A statement by Prophet Muhammad spoke of a future time that would cause the wise, sagacious and learned to be totally perplexed by unfolding events to an extent that they would not be able to make any sense of it. From the earliest post-prophetic period, the notion of the age of the perplexed has existed in Islamic literature with each calamity and difficult episode theorized as representing the beginning of the prophesied time. Earlier periods of Islamic history that were described as ushering in the age of the perplexed include the Mongol invasion, the Crusades, the Inquisition and the colonial era.Read More
My inbox is filled daily with hundreds of studies, academic journals, new books and articles from numerous publications focusing on Muslims. Everything about the Muslim subject is studied and parsed to the minute detail with volumes upon volumes of subsequent publications citing and re-examining what everyone had said on every topic. The volume of studies produced about the Muslim subject is mindboggling and the list expands beyond anyone’s own ability to keep up with it. Yet, the volumes of studies available at our fingertips have not made it possible to know Muslims any better; rather they have added to the structural and compounded ignorance of the subject matter. It seems that when more studies of the Muslim subject are undertaken, the less knowledge of Muslims we have! Why are studies of the Muslim subject leading to less knowledge and awareness of the Muslim him/herself?Read More
Shaykh Abdullah bin Hamid Ali and renowned Poet Baraka Blue sat down for a wide-ranging and engaging conversation on topics that are capturing the attention of Muslims and Non-Muslims worldwide. Topics including ISIS, Muslims in the West, Race, Racism, and more…
Listen to the podcast here: www.lamppostproductions.com/files/upload/Ali_Blue.mp3Read More
One of the many perks that come with the discovery by locals in Muslim territories that you are a Western Muslim is that they often desire to help you explore and appreciate their culture. On one particular occasion, as I sat enjoying the company of a number of my Moroccan brethren in the courtyard of the American Language Institute of Fez, a peer invited me to attend a session of prophetic invocation and mention of the divine name at one of the local Sufi lodges he frequented. Before I could accept the invitation another Moroccan interjected, “Abdullah! Ask him if he performs his daily prayers!” Somewhat embarrassed for the man, I responded to the questioner, “It’s not my place to probe his faith and practice.” To this, my gracious host retorted, “That’s right! All that matters is a person’s intention.” I, suddenly feeling obligated to offer my religious understanding on the matter, replied, “No! Acts and good works do matter to Allah!”
The word ‘family’ according to its Latin root, familia, means a household or servants. A similar meaning is implied by the Arabic word, ahl (family; house; household, people belonging to a community or locality). There are actually three Arabic words commonly used to express the meaning of family: ahl, ‘a’ila, and usra. The first word (ahl) underscores the fact that the members of a given family share a domicile. The second word (‘a’ila) highlights the fact that members of the family act in the service of one another fulfilling one another’s needs. What deepens the notion of servicing one another’s needs is the fact that a cognate of ‘a’ila is ‘ayla (need, poverty) and another is‘iyal (dependents). As for the third word (usra), it originally was applied to male agnate relatives who were responsible for protecting the family. They were the glue which held the family together in tight solidarity with one another. A cognate of usra is the word asir, captive. It is as if no matter how much one may develop disdain for or be angered by a family member, one is unable to cut ties with them. It is as if a family member is held captive to his/her relatives.Read More
Mockery: Behavior or speech that makes fun of someone or something in a hurtful way.Mockery of entire groups has effectively been criminalized in Western societies. One would think thrice before publicly mocking Jews, African Americans, homosexuals or many other groups. Yet when it comes to Muslims, all bets, and societal protections are off. To quote Yeats, “we traffic in mockery.” From his moving poem, “Nineteen Hundred Nineteen”:Read More
The Islamic tradition offers no support for anarchy or vigilantism. While one of Islam’s goals is to foster a society whose members willfully respect the boundaries of others, the working assumption from the earliest times has been that only a minority generally succeed in the mastery of the appetite and ego. This means that for the majority, unfortunately, extrinsic factors are necessary to regulate their behavior. For this reason, we find slogans like, “The sultan is God’s shade in the earth.” Similarly, it has been related that the caliph ‘Uthman said, “Verily, God inhibits through the sultan what He does not inhibit through the Qur’an.”
According to one proverb, “Anything imposed by force cannot endure without it.” That is, without the real presence or threat of force in any given society, lawlessness becomes the norm. It is this principle which guides and defines the actions of law enforcement everywhere. No law is deemed effective unless its disregard results in some form of fine, imprisonment, or other form of punishment.
Islam endorses this principle with relation to crime committed against the members of society. It, however, favors a different approach with regard to crimes committed against God―at least, according to the Qur’anic teachings and the prophetic example. Even though for centuries Muslim jurists have upheld the view that an individual Muslim’s decision to convert from Islam to another religion is punishable by death, this is largely the result of an interpretation of the sound hadith, “Kill anyone who changes his din.”
The word, din, in this hadith is typically translated as “religion.” It is a word whose meaning was exploited by European colonialists as a justification for the forced conversion of a number of aboriginal peoples to Christianity. If those people did not have what European Christians considered “religion”, compelling the natives to convert was tolerable, since they didn’t know what was best for their selves anyway. In time they would hopefully come to understand the great blessing they had been given to them by their Christian benefactors. Karen Armstrong, in emphasizing the problem with translating a number of words as “religion” had the following to say her essay entitled, “The Myth of Religious Violence,”
The words in other languages that we translate as “religion” invariably refer to something vaguer, larger and more inclusive. The Arabic word din signifies an entire way of life, and the Sanskrit dharma covers law, politics, and social institutions as well as piety. The Hebrew Bible has no abstract concept of “religion”; and the Talmudic rabbis would have found it impossible to define faith in a single word or formula, because the Talmud was expressly designed to bring the whole of human life into the ambit of the sacred. The Oxford Classical Dictionary firmly states: “No word in either Greek or Latin corresponds to the English ‘religion’ or ‘religious’.” In fact, the only tradition that satisfies the modern western criterion of religion as a purely private pursuit is Protestant Christianity, which, like our western view of “religion”, was also a creation of the early modern period. (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/25/-sp-karen-armstrong-religious-violence-myth-secular)
If it is true that din is much more than the private pursuit that we call “religion,” it is important to remember the geo-political state of affairs during the prophetic era when the directive was made to, “Kill anyone who changes his din.” During this time, populations lived under the presumption of war, not peace, unless neighboring peoples initiated an accord or strategic alliance. Din included not only a commitment to the groups understanding of God and worldview. It also entailed a commitment to the preservation of the social solidarity and collective security of the tribe or clan. To leave the group, often times meant to defect to the group’s enemies. At other times, it entailed a degree of neutrality.
In light of this old world order, it was quite reasonable for Hanafi jurists to divide the world into “hostile” territories (dar al-harb) and “friendly” territories (dar al-salam). It is such an order we need to consider in order to contextualize Qur’anic references to “unbelievers” (kuffar/kafirun) and “those who reject faith” (alladhina kafaru) as referring to “hostiles” as opposed to “friendlies.” If a given population lacked a treaty with another in the premodern world, this fundamentally implied that the wealth and lives of one’s neighbors were threatened with usurpation at any given moment. Since religion was separate neither from culture nor the social-political order, apostasy was seen as a sign of defection and a threat to the safety and stability of a given population. With this understanding, it follows logically that the true concern of the pioneer Muslim community was not necessarily an individual’s decision to cast off the strictures of Islamic law or creed. It was actually upholding standards which promoted communal trust and safety. This is why as reported in one incident after Anas b. Malik, deputized by ‘Umar b. al-Khattab to track down a defector, returned with the news that a number of apostates he was sent after had been killed in battle on the side of the enemy at Tustar, ‘Umar said to him, “If I had encountered them, I would have presented them the option of returning to Islam. If they refused, I would have merely imprisoned them.” ‘Umar’s reasoning shows that the decision to execute apostates was not a binding injunction to be applied in all cases, and that the reason for the punishment was not simply because of their apostasy. It was also because of defecting to the enemy’s army. In light of these considerations, Muslim scholars would serve the religion better by re-characterizing what was classically referred to as “apostasy” as its true meaning, which is “defection.”
At Zaytuna College, we're not only committed to educating tomorrow's leaders but to having a public impact today -- by providing intellectual leadership for Muslims as well as for a broader global audience.Read More
Racial, cultural, and social divideshave been a disturbing reality in Muslim communities throughout the United States, despite the unique diversity of the American Muslim community. At the forefront of this divide are the two largest demographics of American Muslims today: indigenous African-Americans and immigrants. Since the immigration from Muslim lands began in the early 20th century, the complex, and often tense, history between the two sub-communities continues to be a barrier for second1 and third generation American Muslims trying to move the community forward in the 21st century. Though most may agree on the unity of the community as an ideal, putting it into practice requires an open, and sometimes uncomfortable, discussion.Read More