Monday, November 12, 2018

What's in a name?

by Dr. Aslam Abdullah
The Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS), through its sectarian policies is creating conditions of the division of India on the basis of caste, religion and ethnicity. By renaming that sounded non-Brahman or non upper castes the organization that has its strong presence in all aspects of Indian life is sending a clear message to minorities and Hindus who do not share its version of history that India is not for them and if they have to live in the country, they will have to submit to RSS vision of nationalism.
Its campaign to change Muslim or Christian sounding names is not different than what Taliban did in Afghanistan when they destroyed Buddhist structures or the ISIS did in Iraq and other places when it demolished historical monuments reminiscent of other religions. The RSS is doing exactly the same by changing names and removing all traces of history that contradicts its views on India.
The policy which is no different cultural genocide would leave few options for India's dalits, non upper caste Hindus or Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Pagans, Jains and even non-RSS Hindus. In India's six out of 29 states the Brahman or the upper caste of Hindus are between 10 and 20 percent of the population. In the remaining states they are between one and nine percent, Uttarakhand has 20 percent while Andhrapradesh has one percent of Brahmans.
In the nation they are less than five percent but they occupy the majority of influential places.
The caste with highest population in India is known Other Backward Class or Castes. They account for more than 70% of the total Indian population. The lowest of the castes are described as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. They are about 16.6% and 8.6%, respectively, of India's population The states with highest number of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh  
Despite the fact that lower castes and backward communities suffer the worst treatment socially and religiously, the RSS and its political leadership has cleverly projected itself as a party of Hindus trying to save India from the culture of Muslim and Christian invaders and from the deviant behavior of religions that emerged in opposition to caste hierarchy perpetuated by Brahman.
Even though scholars regard Hinduism as a synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions, with diverse roots and no single founder, the RSS view India as a special place in the world of Hindu deities, a place that India never achieved under its political rulers who despite sharing the same religious traditions never created a united India. The RSS believes that it has a divine mission to accomplish by turning India into a pure Hindu state in the image of its ideal.  
Not all Hindus agrees with that vision. Certainly, non Hindus such as Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Muslims and pagans have different perspectives on India and its history. Yet, the RSS asserts that it owns India and if anyone claims to be Indian must accept its vision of the country.
The RSS and its political wing BJP are not only aware of the electoral advantage they might gain through this campaign but are also clear of their policies especially towards Muslims. The RSS view Muslims as invaders who challenged India's caste system and Brahmanical hegemony. They blame Muslims for conversion of Dalits and other lower castes to Islam. They accuse Muslims of abducting their women and molesting them. they propagate that Muslim rulers during their rule in India demolished Hindu temples and subjugated Hindu masses. They even say that culturally, Muslims did every thing to humiliate Hindus either in the form of beef eating or adopting a life style that was different than the Brahmanical domination.
The RSS believes that without humiliating Muslims and reducing them to a non entity, Hindus dignity cannot be restored. Brahmans and other upper castes are aware of their numerical weakness. They know that without the strength of Dalits and other backward communities, they cannot impact India's electoral politics. Hence they poisoned the minds of Dalits and backward communities by projecting Muslims and Islam as enemies of India and Hinduism. In their effort to win over Dalits, they always use the Pakistan card saying that Muslims opted out of a united India by carving their own state in the name of religion, thus, forfeiting their right to live in India. They should either convert to Hinduism or settle in Pakistan. They have always questioned the loyalties of Muslims to India and projected them without any evidence as traitors.
But RSS, also is a grass roots organization with a militancy. It holds its daily militant activities and it also runs several welfare and educational projects in thousands of India's villages. Through these projects it spreads its ideology of an assertive Brahmanism that calls for the restoration of the purity of India by removing elements that caused India to lose its uniqueness in the world.
Obviously, this view would be challenged by Indians of all faiths and ethnic groups. The resistance would either lead to various civil wars or several divisions of the country. The RSS in it animosity of Muslims have gone far ignoring the history of India and Hindu rulers. It certainly leading India to its most dangerous future, a future where India that we see today would not exist.

Dr. Sulayman Nayang: a Sage Intellectual and an architect of American Muslim identity

Always polite, always respectful, always optimistic and always progressive. That is how I always characterize Dr. Sulayman Nayang.  He was a professor and former chairman of the African Studies Department at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He was a co-principal investigator of the Project MAPS and also a former deputy ambassador and head of chancery of the Gambia Embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He also served as consultant to several national and international agencies and on the boards of the African Studies Association, the American Council for the Study of Islamic Societies, America's Islamic Heritage Museum, and the Association of Muslim Social Scientists. He wrote extensively on IslamicAfrican and Middle Eastern affairs. He had a master's degree in public administration and a Ph.D. in government from the University of Virginia. He was an advising scholar for the award-winning, PBS-broadcast documentaries Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet (2002) and Prince Among Slaves (2007), produced by Unity Productions Foundation.
But to many of us, who came to this country in the early eighties, he was a pillar of the Muslim community who pioneered the development of Islam in the US. He was an academician but he transcended his role and became of the most rational public intellectual and a traditional Muslim teacher with all humility that one often hears about the earliest generation of the believers.
 I had numerous encounters with Dr. Sualayman Nayang, the last time in Las Vegas where we along with interfaith leaders shared the podium discussing the essentials of a pluralistic and democratic society. We were together in several conferences and seminars but the most memorable time that I had was spent in the Fish Camp in Yosemite national where we both attended the Muslim Family youth camp organized by the Central California Muslim society. the four days that we had together were spent in discussing everything including theology, jurisprudence,history, and the current affairs of Muslims. He was well versed in western political thoughts, religious pluralism, American history and Muslim struggles for their identity throughout history.  Like a traditional teacher, he would hold discussions on various topics and invite the participants to express their opinions fearlessly.
He believed that the American Muslim community was unique as it has the best opportunities to live Islam the way it should be lived combining modernism with traditionalism. He also believed that Muslims in American would have to evaluate the jurisprudence and build on it.He believed in the unity of Islam with diversity and often argued that Muslims should learn to live with their differences even on theological issues as long as the goal is to serve humanity. 
 Dr, Nayang suffered a stroke in June 2016. His school honored him  by instituting a formal scholarship fund established in his honor. Some of his friends launched a fund raising campaign to take care of his medical bills. Almost 100,000 were needed but the collections did not reach the $40,000 marks. Its really sad to see that the man who dedicated his life and work to serve the Muslim American community suffered apathy even from those who learned from him and grew under his shadow.
But this is how communities act? They often ignore those who serve it but after their departure, create great monuments for them. The legacy that Dr. Nayang left would continue to inspire hundreds of his students throughout the world and the ideas that he propagated would continue to influence the Muslim minds for generation to come.
The least we can do is to remember him in our prayers and thank God for his intellect and service.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Blasphemy: Does God want His objectors to be Killed?

Is Allah (God) so insecure of his majesty that he wants us to kill those who insult him or his messenger and prophet.

Mumtaz Qadri, was hanged in Pakistan on Monday February 29, 2016. His crime was killing the governor of Punjab for whom he was working as a body guard. He took the life of the man he was appointed to protect because in his view the governor was guilty for being critical of Pakistan’s “Islamic” blasphemy laws.
In Qadri’s view anyone who blasphemes the Prophet or supports those who do so deserves to be killed. This is not what was revealed to Qadri by the Law Giver, God or by His messenger. It is what he learned from his teachers. Qadri was true to what he was taught. He preferred death over living in a situation where his prophet was maligned and his religion ridiculed. Consequently he paid the price of a misrepresented theology that the religious oligarchy in many Muslim societies has promoted for centuries unchallenged.
In reality, the blame lies with those who have promoted this distorted belief against the will of God and His messenger (s).
Unfortunately the Muslim religious establishments have perpetuated a literal application of what they call blasphemy laws that were evolved and developed by Muslim schools of thought for a different time period over several centuries.
A number of Sunni and Shia scholars decree death to those who blaspheme the Prophet or Islam.
Hanbali jurisprudence views blasphemy as an offense distinct from, and more severe than apostasy. Death is mandatory in cases of blasphemy, for both Muslim men and women, and repentance is not accepted.
In the Hanafi School of thought blasphemy was synonymous with apostasy. Repentance was acceptable but for those who refuse to repent, death is the punishment if the blasphemer is a Muslim man, and if the blasphemer is a woman, she must be imprisoned with coercion till she repents and returns to Islam. If a non-Muslim commits blasphemy, his punishment was “tazir” (Punishment for offenses at the discretion of the judge: death, arrest, caning, etc.)
Malikis view blasphemy as an offense distinct from, and more severe than apostasy. Death is mandatory in cases of blasphemy for Muslim men, and repentance is not accepted. For women, death is not the punishment suggested, but she is arrested and punished till she repents and returns to Islam or dies in custody. A non-Muslim who commits blasphemy against Islam must be punished; however, the blasphemer can escape punishment by converting and becoming a devout Muslim.
According to Shafi’ school of thought blasphemy is also a separate offense from apostasy, but the repentance of blasphemers is acceptable. If the blasphemer does not repent, the punishment is death
Shia school of thought views blasphemy against Islam, the Prophet, or any of the Imams, to be punishable with death, if the blasphemer is a Muslim. In case the blasphemer is a non-Muslim, he is given a chance to convert to Islam, or else killed.
But what is blasphemy. Based on laws of various countries and religious decrees given by scholars, the definition includes the following.
Speaking ill of God, finding fault with Prophet Muhammad (SAW), insulting a prophet mentioned in the Quran or slandering a member of the family of Prophet, claiming to be a prophet, and visually depicting the Prophet. But is there a word in Arabic that means blasphemy. The English translators of the Quran have no consensus on choosing an Arabic word equivalent to blasphemy in English.
For instance, Muhammad Asad and Yusuf Ali use blasphemy or its variations 18 and 23 times respectively in their Quran translation, mostly for the words Kufr and Makr to mean blasphemy, even though the word kafar and its derivatives appear 500 times in the Quran. (Example MA: 13:42, 14:46, 16:26, 16:112 … YA: 2:88, 2:102, 4:155, 5:17 …) Marmaduke Pickthall limits the translation of blasphemy to the Arabic “alhada”. (7:180)
Despite this ambiguity in the definition, however, all four schools of thoughts have used the following reasoning to justify death to blasphemers.
Those who annoy God and His Messenger – God has deprived them of His mercy in this World and in the Hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating Punishment.- Quran 33:57
Truly, if the Hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, and those who stir up sedition in the City, desist not, We shall certainly stir thee up against them: Then will they not be able to stay in it as thy neighbors for any length of time: They shall have a curse on them: whenever they are found, they shall be seized and slain (without mercy). Quran 33:61
Ever though the verses do not talk of death penalty, yet scholars chose to conclude that the intent of the divine was to ask the believers to kill those who speak ill of God.
Scholars also provide the following ahadith (sayings of the Prophet) from Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim and Sunan Abu Dawood to justify the killing of blasphemers.
The Prophet said, “Who is ready to kill Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf who has really hurt God and His Apostle?” Muhammad bin Maslama said, “O God’s Apostle! Do you like me to kill him?” He replied in the affirmative. So, Muhammad bin Maslama went to him (i.e. Ka’b) and said, “This person (i.e. the Prophet) has put us to task and asked us for charity.” Ka’b replied, “By God, you will get tired of him.” Muhammad said to him, “We have followed him, so we dislike to leave him till we see the end of his affair.” Muhammad bin Maslama went on talking to him in this way till he got the chance to kill him. Narrated by Jabir bin ‘Abdullah Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:270,  
It has been narrated on the authority of Jabir that the Messenger of God said: Who will kill Ka’b b. Ashraf? He has maligned God, the Exalted, and His Messenger. Muhammad b. Maslama said: Messenger of God, do you wish that I should kill him? He said: Yes. He said: Permit me to talk (to him in the way I deem fit). He said: Talk (as you like). Sahih Muslim, 19:4436
Narrated Ali ibn AbuTalib: A Jewess used to abuse the Prophet and disparage him. A man strangled her till she died. The Apostle of God declared that no recompense was payable for her blood. Sunan Abu Dawood, 38:4349 
A thorough and closer look at the Quran and the life of the prophet provide clear evidence against the theology of death for those who blaspheme ..
Despite all these theological decrees, the number of actual prosecutions for blasphemy in the Muslim historical record is extremely infrequent. One of the “few known cases” was that of a Christian in the year 1293 CE who was accused of insulting Prophet Muhammad. It ended in an acquittal though it was followed by a protest against a decision led by the famed and jurist Ibn Taymiyya.
However in Pakistan where laws on blaspheme were introduced in the 1980s, over 1300 people have been accused of blasphemy from 1987 to 2014, (generally non-Muslim religious minorities), mostly for allegedly desecrating the Quran. Over 50 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered before their respective trials were over and prominent figures who opposed blasphemy laws (Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities) have been assassinated
A thorough and closer look at the Quran and the life of the prophet provide clear evidence against the theology of death for those who blaspheme. What is often implied in this theology is that God and His messenger allow deception and lies to get rid off those who blaspheme. It is unthinkable to attribute this understanding to God and His messenger. It is not only a lie but a sin against God especially when the Quran is very specific about speaking the truth in no ambiguous terms.
The Quran says:
“Revile not ye those whom they call upon besides God, lest they out of spite revile God in their ignorance. Thus We have made alluring to each people its own doings. In the end will they return to their Lord, and We shall then tell them the truth of all that they did.” 6:108
“O ye who believe! Let not some men among you ridicule others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor let some women ridicule others: It may be that the (latter are better than the (former): Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed: And those who do not desist are (indeed) doing wrong”. 49:11
“Those who avoid the greater crimes and shameful deeds, and, when they are angry even then forgive;” 42:37
If blasphemy was punishable by death in Islam, then the Prophet would have been the first one to order the killing of hundreds of his foes who later became his closest companions. In our religious books, references are made to six incidents where the Prophet allegedly asked his companions to silence his opponents forever. A careful examination of all such incidents reveal that they are either concocted or far from the truth. With the exception of a very few earlier Arabs who accepted the Prophet as the Messenger of God, the majority of people of Makkah opposed him, humiliated him, cursed or blasphemed him or even tried to kill him, yet he preferred to practice forgiveness seeking the divine mercy for them. Even after being wounded severely in Taif, he refused to seek revenge.
The idea of blasphemy was justified by many medieval Muslim scholars on the basis of their understanding of Christian and Jewish texts ..
The old woman who used to throw garbage on the Prophet was visited by him when he did not see her throwing it any more to learn that she was not well. When Suhail bin Amr, a poet who composed poetry blaspheming the Prophet was taken as a prisoner of war after the battle of Badr, the Prophet asked his companions to show kindness to him. There are examples after examples to prove that the Prophet never resorted to violence against those who were showing utter disrespect to him or God.
Violence against anyone criticizing Islam, God or Prophet Muhammad is unacceptable as the divine teachings make it clear. Any punishment against so called blasphemy is a stab in the heart of Islam and a humiliation of the Prophet by those who claim to be his followers. Those who support the killing of people accused of blasphemy do no understand the spirit of Islam nor respect the Prophet who was sent as a mercy humankind. No matter who they are, they must be challenged on the basis of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet.
The idea of blasphemy was justified by many medieval Muslim scholars on the basis of their understanding of Christian and Jewish texts supporting laws against those who blaspheme and vilify their religions. Unfortunately, their argument is built on a position that is supported by a number of Muslim religious scholars all over the world that demand death for acts of apostasy and blasphemy, that were developed under the influence of corrupt despotic Muslim rulers who misused their power to twist religious scholarship to serve their political interests.
The word “blasphemy” came via Middle English blaspheme and Old French blasfemer and Later Latin blasphemer meaning “I injure.” Based on this definition, rulers used laws to victimize non-members or dissident members of the ruling elites or cult. Countries that had a state religion used it often to serve the interests of the rulers.
In Judaism, the third book of Torah, Leviticus 24:16 states that those who speak blasphemy shall surely be put to death. The seven laws of Noah seen by Judaism as applicable to all of humankind prohibits blasphemy. In Christian theology, the Gospel of Mark 3:29, describes blaspheming the holy spirit as unforgivable eternal sin. Thomas Aquinas considered blasphemy a major unforgivable sin, more serious than murder. The Book of Concord describes it the greatest sin ever committed. The Baptist Confession of Faith calls it a disgusting and detesting act. Catholic Church has specific prayers and devotions as Acts of Reparation for blasphemy against God and the Church was a crime punishable by death in much of the Christian world. In England, last blasphemy execution, was that of an 18-year-old Thomas Aikenhead who was executed for the crime in 1697. He was prosecuted for denying the accuracy of Old Testament and the legitimacy of Christ’s miracles.
The Quran and the authentic teachings of the Prophet describe the practice of showing irreverence to God and his messenger as acts of ignorance, deliberate provocation or hatred or rebellion. Yet the two sources of Islamic guidance never proposed punitive actions on the basis of theological dissent or religious differences or irreverence. Some Muslim jurists, have, often misused the institution of ijtihad to serve the emotive interests of the people. The fatwa or religious decree issued by Khomeini proposing killing of Salman Rushdie was an opinion with no direct support from the book of divine guidance.
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan also has in its penal code laws that prohibit and punish blasphemy against Islam ranging from a fine to death. The Criminal courts often decides a case of blasphemy on the basis of public emotions and political interests rather than the divine writ. For instance Pakistan’s Criminal Code 295 forbids damaging or defiling a place of worship or a sacred object, code 296A forbids outraging religious feelings, code 295 B forbids defiling the Quran, code 295 C forbids defaming Prophet Muhammad.
Defiling the Quran is punishable by imprisonment for life and defaming Prophet Muhammad by death with or without a fine. None of these codes have any basis in the Quran or the authentic teachings of the Prophet.  It is a position that many scholars adopted under the influence of despotism that prevailed in the Muslim world for centuries and still prevails in many countries. This position has been challenged by many who have knowledge of the Quran and sunna. But most of the time, their religious authority and opinions are suppressed by the rulers.
The tyranny of such religious scholars is so intense that those opposed to these laws are condemned as heretics punishable by death. Some of the scholars even encourage their followers to unleash terror against such people. Their arrogance has reached to a point that they do not want to listen to any argument based on the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet. Many religious and educational institutions of the Muslim world suffer from the tyranny of these scholars who justify their ignorance and arrogance on the basis of a literature that emerged at a time, when Muslims had lost connection with the Quran and by and large were at the mercy of despotic rulers and their hired religious scholars.
Islam is not the monopoly of self-imposed scholars. It is a faith given to people for their well being and guidance without any interference from any authority other than God, the almighty. Those who assume the divine role in condemning people and deciding their life and death on the basis of their religious identity must at least be questioned for their opinions on the basis of the Quran and Sunna.
If Muslim religious scholars who support blasphemy laws are seriously concerned about the sensitivities of people with regards to their faith and its holy figures, then they should advocate common laws for every religion and religious community emphasizing that respect must be shown to all religions and freedom of speech must not be seen as a license to hurt and provoke others.
When some people make fun of God and His messengers including Prophet Muhammad, it hurts and causes pain. As acknowledged by the Quran: “We do indeed know how your heart is distressed at what they say.”  Al-Hijr [15:97]
But God clearly advises:
“Repel evil with that which is best: We are well acquainted with the things they say.” Al-Mu’minun [23:96]
“Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate!” Fussilat [41:34]

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Khashoggi’s Disappearance:  A Political And Theological Quagmire 

The disappearance of political dissidents is neither unusual nor mysterious in our world. But the drama that surrounds Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance has taken a turn that is most likely to influence the political and financial maps of the world in the foreseeable future.
Khashoggi was a free thinker and a journalist working with the Washington Post.  He was close to the well-known Saudi billionaire Prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz bin Al Saud, member of the Saudi royal family at odds with the present Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. He entered Saudi consulate in Turkey on October and never returned.
The Turkish officials say that he was murdered inside the Saudi consulate. Saudi Arabia initially denied the allegation but later changed its position. Ironically, those who came to the rescue of Saudi Arabian government were right-wing media experts, known Christian evangelical leaders, Republica party leaders and above all President Trump.
Saudi government refuted the Turkish claim that the journalist was murdered in the premises of its consulate and threatened severe punishment against those who believed in the Turkish narration. The government claimed that Khashoggi left the premises.
However, when asked to provide the proof of his exit, the Saudis kept quiet. Meanwhile, the US intelligence sources claimed that they had intercepted messages from Saudi Arabia suggesting that a team of 15 Saudi men was dispatched to Turkey to tame Khashoggi.
When the Turkish officials claimed that they had the evidence to prove the murder of the dissident inside the consulate, the Saudis insisted that they were unaware of his fate. However, the right-media promoted the rumor that Khashoggi was a sympathizer of the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar was behind the efforts to malign Saudi Arabia.
This explanation was repeated by President Trump’s son as well as prominent Christian evangelical leaders trying to create the impression that the murder might be a good thing in disguise as it eliminated a terrorist sympathizer. This explanation did not make any sense at least to world business giants, many of whom announced their decision to pull out from an already planned financial summit in Saudi Arabia.
President Trump initially said that if found guilty, Saudi Arabia would be punished severely even though he also pointed out that the US was in a 110 billion dollar arms deal with the kingdom. The Saudis retaliated in anger and suggested that they would open their doors for the Russians and decrease the oil output to let the prices soar to 200 dollars per barrel.
It was at this point that President Trump changed its rhetoric and adopted the right-wing explanation but with a twist. He acknowledged that the journalist was killed but not by the Saudi government. Instead, he argued that the killing was done by the rogue elements who acted on their own.
This was the line that the Saudi government immediately adopted when the news was circulated unofficially that Khashoggi was killed accidentally during interrogation and the Saudi Arabian officials or rulers were not aware of it.
Political murders are not new to the kingdom. No specific data is available but Human Rights observers believe that hundreds of political dissidents are languishing in Saudi prisons and scores have been killed over the years. What is intriguing is why a US President and right-wing politicians as well Christian evangelical leaders are supportive of the Saudi monarchy and absolving it from any role in the murder.
The right-wing politicians and President Trump advised by his son in law who is his envoy in the Middle East peace efforts believe that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is the key to the permanent US presence in the Gulf as well as the permanent security of Israel. They believe that because of the prestige the kingdom enjoys in the Sunni Muslim world, the decision Muhammad bin Salaam takes towards the US, Israel and Iran would be accepted by a great majority of Muslim countries who are dependent on Saudi Arabia for their oil needs or financial subsidy.
They believe that over the years Saudi Arabia has developed an intensive network among Muslim organizations and groups all over the world. The Trump Administration is confident that the network would help the Saudis to convince Muslims of their approval of the US peace plan in the Middle East.
Besides, there are financial gains for the US in maintaining cordial relations with the Monarchy. But the US is aware of the fact that even in case of a change in regime; the US oil interests would remain secure. So it is not the oil that is the driving force behind the current policy towards Saudi Arabia. Rather, it is the future of Israel that is driving the current policy towards monarchy.
President Trump intends to secure Israel’s security permanently before the end of his first term. Christian evangelists are of the opinion that only Trump can do that, hence they are willing to accept the Saudi monarchy in its present role. The evangelists believe that the security of Israel would bring them closer to their theological goals of establishing the kingdom of God on earth under the leadership of Jesus who would return only when greater Israel is formed.
In this political and religious quagmire, the ideas of freedom of expression and human dignity are lost as the concerned parties are keener to accrue political, financial and theological benefits for their interests. The disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi is being used as a pawn in this political and theological game of chess.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Hajra is Hajra 

Hager is Hager

by Dr. Aslam Abdullah

Hajra, the wife of Prophet Ibrahim, the mother of Prophet Ismael and the matriarch that created an entire civilization remains a forgotten figure in the annals of religious history. There is not much archeological data available on her life, genealogy, family. Her description in Old Testament projects her as a villain who could not show gratefulness to her mistress Sarah, the wife of Prophet Ibrahim who in her old age had given her the status of his concubine and whose son was always jealous of Saras's son Prophet Isaac. The Muslim scholarship has also not focussed on her real contributions to humanity and especially in building an international community of monotheists single-handedly. Even though the Quran has preserved her sacrifices and contributions in the institution of Hajj, our scholarship, in general, has ignored the essence of Hajira's life and the lesson one should draw from that.
Hajra was young and had a suckling infant. No woman could ever imagine that her husband who in his old age miraculously fathered his heir would leave the wife and child in a barren land with not many resources to sustain them. Regardless of the explanations given by others, the act would appear to many as an irresponsible one. Yet Prophet Ibrahim described as the friend of Allah and one of the role models for humanity did that. Why?
Let us turn to the prayer that Prophet Ibrahim made while leaving the young wife and the infant in the desert of Arabia. "O our Sustainer! Behold, I have settled some of my offspring in a valley in which there is no arable land, close to Thy sanctified Temple, so that, O our Sustainer, they might devote themselves to prayer: cause Thou, therefore, people's hearts to incline towards them and grant them fruitful sustenance, so that they might have cause to be grateful."- 14:37  The prayer is not just a plea to God but an agenda given to Hajira who was the only adult in that neighborhood. This is a four-part agenda, 
1. People should establish a community centered around monotheism through praying to only one God. 
2. People should constantly invite others to the idea of the oneness of the creator and convince them of its viability and validity.
3. People should work hard to create means of sustenance in the barren land. 
4 People should express their gratitude to God by using his resources properly and in a balanced manner with no misuse.
Obviously, the task to ensure that the people who settle near the well of Zamzam water understand and live by that, in addition, to prepare her son for the role of leadership.
God inspired Prophet Ibrahim to leave her in the barren land to prove through her dedication, perseverance, struggle, commitment, and faith in God that the task of community building can be led by women as well and given the opportunity she can create a whole civilization and community by herself. Prophet Ibrahim was fully convinced that such a leadership role cannot be demonstrated in societies that were male-dominated for centuries and had little worth for women. In Hajira, God found the strength, integrity, and tenacity of a woman to play that role. 
The idea was to demolish the idea of gender-based discrimination and the notion that a woman cannot play a major role in community life. So precious were her experiences in the barren land that God preserved them in the rituals associated with Hajj. The staying in Mina and spending night n Muzdalifa, the running between Safa and Marwa, that God describes as divine knolls, the drinking of water of Zamzam as well as making rounds of Kaaba and the sacrifice are all associated with her and her son.
Hajira is not an ordinary woman in the history of monotheism, It was her leadership that created the corridor of unity in Makkah among believers coming from different parts of the world. God preserved the institution of Hajj not only to remind people of his oneness and the unity of humanity but also to teach that women can also be the leaders in every sense of the term.
Hajira is the only woman in the history of monotheism who created a monotheistic civilization by herself and demolished the false idols of gender discrimination. She showed to people that even in the loneliness and in the most vulnerable situations, a woman can protect her honor and dignity and play the leadership without compromising them, She proved that leadership comes from dedication and commitment to right ideas and had nothing to do with gender divisions. She established the principle that women are no less than men in seeking the welfare of the society. She proved that a woman can be positive even in the worst adversarial conditions and she demonstrated beyond doubt that if she can raise a child all by herself without any ill feelings towards his father who had left them alone, she can also raise a nation and a civilization. So Hajira is Hajira because God honored her by institutonalizing her leadership in the form of Hajj.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Muslim American Leadership and Law Enforcement Agencies

by Dr, Aslam Abdullah

Some Muslim Americans are very angry with law enforcement agencies especially FBI, consequently they have taken a position boycotting any interaction or dialogue with its officials. Muslims are not unanimous on this yet, but some of their major organizations have taken this stand. Is this a pragmatic decision and what message does it communicate to law enforcement agencies and the country as a whole?
Doubtlessly, since 9/11, Muslim Americans and Muslim in general have often been viewed by many politicians, and even some law enforcement agents as suspects. The use of financial resources in monitoring Muslim organizations and centers is not uncommon in several states. Often, the right wing leaders have promoted the idea that Muslims cannot be trusted as their agenda is to promote the domination of Islam in the country through clandestine activities.
Obviously, most of these are perceptions. But the absence of Muslim Americans from active dialogue and discussion with law enforcement agencies is a major factor in their continuation. Others who have different agenda have some how influenced law enforcement agencies to accept their views, however biased, they are towards Islam and Muslims and since Muslims are not there to clarify these perceptions, the one sided view prevails.
Muslims in the united states are not a monolith group. They are split in hundreds of ethnic communities with different experiences and conditions African Americans who make up the largest segment of Muslim Americans have totally different attitude towards law enforcement agencies while Muslims from Afghanistan, Iran,Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia or North Africa who came here as refugees to live a dignified life have different attitude towards such agencies. Muslims from the Middle East who came here in the beginning of the 20th century in places like Detroit have different perspective while Muslims who came here from South Asia in the 60s mainly as students have different experiences.
These groups have not yet collated to develop a national agenda and perspective, hence each organization dominated by a particular ethnic group adopts a perspective based on its understanding. 
Also to be noted is the fact that many prominent Muslim American leaders especially of immigrant backgrounds were active supporters of organizations such as Ikhwan ul Muslimeen, or Jamat Islam etc. Similarly, many African Americans were once the members of Nation of Islam that had a specific view on race relations. Many who became Muslims recently have aligned with those ideological groups that are politically influenced by despotic regimes in the Middle East promoting a very strict understanding of Islam with no openness towards non Muslims.
Law enforcement agencies do not have the resources to figure out who is who in the Muslim community. Their research and intelligence gathering resources are poor. They do not have many agents who speak the languages of the immigrants. They do not have expertise in the cultures of such communities. They also lack a clear understanding of the diversity within the Muslim community in interpreting the religious texts.
Also, the law enforcement officials are recruited from the society in general. Not every member of the society is exposed to religious diversity or an objective understanding of diverse belief systems. Many bring their stereotypical images of others with them in their work and no matter what is the level of professionalism, the images of the past often linger on.
Law enforcement agencies are not political. They are run on national resources. They are bound by the constitution and hence they are by law defenders of law and every law abiding citizen. However if communities are close and not interacting and having dialogue with them, there is no way that a better understanding can evolve.
In the absence of Muslims from the dialogue with law enforcement agencies, other special groups have filled in information about Muslims that is often inaccurate and wrong.
The only way to correct that is that Muslims engage in an open dialogue with law enforcement agencies to learn their functions and to tell them about the community. Law enforcement agencies work on the basis of reasonable tips they get from public or their contacts and unless they reach to the bottom of such tips, they continue to pursue. Muslims can be a source to clarify assumptions, accusations and assertions without fearing that this would put them in jeopardy.
Similarity, law enforcement agencies also should show respect to Muslims the same way they show respect to other segments of American society. That means that they should not view the entire community as a monolith group engaged in some conspiracy against the US. When they hear such accusations against Muslim individuals, they should investigate that individual thoroughly and seek Muslim help to bring the case to a closure.
Law enforcement agencies have a general perception that most religious organizations are not transparent in their financial dealings. Its not only about Muslims but it involves all. In religious organizations a lot of cash dealing is involved. and no matter how careful one is,,there is no system that tracks every cash transaction. The idea that cash can find itself in undesirable hands cannot be ruled out. Obviously, the only people who can satisfactorily explain things related to cash are those who handle them. This is just one issue, there are many more. Often people with special interests may want to influence the congregation with their ideas that may be determent to public Only those people who are part of the congregation know about that.  If law enforcement agencies are tipped about such thing, they would investigate and if those who are part of the group are not there to respond, a  lot of assumptions would be made and that might not be accurate. We saw that recently with the Russian interference in our elections. Even though no one has investigated it yet, but the involvement by the Russians in our elections through religious groups cannot be eliminated.
It is imperative that rather than reacting in anger, Muslim leadership looks at the issue of having dialogue with law enforcement agencies in a pragmatic manner and openly develop a perspective that serves the interests of the country and the community.
Isolation is not the solution. It would exacerbate misgivings and create confusion. It is better that the Muslim leadership review its stance towards law enforcement agencies and extend the hand of interaction for better relations.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

 The Essence of Hajj

Abu Uthman al-Sabani al-Shafii (d 449) in his book Kitab ul Maitain narrates Prophet Muhammad as saying, "towards the end of the time, four main groups of people will flock around the Kaaba to perform Hajj: The powerful rulers to have fun or to enjoy the occasion, the rich people to promote their businesses, the poor to seek financial support and the reciters (or scholars) to demonstrate their skills."
Al-Sabuni was not an ordinary scholar. He narrated the Hadith after ensuring that the matan or text and isnad or chains are sound. He once said "I never narrated a Hadith nor a non-Prophetic report in a gathering except if I possessed its chain of transmission; nor did I ever enter the library except in a state of ritual purity; nor did I ever narrate Hadith, nor hold a gathering, nor teach, except in a state of ritual purity."
Are we living in that period that was predicted by the Prophet? Has Hajj really become a type of ritual devoid of any meaning? Is Hajj an individual ibada (worship) that requires a believer to spend time and resources to get closer to an omni-potent and omni-present God? Has the Hajj become a business in our times? Or has it become a vacation?

There was a time when people would spend months and months preparing themselves financially and spiritually to live the real meaning of Hajj. However now a days Hajj is offered as a holiday package. Many Hajj agencies all over the world offer value packages with super programs, deluxe programs and short executive program. These programs offer the best and closest accommodation in Makkah and Medinah, best available food and best possible position in the House of Allah. Depending how much you pay, you can get the finest place in Makkah and Medinah. If you happen to be the guest of royalty, then probably, no one can ever compete with your placement in the two mosques. When the Prophet performed his only Hajj, the only provision that he had with him was no more than four dirham as narrated in several books of ahadith.
Hajj was meant to teach the pilgrims endurance and perseverance for higher causes, yet it has been turned into an exercise in convenience. Hajj was meant to express the utmost humility in the presence of the rest of humanity by declaring that "Here I am, Here I am, I will not make anyone Allah's partner. Allah is the one who is in control of everything and He alone is the one who is the source of all blessings and praise." Yet, today, Hajj, for many has become, a badge, a symbol of spiritual arrogance.
Hajj is an institution that is supposed to reassure the people that ethnic, cultural, linguistic, geographical, wealth-based, race and color differences that humans have imposed upon themselves have no reality in the presence of God. All are one and the purpose of all is to follow the divine guidance to create a universal humanity to the well being of everyone. Hajj is meant to be a pledge to live example of Hajj beyond the Hajj. It is an occasion to create a personality without a dimension and space.
Yet, through social engineering and manipulation of resources, Hajj is rapidly adapting social elements that distinguish the rich from the poor, the very institution that it is supposed to demolish. Divisions among Hujjaj on the basis of their ethnicity and money are visible throughout the Hajj journey.
While the hujjaj coming from poorer regions of the world may find accommodation miles away from the Haram, those who are rich can find accommodation within the vicinity of the Kaaba
The Quran describes Kaaba as a center of guidance to humanity. "Indeed the first House of Worship open to all was established in the Noble Makkah. Indeed this House is the center of guidance to all humanity." (3:96) The place was not only a place for bringing together all the people but it is a center for promoting peace. (2:145). It was a place that was meant to help humanity realize its universality rather than divisions (5:97)
For this great purpose of helping humanity realize its dream of removing all the differences and divisions among themselves the institution Hajj come up with the clear example of making us understand and observe that unity of humanity is possible. For this the Quran asked Prophet Ibrahim to invite people to Hajj, so that they may witness the beauty and magnificence of the guidance of Allah.
Hajj is like a united nations in its real sense without five elitist powers. With no hidden agenda and security council privileges, each nation and community comes to Makkah with the single purpose of serving God and reiterating their covenant with Him. Hajj provides the opportunity to everyone to witness the common bonds among people regardless of their differences. Hajj promotes the idea of dignity of human beings, male or female, young or old and rich and poor.
Hajj also creates space for intellectual ideas among people so that they could all remain focused on their main agenda of serving humanity through following the guidance of God.
It is this spirit of Hajj that was prevalent at the time of the Prophet and his trusted companions. It is this spirit of Hajj is now being challenged by the modern business-dominated society and hierarchy of rich and poor culture. However, among all this razzmatazz, still there are people who come to the Hajj to take the inspiration to transform themselves for a better future both for them and for others. They are the ones who do not care about big hotels or better facilities. They are the ones who spend their days and nights in Mina, Arafat, Muzdalfa, Makkah and Medina. Here they remember the covenant that Allah made with Prophet Abraham, the builder of Kaaba. Prophet Abraham was told by God, Almighty, "I am making you the source of balance and inspiration (The Quran uses the word Imam, that literally means the instrument that a construction worker uses to level the construction) for all people," (2:124). Encouraged by this honor, the Prophet asked: "Is this covenant for my progeny too," No" said Allah, "Those who deviate from my path would not qualify for this honor," (2:124)
In these simple words thus was described the real intent and purpose of the Hajj and all other faith based institutions. The dignity and honor does not come with buying this or that package. It comes through dedication and commitment to the divine values and living up to them.
Some day, the Hajj will be restored to its original intent by those un-known and un-recognized faces who come from all over the world quietly without any fanfare and who spend every moment of their presence in the noble sanctuaries and the pilgrimage path with the determination to follow their real leaders: Prophets Ibrahim, Prophet Ismail and Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon them, in every aspect of this great institution.
The re-enactment of acts performed during the Hajj are attributed to Prophets Ibrahim and Ismal and Mother Hagar. The are primarily meant for the purpose of reminding the humanity that in order to bring people together, God's guidance is received, acknowledged, accepted and followed by a small group of people who may not be present physically to see the fruits of their efforts. Prophet Ibrahim created that nucleus for perpetual change in human behavior and for that he was honored by God who declared him as an Imam (role model) for humanity. The guidance that inspired Prophet Ibrahim to put the dream of one people under God in reality is there in its most clear, puritan, crystal form in the Quran. How ironic it is that despite the guidance, many remain misguided including those who claim to have understood and mastered the divine guidance.