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Erasing Race: Problems with our Islamic History

Dr Muhammad Wajid Akhter

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Here’s a little exercise. Try naming 5 prominent Muslims of African origin from the history of Islam. Pick from any period right from the early Makkan period to the last few decades. Aside from Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Bilal raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) who else do you have on the list? I’m going to be presumptive and say that there aren’t many of us who’ve managed to get to 5.

How is that possible? There were quite a few Sahaaba of African origin, and not just a token one. Islam had spread to the African continent properly during the lifetime of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) himself – in fact, even before it reached Madinah. Within a generation of the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) passing, a significant part of Africa was under Islamic rule and has stayed Muslim ever since. So why is so little known about prominent African Muslims?

muslim-map

The sad thing is that I could replace “African” with pretty much every major Muslim ethnicity or region. Whether it be the South East Asian Archipelago (with almost as many Muslims as there are in the Middle East), the Central Asian Republics, or the Turkic tribes in the Caucasus regions – the dearth of knowledge about our Islamic heritage is noticeable.

Islamic history is too often the history of the Arabs. Sure, the Ottomans get a cameo appearance, but that is partially because their history became intertwined with that of the Arab heartlands. The rest of the history of Islam beyond the Middle East seems to be relegated to the footnotes of dry academic works. Actually, they often don’t even make it to the footnotes.

Some commentators like Will Kymlicka make a case for Arab ethnic chauvinism as an explanation for the lack of a multicultural history. While there may be some truth to this, there is little evidence to show that there is a concerted campaign to suppress non-Arab Islamic history. It seems more likely that this neglect is a consequence of a variety of factors including the lingering effects of the brutal colonization of most of the non-Arab world over the last few centuries and the pathetic socio-economic situation that they have been mired in ever since.

The resulting selective Arab-centric view of history is unfortunate in a Muslim world that largely lies outside the the Middle East and has been significantly shaped by non-Arabs. It has had many unintended and profound consequences, some of which I will discuss below:

When your history is largely devoid of characters and role models that you can relate to, you will become detached from it. The average Muslim seeking to enhance their knowledge of the faith often prioritises sciences such as tafsir, hadith studies, fiqh, tajweed – anything but Islamic history. This relative indifference is reflected also at the societal level where non-Arab Muslims are rarely inspired by historical figures or incidents that would potentially be easier for them to relate to. The few times that we are able to break this trend (e.g. Malcolm X in America or Imam Shamil in the Caucuses), we are rewarded with transformative figures that capture the imaginations of generation after generation of their countrymen.

When your history is geographically and ethnically restricted, your worldview will be limited and parochial. One of the unique attributes of the spread of Islam was its ability to enhance existing cultures rather than dissolve them into a worldwide mono-culture. Knowledge of the historical perspectives of Muslims from other parts of the world helps guard against narrow-mindedness – a particularly virulent feature of the modern Muslim world. Indeed, one of the life-changing aspects of the Hajj is to witness the unity of purpose despite the lack of uniformity of views, cultures or experiences of the pilgrims from every corner of the globe.

When your history fails to acknowledge the contributions and legacies of other races, you make it easier to dehumanise them. This may sound like an extrapolation too far, but many historians including Gerda Lerner (in her seminal work “Why history matters”) have convincingly shown how glossing over the positive contribution of other races and ethnicities is a political strategy used to perpetuate injustice. This selective reading of history explains how the slave trade flourished in many Muslim lands and still does in the form of modern indentured labour in parts of the Middle East. Racism, nationalism or sectarianism rarely coexist in the same space with cultural and historical awareness.

There can be no denying that Islam was born in the Arab world, but it is telling that the most diverse and multicultural period that most people are likely to read about in Islamic history is Madinah during the lifetime of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Shining a spotlight on the contributions and legacies of non-Arab Muslims and cultures would connect many more Muslims to their history in a meaningful way, expand our horizons, and guard against oppression of one group by another. Most importantly, it would enhance the appreciation of traditional Islamic history by making it part of a larger, more intricate historical universe. That’s something – inshaAllah – that we can all look forward to.

Image credits:
Featured image: Askia Muhammad by Leo Dillon
Muslim world image: Der spiegel online

 

WAJiD Dr. Muhammad Wajid Akhter - Doctor, Medical Tutor (Social Media, History & Medicine) - Islamic Historian - Founder of, and current board member to Charity Week for Orphans and needy children. www.charityweek.com - Council member, British Islamic Medical Association

45 Comments

45 Comments

  1. Avatar

    John Howard

    January 19, 2016 at 7:04 PM

    Interesting ! Does this mean that the bias toward Arabic culture and leadership have racist leanings. It appears that as the Islamic drive to suppress other peoples beliefs to convert to Islam has demanded that the Arab people be the dominant force. Put this together with the fact that many Muslims on this site have complained of the fact that they are denied equality from other sections of their faith because of their ethnicity as well as being denied sanctuary from the conflicts currently raging in the Middle East show that the west is not as bad as often portrayed by Muslims ? It appears Racism exists in Islam even though the the “holier than thou ” attitude of Muslims looking down on non believers would say otherwise.

    • WAJiD

      WAJiD

      January 20, 2016 at 3:06 AM

      Hi John,

      The bias towards Arabic culture is more complex than racism – although that may play a part and racism has always existed to varying levels in Islamic history… just as it has in the rest of human kind. It would be more accurate to put it down to the origins of the faith being in the Arab world, the lingua Franca of the Muslim world being Arabic and the lighter colonial footprint in that region.

      To put it simply, racism does not exist in Islam. No other faith has its founder being as explicit on this point and creating as multicultural a state in his own lifetime. But Muslims are human and wherever there are humans, you will have sins.

      In my opinion, the way Islam treats racism is a more honest appraisal than most. Racism is a disease of thinking and behaviour to be fought constantly, not a concept that can be overcome with mere legislation and consigned to history.

      • Avatar

        John Howard

        January 20, 2016 at 4:40 AM

        Your comment racism does not exist in Islam is a little hard to take! Firstly it is often thrown at critics of the religion that they are “racist” when they make these criticisms. Attacks on non Muslims in Syria Iraq Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East can certainly be construed as racist as well. The fact that in a number of Islamic countries dictate death to those who leave your religion can also be construed as Racism if you apply the same criteria if you apply the same princiles. Finally as i understand the ritual is conducted in Arabic in the mosque ( I am open to be contradicted on that point) but having watched the Grand Mufti in Australia on TV while over there still talk only in Arabic to all Australians is if not racist at the very least an arrogant disdain for the majority of people of the country he has lived in for over 20 Years! Especially as he claims to represent Muslims to government and the Australian population.
        Christianity purports to be non racist either, Of course in its history it has been but today and by the way I am not a Christian, it certainly extols equality and recognition of all colours classes and creeds. My late cousin’s funeral in a Catholic Church was conducted by a black African Priest. Without black clergy there would be a great strain on the church to function. But to say that either faith is not racist because it is not in the “book” doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. What the books may say may be great in theory but in practice it isn’t necessarily fact

      • Avatar

        Rayford Adams

        March 4, 2016 at 11:42 AM

        Very well said
        I agree that Islam is not racist; but many so-called Muslims are. and that racism has been preserved.
        Preserved by cultural interest and political
        influences.

    • Avatar

      Kirana

      January 20, 2016 at 3:19 AM

      I do not believe so. In the Middle Ages it is common for scholars from Africa and Arabia to travel to each other and learn. The travelogue of ibn Battuta (and actually even those of Europe in earlier ages) describe skin colour of people in countries visited in largely neutral terms. There has always been an Arab chauvinism otherwise the Prophet need not have called his companions out for it. But I think it is far more likely that the broken connections as a result of colonisation of nearly all non Arab muslim lands, which came with the suppression of native history of self mastery, and the replacement of Arabic with colonial languages (meaning surviving scripts of history and academic texts became inaccesible until present day translation efforts to the new dominant languages like english) inadvertently left the Arab narrative the sole one left standing.

      To say that praying in Arabic is the problem is like saying standardising to metric means whoever uses imperial won’t ever be able to gain respectable stature in the knowledge field.

      • Avatar

        George

        January 20, 2016 at 5:34 AM

        It’s clearly stated in your Koran do not come to prayer if you DONOT understand what you are saying

        When Muslims were intoxicated while praying this surah came

        So how come most Muslims who today arenon Arab keep praying in a foreign language?

    • Avatar

      GregAbdul

      January 20, 2016 at 10:40 AM

      Mr. John, America is the racist place. Blacks have fought for equality in America for 500 years. Yet today, the racism goes on and is even embedded into a major political party. Islam and Arabs are not synonymous. There are Christian Arabs. As your Bible says, please take the huge log out of your own eye first.

      • Avatar

        Kristy

        January 26, 2016 at 6:19 PM

        GregAbdul- Please name me any other country in the world with the ethnic, cultural, religious, racial, language and everything-else diversity of the United States where the overwhelming majority live in peace and harmony with each other.
        Until *any* islamic country can outnumber the US in diversity with such peace and harmony, your comment is silly and uninformed.

      • Avatar

        Nancy

        January 27, 2016 at 1:56 PM

        Islam allows slavery. Even today islam has slaves in some nations. How many slaves did mohammed own,many.

      • Avatar

        GregAbdul

        January 30, 2016 at 2:41 PM

        you want to post a clip of Kate Smith singing God Bless America? America is a racist place and the reason the racism remains after 500 years are answers like yours. No one wants to confront it. Black children literally tortured and ruined solely because they are black and your answer is start pointing fingers at others….sad really sad, that sadism built into such an answer.

    • Avatar

      Alaa

      January 28, 2016 at 3:02 PM

      John, are you hear to learn to accommodate your bigoted beliefs? Why don’t you go troll somewhere else. BTW, in the modern era one is a Arab if his/her’s mother tongue is Arab. I am an Arab from a North African country even though I have Turkish Ancestry. Arabs historically mix with all races, that’s why you find us in all shapes, color’s and sizes. Go evangelize somewhere else.

      • Avatar

        John Howard

        January 28, 2016 at 5:02 PM

        Interesting you have not addressed the original article that started this debate nor any of the statements that I have made. Instead you attack me because I am not Muslim. I have a real interest for a number of very good reasons. Firstly my mother was born in Egypt and I still have family in that country. They are of European origin but there are at least 4 generations of them there and now they are leaving because of the rise of anti Christian racism by Islamists. As a Brit I am seeing the huge invasion here in the UK and Europe of people from Syria and the rest of the Muslim world- Arabs who are demanding that we accommodate them, feed them and pay them when their fellow Arabs offer them mosques! Bigot? Again an interesting comment funny how people who won’t answer the questions they are unable to start squealing about bigots and racism. Isn’t that what started the debate in the first place?

      • Avatar

        Dagan

        June 18, 2016 at 9:47 AM

        Alaa with all do respect you know that light skinned Arabs do not mix with dark skin ones. Recently there was an article circulating in Facebook about Tunisia and how back children (dark skin arabs) cannot be in the same space as light skin Arabs. Let’s not sugar code the problems the Arab culture needs a long way to address the issue.

  2. Avatar

    George

    January 19, 2016 at 8:09 PM

    As long as non Arabs keep praying in Arabic Arabs will rule over all Muslims and Muslim heroes at their Friday sermons will be Arabs

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      Ali

      January 19, 2016 at 9:14 PM

      Despite the fact that they pray in Arabic, many non Arabs do have non Arab Muslim heroes. What the writer is pointing out is that many of these heroes don’t end up making it on to the international Islamic imagination, or become well known outside their local areas.

      • Avatar

        George

        January 19, 2016 at 9:33 PM

        Really? Well, then why aren’t those non arab heroes celebrated at Friday sermons all over the world?

      • Avatar

        Ali

        January 21, 2016 at 3:29 PM

        Are we talking about local khutbas, in the languages of those actual heroes themselves, or are we talking about international recognition?

        If the former, than there most certainly are such famed figures and such sermons and local recognition. Go to any Turkish speaking, somali speaking, or Urdu speaking mosque; and I’m quite sure that you will listen to glorification and overglorification of a lot of local heroes and religious figures.
        If the latter, than I think that that is what the author is pointing at. However, the use of Arabic by non Arabs has nothing to do with it. The use of Arabic does not explain why a Turkish person (and I am Turkish) may never have heard of imam Ahmed Gurey, And why your average Albanian doesn’t know much about Babur.

    • Avatar

      Horizonwalker

      January 20, 2016 at 2:56 AM

      Just looking at history this is already completely false.

      If with Arab you mean ‘those born into the bloodline of the Arabs from the Arabian peninsula’, then this is already not true. Many local political leaders were from their own geography and the Ottomans ruling the Muslims were primarily Turkish.

      If with Arab you mean ‘anyone who fluently speaks Arabic’, then this is true simply for the fact that the original Islamic knowledge is in Arabic. So to master it at a high level, Arabic is necessary.

      If with rule we mean political rule this can even be further dissected. For the office of the Caliph, if I am not mistaken, it is highly desired that the person should be from the tribe of the Quraish. I am not an Islamic scholar though. However it is clear that this has been historically the case.
      If with rule we mean true political power and influence, then we see that historically the Caliph did not always have absolute power, but it was in fact the provincial governors who held the true power. The Caliph being more a figurehead. These governors were not always Arabs (by bloodline). Turks and Persians have of course been highly influential in the Middle-Eastern region for centuries. Saladin had a Kurdish bloodline for example.
      If with rule we mean any form of financial, military, political, religious, social power and influence, then it is completely false to say that these fields would necessarily be dominated by Arabs (by bloodline). Many of the greatest Muslim scholars, warriors and rulers were not Arab. Imam Bukhari who wrote the Sahih Al-Bukhari hadith compilation was (a Sunni) Persian. The first warriors to beat the Mongol hordes (in the East) were the Mamluks of Egypt. Many of them were from Eastern European and Central Asian decent. Although officially classified as slaves, as a warrior caste their political status and power was above that of freeborn Muslims. They eventually also seized total control of the government.

      If we look at the situation of the Muslims now, it is obvious that politically the non-Arabs are not ruled by Arabs.

      The greatest guidance is the Quran and the greatest role models are in the Quran. If we look at the Quran, we see that the majority of the role models are not Arab. Many are from the Children of Israel, but many even precede those tribes. We can deeply relate to them, not because of their ethnicity, but because of their purpose, struggle and identity. Which was those who only worship One God, Muslims.

      But besides that, we do also need living role models now. People we can look up to, and who can help us navigate the present. Talking with many Muslims, I see that besides the great historical Muslim heroes of the past in the Quran and from the Sahabah, their role models usually are people very close to them. Their parents, their local scholar or Imam, a close friend. And for non-Islamic issues people also have non-Muslim role models they look up to of course. Take good from where ever you find it, and leave the bad.

      Between the great universal role models in the Quran and our cherished close living role models, there is an opportunity for us to rediscover and become our own great historical local Muslim heroes.

      • WAJiD

        WAJiD

        January 20, 2016 at 3:09 AM

        Walaikum asalaam,

        Perhaps you misunderstood the premise of my article. I am not saying that such non-Arab historical figures did not exist. I am saying that (on the whole) they are not well known and their histories are largely in the margins, which is a great shame.

    • Avatar

      GregAbdul

      January 20, 2016 at 10:43 AM

      Mr. George, please using Islamicfinder.org to find a mosque near you and learn Islam. Right now you are displaying that you have not bothered to learn us or our faith. We are not impressed that you have a bias against Arabs.

      • Avatar

        Khatam

        January 28, 2016 at 4:19 AM

        Mr. Abdul, he is stating an opinion. You may disagree as is your right, but possibly there may have been alack of sermons which haven’t focused on non Arab heroes.

      • Avatar

        GregAbdul

        January 30, 2016 at 2:43 PM

        His opinion is a Christian apologists answer taught to him by whites. He is black, but he is taught to use racism to defend racism in America. Very convoluted, but effective trick: black racism.

  3. Avatar

    Omar

    January 20, 2016 at 2:30 AM

    Assalamu Alaikum

    Well known African Muslims:
    AlJahiz – الجاحظ a poet, writer, philosopher
    Mansa Musa – wealthy African ruler
    Abu al-Misk Kafur Al-Ikhshidi – كافور الاخشيدي – ruler of Egypt, well known for being the subject of Mutanabbi’s poetry
    Ahmad Baba of Timbuktu – Islamic Scholar

    As for nonArabs, they are easy to find in Islamic history, e.g. Bukhari, Abu Hanifa, Saladin, Tariq Ibn Ziyad, Qutuz, Mehmet the conqueror.

  4. Avatar

    Kirana

    January 20, 2016 at 4:13 AM

    Arguably the mechanisms are similar to what led to the popular assumption today in the western Christian world, that Jesus Christ was fair and somewhat blonde.

    • Avatar

      George

      January 20, 2016 at 7:44 AM

      Arabs are generally the most egotistical, uneducated, racist and vengeful people I have seen who use their religion over non arabs and keep nonarabs from praying in the language non arabs think and speak in.

      You can talk all day and night about nonarab heroes etc, but come Friday sermon its always Arab heroes and role models its always prayer in Arabic to be prayed 5 times a day…that is the reality today.

      Everything is about their Arabness in their religion. Which is why Islam and Muslims are in the situation they are in today.

      • WAJiD

        WAJiD

        January 20, 2016 at 8:31 AM

        Dear George,

        I think your comment says a lot more about you than it does about Arabs.

        Do not mistake an article calling for a wider view of history as a denigration of the Arab race. Racism is unacceptable, whether it is by Arabs or against them and as such any further comments by you in a similar vein will not be posted.

        • Avatar

          George

          January 20, 2016 at 8:43 AM

          That’s fine Wajid. Reality and the truth today is bitter that’s something you and your readers may not be able to digest

      • Avatar

        Khatam

        January 28, 2016 at 4:24 AM

        Your comments are quite rude and no need for it. You have an opinion do it nicely. It is for those who undertake sermons to ensure they cover a variety of issues to discuss and relate it to any Islamic historical persons Arab or not. This should also apply to modern society whereby those of today are also highlighted for our younger generation.
        If I’m correct the author’s point was suggesting how particular histories are either lost, lacking and not hugely identified. This may be due to several reasons and is for authors/publishers/scholars to highlight them more. No doubt they existed and should be more promoted on their contributions.

    • Avatar

      Kristy

      January 20, 2016 at 9:21 PM

      Hi, Kirana-
      No, it is not the “popular assumption today in the Christian world that Jesus Christ was fair and somewhat blonde”. Actually, Islam describes Him as “A well-built man of medium/moderate/average height and stature with a broad chest. Straight, lank, slightly curly, long hair that fell between his shoulders. A moderate, fair complexion of red or finest brown.” Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:54:462, 4:55:607–608, 4:55:647–650, 4:55:649–650, Sahih Muslim, 1:316, 1:321, 1:325, 1:328, 41:7023

      The only verse in the Holy Bible describing Him says “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” (Isaiah 53:2)
      If you research artists depictions of Jesus around the world, He is often portrayed as He would look were He a member of any one’s ethnicity. And so He really is in reality.

  5. Avatar

    Rosalinda Wijks

    January 20, 2016 at 8:10 AM

    A VERY good, important and needed article. In many books, articles and publications of Western scholars and Arabs alike, Islam/Muslims=Arabs.

    Which ofcourse is NOT true, since Arabs form only 15%-20% of all Muslims. The overwhelming majority of Muslims is not Arab, and there are quite some few Arabs who are not Muslim, but Jewish or Christian.

    The two biggest Muslim countries are Indonesia and Pakistan.

    Regarding your challenge: With a bit of thinking, I could come up with more then 5 important black Muslims, but to be honest, I have been reading a lot about this issue lately.

    But just for the fun of it: Amina Wadud, Nana Asma’u, Dawud Walid, Abdullah Quick, Khaled Yasin, Cheikh Amadou Bamba, Usman dan Fodio, Dhu al Nun Al Misri, Zayd b. Haritha, Umm Ayman, Ziryab, Bilal Philips, Imam Daayiee Abdullah, Al Jawzi, , Holyness Jennings, Omar B. Said, Aisha Al Adaweya, Tayyibah Taylor, Saleemah Abdul Ghafur, the Mahdi of Sudan, Waris Dirie, Maryam Abdulbasir, Gwendolynah Zoharah Simmons, Kunta Kinte, Mansa Musa. (And yes, all by heart :P )

    So yes, there are many black Muslims worldwide, but we are often overlooked because of Arabo-centrism and anti-black racism by both non-black Arabs as Western scholars.

    • Avatar

      Khatam

      January 28, 2016 at 4:32 AM

      I can understand where your point comes from. Generally those of non Arab descent or region are overlooked but play and have played a hugely important part in Islamic history and to date. On a general level black Arabs are not highlighted as those of fair skin. Those not Arab have been failed by historians both Muslim and non Muslim as focus primarily was on Arabs with particular looks. Islam in itself as many religions doesn’t advocate racism but humans do be they Muslim or not. It is our own set of perceptions we need to change.

  6. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    January 20, 2016 at 10:37 AM

    as salaam alaikum,

    This is an emotional issue for me. Last year was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. Islam demands we spend our lives seeking the middle path. It’s pretty easy to become engrossed with your people and look down on others and this is not limited solely to my Arab brothers and sisters. The easiest manifestation of this cultural jingoism is khutbahs or public talks and usually, the cultural Muslims I see most exposing their doctrine of cultural preference are my black American brothers.

    “We need to be in charge of Islam in America and not the immigrants,” is what they say. “You don’t let someone come to your house and take over.” It’s serious. There are Muslims today who refuse to speak to me over these ideas. Whenever any of us communicates we are simultaneously making decisions about how personal we should be and how much information and how culturally specific the information should be. How much Arabic we should use when we speak with fellow Muslms?

    Our Book is the Quran and it is written in Arabic, so a proper Muslim fights constantly to master the language of the Quran. But speaking Arabic fluently is not the same as letting the Quran into your heart. The Quran, I think, makes the heart soft. It makes us live in awe of our Creator and forces us to strive to have high compassion for all of Allah’s creation. A sheikh told me in class, “you have the nerve to hate the thing Allah has placed in front of you? You hate the puppet, instead of seeing the one pulling the strings?” Allah is over ever one of us and Allah, glory be to Him, is no bigot.

    As individuals, we have a responsibility to know how Islam got to us and that is usually going to mean you know the early converts from your culture who embraced Islam. If I think too hard about Brother Malcolm this time of year, I cry. God sent me this man and when the time was right, Allah, Mercy beyond any human comprehension, took Malcolm from the living, knowing that millions of souls would embrace Islam as a result. Allah has let me into knowledge of His presence and he did not ban me because I have dark skin or a bad temper or the low status of my family. How big a fool would I be after such mercy, to think I am now to look down on anyone else He has created?

    • Avatar

      GregAbdul

      January 21, 2016 at 11:18 AM

      my last word here on this, insha Allah is to give credit. I thought maybe not because I hate calling people out, but Shaikh Yacoubi is unbelievable his followers love him extremely and after I sat with him, I saw why. He is the one who taught me that a shallow person looks at the puppet and lacks the ability to see the strings and the One who pulls them.

  7. Avatar

    cliveey

    January 20, 2016 at 2:15 PM

    There is no doubt that Arabs had a fundamental role in the slave trade from early times.
    This included the invasion by Saracens pinching young blond girls from the south west of England.
    Christians are told not to judge others but to adress their own faults first.
    Today I was offered ready help by a really decent young Muslim froma local mosque schhol who was
    passing as I had problems with my car. And that has so often been the case.
    My experience of Islam has been otherwise.
    It seems to me to be a religion that spread by conquest.
    Yes people went to war misusing Jesus name. but whereas Islam grew by conquest Jesus role model was
    that of a suffering humble servant who said “People who live by teh sword will die by the sword” .
    The challenge for me as a failing Christian is to haveas kind a heart as the better among the Muslims I know.
    That is how The Almighty will judge us not by the rituals or fasts we keep to. Unless the change is within it means little.
    As for Equality we are reminded that “All have fallen short of the Glory of God” so none of us has cause to be pompous.
    Good luck in your quest to be genuinely guided by Gods Holy Spirit my Muslim friends.
    As Jesus said “Seek and You Will Find”.
    Hope I make it too.

    • Avatar

      George

      January 20, 2016 at 2:40 PM

      Well said Cliveey

      I welcome and love muslims who have seen the error of their forefathers and accept it and are ready to move on as good humans and be good neighbors and citizens and appreciate the cultures, traditions and value of their non muslim societies who have given them as a right – protection, respect and dignity and opportunity to be equal amongst them…as they flee from their muslim homelands they have been fleeing for generations.

      I detest muslims who call their muslim arab invaders and occupiers and destroyers of non muslim societies and nations their heroes, and I pray to almighty, ungrateful, self righteous and pompous muslims mend their ways or else face a terrible reckoning from those of us in the west who now fully understand and comprehend this clear and present danger. Amen!

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      GregAbdul

      January 20, 2016 at 3:19 PM

      Mr. Clive, this is interesting. This is a Muslim website. You really think we don’t know our history? What you don’t know is, we know yours.

      The white man loaded Africans on ships, none of whom believed in Jesus, until after they were beaten raped tortured and murdered into an understanding that whatever master says goes. First believing that blacks were animals and denying them any right to pray and then later, when it suited the furthering of the white American slave trade, is when master went into the slave quarters with the Bible and most black Americans today are so devoid of historical knowledge that that same slave religion remains in the black community today. I get so tired of the black line against Arabs that displays so little knowledge.

      The short version of what I do my best to say humbly to you is, Arabs did NOT bring us to America in slave ships. The ones who did that you spend your life rushing to serve: masters’ ancestors. Our ancestors, before the whip were African Muslims…by choice.

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        George

        January 20, 2016 at 3:52 PM

        Well said Gregabdul.

        The white man has acknowledged and accepted the errors and sins of their forefathers, and is hand in hand with you at every level determined to eradicate racism from our western society…electing a first black president of the United States of America was a big first step towards that. Lets join hands and build upon it…

        The African slave trade was first initiated and established for centuries by Arabs way before America was discovered. Please read up on history and inform yourself. The only difference from Arab slave trader/owner was that the Arab enslaved everyone regardless of race and the White man created and fiercely guarded institution of race based slavery and justified it by the Bible.

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        George

        January 20, 2016 at 3:57 PM

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      GregAbdul

      January 21, 2016 at 2:01 AM

      Ya Allah! Guide me.

      What we have here, Friedrich Nietzsche called, the intolerance of the slave. Black people know better. The white man can hold 1,000 meetings and put 1,000 liquor stores in the black community and the same people who have all day to go and sit in front of the corner store, know to not go try to sit down with advanced white people. You know your place. But then when you don’t see the white man, then you can rush up in my face with the foolishness. You know, like “Arabs invented slavery.” And you serious too. Sad.

      This site is a Muslim site. We discuss issues pertaining to Islam. Praise be to Allah, we are relatively troll free. Now if you really wish to participate in discussions here, I think, a rudimentary knowledge of Islam would be helpful. None of us is sitting at our computers waiting for you to teach us about evil Arabs. I state again: please use Islamicfinder.org, to find the mosque in your community. Sit down with the Muslims and let them educate you about us and our faith. Then by all means, get back to us and tell us about your experience. Now the white man does not give you permission to do that, so maybe like the meetings held at City Hall, you will make sure you stay in your place and don’t go where master has not given you his permission for you to go. You have been taught Christianity passed down to your from your ancestors after they were forced to take Jesus as a god during their enslavement. It sounds like that is all you know and that is your right. Ignorance is a right in America.

      Clive you have got to be kidding. The white man has NOT accepted his error. There are no reparations for black America. You have shuffled your feet and accepted him not apologizing. Obama is the drop of water over the damn, while the actual Martin Luther King struggle has spent the last 50 years going backwards. You have a lot of work to do before master is fixed, if he is ever fixed.
      We welcome you to chat with Muslims, but please don’t be an internet scholar on Islam or even Arabs. Tell us about your study at your local mosque and what you learned there.

      Are you brave enough to learn something master says you should not learn? Please do not assume to teach Muslims on a Muslim website, when you have never set foot in a mosque. I am pretty sure; slavery was invented by Africans.

  8. Avatar

    Aafia

    January 20, 2016 at 11:22 PM

    Has Anyone read “the companion of Prophet by Abdul Wahid Hamid?There are about 13 Books on Islamic history worth reading:http://islamhashtag.com/a-list-of-books-on-islamic-history/

  9. Avatar

    Abdulhameed

    January 21, 2016 at 2:51 PM

    Assalaam Alaikum Brother Wajid,
    I appreciate your article, but I think the premise and conclusion you have drawn are skewed. Muslim chroniclers past and present have written extensively about Muslims everywhere with no restriction to geographical location. Particularly about how Islam spread to new areas, the growth of Muslim societies, and Islamic scholarship. The real issue in my opinion is the absence of the intellectual and historical heritage of Islam in the English language. Indeed much has been written in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish about Muslims and Islamic civilization in Africa. (Please note that much of the Muslim lands in sub-Saharan Africa are often referred to as Western Sudan in antiquity.)

    In fact Muslim chroniclers have viewed societies and political leadership in Africa as critical to Islamic civilization. One well known example being the movement of Al Murabitun (Almorveds). Another being the advance scholarship that existed in Timbuktu (Mali) or in Shanqit (Mauritania) historically is almost unrivaled.

    Furthermore the contribution of Muslims in Africa is even more apparent with regards to the Quran. The majority of the Muslim world recite in Qira’a of Hafs An Asim. Yet the most diversity and preservation of Qira’at exists in today in Africa. For example:

    -In Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia the Qira’a of Warsh An Nafi is read almost exclusively.
    -In Libya the Qira’a of Qalun An Nafi’.
    -In Sudan and much of West Africa the Qira’a Duri An Abu ‘Amr is the traditional way of recitation.
    -In Somalia the Qira’a of Duri An Kisa’I is the traditional way of recitation.

    I offer that the Arab-centric view of Islamic history is unfortunate consequence of colonialism. After the colonial period many intellectuals of these countries, in effort to redevelop an independent identity, have decided to focus inward for historical reference and growth. This is contrary to their Islamic legacy. However this is changing. Two scholars who discuss this issue among others are Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick and Dr. Muhammad Musa Al-Sharif.

    Finally I give you my list of names below (ten total). I would conclude that all Muslims should make a greater effort to explore the entirety of our Islamic heritage. Our predecessors have left a wealth of information, much of which is not available in English yet. It is vast and quite a worthwhile legacy for us all. Wassalaam Alaikum

    Mansa Musa (Musa I, Mali)
    Askia Muhammad (Muhammad Toure, Mali)
    Ahmad Ibn Ibrahim Al Ghazi (Kingdom of Adal, modern day Somalia)
    Amadou Bamba (Senegal)
    Ahmad Baba Al Massufi (Scholar of Timbuktu, from an area then known as Western Sudan)
    Mohammed Bagayogo (Mali)
    Usman Dan Fodio (Nigeria)
    Seku Amadu (Mali)
    Mohammed Abdullah Hassan (Somalia)
    Umar Al Futi (Born in Senegal)

    • Avatar

      Sani

      March 15, 2016 at 7:11 AM

      Very interesting analysis brother. The amount of Islamic scholarship that exist in Nigeria is unprecedented. The likes of Imam Dokoro, Musa Adam, late Jafar Adam etc are established scholars that really play a important role in the spread of Islam among muslims and revival of the dean

  10. Avatar

    Ali

    January 21, 2016 at 3:38 PM

    Mansa Musa, Ahmed Gurey, sheikh Usman dan Fodio, Tariq ibn Ziyad, Um Ayman, Bilal ibn Rabah, Al-Najashi, Malcolm X, Mohammed Ali are some names that come to mind from Africa.
    I think people generally concentrate on famed figures from there own history. Many non Arabs who have never been in contact with Arabs are unlikely to know about figures outside of their own history out side of the Sahaba, Hasan al Basri, the four imams and a couple of others. Those of us who in the west are a little more conscious of this, but it does take a concerted effort to educate yourself.

  11. Avatar

    UM Ibraheem

    January 29, 2016 at 6:41 AM

    Great article but it would’ve been great if it went on to name more african, or non Arab prominent leaders besides the most famous ones such as Malcome, Bilal etc. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t longer.

  12. Avatar

    Sani

    March 15, 2016 at 6:55 AM

    I have many non Arab hereos such as El Kanemi of Borno , Mai Idris Alooma, Sheik Usman ibn Folio, Muhammad Bello and Sheik Jafar Adam. All of these people lived between the middle ages and modern time. I read Islamic history and historiography and I like it

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The Unexpected Blessings of Being Alone

Juli Herman

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My seven-year old son sat on the ground, digging a hole. Around him, other children ran, cried, and laughed at the playground.

“He’s such a strange kid,” my oldest daughter remarked. “Who goes to the playground and digs holes in the ground?”

In an instant, scenes of my ten-year-old self flashed through my mind. In them I ducked, hiding from invisible enemies in a forest of tapioca plants. Flattening my back against the spindly trunks, I flicked my wrist, sending a paper shuriken flying towards my pursuers. I was in my own world, alone.

It feels as if I have always been alone. I was the only child from one set of parents. I was alone when they divorced. I was alone when one stepmother left and another came in. I was alone with my diary, tears, and books whenever I needed to escape from the negative realities of my childhood.

Today, I am a lone niqab-wearing Malay in the mish-mash of a predominantly Desi and Arab Muslim community. My aloneness has only been compounded by the choices I’ve made that have gone against social norms- like niqab and the decision to marry young and have two babies during my junior and senior years of undergrad.

When I decided to homeschool my children, I was no longer fazed by any naysayers. I had gotten so used to being alone that it became almost second nature to me. My cultural, religious, and parenting choices no longer hung on the approval of social norms.

Believe it Or Not, We Are All Alone

In all of this, I realize that I am not alone in being alone. We all are alone, even in an ocean of people. No matter who you are, or how many people are around you, you are alone in that you are answerable to the choices you make.

The people around you may suggest or pressure you into specific choices, but you alone make the ultimate choice and bear the ultimate consequence of what those choices are. Everything from what you wear, who you trust, and how you plan your wedding is a result of your own choice. We are alone in society, and in the sight of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) as well.

The aloneness is obvious when we do acts of worship that are individual, such as fasting, giving zakah, and praying. But we’re also alone in Hajj, even when surrounded by a million other Muslims. We are alone in that we have to consciously make the choice and intention to worship. We are alone in making sure we do Hajj in its true spirit.

We alone are accountable to Allah, and on the Day of Judgment, no one will carry the burden of sin of another.

مَّنِ اهْتَدَىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا ۚ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۗ وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولًا

“Whoever accepts guidance does so for his own good; whoever strays does so at his own peril. No soul will bear another’s burden, nor do We punish until We have sent a messenger.” Surah Al Israa 17:15

On the day you stand before Allah you won’t have anyone by your side. On that day it will be every man for himself, no matter how close you were in the previous life. It will just be you and Allah.

Even Shaytaan will leave you to the consequences of your decisions.

وَقَالَ الشَّيْطَانُ لَمَّا قُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَعَدَكُمْ وَعْدَ الْحَقِّ وَوَعَدتُّكُمْ فَأَخْلَفْتُكُمْ ۖ وَمَا كَانَ لِيَ عَلَيْكُم مِّن سُلْطَانٍ إِلَّا أَن دَعَوْتُكُمْ فَاسْتَجَبْتُمْ لِي ۖ فَلَا تَلُومُونِي وَلُومُوا أَنفُسَكُم ۖ مَّا أَنَا بِمُصْرِخِكُمْ وَمَا أَنتُم بِمُصْرِخِيَّ ۖ إِنِّي كَفَرْتُ بِمَا أَشْرَكْتُمُونِ مِن قَبْلُ ۗ إِنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

“When everything has been decided, Satan will say, ‘God gave you a true promise. I too made promises but they were false ones: I had no power over you except to call you, and you responded to my call, so do not blame me; blame yourselves. I cannot help you, nor can you help me. I reject the way you associated me with God before.’ A bitter torment awaits such wrongdoers” Surah Ibrahim 14:22

But, Isn’t Being Alone Bad?

The connotation that comes with the word ‘alone’ relegates it to something negative. You’re a loser if you sit in the cafeteria alone. Parents worry when they have a shy and reserved child. Teachers tend to overlook the quiet ones, and some even complain that they can’t assess the students if they don’t speak up.

It is little wonder that the concept of being alone has a negative connotation. Being alone is not the human default, for Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was alone, yet Allah created Hawwa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) as a companion for him. According to some scholars, the word Insaan which is translated as human or mankind or man comes from the root letters that means ‘to want company’. We’re naturally inclined to want company.

You might think, “What about the social aspects of Islam? Being alone is like being a hermit!” That’s true, but in Islam, there is a balance between solitary and communal acts of worship. For example, some prayers are done communally like Friday, Eid, and funeral prayers. However, extra prayers like tahajjud, istikharah, and nawaafil are best done individually.

There is a place and time for being alone, and a time for being with others. Islam teaches us this balance, and with that, it teaches us that being alone is also praiseworthy, and shouldn’t be viewed as something negative. There is virtue in alone-ness just as there is virtue in being with others.

Being Alone Has Its Own Perks

It is through being alone that we can be astute observers and connect the outside world to our inner selves. It is also through allowing aloneness to be part of our daily regimen that we can step back, introspect and develop a strong sense of self-based on a direct relationship with Allah.

Taking the time to reflect on worship and the words of Allah gives us the opportunity to meaningfully think about it. It is essential that a person gets used to being alone with their thoughts in order to experience this enriching intellectual, emotional and spiritual experience. The goal is to use our thoughts as the fuel to gain closeness to Allah through reflection and self-introspection.

Training ourselves to embrace being alone can also train us to be honest with ourselves, discover who we truly are, and work towards improving ourselves for Allah’s sake. Sitting with ourselves and honestly scrutinizing the self in order to see strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement is essential for character development. And character development is essential to reach the level of Ihsaan.

When we look into who we want to be, we are bound to make some decisions that might raise eyebrows and wag tongues. Being okay with being alone makes this somewhat easier. We should not be afraid to stand out and be the only one wearing praying or wearing hijab, knowing that it is something Allah will be pleased with. We should not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in even if it makes us unpopular. Getting used to being alone can give us the confidence to make these decisions.

Being alone can strengthen us internally, but not without pain. Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that people who dissent from group wisdom show heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the sting of social rejection. Berns calls this the “pain of independence.”

All our prophets experienced this ‘pain of independence’ in their mission. Instances of different prophets being rejected by their own people are generously scattered in the Quran for us to read and reflect upon. One lesson we can extract from these is that being alone takes courage, faith, conviction, and confidence.

 

We Come Alone, Leave Alone, Meet Allah Alone

The circumstances that left me alone in the different stages of my life were not random. I always wanted an older brother or someone else to be there to rescue me from the solitude. But the solitude came with a blessing. Being alone gave me the time and space in which to wonder, think, and eventually understand myself and the people around me. I learned reflection as a skill and independent decision-making as s strength. I don’t mind being alone in my niqab, my Islam, or my choices. I’ve had plenty of practice after all.

Open grave

You are born alone and you took your first breath alone. You will die alone, even if you are surrounded by your loved ones. When you are lowered into the grave, you will be alone. Accepting this can help you make use of your moments of solitude rather than fear them. Having the courage to be alone builds confidence, strengthens conviction, and propels us to do what is right and pleasing to Allah regardless of human approval.

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Why Israel Should Be ‘Singled Out’ For Its Human Rights Record

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians.

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israel, occupied Palestine

Why is everyone so obsessed with Israel’s human rights abuses? From Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to North Korea to Iran. All these nations are involved in flagrant violations of human right, so why all the focus on Israel – ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? Clearly, if you ignore these other violations and only focus on Israel, you must be anti-Semitic. What else could be your motivations for this double standard?

This is one of the most common contentions raised when Israel is criticized for its human rights record. I personally don’t believe in entertaining this question – it shouldn’t matter why an activist is choosing to focus on one conflict and not others. What matters are the facts being raised; putting into question the motives behind criticizing Israel is a common tactic to detract from the topic at hand. The conversation soon turns into some circular argument about anti-Semitism and the plight of the Palestinian people is lost. More importantly, this charge of having double standards is often disingenuous. For example, Representative Ihan Omar has been repeatedly accused of this recently and her motives have been called ‘suspicious’ – despite her vocal criticism of other countries, especially Saudi Arabia.

However, this point is so frequently brought up, I think that perhaps its time activists and critics simply own up to it. Yes – Israel should be singled out, for some very good reasons. These reasons relate to there being a number of unique privileges that the country enjoys; these allow it to get away with much of the abuses it commits. Human right activists thus must be extra vocal when comes to Israel as they have to overcome the unparalleled level of support for the country, particularly in the US and Canada. The following points summarize why Israel should in fact be singled out:

1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens

When Iran and North Korea commit human right abuses, we don’t have to worry about everyone from journalists to clerics to average students on campuses coming out and defending those countries. When most nations commit atrocities, our journalists and politicians call them out, sanctions are imposed, they are taking them to the International Court of Justice, etc. There are instruments in place to take care of other ‘rogue’ nations – without the need for intervention from the common man.

Israel, however, is unique in that it has traditionally enjoyed widespread ideological support, primarily from the Jewish community and Evangelical Christians, in the West. This support is a result of the historical circumstances and pseudo-religious ideology that drove the creation of the state in 1948. The successful spread of this nationalistic dogma for the last century means Israel can count on ordinary citizens from Western countries to comes to its defense. This support can come in the form of foreign enlistment to its military, students conducting campus activism, politicians shielding it from criticisms and journalists voluntarily writing in its support and spreading state propaganda.

This ideological and nationalistic attachment to the country is the prime reason why it is so incredibly difficult to have any kind of sane conversation about Israel in the public sphere – criticism is quickly seen as an attack on Jewish identity and interpreted as an ‘existential threat’ to the nation by its supporters. Any attempts to take Israel to account through standard means are thwarted because of the political backlash feared from the country’s supporters in the West.

2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower

The US is Israel’s most important and closest ally in the Middle-East. No matter what war crimes Israel commits, it can count on America to have its back. This support means the US will use its veto power to support Israel against actions of the UN Security Council, it will use its diplomatic influence to shield any punitive actions from other nations and it will use its military might to intervene if need be. The backing of the US is one of the main reasons why the Israeli occupation and expansion of the colonial settlement enterprise continues to this day without any repercussions.

While US support might be especially staunch for Israel, this factor is certainly not unique to the country. Any country which has this privilege, e.g. Saudi Arabia, should be under far great scrutiny for its human rights violations than others.

3)  Military aid and complicity of tax-payers

US tax-payers are directly paying for Israel to carry out its occupation of the Palestinian people.

Israel is the largest recipient of US-military aid – it receives an astonishing $3 billion dollars every year. This aid, according to a US congressional report, “has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.”

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians. Activists and citizens thus have a greater responsibility to speak out against Israel as their government is paying the country to carry out its atrocities. Not only is this aid morally reprehensible, but it is also illegal under United States Leahy Laws.

4) The Israeli lobby

The Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful groups in Washington and is the primary force for ensuring continued US political support for the nation. It consists of an assortment of formal lobby groups (AIPAC, Christians United for Israel), think-thanks (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), political action committee or PACs, not-for-profit organizations (B’nai B’irth, American Jewish Congress, Stand for Israel) and media watchdogs (CAMERA, Honest Reporting). These organizations together exercise an incredible amount of political influence. They ensure that any criticism of Israel is either stifled or there are serious consequences for those who speak up. In 2018 alone, pro-Israel donors spent $22 million on lobbying for the country – far greater than any other nation. Pro-Israel lobbies similarly influence politics in other places such as the UK, Canada, and Europe.

5) One of the longest-running occupation in human history

This point really should be the first one on this list – and it is the only one that should matter. However, because of the unique privileges that Israel enjoys, it is hard to get to the crux of what it is actually doing. Israel, with U.S. support, has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since 1967. The belligerent occupation, over 50 years old, is one of the longest, bloodiest and brutal in human history.

Israel continues to steal land and build settler colonies the West Bank – in flagrant violation of international law. It has implemented a system of apartheid in these territories which is reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa. The Gaza strip has been under an insufferable siege which has made the living conditions deplorable; it has been referred to the world’s largest ‘open-air prison’. In addition to this institutional oppression, crimes committed against Palestinians include: routinely killing civilian protesters, including teenagers and medics, torture of Palestinians and severe restrictions on the everyday movement of Palestinians.

The brutality, consistency and the duration for which Israel has oppressed Palestinians is alone enough reason for it being ‘singled out’. No other nation comes close to its record. However, for the reasons mentioned above, Israel’s propaganda machine has effectively painted itself as just another ‘liberal democracy’ in the eyes of the general public. Any attempt to bring to light these atrocities are met with ‘suspicion’ about the ‘real’ motives of the critics. Given the points mentioned here, it should be evident that the level of support for Israeli aggression is uniquely disproportionate – it is thus fitting that criticism of the country is equally vocal and unparalleled as well.

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This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible

Who Accounts For This Pillar of Islam

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Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji

As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations.  We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.

Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion.  Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone.  There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.

No, it’s not ikhtilaf

The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat.  The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.  

It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined,  free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically,  the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.   

The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds.  We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?

Show Your Work

We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules.  In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.  

Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.

You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2

Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them?  Why or why not?

Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts?  What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.

Bubble Charity

In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor.  There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.

The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.   

As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent.  Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.

People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble.  Fisabilillah.

Dawa is the new Jihad

Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past.  Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.  

Indeed dawah is a broad category.  For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah.  Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.   

No Standards or Accountability

Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.  

The Shift to Meaninglessness

Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.

Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it.  It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.

Footnotes:

  1. The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
  2. In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.

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