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Studying Islam Overseas: Nadwatul ‘Ulama in India | The Motherland – Prelude

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Prelude | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII

This post is a prelude to the “The Motherland” series which will go over the benefits and challenges of studying Islam overseas in India, institutions of learning there in, and Nihal Khan’s journey of studying at Nadwatul ‘Ulama in the 2014-2015 academic calendar year. The subsequent articles in this series will detail his experiences and reflections from his travels and studies in India.

. . .

Between the Traditional Study of Islam and Academianadwa

Though I was initially planning on pursuing law school as a career path, but I can happily say I found my niche in the academic study of religion, more so of Islam. I consciously decided to pursue Islamic studies at a full-fledged level in my last year of undergrad at Montclair State University. Though generally the eastern and western traditions of studying Islam have been at odds with each other ever since the days of British colonization, I found that in today’s day and age there is a dire need to synthesize both of these philosophies to an extent in which they become workable realities.

In summary, the eastern study of Islam is focused on classical textual understanding in which the soul of Islam is understood and envisioned as absolute truth—commonly taught in madrasas and Islamic universities in the Muslim world. The western study of Islam is focused on orientalist analyses of the religion, anthropological, historical, and sociological factors that affected the adherence of Islam in those frames. This form of study is common in western universities that teach religion in a deconstructionalist form while ignoring the matter of absolute truth.

I had already been looking at Nadwatul ‘Ulama prior to pursuing Islamic studies as a research career. I was seeking spiritual gratification through the traditional Islamic sciences. After being accepted into the Hartford Seminary’s Master’s in Islamic Studies program, I decided to make this a full-time endeavor.

But why Nadwatul ‘Ulama?

Nadwatul ‘Ulama: Why Did I Chose to Study Here?

Firstly, being an overseas citizen of India (OCI) and possessing a lifetime visa to the country had made my task of studying 75% easier. The biggest issue students of the sacred Islamic sciences face with studying overseas is constantly getting a visa renewed. Though the Hartford Seminary had accepted me and allowed me to pursue extracurricular research, they were not funding my trip nor had I asked them to do so. With the OCI, I did not need to do specific field research where the contingency of my visa’s validity was dependent upon a university, nor was I really eligible to spend a large chunk of time in any other country due to the visa issue. With the OCI, I can enter and exit India as I please.

Secondly, Nadwatul ‘Ulama seemed like the easiest institution to be admitted into for a foreigner while not having to worry about an unstable political climate and tough admission guidelines. Madinah University, Umm al-Qura, Imam Muhammad, Qaseem, and the other Saudi universities are not bad places to study as a student who has an idea of Islamic thought, but admissions take a year (sometimes even more) and there is no guarantee that I would get in. Madinah also has a strong population of American students, hence that is a huge plus to keep you socially engaged (though Nadwa is lacking in this regard and can significantly negatively affect someone, I came here knowing this). Sadly Yemen, Syria, and Egypt have all fallen into a great amount of political turmoil in recent years which deterred/prevented me from studying over there, so Dar al-Mustafa, Al-Azhar, and Abu Noor were all out of the question.

The Rumi Darwaza: An entry gate into Old Lucknow built by the Mughal dynasty.Rumidarwaza

Due to my Indian ethnicity and the post-2008 politics between India and Pakistan due to the Mumbai bombings, Darul Uloom Karachi, Binoria Town, Ashrafiyyah, the International Islamic University of Islamabad, and all the other Pakistani institutions became very limited choices for me. The only places left were maybe some universities in Jordan or Qasid Institute, the International Islamic University of Malaysia, the European Institute of Islamic Sciences in France, or Darul Ulooms in England or the United States. I did not look at universities in Jordan much, Qasid seemed to be mainly focused on Arabic and did not have a complete Islamic studies program (someone can correct me if I am wrong here), Malaysia was not on my radar since I did not know anyone from there at the time, I got word from people that the EIIS in France was not at its peak that it was known for, and because I am a former student of the madrasa system within America, I wanted to get a different experience of studying Islam outside of that environment (England is included here).

There were also some institutions in the gulf countries such as Qatar and Kuwait, but I was not too interested as the curricula were not my cup of tea for what I needed. Not to mention I wanted a feel of what it was like to live outside of the United States–which I would not have achieved by living in a gulf country that looks, feels, and operates very much like America. But some places like the Qatar Institute of Islamic Sciences seemed to show a very nice advanced curriculum with famed Muslim philosophers as visiting professors such as Dr. Tariq Ramadan and Dr. Jasser Auda.

Thirdly, Nadwatul ‘Ulama has quite a jubilant history within the subcontinent in the areas of unity within the Muslim community, academia, comparative studies, all while rooted in the traditional textual understanding of Islam. In the late 1800s, some forty to fifty years after the great mutiny where thousands of Indians–regardless of religion, were massacred at the hands of British imperialists, Muslims were figuring out what direction they wanted to take their educational institutions. In a nutshell, India’s largest and most influential Muslim thinkers at the time—who would later found the erudite institutions known as Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Darul Uloom Deoband, presented two approaches to preserving Islam which each side disagreed with. The AMU approach was more concerned about teaching the secular sciences within a Muslim shell (I will be writing more about AMU in a future MM article), while Deoband’s (also in an upcoming article) was entrenched in understanding, teaching, and preaching the textual tradition of Islam.

The tomb of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan, a former ruler of Awadh. A not-so-common tourist attraction with a beautiful view in Lucknow.

oldlucknow

In the midst of these two schools, a conference of scholars representing each approach (and from outside these two groups) formed a think tank of sorts called the Nadwatul ‘Ulama (the conference of scholars). They had a conference which eventually blossomed into the institution which we have today in Lucknow. The premise was to be open and inviting to Muslims of all backgrounds, schools of thought, associations–be it Deobandi, Ahle Hadith (Salafi), Sufi, Hanafi, Shafi, Hanbali, political activists (which would lead to the later formation of the Jamaat-e-Islami), and others–as well as recognize the academic needs of the time and provide solutions for them. This sense of unity and functionality within the subcontinent really struck me in a positive light, as this institution preserved the Muslim community at a time of great strife and turmoil while not limiting their intellectual abilities of growth. I have studied in various traditions throughout my short life and learned to be critical of whatever religiously-political reactionary establishment of Islam that I had taken from. Hence, Nadwa just seemed like the right fit for me. I felt these similar values are what American Muslims are in need of, hence after visiting in 2014, I applied and got into Nadwatul ‘Ulama.

Academics

There are various streams at Nadwa to study from according to the student’s liking. All of these streams fall under the traditional Dars al-Nizami curriculum with some tweaks from the institution. Though foreign students are usually not turned away, officially you need to have a valid visa to stay in India to be given admission, A student should be able to converse either in Urdu or Arabic (you can learn either during your stay) so that you are not placed in the first year of the program. (Though my personal recommendation, it is better to get a good grounding in your basics back home before coming to large institutions where you are not given individual attention due to the large volume of students). Though a “section” is the English rendering, the following are all technically traditional ‘alimiyyah programs with respect to the curriculum. Here is the break down:

The ‘Aaliyah Section (BA Equivalent)

This section is four years long and is Nadwa’s main stream. Many students that study here usually come from another madrasa branch of Nadwa in India, have studied before the beginning of the first year of this program, and are given the most attention from the BA equivalent streams. The strong points of this section and the khusoosi are Arabic, Fiqh, and Hadith. This section is taught fully in Urdu

The Khusoosi Section (BA Equivalent)

Though similar to the ‘aaliyah section, the khusoosi is mainly for students that are coming from a high school (10+2) or BA program. Basically, the students here have not studied in a madrasa for a majority of their lives (do not forget that India has very clean-cut delineations for students studying specific majors. What you study is what you will be working in for the rest of your life). I have a lot of respect for many students in this section as they went from studying commerce, finance, or engineering to Islamic studies. This section also has a large amount of students who may be in between certain milestones in their life, so many may not stick around for next year. Some are studying in this program because they failed other majors in college and are trying to establish themselves in a completely different field. Students spend three years here and then automatically transfer into the ‘aaliyah section in the last two years. This section is also taught fully in Urdu.

The Arabic Section (BA Equivalent)

This section mainly caters to foreigners who do not have a stronghold in Urdu. All subjects mirror the khusoosi section, except that all classes are taught in Arabic, Shafi’i fiqh is learned by the students instead of Hanafi fiqh, and there is much more emphasis on Hadith over Fiqh. I initially took admission here but transferred into the Urdu section later as I felt the studies were stronger in terms of academic rigor in the latter. At the same time the students in the Urdu section were much more inclined towards in-depth study as their environments and teachers sought to do that much better.

A view of the Nadwa Masjid from the Athar hostel. hostel

Do not think you will not learn Arabic in the other sections, rather I have seen better Arabic speakers come from the Urdu section compared to the Arabic section. As mentioned before, the only plus advantage is that all classes are taught in the Arabic language.

For those wondering, there is no dedicated one year for dawrah al-hadith (a complete reading of all six books of hadith) at Nadwatul ‘Ulama in the BA Equivalent (‘alimiyyah) sections. Though you begin studying the six books of hadith, Nadwa wants you to finish the Fadeelah program if you would like to finish Bukhari and Muslim, the two main canonical works of Prophetic traditions in Sunni Islam.

The Fadeelah Section (MA Equivalent/Takhassus/Specialization)

This is probably the crux of Nadwa’s academic offerings. After completing one of the above sections and having a grasp in Urdu and Arabic, students are given the choice of specializing in a science —Prophetic traditions (hadith), Quranic exegesis (tafsir), Islamic law (fiqh), Islamic evangelism (da’wah), completing the remaining portions of the collections of Bukhari and Muslim, and learning to research texts, write articles, and the like. This is a two year program and comes highly recommended by many people such as Shaykh Akram Nadwi of the United Kingdom.

Nadwa definitely has the environment needed for a student of Islamic sciences to progress in whatever they are studying.  These are the base programs. Students are expected to read books outside of class, engage in short research projects, as that is the actual point of coming to Nadwa in the view of all the teachers. Though it takes time to break in to the culture, food, and people, once you get into the swing of things you will be able to drink from the wells of knowledge therein. My own personal out-of-class educational endeavors took me to Mazahir al-Uloom in Saharanpur where I sat with Shaykh Yunus Jaunpuri (India’s most senior scholar of hadith) for two days, Darul Uloom Deoband, and various madrasas in Gujarat. Just to show how big of a deal Shaykh Yunus is, Shaykh Akram Nadwi is also currently in the midst of authoring a book on him and his accomplishments in the sciences of hadith.

This series will be continued every week and will cover the various experiences and lessons I learned throughout this endevour to study Islam in India. I hope to convey to readers how life is in India for an American through speaking about my interactions with health care, law enforcement, locals, Islamic institutions, what students of knowledge should consider before thinking about studying overseas, and lastly reflections and recommendations on the institutions and places I have and will continue to visit within India.

. . .

Check out Part I of this series: Experiences of Islam, Politics and Culture in India.

Nihal Ahmad Khan is currently a student of Islamic Law and Theology at Nadwatul 'Ulama in Lucknow, India. He was born and raised in New Jersey and holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a minor in Business from Montclair State University and a diploma in Arabic from Bayyinah Institute's Dream Program. He began memorizing the Qur’an at Darul Uloom New York and finished at the age of seventeen at the Saut al-Furqan Academy in Teaneck, New Jersey. He went on to lead taraweeh every year since then. Along with his education, Nihal has worked in various capacities in the Muslim community as an assistant Imam, youth director, and a Muslim Chaplain at correctional facilities and social service organizations. Nihal is also an MA candidate in Islamic Studies from the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Avatar

    hafsa

    August 26, 2015 at 8:39 AM

    Salam alaykum brother. Great article! For women who have less opportunities to study in a traditional Islamic Institution like this one, I found Islamic Online University to be a very good forum though you miss out on the tarbiyya and training you receive as a part of studying on campus.

  2. Avatar

    Zara

    August 26, 2015 at 2:28 PM

    Jazakallah khair for this, it’s a fascinating read.

    Do you have suggestions for women who wish to study Islam formally to such an extent but aren’t able to do so at traditional institutions?

    • Avatar

      Faisal

      August 26, 2015 at 8:26 PM

      Yes you can consider Cambridge Islamic College [www.cambridgeislamiccollege.org]

    • Avatar

      Nihal Khan

      September 16, 2015 at 2:26 PM

      Ws Zara,

      Though I’m currently in the middle of publishing the rest of my experience through a series of posts on MM, it’s important to remember a few points which I personally recommend:

      1. Consider heading overseas ONLY after you’ve exhausted the study of basic subjects. Larger institutions are not able to individually cater to each student as much as a personal teacher or smaller classrooms are able to do. Before even considering it, one ought to have studied Nahw, sarf, basic tafsir, usool al din, basic fiqh, usool, etc before. And if you think opportunity is limited in America for women to study Islam, then overseas will only be worse. You need to pinpoint local resources and juice them to the best of your ability in helping you study.

      2. There are institutions where women can study overseas in many places–it just won’t be like a western college classroom with comfy tables, chairs, air conditioning, etc. It will require struggle. Many times western students think that the first class educations experience we get back home are what we should expect when we go overseas. It would prepare a student–be it male or female–for them to be ready to sacrifice the comforts which they are extremely accustomed to in the pursuit of knowledge. Don’t put yourself through hardship on purpose, instead–be ready to endure it when you are tested with it.

  3. Avatar

    Faisal

    August 26, 2015 at 8:07 PM

    Please check out the video titled from Nadwatul Ulama to Cambridge Islamic College by Dr Mohammad Akram Nadwi. Cambridge Islamic College is for both men and women.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swNAWtAtUE8

  4. Avatar

    Bakhtawar

    August 26, 2015 at 11:01 PM

    Jazakallah khair for such an article. Maybe this will motivate others to share their experiences studying Islam abroad. I’m looking into studying islamic studies at International Islamic University Islamabad myself, but haven’t been able to find anyone who has graduated from that program.

    • Avatar

      Nihal Khan

      September 16, 2015 at 2:29 PM

      Ws Bakhtawar,

      Thank you for your kind words! I know a few graduates from the university in Islamabad. If you’re serious about heading there, then feel free to e-mail me at nihalk1 at gmail.

  5. Avatar

    Zuhaib

    August 26, 2015 at 11:14 PM

    In the US.
    Darul Qasim in Chicago IL offers a comprehensive curriculum.
    DarulQasim.org

    • Avatar

      Nihal Khan

      September 16, 2015 at 2:30 PM

      Salam Zuhaib,

      Yes! Darul Qasim is a great place to consider within the United States. It’s a privilege to sit and benefit from Shaykh Amin Kholwadia.

  6. Avatar

    dr ikram

    August 27, 2015 at 4:22 AM

    Jazakallah khair for such a good article.did you have any prior islamic education which helped you in gaining admission in nadwa.im a doctor by profession and i dont know arabic or urdu.though i can read simple urdu i cannot write it.how to go about gaining admission in places like nadwa.i have a keen desire to learn islam from a place like nadwa.currently im pursuing a diploma from iou.

  7. Avatar

    Abu Milk Sheikh

    August 27, 2015 at 10:03 AM

    Are there any foreign family-men in the program? I.e. Men who have brought their families and are attending Nadwa. If so, how do they manage?

    • Avatar

      Nihal Khan

      September 16, 2015 at 2:36 PM

      Nope, none that I know of.

  8. Avatar

    Ed

    September 14, 2015 at 9:38 AM

    Studying abroad has its advantages in that you can be among Muslims that live with Sharia law. You don’t have people giving you a degrading look because you wear a Burka or Headscarf. You study among Muslims. On the other hand you are subjected to a lower class status as a human being because women are not see as equals to men. Sharia law rules to whatever the Ayatollah says.

    The advantage of studying in the west is that you have exposure to better schools and a respected education. You are treated as an equal to everyone and don’t have to wear any restrictive clothing. You can be like a man, drive a car like a man and participate in just about any activity you are capable of performing, just like a man. Such freedom allows for the full expression of yourself as a human being. There is no fear of men or their backward social (sharia) views. Women are encouraged to be equals in western society and frowned upon when they choose a lesser role for themselves. That is why there is no Taylor Swift, celebrity in Muslim society. Its your life, you came into this world alone and you will leave it alone. You choose for yourself.

  9. Pingback: » The Motherland: Experiences of Islam, Politics, and Culture In India

  10. Avatar

    Faraz

    September 15, 2015 at 10:47 PM

    Good read, my only comment is that it seems like you “settled” for Nadwatul-Ulama when all your preferred choices in KSA, Pakistan, Middle East, etc… were not possible. In practice though, Nadwatul-Ulama is a tremendous institution that should be regarded as among the leading places to study Islam throughout the world, it shouldn’t be considered as the option you consider only when you exhaust all your other options. I’ve only visited the campus on a few occasions, but subhanAllah it was enlightening and peaceful just being there. I find that the graduates I’ve met from there have had a broader world-view than ‘ulema from other institutes, and have particularly adept at translating their studies to a Western context. The graduates do a great job carrying the legacy of Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi.

    • Avatar

      Nihal Khan

      September 16, 2015 at 2:46 PM

      Salam Faraz,

      The main reason I considered the other schools is due to the larger number of American students present at those institutions. You have a support system to rely on in case things go south. I didn’t chose Nadwa because “well, getting in everywhere else is too hard”.

      When choosing where to study overseas, I highly recommend students research whether 1) One can easily attain and hold onto a visa wherever they are going to study, 2) See if there are other foreign students of your background with who you can connect with. If not friends, then family.

      These are the MOST important things to consider when headed overseas. Honestly, when it comes to studies while you’re a foreigner in another institution, the only really important factor is whether there is a general culture of studying. If so, then you’re fine. After speaking to dozens of students studying overseas at various Islamic institutions, we all concluded that your academic rigor and capabilities are somewhere around 50% dependent on your own ability to study, 25% on the teacher, and 25% on the class lecture. Basically, whether you go to Madinah, Azhar, Nadwa, etc–it doesn’t make too much of a difference at the end of the day if you have good study habits.

      But for myself, the visa was the main aspect–not to mention I studied briefly with a Nadwi before coming to India. After analyzing the best place for me in the circumstances I am in, I concluded Nadwa was the best common denominator. That’s how I came here :).

  11. Pingback: » Self-Revelations: Discovering Your Limits in India | The Motherland: Part II

  12. Pingback: » Health Care in India: Scooters, Breaking Bones, and Surgery | The Motherland – Part III

  13. Avatar

    Rahat

    October 22, 2015 at 9:49 PM

    Really helpful.

  14. Avatar

    sam

    November 6, 2015 at 7:42 AM

    Salam

    If one is able to read traditional texts in Arabic (and has completed the Hidayatun Nahw or Ajrumiyyah)

    And has studied basic fiqh aqeedah and usool hadith and tafseer all basic,

    What programme could one be admitted into in Islamabad in order to further one’s studies?

    Preferably Drs e Nizami

  15. Avatar

    Sued Adnan Murtaza

    December 15, 2015 at 2:34 PM

    MA SHA ALLAH..Beneficial Article,
    It will be helpful for those who wish to study in traiditional institute like this one..
    and should be translated in to Arabic language and others one.

  16. Avatar

    Amir Ahmad khan

    July 6, 2016 at 7:49 PM

    jazakalla kumula hu ahsan al jaza for a great turning and motivating leccture… it is an humble request to all of my brothers and sisters that help your brother… ‘How i can sdmission in the one of the growing and advancing darul uloom nadwa…
    asalamh alukum wa rwhmutulahi wa barakata ho

  17. Avatar

    amer

    August 23, 2016 at 3:17 AM

    I call many time ,nadwatul ulama and deobond univercity,but no answer until now,pease answer me..

  18. Avatar

    Muhammad Ayaz

    September 21, 2016 at 12:52 AM

    As-salamu alaykum,

    I am an engineering drop out from Mumbai and currently seeking a course in Islamic studies. Reading about the Khusoosi course has got me intrigued. Only issue is that I’m 26 years old and might have to at least find a part-time job, would that be feasible?

  19. Avatar

    Mohammad Sarwar

    September 16, 2017 at 5:11 AM

    As-salaamu ‘Alaykum Wa Rahmatullaahi Wa Barakaatuh!

    Brother,

    I pray this message finds you good health and Imaan.

    Quick question, how did you enroll to Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama?

    I live in the UK and I would like to apply. I have checked their website but some of their pages are appearing as 404.

  20. Avatar

    Bilal

    October 5, 2018 at 9:35 AM

    Masha allah brother nice article i am from makkah studied in madrash al sawlatiyah and planning to move nadwa tul ulama but i am very weak in studies please help me

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OpEd: Why We Must Reconsider Moonsighting

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Ed. Note: We understand that this is a matter of debate in many communities, MM welcomes op-eds of differing points of view. Please use this form.

When the Crescent Committee was founded in 2013, the Muslim community of Toronto was hopeful that this new initiative might resolve the long-standing problem of mosques declaring Eid on different days. This moonsighting organization was to follow global moonsighting as a methodology – if the crescent were to be sighted anywhere in the world, they would declare Eid. Global moonsighting was seen as a potential way of solving the yearly moonsighting debate which local sighting had been unable to solve thus far. It was hoped that this approach would also ensure congruence with Fiqh Council of North America’s (FCNA) lunar calendar which determines the Eid day in advance based on astronomical calculations.

This year, however, all those hopes were put to the test. Early afternoon on June 3rd, the 29th of Ramadan, the Crescent Committee (CC) started receiving reports that the moon was sighted in Saudi Arabia. Given that it was not possible for it to be seen there based on visibility charts, the committee required corroboration from another country in order to declare Eid. As the day progressed, they got reports from Iraq, Nigeria, Brazil, Mali and even from Maryland in the US. All those reports could not be relied upon because either the committee was unable to get in touch with their contacts in those countries or because the reports did not satisfy the criterion they laid out.

As they were sifting through the reports, the CC was shocked to learn that one of its founding members, the Islamic Foundation of Toronto (IFT), had already declared Eid! IFT is one of Toronto’s oldest and biggest mosques and their leadership decided to declare Eid based on the announcement from Mauritania. Mosques following FCNA’s calendar were already celebrating Eid the next day, so IFT thought it best to join with them with hopes of preserving unity.

With one of its own members having declared Eid and mounting pressure from the community given it was past 10 pm, the CC decided to wait to receive the final (hopefully positive) reports from California. This meant having to wait till sunset on the West Coast which would mean midnight on the East Coast. Unfortunately, even from California, there were no confirmed reports. Finally, at midnight, the Committee declared that they would complete 30 days of Ramadan and celebrate Eid on the 5th of June.

Alas, after spending a frustrating day waiting for an announcement till midnight, Toronto Muslims were told that this was going to be another year with two Eids in the city. This year, however, the split was not between proponents of astronomical calculations and moonsighting, but been proponents of the exact same moonsighting methodology!

Solving a 50-year old problem

This year’s debacle in Toronto represents nothing new. There have been numerous failed attempts to unite the moonsighting community. In 1995, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Ministry of Warith Deen Muhammad joined hands to form the ‘Islamic Shura Council of North America’ with hopes of having a unified Eid declaration. Just like the Crescent Committee, this too was eventually disbanded due to dissenting voices. Other examples to unite and better organize moonsighting include the 2007 National Moonsighting Conference in California and the 2009 National Hilal Sighting Conference in New York. These attempts simply haven’t worked because there are far too many independent mosques and far too many moonsighting methodologies – uniting everyone in the absence of a governing authority is nearly impossible.

The story also highlights the three main problems that proponents of moonsighting have struggled to solve for nearly half a century in North America and other parts of the Western world. These can be summarized as follows:

1) Mosques declaring Eid on different days based on differing moonsighting methodologies. This has created notorious divisions within the community and has led to the awkward situation of families, often living in the same city, not being able to celebrate together. It can also lead to endless argumentation within families as to which mosque to follow with regards to this issue.

2) The unpredictability of the Eid date means that Muslims continue to have difficulty taking time off from work and planning family vacations. This problem is particularly challenging for the hourly-waged working-class individuals who work in organizations with little flexibility. The process of having to explain to an employer the complications surrounding Eid declarations can be a source of unnecessary hardship for many. It is not uncommon for many to take off a day which ends up being the ‘wrong day’.

3) Delayed announcements, especially during the summer months, due to process of receiving and verifying reports after sunset. Not knowing whether or not the next day will be a holiday, often until the late evening, has been a continued source of distress for families every year.

It was the desire the solve these very problems that brought together a group of visionary Muslim jurists and astronomers in Herndon, Virginia in 1987. Organized by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), the Lunar Calendar Conference was one of the first attempts to find an innovative solution to the problems posed by traditional moonsighting. A detailed history of the events leading up to the conference and its aftermath have been documented before. In short, Muslim scholars and mathematicians continued work on the astronomical lunar calendar for nearly two decades after the conference and it was finally adopted by FCNA and ISNA in 2006.

A valid methodology from the Shariah

While opposition to FCNA’s lunar calendar was quite strong when it was first introduced, there has been growing acceptance of astronomical calculations over the past 15 years as a result of continued research and education on this subject.

The use of calculations to determine the dates of Ramadan is something which numerous reputable scholars have allowed throughout Islam’s history [1]. While this has always been the view of a small minority, championed mainly by scholars in the Shafa’i legal school, it is still based on a sound interpretation of religious texts. The difference of opinion on this issue arises from hadith of the Prophet where he stated,  “If [the crescent moon] is obscured from you, then estimate it” (فإن غم عليكم فاقدروا له ). A detailed exposition in support of calculations from a classical perspective was recently presented by Shaykh Salahuddin Barkat.

Shaykh Musa Furber, one of America’s leading Shafa’i jurists, also comments on the towering figures from our tradition who supported calculations: “Since the time of Imām al-Nawawī, there has been an evident trend within the Shāfiʿī school of law for acceptance for the personal use of calculations for fasting. While a small number of earlier Shāfiʿī scholars did accept it, it seems to have been confined to a small minority within the school. It was not until the time of Imam al-Nawawī (may Allah grant him His mercy) that the opinion amongst scholars of the school started to shift towards accepting calculations as valid and even binding — even if limited to the calculator and whoever believed him. Although al-Subkī (may Allah grant him His mercy) is usually accredited with causing this shift, some scholars credit Imam al-Nawawī’s himself with starting this trend. The opinion was accepted by both Shaykh al-Islām Zakariyā al-Anṣārī and Imām al-Ramlī, though not by Imam Ibn Ḥajar (may Allah grant all of them from His mercy). These imams form the basis for reliable opinions in the late Shāfiʿī madhhab.”

Understandably, this opinion was considered weak and ignored through much of Islamic history. Some limited its scope and allowed it only when the moon was obstructed or for use by experts in astronomy. There really is no need for calculations in Muslim lands where there exists a centralized authority to sight the crescent and there are public holidays for the entire populace. However, in secular countries with Muslim minorities, this position must be revisited as it offers a very practical solution to the crises we find ourselves in.

Only one way forward

According to a 2011 survey of over 600 mosques in the US, the adoption rate of FCNA’s calendar stood at 40%. At the writing of this article nearly 8 years later, this number has likely increased to over 50%. The survey indicated that about 40% of the mosques followed local sighting while the remainder followed global sighting. Given the recent shift towards global moonsighting, it is likely that the moonsighting community is evenly split between the two positions at this time.

These statistics represent the only logical way forward to solve this decades-old problem: the most efficient way of achieving unity is by converging behind FCNA’s lunar calendar. This methodology is the only real solution to the crises we currently find ourselves in. Not only does it address all our needs, but this approach has also shown to provide immense ease and facilitation for Muslim communities that have followed it in the past 15 years.

The moonsighting leadership has failed to unite despite a half-century of effort; it is inconceivable at this point that this would ever happen. Even if it did miraculously happen, 50% of the community would still be following FCNA’s calendar and all three of our main problems will remain unaddressed. Additionally, with the current trend of uniting behind the approach of global sighting, ‘moonsighting’ has largely become an administrative exercise. It involves the hilal committee simply waiting for reports from abroad and trying to ascertain their veracity. Only a handful of communities go out looking for the moon and establish the sunnah of moon sighting in a bonafide sense.

In large communities where differing Eid dates is a reoccurring problem, advocating for the adoption of the lunar calendar must come from the grass-roots level. Muslims most affected by this problem should lobby their local mosques to change their positions and unite behind FCNA’s lunar calendar.

While it may seem impossible to get the leadership of mosques to abandon an old position, it has already been done. In 2015, nine major mosques in the Chicago area set aside their differences and put their support behind the lunar calendar. This is an incredible feat and has created ease in the lives of thousands of people. If similar initiatives are taken in other cities split along lines of lunar dogmatism, it is conceivable that the moonsighting issue could be resolved in North America within the next five to ten years.

The Prophet told us to calculate the moon if it is obscured by clouds. Today, the moon is not obscured by physical clouds but it is clouded by poor judgment, distrust, egotism, disunity, and pride. We must resort to calculations to determine the birth of the new moon, not because it is the strongest legal position or a superior approach, but because our status as minorities in a secular land necessitates it.

References:

[1]  From SeekersGuidance: Scholars upholding this can be traced all the way back to the first Islamic century. The textual basis for this opinion is the hadith narrated by al-Bukhari, “When you see it [the new moon of Ramadan] then fast; and when you see it [the new moon of Shawwal], then break the fast. If it is hidden from you (ghumma ‘alaykum) [i.e. if the sky is overcast] then estimate it (fa-qdiru lahu);” (al-Bukhari, hadith no. 1900). The last verb, fa-qdiru, can be validly understood to mean calculation. Of the scholars who held this, are Abu al-‘Abbas b. Surayj (d. 306/918), one of the leading founders of the classical Shafi‘i school, the Shafi‘i scholar and renowned mystic Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072), the leading Shafi‘i judge Taqi al-Din al-Subki (d. 756/1355), the Shafi‘i legal theorist al-Zarkashi (d. 794/1392), the renowned Maliki legal theorist al-Qarafi (d. 684/1285), and some Hanafi scholars. The late Shafi‘i commentator al-Qalyubi (d. 1069/1659) held that all sighting-claims must be rejected if calculations show that a sighting was impossible, stating, “This is manifestly obvious. In such a case, a person may not fast. Opposing this is obstinacy and stubbornness.” See al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 31-4. The leading scholar of the late Shāfi‘ī school Muhammad al-Ramli (d. 1004/1596) held that the expert astronomer was obliged to follow his own calculation as was the non-astronomer who believed him; this position has been used by some contemporary Shafi’i scholars to state that in the modern world, with its precise calculations, the strongest opinion of the Shafi’i school should be that everyone must follow calculations; see ‘Umar b. al-Habib al-Husayni, Fath al-‘ali fi jam‘ al-khilaf bayna Ibn Hajar wa-Ibn al-Ramli, ed. Shifa’ Hitu (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2010), pp. 819-22. See also the fatwa of the Hanafi scholar Dr Salah Abu al-Hajj (http://www.anwarcenter.com/fatwa/معنى-حديث-لا-تصوموا-حتى-تروا-الهلال-ول) last accessed 9/5/2016) which states, after arguing against relying on calculations, “However, the position of [following] calculations is the position of a considerable group of jurists, so it is a respected disagreement in Islamic law, whereby, if a state were to adopt it, it is not rejected, because the judgment of a judge removes disagreement, and the adoption of a state is [as] the judgment of a judge.

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Eid Lameness Syndrome: Diagnosis, Treatment, Cure

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How many of you have gone to work on Eid because you felt there was no point in taking off? No Eid fun. Have you ever found Eid boring, no different from any other day?

If so, you may suffer from ELS (Eid Lameness Syndrome). Growing up, I did too.

My family would wake up, go to salah, go out to breakfast, come home, take a 4+ hour nap and then go out to dinner. I didn’t have friends to celebrate with and even if I did, I wouldn’t see them because we stuck to our own immediate family just as they did.

On the occasion that we went to a park or convention center, we would sort of have fun. Being with other people was certainly better than breakfast-nap-dinner in isolation, but calling that a memorable, satisfying, or genuinely fun Eid would be a stretch.

I don’t blame my parents for the ELS though. They came from a country where Eid celebration was the norm; everyone was celebrating with everyone and you didn’t have to exert any effort. When they moved to the US, where Muslims were a minority, it was uncharted territory. They did the best they could with the limited resources they had.

When I grew up, I did about the same too. When I hear friends or acquaintances tell me that they’re working, doing laundry or whatever other mundane things on Eid, I understand.  Eid has been lame for so long that some people have given up trying to see it any other way. Why take personal time off to sit at home and do nothing?

I stuck to whatever my parents did for Eid because “Eid was a time for family.” In doing so, I was honoring their cultural ideas of honoring family, but not Eid. It wasn’t until I moved away that I decided to rebel and spend Eid with convert friends (versus family) who didn’t have Muslim families to celebrate with on Eid, rather than drive for hours to get home for another lame salah-breakfast-nap-dinner.

That was a game-changing Eid for me. It was the first non-lame Eid I ever had, not because we did anything extraordinary or amazing, but because we made the day special by doing things that we wouldn’t normally do on a weekday together. It was then that I made a determination to never have a lame Eid ever again InshaAllah.

I’m not the only one fighting ELS. Mosques and organizations are creating events for people to attend and enjoy together, and families are opting to spend Eid with other families. There is still much more than can be done, as converts, students, single people, couples without children and couples with very small children, are hard-hit by the isolation and sadness that ELS brings. Here are a few suggestions for helping treat ELS in your community:

Host an open house

Opening up your home to a large group of people is a monumental task that takes a lot of planning and strength. But it comes with a lot of baraka and reward. Imagine the smiling faces of people who would have had nowhere to go on Eid, but suddenly find themselves in your home being hosted. If you have a big home, hosting an open house is an opportunity to express your gratitude to Allah for blessing you with it.

Expand your circle

Eid is about commUNITY. Many people spend Eid alone when potential hosts stick to their own race/class/social status. Invite and welcome others to spend Eid with you in whatever capacity you can.

Delegate

You can enlist the help of close friends and family to help so it’s not all on you. Delegate food, setup, and clean-up across your family and social network so that no one person will be burdened by the effort InshaAllah.

Squeeze in

Don’t worry if you don’t have a big house, you’ll find out how much barakah your home has by how many people are able to fit in it. I’ve been to iftars in teeny tiny apartments where there’s little space but lots of love. If you manage to squeeze in even two or three extra guests, you’ve saved two or three people from ELS for that year.

Outsource Eid Fun

If you have the financial means or know enough friends who can pool together, rent a house. Some housing share sites have homes that can be rented specifically for events, giving you the space to consolidate many, smaller efforts into one larger, more streamlined party.

Flock together

It can be a challenge to find Eid buddies to spend the day with. Try looking for people in similar circumstances as you. I’m a single woman and have hosted a ladies game night for the last few Eids where both married and single women attend.  If you are a couple with young kids, find a few families with children of similar age groups. If you’re a student, start collecting classmates. Don’t wait for other people to invite you, make a list in advance and get working to fend off ELS together.

Give gifts

The Prophet ﷺ said: تَهَادُوا تَحَابُّوا‏ “Give gifts to increase love for each other”. One of my siblings started a tradition of getting a gift for each person in the family. If that’s too much, pick one friend or family member and give them a gift. If you can’t afford gifts, give something that doesn’t require much money like a card or just your time. You never know how much a card with kind, caring words can brighten a person’s Eid.

Get out of your comfort zone

If you have ELS, chances are there is someone else out there who has it too. The only way to find out if someone is sad and alone on Eid is by admitting that we are first, and asking if they are too.

Try, try, try again…

Maybe you’ve taken off work only to find that going would have been less of a waste of time. Maybe you tried giving gifts and it didn’t go well. Maybe you threw an open house and are still cleaning up/dealing with the aftermath until now. It’s understandable to want to quit and say never again, to relent and accept that you have ELS and always will but please, keep trying. The Ummah needs to believe that Eid can and should be fun and special for everyone.

While it is hard to be vulnerable and we may be afraid of rejection or judgment, the risk is worth it. As a survivor and recoverer of ELS, I know how hard it can be and also how rewarding it is to be free of it. May Allah bless us all with the best Eids and to make the most of the blessed days before and after, Ameen.

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Bipolar Exiled: Oscillating between the Mind’s Terrain and Physical Boundaries

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By Farzande Jehan

 

“And what is the matter with you sister, you are not well either?”

She is speaking to me in Urdu. We are both Pathan. And now I am thinking of one universal ailment that I can supply this lady with and leave it at that. I say that I have depression. She looks at me puzzled, looks at the lady sitting next to her, searching her face for a clue but to no avail. Can I explain ‘depression’ to her? This is going to be difficult. Why don’t I..

“I have a mood disorder.”

Pakistanis use the word ‘mood’ and ‘moody’ all the time; she should know. As I wait for a response, the same blank expression on her face. No comprendo. Rescue her furzy, she is losing you.

“Okay, so sometimes I am very happy, bohth khush,” I raise my hand as high as possible, “And sometimes I am very sad, bohth khafa.” I bring my hand down low.

Ahhh!”

The thing’s been expressed in the right words.

To elaborate I say: “What I come here for…” -and there is newfound confidence in my voice too- “…is to make sure that it is leveled.”

This I demonstrate by slicing through the room with my theatrical hand. I resettle in my chair. I have successfully regained my right to be here. I am quiet not because I am rude, but because I need composure.


2009

I was 23, visibly Muslim, living in NYC, and just about ready to enter an adulthood promised to many of the youth of my time. I was a graduate student the year I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and had all but completed two of the courses that led to my degree. I owed many of life’s successes and some failures too -but more of the good- to my ex-commuter status. My family preferred that I live at home, so I’d take the D from Brooklyn and transfer to the 1 somewhere in Midtown (God help you on the weekends when maintenance reroutes).

The summer of my onset, two white passengers in an underground train whispered about the news of Michael Jackson’s death. The couple scheduled to get help from martinis to cope with their pain.

The isolation I experienced and the spiritual inclination I harbored from a young age worked as seamless elements in the pursuit of removing me from my reality… your reality. I lived in a place that was in extreme contrast to the ideals I cherished. New York did successfully provide the tools that accurately identified the whatnots so that the whats that mattered remained.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. How do you reconcile a reverence for a Deity that felt too far? My jugular vein reminded me of vessels and of things that hold quantity. Water indeed is life and Muslims agree that God is everywhere, so where do we draw the line? If I labored just enough, the distance that separated me from my Creator would shorten, I believed. The city that never sleeps left me sleepless.


A dirty curtain separated the men from the women. We were in the fourth season of the year and I start counting mine from Spring. My family returned to the go-back-to-your-country type of country in 2014, before Trump came to office and after Obama dropped drones on my ancestors’ homeland. A heater was supplied for the menfolk. The woman who was interviewing me earlier tended to her sick child, laid stretched out on the seat because her daughter had difficulty sitting up. Mental distress carries the marker of a plague struck in nations like the one where I live. Poverty exposes what little cover there is.

The office we were in was Dr. Rehman’s. His portrait was grinning at us. It seemed to be saying, “Give me your money you lunatic, you need help!”

An ayat from the Holy Quran about shifa, remedy, that it is ultimately in the hands of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), hung on the opposite wall, punching the arrogant grin in the face. In life we seek balance. The verse reassured me: “Don’t worry so.” It seemed to say: “Answer the man’s questions and go home happy – all is well.”

I breathed in as I looked down at my feet. I know that in Spirituality, things have specific destinies too and not just mortals. The thought that visits me from time to time: maybe it’s the shoes I am wearing that are carrying me to places where I don’t belong, belong.

A woman placed a prayer mat in front of me that day for herself. She was facing the qibla for the fourth time. I patiently waited for my number to be called. “Twelve!” I heard. Covering my face -because now I will be passing through rows of men- I got up to leave the patients’ patience testing room.


1997

I was twelve-years old in the year we immigrated to America, eleven when I first landed on the brave soil. We were arriving in two hours and mother wanted everything in order. The first thing she saw was the sight of her younger daughter’s head. My head! It needed attention. It required attention. I almost wanted to cry when she was brushing my hair, and not because she was pulling at the strands. I had tears in my eyes because I had tasted Tropicana orange juice with no pulp for the first time in my short life.

My best friend from high school had paid me a visit on my second hospital stay, I had been in treatment for four months and in denial of my initial diagnosis. The proceeding to dump all medicine and carrying on with life until trouble lurked once more -the serpent raising its head drama played itself out. It’s a common prelude that way too many people experience in the initial processing of a newfound knowledge about the self.

Brooklyn was hit by a storm so severe that my family walked several of the miles on the day I was getting discharged. There were no taxis in sight for hours and the MTA was not functioning. My friend was expecting her first baby and had rushed to see me. She had a bag full of oranges to give to me. The setting and the process of checking in to visit your loved ones -and not to mention the presence of other patients who are sometimes in worse condition than you are- has the potential to throw your visitors off. I did not want to shock her but I was too helpless in offering an alternative view.

People go to zoos to see animals in cages. Seeing me in a gown, though I had my head covered, a scarf -in that was the familiar-, had I seemed weak to her? Was I the sight people conjure when they think ‘mentally ill’? This was my friend, and I wonder how much of the stereotype I filled in for her and to what degree, if at all? Had she had pity on me or was being sympathetic her character trait? Shouldn’t unborn children be kept away from sick persons like me at that time?

Shattering The Stigma of Mental Illness

For those of us in societies where there is  chaos within and a violence outside, was I mentally ill if my brain is part of my body? I was bodily ill, wasn’t I? Organ-ly ill. My mind had not stopped working. I was not pagal*, No! (*refers to somebody who is insane and is mainly a pejorative in South Asian communities) My brain had gone into overdrive and my thoughts were shooting at each other. This I know because I lost control. How did I allow myself to become so wild that I needed to be tamed? What was this force? Was it even my fault and does every event have a cause? I must have looked like a prisoner yet I have tasted freedom. Out of my own free will, I carried a transaction to deposit the ‘me’ in me in the hands of the One who made me. Whereas qismt (destiny) is sometimes cruel, God we know is always Merciful.

It requires strength to hold an image of a person you care for, far removed from a space that you once shared and to meet them at that threshold. An image like that is etched in memories for long times. Sadaf knew of my liking of oranges. Her gesture meant more than any flowers ever could represent her love for me. My employer was her ex-employer, otherwise knowledge of my hospitalization(s) was usually limited to family. After getting discharged and being somewhat stable at this point, I visited her at her house. Ibraheem assumed that the beauty mark on my chin was nothing but a button! That if he pressed on it, I would turn into a walking/talking toy. I let him play for as long as he wanted since I loved seeing the smiles on his face and the way he would giggle. I’d behave like a robot and only stop the awkwardness when he’d press the button again.


The disorder that I have and the control that it has over me is somewhat like little Ibraheem’s curiosity. It presses a button and I turn into a person other than me. I please it. I entertain it to the extent where it starts to get bored or needs a diaper change not when I lose the strength to continue. The only downside in playing this game is that the thing habitually forgets to turn the button off. It leaves me running into walls and breaking things and getting hurt in return. We need a team of rescuers, a hospitalization, and strange medicine with stranger names to bring me back.

I was shocked when I first read in our Islamic literature that the Creator laughs.

Abu Razeen reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) laughs at the despair of his servant, for he will soon relieve him.” I said, “O Messenger of Allah, does the Lord laugh?” The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Yes.” I said, “We will never be deprived of goodness by a Lord who laughs!” [Sunan Ibn Mājah 181]

I understand a thing like that somewhat differently from how others read it.

After spending my twenties toiling in making sense of it all, my recovery has a lot to do with a change of terrain. It is the distance I needed to sort things out. I studied Orientalism in New York but read Edward Said speak of his love for an aunt who helped Palestinian refugees find shelter in his Out of Place: A Memoir here in Pakistan. The human component of scholarship, something that was missing previously, became vital at closing the gaps of humanity I was made deprived of. Healing begun.

By sharing my story, I’d like for people who are diagnosed with illnesses like bipolar to keep steadfast. No matter your creed or the place where you are from, know that you are not alone. And for family and friends who bear witness to the turmoil that infects a loved one to stand strong. Your strength or lack thereof has a direct impact on our wellness.

In the Quran it says that we will be tested with sons and wealth [Surah Al-Anfal;28]. Having a mental illness is a kind of test that has no beginning, nor a definite end. Take care of your health before sickness visits you is a famous saying of Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). There will be days when you feel frustrated and question the just ruling of a Just God. Reach out and feel blessed, for being a Muslim carries the weight of family keeping bonds.

Ideally, the Ummah is one that conducts checks and balances so that the affairs of our Muslim brethren are running smooth. Unlocking and internalizing the goodness and the kheir that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has placed in the world for our taking requires humility, an admittance of our own neediness followed by the realization of and acknowledging our smallness in a universe that is run not by us. Believing in God and trusting in Him are not the same.

The meaning of the word Islam is peace. Muslims exchanging the greeting of peace with other Muslims is an experience. Transferring that practice and truly living that peace needs patience. The challenge of living with and sometimes outliving a mental illness requires a tailored kind of submission. The hush of stability hums low in the beginning when loud is the announcement of a calamity. Faith after all is belief in the existence of hope alongside the tragedy that is life. What is more, our bodies are rented to us. The obligation of living inside them is not a punishment. It is a privilege. The challenge is to be at peace with our predicaments and that can be easily achieved since I believe that all of us are capable of nourishing our minds and feeding our souls, perhaps not at the same pace but the possibility of recovery is guaranteed once we take that initial step. It is realizing the potential of and exercising resilience itself that saved me. To transfer that hope in the mode of words is the least I can offer. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accept, ameen.

Show, Don’t (Just) Tell – The Right Way to Tackling Mental Health

 

The writer is currently a doctoral student in American Studies at Area Study Centre 
of Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. Previously, she holds a Masters in Liberal Studies from Columbia University. You may reach the editorial team of Muslim Matters if you wish to contact her.

 

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