I heard the imam reciting this Surah today and it brought tears to my eyes.
Ramadan Mubarak! As I was reading Qur’an during this sacred month, the power and beauty of this Surah hit me very hard. Here is one of the best recitations I’ve heard:
As a Muslim convert, I’m always fascinated to hear other people’s conversion stories. It’s interesting to see the different paths that Allah guides people to Islam. Of course, there are the most famous stories from some of the Sahaba (Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)). How Umar Ibn al-Khattab’s (May Allah be pleased with him) heart was softened upon hearing the Qur’an being recited. How Salman al-Farsi (May Allah be pleased with him) travelled far and wide searching for the truth, and finally found it in the Message of Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
The most famous conversion experience in modern times is Malcolm X’s transition to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. It was most notably documented in his autobiography, which illustrated his drive as a consummate truth seeker. His journey took him through the so-called Nation of Islam, and eventually to true Islam. This is a path that many African-Americans would tread after him, including some of the most notable da’ees (callers) in America today.
Two common paths for finding Islam are that of the truth seeker and of the person who has hit “rock bottom”, and often a combination of both. The truth seeker is one who is always questioning his reality and the religion and values (or lack thereof) of his/her family and society. He/she is the type that takes belief and doctrine seriously, and asks enough questions to lead to the conclusion that only strict monotheism can suit both the heart and the mind.
The person who has hit “rock bottom” is not necessarily in an apparent state of crisis, although sometimes that is the case. He/she may appear to be happy and functioning, but inside the soul yearns for deeper meaning. This person may be cruising along, partaking in every worldly pleasure, but still feels an unexplainable emptiness and a yearning to be closer the their Creator. Some people experience these feelings after some major loss, while incarcerated, or in a transitional phase in their lives.
My journey to Islam was certainly a combination of both of these paths. I found myself at a spiritual dead end (or so I thought), and on a sincere search for truth . Allah gradually guided me with many signposts along the way.
YouTube has many conversion stories, and below are two that stick out to me. The first video is of a Romanian brother named Jibreel and the second is of former Christian youth minister, Joshua Evans. My path shares much in common with both of these brothers, and their narratives give insight into the thoughts and feelings of the Muslim convert.
I was sickened to hear the news of the now infamous Woolwich attack, and I’m amazed at how truly disturbed these perpetrators are. This further illustrates the lack of knowledge and miseducation amongst some Muslims on their own religion. When all of the ulema (scholars) unanimously condemn these type of murders, how does a Muslim think that this is acceptable and pleasing to Allah? The neo-Kharajites have seriously gone off the deep end. They seem to be only moved by rage and resentment. All of the nuance and wisdom of Islam is thrown out the window in their desire for revenge. What makes this murder even more bizarre is its gory nature. Instead of killing quickly or efficiently (which would still have been a despicable crime), these guys felt the need to chop someone up with knives. What’s next for these so-called “jihadis”? Dismemberment? Cannibalism? How brutal must they prove themselves to be? My mind is blown by how coldly they conducted themselves, and how ignorant they were to Islamic laws of conduct, even in the battlefield (which the streets of the UK is certainly not part of). Have they been possessed by Shaytan (Satan)? Have their hearts been completely hardened? Only Allah knows if this is the case, but I can’t wrap my brain around the mentality that would lead one to think an act like this is service to God.
Some notable responses to this brutal murder from the Non-Muslim perspective come from Glenn Greenwald (of course) and Russell Brand (yes, that Russell Brand). Greenwald continues to ask tough questions that should make us all think. In this piece he points out the flimsy definition of “terrorism”, which apparently now means any killing committed by a Muslim. Well, it’s not quite to that point yet, but it’s clear that in the immediate aftermath of the Woolwich attack the question of whether this was terrorism or not was really, “Were the perps Muslims or not?”
Brand argues against the English Defence League and their use of this event to further their propaganda against the Muslims of the UK. Although he does not give the Qur’an its proper due when making one of his analogies and seems to gloss over that “piddling little bit in Leviticus”, Brand does show surprising insight:
What I think is that all over our country – all over our planet – there are huge numbers of people who feel alienated and sometimes victimized by the privileged and the powerful, whether that’s rich people, powerful corporations or occupying nations. They feel that their interests are not being represented and, in many cases, know that their friends and families are being murdered by foreign soldiers. I suppose people like that may look to their indigenous theology for validation and to sanctify their, to some degree understandable, feelings of rage.
The best response I’ve seen from the Muslim community is from Shaykh Abu Aaliyah Shurkeel. In his crucial essay, “Terrorism is to Jihad as Adultery is to Marriage” he eloquently illustrates the evil and un-Islamic nature of this type of violence. I think the title alone is brilliant, but the content is even more compelling.
“…the chorus of condemnation from Islam’s textual sources and religious authorities, against acts of terror, must continue to ring out urgently and loudly. If we wish to be dissenting voices on any issue of domestic or foreign policy, we must find legitimate ways within the democratic process to voice such dissent…It is to their credit that Muslim scholars, despite differences between them on a whole array of theological and legal issues, have come out so unanimously against terrorism.”
May Allah guide our ummah to a clearer understanding of our religion, and give us wisdom. Ameen.
Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian has been on a roll lately. After recently schooling Bill Maher on the root causes of radicalism, he unleashed another blast of hurtful truth in his column “Washington gets explicit: its ‘war on terror’ is permanent”. In it he discusses the Obama administration’s expansion of the perpetual state of war started under Bush:
“It is hard to resist the conclusion that this war has no purpose other than its own eternal perpetuation. This war is not a means to any end but rather is the end in itself. Not only is it the end itself, but it is also its own fuel: it is precisely this endless war – justified in the name of stopping the threat of terrorism – that is the single greatest cause of that threat.”
He also writes of the huge sacrifices made by the American people in the name of endless war. This is a new normal in which our Constitutional rights are indefinitely put on hold:
“And then there’s the most intangible yet most significant cost: each year of endless war that passes further normalizes the endless rights erosions justified in its name. The second term of the Bush administration and first five years of the Obama presidency have been devoted to codifying and institutionalizing the vast and unchecked powers that are typically vested in leaders in the name of war. Those powers of secrecy, indefinite detention, mass surveillance, and due-process-free assassination are not going anywhere. They are now permanent fixtures not only in the US political system but, worse, in American political culture.”
No other current American columnist writes so lucidly and truthfully on US foreign policy and the resentment it causes. Too bad no major American newspaper has the guts to print these harsh realities. Instead, we get the neocon war-cheerleaders that led us into invading Iraq spewing the same nonsense on the editorial pages of the New York Times and Washington Post.
“If you knew what l knew, you would laugh little and weep much.” – The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) (Bukhari)
Those who consider humans to be merely highly advanced apes never sufficiently explain why we laugh and cry. I’ve heard people guess that crying is simply a distress call, most useful when we are infants but carried into adulthood. That does little to explain quiet tears, tears of joy, private crying, or weeping from being moved by the Qur’an. It also does little to explain the intangible experience one feels when moved to tears, whether of the happy or sad variety. That is the limitation of believing that we are all just highly complex, yet predictable machines. We aren’t, and too often atheists are so out of touch with their own fitra (natural disposition) that they can’t acknowledge the most fundamental realities.
Laughing is arguably even more strange. Like crying, we can break down the chemical responses that occur when one laughs. But, this is like reading the chemical compounds of an art masterpiece without appreciating the important part…the intangible fleeting part…the part that moves us. In fact, it’s worse than this because we all should know better. We know how laughing feels. We know that there are different types of laughter. There is joyful laughter, mean laughter, a small chuckle, and a laugh ‘til you cry/pee your pants experience.
Why humans do these things is still largely a mystery. Scientists theorize on why we laugh and cry and why animals do not, but this is because they feel compelled to explain everything. What if some things can’t be sufficiently explained in words? What if there are things that will forever remain mysteries to mankind? I’m not saying these things will, but how often does humanity consider the possibility that their understanding has limits?
And why does evolutionary science fail so miserably to explain the unique qualities of human beings? Laughing, crying, as well as religion in many ways represent the essence of being human. Yet, those who insist we are highly advanced apes cannot even begin to explain their origins or deeper motivations. These issues will continue to be an embarrassment to their theoretical (and worldly) positions.
Anytime a high profile terrorist attack is perpetrated by Muslims, The Muslim community has to reiterate that Islam does not condone these crimes. Muslim scholars issue fatawa (religious verdicts) and Muslim leaders and organizations make statements. Muslim men and women clarify Islam’s prohibition of the killing of civilians to their families, colleagues, and neighbors. And we use the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) to back up our arguments.
Islam actually has pretty strict rules for conduct during warfare. The killing of women, children, the elderly, and non-combatants is forbidden even in times of declared war. Not only that, but Islam has strict rules for what is even considered legitimate warfare in the first place. Treachery is forbidden in Islam, and acts of terror are predicated on deception and violating trust.
It is evident to anyone with a solid foundation in Classical Islamic teachings, that we must teach our children to soundly reject the destructive call of terrorism. They must be taught the truth of what the Qur’an and Sunnah teaches in it’s entirety, not just cherry-picking what suits our whims and desires. They must be shown the truth of how traditional Islamic scholarship has addressed the issues of warfare and rules of engagement. They must be instructed not to lose themselves to the emotional calls of the modern day Kharijites that dupe people into the traps of extremism and ignorance. Much of this can be done by directing them to the Ulema (Scholars) whom have been so carelessly rejected by the likes of the Boston Bombers and other so-called “jihadis” in this day and age.
It is also crucial to understand the factors that lead the youth to extremist ideologies. Yasir Qadhi has touched on it. He suggests that Muslim Imams and leaders in the US and UK deal more openly with political issues that burden the hearts of all of the Ummah. Qadhi speaks of the internal and external factors that lead to extremism:
“The external factor is an almost total absence of voices from within mainstream Islam (of all varieties: Sufis, Salafis, Deobandis, etc.) that speak to and address the concerns and issues that resonate with the Muslims most prone to extremism. When the only voices that address issues of concern are the voices of radical militant jihadis, it is only natural that young and impressionable minds will gravitate to these voices. From the perspective of these disaffected youth, since the mainstream clerics aren’t discussing relevant issues, or involved in the discourses that concern them, how then can they be turned to for guidance?
The internal factor is a very warped understanding of Islamic texts and doctrines, and a romanticized view of Islamic history. It is only with such a skewed and idealistic vision that a Muslim can allow radical voices to bypass simple common sense and a pure Islamic heart, filtering all the way to his inner psyche.”
I would consider both of the factors he describes to be part of the greater internal problem in the Muslim Ummah. The truly external factor is more distant. Some very valid political grievances are what Glenn Greenwald presents as the overwhelming motive for “Islamic” terror attacks in the west. And Ron Paul has been writing and talking about the principal of “blowback” for years (including a notable exchange with Mayor Giuliani in 2008). We’ve heard the same theme from experts in the intelligence community and academia (as well as from the extremists themselves). The reason they attack us is not because they “hate our freedom”, but because they hate our foreign policy. The question for Muslims, particularly for American Muslims, is how do we address these issues sanely and in a sound Islamic manner.
The primary external factors leading to extremism are the bombs dropping and the meddling in affairs of Muslim countries. What can be done about this? Many feel helpless and desperate when looking at all the suffering in the Muslim world today. They feel like they need to “do something”, even if that something is counter-productive and morally abhorrent. But Allah mentions many times in the Qur’an the importance of patience through suffering.
“Or think you that you will enter Paradise without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They were afflicted with severe poverty and ailments and were so shaken that even the Messenger and those who believed along with him said, “When (will come) the Help of Allah?” Yes! Certainly, the Help of Allah is near!” (Al-Baqarah 2:214)
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and his followers suffered unthinkable torture and oppression at the hands of the pagan Arabs, and they stayed patient and steadfast. This is not an easy thing to ask someone to do, but there is a reason that it is such an important aspect of our religion. The Straight Path was never meant to be easy, and Allah tests those whom he loves. For us as a community to instill this in our children, they must be taught the Qur’anic commands to patience and what rewards lie ahead for those who are steadfast. The verses and ahadith dealing with as-sabr (patience) should be ingrained in their hearts and minds. They should know them, and be familiar with the struggles of all the Prophets and righteous people throughout the ages.
Muslims in the US and UK must make every effort to speak out against oppression, whether it is committed by Muslims or Non-Muslims. Of course, we should continue to educate others and ourselves on why terrorism and unjust killing is forbidden in Islam. We should renounce the actions of the misguided who don’t understand the deeper concept of Jihad. In some ways, this is the easy part. The Muslim community, particularly in America, is overwhelmingly anti-extremist and law abiding. The reality is that the radicals don’t have a home in any masjid in the US. They have to meet on internet forums and You Tube, as their viewpoint has been so thoroughly refuted by mainstream Muslim leaders and laymen.
Speaking out against the oppression committed by Non-Muslims, more specifically, the United States government will certainly be a more tricky and difficult task. When we speak to our families, neighbors, and colleagues about the unjust drone bombings that kill innocent women and children or the support for oppressive regimes and policies, we need to use hikmah (wisdom) and tact. We need to have the facts to back up our arguments and not act like raving lunatics full of conspiracy theories and wild speculation. We should calmly explain the concept of “blowback” and how these types of attacks only deepen the appeal of the extremist ideologies in the Muslim world. And we should keep in mind the meaning of the famous hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him):
“The best jihad is to speak the truth before a tyrant ruler.” (Bukhari)
As Muslims in the West, we need to be good ambassadors. This is done first and foremost through our manners. Our treatment of our neighbors should be the best among the people. Our work ethic at school and at our jobs should be the strongest. This is not for show or to be seen of men, but as an act of worship to Our Lord. We should also educate others on the meaning of Tawheed (The Oneness of God) and “La illaha illa Allah (There is no diety worthy of worship except God)”. Explain what this means to us and what this means for them.
We are indeed blessed to live in lands of relative peace and security, and we should use that opportunity to break down the walls of satanic deception. These are the walls reinforced by the mainstream media that misrepresents what Islam teaches and who the Muslims really are. These walls are often fragile and flimsy because they lack sturdy foundation. Let’s plant seeds of truth, and ask Allah to guide us through these times.