Is the view that only Christians can go to Heaven an expression of islamophobia? Or is it just a basic tenet of (many denominations of) Christianity? Or is it both?
Last week, Bernie Sanders opposed President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought. His opposition was predicated on specific theological views Vought expressed that Sanders characterized as bigoted and islamophobic. One year prior, Vought argued that, according to Christian doctrine, Muslims are theologically deficient and “stand condemned.”
The politics of this episode do not matter as far as I am concerned. What matters to Muslims is understanding what is considered to be the line between acceptable belief and unacceptable bigotry.
The Mirage of Plurality
Interestingly, several notable American Muslim organizations echoed Sanders in urging the Senate Budget Committee to oppose confirmation of Vought, citing his theological views and denouncing them as islamophobic. As a member of the same American Muslim community that these Muslim organizations represent, I am concerned about such denunciations.
The concern is simple. If Christians can be attacked, disqualified, marginalized, and condemned for their theological views, then so can Muslims and, as it turns out, many central beliefs of Islam would be and are considered by many Americans to be sheer bigotry in some shape or form.
We have to take a step back and look at the bigger implications of debates like this. In the fallout of Sanders’ statement, both left wing and right wing groups found his position incorrect.  To demand that Christian politicians and government officials believe that Muslims are eligible for Heaven is tantamount to imposing a religious test, and that would be a violation of religious freedom, where both the left and the right hold religious freedom to be a sacred tenet of secular democracy. Sanders was wrong because Sanders imposed his standard of acceptable belief on others and that is a violation of freedom of religion and conscience. Open and shut case.
But what is being ignored is the larger question of how the notions of bigotry and discrimination can very easily be used and are being used to attack certain religious beliefs. This is a question that has far reaching implications for the very notion of separation of church and state itself.
To get a more solid sense of what is at stake, consider these concrete questions: Would Bernie Sanders support a Muslim nominee who believed that same-sex acts and relationships are sinful and a crime in the eyes of God? Would Sanders support a Muslim nominee who believed that only men and not women can serve in imam positions and lead prayers? Would Sanders support a Muslim nominee who believed (and frequently testified) that all religions other than Islam are categorically false and that there are no gods other than Allah?
These are just some basic established tenets of Islamic belief and practice, but they are seen as homophobic, misogynistic, and intolerant views worthy of condemnation and scorn as far as certain increasingly vocal factions in the West are concerned, factions that are found on both the political right and left.
The Mirage of Privacy
The unavoidable conclusion is that insofar as a “free” and “healthy” society is one that minimizes the acceptance of “hateful” and “discriminatory” views such as these, then that society ipso facto must marginalize or otherwise curb certain religious beliefs. And it is important to note that none of these beliefs have to be public. They could all be privately held. In the case of Vought, imagine if he had not made any public statement about Muslims but nonetheless, at the hearing, Sanders directly asked him what he thought about Islamic theology. Could Vought express his private beliefs in that scenario? Or would he have to lie in order to avoid Sanders’ disapproval?
As far as Sanders is concerned, he is trying to determine whether Vought is a bigot and being a bigot does not require public pronouncement of bigoted views. We can certainly see this (to a limited degree) when it comes to anti-black racism. The billionaire Donald Sterling was rightly ousted from his position as owner of his professional basketball team, not because he privately expressed racist views to his girlfriend, but because he was a racist. The erstwhile CEO of Mozilla Firefox, Brendan Eich, was ousted from his position, not because he donated to a campaign in opposition to same-sex marriage, but because he was a “homophobe.” In other words, even if beliefs deemed bigoted go unexpressed and are carefully hidden in the furthest recesses of one’s mind, in a realm as “private” as possible, one is still liable for those beliefs in a secular state. And we can even imagine technology that could be invented for the purpose of rooting out “hateful” beliefs that people might be concealing in order to discover all the bigots and expose them to utmost social and political, if not legal, sanction.
Even without technology, “heathens” can be sniffed out. Consider how just recently the leader of Britain’s Liberal Democratic party, Tim Farron, was essentially forced to resign because of his Christian beliefs on abortion and homosexuality. For years, Farron had been very careful in keeping his beliefs on these issues private and maintaining that his religious perspective would not interfere with his public, political support for “reproductive and LGBT rights.” But that was not enough assurance for the thought police, as he faced incessant pressure to express his true views on the matter. Once it became clear that Farron had less than full-throated enthusiasm for abortion and homosexuality, his fate was sealed.
The Mirage of Secularity
Those who defend Sanders’ line of questioning argue that it is legitimate to interrogate private beliefs because private beliefs can have public consequences in the form of one’s public actions. And, of course, public actions matter for those seeking public office. That is a very plausible line of reasoning, but it is also one that completely undermines the principle of separation of church and state. Consider a simple scenario: If I am a Muslim living in a secular democracy, I should be concerned about a Christian becoming a legislator because, even if this Christian lawmaker vows to uphold a secular neutrality in his work and to keep his private beliefs out of office, nonetheless those beliefs will inherently affect who he is, what he thinks about the world, what he sees as right and wrong, and, ultimately, what he decides to do in his job. As such, there is a non-negligible probability that he will pursue legislation that I will either fundamentally disagree with given that we are coming from two different religious traditions or that might even negatively impact me in my life as a believing Muslim. Therefore, as a Muslim and a rational actor, I would definitely have to bear in mind the private religious beliefs of a Christian running for public office. And a Christian would reasonably have those same concerns about a Muslim politician’s beliefs. It is difficult to see how either line of thought is mistaken much less “islamophobic,” “christianphobic,” bigoted, immoral, and invalid.
In fact, we readily recognize this basic principle when it comes to normative issues seemingly unrelated to religion. If I am a part of the “pro-gun” demographic in the US, all else being equal, I will vote for candidates who share my pro-gun beliefs and oppose those who do not. I support candidates on the basis of shared beliefs because I reasonably assume that those beliefs will translate into actions, namely political actions that directly or indirectly support pro-gun legislation and public policy.
But then, what about any of this changes if my beliefs happen to be “religious” in nature? And, more importantly, who decides what is or is not “religious”? Because if we are willing to accept that “religious” beliefs are uniquely problematic in context of secular governance, then deciding what beliefs are “religious” and which ones are “non-religious” makes a huge difference and whoever is bestowed with the ability to decide either way yields tremendous power.
Case in point: Are Sanders’ universalist beliefs about who is or is not eligible for salvation religious or non-religious in nature? Those supporting Sanders characterize his beliefs as simply anti-discriminatory, with the understanding that anti-discriminatory beliefs are acceptable beliefs to uphold, enshrine in law, and ultimately impose on others in context of secular governance. Those criticizing Sanders, however, characterize his beliefs as inherently religious. According to them, Sanders is subjecting Vought to his particular theological understanding of salvation and that is unacceptable in a secular state. In other words, the acceptability of Sanders’ line of questioning crucially depends on whether his beliefs are characterized as religious or not.
Yet, is it not alarming that these important questions concerning religious freedom and the nature of secularism hinge on such subjective and malleable determinations of what is properly described as religious or not? If that is truly what separation of church and state ultimately is predicated on, that should not give much comfort to secularists committed to religious freedom, whether they be on the political right or left.
The Mirage of Liberty
The core of the problem according to legal and religious scholar Winnifred Fallers Sullivan is that the relationship between the law and religion fundamentally depends on a coherent and analytically sound definition of religion itself. But then, who has the authority to provide such a definition? Attorneys, judges, legislators, and other legal officials are not religious scholars or otherwise in a position to opine on spiritual matters on any given religion, let alone all of them. And even if they were religious scholars, they would have to base their legal and governmental decisions on their personal understandings, which others might not view as religiously correct. In short, defining religion in a neutral yet robust way is a practical, if not theoretical, impossibility, and without such a definition, the guarantee of religious freedom has little substance.
To make matters more fraught, the fogginess of both the concepts of religion and discrimination makes it easy for certain political factions in secular democracies to target those with opposing beliefs. In the US, the charges of homophobia and misogyny have been used to great effect in legislating and adjudicating against conservative Christian business owners on the issues of same-sex marriage and reproductive rights, respectively. In Canada, the now infamous “anti-hate” pronoun bill requires individuals to respect the “pronoun preferences” of the transgendered, irrespective of one’s religious beliefs about transgenderism, gender fluidity, etc.
(Of course, the left does not have a monopoly on restricting religious belief and practice. The political left typically appeals to anti-discrimination and anti-misogyny in their effort to disenfranchise certain beliefs and practices, whereas the political right appeals to national security and public safety against “foreign ideologies.” The dubious reasoning, of course, is that putting restrictions on an “ideology,” or what the powers that be have labelled as an “ideology,” such as socialism, black liberationism, or islamism, does not contradict religious liberty.)
As far as Muslims are concerned, we can see an analogous dynamic play out in secular states throughout Europe and increasingly North America. Whenever political groups in these nations want to attack Muslims and Islamic law, they cite discrimination and bigotry (or national security or the preservation of national identity, depending on the country and political group in question). For example, much of the justification used for the various hijab ban proposals in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and elsewhere is that hijab is inherently discriminatory against women. Proposed bans on the Quran are justified on the basis that the Quran is “hateful” towards other religious traditions. Islamic law as a whole is opposed because, among other things, within Sharia are “homophobic” condemnations of same-sex acts. The call to prayer (adhan) is banned because it includes discriminatory statements against the gods of other religions (e.g., “There is no god except Allah). The building of new mosques is also opposed because, among other things, Muslim prayer arrangements that separate men and women are seen as discriminatory to women.
Some claim that the anti-Islam laws and policies in these countries are contrary to religious freedom. In reality, they are perfectly conformant with the ideals of religious freedom because it is understood that secular systems of law must promote the public good and ensure the legal rights of all even if it comes at the expense of the religious freedom of some, where discrimination is taken to be contrary to the public good. Of course, what is or is not rightly deemed discriminatory depends on what are taken to be legal rights, and that is a question that is in constant flux, punctuated every few years, in the US at least, with landmark Supreme Court decisions.
What is crucial to note is that once specific anti-discrimination laws and policies go into effect, they have a significant impact on Muslim understandings of their own religion. Muslims shudder to think that their own religion is bigoted, racist, or misogynistic. To avoid that designation, Muslims will point to those “problematic” aspects of their faith and eventually, in one way or another, excise them from what they consider correct Islamic theology.
“Islam does not discriminate against people who want same-sex relationships,” it is argued. “Those doctrines that indicate otherwise are just homophobic interpretations that have been imposed on our LGBT-affirming faith!” “Islam does not discriminate against women in prayer,” it is asserted. “Those doctrines that say women should pray behind men and that men’s and women’s spaces in the mosque should be separate are just patriarchal distortions that have been imposed on the Muslim community and have no basis in revelation!” “Islam does not discriminate against religious minorities or preach salvific exclusivity,” it is declared. “Those theological views to the contrary are just medieval manifestations of base tribalism!”
Muslims might debate the plausibility of any of these claims (hopefully not seriously). What cannot be denied, however, is how the secular state’s legal conception of discrimination significantly impacts Muslim belief and, in anthropological terms, actively constructs Muslim subjects who modify their religious doctrines and practices in order to bring them into conformity with dominant cultural and institutional structures. Christians, of course, face the same pressures, though not quite to the same extent given how much Christian tradition and history has influenced Western culture writ large.
The Mirage of Neutrality
Much more can be said and cited on conceptual difficulties surrounding the notion of religious freedom and its role in secular law and the lives of believers. But one takeaway that is relevant to Muslim faith in these trying times is that the idea of secular religious freedom is not a straightforward value that one either accepts or rejects.
This is important to recognize because Islamic civilization (past and present) and Islamic law are viciously and incessantly criticized for lacking a healthy respect for religious freedom in contrast to modern Western civilization and secular law. This creates doubts in the minds of many Muslims about the morality and basic humanity of their religion. The reality, in the phrasing of academics like Talal Asad, is that Islamic law creates spaces where certain expressions of plurality of belief and practice are allowed while restricting that plurality in other spaces. But so does every other system of law, including the liberal secular ones that claim to uphold religious freedom.
Law by its nature is restrictive in its allowance and disallowance of certain human behaviors and beliefs. As philosopher Stanley Fish plainly put it, “How can a law that refuses, on principle, to recognize religious claims be said to be neutral with respect to those claims?” The only question is, which kinds of recognitions or lack thereof are considered legitimate. This is first and foremost a metaphysical question that requires appealing to values and normative commitments that may not be “religious” per se, in the sense of flowing from one of the commonly recognized traditional religions like Christianity and Islam, but nonetheless is metaphysical and evaluative in essence. As I and others have noted elsewhere, liberal secularism lacks the language and the conceptual resources to sustain a robust debate on that metaphysical level and so has to resort to smuggling in such commitments under the guise of promoting and maintaining “liberty” and “equality” and curtailing “hate” and “discrimination.” 
Recognizing and understanding these basic points can do a great deal towards dissolving Muslim doubts. It also provides Muslims in the West a more realistic picture of how their faith can be impacted and even manipulated by the larger forces of the secular state, a picture undistorted by the rosy yet hollow assurances of religious freedom.
Ultimately, Muslims in the West should internalize the fact that even though the law of the land has no concern for the God of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, the secular god is invoked and his commandments are written into law and his doctrines are imposed on all. And if he decides that Muslims should stop wearing hijab or that no more mosques should be built or that no more children should be circumcised or that no more halal meat should be sold, etc., etc., then those decisions will be enacted despite the hymns of “religious freedom” sung in the holy temples of the divine secular godhead.
The Mirage of Frailty
So what should Muslims do with this newfound understanding? What is the practical takeaway? Recognizing reality, of course, is in itself a boon and even if there were no other “practical” implications, the mere knowledge that something is a deceptive mirage has transformative impact for a Muslim’s state of mind and heart, not unlike how realizing that the worldly life (dunya) is not the permanent abode it appears to be propels the believer to new heights of spiritual awareness.
Beyond that, a couple of practical points do come to mind. First, Muslims in the West must come to grips with the fact that their religion is under intense scrutiny from committed secularists on both sides of the political aisle. In the US, for example, the right wing has ramped up “anti-Sharia” activism. The primary claim they make is that Muslims who accept Sharia are extremists. This is because the Sharia prescribes, among other things, hudud punishments and is, in general, at odds with and anathema to certain “modern” values. Having established that, it is then easy to argue that Muslims as a whole are a threat to national security and Western civilization and culture.
What makes the situation dangerous for Muslims is that the left, which recently has been keen to defend Muslims in terms of civil rights, is not willing to defend the Sharia. In fact, when push comes to shove, the left has shown a willingness to join the right in demanding, or at least pressuring, Muslims to denounce those provisions of the Sharia they find objectionable in terms of sexual ethics, women’s rights, salvific exclusivity, etc. These dynamics are clear when one observes the views prominent Muslim activists and academics aligned with the left express on these shar`i topics, most notably their endorsement of same-sex marriage and the same-sex “lifestyle,” their enthusiasm for “trans rights,” their denouncements of gender separation, and their heterodox positions on many other well-established facets of the Sharia.
At this point, the Muslim community in the West should, as a practical matter, be concerned about whether or not the Sharia as a normative and aspirational ideal can survive this onslaught and be preserved for their descendants. It is indubitably true that certain prescriptions of the Sharia are not, according to the Sharia itself, immediately operationalizable or even applicable to the contemporary Muslim community living in non-Muslim states. But, that does not mean that those particular prescriptions should be excised or otherwise censored, much less denounced. The Sharia has been transmitted in its entirety for 1400 years, generation after generation, and as soon as it reaches our generation, we as a community resort to hacking away at some of its most well-established provisions because we happen to find ourselves in a position of global political weakness at this moment in history? Is this what we want to leave for future generations to inherit?
In the face of this dire situation, we must not relinquish our grip on the Sharia, even though this may be akin to clutching a burning hot coal. As far as our political discourse is concerned, we can also push back against the external pressure by insisting that Muslims have had a long history of living under non-Muslim rule and their commitment to the Sharia was not an impediment to peaceful coexistence. But contrary to liberal secular delusions of grandeur, this coexistence was not due to the beneficence of religious freedom, but due to the fact that the Western world has been a fairly religious place relative to what it has become in the past three or four decades. Western civilization and culture has historically accommodated God’s law, or at least the concept of God’s law, even if, in practice, God’s law meant little for actual governance. As Christian scholar John Milbank observes, that ethos of respect for Divine mandate could comfortably accommodate the Muslim belief in Sharia, even if it did not accommodate all of its actual provisions. But times have changed and in the postmodern world, the thought of a person being even nominally committed to God’s law is an affront to humanity. If Islam is going to survive in the West in any meaningful form, Western Muslims must resist these pressures, even if only in their hearts.
 Green, E. (2017, June 08). Bernie Sanders’s Religious Test for Christians in Public Office. Retrieved June 14, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/06/bernie-sanders-chris-van-hollen-russell-vought/529614/
 I have written on the topic of religious freedom and secularism elsewhere
 CAIR National expressed its position on its official Facebook page. Other American Muslims groups, e.g., Muslim Advocates, expressed similar positions, as cited by NPR.
 To follow this line of thought, read the argument forwarded by Ismail Royer.
 Davidson, J. D. (2017, June 14). Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Think Christians Are Fit For Public Office. Retrieved June 14, 2017, from here.
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 The threat of “Islamic terrorism” has been the justification most often cited to attenuate Muslim legal rights in both the West and in many Muslim countries, but the plausibility of this line of reasoning, at least in part, depends on demographics. Most policy makers are forced to recognize that only a miniscule percentage of any Muslim population is inclined to violent extremism, and that percentage is typically smaller than what is found in the average population. Given this limitation, anti-Muslim, anti-Islam polemics in popular media outlets seem to have shifted in recent years to focusing on how Islamic law is contrary to liberal values of freedom, tolerance, sexual autonomy, etc.
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Sri Lankan Muslims To Fast In Solidarity With Fellow Christians
On Sunday morning Sri Lankan Christians went to their local churches for Easter services, as they have done for centuries. Easter is a special occasion for Christian families in ethnically diverse Sri Lanka. A time for families to gather to worship in their churches, and then to enjoy their festivities. Many went to their local church on Sunday morning to be followed by a traditional family breakfast at home or a local restaurant.
It would have been like any other Easter Sunday for prominent mother-daughter television duo, Shanthaa Mayadunne and Nisanga Mayadunne. Except that it wasn’t.
Nisanga Mayadunne posted a family photograph on Facebook at 8.47 AM with the title “Easter breakfast with family” and had tagged the location, the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. Little would she have known that hitting ‘post’ would be among the last things she would do in this earthly abode. Minutes later a bomb exploded at the Shangri-La, killing her and her mother.
In more than a half a dozen coordinated bomb blasts on Sunday, 360 people have been confirmed dead, with the number expected to most likely rise. Among the dead are children who have lost parents and mothers & fathers whose families will never be together again.
Many could not get past the church service. A friend remembers the service is usually so long that the men sometimes go outside to get some fresh air, with women and children remaining inside – painting a vivid and harrowing picture of the children who may have been within the hall.
Perpetrators of these heinous crimes against their own faith, and against humanity have been identified as radicalised Muslim youth, claiming to be part of a hitherto little-known organisation. Community leaders claim with much pain of how authorities were alerted years ago to the criminal intent of these specific youth.
Mainstream Muslims have in fact been at the forefront not just locally, but also internationally in the fight against extremism within Muslim communities. This is why Sri Lankan Muslims are especially shaken by what has taken place when men who have stolen their identity commit acts of terror in their name. Sri Lankan Muslims and Catholics have not been in conflict in the past, adding to a palimpsest of reasons that make this attack all the more puzzling to experts. Many here are bewildered as to what strategic objective these terrorists sought to achieve.
Sri Lankan Muslims Take Lead
Sri Lankan Muslims, a numerical minority, though a well-integrated native community in Sri Lanka’s colourful social fabric, seek to take lead in helping to alleviate the suffering currently plaguing our nation.
Promoting love alone will not foster good sustainable communal relationships – unless it is accompanied by tangible systemic interventions that address communal trigger points that could contribute to ethnic or religious tensions. Terror in all its forms must be tackled in due measure by law enforcement authorities.
However, showing love, empathy and kindness is as good a starting point in a national crisis as any.
Sri Lankan Muslims have called to fast tomorrow (Thursday) in solidarity with their fellow Christian and non-Christian friends who have died or are undergoing unbearable pain, trauma, and suffering.
#MyFastMySriLanka Terror at its heart seeks to divide, to create phases of grief that ferments to anger, and for this anger to unleash cycles of violence that usurps the lives of innocent men, women, and children. Instead of letting terror take its course, Sri Lankans are aspiring to come together, to not let terror have its way.
Together with my fellow Sri Lankan Muslims, I will be fasting tomorrow from dawn to dusk. I will be foregoing any food and drink during this period.
It occurs to many of us that it is unconscientious to have regular days on these painful days when we know of so many other Sri Lankans who have had their lives obliterated by the despicable atrocities committed by terrorists last Sunday. Fasting is a special act of worship done by Muslims, it is a time and state in which prayers are answered. It is a state in which it is incumbent upon us to be more charitable, with our time, warmth and whatever we could share.
I will be fasting and praying tomorrow, to ease the pain and suffering of those affected.
I will be praying for a peaceful Sri Lanka, where our children – all our children, of all faiths – can walk the streets without fear and have the freedom to worship in peace.
I will be fasting tomorrow for my Sri Lanka. I urge you to do the same.
Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. Surah Maidah
Are You Prepared for Marriage and Building a Family?
High School is that time which is ideal for preparing yourself for the rest of your life. There is so much excitement and opportunity. Youth is a time of energy, growth, health, beauty, and adventure. Along with the thrill of being one of the best times of life, there is a definite lack of life experience. In your youth, you end up depending on your own judgments as well as the advice of others who are further along the path. Your own judgments usually come from your own knowledge, assumptions, likes, and dislikes. No matter how wise, mature, or well-intended a youth is compared to his or her peers, the inherent lack of life experience can also mislead that person to go down a path which is not serving them or their loved ones best. A youth may walk into mistakes without knowing, or get themselves into trouble resulting from naivety.
Salma and Yousef:
Salma and Yousef had grown up in the same community for many years. They had gone to the same masjid and attended youth group together during high school. After going off to college for a few years, both were back in town and found that they would make good prospects for marriage for each other. Yousef was moving along his career path, and Salma looked forward to her new relationship. Yousef was happy to settle down. The first few months after marriage were hectic: getting a new place, organizing, managing new jobs and extended family. After a few months, they began to wonder when things would settle down and be like the vision they had about married life.
Later with valuable life experience, we come to realize that the ideas we had in our youth about marriage and family are far from what are they are in reality. The things that we thought mattered in high school, may not matter as much, and the things that we took for granted really matter a lot more than we realized. In retrospect, we learn that marriage is not simply a door that we walk through which changes our life, but something that each young Muslim and Muslima should be preparing for individually through observation, introspection, and reflection. In order to prepare for marriage, each person must intend to want to be the best person he or she can be in that role. There is a conscious process that they must put themselves through.
This conscious process should begin in youth. Waiting until marriage to start this process is all too late. We must really start preparing for marriage as a conscious part of our growth, self-development, and character building from a young age. The more prepared we are internally, the better off we will be in the process of marriage. The best analogy would be the stronger the structure and foundation of a building, the better that building will be able to serve its purpose and withstand the environment. Another way to think of this process is like planting a seed. We plant a seed long before the harvest, but the more time, care, and attention, the more beautiful and beneficial the fruits will be.
Sarah and Hasan:
Hasan grew up on the East Coast. He had gone to boarding school all through high school, especially since his parents had died in an unfortunate accident. His next of kin was his aunt and uncle, who managed his finances, and cared for him when school was not in session. Hasan was safe and comfortable with his aunt and uncle, but he always felt there was something missing in his life. During his college years, Hasan was introduced to Sarah and eventually they decided to get married.
The first week of his new job, Hasan caught a really bad case of the flu that made it hard for him to get his projects done. Groggy in bed, he sees Sarah appear with a tray of soup and medicine every day until he felt better. Nobody had ever done that for him before. He remembered the “mawaddah and rahmah” that the Quran spoke of.
Knowledge, Skills, and Understanding:
The process of growing into that person who is ready to start a family is that we need to first to be aware of ourselves and be aware of others around us. We have to have knowledge of ourselves and our environment. With time, reflection and life experience, that knowledge activates into understanding and wisdom. This activity the ability to make choices between right and wrong, and predict how our actions will affect others related to us.
This series is made up of several parts which make up a unit about preparation for family life. Some of the topics covered include:
- The Family Unit In Islam
- Characteristics of an Individual Needed for Family Life
- The Nuclear Family
- The Extended Family
Hamza and Tamika
Tamika and Hamza got married six months ago. Tamika was getting her teacher certification in night school and started her first daytime teaching job at the local elementary school. She was shocked at the amount of energy it took to manage second graders. She thought teaching was about writing on a board and reading books to kids, but found out it had a lot more to do with discipline, speaking loudly, and chasing them around. This week she had state testing for the students and her finals at night school. She was not sure how to balance all this with her new home duties. One day feeling despair, she walked in her kitchen and found a surprise. Hamza had prepared a beautiful delicious dinner for them that would last a few days, and the home looked extra clean too. Tamika was pleasantly surprised and remembered the example of our Prophet Muhammad .
The Family Unit in Islam
We always have to start with the beginning. We have to ask, “What is the family unit in Islam?” To answer this we take a step further back, asking, “What is the world-wide definition of family? Is it the same for all people? Of course not. “Family” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people across the world. As Muslims, what family means to us, is affected by culture and values, as well as our own understanding of Islam.
The world-wide definition of family is a group of people who are related to each other through blood or marriage. Beyond this point, is where there are many differences in views. Some people vary on how distantly related to consider a family. In some cultures, family is assumed to be only the nuclear family, consisting of mom dad and kids only. Other cultures assume family includes an extended family. Another large discrepancy lies in defining family roles and responsibilities. Various cultures promote different behavioral norms for different genders or roles in the family. For example, some cultures promote women staying at home in a life of luxury, while others esteem women joining the workforce while raising their kids on the side. Living styles vary too, where some cultures prefer individual family homes, while in other parts of the world extended families live together in large buildings always interacting with each other.
Layla and Ibrahim
Layla and Ibrahim met at summer retreat where spirituality was the focus, and scholars were teaching them all day. Neither of them was seriously considering getting married, but one of the retreat teachers thought they might make a good match. It seemed like a fairytale, and the retreat gave them an extra spiritual high. Layla could not imagine anything going wrong. She was half Italian and half Egyptian, and Ibrahim came from a desi family. Soon after the nikah, Layla moved across the country into Ibrahim’s family home, where his parents, three siblings, and grandmother lived. Come Ramadan, Layla’s mother-in-law, Ruqayya, was buying her new clothes to wear to the masjid. It was out of love, but Sarah had never worn a shalwar kameez in all her life! Ruqayya Aunty started getting upset when Layla was not as excited about the clothes as she was.
As Eid approached, Layla had just picked a cute dress from the department store that she was looking forward to wearing. Yet again, her mother-in-law had other plans for her.
Layla was getting upset inside. It was the night before Eid and the last thing she wanted to do was fight with her new husband. She did not want that stress, especially because they all lived together. At this point, Layla started looking through her Islamic lecture notes. She wanted to know, was this request from her mother-in-law a part of the culture, or was it part of the religion?
The basis of all families, undoubtedly, is the institution of marriage. In the Islamic model, the marriage consists of a husband and a wife. In broad terms, marriage is the commitment of two individuals towards each other and their children to live and work together to meet and support each other’s needs in the way that they see fit. What needs they meet vary as well, from person to person, and family to family. The marriage bond must sustain the weight of fulfilling first their own obligations toward each other. This is the priority. The marriage must also be strong enough to hold the responsibility of raising the kids, and then the extended family.
How are we as Muslims unique and what makes us different from other family models? We are responsible to Allah. The end goals are what makes us different, and the method in which we work. In other family systems, beliefs are different, goals are different, and the motives are different. Methods can especially be different. In the end, it is quite a different system. What makes us better? Not because we say we are better or because we automatically feel better about ourselves due to a misplaced feeling of superiority. But instead it is because we are adhering to the system put in place by the most perfect God, Allah, the Creator and Sustainer of all the worlds, the One Who knows best what it is we need.
Each person in the family has a role which Allah has meant for them to have, and which ethics and common sense tell us to follow. However, our nafs and ego can easily misguide us to live our family life in the wrong way, which is harmful and keeps us suffering. Suffering can take place in many ways. It can take place in the form of neglect or abuse. In the spectrum of right and wrong, Allah tells us that we are a nation meant for the middle path. So we should not go to any extreme in neglect or abuse.
What are the consequences of mishandling our family roles? Allah calls this type of wrongdoing “transgression” or “oppression”. There are definitely consequences of oppression, abuse, and neglect. There are worldly consequences which we feel in this life, and there are long term consequences in the Akhirah.
Razan and Farhaan
Razan and Farhan had gotten married two years ago. Since they were from different towns, Razan would have to move to Farhaan’s hometown. On top of the change of married life, Razan felt pangs of homesickness and did not know many people in the new town. However, Farhaan did not realize what she was going through. He still had the same friends he grew up with for years. They had a die-hard routine to go to football games on Friday night and play basketball on Saturday at the rec center.
Razan was losing her patience. How could he think it was okay to go out with his friends twice on the weekend? Yet he expected her to keep the home together? Her blood started to boil. What does Islam say about this?
Mawaddah and Rahma
The starting point of a family is a healthy relationship between the husband and wife. Allah SWT prescribed in Surah 25: verse 74, that the marriage relationship is supposed to be built on Mawaddah (compassion) and Rahma (mercy). A loving family environment responds to both the needs of the children and the needs of parents. Good parenting prepares children to become responsible adults.
Aliyaah and Irwan
Aliyaah and Irwan had homeschooled their twin children, Jannah and Omar, for four years. They were cautious about where to admit their children for the next school year. Aliyaah felt that she wanted to homeschool her children for another few years. There were no Islamic Schools in their town. Irwan wanted to let his kids go to public schools. He felt that was nothing wrong with knowing how things in the real world are. However, every conversation they started about this issue ended up into a conflict or fight. This was beginning to affect their relationship.
Two significant roles that adults in a family play are that they are married and they are parents. It is important that parents work to preserve and protect their marital relationship since it is really the pillar which supports the parenting role. Parenting is a role which Allah directly addresses in our religion. We will be asked very thoroughly about this most important role which we will all play in our lives.
There is a hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad reminds us,
“All of you are shepherds and responsible for your wards under you care. The imam is the shepherd of his subjects and is responsible for them, and a man is a shepherd of his family and is responsible for them. A woman is the shepherd of her husband’s house and is responsible for it. A servant is the shepherd of his master’s belongings and is responsible for them. A man is the shepherd of his father’s property and is responsible for them”. (Bukhari and Muslim)
Islam has placed a lot of importance on the family unit. A family is the basic building block of Islam. A strong family can facilitate positive social change within itself and the society as a whole. The Quran asserts that human beings are entrusted by their Creator to be his trustees on Earth, thus they need to be trained and prepared for the task of trusteeship (isthiklaf).
Asa youth, it is important to make a concerted effort to develop our family skills so that we grow into that role smoothly. Proper development will prepare a person emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically for marriage and family life.
Mona Islam is a youth worker, community builder, motivational speaker, writer, and author. For the past 25 years, Sr. Mona has been on the forefront of her passion both locally and nationally, which is inculcating character development in youth (tarbiyah). Sr. Mona has extensive knowledge of Islamic sciences through the privilege of studying under many scholars and traveling worldwide. An educator by profession, she is a published author, completed her masters in Educational Admin and currently doing her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. Sr. Mona is married with five children and lives in Houston, TX.
White Activism Is Crucial In The Wake of Right-Wing Terrorism
The vicious terrorist attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15 were a punch to the gut for peace-loving people all over the world. Only the most heartless of individuals could feel nonchalant about 70 innocent children, women, and men being killed or maimed mercilessly as they prayed. However, even a brief glimpse at comments on social media confirms that among the outpouring of sadness and shock, there are, indeed, numerous sick individuals who glory in Brenton Tarrant’s deliberately evil actions. White supremacy, in all its horrific manifestations, is clearly alive and well.
In an enlightening article in The Washington Post, R. Joseph Parrott explains, “Recently, global white supremacy has been making a comeback, attracting adherents by stoking a new unease with changing demographics, using an expanded rhetoric of deluge and cultivating nostalgia for a time when various white governments ruled the world (and local cities). At the fringes, longing for lost white regimes forged a new global iconography of supremacy.”
“Modern white supremacy is an international threat that knows no borders, being exported and globalized like never before,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said. “The hatred that led to violence in Pittsburgh and Charlottesville is finding new adherents around the world. Indeed, it appears that this attack was not just focused on New Zealand; it was intended to have a global impact.” (link)
Many people want to sweep this terrifying reality under the rug, among them the U.S. President. Asked by a reporter if he saw an increase globally in the threat of white nationalism, Trump replied, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”
However, experts in his own country disagree. A March 17 article in NBC News claims that, “The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned in a 2017 intelligence bulletin that white supremacist groups had carried out more attacks in the U.S. than any other domestic extremist group over the past 16 years. And officials believe they are likely to carry out more.”
Although they may be unaware of — or in denial about –the growing influence of white supremacist ideology, the vast majority of white people do not support violent acts of terrorism. However, many of them are surprisingly, hurtfully silent when acts of terrorism are committed by non-Muslims, with Muslims as the victims.
When a shooter yells “Allahu akbar” before killing innocent people, public furor is obvious and palpable. “Terror attacks by Muslims receive 375% more press attention,” states a headline in The Guardian, citing a study by the University of Alabama. The perpetrator is often portrayed as a “maniac” and a representative of an inherently violent faith. In the wake of an attack committed by a Muslim, everyone from politicians to religious leaders to news anchors calls on Muslim individuals and organizations to disavow terrorism. However, when white men kill Muslims en masse, there is significantly less outrage. People try to make sense of the shooters’ vile actions, looking into their past for trauma, mental illness, or addiction that will somehow explain why they did what they did. Various news outlets humanized Brenton Tarrant with bold headlines that labeled him an “angelic boy who grew into an evil far-right mass killer,” an “ordinary white man,” “obsessed with video games,” and even “badly picked on as a child because he was chubby.” Those descriptions, which evoke sympathy rather than revulsion, are reserved for white mass murderers.
The media’s spin on terrorist acts shapes public reaction. Six days after the Christchurch attacks, millions were not currently taking to the streets to protest right-wing extremism. World leaders are not linking arms in a dramatic march against white supremacist terrorism. And no one is demanding that white men, in general, disavow terrorism.
But that would be unreasonable, right? To expect all white men to condemn the vile actions of an individual they don’t even know? Unreasonable though it may be, such expectations are placed on Muslims all the time.
As a white woman, I am here to argue that white people — and most of all white-led institutions — are exactly the ones who need to speak up now, loudly and clearly condemning right-wing terrorism, disavowing white supremacy, and showing support of Muslims generally. We need to do this even if we firmly believe we’re not part of the problem. We need to do this even if our first reaction is to feel defensive (“But I’m not a bigot!”), or if discussing race is uncomfortable to us. We need to do it even if we are Muslims who fully comprehend that our beloved Prophet said, “There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white — except by piety.”
While we might not hold hatred in our hearts individually, we do hold the power, institutionally. If we truly care about people of color, peace, and justice, we must put our fragile egos aside and avoid “not me-ism.” The fact is, if we have white skin, we have grown up in a world that favors us in innumerable ways, both big and small. Those of us with privilege, position, and authority are the very ones who have the greatest responsibility to make major changes to society. Sadly, sometimes it takes a white person to make other white people listen and change.
White religious leaders, politicians, and other people with influence and power need to speak up and condemn the New Zealand attacks publically and unequivocally, even if we do not consider ourselves remotely affiliated with right-wing extremists or murderous bigots. Living our comfortable lives, refusing to discuss or challenge institutionalized racism, xenophobia, and rampant Islamophobia, and accepting the status quo are all a tacit approval of the toxic reality that we live in.
Institutional power is the backbone of racism. Throughout history, governments and religious institutions have enforced racist legislation, segregation, xenophobic policies, and the notion that white people are inherently superior to people of color. These institutions continue to be controlled by white people, and if white leaders and white individuals truly believe in justice for all, we must do much more than “be a nice person.” We must use our influence to change the system and to challenge injustice.
White ministers need to decry racial violence and anti-immigrant sentiment from their pulpits, making it abundantly clear that their religion does not advocate racism, xenophobia, or Islamophobia. They must condemn Brenton Tarrant’s abhorrent actions in clear terms, in case any member of their flock sees him as some sort of hero. Politicians and other leaders need to humanize and defend Muslims while expressing zero tolerance for extremists who threaten the lives or peace of their fellow citizens — all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs, immigration status, or ethnicity. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is an excellent role model for world leaders; she has handled her nation’s tragedy with beautiful compassion, wisdom, and crystal clear condemnation of the attacker and his motives. Similarly, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demonstrated superb leadership and a humane, loving response to the victims in Christchurch (and Muslims in general) in his recent address to the House of Commons.
Indeed, when they put their mind to it, people can make quite an impactful statement against extremist violence. In January 2015 when Muslim gunmen killed 17 people in Paris, there was an immediate global reaction. The phrase “Je suis Charlie” trended on social media and in fact became one of the most popular hashtags in the history of Twitter. Approximately 3.4 million people marched in anti-terrorism rallies throughout France, and 40 world leaders — most of whom were white — marched alongside a crowd of over 1 million in Paris.
While several political and religious leaders have made public statements condemning the terrorist attacks in Christchurch, there is much less activism on the streets and even on social media following this particular atrocity. Many Muslims who expected words of solidarity, unity, or comfort from non-Muslim family or friends were disappointed by the general lack of interest, even after a mosque was burned in California with a note left in homage to New Zealand.
In a public Facebook post, Shibli Zaman of Texas echoed many Muslims’ feelings when he wrote, “One of the most astonishing things to me that I did not expect — but, in hindsight, realize that I probably should have — is how few of my non-Muslim friends have reached out to me to express condolences and sorrow.” His post concluded, “But I have learned that practically none of my non-Muslim friends care.”
Ladan Rashidi of California posted, simply, “The Silence. Your silence is deafening. And hurtful.” Although her words were brief and potentially enigmatic, her Muslim Facebook friends instantly understood what she was talking about and commiserated with her.
Why do words and actions matter so much in the wake of a tragedy?
Because they have the power to heal and to unite. Muslims feel shattered right now, and the lack of widespread compassion or global activism only heightens the feeling that we are unwanted and “other.” If 50 innocent Muslims die from terrorism, and the incident does not spark universal outrage, but one Muslim pulls the trigger and the whole world erupts in indignation, then what is that saying about society’s perception of the value of Muslim lives?
To the compassionate non-Muslims who have delivered flowers, supportive messages, and condolences to the Muslim community in New Zealand and elsewhere, I thank you sincerely. You renew our hope in humanity.
To the white people who care enough to acknowledge their privilege and use it to the best of their ability to bring about justice and peace, I salute you. Please persevere in your noble goals. Please continue to learn about institutionalized racism and attempt to make positive changes. Do not shy away from discussions about race and do not doubt or silence people of color when they explain their feelings. Our discomfort, our defensiveness, and our professed “colorblindness” should not dominate the conversation every time we hear the word “racism.” We should listen more than speak and put our egos to the side. I am still learning to do this, and while it is not easy, it is crucial to true understanding and transformation.
To the rest of you who have remained silent, for whatever reason: I ask you to look inside yourself and think about whether you are really satisfied with a system that values some human lives so highly over others. If you are not a white supremacist, nor a bigot, nor a racist — if you truly oppose these ideologies — then you must do more than remain in your comfortable bubble. Speak up. Spread love. Fix problems on whatever level you can, to the best of your ability. If you are in a leadership position, the weight on your shoulders is heavy; do not shirk your duty. To be passive, selfish, apathetic, or lazy is to enable hatred to thrive, and then, whether you intended to or not, you are on the side of the extremists. Which side are you on? Decide and act.
“A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case, he is justly accountable to them for their injury.” — John Stuart Mill, On Liberty.
For the past decade, writer Laura El Alam has been a regular contributor to SISTERS Magazine, Al Jumuah, and About Islam. Her articles frequently tackle issues like Muslim American identity, women’s rights in Islam, support of converts/reverts, and racism. A graduate of Grinnell College, she currently lives in Massachusetts with her husband and five children. Laura recently started a Facebook page, The Common Sense Convert, to support Muslim women, particularly those who are new to the deen.