Everyone knows that Islam’s first Muezzin was black, Bilal Ibn Rabah, Radi’Allahu ta’ala ‘anhu. But did you know that the second was blind? I’m going to tell you more about that in a moment, but first, we’re gonna do a little tafseer.
The Prophet frowned and turned away
Because there came to him the blind man (interrupting).
how do you know that he wouldn’t have benefited?
Or that he wouldn’t be reminded and would then benefit from the reminder?
And the one who thinks he doesn’t need any of this,
you address him instead
It’s not on you, whether or not he chooses to benefit from this message.
You know this story already, right? This is the beginning of Surah Abasa, Once upon a time, the Prophet Muhammad was trying to talk to the leaders of the Quraysh, and a blind companion of his interrupted him.
The Prophet frowned and turned away from the blind man, returning his attention to the Quraishi leaders. Allah gently admonished the Prophet for his mistake, and then went on in the Surah to remind mankind of our humble beginnings, our careless existence, and our inevitable end.
The blind companion is relegated to a footnote in our teaching of the Qur’an, and few people know his name.
His name was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum .
Abdullah was the first cousin of the Prophet’s wife Khadijah , and he had been blind from birth.
He was among the earliest acceptors of the message and outlived the Prophet ﷺ. From his life we know that Awareness, Inclusion, and Accommodation of people with disabilities and special needs is not a modern addition to Islam. It is built into the Sunnah and Seerah itself.
You see Surah Abasa is nothing less than a divine message of Disability Awareness.
The one who came to you running-
Who feared Allah in his heart-
Him- you neglected him.
Kalla- No. This is a reminder.
So let whoever wishes to be reminded of it.
The Prophet frowned and turned away, and even though Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum never saw that frown, Allah did. And through Surah Abasa, Allah sent him a message.
From there on out, the Prophet made it a point to smile whenever he saw Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum, regardless of whether Abdullah would ever see that smile. He specifically sought Abdullah out and asked if there was anything he needed. Years later he still addressed Abdullah with words of humility “Welcome unto him on whose account my Sustainer has rebuked me.”
Allah rebuked the Messenger for neglecting a Muslim with a disability, and it was preserved in the Qur’an to be a perpetual reminder for anyone in danger of making the same mistake. Whoever comes to seeking knowledge of the deen is entitled to it. Everyone deserves the chance to develop a relationship with Allah. There is no excuse for sidelining anyone who comes seeking Islam.
Abdullah ibn Umm Maktoum may be a footnote now, but at no point was he on the sidelines of our history. When Muslims began travelling outside of Makkah to spread the message of Islam, two men reached the city of Yathrib first. One of them was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum .
When Yathrib became Madinatul-Munawaara, and the Messenger established the first Muslim community, two men were appointed to give the call to prayer. One was black and one was blind.
One was Bilal and one of them was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum . May Allah be pleased with them both.
When the Messenger of Allah travelled from Madina to the peaceful conquest of Makkah, he left one man in charge of the community. In this critical time of his absence, that man was Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum .
How many of our masajid have anyone with a disability giving the adhaan or leading the salah? How many of our masajid have ANYONE with a disability on the board, and our Prophet left a man with a disability in charge of Madinah itself.
As an Ummah we pride ourselves on how many languages the Qur’an has been translated in to, how many of our masajid keep a copy in Braille?
We give lectures in every language- except sign language.
We post on our masajid doors- Allahumma Aftahlee abwaabe rahmatik. Oh Allah, open for us the doors of your mercy, but we hold the same doors shut when it comes to Muslims with disabilities.
Some may say where are these disabled Muslims? I don’t see any in my community.
First of all, a disabled Muslim is not just a Muslim in a wheelchair. A disabled Muslim may be blind, hearing impaired, intellectually challenged, autistic, or having any number of conditions that make their ability to attend the masjid without accommodations a significant challenge.
Second of all, maybe the reason why no one in a wheelchair comes to your masjid is because they are forced to wait beside the door – rain, shine or snow, Fajr, Asr, or Isha – until someone comes to open it for them.
That is assuming, of course, that there’s even a ramp for them to reach the door. And one on the sister’s side too. Maybe no one in a wheelchair comes to your masjid because they can’t do wudu in your bathroom or fit their chair through the musalla door.
Having said that, there’s more to inclusion that just a ramp and door. If no one with a hearing impairment comes to your masjid, maybe it’s because they understand precisely ZERO of the khutbah unless you interpret it into sign.
Maybe no one with autism comes to masjid because your congregants shamed them for what they didn’t know were autistic behaviours. Maybe they don’t know what autism is. Maybe you never told them.
Maybe, just maybe, the Muslims going through the kinds of trials that you’ve never dealt with – let alone imagined- don’t come to your masjid because you’ve made it impossible for them to do so. Maybe they are cut off from the community because the community has cut them off.
Whether it’s a physical access issue, a social stigma, or that look people give when they think disability is contagious- something significant in your community may be excluding a significant part of your community.
Some may say- Ok, this disability awareness thing is very nice, MashaAllah, but we have more important things going on in the Muslim community right now. Have you turned the news on recently?
I’d like to give you some context for when Surah Abasa was revealed.
Surah Abasa was revealed in Makkah, and as we know, the Makkan period for Muslims was anything but awesome. It was terrible. The Muslims were dealing with torture, humiliation, death, and even assassination attempts on the Messenger himself.
In this dire situation the Prophet Muhammad was given the chance to speak truth to power directly. He had an audience with those responsible for the oppression and therefore, those capable of stopping it.
Getting through to those Quraish Leaders could have meant an end to the unimaginable suffering entirely. Whatever you’re doing in your masjid, it’s not more important than what the Prophet himself was trying to do at that time. And whatever the Prophet was trying to do at that time, Allah told him there was something important enough to interrupt even that.
We have this idea that awareness, inclusion, and accommodation for the Muslims with special needs is extra credit, and we’ll get to it as a community, once we’ve sorted everything else out.
Accommodation is not Nafl. It is fard. And Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum was a proof of this in not just one Surah of the Qur’an, but two.
In Surah Nisa 4:95 Allah revealed a verse stating that those who stayed at home were not equal to those who fought in His cause.
Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum, deeply hurt by his inability to do more, came to the Prophet to tell him Ya Rasulullah, I would fight for Allah if I could.
Allah then sent further revelation, completing the ayah to read:
Those who stay at home- except those with a disability – are not equal to those who fight in Allah’s cause. Here Allah himself makes accommodations in the Qur’an specifically for Muslims with disabilities.
Awareness, Inclusion, Accommodation- these are part of our faith. Disability is part of our faith too. Muslim speakers all over the world open their talks with the dua of Musa, the Prophet with the Speech Impediment.
Rabbish-rah-li sadri, wa yassirli amri
Wah lul uqdatam min lisaani. Yafqaho qawli
My Lord, open for me my heart, and make my task easy, and untie the knot in my tongue so that people will understand me.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam- all three Abrahamic faiths share the greatest of story of patience of who? Job- Ayyoub , the Prophet bedridden and disabled by chronic illness for seven years.
Our religious traditions are enriched with stories of the blind, the lame, the epileptic. Allah cites examples of people with disability as Prophets themselves – models for patience, faith, and inspiration.
Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum was a true inspiration. Even though he was blind and excused- By God Himself- from participating in battle, he advocated for more.
“Place me between two rows ,” he said, “and give me the standard. I will carry it for you and protect it, for I am blind and cannot run away.”
And so Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum became a flag-bearer- literally- for the Muslim Ummah. He participated in every campaign that he could. He died as martyr in the Battle of Qadisiyah, and fell without losing hold of the standard he carried.
It would be nice if we could say the same. Muslims in the West- we consider ourselves to be a marginalized community, yet here we are marginalizing members our own community.
Our hearts ache when we hear of people with disabilities being neglected and abused by those responsible for their care. And yet – we the Muslim community- responsible for the care and the accommodation of all our members- we are neglecting our most vulnerable members.
If it sounds like I’m taking this personally, it’s because I am actually am. I was born into disability awareness the same day as my son. As expected when expecting, I made dua for him every single prayer, every single day. Ya Allah, please grant me a man of Jannah.
Ya Allah, He gave me a child with autism.
I prayed more.
I prayed so hard, so long, and so desperately to find out what was wrong with my son, and when I had an idea what it was- I prayed for it to not be wrong with him anymore.
I blamed myself. It wasn’t hard, society blamed me too. It must’ve been me picking him up when he cried. It must’ve been me not picking him up when he cried. It must’ve been that I spoiled him. It must’ve been that I ignored him.
It must’ve been that I fed him this or didn’t feed him that. It must’ve have been the evil eye- and this is a good one- it must have been that I didn’t pray enough.
No matter what people thought must’ve caused autism, I must’ve caused it, and I lived with debilitating grief and guilt in between therapy and prayers but…
But- Alhamdulillah, Allah saved me from breaking. Even when I knew other mothers who did.
I knew one mother who left. She disappeared, leaving her disabled four-year-old with his father. The father messaged me, looking for help. She had messaged him after leaving, “He’s your son. You deal with it.”
I knew one mother who shattered- losing her faith entirely. She did not believe in God anymore, she said, but she still prayed to him. She prayed that she and her son would both die in a car accident at the same time.
In Texas, the community knew a mother who had two children with autism- Zain and Faryal, but you probably never heard of her until she turned herself in for killing them both.
I’m not going to imply that their deaths could have been prevented with a really inclusive Sunday School program. Allah knows how long we get to spend on this earth and the circumstances we leave it in. I will say this though: Shaytan preys on us especially in times of fear and solitude. In the absence of a supportive community, what protection do Muslims with disabilities have from him?
When I learned that my son had autism, I was told he may never speak. Forty percent of children with autism never really do. When he finally did speak, his first word was OKAY! And to both him and us, it meant everything.
Juice was Okay. Toys were Okay. The car was Okay. We had beautiful conversations – conversations that I waited years to have – that were comprised of only one word, Okay.
I had for the first time, some hope that my son would one day learn his own name and maybe even functional speech. It was heartbreakingly beautiful, but it was because of OKAY that we were first kicked out of a masjid.
It had been an Isha Salah, the imam said AllahuAkbar and my son answered Okay.
The Imam said Fatihah and my son answered Okay.
Sami’Allahu Liman Hamida?
Rabbana Wa lakal Hamd
No sooner did the imam say the salam did someone begin pounding – literally with two fists and outright fury- on the wall of the ladies section. Someone was yelling. Someone was angry.
(My son answered, Okay!)
I ran back to the car with my children and cried. My husband stood in the parking lot and attempted to defuse the situation with the imam and the angry guy.
I was unmosqued for nearly six years.
Between the fear of being humiliated again and the fear of my son wandering out of the masjid during prayers, I missed hundreds of jummahs, dozens of Eids, and the immeasurable amount sisterhood and support I so desperately needed.
Our journey back to the Muslim community is too long a story for this article, but I do want to share this update. The kid who once got us kicked out of the masjid is now a regular fixture at our local masjid. He even got to call the adhan once, and remembering our relationship with other masajid before this one, it was a moment of indescribable sweetness.
The gratitude that I have for the members of our masjid is something that I’ve never fully expressed, but I often make dua for them and pray that Allah befriend them the way they have befriended my children. That Allah show Gentleness to them for the gentleness they have shown my children. That Allah love them, and increase the love they have in their hearts for my families and other families like them.
Our Messenger was sent as a Mercy to all of mankind. In following his example we too can be a mercy. Our communities can be so much more. We can do so much more.
Someone in your community has a disability and they don’t come to the masjid anymore. Whether they can’t get in, whether it’s impossible to stay in, or whether they’ve been told they’re not welcome in- they stay at home, day after day, kuhtbah after khubah, Eid after Eid, growing more isolated, more inward, and more likely to fall than if they had been surrounded by helping hands instead.
Someone in your community is afraid, because living with chronic illness is scary and uncertain. They really need someone to talk to, except they don’t know how, or who, or when. Because your masjid doesn’t have a support group for those Muslims who need support most.
If you’re looking around and thinking well, I don’t know any of these people then thank you for proving my point. Someone in your community is close to breaking and you don’t even know who they are.
Muslims with disabilities exist. That they don’t seem to exist in your community is the problem. Now, let’s talk solutions.
Start by finding one person– one single person – in your community with a disability. Ask them what you can do for them. Ask your imam to meet with them. Ask your imam to talk to the community about their disability in a Khutbah, and make sure your masjid actually has the facilities they need to attend and understand that khutbah too.
Go and visit them. And don’t do it because you pity them, do it because you need them. Do it because Allah expects you to, and if you don’t help them, then what answer will you give Allah when he says on the Day of Judgment, “Oh My Servant, I was ill and you didn’t attend to me.”
And you’ll be like Ya Allah, how could you be ill? How could I attend to you?
And Allah will answer back, You knew my Servant was ill, and you didn’t attend to them. If you had, you would have found Me with them.
You want to be with Allah in the next life? Go seek Him out in this one. Seek out the disabled in your community the same way the Companions of the Prophet did, competing with each other to travel farther and work harder in the service of those who needed help.
You want Allah to love you? Then love those that He loves. Allah tests those that He loves. Find those most tested by Him, and maybe – just maybe- if one day they don’t find you in Jannah, they’ll ask about you there.
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 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 was alone, yet Allah created Hawwa 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet 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).
- 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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