The Detroit Mosque Tour

Last month, a dozen Michigan muslims attended a tour of mosques and sites of  in the greater Detroit area. Specific locations were chosen by the Michigan Muslim Community Council and the UMich MSA that reflect how Islam in southeastern Michigan developed. Here we’ll highlight two attendees takes on their experience on the day-long tour. The first comes from Bilal Javaid, a Biomedical Engineering senior. The second comes from Ismail Ali, a junior. His summary of the tour is cross-posted from the Muslim Observer as it appeared there in the July 3rd publication.

Bilal Javaid: A tour through Islam in Detroit

“We rode on a UM bus to Islamic Center of America to start the tour. For me, it was remarkable to see such an institution with excellent architecture and size in Michigan since I had not seen it before. CAIR Michigan’s Executive Director Dawud Walid accompanied us to provide commentary on the places we visited. His insights were very valuable throughout the tour.

First went to one of the Moorish Science Temples of America. This is not a mainstream Islam religion, but draws its beliefs and practices from Islam and other eastern religions. This was an important stop to understanding some of the history of Islam in Detroit among the black community because it can be considered one of the proto-Islamic movements that Dr. Jackson talks about in his writings. The lesson is that Allah can guide people however he pleases, and in this case, the Moorish Science Temple was a stepping stone towards mainstream Islam most common in the Detroit area today.

Next, we visited Masjid Al-Haqq. This Masjid was in a house in a residential neighborhood. We were greeted by Mujahid Carswell who is involved in the administrative affairs of the Masjid. He is the son of Imam Luqman who was killed by the FBI a few years ago. Mujahid told us about his father and how the community dealt with the loss. Imam Luqman’s sacrifice and effort for Islam was inspiring. He was deeply committed to feeding the poor, and had immense trust that Allah would take care of his needs and the Masjid. When I think about things I had read on the internet about him, it reminds me how easily the media can be deceptive and portray people falsely.

From there, we went to Masjid Wali Muhammed. This Masjid is one of the first in the area and almost has official recognition as a historic site in Detroit. It was originally a house of worship for the Nation of Islam. However, the attendees are now in mainstream Islam. We also visited the Muslim Center, which is one of the larger Masjids we had visited. The Muslim Center is involved in various activities to help the community such as a soup kitchen as well as purchasing and renovating houses for people in need. There is also the HUDA clinic across the street which offers free health care. We then drove through Hamtramck to see some of the Masjids there.

The UM project Building Islam in Detroit has more information about the background of Islam in Detroit and various institutions.”

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Ismail Z Ali: Lessons learned during the Detroit Masjid Tour

“On June 29th, some of my colleagues and I had the opportunity to tour masajid in and around Detroit. After about seven hours visiting sites and speaking with dozens of Imams and organizers in the Muslim community, we reflected on some of the projects we saw the community engaged in. So what did we see?

We saw congregations that, despite facing incredible adversity of their own, pushed through the hard times to support their neighbors by hosting soup kitchens for the community at large and maintaining an infectious positive attitude through it all.

We saw active communities, ones with rich histories that members were eager to share with us, organizing themselves for the sake of Michigan’s prosperity, offering health services at the HUDA Clinic and restoring residential areas with Neighborly Needs.

We saw groups of organizers willing to commit their time to one-on-one outreach and support work beyond the walls of their masajid, allowing the ummah to develop without the challenges of sectarianism and allowing individuals to grow without the burden of crippling family and personal setbacks.

Finally, we saw a place for ourselves working alongside the people we met for a better Michigan. The projects we learned about that day are just a sample of what the Muslim community has to offer. We all have the power to add to their efforts and others, and I encourage readers to continue or start contributing their time, their ideas, and their enthusiasm so that we may all prosper.”

The Inner Dimensions of Fasting

From The Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship, by Imam Al-Ghazali (Translated by Muhtar Holland). The entire ebook is available here.

Chapter 3
Fasting
(Sawm)

Three Grades
It should be known that there are three grades of Fasting: ordinary, special and extra-special.

Ordinary Fasting means abstaining from food, drink and sexual satisfaction.

Special Fasting means keeping one’s ears, eyes, tongue, hands and feet — and all other organs — free from sin.

Extra-special Fasting means fasting of the heart from unworthy concerns and worldly thoughts, in total disregard of everything but God, Great and Glorious is He. This kind of Fast is broken by thinking of worldly matters, except for those conducive to religious ends, since these constitute provision for the Hereafter and are not of this lower world. Those versed in the spiritual life of the heart have even said that a sin is recorded against one who concerns himself all day with arrangements for breaking his Fast. Such anxiety stems from lack of trust in the bounty of God, Great and Glorious is He, and from lack of certain faith in His promised sustenance.

To this third degree belong the Prophets, the true awliya and the intimates of God. It does not lend itself to detailed examination in words, as its true nature is better revealed in action. It consists in utmost dedication to God, Great and Glorious is He, to the neglect of everything other than God, Exalted is He. It is bound up with the significance of His words: ‘Say: “Allah (sent it down)”: then leave them to play in their vain discussions.’ [al-An'am,6:91]

Inward Requirements

As for Special Fasting, this is the kind practiced by the righteous. It means keeping all one’s organs free from sin and six things are required for its accomplishment:

1. SEE NOT WHAT DISPLEASES GOD
A chaste regard, restrained from viewing anything that is blameworthy or reprehensible, or that distracts the heart and diverts it from the remembrance of God, Great and Glorious is He. Said the Prophet, on him be peace: ‘The furtive glance is one of the poisoned arrows of Satan, on him be God’s curse. Whoever forsakes it for fear of God will receive from Him, Great and Glorious is He, a faith the sweetness of which he will find within his heart.’

Jabir relates from Anas that God’s Messenger, on him be peace, said: ‘Five things break a man’s Fast: lying, backbiting, gossiping, perjury and a lustful gaze.’

2. SPEAK NOT…
Guarding one’s tongue from idle chatter, lying, gossiping, obscenity, rudeness, arguing and controversy; making it observe silence and occupying it with remembrance of God, Great and Glorious is He, and with recitation of Quran. This is the fasting of the tongue. Said Sufyan: ‘Backbiting annuls the Fast.’ Layth quotes Mujahid as saying: ‘Two habits annul Fasting: backbiting and telling lies.’

The Prophet, on him be peace, said: ‘Fasting is a shield; so when one of you is Fasting he should not use foul or foolish talk. If someone attacks him or insults him, let him say: “I am Fasting, I am Fasting!”‘

According to Tradition: ‘Two women were Fasting during the time of God’s Messenger, on him be peace. They were so fatigued towards the end of the day, from hunger and thirst, that they were on the verge of collapsing. They therefore sent a message to God’s Messenger, on him be peace, requesting permission to break their Fast. In response, the Prophet, on him be peace, sent them a bowl and said: “Tell them to vomit into it what they have eaten.” One of them vomited and half filled the bowl with fresh blood and tender meat, while the other brought up the same so that they filled it between them. The onlookers were astonished. Then the Prophet, on him be peace, said: “These two women have been Fasting from what God made lawful to them, and have broken their Fast on what God, Exalted is He, made unlawful to them. They sat together and indulged in backbiting, and here is the flesh of the people they maligned!”‘

3. HEAR NOT…
Closing one’s ears to everything reprehensible; for everything unlawful to utter is likewise unlawful to listen to. That is why God, Great and Glorious is He, equated the eavesdropper with the profiteer, in His words, Exalted is He: Listeners to falsehood, consumers of illicit gain.’ [al-Ma'idah, 5:42] God, Great and Glorious is He, also said: ‘Why do their rabbis and priests not forbid them to utter sin and consume unlawful profit?’ [al- Ma'idah, 5:63]

Silence in the face of backbiting is therefore unlawful. God, Exalted is He, said: ‘You are then just like them.’ [al-Nisa, 4:140] That is why the Prophet, on him be peace, said: ‘The backbiter and his listener are copartners in sin.’

4. DO NOT…
Keeping all other limbs and organs away from sin: the hands and feet from reprehensible deeds, and the stomach from questionable food at the time for breaking Fast. It is meaningless to Fast — to abstain from lawful food – only to break one’s Fast on what is unlawful. A man who Fast like this may be compared to one who builds a castle but demolishes a city. Lawful food injurious in quantity not in quality, so Fasting is to reduce the former. A person might well give up excessive use of medicine, from fear of ill effects, but he would be a fool to switch to taking poison. The unlawful is a poison deadly to religion, while the lawful is a medicine, beneficial in small doses but harmful in excess. The object of Fasting is to induce moderation. Said the Prophet, on him be peace: ‘How many of those who Fast get nothing from it but hunger and thirst!’ This has been taken to mean those who break their Fast on unlawful food. Some say it refers to those who abstain from lawful food, but break their Fast on human flesh through backbiting, which is unlawful. Others consider it an allusion to those who do not guard their organs from sin.

5. AVOID OVEREATING
Not to over-indulge in lawful food at the time of breaking Fast, to the point of stuffing one’s belly. There is no receptacle more odious to God, Great and Glorious is He, than a belly stuffed full with lawful food. Of what use is the Fast as a means of conquering God’s enemy and abating appetite, if at the time of breaking it one not only makes up for all one has missed during the daytime, but perhaps also indulges in a variety of extra foods? It has even become the custom to stock up for Ramadan with all kinds of foodstuffs, so that more is consumed during that time than in the course of several other months put together. It is well known that the object of Fasting is to

experience hunger and to check desire, in order to reinforce the soul in piety. If the stomach is starved from early morning till evening, so that its appetite is aroused and its craving intensified, and it is then offered delicacies and allowed to eat its fill, its taste for pleasure is increased and its force exaggerated; passions are activated which would have lain dormant under normal conditions.

The spirit and secret nature of Fasting is to weaken the forces which are Satan’s means of leading us back to evil. It is therefore essential to cut down one’s intake to what one would consume on a normal night, when not Fasting. No benefit is derived from the Fast if one consumes as much as one would usually take during the day and night combined. Moreover, one of the properties consists in taking little sleep during the daytime, so that one feels the hunger and thirst and becomes conscious of the weakening of one’s powers, with the consequent purification of the heart.

One should let a certain degree of weakness carry over into the night, making it easier to perform the night Prayers (tahajjud) and to recite the praises (awrad). It may then be that Satan will not hover around one’s heart, and that one will behold the Kingdom of Heaven. The Night of Destiny represents the night on which something of this Kingdom is revealed. This is what is meant by the words of God, Exalted is He:

‘We surely revealed it on the Night of Power.’ [al-Qadr, 97:1]

Anyone who puts a bag of food between his heart and his breast becomes blind to this revelation. Nor is keeping the stomach empty sufficient to remove the veil, unless one also empties the mind of everything but God, Great and Glorious is He. That is the entire matter, and the starting point of it all is cutting down on food.

6. LOOK TO GOD WITH FEAR AND HOPE
After the Fast has been broken, the heart should swing like a pendulum between fear and hope. For one does not know if one’s Fast will be accepted, so that one will find favor with God, or whether it will be rejected, leaving one among those He abhors. This is how one should be at the end of any act of worship one performs.

It is related of al-Hasan ibn Abil Hasan al-Basri that he once passed by a group of people who were laughing merrily. He said: ‘God, Great and Glorious is He, has made the month of Ramadan a racecourse, on which His creatures compete in His worship. Some have come in first and won, while others have lagged behind and lost. It is absolutely amazing to find anybody laughing and playing about on the day when success attends the victors, and failure the wasters. By God, if the veil were lifted off, the doer of good would surely be preoccupied with his good works and the evildoer with his evil deeds.’ In too full of joy to indulge in idle sport, while for one who has suffered rejection laughter will be precluded by remorse.

Of al-Ahnaf ibn Qays it is reported that he was once told: ‘You are an aged elder; Fasting would enfeeble you.’ But he replied: ‘By this I am making ready for a long journey, Obedience to God, Glorified is He, is easier to endure than His punishment.’

Such are the inwardly significant meanings of Fasting.

Islam as a mercy to all humankind: Mercy manifested through social justice endeavors

The piece below was a khutbah delivered at campus jummah by Tareq Yaqub on April 20, 2012. You can read more of Tareq’s writing on his blog. 

Today we will spend some time discussing important issues plaguing our community: stagnation and apathy. The two ayahs explicitly tackle these two points. I would first like to address the first ayah that states, “And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing.” (27:10) Brothers and sisters, growing up, we have heard about this excuse in countless stories of the prophets, including Abraham, Moses, and Muhammad. When these individuals tried to preach their messages, they were faced with the utmost of ignorance. This ignorance was manifested in the idea that one cannot accept something if it goes against tradition. Even outside of religion, this mentality holds true. When scientists claimed the earth was round, or the earth orbited the sun, they, too, faced much backlash and imprisonment. Retrospectively, it is easy to poke fun at these individuals, however, in our current situation, we, unfortunately, see the same rhetoric used in our own Muslim communities. Imagine if those resistant to change had ended up victorious and ideas of scientific advancement were thus ridiculed, what type of state would our world be in? If movements for change were always silenced, we would be in a state of perpetual stagnation; seeing no growth or progress. Therefore, why is it that we, as a Muslim ummah, when faced with changing times, locations, and socio-political landscapes, often settle for the convenience of continuing practices solely due to the following reason: “this is what we saw those before us doing.” This is the same phrase that the Quran ridicules those in a state of ignorance for using. What if the ideas of slavery and eugenics were never challenged because they were already institutionalized for hundreds of years? What if the Prophet (pbuh), through divine intervention, never came to challenge the idolatrous customs of the pagan Arabs? With this last statement, it can be seen that the Prophet (saws) was sent to induce change during a time of ignorance. Given this, we must realize that the Islamic message was sent as a revolutionary one, and is therefore, inherently dynamic. It was sent to directly challenge and subsequently change the status quo. Inherent to these efforts is a commitment to social justice. Islam came to rid the world of oppression. Therefore, inherent in our religious message is the idea of recognizing systems of oppression and eliminating them, even if they are present in and carried out by our own communities. This brings me to the next ayah, ayah 13:11 which states “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” I would like to further elaborate on this ayah before I continue, as it is often used out of context. This ayah is directly referring to one’s own, internal relationship with God. However, our Muslim tradition is one that emphasizes the impact of external surrounding on the internal state, as can be seen by the famous hadith regarding the perfume seller and the blacksmith narrated in both Bukhari and Muslim. Therefore, we cannot expect our own spiritual relationship with God to progress if we find ourselves in communities (Muslim or not) that do not oppose injustices.  So, my brothers and sisters, in order for things to get better, and for us to become closer to God, we must change ourselves and our environments. The problem is, however, we are not aware of how bad our situation is. We are corrupted and blinded by apathy. We, as Muslims, are entrusted with commanding good and forbidding evil, but our egos have left us merely ordering others to do good without first examining ourselves and the world we live in, and thus we have failed miserably at even recognizing evil, let alone stopping it.

To understand what I mean by this, we must look at our example, the greatest of creation, the Prophet Muhammad (saws). As we know, the Prophet was sent as a mercy to all humankind. This mercy was manifested in acts of social change. God’s message, spread by the Prophet, was one that directly tackled contemporary social issues. For example, the ban on burying daughters, the challenging of the ways slavery was practiced, the restrictions on polygamy, and the prohibition of wine were restrictions that aimed to specifically combat toxic cultural practices of the time. Looking at the first three examples mentioned, it can be seen that there was an emphasis on human rights and human dignity in all these actions. Islam began as a means for social change, but this seems to be an important aspect of our religion that we have, unfortunately, forgotten. Our comfort from the belief that we are carriers of truth has led to complacency in the realm of social action and this complacency has led to stagnation. This stagnation has led to the longing for an Islamic Golden Age that has already come and gone, and due to this, we are now stuck in this mentality of a perceived Islamic decline. When we talk about Islamic contributions to science and society, we discuss a glorified past that places little emphasis on any contributions after the seventeenth century. Instead of being outraged by this, we are comfortable with this because we believe that Islam has already offered all it can to society. We believe that our golden age has come and gone. Now, instead of calling for Muslims to once again be leaders for social change, instead of calling for progress, we have forgotten the inherent dynamism of Islam and therefore only dream of belonging to an Islamic Golden Age. We are in a state of perpetual Islamic nostalgia.

This nostalgia reminds of a theme in the film Midnight in Paris. In this movie, the main character, who is a contemporary author, longs to live amongst his favorite authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. He believes that their era marked the golden age of literature and is therefore depressed living in his current life. He is later able to time travel and upon meeting Hemingway and Fitzgerald he comes to realize that they too are depressed and miserable and long to be amongst the company of a great literary past. Hemingway and Fitzgerald also are given a chance to travel in time and upon meeting their heroes, they realize that they, too, wish to be part of a greater past. This happens over and over again in the film. The ultimate message of the film is one that warns us of romanticizing the past to the point to where we neglect the present. When we speak of the past in way that makes it sound golden, we lose sight of the future. We lose sight of progress and we become stagnant. Again, since dynamism is an integral part of Islam, stagnation must be avoided.

Throughout our Islamic history we see examples of dynamism within the religion. We see differences in family life and religious rulings between the Meccan and Medinan times and we also see differences in fiqhi rulings over time and with differing geographic locations. For example, Imam Shafi’I changed much of his fiqhi approaches and standpoints in his work, al-Risala, when he moved from Baghdad to Cairo. This is an example of how Islam responded to changing geographic and cultural climates. ‘Urf, or cultural practice, has always affected the practice of Islam. This leads us to an interesting issue that our community faces: One that involves posing religion and culture as binaries. We often aim to make a distinction between the two and thus create a false dichotomy. Of course Islam has influenced the cultures it has come into contact with, and of course, cultural practices have influenced Islam. If that were not the case, then Islam in sub-saharan Africa would be practiced the same way that it is practiced in Iraq, Indonesia, France, and America. As we know, this is definitely not the case. But instead of embracing and admiring this plurality within our religion, there are those who are spearheading efforts to attempt to return to a “pure” Islam free of cultural influence. This idea seems to make little sense because the cultural practices of 7th century Arabia greatly influenced the way Islam was propagated and practiced. Yet, many still choose to romanticize the past in order to justify an obsession to “cleanse” the religion.

If we look at the our prophetic tradition, we can see that our beloved Prophet (saw) respected cultural practices as long as they did not explicitly defy Islamic teachings. For example, after the Hijra, Umar Bin Khattab (ra) complained to the Prophet that the Ansari women were setting bad examples for Quraishi women who had made the hijra. In Medina, women had a more active role in city affairs and were seen as more assertive than Meccan women. Umar Bin Khattab went to complain to the Prophet because he saw many Ansari wives constantly challenge men (including their husbands) and did not act in a way that Meccan women often acted. The Prophet (saw) responded by simply smiling. When Umar bin Khattab (ra) repeated his complaints, the Prophet smiled again, alluding to the fact that he saw that Umar’s complaints were unfounded. Commentary on this hadith is one that states that the Prophet realized that Meccans were now residents of Medina and that this was accepted social behavior in Medina that was in not in conflict with the teachings of Allah (swt). Look at the divine wisdom that we find in the Prophet’s actions here.  We can see from this that Islam’s goal is not to enter an area and immediately erase all of its cultural practices. In fact, cultural influences, like the one seen in the previous story, can have positive outcomes on the practice of religion. With this idea, we can see that Islam has room for cultural influence and this influence does not make one version of Islam impure or more syncretic than other forms.

This brings us to a very important point. We have allowed many to tell us that Islam is 1) backwards, 2) has little room for progress, 3) that it is at odds with modernity, and instead of challenging these claims, we have internalized them and even embraced them. Many of us are starting to accept this clash of civilizations rhetoric that pins Islam against the West and due to this; we are not comfortable with accepting the idea of a Western or American Islam. We are, however, comfortable with accepting a Nigerian Islam, an Iranian Islam, and an Indonesian Islam. This has stemmed from many forces, both internal and external, pinning Islam against the West, and even against ideas of modernity. Given our situation as American Muslims, we cannot allow these ideas to be used to demonize us and further marginalize us. We must understand our religion and never internalize ideas that our religion is backwards, or ideas that we should sacrifice some civil liberties because people practicing our faith are more likely to be radicalized or violent. This can only come from seeking knowledge about our faith.

Earlier, we discussed the need to remember the inherent dynamism of Islam in order to enact social change and to positively critique stagnation and antiquity within our own American Muslim communities. To do so, we must further our understanding of Islam. We have talked about pursuing Islamic knowledge in the past, but this has often been used as a purposely ambiguous umbrella term. What does Islamic knowledge entail? Does understanding simply come from memorizing the Quran, some hadith, and learning Arabic? No. The fact of the matter is that one can memorize the Quran and be a native Arabic speaker, and not be able to gain much understanding from the Quran. This is because true understanding comes from historically contextualizing the verses and ahadith. We will never truly understand the commandments of Islam without also asking why? How? And when? Providing context will not only strengthen our own understanding, but will also allow us to refute the attacks on Islam that others try to propagate. The best way to begin historically contextualizing aspects of our faith is to read a seerah, or biography of the Prophet, and also read a tafsir. A tafsir should not be confused with a translation. Tafsirs will often provide information regarding when certain ayahs were revealed and what situations prompted their revelation. This will inshAllah greatly expand our knowledge of our own religion and allow us to refute claims made by those who try to vilify it.

Before tackling a tafsir, I personally think, everyone should read a seerah (I personally, recommend Tariq Ramadan’s: In the Footsteps of the Prophet as a starting point). The Prophet (saw) is our ultimate source of emulation and is the individual we should love more than anyone, but how can we love someone we do not know? In order to truly understand our faith, we must understand the life of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw). Unfortunately, many of us are taught details about the life Prophet only until he received revelation and focus less and the events that took place after his prophethood. It is important to understand the chronology of Muhammad’s (saw) life to further allow us to contextualize and understand Allah’s religion. This will allow us to understand our history, be proud of it, and not romanticize it. This will also allow us to answer questions that we might have like why the Prophet married Aisha at young age, why he (saw) oversaw the execution of the men belonging to the tribe of Banu Qurayza, and other questions that we are often uncomfortable addressing through our tempocentric lens. With this, we will find a new-found love and respect for our religion and our prophet inshAlllah.

Muslim readers, our disregard for our own rich history has led to stagnation and a subsequent lack of enthusiasm for our religion, which has led us to turn to claims that a tree was performing sujood, or a certain word is mentioned in the Quran a certain number of times, or the same number of times as another word, or what have you, in order to affirm our faith. We are turning to seemingly superstitious and made-up means to validate our faith. These means are being adopted because we no longer care to explore the beauty and complexity of our religion that can only come from knowing its history. Our abandonment of understanding our dynamic history has trivialized our religion into a series of fiqhi debates where everything falls within a halal/haram binary. So, instead of discussing what it means to be an American Muslim, instead of bringing forth any nuanced understandings of the deen, we are arguing whether it is halal or haram to kill spiders or do yoga.

Brothers and sisters, we live in an ever-changing world; a world that aims to label Islam as a cancer and a problem. What are we going to do to combat this? In our own country, we are being alienated and marginalized and many in our own communities have simply accepted that. In our own country, non-Muslims are telling us how to practice our own religion. Instead of defining it for ourselves, forces like the government and the media have told us that we have to strive to be moderate Muslims. What is a moderate Muslim? Who came up with this term? Are the moderate Muslims the Muslims who organized rallies to support the NYPD surveillance efforts that unjustly and illegally targeted Muslims? If you are unfamiliar with this, it is true. An organization by the name of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, headed by Dr. Zuhdi Jasser actually organized a rally praising police for illegally spying on Muslims. The AIFD is essentially a conservative group that makes ridiculous claims that Islam endorses all things associated with free-market capitalism, and falls just short of stating that the Quran endorses baseball and apple pie as Muslim past-times. Is this who we are really striving to be?

For fellow college students, after we graduate and it comes to be our time to run our respective Muslim communities, are we going to stand and say this is how I saw my parents practicing, so I am going to the same thing? Are we going to say this is how Fox News (and Dr. Jasser) told me I should practice Islam, so it must be right? OR are we going to finally define what it means to be an American Muslim ourselves and stop letting others speak for us? It is time that we assess our situation and the needs of our ummah and constructively critique any inequalities and injustices we see in our own communities. Islam emphasizes the idea of community, and therefore we must strive to be as inclusive as can be, but we still find certain demographics in our communities marginalized and silenced. At times, it’s as if we pretend they do not exist. When are we going to recognize that African Americans make up the largest American Muslim dempgraphic? What are we doing to ensure their inclusion in our communities? Are we propagating various attitudes of racism within our own mosques? These are questions we must ask ourselves. When are we going to be willing to listen to the voices of women within our own communities? When are we going to be comfortable admitting that there are LGBTQ individuals in our community who love Allah and His messenger? How are we creating an inclusive community if these voices continue to be silenced? We must open our minds, remember the dynamism of Islam and its commitment to social justice, and Inshallah we can build strong, inclusive Muslim communities that are united and not factionalized. Only through this inclusivity and unity will we find ourselves no longer in the peripheries in our own country.

In relation to this, I would like to visit a very popular hadith present in Sahih Muslim:

The Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be on him) along with some of his companions migrated from Mecca to Medina. The Meccans were merchants and traders while the Medinians were people of agriculture. One day, in Medina, the Prophet was passing by a few Medinan farmers who were climbing high up on date palms to enhance pollination of seeds. They would manually put male with the female instead of leaving it to the wind to do it. The Prophet, who was not a farmer without realizing the importance of this manual process said to them, “Perhaps it may be better for you not to do this.” The Medinians, hearing this from the Messenger of God left what they were doing. The produce came out scarcely as it was merely by the wind. The Prophet clarified his role and nature as a Messenger of God to the people in very clear terms, “If I order you to do something that is to do with your religion then take it (and do it) but if I order you to do something from my own opinion then verily I am merely a human being;” and he added, “You are more knowledgeable of the matters of your world.” This is an authentic hadith, collected in Sahih Muslim.

My brothers and sisters, we are aware of our world. We know the problems within our own communities and we must address them. From this hadith, we can see some important points made by our beloved Prophet in regards to calling for reform. In matters of established religious doctrine, one cannot deny or reform aspects of the faith that our central to it such as the oneness of God or the importance of prayer. We can, however, challenge inequities in our communities that are often sanctioned by tradition or via religious rhetoric. We should recognize the male privilege exercised in our religious spaces. We should talk about gender inequities in our own communities, especially when it comes to access to education. We should challenge the notion that some topics such as sex and drug use are taboo, even though they are occurring daily in our own communities. We need to voice our opinions about these issues, and these are the aspects of our community that we need to challenge.

We control the future of Islam and it is not too late for us to revive it. Our glory days are not a thing of the past, and when I look at the bright faces in this room, I know that I can comfortably say that. It is healthy to internally critique any perceived oppressive or invasive forces we see in our own communities, but it is important to do so with an open and understanding mind. We are all inheritors of the Prophetic tradition, and since he (saw) was a mercy to all humankind, we must also strive to be so. We live in a world where oppression of all sorts has been institutionalized and normalized and it is up to us to challenge it. After all, aren’t tyranny and oppression the polar opposites of mercy? Fellow brothers and sisters, in order to follow the Prophetic tradition and remain the mediums for mercy in this world, we must adapt to a changing world. We must recall the revolutionary nature of Islam that aimed to restore justice and challenge systems of oppression. Sadly this part of our Muslim identity seems to be declining and I only pray that we can revive it. It pains me to see that Muslims are not at the forefront of social justice efforts in America. We are seen as a demographic that is obsessed with living a professional lifestyle and measuring our own successes by the cars we drive. We say that we care about others, which seems to only mean that we are making dua for those in Palestine and Syria. What about the individuals in Kashmir? What about drone attacks in Pakistan? What about Trayvon Martin? What about the 15% of Americans living below the poverty line? What about the 1 in 7 children in America who don’t have dinner to eat every day? Do we not care about them? Do you think that simply making dua for them is enough? How are we going to sleep at night in our big, comfortable homes, when people in our own cities are living in the streets? Speaking of which, when are we going to recognize and challenge the institutions that aid in making the inequalities a reality? When are we going to recognize that institutionalized racism and sexism have hindered the social mobility of certain minorities and women in this nation? Won’t these recognitions allow us to better our own communities, and our own ummah? During these times where antagonizing Islam legitimizes the political candidacy of many individuals, what are we doing to combat this? It is time we make use of our resources: our money, our voting power, and our time, to challenge oppression and seek to bring unity and understanding in our world. I ask Allah (swt) to give us the courage and tawfiq to assess the needs of our ummah and its apathy towards its own marginalization. I pray that future generations will benefit from our efforts and our refusal to be silent and that they have the opportunity to live in an America where they no longer face discrimination and bigotry for being Muslim.

Overthrowing the Tyrants of our Hearts

As-salaamu ‘Alaykum

Beginning in the Name of our Lord, Allah, The Creator of all things, we testify to His Oneness and we seek proximity to Him. We pray that our Lord send peace and blessings upon our noble and beloved Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and grant him peace. We pray that those peace and blessings extend to the Prophet’s noble and pure family as well as his companions in their entirety and unto you and I with them through God’s Gentleness and Mercy.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been approached by a few friends inquiring about the political developments around the globe. Some were wondering about how my family was doing, others were concerned about their families, and yet others were concerned for the global community of believers, our umma, and mankind more broadly. We pray that God’s sends tranquility upon the hearts of all of our loved ones here and abroad. We pray that God lifts the burden of the oppressed and those in need and that He gives us light to become the means through which His creation is aided and helped in Gentleness and ease.

The Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and grant him peace, is narrated to have said that if a man hears about someone being killed unjustly in another part of the globe and is not disapproving of that then he shares in the sin. He also, Allah bless him and grant him peace, reminded us that we are one community, one body, we aid one another as we can and we feel each other’s pain. The Qur’an describes the brotherhood of the companions and those who followed as being loving and caring to one another as being individuals who prayed for one another even in each other’s absence. In fact the Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him peace, is narrated to have said that the individual who does not have concern for the community is not one of “us.” We pray the we are all included in that “us” with the Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and grant him peace, because I could not think of a more wretched end than to be distant from the best of creation and ultimately his Creator and ours.

That all being said we are a community of values and priorities. Where you were born and what God has given you is not by coincidence. Similarly one cannot give that which one does not have. We often are moved and driven by ego rather than by principle. The Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and grant him peace, is described as having never gotten angry for himself, and when he was angered he was angered for God and no one could quell that anger. We must be careful to differentiate between that which we are driven to by ego or simple nationalistic pride and that which we are driven to by real concern through God for humanity. A good barometer is to ask ourselves why we are only concerned for certain peoples and not others. If the estimates are true about our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity in the Congo then we have sat idly by as millions have been killed. What also needs to be asked is why we are driven to be concerned about conflicts abroad when individuals in towns adjacent to ours and sometimes down the street from us are gravely oppressed and in need.

Of course none of this is a zero sum game. In other words it is not either or. The point is not to get individuals to stop being involved in the helping and aid of their brothers and sisters abroad but rather to start seeing past just simple family or nationalistic affiliations and start seeing humanity in a more holistic fashion. Even more importantly we hope to be a community that sets its priorities. Does it make sense to send millions of dollars to organizations you are not sure will be using them properly or spend night and day working for organizations you are uncertain of their ultimate aim or is there a better means to use your wealth and effort? If we can use those same millions to help people in own own town go to sleep on a full stomach or help the homeless get off of the street or empower young men and women to fend for themselves all while we are there exerting our own energy to aid in that struggle, shouldn’t we take part in such blessing?

I challenge my brothers and sisters not to pick one or the other but rather to start seeing that if we really want to aid those in need we don’t need to look too far. Also to remind them and myself that we cannot begin to help unless we are committed to not just overthrow tyrants and oppressive systems from without but rather we are committed to overthrow the tyrants found deep within our own hearts. Our worst enemy the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) informed us is our own ego. The Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and grant him peace, is narrated to have said that a man will be written as a tyrant and he has control over nothing apart from his own family. If our ultimate goal is knowledge of God, proximity to Him, the companionship of our Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and grant him peace, we need to ask if our actions are taking us along that path. There are many organizations, national government bodies, movements, ideologies, calling you to join their ranks… will you heed their call or will we heed the call of their Creator and yours?

What separates the belief structure we hold tightly to from good works attributed to any other meaning or deity? If our true aim is God then it should reflect in our intentions and actions. If the global community of Muslims returns to its rightful place as vanguards of transformative spiritual change who are committed to the care, concern, and service of humanity then perhaps God’s Mercy and Gentleness will descend upon our community to rid us of the evils from within. However if we maintain that our life is about tribe, nation, pride, ego, power then just as we have relied on ourselves and this world God will leave us to rely on our selves. Are we turning to our Lord or are we turning to our own weak selves? As the Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and grant him peace, is narrated to have said, those who are in the aid of others God will be in their aid and those who rely on Him, He will be their reliance and Victor.

Finally we are a community that should support and encourage diversity. Not everyone will be working on the same project. We aren’t seeking uniformity. We are however seeking the spiritual and emotional support of the group for one another. While some will be working hard in this field and that and others struggling for this cause and that we should all maintain that we see each other’s work as priceless and remain always supportive. Similarly we should be constantly gathering together in prayer for Divine acceptance of the little that we do and for those in need here and abroad. Nothing reminds us of our Creator like prayer since it is an ultimate form of the expression of poverty and weakness before The Powerful, The Merciful, The Generous.  I seek your forgiveness and remind you and myself to recommit to our Covenant with God.

I leave you in God’s care,

Mohammed Tayssir

Mr. Carnegie, meet the Prophet.

You’d be hard pressed to find a book with a more shallow title than Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ It sounds like a great way to boost your self-esteem and learn some manipulative business tricks that Carnegie himself used to get rich. It’s an interesting book written by a prolific personal development author and it’s especially interesting to read its concrete pointers through a ‘Muhammedan’ lens. A book about desirable personal traits is unnecessary to validate what the Prophet taught in terms of perfecting human conduct. It is, instead, fascinating to reflect on how eternal these noble qualities are – a book written in 1936 is the basis of corporate training programs to this day, and the seerah, of the Prophet, the best how-to-guide anyone could ask for, holds weight to this day, and will until the end of time.

Carnegie talks about things we can do to show we actually care about people. He describes our names as the sweetest sound to our ears. If you know people like hearing their names, isn’t it worth expending some effort to remember them of the people we meet? The Prophet’s love for people was so explicit that literally everyone thought they were closest to him. When Carnegie paints the picture of an ideal listener, I bet a Muslim’s first thought is the habit of the Prophet, who would turn his entire body towards those he was listening to. It’s a difficult practice given the amount of distractions we have, but it would be near impossible for the person who is talking to feel like they’re not being heard. Carnegie retold an incident in which he was sure a friend had mistaken a Shakespeare quote for a Bible passage, and was sure of this error, but was advised to not correct his friend in public. The Prophet explicitly described the value of relationships between people, advising against oppressing, humiliating, or looking down upon anyone.

It’s hard to swallow when others dismiss Islam as an archaic (read: ‘non-Western’) way of life. Islam is moral uprightness and impeccable character that was personified by the Prophet, whose example is timeless. It is what could unite endlessly feuding tribes in 7th century Arabia, and is also what can make anyone the coolest kid in school. Not the jerks that stuff kids into lockers (does that actually happen outside of 90’s teen sitcoms?), but the ones who are thoughtful enough to sit with the new kid at lunch. We have only the time of our short lives to treat people well, and to wait for the day to drink from the Prophet’s hands, inshAllah. But rest assured, his legacy lives on in all of the positive attributes we see in people. What mattered most to him still holds all the meaning in the world today, and that’s a connection we can forge with God through him until the day we die.

-Written by Barq (برق), Arabic for ‘lightning.’ This pen name is being adopted by the author to honor the legacy of graduated MSA author Raad (رعد), Arabic for ‘thunder.’  You can view an example of Raad’s past work here.

“With-ness” – Chaplain Tayssir reflects on ASB

In the Name of the Creator of all things, the First, the Last, the
Merciful, the Compassionate, we begin in the Name of the One whose name out
shadows and envelops all names… The Lord of the Worlds.

We ask that He send peace and blessings on His beloved Prophet Muhammad a
peace and blessings that cure us all of our ills inwardly and outwardly.
May these peace and blessings purify our hearts, redirect them to their
Creator, and unite them forever with their Prophet with Gentleness and
ease. May God’s peace and blessings be sent upon our Prophet Muhammad,
the gate of God’s mercy, according to the knowledge of God, a peace and
blessings that are never ending through the never ending domain of God, and
upon the Prophet’s pure family, companions in their entirety, and those
who tread on their path. And upon you and I with them for all of eternity.
Amen.

Knowledge of God. That’s the answer to the often asked question, “Why
were we created?” The Qur’an refers to it as worship and our
tradition’s exegetes, Qur’anic commentators, explain that worship as
knowledge of the Divine. Interestingly enough our faith’s sages explained
that all aspects of the human experience are called to come to know God.
Our limbs in their outward worship, our intellect in its reflection and
logical outward knowledge, and our hearts in their spiritual journey. Like
the sages of old Muslims understood the most noble knowledge, the knowledge
of God, to be achievable through what is traditionally called knowledge
AND action. Simple scholastic endeavors cannot help the wayfarer travel the
distance to knock at the gates of the Divine. While our spiritual ancestors
were committed to the idea that only the Divine could truly have you come
to know Him, they still espoused that the proper way for a servant to ask
for that knowledge was to learn and to act accordingly. Character is born
of knowledge and character is the tangible result of wayfaring.

This past weekend the Muslim Student Association at the University of
Michigan embarked on its first Alternative Spring Break. As a young man
growing up in the 90’s I remember quite vividly the growing culture of
the MTV Spring Break phenomenon. An unfortunate turn in our community’s
development it seemed the glorification of money being wasted, of the
excessive use of alcohol and drugs, as well as the horrid popularization of
all things promiscuous enveloped the college experience. Yet while this
characterized a segment of the community many young people before, during,
and after refused to succumb to the material, to the consumerist model of
life, to the carnal desires that seemed to never be quenched and to never
address our spiritual thirsts. While the 90’s popularized some of the
worst of what spring break had to offer, as early as the 1980’s
organizations across college campuses began initiatives to use their
college spring break to give back to the community. One expression of
spring break involved the very epitome of heedlessness and the other
attempted to flip that notion on its head and to be conscious, cognizant,
aware, mindful, and in service of others. This is the tradition that the
MSA at U of M was attempting to take part in.

Our sages and scholars remind us that prayer and the remembrance of God are
blessings in and of themselves. One of the blessings associated with prayer
and remembrance is that God Willed the worshiper to be in His presence and
to speak to Him; and so He Willed his prayer into existence. Worship is a
sign of Divine blessing to the worshipper and something that the Divine
should be thanked for. This is so central to our faith that we are told to
thank God for our very ability to thank Him. My spiritual teachers would
call out to the congregation to remember the blessing of calling out to
God, “Ya Allah,” (O’ God!) when so many others were busy calling out
to God’s creation instead. Our trip to Chicago, to be in service of the
elderly community, particularly those who are of lesser means, should be
thought of as a blessing for us. We did not help those beautiful people but
they helped us. By coming to know a bit about them and by our being blessed
with the chance to serve them our Creator allowed us to come to know Him a
bit more we hope and pray. The famous sage Ibn Ata’ Allah explained in
his pearls of wisdom that God varied the means of worship in His Knowledge
of the changing states of His servants. Community service, travel, bonding,
are all means of worship that are not taken advantage of on a day to day
basis. This trip allowed us to drink from a spiritual river that many of us
barely visit.

I cannot adequately express to you all how much I benefited from the young
men and women who went with us on our trip. Their beauty, dedication,
sincerity, intelligence, and support are unfathomable. I feel blessed and
ennobled at just knowing them. The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and
grant him peace) is narrated to have said that all of God’s creation are
His dependents and that the best of God’s servants are those who are most
beneficial to His dependents. I testify to the beauty of those souls who
took part and I pray I can one day be more like them.

One of the grand spiritual masters of our time when asked what the end of
this path looked like, he answered, “With-ness.” May God grant you and
I a with-ness with God that is unbreakable. May all those who read this
message be forgiven of their sins large and small. May we all be included
in the circle of God’s mercy and love. May we become Muhammadan in our
service and character. May we be people of true values and have hearts that
are connected to our Lord; full of light, love, mercy, and knowledge. We
ask God of what He asked of us and we seek His protection from the evils of
this world and our own selves. We ask God sincerity in worship and to be
able to give what’s due unto Him.

I leave you in God’s care,
Mohammed Tayssir Safi

ASB Reflections: A New Meaning

Bismillah El-Rahman El-Rahim,

We begin in the Name of God, The Most Compassionate, The Most Merciful:

The 2012 MSA ASB trip has offered a lot of new perspective for all the organizers and participants, and I can speak to this personally. A few weeks back, I gave a short Khatira (religious talk) after a Mini-Quiyam to the Brothers and Sisters that were present. My talk highlighted two Hadiths from the Most Beloved (PBUH) that say:

“Allah fi ‘own el ‘abd, ma daam el ‘abd fi ‘owne akheeh”

Roughly translated to:“Allah will be there to help his servant, as long as his servant is there for his brother”

“Man kaana fi hajati akheehe, kaana Allah fi hajatihi youm el qiyama”

Roughly translated to: “Who so ever is there to help with the need of his brother, Allah will be there to help with his need on the day of judgement”’

Reflecting on these Hadiths now, we can see that serving humanity can directly bring us closer to The Divine (SWT). In both Hadiths we can see how helping one another can translate into self-betterment and benefit. The first Hadith teaches us whether it is becoming a better student, or your desire to be the very best like no one ever was, that helping one another translates directly into Allah helping us in every single journey that we embark on. The Second Hadith shows that fulfilling the needs of one another, whether your Brother or Sister needs a ride across town or something as simple as a hug, if we are able to be there for one another, Allah will be there to help us in our most needed time (The Day of Judgment)

So let us ask The Most Generous to make us from those that will be there for their Brothers and Sisters in humanity, as well as those who always try to be there for their Brothers and Sisters’ needs so that we may attain His Love and Approval such that we can enter His Jannah without judgment.

Ameen thumma Ameen, Walhamdulillahi Rab El-‘Alameen

-Humam Malas

The whole group with Natalie from the Blackhawk Manor (HOME location). ASB Day 3

ASB Service Reflection: Y’all Are Great!

“Y’all are great!” she said as we posed to take a picture with her broad, authentic smile. We crouched and posed around her wheel-chair stricken figure. Exiting from her humble, warm home, we were greeted by a feeling of wellness. Happiness for her: happiness in the fact that we left her in a better state than we found her. We felt a deeper connection with our innate human emotions. Of empathy and compassion.

Mrs. Daisy (yes, this is her name) is an elderly African-American woman, a double-leg amputee and a cheerful mother of five. We were invited into her home through our partnering ASB organization, Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly (HOME). Our task was a simple one: weatherize her home by putting plastic insulation on her windows. We completed our task together quickly. However, beyond weatherizing the windows in her home, we got to know Mrs. Daisy and her family on a more personal level. Her family appreciated the work we did inside her home and we appreciated their opening up their home to us.

Beyond that, we gained an invaluable experience. None of us had weatherized windows before; a few of us (including me) even learned how to properly position our hands to use a broom; and we learned how to interact with a homeowner when volunteering within their home. My high school counselor used to echo a single phrase: “What are we more than aggregations of our life experiences?”

Our lives are made up of our experiences; things we’ve seen, felt, and done. I am proud to have MSA-ASB 2012 as one of those invaluable and unique life experiences.

-Hussein Sheikh-Aden

Monday Night Reflection: Re-enacting our responsibilities at home

We concluded our last night in Chicago together by reflecting upon the entirety of our trip. In order to prolong the great experiences and emotions tied to helping others we discussed the importance of devoting a small amount of time to others and doing so consistently. Enlightened by Mufti Kamani who emphasized the value of serving others, and how that service positive impacts ourselves, he explained that essentially it results in them serving you by keeping you in good memory and duaa. This ASB trip has enabled us to serve others, ourselves and present Islam in a positive light; inshAllah we are provided with the will, time, and heath to continue to do so.

Our discussion on the final night happened in a Baskin-Robbins, where we inhaled  and consumed sweetness, literally and figuratively. It consisted of inspiring ideas to keep us consistently involved in our efforts to humble ourselves by being thankful for what we have. “Those who aren’t thankful to people are not thankful to Allah SWT,” thus, constantly surrounding ourselves with those who are less fortunate reminds us of how much we take for granted and our duties towards others. Simple things like caring for your neighbors via considerate messages or treats to take to their door present an easy way for us to pave our path to paradise. Carving out time to help those within our academic community by structuring a tutoring system in which those who have already taken a course can provide assistance for an allotted amount of time to those struggling in that course–once again preventing us from taking our own knowledge for granted and instead educating others with what we have been blessed with. Another idea that can inspire acts of service towards others could be to involve each MSA member by making them responsible for completing a minimum set number of hours of volunteering. Doing so provides an opportunity to easily help a great number of people, a means of da’wa, and also keep members not only engaged with MSA, but also the responsibility that our deen places upon us to care for the people and world around us.

May Allah (swt) purify our intentions and provide us with the ease to implement our ideas consistently–for actions speak louder than words and good, consistent acts are valued more than inconsistent great ones. Ameen.

-Sahar Aggour & Afrah Aslam