Saturday 29 August 2020

The Day of ’Ashura

What is ’Ashura?

’Ashura or ’Aashoora is derived from the word ’Asharah, which means ten in Arabic. ’Ashura is the 10th day of Muharram. Al-Muharram is one of the sacred months alluded to in the following Qur’anic verse: ‘Indeed, the number of months with Allah is twelve [lunar] months in the register of Allah [from] the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these, four are sacred. That is the correct religion, so do not wrong yourselves during them…’ (Qur’an, 9:36)

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “The best fasting after Ramadan is the month of Allah Muharram, and the best prayer after the obligatory prayer is prayer at night.” [Muslim]

He (pbuh) called this month “the Month of Allah.” When Allah azza wa jal connects His Name to something, it shows the great status and virtue of the subject.

The most important things that happened on this day are:
  • Allah azza wa jal accepted the repentance of Adam (pbuh) after he committed the sin of eating from the forbidden tree in Paradise.
  • The Arc of Prophet Noah (pbuh) landed safely on the Mount of Al-Judiyy in modern day Turkey after the flood .
  • Allah azza wa jal saved the Children of Israel (Jews) and Prophet Moses (pbuh) from Pharaoh, who also drowned also on that day.
As a side note, al-Husayn ibn Ali (may Allah be pleased with him), the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was killed by Yazid on the day of ’Ashura.

Some quick facts about ’Ashura:
  • Giving charity on ’Ashura is equal to an entire year’s worth of charity: ’On the authority of ’Abdullah bin ’Amr bin al-’As (may Allah be pleased with both of them) that he said, “Whoever fasts ‘Ashura’ it is as if he has fasted the entire year. And whoever gives charity this day it is like the charity of an entire year”’. (Ibn Rajab’s Lata’if al-Ma‘arif)
  • Fasting on ’Ashura wipes out the sins of the past year: ’On the authority of Abu Qatadah (ra) that the Messenger of Allah (saw), was asked about fasting on the day of ‘Ashura’, and he said, “It expiates [wipes out the minor sins of] the past year”’.(Muslim)
  • The covering (Kiswah) of the Ka‘bah used to be changed on ’Ashura: ’On the authority of ’Aishah (ra) who said, “The people used to fast on ’Ashura before the fasting of Ramadan was made obligatory. And on that day the Ka‘bah used to be covered with a cover. When Allah made the fasting of the month of Ramadan compulsory, Allah’s Messenger (saw) said, ’Whoever wishes to fast (on the day of ‘Ashura’) may do so; and whoever wishes to leave it can do so”’. (Bukhari)
  • ’Ashura is an immense day of repentance: ‘The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, “If you will fast after the month of Ramadan, then fast al-Muharram, for indeed it is Allah’s month in which there is a day that Allah accepted the repentance of a people, and in which He accepts the repentance of other people”’ (Tirmidhi).
  • Be generous to your family on ’Ashura: ’The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, “One who generously spends on his family on the day of ‘Ashura’, Allah will be generous on him for the entire year”’ (Baihaqi).

Tuesday 25 August 2020

The hidden racism of the Muslim marriage market

In an attempt to escape the quarantine daze, I started watching Netflix's new reality series, Indian Matchmaking, about the often-misunderstood world of arranged marriage.

The show follows a passionate, mother-knows-best "rishta" matchmaker, who helps wealthy Indian families in Mumbai and the United States find their children the perfect spouse. At first, I really enjoyed watching 20- and 30-somethings search for love and marriage in this traditional manner. My friends and I laughed at snobby Aparna, cringed at the scenes with "mama's boy" Akshay, and cried when sweet Nadia's second suitor turned out to be an unapologetic "bro".

By the end of the eight-episode series, however, I felt nauseous. Unlike some of my white friends who watched on carefree, I was disturbed by the obvious displays of classism, ethnocentrism, and colourism in the show.

Throughout the show, I could not help but notice how these "isms" guided the matchmaker as she tried to find "suitable" potential spouses for her clients. In addition to searching for those with distinguished careers, and a slim body type, she was always on the hunt for "fair" spouses. I was left with a bad taste in my mouth as the show closed with a bubbly Indian-American woman casually saying she is looking for a husband who is not "too dark".

The Netflix series glossed over this uglier side of matchmaking, but as a Black American Muslim woman who has previously been rejected by potential suitors based solely on race and ethnicity, I cannot look past it.

For the last four years or so, I have been knee-deep in the Muslim dating world, dealing with all those aforementioned "isms". (And when I say dating, I mean dating-to-marry, because as an observant Muslim, I only pursue romantic relationships with one goal in mind: marriage). I encounter the same annoyances found within Western dating culture (Muslim women too get ghosted, mosted, and harassed), but due to cultural baggage that is often conflated with Islamic tradition, I am more likely to come head-to-head with sexism, ageism, and racism. The last one of which I suffer from the most.

No matter which path I take to seek marriage - matchmakers, apps like Minder, or chaperoned blind dates - I am constantly met with the sickening reality that I am less likely to be chosen as a potential partner because of my background as an Afro-Latina American born to convert parents.

Having come from a mixed family, I was never warned that who I sought to love or whoever sought to love me would be premised on something as arbitrary as skin colour, race or ethnicity. I learned this lesson the hard way a few years ago, when a painful relationship taught me to take caution.

I fell in love with an Arab man I met through my mosque in Boston. In addition to all the little things, like making me feel heard, valued, and loved, he taught me how to centre my life around faith. He awakened a new form of "taqwa", God consciousness, within me that I had not known before. But when we attempted to transform our friendship into marriage, we were confronted by his family's prejudices. Although they had never met me, they rejected me outright saying we were "incompatible" - a euphemism often used to mask uncomfortable beliefs based on racism and ethnocentrism.

In the years that followed, I continued to encounter these same infections. As I tried to find the "one" through professional Muslim matchmakers, online dating, or within my own social circles, I learned that I was often not even included in the pool of potential spouses, because I did not fit the initial criteria listed by the men, or worse, their mothers. I was not of the desired ethnic background, namely South Asian or Arab - the two most predominant ethnic groups in the Muslim American community.

Muslim matchmakers witness their clients express a preference for one type of ethnicity/race over another all the time. One friend, a 26-year-old Somali-American woman who runs her mosque's matrimonial programme in Michigan, told me that she noticed a pattern when she reviewed the answers single Muslim men gave in a questionnaire about marriage. While Middle Eastern and North African men said they were looking for Arab or white/Caucasian women (usually referred to simply as "white converts"), South Asian men expressed their desire to marry Pakistani or Indian women. Black American and African men, meanwhile, said they were open to marrying women of any ethnicity and race.

When I began writing about the problems I experienced in the Muslim marriage market, I discovered I was not alone. I heard countless stories of Black American and African women who were forced to break engagements due to the colour of their skin or ethnic origins. One such woman, a 25-year-old mixed Black American-Palestinian, told me that she was rejected by her American-Palestinian fiance's mother because "she did not speak good enough Arabic" and therefore would not "fit" in the family. Countless other Black or African women, meanwhile, told me that they could not even make it to the stage of engagement because no one in the community introduced them to eligible candidates for marriage due to their race. This left many feeling unwanted, rejected, and hopeless.

When confronted with these examples, naysayers ask, what is wrong with wanting to marry someone that shares your culture? They raise defences based on ethnocentricity, trying to hide their prejudices under the guise of love and pride for their motherlands. They argue that differences in culture create friction between a couple, and their families.

But to all the South Asian-American or Arab-American Muslim men that do not see me as a potential spouse because of my ethnic and racial background, I ask: "Do we not share a culture? Are our lived experiences as Muslims in a post-9/11 America not enough to serve as the foundation for marriage?"

Many US-born Muslims, especially millennials and those from the Gen Z, pride themselves on successfully navigating what it means to be American (embracing American holidays, entertainment, and politics) while staying true to Islamic values. And yet, within the context of marriage, one's "Americanness" only becomes relevant when it is used to incite racism.

While such Muslims may simply be keeping up with the practices of their fellow racist Americans, they are cutting ties with Islamic tradition. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was sent to rid the world of pre-Islamic traditions that favoured racism, ethnocentrism, and tribalism. He brought us revelations such as "O mankind! We created you from a single [pair] of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other [49:13]."  Why do so many people overlook such verses when it comes to marriage?

In the months since the death of George Floyd, I have seen a concerted effort by Muslim leaders and activists to raise consciousness in our community about the fight against racial injustice and supporting Black bodies. There have been many online khutbas, and virtual halaqas, aimed at addressing the deep-seated issue of racism within our homes and our mosques.

However, I am afraid that all such efforts to eradicate racism from our community will fall flat if we do not speak up against the cultural and racial biases that are both implicit and explicit within the marriage market. I fear that if we continue to allow ugly cultural biases to govern who we choose to love, or who we choose to let our children marry, we will remain stagnant.


Monday 24 August 2020

India Should Be Grateful to Alauddin Khilji for Thwarting the Mongol Invasions

Alauddin Khilji was born in Delhi in 1266 CE, lived his entire life in the Indian subcontinent, and ruled as sultan of Delhi from 1296 CE – 1316 CE. By any definition, he would have to be called an Indian monarch, not a foreign invader. As a ruler, he would prove himself to be one of India’s greatest warrior kings and one of the world’s great military geniuses.

Historical details about the Khiljis are obtained from fundamental sources such as Ferishta, who lived during the time of the sultan of Bijapur, Ibrahim Adil Shah II, and Ziauddin Barani, who lived at the time of Mohammad Bin Tughlaq and Firuz Shah Tughlaq. These accounts are well-summarised in the works of eminent contemporary historians such as K.S. Lal, Satish Chandra, and Peter Jackson.

Khilji greatly expanded the empire that he inherited from his uncle, Sultan Jalaluddin Khilji, after killing him. Many of his conquests were of kingdoms ruled by Hindu kings, including Chittor, Devgiri, Warangal (from where he acquired the famous Kohinoor diamond), Gujarat, Ranthambore, and the Hoysala and Pandya kingdoms. He was able to do all this not because these other kingdoms were weak, but because he was a great soldier and general with a well-trained and disciplined army, using superior Turkic cavalry and infantry tactics, and had built a solid economic base which provided him with the resources to finance these campaigns.

During Khilji’s rule, the Mongols of the Chaghatai Khanate under Duwa Khan repeatedly tried to invade the Indian subcontinent. The attacks that occurred during the reign of Alauddin Khilji were not the first time that the Mongols had invaded India. But, as Lal puts it, “All these were minor invasions as compared with those that occurred in the time of Alauddin; and it was the good fortune of India that the most tremendous assaults were delivered to this country when a strong monarch like Alauddin was the ruler.”

Khilji, by his military brilliance, managed to defeat the Mongols not once, but five times, and avoided defeat a sixth time even when taken by surprise, as the Mongols attacked with massive forces.

The first invasion attempt was carried out in 1298 CE, and involved 100,000 horsemen. Alauddin sent an army commanded by his brother Ulugh Khan and the general Zafar Khan, and this army comprehensively defeated the Mongols, with the capture of 20,000 prisoners, who were put to death.

In 1299 CE, the Mongols invaded again, this time in Sindh, and occupied the fort of Sivastan. Alauddin despatched Zafar Khan to defeat them and recapture the fort, which he did, even without the need for siege machines.

This humiliating defeat prompted Duwa Khan to attempt another full-scale assault on India in 1299 CE, and he sent his son, Qutlugh Khwaja, with 200,000 soldiers, determined to finish off the Delhi Sultanate once and for all. The Mongol army came fully equipped for this assault on Delhi and for a long campaign, with sufficient food provisions. Alauddin’s own advisors were panic-stricken and advised him not to confront the dreaded Mongols who had come in such force.

It should be mentioned here that Alauddin’s predecessor, Jalaluddin, had averted war with the Mongols in a previous attack by agreeing to humiliating demands from them. But Alauddin was determined to fight to the end. As Lal describes it, he told his advisor,

“How could he hold the sovereignty of Delhi if he shuddered to encounter the invaders? What would his contemporaries and those adversaries who had marched two thousand kos to fight him say when he ‘hid behind a camel’s back’? And what verdict would posterity pronounce on him? How could he dare show his countenance to anybody, or even enter the royal harem, if he was guilty of cowardice, and endeavoured to repel the Mongols with diplomacy and negotiations? … ‘Come what may, I am bent upon marching tomorrow into the plain of Kili, where I propose joining in battle with Qutlugh Khwaja.’”

Alauddin met Qutlugh Khwaja at Kili, and the day was won by the bravery and martyrdom of his general Zafar Khan. (That the Mongols retreated because of Zafar Khan’s actions is the only explanation postulated by Barani, and quoted by Lal and Chandra; however, Jackson doubts this explanation and says the real reason the Mongols withdrew was that Qutlugh Khwaja was mortally wounded in the battle, a fact confirmed by other sources.) The defeated Mongols went back to their country without stopping once on the way.

However, Duwa Khan was not satisfied. In 1303 CE, he again sent a huge force of 120,000 horsemen to attack Delhi, under General Taraghai. This was, unfortunately for Alauddin, immediately after his long battle with and victory over the kingdom of Chittor. That Alauddin was busy with his attack on Chittor was known to Taraghai, and was one of the key factors in his planning. Alauddin was taken completely by surprise. His army was greatly depleted and had suffered great losses in equipment in the battle for Chittor. He tried to get reinforcements from other parts of the empire, but the Mongols had blocked all the roads to Delhi.
Yet Alauddin did not lose heart, and fought a gallant defensive battle. Lal explains it thus:

“Sultan Alauddin gathered together whatever forces he had in the capital, and arrayed his forces in the plains of Siri. As it was impossible to fight the Mongols in an open engagement with so small an army, Alauddin decided to exhaust the patience of the besiegers by strengthening his defence lines. On the east of Siri lay the river Jamuna, and on the south-west was the old citadel of Delhi, although by the time of Taraghai’s invasion it had not been repaired. In the south lay the dense jungle of Old Delhi. The only vulnerable side, therefore, was the north, where the Mongols had pitched their camp.”

Alauddin dug trenches and built ramparts and created a strong defensive position that made it impossible for Taraghai to defeat him. After two months of trying hard to break Alauddin’s defences, Taraghai lost patience and returned home. This was clearly brilliant generalship under extremely adverse circumstances which would have meant certain defeat for anyone who was not as resolute and as resourceful.

This close shave made Alauddin realize the need for stronger defence of the capital, and he took various measures, such as constructing a wall, repairing forts, and the like. As a result, Delhi was never again at risk of conquest by the Mongols.

In 1305 CE, seeking to avenge their previous defeats, the Mongols invaded again, under the leadership of Taraghai, Ali Beg, and Tartaq, with a force of 50,000 horsemen. Taraghai was killed in a preliminary clash even before arriving in Delhi, but Ali Beg and Tartaq pushed on. Knowing Delhi to be strongly defended, they started plundering the countryside of Avadh. Alauddin sent a force of 30,000 to 40,000 horsemen with the general Malik Nayak to meet the Mongols and inflicted a crushing defeat on them on December 30, 1305. Twenty thousand horses belonging to the enemy were captured, and most of the soldiers were slaughtered. 8000 prisoners of war were brought to Delhi, including the two generals, who were subsequently beheaded.

The last attempt to invade the Delhi Sultanate was made by Duwa in 1306 CE, just before his death, when he sent the generals Kubak and Iqbalmand with an army of 50,000 to 60,000 horsemen. Kubak advanced in the direction of the Ravi river, and Iqbalmand advanced in the direction of Nagor. Alauddin dispatched his favorite general, Malik Kafur, to deal with the Mongols. Kafur defeated Kubak in a battle on the Ravi and captured him alive. He then intercepted the second force at Nagor and defeated that as well. Only 3000 or 4000 soldiers remained of the Mongol invasion force.

Thus, Alauddin Khilji achieved what no other ruler in the world, east or west, had achieved. He repeatedly repulsed and defeated large-scale invasions by the Mongols, who had been an unstoppable force wherever they had gone — Russia, China, Persia, Iraq, Syria, Europe. He was able to repel forces of up to 200,000 Mongol horsemen. In comparison, the force that Hulagu took with him to Baghdad and used to completely destroy the Caliphate had only 150,000 horsemen.

The Mongols had not become weak and feeble since the sack of Baghdad in 1258 – this was not the reason for Alauddin’s success. As an illustration, his uncle who preceded Alauddin as Sultan of Delhi preferred to “make a settlement, giving the Mongols very favourable terms”, to use Lal’s words. Alauddin’s own advisors advised him in 1299 CE to submit rather than fight the feared Mongols; but Alauddin Khilji proved superior to his formidable Mongol foes.

Khilji’s legacy to the Indian subcontinent

From the knowledge of how other countries fared under the Mongols, it is fair to say that had the Mongols conquered India, India would have likely been set back at least two or three hundred years in its development. A large part of the knowledge and culture that had been accumulated in India over millenia might well have been destroyed. Every library, school, temple, mosque and even home would have likely been burnt to the ground. As the Russian experience shows, even if the Mongols had settled down in the Indian subcontinent (an unlikely proposition, given the hot Indian weather), the consequences for India would probably not have been savoury.

So the Mongols were not like any other invader. If Khilji had lost to the Mongols, the outcome would not have been as benign as when Ibrahim Lodi lost to Babur. In that case, one ‘foreign’ ruler who had recently made India his home was replaced by another, but the Indian subcontinent itself did not suffer greatly. If the Mongols had won against Khilji, they would probably have wiped a large percentage of India’s cultural heritage off the map of the world. If we have ancient traditions in India that survive to this day, a large part of the credit for that has to go to Alauddin Khilji, one of history’s greatest warrior-kings.

By all accounts, Alauddin Khilji was not a benevolent king to his subjects. But he also was a brave soldier and a brilliant general who saved the Indian subcontinent from certain destruction. Of course, Khilji did not resist the Mongols to save Indian culture and civilisation; he did what he did to save himself. But that is true of every ruler who defends their kingdom against a foreigner, whether that be Shivaji, Rana Pratap, or Laxmibai of Jhansi.

These days, it is becoming increasing common to paint one-dimensional portraits of people: “Hindu hero,” “Islamic tyrant,” “Islamic hero,” etc. But the problem with such stereotypes is that people are not monolithic — they are complex and layered. The man you hate as a Muslim bigot may also be the reason you are a Hindu today.

Was Alauddin Khilji a bigot?

The story of Alauddin Khilji shows us that we need to understand history in its entirety. Just as most Indians are unaware of Alauddin Khilji’s role in stopping many Mongol invasions, even the image of Khilji as someone who persecuted Hindus is based on an incomplete understanding of history.

To be sure, Khilji was an extremely cruel, suspicious and vindictive man, and meted out barbaric punishments to those who antagonised him. But his cruelty was impartial, and made no distinction between Hindus and Muslims.

Historians are generally agreed that while Alauddin Khilji was a cruel despot, he was not a bigot. He was a pragmatist.


Monday 3 August 2020

Shaikh Zia ur Rahman Dies. Born Hindu Brahman, Death as Great Scholar of Islam

Earlier today, on the day of Arafat, one of the greatest scholars of Islam in recent times has died. Shaikh Zia ur Rahman Azami lived in Madinah and his janazah (funeral) will be conducted at the Prophet’s ﷺ Mosque in Madinah and the burial is due to take place in Al Baqi al Gharqad.

Born “Banke Laal” to a Brahman Hindu family in India, he converted to Islam at just 18 years old against pressure from his family. His passion for learning Islam made him attend a madrasah. After graduating from the madrasah with high marks, he was accepted to study at the Islamic University of Madinah.

Shaikh Zia Ur Rahman Azami’s dedication in the field of hadith excelled him to the point where he became the Dean of the Faculty of Hadith at the Islamic University, where he had previously studied. After retiring from this role he was appointed as a teacher in the Prophet’s ﷺ Masjid in Madinah.

He authored an internationally recognised work titled “Quran Encylopedia” which classified and explained the words of the Quran in alphabetic order. The book was translated into other languages.

His greatest work was yet to come and saw him complete a task no one had done in over 1400 years of Islam.
Shaikh Zia Ur Rahman Azami compiled all of the Sahih hadith (authentic narrations from the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ) into a single book. He used over 200 books to compile it and when finished the compilation had 20 volumes without a single hadith repeating itself. Every hadith used was Sahih and he compiled over 16,000 hadith. The title of the book is “Al Jami’ al-Kamil fi al-Hadith al-Sahih al-Shamil”

When I met him in Ramadan 2018 he said he was motivated by questions from non-Muslims on hadith. He said non-Muslim asked him “Where is the Sunnah” and we replied that they are in this book and that book.

He pointed at his compilation as he said “Now you can hold the Quran in one hand and say ‘This is the word of Allah’ and hold this compilation in the other hand and say ‘This is the word of the Messenger of Allah'”. He explained that while he may not have captured 100% of Sahih hadith, he did get 99%.

My brother and I sat with the Shaikh for most of that night as we discussed many topics while sharing Pizza and later tea. He said Muslims needs to remove misguidance which has gripped the Muslim world today using the light of the Quran and hadith, in the same way filth is removed with clean water.

These words of the Shaikh were one of the motivating factors which lead us to launch

For his contributions to Islam Shaikh Zia Ur Rahman was given honorary citizenship of Saudi Arabia, an honour which is rarely granted.

Despite being born in India to a Hindu family, he made some of the greatest contributions to Islam in modern times. Now he will be buried in Baqi al Gharqad near the graves of the family and companions of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.

We ask Allah to forgive his shortcomings and admit him to Jannah al Firdaws and to give his family sabr.


Hadith of the day

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "If you are pleased with what God has (given you), you will [consider yourself rich]. If you are kind to your neighbor, you will be a believer. If you like others to have what you want for yourself, you will be a Muslim." Al-Tirmidhi

Saturday 1 August 2020

‘Shahid’ (Witness) and ‘Mashhud’ (Witnessed) from Surah Al-Buruj

Surah Al-Burooj (The Towering Constellations) strengthened the heart of the Prophet (pbuh) and his followers by referring to the fate of those who tortured earlier believers. This video looks at Ayah 3 - 9 where Allah Azza wa Jall (Arabic: عزّ وجلّ - meaning Mighty and the Majestic; or: Glorified and Sublime be He.) talks about the Shahid (Witness) and Mashhud (Witnessed). This concept is explained with the example of trench-makers.

Various suggestions are made as to who these trench-makers were, among others, that they were those commanded to make a trench by a Jewish ruler of sixth-century Yemen in order to torture Christians, also that the passage could refer to Nimrod’s treatment of Abraham (Razi).