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How the Progressive Left Wants to Change Islam in America

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By Ismail Royer

Last year, Christian conservatives were outraged when Wikileaks released documents revealing that a foundation linked to billionaire George Soros had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in what the foundation described as a “long-term project of shifting the priorities of the US Catholic church” toward progressive causes and away from socially conservative positions. “It’s exciting to see this long-term process is now underway,” gushed a report on the effort by the group, the Open Society Foundation (OSF).

No one seems to have noticed that the same documents released by Wikileaks describing OSF’s plan to socially engineer Catholicism also reveal that the group has invested heavily in minimizing the religious nature of American Muslim identity and molding it into a progressive ethnic identity. In the same document in which the OSF discusses supporting the “media, framing, and public opinion activities” of liberal Catholic groups in order to “shift national paradigms and priorities,” it also describes its “creation” of organizations with the aim of “creating” Muslim, Arab, and South Asian (“MASA”) leadership. OSF says its

post 9/11 strategy of investing to create the first ever set of organizations designed to create MASA leadership and institutions has borne some fruit. These groups are growing in effectiveness, but lack deep relationships on the ground and are still newcomers to the national civil rights community. This effort, therefore, is a foundation-led initiative to further their institutional strength and expand their influence and capacity.

In “creating” Muslim organizations and leaders and “expanding their influence,” the key goals of the Soros-linked foundations are: reframing the community as primarily a racial or ethnic identity group rather than as a religious group; emphasizing the community’s support for Democrat-friendly political issues; and weakening the community’s traditional religious teachings such as defined gender roles and the prohibition on same-sex sexual relations.

To be clear, fair treatment for all regardless of race is a goal squarely within the concern of mainstream Islam, and it is one of the qualities of this religion that has attracted millions of Western converts. Likewise, although Islam forbids sexual relations between individuals of the same sex, it does not condemn individuals because of their inner desires and temptations, and the orthodox Sunni community in America has much work to do in ministering to Muslims who may be attracted to those of the same sex and helping them to cope with those temptations. Nor is it appropriate for Muslims to treat openly homosexual individuals harshly in our interpersonal relations, or discriminate against them in matters that would not require us to compromise our faith.

In contrast, the agenda of the progressive left foundations and nonprofit groups described herein is to refashion Islam as a secular identity group centered on ethnic “brownness,” and whose moral compass is the progressive wing of the Democratic party rather than Islamic religious sources. The ideological hook for the changes they wish to effect in the American Muslim community is “solidarity.” The narrative is that since 9/11, and particularly in the Trump era, American Muslims have been increasingly under attack. Progressives want to pigeonhole Muslims as “people of color” — as if being Muslim had something intrinsically to do with race. As the story goes, since non-Muslim people of color and “the LGBTQ community” are also under attack, Muslims should unite in solidarity under the far-left umbrella to fight against the racist, Islamophobic, homophobic system. As explained by the Emergent Fund, a progressive grant-making organization that funds American Muslim groups (as well as something called the “Transgender Gender-Variant Intersex Justice Project”):

The 2016 election results present immediate threats to a wide range of communities who were belittled, criminalized and attacked during the presidential campaign – immigrants, women, Muslim and Arab-American communities, Black people, LGBTQ communities, and all people of color…We will provide resources to defend against what’s coming and to develop innovative strategies to transform our country.

Similarly, the Proteus Fund, a grant-making organization funded by Soros and referenced in the Wikileaks documents as a key player in the effort to “create” Muslim leadership, states that it

…has moved towards an intersectional, racial justice lens to our work with Muslim, Arab, and South Asian (MASA) communities. Our grantmaking, programming, and technical assistance are focused increasingly on how MASA and allied communities, including communities of color, Latinx communities, immigrant communities, LGBTQ communities, and others, have been systematically targeted by biased and discriminatory portrayals and/or policies instituted through legislation, the criminal justice system, or media.

Also in this vein, Solidarity is This, one of the groups created by the OSF as part of its Muslim initiative,  asserts that “the laws, practices, and institutions in the United States” have led to “patriarchal and heteronormative policies that endanger the lives of women, queer people, and transgendered individuals; and to laws and attitudes that target immigrants, refugees, and Muslim, South Asian, and Arab communities.” Precisely why Muslims should oppose “heteronormative policies” is not explained.

Progressive foundations do not merely want to build solidarity between American Muslims and other victim-identity groups; they also want to nudge Muslim attitudes towards the view that same-sex relations are as inherently moral and natural as traditional marriage between a man and woman. The Arcus Foundation and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation have begun pouring money into the Muslim community to sway attitudes towards approval of same-sex marriage. These groups fund Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), whose slogan is: “Our Gender is Human, Our Orientation is Love.” This funding allows MPV to, for example, advocate at UN conferences for “overcoming authoritarian readings of holy books.” MPV is a project of the Human Rights Campaign, which describes itself as “the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans.”  “Quietly and diligently,” says MPV, “we have been building our progressive community, one city at a time, and now one country at a time.” Quietly, that is, until recently: MPV and HRC were at the center of controversy at the most recent Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention when ISNA officials asked them to vacate the booth they had rented in the convention bazaar for promoting values contrary to Islam. MPV issued a press release “calling out” ISNA for its “intolerance.”

Arcus also funds the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, which in turn sponsors the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, or MASGD (“pronounced like ‘masjid,’” the group advises). MASGD says it serves “a community whose members exist at the intersections of multiple oppressed identities,” and that it “aim[s] to increase the acceptance of gender and sexual diversity within Muslim communities.” Arcus has also given funding to Dr. Amina Wadud, recently embroiled in controversy for calling the Prophet Ibrahim a “deadbeat dad,” for “an ambitious three-year effort to develop commentary on what the most influential Islamic texts say about homosexuality, with the aim of disrupting the connections between more conservative interpretations and discriminatory practices.”

“Who’s Sticking Up for Muslim Americans At a Very Scary Moment?” asked the online journal Inside Philanthropy in 2015. Its answer: Proteus, the Soros-funded group. American Muslims too have noticed the support from progressive foundations. They’ve noticed the very real help from liberal groups like the ACLU, and they’ve also noticed the millions of dollars poured into anti-Muslim initiatives from segments of the political right. Thus it is perhaps understandable that mainstream American Muslim organizations would work with progressives and accept funding from them; in many cases, it may even make sense to do so. I myself was represented by the ACLU in a religious freedom lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

But American Muslims need to understand that funding from Proteus, Arcus, and so on is given pursuant to the left’s broader vision of refashioning Islam into an ethnic identity and social justice ideology and absorbing it into the progressive movement. At present, the progressive left does not view its alliance with Muslims as a marriage of equals, as a coalition that works together on issues of common concern but whose members respect their disagreement in other areas. Rather, as MVP proved by trying to spread teachings contrary to mainstream Sunni Islam at an ISNA convention and then aggressively “calling out” ISNA when it objected, the progressive left’s tolerance of Muslims’ social conservatism is temporary and strategic, and they will demand compliance with their moral code if and when they deem appropriate.

The situation of Muslims in America is indeed scary: an openly hostile man occupies the White House, well-funded anti-Muslim propagandists are working overtime, terrorists target the West in an effort to turn public opinion against us, and hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise. Our flattering friends on the left stand with us, while some of them work to mold Islam into something more to their liking. Our challenge in the face of all this is to keep our nerve: for knowledge of right and wrong, American Muslims must look not to expediency or the latest political trends but to the book of Allah, the Sunnah of his Prophet, and the insight of our qualified scholars. We must cooperate with anyone–left, right, or center–for Allah’s sake and in the pursuit of the common good, for ourselves and for our non-Muslim neighbors. But we must have the confidence to resist the temptation to betray eternal truths for temporary and illusory gains. With this moral clarity, we will enter alliances from a position of moral strength and leadership. Without it, we risk losing what makes us Muslims in the first place.

Ismail Royer is Research and Program Associate at the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom (CIRF). The views expressed here are his own and not those of CIRF. Read his blog, agoodtree.net, and follow him on Twitter @_ismailroyer

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    HardTruth

    September 20, 2017 at 1:26 PM

    According to Pew’s 2017 study, 60% of young American-born Muslims believe homosexuality should be accepted by society. 55% believe that traditional interpretations of Islam need to change.

    Most American Muslims, especially those born here (like me) are liberal, because those values make sense to us, not because of some shadowy funding by Soros.

    Homosexuality is obviously a sin, but we have no issues with people choosing to engage in those activities. That’s there business, I have no interest in legislating against their freedom.

    If conservative Muslims (most of whom are old and/or not born in America) have a problem with this live and let live attitude (to you your way, and to me mine), they are free to back to Pakistan, or Iran, or Saudi, places where you will be beaten, jailed, or killed, for not conforming to a cleric’s conservative views on Islam.

    For most American Muslims, we prefer the freedom in America. Where we are free to practice Islam as conservatively or liberally as we want, as long as that doesn’t infringe on the rights of other communities to live their lives as they see fit.

    The liberalization of Islam in America has happened, and not from some shadow organization, but from Muslims like me who look at how Islam is practiced in the Middle-East, and look at it here, and know which we prefer.

    • Avatar

      Ismail Royer

      September 20, 2017 at 5:08 PM

      Thank you for your well thought out comment. You might be surprised to learn that, as someone who has lived and travelled extensively in Muslim and non-Muslim countries, I strongly agree with what you wrote in nearly every aspect–but not in all aspects. One important way in which I agree with you is in my belief that I am blessed to have been born in a land with the religious freedom that I believe Islam intends to preserve, but which has been lost in the Muslim world, for various reasons. I also agree with you that homosexuality is a sin. But for the far-left groups who seek to mold Muslim opinion, our belief that homosexuality is a sin is absolutely intolerable. In fact, what the far left doesn’t understand, and what I am trying to warn about in this article, is that religious freedom includes the freedom to believe that certain behavior is immoral in God’s eyes and harmful to families and society. On the contrary, it is part of their agenda that every individual will abandon “outdated” religious morality for the morality of the sexual revolution. If the progressive left cannot convince you of that, then they will try to convince your children. This issue is important enough that we should at least be having this conversation, so again I appreciate your respectful and thoughtful comments. –Ismail Royer

      • Avatar

        khalid

        November 9, 2017 at 3:00 PM

        Of course muslims are free to believe homosexuality is a sin, but they seem to demand that this belief be respected. You’re free from violence and state prosecution not from criticism. But we will call you out on your homophobia, we will demonstrate against you and we will protest your religion for being intolerant. We also have rights to our beliefs. My belief is your religion is silly superstition that is used way too often to discriminate against other people. We do wish muslims would make room for our LGBT members but if not then we will be intolerant to your intolerance. I’m glad people like you keep speaking up on these topics because of a lot of muslims are quiet so they can escape the criticism. Speak louder so your religion is revealed for what it is – a regressive ideology that belongs in seventh century Arabia not the 21st century West.

        Also it’s ridiculous that muslims move to the West and then complain that their beliefs aren’t being accepted and that they’re being conditioned by the West and then simultaneously try and convince us that they are well integrated. Islamophobia is a direct product of how muslims act and behave. That’s why there is no hinduphobia. I just feel sorry for those nominal and liberal muslims who are trying to get on with everybody but are being dragged into this mess by people who can’t seem to adapt to changing times. Go live on an island with other people like you, stop pestering the developed world with this nonsense.

  2. Avatar

    HardTruth

    September 20, 2017 at 9:10 PM

    ISMAIL ROYER,

    You are ascribing positions to liberals that they do not hold.

    Liberals don’t care if Muslims like homosexuality or not. If we think its moral or not. They only care that we won’t use our personal beliefs as a means to restrict the freedom of those who don’t share our views (like fundamentalist Christians attempt to do).

    That’s why most Muslims in America support gay-marriage. Not because we love gay stuff, but because we recognize the rights of people shouldn’t be restricted just because we don’t approve of their personal lifestyle.

    And standing up for these groups pays dividends. When we support their right to gay-marriage, they (and their numerous allies) support our right to build mosques and wear hijab.

    That’s why Muslims, the left, and various minority groups, are natural allies in America. We recognize that together, we can resist the persecution and curtailing of our freedom that the Right-Wing wants to impose.

    • Avatar

      Ismail Royer

      September 20, 2017 at 11:05 PM

      Mr. “Hard Truth”:

      Thank you for your reply, and thank you for your willingness to have this conversation.

      Now, you say that the progressive left movement is not bothered that mainstream Sunni Islam holds same-sex sexual activity to be a sin. In fact, they are deeply bothered by this, and, as I described in my article, they are working hard to change it. So for example, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which bills itself as the largest advocate for the acceptance of homosexuality in the United States, criticized ISNA for not including “queer” and “transgender” programming” at its 2015 convention. Then, when ISNA balked at HRC spreading material advocating the acceptance of homosexual sexual activity in Islam at its 2017 convention, HRC went straight to an extreme right-wing website, the American Spectator, to smear convention attendees who objected as “salafis.” (The right-wing piece HRC helped to create is here: https://spectator.org/pro-lgbt-muslim-group-says-it-was-kicked-out-of-muslim-conference-where-linda-sarsour-spoke/.)

      So why is this liberal group trying to dictate what Muslims teach at their conventions? Why is HRC’s first instinct to punish Sunni Muslims by placing a hit piece with an anti-Muslim far right website the moment Muslims don’t conform to their extreme left version of morality?

      Furthermore, you say that “standing up for these groups pays dividends. When we support their right to gay-marriage, they (and their numerous allies) support our right to build mosques and wear hijab.”

      But this is precisely the amoral, Machiavellian calculus that I’m warning about in my article. We must be clear, first and foremost, that there is no such thing as a right to gay marriage, nor is there such a thing as gay marriage: in this case, there is only illicit sexual relations between two individuals of the same sex. If that’s not clear to you, then see: https://muslimmatters.org/2015/07/20/debating-homosexuality/

      So for Muslims to betray the timeless, noble morality our Prophet (SWS) taught us by trading it for political acceptance would be like those whom the Quran describes threw their revealed book behind their backs: “they bartered it for a small price: what a bad bargain they made!” Aali Imraan 187.

      I also wonder, if the progressive left is so concerned with principles and doing the right thing, why would they only support building mosques and wearing hijab if Muslims support same-sex marriage? Shouldn’t they support those things even if our conscience prohibits us from throwing our endorsement behind same-sex sexual relations?

      Two other important points: (1) there are liberal groups like the ACLU and Public Citizen (Ralph Nader’s group) who help Muslims–and anyone–without regard to what our views are, unlike HRC, Soros-aligned groups, and so on; (2) conservatives who you deride as “Christian fundamentalists” like the Becket Fund, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Catholic Church, the Witherspoon Institute, and the Church of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) have also been very strong in supporting Muslim religious rights because they recognize our shared family values–and they support us despite Muslim organizations’ leaning toward the progressive left under the influences I discuss in the article.

      Finally, be aware that the very same foundation that funds the HRC front group Muslims for Progressive Values, the Arcus foundation, poured millions of dollars into a successful effort to get the United Methodist Church to change its official position on homosexual activity. How did they do it? By funding pro-gay front groups, just as Arcus, Soros, and others are doing with the Muslims. See: https://goodnewsmag.org/2012/01/outsider-influence-over-homosexuality-at-general-conference

      And these same foundations won’t stop until they achieve the same results with American Muslims that they’ve achieved with Methodists and Catholics in the United States–and they’re not even done with those denominations yet.

      I believe that these sorts of shenanigans are exceedingly manipulative and immoral, and that Muslims deserve to know about it. Don’t you?

      –Ismail Royer

    • Avatar

      Amatullah

      September 21, 2017 at 12:06 AM

      Funny! You support a cause knowing its a sin because you don’t want to “restrict” people who don’t share “our views”. May I ask who’s going to be your Judge in the Aakhirah? The LGBT community probably? And they gonna send you to Jannah for supporting them? Lol!

      “And standing up for these groups pays dividends. When we support their right to gay-marriage, they (and their numerous allies) support our right to build mosques and wear hijab.”
      Shame on what the people have been reduced to in the name of “tolerance” and “liberation”. You support evil because it pays you? And you think that “preserves” Islam? May Allah mend those who try to “adjust” Islam/muslims to the evil the world has been sprinting towards.

  3. Avatar

    HardTruth

    September 21, 2017 at 1:01 AM

    You sound like one of those radicals who wants to force people to follow your brand of Islam, whether they are liberal or conservative, Muslim or non-Muslim.

    The Muslim World has plenty of countries and groups just like that. Sure, they are oppressive, backward, miserable hell-holes that Muslims are desperately fleeing to try and get to the secular West, but by all means.

    If you feel the need to police peoples lives, who they sleep with, what they drink, how they dress, what they say/think, and want to punish people who offend your sensibilities, you are free to move to Pakistan, Saudi, Iran etc.

    The majority of Muslims in America are liberal, and enjoy being able to practice Islam as we see fit, whether its in a Burkha or Bikini.

    • Avatar

      Amatullah

      September 21, 2017 at 3:40 AM

      This is my first time talking to the new “brand” of muslims emerging these days – make-islam-look-good-to-people-by-hook-or-crook.
      Sorry but that isn’t needed at all. Allah is the protector of Deen. Islam is Already great and there is no need WHATSOEVER to stoop it down to suit the needs(evils) of ever-changing world. Today, its LGBT rights, tomorrow it’ll be drugs and then slavery and then some other crap. Are you saying you’ll keep providing your valuable “support” to each of these causes so as to be called the moderate-and-liberal-muslim?

      “Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good (Islam), enjoining GOOD and forbidding EVIL. And it is they who are the successful” [Aal ‘Imraan 3:104]

    • Avatar

      Amatullah

      September 21, 2017 at 3:51 AM

      If you feel the need to police peoples lives, who they sleep with, what they drink, how they dress, what they say/think, and want to punish people who offend your sensibilities, you are free to move to Pakistan, Saudi, Iran etc.

      No brother, certainly not!
      There is no need whatsoever to “police” anyone. Nor should you interfere with one’s wishes BUT that doesNOT mean I agree to my neighbor sleeping with someone else, or my friend taking drugs or my halaqa friend leaving her hijab. It doesNOT mean I find a twisted reason of letting them sin and call it liberation. It doesNOT also mean I shut up and let the world commit atrocities and agree to everything they do.
      I DONOT have a right to enforce but I DO have a right to call the right Right and wrong Wrong. I DO have a right to not agree with every fancy evil the world invents.
      Bro, that is where lies the difference :) Let’s be who we are even when the current flows against us.

  4. Avatar

    Unimpressed

    September 21, 2017 at 2:40 AM

    “Hard truth,” you ought to be named “soft lies.” Your gross overreaction to simple FACTS brought up by Ismail Royer shows that you are deluded and triggered far left extremist. You have no counter arguments, just whining. Your arrogance and ignorance are laughable. You sound like a nutter with your nonsense about “old men who are conservative and need to go back to Pakistan etc.” The nonsense about homosexuality and the bikini clearly demonstrate you have no knowledge of Islam. The majority of Muslim Americans are NOT liberal despite the loud noise made by well financed opportunists who claim to speak for Muslims. You speak for no one but yourself. This is not the first time Islam has been targeted for “change” to conform it with kufr. It failed in the past and inshallah it will fail again. Your failed generation will be rightly looked at as munafiqs who sold out the Deen for political expediency. The only “dividends” you’ll get is kufr.
    Muslims will never compromise our Deen.

  5. Avatar

    Ahmad B.

    September 21, 2017 at 10:05 AM

    Wow, Hard Truth. Scary. Your discourse, conceptual framework, categories, etc. bear no trace of Islamic ideas and values. Have you ever studied the religion beyond the basics? It’s disheartening to see someone so bought into current discourse, with no critical distance whatsoever. You don’t see the emptiness of cliches like “not policing what people want to do privately,” etc.? All law is coercive, the law always “polices” somethings and not others. The question about *what* can rightfully be policed and not has a lot to do with one’s overall ethical system, morals, etc.

    Allah in the Qur’an not only forbids zina, to take one example, as a sin, but actually criminalizes it by instituting a penalty to be carried out by the public authorities (see Surat al-Nur, 24:2). Clearly Allah does not consider sexual conduct to be a purely “private” affair with no measurable public consequences. How do you square that with your facile notion of “not telling people how to live their lives” or “policing what people want to do”?

    Do you hold this attitude for the West only, because it is not Muslim and officially secular, or do you hold these Western, liberal, secular values to be universal? In other words, do you believe governments in the Muslim world are under a moral obligation to endorse same-sex marriage in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Malaysia, etc. in the name of “non-discrimination,” “freedom,” and “equality,” or do you hold that they have the moral duty to protect through the law Allah’s norms and laws regarding things He has legislated for the Muslim community?

  6. Avatar

    Jibreel

    September 22, 2017 at 11:00 PM

    I’m a white convert to Islam of almost 14 years. I was the most active member in my community for a very long time. Now the liberal media has managed to brainwash my beloved community into shifting their anger away from “the kuffar” or “the yahood” and onto anyone with white skin. Now I am personally to blame for their problem, with 99% of their conversations about how my community is an “oppressor” and that it is impossible to be racist to white people. One of my white convert friends posted on an MSA facebook site that Islamophobia was really bad, and one of the kids commented “what the f— do you know about Islamophobia, you’re white no one will do anything to you.” This was a guy who family shut him out and abused him when he converted. It’s almost as if today’s Muslims see their Islam as some sort of birthright, as if they are the chosen people and white people are the kuffar. These SJW Muslims are generally non-practicing, full of anger, and are ready to yell and scream at any white person who enters a masjid. Myself, I can handle my life Al Hamdulillah, I will be ok, I have several friends who will support me but now when one someone converts I think to myself “I give him two weeks.”

  7. Avatar

    AJF

    September 23, 2017 at 5:46 PM

    Muslims are traditionally from honor-shame cultures, with a focus on outward conformity to behavioral norms for the sake of communal integrity.

    The Christian West is traditionally a guilt society, with emphasis on inward beliefs manifested in outward behavior for the sake of individual personal integrity.

    Muslims are now entering guilt societies in the West. They are having children who are more influenced by guilt culture than by shame culture.

    One byproduct of guilt culture is that the accusation of hypocrisy looms large.

    It is a serious matter to claim that you want to demand tolerance for your(Muslim)self, and then turn around and deny tolerance to someone else, like gay people.

    If there is one thing Soros knows how to do, it is how to use guilt and accusations of hypocrisy to manipulate people to do things.

    Muslim young people are easy pickings. Rejected by their natural allies on the conservative right, they have been thrown into the arms of the “tolerant” progressive Left.

    Leftists only ask that Muslims not be hypocritical about their desire for tolerance and extend that tolerance to all oppressed groups, like any good member of a guilt culture would do.

    We all know the consequences if Muslims refuse the entreaties of the Leftists. They will be spat out with contempt and join the ranks of the deplorables, most of whom deplore Muslims. That will constitute another (final) rejection for young Muslims that they would find nearly unbearable.

  8. Avatar

    tib

    September 24, 2017 at 12:31 PM

    I honestly tuned out the second Soros was mentioned.

    I get so tired of prattling on and on about homosexuality. If it doesn’t effect you: let it be.

    But be cognizant off reality: the gay community is not with muslims. Everyone got egg on their face when it turned out that Mateen guy was a heavily closeted self-loathing homosexual lashing out on those pretenses. Even Her Majesty herself was immediately calling for super increased surveilance and opinion molding endeavors.

  9. Avatar

    Inqiyaad

    September 24, 2017 at 11:41 PM

    Very pertinent and insightful! It is uplifting to see the growing efforts at warning about the impact of leftist ideologies on the trajectory of Western Muslim’s state of affairs, and more importantly the impact on their state of Iman.

    I couldn’t agree more with you that attempts are being made to fashion Muslim identity centered on ethnic “brownness” and secular ideals. However, what has been missing is discussion about the prologue to the current state of affairs. Specifically, the attempts at molding the “American (Western) Muslim” mindset to see themselves as an entity separate from the broader Ummah; based on nationality and domicile in “Western” lands. The egocentric nature and sense of superiority displayed in this discourse is definitely problematic; but that is a discussion for another day!

    More relevant to our current discussion are the exemptions attributed by “Western Muslims” to themselves based on residence in “modern” societies, in contrast to the eastern (Muslim) societies which are still attached to anachronistic ideals and defunct culture. Then, it’s only a matter of time (in more than one way) before people start seeing demands for “progress” from the “progressive” left as reasonable. After all, “maqasid” (combined with whimsical and ever transforming standards of justice and well-being) or just plain “different time and place” arguments were mainstreamed and rendered as cornerstones of Shariah (at the expense of primary textual sources) to build “American (Western) Muslim” identity; never mind the mutilation of our Islam that ensued. Will someone display even a semblance of responsibility for opening the floodgates? Rather, even as we see these floodgates opening, the cats (yes, cats!) are still nibbling away at the base of the dam itself!

    “Brown culture is holding us down” vs “White injustice is holding us down”, is there any degree of difference between centering community identity on any one these two battle cries? For the most part, no! To me these both are two ugly sides of the same coin, but the severing of ties (with parents and their generation) makes the first cry just a tad bit worse. Please don’t get me wrong; I too was repulsed by the recent ad hominem directed against you by a certain “not in peace-always hating” person who is incapable of even concealing hypocrisy. But, overall, the preponderant theme has been to drive identity based on antagonism to brown culture rather than one based on celebration of “brownness”. Regardless, I agree that the need of the hour is to reset the fulcrum of our discourse based on the Pleasure of Allah; nothing less than that will suffice!

    May Allah bless you to continue the good work and nurture the good tree!

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The Unexpected Blessings of Being Alone

Juli Herman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believe it Or Not, We Are All Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, Isn’t Being Alone Bad?

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

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

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

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

Being Alone Has Its Own Perks

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

We Come Alone, Leave Alone, Meet Allah Alone

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

Open grave

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

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

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

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israel, occupied Palestine

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

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

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

1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens

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

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

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

2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower

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

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

3)  Military aid and complicity of tax-payers

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

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

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

4) The Israeli lobby

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

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

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

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

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

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This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible

Who Accounts For This Pillar of Islam

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Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji

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

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

No, it’s not ikhtilaf

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

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

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

Show Your Work

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

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

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

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

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

Bubble Charity

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

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

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

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

Dawa is the new Jihad

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

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

No Standards or Accountability

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

The Shift to Meaninglessness

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

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

Footnotes:

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

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