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!