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.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Can you read God’s mind? I know I can’t

The Wrath of GodI woke up early Friday morning to our house shaking. Realizing it was not in a tornado or something that required an immediate evacuation, I thanked God for the safety we were in and tried to go back to sleep. But this strange question popped up in my mind: Were there any gay parade scheduled in a near by city?
Of course, this is not my usual reaction to geological phenomena. It just happened that a couple of months ago I read something linking gays to earthquakes, and I wanted to write a posting about it. The latest realignment of tectonic plates in the Midwest seemed to be the right backdrop for that posting. Here it is.
Religious people feel a strong connection with God. A personal and warm sense of proximity to our creator gives many of us comfort, strength, and enough boost to carry on when the going gets tough. Some people, unfortunately, get a bit too close.
I, like many others, may occasionally feel tempted to gage how much God is happy (or unhappy) with me. If I have a good week at work, is it because God is smiling upon me? If my car breaks down in a very untimely fashion, is it because I did not focus enough on my duties to God?
I think a tiny little bit of that is not bad. Being aware of God’s presence, and that He notices us, is not a bad thing as long as we do not jump to conclusions about Him immediately responding in a divine fashion to every thing we do - that is to say, as long as we do NOT claim we KNOW why God did, or did not do, something to us or to someone else (for example, neighbors’ car stolen because they do not go to church, or a boss deserving a serious heart attack for being mean to his/her employees).
Unfortunately what may be, in a very limited fashion, OK for each of us individually, could become a seriously dangerous thing to do by someones who claims, or are perceived, to have a special connection with God.
Main Street Methodist Church
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
Main street Methodist church, Bay St. Louis, MississippiThe images of Hurricane Katrina are in our collective memory, with close to two thousands killed, whole cities destroyed, and hundreds of thousands uprooted from their homes.
But to some, it was not the laws of physics, meteorology and statistics at work. It was a Divine decision to teach us a lesson. Pat Robertson seems to think Hurricane Katrina is related to the legalization of abortion (see video there). He and Jerry Falwell blamed September 11 terrorist attack on abortionists, gays, and the ACLU. John Hagee stated that the hurricane was an act of God, punishing New Orleans for “a level of sin that was offensive to God” and that it was actually meant to disrupt a gay pride parade in New Orleans.
Seven thousand miles away, another ‘man of God’ disagreed with Hagee regarding why God’s wrath descended on the poor people of New Orleans. It was not the gay pride parade. It was the US foreign policy.
“Hurricane Katrina is a punishment meted out by God as a result of U.S. President George W. Bush’s support for the Gaza and northern West Bank disengagement”, Israeli Shas Party spiritual leader and former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said.
But when it came to gay people and their impact on the laws of nature, Hagee found an ally in a member of the Israeli parliament from the same Shas party who blamed gays for earthquakes in Israel: “A cost-effective way of averting earthquake damage would be to stop passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the State of Israel, which anyways causes earthquakes”. That funny statement was the reason behind the weird thought that came to me soon after I felt the quake.
Flawed thinking underlies all these people explaining what God really means when we have a tsunami, a failed space shuttle mission or when tectonic plates find a new position of equilibrium. This is not restricted to Christian or Jewish hyper-religious figures. Similar efforts to read God’s mind occur amongst some Muslim preachers as well. In all of these case, the ‘men of God’ are comfortable telling us that God used nature to send the rest of us a message endorsing the political agenda that they support.
How arrogant of them on one hand, and demeaning to God on the other.
In all the holly books of Abrahamic faiths, God used a lot more reason to persuade us than he used indiscriminate, disproportionate, and actually misdirected forces of nature. The wisdom of God’s actions - be it a natural disaster, a good harvest year, victory or defeat in a war, or simply catching the flu - is impossible to decipher. Could these events, great or small, have a divine reason behind them? Yes, but none of us is capable of reading God’s mind or knowing his specific intent.
The Quran tell a very revealing story about Prophet Moses, peace be upon him, insisting on joining a Holy man to learn a bit of how God works. “May I follow thee on the understanding that thou wilt impart to me something of that consciousness of what is right which has been imparted to thee?” (Quran 18:66). He was warned that it is too difficult for him to fathom, “[The other] answered: ‘Behold, thou wilt never be able to have patience with me for how couldst thou be patient about something that thou canst not comprehend within the compass of [thy] experience?” (Quran 18: 67 & 68).
The story gets more exciting from that point on with the sage killing the child of two God-conscious parents, putting a hole in the boat of orphans that helped the sage and Moses cross a river, and finally the sage helped build a wall for the villagers that were hostile to them. Moses gives up at that point, the sage explains to him the wisdom behind the strange series of deeds and they part (Quran 18:70-82).
If Moses could not understand God’s wisdom of simple everyday events, who are we to claim that we can read God’s mind?
Fellow bloggers and readers: tell me what would be your religious perspective on man reading the mind of God.

Friday, April 11, 2008

“Why would Muslims want to live in America? Why would not Muslim live in Saudi Arabia or some other Muslim country?”

This title reflects the first of 2 good questions posed by one of the readers (who named his/her Centrist) of my first blog posting about finding my Muslim voice. The part I am going to address in this post is quotes below (emphasis in the quote is mine).
“I saw a woman in a West County grocery store the other day with traditional Muslim dress, not a burka, but the only part showing were her eyes. That is fine, I have no objections with her choice.”
“… Our culture is so different in terms of outward sexuality and homosexuality that is so contradictory to the Muslim faith, that I don’t understand why they would not prefer to live in Saudi Arabia or some other Muslim country where they can live more easily which in the norms of their culture and religion.
I have a problem with Muslims coming here and not wishing to assimilate and try to get calls to prayer and footbaths etc. which kind of cross the line of seperation [sic] of church and state in our country.
My first question is, why don’t Muslims just live in Muslim countries and why do they choose to live in America or England where the culture is do different from what their religion espouses? Many of us fear that we will one day be forced to live under Sharia law such as Saudi Arabia or Iran if the Muslims take over our country.”
The reader’s second questions is equally interesting and is about Muslims and why they vote Democrat. Whether this assumption is right or wrong, that question will have to wait for another posting.
But for now, let us tackle the first question. There are a lot of points to cover so I will use almost a point format to cover the different issues raised in the comment:
  • Niqab (Arabic name for attire that covers a womens face) is Not the traditional Muslim dress. It is a dress that some traditional Muslim women wear (although is is admittedly ‘mandatory’ in some societies, especially Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia which are hardly the beacons of democracy, freedom or individuality). We are not all traditional in that sense. Many practicing Muslims women with strong devotion to Islam do NOT wear niqab or burqa (burka is a word derived from a Farsi root). Some of them wear traditional western attire, and some wear a more conservative attire with long sleeves, below knee outfit with or without a head cover (Hijab in Arabic). The latter group would look more or less like many orthodox Jewish women, or catholic nuns (before the change in their dress code in Vatican II). They wear the typical attire that the Virgin Mary, the most revered woman in Islam, is portrayed in.
  • And why should it be assumed that a Muslim has somewhere else to go and live. This statement is based, assuming best of intentions, on ignorance. Half of the American Muslims are ‘real’ Americans, born and raised here to American parents that may have been Muslims, Christians, Jews or atheists. Some are Black, White, Hispanic or of Middle Eastern and Indian ancestry. But some are of German, Irish or Chinese ancestry amongst many other possibilities. They did not chose to come to America. God created them here. They have no where else to go to, Muslim country or otherwise. And even if they do have another country to go to, why should they? Do we expect a Muslim born in this country to a Muslim family, or who has converted to Islam as an Adult, to leave America and look for another homeland just for the dress code?
  • A homeland is more than place with a dress code that I like. The culture that defines someone by how they dress is a very shallow culture, and our American culture, mine and yours, is not shallow. That is why many people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, come to America. Moreover most of us, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, disagree with the society at large on one or more intellectually or practically pivotal issues. Take for example abortion, same sex marriage, the war in Iraq, affirmative action, universal health care, or even home schooling. Is there anyone out there who is willing to leave there homeland if the law of the land is opposite to their choice for a way of life? Should I assume that the reader Centrist would have to go and live in Denmark if his/her dress code is more on the nudist side; or to somewhere else where abortion is still criminalize if they were anti-abortion? People are not defined by one issue, neither should a homeland, especially by something as trivial as dress code.
  • Centrist also has a problem with Muslims coming here and not wishing to assimilate and try to get calls to prayer and footbaths etc‘. Without belaboring the point, I will restate that half of the American Muslims have not come here - they were born here.
  • Assimilation deserves some comment. Every time I here it in this context it reminds me of the ‘Borg hives’ on Star Trek. The goal was “assimilating all species by incorporating their knowledge and technology into one Borg super collective”. None of us would ever desire to be part of that super powerful society for a simple reason: individuals lost their uniqueness, that is ‘the quality of being one of a kind’, i.e., different in some ways. Assimilation that does not retain the individuals identity is not only evil; it is doomed to failure in the long run.
  • And, on the legal side of this, if a municipality accommodates some Muslim communities and issues a permit for a mosque to have the call to prayer, that is the municipality’s right (although I am not aware of any that did this in Missouri). If the council of elders is democratically elected, and feels comfortable giving their OK to that, then that is the stance they would like to face voters with in the next election. And that is called democracy in action.
  • I am not even sure the reader Centrist is using that term “separation of church and state” correctly. Church bells ring every Sunday, and that is not violating the separation of church and state. The first amendment of the US Constitution states that “… Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. For a private business to make a free-will decision to establish footbaths for their Muslim clients, or employees, because the business owners feel morally good about being inclusive, or because it is good for their business, is a far cry from violating what the constitution enshrined in the first amendment. Any constitutional lawyer amongst the readers to chip in??
On a rather personally note, I am not a supporter of a dress code that covers the face. A big part of an individual’s identity is in the face. I am even sure I would not know how to communicate with someone covering their face. That is not just from the security point of view, but for many other practical reasons. The face communicates a lot more than words. My early medical training was in a Egypt at a time when some medical student started wearing niqab. The dean of medical school was decisive about it. If you wear a niqab, you were not allowed to get on the medical school campus. I am not aware of any women students that left medical school because of that. Niqab is not mandatory according to the very vast majority of Muslim scholars. It is actually forbidden during the most sacred of all Muslim events, Pilgrimage to the Holy Mosque in Mecca. It is still a very uncommon practice outside Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia were is it a dominant cultural habit to many, not a religious tradition. And therefore, many women stop wearing it when they are out of those countries.
Even in Iran, it is becoming less and less popular. For passports, drivers license, security Ids, and in courts of law the face must always show. If one woman wants to wear it in a West County grocery store, and the store does not have a problem with it, who am I to stop them?
Do I want wearing Niqab or burqa to be the law of the land for women here? NO.
The bottom line is this: this is a society where the rule of the law is king. If it is legal no one should expect others to change just to please the rest of us. But if Centrist’s argument is that this is a Christian Nation, and that only Christians should decide how it is run, then that is a violation of the first amendment. And that can be a topic for another post.
[Note: The reader Centrist, in a second comment expressed deep unhappiness and disappointment that I did not respond right away to the comment. Since I am not a full time blogger or a journalist, and I am a full time professional, I will rarely be able to respond right away to comments (except to the most simple of questions). Other readers are welcome to participated in the discussion and have a dialog go on, but I will not oblige myself to respond in a particular time frame.Blogging is NOT about instant response. That is called instant messaging. I would rather take my time posting something that I put some thought into, than to response in a haste with a half-cooked one and a half sentences. Other bloggers may have the talent to do that and produce something good. This blogger does not. Sorry if anyone is disappointed. Khaled]

Friday, January 11, 2008

Islam, Violence and War

Click here for a PDF of referenced chapters & Verses

The essence of the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, as individuals or as communities, is that of kindness and respectful coexistence (60:8). This friendship and kindness is, however, denied for those who actively engage in systematic effort to harm Muslims (60:9).

Lack of friendship does not automatically mean engaging in war, and human life is looked at with extreme respect. The loss, or saving, of one human life, Muslim or non-Muslim, is considered a major event for all humanity (5:32). But if war became inevitable (see later), Islam since its early days has established clear rules for the conduct of hostilities. Several sections in the Quran discuss war in detail and, contrary to the ‘out-of-context snippets’ that tend to dominate media coverage and anti-Muslim portrayal, a careful look at the discussion of war in the Quran shows a very unique perspective that favors non-violent means, and looks at war as the least desired path to solving conflicts. That perspective was unique by 6th century standards as much as it is unique by 21st century standards.

  1. War is permitted under Islamic rules, but only for defensive purposes. War of aggression is not permitted in Islam (2:190).
  2. If the non-Muslim warring party stops aggression, Muslims have no choice but to stop (2:192, 4:90, 8:61) even if they think it is not in Muslim’s army interest (8:61 and 8:62).
  3. The purpose of war is to resist or stop oppression and to fight aggression (2:190, 2:193, 4:75) not to expand territory or to dominate others (28:83) [note: Exalt in this verse means ‘raise in rank and status, or attain supremacy, Uluwan in Arabic]. War is definitely not a mean to force Islam on non-Muslims (2:256, 2:272 [first sentence], 10:99, 16:82).
  4. War with another Muslim community is also permitted (for the same purpose stated of fighting oppression and aggression) if that Muslim community engages in oppressing another community, and does not heed the calls for just and fair resolution (49:9)
  5. War is permitted in defense of the right and religious freedoms of non-Muslims well as Muslims suffering from oppression (22:39 and 22:40)
  6. Revenge for past hatred and hostilities does not justify war and aggression (5:2, 5:8) and Muslims are instructed and advised by God to forgive (43:89, 15:85)

War is the last resort: Not only does the Quran forbid wars of aggression, but it also very strongly encourages peaceful means to counter aggression and resolve conflicts before war is resorted to (8:61, 23:96, 41:34).

But it is also important to realize Islam is not a pacifist religion. It strongly believes in peaceful coexistence, supported by deterrent defensive stance (8:60), and the inclination to peaceful resolution of conflict (8:61, 23:96, 41:34) but without denying Muslims the right to wage war against aggression if other measures fail.

Once war starts (legitimately as discussed before) Muslim men and women are expected, by God, to fight it with utmost zeal, and with the willingness to sacrifice themselves and their material wealth in defense of their community and in the cause of God. In the fervor of war, Muslims are expected to obey the Islamic code of conduct during war time (47:4).

Granting protection to enemy fighters: In addition, every Muslim man and woman, is endowed with the right to grant asylum and protection to one or more enemy warriors if those warriors declare themselves non-combatant, and ask for the protection of a Muslim. They are not to be treated as prisoners of war, nor should they be detained. They are allowed to live within the Muslim community until war is over, or helped to travel to another society of their choice that is not at war with the Muslim community (9:6, 4:90).

Martyrdom: Those who die in the fight, be they men or women, are considered martyrs (defined as ‘ones who die for the sake of principle’) who will be in close proximity of God in heavens (2:154, 3:169, 4:74). The urban myth of ‘seventy virgins awaiting the martyrs in paradise’ has no basis in the Quran.

The Prophet’s teaching: Muhammad, pbuh, has set a very well defined path for warriors to follow. During the sending off the Muslim army to a battle, the prophet issued the following ‘battle field code of conduct’: “You shall not break a promise you make, you shall not mutilate the dead”, and “You shall not kill an elder, a child or a woman”. He gave clear instructions not to kill the injured and unarmed enemy members (equivalent to army civilians, and non-combat support troops in modern times).

Ensuring the moral conduct of war is the responsibility of all Muslim fighters, commanders and lowly soldiers alike. The Prophet made his well authenticated statement “There shall be no obedience of a leader in the violation of the rules of God”. This unequivocal statement was made in support of some Muslim soldiers who refused to obey a commander’s order when they felt the order violated the morality of Islam.

Prisoners of war (captives) enjoyed a status under Islam not seen in previous wars. They were to be treated without abuse or humiliation. They were to be well fed even when food was not abundant (76:8-76:9), kept warm and adequately sheltered. After the war POWs were treated based on the reciprocity principle with the enemy (e.g., freed in exchange for Muslim prisoners, or after reparations (47:4). In a real life example, the prisoners of war during the first battle with the people of Mecca were freed in exchange for teaching 10 Muslims each how to read and write. Illiterate prisoners were freed unconditionally when the battle was over. Enemy fighters who surrender (i.e., willingly give up fighting), are kept as prisoners of war until the fighting is over, and are then released unconditionally.

Civilian leaders of the Muslim community who succeeded Prophet Muhammad followed his teachings meticulously. Abu-Bakr, the first of those leaders, echoing the Prophet’s past instructions, gave his last minute advice to the commander of the Muslim army heading to the north to fight then. On dealing with fighting and non-fighting members of the enemy he said: “Do not betray, do not steal [i.e., take property unlawfully], and do not break a promise you make. Do not mutilate the dead; do not kill a child, an elder or a woman. Do not damage a palm tree or burn it. Do not cut a healthy tree; kill a goat, cow, or other animal except for food. You will come across people who dedicated themselves in monasteries [i.e., monks]; do not disturb them [i.e., let them carry on with worship of God that they dedicated themselves to].” Omar, the second leader who followed Abu-Bakr, maintained the same stance with his military leaders: “do not steal, do not betray [whomever you made promises to], do not kill a child, and beware of God [by not committing injustices] when you treat those who farm the land [that you pass through]”. In a different message to another military leader, Omar ordered: “Never kill and old man, a woman or a child. Make sure to avoid them during battles and in conducting raids”. These commandments, a millennium and a half ago, puts to shame many modern nations and armies for what they have done to civilians over the last few decades.

Islam and social Justice

Click here for a PDF of referenced chapters & Verses

Social Justice is has occupied a significant share of the Islamic conscience. Equality, and a sense of collective responsibility towards one another has been a hallmark of the early Muslim community, and has resulted in an influx of the poor, the underprivileged and slaves into Islam, escaping the brutal and rigidly hierarchical social structure that prevailed Arabia in the 6th century AD. The Prophet’s teachings tell us that “the Muslim community is like one body; if one part is ailing, the rest of the body responds with fever and ache”. Personal wealth is also considered a trial (64:15) and a gift entrusted to the wealthy by God (57:7, 2:254, 4:39, 13:22) to see if they will handle it as He wishes. The poor and the needy are therefore entitled to a share of the society’s wealth (51:19, 70:24-70:25). After the death of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, Muslim civil leaders perpetuated the teachings of the Quran, and the practices recommended by prophet Muhammad in the construction of social institutions that guarantees those in need will not be ignored or forgotten (see below).

The following is a list of the major mechanisms by which Islam ensures that the wealth of a society does not circulate in the hands of a wealthy few (59:7):

a. Alms-giving (Zakah) is a mandatory fixed percentage (widely accepted as 2.5%) of a Muslim’s savings that the community is entitled to, every year. This is the only pillar of Islam that involves material benefit to others. The money is collected by the state and is spent in specific venues listed in the Quran for the benefit of all community members, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. These venues include amongst others: the poor, the needy, the indebted, and for the liberation of slaves (2:177, 4:36, 9:60). All commercial ventures, e.g., farming, mining, industrial production and trading, have their own specific Zakah that is also due annually.

b. Charity is different from Zakah in that is it not mandatory and has no preset limit. It is strongly encouraged in hundreds of verses in the Quran, as a mean of obtaining God’s mercy and forgiveness (24:22, 92:17 to 92:18), cleansing the souls of impurity (9:103), and attaining superior degree faith (30:38, 76:8 to 76:9, 90:10 to 90:16). Those who are bent on sequestering wealth, and denying the less fortunate a share in their possessions are always given as an example of the ones who will be suffering in the hereafter and are deprived of the mercy of God (3:180, 4:37, 47:38, 89:17 to 89.24). Not feeding the needy is cited amongst the major reasons for which someone will not be in paradise (74:42 to 74:46). Relieving the indebted (or remitting the debt entirely) is also promised a great reward by God (2:280 and 2:281). Lack of kindness to the orphans, and the needy are markings of hypocrites whose hearts are devoid of faith despite performing religious rituals (107:1 to 107:7). Amassing wealth for its own sake (i.e., for the love of gathering money) is an evil deed deserving of extreme punishment on the Day of Judgment (9:35).

c. Making amends: Spending money on those in need is also considered a means of atonement (or expiation) for different kinds of sins and mistakes (2:184, 5:89, 5:95, 58:4).

d. Endowment: Another kind of charity is endowment or ‘Waqf’ in Arabic. This is usually of larger magnitude and is in the form of an asset, e.g., a farms, factory, large building or a piece of land that should be invested with all the revenue going to charity. This choice is particularly attractive as is satisfies what is referred to as ‘on-going’ or ‘running’ charity. This kind of charitable deed is one of only three things that Muslims believe will them reward from God after their death (the other two being, useful knowledge that the individual developed or taught, , and an offspring of high standards and moral integrity).

Muslims are instructed to spend: It is most interesting that the verb ‘spend’ is used in the Quran almost exclusively to mean spend of one’s money on someone else in need of financial help. Not only are Muslims repeatedly instructed to spend, they are explicitly instructed to spend from their most cherished possessions, from what is dear to them, from what they consider to be the best that they own (2:267, 3:92). Generosity in spending is a hallmark of the most dedicated believers (13:33),

Moderation in Spending is commended: While Muslims are repeatedly encouraged to spend from their wealth in the path of God, the Quran reminds them to spend sensibly. Wastefulness is strongly admonished in the Quran and over-spending -even on charity- will cause harm that defeats the charity’s purpose (17:26, 17:27, 17:29). A generous, yet sensible, wealthy person is, in the long term, more beneficial to the society and to the poor than the unwise one that goes bankrupt (2:195)

The Prophetic teachings (Hadeeth in Arabic, which means narration or speech) are different from the Quran, and are not considered the word of God. When hadeeth is adequately authenticated, it is treated with utmost respect by Muslims and it inspires them on how to implement and abide by the Quran. Numerous Prophetic teachings are narrated on solving the problem poverty, on humanity in Islamic society, and on sharing the wealth. Some examples are listed below:

a. "He who sleeps on a full stomach whilst his neighbor goes hungry is not one of us."

b. “People [in a very generic sense] are partners in three things: water, grazing land, and fire.”

‘Modern day’ meaning of this hadeeth:: the essentials for survival in any society should be made available (i.e., guaranteed) for all members of that society. Water is key to survival in desert environment, water and grazing land are key to maintenance of a herd which is the major source of employment and wealth to a Bedouin society, and fire is the only means to cook food, and warm a household. Food, shelter, basic education and a chance to earn a living would be the closet modern day essential counterparts to those mentioned in the hadeeth.

c. “None of you believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

d. If anyone would like God to save him from the hardships of the Day of Resurrection, he should give more time to his debtor who is short of money, or remit his debt altogether.”

e. Anyone who looks after and works for a widow and a poor person is like a warrior fighting for God’s cause, or like a person who fasts during the day and prays all night.”

f. Safeguard yourself against miserliness, for it ruined those who came before you.”

After the Prophet’s death: The practices of the early Muslim civil leaders further emphasized the collective responsibility of the community towards its poorest and weakest segments.

a. The House of Treasury (Bayt-el-Maal in Arabic) was established as an institution where Zakat was managed and channeled into its legitimate venues, and Waqf endowments were administered in a way that takes into consideration the Muslim community all over the Muslim Land.

b. Stipends were issued from the House of Treasury to families with children to help offset their increased expenses.

c. Pensions were also introduced to help the elderly who were unable to work. These pensions were offered to Muslim as well as non-Muslim elderly.

d. The concept of transferring Zakat money from the locality where it was paid, to wherever it was needed in Muslim land, was also introduced. This helped redistribute the wealth allover the Muslim land, and prevented creating pockets of extreme wealth or poverty.

Poverty is an evil that underlies a lot of evils: An extraordinary event took place during the reign of Omar, the second civil Muslim leader. A serious famine and subsequent poverty struck large parts of Arabia. This was associated with a significant increase in crime rates, notably theft. This is a crime that is very harshly punished according to an unequivocal verse in the Quran. Omar clearly understood the link between poverty and the increase in crime. He also understood that the role of punishment is to be a deterrent, not to be the society’s revenge. As the underlying cause of the crime (poverty in this case) was not alleviated, the punishment lost its meaning and usefulness as deterrent, and appeared more like revenge. Omar did the unthinkable and took an unprecedented step of ‘suspending’ the implementation of that Quranic verse until the economic pressures were alleviated. While this is not directly relevant to how Muslims handled poverty, it represents an insight into how Islam looked at poverty as an evil that underlies many of the society’s ills. This understanding lead Ali, one of the most respected, wise and righteous of early Muslim leaders, to make his memorable statement: “If poverty were a man, I would have killed him”.

Conclusion of Social Justice and Poverty section:

I would like conclude this section with the full text of a very short chapter of the Quran (Chapter 93). In this chapter, God addresses Muhammad, pbuh, but He speaks to all of us. As members of humanity we all enjoy numerous blessings in our lives, not realizing their existence most of the time. Neither do most of us realize that the only way to thank God for all his blessings is to pass some of the blessings on to our fellow humans. These thoughts are beautifully summarized in this short Quranic chapter. Whether one takes it literally or metaphorically, this chapter leads all of us on a path to greater awareness of our responsibilities to the less fortunate.

Chapter 93:

In the name of God, The merciful, the compassionate

001 [I swear] by the bright morning hours,

002 And by the night when it grows still and dark.

003 Thy Sustainer has not forsaken thee, nor does He scorn thee:

004 for, indeed, the life to come will be better for thee than this earlier part [of thy life]!

005 And, indeed, in time will thy Sustainer grant thee [what thy heart desires], and thou shalt be well-pleased.

006 Has He not found thee an orphan, and given thee shelter?

007 And found thee lost on thy way, and guided thee?

008 And found thee in want, and given thee sufficiency?

009 Therefore, the orphan shalt thou never wrong,

010 and him that seeks [thy] help shalt thou never chide,

011 and of thy Sustainer's blessings shalt thou [ever] speak.