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The Crisis of Knowledge

Shaykh Furhan Zubairi

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The word crisis is defined as a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger. Based on this definition, the Muslim Ummah has been and is currently experiencing several different crises; political, economic, social, and religious. According to a lot of my teachers, mentors, and contemporary scholars the “crisis of knowledge” is perhaps the greatest crisis affecting the entire Muslim world. The crisis isn’t simple; it’s complex and multi-faceted with several different factors affecting it. The purpose of this short article is to highlight some of the different aspects of this crisis and to hopefully start a conversation that will allow us as a community to start thinking about real and practical ways to tackle it.

Fardh Al Ayn To Learn

A major factor is a lack of a base level of literacy in Islamic Studies— including but not limited to theology/creed, Quranic studies, Ḥadīth studies, fiqh, and history. It is important for us as a community to be honest and real with ourselves. Our understanding of our faith, religion, and its teachings is superficial and shallow. We may think that we know our religion, but the reality is that we know very little. We have a particular perception of what Islam is, which is mostly based on our personal experiences and circumstances, which is heavily influenced by the particular flavor or culture of Islam that we’ve been brought up in. For most of us, what we know about Islam comes from what we’ve learned at home from our parents, maybe Sunday school, various talks and lectures, Shaykh Google, and Mufti YouTube. Oftentimes our understanding of Islam is very ritualistic and formal; it’s based on the form, but it’s missing the substance. Not to put any of us down or make us feel bad, but how many of us actually understand the Quran? Its history, preservation, compilation, subject matter, themes, and structure? How can we be true people of faith when we can’t meaningfully engage with the primary source of our faith?

Seeking this base level of literacy is an obligation upon each and every single one of us. As the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every single Muslim.” This doesn’t mean that everyone has to become a scholar; rather, everyone has to learn enough knowledge that will allow them to worship their Creator properly with understanding. This is very much related to the next point.

The Rocky Road of Building Formalized Programs

Until recently, an absence of a formal and structured course of study for American Muslims. Going through high school in the late 90’s in Southern California there was a lack of access to formal or structured Islamic Studies programs, let alone traditionally trained scholars. Till this day the majority of mosques in Southern California don’t have a scholar as an imam or religious director, which is a discussion for another article. Thanks to my father, I literally grew up in a masjid, but for the longest time we didn’t have an imam, classes, lectures, or programs. I was fortunate enough that during my sophomore year a close friend of mine started taking me to a weekend program organized by Sh. Nomaan Baig that gradually and organically developed into the Institute of Knowledge.

Alḥamdulillah, in the past several years there has been a lot of advancement in this area. We have amazing programs such as the IOK Seminary and Extension (shameless plug), but one of the main challenges continues to be getting people to participate and attend. This phenomenon is related to attitudes towards scholarship.

Maulvi Jokes and those Fundos

Many times negative attitude towards scholarship and traditionally trained scholars as a result of cultural baggage are found in immigrant communities from Muslim countries that were formerly colonized. From my experience with the upper-middle and upper class immigrant South Asian communities, there has always been this current of negative sentiment towards Mowlanas or Maulvis. Oftentimes they are looked down upon as being backwards, unintelligent, rigid, poor, unrelatable, and disconnected from society. This attitude is a direct result of colonization along with several different factors. There is a lot that can be said about this, based on personal experience, that would require a longer discussion.

Which Looking Glass are You Gazing In?

There is a clash in our communities of two very different worldviews: a worldview that is based in revelation through the Quran and Sunnah in opposition to a worldview that is the result of the contemporary, secular, liberal world of the modern West that is somehow perceived to be rooted in rational thought.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we are heavily influenced by the society and culture we live in, specifically the western education system of public/private schools and universities that most of us are products of. We have knowingly or unknowingly adopted a value system and way of life that is based on modernity, liberalism, and secularism. For example, our understanding of the concepts of freedom, justice, liberty, equality, mercy, and fairness are informed through a very liberal and secular lens. Because of that we impose our understandings of these concepts on to verses of the Quran and aḥādīth of the Prophet and end up finding certain verses or aḥādīth to be “problematic”. There ends up being this internal conflict within ourselves that leads towards a lot of doubts and confusion.

Our worldview should be informed by the Quran and Sunnah. Allah is the Epitome of Justice, Fairness, Equality, Mercy, and Freedom. What God declares to be fair, merciful, and just is what is truly Fair, Merciful, and Just. We can’t impose our flawed understanding of these concepts upon our faith and tradition. All of this goes back to having a firm grounding in exactly what the world view and value system of Islam is in the first place, which is dependent on knowledge.

Who Has Time To Learn About God?

An imbalance of resources towards “academic” education as opposed to “Islamic” education. What I mean by that is that the average high school student spends about 8 hours a day in school. If they are highly motivated and want to get into the best universities they probably spend another three hours minimum doing homework and intense studying. That is 11 hours a day. Add on extracurricular activities, time spent hanging out with friends, playing sports, going to the gym, video games, television, and social media and there’s very little time left in the day. During all this time students are constantly being exposed to a very powerful intellectual, philosophical, moral, and ethical worldview that is oftentimes diametrically opposed to the teachings of our religion.

Comparatively, the average student spends only 2-3 hours a week in a Sunday school, if that. That is a huge imbalance and misappropriation of priorities. We have to make our communities recognize and understand the value of “Islamic” education and spending time in an “Islamic” environment.

Deprogramming the Programmed

There is a severe lack of structured after school programs for school aged children, especially those who spend the day at public schools. According to the Prophetic model of teaching, we should be instilling deep faith in Allah and love for the Prophet from a very young age in order to shape and develop a proper worldview. Unfortunately, most of our masajid don’t have structured holistic after school programs designed to do so.

These are just some initial thoughts I have. What does the readers think? What else do you see as a problem? How can we start working towards fixing it?

This is a necessary conversation.

Shaykh Furhan Zubairi is a traditionally trained scholar who spent most of his youth in Southern California. He serves as the Director of Religious Education at the Institute of Knowledge in Diamond Bar, CA.

Shaykh Furhan Zubairi serves as the Director of Religious Education at the Institute of Knowledge in Diamond Bar, CA. He regularly delivers khutbahs and lectures at various Islamic Centers and events in southern California.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Islami Religion

    January 20, 2018 at 2:58 AM

    Assalamu Alaikum. Ma’sh Allah. Wonderful article. Yes, I totally agree with you. Because of this lack of knowledge, We Muslims are in this present condition. We should study about our religion. As well as other religion. So that, we can understand the reason, why Islam is the best religion. So that, We can share our knowledge with whoever is in darkness still now. Thank you for your article. I have learn a lot of reason to study about our religion.

  2. Avatar

    Barira

    January 21, 2018 at 4:02 PM

    Where I live in England we have after school madressa which most kids attend, between 1 and 3 hours a day, on weekdays, depending on age.
    Kids learn tajweed, basic fiqh, seerah etc
    I’ve grown up in an environment where “madressas” are normal, I always assumed they had them in other countries too…

  3. Avatar

    Ikram

    July 3, 2018 at 5:28 AM

    What about Muslims who are in their 40s and 50s and never had any or little Islamic education in their younger days. They are the ones who are really struggling to come to terms with formal authentic Islamic education .

  4. Avatar

    Muhammad

    July 26, 2018 at 8:20 PM

    jazakallahumul khairr for this reminder.

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14 Short Life Lessons From Studying Aqidah

Lessons I learned Studying Theology (Aqidah) with a Local Islamic Scholar in Jordan

Hamzah Raza

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I sit here in the Jordanian heat, with a kufi on and prayer beads in my hand. I watch as young kids play soccer with their kufis and kurtas on in the streets. They go on and on until the Adhan interrupts their game. I think of how different the kids back home in the United States are. Due to the rules for living in this quaint Jordanian neighborhood, the kids are not allowed to play video games, use social media, or watch television. This is the Kharabsheh neighborhood on the outskirts of Amman, Jordan.

I have spent the past two months living in this community. It is a community so similar to, yet so different from any community I have ever lived in. In many ways, it is just like any other community. People joke around with one another, invite people over for dinner, have jobs, go to the gym, and do other pervasive events of everyday life. But in many other respects, the community is different from most in the world today. Many of those living here are disciples (mureeds) in the Shadhili Sufi order. Sufism has faced a bad reputation in many parts of the world today. The stereotype is that Sufis are either not firm in their commitment to religious law (Sharia), or lax in their understanding of Islamic theology (aqidah). Far from the stereotype, I have never met any people in my life more committed to the Sharia. Nor have I ever met people so committed to staying true to Islamic orthodoxy. Just in seemingly mundanes conversations here in Kharabsheh, I find myself learning a plethora of life lessons, whether that be in regard to Islamic jurisprudence, the ontology of God, or the process of purifying one’s heart.

I have compiled a list of a few lessons I learned in studying an elementary aqidah (theology) text with a disciple of Shaykh Nuh, who is a scholar of theology and jurisprudence in himself. Without further adieu, here are some of the lessons I learned.

1) If you want to know the character of a man, ask his wife. People may think someone is great, but his wife will tell you how he actually is. One of the greatest proofs of the prophethood of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is that he had 11 wives over his lifespan and they all died upon Imaan (faith).

2) Humans are never static. We are always incrementally changing. No one changes in anything overnight. People are either gradually getting better, or gradually getting worse. Every day, you should sure that you are always improving. Do not get worse. If you only pray your Fard(mandatory) prayers, start to pray Sunnah(recommended prayers). If you are already praying your Sunnah prayers, improve the quality of your prayer or pray nafl (optional prayers).

3) Hope in the Mercy of God, and fear of His Justice, are two wings that we need to balance. If one has too much hope, they will become complacent and think they can refuse to follow God’s rules, and do whatever they want, because God is Merciful. If one has too much fear, they will give up. They will inevitably sin (as all humans do), and lose all motivation to better themselves.

4) The believer has great hope in the Mercy of God, while also great fear in His Justice. It is an understanding of “If everyone were to enter Heaven except for one person, I would think that person is me. And if everyone were to enter Hell except for one person, I would think that person is me.”

5) Whether we do something good or bad, we turn to God. If we do something good, we thank God (i.e. say Alhamdulillah). If we do something wrong, we turn back to God(i.e. say Astagfirullah and/or make tawbah).

6) Everyone should have a healthy skepticism of their sincerity. Aisha (May God be pleased with her) said: “Only a hypocrite does not believe that they are a hypocrite.”

7) You are fighting a constant war of attrition with your carnal desires. Your soul (ruh) and lower self (nafs) battle it out until one party stops fighting. Either your soul gives up and lets your carnal desires overtake you, or your carnal desires cease to exist (i.e. when your physical body dies). Wage war on your carnal desires for as long as you live.

life lessons, aqidah

8) The sign of guidance is being self-aware, constantly reflecting and taking oneself to task. The evidence of this is repenting, and thinking well of others. If we find ourselves making excuses for our actions, refusing to repent for sins, or thinking badly of others, we need to change that.

9) The issue with religious people is that they are often tribalistic and exclusivist. The issue with secular people is that they often have no clear meaning in life, and are ignorant of what lies beyond our inevitable death. One should be able to cultivate this meaning without being tribalistic or arrogant towards others, who have not yet been given guidance.

10) There are philosophical questions regarding free will and determinism. But it is ultimately something that is best understood spiritually. An easy first step is to understand the actions of others as predetermined while understanding your response as acts of free will. This prevents one from getting too angry at what others do to them.

11) Always think the best of the beliefs of other Muslims. Do not be in a rush to condemn people as heretics or kuffar. Make excuses for people, and appreciate the wisdom and experiences behind those who may be seemingly strange in their understanding of things.

12) Oftentimes, people get obsessed with the problems of society and ignore the need to change themselves. We are not political quietists. But we recognize that if you want to turn society around, the first step is to turn yourself around.

13) Do not slam other individuals’ religious beliefs. It leads to arrogance and just makes them more defensive. If you are discussing theology with non-Muslims, be kind to them, even if pointing out flaws in their beliefs. People are more attracted to Islam through people of exemplary character than they are through charismatic debaters or academics that can tear them apart. As my teacher put it rather bluntly, “Don’t slam Christians on the Trinity. No one can actually explain it anyways.”

14) In the early period of Islam, worshipping God with perfection was the default. Then people strayed away and there was a need to coin this term called “Sufism.” All it means is to have Ihsan (perfection or beauty) in the way you worship God, and in the way you conduct each and every part of your life.

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Ten Things You Didn’t Know About The Kaaba- Video

Dr Muhammad Wajid Akhter

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Kaaba

Every Muslim knows the Kaaba, but did you know the Kaaba has been reconstructed several times? The Kaaba that we see today is not exactly the same structure that was constructed by Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon them. From time to time, it has needed rebuilding after natural and man-made disasters.

Watch to learn ten things that most people may not know about the Ka’aba, based on the full article Ten Things You Didn’t Know About the Ka’aba.

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Eid Lameness Syndrome: Diagnosis, Treatment, Cure

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How many of you have gone to work on Eid because you felt there was no point in taking off? No Eid fun. Have you ever found Eid boring, no different from any other day?

If so, you may suffer from ELS (Eid Lameness Syndrome). Growing up, I did too.

My family would wake up, go to salah, go out to breakfast, come home, take a 4+ hour nap and then go out to dinner. I didn’t have friends to celebrate with and even if I did, I wouldn’t see them because we stuck to our own immediate family just as they did.

On the occasion that we went to a park or convention center, we would sort of have fun. Being with other people was certainly better than breakfast-nap-dinner in isolation, but calling that a memorable, satisfying, or genuinely fun Eid would be a stretch.

I don’t blame my parents for the ELS though. They came from a country where Eid celebration was the norm; everyone was celebrating with everyone and you didn’t have to exert any effort. When they moved to the US, where Muslims were a minority, it was uncharted territory. They did the best they could with the limited resources they had.

When I grew up, I did about the same too. When I hear friends or acquaintances tell me that they’re working, doing laundry or whatever other mundane things on Eid, I understand.  Eid has been lame for so long that some people have given up trying to see it any other way. Why take personal time off to sit at home and do nothing?

I stuck to whatever my parents did for Eid because “Eid was a time for family.” In doing so, I was honoring their cultural ideas of honoring family, but not Eid. It wasn’t until I moved away that I decided to rebel and spend Eid with convert friends (versus family) who didn’t have Muslim families to celebrate with on Eid, rather than drive for hours to get home for another lame salah-breakfast-nap-dinner.

That was a game-changing Eid for me. It was the first non-lame Eid I ever had, not because we did anything extraordinary or amazing, but because we made the day special by doing things that we wouldn’t normally do on a weekday together. It was then that I made a determination to never have a lame Eid ever again InshaAllah.

I’m not the only one fighting ELS. Mosques and organizations are creating events for people to attend and enjoy together, and families are opting to spend Eid with other families. There is still much more than can be done, as converts, students, single people, couples without children and couples with very small children, are hard-hit by the isolation and sadness that ELS brings. Here are a few suggestions for helping treat ELS in your community:

Host an open house

Opening up your home to a large group of people is a monumental task that takes a lot of planning and strength. But it comes with a lot of baraka and reward. Imagine the smiling faces of people who would have had nowhere to go on Eid, but suddenly find themselves in your home being hosted. If you have a big home, hosting an open house is an opportunity to express your gratitude to Allah for blessing you with it.

Expand your circle

Eid is about commUNITY. Many people spend Eid alone when potential hosts stick to their own race/class/social status. Invite and welcome others to spend Eid with you in whatever capacity you can.

Delegate

You can enlist the help of close friends and family to help so it’s not all on you. Delegate food, setup, and clean-up across your family and social network so that no one person will be burdened by the effort InshaAllah.

Squeeze in

Don’t worry if you don’t have a big house, you’ll find out how much barakah your home has by how many people are able to fit in it. I’ve been to iftars in teeny tiny apartments where there’s little space but lots of love. If you manage to squeeze in even two or three extra guests, you’ve saved two or three people from ELS for that year.

Outsource Eid Fun

If you have the financial means or know enough friends who can pool together, rent a house. Some housing share sites have homes that can be rented specifically for events, giving you the space to consolidate many, smaller efforts into one larger, more streamlined party.

Flock together

It can be a challenge to find Eid buddies to spend the day with. Try looking for people in similar circumstances as you. I’m a single woman and have hosted a ladies game night for the last few Eids where both married and single women attend.  If you are a couple with young kids, find a few families with children of similar age groups. If you’re a student, start collecting classmates. Don’t wait for other people to invite you, make a list in advance and get working to fend off ELS together.

Give gifts

The Prophet ﷺ said: تَهَادُوا تَحَابُّوا‏ “Give gifts to increase love for each other”. One of my siblings started a tradition of getting a gift for each person in the family. If that’s too much, pick one friend or family member and give them a gift. If you can’t afford gifts, give something that doesn’t require much money like a card or just your time. You never know how much a card with kind, caring words can brighten a person’s Eid.

Get out of your comfort zone

If you have ELS, chances are there is someone else out there who has it too. The only way to find out if someone is sad and alone on Eid is by admitting that we are first, and asking if they are too.

Try, try, try again…

Maybe you’ve taken off work only to find that going would have been less of a waste of time. Maybe you tried giving gifts and it didn’t go well. Maybe you threw an open house and are still cleaning up/dealing with the aftermath until now. It’s understandable to want to quit and say never again, to relent and accept that you have ELS and always will but please, keep trying. The Ummah needs to believe that Eid can and should be fun and special for everyone.

While it is hard to be vulnerable and we may be afraid of rejection or judgment, the risk is worth it. As a survivor and recoverer of ELS, I know how hard it can be and also how rewarding it is to be free of it. May Allah bless us all with the best Eids and to make the most of the blessed days before and after, Ameen.

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