20 August 2006

Only You

In the world to come, I shall not be asked, 'Why were you not Moses?' I shall be asked, 'Why were you not Zusya?'

- Rabbi Zusya

Mother of the Heart

I was walking down the garden path
When insecurity knocked in my heart
Workman’s hands grinding the door
And I sat on the heath watching them dance
The flowers gamboled in the breeze
And tossed their heads about
But no ray of sunshine visited me
All the hills I ever climbed
Were hidden in the spirals of yonder
When in the twilight I saw an ambassador
Allah hath sent down me a mother
But I still shook when the wind blew
And it crossed my heart through
Like a spear of love in the route
I would walk mother to the valley
Where she could gather all the flowers
But I read in my dream she hated flowers
In the blackness of the night, I set forth
Under the eyes of the shining stars
To dispose the flowers in the river
I heard mother’s voice on a hill
And she told me to bring home the flowers
That she would still love me
And not to follow dreams unseeingly
I rested on a rock and tears rose in my eyes
If only mother knew how much I loved her
That I would walk into ten thousand valleys
And bring to her all the flowers

17 August 2006

Dear Concerned (Part 3)

Sin, repentance and reform

When you spoke of sin and the fact that we are all sinners, I feel I have to add something to this. Christians believe that Jesus was sent for the sinners. Muslims also believe this and that Muhammad was also sent for the sinful. In this much we agree, but upon taking this further, we part. For the Christian, it seems to me, this is the end of it: you’re a sinner, there’s nothing you can do about it, so rejoice in the fact that you have been granted salvation from the consequence of your sins. As I read it, for the Muslim, this is just the beginning. Yes, we are sinful, but the point is that we can change. The difference is that for the Muslim there is an acceptance that righteousness is within human potential. Of course we will all commit sins from time to time, and it is for this reason that God taught us to repent. In the Qur’an, this becomes patently clear. After a mention of the consequence for those people who commit the gravest sins, we read, “Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them God will replace their evil deeds with good. And ever is God Forgiving and Merciful.”

Islam is a religion of reform, as I know very well. I know that it is hard for anyone in my family to see that I have changed in any way for the better by my association with Islam. That is because what was, and to some extent still is, my biggest problem relates to the matters of the heart – those hidden things, deep inside, such as insincerity in intention, dishonesty and other things I need not mention here. For many other people, though, the reform may be mainly in the actions, and I know of people who having once indulged in all sorts of dubious activities are now the most kind, generous, charitable, well-mannered and sincere people you could ever wish to meet. When we sin, we should turn to God in sincere repentance, and never become complacent with our sin, for that is a trick of the devil who wishes to convince us that we will never be good enough to worship God as He asks us to.

Making people unhappy by my belief

Now, finally, coming to an end of my marathon effort, let me address the last things you wrote to me with regards to my religion. You wrote that you believe “that God is always sad when we do anything which displeases Him and I feel that He must be very sad to see how deeply unhappy you are making your parents…” In Islam, respect of and obedience to our parents is commanded to every believer. He is told not even to say “hmmth” to his parents. This applies to all spheres of life and in all circumstances, except one. The one exception is where obeying one’s mother or father, grandmother or grandfather, means disobeying the Creator. Obedience to God always come first. I do not actually always manage that; sometimes I compromise, against my better judgement, and do things which displease my Lord, simply because I do not wish to offend my parents.

I cannot escape from the fact that my belief in Islam as the one and only way causes deep unhappiness to all close to me who do not share this belief. I cannot ignore that fact and nor do I ignore it. I know that every one only wants what is best for me. Of course I know that. But as I have now explained, I hope satisfactorily, my belief in Islam is one which I hold sincerely. It is not something which I can turn on and turn off like a light bulb. People may assume that because of this I do not care about my family, but nothing could be further from the truth. Just as you pray that I may be guided to what you consider to be the truth, I also pray for everyone that they may be guided. On both sides, we believe that we have a hold of the truth, and on both sides we fear that our loved ones will die without a hold of that truth. Unfortunately, this is just one of the things which comes with the territory of believing there to be a definitive truth and a reason for our existence.

The nature of guidance

On the question of guidance, I hope that we can acknowledge that we all need to seek this treasure. As I have already written, this request for guidance is part of the Muslim’s “worship” prayer. Of course, being sincere must accompany these words, but I hope that you can see what an important part of my life, as a Muslim, seeking guidance is. I believe that this is something to reflect upon. There is another aspect which I feel we should consider about what we mean by guidance. A Muslim’s actions are based upon knowledge founded on the teachings of a Prophet sent by God. The Muslim believes that God sent Prophets in order to teach mankind the Straight Path and the way to worship Him. This, for the Muslim, is guidance.

I do not know of any comparable approach in Christianity. The “taught” guidance familiar to the Prophets is replaced in Christianity, it seems to me, by what people “think” is right. I do not wish to cause any offence by mentioning these things. Rather, I am simply suggesting that there is a need to define what we mean by guidance. From my own perspective, I find the idea of guidance without a basis in knowledge rather problematic. For example, a few centuries ago no practising Christian would have dared take interest on a loan, for it was considered a grave sin. Today, however, the majority of practising Christians freely invest in interest in one way or another. Now, the problem with regard to guidance, as I see it, is, who is guided? Are modern Christians now guided closer to the truth? If so, does that not mean that the previous sixteen centuries worth of Christians were misguided? Or vice versa? The same could be said about the establishment of Protestantism breaking from Roman Catholicism. Of course, it is possible to argue that only belief in the crucifixion is a salvation issue and that all these other points are side issues. As it now stands, however, from a personal point of view I am not sure that I would be able to decipher what is guidance and what is not, for, unlike in the supplication for seeking guidance I mentioned before, the issue to be guided upon has not been defined.

Let us continue to pray with true sincerity that we, each and every one of us, may be guided to follow the right path, particularly at this stage in our lives (the life of the present, before the awesome Day of Judgement) when our whole future is at stake. I know those were words which were meant only for me, but if finding the truth and acting upon it is genuinely our aim, I know that you won’t be offended. I have written all of this; this long, long letter; in the hope that you will better understand what I believe and why I cannot now abandon it, purely to make life easier for myself with respect to my family and my career.

13 August 2006

Dear Concerned (part 2)

Moving on, I would like to address the question of prayer. I think I may have confused you by talking about one type of prayer previously and then giving you a tape about a different form later. A distinction needs to be drawn, therefore, between the five obligatory daily prayers (salah) which are an act of worship, and supplication – prayers of asking. The tape referred to the latter type. I think previously I tried to explain that the five daily prayers were comparable to your attendance of church on a Sunday. If you think about that, you will think of your singing hymns in worship, your utterance of the creed, your prayers of forgiveness and, of course, your prayers of asking. In the Church of England, as in most other denominations, you follow a set structure as to how you perform these rituals. Every individual obviously has their own reason for attending church on a Sunday, but I would guess that most practising Christians consider it a duty and feel that it refreshes their faith and reminds them of something greater.

I would like to suggest that you consider my five daily prayers in this context. Perhaps you could imagine that they are little church services. Let me tell you what they entail so that you can see what I mean. When the time comes to pray, I will stand in a room facing in the direction of a building which the Prophet Abraham built with his son Ismail for the worship of God. This should not be very strange, for in the Church of England, you all face eastwards in church. Next, having made the intention to pray, I will raise my hands up to my ears and say, “God is the Greatest”. Then I will place my right hand over my left arm on my navel and say, “O God, glory and praise are for You, and blessed is Your name, and exalted is Your Majesty; there is no god but You.”

Then I will recite the first chapter of the Qur’an, the translation of which is, “All praise is for God, the Lord of the worlds, the most Merciful, the most Kind; Master of the day of Judgement. You alone we worship; and You alone we ask for help. Guide us along the straight path – the path of those whom You have favoured and not of those who earn Your anger or of those who go astray.” Then I will recite another chapter of the Qur’an, then bow down saying again, “God is the Greatest.”

While bowing, I will say at least three times, “Glory to my Lord, the Great.” Then I will stand up straight again, saying “God hears those who praise Him” and “Our Lord, praise be to You.” Then I will prostrate on the ground with the words, “God is the Greatest,” and says three times, “Glory to my Lord, the Highest.” Then I will sit up, then prostrates again with the same words, and then stands to follow the same structure again, reciting a different chapter of the Qur’an after reciting the first as before.

This time, after the second prostration, I will sit and say, “All prayer is for God and worship and goodness. Peace be upon the Prophet and the Mercy of God and His Blessings. Peace be on us and on the righteous servants of God. I bear witness that there is no god but God and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger.” Then, depending upon which prayer it is, I may repeat this process again or end. Within this prayer, other prayers may be made, i.e. of the asking variety, but basically it is a prayer of worship.

So I hope that you can now see what I mean in my comparison with the Christian attendance of church. The purpose of the salah prayer is to remind us of our Creator and our purpose in life, and to cleanse us of our sins. You might consider it the way the Prophet explained it: if you were to take a bath five times a day, would you not be very clean? So think of the prayer as a bath in relation to our sins.

Now, as to your worry that praying these five prayers while working might prove detrimental to my career, there are one or two other things to note. First of all, I would not be praying all five during office hours. The first prayer is at dawn before the sun rises, the second is at midday and therefore can be performed during my lunch hour, and the last prayer is at night. So that leaves me with only two to pray during office time. Now, consider that it is a legal requirement that employees are given the right to VDU (screen) breaks if they are working on computers, to avoid eye strain. So while my boss might take a walk up the corridor, I could go and pray.

Other employees are allowed to take smoking breaks. Some take coffee breaks. This prayer actually takes no longer than ten minutes to perform. You might also consider that in the summer months, I could only be praying the midday prayer at work, for the day is longer, the mid-afternoon prayer falling later, the sunset prayer perhaps at eight or nine in the evening. So, I have to ask, is it really such a problem? The answer, of course, is no. Islam is a middle course, going to neither the extremes of ease or of hardship.

As to prayers of asking – supplication – it is true to say that we could pray whilst washing up or mowing the lawn and that it might be accepted if we are sincere, but we might expect that a prayer for which we made a great deal of effort would be more pleasing to our Creator. Think of the account in Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus is said to fall on his face and pray that God will take the “cup” away from him. Clearly there must be benefit in prostrating during prayer or else he would not have done this. Prostrating, taking upon a position of utmost humility before God, was the practice of all the Prophets and you will find that amongst some of the “orthodox” churches, some Christians pray in this manner to this day. This said, Muslims do make their supplications in different ways. Some will raise the palms of their hands up towards the ceiling, while kneeling down, and ask God for that which is on their mind.

With regards to the words of the prayer from which you quoted, this is one which Muslims are encouraged to use when forming any decision or choosing the proper course. The Prophet instructed his followers to pray for guidance in all their concerns. There is a story I would like to tell you in connection to this. During the summer before I went to Stirling, I had my ups and downs; my periods of strength in faith and my periods of weakness. Now, there was one period, just after I had listened to that tape in fact, when I decided to pray this prayer – for the first time. I had not heard from Stirling about whether I would receive a place or not, and I had no idea what to do next. So that night I prayed two units of the voluntary “worship” prayer and then I uttered those words,
“O Allah, I seek Your counsel by Your knowledge and by Your power I seek strength and I ask You from Your immense favour, for verily You are able while I am not and verily You know while I do not and You are the Knower of the unseen. O Allah, if You know this affair, that I should go to Stirling to study Publishing Studies, to be good for me in relation to my religion, my life, and end, then decree and facilitate it for me, and bless me with it, and if You know this affair to be ill for me towards my religion, my life, and end, then remove it from me and remove me from it, and decree for me what is good wherever it be and make me satisfied with such.”
When I awoke in the morning, barely sparing a thought about the words I had uttered the night before, I went downstairs and saw that the post had come. When I picked the envelopes up from the mat, I discovered a letter from the University of Stirling and in it I found that they had offered me a place. So now, whenever a matter arises for me, I do pray for guidance using these words, and I feel, for example, that I can rest assured if I don’t get a job from a certain interview when I have prayed in this manner.

On some of the other things you said about your belief in God and the way He answers our prayers, I can either quite agree with you because I believe the same or I can empathise with it because I felt that way during my “searching” period. Where you wrote, “My belief is quiet and personal. I believe there is one God who knows everything about me, my thoughts, my actions, my hopes and fears…” it brings a smile to my face, because this is how I was in my agnostic phase. And, of course, it is also true of my belief today, but the difference is that at that point, that was all there was to it.

Dig Here!

Robert Fisk writes in a recent article entitled "If You Want the Roots of Terror, Try Here":

So I sat on the carpet in my living room and watched all these heavily armed chaps at Heathrow protecting the British people from annihilation and then on came President George Bush to tell us that we were all fighting "Islamic fascism". There were more thumps in the darkness across Beirut where an awful lot of people are suffering from terror - although I can assure George W that while the pilots of the aircraft dropping bombs across the city in which I have lived for 30 years may or may not be fascists, they are definitely not Islamic.

And there, of course, was the same old problem. To protect the British people - and the American people - from "Islamic terror", we must have lots and lots of heavily armed policemen and soldiers and plainclothes police and endless departments of anti-terrorism, homeland security and other more sordid folk like the American torturers - some of them sadistic women - at Abu Ghraib and Baghram and Guantanamo. Yet the only way to protect ourselves from the real violence which may - and probably will - be visited upon us, is to deal, morally, with courage and with justice, with the tragedy of Lebanon and "Palestine" and Iraq and Afghanistan. And this we will not do.
Of course, it is up to us to draw the conclusions. Methinks he has hit the bull's eye. Let's also look at Juan Cole's previous reaction to this bit of hate speech i.e. the phrase "Islamo-fascism" or "Islamic fascism":
It is hard to see the difference between the bigotry of anti-Semitism as an evil and the bigotry that [Michael] Medved displays toward Islam. It is more offensive than I can say for him to use the word “Islamo-fascist.” Islam is a sacred term to 1.3 billion people in the world. It enshrines their highest ideals. To combine it with the word “fascist” in one phrase is a desecration and a form of hate speech. Are there Muslims who are fascists? Sure. But there is no Islamic fascism, since “Islam” has to do with the highest ideals of the religion. In the same way, there have been lots of Christian fascists, but to speak of Christo-Fascism is just offensive.

Don't Be Brutal, Brother!

When I read this (whence it doesn't matter), I felt my heart sink:

A Christian stone mason received critical injuries, including dislocation of his after he was seen drinking water from a public facility, by a Muslim man on June 6 (Tuesday) just outside the eastern city of Lahore, the Pakistan Christian Post (PCP) has reported.

Nasir Ashraf, the Christian mason was working at the construction site of a school. The trouble for him began while he was returning to the site. Confronting him with anger the Muslim man asked him as to why he drank water from the public facility by using a glass that was placed at the water tank.

“Why did you drink water from this glass since you are a Christian?” the PCP quoted the Muslim man as asking Nasir.

“The man accused the mason of polluting the glass and proceeded to destroy it. The Muslim man then summoned a crowd by shouting, “This Christian polluted our glass,” and encouraged them to beat him up,” the PCP report said.

“The crowd began beating Nasir, eventually pushing him off a ledge. The fall dislocated his shoulder, broke his collarbone in two places and knocked him unconscious,” it said.
Yes, we have to work for the human rights of non-Muslim minorities along with those of Muslims, and educate those who have been misguided. "Untouchability" is a racist casteism concept. Let's live together and join hands. No one is "dirty". Whether it be a Muslim, a Christian , a Jew, a Hindu -- there is only one God and one humanity. And by undermining this, we are destroying the inner universal beauty that links us. Let's drink from each other's cups more often.

11 August 2006

The Separation of Lovers

The following is a moving excerpt from the article "Crimes in Iraq: Lest We Forget Thirteen Years of Sanctions" by Felicity Arbuthnot:

Then there was Jassim. In the same ward as Ezra, he lay with his huge eyes and glossy hair, listlessly viewing the barren ward. He had been selling cigarettes on the streets of Basra to support his family until he became ill. “This is Felicity and she writes for a living,” said Dr.Haddad. Jassim was transformed; he glowed and showed me the poems he spent his days writing, when he still had the energy. He collected phrases, too, to incorporate where he thought appropriate. I told him all writers collect words and phrases, they are our tools. He glowed again, delighting that he was being understood and that his instincts were guiding him correctly along his passionate path. “I asked death, ‘What is greater than you?’ Death replied, ‘Separation of lovers is greater than me,’” was one of his collected phrases. He was 13."

One of his poems was called “The Identity Card.” In translation, it reads:

The name is love,
The class is mindless,
The school is suffering,
The governorate is sadness,
The city is sighing,
The street is misery,
The home number is one thousand sighs.

He watched my face for reaction. Lost for words, eventually I said, “Jassim, if you can write like this at thirteen, think what you will do at twenty.” I asked him if I could incorporate his poem in articles from that visit and said I would send them back to him, so he would see it in print. Some weeks later, I did just that and sent cuttings back to him with a friend and imagined him glowing again. He had fought and fought, but lost his battle just before my friend arrived. He never saw his poem in print and became just another statistic in the “collateral damage” of sanctions by the most inhuman regime ever overseen by the United Nations, which arguably condemned the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child - the most widely signed convention in history - to the dust, to the mass of graves of Iraq's children, resulting from the embargo years.

06 August 2006

Indigenous Middle Eastern Jews Condemn Israel

Middle Eastern Jews are one of the noblest peoples and the most nuanced in their thinking. This is in stark contrast to even the majority of the American public who have been brainwashed by their media, and as a recent poll suggests support Israeli brutalities in Lebanon. But let's briefly look at the overview of the World War 4 Report on this:

"Indigenous Middle Eastern Jewry, from Lebanon, Morocco, and Iran, have issued recent condemnations of the Israeli assaults on Lebanon and Palestine."

Click here to read the full account.

04 August 2006

The Devil's Wine

I am not that well
And I might die soon...
Often treading the darkness
So strange this night
The Devil’s wine is keeping me low
An athirst for sin, however wasteful
Take me home in a whirlwind
Dim the flight of yesternight
That spoilt a mother’s child
I am going to be up for Peace
None of Lucifer’s resources
Beginning of a realization
The Curtain is drawn
My spirit grows
The bony Oars of Time
Will push me nearer the Lord
And bring me life

02 August 2006

Dear Concerned...

Why I believe what I do and the nature of this belief

I GATHERED gathered the impression from some of the things which you wrote in your letter, that you view my choice of Islam as my religion as just that: a choice from amongst a multitude of choices, as though I were looking for a coat in the winter sales. You advised me, “At this stage in your life I do not feel that changing to this form of religion is good, right and proper ‘for you, your livelihood and for the consequences of your affairs’…”

I have to put this point across clearly and, perhaps, forcefully, because it is fundamental to understanding everything else about my belief. Islam is my religion because I believe that it is the right path, the truth, or whatever you may wish to call it, and because I believe it to be the only Way. At origin, this statement is exactly the same as what you are saying when you tell me that my family pray that I may be guided. On both sides, we believe that we have a hold of the truth and, on both sides, we are deeply hurt and we despair at the other’s rejection of that truth. I cannot, therefore, reject what I believe simply because of a perception that it might get in the way. I believe it to be the truth and, thus, I act accordingly.

A friend once said to me, when I told him what I believed, “…whatever makes you happy.” Since then, I have come to realise that many people perceive that my belief is founded upon this principle; but it is not. My criteria for taking Islam as my path was one alone: “Is it the true way?” Having concluded that it is, everything follows on from this point. Where I might choose one coat over another because I prefer the colour, this is not in any way how it was when I came to believe in Islam.

My responsibilities in this life

Now, a second element which I would like to touch upon relates to my responsibilities in this life. You wrote, “At this stage in your life I do not feel that changing to this form of religion is good…” and later, “we are all praying for you [for guidance]… particularly at this stage in your life when your whole future is at stake.” My response is to ask when a good stage would be, for throughout our lives we may meet a thousand different stages. After getting a job, would the question then become getting a mortgage or a promotion? It could never end. Of all the unknown areas of our futures, however, there is one more pressing than any other, and that is death. We do not know when that will come to us. It may come in old age, but there are plenty of precedents for it to occur in our youth. I have a friend who was knocked off his bike by a van; he survived, but the doctors thought he never would. I knew somebody at Stirling whose twenty year-old friend returned home one evening feeling a little dizzy and within hours he was no longer alive. It is because I do not know when death will come to me that I feel that I must act at “this stage” in my life and, to pass your words back to you, because my “whole future is at stake” (i.e. in the life to come).

For a Muslim, the hereafter is not an added extra, tagged onto the end of life to take away the sorrow of death. Rather, it is the very aim of our life in this world. The life of this world is a passing stage, a period of preparation which determines whether we succeed or fail. In simple language the life of this world is an examination and the hereafter is the qualification. If we pass our driving test, we may drive a car and if not, we may not. This may be a difficult idea to grasp, because in the teachings of Paul is the idea that mankind must be saved from sin. A person is not, therefore, tested by his response to sin; the ability to sin or to turn from sin is not considered as a means by which we are judged.

Nevertheless, because the Muslim believes that this life has been given to us in order that we may determine our own outcome for the hereafter through the application of freewill (unlike other created things which innately submit to the laws of God), he believes that he must strive throughout this period of his creation to please God by adhering to His Law. Of course I am aware that such adherence may create difficulties for me from time to time, but I accept this because of the reasons I have so far mentioned. I am reminded of a verse in the Qur’an, the translation of which is: “And We shall certainly test you with something of fear and hunger and loss of wealth and lives and fruit, but give glad tidings to the patient, who, when they are struck by disaster, say, ‘We belong to God and to Him we will return.’ Those are the ones who have upon them blessings from their Lord and mercy. And those are the ones who are guided.”

Another verse will surely sum up what I am trying to explain: “Blessed is He in whose hand is Dominion, and He has power over all things – the One who has created death and life to test you as to which of you is best in deeds.” I hope that this helps you to understand the reason why I cannot delay my acting upon what I consider to be the truth.

There is one more thing which I would like to mention in this regard. Beyond these reasons, which derive directly from the teachings of Islam, I also have a very personal objection to the idea that I shouldn’t let my religion get in the way. I object to the treatment of God’s Law as an irritant which gets in the way of our “lives”; this is not the excuse, upon which Christian doctrine is founded, that Paul gave for its abandonment. Up until the appearance of Jesus, who adhered to the Law himself, Christians consider that the Law was not only valid, but also a fundamental aspect of belief. This being the case, I cannot understand how my adherence to the Law should be brought into question for any other reason than it being no longer necessary due to the idea of justification by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. So far, however, this reason has not been given; only the fact that it may negatively affect my career prospects.

01 August 2006

Who Speaks for Me?

The politicians of my nation? The well-meaning feminists and leftists who want to "save" me? My family and friends who are "concerned" about so-called Islamists? My husband, my son, my brother, my father; whatever male family member is available?

I cannot be asked to speak for anyone else's experience or needs. If you want to know how a migrant worker feels, please, ask a few migrant workers. If you want to know why black men feel systematically disenfranchised, please, go meet with some of the boys on the corner and ask them. If you want to know how a Saudi woman feels about not being able to drive, or how an Afghan woman feels about the burqa, go to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan and engage in dialogue with the women living it.

If you want to know what an American Muslim woman thinks, ask me. Don't ask my husband, my non-Muslim mother, my employer, or some Christian theologian. Ask me. I am only one, and my words do not represent every other American Muslim woman, but they do represent me. And I can speak for myself, thank you very much.