Sunday, December 18, 2016

Explaining the Turmoil in the Muslim World

People wonder why "Muslims are so violent" in some parts of the world. Is that a fair assessment of Muslims, however? Does Islam teach Muslims to be violent, as some shrill voices have alleged? Let's take just one nation, one such as Syria for an example. It is in the news a lot these days. So what about it? Why are the 'Muslims so violent' there? Let's see... Syria was once a land at peace. It was a lazy backwater of the Ottoman Empire for centuries - until the British stirred up the Arabs to revolt in World War I.
After the war the British broke their promises to create an independent Arab state there. Then they gave it to the French to run. The French oppressed the people, massacred any Arabs who revolted, and even after promising independence in 1944 they continued to massacre Syrians until finally withdrawing in 1946. Don't you think this might make the people a bit, um, unsettled?
The secular Syrian government then joined in the Arab effort to stop the formation of a Euro-Jewish state in their neighborhood in 1948 and lost territory to UN supervision on account of it. Eventually some unIslamic Socialists did a military coup which solidified a secular ruling elite in their power structure.
When the Syrians were alarmed at British, French and Israeli intervention in the Suez Crisis in Egypt in 1956, they aligned with the communist Soviet Union. Socialism + Communism - we know who invented it and how it misled millions. Islam was considered a backward relic in Syria ever since independence. Muslims in the cities largely abandoned it in favor of a 'modern' lifestyle.
Then Syria lost more territory in the Six Day war (1967) and was humiliated terribly by Israel. Israel even attacked an American warship with unmarked planes hoping to get America to enter the war against the Arabs. In 1973 the Syrians and Egyptians, both led by secular socialists, launched a surprise attack on Israel, and as a result of their bumbling they both lost even more land. (The U.S. helped Israel with direct military aid and intelligence. Outside intervention.)
The secular, socialist dictator, Hafez-el Assad, with the help of Soviet ideology and aid, crushed any of his people who dared ask for freedom or justice. The executions and torture prisons multiplied. The Syrians were brutalized by one of their own, a man who hated Islam. The secular elites, led by Assad's own minority sect, the Alawiyya, were firmly in control.
When Bashar, the son of Assad came to power, it looked like he would liberalize things, but then the allure of power took hold of his soul and he began his own campaign of crushing people and their spirit. In particular, those who loved Islam suffered greatly. Activists were jailed and killed. Mosques were once again monitored, like under his father's rule. Secret police were everywhere.
Intervention by Israel in Lebanon and by Iraq in Kuwait led to a period of great instability with Israeli, American and other forces on the move. Russian and American jockeying went on unabated, just like it did during the Cold War.
Being a SECULAR leader, like most others in the Arab world, Bashar followed a long line of evil men in oppressing everyone he felt challenged him: Kurds, Sunni Muslims, democracy activists, etc. Syria became more of a hollowed-out shell.
What do you do when oppression becomes unbearable? You fight back, like George Washington and Thomas Paine. The Muslims began to try and fight for freedom once again, and sometimes the methods were unpleasant, but that is the nature of asymmetric war. Bashar continued his brutal crackdowns. The second Gulf War in Iraq alarmed Syria to no end, and the paranoia grew.
Enter Obama and Hillary. As Sec. of State, Hillary fomented 'revolutions' in the Ukraine, Georgia, Libya, Egypt and finally Syria. These revolutions, funded and directed by the U.S. unleashed chaos across the Arab world. Military governments responded with brutality. Refugees began to flee to Europe of all places. From Libya to Iraq there is currently nothing but fear, despair and ashes. Traditional Islamic culture is broken in the Middle East.
Mosques are spied upon or used as bases of revolt. Muslim people are angry and afraid. There is no hope. Regular Islamic teachings are warped in the service of resistance. Cultural practices, a haven of psychological safety, are now bundled into the teachings of Islam by the common people, even if they are opposed by Islam itself!
So then people sitting safely on their couches ask, "Why are Muslims so violent?" Imagine if the American Revolution never ended. How would Americans be today if the war lasted for fifty or sixty years or more, punctuated by periods of oppression from their own Continental Congress and invasions and humiliations from outside? Imagine an endless parade of outside intervention by foreign powers. Imagine Christianity being all but outlawed by the secular government, and camps set up for torture and execution. How would 'Christians' react after they finally had enough?
I have now summarized the history of just one Muslim country, Syria, and how it has been brutalized by NON-MUSLIM ideologies (socialism, secularism, democracy rebels, communism), outside countries and evil megalomaniacs from within - all of this done outside of any influence of Islam. So Muslims start to want to fight back in Syria, and we expect them to come with muffins and cookies to the party?
Until we truly try to understand the suffering, and the effects of evil people in the brutalizing of a nation, we cannot even envision a way out or a solution. Islam does not give permission to do atrocities and kill the innocent. We all know that. But for the people on the ground in places such as Aleppo, Kabul, Tripoli, Cairo and other places, reasoned discourse is not a thing on their minds.
It's not that 'Muslims are so violent,' rather, it's Muslims have been so brutalized, practically everywhere, that they sometimes no longer remember right from wrong. During World War II, whenever Jewish resistance fighters had the chance to kill Germans, regardless of whether or not they were Nazis, they took it. Brutality has a way of clouding the mind.
I wish Muslims around the world who were fighting for their lives would obey the rules of war, as laid out by the Prophet, which forbade the killing of innocents and all that, but until the outside ideologies, evil actors, power-hungry nations and madmen stop stoking the fires, I have little hope that the average person on the ground will be able to pause for thought and change his ways. Moral teachings must be learned in safety, or they will be ignored. Islam as a religion will need decades of peace in the Middle East to restore itself to balance.
O Allah! Help Muslims to be free, and help them to reconnect with the good teachings of our religion so we can once again be a shining example and beacon for all humanity. Ameen!

Friday, July 15, 2016

On the New and Dangerous World and the Cure for Extremism

During the time of the first four khalifas, a group arose called the Khawarij. They were ultra purists who believed that Islam required perfection of deeds at all time. They believed that anyone who did a sin was an unbeliever who could be killed. They were especially enraged by the struggle for power between Ali and Muawiya I and they organized forces to oppose both men, trying to assassinate both, but succeeding with only 'Ali. (r)

Thereafter they continued to cause trouble, killing Muslims, robbing, destroying political order and generally being brutes. This movement lasted for centuries. Ibn Kathir wrote about them also, saying, "If they ever gained strength, they would surely corrupt the whole of the Earth, Iraq and Syria – they would not leave a baby, male or female, neither a man or a woman, because as far as they are concerned the people have caused corruption, a corruption that cannot be rectified except by mass killing."

Is such extremism allowed? Yusair ibn Amr, from a hadith in Bukhari said, "I asked Sahl bin Hunaif, 'Did you hear the Prophet saying anything about Al-Khawarij?' He said, 'I heard him saying while pointing his hand towards Iraq. "There will appear in it (i.e, Iraq) some people who will recite the Quran but it will not go beyond their throats, and they will go out from (leave) Islam as an arrow darts through the game's body.' "

So the Prophet (p) forewarned us that merely being religious is not a sign of truth. Some people can say the right things but then do all the wrong things. We all know this to be true, and we all know people in our lives who are hypocrites like that, or who even believe their evil is good.
Many Muslims today are pointing to ISIS and its ideology and seeing a lot of patterns that would point back to the Prophet's (p) prediction of the rise of extremists liek the khawarij. Some have even said that ISIS is nothing more than a modern version of the type of extremism the Prophet warned us against. 
I am not learned enough to make a judgment on this and am always hesitant to make definitive pronouncements out of fear of God. I can say, as a person who has paid attention for many years, that actions beget actions and too many people and nations take actions without thinking of the long term consequences. Innocents pay the price, sadly.

Western powers have (for decades) stirred up a hornet's nest in the Middle East with arbitrary border-drawing, foreign adventurism, supporting dictators, and have largely acted on behalf of one particular and influential group with its own objectives. 
Now we have an extremist group (supported by some legitimate grievances) in Iraq and Syria striking back at those who have attacked then first (The U.S. and France attacked ISIS first, without provocation, don't forget that) but ISIS is doing things in a manner that many say goes out of bounds in Islamic teachings. 
What are we to do when we are blamed by non-Muslims as if we are all the same? Police officers are saying that they are all being unfairly blamed for a few bad cops who kill innocent black men. Welcome to the club! We also say you cannot blame us for a few bad apples. We know the media has an agenda. We suffer the brunt of it, everyday.

We the ordinary, God-fearing Muslims who seek to be the best example for humanity get caught in the middle and our families are made to feel shame for no good reason. May Allah give us strength to stand up to the extremes of every side. 
There is a cure for extremism, but the medicine is strong. 
The first rule of medicine is to do no harm. Western nations need to stop bombing Muslims all over the world. Reign in the CIA. Stop supporting dictators for financial and strategic gain. Got that?
The second rule is to diagnose the patient. The Muslim world suffers from poverty largely due to bad leadership. Leave us alone to try and fix that. When a Muslim party won elections in Algeria, France supported a military coup. When Muslims won the government in Egypt, again a military coup. When Iran threw out the Shah, Saddam was egged on by Western powers to invade. The list goes on and on. 
The last rule of medicine is to give the medicine time. Don't invade Afghanistan or Iraq and expect Jeffersonian democracy overnight, especially when you support corrupt elites at the same time.
So the cure that the West could do would simply be to get out of the Muslim world, stop supporting evil rulers and let it evolve, rather than keeping it off balance with bombs and CIA-engineered coups. Why all the tit-for-tat? Why do we have to let this foolishness go on?

May Allah bring sanity back to the world, and make us a force for peace and improvement. Ameen.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Reviving the Youth in Turbulent Times

Reviving the Youth in Turbulent Times

By Yahiya Emerick


      Be sure that We’re going to test you in some things like fear, hunger and loss of wealth and self, and also in the fruits (of your labor), but give good news to those who patiently persevere, who say, when stricken with adversity: “’To Allah we belong, and to Him we return.’”   The prayers and mercy of their Lord are upon them, and they’re the ones who are truly guided.

        [Qur’an 2:155-157]


We live in an age of great upheaval both at home and abroad.  Momentous challenges face us and our families and sometimes it can seem overwhelming and even bewildering at times. Adults who are busy with their homes and jobs often fail to consider the world from the eyes of our youth.  What are they thinking about?  How do they see the world?  Just because they often seem silent and go about their business, it doesn’t mean they aren’t affected by life in ways vastly different than us.

Many of us grew up in societies far away and especially during different times.  The idea of “smart” phones, tablet computers, social media and an online ‘presence’ never entered our wildest imaginations.  Anyone over the age of thirty is literally riding the wave of technological advancement with no idea where it will end.  What’s next – space travel?  For our young people, all this rapid change and advancement is just ‘normal’ life growing along with them.  We older folks cannot see it so organically because our frame of reference is still rooted in someplace else in the recesses of a more traditional world.

It has even been proposed that in a few decades there will be a computer interface implanted in our brains that will allow us to absorb information instantaneously.  Other predictions include virtual reality that is so real that people will prefer fantasy worlds to the real one.  The future is certainly going to be far different from what we have now.  This is the future world of our children and grandchildren – when we ourselves will be less than a memory to them.

Other great changes going on in the world today involve politics and international relations that seem esoteric for most of us, yet have a tremendous impact on the feelings, self-perceptions and everyday interactions our young people have to navigate every day.  The rise of a new organization claiming the mantle of the caliphate in the Middle East has literally caught the Muslim Ummah off guard.  In our Islamic studies classes we often talk approvingly of the old caliphs and of our desire to ‘make Islam dominant again.’  Yet when our youth hear the tragic and sometimes bizarre news from that part of the world, it often seems to have little relation to the Islam taught in our weekend classes.

Muslim youth have to interact with non-Muslims in their schools and in the streets, and they may feel defensive, apprehensive, attacked, ashamed or confused.  They cannot turn on a television or radio program without hearing the word, ‘terrorist’ used in the context of all Muslims.  Even though the anti-Muslim rhetoric is amplified by sinister groups trying to make us out to be the big boogeyman, just realizing that fact is not enough to be insulated from its harm, especially to the self-perceptions of the young. 

For the adults, we already have a toughened exterior and perhaps we’ve wrestled internally and decided that evil actions sometimes done in the name of Islam are sins or mistakes that we have no part of.  However, for the youth there is a swirling pot of emotions coupled with incomplete knowledge and the worries and foibles of youthful self-doubt.  Who can help them navigate these turbulent waters but us?

I have often seen that the way the Muslim community deals with confusing things, embarrassing events and contradictory moments is by ignoring them altogether.  It is almost as if all we need to do is go about our business and the stressful topic will pass.  Of course time does heal all wounds, as they say, yet the scars of confusion can leave deep pain or cause faith to unravel or prevent it from even taking root.

One of the strengths of our community is in our emphasis on building strong ties of family, friends, associates and brothers and sisters in faith.  Our Masjid is a focal point in this regard, but there are many who have little contact with our religious institutions or community events.  I would suggest to our parents, to take the seemingly strong web of relationships we always boast about and put them aside for a moment. 

Move a step lower on the ladder and try to understand how difficult it is for our young people in the many realms of life they must navigate.  It is no longer enough to assume your children and the children of the community will just listen like robots and believe everything we say without having to process it all through a variety of often contradictory filters.  Many of our young people live largely in an unsupportive, non-Muslim world.  Most have to traverse demands of parents, culture, religion and the secular sphere.  Most of us older folks had it far easier, as our parents, culture and religion were part of our lifestyle all around us.

So what must we do to help our youth in this strange and confusing world?  I believe that we must be willing to have real conversations with our family members and youth about the issues important to them.  These can be topics as far ranging as technology and politics to the difficulty of living Islam in a sometimes hostile environment.  We must be wise enough to hear the voices of others and not try to shut people down with our pronouncements, strong opinions, orders and edicts.  Only when we listen and restrain ourselves from making angry judgments do we allow the other person room to grow.

We may not like what we hear sometimes from the budding young minds that fill the world around us, but if we remember the manners of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, who often let the Sahabah say whatever they liked and listened patiently, we can learn from them even as we teach them through good advice and considering different perspectives.  The Prophet (p) was known for gentle teaching and he was patient with people and was not known for making people feel like they couldn’t express themselves and their opinions. 

In fact, one of the marvels I noticed as a new convert two decades ago was that in the hadith books there were often long conversations recorded in which the Sahabah and the Prophet (p)were having great back-and-forth exchanges with the Sahabah confident enough to say their opinions without fear of being belittled or shut down.  We need to revive that tradition in our dealings with our youth.  Be more patient.  Don’t get angry at what you hear.  Use gentle persuasion if you want to make a point, and allow yourself to consider new ideas and to grow in understanding from the flashes of wisdom that even young people can offer.

Our lives are short – the blink of an eye and suddenly ten years are gone!  The truly wise man or woman realizes that we truly do belong to Allah, and we will return to our Lord.  Our struggles are great, of that there is no doubt.  Allah promised we will be tested in a great many ways.  Those who remain strong in faith and who help others on the path of wisdom can look forward to all the wonderful delights promised by our Great and Merciful Lord.  May Allah increase our wisdom and teach us to listen more than we speak.  Ameen!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Strange Times We Live In

   I haven't posted in a while because I have been just so incredibly busy.  My full time job is literally the work of two jobs, but I'm not complaining.  Alhumdulillah I have work when so many are desperate for a job.  May Allah bring relief to those in need!

   Anyway, I do follow the news as best I can, and I think about things when I'm driving or in between making yet another lesson plan for my students in the school.  One thing I have noticed is that there seems to be a great polarization happening.  We Muslims and issues related to our faith are now the topics of conversation nearly everywhere we go.

   Normally that would not be a bad thing, if the context was positive, but of course, as we all know, everything we hear is resoundingly negative.  It's really hard on our young people, to have their religion and Prophet called such horrible things.  I do not know where this will all lead, but I do remember an article I wrote about 15 years ago or so that many non-Muslims ridiculed.  The link is below:

   In this article I attempted to imagine what would happen if all the propaganda against us came to its full fruition, and Muslims suddenly found themselves hunted by enraged mobs of their neighbors, right here in America.  Some non-Muslims exclaimed that that sort of thing could never happen here, but does any Muslim now have any doubts about the frenzy being arrayed against us?

   There was a time when we were ascendant here and the public at large either ignored us or had a somewhat positive attitude towards us.  If you were here back in the 80s and 90s, you will remember that our debaters had Christians against the ropes in interfaith debates.  Our logic was impeccable, our research above reproach, and all the contradictions of the Bible looked truly awful compared to the pristine unity of our Holy Book.

   We also were beginning to take the moral high ground in the 90s against Israeli oppression in the Occupied Territories.  People were getting exposed to video of Israeli soldiers beating, killing and harming Palestinians.  The tide was turning, if ever so slowly, and activist Jews and Christians could not best us.

    The Soviets had stirred the Afghan hornet's nest in the 80s, but it looked like Afghanistan would not affect outside regions as the Mujahideen got busy fighting each other.  The Arab world had the simmering PLO business going on, but it was more or less contained.  Lebanon was in disarray too, but manageable.  But huge geo-political forces were at play in the late 90s.  Secular, greedy, power-mad men turned the wheels of history, and the Middle East was plunged into turmoil.

   Saddam Hussein, another in a long line of American installed brutal dictators got greedy for Kuwait.  Okay, the U.S. and world banned together to oust him, but then Bush foolishly decided to fill up Arabia with hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim troops.  This, as we all know, got Osama bin Laden in motion, and then 9/11 was the result.

   From there it was all downhill.  The second Bush-inspired war was more blatantly a power grab for oil, but it was such a bungled job that eventually the Islamic State (or ISIS) came about.  How did that happen?  Who was involved?  Why is ISIS so barbaric?  These are a lot of issues, and there is a lot of information floating around, but the basic premise that opportunistic Christians and Jews have taken and run with is that somehow "Islam" is a "bad" religion "prone" to violence.

   So simplistic a message, but it resonates with simple-minded people who don't have any idea about the intense foreign meddling in the Middle East for generations.  Since World War I when the victorious Europeans carved up the Middle East into unnatural states with illogical borders, the place has been a powder keg.  The uneducated masses in the West don't know that.  Israel was established by fascist-minded Jews seeking a safe homeland for their persecuted brethren, but they had to brutalize the local Arabs to make it happen.  Again people don't know that.

   Made in America bombs have been dropped on people's towns and villages from Libya to Iraq to Afghanistan for decades.  Simple folk never ask, "What would I do if that were happening to me?"  Back to the main point however, the narrative has been turned on its head from what it truthfully should be.  People are being told: "Those evil Muslims follow a demonic religion that tells them to kill everybody and do every bad thing."

   What they should be told is that "Islam is a religion that is not much different than a fusion of the Catholic Church and Judaism.  Brutalized people in the Middle East have tried every secular solution to stop the outside meddling that has caused generations of death and destruction.  Now some are using religion as a vehicle for their revenge/resistance, and they are twisting it in the same way that Christianity was twisted in the Middle Ages to justify horrible things and murders."

   There are some Muslims doing "Take Back Islam" campaigns, and there is nothing wrong with that, but what must also be blared loud and clear is that the religion is not to be blamed for terrorists, rather decades of bombing, war and oppression whose origin almost always goes back to offices in Washington, London, Tel Aviv and Moscow. 

   Ours is a beautiful religion, and we are in an informational struggle just as dire as when the Mongols sacked half the Muslim world 800 years ago.  Inshallah, we can get our message across and the shrill voices against us can see the light of reason.  Ameen.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Current Confusions

The world always seems to speed up just when we start to get a handle on things.  The bills come out of nowhere the moment you get caught up and think you can finally make progress.  The confusion arises the very second you thought you had it all solved.

Subhanullah, welcome to life!

We were never promised an easy time in this world.  How could we even be angry about all our struggles and moments of despair?  It's all part of the inevitable movement forward of Time.  In fact, when we step back and look at events in our own lives, and even in the wider world, we see that it is all nothing more than a series of things that happen that require responses.

Our problem is the we are creatures that feel, consider, emote, ask for justice and in the end tend to overthink things.  Mysterious forces prey upon our minds and plant all kinds of worst-case scenarios in the churning cauldron of our fears.  Our heart strings are pulled by our inner reservoirs of mercy, or conversely warped by rage into hatred.

The world is full of people who laugh, who cry, who thirst for revenge - all depending on their circumstances, personalities and inner natures.  Some do all those at once and writhe in confused inner tortures.  There are issues aplenty at all levels to throw us in the maelstrom of confusion, and I think Muslims have it worse than most because the forces of the Evil One are most keen to attack us, as Shaytan promised he would do.  He is busy ambushing us from every side, and sometimes it seems we are all too eager to give him a helping hand!

Allah promised salvation to those who believe and do what is moral and good.  This is a simple formula yet the most difficult thing for a human to do!  All previously revealed divine religions and spiritual masters have said the same, and much advice is given in the world's great mystical and religious literature to help us along this 'difficult path' as the Qur'an calls it.  I would advise all people of morality to seek strength in such literature, for the world is confusing and many are the heartaches caused to all by the confused.

I open with these words as a way to mitigate the overwhelming nature of the major issues we are facing as an Ummah.  I was thinking the other day about making a simple list of what I think are the biggest challenges we face just as a kind of To-Do list.  In other words, to make a simple accounting of what Muslims need to think about in terms of developing effective responses on the way to solutions.

In the same way that we believe there is a cure for every ailment besides death, I also feel that as believers from a positive-oriented religion, we need to define our problems so we can begin to craft positive solutions.  Our future is not a dark path filled with endless sorrows.  Life as a Muslim is tough, as Allah promised, but it is not impossible, and for every problem we have seen solutions in the past.  Our history has generally been an upward trend even though there have been major setbacks.

Who could have thought, when Abu Bakr and the Prophet (p) were hiding out in a cave, about to be captured, that there would one day be a billion Muslims in the world?  What resident of Baghdad in the Middle Ages, seeing the Mongols about to enter and raze the city to the ground, could have predicted most of the descendants of those same mass murderers would one day build the great empires of the Mughals and others?  Could they imagine the rise of a new super empire of Muslims next to Europe in the Ottomans?

No, for every hardship there is ease.  For every disaster there is a triumph.  For every heartache today there is a victory tomorrow.  This is the promise of Allah, and whether we are in the time of pain or joy, we are rewarded based on our faith and morality.  This is the way of life.  This is the reality of it all.

So what are the top problems I can see right now?  In no particular order I will list what I think are the main ones, and will offer a thought or two as to their solutions.  If anyone would like to add to the list or offer your thoughts, please feel free to comment.

#1  Confusion about the new 'Islamic State.' 

I put this issue first because this speaks to the heart of a lot of things we face and think about.  Muslims are oppressed all over the world, and just like the Jews established Israel as a safe zone for themselves, Muslims would like to think they have one too.  For anyone who has been in the Islamic 'movement' for years, you know that all we talked about forever was 'establishing' khilafah, making an Islamic state, establishing the Deen, and on and on. 

We often talk and have talked about this in conferences, in books and magazine articles, at dinner parties and in our organizations - forever.  The theory was all good and we assumed all our problems would be solved if we could just bring back the signature construct of the Islamic political system.  The Taliban claimed the mantle of an Islamic State, so did the Iranians.  Other places have been taking baby steps in this regard. 

Our problems have been that there is and has been so much retrograde and backwards culturalism and gratuitous violence attached to these and other movements that we really couldn't support them fully.  I mean, would the Prophet (p) really approve of forbidding girls from school or stoning the victims of rape?  Would he really support suicide bombers, random murders of innocents or blowing up worshippers at prayer in mosques, under any circumstances? 

The portrait of the Prophet we know in general would be against those things, and that is why the bulk of the world's Muslims have sat on the sidelines and rarely if ever supported any of these 'Islamic' groups.

Now we have a new group that has gone all out and boldly proclaimed a new caliphate and initially, at least, ignited the imagination of Muslims everywhere.  Just as quickly however they have shown themselves to be very - even gratuitously - harsh and without mercy to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. 

From a traditional standpoint, when we study the normal story of the Prophet (p) and the first Muslims, here are some things we do not read about:

A) Killing prisoners by the thousands in all places and in all times, even regardless of religion, age, gender, status, etc.
B) Doing bizarre things with bodies like making crescent shapes from them or hanging them up for all to see or mutilating them in public squares and killing people by torturing them to death.
C) Giving human heads for children to use as soccer balls.
D) Burning people alive in cages or otherwise.
E) Making young children behead prisoners, and holding classes on how to do it.
F) Grabbing innocent villagers and killing them and then enslaving their females in rape camps.
G) Killing Christians and Sabians for not converting or being too poor to pay overly high jizyah amounts.
H) Brutalizing populations into submission rather than giving da'wah.
I) Making enemies of everyone all at once without any seeming strategy or way to cope.

Now this list is of things the new caliphate has broadly publicized and regularly engages in among many odd and gruesome things you see in the news all the time.  I studied the life of the Prophet for many years and do not find he did any of these things.  Perhaps I am confused but I've read quite a lot and attended many lectures over the last two decades and somehow missed those things.

As Muslims outside the Middle East who would love to have a caliphate based on the Qur'an and Sunnah, we all want to know how these and other acts are justified.   I know a lot of Muslims who are literally paralyzed with confusion about this issue.  They want a caliphate, but do not believe this one may be authentic.  Their non-Muslim neighbors now look upon them with disgust and fear and many feel hopeless in defending Islam now.  Non-Muslim radio hosts and politicians are having a field day attacking us!  Our families are dispirited and our energy is getting paralyzed.

So the issue Muslims need to solve here is whether or not this caliphate is legitimate, and how does it justify its actions.  Can it be rehabilitated?  What is its status in Islamic Law?  What sources are its scholars using to justify its actions?  Are its scholars able to make rulings freely and oppose injustices they see?  How can peace be restored to the region in the midst of all this violence?  How can we talk to our non-Muslim neighbors about this issue?  How can we understand it among ourselves? 

I think this issue is the defining one of our time, for it supersedes the entire issue of 'terrorism' completely.  I would love to see the scholars debating this more, having conversations with the scholars of the new caliphate and coming to a consensus.  So far I have seen a lot of silence.  A few groups have attempted to refute the Islamic State and its actions, while others have gone quiet on this issue, perhaps out of sympathy or because they literally do not know how to respond. 

I think as an Ummah we need a lot more talk about this among ourselves and need to ask more questions of the scholars of the new caliphate, and I also think it would be good for us if the non-Muslims also saw a healthy ongoing debate.  I think they assume our general silence means we do not care or worse.  So this is the first issue we need to attempt to solve.

#2 The General Moral Decline of the Entire World. 

I believe that many factors have come together to make people more immoral than ever.  When I talk about morals I mean those shared religious values that can be found in all the major religions of the world whose founding goes back to authentic prophets sent from our Lord.

There has always been corruption in the world.  This is true.  However, in most societies the people would at least pay lip service to the morals, even if they did not all practice them in private. Now the world has turned upside down.  Homosexuality is being taught in kindergartens all across the Western World, whereas Christians and their governments and churches used to be against it.  We have Gay Muslim groups, Imams and even Masjids!  In Israel the Rabbis are losing their battle against the Gay movement there and in the Far East homosexuality is gaining increasing acceptance.  Only Africa appears to be trying to hold the line now, but progressive groups from the West are going full bore against them.  How long can African governments hold out?

Drinking alcohol and drug use are rampant all over the world and it has always been that way, even in Muslim lands, but now popular society glorifies it in ways I have never seen before.  It is accepted in popular culture now that it is normal to 'pop pills,' smoke weed or try exotic drugs for fun.  Governments all over the world are caving into this pressure and legalizing the stuff left and right.  I'm waiting for the new American flag, for example to be thirteen stripes with the gay rainbow colors with 50 little marijuana leaves for states!  Oh, and change the blue background for red to signify the abortion industry.  (Abortion is now a ubiquitous part of life in much of the world now).

The rising transgender phenomenon a la' Chris Jenner (I remember him from my cereal boxes back in the day!) is really warping things in ways I never thought imaginable.  Add to this a general culture of easy sex, disrespect for tradition and general lawlessness that is taking hold all over and I see a world in moral chaos like never before.  The Shaytan is laughing in triumph!

So where do Muslims fit in?  In general this moral relativism bordering on the insane is sapping the moral identity of so many Muslims, especially the young who are getting drawn into this 'if-it-feels-good-do-it. ethos'  I think if you did a poll of Muslim youth you would find most are lukewarm in terms of religious absolutes, and also that most would be very liberal on social values.

Forget about trying to force your daughter to marry her creepy older cousin from back in the village, she supports gay marriage!  You might as well give up the idea that your son will become a hafiz, he thinks alcohol is fine and wants a girl that looks like the latest pop diva for a girlfriend!

This problem of moral relativism infecting our newest generations is so serious because it goes against the definition of who we are and how we get to heaven.  We must believe (which means accepting the authority of Allah as a Law Giver) and do what is moral and good (which means staying on the straight path).  If someone doesn't do those things, where is the hope of heaven?

I think Muslims need to discuss this issue more.  I believe we can make connections with other religious groups who also feel like we do.  I think Muslims need to re-examine their allegiance to the Democratic Party which is at the forefront of tearing down all morals.  Can they bring the issues back into public discourse?  Where have Muslims been during the gay marriage debate?  How about the legalizing drugs juggernaut?  If non-Muslims see us in other spheres making a difference or making our voice heard, then they will not think all we are is a one-issue group of people (politics in the Middle East).  I would love to see movement on stemming the tide of Shaytan's victory campaign!

#3 The Decline in Reading.

This is the last issue I will raise, because I believe it gets to the heart of many other things.  An educated person is a person who has more to think about and more to offer back.  Islam is a very text-heavy religion.  The Qur'an is over six thousand verses.  There are thousands of hadiths.  There are books of fiqh, seerah, philosophy and more.

No, not everyone needs to read them all, but there is some reading required of all Muslims.  In the age of the Smartphone, the discipline of 'book reading' is a dying art, even as physical books are passing away.

Oh sure, lots of people read web pages or twitter posts or emails, but it is not the same as reading a book that may consist of dozens up to hundreds of pages on a single subject.  This is a discipline and it takes work.  Now go and look at your average teenager or twenty-something using their phone.  Yep, constant swiping, little texts sent, more swiping.  This is the 'new reading' style.

Even the Common Core business you might have heard about has gotten in on the new style.  Students are no longer expected to read full books, but to merely read small excerpts and analyze their 'informational content or context.'  Teachers have been gradually doing this 'excerpting' for years now, getting tired of assigning readings and having fewer and fewer students doing them (the first competition was with TV, then video games), but now in the era of the 'Smart' phone, education has just capitulated.

As an Ummah we are and will lose out a lot in this 'revolution.'  Fewer and fewer Muslims in the general population will have the basics of Islam.  Fewer still will have more advanced knowledge.  I believe this is the single greatest threat to our future in the coming centuries.  Think about what you see now with the low attention spans of our youth, which are much lower than your own generation.  Imagine twenty years from now when books disappear and are rendered into quick summaries people can peruse on their devices. 

Where there is a lack of sustained reading, there is a lack of deep thought. 

I would love to see the Ummah discuss this issue.  I would counsel all of us to think about the ramifications for the future.  How many of our great books will not make the transition to digital?  How little about Islam will our future generations know?  May Allah help us to put down our Smartphones and read a book, for the Prophet praised this activity, and there is a reason for it.

May Allah help us will all the above issues, and help us talk about these things with respect and fairness.  Differences of opinion can be a blessing, if it all leads to respect and obedience to Allah, the Lord of all the Worlds. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Alhumdulillah, Ramadan is upon us!

We must use this month of prayer and reflection to reorganize our priorities and take stock of where we're at and where we're going.  Insha'llah may it be easy on us, and may we emerge as better people on the other side of it.  Ameen!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Teaching your Child How to Read

Reading is a skill that is highly praised in Islam.  The Prophet (p) praised reading, along with his companions.  Of course they would because Islam is a very text heavy religion.  Not as much as Judaism, but certainly more than Christianity. 

To be a Muslim who is knowledgeable and sincere, one must read both the Qur'an and hadiths.  On top of that, the books that tell us how to be a Muslim are many, such as works of fiqh, prayer manuals, etc.  A Muslim is a reader by nature.

So how do you ensure that your children become readers?  After all, they need this skill for when they are on their own and do the proverbial 'seeking of knowledge' both in a secular and a religious setting.  Imagine your child as a middle aged adult on their own.  I know it's hard to do, especially is your child(ren) are small, but just try.

They are sitting in their living room, after a long day of work, and they have to do something to occupy their time.  Their kids are playing.  The spouse is off doing something.  There is a quiet moment.  Do you imagine your child looking over at a bookshelf?  Do you dare hope it would be filled with books, especially religious ones?  Will he or she raise their hand and pull out a Qur'an?  A hadith book?  A book of fiqh or Islamic poetry?

I think we would all be pleased if they took a book and started to read, but is that the reality for most Muslims, of any age?  Does your average Muslim (or non-Muslim for that matter) read anything anymore, ever?  Sadly, no.  But there are still those who do, and there will be those in the future who will still want to, even if digital devices are hanging from our ears like lanterns!

So what tools does a reader need?  How do you develop a love of reading in a child.  Being a good reader is also a prerequisite for being a good writer, as well.  Do we have a plan to help our children become lifelong lovers of the printed page (or ebook)?

I know there's a lot of books on the subject, but only people who read themselves can benefit from them.  What about people who are so busy in life that they just need simple strategies?  I didn't have time to read books about building literacy in children when my child was small.  What did I do?

I say this because alhumdulillah, my child developed a love of reading.  He doesn't always read all the time these days, for teenage years are times of distraction, but when he was young he read all the time and even now he likes books and will read them in his free time when the fancy strikes him.

For the curious minds out there, this is what I did, and it was all haphazard at the time, but the results were exactly the best I could have hoped for.  I will lay out the timetable in bullet points below.

  • About 1-2 years old: We had little board books like Kipper and Dr. Seuss and the like, many with tactile touching zones built into the pages.  Not one or two, but about ten or so that we would 'read' to him, letting him touch the pages to engage in the story.  "Kipper and the Egg" was his favorite.

  • About 2-4 years old.  We used a lot of Dr. Seuss, but also Richard Scary books.  These two in combination were incredibly awesome.  We started letting him watch Kipper videos, which I highly recommend.  Barney made an appearance too, but he didn't seem to prefer them too much.  He did like old episodes of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

  • About 4-6 years old: This is the time of more Dr. Seuss, Bernstein Bears, Emman Reading series and miscellaneous similarly sized and themed books.  We also began to introduce him to comic books.  Classic comic books from the 1960s and 1970s.  Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, The Beagle Boys, the Chipmunks, etc).  We also started to take him to Barnes and Noble Booksellers starting about the age of five or so to let him pick out books.  Adam's World Islamic videos began to make the rounds in our TV along with Jay Jay the Jet Plane.  We built up some computer skills by using Blues Clues video games for PC such as Blues Art Time and such, which were very, very educational.  He liked Blues Clues as a show too.

  • About 6-9 years old:  He was addicted to the comics and would read them all the time.  We never used those crazy superhero comics - only the animal character ones. (Gold Key, Hanna Barbara, etc) His vocabulary expanded exponentially because the older comics are from a more literate time in America. Eeman Reading series books were still in use. We also introduced him to Richie Rich and Scrooge McDuck, which fascinated him and gave us great opportunities to discuss wealth and greed in the world.  Thomas the Tank Engine videos and books also made an appearance.  Our kid never really liked going to the library, because the book selection was old and never rotated, so we continued the bookstore.  We would sit for hours in the kids section reading the books on the carpet, and he would select 2-3 we could buy and read at home.  He liked Ripley's Believe it or Not books and some science books with cool graphics.  He also became addicted to Peanuts and Charlie Brown comics, along with Sad Sack, Hagar the Horrible, Denis the Menace, Curious George, Winnie the Pooh, etc...

  • About 10-12 years old: we let him have free reign in the bookstore.  He liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid books (at the low end) to Judy Blume books.  Geronimo Stilson held his interest for a short time, but he seemed to prefer to move towards chapter books.  He liked the Popeye comic anthologies, the golden book comic anthologies and the Pink Panther comics.  I made a conscious effort to steer him away from Archie comics, due to their racy nature.  For some reason he also started liking Charlie Brown videos.  As for computer activities, he liked Spore and the simple, cutesy games on the Wii like Scribblenauts, etc.  We did limit his video game time greatly, and kept 'thinking' games in his reach, rather than mindless ones.  Sometimes we took him to the movies to see thoughtful movies, such as "The Bridge to Terabithia."  There were not really any Islamically-themed books for him at this age, and curiously enough, I couldn't get him to read the adventure stories I wrote.  He thought they were too close to 'dad' and by this age kids want to pull away from their parents.  (Sniff. Sniff.)

  • These days he reads books far above his grade level.  Like most parents of Muslim kids raised here, it's tough to find 'Islamic' books he will read, but I keep plenty around and he knows they are important.  He has read some books by Muslim authors, though only the mainstream ones that talk about immigrant issues.  My hope is that when he is older and more mature, he will migrate to some of the more core 'religious' books.  At least he will have the built-in understanding that reading is an option for his leisure time.  He no longer plays any video games, which is good because our aim was to only use educational or cute things to get him computer skills.  He sees movies sometimes, but he seeks out 'brainy' movies, alhumdulilah, considering the alternatives.
So this is the general story of how we helped the progression of our young reader.  You might have noticed a common theme: we used materials, books, videos and such that were basically pre-year 2000.  Anything produced in modern times is just nuts and has little educational value.  SpongeBob Squarepants and Nick or Disney Kids shows are just awful and even immoral.  Most books for little kids now push some very unconventional ideas ("My Two Mommies," anyone?)  And apps for tablets and computers are way too fast and dumbed down.

The older materials were produced when this country still had some standards of innocence for young people.  You can buy the comics in lots on Ebay!  If I had any other little children I would follow a similar progression.  Inshallah, you will find what works for you.