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Saturday, March 14, 2009

It's About Time

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Shall we allow ourselves to pause a second (for what that very second is worth) and ponder our witnessing of the astonishing yet worrisome rate at which time elapses these days?

As the axiom goes, time flies when you're having fun and especially establishes lift off and soars when you're busy. As a recovering procastinator, what's become of vital importance in my life are prioritization and sacrafice. Marshalling priorities and putting off activities (or desires), even the useful and benefitting ones, to either tend or manage something of greater importance (the tafsir on Surah at-Takathur comes to mind) is for me much simpler stated than executed. I'm working on it whilst beseeching the guidance of Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala. It's a principle that sort of ties admist Balance and Control somewhere.

Still, what absolutely stupifies me is how in this technological age of literal overnight conventional inventions and developments designed to assist or perform tasks in less time; our computers, microwave ovens, printers, automated factories and cellular phones complete with calenders, organizers, calculators, instant text messaging, Web-access, etc., we lack the time to accomplish even a tenth of what we should or atleast aspire to have done before the day dissovles.

Centuries before any of these nifty tools, vehicles and automated assistants were at the disposal of man, they traveled far and wide and managed to get more done in the same 24-hour frame we've available today. And because the means at which to accomplish tasks- building homes, travel, hunting, commerce, etc. were so manual and raw, there was no need for gyms, aerobics, jogging in the mornings, tredmills, etc. Such a concept would be laughable in those times. And though they had fuller plates, much more irons in the fire and a whole lot more fish to fry compared to today, they got it done. So what is it about us and our era that we feel like there isn't enough time?

It reminded me of one of the sign relayed to us by our Prophet Muhammad salallahu alayhi wa salaam, as reported by Anas radiallahu anhu:

"The Day of Judgement will not come until time shrinks; the year will be like a month, the month like a week, a week like a day and day will be like burning a leaf." (Tirmidhi)

One of the most fantastic explanations of this hadith I heard was from Imam Anwar al-Awlaki from his "The Hereafter" series wherein he gave the example of Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimallah) who authored an entire book of Aqeedah (over 200 pages) between Dhuhr time and just before the start of 'Asr (anywhere from 3 up to 3 1/2 hours) and this very book is now taught over a full semester at the Univesity of Medina where students complain that it just isn't enough time to cover this text. Subhan'Allah!

As time hastens, may our blessed Ummah, the Ummah of Muhammad salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam, be more productive in gaining the good in this dunya as well as the Akhirah. May our Rabb, Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala be our destination and the Sunnah of our Rasul, Muhammad salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam, be our roadmap. Ameen thumma ameen! We should acknowledge that there isn't nor has there ever been a single nation or individual except that it will, on different levels, experience the delight of success as well as suffer the shame of decline (Allah ta'ala promises this). May we be patient and obedient in both trials. Ameen.

"(I Swear) By Time,
Indeed, man is in loss,
Except those who believe and do righteous deeds
and advise each other to Truth
and advise each other in patience."
-Surah al-'Asr

Shari'ah: Panacea or Barbarism?

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

A factor that needs to be noted in all such issues, including questions about the prescribed punishments under Islamic law is that there are very few matters (if any) in our lives that are entirely beneficial and without some harm, or that have complete harm without some benefit.

Everything contains harms and benefits to a greater or lesser degree. Take khamr, or intoxicating substances for example. Even though the Prophet (saws) referred to it as the mother of evils, the Qur’an still recognises that it contains some benefit, but the harm is much greater than the benefit and this is sufficient cause for us to have to leave it completely alone. The fact that something has a small benefit does not justify it, because the harm that results is greater. Similarly something may have some harm, but the benefit is much greater, it cannot be prohibited because of that small degree of harm. If we always followed the rule avoiding that which has greater harm and procuring that which has more benefit, human life and societies would gravitate towards goodness. If we ignore this principle then harm will inevitably dominate our condition and destroy our societies.

It is the goal of the Islamic law (Sharia) that benefit dominates over harm. Of course there is always a possibility of dispute over what actually constitutes harm and benefit. Is it purely material, or does it include psychological and spiritual matters also. In fact we need to take all this into account.

This inevitably brings us back to an essential matter. Who and what determines that which actually constitutes harm and benefit? Human nature is so complex and the interaction and interplay of factors so vast that it is often beyond the capabilities of the limited human mind to factor all this in. This is why we believe we need Allah’s guidance from His perfect and complete knowledge. It is only Allah that has the knowledge and vision to comprehend the complexities of our individual and collective lives and thus to provide us with answers and instruction in how to best order it.

We only need to look at Western society to see examples of how miserably humans have failed to find answers to even relatively simple and essential matters, and how it has so completely left the mark!

One example that comes to mind is the daily function of how one goes about going to the toilet. Muslims are well aware that our religion instructed us 1400 years ago about how to clean ourselves with water after answering the call of nature; the ritual ablutions before the five daily prayers, and that cleanliness is half of faith. This was long before science had discovered about germs. This is why Muslim societies in the middle ages did not suffer from many of the diseases and plagues that decimated the West. In fact despite the understanding that modern science has brought, people in the West have failed by and large to translate this knowledge into daily manners and habits! There is still not water to wash ones privates in public lavatories (although some private houses have bidets). As for the men’s urinal where ones is supposed to urinate against a wall, causing urine to splash back over ones clothes and body, enough said about taking a shower in our own urine! Many people still do not wash their hands afterwards!

If the secular societies have failed to get such simple matters right, can it be expected that they will succeed in the matter of more complex ones that govern society?

We often hear complaints about the brutal punishments in Islam, like the removing of the hand for the thief. No doubt, to those of us living in the west such a punishment does seem harsh, but what is the alternative that so called “humane” and secular societies offer?

A man is caught stealing and is sent to prison. Let’s leave aside exactly how horrific prison itself is, and much it costs the hard working, honest citizen to pay for these prisons that do what exactly? There the thief meets other thieves, also kidnappers, murders, rapists…and they meet and talk about what? I’ve been so bad and won’t do it again? No, they share information. They teach each other how to be better thieves, murders, rapists and paedophiles and when the time comes for their release they are now equipped with knowledge they never had before. They are thinking that they will steal again, do it better next time and not get caught.

Is the criminal prevented from committing more crime? It seems not. 80% re-offend.

Is society protected from these criminals? It seems not. Crime increases.

One may criticize Islam, but what does the alternative offer?

Allah has laid out for us a society the very paradigms of which are radically different to those of the secular “consumer” societies. Whilst these advocate and propagate through constant advertisement that success and happiness is through procuring worldly goods Islam guides us to the path of spiritual happiness and contentment. Of course, it is not that Western society is blind to the need for morals and ethics, nor is an Islamic society blind to the need for material well being and prosperity, but where is the emphasis and what is the goal? Does it make a difference? Of course, it makes a vast difference. In societies where material possessions are seen as the means to happiness people will do what ever they can to acquire those material possessions, even if it requires stealing or killing. Perhaps that is why we feel so uncomfortable with harsh punishments because most of us ourselves in such societies empathise with this “need to acquire”. An Islamic society does not in general empathise with the thief at all. Excellence is in leading a simple life of contentment and obedience to God, so that in this context the crime is almost inexcusable, unless driven by starvation or some desperate need, which in any case can be reasons for the crime to be excuse and the punishment lifted.

These combined are perhaps the reasons why societies that follow the Islamic ethic and implement the Islamic law tend to be largely free and safe from such crimes. There are numerous witnesses, for example, of jewellery shops in Muslim countries being left open and unattended whilst the shop keepers go for prayers and come back to find all still in place.

Islamic law prevents the thief from stealing and protects society from the thief.

All of this, it must be noted, is in the context of the ethic under which the whole society operates and law is just, fair and effective.

The case of adultery.

All this applies also to the matter of stoning the adulterer and adulteress to death.

Islam has placed great emphasis on protecting and safeguarding the family. It is in fact the structure on which the well being of society rests.

There is also great emphasis laid on a public display of morality. It is a normal tendency in human societies to justify our actions in the context of how others behave and consider those actions. Islam goes some way to remove this tendency by insisting that deeds should be done to please God, not others. Still, when evil and sins begin to be practiced openly then people imagine that this act is not really that bad and detrimental, because after all, others are doing it. As a result the crime becomes more widespread and a vicious and rapid vortex of moral decline occurs with the ultimate disintegration of society. Islam forbids spying and seeking out of faults, but when sins are committed openly it contains three wrongs: a crime against the self (for that is what sins are, matters that harm the person who commits them) and affront to the law and thus the Law-Maker, and an affront to the good ordering of society. Such crimes thus need suitable and effective punishments that act as a sever warning to others. A public crime deserves a public punishment.

Adultery is punishable by death, and a slow and painful death by stoning. It is indicative of just how harmful this crime is to society. This is more so because in order for the crime to be proven the adulterers need seen performing the act by four reliable witnesses!

Let us also bear in mind that Muslims societies take every precaution to avoid the means that can lead to adultery. Public nudity is forbidden. In fact a strict dress code is observed. This is part of the wisdom behind the hijab. It is an act of social responsibility that helps towards a harmonious society. Also free mixing between sexes is avoided, men and women should not have physical contact and men and women should not even be alone together (unless they are husband and wife, or from close relatives who are permanently forbidden in marriage). Again in this context adultery is inexcusable, and justly punished with severity.

There is another direction from which the wisdom of such a punishment can be understood, and that is the death of two criminals can prevent the death and agony of many innocents. There is no doubt that adultery has caused many a jilted partner to kill not only the partner but in some instances the children as well. This is the harm that we can measure and see. It is more than likely that the psychological effects on the jilted partner, the children and their families is extensive, and can lead to behavioural problems that ultimately effect the well being of the whole society! The “harm” of the punishment for adultery is offset by the need of the “benefit” and protects the wider society. All of this also goes some way to help understand way acts of homosexuality are simlarily treated so harshly.

Ultimately one should not accept or reject Islam in general or in fact any specific part of it because it happens to agree or disagree with the norms of ones cultural heritage. Ethics and law and punishments are ultimately not things that we can easily take objective measurements of. A punishment that may seem overly harsh in one culture will look unnecessarily tame in another. It makes no sense therefore to make this the criterion for critique. Perhaps the closest we can come in this regard is to see: "Does it work or not?" Islam as a system of governance has an excellent track record in that regard. Not only has it a 1400 years track record, but it has and still is being successfully used by a multitude of peoples and cultures across the globe. Something I think few systems of governance can come close to matching.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Imam Siraj Wahhaj Diagnosed...

Bismillah, walhamdulillah wa-Salaatu wa-Salaam 'ala Rasulillah

As-salaamu 'alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu,

It disheartens me in coming to know as well as to inform those among us unaware that our respected brother, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, has been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un.

Siraj Wahhaj was a former NOI (Nation Of "Islam") minister, soon left upon discovering the reality of pure Islam as ordained by Allah and His final messenger to the world, Muhammad salallahu 'alayhi wa salaam. Alhamdulillah! In 1991 he became the first Muslim to offer an invocation or opening prayer for the United States House of Represenatives and is the founder and Imam of Masjid at-Taqwa in Brooklyn, New York. Just some notable points in the life of this wonderful man. May Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala reward him immensely for his efforts and works in advancing His Cause. Ameen.

Brothers and sisters, let us have our respected brother in our duas, bi'idnillah, asking Allah by all His beautiful Names that Imam Siraj be granted a speedy recovery and ease be given to his dear relatives and those nearest to him. Posted beneath is a letter from Brother Wahhaj himself and a link for donations.

(from Siraj Wahhaj):
As Salamu Alaikum, Dear Brothers and Sisters!

It is well known now that I have been suffering from hypertension. Al Hamdulillah, I have been working with it for a while now, and insha’Allah it’s pretty much under control. As a result of being thoroughly checked by the competent doctors in Atlanta , I have been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. Al Hamdulillah, inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajiun. (All Praise is for Allah. Truly, to Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return.)

My diagnosis is not as bad as it sounds on the surface. Many men have been cured from prostate cancer. My doctors are very optimistic about my cure, and so am I. Insha’Allah the treatment should last about two months. But you and I know that the cure is in the Hands of Allah. If Allah heals me, I will be very grateful. If Allah doesn’t heal me, then I will be patient and happily accept my fate. This is the way of the Believers. I am looking forward to full recovery and getting back to work in the not-too-distant future, insha’Allah.

Many people will ask the question, what can we do? Don’t waste your time feeling sorry for me. Make du’a. But don’t just make du’a for me. There are a lot of Muslims, men and women, with cancer (and other diseases). Make du’a for them also. There are so many among the elderly, who need our help, make du’a for them. There are so many Muslims who have lost their jobs, lost their homes, make du’a for them! Beyond the prayers, go visit the sick, those in prison, and others in need.

Get involved more with Islamic work. Support organizations like MANA, ISNA, ICNA, MAS, CAIR, SIFCA, the community in association with Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, the community of Imam Jamil Al Amin, etc. Support good brothers and sisters, like Mauri’ Saalakhan of the Peace and Justice Foundation. Support Islamic education and schools. If you want to help Imam Siraj, then help support his Masjid, Masjid At-Taqwa, in Brooklyn, New York and all the other struggling Masjids throughout America.

Every challenge we face in life presents us with many opportunities for growth. With a heightened awareness and sensitivity about health-related issues, I will feel better when we, as an ummah, learn more about our health. We have to be very careful about the foods we consume! I urge all of us to cultivate healthy appetites such that we begin to love and crave foods that are good FOR us and eliminate foods that are not. I intend with Allah’s help to share information with you in the coming weeks about our health.

On behalf of MANA, I encourage you to lend your support to our growing Organization. Every MANA project is structured to strengthen American Muslim communities. The SHARE Centers, Healthy Marriage Initiative, Community Reentry Program, and Healing and Reconciliation Project all need input and active service urgently. Please contact the MANA office to find out more and look for regular updates in our newsletters, insha’Allah.

In closing, I am humbled and very thankful for all the prayers, and well wishes of the Muslims, and am very appreciative for all the help extended to me and my family in the past. Alhamdulillah! I am also overwhelmed with gratitude that a number of you want to lend financial support, and have asked how you can do that. Online donations can be made here, or feel free to correspond with me directly at Siraj Wahhaj, P.O. Box 312264, Atlanta, GA 31131.

Thank you kindly. May Allah guide and protect us all.

Your brother in faith,
Imam Siraj Wahhaj

Special Donation For IMAM SIRAJ WAHHAJ

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Theological Tangent

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

All praise naturally and rigthfully belongs to the One who Created, whose most beautiful name is Allah. The Lord, Cherisher, Sustainer and Evolver of all worlds and existing things. As such we praise Him and attribute every occurrence and condition as coming from Him or allowed by His leave. May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon Muhammad, Jesus Christ the son of Mary, Moses, Abraham and all the prophets and messengers and the followers of what was revealed to them until the Last Day.

If you'd care to pardon me while I shoot off on a little tangent, there is a particular argument from believers in God that irks nearly as much as it baffles me. Sure there's an ever-accumulating plethora of arguments I resent, but this one I hear so often makes no sense no matter how much I alter and adjust my perspective to suit the lens of the opposing side.

It's the argument of needlessness of organized religion. Again, not from atheist or agnostics, but those who attest to God's existence, yet see no point in following a system to cultivate, express and establish this belief. It would seem to me, that if one believes in God, Lord and Creator, that there would be responsibilities necessitated by this acceptance. Lest we accuse a foolish or pointless act to an All Knowing and All Wise being. Something we'd never attribute to even our imperfect selves. Allah, Most High, says what means:

"Not for any idle purpose (sport) did We create the heavens and the earth and all that is in-between." -Surah al-Anbiya ayah 16

If we accept then the truth that we, as everything else, has its origin with this Creator and Lord, then how does one get around realizing there must be consequences to accepting this truth? Ironically enough, they acknowledge the need for organization in every other aspect in life, big and small, with the exception of spiritual matters. There is no hesitation from a single sane mind that organization and system-enforcement is the best means through which to achieve anything. How then is an organized system denied when it comes to the spiritual aspect of our lives? We have to arrive, take a break and leave from work at specific times. Duties in the workplace and any collective project are designated to specific persons. To open doors we have to insert a key, turn the knob and either push or pull. There isn't any objective achieved by simply wanting it to be achieved. Something must be done and whoever doesn't follow an organized system to get it done always fails. Funny such an elementary rule applies in every other area in one's life except faith and spirituality when it concerns the ascribers of such thinking.

That is all. I just had to get that off. Thanks for baring with me. I suppose it would only be right to follow up with a certain procedure of elimination to determine which way is the true and right way we should adhere to gain the most out of everything in life. Consequently, I'll attach a link to an article from Dr. Bilal Philips that does precisely that. It's definitely worth the trouble of reading and consideration. May Allah guide us all to the truth and keep us firm and steadfast upon it that we might be truly successful in this life and the Hereafter. Ameen.

The True Religion