By: Yaya J. Fanusie. Yaya is a former CIA counterterrorism analyst. He is the director of analysis at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance. He tweets at @signcurve and produces a personal storytelling podcast about his journey to Islam and working in national security called Rhythm of Wisdom.
The recent terrorist attacks in London show that jihadist conflicts around the globe are likely to continue ricocheting in the West. To keep up with this threat, the U.S. is leveraging all elements of its power. In the past few months, the U.S. Treasury Department has designated more than a dozen people for their involvement with al-Qa’ida (AQ) or the Islamic State (IS). They’re a diverse bunch. Two of the individuals are from the UK. Another pair are Canadian. The list also includes a Trinidadian, Malaysian, Indonesian, a Swede, and a guy from New Zealand. Clearly, the world’s most deadliest terrorist groups are equal opportunity recruiters. And these designations belie the idea that the U.S. can counter jihadist terrorism through a national security policy focus on the Middle East.
Obviously, these individuals do not represent the dominant attitudes of Muslims in these countries. But as a convert to Islam who spent several years working as a counterterrorism analyst for the CIA, I am particularly concerned about extremist narratives calling on Muslims in the West to support terrorist groups. The phenomenon of Muslims leaving places where Islam exists in relatively pluralistic environments to join al-Qa’ida and IS offers insights into the paths of jihadist radicalization and, hopefully, some ways to undercut it.
While many may posit that what is needed is a shift in the Islamic theology that terrorists embrace, both my observations as an analyst and my personal experience within Islam point me to a more targeted conclusion. Countering extremists requires shifting how they think more than what they believe. And while religion is central to jihadist narratives, culture is a way more malleable variable that determines how one approaches religion.
It’s not about the organization, but the cause. One of the recent Treasury designees, British citizen El Shafee Elsheikh, left the UK in 2012 to join al-Qa’ida’s branch in Syria. But he later left that group to join IS where he became part of a quartet of Brits known for torturing and beheading hostages. Trinidadian IS sniper Shawn Dominic Crawford said in an interview with the group’s English-language magazine that before moving to Syria, he was part of a vigilante group in Trinidad that took revenge on non-Muslims accused of harming local Muslims. For 20 years, UK extremist Anjem Choudary encouraged followers to support jihadist movements. When IS took over territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014, he quickly pledged allegiance to the group from London.
While violent radicalization is a complicated process, the ideological attraction at play here is relatively simple. These folks desire to establish an Old World caliphate and are galvanized by the allure of fighting against forces they perceive as antagonists of Islam. If the operational structures of IS and al-Qa’ida were to disappear overnight, it would make little difference. As long as the jihadist mindset persists, new organizations would likely arise and draw new adherents.
Countering the extremist narrative requires proving that the jihadist struggle is not analogous to Prophet Muhammad’s mission. The jihadist narrative can’t be neutralized without attacking its base assumptions head-on. The argument that Muslims should leave their lands to join IS or AQ is enabled only by an incorrect reasoning that the historical occasions of Muhammad emigrating Mecca and fighting his pagan persecutors are precedents with a literal modern analog.
There are lots of scholarly arguments to counter this thinking, but the best approach is to invoke simple concepts that can resonate broadly amongst Muslims. One is that the Prophet’s mission was a universal and dynamic one that provides a mode to follow, but not necessarily a script. In the 21st chapter of the Qur’an (called The Prophets), Muhammad is described as someone who was sent as a mercy to all the worlds. The Arabic term for “all the worlds” (alameen) more appropriately should be understood as all the systems of knowledge. Its root meaning denotes knowledge and science, as one prominent American Muslim commentator pointed out decades ago.
This description from the Qur’an itself indicates that Muslims should approach Muhammad as a model to derive inspiration for bringing benefit to any setting. And the benefit should connect with the nature of that environment. The implication: Establishing Islamic life is not about implementing a carbon copy of life in 7th century Medina.
At the same time, this critical period in Islamic history is not to be discarded from Muslim identity consciousness. Rather, Muslims should study all of it, even elements which may not jibe with our 21st century environment, to derive spiritual principles to benefit the moral, material, and psychological well-being of contemporary human society.
Jihadist Salafis miss this mode because they approach Muhammad and his early followers like characters in an ancient play. And when the contemporary world is vastly different from that play’s script, they believe they must destroy the environment just so they can create a replica theater, complete with stage, costumes, and props to fit the play’s period. Proof of this is in their approach to antiquities.
The Taliban’s demolition of giant Buddha statues in Afghanistan in early 2001 and Islamic State’s destruction of countless ancient artifacts in Iraq and Syria since 2014 is the unfortunate logical conclusion of a kindergarten-level understanding of Islam. The Qur’an does recount the story of another prophet, Abraham, smashing idol statues. And Muhammad reportedly destroyed idols that had been placed around the Kabba. But by interpreting these accounts as precise acts to imitate, their spiritual significance evades literalist thinkers.
However, when one views these acts as a mode instead of script, idols can represent concepts, habits, traditions, or possessions that people cling to that hinder the soul and constrain the intellect. They also can point to the barriers people imagine between themselves and God. This interpretation allows for personal analogy, where anyone can reflect on what may be the “idols” in their life that they need to remove for the progression of their soul.
In this light, Prophet Muhammad’s mission provides a pattern for finding ways to bring mercy to all of the conflicts and disharmony we face, in all of our personal or social “worlds.”
A similar distinction should be made about Prophet Muhammad’s involvement in war, which jihadists claim as a precedent for their own insurgencies. The Qur’an does speak unequivocally about war as part of the early experience of the Muslim ummah, although verses about death or destruction appear only in about two percent of the entire text.
Again, plenty of scholarly arguments exist to rebuke the narrative calling for violence in jihadist conflicts around the world. But the best counter-narrative is a simple one. Most Muslims are familiar with the context surrounding Muhammad’s fight in the later half of his mission. The Qur’an granted permission to fight because Muslims were receiving unabated, violent religious persecution for more than a decade. Muhammad’s mode was to preach a simple, monotheistic message which had been forwarded by earlier prophets. It was met by the leaders of the Quraysh with what would today be called massive violations of human rights.
People were discriminated against, dispossessed, and killed because they would not abandon their worship. The first impulse of Muhammad was peaceful patience and perseverance for more than a decade. And the verse which eventually allowed fighting contextualized such self-defense as necessary for also protecting the freedom of worship of Jews and Christians.
This provides a Qur’anic litmus test to anyone evaluating the credibility of the jihadist cause. One should ask, “Is their fight responding to a real threat against religious freedom?”
Some jihadist sympathizers may point to events soon after the early Muslim community eventually gained victory over Mecca, where the Prophet sent out military expeditions to consolidate the strength of the newly empowered, yet fragile ummah. Arab tribes that submitted to new Muslim rule and agreed to embrace the Muslim identity were forced to destroy their idols and fall under the Prophet’s leadership.
However, history also shows that this period was one of negotiation and alliance-making, not political Islam absolutism. According to various biographers of Muhammad writing about this time, in many cases Arab tribes were allowed to keep their religious traditions in exchange for entering into agreements of cooperation, keeping their own distinct identity, Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian, or pagan. Any hostility was based on whether the tribe would be a threat or ally to the nascent Muslim community, not whether it followed Islam’s beliefs and practices. The notion that non-Muslims, minding their own business, should be warred upon as a matter of course to convert them to Islam, was not part of the Prophet’s methodology or motivation in warfare.
But even with this context, Muslims in the 21st century must understand that the references to fighting and war in the Qur’an and in Muhammad’s biography have more apt implications for spirituality and mindset than any physical battle.
For example, the Qur’anic term often translated as martyr is shaheed, but it literally means “a witness.” Muslims use a derivative of this word toward the end of every ritual prayer when reciting the declaration of faith, bearing witness to God’s oneness and Muhammad’s messengership.
So, the word’s full Arabic meaning points to the concept of verifiable proof. And it implies giving one’s whole self for God. In Muhammad’s time, individuals certainly gave their lives on the battlefield. But this idea of selflessness and sacrifice can inspire the believer to strive in all types of endeavors. And the historical fighting against the Kafiroon, usually translated as “disbelievers” can be analogous to the struggle between faith and altruism on one hand and evil and selfishness on the other – even within one’s soul. In fact, the Qur’an corrects those who use the term “believer” loosely. The Book describes a believer as a lofty, internal condition and not just an external label one can profess.
Muslims must access the deeper insights of this scripture, otherwise shallow interpretations will continue to allow Islam to be hijacked by armed groups participating in terrorism, often under the facade of freedom-fighting or liberation movements.
Renewing Muslim culture is more appropriate than reforming Islam. The notion that Islam needs to be reformed as a religion is incorrectly presumptuous and even if it weren’t, it would be an elusive goal. This contention, widely promoted in some intellectual circles might just be inappropriate mirror imaging of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation came at a time when the Church controlled the Christian layman’s access to scripture, its interpretation, and in principle, the salvation of its followers. In many cases, the Church forbade translating the Bible into local languages from Latin in order to stop the influence of reformers it considered heretics.
Martin Luther’s reformation aimed to disrupt the authority that Church hierarchy held over religious teachings and emphasize the Bible alone as the source for all affairs of the faith. Luther also sought to make the Bible readable by the laity, and thus translated into local languages. This brought scriptural interpretation within the reach of the Christian masses.
This reformation’s end-state is already present in Islam, where it is widely accepted that the Qur’an and the example of Muhammad are the chief sources of the religion and that clerics, while important, are not the arbiters of individual salvation. The current problem of violence by Muslims in the name of religion is not the result of a centralized religious authority. In fact, some could argue that it is exacerbated by its lacking. Jihadist movements often prop up their own clerics who may have little credibility within mainstream Islamic scholarship.
So, Islam already is constituted in a way which allows for varied and competing expressions of the faith. So, why has not a more enlightened interpretation of Islam won over those who are attracted to jihadism? Culture. There is a culture of uncritical thinking which determines the way many Muslims engage Islam.
An overly-literalistic and shallow reading of scripture is not intrinsically part of Islam. I converted while in college in the late 1990s largely through self-study, reading an English translation of the Qur’an, and without much engagement with the Muslim community initially. Born and raised in California, having already strong spiritual leanings in my young adulthood and an appreciation for critical thinking, it never dawned on me to interpret verses about fighting in the Qur’an as a prescription to wage war against non-Muslims. And as I learned about Muhammad’s life, I found no directive for me to join some sort of caliphate political structure.
What I did discover as I eventually interacted more with Muslim communities was that many others approached Islam with narrow-mindedness. I sensed this in proselytizing literature and Friday sermons which differed from the universality which drew me to the religion. Before I had ever heard the term Islamist, I remember thinking to myself as a recent convert that many were practicing some sort of “Islam-ism,” presenting the faith as a self-absorbed, particularistic sect.
For example, in college I started reading a popular English translation of the Qur’an given to me by a relative when I was in high school. From the translation, I got the sense that the Islamic identity as one in unison with the religion of the prophets preceding Muhammad. And I remember reading verses arguing that earlier religious peoples erred by becoming more attached to the particulars of their faith, drifting from universalism to sectarianism.
. It appeared to me that Islam instead provided a unifying, not divisive religious identity. But I soon began to notice many Muslims doing just what the Qur’an criticized – expressing themselves as a party simply “rejoicing in that which is with itself.”
In my early Qur’anic reading, I also found a constant call for the reader to use his or her intellect. To reflect. Throughout the Book I noticed passages of rhetorical questioning, a style that seemed to encourage the believer to come to faith through reasoning, not blind acceptance. This to me, showed an appreciation for critical thinking.
There was even a story about Abraham asking God to explain to him more clearly how the dead could be raised back to life. When, in response, God questioned Abraham as to whether he did not believe, Abraham responded that he did, but he just wanted to put his heart at ease; a clear example that it is ok to bring intellectual curiosity to God’s mysteries.
This all was intellectually stimulating. But though I gained these insights as a new explorer of Islam’s sacred text, it was apparent that this way of thinking about the faith was not predominant as I began to move more in Muslim circles. It seemed that many Muslims were not encouraged to approach scripture intellectually or seek the meaning behind religious rituals.
One time after I had converted, I happened to be at a mosque open house where non-Muslims were invited to visit. I overheard one of the visitors ask the imam if there was any spiritual significance to the various postures in the Muslim prayer ritual. The imam responded curtly, saying that Muslims did not worry about the meaning behind the ritual, but do it because God commands it. I could only think that such a response would be quite the turnoff to a spiritual seeker.
The difference between Islam as I initially discovered it and the religion I saw many Muslims propagate was not scripture by itself, but the cultural lens through which I engaged it; a lens valuing intellectual freedom and spiritual depth.
Culture influences how Muslims engage and think about religion. It impacts how they extrapolate from Muhammad’s life history.
The collective Muslim culture must be refined because its static and particularistic approach to scripture cultivates religious antagonism to a world which is increasingly dynamic and pluralistic. And in this pluralistic environment, when conflicts over political power and social grievances arise, this culture engenders religiously-framed violence as a logical conclusion. To push back this phenomenon, Muslim communities must approach religious texts with a cultural lens that respects the human intellect as a companion of faith, not its adversary.
However, cultural change is not brought about by policy speeches or (dare I say it) Op-eds. Culture comes from the attitudes and habits that parents pass on to children, ideas that teenagers circulate on social media, books that stimulate popular discussion, and of course, all types of entertainment and artistic expression. These things determine how people think and what they deem acceptable or unacceptable behavior.
In Muslim communities around the world today, Islamic scholars and imams probably are less influential on young people than art, entertainment, and social media. So, the question is not how to reform the Islamic religion, but how to cultivate a culture where Muslims derive enlightenment from religion and where shallow interpretations are unappealing; how to influence thinking and thus, behavior.
Some may think that this may be more possible in the West where religious tradition is less fixed than in Muslim-majority countries. That probably is true. But the broader culture of the U.S. and Europe has long influenced cultural attitudes in the rest of the world. It follows that Western Muslims who have reconciled their faith with pluralism should be well-positioned to engage the Muslim-majority cultures of Asia and Africa. Islam’s global demography today means that Muslims in the West might be the overlooked catalyst for cultural renewal for the Muslim ummah.
Muslim thought leaders in the West can take on this role by creating films, television programs, music, and other expressions that speak to this generation’s cultural appetites while drawing on central ideas of the Qur’an: the nobility of human nature, the importance of thinking and self-reflection, the long-term rewards of doing good in the world, and the hazards arising from abusing one’s human talents and mistreating others. God is key to all of these, but art done well need not overemphasize the obvious. Perhaps Islam’s great benefit to society today might be in offering audiences the option for good entertainment without disregarding universal moral principles.
Jihadists assume they have a monopoly on the idea of a grand and noble Islamic mission. But undoing the warped thinking about Islam that they have reinforced in the minds of many Muslims and non-Muslims alike may be the biggest Islamic cause of our age. If Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad’s mission was to be a benefactor for all aspects of human endeavor, informed by the light of revelation, we must assess how well we benefit the world; not in Friday sermons and dawa literature, but in advancing humanity through education, business, politics, and culture.
To give Islam the respect it deserves in the eyes of the world, the real global jihad has nothing to do with fighting the West, but everything to do with raising up the spiritual, mental, and material condition of people. This was Prophet Muhammad’s methodology. And it thusly propelled Muslims in the generations soon after him to advance in knowledge, science, and culture.
The true Islamic battlefield of the 21st century is in overcoming the influence of those who are blocking this potential mercy. Ironically, the people obstructing the beauty of Islam are not non-Muslims, secularists, or atheists, but rather those who cloak themselves in Islamic identity while trying to impose a most hollow understanding of our faith onto the world.
As Muslims concerned about our religion, we must be clear about the real threats facing our communities. And if we reflect on how the Qur’an speaks to the soul, it should be clear that the biggest challenge to our faith is not the enemy outside of us, but the enemy within.
Extremist narratives gain traction and go viral because they inspire. A new Muslim class of creatives should arise, learn from this, and produce art that connects to the hearts and minds which many mainstream religious leaders and scholars aren’t reaching. This cultural renewal, rooted in an enlightened understanding of scripture and Islamic history could inspire human excellence. And it may be the best way to wrestle control of religious interpretation from the hijackers.
What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam
Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice, Islam recognizes the nuance.
The following article on abortion is based on a research paper titled ‘The Rights of the Fetus in Islam’, at the Department of Sharia at Qatar University. My team and I presented it to multiple members of the faculty. It was approved by the Dean of the Islamic Studies College, an experienced and reputed Islamic authority.
In one swoop, liberal comedian Deven Green posing as her satirical character, Mrs. Betty Brown, “America’s best Christian”, demonized both Sharia law as well as how Islamic law treats abortion. Even in a debate about a law that has no Muslim protagonist in the middle of it, Islam is vilified because apparently, no problem in the world can occur without Islam being dragged into it.
It is important to clarify what Sharia is before discussing abortion. Sharia law is the set of rules and guidelines that Allah establishes as a way of life for Muslims. It is derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is interpreted and compiled by scholars based on their understandings (fiqh). Sharia takes into account what is in the best interest for individuals and society as a whole, and creates a system of life for Muslims, covering every aspect, such as worship, beliefs, ethics, transactions, etc.
Muslim life is governed by Sharia – a very personal imperative. For a Muslim living in secular lands, that is what Sharia is limited to – prayers, fasting, charity and private transactions such as not dealing with interest, marriage and divorce issues, etc. Criminal statutes are one small part of the larger Sharia but are subject to interpretation, and strictly in the realm of a Muslim country that governs by it.
With respect to abortion, the first question asked is:
“Do women have rights over their bodies or does the government have rights over women’s bodies?”
The answer to this question comes from a different perspective for Muslims. Part of Islamic faith is the belief that our bodies are an amanah from God. The Arabic word amanah literally means fulfilling or upholding trusts. When you add “al” as a prefix, or al-amanah, trust becomes “The Trust”, which has a broader Islamic meaning. It is the moral responsibility of fulfilling one’s obligations due to Allah and fulfilling one’s obligations due to other humans.
The body is one such amanah. Part of that amanah includes the rights that our bodies have over us, such as taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally – these are part of a Muslim’s duty that is incumbent upon each individual.
While the Georgia and Alabama laws in the United States that make abortion illegal after the 6-week mark of pregnancy are being mockingly referred to as “Sharia Law” abortion, the fact is that the real Sharia allows much more leniency in the matter than these laws do.
First of all, it is important to be unambiguous about one general ruling: It is unanimously agreed by the scholars of Islam that abortion without a valid excuse after the soul has entered the fetus is prohibited entirely. The question then becomes, when exactly does the soul enter the fetus? Is it when there is a heartbeat? Is it related to simple timing? Most scholars rely on the timing factor because connecting a soul to a heartbeat itself is a question of opinion.
The timing then is also a matter of ikhtilaf, or scholarly difference of opinion:
One Hundred and Twenty Days:
The majority of the traditional scholars, including the four madhahib, are united upon the view that the soul certainly is within the fetus after 120 days of pregnancy, or after the first trimester.
This view is shaped by the following hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood :
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن أحدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما ثم يكون في ذلك علقة مثل ذلك ثم يكون في ذلك مضغة مثل ذلك ثم يرسل الملك فينفخ فيه الروح..
“For every one of you, the components of his creation are gathered together in the mother’s womb for a period of forty days. Then he will remain for two more periods of the same length, after which the angel is sent and insufflates the spirit into him.”
The exception to the above is that some scholars believe that the soul enters the fetus earlier, that is after the formation phase, which is around the 40 days mark of pregnancy.
This view is based on another hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood :
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إذا مر بالنطفة إثنتان وأربعون ليلة بعث الله إليها ملكاً، فصوره، وخلق سمعها وبصرها وجلدها ولحمها وعظمها…
“If a drop of semen spent in the womb forty-two nights, Allah sends an angel to it who depicts it and creates its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones.”
Between the two views, the more widespread and popular opinion is the former, which is that the soul enters the fetus at the 120 days (or 4 months) mark, as the second hadith implies the end of the formation period of the fetus rather than the soul entering it.
Even if one accepts that the soul enters the fetus at a certain timing mark, it does not mean that the soul-less fetus can be aborted at any time or for any reason. Here again, like most matters of Islamic jurisprudence, there is ikhtilaf of scholarly difference of opinion.
No Excuse Required:
The Hanafi madhhab is the most lenient, allowing abortion during the first trimester, even without an excuse.
Some of the later scholars from the Hanafi school consider it makruh or disliked if done without a valid reason, but the majority ruled it as allowed.
Only Under Extreme Risks:
The Malikis are the most strict in this matter; they do not allow abortion even if it is done in the first month of pregnancy unless there is an extreme risk to the mother’s health.
As for the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, there are multiple opinions within the schools themselves, some allowing abortion, some only allowing it in the presence of a valid excuse.
Valid excuses differ from scholar to scholar, but with a strong and clear reason, permissibility becomes more lenient. Such cases include forced pregnancy (caused by rape), reasons of health and other pressing reasons.
For example, consider a rape victim who becomes pregnant. There is hardly a more compelling reason (other than the health of the mother) where abortion should be permitted. A child born as a result in such circumstances will certainly be a reminder of pain and discomfort to the mother. Every time the woman sees this child, she will be reminded of the trauma of rape that she underwent, a trauma that is generally unmatched for a woman. Leaving aside the mother, the child himself or herself will lead a life of suffering and potentially neglect. He or she may be blamed for being born– certainly unjust but possible with his or her mother’s mindset. The woman may transfer her pain to the child, psychologically or physically because he or she is a reminder of her trauma. One of the principles of Sharia is to ward off the greater of two evils. One can certainly argue that in such a case where both mother and child are at risk of trauma and more injustice, then abortion may indeed be the lesser of the two.
The only case even more pressing than rape would be when a woman’s physical health is at risk due to the pregnancy. Where the risk is clear and sufficiently severe (that is can lead to some permanent serious health damage or even death) if the fetus remained in her uterus, then it is unanimously agreed that abortion is allowed no matter what the stage of pregnancy. This is because of the Islamic principle that necessities allow prohibitions. In this case, the necessity to save the life of the mother allows abortion, which may be otherwise prohibited.
This is the mercy of Sharia, as opposed to the popular culture image about it.
Furthermore, the principle of preventing the greater of two harms applies in this case, as the mother’s life is definite and secure, while the fetus’ is not.
Absolutely Unacceptable Reason for Abortion:
Another area of unanimous agreement is that abortion cannot be undertaken due to fear of poverty. The reason for this is that this mindset collides with having faith and trust in Allah. Allah reminds us in the Quran:
((وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا))
“And do not kill your children for fear of poverty, We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” (Al-Israa, 31)
Ignorance is not an excuse, but it is an acceptable excuse when it comes to mocking Islam in today’s world. Islam is a balanced religion and aims to draw ease for its adherents. Most rulings concerning fiqh are not completely cut out black and white. Rather, Islamic rulings are reasonable and consider all possible factors and circumstances, and in many cases vary from person to person.
Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice. These terms have become political tools rather than sensitive choices for women who ultimately suffer the consequences either way.
Life means a lot more than just having a heartbeat. Islam completely recognizes this. Thus, Islamic rulings pertaing to abortion are detailed and varied.
As a proud Muslim, I want my fellow Muslims to be confident of their religion particularly over sensitive issues such as abortion and women’s rights to choose for themselves keeping the Creator of Life in focus at all times.
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.
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