Thursday 30 October 2014

When Islam was at its strongest, it was also at its most open-minded.

Ours is the oldest religion in the world,” said the Mandaean high priest to me in 2006, when we met during my diplomatic posting to Baghdad. He did indeed turn out to be the religious leader of an ancient people whose traditions go back to third-century Babylonia; he was also, for me, the man who opened a door to an Aladdin’s Cave of forgotten faiths.
Since then, I have witnessed on a mountaintop in the West Bank a sacrifice of lambs, done by Samaritan priests in precise observance of the Book of Exodus. I discussed Greek philosophy with Druze elders, who regard themselves as a branch of Islam but believe in reincarnation. I searched for the Zoroastrians of Iran, whose founder Zarathustra was among the first to teach (perhaps three millennia ago) that our fate after death might result from the good or evil that we do in our lifetimes. I encountered the Church of the East, which sent the first Christian missionaries to China in the seventh century and once, from its base in Iraq, covered a larger span of the earth than the Pope in Rome or the Patriarch in Constantinople.
These religions have survived fourteen centuries of Islamic rule, and their survival shows not only their own tenacity but also the potential for tolerance within Islam. Now, though, they are vanishing faster than ever before.
The brutal terrorist group called the “Islamic State,” which the U.S. and its allies are now fighting in Iraq, burst onto the front pages in August with a massacre of a little-known people called the Yazidis. The Yazidis are an extraordinary people, who have preserved traditions dating back to the time of ancient Assyria and mixed them with ideas that emerged from the most radical and imaginative of Muslim thinkers. They have faced, by their own tradition, 72 persecutions. That number does not include the Islamic State’s campaign of rape and murder or, in 2007, the world’s second worst terrorist attack, which killed nearly eight hundred Yazidis at Qahtaniyah near Mosul.
When I went back to see the Yazidis in northern Iraq in August, it was like an immersion in a sea of misery. Stranded in tents and dependent on charity, Yazidi refugees saw no future for themselves in Iraq and asked only for asylum in the West. They want to join the 70% of Iraq’s Christians who have already left. As for the Mandaeans, almost all have now sought refuge in Europe, Canada and Australia.
Nor is it only war-ravaged Iraq from which the minorities are fleeing. I could hardly find Zoroastrians in the great cities of Iran, such as Shiraz and Esfahan; instead, I found their fire-temple in north London. I discovered that tens of thousands of Coptic Christians, who keep the language of ancient Egypt alive in their liturgies, now live in the suburbs of Detroit along with more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians.
What amazed me, though, about these religions was that they had survived into the modern era at all. Imagine discovering some island off the coast of Ireland where the Druids still held sway: meeting the Mandaean high priest in Baghdad was similarly a throwback to the distant past. How can a religion conceived in the era of paganism still exist today, after 1400 years of Islam? The answers teach lessons about Islam — and about ourselves.
First, they show the importance of religion. A warped form of religion is what motivated the Islamic State to slaughter the Yazidis. It is also however what helped the Yazidis to survive over the centuries and keep their traditions and their identity. Religion can be a great source of division, but that is intimately linked to its power to gather people and unify them.
Second, when minorities leave, countries are diminished. Islam was the religion of a great world empire, so prestigious that “Islamic State” wants to steal its name: the Caliphate. Islamic State’s brutal and narrow-minded imitation is quite different from the original. The first Caliphs had Christians among their closest counselors; later Caliphs used Jewish astronomers and pagan mathematicians to turn Baghdad into a center of world learning.
When Islam was at its strongest, it was also at its most open-minded. The West’s diversity and its prosperity have similarly gone hand in hand. It is a poor outlook for the Middle East if loses its ancient minorities.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Where's your beard, bro?

Wa alykum as-salaam,
First point: I have a beard. I just don’t update my icon picture.
Second point: The way you phrase your question is really off-putting and I would suggest you learn to ask questions like this in a better manner.
Third: Why do you wonder about things that do not concern you? The Prophet, in Tirmidhi, is reported to have said:
“From the excellence of a man’s Islam is to leave that which does not concern him.”
Fourth: The Hanafis, the Hanbalis, and the Malikis opine that the beard is Fardh (obligatory) for a man. The Shafi’is, however, write that the beard is Sunnah (highly recommended) not Fardh.
Therefore, the reason why men shave is because they follow the Shafi’i opinion, or, as is also possible: they are unable to grow a beard. There are many more reasons, as well.
I hope this helps, insha Allah.

From the excellent

Monday 27 October 2014

Women attending the Masjid


The virtues of attending the Masjid
Abu Huraira narrates the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) as saying, “Shall I not tell you about that which will obliterate your mistakes and bring your near to Allah?” They replied, “ Yes! Surely O Messenger.” He said, “it is to perform the ablution properly in difficult circumstances. A lot of foot steps to the Masjid and waiting for the next prayer after performing one that is the Ribat. That indeed is Ribat” (Muslim).
In the Muslim community the Masjid is the centre of Islamic activities. It is a place of worship and learning, a place for meditation, devotion, service and remembrance of Allah. In the time of the Messenger (peace be upon him) it even had the role of the supreme court where the Chief Justice (peace be upon him) would issue his legal injunctions. It was also the military headquarters where the Messenger (peace be upon him) would plan the Jihad against the forces of unbelief. This Hadith directs us to the Masjid in order to have our minor sins erased and spiritual station raised, the Prophet (peace be upon him) orders us to do the wudu properly too. “The wudu is the key to the prayer and the prayer is the key to the heavens” (Hadith).
This state of physical purification is a prerequisite for a state of spiritual purification. After offering his devotion and humble prayer he sits in the Masjid waiting for the next prayer, this is spiritual vigilance, in Allah’s house absorbed in His thought. He is far from the temptations of the devil, the whispers of the uncouthed self and the lures of the glittering world. “This is Ribat, indeed the Ribat”, says the Prophet (peace be upon him). Ribat is the fort from where the soldiers use to keep a watch. The blessed Messenger (peace be upon him) equates this Ribat to the sitting in the Masjid waiting for the next prayer.
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) is recommending a perfect method for self-purification and defining the limits of Islamic asceticism, i.e. solitude and austerity. Not to abandon life, home, family and friends but to live amongst them, yet find time for solitude and communion with Allah. The one who attends the Masjid regularly has been praised by the Mustafa (peace be upon him) in these words:
“Whoever you see coming and going to and from the Masjid, you must give testimony of his faith being complete”. He then recited, “surely the one who builds the masjid is the one who has faith in Allah, the hereafter and fears no one except Him. They are the one who are rightly guided” (Tirmidhi).
In another tradition narrated by Abu Haraira he (peace be upon him) says: “Whoever attends the Masjid, Allah prepares a special hospitality for him” (Muslim).
Praying with the Congregation
Abu Darda says he heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) saying, “When there are three people in a village or in the desert and they do not pray as a group the devil takes control of them. You must be with the group. Surely the wolf attacks the sheep that is alone and separate from the flock” (Abu Dawud).
We have already read that the prayer is one of the most important qualities of the believer. It is the flavour of faith, the food of the soul and gives peace of mind. It is a personal devotion but should be offered in a congregation. This Hadith is emphasising this group aspect of the prayer.
How valuable it is to offer the prayer in congregation is explained by the Prophet (peace be upon him) when he said, “the group prayer is twenty seven times superior than the individual prayer” (Muslim).
The Hadith under discussion instructs that even when there are only three people they should pray together as a group rather than pray separately. The Prophet (peace be upon him) then gives the similitude of the lone sheep cut off from the flock. The devil who is depicted here as the wolf attacks the lone wanderers, those who are not with the Muslim community or those who live only at its peripheries not taking active part in its affairs.
The congregational prayer has many benefits such as; fostering love and compassion for fellow Muslims, thus strengthening the bonds of brotherhood, equality, since everyone stands humbly together whether he is a pauper or wealthy, big or small. Prayer gives training in being punctual and regular in ones daily affairs. Congregational prayer is one of outstanding features of Islam, the row upon row of believers standing humbly, bowing in unison and then prostrating together, it is a moving experience for any onlooker. The congregational prayer also teaches obedience to a leader (Imam) and gives the sense of belonging to the community.
From Bukhari and Ibn Hajar
Chapter 162- Women going to the Masjids at night and darkness
Abdullah ibn Umar narrates the messenger (peace be upon him) said ”When your women seek your permission to attend the Masjid at night then give them permission” (Hadith no. 865).
Ibn Hajar Asqalani (d.761 AH) is perhaps one of the greatest commentators of Bukhari. Here is a summary of his commentary on this topic:
1. The permission to attend the Masjid hints to the fact that it is not compulsory, since if it was there would be no need to seek husbands permission.
2. He quotes another Hadith from Muslim. Abdullah ibn Umar narrates the Messenger (peace be upon him) said “don’t stop women from getting their share of the Masjid when they seek your permission”. Bilal (his son) said “By God we certainly will stop them”. According to Tabarani Bilal said “I will not let my wife and whoever wishes can let his wife do as she likes”.
3. According to the narration in Muslim, when Bilal said this to his father Abdullah ibn Umar, he was furious at him, he turned to him and cursed him three times and thereafter never spoke to his son until he died.
4. Ibn Hajar comments on this “father and son fight” by saying that “Bilal saw mischief in some women of his time and that made him react in that way to protect his sense of honour and self respect and Abdullah disapproved because he was clearly opposing the Prophetic tradition”.
Chapter 164- Women’s prayer standing behind men
Umm Salma said “when the Prophet (peace be upon him) finished his prayer by saying salaam the women would get up and leave. He would stay for a while in his place. This was done so that women could leave before the men could see them”.
Anas said, “The Prophet (peace be upon him) prayed in Umm Sulaim’s house, I and an orphan stood behind him and Umm Sulaim behind us” (Hadith no.874).
Chapter 165- The quick departure of women after Morning Prayer and their short stay in the Masjid
Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) said “the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to pray morning prayer in darkness, Muslim women used to come and go without being recognised in the dark” (Hadith no. 872).
Abdullah Ibn Umar said ”There was a woman who used to attend the Morning and night prayer with the congregation in the Masjid. It was said to her why do you come yet you know that Umar does not like that. She said he has not stopped me! She said the Prophet (peace be upon him) said “Don’t stop God’s maids from attending the Masjids” (Hadith no. 900).
Commenting on these two Ahadith Ibn Hajar says “if women are permitted to attend Masjids at night despite that night is time of suspicion, the permission during daytime is even foremost”.

Thursday 23 October 2014

Rabi’a al-Basri

 "I want to set fire to heaven with this flame and put out the fire of hell with this water so that people will cease to worship GOD for fear of hell or for temptation of heaven. One must love GOD as GOD is Love."

Rabi’a Al-Basri, the first female Sufi saint and poet in Islam, set forth the doctrine of “Divine Love.”  She was born in the early 8th century in the port city of Basra, present day Iraq, to a very poor but well respected family. She was named Rabi’a for her position as the fourth child in the family. Even though Rabi’a did not leave written evidence of her poetry, we are able to catch a glimpse of her poetry primarily through the works of Farid Al-din Attar, a Sufi saint and poet who compiled her poetry into writing, and Margaret Smith who wrote, “Rabi’a the Mystic” in 1928.
Rabi’a’s father, a Sufi and an ascetic himself, believed that the Prophet came to him in his dreams the night Rabi’a was born. The Prophet told Rabi’a’s father that his daughter was going to be a saint. The Prophet advised Rabi’a’s father to send a letter to the Amir, reminding him of his prayers and requesting a certain amount of money. The Amir responded positively, giving Rabia’s family a large sum of money and thanking him for the letter.
However, Rabi’a’s good fortune did not last long, as her parents died early in her life. Orphaned, she was sold into slavery. There are several accounts of the next stage of her life. It is believed that at one point in her time as a slave, she spoke to God after slipping and dislocating her wrists. She then committed herself to Him, fasting during the day and carrying out her tasks. Many believe that in the middle of the night, her owner witnessed her bowing in worship while a lamp hung above her head without support. This image, symbolizing that of a Muslim saint, was enough for him to free her from slavery. It is said that she then spent several years worshipping in the desert, and performed a pilgrimage to Mecca. She chose a life of celibacy, rejecting many marriage proposals. She also lived a life of asceticism, rejecting materialism and accepting a life of poverty. She was known for performing many miracles.
She is known for being the first woman Sufi saint who devoted herself entirely to God.  She made the greatest contribution of any woman towards the development of Sufism.

Monday 20 October 2014

The Moderate Path of Islam.

Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said, "The deeds of anyone of you will not save you (from the (Hell) Fire)." They said, "Even you (will not be saved by your deeds), O Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)?" He said, "No, even I (will not be saved) unless and until Allah bestows His Mercy on me. Therefore, do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and worship Allah in the forenoon and in the afternoon and during a part of the night, and always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course whereby you will reach your target (Paradise).

Sahih al-Bukhari 6463

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Muslim youth summit told female genital mutilation is not part of Islam

 Gambia Muslim FGM summit

Jaha Dukureh, the face of a Guardian campaign to raise awareness of FGM in the US, who has taken her campaign back to her home country, said equipping young people at the event with religious arguments was vital in the battle to end FGM within a generation.
“Almost everyone who practises FGM believes it is a religious obligation, and this religious scholar has told us that this is not the case,” she said.
Jaiteh used the example of altered public health practices caused by the Ebola outbreaks to show that traditions could change, and quickly.
“Shaking hands is an obligation in Gambia,” he said. “But now Ebola has led to that practice being curtailed. Shaking hands is obviously therefore simply a cultural practice – when it is discovered that culture can lead to harm, it is stopped. Islam is here to safeguard and repel whatever causes harm.”
The impassioned youthful audience engaged in the detail of Islamic argument, and some young women urged others not to be afraid to challenge practices and laws made without their consent.
“Women were not there when these laws were being made for them,” said Ruqayah Sesay, attending the summit. “So much injustice is being done to women in the name of Islam and we are afraid to challenge it. But we must not be afraid to challenge, we need to stand up and be part of making these laws ourselves.”
Amie Bojang-Sissoko, a veteran anti-FGM campaigner, who has worked with the Gambian feminist organisation Gamcotrap for more than 20 years, said she hoped young people would go directly to the Qur’an to arm themselves with the facts.
She said: “If the prophet was said to love and care for his children, why can’t we learn from him? If he is this type of person why would he condone cutting a female body in the name of Islam? I don’t think he would.”
Bojang-Sissoko said that the youth summit had given new energy to the campaign to end FGM in Gambia, adding that she hoped young people would continue to push for a law that would make FGM illegal. “I am so proud to be working with these young people. At one point I felt we were losing our activism, but now I feel it has been re-energised,” she said.

Monday 13 October 2014

Afghan woman, whose genitalia was severed by her husband, fights for justice amid rising violence against women


Sadia quietly entered the room, lifted her burqa and took a seat. She's thin, almost emaciated, and old beyond her years.

"It was the second night of Ramadan," Sadia recounted, and she woke her husband up for suhoor, the morning meal served just before dawn.

"I prepared food and I told him to get up. When he got up he asked me why I didn't make milk tea. I told him I would go make it, but he didn't listen. He just started beating me."

Beatings were frequent over the course of their two-year marriage. Two months in, her husband and his family stopped feeding and giving Sadia clothes. They would shut all the windows and doors of the house and take turns beating and strangling her.

"When they beat me, they would tell me, 'You're all alone, scream as loud as you want, there is no one here to hear you.'"

"I asked from God to die."

Three-time abuse rule

Sadia returned to her family home three times because she was beaten so badly. At the husband's family's request, she was sent back, with a promise that the abuse would end.

Afghanistan's traditional justice system, one deeply woven into society, seemingly functions on a three-times rule. If, after the third time, a woman is still being abused by her husband, then elders, who often preside over the cases, will typically allow for a divorce.

Some families, however, intervene immediately so there is no second time. Others, not at all.

Mohammad Islam, Sadia's father, a poor daily labourer, admitted to seeing his daughter being beaten by her husband - not once, but several times. However, Sadia's husband, part of an armed group, sometimes known as arbakai, is led by a well-known, powerful local commander named Noor Mohammad.

Local armed groups have flourished in order to counter the threat from the Taliban as the central government's control barely runs beyond the capital, Kabul.

Afghan first lady in shadow of 1920s queen?

The growing fragility of the north can be seen on the vital highway linking the provincial capital of Takhar, where armed gunmen dot the road passing through the picturesque hills.

"The commander and his men put pressure on Sadia's family, who then come here and tried to pressure us to send her back. They have gone to the hospital and told the doctors to say this incident never happened," said Razmara.

"They also told the prosecutor to not touch the case. They have tried every means possible to get Sadia back."

As the director spoke, Sadia, probably 19 or 20 as she doesn't know her exact date of birth, leaned into the conversation, her hands clasped in her lap, looking down, continuously shaking her head in agreement.

Before passing out on that second night of Ramadan from the beating, Sadia recalls her husband getting on top of her, sitting on her face and then withdrawing his knife.

"I don't know how much time passed, but when I woke up he started beating me again. His brother's son came to the window and asked what was going on. I got up and walked to the window, my husband followed and continued to beat me. I crawled out of the window and my husband also followed."

When Sadia arrived at the hospital the following morning, according to Dr Safi, the director of public health, and Razmara, they found out that the right side of her major labia (outside fatty tissue covering the vagina) had been severed off by a knife. Her pelvis was mutilated and "abused" by hand, and her vaginal canal had been penetrated - with parts of her insides torn out.

"Violence against women is increasing day by day," Safi told Al Jazeera. "Today we even have a case of a woman with her ear cut off."

"But," he continued, "I have never seen anything like this before … not anywhere."

"In order for her to fully recover she needs plastic surgery. We can't do this in Afghanistan, she would need to go outside the country. We were also not able to give her a proper checkup, so we don't even know the full extent of the damage," Safi said.