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Understanding, and the Choice of Ignorance

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By H Bennett

Muslims must do a better job informing people about Islam and Muslims, this was the key message of a recent MuslimMatters article. Indeed, this is true. However, I believe a couple of caveats are in order.

My family members are Caucasian Canadians, of northwestern European descent. Former Prime Minister of Canada Harper would probably consider our family “old stock” Canadians. I am a convert, and have been Muslim for about a decade. My wife immigrated to Canada before our marriage. We have children. My family members are not experts of Islam, but know us well. We visit elderly family members multiple times on a weekly basis. We are not strangers. We try our best to have all facets of our lives be positively influenced by our faith.

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I believe this context is important. Growing up in a non-Muslim household, and being a Caucasian fifth-generation Canadian gives me unique insight. I have benefited from “white” privilege, and in many ways continue to do so as a Caucasian that is not immediately identified as a religious minority.

I have strong reason to believe I am on the Automated Selectee List, due to repeated and consistent additional security screening, including being escorted out of secure airport areas on multiple occasions for additional security checks. The Canadian government denied my Freedom of Information request, and rejected my appeal of that denial. I am left to speculate based on my experiences. My mother feels that the discrimination I face in airports is justified in order “to protect all our families” and that I should not make an issue of it because “each time they find nothing with you.” What she fails to understand is that being treated like a terrorist because of my religious affiliation is discrimination, something that the law is supposed to protect against. My mother agrees that racial discrimination against people of color is wrong, a violation of their rights – people should be treated innocent until proven guilty and the law should apply equally to all. This, however, she does not grant to Muslims. Nor does she consider the psychological impact this treatment has upon Muslims, assumed terrorist until proven innocent.

My father and grandfather both tell me that I “fit the profile.” I am a Muslim male. They, like my mother, justify the selective discrimination of Muslims. At the same time, they know that most Muslims are law-abiding citizens, and they know that Muslims do not commit the vast majority terrorist acts: in the US only 6% of terrorist acts between 1980 and 2005 were committed by Muslims.[i] The media is powerful,[ii] and I do not discount the influence it has over the way Muslims are viewed. However, my parents know me, know my wife and know their grandchildren. We are not unknown, foreign entities with whom they have no direct contact. We are family. Yet, they justify the discrimination we face.

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I believe the challenge is not only a lack of information.

Canadians are known to be polite and politically correct. Inside their homes this is not always the case. Growing up I heard about “lazy chugs” (a racist slang used against First Nations people), about “sand niggers” and was warned to be careful around “the blackies”. I am sure this makes most Canadians uncomfortable. At the same time, I am certain that racism is more common than we care to admit. For those familiar with our history, discrimination in Canada is not new: First Nations have been, and continue to be, systematically discriminated against,[iii] people of Japanese decent were put into camps during the war,[iv] Chinese made to pay a “head tax,”[v] Jews were turned away during WWII,[vi] Sikhs were also turned away.[vii] The laws have changed, and Canadians are well informed about most of these injustices. Yet, discrimination continues. Ask indigenous people. Ask people of color. Their struggles are not due to a lack of information; it is willful and systematic.[viii]

Like Mustafa, my mother says: “People who discriminate are ignorant or uneducated.” I do not believe my mother is uneducated or ignorant. Yet, she justifies discrimination. Thus, we must recognize that some people choose ignorance. It is not a lack of information; it is a choice. We, as Muslims in North America, need to recognize the limitations of informing others so that our expectations are realistic. It is important to do our best to inform others, but also need to recognize that doing so will not solve our problems. It will not automatically create a tolerant, just and respectful society.

We have no reason to expect that the continued systematic discrimination of indigenous people, First Nations and people of color will not also be afforded to Muslims. This needs to be a part of our discourse. Anti-Muslim hatred and discrimination have deep roots in North America and did not begin in 9/11.[ix] The number of Americans that have a negative view of Islam and Muslims is alarmingly high, and is worsening.[x] We should not be naïve to think that information alone will successfully counter anti-Muslim hatred. We must also come to terms with the fact that some people will choose ignorance. Some people will continue to hate when informed. This will entrench legal and informal discrimination. It would be a mistake not to prepare our communities and our children for this reality.

 

[i] https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/terrorism-2002-2005/terror02_05#terror_05sum

[ii] Herman, E. and Chomsky, N. 1988. Manufacturing Consent. Pantheon: New York.

[iii] http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/out-of-sight-out-of-mind-2/

[iv] http://www.cbc.ca/history/EPISCONTENTSE1EP14CH3PA3LE.html

[v] http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2006/06/22/prime-minister-harper-offers-full-apology-chinese-head-tax

[vi] http://news.nationalpost.com/news/none-is-too-many-memorial-for-jews-turned-away-from-canada

[vii] http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/komagata-maru-incident-violation-human-rights

[viii] See, for example: Oreopoulos, P. and Dechief, D. 2011. Why Do Some Employers Prefer to Interview Matthew, but not Samir? New Evidence from Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Diversity, Working Paper No. 11-13. Or, multiple Human Rights cases that Canadian police forces have lost due to their discriminatory practices and racial profiling.

[ix] Thomas, J. 2015. Scapegoating Islam: Intolerance, Security, and the American Muslim. Praeger: Santa Barbara.

[x] http://islamicommentary.org/2014/02/anti-muslim-sentiment-rising-in-the-u-s-what-is-happening-to-religious-tolerance/

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Uzma Saqib

    November 5, 2015 at 6:19 AM

    very well written article

  2. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    November 6, 2015 at 11:45 AM

    al hamdulillah,Great writing that addresses something most of us avoid addressing.
    As Muslims we are taught to always think the best of people, to be positive and give every benefit of the doubt. I am African American and for me, there is always this historical thinking about the struggle against racism prejudice and bigotry. Brother Bennet is right in a way that elevates the discourse. We are living in the West. We are Western Muslims who have a thorough grasp of the ideas of freedom justice and equality as spelled out in our Western Constitutions. But what many Muslims in the West overlook is that modern Western life is often a systematic sucking of our souls. We are pushed to worship things and possessions and judge people mostly on what they have.

    Kareem Abdul Jabbar recently made a comment about Michael Jordan being a person who put profit above conscience. This is so significant because racism and the organized hate we see in the West is driven by money. If you make enough money, those who hated you yesterday will love you today. The hated are usually the poor or those locked out of the area’s resources. Most of us get up everyday scrambling for another dollar and we are conditioned by Shaytan to fear the money drying up. And if Muslims are tainted by this systematic teaching of greed, imagine how much worse it must be for the one who does not know the serenity of striving to live for Allah?

    Prejudice in the end is just a cover to explain why I have and the other person doesn’t. The single element in our faith that really makes the bigots mad is that we reject any group being a chosen people because this takes away their justification of some having while others do not. For most hateful Westerners, they know about universal brotherhood and kindness to neighbors, but they are deeply into a zero-sum game and they justify the suffering of the zero-sum by saying the other is not due an equal share. 9/11 marked the point where we get an institutionalized, systematic Western effort to put Muslims firmly in the other category. As an old African American Muslim, I say to you: welcome to the club!

  3. Avatar

    Aafia

    November 7, 2015 at 11:32 PM

    The “sand niggers”,”lazy chugs” and the “blackies” are intresting terms.
    I agree that media plays a very big role in shaping the opinion of people so we should enourage the Muslim media to counterfight the paid media.

  4. Avatar

    Bint A

    November 9, 2015 at 10:33 AM

    Depressingly realistic.

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Aqeedah and Fiqh

Prosperity Islam And The Coronavirus Problem

Hadith: “Hasten to perform good deeds before seven events: Are you waiting for poverty that makes you forgetful? Or wealth that burdens you? Or a debilitating disease or senility? Or an unexpected death or the False Messiah? Or is it evil in the unseen you are waiting for? Or the Hour itself? The Hour will be bitter and terrible.

Islam encompasses all of human experience. We believe in the good and bad from divine decree. The ‘problem of evil’ is not a Muslim dilemma because the abode of this world is a test, and the next life is the abode of recompense. Those who do evil in this world may enjoy comfortable and pleasurable lives. Pious Muslims on the other hand may live in immense suffering and oppression.

One’s state with Allah is not known through worldly position.

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The Quran has lots of mention of suffering in this world and the reward for the pious is constantly in the hereafter. Distance from the Quran distances us from what our Creator told us about living in His world.

Habituation to feel-good religious programs and motivational talks has left us unable to know how to be serious. The Coronavirus pandemic should be all the motivation we need for serious learning and hasten to good deeds.

New-age religion and the prosperity gospel

Modern Islamic discourse intertwines notions of sulook (spiritual wayfaring) with new-age spiritual ideas which make spiritual progression a self-centering endeavor of ‘personal development.’ Missing from this discourse is submission to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), which entails doing what one is obliged to do- even if there is no apparent personal win. A self-centering religious perspective is antithetical to true religion, and ironically a spiritual pursuit becomes a selfish pursuit.

Within this approach, we see our practice of Islam not in terms of fulfilling obligations or understanding we must develop virtues we lack; rather we approach Islam as consumers and form identities around how we choose to be Muslim. This is visible on marriage apps where Muslims will brand themselves around how often they pray, whether or not they eat halal, and how practicing they are. Once this identity is formed, such Muslims are less likely to experience contrition and ultimately improve. The self is then a commodity on the marriage market.

When it comes to worship, for example, giving charity becomes an ‘act of kindness’ to fill the quota of selfless acts to becoming a better person. In other instances, acts of worship are articulated in worldly language, such as fasting in Ramadan being a weight-loss opportunity. One can make multiple intentions, but health benefits of fasting should not be used to articulate the primary benefit of fasting. In other instances, some opt to not pray, simply because they don’t feel spiritual enough to pray. This prioritizes feelings over servitude, but follows from a ‘self’ focused religious mentality.

Much like the prosperity Gospel, Muslims have fallen into the trap of teaching religion as a means of worldly success. While it is true that the discipline, commitment, and work ethic of religious progression can be used for material success, it is utterly false that religious status is on any parallel with material status.

Too many Sunday schools and conferences have taught generations that being a good Muslim means being the best student, having the best jobs, and then displaying the power of Islam to non-Muslims via worldly success and a character that is most compliant to rules. Not only does this type of religion cater to the prosperous and ignore those suffering, it leaves everyone ill prepared for the realities of life. It comes as a shock to many Muslims then that bad things can happen even when you work hard to live a good life. The prosperity gospel has tainted our religious teachings, and the pandemic of COVID19 is coming as a shock difficult for many to process in religious terms. There will be a crisis when bad things happen to good people if we are not in touch with our scripture and favor a teaching focused on worldly gains.

Why it leads to misunderstanding religion

Tribulations, persecution, and events that are outside of our control do not fit the popular self-help form of religion that is pervasive today. Islam means submission, and while we must avoid fatalism, we cannot delude ourselves into idolatry of the self. An Islam that focuses on our individual life journey and finding ourselves has no room for the ‘bad stuff.’ This type of religion favors well-to-do Muslims who are used to the illusion of control and the luxuries of self-improvement. Those who believe that if you are good then God will give you good things in this world will have a false belief shattered and understand the world is not the abode of recompense for the believer.

Islam means submission, and while we must avoid fatalism, we cannot delude ourselves into idolatry of the self.Click To Tweet

Tribulations may then effect faith because it questions the often subconscious teachings of prosperity gospel versions of Islam that we are in control of our own destiny, if we are good enough we will succeed. If this is the basis of a person’s faith, it can be proven “wrong” by any level of tribulation. Having one’s ‘faith’ disproven is terrifying but it should make us ask the question: “Does this mean that Islam is not true, or does this mean that my understanding and my way of living Islam are not true?”

My advice is do not avoid struggle or pain by ignoring it or practicing “patience” just thinking that you are a strong Muslim because you can conquer this pain without complaint. Running from pain and not feeling pain will catch up to us later. Learn from it. Sometimes when we are challenged, we falter. We ask why, we question, we complain, and we struggle. We don’t understand because it doesn’t fit our understanding of Islam. We need a new understanding and that understanding will only come by living through the pain and not being afraid of the questions or the emptiness.

Our faith needs to be able to encompass reality in its good and bad, not shelter us from reality because, ultimately, only God is Real.

Unlearn false teachings

Prosperity religion makes it much easier to blame the person who is suffering and for the one suffering to blame himself. As believers we take the means for a good life in this world and the next, but recognize that acceptance of good actions is only something Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows, and that life is unpredictable.

Favor from God is not reflected through prosperity. It is a form of idolatry to believe that you can control God or get what you want from God, and this belief cannot even stand up to a distanced tragedy.

Responding appropriately requires good habits.

Tribulations are supposed to push us towards God and remind us to take life very seriously. Even with widespread calamity and suffering, many of us still have a very self-centered way of understanding events and do not hasten to good actions.

For example, reaching old age is supposed to be an opportunity to repent, spend more time in prayer, and to expatiate for shortcomings. Old age itself is a reminder that one will soon return to his Lord.

However, we see many of today’s elders not knowing how to grow old and prepare for death. Most continue in habits such as watching television or even pick up new habits and stay glued to smart phones. This is unfortunate but natural progression to a life void of an Islamic education and edification.

Similarly we are seeing that Muslims do not know what to do in the midst of a global crisis. Even the elderly are spending hours reading and forwarding articles related to Covid-19 on different WhatsApp groups. This raises the question of what more is needed to wake us up. This problem is natural progression of a shallow Islamic culture that caters to affluence, prosperity, and feel-good messaging. Previous generations had practices such as doing readings of the Quran, As-Shifa of Qadi Iyad, Sahih al-Bukhari, or the Burda when afflicted with tribulations.

If we are playing video games, watching movies, or engaging in idle activities there is something very wrong with our state. We need to build good habits and be persistent regardless of how spiritual those habits feel, because as we are seeing, sudden tribulations will not just bestow upon us the ability to repent and worship. The point of being regimented in prayer and invocations is that these practices themselves draw one closer to God, and persisting when one does not feel spiritual as well as when one does is itself a milestone in religious progression.

While its scale is something we haven’t seen in our lifetime, it’s important to recognize the coronavirus pandemic as a tribulation.  The response to tribulation should be worship and repentance, and a reminder that ‘self-improvement’ should not be a path to becoming more likable or confident only, but to adorn our hearts with praiseworthy qualities and rid them of blameworthy qualities. Death can take any of us at any moment without notice, and we will be resurrected on a day where only a sound heart benefits.

Our religious education and practice should be a preparation for our afterlife first and foremost. Modeling our religious teachings in a worldly lens has left many of us unable to deal with tribulations to the point where we just feel anxiety from the possibility of suffering. This anxiety is causing people to seek therapy. It is praiseworthy for those who need to seek therapy, and noble of therapists to give the service, but my point is the need itself serves as a poignant gauge for how much our discourse has failed generations.

Benefit from Solitude

We should use solitude to our benefit, reflect more, and ponder the meanings of the Quran.  Completing courses on Seerah, Shamail, Arabic, or Fiqh would also be good uses of time. What should be left out however are motivational talks or short lectures that were given in communal events. In such gatherings, meeting in a wholesome environment is often the goal, and talks are compliments to the overall atmosphere. When that atmosphere is removed, it would be wise to use that normally allotted time for more beneficial actions. Instead of listening to webinars, which are not generally building an actual knowledge base that the previously mentioned courses would, nor is it a major act of worship like reading and reflecting upon the Quran. In other words, our inspirational talks should lead us to action, and studying is one of the highest devotional acts.

The pandemic should serve as sufficient inspiration and we need to learn how to be serious. I urge Muslims to ignore motivational and feel-good lectures that are now feel-good webinars, and focus on studying and worshipping. We should really ask if we just lack the capacity to move beyond motivational lectures if we still need motivation in the midst of a global pandemic.  The fact that after years of programming the destination is not the Quran for ‘processing events’ or studying texts for learning is symptomatic of a consciously personality oriented structure.

Muslims struggling to process a pandemic (opposed to coping with associated tragedies, such as loved ones dying or suffering) show the lack of edification feel good talks can produce.

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Coronavirus

A Doctor And A COVID19 Patient: “I will tell Allah about you.”

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By Dr Farah Farzana

I get bleeped at around 2.30am to review a patient. A Pakistani gentleman admitted with Covid19.

The lovely nurse on duty says, “He is on maximum amount of oxygen on the ward, but keeps on removing his oxygen mask and nasal cannula, very confused and is not listening to anyone.”

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I arrive as soon as I can to the ward. I stare at him through the glass doors of the closed bay, while putting on my inadequate PPE.

He looks like he is drowning, he is gasping for air, flushed and eyes bulging like someone is strangling him.

I immediately introduce myself, hold his hands and he squeezes my hand pulls it close to his chest. Starts to speak in Urdu and says he doesn’t know what is going on, he cannot understand anyone and he is so scared.

I give him my Salam and start speaking to him in Urdu. His eyes fill up with tears and hope.

I explain to him he really needs to have his oxygen mask on as we are trying to make him feel better. He tells me he is suffocating with the mask and he doesn’t like the noise. I grab his arm help him sit up in his bed.

We exercise synchronising his breathing and I put the mask and nasal cannula back on.

He asks me Doctor, am I going to die? I cannot hear the voices anymore, they don’t come to visit, everything is quiet and silent, like Allah is waiting to take me to Him. I am lost for words and tell him we are doing all we can to make him feel and get better. He tells me he has been speaking to Allah, he doesn’t care for himself just his family. I know he is scared and feels so alone. I tell him I’m here with him and am not leaving yet. I monitor his saturations and surely they come straight back up. I tell him I am going to give him medications for his temperatures and fluid in his lungs.

He agrees to take them.

He asks me why I didn’t come to see him until now, because I am his own. He says when he speaks to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) he will tell Him about me and that I am a good person and I cared for him.

I get a little choked up.

I can’t gather my thoughts before my bleep goes off again. I have to leave now though I tell him I have lots of patients who need my help. He begs me not to leave, but understands after a while and lets me go.I take off my inadequate surgical mask (PPE) before I leave the bay I look back at him to smile and he smiles back. We both wave goodbye. I can see tears rolling down his cheeks.

I don’t know how he will do, how he is now but I cannot stop thinking about him. I always assume positive outcome if I don’t get called back during the night to see the patient again. Plus it was such a busy night I had no time to stop to reflect, and I continued with a smile.

I speak fluent Bangla and my Urdu isn’t very good. But that night Urdu flawed so effortlessly out of my mouth without any hesitation and I was able to say exactly what I needed to him *SubhanAllah*.

My heart breaks for the minority patients, with language barriers. They are fighting this battle more alone and scared than ever.
Normally, they would rely on family members to translate for them, but given the current situation they must feel helpless.

It’s not just the suffering it’s the suffering alone that pulls on my heartstrings.

‘Indeed, to Allah we belong and to Him we shall return’
Quran 2:156

When all this is over, please remember to appreciate the little things.

  • Appreciate your freedom.
  • Appreciate all the hugs and love.
  • Appreciate your health and your health service.
  • Appreciate your families and loved ones.
  • And just be grateful to be ALIVE.
  • Stay at home. Save lives.
    #stayhome #nhs #gratitude

Courtesy: Facebook post

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#Current Affairs

COVID19: Calling The Conscientious

Violating borders, scaling every wall and traveling faster than a rumor, COVID19 is now around nearly everywhere. It has reduced nations and societies, low and mighty, to their knees, demoted all preoccupations to insignificance and is threatening to torch everyone in its path.

The imperial hubris of nations, with and without nuclear weapons has crumbled. Mighty militaries have been reduced to mere spectators. Borders are closed. Markets have tumbled. Even the gods amongst humans – rulers, monarchs, dictators, religious heads, generals, billionaires, movie stars, icons of sports and music –have been forced to recede from the limelight. Neither they are in control nor can they perform. All of them are forced to surrender by an unseen microscopic speck with an insatiable appetite to devour humankind, bit-by-bit, part by part.

A pre-COVID19 world is now a blurred memory. It was not long ago that we were a different planet and a different people. Neither hand-sanitizers nor masks were precious enough to purchase let alone hoard, or even think about. YouTube was popular but not so much for videos on how to wash hands or what to do when self-quarantined. And, shaking hands were a norm and we used to respond with a “bless you” to our neighbor’s cough or sneeze.

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That was pre-COVID19.

Places of worship are already shut down and airports, train stations and shipping ports are shutting down. Boulevards and avenues are eerily silent. Shopping malls and theaters stand abandoned.

This is post-COVID19.

Yet, there are flashes of hope and inspiration. Medical professionals and health care workers are fighting to save mankind, a patient a time. Our ill equipped and fatigued hospitals are abodes of our new heroes and true patriots. And no less are trash collectors, grocery workers, truck drivers, postal workers, fruit pickers among others whom we took for granted all along.

Covid-19 is not just the biggest story of our time, it is the only story.

Amidst a piercing cacophony of politicians’ press conferences and public interest advisories, we cannot afford to miss out the soft whispers of COVID19.

It is telling us to pay more attention to the under-estimated meaningful over the hyper-marketed mundane. Its whispers remind us to remember that we are but a mere mortal. We are reminded in the Quran that God made us from a mere speck (40:67).

Not, too long ago, we seldom had to remind ourselves that we are human. Not too long ago we could afford to be enemies of ourselves. Humans were enemies of humans, fighting and taking life of those considered ‘others’. We fostered division … “them” and “us,” “citizens” and “illegals.” COVID19 has spoken: no more. We stoked exclusion … “black, brown and white,” “conservative and liberal,” and “urban and rural.” COVID19 has spoken: no more.

In its sweeping trail of destruction, COVID19, is imploring us — harness my power to cause dread in each one of you, across borders, across genders, across races — and unite. COVID19 is challenging us: find a common cause against me. When any of you find an antidote against me, may that be a reason for your coming together, even if right now I have forced you to stay away from each other – six feet part.

COVID19 is an equal opportunity and a non-discriminating enemy, which will kill no matter how we worship, what we eat, where we live. One touch strikes all with equal precision.

Today, as we face an existential threat from a mortal molecular foe, we must remind ourselves about what matters most, our humanity and not our race and nationality.

The truth is that long before COVID19 struck us, we were sick. We spread viruses; hate and bigotry, we held thoughts of xenophobia for those who did not deserve it. We wallowed in bias and built echo chambers. COVID19 exposed all of our pre-COVID19 shortcomings.

Coronavirus will kill us for a while, but then in the end, we will overpower it. But before that happens, all the human deaths would be in vain if we don’t realize that in a world of such threats, we never needed to have been at each other’s throats.

In fear and panic, people resort to extreme behavior, it amazes us with their capacity for wisdom and kindness, or stupidity and cruelty. COVID19 is beseeching us to reclaim and regain our humanity of compassion and kindness. It is telling us to come together to fight our common battles. It is forcing us to wash our hands of all sins of our past and then lock our hearts and hands and build a world where meaning must matter more than the mundane.

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