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From Heinz 57 to Islam

Heinz 57 ketchup

Before Islam, Mary was a “Heinz 57″ of religion

Zawaj.com Editor’s comment: I want to state clearly that I don’t approve of the way sister Mary went about things here. She and Ahmed carried on a secret affair and were unfaithful to their spouses (in spirit, if not in deed). I understand that she was abused by her first husband, and I’m happy that things worked out for her, Alhamdulillah – if indeed they have worked out. But it could easily have been disastrous. She could have ended up in a secret relationship, not given her full rights, and with a new husband she could not trust. With that said, here’s the story:

By Mary Farrag

Reprinted from ReadingIslam.com

Before reverting to Islam I was, well, let’s say Heinz 57 (Editor’s note: for those of you not familar with American colloquialisms, Heinz 57 is a sauce with a lot of different ingredients – in other words, a mix).

I was baptized Catholic, made my confirmation as a Lutheran, and we attended whatever church was near to our house. Which probably turned out to be a good thing.

I left my family’s house when I was the age of 17. As soon as I graduated from high school, I moved into the one bedroom apartment that my boyfriend had. We only lived there for a very short time. Then we moved to a larger apartment.

At this time I really wasn’t going to church anymore because I was too busy working for God. My boyfriend wasn’t religious at all. Actually he was agnostic. Always, he needed things proven to him.

Well, eventually we married but never had any children. We stayed together a total of 18 years.

I didn’t know anything about Islam at all until my current husband wanted to start chatting with me. We were both using a program called Freetel. I don’t think it is even available anymore.

I was used to chatting with many people but never chatted with an Arab. One night I saw on the top of the screen: Ahmed is Calling. I had never even heard of this name before, so I was reluctant to accept the chat.

After a few times of him trying to call me, I accepted. We started off with the usual chat. Where are you from? Are you married? Do you have any children? Then we continued from there.

We were both very unhappy in our marriages. So we became friends. After six months of chatting everyday, I decided that I needed to know this man that I was now in love with. So I came to Egypt and stayed for 23 days.

It was confirmed that yes, we were actually in love. Neither one of us could imagine this was true. We toured most places in Cairo and some parts of Alexandria. At this time, I still didn’t know very much about Islam.

So after the 23 days, I returned to USA. My visit to Cairo confirmed what I needed to do. I needed to get a divorce from my current American husband.

He was very bad to me. He physically and emotionally abused me. During the next six months I was away from Ahmed and fell into a very deep depression.

Learning About Islam

Also during that time, Ahmed, now my husband, started to tell me about Islam. I was interested in anything he had to say.

I was working for low income public housing at the time of all of this. One day, one of my tenants came into the office to pay her monthly rent. Her name is Aminah.

She said to me “Miss Mary, you look different, something has changed in you.”

I told her about my trip and how I was in love with an Egyptian man who was a Muslim. She said that it was so cool. She said that her mom also is a Muslim and she asked me if I would like to meet her mom.

So I agreed and I met Rashida and we instantly got along. She also was a revert, but had reverted 25 years ago. So we started to meet more often, and she also started to teach me about Islam. So between Ahmed and Rashida, I became very interested in Islam.

I started to also study on my own. I started to go to meet Rashida; she had a shop that sells incense, oils and Islamic clothing. So now I was on my way with Islam.

One day I asked my husband-to-be, Ahmed, if he was going to make me become Muslim? On my trip here to Cairo, we got engaged, even though he was still married. So, he said “Mary, look I love you, but I can not make you become Muslim”.

He said, “That is between you and Allah.”

This is exactly what I needed to hear. So, Rashida started to take me to many places where Muslim sisters were. I loved them. They were so nice and peaceful and loving.

Declaring Shahadah

So 3 days before I was to move to Egypt to marry Ahmed, which was 6 more months after getting engaged to him, I called Rashida and told her that I wanted to become Muslim.

She told me to come to her and bring a hijab. So off I was to Rashida’s house. We stood outside on her balcony and she started to say “Ash Hado An La Ilaha IlaAllah”. I said, “Wait, please.”

She said, “Ahh, you have changed your mind.”

I said, “No, no, wait.” I went into my purse and took out my cell phone and called Ahmed in Cairo .

I said, “Ahmed, I want you to hear something.”

He said, “What is that?”

I said, “Here, listen.”

So Rashida said, “Ash Hado An La Ilaha IlaAllahwa Ash hado anna Mohammadan Rasollah,” and I repeated after her word for word.

I started to cry and heard Ahmed crying on the mobile and looked at Rashida and she was crying, Masha’Allah. So then I left Rashida and went home, took my ghusl (special shower). I am sure I did it wrong but Allah knew my niyyah (intention).

So then three days after, I came off the plane. I didn’t tell Ahmed that I wore the hijab.

I walked past him just a little to see if he would know me.

He didn’t, so I walk back and said, “Excuse me, are you waiting for someone?”

He looked at me and just kept saying, “SubhanAllah”, maybe four or five times. I thought he was going to have a coma. I told his friends to watch him until I came past the people to make sure he wouldn’t fall.

Then we were off to get married.

So that is basically my story of coming to Islam. It was so hard for me in the beginning, but now I am so happy and thankful to Allah for guiding me to the straight path.

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The Importance of Making a Good Space for Women in the Masjid

Muslim students praying at CSU Sacramento

Imam Umar Aboul Sharif
Adilah S. Sharif

Challenges of Women Space in Masjids

Last Friday, I was all set to give a Khutba about the need for Muslims to plan ahead on an individual and community level. My notes were ready and I was in full “Khutba mode”. But before sermon time, I decided to change the topic completely — to talk about the exclusion of Muslim women from the mosque and community life.

It wasn’t an earth-shattering event that made me change the topic. It was an email. And it proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It was one of five emails I received last week about Islamic events with a clear “brothers only” statement. One notice for a regional conference even stated categorically that there was no space for women and children under 15 at the event.

But the emails were only part of the story. A week before, I had given a Khutba in another, brand-new mosque in the heart of Chicago. After the prayer, while in the elevator, I overheard four Muslim sisters speaking angrily about their experience in the Masjid.

“If I wanted to watch TV, I’d stay home,” said one of the women, disgusted. I asked them what was wrong, and they told me how they could only see the Imam through a TV system set up in the women’s section. Moreover, the space was inconvenient, uncomfortable and was changed twice that day. This was despite the fact that months ago, the leadership of this mosque had promised me that they would involve sisters in decision-making about how the women’s space would be set up.

The Khutba

I was speaking in Chicago’s oldest mosque where the main prayer hall accommodates about a thousand people. It has a small, curtained off space in the corner for about 40 or so women. Due to the sensitive nature of my topic, it did occur to me before the Khutba that I might not be invited to give a Friday sermon there in the future. Nonetheless, I made the following points and asked these questions:

Who decides how women’s space in the mosque is allocated and organized?

How many women sit on the Board of Directors of our mosques?

If women are part of the Board of Directors, are they elected, chosen by women, selected by both men and women or are they simply the wives of male board members?

I also reminded the audience that in the Prophet’s mosque, women could hear and see the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings are upon him, and later, the leaders of the Muslims (Khulafa) when they spoke from the pulpit. Actually there are reports of interaction with the Prophet when women raised questions. Caliph Omar even went back to give another sermon to withdraw his opinion when a women from the audience gave him critical feedback after his Khutba.

Moreover, when the Prophet felt that the women were too far away to hear or he had specific points to make, he would walk over to their section and present a Khutba for them.

Examples from Islamic history

Women in early Islamic history were active not just as “mothers and wives” but contributed as individual Muslim women in all aspects of the community.

On a scholarly level, there was Aisha, may God be pleased with her. She is credited with disseminating the knowledge of Islam and information about almost all aspects of Islamic life. Today, nearly half of the Islamic jurisprudence of the Hanafi school of thought (which is followed by about 70 percent of the Muslim world) comes through the students of Aisha alone.

On a political level, there was Umm Salama. During the signing of the Treaty of Hudaibiya, when none of the Muslim men agreed to forego Hajj due to the demands of the pagan Meccans, the Prophet consulted Umm Salama. Her advice to him was to perform the rituals indicating that they would not be performing the pilgrimage, and the Muslims would follow. He heeded her advice, and as she suggested, the Muslims accepted this.

After the death of the Prophet, one major issue was how to preserve the authenticity of the Quran. Although the Quran had always been committed to memory and writing, the written pages were scattered. When a master copy was put together at the time of the first Khalifa, Abu Bakr, that copy was not kept with him or any other Muslim man. It was kept with a woman — Hafsa (may God be pleased with her).

Finally, in Madina during the leadership of Omar (may God be pleased with him) Al Shifa Bint Abdullah was made in charge of trade and commerce in the city.

These are just a few examples of the dynamic role women played in early Islamic history. But they are of no use if the inclusion of Muslim women in the mosque and community is reflected only in theory.

“Men’s Islam” or Islam for All

While sisters are a full part of the community, many mosques are run as though Islam is just for men. This is evident by looking at women’s spaces, their decoration, their uncomfortable size and design, the absence of women from the Board of Directors of most mosques and the relegation of their activism and ideas to a “women’s committee”.

Muslim women in North America are as professional as Muslim men and contribute as generously. I remember fundraising in a New Jersey Masjid. Five Muslim women contributed $25,000 each within the first 12 minutes. It inspired me to ask the audience: is there a man who can match these donations?

And that’s how women’s participation is. They know they will not get to Jannah because of the good deeds of their husbands. Each man and women has to find his or her own way to success in this world and next, knowing that God’s promise is this:

“I will deny no man or woman among you the reward of their labors. You are the offspring of one another.” (Quran 3:195).

“Each person shall reap the fruits of his/her own deeds: no soul shall bear another’s burden.” (Quran 6:164)

The Reaction to the Khutba

Normally, two or three people will approach me after a Khutba to thank and compliment me for it. This time, ten times more people came over, appreciating what I had said, Alhamdu lillah. That’s one of the most positive instances of feedback I’ve ever gotten in years of giving Khutbas! Although I have yet to hear the response from the leadership of the Masjid, this gives me hope that the community is ready for change.

A few board members also spoke very positively about the points I raised, including one of the founding members. The question is, who is stopping the change?

Current Chicago Masjid Spaces for Women

In Chicago, I estimate that in about ten percent of the Friday prayer locations, there is proper space for sisters’ participation. In these places men and women are in the same location without a curtain or wall separating them. In terms of the remaining 80 percent of mosques that do have a space for women, these are often cramped and inconvenient. By inconvenient, I mean that women cannot see the Imam or do not know what is happening in the congregational prayer. In about 10 percent of the Chicago-area mosques there are no spaces for women.

One Muslim sister in the city related to me her experience after visiting one of the largest mosques in Chicago that had an inconvenient room for women. When she entered the women’s area, a group of sisters was standing in line, thinking prayer had started because the recitation of the Quran could be heard. Taking Quran recitation as a cue for congregational prayer, the sister joined the others in line. After several minutes, when the man ended his recitation without calling for the next step of prayer, Ruku, the women learned that it was not a prayer. Needless to say, the women were humiliated and upset about this confusing situation. This is just an example of the practical problems this segregation in prayer places causes.

An additional problem in mosques where women cannot see the Imam is the fact that the noise level often becomes unacceptable. This tends to be because most men dump the responsibility for taking care of their active children on their wives when they go to the men’s section of mosque. Also, since women can’t see what’s going on, they end up talking to each other. This leads to the Imam asking women to “be quiet please,” furthering tension and exclusion.

When women are out of sight, it’s also more likely that they will be out of mind. That means their discourse and participation are ignored on a Masjid and community level. Moreover, few women have easy access to the Imam, which worsens the problem, since the Imam is the one man who can make a significant difference in bringing women’s issues and problems to the attention of other Muslim men in the community. This perhaps explains why you don’t normally hear many Khutbas on women’s challenges here in America or abroad.

Negative Dawa

The situation becomes worse when non- Muslims visit. They see there are hardly any women present in the mosque. Or, if there are a few, they are confined to a small and less ceremonious corner. What kind of Dawa is this? What kind of impression does this give in our current context, where the battle against stereotypes is ten times harder than it was pre-9/11 America? This visual impact is far greater and far more lasting then tens of books lauding the status of women in Islam. Since Shahadah (witnessing) is the first pillar of Islam, this obstacle to outreach must be dealt with.

Of course, women, unlike men, are given a choice by the Prophet to pray at home or in the mosque. But the Prophet was categorical in telling men “do not stop women from coming to the Masjid.” Friday prayers are also optional for women. But considering that Friday sermons are the only Islamic educational opportunity available to most women in the North America Muslim women should attend Friday prayers. This is especially important because we do not yet have a widespread tradition of female teachers, as is the case in the Muslim world. I am pretty sure Caliph Omar would have encouraged Friday prayer attendance by women if he was alive today in the United States, may God be pleased with him.

Who is stopping women from the Masjid

Knowing both of these Masjids, their volunteer leadership, and the fact that women are on their boards, I don’t think either of them stops women from attending and participating. The first Masjid’s president did make an announcement twice in front of me inviting women to visit the new location to help determine the sisters’ space. I think, perhaps, need sisters taking these issues more seriously instead of accepting the current situation.

In the second Masjid, I learned that some sisters prefer to pray behind a curtain. An easy solution could be to make a larger area where women who do not want a curtain between the men and women, as was the practice in the mosque of the Prophet, can pray. Behind them, women who are comfortable praying behind a curtain can do this.

With lower donations as a result of donor chasing by the FBI, extra expenses for security and legal battles, which six or seven Masjids in the Chicago-area are going through, the last thing on the mind of Muslim leadership is women’s space. About 80 percent of the Masjids in the Chicago area do not have any permanent Imam. Volunteers like me are asked to offer the Friday sermon on a rotational basis. Almost all of these Masjids’ leaders are busy professionals who volunteer their time to run the community centers, schools and Masjids. Unless someone is pushing for something, things will continue as they have been.

This is why I have come to the conclusion that the agenda of women’s space will not come to the forefront unless Muslim women take it upon themselves.

Establishing a Muslim Women’s Caucus

It is time that sisters come together and provide leadership in clearly defining a Muslim women’s manifesto for change in mosques in North America. If these sisters are practicing Muslims, they will have a far higher level of success in demanding change and leading it.

I would like to make a plea to leading Muslim women in North America who are respected and honored by the community to call a national women’s caucus on these issues. In this conference, the following things need to be discussed and tackled:

1. An agenda outlining change in the Muslim community centers and Masjids in which

* Each Masjid should formally declare that it is unIslamic to stop women from attending a mosque

* The need to restore women’s space in the mosque as it was at the Prophet’s time (i.e. without a curtain or a wall separating men and women) is stressed

* Develop a welcoming space where they have a clear view of the Imam

2. One-third of Masjids’ Board of Directors should be composed of sisters, one-third of brothers, and one-third of people born in North America.

3. A mechanism for an ongoing Muslim Women’s Caucus needs to be developed

On the issue of women’s exclusion from the mosque, this Muslim Women’s Caucus may want to do the following:

1. Invite the leadership of major mosques, as well as national and continental Muslim organizations to a closed-door dialogue with an equal number of Muslim women leaders present.

2. Give a deadline to all Masjids that do not have a space for women to allocate one in consultation with women.

3. If space is extremely limited and there is no cultural and ideological objection to it, then allocate time for additional congregational prayer for women lead by women as was done by Umm Waraqa with the Prophet’s permission when she lead her staff regularly in prayers in her own home as reported by Sahih Abu Dawud. (If thousands of women lead other women in prayers throughout Pakistan, it can be done in a mosque here as well).

Shura (consultation) has been a way of life for Muslims (42:38). If our families and our communities are not run on Shura, open communication and proper representation, how will we grow?

“The true believers, both men and women, are friends to each other. They enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil; they attend to their prayers and pay the alms and obey God and His apostle. On these God will have mercy. He is Mighty and Wise.” (Quran 7:71)

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Look Beyond the Packaging: How to Choose a Husband, Wife or Friend

Majestic tree

The most beautiful things in the world don't come in packages

By Wael Abdelgawad | Zawaj.com

Is his hair nicely styled? Is he the perfect height?

Is her makeup just right? Does her body have the perfect curves?

This is packaging, it’s irrelevant.

American, Pakistani, Mexican, Egyptian, Bengali, Indonesian, black, white, brown, this is a veneer. It’s unimportant in the long run. When you’re sick and battling to recover, it’s not an American who holds you and tells you that it will be okay, who makes you chicken soup with lemon and ginger… It’s a human being, a husband or wife who loves you.

We must get beyond superficial and meaningless classifications like race and nationality.

Does he wear Armani suits cut just right? Are his shoes sleek and shiny? Does her clothing drape elegantly on her figure?

You know what? That Armani suit can’t stand on its own. It needs a hangar just to stay upright. That elegant clothing can’t raise your children right.

We must learn to look beyond appearances. I’m not saying that appearance is irrelevant, but how much of our attraction is based on true human beauty, and how much is based on distorted standards and poisonous imagery pumped into our brains by TV, movies, advertising, magazines and billboards? In other words, to what degree have we been brainwashed?

The world of advertising teaches us to focus on the wrong things. Consultants are paid millions of dollars to design the perfect package for a box of cereal or an energy drink, just the right shape and bright color to catch your eye and entice you to buy. Meanwhile, the product – as often as not – is actually bad for you, consisting of empty calories, sugar, chemicals and dyes. They are teaching us to make choices based on packaging and image, and what they are teaching us is entirely ruinous and wrong.

Human beings, however, are not consumer products. We’re not disposable. When you marry someone you’re in it for the long haul. You’re with them when they wake up in the morning with crust in their eyes and hair stuck to one side of the their head; when they get laid off from their job and you don’t know how the bills will get paid next month; when they’re depressed, tired, sick; when they make mistakes, when they say and do the wrong things, when they lose their temper, when they’re afraid or insecure…

This is as serious as it gets. This is life, and the right package won’t get you through it, won’t help on you the path, won’t hold you up when you’re weak, or put a smile in your heart when you’re down. The package can’t do that. Remember that when you buy something, the package ends up in the trash. If you choose someone for the package only, you may be bitterly disappointed when the storm comes and no one is there to keep you safe.

These are lessons learned through heartache and disappointment. These are lessons I have learned.

Look deeper. Find a gentle heart, a strong backbone, a striving spirit. Look to what the person does, how they live, how they treat people, how they relate to the Almighty. Look to that shimmering soul inside, and discern whether it’s a selfish and bitter soul, or loving and true. Look beyond the packaging to the person inside, and trust your fitrah-based instincts, and you’ll find yourself a rare happiness, and a precious partnership.

The most beautiful, powerful things in the world don’t come in packages. Mountains, trees, ocean, sky, stars… their true attributes are bared to the world. They don’t need packages because they are beautiful and profound in their essence.

By basing your life choices on matters of substance, you’ll avoid social and financial traps that ruin so many. You’ll build friendships as real and solid as mountains, with people you can trust with your honor, your heart and your life. You’ll do work that matters, and leave a legacy that improves people’s lives in unforgettable ways.

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5 ways to make your Ramadan extraordinary

Ramadan parade in Indonesia

Ramadan parade in Indonesia

Even though we are all excited by the coming of Ramadan, I think many of us harbor inner doubts, and fears of inadequacy. I recently came across this beautiful piece by Tawfique Chowdhury that addresses these issues honestly. Insha’Allah it will benefit us and stengthen our resolve. - Wael Abdelgawad, Zawaj.com Editor

Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,

My dear friends and students,

Welcome to our long-lost friend: Ramadan. How we have missed the days of self-restraint and the nights of mercy and delight! After eleven months of sinning, we now have the opportunity to avail ourselves of a month of mercy and forgiveness. For those whose duas have not been answered, the month of answered duas has arrived. For those who have drifted away from the soothing night prayer, or who have never achieved it, the month of the blessed taraweeh has arrived. Welcome to our Lord’s mercy: the month of Ramadan. No doubt each and every one of us approaches Ramadan with a special excitement. Alas for many of us, however: the excitement is met with fear and dread instead.

Will this Ramadan be like the previous ones where I failed to truly take full advantage and mend my ways?

Will this Ramadan only demonstrate to me how far away from Allah I truly am?

Will it be yet another month that passes by without my taking full advantage of it?

If you are feeling this way, know that you are not alone. Many of us feel this way and do not know how to tackle it. As a result, the fear and dread are enough for us to avoid setting new goals and higher aspirations for this month. As a result, we find ourselves at the end of the month in the situation of having failed to benefit from this opportunity and languishing in sorrow at the thought that we will never improve.

I too used to get these whispers and thoughts in my mind. However, I overcame these thoughts with the help of Allah. Here are five things that I have done to tackle these “Ramadan blues”. Let me share them with you; perhaps the suggestions may benefit you, and help you to overlook the past and focus on the future.

1) Good thoughts about Allah:

I remind myself that my Lord is most Generous and Kind. He loves me sincerely. The proof is that even when I disobey Him He still provides for me. That is why He is giving me yet another Ramadan: yet another opportunity to get closer to Him again. He loves to forgive, and His best friends are those who seek His forgiveness the most. He has brought me to another Ramadan so that I can have yet another chance at Laylatul Qadr, and yet another chance to make my duas accepted at the time of iftar, and yet another chance to do Hajj with Rasul-Allah (sall-Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) by doing umrah in this month. He has brought me to Ramadan to sooth the sorrows in my heart with His remembrance, and for me to be reminded of the nights in my grave by the solitude of i’tikaaf: by seeing how it feels to be alone with Him in the mosque. He wants me to lighten the load on my mind, so that is why He has given me the month of the Qur’an: so that I can relive the amazing Word of my Rabb (Lord and Master).

The salaf (pious predecessors) would beg Allah for another opportunity for Ramadan, so how fortunate I am that He has given me this chance once again. How fortunate I am that He has given me the chance to know when this month is, so that I can take advantage of it. How fortunate I am that He has given me the yearning in my heart to meet my Lord in this month – and I know that the one who loves to meet His Lord, Allah subhaanahu wa ta’ala also loves to meet him.

2) Forget the past and focus on the future:

Forest path to sunlight

Forgive the past, and look to the future

I remind myself that past deeds are just that: a matter of the past. I live for the future, not the past. The past will be forgiven insha’Allah if I can mend the future. My concern should be the next deed that I do, because Allah loves to forgive; so I can have every confidence that He will forgive the past because I have nothing but regret for my past sins.

The most important consideration for me is what sort of amends I make now. I remind myself of what Imam Ibnul-Qayyim (rahimahu-Allah) said in his Nooniyyah:

By Allah I am not afraid of my past sins,
For indeed they are upon the path of repentance and forgiveness;
Rather my real concern is that [in the next deed] this heart
Might cease to act upon revelation and upon the noble Qur’an.

3) Evaluate previous attempts in order to plan a strategy to make it work this time:

I remember that it is illogical to think that my future chances of success are a reflection of my failures in the past. My past inabilities only show me what to do better this time so that I can increase my chances this time around.

So if I tried to pray taraweeh every night but failed, I should look back at what happened in order to learn lessons from those failures. Was it that the Imam’s recitation was not good? If so, then let me try to find a mosque to go to whose Imam recites better. If I failed to complete reciting the whole Qur’an last year, let me look at why that was the case and how I can change it. Can I put up reminders to read the Qur’an, or shall I buy a few more copies of the Qur’an and put them in more convenient places, such as one in my car, another in my briefcase and another on my table, so that I have a mushaf always on hand?

If I missed getting up for fajr last Ramadan, why did it happen and how can I change it? Perhaps I should buy more alarm clocks, so let me go to the store right now. Perhaps I should SMS my friends to start a fajr prayer-calling group so that each day one of us is responsible for waking the others up. Perhaps I should make my suhur my heaviest meal so that my body feels hungry at suhur-time and so I get up more easily.

4) Reward, challenge and penalise myself:

I can plan and prepare to reward myself if I finish this Ramadan satisfactorily. So I tell myself that if I can make myself pray all my prayers at the earliest time this Ramadan and recite the Qur’an five times this month, then I will buy myself a new laptop; if I can recite it ten times then I will go away with my family for a holiday, or some other significant reward that I know I would definitely like to treat myself with.

I warn myself that if I fail to at least recite the Qur’an five times in this month, then I will donate a thousand dollars to charity. I remind myself that even Allah’s Messenger sall-Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam used to give worldly rewards to those who excelled in battle: e.g. half the war-booty from the raids to the Muslim knights who had taken part in the raid; he (saw) would consider it a great sin upon the one who fails to join the obligatory battle.

In the same spirit of reward, challenge and penalty, I would do this for my children and my wife as well by helping them with a reward if they do something extraordinary this month, and a penalty if they did not even do the minimum extra level. In this way I can give them an added incentive to do good in this limited time of Ramadan.

I remind myself that ultimately we must do it for Allah and never for a physical prize, but associating an emotional desire with an action and fear of a punishment at the non-performance of it will cause that action to be foremost in the subconscious part of my mind. I remind myself that the worst thing about not making this Ramadan special would be something worse than the penalty I have stipulated. It would be the disappointment of a Ramadan wasted, and the risk of Allah’s wrath.

5) Create peer-pressure and responsibility:

I remind myself that if I make my friends and family aware of some of my goals, then they might help me. So I share some of my goals with them, ensuring that I am doing it to engage their help in performing it, not in a spirit of boasting. I hope that this will give me added support and encouragement to ensure that they help me in achieving the good things I have set out to do. If they do not help, at the very least they should not mind when I excuse myself from their service or company in order to spend some time on working towards my goal.

Young Syrian women talking

If I share my goals with my family and friends, they might support me

I hope that some or all of these things will help you to look upon this Ramadan with a fresh outlook. Make lots of dua to Allah that this Ramadan will be special for you, for your family, and for the Ummah of our beloved sall-Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam. I am interested in hearing from you if you have other things that you do to focus positively at the advent of another Ramadan.

Jazaakumullahulkhair and my duas for you and your family for a fantastic and blessed Ramadan, insha’Allah;

wassalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,

Tawfique Chowdhury
Director General
AlKauthar Institute and Mercy Mission World

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Being a Real Man in Islam


Malcolm X, aka El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, standing in prayer

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (formerly Malcolm X) standing in prayer. In many ways Malcolm was the epitome of a "real man" in Islam. He put everything on the line for what he believed in.

Being a Real Man in Islam:

Drugs, Criminality and The Problem of Masculinity

By Yahya Birt
Published in Q-News, June 2000, revised June 2001

English convert to Islam, Yahya Birt, contrasts the crisis of criminality in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in Britain with the Islamic ideal and suggests a way forward.

We praise Allah and we seek His aid, we seek forgiveness from Him and we affirm faith in Him, and upon Him we are utterly reliant. We shower blessings upon the noble Prophet, the Head of the Prophets and Messengers, and upon his family and his companions and those that followed them in righteousness until the Day of Rising. There is no power or might except Allah, the Exalted and Mighty. I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Devil. In the name of Allah, the All Merciful and Compassionate.

The Crisis of Criminality in the Muslim Community

The latest Home office statistics make grim reading for the Muslim community: Muslim prisoners have doubled in the last decade to reach a total of between 4000-4500—amounting to 9% of the total prison population—which is treble our proportion of the total population. One in eleven prisoners is Muslim. This surge in Muslim crime is not being discussed openly within the community, most probably out of a sense of shame. But in reality, we should be feel ashamed precisely because we are not discussing these problems openly and confronting them. Shame should impel not prohibit a constructive response.

So what sort of crime is being committed and who is doing it? Sadly, but not surprisingly, over 65% of these prisoners are young men between the ages of eighteen and thirty. This huge figure does not include youngsters under the age of 18 who are in custodial care. We should not forget to add that 10% are women. The sorts of crime committed not only include petty theft but also violent and obscene muggings. [1] Maqsood Ahmed, the Muslim Advisor to the Prison Service appointed by the government in 1999, says that currently (as of June 2000) 1005 out of the 4003 Muslim inmates have committed crimes related to drug pushing or drug use. So one in four of British Muslim prisoners have been convicted for drug-related offences. [2]

Muslims and the Global Drug Trade

We need to face facts: Muslim involvement in hard drugs is not confined to Muslims in the West. Of the traditional ‘natural’ drugs, Muslims are heavily involved with the planting, harvesting, refinement, smuggling, and distribution to Europe of heroin and cannabis. While cannabis is the most widely used illicit substance in Europe, heroin, the most deadly drug, is little used in comparison; but it is most associated with social marginalisation and addiction.

Cannabis

Today, Morocco is the world’s largest cannabis exporter, with a crop of 2000 metric tonnes, having had a tenfold increase in production from 1983-1993. While the Moroccan government has made agreements with the European Union (EU) to grow substitute crops and domestic seizures of hash have risen, total production has increased at the same time. There is deep government involvement, going right up to the Royal family; an assertion that can be given some credence because the Ministry of Agriculture produces highly accurate and confidential statistics about the total acreage of hash under cultivation every year. One estimate puts the value of hash exports at two thirds of Morocco’s total exports, or 10% of the country’s income. Most hash enters Europe through Spain, where it distributed by Moroccan and Dutch criminal elements among others.

Heroin

Of the world’s two major heroin suppliers, Afghanistan overtook Burma as world leader in the late 1990s. In 1999, it supplied 77% of the world’s heroin, a figure which has been publicly acknowledged by the Taliban. [3] We can also note the increased production and refinement of poppy seed in Tajikistan, Kirgyzstan and Kazakhstan. [4] Hitherto, the drug, in a semi-refined state, has been shipped from Afghanistan through Pakistan to the West.

Brown heroin powder.

Heroin powder. Muslims are heavily involved with the planting, harvesting, refinement, smuggling, and distribution to Europe of heroin and cannabis.

It was CIA intervention—in support of the Mujahedin who were fighting Soviet oppression in the early 1980s—which was crucial in turning Afghanistan and Pakistan from local suppliers into international ones by providing the necessary political protection and logistical networks. The CIA in co-operation with Pakistan’s Interservices Intelligence supplied arms to the Mujahedin in return for payment in raw opium. It was only after Soviet withdrawal that the US gave serious monies to combat poppy seed production. Pakistan had started the 1980s as a major producer of poppy seed, but government anti-drugs measures have virtually wiped out production (2 metric tonnes) by 1999. [5]

When the Taliban first captured Kandahar in 1994, they announced a total ban on drugs, but this stance was quickly dropped when they realised that narcotics provided an invaluable source of income and, furthermore, that an outright ban would greatly alienate farmers dependent on the crop. So as Taliban control spread, production rose by a massive 25% up to 1997. ‘Abd al-Rasheed, the head of the Taliban’s anti-drugs control force in Kandahar said in May 1997 that while there was a strict ban on hashish, “opium is permissible because it is consumed by kafirs (unbelievers) in the West and not by Muslims or Afghans.” [6]

In the process of institutionalising and guaranteeing income from the drug trade, the Taliban started to levy zakat on poppy cultivation and charge tolls on the transportation of the poppy residue under armed Taliban guard out of the country. [7] An increasing number of drug laboratories were set up in Afghanistan. Even if not much drug profit stays in Afghanistan and Pakistan—only about 9% of the total Western street value—this still added up to about $1.35 billion US dollars in 1999.

Poppy seed, either as a raw crop or in its initially refined form as morphine, has until recently been the major source of income in a war-shattered economy both for farmers and the government. Yet despite this economic dependency, it must still be said: the remark of the Taliban official quoted above was hypocritical and cynical. There is not one standard of upright conduct for Muslims and another for non-Muslims: our religion requires us to behave impeccably with both. And far from Muslims being unaffected by Afghani heroin, Pakistan now has the highest heroin addiction rate in the world. In 1979, Pakistan had no addicts, in 1986, it had 650,000 addicts, three million in 1992, while in 1999, government figures estimate a staggering figure of five million.

Nor is the problem confined to Pakistan. Despite one of the toughest anti-drugs policies in the world, where the death-penalty is given for the possession of a few ounces of heroin, Iran officially had 1.2 million addicts in 1998 (off the record, officials admit to the figure being more like 3 million). By 1998, only 42 % of total heroin production was exported out of South Asia; 58% of opiates were being consumed within the region itself. So heroin addiction is not only a Western problem, but also a deeply Muslim one.

Between 1997-1999, Kabul offered to end poppy seed production—to both the US and the UN—in return for international recognition, which suggests that the Taliban leadership was not serious in the past about ending production but used the whole issue of drug control as a diplomatic lever. [8] Thankfully, the Afghan government seems to have recently changed its public position. In 1999, Amir Mullah Omar Modhammed announced that poppy seed production should be cut by one third. On 28 July 2000, Mullah Omar ordered a complete ban of poppy seed cultivation, and appealed for the assistance of the international community in funding crop replacement schemes. [9] The official figures for 2000 showed a reduction of 28% on 1999, but this was mostly attributable to the terrible drought the country suffered during that period. [10] It has now been confirmed by outside agencies that the Taliban have wiped out the 2001 harvest, as a UNDCP team reported in February that the major growing areas were virtually free of poppies, which was corroborated by the US Drug Enforcement Agency in May. Despite the DEA’s prognosis that the ban will hit farmers hard, the US has pushed for continued UN sanctions because of its campaign to bring Osama bin Laden to trial. [10a]

After being put into its morphine base, either in Pakistan or Central Asia (and previously in Afghanistan), the drug is transported to Turkish laboratories, where it is further refined into heroin. About 80% of Europe’s supply is refined into heroin proper in Turkey, although the Turks are facing increased competition from the Russian Mafia in second-stage refinement and smuggling into Europe (via Eastern Europe and the Baltic). As with Morocco, the Turkish civil and military secret services are heavily involved with the drug trade. This complicity was highlighted by a car-crash in November 1996 involving four people: an extreme right-wing criminal on the run, a high-ranking policeman, a beauty queen, and the only survivor, a parliamentarian of ex-Prime Minister Ciller’s party. About 75% of Europe’s heroin is transported from Turkey in small quantities overland via the Balkan route, which is impossible to police effectively because of the high volume of traffic. [11] Once in Europe, a lot of the heroin is then distributed by significant numbers of European Turks among others, and it is then sold on to the dealers, who sell smaller quantities to users on the street.

Islamic Ruling on Drugs (non-alcoholic Intoxicants)

Ibn ‘Umar (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) reported that the Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Every intoxicant (muskir) is wine (khamr) and every intoxicant is forbidden. He who drinks wine in this world and dies while he is addicted to it, not having repented, will not be given a drink in the Hereafter.” [12] This hadith is one of the primary texts that prove the prohibition of anything that intoxicates like wine. Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh), considered to be among the foremost legal authorities of the entire late Shafi‘i legal school, has classified the consumption of hashish (hashisha) and opium (afyun) as an enormity or a major sin. [13] Imam al-Dhahabi (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) defined an enormity as “any sin entailing either a threat of punishment in the hereafter explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an and Hadith, a prescribed legal penalty or being accursed by Allah and His Messenger (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).” [14]

Among those classical authorities who wrote of the prohibition of hashish were Imam Zarakhshi, Ibn Taymiyya, al-Qirafi, Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi and Imam Nawawi (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayhim). In short, the four legal schools agree that all intoxicants are unlawful, and they include plants that intoxicate under this category of prohibited substances. [15]

There is a misconception among Muslim users that although drugs are unlawful, smoking hashish is not so serious. Or they say that at least we don’t drink! They seem to divide drugs into hard and soft drugs: a division that is quite baseless according to Divine law. All drugs are Class A according to our religion.

British Muslims and the Drug Trade

The drug trade in Britain is breaking and shattering young Muslim lives. But to our great shame, we are not only talking about the many Muslim victims of drug use, but the fact that British Muslims are also heavily involved in street level drugs pushing. From the late 1980s onwards, according to Maqsood Ahmed, it appears that Asians replaced Afro-Caribbeans as the main drug pushers on the streets. [16]

However, Maqsood Ahmed says that it is only the small-time Asian street pushers, not the major suppliers, who are being caught and incarcerated. A retired lawyer, Gavin McFarlane, who once worked in the office of the Solicitor for Customs and Excise, confirms the view that the ‘Mr Bigs’ of drug crime are usually never caught. [17]

I am not suggesting that drugs are the only issue relating to crime, but because of the nature of addiction, drugs can do more to destroy the moral will and the social fabric of the Muslim community than any other type of crime. It appears that drug use among Muslim youth matches national levels: we have no more ‘moral immunity’ from drugs than anyone else.

Tower Hamlets in East London

Tower Hamlets in East London

It is instructive to look at the example of NAFAS, a Muslim-run outreach, educational and rehabilitation programme, based in Tower Hamlets in East London, which aims to target drug use among Bangladeshi youth. One NAFAS activist, Abdur Rahman, has worked among Muslims in the area of drugs, crime and mental health issues for the last ten years. I interviewed him in order to get a real sense of what is happening on the street. [18]

In his experience, among the Muslim community it is mainly Pakistani and Bangladeshi youth that become involved with drugs, but it affects all the various ethnic Muslim groups. Commonly, the parents of these young men neglected their religious training, and instead left matters in the hands of the madrasas. Their experience in the madrasa has been of rote learning without any understanding, an experience that has left them bored and alienated not only from the madrasa but also from religion itself. Frustrated imams throw the more disruptive kids out of the madrasas onto the streets. Clubbing together in gangs of around 20-30, these young men are listless and bored. The result has very often been the emergence of gang violence and turf wars.

By far the most commonly used drugs are hashish and then alcohol. Heroin is used much less. Most that smoke ‘weed’ (as hashish is known in street slang) will not touch heroin, which is seen as a dirty drug. But the picture is complex, because 90% of those who do use heroin say that their first drug was hashish. Those Muslim youth that do use heroin do not use needles because they see it as a dirty practice. Habitually, those who take heroin also use crack cocaine. According to local police figures for the Borough of Tower Hamlets, 50% of drug offenders referred to drugs agencies are young Bangladeshi men. Of these, 90% are under twenty-five and more than 60% have never received any help to get off drugs. It was in part this last statistic that brought about the founding of NAFAS.

There are no figures for young women, but the word on the street is that hashish use is increasing among them as well. Normally such women smoke hashish in the home. Abdur Rahman says that taboos are breaking down. It is becoming more common to see hashish being smoked and alcohol being drunk in the street.

What are the attitudes of these young men to religion? There are some that mock religion openly. “Islam is drab and boring,” they say, “it is only about things you are not allowed to do. There is no fun and laughter. We are young and now is the time for enjoyment.”

Others, who have a stronger sense of being Muslim, say they want to practice but argue that the bad environment discourages them. Abdur Rahman says it is easier to reach those who have some religious feeling in them, and that these boys can point to examples where someone they know has come off drugs and has started practising Islam.

There is a real internal problem facing this community and it will not go away if we are merely content to highlight problems within the British criminal justice system, schooling and welfare. However necessary, this critique of the system is only part of the answer. To make myself absolutely clear, I am stressing the fact that the crucial element in any response is moral and religious guidance, which, of course, only the community can provide. This is not just a problem of young Muslim men who have lost their way, but a failure of the whole community to bring them up with Islamic values. We have neglected their spiritual training (tarbiya) and failed to teach them how to live in this world in accordance with the pleasure of Allah (akhlaqiyyat) in a way that makes sense to them. We have even ignored their secular education; so that on the streets of despair turning to drugs seems the best way to make a quick buck or to escape from the pressures of racism, Islamophobia and unemployment.

What we all need in front of us, young and old, is a clear picture of what being a real man in Islam means as opposed to being a fake one. Guidance comes with our comprehension of what religion expects us to do for ourselves, and for others, for the pleasure of Allah Most High. The rest of this essay is devoted to outlining the nature of negative and positive masculinity.

Negative masculinity

Negative masculinity can take the form of crime, or trying to be "hard".

Negative Masculinity

Misguided strength: Negative masculinity occurs when a youth misuses his natural qualities of enthusiasm, strength and bravery to satisfy his own desires. He becomes selfish, ignores the rights of others and ends up disobedient to his Lord. He thinks it is cool to follow the lifestyles of the street, and at the rough end this means getting involved in crime. What is even worse, as one young brother said to me recently, is that as corrupt lifestyles become widespread among Muslim youth, it is becomes harder for younger teenagers to see the straight path. There has been a real break down in moral values: besides drugs and crime, drinking and pre-marital sex are no longer taboo among the wildest elements. The negative role models closest to hand now come from within our own community.

Arrogance: Negative masculinity is about showing off, about trying to be ‘hard’, and about using physical strength to humiliate others. The fake man thinks strength should be used to dominate others so that he gets ‘nuff respect’ from his peers and enemies out of a sense of fear. But this is not how true respect is earned: it is really about acting like a loud-mouthed and proud fool. The youthful bully fights to remain leader of his ‘posse’ and, likewise, strives to dominate other street gangs: both perversions are achieved by instilling fear.

Yet Islam teaches us that the strong should defend the weak not oppress them.

Image and vanity: Negative masculinity is about the obsession to have the right ‘look’: the designer clothes, the most up-to-date mobile phone, the latest trainers, and the flashiest car. But how we appear to others is absolutely immaterial: Allah, who is perfectly Just and All Aware, will judge us by our hearts not our appearance on the Day of Reckoning. Pretending to be someone we are not is only a sign of spiritual emptiness. All this street gear costs a great deal of money: cash that is wasted when it could be used to help the weak and unfortunate. The Muslim community is the poorest in the country, and it can ill afford to waste money on such vain extravagance. Such materialistic excess is showing off for the sake of worldly honour, when the world, in the eyes of our beloved Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was worth less than the rotting flesh of a dead goat. [19]

But a real man doesn’t need to show off. He knows himself and remains humble and thankful to Allah Most Generous for whatever qualities He has given him.

Frivolousness: Negative masculinity is about wasting time and playing around like a child when the corrupted youth already has the strength and intelligence of an adult. He looks out for himself first, neither respecting the wishes of his parents nor serving them, and ignoring the needs of others around him. Many of the criminalised gangs rob and prey on the weakest members of their own community. Instead of being the pride of the community, these lost young men have become its badge of shame.

Material gratification: Negative masculinity is about being a slave to desire. The signs of this slavery are the impulse for instant gratification and the immediate feeling of frustration and anger when desire is not quickly satiated. Servitude to caprice entraps the slave in a cage of restless discontent. Why? Because if we want the latest fashion, one thing can be sure, it will go out of date. Negative masculinity is about being a slave to the capitalist system. The real winners are the moneymen who sell an illusion: the falsehood that people should judge themselves, and judge others, by appearance.

But the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) taught us to be simple, not to pile up worldly things, but to do good deeds and help others. The only style that truly counts, that rises far above the fickle dictates of fashion, is the way of the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).

In short, the problem of negative masculinity is a spiritual one. Abu Talib al-Makki [20] (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh), in his classic work, “Qut al-qulub” (The Sustenance of Hearts), explains the nature of the soul that commands a person to do evil.

“All the [blameworthy] character traits and attributes of the soul derive from two roots: inconstancy (taysh) and covetousness (sharah). Its inconstancy derives from its ignorance, and its covetousness from its eager desire (hirs). In its inconstancy the soul is like a ball on a smooth slope, because of its nature and its situation, it never stops moving. In its eager desire the soul is like a moth that throws itself on the flame of a lamp. It is not satisfied with a small amount of light without throwing itself on the source of the light that holds its destruction. Because of its inconstancy the soul is hurried and lacks self-restraint (sabr). Self-restraint is an attribute of our thinking selves, while inconstancy is the quality…of the [blameworthy] soul. Nothing can overcome inconstancy except self-restraint, for intellect uproots vain and destructive desire. Because of its covetousness, the soul is greedy and eagerly desirous. […] When someone knows the roots of the [blameworthy] soul and its innate dispositions, he will know that he has no power over it without the seeking the help of its Creator and Originator. The servant will not realise his humanity until he governs the animal motivations within himself through knowledge and justice.” [21]

Who is a real man?

Imam al-Qushayri [22] (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) summaries what the nature of positive masculinity is. In Arabic this is called muru’a or manliness. Conceptually, manliness is closely related to futuwwa or chivalry. Imam al-Qushayri says in his famous Risala,

“The root of chivalry is that the servant strive constantly for the sake of others. Chivalry is that you do not see yourself as superior to others. The one who has chivalry is the one who has no enemies. Chivalry is that you be an enemy of your own soul for the sake of your Lord. Chivalry is that you act justly without demanding justice for yourself. Chivalry is [having]… beautiful character.” [23]

The Noble Islamic Youth

In Arabic, fata literally means a handsome and brave youth. In the Quran, in Chapter of the Prophets (60:21), the term fata is used to describe Abraham (‘alayhi s-salam), who had, with characteristic fearlessness, destroyed the idols of his people, and who was about to be thrown into the fire by them. In his commentary on this verse, Imam al-Qushayri (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) says that the noble youth is one who breaks the idol and moreover that the idol of each man is his blameworthy soul that commands to evil (nafs al-amara bi al-su’). [24] Truly Allah Most High only bestows the title fata to those whom He loves. Youth, in this sense, is not a mere social category but a rank of piety.

Following the use of the word in the Holy Book, fata came to mean the ideal, noble and perfect man whose generosity did not end until he had nothing left for himself. A man who would give all that he had, including his life, for the sake of his friends. Futuwwa has a distinct sense for it means the way of fata or noble manliness, and the remainder of the essay concentrates on outlining these noble precepts.

The way to attain these qualities, to become a true man, is to kill the blameworthy soul, which can also be called our selfish impulses, or ego. The first thing is to learn is not to love the blameworthy soul, but instead to love others more than oneself and to love our Exalted Creator most of all. It is only after struggling to kill the ego that the trials of spiritual struggle, like those of our father Abraham (‘alayhi s-salam) in the fire, become ‘refreshment and peace’ (bardan wa salam). (21:69)

The Chivalry of the Companions

We find many examples of noble manliness among the Companions: the loyalty of Abu Bakr, the justice of ‘Umar, the reserve and modesty of ‘Uthman, and the bravery of ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhum). Yet for all their greatness, those men still only partially reflected that supreme example of true manliness, the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). It was their life’s work to emulate him, like it is ours today. As the first young man to embrace Islam, it was ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu), the last of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, the cousin and son-in-law of our noble Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and the Lion of Allah, who came to represent the supreme example of youthful manly perfection. Known for his selflessness, courage, generosity, loyalty, wisdom and honour, he was the invincible warrior of his day. His nobility on the battlefield shines forth like a bright lamp of guidance for us today.

Arab warrior

It was not Ali's strength that made him great (raa), but his chivalry and purity of intention.

In one battle, ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) had overpowered an enemy warrior and had his dagger at the man’s throat when the man spat in his face. Immediately Imam ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) got up, sheathed his dagger, and told the man, “Taking your life is unlawful to me. Go away.” The man was amazed, “O ‘Ali,” he asked, “I was helpless, you were about to kill me, I insulted you and you released me. Why?” “When you spat in my face,” our master ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) answered, “it aroused the anger of my ego. Had I killed you then it would not have been for the sake of Allah, but for the sake of my ego. I would have been a murderer. You are free to go.” In the end the enemy refused Ali’s offer of mercy and attacked him again, even injuring him, and Ali (raa) killed him in self defense. That does not lesson the deep chivalry and pure intention for the sake of Allah that Ali (raa) displayed in battle.

In another of his battles against the unfaithful, our master ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) encountered a handsome young warrior who moved to attack him. His heart was full of pity and compassion for the misguided youth. He cried out, “O young man, do you not know who I am? I am ‘Ali the invincible. No one can escape from my sword. Go, and save yourself!” The young man continued toward him, sword in hand. “Why do you wish to attack me? Why do you wish to die?” ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) asked. The man answered, “I love a girl who vowed she would be mine if I killed you.” “But what if you die?” ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) asked again. “What is better than dying for the one I love?” he countered. “At worst, would I not be relieved of the agonies of love?” Hearing this response, ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) dropped his sword, took off his helmet, and stretched out his neck like a sacrificial lamb. Confronted by such nobility, the love in the young man’s heart was transformed into love for the great ‘Ali (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) and for the One Most Exalted Whom ‘Ali loved.

The Code of Chivalry

In later centuries, a code was drawn up embodying the principles of futuwwa—brotherhood, loyalty, love and honour—that produced a class of spiritual Muslim warriors who protected the boundaries of the Islamic empire. The first caliph to create an order of noble Muslim knights was al-Nasir al-Din (reigned 576-622/1180-1225). They wore a distinctive uniform and were formally linked to the Sufi orders. In Asia Minor for instance, these Muslim knights lived in borderland lodges under the supervision and guidance of a spiritual guide (shaykh al-tasawwuf). It is reported they were hospitable to travellers and ruthless towards any unjust ruler who oppressed the people. The essence of this noble code is timelessly pertinent to us today: it calls us to subdue our egos and fight against injustice.

The code of noble manliness elaborated by the great Imam Sulami (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) in his Kitab al-Futuwwa is offered in a truncated form here. Readers are strongly advised to consult the original work for themselves. [25] Futuwwa is that a young man adheres to the following code:

· THAT HE BRINGS JOY TO THE LIVES OF FRIENDS AND MEETS THEIR NEEDS. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “When one brings joy with his words into the life of a believer or satisfies his worldly needs, whether small or large, it becomes an obligation upon Allah to offer him a servant on the Day of Judgement.”

· THAT HE RESPONDS TO CRUELTY WITH KINDNESS, AND DOES NOT PUNISH AN ERROR. When a Companion (radiya’Llahu ‘anhu) asked if he should refuse to help a friend who had refused to help him before, the Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said no.

· THAT HE DOES NOT FIND FAULT WITH HIS FRIENDS. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “if you start seeking faults in Muslims, you will cause dissent among them or you will at least start dissension.” Dhu al-Nun al-Misri [26] (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) said, “Whoever looks at the faults of others is blind to his own faults. Whoever looks for his own faults cannot see the faults of others.”

· THAT HE IS RELAXED AND OPENHEARTED WITH HIS BROTHERS. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “The believer is the one with whom one can be close. The one who is not close and to whom one cannot be close is of no use. The good among men are those from whom others profit.”

· THAT HE IS GENEROUS. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Paradise is the home of the generous.”

· THAT HE KEEPS UP OLD FRIENDSHIPS. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Allah approves the keeping of old friendships.”

· THAT HE LOOKS AFTER HIS FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS. Ibn Zubayr [27] (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) said, “Someone who eats while his next-door neighbour is hungry is not a believer.”

· THAT HE IS LENIENT WITH HIS FRIENDS EXCEPT IN MATTERS OF RELIGION. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “The first sign of intelligence is to believe in Allah. The next is to be lenient with people in affairs other than the abandoning of Truth.”

· THAT HE INVITES GUESTS, OFFERS FOOD AND IS HOSPITABLE. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “How awful is a society that does not accept guests.”

· THAT HE RESPECTS HIS FRIENDS AND SHOWS HIS RESPECT FOR THEM. A man entered the mosque and the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) stood up for him out of respect. He protested and the Prophet replied that to be paid respect is the right of the believer.

· THAT HE IS TRUTHFUL. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Say that you believe in Allah, then always be truthful.”

· THAT HE IS SATISFIED WITH LITTLE FOR HIMSELF AND WISHES MUCH FOR OTHERS. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “The best of my people will enter Paradise not because of their achievements, but because of the Mercy of Allah and their quality of being satisfied with little for themselves and their extreme generosity toward others.”

· THAT SUCH YOUNG BROTHERS LOVE EACH OTHER AND SPEND TIME WITH ONE ANOTHER. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said that Allah Most High said, “The ones who love each other for My sake deserve My love; the ones who give what comes to them in abundance deserve My love. The ones who frequent and visit each other for My sake deserve My love.”

· THAT HE KEEPS HIS WORD AND WHAT IS ENTRUSTED TO HIM. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “If you have these four things, it does not matter even if you lose everything else in this world: protect what is entrusted to you, tell the truth, have a noble character, and earn your income lawfully.”

· THAT HE UNDERSTANDS THAT WHAT HE TRULY KEEPS IS WHAT HE GIVES AWAY. ‘A’isha [28] (radiya’Llahu ‘anha) recounted that someone had presented the gift of a lamb to the Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). He distributed the meat. ‘A’isha (radiya’Llahu ‘anha) said, “Only the neck is left for us.” The Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) replied, “No, all of it is left for us except the neck.”

· THAT HE SHARES IN THE JOY OF HIS BROTHERS. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “If a person who is fasting joins his brothers and they ask him to break his fast, he should break it.” This refers to a non-obligatory fast, not the fasts of Ramadan.

· THAT HE IS JOYFUL AND KIND WITH HIS BROTHERS. One of the many signs of the kindness and love the Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) had for his people was that he joked with them so they would not stay away from him out of awe. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said “Allah hates those who make disagreeable and sad faces at their friends.”

· THAT HE THINKS LITTLE OF HIMSELF OR HIS GOOD DEEDS. The Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was once asked, “What thing most attracts the anger of Allah?” He replied, “When one considers himself and his actions highly, and worse still, expects a return for his good deeds.”

· THAT HE TREATS PEOPLE AS HE WOULD WISH TO BE TREATED. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “As you wish people to come to you, go to them.”

· THAT HE CONCERNS HIMSELF WITH HIS OWN AFFAIRS. The Messenger of Allah (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “One of the signs of a good Muslim is that he leaves alone everything that does not concern him.”

· THAT HE SEEKS THE COMPANY OF THE GOOD AND AVOIDS THE COMPANY OF THE BAD. Yahya ibn Mu‘adh al-Razi [29] (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) said, “On the day when the trumpet is sounded, you will see how evil friends will run from each other and how good friends will turn toward each other. Allah Most High says, ‘On that day, except for the true believers, friends will be enemies.’”

Sun rays through tall trees

A real man brings joy to the lives of family and friends

Allah Most High says, “Surely they were noble youths (fityan) who believed in their Lord, and We advanced them in guidance.” (18:13) Imam al-Sulami (rahmatu’Llahi ‘alayh) comments, “they were given abundant guidance and climbed to His proximity because they believed in their Lord only for their Lord’s sake, and said, ‘Our Lord is the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Never shall we call upon other than Him.’” (18:14) The Imam continues, “Allah dressed them in His own clothes, and He took them in His high protection and turned them in the direction of His beauties and said, ‘And We turned them about to the right and to the left’.” (18:18). The Imam concludes, “Those who enter the path of futuwwa are under Allah’s direction and protection.” [30]

Khwaja ‘Abd Allah al-Ansari [31] (rahmatu Llahi ‘alayh) outlines the three degrees of perfection in futuwwa in his classic work, Manazil al-sa’irin (The Stations of the Wayfarers). “Allah Most High says, ‘They are chivalrous youths who have faith in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.’ (18:13) The subtle point in chivalry is that you witness nothing extra for yourself and you see yourself as not having any rights.

The first degree is to abandon quarrelling, to overlook slips, and to forget wrongs.

The second degree is that you seek nearness to the one that goes far from you, honour the one who wrongs you, and find excuses for the one who offends you. You do this by being generous, by not holding yourself back, by letting go, not by enduring patiently.

The third degree is that in travelling the path you do not depend upon any proofs, you do not stain your response [to Allah] with [any thought of] recompense, and you do not stop at any designation in your witnessing.” [32] May Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, bless us, and make us true men, men of nobility and generosity.

The Way Forward

There are no easy solutions, and it is important to remember that Islam condemns those who feel it is enough to recriminate, but not to call towards the truth or to work to change a bad situation. The point is that we all have to pull together, and face up our individual and collective responsibility. It is not just a question of the youth seeing if they measure up to the ideals of positive masculinity, but for all of us to strive to embody the example of the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). It is a duty upon all parents and community leaders to deal wisely with our young men when they fall from the Straight Path, and not to cut them off out of self-righteous disdain or, even worse, indifference.

Imam Ghazali [33] (rahmatu Llahi ‘alayh) reminds us that it was the way of Companions like Abu Darda’ [34] (radiya Llahu ‘anhu) to forgive the mistakes and flaws of his brother. How much more does this apply to our sons? All should feel that your son is my son. The bond of religious brotherhood is like the bond of family. If someone has made a mistake in his religion by committing an act of disobedience, one must be gentle in counselling him towards repentance and starting again. If someone persists in disobedience, Abu Darda’ (radiya Llahu ‘anhu) advised us not to cut him or her off. “For sometimes”, he said, “your brother will be crooked and sometimes straight.” The great saint Ibrahim al-Nakha’i [35] (rahmatu Llahi ‘alayh) said, “Beware of the mistake of the learned. Do not cut him off, but await his return [that is, to the straight path].”

Imam al-Ghazali (rahmatu Llahi ‘alayh) argues that this advice holds even the major sins: we need not cut someone off. It was revealed to the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) concerning his kinsfolk that “if they disobey you, say, ‘I am quit of what you do’.” (26.216) Abu Darda (radiya Llahu ‘anhu) referred to this verse when he was asked, “Do you not hate your brother when he has done such and such?” to which he replied, “I only hate what he has done, otherwise he is my brother.” [36] It is not proper to break with the disobedient, but to try and remind them of their duty to Allah Most High and to His creatures.

So any pragmatic measures should be undertaken in this spirit of understanding and patience, because at the heart of any solution is building trust between alienated youths and the community. It is easy enough to make these seven suggestions, but it will take a lot of sincere effort make them a reality by the permission of the All Merciful.

1. Crack down on drug production: To lobby the Moroccan and Turkish governments directly and indirectly to crack down on drug production and refinement in their respective countries. The fact that the European Union has systematically ignored the complicit involvement of both the Moroccan and Turkish governments in the export of drugs to Europe because of their NATO membership should be made an issue. With regard to Afghanistan, the European Union has recently admitted that it has no political influence there at all, which—in and of itself—is not likely to be a matter of great concern for Muslims. [37] Yet it does mean that European Muslims have to pressurise the EU to work to drop UN sanctions against Afghanistan, and to push for economic assistance to the country, so that viable and sustainable alternatives can be found for farmers in the wake of the enforced ban of 2001.

2. Admit the problem: To discuss openly the problems of criminality and drug dealing and use within the community with a view to understanding the nature of the problem, and coming up with ways to solve it. For instance, research is already being carried out by the community welfare organisation, Khidmat, in Luton, which is undertaking research to understand the nature and scale of drug use in the Asian community. [38]

3. Imams who can relate to the youth: To appoint English-speaking imams as a matter of priority, and to conduct as many programmes as possible in English and which deal directly with issues facing young Muslims today. Imams should be properly paid, and they should also be expected to take up pastoral youth work outside of the mosque. It is a crime that many of young scholars who have graduated from seminaries based in Britain have not been able to find employment as imams. Their knowledge and training is being wasted. Most ‘imported’ imams are frankly not able to understand or reach out to young Muslims.

4. Relevant Islamic education: To create vibrant and relevant madrasas in our mosques with a full and relevant curriculum up to at least the age of 16 by forging a strong partnership between the ‘ulama’, the mosque committee and the community. There are already many examples of good practice in this area, especially in the Midlands and the North.

5. Sports facilities for the youth: To build Muslim-run youth and sports facilities as a badly needed alternative to the street. Where appropriate, such facilities should be incorporated into the mosque-complex. It is important that second generation parents, those who are now in their mid-thirties, get involved with making the mosques more accessible to the youth. If the mosque committees refuse to be co-operative, then it is necessary to work outside of them as the situation has already reached crisis proportions.

6. Drug rehab for Muslims: To set up drug rehabilitation schemes run by Muslim workers in the major urban areas along the lines of NAFAS in Tower Hamlets in East London and others.

7. Lobby for our communities: In general terms, to lobby local and central government to put extra funds into helping our community that has the highest unemployment (over 40% for our youth), the poorest educational record, the highest poverty and the highest crime rates. It would be preferable if funds, which are readily available, are channelled through Muslim voluntary organisations. As a community as a whole, we have to be prepared to drop theological and legal differences inherited from the Sub-Continent to work together for the common good.

I end with supplicating our Creator, the All-Merciful that He save our misguided youth from further calamity and turn their hearts and ours towards repentance, that He give us forbearance and wisdom in tackling this problem, and that He may, in His infinite compassion, unite our hearts so that we may work together to solve these many problems. Glory be to our Lord, the Lord of Honour, Exalted above what they ascribe, and peace be upon those who were sent. And all praise is due to the Lord of the worlds. Amin.


Footnotes

[1] Faisal Bodi, ‘Muslim Advisor only one piece in a bigger jigsaw’, Q-News, 311, September 1999, pp. 14-15.

[2] Maqsood Ahmed, interview, 20/06/00.

[3] UN Economic and Social Research Council, World Situation with regard to illicit drug trafficking, p. 6. The Taliban’s Roaving Ambassador, Sayyid Rahmatullah Hashmi, accepted this figure during a lecture given at the University of South Carolina in 2001. This information was taken from a transcript of his talk.

[4] Strategic Studies 1997/8, p. 250; Strategic Studies 1998/9, p. 276.

[5] The authoritative study of CIA involvement in the heroin drugs trade in both Burma and Afghanistan is Alfred McCoy’s, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade (New York: Lawrence Hill Books, 1991), cited in Boekhout van Solinge, p. 103. It appears that the CIA even worked against United States officials from the Drugs Enforcement Agency during the 1980s, who wanted to stop the creation of a new international drug player.

[6] Ahmed Rashid, Taliban, p. 118.

[7] Ahmed Rashid, ‘Dangerous Liaisons’, p. 28.

[8] An agreement struck in October 1997 between the United Nations Drugs Control Programme (UNDCP) and the Taliban offering potentially $25 million US dollars for a ten-year crop-replacement scheme was allowed to lapse after UN agencies were asked to withdraw in 1998. For further details, see Rashid, Taliban, pp. 123-124.

[9] See Omar Modhammed, ‘Message of the Amir-ul-Mumineen on the occasion of the International Anti-Narcotics Day’, The Islamic Emirate (Kandahar), July 2000, no. 1, p. 1, and ‘Taleban calls for total poppy ban in Afghanistan’, The News International (Jang), 30/7/00, p. 9.

[10] UNDCP Press Release, ‘Afghan Opium Cultivation in 2000 Substantially Unchanged’, UNIS/NAR/696, 15 September 2000. A recent UNDCP-sponsored crop-replacement scheme in Kandahar province has reduced production by 50% in three districts.

[10a] Kathy Ganon, ‘Taliban virtually wipes out Afghanistan’s opium crop’, The Nando Times, 15 February, [www.nandotimes.com]; Barbara Crossette, ‘Taliban’s Ban on Growing Opium Poppies Is Called a Success’, New York Times [Internet edition], 20 May 2001. Given US support of these crippling sanctions, Colin Powell’s release of $43 millions (as of May 2001) in emergency funds for the drought in Afghanistan looks like a token gesture.

[11] Every year, 1.5 million lorries, 250,000 coaches and four million cars use the Balkans route between Asia and Europe. It takes hours, even a whole day, to search an articulated lorry effectively for drugs. The impossibility of stopping the smuggling of heroin into Europe might be noted by the fact that while the amount of heroin seized has gone up, street prices have gone down.

[12] This hadith is reported in all the Sahih Sitta (the Sound Six), Ahmad, Malik and Darimi.

[13] Al-Misri, Reliance, p. 976. Imam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (d. 974/1567) was the foremost Shafi‘i Imam of his age, who authored major works in jurisprudence, Hadith, tenets of faith, education, Hadith commentary and formal legal opinion. He is recognised by Hanafi scholars, like Imam Ibn ‘Abidin, as a source of authoritative legal texts valid in their own school. (R) I have relied on The Reliance and on T. J. Winter’s biographical appendices in his translations of al-Ghazali. Each note will end with a short reference to these works: (R) or (W) respectively. Other references will name the author’s name in brackets.

[14] Al-Misri, Reliance, p. 652. Imam al-Dhahabi (d. 748/1348) was a great Hadith master (Hafiz) and historian of Islam. He authored over 100 works, some of which were of great length, for instance, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ (The Lives of Noble Figures), ran to 23 volumes. (R)

[15] For further detail on classical scholarly authorities see Anon. [Student of Darul-Uloom Bury], Islam and Drugs (Bury, UK: Subulas Salam, n.d.).

[16] Although Abdur Rahman disputes as stereotypical the assertion that young Asians became the main street-dealers in recent times, see below for brief profile of this experienced drug worker.

[17] Gavin McFarlane, ‘Regulating European drug problems’, pp. 1075-1076. He also notes that the drug trade is organised like a mainstream business with three main categories. First, there is the planner or organiser who is like the entrepreneur who puts up the capital. Second, there is the trusted assistant or middle manager that runs the operation. Third, there is the operative at the bottom end that knows little about the whole organisation: these are the dealers who carry the goods, bear the most risk of being caught, and who earn only a fraction of the profit. Also known as ‘camels’, it is they who are most likely to be caught by the police. There is even a level above the capital investor: that of the political overlord, who is either autonomous from the state, or acting on behalf of a complicit state.

[18] Abdur Rahman, interview, 22/6/00

[19] Jabir related to us that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) once passed by a dead and ear-cropped young goat whose carcass was lying in the road, He enquired from those who were with him at the time, “Will any of you like to buy this dead kid for a dirham?” “We will not buy it at any price,” they replied. The Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) then said, “I swear in the name of Allah that in His sight this world is as hateful and worthless as the dead kid is in your sight.” Related by Muslim, and cited in Nomani, Meaning and Message of the Traditions, I: pp. 234-235.

[20] Abu Talib al-Makki (d. after 520/1126) was the author of the Qut al-qulub, the first comprehensive manual of how to tread the Sufi path, which was the direct inspiration for Imam Ghazali’s classic work, the Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din. He was a preacher, ascetic and scholar of the Sacred Law. (R)

[21] Cited in Murata, The Tao of Islam, pp. 271-272.

[22] Imam Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072) was the author of one of the most widely read and respected works on the teachings of tasawwuf and the biography of the saints, the Risalat al-Qushayriyya. He also wrote a commentary on the Qur’an as well as some works pertaining to theology (kalam). (R, also Murata)

[23] Cited in Murata, The Tao of Islam, p. 267.

[24] Imam al-Qushayri, Principles of Sufism, p. 215.

[25] All chains of narration for the Prophetic reports in the Kitab al-Futuwwa go from Imam al-Sulami (d. 412/1021) back to the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) himself, and are recorded in the index at the back of the English translation. Imam al-Sulami was a Shafi‘i scholar and one of the foremost historians and shaykhs of the Sufis. He authored several important works on Sufism, including a commentary on the Qur’an, and the Tabaqat al-Sufiyya, one of the most famous works on the lives of the Sufis. (R, also Murata)

[26] Dhu al-Nun al-Misri (d. 245/859) was one of the greatest of the early Sufis. He was Nubian in origin and had a great gift for expressive aphorisms, a large number of which have fortunately been preserved. He was the first in Egypt to speak about the states and spiritual stations of the way. (R)

[27] ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr ibn al-‘Awwam (d. 73/692) was the son of a famous Companion of the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), who led a major revolt against the Umayyad caliph Yazid I following the death of the Prophet’s grandson, al-Husayn. He was widely recognised as caliph before his revolt was crushed. (W)

[28] ‘A’isha (d. 58/678) was the third wife of the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and Mother of the Faithful. She was the most knowledgeable of Muslim women in Sacred Law, religion, and Islamic behaviour, having married the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) in the second year after the Migration, becoming the dearest of his wives in Medina. She related 2, 210 hadiths from the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and was asked for formal legal opinions by the Companions. (R)

[29] Yahya ibn Mu‘adh al-Razi (d. 258/871-2) was a great Sufi of Central Asia. As one of the first to teach Sufism in the mosques, he left a number of books and sayings. He was renowned for his steadfastness in worship and his great scrupulousness in matters of religion. (W)

[30] The Way of Sufi Chivalry, p.36.

[31] Khwaja ‘Abd Allah al-Ansari (d. 481/1088) was a great Persian Sufi and scholar. His most famous work is his Munajat (Intimate Entreaties), written in rhymed Persian prose. His description of the spiritual stations, Manazil al-sa’irin (The Stations of the Wayfarers), in Arabic, was one of the most influential ever written on this subject. (Murata)

[32] Cited in Murata, The Tao of Islam, pp. 267-268, with minor modifications to the translation.

[33] Regarded by the consensus of the scholars as the reviver (mujaddid) of the fifth century of the hijra, Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali’s (d. 505/1111) most famous work was the Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din (The Revivification of the Religious Sciences), which brought out the inner meaning of Islam practices and ethical ideals.

[34] Abu Darda’ (d. 32/652), one of the Medinan Helpers and a Companion of the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), was noted for his piety, his wisdom in giving legal judgements, his horsemanship, and his bravery on the battlefield. Before embracing Islam, he gave up commerce to occupy himself with worship. He is particularly esteemed by the Sufis. (W, R)

[35] Ibrahim al-Nakha’i ibn Yazid (d. 96/ 714-5) was one of the great scholarly Successors of Kufa, who was taught by Hasan al-Basri and Anas ibn Malik, and who in turn taught Imam Abu Hanifa.

[36] The various quotes on the subject of brotherly duties are from al-Ghazali, On the Duties of Brotherhood, pp. 60-65, which is one of the forty books that comprise the content of the Ihya’ (see footnote 33).

[37] ‘Drugs problems caused by Afghanistan and Pakistan’, Official Journal of the European Communities, 41 (1998), C178-C209 (98/C 196/112): 81-82.

[38] Faisal Bodi, ‘Crime: an everyday reality in Luton’, Q-News, 311, September 1999, p. 12.

Interviews

Maqsood Ahmed (Muslim Advisor to the Prison Service), 20/06/00.

Abdur Rahman (NAFAS, Tower Hamlets), 22/06/00.

Bibliography

Anon. [Student of Darul-Uloom Bury], Islam and Drugs (Bury: Subulas Salam, n.d.).

Bodi, Faisal, ‘Crime: an everyday reality in Luton’, Q-News, 311, September 1999, p. 12.

Bodi, Faisal, ‘Muslim Advisor only one piece in a bigger jigsaw’, Q-News, 311, September 1999, pp. 14-15.

Boekhout van Solinge, Tim, ‘Drug Use and Drug Trafficking in Europe’, Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, 89(1), (1998): 100-105.

Crossette, Barbara, ‘Taliban’s Ban on Growing Opium Poppies Is Called a Success’, New York Times [Internet edition], 20 May 2001.

‘Drug Trafficking Routes in Central Asia’, Strategic Survey 1998/99, p. 276.

‘Drugs problems caused by Afghanistan and Pakistan’, Official Journal of the European Communities, 41 (1998), C178-C209 (98/C 196/112): 81-82.

Ganon, Kathy, ‘Taliban virtually wipes out Afghanistan’s opium crop’, The Nando Times, 15 February 2001, [www.nandotimes.com].

Ghazali, Abu Hamid al-, On Disciplining the Soul & On Breaking the Two Desires, trans. and annotated with an introduction by T. J. Winter (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1995).

Ghazali, Abu Hamid al-, On the Duties of Brotherhood, trans. by Muhtar Holland (New York: Overlook, 1976).

Ghazali, Abu Hamid al-, The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife, trans. and annotated with an introduction by T. J. Winter (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1989).

McFarlane, Gavin, ‘Regulating European drug problems’, New Law Journal, 149(6897), 16 July 1999: 1075-1076.

Misri, Ahmad ibn Naqib al-, The Reliance of the Traveller, rev. edn, trans., ed. and annotated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller (Evanston: Amana, 1994).

Modhammed, Omar, ‘Message of the Amir-ul-Mumineen on the occasion of the International Anti-Narcotics Day’, The Islamic Emirate (Kandahar), July 2000, no. 1, p. 1.

Murata, Sachiko, The Tao of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought (Albany: State University of New York, 1992).

Nomani, Mohammed Manzoor, Meaning and Message of the Traditions, trans. by Mohammed Asif Kidwai and Shah Ebadur Rahman Nishat, 5 vols (Lucknow: Islamic Research and Publications, 1975-1989), I (1975).

Qushayri, Abu ’l-Qasim al-, Principles of Sufism, trans. by B. R. Von Schlegell (Berkeley, Ca.: Mizan, 1990).

Rashid, Ahmed, ‘Dangerous Liaisons: Drugs are driving politics in Afghanistan and Pakistan’, Far Eastern Economic Review, 161(16), April 16 (1998): 28.

Rashid, Ahmed, Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia (London: I. B. Tauris, 2000), Ch. 9.

‘Source Countries and trafficking routes: Central Asia and South East Asia’, Strategic Survey 1997/98, p. 250.

Sulami, Ibn al-Husayn al-, The Way of Sufi Chivalry, trans. by Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1991).

‘Taleban calls for total poppy ban in Afghanistan’, The News International (Jang), 30/7/00, p. 9.

UNDCP, ‘Afghan Opium Cultivation in 2000 Substantially Unchanged’, UNIS/NAR/696, 15 September 2000. [press release].

UN Economic and Social Research Council, World Situation with regard to illicit drug trafficking and action taken by the subsidiary bodies of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (Vienna: UNESRC, 1999), E/CN.7/2000/5

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Confessions of an Ex-Feminist: What it Means to Be a Woman

Muslim woman and the shahadah

By Lamya Sadeq
Business Management & Self Development – Egypt

“Am I a woman?”

No, I am not questioning my gender.

What I mean is…

Do I think of myself in that sense? Do I use that word, proudly, when referring to – or even thinking of myself?

Growing up, I was your regular tomboy. I did not play girl games, and I did not own dolls either. I did not wear dresses unless I was dragged to a wedding or a family function. I did not like to let my hair grow long.

Come to think of it, I did not have many girl friends all the way through college.

I did not wear makeup. Umm … I did not own makeup was more like it. I viewed the attempts of some girls to be understanding, cute, feminine, compassionate, and my best-friends to be a true testament to the shallowness of women. I used to pride myself on the fact that I talk like guys, think like they do, and even shop like they do (Go to the mall – Enter only one store – Buy what I need – Get out in less than 30 minutes)

However, as fate would have it, I grew out of it, because I learnt to embrace who I am. It was very strange being aware of the fact that I am now proud to be a woman. Actually I am thankful to be a woman. Wait… I am thrilled to be a woman.

I learnt that being a woman does not mean that I have to talk too much, wear makeup, alienate myself from my beliefs and causes or ‘Oooh’ and ‘Ahh’ over every passing baby (I mean, really… Leave the babies and their mothers alone for God’s sake!!!!)

Transformation

I began to realize that I was force-fed an idea of what makes a woman. I realize now, sadly, that pop-culture has had a huge impact on shaping my ideals and notions on many gender-related concepts. I never thought that I would be a poster-image of the magnitude of damage pop-culture (stereotypical, negative, untrue, agenda-based and sexist) can have on one’s life.

Muslim female martial artist Sara Khoshjamal trains for Beijing Olympics

Muslim female martial artist Sara Khoshjamal trains for Beijing Olympics

I was blown away by the recognition that I let myself be manipulated into becoming ashamed of who I was. I kid you not!!!!! I was furious and shocked at how much I have missed out on.

So, I did what I thought was the only right thing to do in light of the circumstances; I went back to my most trusted reference, my belief system.

- What do I know of how Allah (SWT) views women?

- How did Allah (SWT) refer to us in the Qur’an?

- Were we viewed as shallow beings?

- Were we viewed as objects of enjoyment?

- Were we viewed merely as mothers or wives?

Answers to those questions have filled volumes of books. I will not attempt to further educate myself or you (who I am sure are all more knowledgeable than yours truly) on the empowerment of women in Islam.

“I’ve been a woman for a little over 50 years and I have gotten over my initial astonishment. As for conducting an orchestra, that’s a job where I don’t think sex (gender) plays much part.” – Nadia Boulanger, conductor.

“I have seen too much not to know that the impression of a woman may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical reasoner.” – Sir, Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

“O mankind, We have created you a male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another.” - Quran, Surat al-Hujurat 49:13

__________________________________________________

From IslamOnline.net. Lamya Sadeq is a qualified expert in the field of international business development, and information systems. As well as holding a Masters in Training and Development, Lamya Sadeq runs courses and workshops in aspects of Islamic self development and outreach, as well as workshops in business development.

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Overcoming Tests and Trials in this Life

Florida supercell thunderstormOvercoming tests from Allah: how to deal with the trials of life

By Farrukh Paasha, edited by Zawaj.com for clarity. (I added subtitles; also, the original article had been altered, with a few poorly written paragraphs added at the end. I could not locate the author, so I did my best to recreate the ending in a manner true to the spirit of the article and the author’s beautiful style of expression).

We will be tested

Allah, Glory be to Him, says in the Quran: “Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, ‘We believe,’ and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them, and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false” (Quran, 29: 2-3).

By virtue of being created as human beings, we will be tested. We will be thrown into countless trials, into situations that may arise unpleasant and awkward, and into times of difficulty when it seems as though there is little reason to hope.

Tests will come at us from every direction; events will test the very core of our character and the strength of our beliefs. And these are the tests we cannot afford to fail. And Allah, Glory be to Him, has not left us empty-handed.

Iman gives strength and sustenance

Building our knowledge and our characters as Muslims is the only way to overcome the mild to the severe trials we will face every day until we die. He says: “Have you not seen how Allah has given the parable of a beautiful word like a beautiful tree whose roots are firmly established, and whose branches tower in the sky? It gives its fruits at all times by the permission of its Lord, and Allah sets forth parables for mankind in order that they may remember” (Quran, 14: 24-25).

A “beautiful word” in this verse refers to the Islamic statement of belief: la illaha ill Allah (there is no being worthy of worship except Allah). And the verse goes on to refer to a beautiful tree, which illustrates the character of a believer.

According to this verse, a believer is one whose Iman, or faith, is unwavering and firmly established. He or she cannot be swayed from the straight path by the winds of trials, no matter how fierce the storm. Knowing and believing that there is no being worthy of worship except Allah, Glory be to Him, and following His commandments provides a believer with the stability and confidence he or she needs to succeed.

Towering oak tree

A believer’s branches also “tower in the sky” like that of the beautiful tree. By this analogy, a believer’s Iman cannot remain hidden. A Muslim cannot claim to have Iman solely in the heart while not having it show in his or her actions.

Contrary to that, Iman is something so significant that by its nature, it must be seen by anyone who looks at or interacts with a Muslim. Your Iman raises you up to a higher moral level, just as the braches of the beautiful tree reach upwards towards to the sky.

These verses also mention that this tree that is compared with a true believer “gives its fruits at all times by the permission of its Lord.” The tree of Iman is ever fruitful, unlike a real tree that only gives fruits at certain times of the year.

Your faith and your belief in la illaha ill Allah sustains you night and day, in every season, during times of ease and times of great hardship. This is the parable of the believer whose good deeds never take a vacation – they are continuous throughout the day and the night. The chapter goes on to say “And the parable of an evil word is that of an evil tree uprooted from the surface of earth having no stability” (Quran 14: 26). An “evil word” in this verse refers to disbelief.

The verse describes the powerlessness and volatility of disbelief – it has no basis and he or she who disbelieves has little stability in life. The trials and difficulties of life can easily uproot such a person.

May Allah, Glory be to Him, make us be of those who are firmly rooted in their beliefs.

Sumayyah and Yasir

Islamic history is riddled with examples of Muslims who withstood tests that would seem unimaginably difficult today.

The Muslims of the past had an abundance of patience and perseverance which are two important traits of this beautiful tree of Iman.

Two Muslims who were of the most firmly rooted of believers were Sumayyah and Yasir, may God be pleased with them. After being among the first Muslims and agreeing to accept Islam in a very tumultuous period, Sumayyah and Yasir along with their son Ammar were tortured mercilessly at the hands of Abu Jahl. The family was left unprotected since they had no tribal affiliations in Makkah.

Unable to physically help them at the time, the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, would visit them and say, “be patient, O family of Yasir, because your promised place is Paradise.” He would then turn his face to the sky and say: “O Lord! Forgive the family of Yasir.” The prophet also prayed for the alleviation of Ammar’s suffering by placing Ammar’s head in his lap and saying: “O fire! Be cool and harmless for Ammar in the same manner in which you became cool and harmless for Ibrahim.”

Sumayyah and Yasir were both martyred in the cause of Allah, Glory be to Him, after refusing to leave their faith which was dearer to them than life itself. The family was honoured with the best of honours: the prophet’s guarantee of their home in paradise. These are the examples we should take as guides to our own lives. Too often do we compromise what we believe in to accommodate the uneducated assumptions of others. Too often do we forget the immense history of Islam and Muslims.

One of the reasons we have the gift of Islam is because we stand on the shoulders of people like Sumayyah and Yasir, may Allah be pleased with them. People who did not waver, did not compromise their Iman to please others or even to save their own lives. Just like in our Islamic history, our strength as a community and as individuals today can only stem from the remembrance of and obedience to Allah, Glory be to Him. These times are difficult and the pain often hits close to home. But by holding fast to our belief in la illaha ill Allah , we will stay firmly rooted, our branches will tower high towards the sky, and our hearts will never lack sustenance, InshaAllah.

Sources: Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Volume 5

Hardships are an expiation for evil deeds

Allah tells us that we will be tested. He also makes it clear to us what is expected from us when we undergo these trials and what our reward will be if we are successful.

He says: “Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods, lives and the fruits (of your toil) but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere. Those who, when misfortune strikes them, say: ‘Indeed we belong to Allah and to Him is our return. Those are the ones upon whom are blessings and mercy from their Lord and it is those who are rightly guided.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 155]

The Prophet (peace be upon him)said: “No fatigue, illness, anxiety, sorrow, harm or sadness afflicts any Muslim, even to the extent of a thorn pricking him, without Allah wiping out his sins by it.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]

In another narration, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “No Muslim is afflicted by harm, whether it is but the prick of a thorn or something worse, without Allah expiating his evil deeds on account of it and his sins falling away from him like leaves off a tree.’” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “When Allah desires good for someone, He tries him with hardships.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî]

In reality, the entire Sacred Law (Shari’ah) is a tremendous blessing for us in this life and the next.

Obligations that initially seem difficult to fulfill have a polishing effect on the heart until eventually the one’s entire perspective changes. Outward submission leads to inward submission and heart fills with love and gratitude for Allah.

Obligations are not meant to be hammered out reluctantly; they are meant to be offered in the spirit of heartfelt gratitude to Allah for the myriad blessings that each of us has been given. Someone who is realized in this state will do everything for Allah; “worldly” activities such as eating, drinking, and conversing with friends are all performed with the intention of drawing closer to Allah.

Such a person will not worry over possible future problems, nor will he grieve over past difficulties, for he is busy with the One he loves. This is true happiness and anyone who misses out on it will never know the meaning of contentment.

So know that Allah is testing us because he wants good for us and he wants to see if we are going to come closer to him or more further away from him.

Allah is with the patient

Shaythan is wanting us to weaken and fail the tests from Allah. So will we let shaythan win? Or will we make the best of these opportunities and get closer to Allah than we have EVER been?

For if we are patient then Allah is with us so NOTHING can hurt or effect us!

Allah mentions in the Qur’an:

“Indeed Allah is with those who are patient.”

And Allah describes a certain kind of person in the Quran:

(256) There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in the Shaitan and believes in Allah he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.

(257) Allah is the guardian of those who believe. He brings them out of the darkness into the light… (Baqarah, 2: 256-257)

This is a person who believes in Allah and holds on to that belief with an unbreakable grip. That person is assured that he has grabbed onto something beautiful and powerful (Iman in Allah), and so Allah will care for him, save him, guard him, and bring him out of the darkness of ignorance, and the darkness of pain and confusion, into the light of peace, knowledge, and tranquility.

The reward for the patient is Paradise

The Reward for Patience is Paradise

‘Ata ibn Rabah related that he heard Ibn ‘Abbas say: “Shall I show you a woman of Paradise?” I said: “Yes, indeed.” He said: “A black woman came to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and said: ‘I suffer from epileptic fits, and because of these, (at times) my body becomes uncovered. Would you invoke Allah, the Exalted One, to cure me of this disease? ‘ The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘If you wish, you can be patient and you will attain Paradise (for this suffering). But if you prefer, I will pray to Allah, the Exalted, to cure you of it?’ The woman said: ‘I will be patient,’ then added: ‘I become uncovered (when I have fits), so invoke Allah for me that I do not become uncovered. ‘ So the Prophet, peace be upon him, prayed for her.” [Source: Fiqh-us-Sunnah, volume 4, #1a]

This is not to say that we should not seek cures for illnesses, or seek solutions to our problems. Of course we should utilize all the tools Allah has given us!

But sometimes we are faced with a problem that has no apparent solution, or a permanent injury, or an illness that the doctors cannot cure. In these cases, we are assured that our suffering is not in vain. They are in fact a blessing in disguise, as they are a means by which we obtain Allah’s forgiveness and even attain Jannah (Paradise), Insha’Allah, as long as we are patient and content in our hearts. SubhanAllah, it’s a mark of His immense mercy and love for us that even our troubles become blessings.

Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilaihee Raaji’oon

“To Allah We belong, and to Him is our return”:-

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“Muslim” – What it Means to Me

Muslim

"What does the word 'Muslim' mean to you?"

Muslim

What the Word “Muslim” Means to Me

By Wael Abdelgawad, Zawaj.com Editor
March 21, 2010

The word alone triggers such different reactions in different people.

The literal definition of the word Muslim is “one who submits,” meaning one who submits to Allah, believing in Him and obeying His commandments.

More specifically, the word Muslim is the participle of the same Arabic verb of which Islam is the infinitive. The feminine form is Muslimah, though a female Muslim is often referred to as simply a Muslim.

There are many stereotypes about Muslims in the West, or one might say in the non-Muslim world in general, but I will not go into those in this article.

Instead, I’d like to share my thoughts and feelings on hearing the word Muslim and contemplating its meaning. I am using the word in a gender-inclusive sense.

Muslim

Faithful. Allah is his Master, and the Quran is the wellspring of his life. Muhammad (pbuh) is his beloved Messenger, and all the Sahabah * (see glossary at bottom for explanations of many terms) are his guiding stars. Tawheed is his creed, taqwa his rugged garment, imaan his cool summer rain, and ihsaan his aspiration.

Muslim

Harmonized. She has chosen to live the way Allah created us to live, in harmony with everything around us, including nature, other people, and the earth itself. Plugged into the reality of the universe.

Muslim

Peaceful. His manner is gentle. He is not angry or violent. He would never raise his hands except to defend himself, his family, or other innocents.

Malcolm X in prayer

Hajj Malik Al-Shabazz (Malcolm X) in prayer

Muslim

Generous. If I knock on his door, he will invite me in and bring me honey tea and baklawa, ask about my family, and be a believer with me, remembering Allah so that his house remains a place of life. When the salat time arrives he’ll spread the musallas and pray with me.

Muslim

Kind. His eyes are soft and smiling. He shakes my hand firmly, but with a brotherly openness. If I need help, offers it. He is charitable, ready to give his last coin to someone hungry or ill, knowing that it will come back to him seven hundred fold, and that everything is recorded and nothing is lost.

Muslim

My brothers and sisters. Arab, African, Indian, Thai, Filipino, Chinese, European, American, Latino, and everyone around the world who says, “Laa ilaaha il-Allahu, Muhammadan Rasul-ullah” (There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah)… they are my family, my Ummah, my people. If they are free, I breathe easy. If they are fed, I sleep well. If they are mentally aware and spiritually conscious, I am liberated.

Muslim

Feeling each other’s pain. If she is suffering or oppressed, I feel it like the pain in my own body. If she is sad, lonely or confused, I do what I can to guide and help. I can never ignore her agony, any more than I could ignore a sliver in my own eye.

Muslim

Friends, compatriots. When I see him, I feel comfortable and at ease, whether I know him or not. I greet him with “As-salamu alaykum” and I smile. I can engage him in conversation, even if I know nothing about him. I know his language no matter what it is. If he tells me something good I say ma-sha-Allah. If he mentions some blessing or favor in his life, I say Alhamdulillah. If he mentions something he hopes to do, I say Insha’Allah. We understand one another.

Muslim

At home in Allah’s house. He can walk into a masjid anywhere in the world and feel at home. He can perform wudu’, prostrate himself to Allah, read the Quran, stand shoulder to shoulder in prayer with strangers, and feel a sense of rightness and belonging.

Noha Abd Rabo, Muslim female Olympic athlete

Noha Abd Rabo of Egypt reacts after her fight against Sarah Stevenson of Britain in their women's + 68 kg taekwondo bronze medal match during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in Beijing on August 23, 2008.

Muslim

An Islamic worldview. She shares my world view and cultural understanding, no matter her nationality or race. She knows that this life is only a test, a moment of activity between a sleep and a sleep, a flower blooming and wilting in a single afternoon. She knows that the aakhirah is the home that calls; her heart is filled with hope and fear of Judgment.

She steps out of her door and does the right thing, because that is her covenant with Allah, and because she loves to do good. She sees signs of Allah in the miracle of a hummingbird or the majesty of Mt. Everest; in the swirls of her fingertips, and in the knowledge of Allah that exists in her heart.

Muslim

Pursuing excellence. Doctor, lawyer, farmer, engineer, human rights worker, driver, tour guide, seamstress, Olympic athlete. Striving for excellence in all things as a matter of worship and a way of life. Truth-telling, fair, honest in business and in love.

Muslim

Family. Mother, father, giddo (grandpa), nena (grandma), niece, nephew, cousin, wife, daughter, son. Respecting their elders, kind to their youth. Full of love like the sunrise. Embracing like the warm Mediterranean. Laughing like light on the water. Supporting like the granite of the earth.

Muslim

Seeker and guide. Da’iyy, Imam, Quran reciter, submitting in prayer, fasting, performing the Hajj. A voice calling in the darkness. Footsteps to follow in the sand. A bringer of truth. Commanding good and forbidden evil, with the hand, the tongue or the heart.

Muslim

Patient and grateful. Striving her utmost but never trying to force the outcome because that belongs to Allah. Never giving up, patient, strong.

If she has suffered, if she has been beaten or hurt, if she has been hungry or confused or lost in the dunya, she comes through it stronger, knowing that Allah is on her side.

If she has been blessed to live in comfort and ease, to have a loving family, rich food, tailored clothing and quiet cars, then she thanks Allah, knowing that everything she has is a blessing and a trust from Him, and knowing that the way to show thanks is to give and share.

No matter what, she is humble before Allah, never arrogant, never looking down on others.

Chinese Muslim girl from Xinjiang, China

A Chinese Muslim girl from Xinjiang, China. Muslims are found everywhere, but are one Ummah (nation).

Muslim

Standing up. He is angry that the image of his religion has been hijacked by extremists, and by those who practice ignorant cultural traditions. He stands up for human rights, freedom, and the dignity of all human beings. He stands against terrorism in all forms, oppression of those who follow other religions, “honor killings”, racism, female genital mutilation, intolerance, and destruction of churches or monuments of other religions.

Muslim

Suffering. Battered by war. Torn apart by sectarian strife. Oppressed by tyrants and dictators. Invaded by foreign powers. Massacred. His land stolen, his holy places demolished, his leaders arrested, his people driven from their homes.

Starving. Politically imprisoned. Tortured by his own police, tortured by foreign invaders.

Crying out for freedom, struggling valiantly, never giving up, never accepting subjugation, never submitting to anyone except Allah.

Muslim

Submitting to Allah.

What does the word “Muslim” mean to you?

*******

Glossary of Terms:

  • Aakhirah – the eternal life herafter, the life after our worldy death.
  • Alhamdulillah – “Praise be to Allah.” Something Muslims say to thank Allah for any good thing, large or small. Also, what a Muslim says when he sneezes.
  • As-salamu alaykum – “Peace be upon you.” The greeting of Muslims.
  • Baqlawa – a Middle Eastern sweet with honey and nuts.
  • Da’iyy – a caller to Allah. One who works to propagate Islam by preaching and setting a good example.
  • Ihsaan – perfection or excellence. Showing one’s inner faith in action.
  • Imam – a Muslim prayer leader, community leader or scholar. Not to be confused with Iman.
  • Imaan or Iman – faith or belief, a state of being made up of more than 70 parts which consist of all kinds of virtuous behavior.
  • Insha’Allah – “If Allah wills.” Something Muslims say when discussing future actions.
  • Ma-sha-Allah – “What Allah has willed.” Something Muslims say when praising something good, or sometimes just as a way of saying, “That’s just the way it is.”
  • Masjid – a mosque, a Muslim house of worship.
  • Musalla – place of prayer. Also used for small prayer rugs that many Muslims use.
  • Sahabah – the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
  • Taqwa – consciousness of Allah in all one’s actions.
  • Tawheed – the Oneness of Allah, and belief in that principle.
  • Wudu’ – the ritual ablutions or washing up that a Muslim performs before prayer.
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Interracial Marriages in Islam

Interracial Muslim couple

Thoughts and advice on interracial marriage in Islam

By ibnabeeomar
MuslimMatters.org

Thoughts and Advice on Interracial Marriages

This is a post I have been thinking about writing for quite some time because I have a lot of thoughts on this issue (the reasons why may be obvious from the rest of this post) and I wanted to get them down and get some feedback from other Muslims. Here is how I want to focus this topic:

1. Before Marriage – Stereotypes/Obstacles
2. During Marriage – Culture Clash, Confused Kids, and Bewildered in-Laws
3. Societal Ramifications (focus on living in the US)
4. Parting Comments

Before Marriage – Stereotypes and Obstacles

No matter your background, an interracial marriage will be met with obstacles on both sides. It is especially the case for the generation of people whose parents were immigrants, and they themselves were raised here. To even broach the idea of an interracial marriage will spring forth 100 year old stereotypes of other cultures you never even knew existed. It is particularly sad when these are directed at other Muslim groups. For example, a Pakistani trying to marry an Arab will no doubt hear many “Arabs are this…” or “Arabs are that…” type of comments.

Even those who marry within the race will often face problems in marrying outside the tribe, or people from a specific part of the same country, so much so that some people even consider these marriages to be against the norm.

Muslims who are the first generation to be born and raised in the West face a unique dilemma. They must harmonize between finding someone who is suitable religiously, and culturally. The cultural aspect can get confusing because while a person may be Indian, they have more in common with a Bengali person who grew up here also as opposed to an Indian person from ‘back home.’

It is that point though, that parents have a tough time coming to grips with. It seems some have missed the fact that their kids have a distinct culture that’s different that what they think they taught them. This is why it is frustrating to see many marriages being held up because someone’s parents are looking from a family who is from the same village back home.

It is good to see the trend of our youth overlooking the racial/ethnic lines in marriage, and trying to marry for the deen, however, the obstacles are often great. Many families are not accepting of such marriages, and many face great difficulties in pursuing them. The hardest part is breaking stereotypes that people have formed, or been brought up with. These are literally ideologies they may have held for the vast majority of their lives. The culture and environment their kids have been brought up in though, does not hald fast to these same ideals.

During Marriage

This is where the toughest adjustment comes, and the cultural differences must be overcome. For purposes of this article, we will go ahead and assume that alhamdulillah as far as the deen is concerned, both parties are mashallah practicing and on the same page in regards to their religion. It is what comes outside of that which can cause problems.

The first problem is, if I may term it so, latent cultural tendencies. By this I mean that once a person is married, they are now in a stage of life that they have not experienced before (assuming its the first marriage). Since this is the case, the only ‘experience’ they have to revert back to is that of their own parents. A person might not realize these things before marriage, but after a kid the husband may start acting a certain way, and due to the way he was brought up, he will have certain expectations as to what his wife should do as a mother. The wife, having been brought up differently, may have the opposite expectation. This is a situation where the culture has caused a clash despite the fact that neither one may actually be a cultural Pakistani, or a cultural Arab in the traditional sense.

In-laws are another issue that comes up. Different cultures have vastly different expectations of their sons-in-law or daughters-in-law, and an interracial marriage will bring about an abrupt adjustment period for them. Language barriers can also be an issue here. It is unfortunate that this aspect of an interracial marriage is often the most overlooked despite the heavy emphasis in Islam on preserving the family ties. Deen may very well be an extremely strong bond in preserving your marriage, but does that same bond exist with your spouse’s parents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and other family members?

Kids add another dimension, and quite possibly the toughest. The husband/wife must be prepared to deal with difficulties their children may endure from being of mixed-race. There’s also issues of what languages to teach them, and how to communicate in the house. It is important for these issues to be agreed upon before getting married. Everyone has seen families where the mother and children communicate in one tongue, and the father is often left out in the cold and ends up disconnected from the family.

Societal Ramifications

Lebanese Muslim couple

A Muslim couple enjoying the sunset

Obviously interracial marriages are not for everyone, not everyone desires one (most probably don’t), and not everyone is cut out for one.

With that said, it is encouraging to see a rising trend in these marriages. We are after all, one ummah. Our cultures do enrichen our ummah, but they cannot come before our religion. To see more couples and mixed-race children is a very apparent way of breaking down some barriers and stereotypes that exist within our societies. It exposes Muslims of one culture more intimately to those from another, and in the end I feel it increases the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood.

It is also important in our times, to not let ourselves become segregated too much, otherwise we will end up with masjids separated out like the “black churches” or “white churches.” I know that exists to some degree now, but alhamdulillah I think most of the bigger masaajid in bigger communities are very diverse (even if the board members might all be from one country, but that’s a different story).

Tariq Nelson made a pertinent point on his blog,

I am of the controversial opinion that increased interracial/intercultural marriage is one of the ways that will lead to a meshing of a singular American Muslim identity. This would eventually lead to more of a blending in this country, culturally and genetically, of the many Muslim cultures as well as the American one. Intermarriage is one of the ways people that were once even somewhat hostile can become one group.

The most important role interracial marriages may play in this is the affect that they will have on their family and friends. At the very least it will force them to look past their cultural identity and see a first-hand example of a family that is insha’Allah putting their religion above all else – about making themselves Muslim before being anything else.

Parting Comments

First and foremost we should ask Allah (swt) to purify our intentions and grant us the tawfeeq to make all of our actions for Him and for Him alone. Marriage in general is not a goal in and of itself, but it is a means of worshipping Allah by trying to establish a family upon the Sunnah.

If someone chooses to pursue an interracial marriage, they really need to “check yourself before you wreck yourself” and make sure they are ready to deal with the consequences of their decisions. I have outlined just a small sampling of the obstacles that one might face. People really need to do some self-introspection and see where they stand, see what their maturity level is, and know what they can handle before getting involved in anything.

Once a person does become involved in an interracial marriage, the most important thing is to have patience. A lot of things will come your way, but you must persevere through them as a Muslim should. Remember also that all your actions, and your family in the public eye, will be under much more scrutiny than most. One of the saddest things is the attitude people have towards interracial couples of “let’s see how long that will last.” People will be expecting your marriage to fail. It’s not right, but it’s a reality.

Know that it will take time for the families of both parties to integrate and become comfortable with one another. The key is for both people to be willing to put up with that and work towards their ultimate goal of insha’Allah having a good Muslim family. Even outside of family, you will deal with smaller things like trying to fit into social groups that exist in masaajid and communities, or being looked at as the ‘token interracial couple’ of an event, etc.

But insha’Allah if it is successful, there is a huge potential for making dawah and helping to make impact in society. Also, don’t forget the fringe benefit of having super-cute children masha’Allah :-)

These are just some brief thoughts I had on this matter, really I think a whole book can be written on this subject, but I did want to see people’s attitudes towards it. Would you consider it for yourself? What about for your children? What about for your siblings? How do you feel when you see an interracial couple?

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About the Author: ibnabeeomar is from the southern USA. A computer science guy who doesnt actually do real IT work, stuck in corporate America (where else can one find time for blogs?). He has a strange fascination with eating chicken tikka at every desi restaurant he visits. He is also married with kids.

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Muslim Dating? – Part 1

A group of young Arabs at the beach

A group of young Arabs at the beach

Organica is the personal blog of an Egyptian-American Muslim sister who calls herself, “A crazy Egyptian Muslim American girl with too many labels to count” The post below is one of her most popular and most commented-on.

Part 2 is here

Muslim Dating: The Reality of our Ummah – Part 1

When people ask “do Muslims date?” A big chunk of Muslims will quickly respond with a “Hell No!” Because remember that Hadeeth about Shaytaan being the third? Ya, so of course Muslims don’t date, commit adultery or drink alcohol or have gay sex or break any other Quranic tenet. Muslims are perfect angels with no faults.

But if you’ve lived among a large Muslim population, befriended Muslims or visited a Muslim majority country, you will learn that things are not very different than what we see here (in America) among the mainstream culture. Muslims indulge in all of these acts, but the only difference is all is done in secrecy, in a hush-hush secret alternative reality where it’s better to sweep your shame under the carpet than dreadfully advertise your sins.

One doesn’t need to travel to the Middle East to witness the phenomenon. Take a short trip to the beautiful city of Toronto and its neighboring suburbs where a Muslim majority is present in the high school scene. You will find the percentages of Muslim individuals involved in dating, sex, drinking, drugs, etc is high, which is no different than a school with a Judeo-Christian majority.

If you’ve ever visited fatwa sites like Islam QA or Islamonline cyber counseling/fatwa section you will learn that our Muslim youth aren’t living a sin-free life. I remember a young man once wrote the site asking for advice about his ‘problem.’ You see this young man, an aspiring Sheikh, was attracted to men and he didn’t know how to keep his faith and battle his desires. Another girl wrote asking what to do with a man she loves and is on the verge of committing adultery with him because her practicing beautiful Muslim family won’t allow her to marry him.

Young men and women write daily to these outlets asking for a solution. They grew up hearing that it’s haraam to do this and that, yet an alternative was never presented. And when their sins are revealed they are shunned from the community, especially if female.

I know a number of pious and well regarded youth in my community who live double lives. A simple facebook or myspace check will tell you all. It’s very sad that everyone around them, including their young fellow Muslim friends, are aware of this double life but the parents are in the dark. I don’t pity the parents because they CHOOSE not to understand their children. Parents assume their child would never be like so and so’s bad child. But I got news for them, THEY DO and sometimes they are worse!

Some religious scholars will advise youth to fast or play sports. But in the day and age we live in , is that really enough? Has it been effective thus far? I don’t think so.

I think it’s time for the Muslim Ummah collectively to stop turning a blind eye and face REALITY. Obviously their previous ‘plan’ hasn’t worked. Our Ummah collectively aren’t becoming more Godly but they are turning away from their religion all together. The way we deal with our children needs to change NOW.

First action item on the list: Change parental attitudes and priorities.

Part 2 is here

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Replace Anger with Forgiveness

Painting of desert sun raysThis article is reprinted from IslamicSunrays.com:

Let go of anger and replace it with forgiveness

By Wael Abdelgawad

A man said to the Messenger of Allah, (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam – peace be upon him): “Advise me! “The Prophet said, “Do not become angry and furious.” The man asked (the same) again and again, and the Prophet said in each case, “Do not become angry and furious.” [Al-Bukhari; Vol. 8 No. 137]

Resolve to give up anger, even if only for today. Whatever anger you are harboring against others, let it go. Whatever anger you have against yourself for mistakes you have made, or wrongs you have done, let it go my brothers and sisters. It’s not helping you, it is only damaging your own spirit.

Remember that we are human; we are all imperfect. From the very beginning, starting with Adam and Hawaa (Adam and Eve) we human beings made mistakes.

Other people have made mistakes and harmed you in the past because they are human; forgive them. You have made mistakes because you are human; forgive yourself, and turn to Allah in tawbah (repentance).

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has taught us some strategies for dealing with anger. For example, he said:

“I know a word, the saying of which will cause him to relax, if he does say it. If he says: ‘I seek Refuge with Allah from Satan’ then all his anger will go away.” [Al-Bukhari; Vol. 4, No. 502]

And he said,

“Anger comes from the devil, the devil was created of fire, and fire is extinguished only with water; so when one of you becomes angry, he should perform ablution.” [Abu Daud; Book 41, No. 4766]

Abu Dharr narrated: The Apostle of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said to us: “When one of you becomes angry while standing, he should sit down. If the anger leaves him, well and good; otherwise he should lie down.” [Abu Daud; Book 41, No. 4764]

In another hadith, the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said:

“If one of you becomes angry then he should be silent.”

Narrated ‘Abdur Rahman bin Abi Bakra: Abu Bakr wrote to his son who was in Sijistan: Do not judge between two persons when you are angry, for I heard the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, saying: “A judge should not judge between two persons while he is in an angry mood.” [Al-Bukhari; Vol. 9, No. 272]

So the Messenger of Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, has give us several strategies to deal with anger:

  1. Seek refuge with Allah from Shaytan. This reminds us that fury and rage are not good things; they are evil forces that we need to get rid of before they take us over. Seeking refuge with Allah reminds us that Allah is near, watching us; also it reminds us to turn the matter over to Allah, so that we can let go of our anger.
  2. Perform wudu’. SubhanAllah, what a beautiful thing. The wudu’ is a source of blessings and barakah for us. It also has a powerful symbolic value, washing away our anger and making us peaceful and pure.
  3. Sit down, or even lie down. Modern science has learned that the body influences the emotions as well as the other way around. So assuming a peaceful posture leads to peaceful emotions. Sitting down or lying down are non-threatening positions. This helps to diffuse any conflict before it escalates.
  4. Stay silent. This is very important. All too often spouses or family members say things to each other in anger, and later they deeply regret it. However, the words have been uttered and the damage is done. When you are most angry is the time to remain silent. Seek refuge with Allah, make wudu, pray, go for a walk, go to the masjid… allow yourself time to calm down and reflect.
  5. Do not judge between people (in other words make important decisions). Obviously making important decisions out of anger is a formula for disaster.

So these are all wonderful points for dealing with anger in the moment. However, I am also speaking about past anger. We all have old emotional wounds that we carry around like scars. We have old resentments and hurts.

If you hold on to these hurts, they will destroy your marriage, or at least make it an unhappy, chafing relationship. Holding on to resentments and grudges will destroy your friendships, leaving you isolated. These persistent negative emotions will eat into your own soul, leaving you bitter and unhappy.

Let them go. Modern medicine tells us that carrying around these old resentments and anger is bad for the health; it actually damages the heart, increases blood pressure, and reduces lifespan. More importantly, however, it hurts our spirits. It makes us brittle and cynical. We become impatient, closed off and quick to judge.

Hurt, anger and resentment tighten your chest and narrow your vision. They make your world smaller.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, opens your lungs and lets you breathe. It releases your heart to beat freely, it removes the shackles from your mind, and lets all the weight drop off your back.

I know that this is easy to say and hard to do, but we must begin to forgive.

Start with forgiving yourself. Ask Allah for forgiveness for anything you’ve done that you regret, and then forgive yourself. Let it go. Breathe in deeply, breathe out, and let that anger escape with your breath. Do this as often as you need.

Brothers and sisters, be gentle with yourselves and with others. The world is already so full of anger, hatred, racism, divisions, and suffering. The world is torn by war and conflict. Let’s change this by starting with ourselves. Go into the world today and be gentle. Be kind.

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