But apart from that any muslim is muslim first no matter what, it unites humanity whichever country you are from. That is exactly the point. God is a higher authority than any state. And I never label “the west” as “kuffar” as it means people who have after knowing Islam is the truth, reject it. I don’t know about anyone else but I think only Allah, the knower of the hearts, can make that call.

    • Avatar

      GC

      September 12, 2014 at 6:16 PM

      Rejection of Islam does not make one a kuffir.

      Rejection of God’s message to humanity is what makes one kuffir(or rejection of God period)

      • Avatar

        M. Mahmud

        September 13, 2014 at 6:16 PM

        As for 9/11-ALL innocent victims will be given their full dues on yawm al Qiyamah. The people who are going to Jahannam who were wronged in this life will get their full dues and the people who are going to Paradise who were wronged in this life will get their full dues. Everything will be dealt with to the extent that the case of animals will be settled.

        We Muslims should not be afraid of those who blame Islam for the injustices and transgressions of criminal Muslims. Rather, anyone bringing this up to us has given us a dawah opportunity. I think this is what we are forgetting more than anything. WHY, WHY, is it always a means of self defense? We say, “hey, you committed atrocities too!” We say, “yes, deviated Muslims committed these acts but you cannot blame our faith!” Lets use this as an opportunity to remind them of the day we will meet Allah.

        GC-Islam IS God’s message to humanity and the consensus not just of the scholars but of all of the Sahaba RA is that anyone rejecting Islam is a kaffir. There’s narrations on how the Sahaba RA labelled disbelievers as kuffar and even went as far as declaring dead disbelievers(not just Firaun, Abu Lahab and those specifically mentioned in the Quran as going to hell) as companions of the fire. This is the way of the Sahaba RA. No amount of dislikes is going to change that. We are close to the hour so why not adopt their method of speech instead of that which seems convenient now? an-Nabi sallahualayhiwasalam was both a mercy to non believers and a warner of severe punishment. We are following his sunnah until the day of standing which is ever coming close-why not aim for his example of balance in this matter?

        • Avatar

          GC

          September 16, 2014 at 8:07 AM

          “people of the Book” are not kuffar. Some are astray and some transgress, but even so, some of them will be pardoned by God on Judgment Day and enter into Jannah because they knew no better in this life.

          In order for one to reject Islam, they must fully understand the message within the Quran. A general acknowledgement of Islam and thus rejecting it because one is Christian or Jewish will not necessarily land one in hell for all or eternity.

          They worship the same God as we do, but they have been corrupted and lost their way.

          It is entirely up to Allah if they should reside in hell(for a period of time)or be granted Jannah.

          Our books(of deeds) and intercession of our prophet(should need be) will be heavy factors determining our fate upon Judgment Day.

          Rejection of God and the judgment in the hereafter is the appropriate term “kuffar” for those without faith.

          This is my opinion from my studies as a Muslim and to what Allah tells us through the message within the Quran

    • Avatar

      M. Mahmud

      September 12, 2014 at 10:04 PM

      Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh sister

      One small correction-kafir doesn’t just refer to someone who knows Islam is the truth and rejects it, it also refers to those who reject Islam after it comes to them whether they simply don’t believe Islam is the truth or they believe the truth lies somewhere else. They are all disbelievers. For example, a Christian could hear of Islam and still believe an-Nabi sallahualayhiwalam was a liar and that his pastor is telling the truth and he is still a kaffir because of his association with Allah and rejecting the final Messenger sallahualayhiwasalam to all of humanity even after Islam came to him.

      Secondly, this attitude of “we won’t label them kuffar” has absolutely no basis in the Sunnah of an-Nabi sallahualayhiwasalam and Sahabah RA who did call disbelievers kuffar and even went as far as saying their dead will be in the fire. So while I understand this non judgemental attitude of yours well intentioned, it has no basis in the guidance sent down to us. I can cite a plethora of examples on the top of my head from ayat, ahadith, and so on.

      “But apart from that any muslim is muslim first no matter what, it unites humanity whichever country you are from. That is exactly the point. God is a higher authority than any state. ”

      I agree completely sister. Blood is thicker than water and deen is tighter than blood. We have a universal connection that transcends time and space. The people who followed Nuh alayhisalam are as much our brothers and sisters as any Muslim alive today.

  4. Avatar

    Nasir Hussain

    September 12, 2014 at 6:37 AM

    People always have to look at things literally. Perhaps we should firstly thank the writer for such a thought provoking article and may Allah grant all the innocent Muslims the highest of Jannah.

  5. Avatar

    Aisha

    September 12, 2014 at 9:14 AM

    Her son will grow up as a brown bearded man? So you have decided for him that he will keep a beard? I found that strange.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      September 12, 2014 at 10:59 AM

      ‎No :) I didn’t decide that my son will keep a beard. I am teaching him to love & emulate the Prophet ﷺ. May Allah grant him this sunnah.

      Thank you for reading.

  6. Avatar

    Samira Khan

    September 12, 2014 at 11:11 AM

    I graduated with Rahma from Wellesley and also have many vivid memories of her. I was fortunate to be in the same dorm as her senior year and we often ate and laughed together. I also remember being formally introduced to Micky. Subhan’Allah, there is a certain kind of ache and pain that constantly stays with you when a friend the same age as you dies so suddenly. I think it is a reminder of the temporal nature of life in this dunya. In the end, we just miss our friend and pray to be reunited one day iA. Alhamdo lilla, we only die once and sometimes I think we should feel more remorse for ourselves and how we are living than the remorse we feel for some who have passed on. We also must always remind ourselves to be content with Allah’s decrees, for He is the best of planners. Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Raaji’oon.

    • Hena Zuberi

      Hena Zuberi

      September 12, 2014 at 11:19 AM

      Samira Khan…. ISI? SubhanAllah.

  7. Avatar

    snoozer

    September 12, 2014 at 1:45 PM

    I spoke about this blogs fixation on brown and white skin on the topic about Middle Eastern liquor store owners in Ferguson. This skin fixation is a product of Americanizing (specifically something African Americans are doing here) of Islam, it has nothing to do with traditional Islam, but a product of American/Western liberal indoctrination. Its basic goal is to make white people feel guilty for stuff they never did, and makes the brown people think they are perfect and worthy of worship. It is bizarre, and blacks aren’t the only ones guilty, a lot of first generation Muslims have fallen prey to it.

  8. Pingback: NEVER FORGET: MY SON’S 9/11 HOMEWORK PROJECT – REMEMBERING WHAT THEY WANT US TO FORGET | PASS THE KNOWLEDGE (LIGHT & LIFE)

    • Avatar

      ZAI

      September 13, 2014 at 7:13 AM

      “his cousin was killed because Uncle Kaleem is an army man who works to protect the land where my mother lives, by groups who are “against those officers and ministers who are American by hearts and minds and Pakistani just by faces.”

      There is the question though, of why that same army is SUPPORTING that thinking when it comes to neighboring states? Until the Pakistani army changes it’s calculation, or is FORCED to by the Pakistani population, that terrorism is wrong in Pakistan but ok as a “security” policy to secure national interest in neighboring countries…many more will be victims and many more fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents and children will mourn. It is insanity to think these fanatics can be utilized abroad, but the land of origin will stay safe from the fires they start.

  9. Avatar

    Saf

    September 16, 2014 at 1:40 PM

    Brother Zai, simple post but to the point. Its the same hypocrisy that all are pointing out.That the Gulf countries practice entrenched racism against non Arabs,and there is hardly any protest against the arabs.They do not even have labor laws that grant equality and safety, and are practicing modern slavery.Immigrants on a work visa have to surrender their passports ! They do not have a concept of citizenship for non-emiratis or non-saudis.Dubai, btw,has the largest concentration of forced prostitutes in 1 single Asian city !
    How many muslim bodies have raised even a small revolt or an NGO to combat this systematic discrimination, which is anathema to Islam? But its the v same Arabs who scream ‘racism’,’islamophobia’ here in the west.How much respect to other religions have in arab countries? The poisonous discourse against coptics is very well known, let alone how ahmadis,sikh,hindus and shias are targeted for killing or their women kidnapped for forced conversions in Pakistan.
    What is food for the goose, becomes food for the gander perhaps ?
    Sister Henna Zuberi’s article is praise worthy that she showed 2 sides, that nobody is exactly right and everybody is somewhere wrong. That muslims follow muslims more and less of Islam today, that their collective goodness of heart is lost. Righteousness is individual after all so it alone is not enough to create a just world.

  10. Avatar

    Bint Yususf

    September 17, 2014 at 7:24 PM

    Jazakillah khayr sister, a thought provoking article.

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#Current Affairs

Questions About My Political Activism | Imam Omar Suleiman

Imam Omar Suleiman

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Imam Omar Suleiman activism

Bismillah Al Rahman Al Raheem,

I thank Allah for the blessing of in person interactions. The simple joy of meeting your brother and sister in the Masjid with a smile and salaam that removes the shaytan from our hearts. The ability to ask questions clearly and immediately bury hatchets (which some forgo for destructive emails and WhatsApp threads even with their neighbors). I’m blessed to live in the incredible Valley Ranch Islamic Center community where I serve as Resident Scholar in a voluntary capacity. Members of my Masjid and the Dallas community can approach me and ask me anything about something I’ve said or something being said about me, and we walk away as brothers and sisters. I had the same blessing in New Orleans where I served as full-time Imam for 6 years. And I am blessed to meet people around the country and around the world that I love for Allah. Those are lifelong bonds that I pray continue in the hereafter under Allah’s shade. 

I also thank Allah for the online world that allows people to connect in good when otherwise they would not have been able to benefit. Without social media and expanding ways of technology, good content and avenues for charity would be far more limited. I’m grateful for all of you that have connected with me and prayed for me over the years. I don’t want to take away from any of that. With that being said, the online world does of course have its pitfalls. There can be a lack of mercy and husn al dhann (good assumptions) with one another, and widespread gossip and slander. It’s also uniquely destructive to those who garner large followings even due to good reasons. It’s very easy to praise someone you only know through videos and pictures, as it is to tear them down. Allah has tested some of us with fame through this machine, and it is a mighty test. I pray that Allah allows all of the people that I’ve been blessed to benefit in this world to be witnesses for me on the day of judgment, and that He not shame me or raise me amongst the hypocrites who didn’t practice what they preached. 

As the great sage Imam Ibn Al Jawzee (ra) said, “Know that if people are impressed with you, in reality they are impressed with the beauty of Allah’s covering of your sins.” It is very easy to deceive and be deceived through a screen. I pray that Allah allow any unjust critiques that I receive to be an expiation for all the undue praise I receive. People are usually imbalanced in their love and hate. The test is whether that love stops you from correcting your brother when he is wrong, or that hate that causes you to swerve from justice.

With that introduction, I’d like to address questions about my political positions and affiliations. Why? Because I do believe in accountability and transparency. Deceptive voices should be ignored, concerned ones shouldn’t. Certainly, there are falsehoods and hit pieces that often are disguised as legitimate critiques. But there are also legitimate critiques and/or requests for clarification. Over the past several years, I have had both types forwarded to me. I am not concerned with those who use deception to falsely portray me or my work. I am concerned about those who genuinely have questions, and don’t have them answered. I have sought to clarify my own political positions through my work on numerous occasions such as here, here, and here. I will quote some of that content here. But I hope this will be a thorough article that can be referenced any time in the future when questions about who I am and what I represent are brought up. Moreover, I hope it can be a conversation starter about what types of political frameworks are actually beneficial to the community.

The Foundation and Legitimate Differences

I believe that the Quran and Sunnah should be the foundation for everything that we do, public and private. That means never exceeding their boundaries, and also manifesting their calls. Many people forget the latter, and only focus on the former. If the only time the Quran and Sunnah are invoked in discussions of activism and justice is to shut down something deemed illegitimate or impermissible, we suggest that our divine sources have stagnated and are unable to converse with the world around us today. I believe in amplifying the beautiful solutions from our religion to confront the ugly realities of the climate around us. The Deen is rich and beautiful. The Seerah is an incredible guide to everything in life. Through Yaqeen Institute, I had the blessing of doing the 40 on justice series that spanned for over a year and a half where I hoped to articulate a Sunnah-lens to the issues around us. My goal is to now develop that into a book. I believe the person and message of the Prophet (saw) speaks to us as clearly now as it did in the year 620, and that everything we do should be in accordance with it.

There can be reasonable debate about the Sunnah and how it’s lived in certain aspects around us. Some use Hudaybiya to justify every form of engagement and say things like, “if the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) were alive, he would do this.” I don’t want to project anything on the Prophet (saw). My attempt is to draw from his Sunnah, not legitimize my shahawat. There are areas where the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) showed compromise, but he never lost clarity. While the treaty of Hudaybiya had to omit “Al Rahman Al Raheem” from the name of Allah, and “RasulAllah” from the name of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), none of the companions were confused about their realities.

The legitimate debates around how to truly implement the Sunnah today largely emanate from what aspects of the Prophetic call are it’s defining features, and what our priorities and timelines, political or otherwise, should be. Tawheed is the foundation and primary basis for it all. As for what aspects of the call are defining features, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was sent us a mercy to the worlds, defined his mission as perfection of character, said that Allah loves gentleness in all of His affairs, and was revolutionary in his compassion to everything around him. That doesn’t mean he didn’t at times get angry or use power to eliminate evil. He was not limited by his mercy, but always enhanced by it.

As for priorities and timelines, even the companions frequently differed. There are examples from the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), and after. During Hudaybiya, Ali (ra) did not want to erase from the treaty what the Quraysh wanted him to. Omar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) wanted to proceed forth to Makkah that very moment. The companions found themselves unwilling to accept that they would have to turn back. Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) saw things the way the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saw them. Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) advised the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in those difficult times how to get everyone on the same page despite those strong feelings.

The debates about this were deep in many aspects of Fiqh (jurisprudence) after the death of the Prophet (saw), none so more than regarding political issues. We know the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us to seek both justice and stability. But at what point and at what cost is it permissible to challenge the power structure? No one was ambiguous about tyranny, but they differed greatly as to how to challenge it. In the first massive fitna to engulf the community, the painful debate over the assassination of Uthman  put Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) on the defensive about whether or not he was interested in pursuing his killers in the first place. He was of course, but believed in stabilizing the Khilafa before pursuing the assassins to not cause more bloodshed. When Omar Ibn AbdulAzeez (ra) who pushed legendary reforms in his 2 year Khilafa was questioned by his son about some of the things he wasn’t pursuing, he responded, “Oh my son, do you want me to try to compel them upon the religion all at once, so that they abandon it all at once?”

My work politically revolves around eliminating suffering, domestically and abroad. This shapes how I view militarism, poverty, policing, mass incarceration, environmental issues, healthcare, immigration, and torture. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “find me amongst the oppressed. Are you given aid and support by Allah except by how you treat your most vulnerable?” I believe that we as Muslims, especially those who claim orthodoxy, should assert ourselves in these areas. This doesn’t mean that I think this is the only area in which Muslims should be active. Different people should work in different areas of good, and not undermine one another. Good efforts should be complementary to each other. My background suits this particular role. I grew up with deeply humanitarian parents, worked as a field coordinator in disaster relief, and feel strongly moved towards these causes. While most came to know me through Islamic lectures, I have never not been involved in these things. Fighting exploitation and oppression are part and parcel of our religious identity. Not only should Muslims be present in these areas, they should be leading the way. And that’s not because it’s good political strategy or public relations, but because it’s scriptural imperative.

I’m also concerned with Religious Freedom and think we should assert our right as a Muslim community, as should other communities, to live out our faith unhindered, and our institutions un-harassed. Conservatives tend to leave Muslims out in their calls and lace them with other forms of bigotry we can’t stomach, and liberals often alienate religious communities like Orthodox Jews, Black Churches, Muslims, etc. while claiming to be for pluralism and inclusivity.

I cannot in good conscience support anything that is opposed to the Sunnah, even as a matter of political expediency. I believe in working together with communities on things we agree upon, and learning to respectfully coexist with things we don’t agree upon. On such affairs, I maintain political neutrality with religious clarity and relationship building that allows us to have these hard discussions as human beings seeking to reduce societal tension and promote the common good. I use multi-faith work as a blueprint for this. If people can harmoniously coexist despite strong beliefs about God, purpose, salvation, and scripture, surely they can learn to coexist on political issues that are of far lesser consequence to them in their worldviews. 

All of this warrants discussion on priorities, pragmatism, gradualism, and political programs. As Muslims, we should have vibrant disagreements that start off with: 1. What Allah and the Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) deem as good is good, and what they deem as bad is bad. 2. People can disagree on how to apply those realities to the world around us without obscuring the lawful and the prohibited. 3. People should maintain good assumptions about one another and not accuse their intentions when they disagree. 

At the end of the day, these are largely areas of Ijtihad and we’re all on the same team.

Pictures and Associations

I rarely request anyone to take pictures with me, but I never turn them down. I have my reasons for that. It is primarily a personal decision I formed after going to the funeral of Muhammad Ali (may Allah have mercy on him) in Louisville. I was deeply moved by how everyone from the shuttle driver, to the hotel clerk, to the gas station employees, etc. had a story about meeting him. He never turned down a request, and that meant something to people. My colleagues and I differ on this issue. On one hand, we don’t want to feed celebrity culture. On the other hand, we don’t want to disappoint, hurt, or leave people feeling slighted. This is where I’m at on this, and I don’t think I have it in me to say no to someone who asks for a picture. 

My “associations” are widespread because I engage numerous spaces. I get invited to conferences and campuses, mosques and festivals. Anywhere I go, I try to be courteous to people and that should not mean an endorsement of all that they do or stand for. I do not believe appearing in a picture with someone or in a common space is me promoting them, or even them promoting me. 

Guilt by association is the most deceitful way of targeting someone. It’s what the Khawarij do. It’s also what Islamophobes have been doing to take down every Muslim leader in the community since 9/11. They draw the association as wide as possible, then associate you with every position through that association making it impossible to defend yourself.

My positions are only the ones I actually espouse.

Platforms and Panels

As for platforms and panels, I typically will not turn them down unless I feel like the platform itself is so biased that I won’t be able to speak my mind, or there is no value in my opinion even if I’m allowed to speak it. Most recently I sat on a panel at the Texas Tribune Festival on religious freedom with Sr. Asma Uddin from the Freedom Forum Institute, and staunch republicans like Rep. Matt Krause and Kevin Roberts, the Executive Director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. I’m in dialogue at an event early next year with the most prominent evangelical preacher in the country. I often share the stage with staunch liberals who agree with me on issues of militarism, torture, policing, and immigration, but are quite hostile to religion. I try to do right by my part on panels regardless of who else is serving on it. The only time I would participate in a public boycott of a panel or platform is if it’s a collective push to purge someone who has just taken a position or done something that would inherently tarnish the panel or platform. I did this, for example, in the wake of the Rabaa’ massacre with scholars who legitimized it. When I’m invited to a highly partisan place like the Texas Democratic Convention, I try to be very specific with my subject matter (where I spoke about children victimized by policy here and abroad, and brought up Gitmo and Abu Ghraib).

How Do I Choose Whether or Not to Accept an Invitation

Istikhara (prayer) and Istishara (consultation). I have turned down many high profile events because I thought my presence would be tokenizing and unsubstantial. With my invocation in Congress, I literally forwarded the invite to my teacher and asked him whether or not I should do it. He advised me to go forward and give an invocation that would leave people thinking. I hope that was achieved even though I must admit I wasn’t expecting the flurry of attacks afterwards. Imam Siraj traces the beginning of the avalanche of hate against him to his invocation in congress, but I had hoped that all the relationships I had built would ward off some of that.

Most of my invites are not so confusing, but some of them are. Have I regretted accepting certain invites? Yes. But I don’t lament too much over them so long as I did proper Istikhara and Istishara.

Demonstrations, Coalitions, and Alliances

In our tribal politics in America, platforms are wide and coalitions are narrow. I believe in the exact opposite. I believe we should have specific issues that we determine important and meaningful, and form broad coalitions around those specific issues. This way the work is focused, the ally-ship is clear, and the advocacy is unproblematic. When it’s a bunch of people working on a small set of issues, the issues dominate the conversation as opposed to who is at the table. It’s about what we’re at the table for. 

So if we’re going to organize a march on the border, against ICE deportations, or against police brutality, I don’t care who else is coming to march or where they stand on other issues. This to me was the essence of Hilf Al Fudul. The tribes came together for one purpose of supporting those who were exploited because they didn’t have the protection of belonging to powerful classes, and the Prophet (saw) said he would take that pledge in jahiliya or Islam.

Partisan Politics

I don’t believe in uncritically adopting a platform, or letting a party take advantage of our vulnerability. We need to challenge Democrats just as strongly as we do Republicans, while remaining independent and principled. We have a right to an agenda like any other community. Politicians should have to work for our vote, and we shouldn’t shy away from where we differ with candidates even when we vote for them.

You can read my article on voting here in which I lay out those principles.

As a side note on endorsements, I’ve only endorsed 2 candidates in my life, one a Muslim candidate for city council and another a candidate for county chair. With the Beto campaign against Ted Cruz last year, who I believe is the most dangerous man in the Senate for various reasons, I particularly reached out to the campaign to clarify some concerns about the criminalizing of BDS. I applauded him for taking the time to meet me and clarify those concerns. With the recent news on his  comments on revoking the tax-exempt status of religious institutions, I once again reached out to those who I know from the campaign to register the community’s disapproval and was able to have a fruitful conversation about it. And no, I’m not endorsing him or any candidate for president right now.

Left vs Right

I wrote an article in the Dallas Morning News about transcending the left/right divide. In it, I said, “Most of the religious presence in our political discourse seems to be superficial with the religious left and the religious right often simply representing nothing more than the political left and the political right with collars.”

I believe Muslims should be engaging well-meaning people on different issues from different backgrounds. While the political right may have taken on an overtly Islamophobic posture, there are conservative religious groups that may be willing to work with us and dialogue on issues of mutual concern. I welcome that 

We need to be a part of constructing the moral center in America instead of waiting for it to happen without our input whether its on domestic or foreign policy. We don’t have to adopt anyone else’s blind spots. We can talk about the child from Guatemala and the child from Gaza. We can talk about the sanctity of the child in the womb, and the sanctity of the child in the cage. We can talk about Gitmo and Abu Ghraib abroad, and our own mass incarceration systems at home. If some Republicans are the only ones willing to speak about the Muslim Uighurs in the name of religious freedom, we can work with them on that.

Not everyone has to work in all of these spaces simultaneously, but we should appreciate those who do so long as they don’t forsake their principles in the process.

On Engaging Government

This is a hard one so I’ll break it down into a few things:

  1. Local, State, Federal

I strongly believe in the idea of most politics being local, and that Muslims need to have a strong presence in city and state government. My invitation to Congress was due to my local work with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson who has been an incredible ally to our community. I think it gets trickier at the federal level. I’ve personally never been inside the White House under any administration for an Iftar or otherwise, but I don’t fault all who have. I know some who have tried very hard to do right in those tricky spaces. I was invited to the last Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department and declined. I think this is the trickiest space of them all, and wish those who engage it well. My hope is that anyone who does engage it raise our issues and make it clear to the community that they are doing so. I have never participated in CVE work, nor has Yaqeen ever taken CVE money, and I am opposed to it as a framework due to how it’s used exclusively against the Muslim community.

I differentiate between patriotism and nationalism and believe that our government should be held accountable for its violation of human rights like any other government. And war crimes have spanned administrations of both parties for a very long time.

  1. Foreign Governments

I am particularly skeptical of many Muslim governments considering the role that installed dictators and despots have played in suppressing the Muslim community worldwide. They have been the greatest violators of our rights, and the most shameful purveyors of Islamophobia as evidenced by the support given to China’s genocide of the Uyghurs. I don’t think it’s impossible to work with foreign leaders on specific issues, but that it requires crystal clear clarity from those who do on the issues those governments are criminally implicated. Granting religious legitimacy to tyrants who have themselves harmed or enabled harm towards the global community is incredibly dangerous. And it is important to not become co-opted by the lesser aggressors from the Muslim world. While some foreign leaders do better than others on certain issues, they will consistently disappoint on others. None of them should be able to buy the silence of the American Muslim community.

On Muslim Politicians

No politician, Muslim or otherwise, deserves our uncritical support for their political positions. Every Muslim, politician or otherwise, deserves our dua for their guidance and wellbeing. 

This is a tricky reality to navigate. When they take bold political positions, they should be qualifiedly praised specifically for those actions. When they do things that are problematic, they should be measuredly criticized specifically for those actions. We should want them to do well, and want well for them. As politicians, they naturally make decisions that they have to be accountable to the public for. As brothers and sisters, we should pray for them to make the right decisions and be enabled with and for the truth. As a community, we can’t put it on them to save the Deen. There will be more politicians that will come up in coming years, and our Dawah needs to continue independent of them while reminding them with good manners, supporting them with Dua and Naseeha, and politically engaging them like any other politician.

 

“Donate your reputation to Allah.” by Imam @OmarSuleiman504 Click To Tweet

Callouts

I will not engage in mudslinging or callouts personally, even when they’re against me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something that I could easily respond to with one line. But Allah is sufficient for me, and He is the best disposer of all matters. I would hope people can see through unfair attacks. And even when they can’t, I trust that Allah will make the best of the situation and I’d rather not take the community on a ride. Through one of these particular episodes, my teacher and friend told me, “Donate your reputation to Allah.” That stuck with me. If I’m doing what I’m doing for His sake, I shouldn’t be too bothered when other than Him deals with me uncharitably. If I am, I need to work harder on my own intentions.

As for others, I will not use social media to put people on blast. I discuss concepts, not people. Now two fair questions arise from this:

  1.  Can one assume that because I’ve supported people by name in certain contexts, but not criticized them by name, that I support all of their positions? I understand why people could derive that conclusion, and it’s not something I’ve particularly figured out. I don’t think ambiguous cheap shots are the solution either. I personally don’t burn bridges with people in fear of wronging them, and in hopes that I can still advise them. I feel like that’s the best I can do. I hope that people can appreciate that approach not as the only approach, but as an approach.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) used to employ the language of “what is it with a people that do such and such” (ما بال أقوام يفعلون كذا وكذا ) without actually naming the person in several narrations. This could be seen by some as passive-aggressive, but it’s about clarifying the concept and not focusing on the individual. I typically will try to employ this approach, and will sometimes fall short of it.

  1. Should there not be those who explicitly address wrongdoings, fairly hold leaders accountable, and ask important questions? There absolutely should be, but with good character and fair critique. We can’t adopt the tactics of Islamophobes against our own community. Half-truths, guilt by association, casting aspersions on character, etc. are grievous sins. They also take away from the legitimate critiques. Unfortunately, social media seems so drenched in toxicity that it seems impossible to discuss things with balance. With that being said, we need more forums to have important conversations and I can’t blame people in the meantime for feeling left out of those conversations and confused. As a rule of thumb, try to keep things depersonalized and to the issues. And when you have to say something critical of your brother or sister, try to say something about their good as well. 

What is considered public vs. private

There seems to be this prevailing idea that if it isn’t posted or tweeted, it’s not public. I try to be open in discussion with brothers and sisters when they meet face to face and am much more willing to discuss sensitive issues then. I don’t know of any basis in the Sunnah that would suggest social media is the only way to have a public position. I don’t mind being quoted in what I say in my halaqas or public settings, but simply don’t prefer to engage in certain discussions on social media.

Yaqeen’s direction and funding 

I am not Yaqeen. My political activism is not Yaqeen. I serve as the President of the organization with one vote on the board. I am blessed to work with an incredible team of over 60 people and growing that believe in the mission of the organization to foster a strong viable Islamic identity that preserves the religion in the hearts of our future generations, takes back the narrative from Islamophobes of all sorts, and demonstrates a path forward that doesn’t depart from our divine sources. Some of the writers are my teachers. Others come from entirely different backgrounds. I contribute a tiny fraction of papers myself, but am fulltime in my role as the President of the organization. Yaqeen set out to be as encompassing as possible of Muslim scholars and academics that believe in commitment to the religion, and contributing to the world through it. I believe strongly in institutions that are bigger than personalities, and that is the culture we try to foster from within.

As for our methodology, we have a course and a paper out soon from our scholars which should clarify further what we view as valid means of interpretation, and valid opinions. We try to do extensive peer review and allow opinions to be published within the fold of Islamic acceptability. 

We have extended our hands to Muslim organizations around the country and world to partner in good, and never charge a dime for our content. And for the sake of maintaining independence and integrity, Yaqeen has never taken money from any government entity or foundation that espouses ideas that would delegitimize it. Al hamdulila, all of it is through generous private donors that have found benefit from our content and I’m grateful to each of them for it.

Mistakes

Let me start with the personal. Anyone that serves as an Imam, activist, or representative of the community will be put in awkward situations frequently. Part of growth is learning from those mistakes and being wiser in future situations. I will still inevitably be put in compromising situations and pray that Allah guides me to deal with them with wisdom and rightful guidance. I will continue to listen to people who lovingly point those mistakes out to me in hopes that I do better in the future. May Allah reward them all. And I will take the best of unforgiving critiques and try to still benefit from them. May Allah reward them also if they’re done in sincerity, and forgive them if done for other reasons.

As for the communal, we haven’t figured out a way to host reasonable disagreements that involve various segments of the community. Yaqeen is meant to be a platform to foster some of that within our scopes of research, and some sites like Muslim Matters have also sought to be that when issues of concern arise. Over the past few years, I’ve had the blessing of being a part of an annual retreat that brings together various Islamic scholars of different backgrounds to foster unity amongst ourselves and create space for critical conversation. Sadly there are too many other divisions that exist in the community though to be remedied through that particular space. I think the community has felt locked out of certain discussions, and I can’t blame them for feeling that way. 

Solutions

Clarity. People like myself who are involved in multiple worlds need to not leave the community out of our thinking and articulate our frameworks better. I own that, as I have made many assumptions about what the community did or didn’t think about my positions.

Spaces. I’ve been blessed to be a part of forming some wonderful onsite spaces and forums where we have had some of these difficult conversations. I want to be a part of forming some of these spaces online with the realistic expectation that they will never equal the blessing of sitting with one another. I hope our community invests in more retreats where scholars of different backgrounds, activists, etc. can come together and discuss tough things, and then produce their findings. 

The Rope of Allah

Allah tells us to hold firm to the rope of Allah. The rope isn’t a political idea or opinion, it’s divine revelation. We are bonded by it and should honor that bond. We can disagree with each other and still love each other. We can debate ideas intelligently without descending into tactics unbefitting of the ummah of the Prophet (saw). We should be just with one another and not use the ways of our enemies against each other. I’m sure not everyone agrees with my framework above, and I may also change some of my opinions as time goes on. I pray that none of it ever swerves from what is established through the divine sources, or into anything divisive, hateful, or unjust.

The Quran speaks of justice, unity, and accountability. Those themes are not contradictory in Allah’s book, nor do they have to be in our lives. The Sunnah manifests that in a way that we can all learn how to conduct ourselves. This doesn’t mean we excuse everything in the name of Adab, it means we use Adab even when holding people accountable.

I end with this: Yunus al-Sadafi reported: I have not seen anyone wiser than Al-Shafi’i, may Allah be pleased with him. I debated him one day over an issue, and then we separated. He later met me and took my hand, then he said, “O Abu Musa, can we not continue to be brothers, even if we disagree on an issue?”

May Allah keep us united upon good, faithful to Him always, carriers of His Prophet’s way, and beneficial to the entirety of humanity. May He forgive us for our shortcomings, guide us to the straight path, and remove from us all that displeases Him in our worship and work.

اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ أَنْ أَضِلَّ أَوْ أُضَلَّ أَوْ أَزِلَّ أَوْ أُزَلَّ أَوْ أَظْلِمَ أَوْ أُظْلَمَ أَوْ أَجْهَلَ أَوْ يُجْهَلَ عَلَىَّ

O Allah, I seek refuge with You from going astray or stumbling, from wronging others or being wronged, and from behaving or being treated in an ignorant manner.

Read: Our Brothers Who have Transgressed Against Us | Imam Omar Suleiman

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#Culture

Prayers Beyond Borders Offers Hope to Separated Families

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border wall in tijuana

On the border of San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico, several families live their lives torn apart—they were born on the wrong side of a wall. Now, faith groups are joining together to give them hope through prayer. Since the Mexican-American War in 1848, the boundary that divided the two countries transformed from an imaginary line, to a monument, to a simple barb-wire fence where people on either side could meet, greet, hold hands, or exchange a warm smile, to a heavily monitored steel wall stretching across almost 15 miles between San Diego and Tijuana. 

In recent years, crime, drug trafficking, an influx of undocumented workers, and increasingly white nationalism created stricter immigration policies in the U.S., directly impacting those who live straddling both sides of the border. Included in these are families whose loved ones have been deported – parents, spouses, children, and other relatives – to Mexico, undocumented workers providing for their families, and relatives who have not made physical contact with each other in years, sometimes decades. They gather along the steel mesh barriers of the border wall at Friendship Park to touch each other’s fingertips and pray.

The documentary, “A Prayer Beyond Borders,” produced by CAIR California, MoveOn, and Beyond Borders Studios captured some of these emotive moments during a Sunday prayer service held by the Border Church in partnership with the Border Mosque. Christians and Muslims came together in solidarity at Friendship Park on September 30, 2019, and held a joint bilingual ceremony, led by Reverend John Fanestil, Pastor Guillermo Navarrete, Imam Taha Hassane, and Imam Wesley Lebrón.

Imam Lebrón, National Hispanic Outreach Coordinator for WhyIslam, witnessed the nightmare families separated at the border endure when he was invited to participate in this first meeting of the Border Church and Border Mosque. As a Puerto Rican, U.S. born citizen who never experienced the hardships of immigration, he was moved by what he witnessed. He said, 

“I entered Mexico and reached the border at Friendship Park and immediately noticed families speaking to each other through the tiny spaces of an enormous metal wall. They were not able to touch except for their fingers, which I later learned was the way they kissed each other.”

He described families discussing legal matters and children crying because they could not embrace a parent who traveled for days only to speak to them briefly behind the cold steel mesh partition. 

“Walls are meant to provide refuge and safety from the elements and they are not meant to prevent human beings from having a better life,” he explained, “As I stood behind that wall, I felt hopeless, angry, and had many other mixed emotions for our Mexican brethren who have been completely stripped of the opportunities many of us take for granted.” During the service he addressed the crowd gathered on the Mexican side of Friendship Park and recited the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer. It was the first time the call was heard in Friendship Park, but not the last. 

The Border Church and Border Mosque will continue to provide a joint service on the last Sunday of every month and are calling for a binational day of prayer on Sunday, October 27th. They will be joined by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and indigenous spiritual leaders to “Pray Beyond Borders.” The event will be filmed and possibly live-streamed to a global audience with the objective of raising awareness and requesting financial support to address issues related to family separation in the region. 

On October 7th CAIR California with MoveOn, Faith in Action, MPower Change, and a social media team and distribution partners released the film “A Prayer Beyond Borders,” With the digital launch of this film in English and Spanish they wish to reach millions of viewers in telling the story of the Border Church and the Border Mosque and bring more faith leaders and activists on board to protect families’ right to gather. Please join them at Pray Beyond Borders – A Binational Day of Prayer – Sunday, October 27th at Friendship Park. 

when the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles(Psalm 34:17 – NIV).

“And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah ]” (Qur’an 2:45)

Photo by Max Böhme on Unsplash

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Zahra Billoo Responds To The Women’s March Inc. Voting Her Off The New Board

Zahra Billoo

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Women's March Board

Earlier tonight, I was voted off the Women’s March, Inc. national board. This followed an Islamophobic smear campaign led by the usual antagonists, who have long targeted me, my colleagues, and anyone else who dares speak out in support of Palestinian human rights and the right to self-determination.

The past 48 hours have been a spiral of bad news and smear efforts. Part of the smear campaign is motivated by opponents of the Women’s March, because the organization has traditionally challenged the status quo of power and white supremacy in our country. However, much of the campaign is driven by people who oppose me and my work challenging the occupation of Palestine, our country’s perpetuation of unjust and endless wars, and law enforcement operations targeting the American Muslim community.

The Women’s March, Inc. is an organization I once held dear. I spoke at the first march, spoke at regional marches every year after, spoke at the convention, participated in national actions including the original Kavanaugh protests, and worked to mobilize Muslim women for their efforts.

During the past few years right-wingers, from the President’s son to the Anti-Defamation League and troll armies, have targeted the Women’s March, Inc. For so long, I’ve admired their resilience in speaking truth to power, in working together, and in never cowering. Over and over again, the co-founders of Women’s March, Inc. put their lives on the line, winning power for all women in all of our diversity. The Women’s March, Inc. that voted me off its board tonight is one that no longer demonstrates the strength that inspired millions of women across the country.

To see and experience its new leaders caving to right-wing pressure, and casting aside a woman of color, a Muslim woman, a long-time advocate within the organization, without the willingness to make any efforts to learn and grow, breaks my heart. This isn’t about a lost seat, there will be many seats. The Women’s March, Inc. has drawn a line in the sand, one that will exclude many with my lived experiences and critiques. It has effectively said, we will work on some women’s rights at the expense of others.

To be clear, anti-semitism is indeed a growing and dangerous problem in our country, as is anti-Blackness, anti-immigrant sentiment, Islamophobia, ableism, sexism, and so much more. I condemn any form of bigotry unequivocally, but I also refuse to be silent as allegations of bigotry are weaponized against the most marginalized people, those who find sanctuary and hope in the articulation of truth.

In looking at the tweets in question, I acknowledge that I wrote passionately. While I may have phrased some of my content differently today, I stand by my words. I told the truth as my community and I have lived it, through the FBI’s targeting of my community, as I supported families who have lost loved ones because of US military actions, and as I learned from the horrific experiences of Palestinian life.

In attempting to heal and build in an expedited manner within Women’s March, Inc., I offered to meet with stakeholders to address their concerns and to work with my sisters on the new board to learn, heal, and build together. These efforts were rejected. And in rejecting these efforts, the new Women’s March, Inc. demonstrated that they lack the courage to exhibit allyship in the face of fire.

I came to Women’s March, Inc. to work. My body of work has included leading a chapter of the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization for over a decade, growing it now more than six-fold. In my tenure, I have led the team that forced Abercrombie to change its discriminatory employment policies, have been arrested advocating for DACA, partnered with Jewish organizations including Bend the Arc and Jewish Voice for Peace to fight to protect our communities, and was one of the first lawyers to sue the President.

It is not my first time being the target of a smear campaign. The Women’s March, Inc., more than any place, is where I would have expected us to be able to have courageous conversations and dive deep into relationship-building work.

I am happy to have as many conversations as it takes to listen and learn and heal, but I will no longer be able to do that through Women’s March, Inc. This action today demonstrates that this organization’s new leadership is unable to be an ally during challenging times.

My beliefs drive my work, and I am not seeking accolades or positions of power. These past few days have been the greatest test of that. My integrity, my truth, and my strength comes from God and a place of deep conviction. I will continue my work as a civil rights lawyer and a faith-based activist, speaking out against the occupation of Palestine and settler-colonialism everywhere, challenging Islamophobia and all forms of racism and bigotry in the United States, and building with my community and our allies in our quest to be our most authentic and liberated selves.

Onward, God willing.

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