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What Bill Maher and ISIS Have in Common

Unfortunately, this is all pretty routine by now: Islam’s critics accuse Muslims of not being liberal enough while Muslims bend over backwards to prove just how liberal and, hence, acceptable they are.

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A few weeks ago, Bill Maher joined forces with Sam Harris to go on one of their typical rants about how evil Islam is and how dangerous Muslims are, or, at least, those Muslims who “take their faith seriously.” Nothing surprising or newsworthy there; Maher and Harris’ prejudice against Muslims has been well documented.

What was surprising, however, was the way that many Muslims reacted to the whole incident. Obviously, Muslims rejected the Maher/Harris diatribe against Islam but for all the wrong reasons.

The Good, The Bad …

Despite Ben Affleck’s best efforts, I was uncomfortable watching the segment because ultimately the discussion boiled down to another iteration of the “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim” dichotomy. Both sides agreed that, on one side, there are “good Muslims” that we — the “civilized” world — should support and, on the other side, “bad Muslims” that we should denounce. Both Affleck and Maher implicitly agreed that the good Muslims are those who accept and live by “liberal principles” while bad Muslims reject those same principles.

Right on cue, Muslim commentators obediently raised their voices in unison, “Don’t worry, we’re the good kind!”

 

Missed Opportunities

Unfortunately, this is all pretty routine by now: Islam’s critics accuse Muslims of not being liberal enough while Muslims bend over backwards to prove just how liberal and, hence, acceptable they are.

To be perfectly clear, to be “liberal” in this sense means to be committed to liberty as a moral and political value as embodied in ideals such as “freedom for all,” “equal rights,” “universal human rights,” and “democratic representation.” This usage of “liberal” should not be confused with the liberal/conservative, left/right divide in American politics, since, when it comes to freedom, equality, democracy, etc., all politicians — whether left- or right-leaning — subscribe to these values.

Instead of answering to the Bill Mahers of the world, you would think more Muslims would recognize the irony of all this.

Here are my three takeaways from the incident:

1. Must All Peoples of the World Conform to Liberal Dictates?

According to Maher and even Affleck, “good Muslims” abide by the “liberal principles” the rest of the civilized world accepts. As it turns out, Islam does not align 100% with “liberal principles,” which would mean that most Muslims in the world are not “good Muslims.” My question is: So what?

Liberalism is just one isolated moral/political theory originating in seventeenth century Anglo-European political philosophy. Should it not be painfully obvious that a fourteen hundred year old world religion is not going to perfectly coincide with the philosophical musings of a handful of British and French thinkers in the seventeenth century?

So, why is Bill Maher, Sam Harris, or anyone else surprised and indignant about any illiberal-ness inherent to Islam and Islamic Law?

Islam, of course, is not the only illiberal thought system on the market. How about classical Confucianism, historical Jainism, traditional Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Sub-Saharan Fulani Tribal code, or any of the other countless non-liberal, non-modernist moral philosophical outlooks?

Should we expect all these thought systems, philosophies, and religious teachings, spanning billions of people across space and time, to agree with one idiosyncratic vision of moral good known as liberalism? Ought we shun people in the present and vilify people of the past who do not and did not conform to the “liberal principles” the Bill Mahers of the world so passionately preach?

Or, perhaps, the illiberal need to be forcefully “saved” through constant war and occupation, as we have seen and continue to see throughout the Muslim world?

Which leads me to…

2. Why Not Blame Liberalism?

If it is acceptable to blame Islam for the misdeeds of ISIS, why shouldn’t we blame liberalism for all the death and destruction caused by the West’s attempts to “spread freedom and democracy” in the Middle East?

When we consider the history of war, occupation, and state-sponsored repression in the Muslim world over the past two centuries, a significant proportion of it was predicated on “spreading freedom and democracy” to the Muslim peoples, who knew nothing of enlightenment ideals and religious reformation. In other words, Western powers seem to have taken it upon themselves to “educate” and “liberate” Muslim society.

As is exhaustively documented by academics such as Edward Said, historically orientalism provided crude, sensationalized, and, ultimately, racist caricatures of Muslim society that ultimately dehumanized Muslims and, in effect, stoked public support in the West for continued colonization of Muslim lands.

In the past this dehumanization was based on the fact that Muslims were not aligned with “Christian values.” Today the same kind of dehumanization takes place, but instead of misalignment with Christian values, it is non-compliance with liberal values that is the problem.

So, when George W. Bush or Barack Obama talk about the importance of promoting freedom, democracy, and human rights in the Middle East, and the need to dismantle and discredit “Islamists,” they are using the same kind of narrative used by past imperialists wanting to spread Christianity and salvation to “heathen” lands. This is also the narrative used to justify the West’s support of oppressive military dictators in many Arab countries, dictators deemed sufficiently secular and liberal, willing to brutally suppress any kind of populist dissent, especially from Islamist (i.e., non-liberal) quarters. It is also the narrative often used to bolster Western support for Israel, the “only democracy in the Middle East,” against the illiberal Palestinian faction.

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Daniel Haqiqatjou was born in Houston, Texas. He attended Harvard University where he majored in Physics and minored in Philosophy. He completed a Masters degree in Philosophy at Tufts University. Haqiqatjou is also a student of the traditional Islamic sciences. He writes and lectures on contemporary issues surrounding Muslims and Modernity. Email Daniel here .

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Avatar

    John Howard

    November 3, 2014 at 2:49 AM

    Liberalism is what sets the west up to be what it is. A dynamic group of nations which many of you from the 3rd world have come to. Liberalism has given us the freedoms to do as we want within normal dictates of decency without the rigid morality that most if not all religions demand. Under liberalism our sciences, industry and standards of living have grown in leaps and bounds. Why do tens of millions from the 3 rd world and other areas all flock here? From the arts to the technology we have expanded humanities horizons and at the same time allowed because of this liberalism the right for people to have their religions and beliefs The only proviso I see that is demanded is tolerance of ALL sections of society. That tolerance has often been tested but for all its too human failings it has withstood the attacks from Fascism Communism and now Islamism is trying to do the same. I am not calling all Muslims Islamists but Muslims have to realise that if you want to live here in the west and enjoy we offer then you have to accept Liberalism as the structure of our states. You may say that Muslims are treated badly by western standards but look at what many of your own countries have done to their minorities and ask have you been treated the same?

    • Avatar

      Hyde

      November 3, 2014 at 5:00 PM

      Excuse me Mr. Howard. Allow me to be vulgar for a moment:
      Concerning your “freedoms to do as we want within normal dictates of decency”, a man of 25 could get in trouble for marrying a 17 year old girl, but at 18 she is legally allowed to be become a hardcore porn star ? Absolute freedom is hubris and corruption of the heart.

      • Avatar

        John Howard

        November 16, 2014 at 2:25 AM

        Yes that is totally true but if that is what she wants to do then that is her legal right. I would not be happy if one of my family chose to do so but I and no one else have the right to tell her what too do. We can advise plead what ever but it is her right. Regarding age many muslims marry under age girls not even out of puberty Yemen has one of the highest rates of maternal death and mainly from under age girls. What kind of hubris and corruption is that? Cultural or religious perhaps?

    • Avatar

      Rami Sivan

      January 11, 2015 at 4:02 PM

      A great article. As a proud polytheist I must say I prefer the liberals to the Muslims. Hindus have lived with other religions in peace for thousands of years – the problem is the Abrahamics hate us _ the Quran calls us “the worst of creatures.”. At least the Christian and Jewish liberals and orthodox do not openly declare their hatred for us or activate any verses from their scriptures that call for our massacre. (Quran 9:29 inter alia) As long as both Muslims and Christians leave us alone to worship our gods and nurture our idols we don’t care what they do or believe. Please just be polite to us in public.

  2. Avatar

    Daniel Haqiqatjou

    November 3, 2014 at 3:50 AM

    @John Howard. First of all, I am not from the “3rd world.” I’m from Texas. Second, who made you in charge of deciding on what basis Muslims or anyone else gets to “live here”? How do you know I am not a 10th generation native american with familial origins in North America predating the arrival of European settlers? Maybe *you* have to realize that if *you* want to live here, you have to accept a few native american beliefs. Btw, how well did the Founding Fathers, i.e., the importers of European liberalism to the Americas, treat the natives they “discovered”? Was there a lot of liberal tolerance there, John?

    • Avatar

      John Howard

      November 3, 2014 at 4:00 AM

      First of all I am British and not American and secondly I will NOT apologise as your “argument” applies to me an umpteenth generation Briton whose family goes back as far yours dos in my own land. I don’t want to live in the US I am very content to live in my own country thank you very much. I too have reason to resent others coming who have been here literally 5 minutes by my family origins I have had to accept and tolerate them and their to me some very extrem views. So sunshine put up and shut up like I have had to

      • Avatar

        Daniel Haqiqatjou

        November 3, 2014 at 12:48 PM

        @ John Howard. You missed the point. Non-white, non-liberal cultures and peoples are very much a part of the history of the West. To deny these other cultures and value systems and require that whoever lives in the West abides by whatever you decide, e.g., liberalism, is paternalistic, racist, and, frankly, stupid. Btw, your anglo ancestors 500 years ago had as much inkling as to liberal values as my living room couch. Maybe they should have been deported to the “3rd world.”

        • Avatar

          John Howard

          November 3, 2014 at 7:39 PM

          Paternalistic, racist, and stupid are they? Amazing how in the societies that are liberal is where the most freedoms lie, Paternalistic ? I would have thought that was more with very straight laced societies where the state or powers that be and you can include religion in that sphere would be far more paternalistic after all isn’t that the claim that they know what is best for all? Or as we say here in the UK the common herd. As for racism as I have said many times before under liberal societies minorities are far more protected. As has often been quoted on this web site racism occurs not only in liberal societies but in religious ones as well. Question an Iranian of what he thinks about Arabs as I did recently and see what their reactions are. Liberal societies makes no demand on how you live your life whether you prosletise your faith or how you dress. Can you say the same. Non white and non liberal cultures have existed in liberal societies How much they have contributed to our societies is debatable especially from a closed attitudes to their hosts. The fact that they have survived in our societies says how strong our values are and how confident we are in our values. Yes we have exported them to the 3rd world because they actually work. in civilised societies . Don’t you export your religion to our societies ? Or is your way the only way.
          Finally let’s get back to that favourite of yours – racism ! It always amuses me that when it comes to the nitty gritty racism is the bogey brought up. I have said before and I will say it again Islam is a religion not a race You use racism because frankly you can’t fight the argument and that’s the cowards way.
          With regard to my ancestors from 500 years ago they may have been as you state but their descendants have evolved it would appear yours haven’t

      • Avatar

        Daniel Haqiqatjou

        November 4, 2014 at 12:22 AM

        @John Howard. So the fact that you’ve met some racist Iranians justifies your racist attitude? Brilliant point.

        I’m amused by your claim that you can’t be a racist because Islam is not a race. Yet, you keep mentioning how Muslims are coming into “your country” from the “3rd world” and how it is “debatable” how much “non white and non liberal cultures have contributed to our societies especially from a [sic] closed attitudes to their hosts.” You keep conflating Muslims with the 3rd world, with minorities, as non white, as foreign, etc., and, in the same breath, insist that “Islam is not a race.” It’s hard to tell if you’re a troll or just dense.

        Also, you keep using the word “liberal” and “liberal society” as if you have any idea what those terms mean. If you had actually read the article, you would realize that it’s an academically contested concept. Even fascist revolutions throughout history claimed to be liberal in their pursuit of freedom and equality for all. Even Western governments of 50-70 years ago claimed to be liberal while simultaneously denying blacks basic civil rights. I could go on and on, point you to references, some of which appear in the article itself, but I have a feeling all that will be lost on an exceptionally sharp mind such as yours.

        So, by all means, continue beating your chest about how “liberalism has given us great progress and advancement and you 3rd world Muslims are backwards and better ship up or ship out blah blah blah.”

    • Avatar

      Hyde

      November 3, 2014 at 5:08 PM

      Excellent response and once again this article perfectly captures the essence of the debate itself; something I have been saying since I was in high school WHY do we have to measure up to Western Liberal Ideals anyway ? Why is Reza Aslan Cenk Ugyur and now Affleck consider some sort of heroes because they can differentiate (who gave them the authority)between “good Muslims” and “bad Muslims” ?

      Imagine if you or I were to differentiate between good jew and bad jew ?

      You are quite right right: 150 years ago “we” were too liberal, relaxed and unchristian like, and now we are too fundamentalist, too rigid…either way the baton is swinged by the West ? If it is not this pseudo plight of women or homosexuals now i.e. if they are not gay bars in Gaza, it is worth bombing, then the system is not up to date ? Geneva convention ? How many Pashtuns were present when that was being formed ? Human rights…what about God Given Rights ?

    • Avatar

      M. Mahmud

      November 15, 2014 at 1:41 AM

      Alhamdululah you dished it out like a boss. Good job.

      • Avatar

        John Howard

        November 15, 2014 at 5:44 PM

        It would seem that I can’t repy to the diatribe of Haqiqatjou who I see is a religious fundamentalist which in my mind makes him a fanatic.
        So I will answer him through you as you are on his side it seems.
        He is very quick to try and smear me as a troll or racist but now I see that concern on the part of non Muslims is not to be tolerated in any way and if we don’t aquiensce your demands then woe betide them.
        You keep dwelling on the past as do most fanatics but that is the point of our liberal societies what we were 150 years ago is totally different to what we are today. We have PROGRESSED. We are not stuck in the past with our prejudices to gays coloured people or any other minority we have made laws to protect these groups just as we have to protect religious minorities. After 9/11 and 7/7 in the UK there were no round up of thousands of muslims to be jailed deported or executed in fact our leaders went out of our way to reassure your safety. It appears that has only increased yor beliefs that we liberal societies are weak and deserve what we are being subjected to by the rabid followers of your faith.
        You berate me about 3rd worl muslims and my “racist” attitude towards them How many muslims from the 3rd world have come to the west 50 million 60 million 70 million? Many of these are uneducated and are very intolerant of the liberal attitudes of our cultures Witnes the rise of “honour murders” here in the UK and the USA
        The sarcasm about my mind can used on your fanatical attitude far more than to me. I want to learn about your faith but it appears unless I accept blindingly in total acceptance of your belefs I am a racist and a troll.
        If to continue to keep questionning your religion and its followers including fanatics I am labelled a racist and a troll then so be it I will keep at it. I will not allow my nations values and liberalism to be destroyed by fanatics like you mr Haqiqatjou I love my country warts and all It would appear that many from your faith like wht it has to offer as well

  3. Avatar

    Razan

    November 10, 2014 at 6:01 PM

    Salam,

    Thanks for the great article. However, and I’m hoping that perhaps you can address this in your future writing, there is definitely an increase in non-liberal atheists, who also disagree with this neo-con paradigm and yet still disagree with Islam. One of the points they make is that whilst they disagree with Western imperialism as much as the next person, they don’t belive in replacing it with ‘religious fundamentalism’ as that has its own forms of imperialism. This draws a finer line in our arguments.

    • Avatar

      Daniel Haqiqatjou

      November 18, 2014 at 10:07 AM

      @Razan – From my experience, there are very few non-liberal atheists, especially among the “new atheist” school. Are you seeing this increase in academia or just in public generally? In any case, thanks for the suggestion; inshaAllah I do have posts critiquing atheism in general and secularism coming up.

      • Avatar

        Sandeep

        July 22, 2015 at 4:41 PM

        Just one question Daniel – what is your ideal world?

  4. Avatar

    akash

    January 11, 2015 at 8:46 AM

    “jainism” – i wonder how many jains pick up machine guns and kill people for their faith? very few i doubt.

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  9. Avatar

    RP1

    March 3, 2015 at 4:49 AM

    Liberalism won the moral argument. The article gives the ‘balanced’ view that this still up for debate, which is a huge stretch. If there is any intellectual support for less liberal ideologies, it is at the extreme fringe. There isn’t one Muslim society on this planet that is anywhere near that limit in terms of liberal freedoms. And you’d be hard pressed to name a single society that has transitioned from more to less liberal and made society better off. In fact a number of countries have regressed on this front (Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are prime examples) and are clearly worse off. Nothing you said would cause any moraly sane person to look positively on illiberal attitudes towards homosexuals, women, non-Muslim minorities. So what’s the point?

    Might liberalism have it’s limits? Possibly, but most would disagree. Is there any Muslim country anywhere near that limit? Emphatically, no!

  10. Avatar

    Sandra

    April 11, 2015 at 10:19 AM

    The wests’spreading of freedom and democracy has always been and continues to be a ruse to justify imperialism. a ruse that distracts from the greed of a few that profit from the suffering of the many .

  11. Avatar

    Stephanie

    October 13, 2015 at 1:51 PM

    There is a HUGE ELEPHANT in the room you are ignoring, which explains a fundamental difference between liberalism and Islam. Although there are some ideological, non-rational aspects of liberalism, there are not holy books of liberalism that say what liberalism is and that claim to be the direct word of the god of liberalism and that taking the word of the god of liberalism metaphorically renders one an evil apostate. In fact, the wars you refer to were opposed by every liberal I know, so claiming that liberalism supports those wars is just crazy talk…that was George Bush and the neocons, not liberals AT ALL. I can’t name one liberal I know in real life who was for the Iraq war.

    I am reading the Quran and it literally says to go to war for Islam, that it is the word of god, that taking it anything but literally makes one an evil apostate, that sex slavery of nonbelievers is just fine and dandy, that war and killing in the cause of Islam and dying for Islam is holy and will take one directly to heaven. If liberalism had a written ideology like Islam, I would completely agree with you. But it doesn’t. So you’re being dishonest and unintellectual. Hopefully you’re not doing it to practice Taqiyya (http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/quran/011-taqiyya.htm), to cause the spread of the Islam mind virus so that my great grandchildren can be forced to convert or die or become sex slaves, which is pretty much all the options Mohammed would have for an agnostic like me. If that offends you, and I hope it does, then you aren’t a good Muslim because that’s what your holy books say so why be offended by the truth about Islam? You guys get mad when we point out the truth of your religion! Well, if you don’t like the true beliefs put forward in your holy books, why are you Muslim? We who have educated ourselves on Islam are afraid for damn good reasons and when your own holy text say to lie about the beliefs in your religion in order to spread it, and then we see how ignorant most liberals are about Islam due to the misinformation being spread, then of COURSE we get MORE AFRAID. Duh!

    I get that most humans have a need for a religious ideology to help them feel like their life has meaning in the face of the terror of death, having just read “The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker, GREAT BOOK. But Islam is not a good choice for civilized society to continue to prosper and evolve in a direction that I find at all positive. If I could I would make a vaccine against religion for humans, all religions. I don’t believe I have access to any fundamental truths beyond my ability to observe and interpret the world and I doubt that my evolved human brain is even capable of understanding the fundamental truths of the universe, but human religions all seem so obviously made up by humans to me that I have trouble understanding how anyone can actually really really believe them. But Islam thinks it has the truth and that anyone who doesn’t believe the truth is evil and not really human. There is no golden rule in Islam. For your religion that is clearly made up to control human beings in large societies, spread itself and subjugate the entire world to take over would be a terrible thing for the future of humanity. And those of us who are opening our eyes to this fact will not shut up and let it happen. Sorry. I don’t want my grandchildren to be sex slaves because they won’t subjugate themselves to your made up sky god. And I don’t want any more people to be killed for expressing their free speech rights to criticize your religion in countries founded on the principles of freedom of religion.

    • Avatar

      Ben

      May 9, 2019 at 7:21 PM

      Slavery: A Past and Present Tragedy with Sheikh Omar Suleiman:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pR50Lw_16zo&t=92s

      Slavery & Rape in Islamic Law Q&A with Omar Suleiman:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sVo_-j2THE

      How Islam abolished pre-Islamic & Western colonial chattel slavery [Abdullah al Andalusi]:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIB7-KqmOdA&t=28s

      Question

      What is taqiyyah, and who are the people who practise it? In fatwa no. 101272, you said that it is a term that is particular to the Shi‘ah, and that they are the only ones who practise it. But I discussed with some people who said that Ahl as-Sunnah also practise it. Is this true?

      Taqiyyah, in the usual and well-known sense, is one of the basic principles of the Ithna-Ash‘ari Raafidis; Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa‘ah differ from them concerning it and it is something that takes them beyond the boundaries of the straight path of Allah.

      Taqiyyah in their religion means presenting outwardly something that is different from what one believes inwardly, as an act of religious devotion. Thus they attributed lying and deceit to the religion of Allah, wrongfully and out of enmity.

      This corrupt belief has nothing to do with the beliefs (‘aqeedah) of Ahl as-Sunnah. According to Ahl as-Sunnah, lying is one of the attributes of the hypocrites. A person may keep on lying and persist in lying until he is recorded with Allah as a liar. These people tell lies and persist in lying in all things, then they regard that as part of their beliefs and religion.

      The way of Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa‘ah is based on truthfulness and justice; lying is not part of their religion, praise be to Allah.

      Secondly
      The view of the majority of Sunni scholars is that the basic principle concerning taqiyyah is that it is disallowed; it is only permissible in the case of necessity, and is permitted only to the extent that is necessary. Al-Qurtubi said: The basic principle concerning taqiyyah is that it is not permissible unless there is the fear of death, severing of a limb or extreme harm.

  12. Avatar

    Anon

    October 22, 2017 at 7:27 PM

    Beautiful Article! I have read what most of these commentators say and they are all non-sense. Islam is much more a spiritual ideology than it is materialistic which sets the line for desires, wants to needs, and discipline. Thus, creating a line which distincts Islam and liberalism. These “freedoms”, “rights”, “Desires” are all just major issues towards corruption, misery and Depression. We don’t need western culturalism forced upon our throats. If we muslims pay the kuffar these taxes unless we are guaranteed protection from the state, that is all that matters. But in general view, I suggest to travel to an islamic country to really be in faithful-peace. Block off all corruption and follow your faith openly.
    Liberalism is just a step closer to hell. There is only one absolute truth and secularism and Liberalism with all its sins are just two ideologies of the same face.

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#Life

Mindful or Mind-full? Going From AutoPilot to Aware

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Mindful

Modeling Mindfulness

Mindfull

“Remember that God knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of Him.”

[Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:235]

Mindful or Mind-full?

Ever felt frustrated when you were trying to talk to your spouse, your children, your students, or your youth group and they would just not pay attention? This is a prime example of being on autopilot and getting carried away without actually being aware of what is most important in the present moment.

A recent Harvard study shows that our minds are not present in the moment and wander about 47% of the time1. In a world of technology and continuous sensory overload, the lines between work and home, friends and family, necessity vs. purpose, world-centric vs. Allah-centric have become blurred. We are either living in the past or ruminating about the future, and in the process, we are forgetting to live, enjoy, cherish, and make the most of our present moments.

For parents, teachers, youth leaders, and anyone in the beautiful role of guiding, teaching, coaching, or mentoring others, we can make a huge difference by modeling Mindfulness ourselves. But where do we start? The answer is to go from autopilot to becoming aware.

Autopilot to Aware

Being on autopilot is when you are distracted in the present moment, where your mind is wandering into the past or the future, and you are less aware of yourself, surroundings, or others. Autopilot can actually be pretty helpful for your regular habits. Waking up, brushing your teeth, getting ready for your day, going to school or work – many of the things we do habitually every day can be done more seamlessly without having to think, and that is a good thing. But there are times when you have to learn to turn off your autopilot to become aware. But how?

Here is a Mindfulness tool that can be done in just a minute or two for you to become more aware.

Step 1: Breath as a Tool. Say Bismillah. Focus on your breath. See where you experience the breath – the breathing in and breathing out of your body. Is your breath stemming from your nostrils, your chest, or your stomach? Just bring your attention to your breath and relax and stay with it there for a few moments.

Step 2: Body as a Tool. Relax your body. We carry so many emotions in our bodies2. Our stress from the past or anticipation for the future sometimes finds its way into our necks, other times in our chest muscles or our backs. Pay attention to what emotions and sensations do you feel, and try to relax all parts of your body.

Step 3: Intention as a Tool. As you have centered your thoughts to the present moment through your breath and your body, ask yourself: “What is most important now? In this present moment?”

Just simply being aware makes us more mindful parents, teachers, youth and professionals – being aware makes us more Mindful of Allah SWT. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your mind and body and bring your attention to the present moment.

Mindful

Real Life in the Present Moment

You are an on-the-go parent: It has been a long day and you have to pick up the kids from school, but work is still pending. You’re picking up the kids from school, feeding them, and then shuffling everyone to their afterschool activities, be it Qur’an, softball, soccer, swimming, or the million other things that kids seem to have these days. You squeeze pending work in between drop-offs and pick-ups, and you function by living from one task to the next.

The Autopilot Impact: You’re getting a lot done, but are so engrossed in quickly moving your children along from one thing to another that you are unable to really cherish your time together.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: You can try to go from autopilot to awareness by focusing on your breath, paying attention to your emotions, and relaxing your body. As you do so, ask yourself: “What is most important now?” Make the intention to slow down, listen to the children more mindfully, and cherish and enjoy your time together.

You are a busy teacher: Last night you had to take all the grading home and spent two hours poring over students’ work. This morning, you woke up early to pick up some classroom supplies after dropping off your own kids to school. You’ve already had two cups of coffee and are trying to think through everything you have to do today. You like the idea of Mindfulness, living life in the present moment, and enjoying every day to its fullest, but your mind is not free to even enjoy the beautiful morning sunrise as you drive to school.

The Autopilot Impact: You want to listen and pay attention to every child’s needs, and enjoy the rewards of their growth, but you can’t. What’s more, you judge yourself for just trying to get through your activities for the day. You wish you could connect with your students better.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Whenever you are stressed with an unpleasant parent or student interaction, think about breathing, relaxing your body, and asking what you need to focus on now. Try to do one thing at a time, and relax into what you’re doing.

You are an overstretched youth director: You are a role model. You have this major weekend event you are planning with the youth. Your budget is still pending from the board, you have to call all these people, have to get the graphics and remind everyone about the event, you have to visit all these masjids and MSAs to announce and remind people about the weekend.

This weekend’s theme is Living a Life of Purpose and you are super passionate about it. However, the whole week you have had a hard time remembering to even pray one Salah with focus. Instead, your mind has been preoccupied with all the endless planning for this weekend. You love what you do but you wonder how to also be mindful in your everyday worship while you are always prepping and planning engaging activities for the youth.

The Autopilot Impact: You enjoy shaping the youth but you are losing steam. You are always planning the next program and unable to focus on your own personal and spiritual development. It is difficult for you to pray even one salah without thinking about all the events and activities planned for that week.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Get serious about taking some time for yourself. Know that becoming more mindful about your own prayers and self-development will also make you a better role model. Take a minute or two before every Salah to practice the simple, 3-Step Mindfulness Tool. You say Bismillah and breathe, focus your mind, and then relax your body. Empty your mind from everything else – what has past and what’s to come – and ask “What’s most important now?” to develop better focus in your Salah.

In Conclusion: Practice Simple but Solid Steps towards becoming more Mindful Muslims

Mindfulness is to open a window to let the Divine light in.

[Imam Al Ghazali]

Mindfulness gives us the ability to be aware. We can use Mindfulness tools to remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), refocus, renew our intentions, and engage with the present moment in a more effective and enjoyable way. Mindfulness also invites awareness of our potential negligence in being our best selves with both Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and His creation. To put it simply, being more aware of our selves can help us be better versions of our selves.

Mindfulness is both an art and a science, with brain and behavioral science research validating the importance of Mindfulness in improving our health, managing our stress, navigating our emotions, and positively impacting our lives3. In today’s modern and distracted world, let us treasure every tool that helps us center our attention on what matters the most.

  1. Bradt, Steve (2010). Wandering mind not a happy mind. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
  2. Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen (2013). Bodily maps of emotions. National Academy of Sciences. https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111
  3. “What are the benefits of mindfulness,” American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx

To learn more about how to become mindful take the Define Course on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence.

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#Society

A Code of Conduct To Protect Against Spiritual Abuse

Danish Qasim

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Code of Conduct for Islamic Leadership, Institutions

When there is a claim of spiritual abuse, the initial reaction of concerned Muslims is often to go to another Muslim leader and expect that leader to take care of it.  Most of the time, however, religious leaders in the community have no authority over other religious leaders who are found abusing their position. Many of these leaders feel a foreboding sense of powerlessness to exert change, leaving those who abuse, to do so freely and with impunity. 

There have been attempts by some leaders to take action against abusive religious figures. However, when this happens, it is usually followed by a public or ‘in-group’ campaign against the abusive figure, and the abusive figure and his supporters return in kind. This becomes messy, quickly. There is name-calling, mud-slinging, and threats, but in the end, it amounts to nothing, in the end, leaving everyone involved to make their own decision as to whether or not to continue support for the alleged perpetrator. Other religious leaders may know the accused is guilty, but due to friendships or programs they wish to continue doing with the accused, they will cover for them, especially when there is only a perceived low level of evidence that the public could ever discover it. 

There are several methods and excuses through which abuse is covered up.

The Wall of Silence

In cases of tightly knit groups, whether Sufi tariqas, super Salafi cliques, activist groups, or preachers who have formed a team, the abuser will be protected by a wall of silence, while the victim is targeted, maligned, and ostracized for speaking out against the leader. They, not the abuser, are held accountable, liable, and blamed. While the abuser is expected to be ‘forgiven,’ the victim is socially shamed for a crime committed against him or her. More often than not, the victim is intimidated into silence, while the perpetrator is left free to continue abusing. 

The Kafir Court Rationale

There have been countless situations when there have been legal claims made against a transgressing spiritual leader, but through coercion and pressure, the shaykh (or those close to him) will be able to convince his victim that they are not allowed to go to kafir court systems to solve issues between Muslims. Ironically, these same shaykhs see no difficulty signing legally binding contracts with other Muslims they do business with, or when they give classes, which stands to reason, they are perfectly fine accepting the same ‘kafir court’ as a source of protection when it is for themselves. 

Stop Hurting the Dawah Plea

In other cases, when the disputes are between fellow students, or representatives of the shaykh and those lower ranking students, the shaykh himself is able to get on the phone with the disgruntled victim, give him or her special attention, and convince the person to drop it and not pursue justice, as that may ‘hurt the dawah.’ Sometimes, the shaykhs will ostensibly push for Islamic mechanisms of justice and call for arbitration by other religious figures who they know will decide in his favor. It is critical not to fall victim to these arguments. 

Your Vile Nafs Culpe

Far too often in these groups, particularly the more spiritually inclined ones, everyone will acknowledge the abuse, whether illicit sexual behavior, groping, financial fraud, secret temporary marriages, or bullying by a Shaykh, but steadfastly invoke the ‘only prophets are perfect, and our Shaykh is a wali–– but he can make mistakes’ refrain. Then, when those seeking recourse dare disclose these issues, even when there is no dispute about the factuality of their claims, they are browbeaten into compliance; told their focus on the negative is a sign that they are ‘veiled from the more important, positive efforts of the group, and it is they who should overcome their vile nafs.’ With such groups, leaving may be the only solution. 

Pray it Away Pretext

Sometimes, a target of abuse may go to other teachers or other people in the community to seek help, guidance, or direction. The victims hold these teachers in high regard and believe that they can trust them. However, instead of these teachers acting to protect the victims, the victims are often placated, told to pray it away. They are left with empty platitudes, but nothing concrete is ever done to protect them, nor is there any follow-up. 

The Forgive and Forget Pardon

They are told to forgive…

Forgiveness has its place and time, but at that critical moment, when a victim is in crisis and requires guidance and help, their wellbeing should remain paramount. To counsel victims that their primary job and focus at that pivotal juncture is to forgive their abuser is highly objectionable. Forgiveness is not the obligation of the victim and for any teacher or religious leader to invalidate the wrong that took place is not only counterproductive but dangerous––even if the intention behind the advice came from a wholesome place.

The Dire Need For A Code of Conduct

It is very easy to feel let down when nothing is done about teachers who abuse, but we have to understand that without a Code of Conduct, there really isn’t much that can be done when the spiritual abuse is not considered illegal. It is the duty of Islamic institutions to protect employees, attendees, and religious leaders. We also must demand that. 

Justice is a process. It is not a net result. This means that sometimes we will follow the process of justice and still come up short. The best thing we can do to hold abusers accountable for our institutions is to set up a process of accountability. A code of conduct will not eliminate spiritual abuse. Institutions that adopt this code may still cover up abuse, in which case victims will need to take action against the institution for violating the code. This code of conduct will also protect teachers who can be targetted and falsely accused.

As members of the community, we should expect more.  Here is how:

  •  Demand your Islamic institutions to have and instill a code of conduct. 
  •  If you are in a group outside of an institution, get clarity on the limits of the Shaykh.
  •  Understand that anyone, no matter their social status, is capable of doing horrible things, even the religious figures who talk about the importance of justice, accountability, and transparency. 
  • When it comes to money, expect more from your leadership than emotional appeals. Fundraising causes follow trends, and while supporting good causes is a positive thing, doing so without a proper audit or accountability is not. It lends itself to financial abuse, mistrust, and misappropriation.  

Establish a Protocol

A lot of hurt can be saved and distrust salvaged if victims are provided with honest non-judgment. Even in the event that there is a lack of concrete evidence, a protocol to handle these kinds of sensitive situations can provide a victim with a safe space to go to where they know they won’t be ignored or treated callously. We may not be able to guarantee an outcome, but we can ensure that we’ll try.

Using Contract Law to Hold Abusers Accountable – Danya Shakfeh

In cases of spiritual abuse, legal recourse (or any recourse for that matter) has been rare due to there being no standard of conduct and no legal means to hold abusers accountable.  In order to solve this problem, our Code of Conduct creates a legal mechanism of enforcement through contract law.

The reason why contract law is important and applicable is that the law does not always address unethical behavior.  You have heard the refrain “Just because it is legal, it does not mean it is ethical.” The law, for varying reasons, has its limits. Although we associate the law with justice and morality, the law and justice and morality are not always interchangeable and can even be at odds with each other.  

Ultimately, specifically in a secular society, the law is a set man-made rules and sometimes those rules are arbitrary and actually unfair. For example, there is a class of laws called ‘strict liability’ laws. These laws make a defendant liable even if the person committed the offense by accident.  One example of strict liability law is selling alcohol to a minor. In some states, even if the person tried to confirm the minor’s legal age, the seller could still be held liable for the offense. On the flip-side, there are is a lack of anti-bullying laws on the books in the United States. This allows employers to cause serious emotional damage to employees, yet the employer can get away with such offensive behavior.  Accordingly, the law does not always protect nor is it always ‘just.’

On Power, Boundaries, And The Accountability Of Imams

This is one of the reasons that victims of spiritual abuse have had little success in having their claims addressed at a legal level.  Because abuses are not legally recognized as such, there is often no associated remedy. For example, when a woman enters into a secret second marriage only to find that the husband is not giving her all her Islamic legal rights, that woman’s recourse is very limited because the law does not recognize this as abuse and does not even recognize the marriage.

Further, if a victim of spiritual abuse is abused due to religious manipulation unless the abuser engaged in a stand-alone crime or civil claim, the victim also has no legal recourse. For example, if a religious scholar exploits a congregant’s vulnerabilities in order to convince the congregant to turn over large amounts of money and the congregant later learns that the Islamic scholar did not really need the money, he or she may have no legal recourse.  This is because manipulation (as long as there is no fraud) is not illegal and depending on how clever the religious scholar was, the congregant would have no legal recourse. Our way of solving this problem is by using contract law to set and enforce the standard for ethical behavior.

Use of Institutional Handbooks

Whether people realize it or not, institutional handbooks are a type of contract. Though an attorney should be consulted in order to ensure that they these documents are binding, policies do not necessarily need to be signed by every party nor do they need to be called a “contract” in order to be legally binding.  By creating institutional handbooks and employment policies that relate to common issues of spiritual abuse, we can finally provide guidelines and remedies.

When an employee at an institution violates the institution’s policies, this is a “breach of contract” that can result in firing or even monetary damages. In other words, the policy is that document which victims and institutions can use to back their cases when there are allegations involving abuse.  Policies can also hold institutions themselves liable for not enforcing the policy and remedies as to victims’ abuse. Policies also serve the purpose of putting the community and their beneficiaries and patrons on notice as to what is expected of them.

Our Code of Conduct is the most comprehensive of created ethical guidelines for Muslims leaders and institutions for making spiritual abuse remedies actionable. We believe it will provide remedies to victims that would otherwise not be available through other legal means.  By binding the parties to a contract, victims and institutions can take these contracts, along with the abusers, to court and use the contract to fill in the gap for appropriate behavior that the law otherwise does not fill.

Download the Code of Conduct For Islamic Leadership By In Shaykh’s Clothing

Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse

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#Current Affairs

The Environmental Cost Of War With Iran

Abu Ryan Dardir

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war with Iran

Report after report shows how planet Earth may reach a point of no return. An analysis written by Ian Dunlop claims the planet cannot be saved by the mid-century if we continue on this path. And yet here we are marching towards a war with Iran.

When we think of climate change, we rarely think of war. On June 12th, 2019, Brown University released a report declaring the Department of Defence to be “the world’s largest institution to use petroleum and correspondingly, the single largest producer of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the world.” Burning jet fuel for transportation of troops and weapons make up 70 percent of the Pentagon’s emissions.  Ironically, earlier this year the Pentagon released a 22-page report to Congress stating the ⅔ of their mission-essential installation in the US are vulnerable to flooding, and ½ are susceptible to wildfires. To no surprise, Trump rejected those findings at the time. The Pentagon is now concerned with the impact climate change has on their “foreign missions.”

war, iran, America, Climate change, pentagonWith tensions high with Iran, and several thousand troops are expected to be deployed, if war with Iran is to happen, it may lead us to a more damaged planet that may not recover. This makes the Pentagon guilty of killing people and the earth. The Department of Defense has consistently used between 77-80% of the entire US energy consumption. We see spikes during times of massive war (since America is in a constant state of war), like in 1991, 2001, and so on.

Here is a list of the seven significant sources of greenhouse emissions done by the Department of Defense:

  1. Overall military emissions for installations and non-war operations.
  2. War-related emissions by the US military in overseas contingency operations.
  3. Emissions caused by US military industry   — for instance, for production of weapons and ammunition.
  4. Emissions caused by the direct targeting of petroleum,   namely the deliberate burning of oil wells and refineries by all parties.
  5. Sources of emissions by other belligerents.
  6. Energy consumed by reconstruction of damaged and destroyed infrastructure.
  7. Emissions from other sources, such as fire suppression and extinguishing chemicals, including   Halon, a greenhouse gas, and from explosions and fires due to the destruction of non-petroleum targets in warzones.

This impact on the climate is just the portion from America, in the Iraq war, 37 countries fought alongside America, and 60 are allied against ISIS. There is a way to calculate those emissions as well.

The Rules of War

Before engaging in battle, the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) instructed his soldiers:

  1. Do not kill any child, any woman, or any elder or sick person. (Sunan Abu Dawud)
  2. Do not practice treachery or mutilation. (Al-Muwatta)
  3. Do not uproot or burn palms or cut down fruitful trees. (Al-Muwatta)
  4. Do not slaughter a sheep or a cow or a camel, except for food. (Al-Muwatta)
  5. If one fights his brother, [he must] avoid striking the face, for God created him in the image of Adam. (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim)
  6. Do not kill the monks in monasteries, and do not kill those sitting in places of worship. (Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal)
  7. Do not destroy the villages and towns, do not spoil the cultivated fields and gardens, and do not slaughter the cattle. (Sahih Bukhari; Sunan Abu Dawud)
  8. Do not wish for an encounter with the enemy; pray to God to grant you security; but when you [are forced to] encounter them, exercise patience. (Sahih Muslim)
  9. No one may punish with fire except the Lord of Fire. (Sunan Abu Dawud).
  10. Accustom yourselves to do good if people do good, and not to do wrong even if they commit evil. (Al-Tirmidhi)

A verse in the Holy Qur’an

4:75 (Y. Ali) And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)?- Men, women, and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect; and raise for us from thee one who will help!”

How does this potential war against Iran play into all this?

Our first call to action is to organize an anti-war rally. This type of work is weak in America, and virtually non-existent within the Muslim community.

فَقَالَ أَبُو سَعِيدٍ أَمَّا هَذَا فَقَدْ قَضَى مَا عَلَيْهِ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ مَنْ رَأَى مُنْكَرًا فَلْيُنْكِرْهُ بِيَدِهِ وَمَنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِلِسَانِهِ وَمَنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِقَلْبِهِ وَذَلِكَ أَضْعَفُ الإِيمَانِ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قَالَ أَبُو عِيسَى هَذَا حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ ‏.‏

Abu Sa’eed said: ‘As for this, he has fulfilled what is upon him. I heard the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saying: ‘Whoever among you sees an evil, then let him stop it with his hand. Whoever is not able, then with his tongue, and whoever is not able, then with his heart. That is the weakest of faith.”‘

War with Iran will be a Greater Mistake than War with Iraq

Historically, anti-war sentiment in America has grown over the years. When the Iraq war first started only 23% thought it was a mistake, today it is close to 60% that believe the war is a mistake. Yes, this is in hindsight, but that it is also growth. The reason the anti-war movement is feeble in America is that there is no platform for the campaign to grow. Both parties are guilty of starting wars or taking over the wars from the past administration. Whether we do it alone as an individual or as a group, we should do everything we can as privileged members of this planet to save and protect those that can’t defend themselves.

There is a famous quote of the famed boxer Muhammad Ali when explaining why he wasn’t fighting in the war. He said, “…I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.”

Fighting Earth

With that said, there is a significant interest in the region for more than just fuel and resources. It is truly a problem, our operations in the Gulf is to address our dependency on Persian oil, and the fuel that is used to address our dependence is to protect those resources and access to them. One estimate is that America spends $81 billion annually defending the global oil supply. They do this because the DOD feels its dependency will make it vulnerable on a larger scale.

In 1975 America decided to take away the fear of losing the resources and developed the “Strategic Petroleum Reserve,” and in 1978, they created the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF). Their only purpose was to defend US interest in the Middle East. This, in turn, leads to extractivism of resources and supplies. (Which will be explained in a future article).

This war can be the end of all wars as it can accelerate us to the point of no return in regards to climate change.

A war with Iran is a war with Earth and all who live on it.

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