Tag Archives: islam

The inconvenient truth

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I seek refuge in Allah from satan the accursed.
In the name of Allah Most Compassionate Most Merciful

“Say: Verily, my Salât (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allâh, the Lord of the ‘Alamîn” (6:162)

 
When I was a sophomore in high school, all I wanted was to work at a part-time job.  I envied my classmates who worked part-time jobs, and were able to use that money to live the kind of life they wanted, spending when and how they felt fit.  At that time I relied on my parents’ money to purchase items of necessity or was forced to beg them for a desired purchase.  But what baffled me was how most of those working classmates complained to each other of having to go to work later in the evening, and showed annoyance at their jobs when they were invited to parties and they wouldn’t be able to make it because of their shift timings.  I kept thinking, “But, at least you have a job!  You get to make money and buy what ever you want whenever you want.”  I thought that those classmates were crazy for ever complaining about working, because in my eyes, it was as if they were complaining about money flowing into their lives.  I mean, who wouldn’t want money flowing into their lives?

Then I got my own experiences to enjoy and learn from.  A couple of months after consistently applying for jobs and getting no calls or rejected at interviews, I finally landed my first job at a Baskin Robbins ice cream store.  I was thrilled.  It was only a three-minute walk from my house, the hours were flexible, the pay would steadily go up with my performance, I got a free scoop of any flavour of ice cream at the end of each shift, and best of all, I got paid!  I was set.  I would be forever happy right?  Wrong!  Now it’s not that I wasn’t happy, but as time went on, I started to find faults with my job.  I got annoyed when my manager told me to wipe counters and wash utensils when I wasn’t serving customers.  I got irritated when my manager called my home when I wasn’t scheduled to work to ask if I could fill in for someone or work because there were more customers than expected.  I felt frustrated with the half hour break I got in between my longer shifts and felt like it was inhumane to not have a break during my short shifts.  And of course, I got really angry when I couldn’t accept a friend’s invitation for a weekend outing or a dinner event that fell on the same date and time as my shift at the store.  Often I would get home with aching feet, having stood up for so many hours, and I had days or nights when I felt exhausted.

I found escape through a summer job opportunity at a pharmaceutical corporation with more than double the Baskin Robbins pay.  This time I worked 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. But of course I found several flaws with this job as well.  They included the following: the work is mind numbing as I stand all day packaging medications with invoices, there is nobody to be friends with, I feel too tired when I get home, and I feel like my work has taken over my life.

When I started school again, my summer contract ended but I was happy for about three months to live off what I had made during the summer.  When those funds dried up, I couldn’t imagine living without my own income, so I went back to Baskin Robbins, hoping my manager would re-hire me.  My manager hired me back graciously, but of course soon after settling into my job I was back to complaining about one thing or another, despite the fact that this time, I often got scheduled with good friends of mine.  The money was never enough, and I was happy to leave the job a little bit before my wedding.  I breathed a sigh of relief, happy to not have to go work, but soon after married life became like a regular existence, I missed working, even though I was continuing my studies.

I missed work life, and so began applying at retail and grocery stores around my house.  But for two whole years, I couldn’t manage to get anything.  Then finally, I got accepted at a grocery store as a cashier.   I was grateful for finally getting something.  What made this job more exciting was that I had always wanted to experience scanning grocery items at a grocery store.  But of course, eventually I despised this job as well.  Although most customers were either kind or indifferent, I began dreading my shifts due to my fear of dealing with the difficult and impatient customers.  I was thrilled when I got accepted as a preschool teacher at the municipal recreation centres, as it was partially to prepare my resume for teacher’s college applications coming up.  But of course this time I got overly stressed because of dealing with small children by myself.  I prayed before each class for all the kids to be good and that nobody needed a bathroom break in the hour and half I spent with them.  Since it was a summer opportunity, I was grateful to end it by September, which was when I returned to my undergrad studies.  This cycle continued for another year or so with different jobs at different times.

Why am I sharing this, you ask?  I realized after so many jobs and several years, the inconvenient and painful truth about life: whether it’s our jobs, careers, relationships, or any other venture, in order to achieve the level of happiness we desire, we must remember that everything requires SACRIFICE.  It took me so many years, and so many life experiences to finally understand and accept that the foundation of all happiness and stability in life is directly proportional to how willing I am to sacrifice certain aspects of my life in order to successfully fulfill and retain bigger goals in life.  It took me so much unnecessary stress, annoyance, anger, and restlessness to finally realize that nothing is for free.  We must be willing to pay the price for all the good things we desire in life.  And when I refused to pay the price for all the things I wanted in life, I faced not just unhappiness and immense stress, but also instability and lack of focus.  I kept searching for that one time in life when I would be in perfect harmony, but I was deluded because I didn’t understand that life is constantly changing, and we are not meant to sit and enjoy things for too long.

God designed this existence so that we are constantly facing new challenges in order to help us grow in wisdom and humility.  True happiness is definitely achievable if we shift our definition of true happiness from: when everything and everyone is in harmony with my wishes and goals, to when: I know and accept that I will have to give up some very important desires of mine in order to achieve my biggest life goals, all while respecting the rights of others.  The trick is to understand that EVERYONE has to sacrifice some of their wishes for others, and that means that I am not alone when it comes to making sacrifices.  There are others who made and continue to make sacrifices in order to keep me happy and satisfied.  This relates to all realms of life: relationships, careers, jobs, finances, health, family, children.  One must be careful not to overlook the sacrifices others make for us.

Let’s remember the Pact of Hudaybia, when the Prophet pbuh agreed to give up many of his desires for the ummah in order to secure some peace and stability for the struggling community.  There were many humiliating clauses in the pact, and yet he willingly signed it because he gained something much more profound: peace and stability for everyone around him.  The Prophet pbuh understood that he would need to give up some things to get some things, and history shows that his decision to embrace this fact of life paid off in the short and long run.

I end this post with a fitting song excerpt:

We want it all, with no sacrifice
And now we’re all to blame
We’ve gone too far
From pride to shame
We’re hopelessly blissful and blind
When all we need
Is something true
To believe
Don’t we all?
Everyone, everyone
We will fall

(song: we’re all to blame)
(band: Sum41)

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The MYTH

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I seek refuge in God from satan the accursed.

In the name of God Most Compassionate Most Merciful.

A couple of years ago, a group of Canadian Muslims in the Toronto area got together and decided to hold a talent show and contest.  Their mission was to bring out Muslim youth and showcase their talent, build their confidence, and boost community involvement.  Excited about this new Muslim initiative, I opened The Toronto Star to read more about this upcoming event.  But as I read the article, I became increasingly uneasy, and by the end of it, I felt miserable and sick.

The article explained how the talent show was soon holding auditions in different artistic categories, including singing.  But what got me upset was the fact that the organizers were only allowing singing to be done by male competitors.  This was obviously due to the widely circulated and accepted myth that women’s voices can somehow sexually arouse men and cause mass chaos and the eventual breakdown of society as we know it.

This attitude of women being temptresses by nature and the intense need to control their lives has somehow taken over our community.  I don’t know how excatly it came about, but it seems to be gaining momentum under the guise of “Islamic morality.”  It is time to expose this myth for what it really is: a means of controlling women and keeping the public domain in the hands of men.

In case you think my judgement on this topic is heretical or far fetched, allow me to elaborate on this topic.  It is time we all wake up and realize the truth staring us in the face: it’ not just men who are attracted to women, but in fact, women are also attracted to men!  So, if men can be aroused by women’s melodious voices during a singing contest, women can also be aroused by men’s voices.  The fact that “opposites attract” is just a basic fact of nature.  So why is it that we as women are labelled a detriment to men’s spirituality whereas men are free to express their creativity in front of us as though we are some sort of asexual beings?

Let’s turn our attention now to the Quran and see if the Book of Light can help us solve this issue once and for all.  It is clear that God Almighty tells both men and women to lower their gazes and guard their modesty when in the public realm or around people who are not blood relatives.  So we know right away that our Merciful Creator has created both men and women with the desire for one another, and therefore, in order to purify our lives, He advises us all to watch how we dress and conducts ourselves, regardless of gender.  But in practice, our community is extremely lopsided and full of hypocrisy and double standards.

The other thing to keep in mind is that no matter how much we try, people will feel attracted to one another, even if everyone is dressed and acting in a modest way.  That is because it is the only way people can actually get and stay married.  There is no magical “love button” that switches on during the day of the nikkah.  Therefore, what the Quran sets for us are boundaries for our behaviour that we ourselves must monitor.

Part of this myth that only men have desire for women, is that women must try their best to stay confined to their homes or female dominated professions because men are animalistic in their pursuit for sexual pleasure through women, and that if women choose to show themselves, then men are “by nature” going to aggressively go after them.  This idea is not only demeaning to women, but also to men.  But before you try and justify this idea, let’s examine the story of Prophet Joseph pbuh, which completely destroys this myth from its core.

So the Quran tells us that Prophet Joseph pbuh was blessed with not just the ability to interpret dreams, but also exceptional beauty.  He was thrown down a well by his jealous half brothers, rescued by a travelling caravan, and eventually sold to a wealthy Egyptian, where he grew up to mature as a very handsome man.

Remember the part where the lady of his house desired him?  Oh wait, I thought only men were mesmerized by women’s beauty.  Remember how even he desired her, and that she was the one who aggressively pursued him, and despite being attracted to her, he turned to God and was able to fight his temptation to commit any sexual acts with her?  Oh wait!  I thought that men couldn’t control their desires and that women were to blame for the men who pursued them.  I know the skeptic in you in thinking, “But that was just one woman!” Remember how all the women at the banquet went crazy for him because he was so good looking?  Remember how the lady of the house threatened to get him imprisoned if he didn’t agree to commit sexual acts with her? Oh wait!  I thought that only men aggressively pursued women and that only men had sexual desires that need “instant quenching.”

Now I can hear the skeptic in you saying, “Okay fine! But Prophet Joseph was a prophet, so we can’t expect Muslim men to be so controlling like him.”  Oh really?  So do we all remember how many times Allah SWT has repeated in the Quran that prophets are just people like everyone else, and that they don’t have any special abilties?  If prophets were some sort of super humans, then why would Prophet Yusuf pbuh feel attracted to her in the first place?  Why would Prophet Jonah pbuh abandon his mission only to be swallowed by the whale until he begged for forgiveness, why would Mary pbuh wish for her own death while giving birth to a child in a society that would make a scandal out of her situation, and why would Prophet Jacob cry himself blind from losing his beloved Joseph?    Prophets were different from us only by the fact that they had an extra burden of constant missionary work.   Other than that, they needed to eat and drink like the rest of us, and they felt fear, sadness, happiness, hope, nervous, excited, and all the range of emotions found in regular human beings.

So, in conclusion, if Prophet Joseph being an exceptionally handsome man could turn away from women throwing themselves at him, then average Muslim men can also do the same.  Would you blame him for attracting all those women?  No!  He was never trying to tempt or cause “fitna” (this word seems to be our favourite).  Using the same principle, let’s not suffocate our women, making them feel guilty for simply being pretty or beautiful.  Yes, we should dress modestly, but let’s not divide society by gender so much.  Let us not forget that women are also attracted to men and the goal should be create a comfortable environment where everyone can live, work, contribute to humanity, and enjoy a respectable life.

Grateful for: Memory

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I seek refuge in Allah from satan the accursed.

In the name of Allah Most Compassionate Most Merciful.

 

Memory is one of the most precious blessings bestowed by our Maker.   It is truly responsible for our sense of self.

Memory is not just for remembering significant childhood events, milestones, or traumatic incidents.  It allows us to function, survive, thrive, and stay sane.   The unfortunate truth is that our species learns the important lessons about gratitude and our dependence on The Merciful mostly through losing one of our abilities or possessions.  Thus, examine any case of memory loss, and you will definitely be astonished at how deeply involved it is in the human experience.

Memory is what allows us to make meaning and sense of life.  It is involved in all the activities listed in my previous post about hand-eye coordination.  It is also responsible for recognition of familiar faces, which makes for stable family and work life.  It even allows us to experience movement, because we only truly experience one moment and the fact that an object or being is moving comes from having remembered its previous positions and piecing them together to interpret what we’re seeing as movement.  At all times, our sense organs receive a multitude of signals and input, that we in turn interpret and react to.  Whereas animals are mostly preoccupied with survival and their next meal, our extensive memory allows us to have a more unique and richer life experience.

I’ve read and watched stories of people who lost their short or long-term memories, and all I can say is that it is absolutely heartbreaking to see how dysfunctional the lives of these people became.  A man lost his memory tied to specific life events.  So when asked about how to change a tire, the man listed the precise, detailed steps of how to go about it, but when asked to share a time when he had to actually change a tire, he thought and thought, until he finally said that he had never actually changed a tire.  When asked that if he really hadn’t changed one himself, how he knew such details.  He replied that it was just one of those things that people knew how to do.  Another man lost his visual cortex memory, so he declared his parents imposters pretending to be his parents, but when they were not in his sight, and spoke to him on the phone, he accepted them as his parents.  Another subject lost part of his procedural memory, so when a family member asked him to switch off the room light, he just stood by the switch.  Frustrated, he expressed that he knew how to switch it off but he just couldn’t quite remember it.

But the strangest story I ever saw was of the man named Clive Wearing who had no short-term memory.  For over twenty years, the man lived with the worst case of amnesia.  His memory was only thirty seconds long at the most, and that meant sometimes he would forget the topic of his discussion while he was in the middle of a sentence.  He lived with his wife and although recognized her, became jittery with happiness every time he saw her, even if she returned to him after a minute of leaving, as he would completely lose the memory of her being with him before.  Strangely, he retained his ability to play the piano and his language, but expressed that he didn’t have any thoughts at all and that he had never seen another human being before.  This was his understanding because he did not have any short-term memory and therefore no chance of building up a bank of long-term memories.  He was confined to constantly living in the present.

His story shows how profound memory is to our development through life.  Imagine not being able to conjure memories of growing up, of fun times with family and friends.  Imagine not being able to learn from your past.  Imagine not being able to experience the joys of kinship and friendship simply because you cannot remember anything that you experienced more than thirty seconds ago.  No memory also means no aspirations or dreams for your life.  And perhaps worst of all, no memory means no direct connection to God; for how could you even begin to pray or commune with God if you would forget the sequence of your words after no more than thirty seconds?

It was through this man’s difficult existence that I realized that all of the meaning in our life comes from memory.  All the emotions we experience, from happiness to sadness and all the other ups and downs we go through, happen as a result of our memory.  It is what makes us human, because it allows us to learn, plan, and make choices in life.  So let’s raise our hands and bow down our heads and thank The Most Merciful for this beautiful gift that allows us to have a colorful and fulfilling life experience.

 

to beat or not to beat, that is the question

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Recently, a friend of mine posted a photo of the front page of the Toronto Sun on her Facebook page.  The entire front page was filled with big block letters stating, “How to Beat Your Wife.”  The article inside discussed an Islamic book sold in Toronto, in which the author justified use of force by a man to subdue his wife.  The story was obviously a part of the usual anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim fodder, because the book’s author had passed away in the 1940s, which means that it was written well before the civil rights and women’s liberation movements in the West.

However, this matter cannot be simple brushed away as irrelevant.  This is because there are many people in our community who are still very much accepting of such attitudes and beliefs.

I remember a couple of years ago, my dad told me how he had a Muslim client at his bank who expressed great distaste at living in Canada, and that he preferred to live in a “Muslim” country.  My dad wasn’t sure why he felt that way so probed further.  The client explained how he didn’t like the fact that nobody could beat their wife here, because according to him, it was his right as a Muslim to have the freedom to use physical force with her if he deemed necessary.  Frustrated, he related to my father how several of his Muslim friends were currently in jail because their wives had called the police on them for physical abuse.  Shocked, my dad listened on as the man told him how the majority of Muslim men in Canada’s jails were there on domestic abuse charges, and that he felt like it was totally absurd for a society to punish men for simply “excercising their right” to physically discipline their wives.

This issue of men being allowed to hit their wives keeps surfacing in our community, but unfortunately, it is not dealt with effectively.  The problem lies in the interpretation of the Quran, and further, when people confuse human interpretation with divine discourse. This is the current translation circulating online through the free Quran Explorer website for chapter 4, verse 34: …As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them.

I looked up the definition of the word “scourge” and the first one on google says the following: whip (someone) as a punishment.  The online Merriam Webster dictionary gives the following definitions for scourge (verb): flog, whip, to punish severely, afflict, to drive as if by blows of a whip, chastise.

All of these definitions give a pretty inhumane impression of God’s words.  The word being translated as “scourge” is the Arabic word “darraba”.  When such translations are freely circulated and elicit outrage from non-Muslims and sometimes even Muslims, many from our community come out and condemn violence against women, stating how the word darraba doesn’t at all imply to hurt, but to hit lightly, that it should not be on their face, and it should not leave marks, and some even go as far as saying that the hitting is meant as a “snap her back to her senses” and that it is symbolic and that no force should be used when hitting.  But all of these explanations are actually contradictory to not only human rights, but also to the message of the Quran, an insult to logic, and to the example of the Prophet pbuh.

To understand the Quran, one must free oneself from tunnel vision, and most importantly, one must read the Quran as a whole instead of isolating verses.  Another point everyone must understand is that although Arabic is still spoken today, it has gone through the usual metamorphosis of any language, and so it is possible that in modern times, we may not always be able to accurately pinpoint the precise meaning that was assigned to a word in times the Quran was first revealed.

One of my sisters sent me a link a couple weeks ago to a website for “The Sublime Quran.”  This translation is by a woman, who through her studies discovered that the word “darraba” has over twenty five meanings, one of which is “to go away”.  This means, that using this interpretation, we could read the verse as telling men to seperate or move away from their wives to use space as a means of possibly leading to clarity of mind and change of heart.  If you’re not convinced, then there is further proof.

Saying that beating the wife is permissible under certain circumstances actually contradicts the Quran.  There are two main pieces of evidence against allowing any physical force in a marriage.  The first proof is evident from the very next verse that follows the controversially interpreted one:

And if ye fear a breach between them twain (the man and wife), appoint an arbiter from his folk and an arbiter from her folk. If they desire amendment Allah will make them of one mind. Lo! Allah is ever Knower, Aware. (4: 35)

I found a link to another imam on youtube who also interpreted “darraba” as seperate and not hit, because he stated that what sense does it make to hit your wife and then call both your families to try and work out your marriage?  It obviously makes more sense that the word with the multiple meanings is referring in this case to simply seperate to allow for cooling of minds.   I remember when I told my youngest sister about this, she agreed and then we joked about how a man who beat his wife would offer her an ice pack for her bruise and then tell her to call her family for marriage counselling.

Still not convinced?  The author of the Sublime Quran has several sensible aruguments, and the best one is from the Quran itself.  Read surah Baqarah, verse 231 (The Sublime Quran translation):

“When you divorce wives, and they are about to reach their term, then hold them back honorably or set them free honorably; and hold them not back by injuring them so that you commit aggression, and whoever commits that, then indeed he does wrong to himself; and take not the Signs of God to yourselves in mockery…”

The author points out that if God is telling men to be kind and to not in any way hurt or harm women during a divorce, so how could God allow men to hit their wives, no matter how lightly, when the women are still in a marriage?

Plus, if you read the whole Quran, all you find is talk of kindness, mercy, forgiveness, taking the “steep” road, and compassion.  Any talk of agression or violence is clearly in the context of self-defence, or if absolutely necessary to free a group of innocent civilians from cruel tyranny.  So if you read the Quran as a whole, your reason tells you that hitting your wife, no matter how lightly or harshly has no place with those who submit themselves to God.  Interpretations can only remain valid if they are done so in line with the entire Quran and in keeping with the example of the Prophet pbuh.

And perhaps the biggest evidence against any kind of hitting of wives comes from the life of our beloved Prophet pbuh, who, along with all other messengers of God, is a beacon of light for all of humanity.  He never hit or even verbally insulted any of his wives, but rather treated them with the utmost respect and love.  For those who argue that the Prophet pbuh did not hit any of his wives because he was exceptionally soft hearted, their words contradict history, because despite being compassionate, he was known to carry out justice and Quranic commands, such as punishments for stealing and other injunctions.

So if all historical records point to the complete absense of the Prophet pbuh ever hitting any of his wives, and the whole of Quran pushes mankind to embrace compassion and kindness in treatment of all peoples in their family and society, then why do so many Muslim men keep interpreting this word as permission to hit their wives, sometimes even at the slightest hint of annoyance? The answer: tradition.  How, when and why this tradition formed despite being completely against the Prophet’s example and the Quran’s teachings is a whole another area that needs to be properly researched.

Before you get too happy about this new interpretation, it’s best you know that the woman who published the Sublime Quran, Laleh Bakhtiar, is quite despised by many orthodox and mainstream scholars and religious institutions.  It seems that many Muslim leaders are having a difficult time accepting this new interpretation.  I don’t know why.  But many have tried to discredit her translation through smear campaigns that accuse her of not having proper authority to translate the Quran. Their reasons range from her not being a native Arabic speaker to spending too few years in the study of Arabic, to not being accredited from well known Islamic scholarship centres such as those in Medina.  The author commented how other mainstream translations have been conducted by non-Arabic speakers, such as Yusuf Ali.  Despite of this truth, those against her interpretation of the word “darraba” still lash out against her, discrediting her work all together.

My sincere advice to everyone is that you must seek out your truth and that you must use reason and logic to reach your conclusion.  Do not cloud your judgement by paying all your attention to who is talking, but rather, you must focus on what is being said.  People’s titles and public image can wreak havoc on our minds.

Marriage is a difficult bond to secure, and always remains as delicate and fragile as a spider’s web.  It is built on love and compassion between the husband and wife, and even if one or both parties no longer feel love for the other, they must always hold on to the rope of compassion, because it is what connects us to Allah, the Most Merciful Most Compassionate.

The choke hold

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I seek refuge in Allah from satan the accursed.

In the name of Allah Most Compassionate Most Merciful.

 

It was a beautiful summer afternoon as the eleven year old me strolled the scenic streets of the hilltop tourist paradise of Murree, Pakistan with my family.  Coincidentally, it was also the tenth of Muharram, thus the day for the Shia community to come out to mourn the slaughter of the Prophet’s (pbuh) grandsons.  My parents were unaware of the date, and brought along my aunt and uncle who were visiting us from another city.  At some point, my parents bought my younger sisters and me soft serve ice cream cones from one of the street vendors, which we devoured pretty quickly.  By the time I was done eating my cone, my hands were very sticky, and that left me feeling irritable the whole time.  I somehow got my parents to stop and let me wash my hands at a bathroom in a hotel I saw along the street.  So they stood outside the hotel close to the reservation office as I entered the hotel through the side doorway, walking past the narrow hallway, down to the bathroom, and until I finally washed my hands.

 

But as I walked back and reached the junction between the end of the hallway and the outdoors, I heard what sounded like gunshots, followed by the shouting, “Kafir, kafir, shia kafir!” (meaning: shia are disbelievers) followed by stomping of feet.  Before I could reunite with my family, a horde of men stampeded towards the hotel entrance, right where I stood.  Fear hit me like a tidal wave and I did the only thing I could think of at such a short notice.  I hid behind one of the French doors that stood open, pushing my body as far against the wall as I could.  As soon as I was tucked behind the door, I felt the pressure of the door against my body as a large crowd of men ran inside.  I was convinced that this was the party who started the confrontation and that they would hurt me if they discovered me.  I decided that once they ran down the hallway, I would quickly run out and look for my family.  I just prayed that they were safe and I would somehow find them.

 

But my plan got disrupted, as I felt a whoosh of air when a man swung the door away from my body, leaving me exposed.  He had a very serious expression on his face, and I feared for my safety.  I kept praying he would leave me alone and pretend not to see me, but instead, I saw his eyes on my face and noticed his hands coming towards me.  The fear and anticipation of pain was too unbearable, and so I broke down crying.  But instead of the harshness I expected to feel on my shoulder, I felt a gentle touch.  I stopped crying to find a man with a look of concern on his face, as he asked me where my parents were.  Through teary eyes I told him how I had come to wash my hands at the hotel and got separated from them during the sudden chaos.  As I related my dilemma, I could still hear some gunshots from outside, and even smelled tear gas seeping through the  corners of the doorway.  The man was very kind, as he gently led me through the narrow hallway that was now lined with people taking shelter from the chaos outside.  We turned into another hallway until we came upon the reservation office.  Relief washed over me as I saw my whole family, including my aunt and uncle standing safely, happy to see me.  My parents thanked the man for helping me find them and he gracefully parted from us.

 

The hotel management were more than courteous, as they welcomed us to their lounge and even served us a complimentary lunch at their dining room.  That day, I stood against the large glass windows of the hotel overlooking the beautiful valleys of Murree, and witnessed the beautiful landscape get defiled with tear gas and the sound of people firing weapons and chanting derogatory slogans.  Most of the people who ran in slowly left the hotel, but we stayed.  We stayed in the hotel for several hours, until the last of the hateful chanting, firing, and tear gas dissipated.

 

This was a story about what happens when people blindly follow a religious/influential personality.  It was a story of a people whose minds were in a choke hold by the religious “elite.”  Those people who spoke so hatefully of shias and even used weapons to intimidate those who dared to disagree with them, did not just do it out of the blue.  They were systemically taught to hate. They were also taught to be violent in order to make others submit to their viewpoint.  It may seem absurd that someone could actually believe that it’s okay to hurt another group simply because you don’t agree with their beliefs, but the truth is that it does happen.  It happens because many people feel a great affinity to Islam and as a result, end up believing whatever they are told by respected religious leaders.

 

According to a PBS webpage, only about 12% of Muslims are Arabs.  Also take into account that most non-Arab “Muslim” countries don’t usually teach Arabic as part of their curriculum, and if they do, it is usually limited to Arabic recitation of the Quran without meaning.  The situation gets more complicated as the interpretation of the Quran, competes with the collected sayings of the Prophet pbuh, the four surviving schools of Islamic thought from the medieval times, and the traditions acquired through the ups and downs of history.  This gives a lot of room to the religious leaders of the “scholar” class to step up and dictate to the masses what they should and should not be doing as devout believers.  They not only are able to dictate the dos and don’ts, but also list the essentials in what ever order of priority suits their opinions and agendas, which most of the times is the same as that of the religious scholars from as far back as a thousand years ago.

 

The result?  The masses end up confusing tradition as faith, and dissent is almost automatically seen as heretical and a threat to the “purity” of the faith which must be preserved at all costs.

 

But the thing is, that most Muslims scholars, especially those in the West are usually smart enough not to incite open violence and hatred towards those different from us.  They have other tricks up their sleeves to make us subservient to their ideas.  They simply use the rule of repetition to make people believe everything they have to say about Islam.  They don’t use guns or force to make us believe. All they do is keep repeating the same concepts over and over again, and when we go from mosque to lecture to youtube videos, all we hear and all we see are the same ideas repeated over and over again.  So when the spiritual choices are on a menu board like at a McDonald’s restaurant, we feel the comfort of the familiar, and feel threatened by anyone offering anything that can’t be ordered at a McDonald’s drive thru.  Any new thinking becomes scary and unacceptable because “I don’t know Arabic, and the scholars are more learned than me, so my safest bet is to follow what these pure and learned people tell me.”  Here’s some food for thought: you don’t have to know Arabic to be a good Muslim.  If you can’t learn Arabic, you can compare different translations, read a wide range of interpretations, and dare I say, use your own reason and life experiences to understand and apply the principles in the Quran and sunnah.  We need to open our eyes and see the irony of our current existence.  The Quran repeatedly ridicules those who blindly follow tradition, and praises Prophet Ibrahim AS, who despite being surrounded by blind subservience to irrational beliefs and rituals, was able to think independently in a critical manner, and thus saved himself and his wife from the darkness of ignorance.

 

We need to open our eyes and see that our faith, which was meant to give us mostly spirituality and some guidelines, has turned into a rigid, rule filled religion, thanks to the continuous campaign of the religious “scholars” and their followers.  It is about time we realize that the scholars or so called religious leaders have no power, except that which we give them by agreeing with and following them.  It is time to begin viewing their interpretations as part of a very wide spectrum that WE, the people, the regular Muslims, can and must constantly check and recheck against the core principles outlined in the Quran.  It is time we at least tried to escape this choke hold over our minds and spirits.  Our salvation depends on it.

“Do they not reflect in their own minds?…” (30:8)

May Allah make it easy for us to choose right over wrong. Ameen.

how did it come to this?

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I seek refuge in Allah from satan the accursed.

In the name of Allah. Most Compassionate Most Merciful.

 

Recently, I attended an all-ladies event, where I met two sisters who were basically (South Asian) Muslims turned atheist.  I was curious about how and why they chose to renounce their faith, and so engaged them in a conversation.  Their reasoning was somewhat typical of anyone who had renounced their faith.  What they understood through repeated observation of their role models about Islam was that women were inferior to men, that husbands’ rough treatment towards their wives was sanctioned in Islam, and basically other hypocritical aspects of Muslims that has nothing to do in reality with Islam, the Quran, and the Prophet pbuh.

I told them that I respected their right to choose their own life path and beliefs, but also explained how all the negative aspects that they disliked were not really part of Islam and that people who do them are going against the Quran and true sunnah.  “If it’s not really in Islam, then why do so many people do those things?” Their question left me without words as I myself wondered:  So why DO so many Muslims do things that are against reason and the spirit of Islam?

I began thinking that somewhere along the line our ummah did some things really wrong when two girls born into a Muslim family could grow up to hate their faith (and religion as a whole) so much.  I know what you are thinking. Please don’t blame the Taliban or Wahabis and think that the Muslims in the West are somehow so much better.  We’re not!  Let me further illustrate how far away from Islam our lives have really gotten.

One of those sisters in the conversation was married to a white man, also an atheist, but who she expressed as a very kind, loving, and helpful life partner.  She told all the Muslim women in our gathering how her husband often has dinner ready if he gets home from work before him, doesn’t wait for her to clean up, helps with all chores, and allows her the necessary freedom to live and choose as she wills.  So she painted a picture of an overall happy and stable marriage.  Her disclosing all this information, left a twinge of envy in all the Muslim women’s eyes.  It was as if I could hear everyone’s thoughts of, “I wish MY husband was that helpful or was that considerate to just do things and willingly try to make my life easier.”

Then to make this an even more embarrassing situation for the practicing Muslim women in the room, the sisters described how they were now “training” their dad to be more polite and caring with their mother.  They told us how they tell him to say “thank you” when she does something for him, in effect, making him realize that she did him a favor and that she is in no way there to simply serve him.  They also told of incidences when they told him to calm down and use civil words when he disagreed with any of the members in the family instead of going on rants.  They went as far as telling him to not ask their mother for a glass of water if he was standing right by the sink, advising him to instead take out a glass from the cupboard and get his own water.  How sad is it that two atheist daughters are teaching their Muslim father how to be a better husband? Please be honest with yourself, because whether you are a Muslim man or woman, you know that their father’s behavior and attitude is very typical and representative of most Muslim men, most of whom feel entitled to being catered to, but at the same time don’t feel a hint of guilt for giving back little or nothing positive to their wives.

So how ashamed should we be, when as Muslims have the excellent example of the Prophet pbuh as a kind, loving, open, and helpful husband, and yet our men are mostly trying to dominate the relationship, and twisting scripture to turn their wives into virtual slaves.  Why is it that Muslim men hold their wives to exceptionally high standards, and yet compare themselves to the most abusive and misogynistic personalities in society, grading themselves very high as a result.

How often did the Prophet’s (pbuh) wives bother and annoy him?  Often! And how often did the Prophet pbuh yell, insult, or hit his wives? Never!  How often did he force them to do something against their wills, whether it was related to their domestic, social, or religious life?  Never!  When he was home with any of his wives, how often did he help with the chores and show affection to his wives? Always!  I hope you’re getting the picture here.  For the  married men reading this post, how well do you fare when you compare yourself to this very basic picture of our beloved Prophet pbuh?  To avoid bias, it is best to let your wife grade you on these aspects.  Unfortunately, most of the Muslim men would either horribly fail in comparison to the Prphet’s (pbuh) qualities as a husband, or do very poorly.

My point is, that why is it that an ex-Muslim is happier being an atheist? When Islam came to free women and declared them independent persons capable of reasoning, arguing, and making their own choices, then why is it that there are so many of us using our beautiful and fair Islam to control women’s life choices and disregarding and suppressing their right to express their thoughts, creativity, and desire to contribute positively to society and humanity?  The Quran is filled with talk of mutual love, mutual understanding, and mutual decisions when describing marital relationships. Then why do people perpetuate the idea that somehow only husbands make the decisions in the family, and that for better or for worse, wives must quietly oblige to their men’s decisions no matter how contrary to reason or distasteful they may be?   When the Quran states openly that there is no compulsion in religion, then why do we spread the poison of telling men they can force their children to pray, that they can force their daughters to cover, and they can force their wives to obey?

All these are contrary to both faith and reason, because the whole purpose of salaah, is taqwa, and so what purpose is your child’s forced prayers when they go through the mechanics without feeling anything in their hearts?  The whole purpose of modesty in dress is to be conscious of God, so what purpose is your daughter’s hijab if she feels nothing but isolation from mainstream society?  And the main reason why Allah SWT made marriage, is so that both the husband and wife find peace and love through one another, so what use is that marriage when it only brings happiness to the man for being in control, and a lot of misery and bitterness to the woman for being treated so often like a brainless robot?  If there is even a slight similarity some of the times between you, the Muslim husband and my description of the typical Muslim husband of modern times, then have enough decency and God-consciousness to take the necessary steps to rectify your attitude and actions.  That will be most noble and “manly” of you, because I really wanted to hide my face in shame on account of your hardened hearts after I talked to those two sisters who renounced their faith.

We all must acknowledge and follow the true words of Allah SWT, Who is Just and Loving, and Who expects BOTH men and women to be partners in building strong families and prosperous societies, built upon mutual love, understanding and respect.

 

 

 

 

The Pursuit of Paradise

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I seek refuge in Allah, from satan the accursed.

In the name of Allah Most Compassionate, Most Merciful.

 

Man’s heart is full of hopes and desires.  From the time he is a small babe till the time he lays in his death bed, breathing his last breaths, man strives for paradise.  Although true paradise can only be given to those blessed by God Almighty, and only after this life is over and audited, the fact that we are all internally wired (by God) to seek paradise is clear for everyone to observe.

If you are looking for proof of paradise, you need not buy expensive telescopes to scan the heavens, nor fat textbooks detailing the interpretations of religious texts on this subject.  All you need is your sound mind and a few moments of silence to reflect upon your nature as a human being.

Think.  What do you secretly and sometimes even openly desire?  What does every human being desire in life?  It does not matter if you lived during the earliest human history, the ice age, the medieval age, or modern times. It also does not matter if you are a man, woman, young, middle aged, old, modern, traditional, liberal, religious, agnostic, or any other label.  Every human being that has ever lived, is living, and will ever come to live will always want the same: paradise.

So what is this paradise we all want so badly?  It is the need to be surrounded by beauty in our surroundings, in ourselves, and in our spouse.  It is the desire to be cocooned in unparalleled comforts and luxuries.  It is that dream to simply lounge, holding out our glass for the perfectly dressed server to refill it with a refreshing drink.  Everyone wants eternal youth coupled with perfect health.  Perhaps the most compelling evidence for paradise is our deep desire to live a worry free life forever, which is only possible in paradise, the best gift to mankind from God.  We all prefer to ditch our chores and work to hang out with our loved ones at feasts, hearing only the sound of friendly chatter and our collective laughter, basking in our merry mood and peaceful ambience.

Indeed we all want and work for paradise.  We also crave recognition and respect, which is what every dweller of paradise is promised.   Some of us decide to build our paradise right here, right now.  But the paradise we build for ourselves in this world and the one God has built for us in the next is incomparable.  The problem gets worse when we become consumed with filling our worldly lives with all the delights of our version of paradise without taking care of our spiritual needs, or worst of all, by robbing or short changing others of their rights and properties.  We forget that this life is the bridge to our next life, and so, this bridge will lead us to our rightful destination when the time comes to face the fruits of our actions.

 

Those of us who strive for the unseen paradise of God through our daily thoughts, words, and actions, will be in much better position to receive our Master’s mercy and blessing of eternal youth, beauty, peace, luxury, and happiness in comparison to those of us whose sole aim in life is to achieve the paradise of this world.  In this life, we must balance our need for luxury with our need for spiritual growth if we are to ever have any hope of achieving the eternal paradise of the Loving One.