Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Organised Religion: Never fails to disappoint (at least in Egypt)

The logic that clergy (regardless of religion) used to justify submission to oppressive rulers has not changed for centuries.  And clergy has ALWAYS been a useful tool for oppressors everywhere for centuries: from the Jewish establishment in Jesus time in Jerusalem  to Omayyad and Abbasid dynasties, to the Holy Roman empire in Europe, and all the way to slavery US and Apartheid South Africa, Saudi Arabian monarchy, Iran (and modern day orthodox Jews in occupied Palestine)...

Read the full article here:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Polygamy : My 2-cents in response to a comment.

In my previous posting Wanna b a bride, I talked about the problem facing Muslim women in many Muslim societies not finding Muslim husbands.  One of the comments mentioned polygamy in Islam asked about its impact of the problem discussed in the posting.

I responded with enough material that may deserved its own 'mini' posting.  Also, re-posting my comment may lead to stimulating a discussion on polygamy.  So, here is the question and my comment.

MW said in a comment: "If some men have more than one wife, does that mean that there is also a proportional amount of men with no wives?"
My response was:

This is not a problem in most cases because the proportion of polygamous men is tiny. I lived in Egypt for 30 years and have not known of a single person in my family, friends, family friends, coworkers and other immediate contacts that married more than one woman. It does happen (more commonly in rural areas, especially if first marriage did not produce children), but the proportion is very small.

That could theoretically still lead to disturbance of the balance between men and women available for marriage, but only if one does not know enough about the man-female sex ratio in population at different ages and under different conditions of society dynamics.

Natural discrepancy in sex survival rates, tendency in ALL societies to maintain few years difference on average between husbands and wives, emigration sex biases, wars, etc, all result in about 5% bias in favor of women. You can research this if you will. I already have.

Of course if polygyny becomes a goal in itself (usually in rich spoilt societies of the gulf), it looses the actual legitimacy that comes from the very tight regulation on polygamy in Islam. The only verse that allows polygamy (i.e., polygyny) in Islam has pretty tight conditions for that practice and, still, it was in the context of extending supportive family structure to a large number of orphans after some of the early battles that was associated with significant losses amongst Muslims men in the battle, leaving behind unsupported women and children in a society where support comes traditionally in the form of nuclear family structure.

Many Arab and Muslim societies have legally restricted the right to have more than one wife to varying degrees, and in most Muslim society polygamy IS looked down upon unless its legitimacy could be gleaned from the circumstance. Men who marry a new 18 year old girl every few years are not considered appropriately behaving. Polygamy in early days of Islam meant to marry an older woman, usually with children, as a second wife, not a 'trophy' young girl to prove that you are 'the Man'.

While I do not intend, or need, to justify polygyny under the strict limitations in Islam by mentioning extramarital affairs, I think it is most telling that rates of polygamy among Muslims is a small fraction of adultery among married men AND women in Western societies.  I am not picking on Western societies, but that is where more statistics are available).   And by marriage, I mean ongoing marriages - not past marriages or among separated couple.


Muslims in hostile world - Part 2: How should Muslims handle it

[This is part 2 of a sermon I gave in September to a local mosque.  Part 1 was posted before on this blog]
A primer on anger management and conflict resolution, the Quranic way

The tough times we face should teach many other lessons as well.  Lessons that have always been spelled out in the Quran, but that many of us may have not felt the need to put them to good use frequently.

Hate against Muslims is abundant, vocal and malicious. It may even make life impossible in the US for some of us. Hate comes in many forms and for many reasons: sometimes just out of ignorance and fear, and that is something we can help resolve.  In other cases, it is out of greed, and out of envy: and that is not easy to resolve.

But either way, God has given us clear instructions and examples in the Quran on how to handle these situations. If we like to use modern day jargon, He offers us “a comprehensive anger management and conflict resolution program”.  And it is a pretty good one.

So, let us take a look at what God has for us on that topic.

When the words of God are insulted, what should we do?
“And, indeed, He has enjoined upon you in this divine writ that whenever you hear people deny the truth of God's messages and mock at them, you shall avoid their company until they begin to talk of other things.” (4:140)
وَقَدْ نَزَّلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الْكِتَابِ أَنْ إِذَا سَمِعْتُمْ آيَاتِ اللّهِ يُكَفَرُ بِهَا وَيُسْتَهْزَأُ بِهَا فَلاَ تَقْعُدُواْ مَعَهُمْ حَتَّى يَخُوضُواْ فِي حَدِيثٍ غَيْرِهِ
 “Whenever you meet those that indulge in [blasphemous] talk about Our messages, turn your back upon them until they begin to talk of other things …”  (6:68)
وَإِذَا رَأَيْتَ الَّذِينَ يَخُوضُونَ فِي آيَاتِنَا فَأَعْرِضْ عَنْهُمْ حَتَّى يَخُوضُواْ فِي حَدِيثٍ غَيْرِهِ
And what should we do next? Should we respond to an insult with an insult? Would the “eye-for-an-eye” approach be useful? Should we say something nasty about something dear to them, be it their beliefs, or what they may worship and associate in worship with God?
God does not seem to like that approach.  He instructs us succinctly (in 6:108) not to revile “those [beings] whom they invoke instead of God, lest they revile God out of spite, and in ignorance.”
وَلاَ تَسُبُّواْ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِ اللّهِ فَيَسُبُّواْ اللّهَ عَدْوًا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ كَذَلِكَ زَيَّنَّا لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ عَمَلَهُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَى رَبِّهِم مَّرْجِعُهُمْ فَيُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُواْ يَعْمَلُونَ
And even non-insulting arguments with those who hate us, insult God and insult us, has to be done in a special way: actually, in the most kind of ways.
And do not argue with the followers of earlier revelation otherwise than in a most kindly manner - unless it is the ones that are bent on evildoing - and say [to them]: "We believe in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon you: for our God and your God is one and the same..." (29:46)
وَلَا تُجَادِلُوا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ إِلَّا بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنْهُمْ وَقُولُوا آمَنَّا بِالَّذِي أُنزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَأُنزِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ وَإِلَهُنَا وَإِلَهُكُمْ وَاحِدٌ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ
So, they insult us and yet we MUST respond by trying to show them what may make us and them feel closer rather than highlight what sets us apart from them.
But that gentle soul approach is not always guaranteed to work, and God was aware of that when he asked us to use it.  He even tells us why it does not work in some case:
كَذَلِكَ زَيَّنَّا لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ عَمَلَهُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَى رَبِّهِم مَّرْجِعُهُمْ فَيُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُواْ يَعْمَلُونَ
“…to EVERY nation”, God informs us, “We have made their own doings appear goodly indeed”. (6:108)
But that is not for us to resolve, as God proceeds in that verse (in 6:108) to tell us that “In time, unto their Sustainer they must return: and then He will make them [truly] understand all that they were doing.”
So, we were meant to be different from one another,
God tells us in 22:67, “UNTO every community have We appointed [different] ways of worship and belief, which they ought to observe.”
This is part of His plan for Mankind, not a design flaw.  And if we cannot convince the others to follow our way, we still need to learn to live and let live; to coexist in a diverse and often contentious world.
He informs us in 25:63 that the best of us are those that handle this diversity and contention without arrogance, or aggression
وَعِبَادُ الرَّحْمَنِ الَّذِينَ يَمْشُونَ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ هَوْنًا وَإِذَا خَاطَبَهُمُ الْجَاهِلُونَ قَالُوا سَلَامًا
For, [true] servants of the Most Gracious are [only] they who walk gently on earth, and who, whenever the foolish address them, reply with [words of] peace;
Our job is not to force them to believe one way or the other, but in the words of the Quran, our job is
“… to convey this Qur'an [to the world].  Whoever, therefore, chooses to follow the right path, follows it but for his own good; and if any wills to go astray, say [unto him]: "I am only a warner!"(27:92)
وَأَنْ أَتْلُوَ الْقُرْآنَ فَمَنِ اهْتَدَى فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَقُلْ إِنَّمَا أَنَا مِنَ الْمُنذِرِينَ
So, we should not get broken-hearted when they opt not to do it our way.  They have turned away from better person than you or I will ever be: they turned away from our Prophet, pbuh. And God showed him how to handle that:
“…if they turn away, say: "God is enough for me! There is no deity save Him. In Him I have placed my trust...” (9:129)
فَإِن تَوَلَّوْاْ فَقُلْ حَسْبِيَ اللّهُ لا إِلَهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ عَلَيْهِ تَوَكَّلْتُ وَهُوَ رَبُّ الْعَرْشِ الْعَظِيمِ
But handling rejection and hatred is not easy.  Still, God has drawn a clear line, and expects us not to cross it ,: no excuses accepted, as detailed in this verse:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُونُواْ قَوَّامِينَ لِلّهِ شُهَدَاء بِالْقِسْطِ وَلاَ يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَى أَلاَّ تَعْدِلُواْ اعْدِلُواْ هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَى وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ إِنَّ اللّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
“O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious.” (5:8)
God also is the One that created us, and he knows we are tempted to ‘repay injustice with injustice’, so He makes us an offer that is hard to resist:
وَأَمَّا مَنْ خَافَ مَقَامَ رَبِّهِ وَنَهَى النَّفْسَ عَنِ الْهَوَى - فَإِنَّ الْجَنَّةَ هِيَ الْمَأْوَى
“But unto him who shall have stood in owe of his Sustainer's Presence, and held back his inner self from base desires”, (in our case: greed, anger, vengefulness amongst others), “… Paradise will truly be the final destination!” (79:40-41)
And we need more than just to avoid being unfair towards them.  God tells us to show them ultimate kindness, using the Arabic word ‘berr’, the extreme kindness we are supposed to treat our parent with.
لَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُم مِّن دِيَارِكُمْ أَن تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوا إِلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ
“As for the unbelievers that do not fight against you on account of [your] faith, and do not drive you away from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for, verily, God loves those who act equitably.” (60:9)
And for the really evil ones: should we pay them in kind, or punish them if we can? Should we forgive?
Look at what God asks our Prophet to do, under a more adverse situation that ours:
وَلاَ تَزَالُ تَطَّلِعُ عَلَىَ خَآئِنَةٍ مِّنْهُمْ إِلاَّ قَلِيلاً مِّنْهُمُ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاصْفَحْ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
“… and from all but a few of them you will always experience treachery. But pardon them, and forbear: verily, God loves the doers of good. (5:13)
In another verse, the divine wisdom teaches us that forgiveness is not a tactical ploy, but rather a strategy of a very high yield in the end:
وَلَا تَسْتَوِي الْحَسَنَةُ وَلَا السَّيِّئَةُ ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيمٌ
“But [since] good and evil cannot be equal, repel thou [evil) with something that is better - and lo! he between whom and yourself was hostility [may then become] as though he had [always] been close [to you], a true friend!” (41:34)
Above all, we should always remember the verse 7:199 that has been described as the most comprehensive and most succinct of Islamic moral code- crafted in just seven short words in Arabic.
خُذِ الْعَفْوَ وَأْمُرْ بِالْعُرْفِ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْجَاهِلِينَ
MAKE due allowance for man's nature, and enjoin the doing of what is widely known to be right; and leave alone all those who choose to remain ignorant."
I hope that I have managed to deliver few points about the Glorious Quran and its timeless teachings that can help us today as much as it helps the Prophet pbuh, and his companions over 1400 years ago.
Our primary goal as Muslims is to learn God’s words.  And who is better at teaching us those than God Himself in an easy to understand and clear Book that he promised to preserve from deviation, and corruption, and to make easy for us to learn.
وَلَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِن مُّدَّكِرٍ
“Hence, indeed, We made this Qur'an easy to understand and easy to bear in mind: who, then, is willing to take it to heart?” (54:40)
This book is not only easy, but it also details the message of what he wants from us.
وَلَقَدْ جِئْنَاهُم بِكِتَابٍ فَصَّلْنَاهُ عَلَى عِلْمٍ هُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ
“For, indeed, We did convey unto them a divine writ which We clearly, and wisely, spelled out - a guidance and a grace unto people who will believe." (7:52)
  All we need is to invest the time in reading and contemplating it, trusting that it is sufficient to guide us to the right path.
Referring to the Verses of the Quran, God says: 
“These are the signs of God which We recite unto thee (Muhammad) with truth. Then in what fact, after God and His signs, will they believe?” (45:6)
تِلْكَ آيَاتُ اللَّهِ نَتْلُوهَا عَلَيْكَ بِالْحَقِّ فَبِأَيِّ حَدِيثٍ بَعْدَ اللَّهِ وَآيَاتِهِ يُؤْمِنُونَ
I would like to conclude on a joyous note. 

Look at us:  living in a non-Muslim country, a small minority, with little material power.  Yet we are entitled, by law, to be treatment as equals, and we do not have to accept anything less. A minority with little outreach and with difficulty engaging the public at large: yet, God avails to us people in the media and amongst the public, of different faiths, and sometime of no faith at all, that would take our cause to heart, and defend us as if we where their own people.

We should thank God for those blessings.  But, we should also promise ourselves, that whenever and wherever the tide turns in our favor, we should treat the others the best way they treated us and no less
In fact, if we heed God’s teachings, we should treat them better than they treated us:
“… when you are greeted with a greeting, answer with an even better greeting, or [at least] with the like thereof. Verily, God keeps count indeed of all things.” (4:86)
وَإِذَا حُيِّيْتُم بِتَحِيَّةٍ فَحَيُّواْ بِأَحْسَنَ مِنْهَا أَوْ رُدُّوهَا إِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ حَسِيبًا
Let us not be of those defrauders that He threatened with woes on the Day of Judgment
وَيْلٌ لِّلْمُطَفِّفِينَ - الَّذِينَ إِذَا اكْتَالُواْ عَلَى النَّاسِ يَسْتَوْفُونَ -  وَإِذَا كَالُوهُمْ أَو وَّزَنُوهُمْ يُخْسِرُونَ - أَلَا يَظُنُّ أُولَئِكَ أَنَّهُم مَّبْعُوثُونَ
“WOE UNTO THOSE that deal in fraud-
Those who, when they are to receive their due from [other] people, demand that it be given in full
But when they have to measure or weigh whatever they owe to others, give less than what is due!
Do they not know that they will be raised from the dead, and that they will be called to account?” (83:1-4)
May God guide us all to the right path.


Part 1 of this sermon:

Muslims in a Hostile World - Part 1: positive lessons from Islamophobia-filled season

[This is part 1 of a sermon (delivered on in September 2010), that I put together for a local mosque.  Part 2 will be posted soon and it is about what the Quran teaches us on anger management, and conflict resolution]
These are very turbulent times for American Muslims.  We are reminded daily how many fellow Americans hate us.  But we are also blessed to see many Americans that do not hate us, and moreover, they come to our rescue more efficiently and more visibly than we do ourselves.  We should be grateful to them and also to God for availing them to us in these tough times.  God has told us in His Book, about such people, non-Muslims, who are up-right people, that stand up for the truth as they see it, even if it means being against people closer to them than Muslim Americans are.
لَيْسُواْ سَوَاء مِّنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ أُمَّةٌ قَآئِمَةٌ يَتْلُونَ آيَاتِ اللّهِ آنَاء اللَّيْلِ وَهُمْ يَسْجُدُونَ
“They are not all alike:”.  God tells us (in Surat Al-Imran), “ among the People of the Book there are upright people, who recite God's messages by the night, and prostrate themselves [before Him].” They “… enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and compete with one another in doing good works: and these are among the righteous.” (3:113-114)
Those good people upheld an important moral commandment: bearing witness to the truth, no matter in whose favor it is, or against whom it is. God repeatedly taught us that in the Quran:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُونُواْ قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاء لِلّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَى أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالأَقْرَبِينَ فَلاَ تَتَّبِعُواْ الْهَوَى أَن تَعْدِلُواْ وَإِن تَلْوُواْ أَوْ تُعْرِضُواْ فَإِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا
 O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk. ……Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort [the truth], behold, God is indeed aware of all that you do!  (4:135)
And while we should thank God for extending help to us through those people, we need to learn from that example. In many instances, unfortunately, we fail to fulfill that glorious commandment. We should pray that we, as a community, mature enough and consult our religious conscience more often when we feel the wrong doings and injustices committed by fellow Muslims against non-Muslims or against other Muslims wherever that may be: either here, in Europe or in places Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya or other unlucky places in the world wherever some so-called Muslims commit atrocities against other Muslims or against non-combatants of any kind.
وَإِذَا قُلْتُمْ فَاعْدِلُواْ وَلَوْ كَانَ ذَا قُرْبَى وَبِعَهْدِ اللّهِ أَوْفُواْ ذَلِكُمْ وَصَّاكُم بِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ
“And when you voice an opinion,”, God tells us (in 6:152), “ be just, even though it be [against] near of kin. ... This has He enjoined upon you so that you always remember.
So, when you wake up on a Friday morning to find out that Friday worshipers in a Shi’a mosque have been slaughtered in our name, or that an Ahmadeya mosque in Pakistan or a church in Iraq, has been bombed, or that a school for children in Russia has been seized – all done in the name of freedom for Muslims - , please remember to bear witness to the truth only, the way God told us to.

Do not feel afraid or awkward criticizing and standing up against our own friends, next of kin or just wrong-doing Muslims anywhere in the world.  We owe it to God to bear witness to the truth in a way that pleases Him.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Good Charity or Bad Charity: Facing the Charity Challenge

I remember one of my professors over 25 years ago saying: "put a little of your heart into what you do". That way, nothing is "just a job". What you do becomes part of you, becomes more enjoyable, and more likely also gets better done. If you cannot put a little of your self into you job, then you are in the wrong business.

Charity work is also like a job. For some people it is 'just a job' they are supposed to do, they have their orders in the Holy book and they followed orders. But for others, their hearts and souls are part and parcel of the charity they do. The latter group is the really charitable one.

As for the others - I am not sure about. I just do not think they are getting the best of the charity they are doing, but how each group is rewarded is - thankfully - up to God and not to any of us.

Talking about some of this has been on my mind for a couple of weeks after I came across two acts of charity that moved me, then I heard about another 'act of charity' that can hardly qualify as one.Let me get the 'bad charity' story out of my system first.It is about someone who volunteers at a food pantry, donating time and effort (and possibly money) to help poor hungry families.

'Nothing can be wrong about that', you say. Unfortunately for that person, charity was just a job. He was just following God's orders. So, he felt the job was done just by being their, donating the time and effort. Still, he could not hide his disrespect for the human beings on the receiving end of his charity, expressing to a friend of mine that 'those people' were not deserving of his charitable deeds.

Example #2 is for a good charity that I was on the receiving end of.During the last snow storm in St. Louis, my fuel-efficient small car proved so light that it could not get a grip on the road. I could not make it all the way uphill to the subdivision where I live. I let my self roll down in reverse, turned back, and tried another route. I made it most of the way up , then my small car started spinning it wheels while stubbornly remaining where it is. It could not climb another inch.

I got out and started signaling to other cars to go past my stalled car. That was pretty easy for the heavier gas-guzzling SUVs that passed me quickly and drove on without looking back. Then came another canary yellow compact car.Naturally it got stuck just behind my car. The driver was more persistent, and kept hitting the accelerator and spinning the wheels while the car was swinging right and left. Lucky for the driver, after about over a minute of spinning, the car managed to move forwards about 10 yards to make it to a less steep stretch of the road And from that point on, it was going to be an easy ride home.

But at the top of the hill the car stopped again - parked safely on the side of the road this time. The driver came out and started walking towards me, slowly to avoid slipping on the icy road. Half a minute later, the driver was close enough that i realized it was a small woman trying to put her gloves on. As soon as she came close to me, she said: 'Get in your car, and I will push you'.

I had to laugh. The woman looked like she was a mere 120 pounds at the most, my car was stuck facing uphill, and the tarmac was slippery enough that the tires could not even get a grip on the road surface. Despite that, the woman, rather, than going home and enjoying a cup of hot cocoa, was putting on her gloves and getting ready to push my car uphill on the icy road.

I kid you not - it took me quiet a while to convince her that this was a physical impossibility, and it took even a bit more to convince her to go back to her car and go home promising her that I will find a way out of my problem.I finally managed to get myself and my car out of trouble, and I drove home the remaining half mile uneventfully. But that encounter with the charitable anonymous woman made me feel really good. Helping a stuck driver is not unusual, but to do that under those circumstances is special enough. And to be persistent trying to offer help that is likely to be a tremendous amount of effort and is practically impossible from a 'physics' point of view is definitely exceptional.

Her knowledge of mechanics and physics is probably limited, but her capability for a random, and selfless act of charity and help to a total stranger is amazing.
My last story goes even further. It is a most inspiring example that a good friend of mine, JS, told me.

JS was planning to travel overseas to visit some family. His good friend asked him if he would be willing to take some money to distribute to needy people back in the old country. Knowing the tight financial situation of his friend, JS was surprised by the amount of money his friend was giving away, and he asked the friend how he could set aside that kind of money. The answer tells you a lot about that friend and his wife.

During last Ramdan, the fasting month for Muslims, most Muslims engage in more religious activities, but most also indulge in socializing as well as in eating traditional foods and sweets, usually in excess. Of course, many are also more charitable in ramdan than during other times of the year.

JS friend and his wife made a decisions this year. The first day of Ramadan was a typical Ramadan day. The family did the usual for that month: cooked and ate a lot of food, and lot of deserts, etc. The good wife kept track of every bit of expense that the typical Fast-breaking meal cost. The second day was a different story. The family ate a good, but modest meal. They were not hungry when they finished their meal, but the luxuries were not their. The cost of that meal was calculated as well.

And for the rest of the month of Ramadan, the family broke their fast on a modest meal, and the difference in cost was set aside. By the end of the month what was saved was passed on to JS to distribute to some needy people.

Now, that is real charity. Can you top that?

Charity in my religion, Islam, and as I imagine in many other religions, is not just about giving things. It is about feeling the gratitude to God, and thanking him by helping his creations, humans or otherwise.

Thanking God would not be sincere if it is done without your heart and soul being into it. Insincere thanks are probably worse than none at all.
Helping with what comes at no cost to you, with what you do not need or value, or with a small some of what you have a tremendous abundance of, does not seem to me like a sincere act of thanksgiving.

I cannot imagine that it will be sincere either if one is giving or helping while harboring ill feelings towards God's creations that he or she is helping as a way of thanking God.
But loving God's creations and helping them just because they are His, and giving from what you tremendously value and from what you cherish the most - that is true giving.


I truly cannot finish this without presenting some of the many Quran verses that teach those who listen, what true charity is.
"O you who have attained to faith! Spend on others out of the good things which you may have acquired, and out of that which We bring forth for you from the earth; and choose not for your spending the bad things which you yourselves would not accept without averting your eyes in disdain. And know that God is self-sufficient, ever to be praised." (Quran, 2:267)

"[But as for you, O believers,] never shall you attain to true piety unless you spend on others out of what you cherish yourselves; and whatever you spend - verily, God has full knowledge thereof." (Quran, 3:92)

"BELIEVE in God and His Apostle, and spend on others out of that of which He has made you trustees for, those of you who have attained to faith and who spend freely [in God's cause] shall have a great reward." (Quran 57:7)

"... and who give food - however great be their own want of it - unto the needy, and the orphan, and the captive, [saying, in their hearts,] 'We feed you for the sake of God alone: we desire no recompense from you, nor thanks." (Quran 76:8-9)

And what could make thee conceive what it is, that steep uphill road? [It is] the freeing of human beings from bondage or the feeding, upon a day of [one's own] hunger, of an orphan near of kin, or of a needy [stranger] lying in the dust. (Quran 90:12-16)
I guess that is the point. If it is easy to give away, it must not be that valuable. Khaled

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Jew Re-redfining Jihad: a lesson in cross-cultural communication

Most Muslim know very well what Jihad means. We know that it is not about beheading 'infidels' - whatever 'infidels' mean. We know it is not about forcing the world into submission to an Islamic Caliphate. And above all, we know its meaning is more about deep and very personal struggle with one's own desires and inclinations than about war and bloodshed.

That true Jihad is not the Jihad that the Western media talk about. Islamic Jihad has been redefined for us as an ugly hateful and scary ideology that the civilized world must eliminate. And, as some Islamophobes propagate, if eliminating all Muslims is the price needed to eliminate Jihad, it is a small price to pay to save the Civilization of Mankind.

I, and 99.99% of Muslims in the world, have not done anything that helped tarnish the meaning of the word Jihad. But I am certain we do not do enough to restore the word to its real glory either. Many Muslims have legitimate grievances against Israel, former and current colonial powers, international media, international religious bodies, .. etc, etc. Many of us, though, have little experience in presenting our cases and causes in a way that is conventional and accepted by centers of power in the world. We are even miserably less experienced in communicating with the average person in Europe and North America, where public opinion has serious impact on the decision making of current super powers.

Many of us take a 'defiant oppositional stance' that alienates many of the non-Muslims that could be our allies in straightening the record, and in addressing the grievances that Muslims legitimately have.
Learning the skill of cross-cultural communication is probably the single most important goal that good Muslims should aspire too to help the cause of Islam.

This is not an innovation into Islam. This is a directive that God has made as part of the Quran over 1500 years ago:

  • "CALL THOU (all mankind] unto thy Sustainer's path with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the most kindly manner ..." (Ch 16.125)
  • "AND TELL My servants that they should speak in the most kindly manner [unto those who do not share their beliefs] ..." (Ch 17.53)
  • "But [since] good and evil cannot be equal, repel thou [evil] with something that is better - and lo! he between whom and thyself was enmity [may then become] as though he had [always] been close [unto thee], a true friend!" (Ch 41.34)
Wisdom, good exhortation, speaking in kindly manner, and repelling evil deeds with good ones have been the eternal advice by God that many, even most, of us have not followed closely with sad consequences for all of us.

Many of us accuse the West of double standards when they judge Arab and Muslim causes - a legitimate charge in many cases. But we rarely look at the way we judge issues ourselves. Many of us are profoundly guilty of the same thing we accuse the west of: having double standards. Yet we do not easily and willingly identify it in our own behavior and the behavior of other Muslims. It is not healthy to scream loudly to complain of what many of our own practice with our complicit approval, attempts at justification, or at best benign negligence.

Speaking up against our own for injustices they commit is an Islamic duty. God is very explicit in enjoining us to stick to one standard: upholding truth and justice no matter who is at fault:
  • "... Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious..." (Ch 5.8)
  • "... when you voice an opinion, be just, even though it be [against] one near of kin..." (Ch 6.152)
  • "... Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk." (Ch 4.135)
For those who are still reading, it is about time to know what any of this has to do with re-redefining Jihad by a Jew.
while doing my daily world newspaper tour I came across this title in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:
"This year, this Jew is embracing Jihad"
And before you start wondering about any subliminal hidden vicious meaning for the title let me tell you: He is not talking about fighting till death against Muslims, Arabs or Palestinians. He is not talking about beheading the enemies of Israel, and he is not talking about establishing a Jewish theocratic Caliphate in Muslim Land.
He is actually, and simply talking about Jihad the way it was meant to be in the glorious days of Islam "... [as it] has been used in the Koran in its root meaning, i.e. to strive and to strive for betterment of society, to spread goodness (maruf) and contain evil (munkar)."

I would not quote every great sentence in the article, otherwise I will be quoting a lot. I promise you this: you will feel a lot better after you follow the link at the end of this posting and read the article in its entirety.
A Jewish Journalist embracing Jihad in the pages of the major Israeli Newspaper ... How did this happen?
Simply he came a across two Muslims who followed the teachings of the Quran that I mentioned earlier:

First, use wisdom when presenting you case and,
Second, be fair in judging the world: you own and the others.
Bradley Burston simply came across an article (see link below) by Asghar Ali Engineer explaining true Jihad, and how different it is from what some violent Muslims claim it to be. He also came across a Muslim, Peter Dames, commenting on the latest violence between Arabs and Jews in Akre, Israel, during the cerebration of Yum Kippur.
Peter Dames wrote:
"As a man who practices Islam, I have to say both sides ought to be ashamed of themselves. Why are you committing such crimes? In the name of religion? No, I don`t think so, because God-fearing men contemplate God throughout their day.

This has got to end. We are children of Abraham - not children of Satan. People, wake up! Monotheism is under attack because of such actions. Let not ignorance prevail over your emotions but rather let your intellect achieve peace, love, stability & closeness to God. Let's stop pointing fingers. Let's forgive and forget and live for the future for the sake of our children. Salaam/Shalom/Peace everyone. - Petere Dames"
Wouldn't it be great if we read more articles by non-Muslim journalist embracing Jihad? Or at least using the the word the way it was meant to be? Unfortunately, this is not going to happen until we have a lot more Muslims embracing Jihad the right way, communicating their understanding to non-Muslims the right way, and applying justice using the same standards accross the board.
It is about time to 're-redefine' Jihad.



Read Bradley Burston's article here:

This year, this Jew is embracing Jihad - by Bradley burston in Haartez.

Burston is one of my favorite journalists of the Israeli daily Haaretz. I may not always agree with him, but he rarely talks like an ideologue and, mostly, the reader feels he thinks of the issue at hand, then decides how he should react and what to write about it. No foregone conclusions, and no prejudging.
Also, check the article that moved him to writing the article listed above:
Making Mockery of Jihad - by AsgharAli Engineer

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mother’s Day and parents in Islam

By Khaled Hamid for St. Louis Post Dispatch Civil Religion blog
Sunday was mother’s day. It is a day that is as popular in Muslim countries as it is in the USA and the West. In Egypt it is celebrated on the first day of spring as proposed by the first person to advocate setting up a day for that occasion in the 1950s. I believe many of the Arab countries adopted the same date. The symbolism of associating Mother’s day with the dawn of spring should be obvious.I have to admit, that the pure and emotional celebration that I witnessed in my younger years has given in to the commercial enterprise that dominates every celebration known to mankind as time passes. For a nice review of the history of the event, and how its creator reacted to the ‘business’ aspect of it, read this article ‘Mother’s Day creator likely spinning in her grave‘ (from the Vancouver Sun).
Mothers, have the same kind of esteem in societies heart’s regardless of the dominant ideology. Islamic societies are no exception. In addition to the instinctive nature of our love for mothers, the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, have abundance of commandments of reverence and dutifulness to the mother.
One of the Prophet’s companions narrated what he told the Prophet, “O Messenger of God, I desire to go on a (military) expedition and I have come to consult you.” He asked me if I had a mother, and when I replied that I had, he said, “Stay with her because Paradise lies beneath her feet.“‘
Another companions said “I asked the Messenger of God, to whom should I be dutiful?” He replied, “Your mother.” I asked again, “Then whom?” He replied, “Your mother.” I asked a third time, “Then whom?” He replied, “Your mother.” I asked, “Then to whom should I be dutiful?” He replied, “Your father”
Aisha, the wife of the Prophet, narrated: “I asked the Prophet who has the greatest right over a man” and - as the reader may have guessed - he said, “His mother.”
The Prophet once posed a question to a man: “Is either one of your parents still alive?”. The man said: “My mother”. He said: “God has instructed us in devotion to her, so if you do thus, you are as one who has made the Pilgrimage, visited the Holy Mosque and participated in jihad.”
While the mothers occupies a special status as evident from the examples above, respect and devotion is not restricted to one parent only as shown in these examples.
The Prophet said “Shall I tell you what the worst of wrong deed is?” People replied, “Yes”. He said, “Associating something else with God and disobeying parents.” He had been reclining, but then he said up and said, “And false witness.”
Placing disobedience to parents right in the middle between associating other deity with God and bearing false witnesses - two of the most major sins - goes to show the status of parents in Islam. This is not surprising of the Prophet since many Quranic verses have similarly highlighted the special status of parents:
For example, in the Quran 6:151, “Say: ‘Come, let me convey unto you what God has [really] forbidden to you: ‘Do not ascribe divinity, in any way, to aught beside Him; and [do not offend against but, rather,] do good unto your parents…“.
A similar verse enjoins the same kind of care for parents when they reach old age, understanding that aging comes with its own problems (17:23) “for thy Sustainer has ordained that you shall worship none but Him. And do good unto [thy] parents.’ Should one of them, or both, attain to old age in thy care, never say ‘Ugh’ to them or scold them, but [always] speak unto them with reverent speech“.
Many moral lessons in the Quran come in the form of narrations about the great men of God. John the Baptist, a revered figure in Islam, is mentioned, amongst many other great things, as being “… full of piety towards his parents” (19:15). The Quranic version of the miraculous speech of Jesus, peace be upon him, in the cradle includes a mention of kindness to his mother, the Virgin Mary. In 19:31, the Quran narrates on the tongue of baby Jesus “… and [God endowed me with] piety towards my mother; and He has not made me haughty or bereft of grace”.
But the obedience to parents has its limit (31:15) “[Revere thy parents;] yet should they endeavour to make thee ascribe divinity, side by side with Me, to something which thy mind cannot accept [as divine], obey them not. But [even then] …” the verse continues, “… bear them company in this world’s life with kindness, and follow the path of those who turn towards Me.”
So, despite serious moral and theological disagreements with your parents, reverence and kindness to them should never be compromised. Our bond with them supersedes any disagreements, material or spiritual.
There is no doubt in my mind that we are instinctively programmed to love our parents, no matter who they are or what they do. Over time, and hopefully before it is too late, many of us finally know why. For me, the love I had for my mother grew, and became most understandable to me, when I had my children. That was when I saw how my wife suddenly empty her world of everything except the children and their well being. I, like many fathers, was not a dissociated parent, but nothing I did could remotely compare to what she, the mother, did.
As my children get older, go to college and graduate, my appreciation for my parents keeps growing. It is unfortunately a bit too late for me to express that directly to them as they both passed away. But all is not necessarily lost.
Prophet Muhammad taught us that the ultimate act of reverence and respect for our parents can be performed even after their death:
“When a child of Adam (i.e., a human being) dies” he said, “their reward for good deeds come to an end except for three things [for which they continually get rewards]: useful knowledge [they taught] that keeps benefiting people, an ongoing charitable work, and God-knowing children that remember them in their prayers”.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Do not insult Allah; He is your God too.

04/28/2008 6:38 pm
The icon of evangelical fundamentalist Christianity, Pat Robertson, would not waste a chance to restate that Muslims do not worship the same God that ‘Judeo-Christian’ believer’s do. I am not sure if most Jews agree with his Christian understanding of God, but that has never stopped him and others of the same mindset from making that claim.
To him, Allah is not God. It is just an Arab Muslim Idol. Not only that, but he comes up with whole Hollywood type story about the moon god who has three daughters that Muslims worship (see that and more equally ‘smart’ statements here This nonsense is ear-catching for his target audience, but is just - to put it mildly - stupid; plain and simple.
These statements prove that one may be famous, rich, and influential yet be totally ignorant and do not even know what they are talking about. That, unfortunately does not change the fact that many non-Muslims, especially in North America, that still think the same way, regardless of what they think of Pat Robertson.
Allah is the Arabic word for God (upper case ‘G’). It has its roots in Aramaic, one of the roots of Arabic Language, and has been used many centuries before Islam by Arab Jews and Christians. Not only that, it is the word used for God/Lord (upper case) in the Arabic translations of the Old and New Testament.
Take a look at this example from Genesis ( with the Arabic translation from The words “God” and “Allah in Arabic, الله ” are highlighted:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning-the first.

And for an example from the Gospel of John:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.

Arab Christians use the word “Allah” (meaning God) in their prayers and worship. Many Arab Christians have the name “Abd-Allah”, meaning the “Servant-of-God”, the same name that many Muslims have. The image on the side is the Arabic script for ‘God is Love’, a common saying for Egyptian Christians. Notice the word on the right. It is Allah (for God).
The Arabic language has masculine and feminine forms. Like English, it also has single and plural forms, with a third form for a count of 2 of the same thing. The word Allah in Arabic has a very special status though. It is not defined as masculine or feminine, it exists only in the singular form, and it does not undergo any derivation. Grammatically it is treated as masculine, but it has no inherent gender.
The uniqueness of the word Allah in Arabic may be in part responsible for the occasional use of Allah by Muslims speaking in English, rather than the word God. The word god has multiple forms: upper case, lower case, plural and feminine forms (God, god, gods and goddess). It can be used to describe the absolute divine, but it can be used to describe a teen idol or a music diva. I personally prefer to use the word ‘God’, but I would always remind my listeners that it is the ‘upper case one’.
I know some people may be now thinking: Well, even if it means God it still does not mean that Muslims worship the same God Christians and Jews worship. So here is a brief primer on divinity in Islam.
Islam is a monotheistic religion (defined by some as ‘rigidly’ monotheistic). God in Islam has no form or shape that is amenable to human senses, but his presence can be perceived. Therefore, humans can sense the existence of the Divine, and believe in it. Any attribute of His that may have a human equivalent, is made with no attempt to make analogy or simile to humans.
This is expressed in a very short chapter of the Quran (Ch. 112, 1-4): “SAY: He is the One God: God the Eternal, the Uncaused, Cause of All Being. He begets not, and neither is He begotten; and there is nothing that could be compared with Him”.
In Islam, God is the ultimate abstract idea of a Divine Entity. He has no beginning, and no end. He is the creator of the universe and the sustainer of all that exists. He is the Master of the Day of Judgment. He cares about us, knows what we do, and wants us to succeed in this life, and in the life after.
If someone does not think that this is the God they worship, then that is their concern. As for those who grasped my description of what God means to Muslims, the next time one feels like saying something nasty about “Allah”, they should hold back. It is their God too.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Apostacy and Freedom of religion in Islam

04/22/2008 11:52 pm
This posting started as a response to good comments made by 2 readers following my last postings. You can read their comments here and here. I responded to the first under the same posting here, but the second response (by GF) got so long that I preferred to post it as a main entry. Their comments was detailed, documented and challenging. I hope my response clarifies some of the issue.
First, I am surprised that GF would take exception with the Egyptian Grand Mufti’s edict. I would imagine any one worried about Islam being a violent ideology should be happy that the most senior cleric of the most prestigious Islamic University in the world establishes that the proper Islamic response to apostasy (Redda or reversion away from Islam) is not a violent one, but a position of freedom of choice. That should be a solid argument against extremist Muslims who advocate violence. It brings down their position from one of ‘establishing God’s word’ to being ‘in violation of God’s word’.
The Ignoramuses of the world (be they Muslim, Christians, Jews, etc) will continue to do whatever they want no matter what clergy tell them. The moderate majority now knows the violent ones are wrong.
No interpretation of a holy book is considered divine no matter how famous their authors may be. As I mentioned in previous response, all the commentaries and legal interpretations in Islam are tools for those who wish to read them, but they are not God’s word, and denying their correctness or validity, or understanding them in the historic and political context they originated in does not make one an apostate.
I cannot help change the fact that some Muslims understand things differently. Diversity in understanding the Book of Revelations is an example in point on the Christian side. But I look as Holy books this way: God revealed His holy books on chosen Messengers but aiming at lay, mostly illiterate people. The Messengers did not select who followed them, and did not perform any ‘pre-admission’ testing for the believers. And in Islam God, definitely, did not mandate that scholars explain God’s words to His followers.
Actually one of the recurring Quranic criticisms for the early People of the Book (an Islamic term for Christians and Jews) at the time of Quran revelation was that they accepted the interjection of scholars and clergy between God and the believers. Yet, Muslims quickly (i.e., after few decades after the Prophet’s death) fell in the same trap. It is human nature, I guess.
But Islam is truly a lot simpler than most scholars would like us to believe. Unfortunately most believers want to rely on someone else telling them what God wants rather than make some effort on their own.
I was lucky that Arabic as my mother tongue. I can read the Quran easily. I can understand the very vast majority of the verses at face value. It is simple and easy to understand, as God himself promised four times in different verses (54: 17, 22, 32 and 40, “Hence, indeed, We made this Quran easy to bear in mind: who, then, is willing to take it to heart?”) As for the few verses that may have a word or two not in common use today, the overall meaning of the verse is more than obvious if one is too lazy to look up the exact meaning.
I have a strong feeling that GF understands enough Arabic. I suggest to he/her to read the verses mentioned in the comment made, and forget about the ‘famous interpreters’ that GF repeatedly mentioned. They occasionally help, but most of the time, they are just the way. Of course, there are other interpreters (modern and not so modern) who would understand the verses differently, but that makes my point stronger: we all need to do the homework ourselves understanding the original words of God, and we should not take anyone’s interpretation for granted, even if we end up sometimes wrong. Otherwise, taking someone’s else’s words for what God really wants may be convenient, but it makes that person almost ‘God’ for us.
A famous quote from one of the early Scholars (I do not remember exactly which one) was “If you do not know our proof, you should follow our conclusion”.
The reader listed some verses to make his point, and this is where this posting gets a bit technical (and possibly boring) for some readers, so forgive me. But an elaborate comment requires a detailed response.
The reader agreed that verses 6:96 and 4:90-91 are already interpreted by modern scholars in an agreeable way, i.e., punishment for apostasy is in the hereafter, not capital punishment in this life. This is how the text reads in Arabic anyway, so I will skip those.
The verse GF sees as problematic is 2:217. I read the Arabic, and I read the English translation of M Asad, and I see no indication that it carries capital punishment for apostate.
  • “… [Your enemies] will not cease to fight against you till they have turned you away from your faith, if they can. But if any of you should turn away from his faith and die as a denier of the truth - these it is whose works will go for nought in this world and in the life to come; and these it is who are destined for the fire, therein to abide.”
Clearly, in Arabic as it is in this near literal translation, this is not talking about capital punishment, but about bad outcome on the Day of Judgment. Hell fire has never ever been mentioned in the Quran as a reference to punishment in this life. No commentator, regardless of their prestige or stature can tell other wise.
Regarding Verse 4:89
  • They would have you disbelieve as they themselves have disbelieved, so that you may be all like alike. Do not befriend them until they have fled their homes for the cause of God. If they desert you seize them and put them to death wherever you find them. Look for neither friends nor helpers among them“.
please read the preceding verse (4:88, and subsequent verses 4:90) before making judgment on this verse.
The word ‘they‘ in this verse refers to a group mentioned in the preceding Verse 4:88 as the Hypocrites, a group of Muslims that got in alliance with enemies of Muslims engaging in active acts of war. Finding and killing them was for their act of treason at time of war, not for apostasy
And despite this, the following verse 4:90 gives them the way out of the punishment as it states clearly: arriving and seeking protection with others (Muslims or otherwise) with which Muslims have a covenant OR coming back to the Muslims declaring their desire not to FIGHT Muslims - They were not required to declare their reversion to Islam. If they come back in peace “God does not allow you to harm them
The full text of verse 4:90 is here:
  • “unless it be such [of them] as have ties with people to whom you yourselves are bound by a covenant, or such as come unto you because their hearts shrink from [the thought of] making war either on you or on their own folk - although, if God had willed to make them stronger than you, they would certainly have made war on you. Thus, if they let you be, and do not make war on you, and offer you peace, God does not allow you to harm them.
I really do not see how anyone would interpret this as mandating capital punishment. If a commentator opted for that for historic or political reasons, this is definitely not binding for us, especially when God made His words so clear and unequivocal.
Verse 5:54 is the ONLY verse that talks specifically about the apostate (Murtadd, or those who abandon their faith as the verse describes them). It does not even mention death in any way:
  • “O you who have attained to faith! If you ever abandon your faith,’ God will in time bring forth [in your stead] people whom He loves and who love Him - humble towards the believers, proud towards all who deny the truth: [people] who strive hard in God’s cause, and do not fear to be censured by anyone who might censure them: such is God’s favour, which He grants unto whom He wills. And God is infinite, all-knowing.”
Let me conclude by some Quran verses that explicitly commit to the freedom of faith. These teach the Prophet, and us, Muslims, how to behave when someone refuses to accept Islam, at any stage. They require no comment from me or anyone else.
  • (2:256) THERE SHALL BE no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error…
  • (3:20) … Ask those who have been vouchsafed revelation aforetime, as well as all unlettered people, ‘Have you [too] surrendered yourselves unto Him [God]?’ And if they surrender themselves unto Him, they are on the right path; but if they turn away - behold, thy duty is no more than to deliver the message: for God sees all that is in [the hearts of] His creatures.
  • (5:29) … if you turn away [from God’s way], then know that Our Apostle’s only duty is a clear delivery of the message [entrusted to him]
  • (5:99) No more is the Apostle bound to do than deliver the message [entrusted to him]: and God knows all that you do openly, and all that you would conceal.
  • (6:70) And leave to themselves all those who, beguiled by the life of this world, have made play and passing delights their religion
  • (6:107) Yet if God had so willed, they would not have ascribed divinity to aught beside Him;_’ hence, We have not made thee their keeper
  • (9:129) But if those [who are bent on denying the truth] turn away, say: ‘God is enough for me! There is no- deity save Him.
  • (10:99) And [thus it is:] had thy Sustainer so willed, all those who live on earth would surely have attained to faith, all of them: dost thou, then, think that thou couldst compel people to believe,
  • (16:082) BUT IF they turn away [from thee, O Prophet, remember that] thy only duty is a clear delivery of the message [entrusted to thee].
  • (23:117) Hence, he who invokes, side by side with God, any other deity* for whose existence he has no evidence - shall but find his reckoning with his Sustainer: [and,] verily, such deniers of the truth will never attain to a happy state!
A point made by reader Logus referred to early (Mecca) chapters being softer and gentler than later chapters (Medina). It is the same incorrect point made by the Pope while referring to the conciliatory verse 2:256 listed above as being Mecca verse in a speech last year that causes a lot of distress to Muslims. The Pope was wrong as chapter 2 is a chronologically late (Medina) chapter although it is early in the Quran text arrangement, which does not follow chronological order. And so are some of the chapters used above (3, 5 , 6, and 9). Actually chapter 5 is the last long chapter of the Quran and has a special status as the final part of the revealed word of God. So the argument about gentle verses being early in Islam when there were fewer Muslims, while violent chapters came late, after Muslims became numerous enough to fight, is invalid.
All these verse, and many more, stress one key message: people choose whether to believe or not. God did not aim for all people to have the same faith. The Prophet (and his followers) are not to compel anyone to believe. Their job is to deliver the message. The rest, is our own personal choice.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Is there room for a Muslim voice in our life?

By Khaled Hamid for the St. Louis Post Dispatch Civil Religion Blog
I believe that my role on this blog [the St. Louis Post Dispatch Civil Religion blog] is to try to present what an American Muslim sees in his religion and how it interacts and coexists with other religions and belief systems. I made it clear from the beginning that I expect it will to be difficult to stay away from politics. It did not take a lot of brains on my part to expect that. I will continue to shy away from explicit political arguments, but it is impossible to avoid it totally as you may have guessed if you have read some of my latest postings and responses to comments by one reader (1, 2).
Our inclinations (likes and dislike) decide for us what we ’select’ to read and what we ’select’ to believe. If we trust our inclinations 100% of the time then we will always pick facts that support our views as further evidence that our views are correct, a circular logic trick. In that case, critical thinking in us dies. And life becomes a process of reinforcing what we have already known and believed. And that is not wise for those who seek the truth.
Google and other search engines are a blessing to humanity, but also a curse if we do not search with equal dedication to test all that we believe in rather than for what proves our predetermined point of view.
My humble advise to those who seek the truth is to make an effort to understand the issues for themselves, rather than take pre-digested opinions to adopt as their own. This stands true whether you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist, republican or democrat. Once you lock yourself in with like-minded people, and take as possibly true only what you knew before as true, then you are on a dangerous slope to being a ‘copy cat’ believer and that has its dangers.
God criticizes in the Quran (5:105) those who say “Enough for us is that which we found our forefathers believing in and doing”. To me, this verse encourages challenging any established dogma in which we believe just because our elders, teachers, clergy or forefathers passed on to us as ‘the truth, the whole truch and nothing but the truth’. I believe that God rewards us more for truth seeking than for truth reaching.
Moreover, a discussion with anyone - blog readers, colleagues or friends - is only worthwhile if the engaging parties start at a point where they are open to new facts so there position is at least modifiable. It also requires some background knowledge of the subject discussed. You are either debating or trying to learn basic facts. It is not very productive to do these in parallel, or in the reverse order.
I am bound, as a Muslim, to be challenged every now and then by vehement opposing opinions. I do encourage those who intend to engage in any discussion about what Islam is (as opposed to what some Muslims do) to read a couple of short essays I wrote relying almost exclusively on Quranic verse. The essays are heavily references and have an accompanying PDF file with all the used Quranic verse.
The essays are not preachy, and I do not expect anyone to accept them as the ultimate truth 9feel free to search for better source and let me no where these are). But I think they will present enough original scriptural material that may come handy if you engage I discussions about Islam. It may also bring to your attention some interesting facts about my religion, and will make it hard for someone to feed you half truth, or straight out lies, passing it as the only truth about Islam. Give it a try.
  1. Islam Q&A introduction and why I composed the essays.
  2. What is Islam?
  3. Islam and social Justice.
  4. Islam, violence and war.
All the Quran verse used in these essays are in one PDf file here.