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A CENTURY OF MUSLIMS IN CANADA | MEETING MUSLIMS ON THE SILK ROAD | DOES ISLAM ALLOW YOGA?
Sayyid Muhammad Syeed
A Mentor to an Entire Generation of Muslim Americans
VOL. 46 NO. 5 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 visit isna online at: WWW.ISNA.NET
COVER STORY 22 Hope and Guidance Through the Quran
Does Islam Allow Yoga?
A Century of Muslims in Canada
44 A Mission to Feed the Needy every Ramadan in India
48 Meeting Muslims on the Silk Road
ISLAM IN AMERICA 30 Islam is Beautiful, Even in Its Prohibitions 32 Effective Sermons 38 Make Your Mosque More Welcoming
MUSLIMS IN ACTION 40 42
Love Sees No Hurdles A Life Realigned
THE MUSLIM WORLD 46 Distortion of History Paves the Way for Genocide
IN MEMORIAM DEPARTMENTS 6 8 10 18 55 56
Editorial ISNA Matters Community Matters Faiths Matter New Releases Food for the Spirit
50 50 51
Maryam Mirzakhani Muhammad Arif Zakaullah Jack Shaheen
An Incomplete Narration
SPECIAL FEATURE 58 60
A Dignified Farewell Care for the Deceased
DESIGN & LAYOUT BY: Gamal Abdelaziz, A-Ztype Copyeditor: Jay Willoughby. The views expressed in Islamic Horizons are not necessarily the views of its editors nor of the Islamic Society of North America. Islamic Horizons does not accept unsolicitated articles or submissions. All references to the Quran made are from The Holy Quran: Text, Translation and Commentary, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Amana, Brentwood, MD.
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 5
The Generational Shift Is Underway
he 54th ISNA Annual Convention marks the beginning of a transition, as clearly seen in its most talked-about moment: the public recognition of and fond farewell given to Dr. Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, who retired in June after a ten-year (2007-17) term as national director of the Washington, D.C.-based ISNA Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances. Syeed, who has been associated with MSA/ISNA for more than four decades, became active in the MSA during the mid-1970s. By 1980, when it was bifurcating into MSA National and ISNA, he was its president and thus played a major role. Under his stewardship of ISNA as its secretary general (1994-2006), the organization’s impact and appeal continued to grow in terms of the number of new Islamic centers, interfaith dialogues and financial stability. Linda Sarsour, co-chair of the 2017 Women’s March, informed the audience during her Hajja Razia Sharif Sheikh memorial lecture at the Community Service Recognition Luncheon at the Convention that she has resigned from her 11-year position as executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. According to her, she had done what she had set out to do and thus it was time to let the next generation of leaders and workers learn the ropes and move the association ahead. These two prominent retirements highlight an important fact: The founders and leaders of North America’s Muslim organizations and institutions continue to age. In fact, some of them have already left this earthly abode. As these people move on, younger Muslims can look forward to new opportunities to serve. But choosing such a career contains certain risks. For example, the founders were so intent upon laying the groundwork for what we now take
for granted that they gave little thought to how they would fund their post-retirement years. And quite naturally, their young organizations were hardly in any financial position to provide them with a pension or retirement package. Thus we come to one infrequently discussed reality: Muslim organizations have to review their financial strategies and create the necessary instruments that will (1) help those workers who want to retire to do so and (2) attract qualified replacements who would like to spend their careers serving the community but find it hard (or maybe even impossible) to resist the private or public sector’s far better salaries and benefits — especially if they have a family to support. The mounting challenges facing North America’s Muslims require that the current leaders begin identifying and training their successors so that we not only survive and sustain what they have created, but also continue to grow and flourish on this continent. A much discussed but still largely under-the-radar issue is our ongoing failure to produce large numbers of talented writers, journalists, editors, reporters and other media-savvy individuals who can meet their non-Muslim counterparts head on with well-thought-out arguments and accurate information presented in way that causes non-Muslims to sit up and take notice. It is time to stop complaining about media bias and to support those community members who are willing to enter these fields as trained professionals. We are the ones who need to document our history here, to show how we have benefitted our fellow citizens and to convince them that we are not a threat. Our elders and leaders must encourage and then really let Muslims born in North America take up the reins and show us what they can do. ih
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PUBLISHER The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) PRESIDENT Azhar Azeez INTERIM SECRETARY GENERAL Habibe Ali EDITOR Omer Bin Abdullah EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Faryal M Khatri EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD Iqbal Unus, Chair: M. Ahmadullah Siddiqi, Milia Islam-Majeed, Habibe Ali, Faryal Khatri ISLAMIC HORIZONS is a bimonthly publication of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) P.O. Box 38 • Plainfield, IN 46168‑0038 Copyright @2017 All rights reserved Reproduction, in whole or in part, of this material in mechanical or electronic form without written permission is strictly prohibited. Islamic Horizons magazine is available electronically on ProQuest’s Ethnic NewsWatch, LexisNexis, and EBSCO Discovery Service, and is indexed by Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. Please see your librarian for access. The name “Islamic Horizons” is protected through trademark registration ISSN 8756‑2367 POSTMASTER Send address changes to Islamic Horizons, P.O. Box 38 Plainfield, IN 46168‑0038 SUBSCRIPTIONS Annual, domestic – $24 Canada – US$30 Overseas airmail – US$60 TO SUBSCRIBE Contact Islamic Horizons at (317) 839‑8157 / (317) 839‑1811 Fax (317) 839‑1840 E-mail: email@example.com ADVERTISING For rates contact Islamic Horizons at (703) 742‑8108, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.isna.net Canada Post International Publications Mail Product (Canadian Distribution) Sales Agreement No. 0666300 CORRESPONDENCE Send all correspondence and/or Letters to the Editor at: Islamic Horizons P.O. Box 38 • Plainfield, IN 46168‑0038 Email: email@example.com
THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA’S NATIONAL JAMBOREE Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, senior advisor and former national director, ISNA Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances (IOICA), served as national chaplain at the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) National Jamboree, held during July 18-28 at the National BSA High Adventure Camp in Bechtel Summit, W.Va. Among the over 20,000 scouts from across the U.S. was a significant contingent of scouts from around the world. Syed Ehtesham Naqvi, chairman, National Islamic Committee on Scouting (NICS), stated: “We were thrilled and overjoyed that Dr. Sayyid has accepted this important appointment by the NICS, an organization which he has been connected to and supporter of dating back to the organization’s early days in the 1980s. It is sort of a homecoming.” ih
ISNA LEADER SPEAKS AT OSLO INTERFAITH RAINFOREST INITIATIVE
Nina Firman, member of the ISNA Green Masjid Taskforce, spoke at Interfaith Rainforest Initiative held in Oslo, June 19-21. The event was convened by Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI), Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in cooperation with Yale University’s Forum on Religion and Ecology , GreenFaith, the Parliament of the World’s Religions (PWR), Religions for Peace, REIL
Network and the World Council of Churches (WCC). King Harald V of Norway attended the launch of this interfaith rainforest initiative, created by a global coalition with Oslo’s support, to fight escalating threats to endangered forests in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. This marked the first time that leaders from the world’s major religions met with indigenous leaders to discuss this topic.
8 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
Firman’s panel, “Creating an Interfaith Agenda for the Rainforests,” featured Charles McNeil (UNDP), Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker (Yale University), Dr. Kusuminta Pedersen (PWR), Rev. Henrik Grape (WCC) and Dr. William Vendley (Religions for Peace). Firman, who was born in Jambi, Eastern Sumatra, the home of Sumatran tigers and a high biodiversity ecosystem, said, “I am not only a Muslim but also a daughter of the rainforest. Perhaps that is why I am very passionate to get involved in the rainforest protection.” She cited an intriguing example of the Arabic word ayat, which literally means “verses” of the Qur’an and “signs” of God, namely, nature itself. “So just imagine,” she asked the audience, “what would be Muslims’ reaction if someone sought to erase just one ayat/verse in the Qur’an? I bet all Muslims would spin their heads … yet how come we, as Muslims, do not feel anything when so many species in nature have become extinct due to our human greed, behavior and unsustainable lifestyle? Aren’t those species also considered as the ayat/signs of God?” Religious and indigenous leaders from 21 countries interacted with forest advocates, climate scientists and human rights experts to develop goals and actions, along with milestones to mark their progress. They expect to follow up with an action plan and a global interfaith rainforest summit in 2018. ih
IMAM POSITION @ ICMC, LAWRENCEVILLE, NJ
ISNA President Azhar Azeez delivered the keynote address at (Islamic Medical Association of North America) IMANA’s 50th anniversary dinner at a cruise in Europe, which had over 375 attendees representing members and supporters
Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, senior advisor and former national director of IOICA, addressed the “March on Washington Film Festival” on July 16, which was held in Washington, DC, on July 13-22. Other speakers were Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, Washington National Cathedral, Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal Diocese of Washington, and Dr. Dennis Wiley, Pastor of Covenant Baptist. The event title was “The Gathering Place: Creating a Shared Religious Activism.” The festival, which is dedicated to the
and their families. Dr. Imran Qureshi, the newly elected President of IMANA, also spoke. The first President of IMANA Dr. Mubeen Akhtar presented the Dr. Ahmed El Kadi award to Dr. Ayaz Samadani. ih heroes and heroines of the Civil Rights era, uses the power of film to share stories from this important period. Film screenings and post-viewing panel discussions were held in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and New York. This event also promotes activism and features live musical performances reminiscent of songs from that era. This is the second year that the National Cathedral has partnered with the organization. ih
A NAME CHANGE
ISNA has changed the name of its Youth Programming and Services Department, which organizes youth camps and regional conferences, to Youth Programs and Services Department (YPSD), effective June 6.
The Islamic Circle of Mercer County (ICMC) in Lawrenceville, NJ is looking for a full time Imam to provide Islamic religious guidance, scholarly teaching, and leadership to the ICMC community, according to the teachings of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings be upon him), establish, promote and oversee educational programs for adults and youth, lead ICMC as a unified and welcoming Muslim community for all backgrounds and cultures, and engage with the larger community to promote friendship and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims. ICMC is a nonprofit organization, which has been active for over 15 years. In 2012, the community received approval to build a new three-story masjid and Alhamdulillah, the project was completed last year and a number of programs are in place including five daily prayers, Jumaa, a weekend school, sisters’ activities, classes for Islamic learning along with youth and other community activities. ICMC vision is to grow into a full-fledged Islamic Center, a place to share, learn and grow, as well as reach out to our neighbors. Our goal is to create an environment that would empower our youth and give them an opportunity to enhance and strengthen their social and spiritual development. Interested candidates can find more details at: http://www.islamicircle.org/ imam-job-posting and send their resume with a minimum of three references to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brevard County Rejects Hate
USA Today reported on May 11 that the Brevard County (Fla.) school board has set aside the objections that have been voiced since 2013 over the chapter on Islam in the 9th grade world history textbook. The textbook’s opponents, led by the Islamophobic ACT for America and citing Wikipedia, a website that anyone can edit, alleged that it ignored Islam’s “true history” and painted Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and the treatment of women in an overly “favorable” light. Its proponents argued that the debate was based on bigotry, as opposed to accuracy. As a result, high school teachers will continue to use a chapter supplement developed in 2013. CAIR-Florida’s Orlando regional coordinator Rasha Mubarak said, “They [ACT] are using our students for their one intention, and that is to push their anti-Islamic agenda.”
ACT, she noted, has been designated a hate group, along with the Ku Klux Klan and similar organizations. Philip Stasik, president of the Space Coast Progressive Alliance, told USA Today, “This is an organized challenge against the Muslim community, and frankly it’s an insult to the Muslim community.” If Gov. Rick Scott (R) approves the new legislation passed in the Florida House and Senate, the textbook review process would allow any resident, not just parents, to present his/her complaint about an “inappropriate” textbook before an “unbiased and qualified hearing officer” instead of the school board. State Sen. Gary Farmer (D) warned that this “bill would usurp a lot of that authority and give it to folks who maybe want to prescribe or eliminate books that they simply don’t agree with, books that involve a social debate.” ih
Umair Shah Heads National Public Health Body largest county (4.5 million people), represents nearly 3,000 local governmental health departments. The NACCHO’s governing board establishes strategic directions and initiatives, ensures that annual goals are met, sets the annual legislative agenda and provides financial oversight. The board, NACCHO’s public face, represents its members in matters of policy, public health practice and collaboration with public- and private-sector Dr. Umair Shah addresses NACCHO Annual Meeting health partners. Umair A. Shah, executive director of Dr. Shah has been HCPH’s head since Harris County Public Health (HCPH), as- 2013. Under his leadership, it has won sumed office on July 1 as president of the Na- numerous national awards for its transtional Association of County and City Health formational work, including recognition Officials for the 2017-18 term. HCPH, the as a recipient of NACCHO’s Local Health public health agency for the nation’s third Department of the Year award in 2016. ih 10 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
Caring Physicians Fatima Sheikh, medical director at FutureCare in Maryland and assistant professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, received the American Geriatrics Society’s (AGS) 2017 AGS Clinician of the Year award at its annual meeting, held on May 18-20 in San Antonio, Tex. AGS President Ellen Flaherty, PhD, APRN, AGSF, stated that “healthcare professionals fortunate enough to learn from her [Dr. Sheikh] are setting a new standard for what it means to provide high-quality, person-centered care.” In 2012 Dr. Sheikh, who is board-certified in internal and geriatric medicine, played a key role in establishing The Johns Hopkins Community Partnership Skilled Nursing Facility Collaborative, one of five of their health projects funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Innovation Center. This award recognizes exceptional health professionals who deliver outstanding care to older adults and who model the importance of geriatrics for this expanding population. Also, Halima Amjad, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins, won the 2017 AGS Outstanding Junior Research Manuscript Award for her Continuity of Care and Health Utilization in Dementia, published last year in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal. ih
Dr. Fatima Sheikh
New Jersey Mosque Wins Approval and Damages The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge (ISBR), N.J., received permission to build its mosque, and Bernards Township — an upscale central New Jersey town — will pay $3.25 million to settle a lawsuit over its denial of a building permit, the Department of Justice announced on May 30. Of the settlement money, $1.75 million will go toward attorneys’ fees and costs; the remaining $1.5 million is for damages suffered by ISBR. Attorney Adeel Mangi of the New York firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler disclosed that the firm will donate its share to charity and “other worthy causes.” ISBR sued the township in 2016, claiming that it had changed its zoning ordinances in order to deny their proposed 4,216-square-foot center with a 1,954-square-foot mosque. The DoJ also sued the town that year, alleging that ISBR was treated differently than other religious groups. On Dec. 31, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shipp disagreed with the township’s objections about parking and ruled that it hadn’t conducted similar assessments of worship habits when churches or synagogues had submitted applications. By its own admission, the town applied a different standard to Muslims, he wrote, which violates the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act (RLUIPA). This was termed a “landmark ruling with national impact” for, as New Jersey Acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick said: “Bernards Township made decisions that treated the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge differently than other houses of worship. The settlement announced today [May 30] corrects those decisions and ensures that members of this religious community
The Quran Joins Abrahamic Display On May 16 Chapman University’s Fish Interfaith Center opened a hand-built, 7-foot-tall cabinet, built by Los Angeles wood marquetry artist William Tunberg, to showcase a 15th-century Mamluk Quran from Syria on loan from the collection of Omar Haroon. Tunberg, commissioned to create the center’s four cabinets, has embedded images and symbols from the world’s faith traditions in each one. The exhibit will rotate several Qurans from the Leatherby Libraries’ Special Collections. Each Quran was placed on a separate table at the dedication ceremony for attendees to examine. The exhibit is supported by Fareed Farukhi, founder of the Universal Heritage and Research Center. The project was developed by Dean Stearns, Essraa Nawar, library development coordinator, and Charlene Baldwin, dean of the Leatherby Libraries. According to Gail Stearns, dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel, the four cabinets and holy texts alongside each other convey the
have the same ability to practice their faith as all other religions.” The DoJ lawsuit also alleged that the town changed its zoning laws in 2013 to require houses of worship located in residential districts to be built on plots that were at least 6 acres in size — ISBR had purchased a 4.3 acre lot in 2011. Eight of the 11 other houses of worship built before the zoning laws were changed are located on lots smaller than 6 acres, the complaint alleged. Town officials have denied this allegation. This contentious case engendered strong reactions from both sides. An uncommonly wide range of religious groups came to ISBR’s support, ranging from such left-leaning groups as the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Sikh Coalition to more conservative groups, among them the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Jim Sues, executive director of the CAIR-N.J. chapter, opined that the settlement sends the message that “bias won’t be tolerated.” A similar lawsuit cost nearby Bridgewater Township almost $7.75 million in 2014, when it settled with the Al Falah Center. Des Plaines, Ill., settled out of court for $580,000 with the Society of American Bosnians and Herzegovinans (SABAH), which had been denied the zoning for their mosque, reported CBS affiliate WBBM on June 6. The DoJ suit charged that the Muslims’ religious freedoms were violated when the city refused to allow the group to turn a vacant building into a mosque, despite initial unanimous Plan Commission approval. Last year, the group purchased a former Lutheran Church in Franklin Park, Ill., and thus no longer needs the Des Plaines site. ih The Quran cabinet, created by wood marquetry artist William Tunberg, on display at the Fish Interfaith Center
mission of the Disciples of Christ, Chapman University’s founders: interfaith dialogue on campus. ih SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 11
Eid-ul-Fitr 2017 Celebration at Islamic Center of Santa Ana
The Islamic Center of Santa Ana’s (ICSA) new facility is the culmination of a 35-year journey undertaken by Cham Muslim refugees from war-ravaged Vietnam and Laos and the killing fields of Cambodia to the U.S. in search of new lives and religious freedom. According to ICSA president Sean Tu, about 15 refugee families settled in Santa Ana, Calif., during the early 1980s. Relying on their meager earnings and collective efforts, they first prayed in a rented, one-bedroom apartment, then purchased and turned a nearby two-bedroom condominium into a musalla (1988). Five years later, they expanded the prayer hall by purchasing the adjacent unit. As problems arose due to HOA restrictions and limited parking spaces,
Sabrina Rehman, a Canadian Montessori teacher from Ottawa, has been recognized as one of the country’s top five educa-
ICSA’s leadership finally decided to buy a for-sale local abandoned commercial building. After raising the $1 million initial payment and then closing the escrow account, community members transformed the beaten-up building into a beautiful masjid. Eight months later, ICSA opened its doors for Ramadan 2017. Hosting its first iftar with Latino-Muslims generated widespread media attention due to the Taco-Truck-At-Every-Mosque initiative. ICSA also sponsored the Humanitarian Day to help the homeless in downtown Santa Ana, the Food Pantry Program for needy Muslim families and the Spanishlanguage Jumah, a unique collaborative program with the local Latino Muslim community. ih tors. On May 12, she received the 2017 Prime Minister’s Awards (PMA) for “excellence in education” in Ottawa from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. A government press release read: “The PMA for Excellence in Education honors outstanding and innovative educators for their leadership, exemplary practices, and their commitment to education in Canada. Award winning engineer turned educator, Rehman pioneers an innovative STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math] based program as the Curriculum Development Director at [her school] Little Scholars Montessori.
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PHOTO CREDIT: STEPHANIE MITCHELL/HARVARD STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
A Journey of Faith and Hope
Harvard University Muslim Chaplain
Harvard University welcomed Imam Khalil Abdur-Rashid on July 5 as its Muslim chaplain. A former adjunct professor of Islamic studies at Southern Methodist University, he co-founded the Islamic Seminary of America. Prior to this latest post, in his capacity as the first paid Muslim programming associate at Columbia University he was tasked with meeting the religious and spiritual needs of Muslims students, faculty, and staff both there and at Barnard College. This involved working with others to organize speaking and lecture events for all students and leading Common Meals, a weekly dialogue program to bring together all Columbia community members to discuss issues of leadership, current events, and philosophy. In addition, he was also working as a special adviser to the New York City Police Department on Muslim affairs, during which time he openly opposed profiling Muslims in the city and on campus. Abdur-Rashid holds a master’s degree in Middle East studies and Islamic law as well a master’s of philosophy in Islam and Middle Eastern studies, both from Columbia. He earned his Islamic specialized license (ijaaza) in Islamic family law at Dar al-Mustafa Seminary in Tarim, Yemen, and an Islamic advanced doctorate (ijaaza ilmiyyah) in Islamic legal sciences and ethics at Istanbul’s ISAR Seminary. Fluent in Turkish and Arabic, he is currently working toward a doctorate in liberal studies with a focus on Muslim American identity formation. ih
PHOTO COURTESY OF RASHAAD AHMAD ‘18
First Cornell Muslim-interest Fraternity
Librarian of the Year
Alpha Lambda Mu members
Cornell University’s Interfraternity Council (IFC) welcomed Alpha Lambda Mu as its first Muslim-interest fraternity on May 15, according to Matt Ormseth ‘17 of the Cornell Daily Sun on May 22. This event capped a seven-month process that Emad Piracha ‘17, former ALM president and the IFC’s architect, called “very long, very capital-intensive. But for
Despite its self-characterization, the ALM’s religious and ethnic makeup is “very diverse,” Piracha said. “I’m Muslim. I’ve been Muslim my entire life. I’ve associated myself with a lot of Muslim organizations, but I wanted to separate the religious aspect from the social aspect of things. It doesn’t matter if you’re Muslim or not — we take anyone.” In other words, ALM is held together not by a shared religion or ethnic consistency, but by a sentiment Piracha summed up as ukhuwwa (brotherhood). Many members are first-generation Americans, and joining a fraternity was a tough sell for some of their parents, Ahmad said, given the stigmas associated with Greek life. ih
me, graduating knowing we made it into IFC is a very, very good feeling.” IFC membership will bolster the chapter’s campus presence by including it in the rush process. Before this, ALM recruited new members only through word-of-mouth. In fact, ALM vice president Jibran Gilani ‘20 remarked the many students are surprised to learn that Cornell even has such a fraternity.
Stanford Welcomes Muslim Chaplain
Stanford News reported on June 15 that Stanford University has appointed Sughra Ahmed associate dean for religious life. Ahmed, who most recently served as a Greenberg World Fellow at Yale University, was president of the Islamic Society of Britain. Named Muslim Woman of the Year in the United Kingdom in 2014, she will join the campus community in the fall. While training at the Markfield Institute to become a chaplain, Ahmed also received a diploma in Islamic jurisprudence. She brings
to her new post an extensive experience in university chaplaincy, first at De Montfort University (U.K.) and then in interfaith work nationwide and at the University of Cambridge. She earned her undergraduate degree at Birmingham City University and her Master of Arts degree in Islamic studies from Loughborough University. She is fluent in Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi. While working as a senior programs manager at the Woolf Institute in the Centre for Policy and Public Education in Cambridge, England, she designed and delivered research and training on faith, belief, communities, integration and other topics. At the Yale Greenberg World Fellows program, Ahmed has been part of a group of 16 mid-career global leaders brought to Yale for a leadership development program that is part of the university’s Jackson Institute of Global Affairs. Stanford has an active Muslim community, which includes the Muslim Student Union at Stanford, and offers The Markaz, a resource center dedicated to uplifting Muslim students’ voices. ih
Safi S. M. Safiullah (left) rejoices his success
The Utah Library Association named Safi S. M. Safiullah Librarian of the Year on May 18. Safiullah, manager of the Salt Lake City Public Library’s Marmalade Branch, was recognized for his career in community engagement and lifelong support of libraries and education worldwide. Most recently, he organized an event about “fake news” that brought together various journalists and experts, among them Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial page editor George Pyle, Salt Lake City Weekly’s editor Enrique Limón, Deseret News senior project editor Allison Pond, and Brigham Young University’s associate professor of journalism Joel Campbell. Safiullah (MA, University of Manitoba; PhD, Middle Eastern history, University of Utah) is currently an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Utah and serves on various committees of the Utah Library Association, the American Library Association and the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association. ih
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 13
University of Iowa adjunct professor Carrie York Al-Karam is teaching something new in academics: “Introduction to Islamic Psychology.” UI hopes that this venture will blossom into a certificate-granting Islamic Psychology Institute. “It’s not even just a new course at the University of Iowa,” she told The (Iowa) Gazette. July 9 “It’s a new course; nobody is teaching this.” Islamic Psychology will be offered online for three semester hours this fall to all students. It will cover past and present ties between psychology and religion and delve into how Muslims have dealt with psychology and related ideas. “In the Islamic traditions,” York Al-Karam said, “there are what are called diseases of the heart, which are actually spiritual diseases.” Supporters contend that it will take students beyond the headlines and into the lives of practicing Muslims, thereby presenting practical aspects of the world’s second-largest religion. It could also undermine stereotypes and highlight broader connections between psychology and religion in general. In the words of Diana Fritz Cates, chairwoman of the UI Religious Studies department, Islam has a lot to say about the nature of being human, psychopathology and mental and physical healing. York Al-Karam, who has a doctorate in psychology, spent nearly 17 years overseas in the UAE, Lebanon, Turkey, France, Russia, Latvia and Singapore. She came to Iowa from Abu Dhabi in June 2016. Her husband now works as a surgeon at the UI Hospitals and Clinics.
Overland Park, Ks., Mayor Carl Gerlach (R) formally inaugurated the Islamic Center of Johnson County on June 16 by stating: “It’s important to Overland Park because these are great friends. They’ve worked well with the city, are great community builders, and it makes us a stronger community building this mosque here.” KCUR 89.3 said Zafir Hawa, a local cardiologist and mosque trustee, estimates that Johnson County is home to about 5,000 Muslims. Mosque officials told the station that they had consulted the FBI about security measures before constructing the new building. As a result, both the exterior and interior perimeters are equipped with special lights and panoramic surveillance cameras.
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported on June 16 that the Islamic Society of South Texas has broken ground for its new 10,000-square-foot mosque. Dr. Muhammad Khan, who moved to Corpus Christi 17 years ago, told the newspaper, “We’ll have separate classrooms, a bigger capacity, and more space for interfaith events.” Other amenities include a basketball court and soccer fields for the children. The All Dulles Area Muslim Society’s (ADAMS) of Sterling, Va., has secured the building permit for its new branch mosque in Nokesville, Va., after roughly three years of debate and stiff opposition from its future neighbors. The Prince William Board of County (Va.) Supervisors voted unanimously on June 28, at the end of an almost nine-hour meeting, to approve a special use permit for the 22,400-square-foot mosque, which will sit on a 14-acre site and hold up to 500 people.
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The county planning commission had recommended last December that the board approve the permit. A few county executives raised objections over connecting the center to sewer lines — even though two churches in the area had recently been allowed to do so. The supervisors ultimately defeated the objection by a 5-3 vote. Adams County, Colo., agreed to pay $25,000 to inmate Marquis Harris as part of a settlement over religious discrimination — deputies had refused to give him a copy of the Quran during Ramadan 2016. While not admitting any wrongdoing, the County Sheriff ’s Department also promised to give inmates religious materials in a timely manner and let them gather for prayer under the supervision of religious leaders.
Shenendehowa High School, the largest school district in New York’s Saratoga County, set aside two vacant rooms for Muslim students to pray during Ramadan. CBS 6 Albany reported on May 25 that Principal Donald Flynt gave his assent after meeting with Imam Abdul-Rahman Yaki of the Islamic Center of the Capital District in an attempt to improve the school’s cultural proficiency. This arrangement is voluntary and student-initiated; school employees will be involved in a non-participatory capacity. The school spokesperson said that since the school could not deny a student’s request to leave class for prayer, the space provided would allow them to return to class quickly. U.S. Department of Education rules permit students to pray when they are not in class. They are also free to read religious texts, say grace before meals and pray or study
The world we live in is constantly evolving and ISNA is committed to being a positive driver of change. ISNA has long recognized the importance of engaging with other faith communities as a fundamental part of its mission, and therefore, we continuously host and participate in interfaith events, meetings and webinars to educate our friends, partners, officials and activists about Islam. These interreligious initiatives have helped break down barriers of misunderstanding, formed genuine partnerships of faith and ethics, and
established a platform to advocate for social justice issues for the common good. We aim to work together to fight Islamophobia and share knowledge about the true teachings and understanding of our religion in all sectors. The gift of education has a ripple effect—it creates change locally, nationally and globally. Ignorance is our enemy, and with your support we can make a difference. Please donate to ISNA today.
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COMMUNITY MATTERS Agha’s light-based installations have been exhibited nationally and internationally in more than 20 solo and 50 group shows.
PHOTO BERKELEY COLLEGE
religious materials with fellow students during recess, the lunch hour and during their free time.
Pakistani-American artist Anila Quayyum Agha, professor at the Herron School of Art & Design, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, has won the Cincinnati Art Museum’s 2017 Schiele Prize. This prize honors the legacy of Marjorie Schiele, a Cincinnati artist whose generous bequest of the Hanke-Schiele Fund makes this award possible. Agha’s “All the Flowers are for Me (Red)” is the first piece to be purchased with the museum’s new Alice Bimel Endowment for Asian Art. The museum’s recent acquisition is a 5-foot laser-cut steel cube suspended from the ceiling and lit from within. The light emanating from the red lacquered cube envelops the gallery in intricate shadows that ripple and change as visitors move through the space.
Haseeb Khan (center)
Haseeb Khan, a student at McGill University’s Ingram School of Nursing who has contributed to Canada’s largest-ever study on dementia, was awarded the Maimonides Fellowship for academic strength and interest in gerontology on June 6. He already has one degree in commerce and another one in neuroscience.
Huda Shalabi, a 20-year-old Paterson, N.J., resident and Berkeley College (Class of ’18) student who interned with the Paterson Police Department, is working at the Paterson Task Force for Community Action, a social services organization, reported New Jersey.com, on June 15. This daughter of Palestinian immigrants, who is majoring in national security with a specialization in homeland security, is determined to become “the first Arab Muslim female officer who wears a hijab” in the Paterson Police Department. At Berkeley, she made the President’s List every semester. South Paterson, where Shalabi grew up, is home to about 20,000 Arab-Americans, one of the largest such communities in the country. ih
The New York City Council presented an award to CAIR-N.Y. on June 26 in recognition of its work in terms of helping hate crime victims, mobilizing against President Trump’s “Muslim Bans” and fighting for social justice. ih (L-R) Professor Madeleine Buck, assistant director, Ingram School of Nursing, Haseeb Khan, and Rosalie Dion, director, Nursing and Clinical Services, Maimonides.
16 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
PHOTO CREDIT: INGRAM SCHOOL OF NURSING
Goodfellow Air Force Base’s first mosque and the first in San Angelo, Tex., was inaugurated on June 23 at the base: a small room within the base’s Taylor Chapel. Between four to 15 international students and area residents attend prayer there. An official handout stated: “The [U.S.] Air Force places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religion. In addition, spiritual health is fundamental to the well-being of Air Force personnel and their families and is essential for operational success.”
Maine High School First in U.S. to Get Sports Hijabs
Deering High School in Portland, Me., is providing sport hijabs to boost Muslimahs’ participation in sports. The lightweight
scarves stay put and are less bulky than other hijabs, reported CBS Portland affiliate WGME-TV on June 8.
School tennis co-captains Liva Pierce and Anaise Manikunda — who are not Muslim — raised more than $800 online to buy these hijabs for their Muslim teammates after the school’s athletic director learned of the product. They solicited private donations to avoid criticism for using taxpayer funds to buy religious apparel, and ended up with enough money to outfit the lacrosse, soccer, volleyball, softball, field hockey and track teams. Instead of waiting for Nike’s hijab rollout next year, Athletic Director Melanie Craig tracked its supply to www.asiyasport.com. Maine — the nation’s whitest state — is becoming more culturally and racially diverse due to immigration. About 10,000 African newcomers, mostly from Somalia and Sudan and a smaller number from the Middle East, now live in its two largest cities. The high school — the state’s only high school to offer Arabic — is believed to be the first in the nation to do this, said CAIR spokesperson Ibrahim Hooper. ih
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USA TODAY High School Sports reported on June 19 that New York Football Club midfielder Jack Harrison presented Umar Farouk Osman with the Gatorade National Boys Soccer Player of the Year award. Osman has signed a national letter of intent to play soccer on scholarship at the University of Michigan beginning this fall. Osman, a midfielder, racked up 19 goals and nine assists for Hotchkiss High (Lakeville, Conn.) while playing in 28 of the team’s 30 goals. A native of Ghana, he
$10 per month!
Umar Osman tackles the ball.
finished his high school career with 63 goals and 45 assists. Gatorade selected the winner based on athletic achievement and impact during the 2016-17 season. Each winner also demonstrated high academic achievement and exemplary personal character, including volunteerism, sportsmanship and community leadership. Osman was a finalist for the 2017 Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award. ih
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SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 17
Boston Stands Against Islamophobia
Mayor Martin J. Walsh (D) executed a program that blanketed city bus stops for two weeks with signs designed to rid Boston of “Islamophobia,” reported The Boston Globe on July 17. The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) lauded the mayor’s initiative. Citizens taking public transit encountered 50 signs explaining how to stop Muslims from being harassed. “These posters are one tool we have to send the message that all are welcome in Boston,” Walsh stated. “Education is key to fighting intolerance, and these posters share a simple strategy for engaging with those around you.” French artist Marie-Shirine Yene, aka Maeril, whose work gained fame after the Nov. 13, 2015, Paris terror attacks, created the signage. “This initiative couldn’t come at a better time,” ISBCC’s civic engagement director Suzan El-Rayess told the newspaper. “We encourage all of our fellow Bostonians to apply the approach in these posters to anyone targeted — whether Muslim, Latino or otherwise.” The mayor’s post encouraged citizens who witness Islamophobia to: “Engage in conversation” with the victim. “Pick a random subject and start discussing it.” “Keep building the safe space” while not making eye contact with the aggressor. “Continue the conversation until the attacker leaves.” Faisa Sharif, a neighborhood liaison within the mayor’s civic engagement cabinet, informed the Globe that the signs seek to “encourage de-escalation” by offering citizens “a peaceful way to address harassment that bystanders may witness.” Walsh’s initiative was modeled after a similar campaign in San Francisco. ih
Mayor Kasim Reed (center) with iftar attendees
As American as Anyone Else
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF ATLANTA
Atlanta Hosts Its First Iftar
Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta hosted the first official iftar dinner at City Hall on June 20. Soumaya Khalifa, executive director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, which worked closely with Welcoming Atlanta to make the dinner happen, told Global Atlanta on June 23: “That really speaks volumes about and his commitment to diversity and inclusion in the city of Atlanta.” The mayor also lauded the achievements and contributions of the more than 100,000 Muslims in metro Atlanta, some of whom are among the country’s 20,000 Muslim physicians. He noted that Georgia host more than 80 mosques. Reed stressed: “I believe it is essential that Atlantans of all religious backgrounds get to know their Muslim neighbors. The divisive times we live in call on us to seek a deeper understanding of all of our residents. Only by broadening our inter-faith relationships can we come to a greater collective appreciation of our rich and multifaceted culture.” ih 18 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
The New York-based nonprofit Do Something (https://www. dosomething.org/us), a non-Muslim self-described “global movement for good,” conducted its “Sincerely Us” campaign during Ramadan by mailing greeting cards with messages of support to mosques nationwide. “During the 30 days of Ramadan this summer, Muslims across the United States (and the world!) are celebrating community, compassion, and mercy, three things we all believe in. Ramadan is the perfect time for our giant, beautiful outpouring of appreciation,” the campaigners said on their website. Campaign manager Adam Garner told A-Plus.com on June 10 that 41,287 letters of support written by 41,003 participants, along with some 29,000 cards, had been delivered by June 10. “When it’s Christmas, you give your Christian neighbors a Merry Christmas card. When it’s Hanukkah, you give your Jewish neighbors a Happy Hanukkah card. We thought it just made sense that when an important holiday like Ramadan happens, we should do the same thing for our Muslim neighbors,” he said. “Hate crimes against Muslim Americans have reached frightening levels. Part of being a good neighbor (and a good citizen of the United States) is standing next to and lending a hand when a community needs support,” Garner told the website’s reporter. “We stand for religious freedom and believe Muslim Americans deserve the same
respect as any other American. No one should fear for their safety because of the color of their skin, the language they speak, or what holidays they celebrate.” He went on to remark: “Given what’s happening in the United States right now and our deep reach specifically within the States, we decided to focus on just making sure we send cards to every single mosque here. ... I hope that people understand that our 3.3 million
Muslim American neighbors are just that: our neighbors. And they deserve the same respect, appreciation, and support that every other American deserves, which includes something as simple as a celebratory card on an important holiday.” Despite the rise in Islamophobia, Garner and the folks at DoSomething.org believe that this initiative has the power to make a big impact nationwide and, eventually, worldwide. ih
Islamic Society of North America Canada (ISNA Canada)
Search for Executive Director
ISNA Canada HQ, 2200 South Sheridan Way, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada The Executive Director, the key management leader of ISNA Canada Administration Team, is responsible for overseeing the organization’s administration, programs and strategic plan. Other key duties include fundraising, marketing, and community outreach. The position reports directly to the ISNA Canada Board of Directors. GENERAL RESPONSIBILITIES: Board Governance: • Works with the Board in order to fulfill the organization’s mission. • Responsible for leading ISNA Canada in a manner that supports and guides the organization’s mission as defined by the Board of Directors. • Responsible for communicating effectively with the Board and providing timely and accurate information necessary for the Board to function properly and to make informed decisions. Financial Performance and Viability: • Develops resources sufficient to ensure the organization’s financial health. • Responsible for the fiscal integrity of ISNA Canada including submission of a proposed annual budget and monthly financial statements to the Board which accurately reflect the organization’s financial condition. • Responsible for fiscal management that generally anticipates operating within the approved budget, ensures maximum resource utilization, and maintenance of the organization in a positive financial position. • Responsible for fundraising and developing other resources necessary to support ISNA Canada’s mission. Organization Mission and Strategy: • Works with the Board and staff to ensure that the mission is fulfilled through programs, strategic planning and community outreach. • Responsible for implementation of ISNA Canada’s programs that carry out the organization’s mission. • Responsible for strategic planning to ensure that ISNA Canada can successfully fulfill its Mission into the future. • Responsible for the enhancement of ISNA Canada’s image by being active and visible in the community and by working closely with other professional, civic and private organizations. Organization Operations: • Oversees and implements resources to ensure that the organization’s operations are appropriate. • Responsible for effective management of ISNA Canada administration team. • Responsible for the hiring and retention of competent and qualified staff based on policies and guidelines established by the Board.
• Responsible for signing all notes, agreements, and other instruments made and entered into and on behalf of the organization. PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATIONS: • Minimum of a Master’s degree in an area related to charity administration. MBA desirable. • Well versed in the practice of Islam as a way of life • Transparent and high integrity leadership • Seven or more years of senior NFP management experience • Solid, hands-on, budget management skills, including budget preparation, analysis, decision-making and reporting • Strong organizational abilities including planning, delegating, program development and task facilitation • Ability to convey a vision of ISNA Canada’s strategic future to the ISNA Canada staff, Board, volunteers and donors • Knowledge of fundraising strategies and donor relations unique to NFP sector • Skills to collaborate with and motivate board members and other volunteers • Strong written and oral communication skills • Ability to interface and engage diverse volunteer and donor groups • Demonstrated ability to oversee and collaborate with staff • Strong public speaking ability ACTUAL JOB RESPONSIBILITIES: • Planning and operation of annual budget • Establishing employment and administrative policies and procedures for all functions and for the day-to-day operation of the NFP • Serving as ISNA Canada’s primary spokesperson to the organization’s constituents, the media and the general public in accordance with ISNA Canada Board protocols • Establish and maintain relationships with various organizations throughout the state and utilize those relationships to strategically enhance ISNA Canada’s Mission • Report to and work closely with the Board of Directors to seek their involvement in policy decisions, fundraising and to increase the overall visibility of ISNA Canada throughout the country • Supervise and collaborate with organization staff • Carry out strategic planning and implementation • Oversee ISNA Canada Board and committee meetings • Oversee marketing and other communications efforts • Review and approve contracts for services • Other duties as assigned by the Board of Directors
Applicants or nominees for the position should be Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada or have documents of eligibility for work in Canada. Salary is commensurate with experience and other qualifications. Quality benefits package includes health insurance. Email resume to: Chair, ISNA Canada ED Search Committee, email@example.com
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 19
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
re a d w i t h di s a pp oi n tm e n t Misbahuddin Mirza’s article on interfaith marriages (May/June 2017). Notwithstanding the needlessly cruel description of a frog being slowly boiled to death, and by an imam no less, the article should have presented a more balanced perspective. The author’s viewpoint is motivated by fear and loss, not the love of God or humanity. Of course many interfaith marriages may not lead to preserving a Muslim identity, and when that happens we should all ask ourselves and discuss it, but many others elevate the consciousness of both individuals to a better understanding of what the worship of the One God really entails, the least of which is certainly not a love of humanity. Although the author describes a phenomenon that is probably true — that in the short term interfaith marriages may disperse one’s religious identity — a religion that carries a universal message will always flourish over the long arc of time. The author does not note that in the early days of Islam, Muslim merchants spread the message to far-away lands and married local women who sometimes were not even People of the Book, as in the case of China’s Hui Muslims, who were likely Taoists or Buddhists. The Mughals of India and the Arabs of al-Andalus both set precedents for interfaith marriage. The author’s name, in fact, suggests that his own ancestors were the product of just such a marriage. There are all sorts of marriage: happy and
unhappy interfaith couples, happy and really unhappy Muslim couples, and, as a result, all sorts of children. Our youth should be treated as intelligent human beings and thus be presented with something more than just a single view supported by Islamic jurists who are becoming increasingly irrelevant. In fact, they require a multitude of views and should ask themselves various questions — What is Islam? What does it mean to be a Muslim? What does it mean to be a human being? — so they can make a conscientious choice that is right for them and their circumstances without fear of losing their deeper religious values. Lastly, the editorial staff of Islamic Horizons should exercise better discretion in approving the tone of this article at a time when Muslim institutions and identities are under siege in our nation, thanks to the rising global rhetoric, and when our interfaith supporters have stood not just by us, but in many cases ahead of us, to defend our freedom of practice. The optics of this article don’t fare well when contrasted with the article and photo in the same issue a few pages before, where our sister in humanity is holding a sign that says “Christ the Servant Lutheran Church supports our Muslim sisters and brothers.” Sincerely Saad Shaikh, MD, MBA
THE AUTHOR RESPONDS: Thank you for the feedback. Tackling sensitive issues is never easy. When adding to that the audience’s young age and situating the issue in the “land of plenty,” this task becomes exponentially more difficult. And yet a complete or partial watering down of the issue would be a disservice to Islam as well as an insult to our youth’s intelligence and sense of discernment. After the Qur’an and Hadith, ijma‘ (the jurists’ consensus) is the third most important element in Islamic theology. Only competent jurists trained in jurisprudence, namely, muftis or their equivalent, can opine on the matter at hand. Emperor Akbar, who despised Islamic scholars and initiated interfaith discussions, gradually ended up creating a new religion, Din i Ilahi (Religion of God), that included daily sun worship. The marriages solemnized by earlier Muslims in various parts of the world are not quite analogous to today’s marriages to Christian and Jewish women in the West. For
20 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
instance, most of the Iberian Visigoths had actually converted to Islam and successfully fought to establish the Islamic Emirate of Sicily. In China, the Tang Dynasty’s emperor requested help from the Abbasid caliph to crush a rebellion and subsequently requested Muslim battalions to stay on for security. Those who did so married local Hui converts. Similarly, in South Asia and the Far East Muslims also married local converts. Interreligious marriages like that of Emperor Akbar/Jodha Bai do continue today, but they are the exceptions — not the norm. During the time of Caliph Umar (radi Allahu ‘anhu), Muslims faced an existential threat from two military superpowers hell-bent on wiping them off the face of this planet. With a handful of scarcely equipped and poorly supplied Muslims, he managed to conquer the mighty Sassanid Empire and then crush the colossal legions of the Byzantine Empire. The same enlightened Umar prohibited Muslim men from marrying non-Muslim women in Iraq and Syria because he evidently considered such interfaith marriages an existential threat to the Muslims. ih Misbahuddin Mirza
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Hope and Guidance Through the Quran ISNA hosted its 54th Annual Convention in Chicago BY SAMAN ESSA
endors pulled their trucks and vans into Chicago’s Donald E. Stephens Convention Center on Thursday evening of June 29 and began unloading their merchandise. Racks of beautifully embellished South Asian clothes and embroidered abayas lined the bazaar aisles. Books of all kinds — bedtime stories about the prophets for kids, interfaith dialogue books for adults and everything from fiqh to seerah — were stacked high on the display tables. Hijabs in an array of colors and textures, along with stunning handmade artwork, quickly filled the bazaar area. With over 300 vendors, there was something for everyone! 22 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
ISNA’s 55th Annual
Convention will be held in Houston on August 31-September 3, 2018
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 23
COVER STORY ISNA Convention Steering Committee members and volunteers flocked to the helpers’ meeting to receive their bright blue scarves, which many wore on their heads or around their necks throughout the weekend for easy identification. They unloaded boxes of gummy candies and halal marshmallow treats for the next day’s Eid party — a little treat for the convention’s youngest attendees. On Friday, right after Jumah the party was in full swing with children painting Eid cards and helper-outers popping popcorn, handing out cotton
of remaining true to one’s self and religion despite the current political climate. “Engagement is the key to empowerment,” proclaimed Laila Al-Arian, a broadcaster and filmmaker for Al-Jazeera America. “We’ve moved away from the previous generation’s idea of balancing Islam and living in America. The majority of the new generation were born and raised in America and thus identify with being American first, and only then [do they] recognize their parents’ home country. In this new age, it’s about practicing Islam
FROM BROOKLYN TO THE BAY AREA, FROM TEXAS TO LOCAL CHICAGOANS, THIS YEAR, LIKE EVERY YEAR, ISNA’S ANNUAL CONVENTION ATTRACTED SPEAKERS AND ATTENDEES FROM ALL OVER THE NATION. candy, distributing goodie bags and chocolate bars, painting faces, doing henna tattoos and snapping pictures at the photo booth! From Brooklyn to the Bay Area, from Texas to local Chicagoans, this year, like every year, ISNA’s Annual Convention attracted speakers and attendees from all over the nation. Two things brought them together: the uniting element of Islam and the attendees’ Muslim American identification. At the opening ceremony, members of CAIR, ICNA, MAS and MPAC, as well as Bishop Elizabeth Eaton from the Lutheran Church, stood up to salute the young Boy and Girl Scout troops who led the audience in the pledge of allegiance. After a few introductory words by Detroit’s own Fatima Salman, radio-show host (Between the Lines with Fatima Salman), youth worker and community activist, ISNA President Azhar Azeez proclaimed the weekend-long convention officially open. A single eloquent quote by Mahatma Gandhi (re-quoted by Mehdi Hassan at Saturday night’s main session) — “Be the change you wish to see in the world” — featured prominently in many speakers’ presentations, despite the official theme: “Hope and Guidance through the Quran.” This quote encouraged attendees to break out their personal bubbles by interacting with those who were not like them in terms of religion and/or skin color. Fittingly, the conference fell on the Fourth of July holiday weekend, which caused many of the speakers to emphasize the meaning of Muslim American identity and the sentiment
and contributing positively to the land we call home.” She was joined by several other panelists, including Bilqis Abdul Qaadir, a hijabi who made national news by pursuing her goal of playing professional basketball. Although she had played NCAA Basketball during her university years, when it came time to turn pro, FIBA (the International Basketball Federation), basketball’s governing body, claimed that her hijab could be injurious to others. She countered by working to get this rule overturned, even meeting with then President Obama several times. Like so many of the convention’s other speakers, Abdul-Qaadir chose to embrace Islam and continued to excel in her respective field. Described by Linda Sarsour as “unapologetically Muslim,” she was not the only Muslim athlete in the spotlight at this event. ISNA also hosted Ryan Harris, the first Muslim to wear a Super Bowl ring, who retired this March. “Don’t be ashamed,” he advised the audience. “Don’t try to be someone else, and don’t measure yourself next to anyone.” This succinct quote nicely summed up his talk’s general theme that excelling in what one is good at comes from belief in oneself. Both of these athletes are just two examples of extremely successful proud and practicing Muslims who work hard every day to be the best in their chosen careers. The Muslim American community has come a long a way. We have successful athletes, doctors, lawyers, politicians, and everything in between.
24 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
The indefatigable Convention Chair Abdul Wahab (left) on the job
Thus some young Muslims are starting to get interested in other fields. For example, one panel featured Muslim fiction writers for, according to one of them, “Books have the potential to emotionally change a person. It can change a person’s entire worldview.” We may not really stress writing and journalism, but many speakers nevertheless argued throughout the weekend that these are important career fields, for “If we don’t tell or write our own stories, someone else will.” Inclusiveness was another frequently discussed panel topic. Omar Suleiman introduced three youth from his program, Yaqeen Institute (https://yaqeeninstitute.org/en/homepage), to reflect upon the challenges they’ve faced and what they’ve done to try to make their communities more inclusive. Muhammad O’yoon spoke about the development of his app, Roll With Me, to help those who are disabled and in wheelchairs like he is. “Through perseverance, we have the potential to do good things and inspire others to do so too,” he said. Another young man talked about feeding the needy and an organization he created that does that, while another spoke on teaching the Quran to refugees. “We have our weaknesses and strengths, so use the strengths Allah has given you to make a positive difference.” He was only in high school when he decided to launch this initiative, encouraging people of all ages to understand that they can still help others. A few panels sought to bring people’s attention to the diversity within the Muslim American community, with African American, Indonesian, and Hispanic Muslims informing the attendees about how hard it is to find acceptance within mainstream American-Muslim society, which is often dominated by Arabs, and South Asians. It was stressed that Islam ranges from white to brown to black and all shades in between. Our skin color and nationality should not matter. The call was for looking for similarities — our love for God and Islam. The Latino community has opened up the nation’s first Spanish-speaking mosque in Houston: Centro Islamico (https://www.islaminspanish.org/). “The space was designed for ease,” noted Alex Gutierrez, the mosque’s director of operations. “We had a lot of push-back, creating a mosque for Hispanic reverts, but it’s not an effort to segregate. A lot of converts speak only Spanish, so this allows them to go to jumah and hear a khutbah in Spanish. And of course, Centro Islamico is open to everyone!” The sessions touched upon gender inclusiveness as well, including creating spaces for women in masjids and maintaining them if they already exist. Omar Suleiman recounted a story about a woman — in some traditional sources she is
identified as Umm Mihjan — who lived in the masjid during the time of the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alyhi wa sallam) and kept it clean. Normally, that’s the context in which we hear of her. However, Suleiman drew attention to the fact that she was living in the Prophet’s masjid. “In our times today, we don’t give preference to women who want to do itikaaf, but the Prophet never turned anyone away.” Saturday afternoon was the highlight for many — the Community Service Recognition Luncheon, in which Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, national director of the ISNA Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances in Washington D.C. and a former ISNA secretary general, was recognized for his contribution to ISNA. Attendees saluted both Dr. Syeed and late Hajja Razia Sharif Sheikh for being instrumental in laying the foundations for Muslim Americans today. In her presentation, keynote speaker Linda Sarsour honored Hajja Razia Sharif Sheikh and Dr. Syeed, whom she thanked for the “decades of work that you have committed to our community ...we stand on your shoulders and the work that you have done and the infrastructure that you have built for all of us to be proud Muslims in these United States of America.”
She made several other points: that even an “unapologetically Muslim and a Palestinian American” woman like her can find acceptance within the mainstream, that in a democratic nation the highest form of patriotism is dissent, that Muslim Americans need to become more actively involved, and that our current leaders should begin passing the torch to younger generations to prepare them to move the community forward. She also called for two things that are often ignored: (1) Don’t try to be a jack of all trades;
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 25
Services chaplains with (ret.) Lt. Col. Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad, the first Muslim chaplain in the armed forces (3rd left)
rather, leverage the community’s skills by letting those who know how to do something actually do it and (2) make your own opportunities instead of waiting for them to fall into your lap. In other words, be ready when, as they say, opportunity knocks. Her full speech is available at https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=k0tr0CFik2k. Following the luncheon was the main session, “Hope and Guidance through the Quran,” which featured Mehdi Hassan, Yasir Qadhi, Dalia Mogahed and Omar Suleiman. The night started off with introducing MSA (Muslim Student Association) National’s president Maheen Ahmed. ISNA president Azhar Azeez recognized Imam Mohamed Majid, one of his predecessors in this post (2010-14) for his many years of dedication to the organization. Alaa Abdeldaiem, the new president of MYNA (Muslim Youth of North America) and the new IMANA (Islamic Medical Association of North America) president Dr. Imran Qureshi. British journalist Mehdi Hassan set the stage for the rest of the speakers with his moving quote from the Champ Muhammad Ali: “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” Yasir Qadhi opined that what it means to be a decent human being, for “the [very] concept of decency seems to be lost.” He referenced the story of Ibn Ali Miller, a 26-year-old from Atlantic City, Md., whose video went viral recently when he broke up a fight between two young men. “Our religion teaches us to stop evil,” Qadhi proclaimed. “Whether we’re the ones doing the evil, or if we see it happening, it’s up to us to stop it.”
Dalia Mogahed took the stage next and immediately set forth a disclaimer. “I am not trained in Quranic sciences,” she said, “but the Quran addresses us — the layman [and the laywomen]. The Quran is a book for laymen [and laywomen].” Referencing the story of David and Goliath, among many others, she noted that “Like David, who was unafraid of Goliath, a giant much larger than himself, we should focus on the Creator, not the calamity.” She reminded the audience that David (‘alayhi as salam) was full of hope and focused on Allah. According to her, “Hope sounds like courage and looks like work.” She then referred to the Qur’anic account of Moses (‘alayhi as salam) and al-Khidir (18:60-82), in which al-Khidir, much to Moses’s distress, sank a poor fisherman’s boat by making a hole in it. Al-Khidir explained that doing so prevented the local king, who was in the habit of seizing boats in good condition for himself, from stealing this particular boat. After it was fixed, the fisherman would be in business once again. Thus, “our hardships can be a protection. I’ve had death threats, and that was my hardship. However, [that has] protected me from the love and desire for fame.” Like many of the other speakers, Suleiman referred to one of the greatest Muslim Americans of all time: Muhammad Ali. “Hope is composure during a time of distress,” he said before talking about how the Champ was stripped of his title because he “would not fight in Vietnam against and be responsible for taking the lives of innocent people. He refused to go.” During this time he was living in Miami. When he realized that the city had no mosque, he purchased and then converted an old church into what is now the state’s oldest mosque. “Muhammad Ali was not shy of his beliefs. He stood up for what he believed in, and when he was shunned, he turned around and
26 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
Abdalla Idris Ali
did another good thing.” Although ostracized at one point in time, he is now regarded as one of the best sports champions in history. “The victory of haters is short lived,” he remarked, noting that the time of hate we live in now is only temporary, thereby boosting the crowd’s morale. Activists like CAIR’s Zahra Billoo, Sarsour, and Imam Khalid Latif, executive director and chaplain for the Islamic Center at New York University, along with scholars like Omar Suleiman and Imam Zaid Shakir, co-founder of Zaytuna College, alike explored the idea that before anything else, Islam is a religion of social justice. “What’s the point of religion,” Latif asked, “if we’re not sharing and caring? ... Our religion is one of inclusiveness. Islam teaches us to eliminate the ego and help those around us. We cannot be good practitioners of faith unless we acknowledge racism and combat it.” Expanding on this, Billoo wondered, “What are we fighting for? Freedom and safety. Shouldn’t everyone get that? Everything else — what community they come from and what political party they align themselves with — shouldn’t matter.” Suleiman encouraged people to do one thing, “Simply show up to show your support” he said in reference to the young black American men and women killed by police officers and the subsequent rallies and marches held to demand justice. The sessions with Muslim Indonesian Houstonians cleared up the misconception that all Muslims are the same or come from the same place. “Muslims are not just one hat. We are many.” The sessions on mental health featuring psychologists from the Khalil Center (http://khalilcenter. com), a Chicago-based Zakat Foundation project that practices therapy with an Islamic twist. They sought to demystify mental health stigmas by pointing out God’s own words, “We created humans anxious” (70:19). It was pointed out that
by default, people are creatures of anxiety, so they must learn to cope with it in healthy ways. The several “Meet the Author” panels featured converts, immigrants and people from all walks of life who have written about their life journey. Another panel featured Sarah Haider, founder of the New Star Kafala Adoption Agency (www.newstarkafala. org), who sought to clear up Muslims’ misconceptions about foster care and adoption. Saturday afternoon also included a town-hall meeting hosted by the ISNA Executive Committee to discuss the upcoming ratification to their constitution. For those interested in seeing the proposed amendments, please visit the ISNA website. Many speakers offered small bits of advice that all of us can implement in our daily lives. Suleiman drove home the point that the “ummah is one body. When one part hurts the whole body hurts, and when one part is healthy the whole body benefits.”
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 27
Sayyid M. Syeed A Mentor to an Entire Generation
HIS YEAR, THE COMMUNITY SERVICE RECOGNITION LUNCHEON (CSRL) WAS A VERY
much-awaited event. ISNA therefore broke its tradition by announcing in advance that the honoree would be Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, who has retired as national director of the ISNA Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances in Washington D.C. A former ISNA secretary general and former MSA president, he was MSA head when that organization was transitioning and laying the foundations for ISNA. ISNA President Azhar Azeez introduced Dr. Syeed as an important Muslim American leader, “a giant pioneering figure ... and a mentor to an entire generation of people, who taught them how to do Islamic work, how to serve the Muslim community and overall society in the best possible way.” During his speech, Dr. Syeed reflected upon how he had spent years as a prisoner in his homeland, Indianoccupied Kashmir, and what inspired him to realize that this “duty” was not just to work for its liberation but toward something greater and more important: The major shaykhs and Islamic scholars’ total rejection of the fact of Neil Armstrong’s walking on the moon in 1969, something that they declared “impossible.” From then on, he dedicated himself “to liberating the Muslim mind ... from this kind of stagnation.” Ultimately, he came to the U.S to work with others to create a Muslim presence here, to make it a JudeoChristian-Islamic country, a place where Muslims could interact with their legacy in a new way. He accepted the award on behalf of the “hundreds and thousands of Muslims who participated in creating this new reality.” ih His full speech is available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B7Zj1c2HfBmvS0NiNGxacmNNN0k/ view?usp=sharing
He suggested sponsoring an orphan as one way to help improve the ummah’s condition. ISNA Vice President Dr. Altaf Hussein and his co-panelist, Ameena Jandali, a founder of the Islamic Networks Group (https://ing.org), talked about family and raising children according to the Sunnah. Their session was packed, leaving many to stand. Dr. Hussein provided an acronym — P.R.A.Y — to help the audience take home an easy message. “P: Prayer. Prayer softens the heart,” he said. “If you’re in a disagreement with your spouse or kids, pray for them. R: Respect your spouse and children. A: Appreciation. A little appreciation
can go a long way. Instead of coming home huffing and puffing, think about what kind of day THEY may have had. Maybe they had a worse day. Appreciate each other. Y: Yield to arguments.” He said that a lot of times, we have this “my way or the highway” mentality, but they’re really just trivial matters. “Learn to give up fights and learn to let go of pride,” he advised. Siblings Dalia and Yasir Fehmi, who shared a panel, emphasized the power of dua. “Dua protects,” Dalia said, retelling the story of Ta’if and how the Prophet made dua for the city’s future generations, despite the unkindness its inhabitants had
28 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
Young Muslims have their own Convention delights
shown him. Yasir also highlighted an important point: Check your intention before taking action. “Do not let your intention be to be merciful (to non-Muslims) be because you want acceptance,” he told them. “Rather, let your intention to be merciful be because you want to follow the example of the Prophet.” Wajahat Ali moderated “Building Confidence,” a talk show-style panel during which he interviewed Ryan Harris, Dalia Mogahed, Hassan Shibly and Jaime Mujahid Fletcher. Harris said “athletes are the best Muslim ambassadors” because they are cheered on by whole communities. “We tell our kids to play it safe,” Ali asserted, “but really we should encourage them to be at the top of their game in any field.” Mogahed proclaimed that she “doesn’t have time for haters” and frankly, neither do we. All of the panelists had a similar take-home message: Yes, it’s a scary time we live in and it’s easy to demonize Trump supporters, but as Muslims it’s our duty to reach across the fence and try to understand others. It shouldn’t be about us and our problems; rather, it should be about trying to facilitate an understanding. We should be proud to be Muslim, but that pride should come from a place of mercy and compassion, always. They also alluded to the story of Yusuf (‘alayhi as salam). “Not only was he the best at what he did, but he stepped up and asked for the job of finance minster. His story teaches us to be the best in our field and not be afraid to ask for a position.” This story also teaches us to forgive and be compassionate. Like Yusuf, we should forgive those who have wronged us and rid our heart of hate. The event that the younger crowd (and maybe more from the older crowd) had been waiting for took place on Sunday night: ISNA’s night of entertainment! The red carpet was rolled out, smoke filled the stage, microphone stands and drum sets were brought out and spotlights flashed different colors. Preacher Moss, dressed in his bakerboy hat and bowtie, was the emcee. The opening performance was by ADAMS Beats, a group of children from Virginia. Color coordinated in baby pink and black attire, the kids won the hearts of the audience by singing the Qasida Burda. There were special appearances by Moses the Comic and Dean Obeidallah. Both performed standup comedy before giving way to Raif, a singer who performed a new twist on an old favorite: singing Ta’la al-badoo alayna [trans. O the white moon rose over us] in Arabic, English and Indonesian. The audience loved it and responded by waving their lit cellphones in the air. In honor of the Fourth of July, he performed another fan favorite: “Hope.” The back screen was lit red, white, and blue as he sang “Home is where the heart is, home is where the love is.”
Alaa Abdeldaiem, the new president of MYNA
A short intermission took place as President Azeez took the stage to auction off footballer Ryan Harris’ jersey. The bidding went back and forth intensely between two bidders and was forced to stop in the $7,000s by Azeez. There was also a short segment by Umar Malik, a doctor-turned-rapper who is completing his residency in New Mexico. His uploaded rap “Letter to the Future” in light of the 2016 election has already received over 20,000 views. He performed his rap Sunday night before giving the stage to the much-loved Native Deen. Members Joshua Salaam, Naeem Muhammad and Abdul-Malik Ahmad graced the stage with their beautiful voices, kufis and blazers. With their timed choreography and interactive songs, Native Deen always seems to be the audience’s favorite. Lastly, the much-anticipated Deen Squad performed. Karter Zaher (KZ) and Jae Deen, the hip-hop duo from Canada, brought a vast amount of energy to the stage and performed their hitsongs from their new album, Fajr, along with old favorites. People returned to their homes and hotel rooms Sunday night to get a few hours of sleep before venturing back home the next day. As bittersweet as it is for ISNA’s Annual Convention to come to an end, it won’t be long before the next one rolls around! I, for one, could not be more excited! ISNA’s 55th Annual Convention will be held in Houston, my hometown, on August 31-September 3, 2018. Registration is now open, and more information can be found at www.isna.net. ih Saman Essa, who is majoring in psychology and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Houston, plans to become a psychologist with a focus on immigrant and refugee population in the U.S. All photos are the work of Rabia Khan.
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 29
ISLAM IN AMERICA
Islam is Beautiful, Even in Its Prohibitions In observing Divine commandments, including emulating Prophet Muhammad’s good character, Muslims will naturally exemplify that beauty BY ENGY ABDELKADER
hile Muslim Americans make up just 1 to 2 percent of the entire U.S. population, they continue to experience disproportionately high levels of discrimination in schools, at work and in the public square, among other places. In addition, research shows that they are the nation’s most disfavored (See Muslims are Most Disliked Group in America, study finds, The Independent, UK, Sep. 16, 2016) and dehumanized (Washington Post, 9/18/2015; also Bruneau and Kteily, “Backlash: The Politics and Real-World Consequences of Minority Group Dehumanization” in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Nov. 1, 2016) minority group. When confronted with Islamophobia, Muslims need to continue to respond positively in the physical and spiritual realms, for both are equally significant and interdependent. In doing so, Muslims must vigilantly
guard their morals and values. This may prove rather challenging at times, particularly in the present context where so many seem to enjoy “success” in various professional arenas despite particular vices. These vices, ranging from corruption to adultery, are increasingly normalized as society encourages us to engage in moral relativism. Recognizing and striving toward prophetic character traits (e.g., truthfulness, kindness and generosity) in the spiritual quest for good character may prove insufficient without corollary knowledge about “bad character.” This reminder seems particularly timely in the present confusing context, where concocting falsehoods or “alternative facts” and similar vices appear to be “rewarded” with more power, money and popularity. In light of such seemingly illusory “rewards” — from securing public office to
30 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
achieving professional advancement — subscribing to such conduct can prove tempting. These “rewards” are illusory on multiple levels, not least of which is because this life is illusory. Ultimately, the human’s destination is the Hereafter, where each person will be held accountable before his/her Creator. Two bad character traits from which all Muslims should do their best to abstain are: Oppression. While references to “oppression” may trigger immediate associations with the Palestinians or the Rohingya in Burma, there are additional, perhaps more subtle forms of injustices that require all Muslims’ attention as well. The first type occurs when humans disbelieve in or worship others or their desires rather than God, “And it is the disbelievers who are wrongdoers” (2:254) and “Verily, joining others in worship with God is a great wrong indeed” (31:13). In such common situations as accompanying co-workers to “Happy Hour,” to texting for tweeting that attractive person from class, Muslims should probe their spiritual heart to determine whether such conduct is most pleasing to God. And while they may think that a friendly peck on the cheek or hug from their favorite supervisor, coworker or classmate is harmless, they should probe their spiritual heart as to whether the best response is, in fact, “I’m sorry — I’m Muslim.” The second injustice, that against oneself
religion or other markers of social identity (e.g., race, income-level, disability, marital status, age and gender). So, all of the ‘isms that are so rampant in society are nothing short of injustices that we must stand against as a matter of faith.
wa sallam) happened to pass by a heap of corn. He thrust his hand into it, and his fingers felt wetness. He asked the owner: “O owner of the corn, what is this?” The man replied: “O God’s Messenger! These have been drenched by rainfall.” He remarked:
ISLAM’S PRIMARY SOURCES INSTRUCT MUSLIMS TO REFRAIN FROM CHEATING, BETRAYING OR DECEIVING OTHERS.
in the context of sinful practices or disobeying Divine commandments, is particularly hard to avoid because of the subtlety that informs some sins. Once one acquires appropriate knowledge, that awareness can prove unnerving in light of promised accountability before God in the Hereafter. To learn more about this, consult Shaikh Hamza Yusuf ’s “Purification of the Heart” (2004) and “The Purification of the Soul” (1993, Ta-ha Publishers, Al-Firdous Ltd, London), which is a compilation of the works of Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya and Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. The third, and arguably most recognizable, type of oppression arises when one harms another, physically and in terms of one’s honor. Several prophetic narrations prove instructive here, “All of the Muslim is sacred to the Muslim, his blood, his honor and his wealth” (Muslim) and “He who has done a wrong affecting his brother’s honor or anything else must ask his forgiveness for it today before the time when he will have neither a dinar nor a dirham. If he has done some good deeds, a portion equal to his wrongdoings will be subtracted from them; but if he has no good deeds, he will be burdened with the evil deeds in the same proportion of the one he wronged” (al-Bukhari). While these narrations focus upon Muslims, Islamic teachings relate that one cannot oppress others, irrespective of
The Qur’anic injunctions on this score are powerful, “Deal not unjustly, and you shall not be dealt with unjustly” (2:279), “And whoever among you does wrong, We shall make him taste a great torment” (25:19) and “Such is the punishment of your Lord when He seizes the (population of) towns which they are doing wrong. Verily His punishment is painful (and) severe” (11:102). In contemporary America, a number of institutions and individuals exemplify how Muslims stand against injustice. Representative in this regard are CAIR, the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee and Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative. Some institutions differ in how they counter oppression, but are nevertheless challenging injustice, such as Muslim Advocates (litigation), Zaytuna College (education), Muslim Public Affairs Council (policy), Islamic Relief (humanitarian aid) and the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (research). A number of Muslim Americans are working in an individual capacity, such as Wajahat Ali (a writer), Dean Obeidallah (through artistic expression and advocacy), Tamara Gray (a religious leader) and Sahar Aziz (an academic). The means may differ, but they seem to share the same desired goal. Cheating. Islam’s primary sources instruct Muslims not to cheat or deceive others. Such conduct manifests in all spheres of life: in school, at work and in our personal lives. Cheating not only encompasses obvious conduct related to exams, but also to engaging in trying to sell defective products to a customer, for instance. Reflect upon the following related narration: Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi
“Why did you not place this (the drenched part of the heap) over the corn so that people might see it? He who deceives is not of us.” (Muslim) Sometimes it is easiest to understand a concept or lesson by reflecting on its opposite. Consider the following example: In 2016, a Syrian refugee in Germany received new furniture from a humanitarian organization. To his surprise he found $55,000 inside, which would have enabled him to bring his two brothers over from Syria. Instead, he reported this incident to the police. He later explained to journalists, “I am a Muslim. I’m not allowed to keep this money. My religion forbids it. Allah would never allow me to finance my own interests with someone else’s wealth.” His values and convictions made international news, from The Huffington Post to NPR. Exemplifying good character will help the community reclaim the narrative about Muslims and Islam in this life, as evidenced by a spectrum of inspired initiatives — from myriad LaunchGood campaigns to counter violent extremism to selfless volunteerism at soup kitchens to feed the homeless on Christmas and Thanksgiving, to standing against injustice meted out to marginalized populations to offering free health clinics to low-income families during Ramadan. It will also help ensure bliss in the Hereafter. Ultimately, Islam is beautiful — even in its prohibitions. And, in observing Divine commandments, including emulating Prophet Muhammad’s good character, Muslims will naturally exemplify that beauty. ih Engy Abdelkader is a legal scholar, researcher and educator who has worked with Muslims, Arabs and South Asians since 9/11 to counter Islamophobia.
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 31
Effective Sermons Come in Considerate Packages The imam is a teacher whose self-control is essential for his own and the congregation’s success BY ABUBAKAR N. KASIM
couldn’t perform my Friday prayer the other day. I had left my infant and wife at a nearby coffee shop so he wouldn’t disturb the congregation or become agitated by the crowd. The khutba was supposed to start at 1:30, followed by the prayer at 2 and our doctor’s appointment at 2:30. The khateeb, who seemed to have chosen a text at random and was just translating it, wasn’t going to finish anytime soon. My mind wandered and lost its sense of peace, for I was preoccupied about the appointment, my family, and getting to the doctor’s office. Finally I gave up, performed the zuhr prayer somewhere else, and left — the khateeb was still mumbling. Unfortunately, this is a widespread phenomenon in many
mosques. The Friday prayer, an integral part of a Muslim’s life, is a time for enriching one’s soul and recharging. They come together to worship their Creator and get a dosage of faith that, they hope, will motivate them until the next Friday. However, most of the imams and khateebs forget the Prophet’s recommendation to keep the sermon short, as explained by Sheikh Salih AlMunajjid in his Question and Answer (https://islamqa.info). In countries, where Friday is a regular working day, time is important because people have to go back to work. In North America, a Muslim employee has the right to ask for time off on Friday prayer thanks to the efforts of such national advocacy groups as CAIR (www.cair.com) and the National
32 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
Council of Canadian Muslims (www.nccm. ca). But one should not be overly obsessed with rights and what the government should do for him/her at the expense of his/her responsibilities. For example, someone could be fired or harm a client or patient due to unnecessary delays. A congregant might have a dying relative at the hospital and need to get there as soon as possible. An agitated Muslim who wants to avoid being late for work could rush out of the mosque and endanger people’s lives by causing an accident on the road. Instead of turning this prayer into a tense experience, we should ensure that it is a memorable and peaceful experience. The time allotted for the prayer and the khutba should be strictly respected and enforced. In addition, the khateeb should keep his sermon short and precise so that the congregants’ minds are not wondering how to explain their tardiness to the boss.
PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT: AT WHAT COST?
What makes things worse and angers people even more is the leadership’s invitation to politicians seeking public office or reelection to speak either before the sermon or after
ISLAM IN AMERICA the prayer. In the latter case, this interferes with one’s supererogatory prayers. And especially with the clapping, things just become too much. Some politicians take advantage of the Muslims’ traditional hospitality and kindness and push the leadership for just such times to reach the maximum number of people. They deserve our hospitality and respect, but not at the expense of the sacred
for the occasion. After all, don’t they expect such respect when they are performing their duties in the Congress or Parliament? In addition, the prayer schedule should never be disturbed and the khateeb ought to be prepared and knowledgeable. As Anwar wrote: “Khateebs [habitually prolong the] khutba and speeches ... Prophet Muhammad’s longest sermon was the last khutba at Hajj-e Akbar. You can read it in
LENGTHY SPEECHES, GOING TO THE PODIUM UNPREPARED, TRYING TO DELIVER A ONEHOUR SPEECH AND ATTEMPTING TO SOLVE THE WORLD’S PROBLEMS IN ONE KHUTBA WILL ONLY MAKE YOU LOSE THE AUDIENCE EVERY TIME AND ULTIMATELY ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO STOP ATTENDING. time allotted for the spiritual purification via our intimate connection with the Creator. As Syed Jawed Anwar, publisher and editor of the Canada-based online magazine as-seerah.com wrote: “[A] politician’s accommodation inside the masjid is disastrous. They can meet after Jumuah outside the masjid. This was the past tradition.” Imam Zia Khan of Halifax agrees: “The politician can speak after the khutbah (5 minutes) [and] then he can meet people if they would like to meet him or her.” Clapping and cheering, part of the political paraphernalia, should not be allowed in the mosque because God states: “And their [the polytheistic Makkans] worship at the (holy) House is naught but whistling and handclapping” (Quran 8:35). But clapping is allowed in the right context: If the imam makes a mistake during the prayer, men can call it to his attention by saying “Subhan Allah.” Women can do so by clapping their hands (Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 2, book 22, hadith no. 295). Those who run the mosque’s affairs should take this matter seriously and organize the Friday prayer. For example, no one should be allowed to interfere with the sermon’s set time, regardless of his status. Distinguished guests or politicians should wait until the sermon and the supererogatory prayers are finished, thereby showing respect
10 minutes. He might have delivered it in ... 30 minutes.” He then described the frustration engendered by prolonged sermons and recalled once noticing at a mosque in Queens, New York, that the imam was handing notes to the guest khateeb asking him to wrap it up. Imam Zia Khan of Halifax’s Centre for Islamic Development added: “The topic should be relevant and that the khateeb be well prepared. ... Often, I find that speakers are ill prepared and they wing it. Sometimes the imam, if he has the position, just does not care and is sloppy. The khutba should have the spiritual element, the practical element (tone, emotions, balance).” Meer Saheb, a prominent Muslim engineer in London, Ontario, says: “Imams need to be considerate with the time they take because older people have [health] problems or cannot sit for lengthy periods and mothers with small children also have a hard time.” Sheikh Jamal Taleb, imam of the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario, discussed the omnipresent problem of latecomers who block other cars or park in the residents’ driveways and leave abruptly after the prayer while showing no respect to those around them. “I would ask those who come to perform salah on Friday to keep this day with no important appointment or take more time
to be away from their work, as this day supposed to be special.” He remarked that both the khateeb and the mosque’s administration have to respect time, as do the congregants, who should come early so that they don’t disturb the imam, exit calmly and not fight in the parking lot after the service is over. The organizers should be conscious of God and not cause others to avoid the Friday prayer or lose their connection with the Creator during the sermon. A khateeb should utilize the allotted time to deliver a powerful talk designed to change lives, as a business opportunity, a win-win situation for all parties. Just imagine — If you change one person per Friday, how much profit would it generate for your account in the Hereafter? Lengthy speeches, going to the podium unprepared, trying to deliver a one-hour speech and attempting to solve the world’s problems in one khutba will only make you lose the audience every time and ultimately encourage people to stop attending. In sum, an effective khateeb is one who uses common sense, plans ahead, and delivers a short but powerful talk. ih Abubakar N. Kasim is a freelance writer based in Toronto, Canada
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SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 33
ISLAM IN AMERICA
SOME MUSLIMS APPEAR TO BE SEPARATING THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF SO THAT OTHER LAY MUSLIMS CAN BENEFIT FROM YOGA’S PHYSICAL ASPECTS WITHOUT COMPROMISING THEIR BELIEFS.
Does Islam Allow Yoga? What exactly is yoga? BY MISBAHUDDIN MIRZA
n 2014 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is also leader of the ultra-right wing Bharatiya Janata Party, proposed to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) that June 21 be marked as International Yoga Day. Within three months, this resolution was cosponsored by 177 nations and as passed. Prominent Hindu spiritual leader Ravi Shankar (not to be confused with the musician of the same name), founder of Art of Living, applauded this and remarked, “It is very difficult for any philosophy, religion, or culture to survive without State patronage….” While this has given yoga increased worldwide publicity, scholars from the monotheistic religions continue to question its religious permissibility — with some of them condemning its practice in quite strong language. In 1977, according to tabletmag.org, a Lubavitch rabbi forbade his followers to practicing yoga, equating it to avodah zarah (idolatry). In 1989 and 2003, the Vatican issued two documents that criticized yoga’s practice: it “can degenerate into a cult of the body” and “could also lead to psychic
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disturbance and, at times, to moral deviations.” Recently, the Vatican’s top exorcist condemned it as a “satanic act” that leads to “demonic possession.” Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa proclaimed yoga haram in a 2004 fatwa. Earlier, Singapore’s Islamic scholars issued the same ruling. In 2008 Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council also condemned it on the ground that it contains elements of Hinduism and leads to blasphemy and Indonesia’s Council of Ulemas passed a similar fatwa the following year. In 2009, Ali Bardakoglu, head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, discounted yoga as a commercial venture that could lead to extremism. In the present context, the Sanskrit term yoga, derived from the root word Yuj (to join, attach, or unite), refers to a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices that seek to “join the human self with god.” A wide array of yoga schools, practices, and goals can be found in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The physical exercises/postures (asanas) are accompanied by the chanting of various Hindu and Buddhist mantras (e.g., om and hiram) . Proponents have claimed that these exercises can help resolve several medical issues. However, there have also been counter-claims regarding the negative health/
physical impairments caused by some strenuous physical postures that, in turn, have been blamed on inadequately trained instructors. Shaykh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid, has written in detail on this topic on his website (https://islamqa.info/en/shaikh). He explains that Muslim scholars are divided on this issue: It’s completely forbidden, permitted without reservation, and partially permitted. After a detailed discussion, he concludes that Muslims should not practice yoga because all Muslim scholars agree that it originated from the idolatrous Hindu and then Buddhist belief systems. The first opinion is based upon various considerations (e.g., its religious origins, resemblance to idol worship, and physical harm to the body) and the second one upon reducing yoga to physical exercise by removing its spiritual aspects. Al-Munajjid does not consider the third group’s opinion valid because laypeople cannot discern between yoga’s permissible and forbidden practices. He quotes from Jameel Sulayba’s “Al-Mu‘jam al-Falsafi” (2/590) and his book “Mazaahirat al-Tashabbuh bi al-Kuffaar fi al-‘Asr al-Hadeeth wa Atharuha ‘ala al-Muslimeen”: “Yoga is a Sanskrit word which means union; it is used to refer to a kind of spiritual exercise that is practiced by the wise men of India for the purpose of union with
the universal spirit. Yoga is not a school of philosophical thought; rather it is an artistic way of doing some exercises that release the soul from physical and mental gravity and take it step-by-step towards reality. The Yogi is the wise man who practices this way.” However, Dr. Ahmad Shalabi, an expert in Indian religions, remarks in his “Adyaan al-Hind al-Kubra” (p. 174): “The union of Buddha with the Hindu gods [and goddesses] is nothing but a return to belief in Jnana Yoga i.e., the ‘path of knowledge’ which sees truth in all religions and philosophies. But this truth is only a particle of the greater, complete truth. This school of thought does not object to any religion or philosophy; it thinks that any religion or philosophy is not everything and is not the whole truth. The one who believes in this way of thinking does not belong to any religion or school of thought, because he regards the followers of all different religions as his brothers, no matter how they differ. So Jnana Yoga is a way that encompasses all beliefs and refuses to be restricted by any of them. We should highlight the fact that propagating and promoting this way of thinking is aimed at fighting Islam indirectly. I have seen these attempts in several countries. Islam is the force that defeated both Christian and Buddhist missionaries, so if they can manage to divert people in one way or another — even
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 35
ISLAM IN AMERICA in the name of Jnana Yoga that encompasses all beliefs and does not restrict itself to any one of them — that is a great victory for them. After they have managed to divert the Muslim from Islam at the end of this smart trick, then it is possible to make him doubt and then pull him into another sphere. So let the Muslim beware of Yoga and its trickery and those who promote it.” In his book “Al-Yoga fi Mizaan al-Naqd al-‘Ilmi” (pp. 13-18), Dr. Faaris Alwaan, agrees with Shalabi, stating among other things: “Yoga involves various exercises and rituals, but the most important and most famous of them is an exercise called Surya Namaskar (known in English as the ‘Sun Salutation’), which in Sanskrit means: ‘prostration to the sun on eight parts of the body.’ These eight parts are the two feet, the two knees, the two hands, the chest and the forehead. It is preferable for the one who practices yoga to be naked, especially the chest, back and thighs; to face the sun when it is rising and when it is setting if he wants Yoga that is sound and beneficial; and to fix his gaze and focus his attention on the disc of the sun, and be attached to it completely, which includes his body, his faculties, his mind and his heart. If he is in a built-up area and cannot see the sun, he is allowed to draw the disc of the sun in front of him on the wall. One of them said: If the one who is practicing yoga is a believer in a religion and is concerned about committing an act of disbelief, there is nothing wrong with him drawing any image in front of him and focusing on it completely! “Yoga also includes pondering one’s body deeply and thinking of and examining every part of the body, starting with the toes and going up to the head when waking up and before getting up from one’s bed, and doing the opposite, from the head down to the toes just before sleeping, and it is not allowed to forget or be distracted from this important task! “Whoever wants to benefit from yoga should also be a vegetarian. “And he has to repeat specific words out loud while doing these exercises. These words are called mantras, the most famous of which are the beeja mantras, which are hram, hreem, hraim, hraum, hara. Some syllables are also repeated in yoga, such as Om. “In addition to that, it is essential to repeat the twelve names of the sun, because this is a major and important part of Yoga.” Let’s examine the importance of Surya Namskar. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the famous
Indian yoga teacher who taught Vinyasa Yoga and established the Ashtanga Yoga Institute (Shantiyoganola.com), quotes Pattabhi Jois, “Let me repeat that no asana practice is complete without sun worship.” Surya is considered the chief solar deity, the son of Dyaush or Indra. Namas, in the Sanskrit word Namaskar, means, “to bow to.” According to the same website, the Surya Namaskar “is the prayer of Lord Surya, the god of health.” Another website, empowerpeace.typepad.com, quotes Jois as stating: “There is no Ashtanga Yoga without Surya Namaskara, which is the ultimate salutation to the sun god. In Hindu philosophy, the Sun is accepted as the giver of life, the protector of all life forms on this earth.” Al-Munajjid considers this prostrating to the Sun/Surya Namaskar as associating other deities with God, and therefore totally haram, for “Say (O Muhammad). I am commanded only to worship Allah (alone) and not to join partners with Him” (13:36) and “If you join others in worship with God, (then) surely (all) your deeds will be in vain, and you will certainly be among the losers” (39:65). Laurette Willis, a Christian actress, singer author and certified personal trainer, takes a uncompromising stand against yoga. She told CBN.com that both it and Hinduism are inextricably linked and that “Christian yoga is an oxymoron.” However, other conservative Christian groups have sought to mold yoga so that it “complies” with their belief systems. On March 9, 2011, Aljazeera reported about some devout Hindus in Berkeley have expressed their dismay at such attempts to delink yoga from its religious roots.
THE MUSLIM VARIATION
Jasmine Ibrahim-Issa, a New York City architect and practitioner, has compared the salat’s five bodily postures with five body positions assumed during various yoga asanas and drawn exact parallels of qiyam with the namaste position; the ruk’u with the ardha uttanasana; the julus with the vajrasana and the sujud with the balasana position. She then explains each posture’s various health benefits, stressing that practicing Muslims benefit physically by regularly performing the required prayers. Finally, it appears that times might be changing. Some Muslims appear to be separating the wheat from the chaff so that other lay Muslims can benefit from yoga’s physical aspects without compromising their beliefs. Sadaf Jamal, a 38-year-old
36 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
personal fitness trainer and a certified yoga instructor, founded the MoveNimprove fitness center in Scarborough, Canada. She told Islamic Horizons magazine that she has spoken about yoga in Muslim communities and conferences held by Islamic Soccer League (ISL), ANNISA of Islamic Circle of NorthAmerica (ICNA), Islamic Foundation of Toronto, Islamic Institute of Toronto, RogersTV Women on the Rise, Let the Quran Speak, All Solutions Media, and Pearls of Paradise. Men are not allowed in her fitness center when women are using the gym — there are no exceptions. Jamal, a Canadian citizen born in Saudi Arabia, teaches yoga without the Hindu chanting. She added a special caution against bhakti yoga practiced by the Hare Krishnas, for it contains both overt and in-built Hindu religious aspects. She learned several forms of yoga and teaches various asanas, including the postures of Surya Namaskara, without the associated Hindu chanting, without facing the Sun while in the open, without keeping pictures of the Sun while indoors, and by changing the flow of the various postures. When asked what Muslims should look out for when taking yoga classes from non-Muslim instructors, she answered that they should first inform the instructor that they are not allowed to chant mantras or to bow toward the Sun or other objects/ creations. She said that while instructors in India usually do not accommodate such requests, instructors in the West usually do so that Muslim students can practice without any reservations. ih Misbahuddin Mirza, M.S., P.E., a licensed professional engineer, is the Regional Quality Control Engineer for the New York State Department of Transportation’s Structures Division, New York City Region.
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A Century of Muslims in Canada Reflection on the mosques built and spaces the community created
BY TAMMY GABER
Al Rashid mosque
n a country that just celebrated its 150 years of existence as a nation state, the century-long presence of Muslims in Canada is significant. A small number of Muslims immigrants arrived from the Levant — present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine — during the late 1800s to establish new lives. By 1931 over 600 Muslims lived in Canada, half of them in the central area — particularly Alberta. These mercantile and farming families gathered in each other’s homes to pray and celebrate weddings and the Eids. By the early part of the 20th century, there were enough Muslims in the province’s capital city of Edmonton to necessitate the construction of Canada’s first mosque: the Al Rashid Mosque. Opened in 1938, the funds were raised by local Muslim, Christian and Jewish Canadians. The city donated the land. This collaborative effort was telling of the type of the community space that the mosque would become. In addition to the usual community events, the Al Rashid was used for church group meetings, social and club events of the larger non-Muslim community and various mixed events. In short, it acted as a community center. These first Muslim immigrants shed their cultural baggage and pursued their faith by creating an inclusive space based on its principles. The mosque’s fate was threatened
when the gifted land lease expired, a reality that caused it to move to another location. As the community continued to grow, there was talk of abandoning the mosque and building a larger one. However, twelve members of the Canadian Council for Muslim Women took it upon themselves to raise the necessary funds from Canadian Muslims, Canadian Federal and local governments and various organizations to secure its continued existence. Thanks to their perseverance, the mosque was restored and, in 1992, relocated to its now-permanent home in the Fort Edmonton Park. And so both goals were realized: The Edmonton community now uses the newer purpose-built facility, and the original Al Rashid mosque was recognized as a permanent part of Muslims’ arrival and settlement
in Canada, alongside other buildings of historic significance. The importance of Al Rashid is exemplary within the Canadian context, for it not only represents the ideal of community engagement, but also a specific ideal toward which the country’s Muslims continue to aspire. Over 140 purpose-built and buildings transformed into mosques now grace Canada. I am currently documenting Canada’s mosques. I began this project in 2015 with support from the Canadian Government, through the Social Science and Humanities Research Council Insight Development Grant (SSHRC IDG), and will wrap it up this October with an exhibition and symposium in collaboration with the with Canadian Council of Muslim Women and the Noor Cultural Centre in Toronto. My research has involved visiting over 80 Muslim places of worship across the country, over half of those recorded — from the mosques of British Columbia, all through central Canada (e.g., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), to Ontario (home of the most mosques), Quebec and on to the eastern provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. As well, I travelled up to the Arctic Circle and beyond to visit North America’s most northern mosque — the Midnight Sun Mosque in Inuvik, the North West Territories, and to the Iqaluit Masjid on Baffin Island in Nunavut. Even if their numbers are small, Muslims have gathered, saved and raised funds and collaborated to create a space dedicated to worship and community. In nearly all of these nascent communities one finds Muslims from various ethnic and sectarian backgrounds, all of who are nevertheless seeking common ground and community in their new environment. As populations have grown, so have the numbers of the places of worship, leading to the articulation of specific sects in many cases but with ethnic diversity still apparent
THE IMPORTANCE OF AL RASHID IS EXEMPLARY WITHIN THE CANADIAN CONTEXT, FOR IT NOT ONLY REPRESENTS THE IDEAL OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT, BUT ALSO A SPECIFIC IDEAL TOWARD WHICH THE COUNTRY’S MUSLIMS CONTINUE TO ASPIRE. SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 37
ISLAM IN AMERICA throughout the country. The sermons are given in English. The form of these places of worship varies from simple and innovative conversions of existing buildings to purpose-built constructions. Some have integrated or added on neo-historicist architectural elements, and many use local visual cues of materials and forms. As hubs of community activity, these mosques are almost always more than just a place of prayer, for specific internal spaces are used for education, communal eating, celebrations, gymnasiums (important to many members) and other activities. In common with other mosques worldwide, they also serve as second homes for Muslims looking for a community In addition, the permanence of these communities is reflected in the growing number of dedicated areas in cemeteries and ghusul (funeral preparation) facilities in many mosques. In fact, one of the oldest Muslim cemeteries in North America was established in 1935 in Truro, Nova Scotia. An important aspect of my project was to document the place of women. The diversity of spaces allocated to them was surprising: the variety of methods and spaces indicates that conversations on this specific topic need to continue. As these are the communities’ hubs, the architecture needs to welcome and include all members. The language of architecture speaks volumes. Clearly, a small and dark basement, a separate windowless side room or a balcony with mirrored stickers covering the window are all material ways that separate and frustrate women’s participation in the community. The different architectural finishes, often of lower quality than those of the main space, the acoustic and visual separation (videocams are sometimes a faulty and a poor substitute), and the smaller “women-only” spaces all greatly limit accessibility. Conversely, some mosques had equal access and space dedicated to both genders in the main space, with everyone having a view of the mihrab and minbar — very important markers of worship where the sermon is given. How they organized themselves in these spaces of equal inclusion was varied and flexible, from women at the back and youth in the middle to having one side (left or right of the minbar) dedicated to women, thereby ensuring the opportunity for members of either gender to pray in the first rows. The impact of architectural separation or inclusion is clearly reflected in the people who attend and contribute to mosque activities. The continued active participation of all ages, especially post-first-generation Muslims, is directly linked to the quality of spaces created by the architecture. This research project was a most incredible journey and an unparalleled opportunity to actually see the extraordinary landscapes and cities of my country. Muslims are part of all these communities and have integrated, notably, through their mosquebased contributions to their local communities. From food banks and blood donation drives to open houses and barbeques, from English-language classes for refugees to hosting local and municipal activities (e.g., citizenship ceremonies), Canadian mosques have the potential to thrive even more — provided that members maintain and work to increase their practices of openness and inclusivity. ih Tammy Gaber is assistant professor, School of Architecture, Laurentian University, Sudbury, ON, Canada. This research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant, “Beyond the Divide: A Century of Canadian Mosque Design and Gender Allocation.” McGill-Queen’s Press will publish the book based on this research.
38 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
Make Your Mosque More Welcoming Forming a Tasleem Squad can benefit communities and mosques in many ways BY IHSAN BAGBY
he consensus is that our mosques must become more welcoming and inclusive. Would anyone argue that we are to live up to the example set by the congregation that prayed in the Prophet’s Mosque? The ideals set by the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) were designed to make Muslims true brothers and sisters to one another. He described Muslims as one body in their mutual compassion, love and empathy (“Sahih Muslim”), all of which made his young community a truly welcoming one. Being welcoming and inclusive is a necessary ingredient for developing a sense of community and getting people involved. Mosque leaders rightly complain about the lack of volunteers — but what are they doing to motivate people to get involved? ISPU’s (Institute of Social Policy and Understanding) study of the relationship of mosques and young adults, women and converts (see The Reimagining Muslim Spaces Study: https://www.ispu. org/social-policy/reimagining-muslim-spaces/) found that what most attracted these groups to a particular mosque was its congregation’s welcoming spirit. Unsurprisingly, the biggest turn-off was the lack of that very spirit. One way to develop such a spirit is to create a “Tasleem Squad,”
a small group of members trained to greet, welcome and engage those who come to the mosque. Greeting every Muslim is actually an essential part of our faith, for the Prophet said, “You will not enter paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love each other. Shall I show you something that, if you did, would lead you to love each other? Spread salam between yourselves” (“Sahih Muslim”). The squad’s overall goals would be to make people feel welcomed as they enter or join the community, that they belong to and are part of the congregation, that they feel at ease to worship and encounter God as well as to connect with people that they both do and do not know. After all, the ultimate mission is to build community and increase involvement. The specific goals are greet (extend salam and a smile to everyone), get to know (talk with them) and get information (invite people to fill out a contact form as to their basic personal information, expertise and interests so that the “volunteer coordinator” can talk with the person about how he/she can get involved).
BASIC GUIDELINES ❶ Form a Tasleem Squad. Appoint a coor-
dinator, usually a current existing leader who has an outgoing and pleasant personality, to lead the squad. After this, decide whether to
offer an open invitation or to recruit squad members. Recruitment is usually the better option good because the squad’s members must have the right type of personality and represent the entire community. This latter element is important, for those being greeted need to “see themselves” in it. In general greeters should be mature and some should be mosque leaders; however, having a few teenagers is also a good idea.
Jum’ah and give salams to them. Greeters can also pass out newsletters or advertisements for upcoming events. ❻ Get information. An important part of the greeters’ job is to accompany people to an information table and request them to fill out a contact form. A greeter should be stationed there to make sure that this form is completed and to promote mosque activities and volunteer opportunities.
BEING WELCOMING AND INCLUSIVE IS A NECESSARY INGREDIENT FOR DEVELOPING THE SENSE OF COMMUNITY AND GETTING PEOPLE INVOLVED IN THE MOSQUE. ❷ Necessary characteristics. Greeters have to have a personality that shines with natural warmth, kindness and eagerness to help and serve. In other words, no fake smiles and weak handshakes. They must also be of good character, accepting of others, non-judgmental — no frowns or ugly faces — and clean and well dressed. They should reflect the congregation’s various styles of attire. ❸ Station greeters at every entrance before any communal event. Before Jum’ah or any other major mosque event, position at least two greeters at every entrance — women for women’s area/entrance, and men for men’s area/entrance. If there is only one entrance, then post a man and a woman. ❹ Greet and assist. Before Jum’ah, the greeter’s first job is to give a warm salam and smile and, if possible, a sincere handshake. Their next task is to be helpful: answer questions, direct people and offer assistance for those who have special needs. A greeter must be able to “read” a person’s face to determine if such assistance is needed. ❺ Get to know the newcomers. After Jum’ah, talk with newcomers, people who come to the mosque irregularly or people the greeter don’t know well. Perhaps something like: “I don’t think we’ve met before. My name is ____. What’s yours?” Avoid saying something like, “I think you’re new here.” Then get to know them. Learn their name and use it to greet them thereafter. One way to do this is to write down a new name while visualizing the person’s face. Some greeters should go around to all the ethnic groups who typically talk among themselves after
❼ Size of the squad and rotation of greeters. A good general rule is that the squad have at least twice the number of greeters stationed at the entrances and the information table. This will allow the greeters to be rotated, which is necessary to giving equal time to all ethnic groups. It will also give other greeters a break. The more regular the rotation, the better. ❽ Nametags. Greeters should have distinctive nametags to identify themselves. Even a distinctive form of dress might be warranted. ❾ Meetings. The squad should meet at least once a month to discuss business. But more importantly, they should reflect upon how they can do their job better. These meetings should also serve as mini-training sessions to discover and rehearse conversation techniques. ❿ Appoint a volunteer coordinator. An essential aspect of a welcoming mosque is following up with those people who have filled out the contact form. People usually don’t volunteer based on a vague post-khutbah announcement, but because someone asks them personally to do so. The Volunteer Coordinator’s job is to match the prospect’s interests to one or more of the mosque’s activities, such as a study group, a youth group, a hiking club, a food pantry group and so on. The volunteer coordinator’s job is to connect each person with the leader of a specific activity. People can also be encouraged and helped to start new activities ih Dr. Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic studies, University of Kentucky, is chair, ISNA’s Masjid Development Initiative.
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 39
MUSLIMS IN ACTION
Salma Arastu painting large Calligraphy painting on canvas.
Love Sees No Hurdles SALMA ARASTU: Daughter. Wife. Mother. Artist. Lover of God BY HABEEBA HUSAIN
aughter. Wife. Mother. Artist. Lover of God. These are the words that paint the picture of who Salma Arastu is. Born in Rajasthan, India, over sixty years ago, the future artist grew up in a Hindu household. Her mother, a very spiritual person, always enlightened her daughter, the youngest of ten children, with encouraging and inspirational words. “She was always beautiful in her thoughts. She taught we were all the same — that there’s no difference between Hindus, Christians, Muslims ... She always encouraged me to love all.” And this is exactly what she has done, for she has lived, breathed and painted her mother’s words of unity throughout her childhood, in her college years while
studying art in Hyderabad, and beyond. Although born without fingers on her left hand, Arastu recalls that her mother always told her that she existed for a special reason. She had her moments of insecurity in her youth like everyone else, such as when she hid her hand under her pallu — the loose end of her sari. “I was young. I knew and I accepted it in my heart, but I couldn’t accept it in public,” she says. During her college years, Arastu wondered if anyone would marry such a girl. Her missing fingers were not noticeable until she mentioned them. But when this deformity came up in a conversation with her future husband, a Muslim, he considered it to be of no importance at all. Surprised, relieved and happy, she soon married him and accepted Islam. “I never knew anything
40 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
about religion. It was just faith in God, love for God. That’s all I had in my heart,” she says. “I prayed in another style, another ritual [before becoming Muslim]. After I accepted Islam, I just changed my ritual. God was the same.” Arastu saw how God played a huge role in how her life turned out. Her husband’s unconcern with her deformity was a blessing from God … even a blessing from God. Just as her love for God didn’t change after her marriage, neither did her love for art. Throughout her life, she has received great support from her family to pursue her artistic dreams. “I have been always an artist. I have been always trying to draw and paint. My family, brothers, sisters were very encouraging, [saying,] ‘You’re an artist, you’re an artist!’”
Museum of Contemporary Religious Art in St. Louis, Mo, installation 9.
FROM “IF YOU REMEMBER ME, I WILL REMEMBER YOU” (2:152) TO “SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW EACH OTHER” (49:13) AND MANY OTHER INSPIRING VERSES IN BETWEEN, HER PIECES EVENTUALLY FIND THEIR WAY TO WALLS IN BOTH MUSLIM AND NON-MUSLIM HOMES AND BUILDINGS. After marrying, Arastu’s husband became an additional support and her daughter Shirin and son Samad too became her support team. She found herself in many countries — Iran, Kuwait, Germany, and eventually the U.S. She began learning Arabic calligraphy in the Middle East by copying verses from the Quran. Through her art, she continues to discover the “special reason” she was born for that her mother referenced so long ago: “God, He is my biggest inspiration. All my work begins with His name ... All my work revolves around His teachings. I’m praying. May God help me to do what He wants me to do.” Arastu mastered Arabic calligraphy and fell in love with in the Middle East, which slowly became part of her repertoire. Her paintings communicate movement and deep feeling, using phrases and concepts found in the Quran. From “If you remember Me, I will remember you” (2:152) to “So that you may know each other” (49:13) and many other inspiring verses in between, her pieces eventually find their way to walls in both Muslim and non-Muslim homes and buildings. Although many non-Muslims cannot read the calligraphy, she states that they find the meanings, which she explains to them, beautiful. To this day, she continues to live up to her mother’s teaching that people are
all one. Even in her early days as an artist, she didn’t depict anyone’s facial features in the belief that all people shared one spirit. The creator of over 2,000 pieces, she now has a studio in Berkeley and paints every day. “I just follow where God guides me. I don’t know what I’m going to paint, it just flows out, she says. “People ask, ‘How do you do it every day?’ [I say,] this is my life!”
ART BECOMES A PROFESSION
Arastu’s Islamic designs are the main focus of her business, Your True Greetings (www. yourtruegreetings.com), which she established upon moving to the U.S. during the 1980s. The online store that features her designs on Islamic cards, calendars, and other gifts allows her to maintain her lifestyle while bringing money. Before they moved to the West Coast, she, her husband and two children lived in Pennsylvania. Slowly, her company grew and provided Muslims in America with products tailored to their needs. And Arastu, along with some profit, has surely enjoyed the ability to share her art with others, for “they say the whole universe is helping you if you want to do something.” As a young girl growing up in India, she may have never imagined herself as a
successful Muslim artist living in America, on both coasts, who drives her car despite her missing fingers and avoids handicap parking spaces. But Salma Arastu is exactly that — a successful artist who pours her experiences of struggle and triumph onto the canvases in front of her each day. “I truly believe God gives you more when He takes away something, and He has given me more,” she says. “I have appreciation for life.” Gratefulness — that is Salma Arastu’s whole spirit. God removed whatever worries she had regarding her hand, her marriage and her capabilities and replaced them with a talent and joy for art, a loving husband and supportive family and a successful career that’s taken her to many places as well as to the insides of many people’s homes. “I am so grateful to God that He has given me this love for Him. I depend on Him. I totally surrender to Him,” says Arastu. “I just wouldn’t know how to live if I didn’t have love for God.” ih Habeeba Husain, a freelance journalist based in the New York/New Jersey area, is a contributor to SLAM Magazine, a blogger for Why-Islam and a social media manager for WuduGear. Her work has appeared on Narrative.ly and MuslimGirl.com, among other online and print publications.
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MUSLIMS IN ACTION
A Life Realigned Resolve in the face of adversity can help one rediscover one’s inner self BY HABEEBA HUSAIN
AND DESPITE THE GLAUCOMAIMPAIRED VISION THROUGH WHICH HE SEES THE WORLD TODAY, AHMED ANSARI HELPS PEOPLE SEE GOD CLEARLY THROUGH A BEAUTIFUL AND ARTISTIC LENS: HIS PAINTINGS.
hen Ahmed Ansari walked into his eye doctor’s office back in 2008, he thought he’d simply leave with a new pair of reading glasses. His sight was beginning to blur, so he figured it was time to get a routine checkup. To his and his doctor’s surprise, however, his vision issues were far more serious than he imagined. “I had to go immediately to the ophthalmologist because I had a very serious condition, [even though] I didn’t notice anything,” says Ansari, an artist currently based in northern Virginia. “They said I had lost a lot of my vision from the sides.” Ansari was diagnosed with glaucoma, an eye condition that was slowly eating away at his peripheral vision. But that didn’t diminish the painter’s love for his craft by any means, for he had been an art enthusiast ever since he could “hold a pencil” while growing up in Bombay (now Mumbai). Although his parents enrolled him in a promising engineering school when he was in the eighth grade, he transferred a year later to pursue a more artistic career track and follow his heart. “[My parents] were happy about it. They said, ‘Do whatever you like, because if you don’t like it, it won’t be good for you,’” recalls
42 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
Ansari. “I really appreciated that they did that.” With the support of his optimistic parents, he transformed his childhood love into a successful career. His skills took him to the Middle East as an art director and designer, and then to the U.S. as an ad agency employee who made computer-generated images and illustrations for numerous clients. On occasion, Ansari would paint on the side. After his diagnosis, Ansari worked in graphic design for another seven years. The eye medication slowed his vision’s deterioration and bought him some time to continue his career. Eventually though, enough was enough. In 2015, after years of staring at a screen for long hours became too much of a strain on his eyes, he put away the keyboard and mouse and picked up his pencil and brush once again. “I decided to just do the paintings and take it easy. I didn’t want [my eyes] to get worse,” Ansari said, his sight already limited to what he refers to as “tunnel vision.” As a youth, he had usually painted landscapes. But after turning away from graphic design, he wanted to tap into the calligraphy and painting skills that he had developed as a student to create pieces that would speak to everyone. “In early age during school, I wasn’t that religious,” he states. “But as you grow older, you get closer to God. After coming to the U.S., Islam became stronger for me.” And it was in the U.S. that Ansari finally got the opportunity to interact more with non-Muslims. Growing up in a Muslim family in India and then working in the Middle East, Ansari didn’t have much of a non-Muslim network. Today, to engage with and to make his work resonate among the surrounding non-Muslim communities, Ansari tries to shift away from the traditional style of Islamic calligraphy and take a more abstract approach. “That is a very subtle way to let them see the work of Islamic art and learn a little bit more,” he explains. “If they have questions, they can ask me or do further research. They can learn at least something about Islam.” Ansari confirmed that some viewers who attend his exhibits are intrigued by the colors and designs. If you ask him about his inspiration for creating such works, he replies: “I like the beauty of the sunset, sunrise, even the darkness. I used to hike a lot in school, and even when I came here to the U.S. Fortunately, I came first to Colorado,
which is all mountains. It’s a very beautiful place. I really get a lot of my inspiration from nature and the beauty in it.” Twenty-five years ago in Boulder, Ahmed met and married his coworker Kari, a convert. They are the parents of Aneesa, 21, a George Mason University senior, Sajid, 19, a sophomore at Radford University, and Safiya, 15, a sophomore at Chantilly (Va.) High School. Ansari, who also does commissioned work, effortlessly transfers the beauty that he observes in nature to his paintings. Many dimensions of color, texture and movement are visible in his art, even though the subjects of his works are words — oftentimes words from the Quran, such as “Allah is the light of the heavens and Earth.” In that specific painting, the Name of Allah somehow shines down on the rest of the words from the Quranic excerpt. It’s an entire religious concept depicted on a canvas. Similar to
the nature that inspires him, this painting is very beautiful. From his early days of drawing to designing graphics for ad agencies, from triumphing in school art competitions to winning the hearts of Muslims and non-Muslims in America, Ansari’s art is to be much appreciated and remembered. “I just want people to remember my art. It’s not about me,” he says. “I’m just a human being. There is nothing
important in me to be remembered.” But without his hand coloring the canvas with calligraphy, he wouldn’t be able to share his love of painting with the rest of the world. And despite the glaucoma-impaired vision through which he sees the world today, Ahmed Ansari helps people see God clearly through a beautiful and artistic lens: his paintings. “I just checked for the reading glasses,” he says. “Good thing I did that.” ih Habeeba Husain, a freelance journalist based in the New York/New Jersey area, is a contributor to SLAM Magazine, a blogger for Why-Islam and a social media manager for WuduGear. Her work has appeared on Narrative.ly and MuslimGirl.com, among other online and print publications.
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THE MUSLIM WORLD
A Mission to Feed the Needy every Ramadan in India Muslim Americans reaching out to the world’s needy BY RAQIB HAMEED NAIK
ccording to the 2011 Indian census, Muslims comprise 14.23% of the country’s population. However, the post-Sachar evaluation committee’s report reveals that a sizeable number them aren’t fortunate enough to enjoy their iftar and suhoor. Headed by former Jawahir Lal University professor Amitabh Kundu, this document shows that Muslim poverty levels have remained higher than the national average between 2004-05 and 201112. In terms of consumption expenditure, Muslims are on a par with other disadvantaged sections of society like the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes. Popularly known as the Sachar Committee report, the Nov. 2006, 403-page Prime Minister’s High Level Committee report studied the indigenous Muslims’ social, economic and educational conditions. The uncertainty over earning enough
to survive remains a year-round concern for poor Muslims. However, this problem becomes even more pronounced during Ramadan, for in most cases work is unavailable and resources are scarce. Thus, uncertainty prevails over finding food for suhoor and iftar and being able to celebrate Eid in new clothes. This is where nongovernment organizations, charitable trusts, other nonprofits and individual philanthropic initiatives can play a central role. Besides contributing throughout the year, scores of them make a special effort to provide food and other relief. However, the work of Indian Muslim Relief and Charities (IMRC), a California-based relief group, is something extraordinary and deserves special attention. IMRC says that it’s Ramadan Feeding Program reaches thousands of Indian families. For instance, in Ramadan 2017
44 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
it distributed 6.7 million meals in grains among 28,290 families (1,13,160 persons) across 22 states. IMRC also hosted village iftars in various rural and slum locations, thereby allowing 92,463 people to end their fasts together, and provided 5,000 children and adults with new eid clothes. In Ramadan 2016, the organization distributed 5 million meals in 22 states, served more than 100,000 cooked meals at 414 community iftars and gave new eid clothes to 11,125 people. In Ramadan 2015, it served 2 million meals in grains to 15,000 families. An estimated 1.6 and 2 million meal in grains were distributed in 2014 and 2013, respectively. With each passing year, more and more families are being served during Ramadan. Now in its 36th year, this Ramadan Feeding Program ensures that the poor and needy in both urban and rural areas have access to food during the holy month. Take the case of Golbahar Bibi, 70, a widow from Telijant village (West Bengal) who collects shawl leaves and wood to sustain herself while fasting. According to her: “For an old women like me, it’s difficult to work under the scorching heat and fast during Ramadan. I used to save money during the year and feed myself in Ramadan, but most of the time the amount fell short.” For the second consecutive Ramadan, IMRC provided her
and dozens of her fellow villagers’ families with food grain packs that included wheat flour, lentils, oil, salt, spices, cooked meals and other items. The case of Shahzadi Khatoon, 35 from Maigra village (Bihar) is no different. Her husband, a hard-working day laborer, does his best to provide his family with two square meals. Ramadan is a struggle for both of them, for fasting makes it even harder to work in his area’s intense stroke-inducing heat. She remarks: “For people like us, the struggle for grains continues throughout the year and continues during Ramadan. When we barely make ends meet in other months, can you imagine what the situation is during Ramadan? We have zero savings, so we continue working even as we fast.” Shahzadi Khatoon, along with thousands of other such families in Bihar and Jharkhand, receives IMRC meal packages during Ramadan. “Every year we receive food in grains from this organization. This ration allows us to fast without worrying for money to buy the food during the holy month of Ramadan,” says Ajmiaria Khatoon, 41, a beneficiary from Ghorighat village (Jharkhand). Rubina Begum, a widow and septuagenarian from Nampally locality who cannot talk, lives in Hyderabad. Her only daughter, also a widow, lost her husband few years ago due to illness. Now they both work as housemaids. “My mother is 68 but still has to work, because if she doesn’t there won’t be sufficient rations in our home to eat. My income isn’t sufficient to sustain our family of three,” the daughter told us. Every year, IMRC provides this family Ramadan food packs. This year IMRC provided cooked iftar meals to 92,463 Indian Muslims. Every year, the organization arranges grand iftars for widows and orphans, the poor and the needy, so that thousands of them can enjoy hot meals at iftar and dinner time. “These are the only occasions when we get to eat good food,” states Khatija, 60, a widow who lives Kwakta village (Manipur). “Having such food is a luxury for us. We don’t get to eat such good food everyday and being in a remote area, less people turn to help us,” says Mohammad Gaus, a farmer who lives in Thanetafall village (Telangana). The IMRC program also provides new Eid clothes to children and adults. “Our children used to wear used clothing donated by people in town, and this was the very first eid on which my children wore new clothes,”
THE CREDIT FOR THE RAMADAN PROGRAM’S SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION GOES TO IMRC’S SISTER ORGANIZATION, HYDERABAD’S SAHAYATA TRUST, AND ITS HUNDREDS OF VOLUNTEERS IN MANY STATES WHO WORK DAY AND NIGHT AT WAREHOUSES TO PREPARE AND THEN SEND THE GRAIN PACKETS TO DISTRIBUTION CENTERS SPREAD ACROSS INDIA.
remarks Abdul Jabbar Choudary, a tribal-area Muslim who lives in Patnazi village ([Indian-occupied] Jammu and Kashmir). The credit for the Ramadan program’s successful implementation goes to IMRC’s sister organization, Hyderabad’s Sahayata Trust, and its hundreds of volunteers in many states who work day and night at warehouses to prepare and then send the grain packets to distribution centers spread across India. “It isn’t just before Ramadan that we activate ourselves and start working. It is a year-round process. Months before the Ramadan, we start making lists of the most deserving and needy. Priority is given to poor
and needy, widows and orphans,” notes Mohammad Younus, an IMRC volunteer based in Telangana state. He and his volunteers go door to door to deliver the food packets. “Some families feel shy to come to our distribution centers, so we take packets and drop them at their doorsteps,” he explains. Some of the villages cannot be accessed by roads and are located deep inside forests. To reach them, one has to climb mountains with walks ranging from 12 to 18 miles on foot. “We used horses to transport the packs to such distant locations. Our volunteers also carried quintals (one quintal equals 100 lbs.) of grains on their shoulders, trekking the mountains so that people could observe Ramadan with abundant food and celebrate eid with new clothes,” declares 26-year old Umar Iqbal, a volunteer based in Bhabore village ([Indianoccupied] Jammu and Kashmir). Abdul Wahid Nadvi, an IMRC volunteer in Bihar and Jharkhand states, has been entrusted with identifying and providing grain packets to over 3,000 families every year. The 45-year old Nadvi also heads the Department of Arabic at Soghra College in Bihar Sharif (Bihar). “During Ramadan,” he tells us, “I reduce all my activities and even take leave from my college to coordinate the groundwork of dozens of volunteers who work with me to deliver Ramadan grain packets.” When asked what keeps him motivated to volunteer for this hectic job despite his busy schedule at the college, he replies: “The motive behind every work isn’t money, When a poor and needy person makes dua for you after you deliver something to his [or her] doorstep, it gives purpose to your life and this way, it keeps me motivated every day, when I think about those thousands of duas.” ih Raqib Hameed Naik, a New Delhi-based journalist, works as reporter for the news website Twocircles.net.
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 45
THE MUSLIM WORLD
Distortion of History Paves the Way for Genocide Negative depiction of Emperor Aurangzeb’s rule in India has become a tool for advancing Islamophobia BY MISBAHUDDIN MIRZA
UMAN HISTORY IS REPLETE WITH EXAMples of individuals or groups seeking to create their desired facts by focusing on denigrating their targets. Just as it was the non-Aryans in Nazi Germany, it is Muslims in India [and in some other societies as well]. The Nazis were explicit about their victims’ status, writes David Livingstone Smith, co-founder and director of the Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Psychology at the University of New England and author of “Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012): They were Untermenschen — subhumans — and, as such, were excluded from the system of moral rights and obligations that bind humanity together. It’s wrong to kill a person, but permissible to exterminate a rat. To the Nazis, all Jews, Gypsies and “others” were rats: dangerous, disease-carrying rats. In the apocalyptic Nazi vision, these putative enemies of civilization were represented
as parasitic organisms — leeches, lice, bacteria — or vectors of contagion. Prof. Smith says that while the architects of the Final Solution were busy implementing their lethal program of racial hygiene, the Russian-Jewish poet and novelist Ilya Ehrenburg was churning out propaganda for distribution to Stalin’s Red Army. Seething with dehumanizing rhetoric, they spoke of “the smell of Germany’s animal breath” and described Germans as “two-legged animals who have mastered the technique of war” — “ersatz men” who ought to be annihilated. The Hindu right wing, which is crafting a Hindu narrative for India, is working along such lines to deface and eventually obliterate Muslims and their heritage from the Subcontinent’s history. Among its most derided targets is Abu’l Muzaffar Muhi-ud-Din Muhammad, commonly known as Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707) or by his regal title Alamgir VI, widely considered India’s last effective Mughal emperor. Aurangzeb, arguably the richest monarch
Unraveling Misconceptions DR. TRUSCHKE SPOKE TO ISLAMIC HORIZONS ABOUT HER BOOK “Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King” (Stanford University Press, 2017; The Indian edition is titled “Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth” [Penguin/Random House India, 2017]). IH. You mention that you can read Farsi. AT. Yes, I can understand the Farsi that I read. I say that I read Farsi on my resume to clarify that I do not speak the language fluently. I also read and understand Urdu, although to a lesser degree. I do not know Arabic. IH. I know you described how you researched for this book — but, as you indicated there are tons of materials available on Aurangzeb waiting for patient, organized and persistent historians to discover. But how does one find information on elusive figures like Prithviraj Chauhan, on who, I thought there was precious little information? AT. There are a lot of later accounts of Prithviraj, but precious little historical information from his actual time. How do historians deal with this? One option is to change the sorts of questions we ask. For example, Cynthia Talbot’s “The Last Hindu Emperor” [Cambridge University Press, 1871; 2015] traces the development of stories surrounding Prithviraj over time rather than trying to get back to the “real history.” Another option is to make better use of the sources that we have. Scholars, especially of earlier generations, sometimes had different ideas about what constituted a reliable source and how to read multiple sources with and against one another. Modern thinkers can often improve on earlier methods and findings. IH. Why did you choose to be a historian? AT. My original interest is in India, rather than in history at large. I 46 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
of his time, ruled over more people than the entire population of contemporaneous Europe. He strove to implement his vision of justice. A hafiz, during the night he made handwritten copies of the Qur’an and wove caps to pay for his personal expenses. India’s fertile lands have always attracted waves of migrants, from the Mesolithic and Neolithic ages to the Harappans, Aryans, Achaemenids, Greeks, Magadans, Scythians, Parthians, Huns and finally the Muslims. All of these groups settled down permanently and kept
studied Indian religions as an undergraduate and Indian languages, cultures, and histories as a graduate student. I eventually found that the best fit of my particular set of interests was within the discipline of history. Now I am deeply invested in reconstructing India’s past, to the best of my abilities. IH. You choose a rather large geographical area of specialization. Doesn’t that pose difficulties? AT. Yes. This comes up most frequently in teaching. I teach historical overview courses on South Asia, and my knowledge outside of North and Central India is comparatively weak. I do not know any South Indian languages, for example, and my grasp of, say, Nepali history, is tenuous. I remind my students repeatedly that it is insane to hire a single person to cover 5,000 years of history for about one-fifth of the world’s population. Imagine if we expected one person to cover the entirety of European history, with all of Europe’s different languages, cultures, empires, and so forth. Essentially, that I am asked to cover a large geographical area and temporal period is a problem created by the privileging of Western history in the Western academy. IH. What was your PhD on? AT. I wrote my PhD on Sanskrit and Persian literary encounters at the Mughal court. I later revised my thesis and published it as my first book, Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court [Columbia University Press, 2016].
their wealth in India. Fast forward to the British colonials, intent upon looting and shipping the stolen wealth home. Tombstones of British civil servants who died in India mention the sadness in dying in an alien land. Initially the Persian term “Hindu” was used as a geographical identifier. Pursuing their divideand-rule policy, the British colonials lumped all non-Muslim residents together, thereby creating the myth that before Muslims arrived the Indians had always followed a single homogeneous, indigenous religion — Hinduism — that was always at loggerheads with the new invader’s religion. Of course there were “good Muslims” like Emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605), who adopted Hindu beliefs such as daily Sun worship, and “terrible Muslims” like Aurangzeb, who dared to follow his faith and strove to treat to all of his subjects fairly. India’s contemporary ultra-right wing Hindu groups have adopted this colonial narrative, for it helps them unite the country’s diverse indigenous religions into a single entity based on a perceived common enemy. Audrey Truschke’s “Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King” (Stanford University Press, 2017) removes these biases. Using original Persian sources, she presents a ruler whose relations with his subjects were independent of his own religious beliefs. For example, he appointed 50% more Hindu rajas to his court than did the much touted secular Akbar, and granted lands and funds for building Hindu temples.
OF COURSE THERE WERE “GOOD MUSLIMS” LIKE EMPEROR AKBAR (R. 1556-1605), WHO ADOPTED HINDU BELIEFS SUCH AS DAILY SUN WORSHIP, AND “TERRIBLE MUSLIMS” LIKE AURANGZEB, WHO DARED TO FOLLOW HIS FAITH AND STROVE TO TREAT TO ALL OF HIS SUBJECTS FAIRLY. Truschke writes: “In reality Aurangzeb pursued no overarching agenda vis-à-vis Hindus within his state. ‘Hindus’ of the day often did not even label themselves as such and rather prioritized a medley of regional, sectarian, and caste identities (e.g. Rajput, Maratha, Brahmin, Vaishnava). As many scholars have pointed out, the word Hindu is Persian, not Sanskrit, and only became commonly used self-referentially during British colonialism.” Aurangzeb, Truschke says, was fluent in Hindi from childhood. She quotes the Italian traveler Niccoli Manucci, “He [Aurangzeb] was of a melancholy temperament, always busy at something or another, wishing to execute justice and arrive at appropriate decisions.” She also quotes Ishvaradasa, a Hindu astrologer who wrote about Aurangzeb in Sanskrit in 1663, calling him righteous (dharmya) and noting that his tax policies were lawful (vidhivat). Truschke states that not only was Aurangzeb just, but also that many, including “Hindus,” identified his pursuit of his vision of justice as crucial to his kingship. Hindus, she continues, “fared well in
IH. How long did it take you to write this book? AT. I wrote “Aurangzeb” rather quickly, in about two years. Once I settled on the topic, I realized that I had been thinking about Aurangzeb Alamgir for a decade and had written very little about him, so I had done some of the legwork in terms of analysis already. I deliberately set out to write a short biography, which accelerated the writing process. IH. When you started writing this book, did you have some information indicating that the allegations against Aurangzeb were either fictional or grossly exaggerated? AT. Yes. Historians have accepted for decades that Aurangzeb did not destroy thousands of temples nor did he commit genocide against Hindus. In the course of writing “Aurangzeb,” I checked those claims and revisited the evidence upon which historians have come to such a consensus. But those parts of my book, while deeply controversial in the public eye, are actually pretty bland and standard in the view of historians of the Mughal period. IH. Did you face any difficulties during your research for this book — as in people putting hurdles in your way? AT. Not really. I disagreed with my first Indian publisher regarding how to best introduce Aurangzeb to a broad Indian audience, and, as a result, we decided to dissolve our contract. Penguin, which ultimately published “Aurangzeb” in India, has been hugely supportive of the book and its content. IH. How did you find the courage to write on a topic knowing that it was sure to invite ultra-right wing radicals to make baseless and unreasoned attacks on you? AT. I did not write the book for the right-wingers. I wrote the book
Aurangzeb’s massive bureaucracy, finding employment and advancement opportunities. Since Akbar’s time, Rajputs and other Hindus had served as full members of the Mughal administration. Like their Muslim counterparts, they received formal ranks known as mansabs that marked their status in the imperial hierarchy and fought to expand the empire.” She quotes Aurangzeb’s February 1659 farman: “You must see that nobody unlawfully disturbs the Brahmins or other Hindus of that region, so that they might remain in their place and pray for the continuance of the Empire.” In her conclusion, she states: “I have argued that Aurangzeb acted according to his ideals of justice, commitment to political and ethical conduct (adaab and akhlaq), and the necessities of politics. Aurangzeb’s worldview was also shaped by his piety and the Mughal culture he inherited. He was not interested in fomenting Hindu-Muslim conflict — a modern obsession with modern stakes — but he was fixated on dispensing his brand of justice, upholding Mughal traditions, and expanding his grip across the subcontinent.” ih
because I thought that there was a substantial group of educated Indian readers who think that there was more to Aurangzeb than they had been led to believe and who would appreciate a more historically grounded approach to this complicated Mughal king. My fans are, wisely, often quieter than my critics. But I have received enough private messages and emails to be convinced that many have appreciated my efforts to bring calm, reasoned history to a broad readership. IH. What is the motivating/driving factor in writing books on critically important topics of India’s history? Do historians like yourself feel that historians have a moral obligation to society to set the record straight — analogous to a physician’s Hippocratic Oath? AT. Some historians might cringe at that idea, actually. History as a discipline has many critical things to say about ideas of ultimate truth. But I think that most historians do not write in an environment where the very tenets of historical knowledge and analysis are under assault, both in popular thought and at a government level. I do subscribe to a set of professional ethics that demand, among other things, that I try to accurately reconstruct the past. IH. How does it feel to join the group of highly respectable historians like Romila Thapar and Richard Eaton, who stand tall by refusing to succumb to revisionists trying to create pseudo-history? AT. It feels like an honor and a privilege. IH. What is your next book about? AT. I am currently working on my third book on Sanskrit literary histories of Indo-Islamic political figures and rule, dating from the late twelfth through the early eighteenth centuries. I anticipate that this book will take a number of years to write. ih SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 47
Meeting Muslims on the Silk Road The Middle East to Central Asia road that brought Islam to China is thriving once again
PHOTO CREDIT: SAYED AMJAD HUSSAIN
BY S. AMJAD HUSSAIN
Tajik women wearing pillbox hats on Shopping Street in the Taxkorgan shopping district.
ust the mention of the Silk Road conjures up images of trade caravans moving slowly through China and across the Pamir Mountains toward Central Asia and Europe. Ancient Chinese travelogues mention it, as do the diaries of the Chinese Buddhist pilgrims who traveled westward from Xian, the ancient capital of the Qin dynasty. But the Silk Road was always far more than a desert and mountain track, for ideas, religions, music and art flowed right along with trade goods. In his book “A Very Short Introduction to the Silk Road” (Oxford University Press, 2013), James Millward related what that this road stands for: that humanity has thrived most when connected across its far-flung habitats by exchanges of goods, ideas, art and people. In fact, Islam reached China from the Middle East through Central Asia over this 2,000-year-old road. It remains the dominant religion in China’s far-western Xinjiang province and is deeply rooted
among its Uyghur, Tajik, Uzbek and other ethnic minorities. Xinjiang, which constitutes one-sixth of the country’s landmass, has at various times in the past been part of China. However, for the most part it has been semiautonomous region populated by the Turkic Uyghurs. The communists incorporated Xinjiang after they conquered China in 1949. Most of its indigenous people speak tili, the Uyghur language that closely resembles Turkish and is still written in the Persio-Arabic script. While there is relative freedom of religion
in most of China, this is not the case in Xinjiang. In the past, Beijing has brutally suppressed the sporadic uprisings against its policies, such as preventing youth below the age of 18 to attend mosques, banning unauthorized pilgrimages to Mecca, ordering Muslim students not to fast during Ramadan and ordering women not to wear Islamic attire. Hoping to prevent future uprisings, Beijing maintains large numbers of military and paramilitary forces there. These measures are strictly enforced and Chen Quanguo, the new Communist Party chief in Xinjiang, has recently added more restrictions. Before his transfer last August, he had been the Communist Party head in Tibet, where he endeared himself to Beijing by his brutal suppression of any dissent. In Xinjiang, he has banned long flowing beards (deemed “abnormal”) and the use of certain Muslim names for children. He has even decreed that children under the age of 16 — the age when youth are issued national identity cards — must change their Islamic names. In China, one can’t move from one town to another without an identity card. Moreover, he has encouraged people to spy on each other and report “militants” by promising rewards of up to ¥5 million ($750,000), 200 times the local annual income. Unlike Xinjiang, Xian (Shaanxi province) has several functioning mosques and a few exclusively Muslim bazaars. One reason seems to be that Muslims are a minority there and thus pose no threat to the state. Our team had a prearranged lunch with a Muslim family in Xian. Over a delicious lunch, our charming hosts showed us pictures of their two grown children and a number of grandchildren. We talked about everything but politics. Even if the subject came up indirectly, they changed it. The police are very visible in most of Xinjiang’s cities. Every block has a police station with blinking lights, and armored vehicles crawl the streets in slow motion but
UNLIKE XINJIANG, XIAN (SHAANXI PROVINCE) HAS SEVERAL FUNCTIONING MOSQUES AND A FEW EXCLUSIVELY MUSLIM BAZAARS. ONE REASON SEEMS TO BE THAT MUSLIMS ARE A MINORITY THERE AND THUS POSE NO THREAT TO THE STATE.
48 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
PHOTO CREDIT: SAYED AMJAD HUSSAIN
Prayer hall of the Xian mosque, lined with wooden panels carved with Quranic verses. Below the Arabic panels are panels with the Chinese translation.
with sirens blaring. The police commonly arrive on a city’s main street in full strength, clear the roads of traffic, order pedestrians off the street and post sharpshooters on the rooftops. I once peered out of my hotel window during a military exercise in Kashgar — a sharpshooter positioned on a roof below me motioned for me to get away from the window. Another member of our expedition had a gun trained on her when she tried to look outside the window. This particular exercise went on for three hours. People in Xinjiang, as in other parts of China, are loath to discuss politics. The few people I tried to engage with tactfully changed the subject. Our team leader, Seattle-based aero-engineer Khwaja Mohammad Ali, explored Kashgar’s old neighborhoods on his own and met a teacher and his family outside their home. Initially they were extremely friendly and cordial. But while they were still talking, the man suddenly changed his demeanor and asked him to go away. Apparently, he realized he was being watched. Beijing, a master of censorship, controls the Internet. Google is nowhere to be seen, and Facebook is blocked. While some computer programs can help one circumvent this ban, perhaps only educated and resourceful people can access them. But still behind the “in-your-face” presence of police and paramilitary presence, Xinjiang has beautiful places that connect the past with the present. One of them is Kashgar.
A DREAM FULFILLED
I have dreamed of visiting Kashgar ever since I was a schoolboy. The stories of the fabled city on the crossroads of history were part
of the local folklore when I was growing up in Peshawar, Pakistan. I was also fascinated by one of the poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal’s couplets: Ek hun mein haram ki pasbani ke liye Neel ke sahil se lekar ta ba-khake Kashgar I have been called upon to protect the sanctity of Haram [al Sharif] That extends from the banks of the Nile to the sands of Kashgar My emotional attachment goes back many millennia, to when the Yuezhi tribe (later called the Kushans) of contemporary Xinjiang lost out to other tribes and fled to present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. There, they eventually established a large empire that by the second century stretched from the oasis town of Turpan in the Tarim Basin (northwest China) to the Gangetic plain of India. Known as Gandhara, during the first century the Kushan king Kanishka built a magnificent stupa in the capital city of Peshawar — many scholars consider it the eighth wonder of the ancient world. In Peshawar, the Kushans promoted the Silk Road and established unhampered travel between Kashgar and Gandhara. Kashgar, Xinjiang’s largest city, is located at the western edge of Taklamakan Desert. The northern and southern branches of the Silk Road, after skirting the desert, meet at Kashgar. Thus this city of 500,000 people has always been the gateway to Central Asia, India and Afghanistan. The city is a mix of the old and the new. Unfortunately, “modernizing” means razing old neighborhoods and replacing them with “old-looking” modern homes. Walking through the hilly old town’s labyrinthine
alleys, one gets the feeling of Kashgar of the caravan days. Colorful doors, somewhat faded, guard the entrances to homes still inhabited by artisans, potters and others. At various places overhead rooms connect houses on both sides of the alley, a tradition prevalent in many cities on the Silk Road. So charming and durable was Kashgar’s architecture that artisans moved freely between the cities. In Peshawar, houses built more than a century ago for the Sethi clan still testify to the great architectural tradition of the Silk Road’s cities. One of Kashgar’s main streets contains a century-old teahouse whose insides transport one back in time. On raised carpeted platforms, men in four-cornered colorful hats sat cross-legged sipping tea, surrounded by walls covered with beautiful Persian rugs. The atmosphere was casual and relaxing. Customers brought their own bread with them, purchased from the bazaar’s vendors. In this bygone era, travelers would reach Kashgar after being on the road for months. As soon as they arrived, they would go to the public bath for a vigorous massage and a hot bath, and then come to the place like this one to enjoy cups of tea and swap stories. I could still feel a hundred interesting stories floating around the teahouse — if I only knew the language. The caravan routes of the remote past no longer exist. But the fruits of those exchanges on the Silk Road are evident in the countries that it once connected. Seventeen years ago, cellist Yo Yo Ma brought musicians from twenty countries to perform as a group. The award-winning Silk Road Ensemble harkens back the time when ideas, religions, commodities and occasionally diseases traveled it freely. Today’s China is prosperous and planning to assume and/or assert its leadership of Asia. To achieve this, it is poised to spend close to a trillion dollars to foster close business and possibly political alliances with many Asian countries. One wonders if China is trying to reenact its imperial past. ih Editor’s Note: An exclusive report for Islamic Horizons by Dr. Sayed Amjad Hussain, part of a nine-member Silk Road Expedition 2017 (April-May) that followed the ancient Silk Road from Shanghai to Kashgar. His tour dispatches were published as front-page stories in the daily Toledo (Ohio) Blade. Dr. Hussain, an internationally recognized explorer, has explored the length of the Indus River in Pakistan and at its source in Tibet. He holds an emeritus professorship in cardiothoracic surgery and an emeritus professorship in humanities at the University of Toledo. He is also an op-ed columnist for the Toledo Blade.
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 49
Maryam Mirzakhani The Mathematician
PHOTO © STANFORD UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF MATHEMATICS
1977 – 2017
tanford University professor Maryam Mirzakhani, 40, the first and only Iranian woman to win a Fields medal, died on July 14 from breast cancer. This medal, presented every four years, is the mathematics world’s most prestigious award and is considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Unlike the latter, however, it is only presented to those under 40, usually as a predictor of future accomplishments. Mirzakhani’s work in theoretical mathematics can be described as a complex game of billiards with eternally bouncing balls — an audacious undertaking that had been approached by several prominent mathematicians before. Her death is “a big loss and shock to the mathematical community worldwide,” Peter C. Sarnak, a mathematician at Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study, told the New York Times. “She was in the midst of doing fantastic work. Not only did she solve many problems [...] she developed tools that are now the bread and butter of people working in the field.” 50 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, who had congratulated her in 2014, released the following statement: “The unparalleled excellence of the creative scientist and humble person that echoed Iran’s name in scientific circles around the world was a turning point in introducing Iranian women and youth on their way to conquer the summits of pride and various international stages.” In the video produced by the Simons Foundation and the International Mathematical Union to profile the 2014 Fields winners, Mirzakhani explained that as a child growing up in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war, she’d wanted to be a writer. Colleagues told Stanford News Service that Mirzakhani was “ambitious, resolute and fearless” in the face of the problems she’d tackle — problems so thorny that other mathematicians often shied away from them. “You’re torturing yourself along the way,” she said, “but life isn’t supposed to be easy.” During her short life, she gained international recognition as a teenager by winning one gold medal each at International Math Olympiads held in Hong Kong (1994) and Toronto (1995). She then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree (Sharif University of Technology [Tehran], 1999) and a doctorate (Harvard University, 2004), the Blumenthal Award for the Advancement of Research in Pure Mathematics (2009) and the American Mathematical Society’s Satter Prize (2013). After working as a Clay Mathematics Institute Research Fellow and an assistant professor at Princeton (2004-08), she accepted a position as a professor of mathematics at Stanford in 2008, where she remained until her death. Mirzakhani is survived by her husband Jan Vondrák and their daughter Anahita. ih
Muhammad Arif Zakaullah Economist and Scholar 1946 – 2017
uhammad Arif Zakaullah, who served as deputy dean, Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences and head, the Master in Management Program, Graduate School of Management, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), passed away on June 24, 2017, six years after being diagnosed with colon cancer. Armed with a doctorate (economics, Clark University) and two masters’ degrees (Boston University), he taught at the Central New England College of Technology and at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. (1978-89) and then at IIUM (1989-2011), where he also functioned as deputy dean of the faculty. During his career he published more than 100 research articles on economics, globalization, political economy, Southeast Asian regional issues, and contemporary trends in American Christianity and politics. He also found the time to write two books: Religion and Politics in America: The Rise of Christian Evangelists and Their Impact (Beirut: Al-Zaytouna Centre, 2007) and The Cross and the Crescent: The Rise of American Evangelicalism and the Future of Muslims (Kuala Lumpur: The Other Press, 2004). In addition to all of this, he guided and
Dr. Muhammad Arif Zakaullah,
mentored students who were accepted into leading international world-class academic institutions. While at IIUM, he was a speechwriter for the Malaysian prime minister, federal and state cabinet ministers, dignitaries, as well as for members of Parliament and university presidents. He also coached members of the IIUM English Debating Club (1990-2005), established and presided as the Debating and Public Speaking Department’s first head (1996-2005), and functioned as ambassador of the International Center for the Alliance of Civilizations to the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. Zakaullah is survived by his wife Kokab, daughter Mona Arif Haque, and sons Salman Arif and Rayhan Arif. ih
Jack Shaheen A Life Well Spent 1935 – 2017
r. Jack G. Shaheen, a writer and lecturer who devoted his life battling stereotypes of Muslims and Arab-Americans, died on July 10, 2017. Speaking at the National Press Club in March 2017, he remarked, “For nearly half a century I’ve tracked Hollywood’s Arabs and Muslims. Almost always I found that they’ve appeared as villains.” He also stressed on another occasion that “[h]armful stereotypes do not exist in a vacuum. Continuously repeated, they denigrate peoples, narrow our vision and distort reality.”
Dr. Jack Shaheen
In 2016 he informed AramcoWorld that he had been drawn to his work decades ago when his two young children told him there were “bad Arabs” on the TV screen — a conversation that inspired his Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2014; adapted from a 2006 documentary). He also authored The TV Arab (1984) and Arab and Muslim Stereotyping in American Popular Culture (1997). One of Shaheen’s most notable victories came in 1993, when he helped persuade Disney to change some originally “insensitive” song lyrics in the movie Aladdin. A 1957 graduate from the Carnegie Mellon College of Engineering, he held degrees from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Missouri. His work focused on racism and orientalism, particularly in popular culture, two topics on which he lectured extensively worldwide. A former CBS News consultant on Middle East affairs and professor emeritus of mass communications at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, he received two Fulbright teaching awards and was the Distinguished Visiting Scholar at New York University’s Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies. In addition to working to diversify the film industry, he and his family created scholarships for ArabAmerican college students interested in studying the media by working with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Center for Arab American Philanthropy and similar organizations. Shaheen is survived by his wife Bernice, their two children Michele and Michael, and grandchildren. ih SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 51
REVIEW PHOTO: SMITHSONIAN MUSEUM, DOUGLAS REMLEY
An Incomplete Narration Searching for Muslims in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture BY SARA SWETZOFF clearly outnumber them fail to put forth a compelling alternative vision? Out of compassion and concern for all those who reside on these lands we call the United States, I concluded that — in fact — the museum is missing some of the most important truths that we must accept if we will move towards justice as a country, as an Ummah, and as a global community of human and non-human life. These truths are left out of the museum because
they transcend American-ness and reach beyond national borders. They necessarily dilute the “American” in the term “African American” by reminding us how people of African heritage in the U.S. forged international solidarity via Islam and pan-African diasporian pride. Since Islam itself — as both a divine revelation and discursive tradition — spans man-made borders and states, it is perhaps
THE GRAVITY OF ALI’S POLITICAL PROTEST IS BURIED IN THE SPORTS SECTION ON THE 5TH FLOOR, FAR FROM THE MAIN EXHIBIT’S DISPLAY ON THE BLACK POWER MOVEMENT. National Museum of African American History and Culture 52 ISLAMIC HORIZONS SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017
PHOTO: SMITHSONIAN MUSEUM, DOUGLAS REMLEY
he new National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) opened this past September to great fanfare. The dream of such an institution dates back to 1915, when Black veterans first asked the government to establish a planning commission. After more than a century of roadblocks, it is impossible not to rejoice alongside the enthusiastic crowds that continue to arrive in droves even one year after the grand opening. The museum tells many stories that we have never seen so clearly and prominently declared as national truth. For many visitors, its content is profoundly validating of their family histories. Yet nevertheless Donald Trump was elected president on the very day that I first visited the NMAAHC. In the wake of the subsequent Muslim Ban orders, ICE raids, and intensified American airstrikes, I have come to see the museum — and many other progressive institutions — through more critical eyes. I kept asking myself, how could we take such a huge step backwards right after this meaningful step forwards? How could people vote to “make America great again” in the face of the NMAAHC’s historical truths? How could those of us who
SEARCHING FOR MUSLIMS
Going off this initial framing, I was looking for any kind of commentary that would summarize the presence of the Muslim faith amongst enslaved Africans kidnapped from the west African coasts and hinterlands. Scholars put the figure anywhere between 20 and 40 percent. However, these simple statistics were missing from the exhibit. Instead,
PHOTO: SMITHSONIAN MUSEUM, DOUGLAS REMLEY
not surprising that the NMAAHC’s internationalist omissions include some of the most compelling stories of Islam in America. The two examples are: 1. The role of enslaved Muslim Africans in resisting the theft of indigenous lands by European settlers, and 2. The role of African American Muslims in mobilizing against American imperialism during the Cold War era. The museum spans many centuries and eras of American history. These two examples anchor the critique in the earliest and latest centuries of U.S. history. For those who have not visited the NMAAHC, the main exhibit starts three floors underground. Dim lighting immediately focuses one’s senses on the sounds of the sea that fill the room. As you delve into the exhibit’s historical narrative, including candid excerpts from the testimonies of both the slavers and the enslaved, you are encouraged to imagine how it might feel to be forcibly embarked on a crowded ship across the Atlantic Ocean. At the same time, the museum does a remarkable job explaining what made the trans-Atlantic slave trade different from previous practices of enslavement around Africa and the Mediterranean. With just the right balance of detail and context, the exhibit clearly situates the forced migration of enslaved Africans to the Americas in the era of the rise of European colonialism. The multigenerational enslavement of African peoples was not coincidental to the time, but was rather an integral component of a newly emerging economic system that has arguably endured to this day. I was impressed that the first room includes an Islamic bowl from Al-Andalus alongside an explanation of how the Reconquista was also an integral component of that era. To my academic mind, the exhibit clearly alluded to the human hierarchies that started to emerge: African and Indigenous were cast as sub-human, while Muslim and Jew were expelled from Spain for their threatening allegiance to the wrong Abrahamic faith.
we come across the story of a Muslim slave trader who was captured by slaver traders from another tribe and then later, once released, became an agent for the Royal African Company who “ransomed fellow Muslims.” While I do not dispute this story, I found it unfortunate that the one Muslim individually profiled in the entirety of the first floor (covering years 1400-1877) was a slaver. At best, it is a missed opportunity to tell a more complex story of Islam amongst enslaved Africans. At worst, including this example and no other Muslim stories actively plays into colonial narratives that claimed Europeans were saving their African subjects from barbaric Muslim slavers. Such narratives have ongoing implications for the Islamophobic political rhetoric of our times. Going through the exhibits, my mind filled in the gaps by remembering the scholarship of Rudolph Ware and Y. N. Kly, both Muslim African American scholars. Professor Ware’s book The Walking Quran: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West (2014) argues that the West African Muslim style of Quran study humanized the enslaved as receptacles for the word of God and subsequently mobilized fellow Muslims to free them. His forthcoming book draws these threads of Islamic
justice across the Atlantic and explains how West African Muslims on both sides of the ocean forged a shared philosophy of struggle. His scholarship is full of examples of Muslim Africans who rose up against the slave trade and their complicit countrymen. Y. N. Kly’s important work entitled The Invisible Wars: African American AntiSlavery Resistance from the Stono Rebellion through the Seminole Wars (Clarity Press, 2006) likewise fills in significant gaps. The NMAAHC mentions the Stono Rebellion (1739) — “the largest slave uprising in the British mainland colonies prior to the American Revolution” — in one brief blurb that summarizes the rebellion as “Africans of diverse origins resisting as a unified group” who chanted the word liberty in Kongolese. Kly, on the other hand, frames the Rebellion as simply the opening act of a century-long Gullah insurrection. By using the term “Gullah,” Kly acknowledges the indigenous and indigenizing processes that self-liberated Africans underwent along the southern coasts. The Gullah retained — and continued to retain — African roots, but also became powerfully rooted in the ecology of the lands where they resisted colonial armies alongside indigenous tribes who
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REVIEW PHOTO: SMITHSONIAN MUSEUM, DOUGLAS REMLEY
different missions — one focusing on African America at large and the other on Muslim America at large — it is disappointing that a museum as large as the new NMAAHC has so little overlap with the important stories told by the AIHM. These are not just stories of early Muslim enslaved Africans or the NOI, but also stories of Black Muslim politicians, community leaders, judges and athletes. Most importantly, the stories honor the self-professed importance of Islam to those who called and call themselves American. In this sense, AIHM both honors and transcends a shifting notion of what it is to be American. The museum reflects the ease with which both African American and Muslim inhabit a gray area in which American-ness can be challenged, refined, redefined, and even remixed beyond recognition. As one of my professors always tells her students: many people mistake the good in America as uniquely American, instead of understanding that America simply contains a certain dose of that goodness which is universally human. We need to recognize the inherent limitations of national institutions and narratives. It is no coincidence that the museum lacking stories of the African Muslim legacy also fails to mention PanAfricanism. Both communities of social identity and global solidarity necessarily undermine American exceptionalism, or the persistent assumption that the U.S. has a unique monopoly on democratic ideals and a duty to spread its political vision around the world. In order to move forward and achieve true sustainability in justice, we must dispense with the patriotic myths we cling to and instead face the deeply-rooted colonial nature of American empire. This brief critique of the representation of Islam in the NMAAHC needs to be seen as a constructive step towards that larger goal. ih PHOTO: SMITHSONIAN MUSEUM, DOUGLAS REMLEY
were also escaping south, such as the Creek. According to Kly, the Gullah War culminated in the Seminole Wars down in Florida. Kly rejects the American categorization of the Seminole Wars as just another chapter in the “Indian Wars.” He provides a detailed account of how the Gullah allied with First Nations, thus constituting a powerful indigenous-African alliance. Which brings us to the Islam part: Kly’s account profiles multiple African Muslim leaders who helped lead the Seminoles during their anti-colonial battles for sovereignty and freedom. One of them, Abraham, is memorialized in colonial documents because he negotiated on behalf of the group. Not wanting to admit the allegiance, American authorities describe him as an interpreter rather than an equal to his indigenous comrades. Later in the book, Kly continues this thread regarding the role of Islam in the Gullah community by conducting some current oral history research. His interview with Cornelia Bailey, the greatgreat-great granddaughter of Bilali, provides an amazing window into the legacy of this Muslim Gullah elder who resided on Sapelo Island in South Carolina. Some readers many recognize “Sapelo” as the namesake of the popular Black Muslim blog Sapelo Square, founded by Purdue University professor Su’ad Abdul Khabeer. Jumping forward to the 20th century, we might consider war a continual theme when it comes to the erasure of African American Muslim political positionality. Muhammad Ali famously refused to serve in the Vietnam War, and thus lost the peak years of his boxing career to a debilitating ban from competition that stayed in place until he finally won his court case. His position is not surprising if you know the anti-imperialist political analysis of Malcolm X. However, the NMAAHC does not bring these threads together. The museum pigeon-holes the Nation of Islam (NOI) as the Muslim equivalent of Black church culture and utterly fails to acknowledge the profoundly different political connotations of the two faiths during the ere
in question. It was therefore not surprising that the gravity of Ali’s political protest is buried in the sports section on the 5th floor, far from the main exhibit’s display on the Black Power movement.
A SENSIBLE NARRATION
Before returning to my opening critique of American empire, I offer a simpler conclusion in the form of a direct comparison with another Washington, D.C. museum. Down the street from Frederick Douglass’ house in Anacostia is a small community-run museum, the America’s Islamic Heritage Museum (AIHM). AIHM is not limited to African American Muslim history, but by virtue of its quest to tell the untold, it includes a fair amount of Black history. While the NMAAHC and AIHM have two
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Sara Swetzoff is a PhD student in Howard University’s African Studies Department. She has previously worked for Fons Vitae Publishing and Portland State University student media. NOTE: All photos copyright Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum of African American History and Culture
NEW RELEASES An Introduction to Islam Tariq Ramadan 2017. 272 pages. Pp. 272. PB. $18.95 Oxford University Press, New York, N.Y. hether the issue is violence, terrorism, women’s rights or slavery, Muslims are expected to explain and justify what Islam is/is not. But little opportunity to do so exists, either in the media or in mainstream society . Tariq Ramadan, a noted scholar of Islam, uses his An Introduction to Islam to focus upon the realities of Islam today and to analyze the essence of its principles, rituals, diversity and evolution. The book’s final two chapters, which cover the modern era, offer a broad overview of the debates and controversies affecting Muslimmajority societies and reshaping the lives of Muslim minorities in other lands.
A Brief Introduction to Qur’anic Exegesis Ali Suleiman Ali 2017. Pp. 188. PB. $12.95 International Institute of Islamic Thought, Herndon, Va. rof. Ali traces the evolution of Qur’anic exegesis, from the time of the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), the Companions, the Successors, the early mufassirun (exegetes) with independent tafsir works, to the present day. In doing so, it addresses some major issues including to what extent has tafsir been influenced by differing theological traditions (classical, mystical sufi, Persian), political and sectarian interests etc. and how interpretation has differed in some cases, mainly pertaining to juridical, theological, historical, and linguistic issues.
Precious Indian Weapons and Other Princely Accouterments Salam Kaoukji 2017. Pp. 504. 500 color illus. HB. $75.00 Thames & Hudson, New York, N.Y. n this book Salam Kaoukji, curator of Kuwait’s Al-Sabah Collection and editor of the series the Al-Sabah Collection, shares 200 stunning bejeweled and enameled daggers and swords from India. The author, who has published extensively in international exhibition publications about India and the jeweled arts and has co-authored the collection’s catalogues, states that the collection “holds one of the finest and richest collections of princely weapons in the world.”
Ijtihad and Renewal Said Shabbar 2017. Pp. 156. PB. $11.95 International Institute of Islamic Thought, Herndon, Va. habbar offers an analysis of ijtihad and the role it can play for a positive Muslim revival in the modern world, a revival based on society-wide economic and educational reform and development. He makes the case that the grafting of solutions rooted in the past onto the complex and unique realities of our own age, in a onesize-fits-all perspective, has paralyzed the vitality of Muslim thought, and confused its sense of direction, and that to revive the Muslim world from its centuries of decline and slumber we need to revive the practice of ijtihad.
False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East Steven A. Cook 2017. Pp. 360. HB. $27.95 Oxford University Press, New York, N.Y. he author surveys the developments over the past five years in those Middle Eastern countries that experienced the Arab Spring. He discusses why the uprisings were failed revolutions that, instead of ushering in a new era, produced violence and renewed state repression. Examining the role of the U.S. in the region, Cook argues that Washington cannot shape the situation going forward.
Jesus and Muhammad: Commonalities of Two Great Religions Daniel Hummel 2017. Pp. PB. $15.95 Tughra Books, Clifton, N.J. r. Hummel argues that the similarities between the New Testament’s first four gospels and the Qur’an’s Makkan chapters outweigh the differences. In fact, on issues related to prayer, God’s Oneness, charity, the Hereafter and forgiveness, the teachings are practically the same. However, several core theological issues found in the Gospel of John do clash with Qur’anic teachings about the person of Prophet Jesus (‘alayhi al-salam). He concludes that Muslims and Christians have more shared values and even theological similarities than differences.
A Journey through Muslim Architecture Z. A. Nizami 2017. Pp. 501. HB. $30.00 Tariq Ahmed Nizami, Dubai, UAE his posthumously published volume is a collection of the writings of Z. A. Nizami, an engineer who founded Karachi’s Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology, on the various architectural aspects of buildings built by Muslims. This anthology presents his reviews, opinions and expressions of how their concepts of construction evolved and were transformed over the centuries. Spanning more than 15 years of research on Islamic architecture and urban planning and design, Nizami creates an awareness of these concepts and their impact upon architecture in other lands. The author was involved with planning and designing the floor of the mataf — the open area immediately around the Ka’bah in which the pilgrims perform tawaf.
The Adventures of Imam Adam Danny Shakoj, Illus. Necdet Yilmaz 2017. Book and plush toy. Ages 3+. $29.99 FDA Consulting Services, Wayne, N.J. his fully illustrated storybook and its accompanying plush toy teach Muslim children about their faith. Concerned about the dearth of products that fulfilled this purpose, this Circassian Muslim author decided to illustrate Imam Adam’s hajj journey and explain Islam (e.g., the Five Pillars) in age-appropriate language. This set can also teach others about Islam and promote an accurate understanding and acceptance of it. ih
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FOOD FOR THE SPIRIT
A Muslim Physician’s Journey towards Self-Discovery BY SHAHID ATHAR Blessed is He in whose hands is the domain, and He has power over all things, who has created life and death that He can test Who is best in conduct. He is oft forgiving and almighty. (Quran 67:1-2)
he Muslims’ path leads them toward self-discovery and their Creator. On this journey, we encounter many whom God loves or those who love God. We have to love unconditionally them only for the love of God. How did I discover God (for myself)? I was born into a Muslim family and knew the rituals, but did not “discover” God until I started reflecting upon His creations, especially the human body. At age 19, as I dissected cadavers in medical school and looked at the arrangements and purpose of the bones, nerves, vessels, organs and their interconnections and functions, I began to realize that this network could not have created itself. In effect, I was reading a book — the human body — and trying to locate the author, appreciating the masterpiece and asking about the artist’s whereabouts. Allama Mohammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher, said: If you are looking for mysteries of life, look into yourself. You will find Me when you find yourself. Once I found God by reasoning, I wanted to know more about Him, what He requires of me, and what aspects of my life He influences. Is He up there, waiting for me at the door like a father to reward or punish me after I die and return to Him? Thus, I started to study the Quran and reflect. Muslims would understand the Quran’s
true meaning if they studied it as a personal message. Although it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) more than 14 centuries ago, we feel that God is addressing us individually. During Ramadan, I read: O humanity. It is you who is needy of God, and it is God who is above all needs (Quran 35:15). I could read no further as tears welled up in my eyes while I reflected upon how much I have dependent upon Him ever since my conception, through all of the physical weakness of being a child and right up until the present moment. This is true for all of us when we reflect upon our achievements in any aspect. At this point I realized that God not only created me, but sustains me and guides me through my existence on this planet and that upon my return to Him I will have to account for what I said and did. When I read the Quran, the three purposes of creation stood out: Humanity was created to (1) be His vicegerent on Earth by carrying out His mission
and establishing His laws; (2) worship Him by performing the prescribed rituals and to take care of His creation; and (3) do good and avoid wronging oneself and others. As a physician, several other things have affected my beliefs and me, among them the following: Observing Death. It was fascinating to watch a person die: the separation of soul and body, the loss of communication with the body that I knew, the caregiver’s helplessness, the body’s return to its origin, praying that the person’s soul would be taken care of in the next life. We never stop sinning, and yet we ask God to forgive the dead. Then returning to the Quran, these verses came to mind: “Every soul must taste death” (2:35) and “How can you reject faith in God, seeing that you were without life and He gave you life; then He will cause you to die and will again bring you to life and again to Him will you return?” (2:28). Thus the phenomenon of death reinforces belief. I also observed that Muslims died more peacefully. Being an endocrinologist, I could postulate that because they had less of the stress engendered by the Adrenocorticotropic hormone, and therefore had more endorphins released to take care of the pain — according to the Quran — felt when the soul is extracted from the body. Therefore, death was not something painful for them. Biochemically, I could understand the process of dying from a poetic couplet: “Life
ONCE I FOUND GOD BY REASONING, I WANTED TO KNOW MORE ABOUT HIM, WHAT HE REQUIRES OF ME, AND WHAT ASPECTS OF MY LIFE HE INFLUENCES.
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The Muslim Physician’s Prayer:
RAISE BE TO GOD, THE Creator of the Universe Who taught us “Whoever saves a human life has saved the life of all humanity” (Quran 5:32).Give us the knowledge the skills and the will to serve fellow humans. Give us the wisdom to comfort and console all toward peace and harmony. Help us alleviate human sufferings. Give us the strength to admit our mistakes, amend our ways, and to forgive others. Give us the devotion to serve the poor, the hungry, the destitute and homeless, with honor, love, dignity and piety, with patience and tolerance, with knowledge and vigilance, with thy love in our hearts, compassion for thy servants and desire for thy mercy for all those who are instruments of thy healing (Amen).
is nothing but arrangements of elements in a certain order, and death is disturbing that arrangement.” The Power of Prayer. After administering the necessary medicines, I noted that patients did not have the same reactions. Therefore, like combination antibiotic or combination chemotherapy, I secretly started praying for my patients, regardless of their religion. After giving them medicine, I prayed for them by name and asked God to make the medicine I gave them effective, relieve their pain and help them heal. I observed that it worked, but I did not know how. In the Quran, God says: “Call upon me, for I hear the prayer of every supplicant. So let him respond to my call” (2:186). My patients came to thank me after they became well, although God was the one who healed them. ih Shahid Athar, M.D., FACE, FACP (Editor’s Note: Written by the author based on his presentation at the annual convention of International Association of Sufism, May 2017.)
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A Dignified Farewell Is there an Islamic paradigm for making end-of-life care decisions? BY USMAN BAQAI AND AASIM I. PADELA
nd-of-life care raises a host of challenges and questions for everyone involved. To highlight pressing moral questions that we all might face, I, Usman Baqai, here present my personal narrative. A loving husband, caring father, and respected community builder, my immigrant father worked tirelessly to make the world a better place through his profession as an electrical engineer and by working for an international relief agency. But his boundless energy began to change when a mild stomach pain gradually intensified so much that eating became difficult. Weeks after being diagnosed with stage III esophageal cancer, a portion of his esophagus was removed and he began chemotherapy. One year later he seemed to regain his strength and even visited his family in Pakistan. Yet this was nothing more than the calm before the storm. “Can you pass me the... the… whatever it’s called, son?” my father asked while pointing to the remote. A few months later he became forgetful, and we wondered whether this was an after-effect of chemotherapy or something more sinister. We denied the symptoms until a routine check-up revealed that the cancer had spread and had reached his brain. Just like that, my father became a terminal cancer patient. Physicians explained that there was no
definitive curative therapy, and as time progressed he had to be admitted to intensive care because of breathing trouble. My mother lived in the hospital by his bedside, and my brothers and I took the night shifts to support them. After several days, we realized that we could either continue with aggressive treatment, which included antibiotics and intubation, or opt for hospice care. At first not knowing what to do, we ultimately opted for hospice care (Smith, F. and Himmel, S. “Changing the Way We Die: Compassionate End of Life Care and the Hospice Movement.” Cleis Press; 2013).
DEALING WITH END-OF-LIFE-CARE QUESTIONS
Like everyone else, Muslims also struggle with deciding how far to go in trying to “forestall” death. However, we must recognize that death is not a matter of “if ” but of “when,” and thus all of us need to prepare for it. In fact, the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) directed us to “Remember the destroyer of pleasures (death) often” (“Sunan ibn Majah,” hadith no. 4258). To us, hospice appeared somehow incompatible with Islam. We initially felt that given the high value that Islam places on human life, aggressive treatment had to be pursued in order to please God. But seeing my father hooked up to machines and moving in and out of consciousness caused me to wonder
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about this assumption. Thus, I spent many nights in the hospital researching what Islam says about end-of-life care. As a rising medical student, I delved into medical journals to answer the following and other questions: What exactly is hospice care? Is it somehow better for patients with terminal cancer than continued aggressive treatment? What does Islam say about hospice and end-of-life care? Although I learned a great deal, there was not much research on Islamic perspectives (Asadi-Lari, M., Goushegir, S., Madjd, Z., and Latifi, N. “No Spiritual Care at the End of Life in the Islamic Context: A Systematic Review.” Iran J Cancer Prev. 2012;1(2):6367). As the websites and fatwa-banks I consulted were also of limited utility, I below share what I learned in order to spur further research and education.
HOSPICE CARE DEFINED
Hospice care often represents a recalibration of treatment goals from curing to controlling the systems of one’s disease. It is often synonymous with palliative care, which tries to help fatally ill people enjoy the highest quality-of-life possible. Hospice neither delays nor hastens death. Physician and social activist Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the Hospice Movement, (1918-2005) captures its main ideology, “You matter because of who you are. You matter to the last moment of your life, and we will do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live [without continual suffering] until you die.” Surgeon and public health researcher Atul Gawande, who talks extensively about death and dying in his “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” (Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.; 2014), views aggressively treating terminal cancer patients as analogous to fighting an unwinnable war. He
reasons that if an army general knows that he will ultimately be defeated, he would not fight to the death. According to many, such a foolhardy approach would lead to a “medicalized” death, something that has become more prevalent as medical technology has advanced. Hospice, on the other hand, focuses on maximizing the dying person’s quality of life and refusing aggressive treatments that either have marginal benefits or are futile, might sap one’s energy and/or have various negative side effects. Here, I would like to offer a theological reflection. The Quran states that humanity was created “only that they worship Me (51:56).” As Muslims, we strive to please God whether indirectly through our interactions with creation or directly through our acts of worship as outlined by the Prophet until the moment of our death. As the definition of “worship” here includes fulfilling our rights to both creation and the Creator, a good quality of life marker would be a life that facilitates such actions. This logic would lead to us to assume that the best treatment during our final days would be the one that would give us the best chance of participating in the spiritual acts of worship and retain the cognitive ability to fulfill the rights of others.
HOW THE PROPHET FACED DEATH
Muslims look to the Prophet’s example for guidance in every aspect of our lives and as the ultimate expression of being a dignified human. Many hadiths depict the scene of his departure, including his interactions with the Companions, close family, and God. First, when he was ill and unable to speak the people around him started to pour medicine down the side of his mouth. He gestured for them to stop. Later in the same narration (Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith no. 735), we see that he wasn’t opposed to medicine, but perhaps avoided “aggressive treatment” when it would change nothing. We are also told that he focused on God as he lay dying and opted to be with Him rather than remain here when given the choice (Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith no. 740). He continued to observe the daily prayers and even tried to lead the congregation even during his final days. Furthermore his loved ones, specifically Aisha and Fatima (‘alayhum rahmah), surrounded him. They each had special moments with him before he died. The Prophet secretly whispered to Fatima that his time had come, after which she wept,
and then let her know that she would be the first family member to join him, after which she smiled (Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith no. 718). For Aisha, these events took place at her house, and she considered it a favor of her Lord that the Prophet passed away while resting his head on her lap. She shared an intimate final moment with him: She softened a miswak with her saliva for him to use as he passed away.
Second, relevant forums and resources on end-of-life care are needed so that the stakeholders who assist in decision making and advising the patient’s family can provide accurate and relevant information. Unfortunately, few scholars are well versed in both the Islamic tradition and medicine. Thus, there is a great need for more scholarly deliberation over the ethical issues as well as hosting workshops and symposia
LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, MUSLIMS ALSO STRUGGLE WITH DECIDING HOW FAR TO GO IN TRYING TO “FORESTALL” DEATH. HOWEVER, WE MUST RECOGNIZE THAT DEATH IS NOT A MATTER OF “IF” BUT OF “WHEN,” AND THUS ALL OF US NEED TO PREPARE FOR IT. During his final moments, God’s remembrance moistened his tongue and graced his lips. It is related that after he praised God, “None has the right to be worshipped except God. Death has its agonies,” he repeated “With the highest companion” until he passed away (Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith no. 730). His last words confirm the importance of spending one’s life worshiping God and remaining steadfast until death. As the Prophet is the exemplar, we learn that a “good” death means keeping our meeting with God in mind and that keeping close ties with our companions is important, as this too can be a form of worship and obedience. We are also taught to not ask for death, but rather to prepare for it by praising God until the very end.
What can we do to improve a Muslim’s experience of the end of life? First, in addition to realizing the importance of preparing for death, we should write our wills sooner rather than later, talk about end-of-life care and determine what our moral duties are. We need to have open discussions with family members about our religious obligations in this regard, our specific wishes (e.g., about organ donation, intubation, and the like) and resolve important family issues. For my family, we knew that my brother’s wedding would make our father and all of us very happy, and so this marriage was held around his ICU bed. He died the next day.
to help doctors and patients alike. The University of Chicago’s Initiative on Islam and Medicine has hosted such programs in the past (https://pmr.uchicago.edu/page/ initiative-islam-medicine-events). Finally we can learn from other communities and develop programs that will eventually lead to the creation of resources and guidelines. For example, both the U.S. and Europe have meeting locations known as Death Cafés to remind their people about this event and help them talk candidly about how to prepare for it (Underwood, J. What is Death Cafe? http://deathcafe.com/what/; 2012.) Some Christians use The Christian Art of Dying: Learning form Jesus (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing; 2011), which deals with their view of death, the relationship between the dying person and God and even prayers that should be recited for terminally ill patients. Muslims should create such resources to make the often stressful and painful situations of fatal illnesses and death a little less burdensome. ih Aasim I. Padela, MD, MSc, FACEP, an emergency medicine clinician, bioethicist and health researcher, leads the University of Chicago’s Initiative on Islam and Medicine. His scholarship focuses on creating a theologically rooted multidisciplinary field of Islamic bioethics and improving the health care experiences of Muslim patients and providers. Usman Baqai (BS [Honors], Ursinus College, 2017) is an MD/PhD student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University. Over the summer he worked as research intern at the Initiative on Islam and Medicine. [Ed. Note: He carried out the research for this article as part of his internship program, which is underwritten by Drs. Skina and Hossam Fadel.]
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Care for the
Is it permissible to ship a corpse elsewhere for burial?
BY MISBAHUDDIN MIRZA
f there is one certain thing in everyone’s life, it is death, for “Every soul shall taste death” (Quran 3:185). Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) reminded his Companions to laugh infrequently, for laughter makes one complacent about his/her eventual death. Every night when going to bed, we recite: “O God, in your name I die and (in your name) I will come back to life” (Sahih Muslim, hadith no. 6887). Yet in some Muslim cultures discussing issues related to death is taboo, which can lead to problems when this event occurs. Today, due to immigration and the ease of mobility, many people no longer live where they were born and/or raised. So what should we do when such people die? Muslims in North America have purchased portions of cemeteries and even established their own in various places. Recently, the New York State Health Department reportedly allowed Muslims to be buried without a casket. Sometimes, however, people decide to
ship the corpse back to their native land or to where the deceased used to reside, for he/she may have a family burial plot there. Although doing so is generally prohibited, the existence of certain condition(s) makes it (e.g., the impossibility of an Islamic burial and to prevent any violation of the corpse’s dignity). The international Islamic university in India, Darul Uloom Deoband’s Dar al-Ifta, has issued a fatwa (Answer 7862) that classifies this practice as makrooh (undesirable), even though some jurists permit it. But as this is the preferred ruling, one should adhere to it. Ayesha’s (radi Allahu ‘anha) brother Abdur Rahman (‘alayhi rahmat) was not buried where he died. When she once passed by his grave while traveling, she said: “If I had the power, I wouldn’t have allowed you to be buried here. Rather, you should have been buried where you breathed your last. It is allowable to move it to one or two miles, but it is makrooh tahrimi (undesirable to the extent of haram) to take it from one country to another.”
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Shaykh Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid, founder of the website IslamQA.info, says: “The sunnah at the time of the Prophet and the Sahabah was to bury the deceased in the graveyard of the land or city in which he died, and to bury the martyrs where they died… Because of that, the majority of fuqaha’ said it is not to move the deceased before burial to another land, unless there is a valid reason, such as the fear that his grave may be violated or mistreated, in which case he must be moved to a place where his grave will be safe.” In several hadiths, the Prophet told Muslims: “Hasten to bury the corpse, for if it was righteous then you are sending it off to its welfare, and if it was otherwise then you are putting off a liability from your necks” (Narrated by al-Bukhari). Abu Dawud reports that the Prophet stated: “It is not appropriate to hold back the corpse (from burial) while keeping it among the family.” Many cumbersome laws and requirements govern the shipping of corpses.
Modern procedures for embalming, casket sealing, certification and transportation must be followed. In fact, they are so extensive that we might have second thoughts once we learn about them.
CONDITIONS FOR SHIPMENT
For example, shipping a corpse to India requires that the health officer at the arrival airport be notified 48 hours in advance. The shipper must (1) obtain an acceptable death certificate, (2) an embalming certificate, (3) a “No Objection Certificate” from the Indian embassy/consulate, and then (4) complete an application with passport-sized photos and submit the deceased’s passport (which will be cancelled and returned), (5) present a certificate from the Health Department stating that the deceased had no communicable/contagious diseases, (6) a burial/transit permit, (7) a copy of the flight schedule, (8) pay the required application /transportation fees, and (9) have the embalmed body placed in a hermetically sealed zinc-lined wooden casket. An article by Mir Ubaid in AlJazeera.com (What is a Muslim funeral like in New York? March 7, 2016) reported: “Shipping bodies overseas is a smooth process for the most part. Countries such as Egypt and Morocco have been known to step in and cover the funeral and shipping costs for their citizens in the US.” The Fiqh Council of North America has produced an excellent write-up on the embalming procedure by Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, a portion of which is presented here. “... modern day international shipment of corpse does cause change in the composition and nature of the dead body. The international shipment of corpse requires body embalming. The embalming process entails at least three kinds of embalming. 1: Arterial Embalming. This involves arterial injection of embalming fluids. The fluids are injected through an artery and the blood is drained through a vein. The embalming fluids penetrate all parts of the body including the tissues, muscles, organs and even the skin. The tubes are inserted through the artery and the vein so that each body vessel receives the tube to facilitate fluid injection and blood drainage. All the blood is drained into the gutter and replaced with embalming fluids. The embalmer injects almost 1 gallon of fluid for every 50 pounds of body weight. ... After completion of arterial injection and complete blood drainage, the arterial and jugular tubes are removed, the incisions are
sutured, and the vessels are tied closed and sealed with a special chemical. 2: Cavity Embalming. The fluids inside the abdomen and thoracic cavities and organs are sucked through a suction machine. All the body organs are pierced and punctured to drain the fluids out of them through suction. 3: Surface Embalming. It applies embalming fluids to the skin and tissues to make them hard and protected from decomposition.
external alcoholic fluids into all organs, completely draining the blood into the sewer system and hardening of the tissues and skin. All of these are detrimental to the corpse’s “wellbeing” and violate its dignity (except when doing so for genuine shar‘i reasons). Other issues are the amount of time and expense involved, the emotional toll on survivors, and the sunnah of burying the corpse as quickly as possible.
MANY CUMBERSOME LAWS AND REQUIREMENTS GOVERN THE SHIPPING OF CORPSES. MODERN PROCEDURES FOR EMBALMING, CASKET SEALING, CERTIFICATION AND TRANSPORTATION MUST BE FOLLOWED. IN FACT, THEY ARE SO EXTENSIVE THAT WE MIGHT HAVE SECOND THOUGHTS ONCE WE LEARN ABOUT THEM. “The typical embalming fluid is made up of a mixture of formaldehyde, methanol and other solvents including ethanol. The formaldehyde content generally ranges from 5 to 29 percent and the ethanol content may range from 9 to 56 percent. Formaldehyde’s systematic name is methanol as it is mainly consisted of methanol ingredients. ‘Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, wood alcohol, wood naphtha or wood spirits, is the simplest alcohol, and is a light, volatile, colorless, flammable liquid with a distinctive odor very similar to, but slightly sweeter than, that of ethanol (drinking alcohol).’ “Ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, pure alcohol, grain alcohol, or drinking alcohol, is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid. A psychoactive drug and one of the oldest recreational drugs known, ethanol produces a state known as alcohol intoxication when consumed. Best known as the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, it is also used in thermometers, as a solvent, and as a fuel. In common usage, it is often referred to simply as alcohol or spirits.” This process is extremely problematic, because it consists of infusing alcohol-saturated embalming fluids throughout the body, draining the body’s blood and fluids, making an incision, injecting gallons of external fluids (mainly consisting of alcohol), puncturing most of the body’s organs, suctioning internal body fluids and injecting
All of this raises an important point: Are Muslims doing enough to facilitate local burials? Ubaid states that this can be a challenge for New York’s 600,000 to 1 million Muslims, for the city has no exclusively Muslim cemetery. Ahmet Kargi, president of the Islamic Funeral Services, told Ubaid: “We often use cemeteries in New Jersey, like the Jersey State Memorial Park Cemetery in Millstone ... There are also smaller Muslim sections at cemeteries in Long Island and in parts of the city. But they can cost anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000, and I have seen graves go up to $14,000 inside the city. That is considered a wasteful expenditure in Islam, and so we have to resort to the most affordable options available” — usually shipping the corpse overseas. In order to support Muslims who cannot afford the hefty funeral expenses, Nooruddean Abu Ibrahim, a 28-year-old Palestinian American who has been doing Islamic funeral work in New York for more than a decade, told Aljazeera about his nonprofit Janazah Project (www.thejanazahproject.org), which raises money from the Muslim community to cover these costs on a case-by-case basis. ih Misbahuddin Mirza, M.S., P.E., a licensed professional engineer registered in New York and New Jersey, is the regional quality control engineer for the New York State Department of Transportation’s New York City area. He has written for major American and Indian publications.
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 61
Your mosque can do it but you can do it alone too. Mis/Dis information on Islam/Muslims is our responsibility alone. Instead of cursing darkness let us light a candle. Today the image of Muslims is under attack. However, we should not forget that it is our responsibility to correct it collectively and individually. It is every Muslims’ responsibility. Yes, if we do it seriously, we can see positive results emerging in a few years. Muslims, who are spread out across the US, should place this ad in their local newspapers and magazines.
Islam is the religion of inclusion. Muslims believe in all the prophets of both testaments. Read Quran, the original, unchanged word of God as His last and final testament to humankind. www.Peacetv.tv ★ www.Gainpeace.com Such ads are already running in many newspapers and magazines and are brinigning positive results, getting more non-Muslims interested to read Islamic literature with interest. Placing these ads can be a continuous reward (sadqa-e-jaria) for yourself, your children, your loved deceased ones and with the prayer for a sick person that Allah make life easy here and in the Hereafter. Please Google the “list of newspapers/magazines” in your state and contact their advertising departments. Such ads are not expensive, especially now when print media is struggling for revenue They range from as little as $20 to $50 per slot and are cheaper
if run for a longer time. Questions to ask your local newspaper: how many print copies are distributed, and if the ad runs longer, how much will be the cost. Don’t forget that DAWAH works on the same principle as that of advertising: BULK AND REPEATED EXPOSURE CREATES ACCEPTANCE. Printing continuously for a long period of time will produce more results than printing one big ad once. Please check with Gain peace to know if someone is not already putting ad in the same newspaper and send them clipping after the ad has appeared.
If you have any questions, or want copies of the ads that others have already placed in their area newspapers/magazines, please write me Muhammad Khan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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