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Ramadan vs. Ramzan: How to Do Things with Words

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Nationalism is a funny thing. It can be the source of bonding and camaraderie as well as the cause of animosity, chest-puffing, and downright silliness.

Just consider all the online debate about the recent article “Why are Indian Muslims using the Arabic word ‘Ramadan’ instead of the traditional ‘Ramzan’?“, written by Shoaib Daniyal.

The article details how, historically, the Arabic word for Islam’s sacred month “Ramadan” came to be pronounced “Ramzan” in the sub-continent and how, recently, many South Asian Muslims are reverting to the “Ramadan” pronunciation due to, as the author puts it, the effect of a “Saudi-influenced brand of Islam” and “cultural insecurity” on the part of said South Asians.

Apparently, this is a debate that has been cropping up annually in South Asian communities around Ramadan time, and there are a lot of competing socio-political tensions that underlie and color the conversation. As far as this article is concerned, however, much of it is little more than nationalism and thinly-veiled anti-Arabism masquerading as serious historical and linguistic analysis.

The Urge to Purge

Calls for abandoning “arabicized” language in preference for a more “authentic,” “traditional,” or “pure” use of language is hardly new and certainly not limited to South Asia. Historically, many nationalist movements in the Middle East have called for dropping vocabulary, pronunciation, and script associated with Arabs and Arabic. In 20th century Turkey, for example, part of Ataturk’s compulsory modernization program was replacing the Perso-Arabic script of Ottoman Turkish with a new Latin-based Turkish alphabet that was meant to be truer to the modern secular Turkish identity. In Iran also, government programs under the rule of Muhammad Reza Shah attempted to “purify” the Persian language by excising any and all Arabic vocabulary and replacing it with Farsi equivalents, even if that meant inventing a Farsi word from scratch. Historically, these calls for purging Arabic almost always coincided with efforts to secularize society and attenuate the influence of Islam in people’s lives.

Beyond the Middle East and Arabic in particular, attempting to reform the way people use language is often little more than a way to bolster, entrench, or cultivate nationalistic identities. Mundane linguistic details become the battlefield for ideological tug of war. What often features in these debates, however, is partisan historiography and what Prof. Reza Zia-Ebrahimi of King’s College in London calls “dislocative nationalism.” Prof. Zia-Ebrahimi’s research is concerned with how Persian nationalists in the 19th and 20th centuries invented an Aryan national identity that they then back-projected thousands of years to claim that Iran — as a cohesive nation with its own distinct identity, religion, and language — existed in ancient times and persisted throughout history despite the “corrupting” influence of invading forces and cross-cultural mixing. Nationalist reformers in modern times then attempted to “purify” what they anachronistically believed to be that essence of Aryanness by “decontaminating” cultural markers of anything believed to be foreign and non-Aryan, e.g., the Arabic language and even Islam as a whole.

What these nationalists failed to appreciate, however, is that the concept of a nation is a modern construction — strictly speaking, just a figment of our collective imagination — and that the history of any given geographic region is a rich tapestry of interweaving cultures, languages, and traditions. Only a highly selective (and, hence, inventive) reading of history could ignore all that diversity in partitioning off a specific nationalistic or racial essence. This kind of nationalistic essentialism is, of course, not unlike what renowned scholar Edward Said identified and bemoaned as being operative in Orientalism and Western colonialism generally.

Truth be told, this kind of caricaturing and mythologizing of history in service of contemporary nationalistic identity politics is ubiquitous, whether it is modern Egyptians feeling a sense of connection to and national pride for the Ancient Pyramids or modern Americans celebrating Thanksgiving as a commemoration of a peaceful partnership between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.

What does all this have to do with Ramzan?

We can see this selective and romanticized reading of history in Daniyal’s Ramadan vs. Ramzan article. For example, the author repeatedly uses the term “traditional” to characterize the “Ramzan” pronunciative variant. The question to ask is, what makes “Ramzan” so traditional? Given that the sub-continent is home to hundreds of distinct languages and dialects, each with its own storied history, why insist on this one particular pronunciation? As Mahtab Alam noted in his post on this issue last year, not all Indians, let alone South Asians, claim Urdu/Hindi as their mother tongue. Besides “Ramzan,” many South Asians have Ramojan, Ramjan, Rumjan, Ramazan, and so on. As he succinctly puts it, “Insistence on one [variation] is as hegemonic as the other one.”

Further selectivity can be seen in how Daniyal describes the historical influence of Persian/Farsi on the Indian native language as opposed to the purported influence of Saudi Arabia today. The author does not see anything problematic or objectionable about the adoption of Persian language and culture in the evolution of the sub-continent over the course of centuries. But, when it comes to the contemporary adoption of Arabicized speech patterns, that is somehow indicative of Saudi meddling and “cultural insecurity” on the part of Indian Muslims.

So why the inconsistency? If it is a legitimate, natural, organic process for language to shift over time in the sub-continent due to Persian influence historically, why is it suddenly illegitimate, unnatural, objectionable when that language continues to shift in present times due to an Arab (or American, or English, etc.) influence today? In other words, why does Daniyal take a laissez faire attitude when it comes to language transformation historically, but when it comes to modern transformations, suddenly “tradition” is so important and we have to preserve the pronunciations of old? What is so special, culturally iconic, and indispensable about this one particular Persian variant, “Ramzan”?

All that Daniyal has to offer in response to this is that “Ramzan” is traditional because that is how “most Muslim” Indians have been pronouncing it for a few hundred years. Of course, he does not cite any statistics or census results to substantiate this. But, lack of verification aside, if we go back in time, at one point that “Ramzan” pronunciation itself was brand new and unprecedented in the sub-continent, just like “Ramadan” is (supposedly) brand new and unprecedented today. Maybe in a few hundred years, “Ramadan” too will be considered the “traditional” and culturally correct pronunciation. Only Khuda knows.

Persian Confidential

To step back and comment on this entire debate, I just want to say that, ultimately, it does not matter how one pronounces Ramadan or if a Muslim says “namaz” instead of “salat.” From my own life experience and observing the cross-cultural Muslim communities in the West and abroad, I have found that these cultural debates are often nothing more than tribalism (`asabiyya) rearing its ugly head.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am Persian American and grew up saying “Ramezan,” “namaz,” “roozeh,” “sahari,” “Khuda,” etc. I still use these words when speaking to my Iranian family members and do feel a warm connection to my Persian heritage. At the same time, I have no issue using the Arabic equivalents when speaking to others, e.g., my Egyptian wife, or my half-Persian, half-Egyptian sons, who speak both Farsi and Arabic ma sha’ Allah. And, coincidentally, in Persian, my first name, “Daniel,” is pronounced “Daniyal.” Hopefully, my pronunciation of my own name “Daniel” instead of “Daniyal” is not cultural insecurity on my part.

As far as orthoepy is concerned, correct pronunciation is religiously significant when it comes to obligatory prayers as well as the study of the Islamic sciences, e.g., transmission of hadith. Beyond this, as Muslims we should also not lose sight of the fact that Arabic is a special language for a number of reasons, chief among them that it is the language Allah chose for the Quran, His final revelation to mankind. Also, it is the mother tongue of the beloved Messenger of God ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Given these two facts alone, how can any Muslim not feel a deep abiding love for lisan al-`arab? As an American and a Persian, I personally feel no contradiction in or threat to my sense of identity by acknowledging this love. And when we look at the history, literature, and scholarship of non-Arab Muslims the world over, we also see a reverence for Arabic.

Of course, it should go without saying that one’s appreciation of Arabic has no bearing on one’s opinion of the Saudi government or any other state institution. And, furthermore, this love of classical, formal Arabic, i.e., fusha, does not give modern Arabs the right to look down on non-Arab Muslims as somehow less authentically Muslim for any reason, least of which the fact that non-Arab Muslims use the words “Ramzan,” “sehri,” etc., in lieu of the formal Arabic counterparts. Keep in mind that the first and, arguably, most influential book of Arabic grammar ever written was completed in the 2nd century of the Hijri calendar by the Persian Muslim scholar Sibawayh, who was a non-native speaker of the language to boot.

Whether we like it or not, if we go far enough back in time, all of our personal family and cultural histories are inevitably an amalgam of a multitude of cross-cultural influences, regardless of the modern national identities we may currently associate with. In that wider sense, vociferously insisting on a nationality and imbuing so much significance on a singular national identity and language just seems historically illiterate, chauvinistic, and, well, silly.

And a Final Note…

In this post, I have made a big deal about historical diversity and the intellectual inconsistency of essentializing and mythologizing the past in order to serve modern nationalism. But, as it turns out, this is precisely the reasoning many modern academics use to argue that there is no essential, definitive “Islam” with a capital “i”. Rather, there are only “islams,” i.e., myriad historical interpretations, all equally legitimate and normative because who’s to say otherwise? According to this reasoning, it is nothing more than crass essentialism and historical constructivism to pick out an “orthodox Islam” and try to tie that alleged orthodoxy to a past community, e.g., the Sahaba, the Salaf, the Khalaf, etc.

As I have argued elsewhere in response to this argument, there is a brazen double standard in modern academia where religions, like Islam, are portrayed as lacking the robust objectivity and internal coherence — in a word, an essence —that Western normative systems, like liberalism, secularism, communism, capitalism, etc., are believed to have. No one is charged with essentialism, for example, by claiming that liberalism stands for, say, equal rights for all. That is just what liberalism means, and then further details can be debated by scholars in an analytic way. Whereas for Islam, there are as many equally valid interpretations as there are interpreters, for liberalism, Marxism, feminism, etc., not any and every interpretation is valid. This is because those thought systems have an essential meaning that it is the job of a scholar to study and understand.

In other words, Western ideas are typically studied for their own independent merit as abstractions with logical implications completely apart from any sociological, cultural, or historical contextual considerations. When you study Descartes’ Meditations in modern introductory philosophy classes, for example, little attention is given to Descartes’ social or cultural milieu; the only concern is to understand the thesis of the work as Descartes intended it. Contrast this with how the Quran, for example, is treated in Islamic and religious studies departments. Little attention is paid to trying to understand what the Author of the Quran could be propounding and whether those propositions have any independent logical merit. After all, who’s to say what the text of the Quran even means? It is all open to interpretation, and any claim about the text is more a reflection of the biases and cultural and political commitments of the commenter than the text itself.

Now imagine if we took this same approach to an economics or analytic philosophy class, arguing that the concept of “democracy” is open to interpretation, and while in the cultural context of the US, we might understand democracy to mean one thing, in North Korea, it means something else entirely, and who’s to say which interpretation is more “correct” or “orthodox”? Or how about a physics class. Unless one’s physics professor is an unabashed postmodernist, he is not going to be amused by a student arguing that he does not deserve an ‘F’ on his midterm because Isaac Newton’s Principia or Albert Einstein’s The Field Equations of Gravitation are open to interpretation and the professor’s understanding is merely an ahistorical projection of biases onto the text in constructing an “orthodox physics.”

I, of course, do believe the Quran and the Islamic sciences in general have an internal logical coherence and intrinsic meaning (within a range of diversity of opinion). The question then is, why is such essentialism acceptable here but unacceptable in the case of nationalism? Answering this question in full is beyond the scope of this already long post, but part of the answer is that, over the centuries, scholars of Islam put a lot of time, energy, and thought in preserving the religion, preserving the Sunnah, and actively warding off  illegitimate deviation. And, importantly, they were perfectly aware that that was what they were doing — that was their explicit intent, as the historical record shows. Nationalism, in contrast, lacks that historical continuation and self-reflexivity since, of course, the concept of a “nation” is only a couple hundred years old and anything even approximating contemporary nationalistic identities are notably absent from the historical record. Furthermore, when we look at historical discourse, say a thosand years ago, we do not find Indian or Persian scholars, for example, theorizing about the Hindustani or Aryan essence or concerning themselves with preserving an ethnic discursive tradition or racialized normative system til the end of time. With Islam and Muslim scholars, however, we do see this concern with preserving the normative vision of Islam indefinitely, and that is a crucial distinguishing factor. WaAllahu`alam.

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 .

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Daniel Haqiqatjou

    June 24, 2015 at 4:45 AM

    PS: The whole Ramadan/Ramzan debate can be understood through an analogy with food. For example, I am Iranian, but I am not ashamed to admit that my favorite cuisine is South Asian food. That doesn’t take anything away from my Persian-ness. Of course, I grew up eating Persian home cooking, and I do love Persian food and it has a place in my heart. But there’s also a special place in my heart for desi food… I guess I have a big heart (and high cholesterol)! Ultimately, each individual will have his or her own dietary preferences, especially in our increasingly globalized world. And when we even look at the history of different cuisines, we also see a smorgasbord of cross-cultural mixing. For example, one of my favorites, Biryani, is conventionally a South Asian dish. Some gastric historians, however, locate the origin of Biryani in classical Persia. Arabs also have many different versions of what is essentially Biryani, e.g., makloubeh, etc. Obviously, it would be impossible to try to tie a dish like Biryani to one nation since there is much influence from a great number of cultures over the course of centuries, as recipes and spices traveled throughout the Muslim world. But, at the end of the day, who cares? Let’s just enjoy the delicious Biryani together, whether for iftar or for suhur/sehri/sahari! Anyway, don’t know if that was coherent. Fasting is obviously affecting my brain…

  2. Avatar

    Mohammed Khan

    June 24, 2015 at 4:56 AM

    Masha Allah. You made the common sense prevail with objectivity.

  3. Avatar

    Mohammed Khan

    June 24, 2015 at 5:02 AM

    I want to believe that Biryani is Hyderabadi :-)

    • Avatar

      Haider Rehman

      June 27, 2015 at 3:50 AM

      Biryani is Pakistani ;)
      At least for me.

  4. Avatar

    Maleeha

    June 24, 2015 at 7:38 AM

    a really objective, thought provoking and an interesting read! Thank you for the article :)

  5. Avatar

    Ali

    June 24, 2015 at 8:26 AM

    Nationalism, the one type of cancer that will never be cured.

  6. Avatar

    June

    June 24, 2015 at 9:35 AM

    Assalamu Alaykum,
    Nice article. Very well put. The whole nationalism/tribalism being used to remove Arab influence in order to shift toward secularism really struck a chord with me. My in-laws are from Tajikistan and recently the country has been creating some very xenophobic laws very specifically against Arabic influences (and Islamic influences despite their claims against these accusations) for fear of Islamic radicalism (or, you know, just regular Islam. Men with beards?! Women wearing hijab?! EXTREMISTS!) They banned the use of Arabic names for anyone born from now on. As if having the name Muhammed or Khadija will turn you into a terrorist! grrrr….

    • Avatar

      Chang

      June 26, 2015 at 5:16 AM

      That was ridiculous

  7. Avatar

    Abdullah Ali

    June 24, 2015 at 4:37 PM

    Masha’Allah excellent article, and relevant discourse. Just because prior generations appeal to ignorance with regards to the linguistics of a foreign language, doesn’t make it OK for the next generations to adopt or accept an error based on the same logic. Sure, it can be a cultural exception for a particular generation based on the history of the error, but not a linguistic one. Words symbolize meaning. Although the variation of the word may mean the same semantically, the fact that two Muslims will pronounce an Arabic word differently, will in itself become a decisive factor in the interpersonal relationship. Atleast one of the two individuals will be cognizant of the difference, and therefore the word will become symbolic of not a different meaning, but ultimately a difference within the dyad. Whether they pay any mind to it or not, may also boil down to individual cultural norms. EXAMPLE: ‘door’ in Urdu would be transliterally pronounced ‘dharvaza’. No Urdu/Hindi/Punjabi speaker would be ok with someone saying ‘zharvaza’. It would be an error, that if used enough, could make one easily subject to correction by the native speaker. Where this issue gets stickier, is that the word Ramadan is used in the Qur’an. It’s meaning is derived from the Qur’an. Whenever it’s used by a foreign speaker, it’s almost always used in an Islamic context. Changing even a letter from the Qur’an can be easily discerned as a huge error. So when nationalism and history get in the way of acknowledging and correcting an error that gets passed on to new generations as norm, the idea of unity as a holistic society would demand we have this discourse. It’s not a debate. It’s about respecting the language of our faith. Fasting has nothing to do with this discourse. It’s about education, and the linguistics of a foreign language. The morphology of Arabic is very intricate, and even the smallest difference can change meaning. Committing to learning this intricacy with the right intention, could also reap spiritual benefit in this month as well. No debate necessary, just commitment to objectivity. Jazak’Allah khair!

  8. Avatar

    LearningArabic

    June 24, 2015 at 5:13 PM

    I’m a South Asian guy who used to say Ramzan as a child, but then started using Ramadhan once I started to learn Tajweed and proper Quranic recitation.

    Nothing to do with trying to be more Arab or letting go of my heritage. I don’t speak Urdu with an Arabic accent so why would I use Arabic words with an Urdu accent. I suspect many South Asians started to use Ramadan when they realized that it is the correct pronunciation.

  9. Avatar

    Mansoor

    June 24, 2015 at 11:44 PM

    This deconstruction is devoid of context. There is a creeping rejection of many cultural elements in sub continental societies along with a countervailing adaptation of such elements from the Arabian peninsula; not to mention some people rewriting their family trees to now trace their roots to that part of the world. This is seen by many (myself included) as a symptom of that creeping trend.

  10. Avatar

    Ali

    June 25, 2015 at 5:06 AM

    Assalamu alaikum warahmatullahi

    May Allah (swt) bless the writer of this article with ‘aafiyah, wisdom, and persistence. Ameen.

    JazakAllah Khayran. I love when Persians like you defend true Islam, because of the hadith of Rasulullah (saAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam). I hope that hadith is a source of happiness for you too.

  11. Avatar

    Mariam

    June 26, 2015 at 9:48 AM

    And to the dismay of my bretherns of South Asian descent, defending “ramzan”: If we were to live in a South Asian bubble this would have been easier to defend. I really think it is a matter of globalization. My spell-check doesn’t even recognize “ramzan”. The rest of the Muslim world is not Desi, and therefore, they would rather stick to Arabic “Ramadan” than Desi “Ramzan”. If you want to function with the rest of the world, gotta stick with original/approved spelling. After all, prez Obama says Ramadan ;)

    Ramadan, unlike how we would like to think, is not a food item. It is a religious month.

    We, south Asians, can now move on to patent the word “samosa” instead of Arabs “messing” it up by saying “sambosa” . After all, ours always tastes so much better!

    • Avatar

      Khaled Ahmad

      June 29, 2015 at 1:32 PM

      LOL, I’m always asking my Desi friends to hook it up with the Sambosas; now I feel ashamed….

  12. Avatar

    D G Ahmed

    July 3, 2015 at 4:00 PM

    In India-Bangladesh-Pakistan Subcontinent there existed fighting between ulemas (Pls note Ms. Mariam My spell-check doesn’t even recognize “ulema” – although it is most recognized word for meaning “Islamic Scholars”) over the last word of Suratul Fatiha. It is pronounced “DaLe-en” correctly by all today. But some 50 years before there were a group of ulemas- mostly from Deoband, who used to pronounce it as ‘ZuaLe-en”. In those days supporter each group would not go for prayer in a mosque in which his opposite was an Imam. Some times there would be physical assaults. So far I have gathered information ( Pardon me, I am not a linguist), in Turkey the Arabic letter ‘Duad’ is to be pronounced as ‘Zuad’. And dispute started from there. But in Egypt, which claims their Arabic is purer and classical, they pronounce the letter as ‘Duad’. Most of the eminent reciters of Holy Qur’an came from Egypt so the letter now found its original phonetic place. Now no one pronounce ‘ZuaLe-en’. True, in Subcontinent we have tremendous Persian influence as Persian was official language for 7 hundred years. Only British Raj drove Persian out from offices, but influence of Persian remained popular in Islamic Schools- we call “Madrashas’. Because of rise of nationalism Persian language is loosing its charm. True, now days Saudi Arabia is spending lot of money in these countries building mosques and other institutions to promote their version of interpretation of Islam encouraging Muslims to renounce 4 Schools of Imams, disrespecting Sufi Dervishes (who actually brought Islam to most of the Subcontinent), everywhere finding ‘shirk’ but no shirk in inviting America to protect them instead of seeking help from Allah Subhanu wata’ala. In fact Islam & Muslims are passing through a very critical moment in history now. May Allah Guide us through ‘Siratul Mustaqim’.

  13. Avatar

    Zia-e-Taiba

    October 31, 2016 at 8:45 AM

    Everybody should read this article The Campaign of Protecting the Sacred Words

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#Current Affairs

Sri Lankan Muslims To Fast In Solidarity With Fellow Christians

Raashid Riza

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On Sunday morning Sri Lankan Christians went to their local churches for Easter services, as they have done for centuries. Easter is a special occasion for Christian families in ethnically diverse Sri Lanka. A time for families to gather to worship in their churches, and then to enjoy their festivities. Many went to their local church on Sunday morning to be followed by a traditional family breakfast at home or a local restaurant.

It would have been like any other Easter Sunday for prominent mother-daughter television duo, Shanthaa Mayadunne and Nisanga Mayadunne. Except that it wasn’t.

Nisanga Mayadunne posted a family photograph on Facebook at 8.47 AM with the title “Easter breakfast with family” and had tagged the location, the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. Little would she have known that hitting ‘post’ would be among the last things she would do in this earthly abode. Minutes later a bomb exploded at the Shangri-La, killing her and her mother.

In more than a half a dozen coordinated bomb blasts on Sunday, 360 people have been confirmed dead, with the number expected to most likely rise. Among the dead are children who have lost parents and mothers & fathers whose families will never be together again.

Many could not get past the church service. A friend remembers the service is usually so long that the men sometimes go outside to get some fresh air, with women and children remaining inside – painting a vivid and harrowing picture of the children who may have been within the hall.

Perpetrators of these heinous crimes against their own faith, and against humanity have been identified as radicalised Muslim youth, claiming to be part of a hitherto little-known organisation. Community leaders claim with much pain of how authorities were alerted years ago to the criminal intent of these specific youth.

Mainstream Muslims have in fact been at the forefront not just locally, but also internationally in the fight against extremism within Muslim communities. This is why Sri Lankan Muslims are especially shaken by what has taken place when men who have stolen their identity commit acts of terror in their name. Sri Lankan Muslims and Catholics have not been in conflict in the past, adding to a palimpsest of reasons that make this attack all the more puzzling to experts. Many here are bewildered as to what strategic objective these terrorists sought to achieve.

Sri Lankan Muslims Take Lead

Sri Lankan Muslims, a numerical minority, though a well-integrated native community in Sri Lanka’s colourful social fabric, seek to take lead in helping to alleviate the suffering currently plaguing our nation.

Promoting love alone will not foster good sustainable communal relationships – unless it is accompanied by tangible systemic interventions that address communal trigger points that could contribute to ethnic or religious tensions. Terror in all its forms must be tackled in due measure by law enforcement authorities.

However, showing love, empathy and kindness is as good a starting point in a national crisis as any.

Sri Lankan Muslims have called to fast tomorrow (Thursday) in solidarity with their fellow Christian and non-Christian friends who have died or are undergoing unbearable pain, trauma, and suffering.  Terror at its heart seeks to divide, to create phases of grief that ferments to anger, and for this anger to unleash cycles of violence that usurps the lives of innocent men, women, and children. Instead of letting terror take its course, Sri Lankans are aspiring to come together, to not let terror have its way.

Together with my fellow Sri Lankan Muslims, I will be fasting tomorrow from dawn to dusk. I will be foregoing any food and drink during this period.

It occurs to many of us that it is unconscientious to have regular days on these painful days when we know of so many other Sri Lankans who have had their lives obliterated by the despicable atrocities committed by terrorists last Sunday. Fasting is a special act of worship done by Muslims, it is a time and state in which prayers are answered. It is a state in which it is incumbent upon us to be more charitable, with our time, warmth and whatever we could share.

I will be fasting and praying tomorrow, to ease the pain and suffering of those affected.

I will be praying for a peaceful Sri Lanka, where our children – all our children, of all faiths – can walk the streets without fear and have the freedom to worship in peace.

I will be fasting tomorrow for my Sri Lanka. I urge you to do the same.

Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. Surah Maidah

Raashid Riza is a Sri Lankan Muslim, the Politics & Society Editor of The Platform. He blogs here and tweets on @aufidius.

 

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#Life

Are You Prepared for Marriage and Building a Family?

Mona Islam

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High School is that time which is ideal for preparing yourself for the rest of your life. There is so much excitement and opportunity. Youth is a time of energy, growth, health, beauty, and adventure. Along with the thrill of being one of the best times of life, there is a definite lack of life experience. In your youth, you end up depending on your own judgments as well as the advice of others who are further along the path. Your own judgments usually come from your own knowledge, assumptions, likes, and dislikes. No matter how wise, mature, or well-intended a youth is compared to his or her peers, the inherent lack of life experience can also mislead that person to go down a path which is not serving them or their loved ones best. A youth may walk into mistakes without knowing, or get themselves into trouble resulting from naivety.

Salma and Yousef: 

Salma and Yousef had grown up in the same community for many years. They had gone to the same masjid and attended youth group together during high school. After going off to college for a few years, both were back in town and found that they would make good prospects for marriage for each other. Yousef was moving along his career path, and Salma looked forward to her new relationship. Yousef was happy to settle down. The first few months after marriage were hectic: getting a new place, organizing, managing new jobs and extended family. After a few months, they began to wonder when things would settle down and be like the vision they had about married life.

Later with valuable life experience, we come to realize that the ideas we had in our youth about marriage and family are far from what are they are in reality. The things that we thought mattered in high school, may not matter as much, and the things that we took for granted really matter a lot more than we realized. In retrospect, we learn that marriage is not simply a door that we walk through which changes our life, but something that each young Muslim and Muslima should be preparing for individually through observation, introspection, and reflection. In order to prepare for marriage, each person must intend to want to be the best person he or she can be in that role. There is a conscious process that they must put themselves through.

This conscious process should begin in youth. Waiting until marriage to start this process is all too late. We must really start preparing for marriage as a conscious part of our growth, self-development, and character building from a young age. The more prepared we are internally, the better off we will be in the process of marriage. The best analogy would be the stronger the structure and foundation of a building, the better that building will be able to serve its purpose and withstand the environment. Another way to think of this process is like planting a seed. We plant a seed long before the harvest, but the more time, care, and attention, the more beautiful and beneficial the fruits will be.

 

Sarah and Hasan:

Hasan grew up on the East Coast. He had gone to boarding school all through high school, especially since his parents had died in an unfortunate accident. His next of kin was his aunt and uncle, who managed his finances, and cared for him when school was not in session. Hasan was safe and comfortable with his aunt and uncle, but he always felt there was something missing in his life. During his college years, Hasan was introduced to Sarah and eventually they decided to get married.

The first week of his new job, Hasan caught a really bad case of the flu that made it hard for him to get his projects done. Groggy in bed, he sees Sarah appear with a tray of soup and medicine every day until he felt better. Nobody had ever done that for him before. He remembered the “mawaddah and rahmah” that the Quran spoke of.

Knowledge, Skills, and Understanding:

The process of growing into that person who is ready to start a family is that we need to first to be aware of ourselves and be aware of others around us. We have to have knowledge of ourselves and our environment. With time, reflection and life experience, that knowledge activates into understanding and wisdom. This activity the ability to make choices between right and wrong, and predict how our actions will affect others related to us.

Preview:

This series is made up of several parts which make up a unit about preparation for family life. Some of the topics covered include:

  • The Family Unit In Islam
  • Characteristics of an Individual Needed for Family Life
  • The Nuclear Family
  • The Extended Family

Hamza and Tamika

Tamika and Hamza got married six months ago. Tamika was getting her teacher certification in night school and started her first daytime teaching job at the local elementary school. She was shocked at the amount of energy it took to manage second graders. She thought teaching was about writing on a board and reading books to kids, but found out it had a lot more to do with discipline, speaking loudly, and chasing them around. This week she had state testing for the students and her finals at night school. She was not sure how to balance all this with her new home duties. One day feeling despair, she walked in her kitchen and found a surprise. Hamza had prepared a beautiful delicious dinner for them that would last a few days, and the home looked extra clean too. Tamika was pleasantly surprised and remembered the example of our Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

The Family Unit in Islam

We always have to start with the beginning. We have to ask, “What is the family unit in Islam?” To answer this we take a step further back, asking, “What is the world-wide definition of family? Is it the same for all people? Of course not. “Family” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people across the world. As Muslims, what family means to us, is affected by culture and values, as well as our own understanding of Islam.

The world-wide definition of family is a group of people who are related to each other through blood or marriage. Beyond this point, is where there are many differences in views. Some people vary on how distantly related to consider a family. In some cultures, family is assumed to be only the nuclear family, consisting of mom dad and kids only. Other cultures assume family includes an extended family. Another large discrepancy lies in defining family roles and responsibilities. Various cultures promote different behavioral norms for different genders or roles in the family. For example, some cultures promote women staying at home in a life of luxury, while others esteem women joining the workforce while raising their kids on the side. Living styles vary too, where some cultures prefer individual family homes, while in other parts of the world extended families live together in large buildings always interacting with each other.

 

Layla and Ibrahim   

Layla and Ibrahim met at summer retreat where spirituality was the focus, and scholars were teaching them all day. Neither of them was seriously considering getting married, but one of the retreat teachers thought they might make a good match. It seemed like a fairytale, and the retreat gave them an extra spiritual high. Layla could not imagine anything going wrong. She was half Italian and half Egyptian, and Ibrahim came from a desi family. Soon after the nikah, Layla moved across the country into Ibrahim’s family home, where his parents, three siblings, and grandmother lived.  Come Ramadan, Layla’s mother-in-law, Ruqayya, was buying her new clothes to wear to the masjid. It was out of love, but Sarah had never worn a shalwar kameez in all her life! Ruqayya Aunty started getting upset when Layla was not as excited about the clothes as she was.

As Eid approached, Layla had just picked a cute dress from the department store that she was looking forward to wearing. Yet again, her mother-in-law had other plans for her.

Layla was getting upset inside. It was the night before Eid and the last thing she wanted to do was fight with her new husband. She did not want that stress, especially because they all lived together. At this point, Layla started looking through her Islamic lecture notes. She wanted to know, was this request from her mother-in-law a part of the culture, or was it part of the religion?

Marriage

The basis of all families, undoubtedly, is the institution of marriage. In the Islamic model, the marriage consists of a husband and a wife. In broad terms, marriage is the commitment of two individuals towards each other and their children to live and work together to meet and support each other’s needs in the way that they see fit. What needs they meet vary as well, from person to person, and family to family. The marriage bond must sustain the weight of fulfilling first their own obligations toward each other. This is the priority. The marriage must also be strong enough to hold the responsibility of raising the kids, and then the extended family.

How are we as Muslims unique and what makes us different from other family models? We are responsible to Allah. The end goals are what makes us different, and the method in which we work. In other family systems, beliefs are different, goals are different, and the motives are different. Methods can especially be different. In the end, it is quite a different system. What makes us better? Not because we say we are better or because we automatically feel better about ourselves due to a misplaced feeling of superiority. But instead it is because we are adhering to the system put in place by the most perfect God, Allah, the Creator and Sustainer of all the worlds, the One Who knows best what it is we need.

Family Roles:

Each person in the family has a role which Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has meant for them to have, and which ethics and common sense tell us to follow. However, our nafs and ego can easily misguide us to live our family life in the wrong way, which is harmful and keeps us suffering. Suffering can take place in many ways. It can take place in the form of neglect or abuse. In the spectrum of right and wrong, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tells us that we are a nation meant for the middle path. So we should not go to any extreme in neglect or abuse.

What are the consequences of mishandling our family roles? Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) calls this type of wrongdoing “transgression” or “oppression”. There are definitely consequences of oppression, abuse, and neglect. There are worldly consequences which we feel in this life, and there are long term consequences in the Akhirah.

Razan and Farhaan

Razan and Farhan had gotten married two years ago. Since they were from different towns, Razan would have to move to Farhaan’s hometown. On top of the change of married life, Razan felt pangs of homesickness and did not know many people in the new town. However, Farhaan did not realize what she was going through. He still had the same friends he grew up with for years. They had a die-hard routine to go to football games on Friday night and play basketball on Saturday at the rec center.

Razan was losing her patience. How could he think it was okay to go out with his friends twice on the weekend? Yet he expected her to keep the home together? Her blood started to boil. What does Islam say about this?

Mawaddah and Rahma

The starting point of a family is a healthy relationship between the husband and wife. Allah SWT prescribed in Surah 25: verse 74, that the marriage relationship is supposed to be built on Mawaddah (compassion) and Rahma (mercy). A loving family environment responds to both the needs of the children and the needs of parents. Good parenting prepares children to become responsible adults.

Aliyaah and Irwan

Aliyaah and Irwan had homeschooled their twin children, Jannah and Omar, for four years. They were cautious about where to admit their children for the next school year. Aliyaah felt that she wanted to homeschool her children for another few years. There were no Islamic Schools in their town. Irwan wanted to let his kids go to public schools. He felt that was nothing wrong with knowing how things in the real world are. However, every conversation they started about this issue ended up into a conflict or fight. This was beginning to affect their relationship.

Parenting

Two significant roles that adults in a family play are that they are married and they are parents. It is important that parents work to preserve and protect their marital relationship since it is really the pillar which supports the parenting role. Parenting is a role which Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) directly addresses in our religion. We will be asked very thoroughly about this most important role which we will all play in our lives.

There is a hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) reminds us,

“All of you are shepherds and responsible for your wards under you care. The imam is the shepherd of his subjects and is responsible for them, and a man is a shepherd of his family and is responsible for them. A woman is the shepherd of her husband’s house and is responsible for it. A servant is the shepherd of his master’s belongings and is responsible for them. A man is the shepherd of his father’s property and is responsible for them”. (Bukhari and Muslim)

Islam has placed a lot of importance on the family unit. A family is the basic building block of Islam. A strong family can facilitate positive social change within itself and the society as a whole. The Quran asserts that human beings are entrusted by their Creator to be his trustees on Earth, thus they need to be trained and prepared for the task of trusteeship (isthiklaf).

Asa youth, it is important to make a concerted effort to develop our family skills so that we grow into that role smoothly. Proper development will prepare a person emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically for marriage and family life.

Mona Islam is a youth worker, community builder, motivational speaker, writer, and author. For the past 25 years, Sr. Mona has been on the forefront of her passion both locally and nationally, which is inculcating character development in youth (tarbiyah).  Sr. Mona has extensive knowledge of Islamic sciences through the privilege of studying under many scholars and traveling worldwide.  An educator by profession, she is a published author, completed her masters in Educational Admin and currently doing her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. Sr. Mona is married with five children and lives in Houston, TX.

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#Current Affairs

White Activism Is Crucial In The Wake of Right-Wing Terrorism

Laura El Alam

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The vicious terrorist attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15 were a punch to the gut for peace-loving people all over the world.  Only the most heartless of individuals could feel nonchalant about 70 innocent children, women, and men being killed or maimed mercilessly as they prayed. However, even a brief glimpse at comments on social media confirms that among the outpouring of sadness and shock, there are, indeed, numerous sick individuals who glory in Brenton Tarrant’s deliberately evil actions. White supremacy, in all its horrific manifestations, is clearly alive and well.  

In an enlightening article in The Washington Post, R. Joseph Parrott explains,  “Recently, global white supremacy has been making a comeback, attracting adherents by stoking a new unease with changing demographics, using an expanded rhetoric of deluge and cultivating nostalgia for a time when various white governments ruled the world (and local cities). At the fringes, longing for lost white regimes forged a new global iconography of supremacy.”

“Modern white supremacy is an international threat that knows no borders, being exported and globalized like never before,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said. “The hatred that led to violence in Pittsburgh and Charlottesville is finding new adherents around the world. Indeed, it appears that this attack was not just focused on New Zealand; it was intended to have a global impact.” (link)

Many people want to sweep this terrifying reality under the rug, among them the U.S. President.  Asked by a reporter if he saw an increase globally in the threat of white nationalism, Trump replied, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”

However, experts in his own country disagree.  A March 17 article in NBC News claims that, “The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned in a 2017 intelligence bulletin that white supremacist groups had carried out more attacks in the U.S. than any other domestic extremist group over the past 16 years. And officials believe they are likely to carry out more.”

Although they may be unaware of — or in denial about –the growing influence of white supremacist ideology, the vast majority of white people do not support violent acts of terrorism.  However, many of them are surprisingly, hurtfully silent when acts of terrorism are committed by non-Muslims, with Muslims as the victims.

When a shooter yells “Allahu akbar” before killing innocent people, public furor is obvious and palpable.  “Terror attacks by Muslims receive 375% more press attention,” states a headline in The Guardian, citing a study by the University of Alabama. The perpetrator is often portrayed as a “maniac” and a representative of an inherently violent faith. In the wake of an attack committed by a Muslim, everyone from politicians to religious leaders to news anchors calls on Muslim individuals and organizations to disavow terrorism.  However, when white men kill Muslims en masse, there is significantly less outrage.  People try to make sense of the shooters’ vile actions, looking into their past for trauma, mental illness, or addiction that will somehow explain why they did what they did.  Various news outlets humanized Brenton Tarrant with bold headlines that labeled him an “angelic boy who grew into an evil far-right mass killer,” an “ordinary white man,” “obsessed with video games,” and even “badly picked on as a child because he was chubby.”  Those descriptions, which evoke sympathy rather than revulsion, are reserved for white mass murderers.

The media’s spin on terrorist acts shapes public reaction.  Six days after the Christchurch attacks, millions were not currently taking to the streets to protest right-wing extremism.  World leaders are not linking arms in a dramatic march against white supremacist terrorism.  And no one is demanding that white men, in general, disavow terrorism.

But that would be unreasonable, right? To expect all white men to condemn the vile actions of an individual they don’t even know?  Unreasonable though it may be, such expectations are placed on Muslims all the time.

As a white woman, I am here to argue that white people — and most of all white-led institutions — are exactly the ones who need to speak up now, loudly and clearly condemning right-wing terrorism, disavowing white supremacy, and showing support of Muslims generally.  We need to do this even if we firmly believe we’re not part of the problem. We need to do this even if our first reaction is to feel defensive (“But I’m not a bigot!”), or if discussing race is uncomfortable to us. We need to do it even if we are Muslims who fully comprehend that our beloved Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,  “There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white — except by piety.”

While we might not hold hatred in our hearts individually, we do hold the power, institutionally.  If we truly care about people of color, peace, and justice, we must put our fragile egos aside and avoid “not me-ism.”  The fact is, if we have white skin, we have grown up in a world that favors us in innumerable ways, both big and small. Those of us with privilege, position, and authority are the very ones who have the greatest responsibility to make major changes to society. Sadly, sometimes it takes a white person to make other white people listen and change.

White religious leaders, politicians, and other people with influence and power need to speak up and condemn the New Zealand attacks publically and unequivocally, even if we do not consider ourselves remotely affiliated with right-wing extremists or murderous bigots.  Living our comfortable lives, refusing to discuss or challenge institutionalized racism, xenophobia, and rampant Islamophobia, and accepting the status quo are all a tacit approval of the toxic reality that we live in.  

Institutional power is the backbone of racism.  Throughout history, governments and religious institutions have enforced racist legislation, segregation, xenophobic policies, and the notion that white people are inherently superior to people of color.  These institutions continue to be controlled by white people, and if white leaders and white individuals truly believe in justice for all, we must do much more than “be a nice person.” We must use our influence to change the system and to challenge injustice.  

White ministers need to decry racial violence and anti-immigrant sentiment from their pulpits, making it abundantly clear that their religion does not advocate racism, xenophobia, or Islamophobia. They must condemn Brenton Tarrant’s abhorrent actions in clear terms, in case any member of their flock sees him as some sort of hero.  Politicians and other leaders need to humanize and defend Muslims while expressing zero tolerance for extremists who threaten the lives or peace of their fellow citizens — all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs, immigration status, or ethnicity.  New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is an excellent role model for world leaders; she has handled her nation’s tragedy with beautiful compassion, wisdom, and crystal clear condemnation of the attacker and his motives.  Similarly, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demonstrated superb leadership and a humane, loving response to the victims in Christchurch (and Muslims in general) in his recent address to the House of Commons.  

Indeed, when they put their mind to it, people can make quite an impactful statement against extremist violence.  In January 2015 when Muslim gunmen killed 17 people in Paris, there was an immediate global reaction. The phrase “Je suis Charlie” trended on social media and in fact became one of the most popular hashtags in the history of Twitter.  Approximately 3.4 million people marched in anti-terrorism rallies throughout France, and 40 world leaders — most of whom were white — marched alongside a crowd of over 1 million in Paris.  

While several political and religious leaders have made public statements condemning the terrorist attacks in Christchurch, there is much less activism on the streets and even on social media following this particular atrocity.  Many Muslims who expected words of solidarity, unity, or comfort from non-Muslim family or friends were disappointed by the general lack of interest, even after a mosque was burned in California with a note left in homage to New Zealand.

In a public Facebook post, Shibli Zaman of Texas echoed many Muslims’ feelings when he wrote, “One of the most astonishing things to me that I did not expect — but, in hindsight, realize that I probably should have — is how few of my non-Muslim friends have reached out to me to express condolences and sorrow.” His post concluded, “But I have learned that practically none of my non-Muslim friends care.”

Ladan Rashidi of California posted, simply, “The Silence.  Your silence is deafening. And hurtful.” Although her words were brief and potentially enigmatic, her Muslim Facebook friends instantly understood what she was talking about and commiserated with her.   

Why do words and actions matter so much in the wake of a tragedy?  

Because they have the power to heal and to unite. Muslims feel shattered right now, and the lack of widespread compassion or global activism only heightens the feeling that we are unwanted and “other.”  If 50 innocent Muslims die from terrorism, and the incident does not spark universal outrage, but one Muslim pulls the trigger and the whole world erupts in indignation, then what is that saying about society’s perception of the value of Muslim lives?

To the compassionate non-Muslims who have delivered flowers, supportive messages, and condolences to the Muslim community in New Zealand and elsewhere, I thank you sincerely. You renew our hope in humanity.

To the white people who care enough to acknowledge their privilege and use it to the best of their ability to bring about justice and peace, I salute you.  Please persevere in your noble goals. Please continue to learn about institutionalized racism and attempt to make positive changes. Do not shy away from discussions about race and do not doubt or silence people of color when they explain their feelings.  Our discomfort, our defensiveness, and our professed “colorblindness” should not dominate the conversation every time we hear the word “racism.” We should listen more than speak and put our egos to the side. I am still learning to do this, and while it is not easy, it is crucial to true understanding and transformation.

To the rest of you who have remained silent, for whatever reason:  I ask you to look inside yourself and think about whether you are really satisfied with a system that values some human lives so highly over others.  If you are not a white supremacist, nor a bigot, nor a racist — if you truly oppose these ideologies — then you must do more than remain in your comfortable bubble.  Speak up. Spread love. Fix problems on whatever level you can, to the best of your ability. If you are in a leadership position, the weight on your shoulders is heavy; do not shirk your duty.  To be passive, selfish, apathetic, or lazy is to enable hatred to thrive, and then, whether you intended to or not, you are on the side of the extremists. Which side are you on? Decide and act.

“A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case, he is justly accountable to them for their injury.”  — John Stuart Mill, On Liberty.  

For the past decade, writer Laura El Alam has been a regular contributor to SISTERS Magazine, Al Jumuah, and About Islam.  Her articles frequently tackle issues like Muslim American identity, women’s rights in Islam, support of converts/reverts, and racism.  A graduate of Grinnell College, she currently lives in Massachusetts with her husband and five children. Laura recently started a Facebook page, The Common Sense Convert, to support Muslim women, particularly those who are new to the deen.

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