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India court bans Islamic instant divorce in huge win for women's rights

The Guardian World news: Islam - 22 August, 2017 - 12:03

Controversial practice of ‘triple talaq’, which allows men to dissolve marriages instantly, declared unconstitutional

An Islamic practice permitting men to instantly divorce their wives has been declared unconstitutional by India’s supreme court after decades of campaigning by women’s groups and victims.

The “triple talaq” has allowed Muslim men to dissolve marriages by pronouncing the word “divorce” three times.

Judgment of the Hon'ble SC on Triple Talaq is historic. It grants equality to Muslim women and is a powerful measure for women empowerment.

Related: 'Talaq' and the battle to ban the three words that grant India's Muslim men instant divorce

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Zaid Karim, Private Investigator, Part 12 – Fever Dreams

Muslim Matters - 22 August, 2017 - 05:08

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

Zaid Karim Private Investigator is a full length novel. Previous chapters: Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11

Saturday, February 6, 1 pm
Fresno, California

I stopped at the Salvation Army thrift store on Belmont Avenue not far from my office, where I bought a small wheeled suitcase. It was pink with purple polkadots, but it functioned. Maybe when Hajar started first grade she could use it.

Back at the office I showered – covering my bandaged arm with a plastic bag – and changed my clothes. My body felt fragile, as if my bones had turned to glass. I moved carefully, afraid that another dizzy spell might strike without warning.

I had a special pair of jeans with two hidden pockets sewed on the inside just below hip level. Safaa had made the pockets for me last year when I’d been hired by an Iraq war veteran’s family after the man suddenly disappeared. I tracked him to Los Angeles’s downtown Skid Row, where I went undercover for two days as a homeless person. I needed a way to store my cash and cards so they couldn’t be stolen or even seen. The valuables could only be accessed by taking the pants off or sticking my hand way down inside. It was inconvenient, but made the pants pickpocket-proof.

I had $2,200 in cash remaining out of the money Dr. Anwar had paid me, not counting what Jalal had deposited for me in the bank. I kept $200 in my wallet and put the rest in the secret pockets of the jeans, which I put on. I prayed dhuhr, then packed the pink suitcase along with the old high school backpack as my carry-on.

FedoraI thought my fedora might be a bit hot for tropical Panama, so I did not pack it. Maybe I’d buy one of those famous Panama hats instead.

Jalal showed up, looking morose as usual. I put up a hand to forestall the imminent lament of heartbreak and woe over his ex-girlfriend. “You’re better off akhi,” I said, wiping sweat from my forehead. I felt like I’d swallowed a radiator – I couldn’t seem to cool off – and my head was pounding. “Trust me. You’ll find someone better Insha’Allah. Get a good Muslim girl, and you’ll forget all about that ingrate.”

“I guess,” he agreed reluctantly. “Hey, you don’t look so good.”

“I know. I think it’s a cold, or the flu, or maybe I’m just exhausted.”

“I could take you to the doctor.”

“No time. I need you to take me to the airport.” I handed him two hundred dollars and my car key. “Then take my car to be professionally cleaned.”

“Can I clean it myself and keep the cash?”

I chuckled. “Sure. But it’s a bear of a job. Let me pack a bag real quick.” I threw some clothes into a backpack, along with my camera, parabolic microphone and accompanying noise cancelling headphones, and the remainder of the cash Dr. Anwar had given me. I would have loved to take my knife, but that was obviously impossible.

I locked up my office and got in the passenger seat of Jalal’s car. He drove a battered little green Toyota Camry that looked like it had been used as a football by giants.

“Stop at my place first,” I requested. “I mean my wife’s apartment, where I used to live, you remember?”

“Sure.”

I needed to see Hajar before I left. If I asked Safaa first, she might say no. So I’d just stop by.

Ashlan Meadows was one of those rare apartment complexes that was almost true to its name. It was an older complex on East Ashlan near Maple, but was well maintained. With its grassy lawns and tall willow trees it was an oasis wedged between crisscrossing freeways, flood control basins, and the National Guard base. It even had a pond with fountains and koi fish – in which I had once seen a heron standing as still as a statue – and a nice playground for the kids.

Safaa lived in apartment 95B. In our family we always left our shoes at the door. I knew Safaa was home when I saw her neon orange sneakers and Hajar’s blue Crocs. I gave my trademark knock – tun ta ta tun-tun – and heard Hajar shriek, “Baba!” Running feet pounded their way to the door, a lock turned, then the door swung open and Hajar threw herself at my legs. I knelt down and embraced her. Hajar wrapped her arms around my neck so tightly I had to struggle for breath – the kid had a future as a wrestler – but that was fine with me. I felt such an aching mixture of joy and sadness in that moment. Joy because I held my sweet daughter in my arms, and sadness because it was such a rare event.

“You should have called first,” Safaa said from the doorway. “You can’t just drop by whenever you like.”

I almost laughed. Sometimes Safaa was so predictable. I was relieved, though, that she clearly had not heard anything about me being at the strip club. If she had, she’d be tearing into me like the big bad wolf into the first little pig’s straw house.

Ignoring Safaa’s comment, I pulled back from Hajar and smiled at her. Her curly brown hair was tied in pigtails – there ought to be a better name for that hairstyle, one more suitable for a little Muslim girl – and a wide grin stretched across her face. She’d been in the sun and her skin was dark, not quite as dark as her mother’s but a lovely shade of tawny copper. Her eyes were light brown, and she had the cutest little nose and perfect teeth. Such a beautiful child, subhanAllah.

She frowned and pointed to the bandage above my eye. “Baba, you got a boo boo.”

I smiled. “Yes. And my arm too.” I showed her the bandaged arm. “But they don’t hurt anymore.” This wasn’t completely true. The cut above the eye didn’t bother me much, but the arm ached and throbbed, and it was starting to feel stiff, like it was swelling up. My wedding ring – a plain platinum band I wore on my right hand ring finger – felt tight.

“What about your friend?” Hajar said. “Did he get better?”

“No honey. When someone dies they don’t get better from that.”

“Who was it?” Safaa asked. “Anyone I know?”

I looked up at her. She wasn’t wearing hijab, and was dressed casually in black leggings and a billowy blue top, but she stood well inside the doorway where passers-by could not see. I wanted to sit there and gaze into her amazing eyes, those black pools flecked with blue, like ice floating in a dark sea.

Like me, she wore a simple platinum wedding band on her right hand. My eyes flicked to it. I had a secret fear that I’d see her one day and she would have taken it off, and I’d know it was all over between us.

“It was Tarek Anwar,” I told her.

She gasped. “La ilaha il-Allah. What happened?”

“He OD’d.”

Hajar gazed at me solemnly. “What’s a oh deed, Baba?”

I gave her a rueful look. “He died from using bad drugs. But you don’t worry about that, okay? What are you and Mama doing today?”

“My dolls are having a meeting. Come and see!” She grabbed my index finger and pulled.

I glanced up at Safaa, who shrugged in resignation and waved her hand to indicate my admittance. I shed my shoes and followed Hajar across the thickly carpeted room and through the small but clean apartment. The place was crowded with too much old fashioned furniture, including a pair of lavender-colored Bixby chairs, an Amish rolltop desk, and a sage green sofa that was probably worth quite a lot but looked like a refugee from a 1950’s movie set. Much of this had belonged to Safaa’s mother. When she remarried she sold her house, gave the furniture to Safaa, and moved in with her new husband – a much older, wealthy business owner who’d been married five times before.

The house smelled of burnt cheese. I guessed that Safaa had baked a frozen pizza for lunch.

Dora the Explorer bedHajar pulled me along to her room, which was cluttered with toys and clothing. Against one wall stood a small wooden writing desk painted pink and white, and a bookshelf crammed with books that Safaa and I had acquired at library sales or yard sales. A small bed with Dora the Explorer sheets rested against another wall. The walls were decorated with Hajar’s own drawings and crafts. A ceiling fan turned slowly, making a tick – tick – tick sound.

In the center of the floor two semicircles of dolls sat facing each other. Group A were a mixture of stuffed animals – including a “Muslim doll” that wore hijab and said things like As-salamu alaykum and Bismillahir-Rahmanir-Raheem – and Hajar’s own handmade dolls, including a figure made of popsicle sticks and tape, another crafted from pipe cleaners and paper, and another from twigs she’d found outside. Group B consisted of plastic animal figurines and Magic Clips – little Disney princess dolls with interchangeable dresses, like the one I’d found in the sofa at Dr. Rodriguez’s apartment.

“You sit here Baba,” Hajar commanded. “These dolls -” she pointed to the Magic Clip and animal clique – are from the bathtub. But today, they’re visiting the bedroom.” She addressed the dolls. “Bath animals, this is my room. Bedroom dolls, be on your bestest behavior because we have some animals visiting who have never been out of the bathtub, and they want to see what it’s like. Animals, don’t worry, nobody will hurt you or chase you, unless if you are playing tag. You are just in time because we were about to have a meeting, and there will be food and drinks. I don’t have enough food for everyone, but don’t panic, I have drinks, and you can all share. I’m going to get them. Don’t panic, I will be right back.”

At this Hajar grabbed a toy teacup set and ran off to the kitchen. Safaa came into the room and sat on Hajar’s bed. “So what happened?” she asked, gesturing to my wounded arm and eye.

My eyes traveled up her body, taking in the firm shapeliness of her calves beneath her leggings, and the dark smoothness of her toned arms. Her eyes were as deep and dark as the Euphrates River, with those captivating specks of blue like the glistening of moonlight on the water. Her long black hair was a nighttime desert breeze, admitting no flaw. How I missed this woman. I remembered a trip we took to Baja California before Hajar was born, and how we’d lain out on the beach at night, watching the bright bustle of stars, listening to the lapping of the waves, and talking about our dreams for the future. How happy I’d been then. How full of excitement for the future.

Safaa met my frank gaze and held it. Her face was unreadable, showing no irritation but conceding no love.

I sighed and looked away. “Just work stuff. I have to talk to you about something. The Anwars hired me to find Anna, Tarek’s daughter. I have reason to believe she’s in Panama. I’m leaving in a few hours. Farah Anwar is very upset with me right now. She’s behaving strangely. You might hear some things.”

Safaa waved this off. “You mean Panama, like the country? Is this job dangerous?”

I considered this. “Honestly, I don’t know. There’s a lot about this case that doesn’t make sense. Anyway, I want you to think about what I said earlier. I love you, Safaa. You and Hajar are the center of my universe.” I did not look at her as I said this, not wanting to witness any expression of displeasure she might reveal.

Before she could reply, Hajar returned with a serving tray and the little plastic cups.

“Is that milk?” Safaa demanded. “Oh, sweetie. That’s a waste. You should have brought water.”

“But they’re guests!” Hajar protested. She sat down and began to set the teacups before the dolls. “Now dolls, there’s not enough cups so you have to share like the muhajideen and ansar.”

This made me smile. “Muhajireen,” I corrected.

Hajar gave me a snooty look. “That’s what I said. You’re old so you don’t hear.” She turned back to the dolls. “Baba is visiting too, see?” She turned a few of the dolls to face me. “Does anyone have any questions for Baba?”

One of the dolls, a stuffed bear wearing a snow hat, stood – with Hajar’s help – and waved a paw. This one, I knew, was named Brown Bear. Hajar made her voice a little deeper: “I have a question.”

“Yes Brown Bear,” I said seriously. “What is your question?”

“Are you going to died in Panama like your friend?”

I pursed my lips and closed my eyes. Hajar had obviously been listening to our conversation. When I opened my eyes she was watching me solemnly. I leaned forward and scooped my daughter and Brown Bear in my arms. I didn’t want to kiss Hajar’s face in case I was sick, so I kissed the top of her head, then held up brown bear and addressed him. “No Brown Bear, I will not die.” I knew I could not make this promise, but I did anyway, because sometimes you have to say what you have to say. “My friend died because he was using bad drugs. I don’t do that. I’m smart and strong alhamdulillah. I’m a good private detective. I will solve this case and I’ll be back soon, I promise. Okay?”

Hajar grasped Brown Bear’s head and made him nod up and down. “Okay.”

Safaa walked me out. “Take better care of yourself,” she said at the door. “You look like a dog’s dinner.”

“Thanks for that,” I said lightly. “I have a nervous disorder. It’s called missing-my-family-itis.”

Safaa made a clucking sound. I expected her to say something critical or shut the door in my face but instead she merely stood there looking at me, saying nothing.

“Hey,” I said. “Do you remember when we were kids, and you attacked that bully who was beating me up?”

Safaa gave the faintest trace of a smile. “Sure.”

“And how you used to write to me when I was in prison. The high point of my day was 4:30 mail call. The guards would set the mail sack on a pool table at the center of the unit, and everyone would gather round as they drew out letters one at a time and called out names. Anytime I heard my name my heart would practically leap out of my mouth with expectation. Sometimes it was a book from my dad. But most of the time it was you. I’d take the letter back to my cell and read it again and again, until I knew it almost by heart. I was in rough seas and those letters were beams of light from a lighthouse, calling me back to shore. I’d smell the paper too, did I ever tell you that?”

She made a face. “No.”

“The letters smelled like you, like spice, oranges and lavender. All the sweetest scents of Iraq and California, left on the paper by your fingers. I was thinking about all that recently. You’ve always been loyal to me, from the very beginning. When nearly everyone else abandoned me, you were there. I don’t know if I can convey how much that means to me. I’ve-” I choked up, trying to get control of my emotions. “I’ve been needing a friend. And I’ve never had a better friend than you. Trust your heart, habibti. Trust your instincts.” I clamped my mouth shut, not trusting myself to say more.

Safaa looked away, the muscles in her jaw working. I thought she would retort with the same old accusations, but instead she threw up her hands and said, “I don’t know, Zaid.”

I nodded. Progress. That was progress. I walked down the steps, feeling the weight of Safaa’s gaze on my back, and fantasized that she would suddenly call me back, tell me she loved me, and embrace me. When I reached the bottom of the steps and looked back, the door was closed.

* * *

Back in the car I reclined the passenger seat and closed my eyes. That visit was harder than I’d expected. Saying goodbye was the hardest part of all. Every time I left my daughter, not knowing when I would see her again, it felt like leaving a piece of my soul behind.

Jalal drove to the airport. Along the way, he asked about my arm and forehead. I told him what had happened and he whistled. “So do you still have a case? Or did the Anwars fire you?”

Good question. It wasn’t clear whether I still had a client, and whether Dr. Ehab would reimburse any of my past or future expenses. What I did have was a missing girl, and as far as I was concerned I was still on the case.

I took out my phone and googled Yusuf Cruz. I was fairly sure he’d be out of prison by now. Even though his sentence had been longer than mine, he’d been on the tail end of it when I knew him. Before he was imprisoned, he was – to hear him tell it – one of the most powerful crime lords in Panama, running everything from illegal cigarette imports and gambling to prostitution and cocaine exports. He wasn’t bragging about all of that. Just being honest about his sins.

Yusuf always used to say that when he was released he would return to Panama and open a chain of internet cafes. No more crime. If he was indeed back in Panama, maybe he could meet me at the airport there and help me out.

I couldn’t find anything. There were zero results for Yusuf Cruz in Panama. I tried “Yusuf Cruz Miami” and got a million results, none of which had anything to do with my Yusuf Cruz. I tried his pre-Muslim name, Jose Cruz, and received 15,800,000 results, the majority of which related to a Puerto Rican baseball player.

Giving it one more shot, I tried his full name, Jose Arosemena Cruz, and encased it in quotation marks to limit the responses to that exact phrase. This time there were zero results. Crazy technology. It either gave you millions or nothing. I sighed in frustration and shut off the phone.

“I admire what you’re doing,” Jalal said out of the blue.

“What do you mean?”

“Going all the way to Panama to find that missing kid. Dude, you’re like a U.S. Marshal in the Old West. I know it’s not easy. I mean, just look at you.” He gestured to my face and arm with one hand. “But you’re unstoppable.”

I chuckled. “That’s kind of you, Jalal, but I’m far from unstoppable, and I’m no one to be admired. I’m a mess.”

“It’s not just me,” Jalal insisted. “A lot of the younger brothers think you’re cool as ice. You’re a self-made man, following your own path.”

I shook my head, thinking of all the suffering I’d experienced, the years of loneliness and regret, the pain I’d caused to others and the pain I had lived through myself. “Let one of those young brothers walk in my shoes,” I countered, “then see if they think my life is cool.”

At the airport Jalal pulled up in front of the terminal. “I’ll go with you if you want,” he offered. “Just say the word. I’ll back you up.”

I smiled, “Thanks brother. But your mother and your brothers and sisters need you. Besides, do you even have a passport?”

“Oh. No I don’t.”

I left Jalal my office keys and asked him to water my plants and keep an eye on my car. I took my pink suitcase and school backpack and headed into the airport. I checked the suitcase, which held my surveillance equipment, a few changes of clothing, and one of Hajar’s stuffed animals – a little spotted deer that she’d left at my office on her last visit. In my carry-on I had a pack of gum, a bottle of ibuprofen and little else.

I felt like a wet rag that had been twisted dry and tossed in a corner. I was hot and sweating, my throat was sore, and I was racked with waves of nausea. Apparently the TSA screeners were used to seeing sick travelers. They waved me right through.

The flight to Los Angeles was quick. From there I had a two-hour layover before my connection to Panama City. My stomach was utterly empty, but just the thought of food made me feel like putting myself into cryosleep and waiting for more advanced future human beings to thaw me out. I spent the layover time huddled over my phone, searching uselessly for information on Yusuf Cruz, and every now and then rushing to the bathroom, as my body had decided all my symptoms weren’t bad enough, and I needed a case of diarrhea thrown into the mix. I took a couple of ibuprofen and soon felt marginally better.

I had the idea to try an image search. I tried Yusuf Cruz, then Jose Cruz. The first two pages of results yielded nothing, but on the third page I saw a photo of two men shaking hands in front of a construction site. They wore suits and hard hats.

The one on the left was thin and goateed, with hollow cheeks and a long nose that had been broken at least once. It was Yusuf. The one on the right was short and round, like a Latino Tweedledum. The caption on the photo read, “Jose Cruz, presidente de Construcción Yuza, con Gobernador Camacho de la provincia de Coclé.” I translated in my head: “Jose Cruz, president of Yuza Construction, with Governor Camacho of Coclé Province.” I clicked on the link to the accompanying article, but the link was invalid. There was no additional information.

So Yusuf was indeed back in Panama, and apparently was head of a construction firm – more money in construction than in internet cafes, no doubt. Even feeling as sick as I did, this made me smile. Yusuf had kept his word and gone straight. He was a legitimate businessman and his life was apparently going well, alhamdulillah. I was happy for him.

I ran a search for “Construcción Yuza”. At first I found nothing, but deep in the results I found a link – construccionyuza.com – to a defunct website. I checked the WHOIS record to learn the owner of the domain name, but the record was private. I found all this very odd. A successful construction company should have easily accessible public records. Unless… unless the company was a front for criminal activity, such as a money laundering operation. I really hoped that was not the case.

I tried archive.org, also known as the Wayback Machine. This was a tool that took periodic snapshots of every website in the world, and could show you what that website looked like in the past. I inputted construccionyuza.com and found the bare bones of a website that had been taken down a couple of years ago. In it, I unearthed a telephone contact number. I called the number.

I used my sleeve to mop sweat from my forehead and the sides of my nose as the phone rang several times. Just when I thought it would go to voicemail, a man’s voice answered. “Digame,” the man said in Spanish. Speak to me. His voice was deep and rough. He sounded like someone I would not want to meet in a dark alley.

I put a hand to my stomach, which was sending sudden and urgent signals that something bad was imminent unless I ran to the bathroom again. Not now, I told myself.

“Hola,” I said in what I hoped was a cheerful and confident tone. “Es esta la oficina de Construcción Yuza? Habla usted Inglés? You speak English?”

There was a long pause. I wondered if the line had been disconnected, when the man replied in heavily accented English: “Who is this? How you get this number?”

My stomach wouldn’t wait any longer. I began to walk toward the bathroom, anticipating the awkwardness of carrying on a conversation while sitting on the toilet. “I’m trying to reach Jose Cruz,” I said. “I’m an old friend of his. I’m coming to Panama, I’d like to see him.”

Another long pause ensued, during which utter silence came from the other end, as if the phone had been muted. My stomach sent up an urgent protest and I began to run, my backpack bouncing on my back. At the same instant I heard them call over the intercom that my flight was boarding.

Finally someone came back on the line. “There is no Jose Cruz here,” the rough-voiced man said curtly. “Who are you? How you get this number?”

“My name is Zaid,” I said with as much patience as I could muster. “Listen, just tell him-” a dizzy spell snatched my equilibrium away and I nearly fell over. I dropped the phone, and it shattered into three pieces. I shouted in frustration. I managed to recover the pieces, stuff them into my pocket and stumble to the bathroom just in time.

When I was done and washed up and hurried back to the gate. I was the last to board. One of the flight attendants – a slightly chubby, fortyish blonde who wore a silver and turquoise brooch in the shape of a hummingbird and a name tag that said Marsha – was presiding over an argument between two women. The overhead storage bin was full, and one was complaining that the other had taken her space. Her bag jutted out so that the compartment would not close. Other passengers watched in amusement or annoyance. One was actually filming on his smartphone.

“I’ve got it,” I told Marsha. I studied the bags and saw that with a little maneuvering they would all fit. It was like a game of Tetris. I shoved a few bags around and closed the bin.

The attendant gave me a sunny smile and beamed with kind blue eyes. “Thank you so much sir.” She had a southern accent, maybe Alabama or Georgia.

I had a middle seat all the way at the rear, which was good because it was next to the restroom. I buckled in and inspected my phone. It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. The back cover plate had come off and the battery had fallen out, that was all. It was a simple matter to fix.

“Turn your mobile device off sir,” Marsha reminded me gently.

I sighed, sat back in my seat and fell asleep. That’s an extraordinary thing for me, as I normally have trouble sleeping upright. My body must have been exhausted.

The year was 2000. In that year, the Israelis withdrew from southern Lebanon after twenty two years of occupation, the 87th Tour de France went without a winner when Lance Armstrong was disqualified, and Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, a former Black Panther once known as H. Rap Brown, was arrested and framed for murder.

I was twenty years old, locked up in the United States Penitentiary at Leavenworth, a maximum security pile of stone and steel set amid the rolling grasslands of northeast Kansas. It was winter, the ground outside was white with snow, and a riot was coming.

Two years before, a man named Hassan Amir had almost single-handedly crushed the Aryan Brotherhood at USP Atlanta. Whether this was truth or a legend, no one knew for sure – the stories about Hassan Amir sounded more like myth than reality – but since then the Muslims and the AB had been in a de facto state of war in prisons across America. Here in Leavenworth, they’d killed one of ours, and we’d retaliated in kind. All the gangs were choosing sides. Then, like a spark flying toward a barrel full of fireworks, the hacks – the guards – killed Halfway Willie, a universally respected convict who had been working to put an end to racial conflicts here in Leavenworth.

The prison was ready to explode. There was no mistaking the feeling of supercharged fury, as if the storm to end all storms was bearing down. Men pounded the floors with their feet and chanted. The steel of the tiers rang and vibrated. A prison riot was the ultimate paroxysm of violence. In a riot, it was said, every imaginable atrocity could and would be committed. Myself and my cellie – a long-haired, taciturn Navajo who always tied a blue bandana around his forehead – maneuvered our lockers against the bars of our cells, then armored ourselves by tearing our blankets in strips and tying magazines to our chests and backs.

There was snow piling up on the floor of the cell. Why was their snow in the cell? I was cold, so cold. I looked up, imagining I’d see that the riot had begun and the ceiling itself had somehow cracked open to let the freezing weather in.

I woke to find myself shaking violently. My body shuddered with spasms as my teeth chattered. I was on a plane. Reality seeped back into my awareness. Panama. I’m going to Panama. The people on either side of me were gone, and someone had draped a blanket over me. My left arm baked with pain, and was so stiff I could hardly bend the elbow. There was a foul, rotten odor in the air. I hoped it wasn’t me.

“Oh you’re awake.” The blonde attendant bent over me, adjusting the blanket. “Do you know what’s wrong with you? Do you have any medicine you need to take?”

“I don’t know,” I said through a quivering jaw. “Flu. I’m so cold. I have some ibuprofen.” I reached weakly for the backpack I’d stowed beneath the seat in front of me.

“I’ll get it.”

Marsha unzipped my backpack, found the pills, fished out three ibuprofen tablets and brought a cup of apple juice and another blanket.

The rest of the flight was la cross between a fever dream and a peyote trip, or at least what I imagine a peyote trip might be like. The captain came into the cabin to see me and promptly struck me across the face. Spit sprayed into my face as he screamed that I was a living bomb, and that because of me the airplane was doomed, and all the passengers would die. An alligator slithered down the aisle, then turned and regarded me with huge mournful eyes before hissing, “What have you done with my pale baby?” Chausiku Sulawesi sat saucily on my lap, then choked me with two hands and demanded to know what had happened to her husband. A passenger far in the front had her back to me and I was sure it was Anna Anwar, but whenever I tried to make my way up the aisle to see her face, the aisle itself twisted back on itself, and I found myself back in my seat. A voice came over the intercom, saying, “Your mother kept the wrong child! She should have kept the lame one and aborted you!” What does that mean? I moaned in response. Who is the lame one?

I’m sure I babbled, and possibly shouted once or twice. I remember Marsha being there, wiping my forehead with a wet cloth, and saying soothing words.

The plane landed. I was loaded onto a stretcher and strapped down. I bucked and writhed, then settled down as a needle penetrated my skin and something warm and comfortable rushed into my veins. All my aches and pains faded away. After so many years of struggling against my past and present, bucking the earthly bonds that always seemed to want to drag me to the ground, I was at peace with the world. I loved everyone and was happy to be alive.

Bright lights in my eyes. The bandage was removed from my arm. I heard a gasp and an exclamation in Spanish as the stench of rot and disease assaulted my nostrils. “Podría perder el brazo,” someone said. Might lose the arm. Someone else barked something in rapid Spanish, of which I understood none except “cirugía inmediata.” Immediate surgery. They were talking about cutting off my arm.

Panic badgered its way into my haven of tranquility, my mental clearing in the forest of life. Not my arm! These barbarians were going to hack off my arm! NO! I struggled to get free. Blurred faces swam before me. I heard a shout and felt arms holding me down.

More warmth whispered into my veins. My muscles went limp. Warm, so warm. The strident objection – my arm! – was still there, but I let it go. What would happen would happen. Trust in Allah and he will feed you as he feeds the birds. Would he also heal me as he healed the birds? Did he heal the birds? I could not think. I was at peace in my sunny haven, my little place of shelter against the dangers of the world.

If my arm had to go, so be it. I would wish it well. Perhaps it would make something of itself, achieve great things, become the arm of a doctor or scientist, and my parents would finally be proud.

My eyes closed against the overhead lights, and my bright little haven faded to black.

***

Next week: Chapter 13: Panama, a Dream of Love

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

Wael Abdelgawad’s novel, Pieces of a Dream, is available on Amazon.com.

Turn to Allah During The Solar Eclipse | Salat al Kusoof

Muslim Matters - 21 August, 2017 - 14:29

by Shaykha Asma Bhaiyat

As a solar eclipse is expected today, it is important that as Muslims we understand the Islamic perspective of such an event along with its pertinent rulings.
Solar and lunar eclipses are reminders of the Day of Judgment, when the sun, moon, and stars will lose their light. Allah ta’ala says in the Quran “When the sight is dazed (by fear), and the moon is eclipsed, and the sun and moon are united: On that day man will say, ‘Where is the refuge?”(Al-Qiyamah: 7-10)

It is for this reason that during the lifetime of the Prophet ﷺ when a solar eclipse occurred, the Prophet ﷺ was in a state of anxiety and immediately turned to Allah by praying long rakahs and making dua and istighfaar throughout the entire eclipse. 

Narrated ‘Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) : In the life-time of Allah’s Apostle ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) the sun eclipsed, so he led the people in prayer, and stood up and performed a long Qiyam, then bowed for a long while. He stood up again and performed a long Qiyam but this time the period of standing was shorter than the first. He bowed again for a long time but shorter than the first one, then he prostrated and prolonged the prostration. He did the same in the second Raka as he did in the first and then finished the prayer; by then the sun (eclipse) had cleared. He delivered the Khutba (sermon) and after praising and glorifying Allah he said, “The sun and the moon are two signs amongst the signs of Allah; they do not eclipse on the death or life of anyone. So when you see the eclipse, remember Allah and say Takbir, pray and give Sadaqa.” The Prophet then said, “O followers of Muhammad! By Allah! There is none who has more ghaira (self-respect) than Allah as He has forbidden that His slaves, male or female commit adultery (illegal sexual intercourse). O followers of Muhammad! By Allah! If you knew that which I know you would laugh little and weep much.


Based on this, rather than making an eclipse a spectacle where people get together to watch, we were taught to make this an opportunity to turn back to Allah and remember the Final Day.
Rulings pertaining to Salaatul Kusoof (Salaah of solar eclipse)
1) It is sunnah mu’akadah to perform Salaatul Kusoof.
2) One should be engaged in ibaadah throughout the eclipse by either performing lengthy salah with long rukoo’ and sajdah or by making dua.
3) The salaat should be performed in congregation. If it is not possible to have the prayer with congregation, salah may be performed individually. It is also better for women to pray individually in their homes.
4) There is no adhan or iqaamah for salaatul kusoof.
5) The Qiraat in Salaatul Kusoof may be recited audibly.
6) In Salaatul Kusoof one should recite long surahs similar to Surah Baqara or however long they are able to recite.
7) It is best for salaatul kusoof to be performed in two rakaats. However it is also permissible to perform more.
بقلم الشيخ عمر بيك

 

Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim obituary

The Guardian World news: Islam - 21 August, 2017 - 13:41
Political activist and campaigner for women’s rights who became the first female member of parliament in Sudan

The Sudanese feminist and political activist Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, who has died aged 88, was a force of nature. To observe her in action was to be humbled by her indefatigability. In a country where the slightest of strays from social convention were frowned upon, she was a pioneer in the field of women’s rights, and, in 1965, became Sudan’s first female member of parliament after participating in a democratic movement that removed military rule.

Her political activism could not be separated from her feminism, and vice versa. She spent her early years challenging British colonial rule in Sudan and the postcolonial military government of Ibrahim Abboud, while also co-founding the Sudanese Women’s Union, which went on to campaign for and secure the right of women to vote, receive maternity pay and a pension.

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5 Ways The Gas Station Owner Mentality Is Killing Our Masjids

Muslim Matters - 21 August, 2017 - 05:24

Why is it that a large number of Muslim communities in North America are all struggling with the same issues? Board politics. Getting rid of good community leaders. Incessant focus on fundraising at all costs.

Clearly, these issues can’t be logistical. They wouldn’t be this prevalent if they were. It’s almost as if there is a shared underlying mentality that is common to many of these frustrating and annoying situations.

This mentality is the “gas station owner” mentality, and it is more prevalent than we think. It’s a metaphor for understanding a lot of the common issues that we face. In this post we will highlight 5 characteristics of this mentality.

1. Ignoring the Spiritual Side of Rizq (Sustenance) and Barakah (Blessing)

In sports, there are some teams who seem to continually be winning. They have a good run of making the playoffs and advancing for a few years. Then they lose their good players, rebuild, but then get right back to winning again.

There are other teams, no matter what they do, they hit a wall and can’t get past it. They may be able to get good players on their team, but it never translates into winning. These are the teams that haven’t made the playoffs in 10 years – they’re consistently losers. And when those good players move on to other teams, they suddenly start winning.

Both scenarios above indicate a deep organizational issue that transcends individual leaders, talents, or personalities.

We have communities like this as well. There’s the place that’s been operating out of a rented retail space for years now, but the community is active and vibrant. People enjoy going there.There are other places that have fancy, empty, structures. They have lots of money, so they keep bringing in qualified and talented individuals – but they keep leaving. No matter what they do, the community won’t get involved.

A million different reasons could possibly explain why these scenarios exist. The one reason we don’t like to talk about, though, is the spiritual one.

What is the impact on a community if a significant amount of their donations originate from haram sources (alcohol, cigarettes, lottery, interest, fraudulent billing)?

Our sins have a real impact on not just us, but those around us as well. It is naive to think these issues do not have an effect and impact on the spiritual development of our communities at large. It’s compounded by the fact that instead of potentially rectifying the situation by at least seeking forgiveness, we seek instead to justify our behavior.

There’s no way of tiptoeing around this issue. When a person chooses to openly sell liquor, and then still wants to serve in an administrative capacity at the masjid, it is a severe case of cognitive dissonance.

At the root of this is a flawed understanding of what it means that Allah is Al-Razzaq (The One Who Provides Sustenance). They assume that they cannot make (as much) money without indulging in a haram business.

That’s between a person and Allah as far as their personal life goes. Bringing that mentality into the masjid is a different story. It changes the dynamics of understanding the spiritual side of money.

This is a mentality of money scarcity. If I make $5, it means you lose $5. If our masjid raised $250k last year, and this year a new masjid opened down the road, it means we’ll only be able to raise $125k. They see wealth with a fixed mentality and operate accordingly.

The more appropriate mindset of tawakkul (or abundance) would be the understanding that if things are done for the right reasons, Allah will provide the financial means. He is fully capable of letting both masjids raise $500k apiece the following year – the same way 2 Starbucks across the street from each other both manage to stay successfully in business.

Consider this hadith about the spiritual side of wealth.

Anas b. Malik raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) narrated that there were two brothers. One of them would come to the Prophet (s) and the other would seek his sustenance by working. So the one who used to seek his sustenance complained to the Prophet (S) about his brother. He ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) replied, “It is possible that you are provided your rizq [sustenance] because of him!” [Tirmidhi]

In other words, providing for a student of knowledge is a way of increasing your own sustenance. This hadith should have far-reaching ramifications in our communities when it comes to discussing hiring a full-time Imam and paying a real salary.

Someone who feels that they need to engage in a forbidden business to make money will not have the same understanding and reliance in the provision that Allah provides.

The irony is that these masjids will fundraise excessively for their own (usually construction/expansion) projects. They simultaneously limit the fundraising for other causes, and refuse to invest the money they raise. People employed by the masjid are not just underpaid, but forced to take 1099 contractor status and work without any basic benefits (such as health insurance) while extra funds are invested into construction. Likewise, it is not uncommon for a masjid to have a surplus of zakat funds sitting around that end up getting sent overseas at the end of the year – funds that should have instead been providing ongoing services to the local community.

2. Commoditization of Human Capital

This is basically a fancier way of saying that once a board gives a paycheck to someone, they feel like they own them.

In a gas station, the owner’s relationship with the employees is basically nil. This is not the place where you find inspirational leaders creating a vision and rallying their employees to reach their potential. It’s a place where an abysmally-low-leadership-capacity owner hires employees at minimum wage (or often less, but that’s a different story), and then treats them like garbage.

To better understand this, contrast it with Chick-Fil-A where managers take their leadership duties seriously and you see it manifested in the service delivered from front line employees.

The gas station owner has no care or concern for the employee at the register. That employee is a commodity. If that employee quits, you just replace them with another warm body – it doesn’t matter who. They do this because in their eyes it is low level work. It doesn’t matter if the cashier is a jerk or provides stellar service – your clientele is still going to come and purchase whatever they were planning on purchasing.

When this mentality extends into the masjid, the Imam, teachers, and other servants of the community get treated the same way. They are being managed by individuals who are themselves of low leadership competency, and therefore cannot truly understand the value of spiritual leadership in the community. It’s the polar opposite of the “game recognize game” principle.

When those entrusted with being administrators over our communities lack an understanding of the depth of Islamic knowledge, they will never be able to treat its people with the proper respect. The ultimate irony is these people will complain that their teenage children are leaving Islam on one hand, and with the other they work to get rid of those very same people who were in a position to provide mentorship to those kids.

So when you actually do have amazing people working for the masjid, a board infected with this ‘gas station owner’ mentality will fail to recognize or value their work. Instead, they will treat them like that minimum-wage, easily replaceable, cashier.

That means micromanaging their hours, minimizing the payroll expense, and maximizing the hours worked. They see the person as nothing more than an expense on their balance sheet at the end of the month – “labor costs.” The cognitive dissonance continues because they convince themselves that the best thing they can do for the community is to cut costs. So they do it, without any regard or understanding of the long term impact it will have on the community.

It also means that a high rate of turnover is normal to them. It is doubtful that the same cashier has ever worked for them more than 1-2 years. At the slightest disagreement or issue with a masjid employee, their knee jerk reaction will be to cut this person loose. After all, if they’re a commodity, they’ll just as easily find someone else to replace them.

It’s worth noting that the end game for people who actually want to do community work is not financially driven. There are much easier ways to earn money. Ironically, many will even overlook the difficulties and continue to fight to serve the community. Sadly, even this has its limits as board politics and suffocating environments eventually take their toll on a person both professionally and spiritually to the point that they end up leaving.

3. Operate From a Premise of Greed

WIIFM. What’s in it for me? And therein lies the problem. The mentality here is that if we are going to pay someone, what return are we getting?

This does not mean that you ignore job duties, or KPI (Key Performance Indicators), or general performance benchmarks. It does mean, however, that you cannot measure and quantify everything financially (see also: Your Masjid is Not a Fortune 500 Company, Nor Should it Be).

Operating from a premise of greed means that you have a constant need to not only financially quantify every expenditure – but come out ahead. This is also rooted in a lack of being able to quantify the real impact of spiritual leadership on a community.

Think of it this way. Imagine someone came and asked the gas station owner for a job and asked for $12/hour instead of $7. This person asked for that salary because they have an excellent customer service background, and at a previous job they helped the business owner realize a small uptick in revenue due to an increase in customer loyalty and sales – resulting from providing better service on a regular basis.

A business owner with a high leadership capacity would be able to recognize the value of this skillset. The gas station owner will simply say – “only way I’m paying you $12 is if you clean the bathrooms too.”

Every decision is dictated by not just the bottom line, but the immediate bottom line. The irony is that a gas station owner will take out a business loan to buy the gas station and have the patience to wait X number of years to be profitable. Or to build a car wash and be willing to wait X number of years to break even. The only part of the business they do not have this patience for is the actual human resources.

Sounds a bit like masjid construction projects and hiring of an Imam.

We’ve lost the patience to find and develop good talent in our communities. We take up any number of roles – board member, prayer leader, mu’adhin, Sunday school teacher, khateeb, treasurer, social events coordinator, social media marketer, or even random volunteer. How many take the time to understand the skillset needed to serve these positions with ihsan (excellence) and actually make the investment of time and money to develop that skillset? What about investing in others to help them develop? This is why communities feel they can simply get by with a hodgepodge of part-time and volunteer efforts.

4. Insecurity and Paranoia

When you’re worried about getting swindled 24/7, it’s hard to turn that off.

You’re worried about customers getting gas and leaving without paying. So you make them pre-purchase. People might shoplift, so you install security cameras. Employees might cheat, so you put special cameras over the register and watch the livestream on your phone constantly.

There’s nothing wrong with taking precautions. There is, however, a problem when your default mode of behavior operates on the assumption that everyone is out to cheat you.

This type of insecurity is the same kind of insecurity that drives a middle manager in the corporate world to micromanage his or her employees. They lack the requisite competence or leadership demanded of their position, so they micromanage others to assert their authority. It’s a textbook power play made by low-competency individuals.

Sadly, Zakat distribution is the ultimate illustration of this. When someone comes to the masjid seeking help, they are often treated in a disrespectful and undignified manner. They’re made to wait around for a board member in such a way that it becomes obvious to everyone that they need help. Then they have to fill out twenty different forms and justify their need for zakat funds.

The same paranoia of a cashier stealing money from the register is carried into this situation. People asking for zakat funds are implicitly deemed guilty until proven innocent. Contrast this with the Prophetic example to immediately distribute zakat funds (instead of hoarding them), and responding to requests for help.

Yes, some people cheat the system. Yes, there are cases of fraud. Our faith, however, does not teach us to be paranoid and default to the assumption that everyone asking for help is trying to swindle the masjid out of a couple of hundred bucks.

This is a spiritual issue more than anything else. Do the right thing for the right reason, and Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will take care of the outcomes, results, and future financial needs.

The same mentality applies to paying an Imam. The supposedly well-intentioned concern is assuming that once someone goes on payroll, they’ll suddenly start trying to find ways to get paid without working, or that it is some kind of get rich quick scheme. I have personally heard people say things to the effect of – I went to school for 8 years and work 50 hours a week to make X salary, how dare this person just sit in the masjid and get a salary.

We make a default assumption to the worst possible behavior someone could do [perhaps because deep down that’s what we  would do in that situation], and project our personal insecurity onto others.

5. They Live in a Bubble

We have to pick on doctors a little bit.

In a hospital, a physician simply needs to threaten to stop bringing patients to create all the leverage he or she needs to get anything they want.

A gas station owner yields authority over everyone. Do as commanded, or be fired.

In both situations, it creates an environment where a person is catered to individually on a constant basis. No one around you wants to make you mad. You get used to people [subordinate to you] acquiescing to your viewpoint on nearly everything all the time.

This is why, when challenged on something, they’re usually not able to handle it well. Islamic knowledge and community work are not their strengths. It takes a huge slice of humble pie to be able to admit that you’re weak in this area.

That’s hard to do when you’re used to being the expert on everything.

It’s easy for a physician to acknowledge the expertise of a car mechanic. They might try to fix their own car, watch YouTube videos, but realize they don’t even know how to operate a wrench. In this case they can easily go to a mechanic and follow their advice. It’s not a big deal because this is not a skillset that really has any priority or meaning in their life.

Islamic work is a different story. People assume that by being Muslim, or having volunteered to find a catering company for a fundraising dinner, they suddenly know what it takes to spiritually lead and develop a community. Moreover, there is an emotional attachment to the status that comes with holding some type of official title in the community. They often do not realize that their high competency and proficiency in one arena does not translate into another.

This has a negative impact on board dynamics as well. Due to their lack of ability to recognize or admit their own weakness, they have to put themselves at the same level (or higher) than everyone else. So if someone on the board does have actual experience with running a masjid, or organizing Islamic activities, they put themselves on equal standing. “Everyone’s opinion is equal and important.”

No, it’s not.

The car mechanic’s opinion on how to treat cancer is not on par with an oncologist. And a board member’s opinion on how to establish a moon-sighting policy is not on par with an Islamic scholar.

Solution?

After reading this kind of article, everyone always makes the same snarky remark – “Well, what’s the solution then?”

The answer is that there is no real easy solution. There aren’t 3 bite size nuggets or action items that are going to fix this. Ultimately, a more significant portion of the general community is going to have to wake up and take their spirituality more seriously. When that happens, they can hold their boards to account via elections and/or social pressure within the community.

The community is the only check and balance against bad leadership – but enough of the community has to really care about it to make a difference. Part of that effort includes a deep level of self-reflection and addressing our own spiritual issues regardless of our role and position within any community.

Another alternative, and it is my personal theory that this will become more prevalent in the next few years, is to redefine what the masjid means in America. Currently, we expect the masjid to serve almost as a mini nation-state with its own prayer hall, kids area, gym, clinic, community center, school, grocery store, and Muslim only neighborhood within walking distance.

If we can’t reform this model because bad leaders simply won’t let go, or can’t be forced out (probably because they keep redoing the constitution to keep themselves in power), then we have to create a new model. That model might be to change the role of the masjid to being one of a prayer space only (daily prayers and Juma). Schools would become private entities in their own buildings. Smaller, independent, third spaces would then fill the gap of relevant community programming and development. This is not necessarily a solution, but it appears some communities are now trending in that direction as a workaround to the existing system.

Lastly, just do the opposite of the 5 characteristics above.

Additional Reading
  1. Running a Masjid is a Lot Like Bikeshedding
  2. Your Masjid is Not a Fortune 500 Company, Nor Should It Be
  3. A Leadership Lesson from the 4 Types of Imam/Board Relationships
  4. The Age of the Full-Time Imam is Over, Here’s What The New Era of Islamic Work Looks Like
  5. How Much Should Islamic Clergy Make?

For more of Omar’s articles, you can subscribe to his newsletter by clicking here

Pauline Hanson 'doing Isis's work' with burqa stunt, says Sarah Hanson-Young

The Guardian World news: Islam - 21 August, 2017 - 01:37

Greens senator accuses Hanson of putting national security at risk, as senior police officer says her behaviour may undermine social cohesion

Pauline Hanson’s decision to wear a burqa in the Australian Senate to call for the Islamic face covering to be banned undermines police efforts to build social cohesion, the head of Victoria’s counter-terrorism command has said.

A Victoria police assistant commissioner, Ross Guenther, said episodes like the Hanson stunt “tend to undermine” work with Muslim community leaders, while the Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young told the One Nation leader she was “doing Isis’s work for them”.

Related: Dealing with Pauline Hanson requires facts. That's why George Brandis got it right | Lenore Taylor

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The authority fallacy and the “7-day NHS”

Indigo Jo Blogs - 19 August, 2017 - 19:39

Prof Stephen Hawking with David AttenboroughEarlier today, the health minister Jeremy Hunt posted some tweets claiming that Professor Stephen Hawking was wrong in his assessment of the data regarding the “weekend effect” (the notion that people admitted to hospital over the weekend were more likely to die than those admitted during the week because fewer doctors, and in particular fewer consultants, are working). The ‘effect’ has been cited by the Tories and the right-wing press to support Hunt’s proposals for a “24-hour NHS”, while others have debunked the idea. Professor Hawking is to make a speech at the Royal Society of Medicine today criticising the plans and is accusing Jeremy Hunt of “cherry-picking” statistics to support his position. The social media response to Hunt has been to emphasise Hawking’s status as one of the world’s foremost scientists and Hunt’s as a relative nobody despite his powerful position. As obvious as it might seem that Hunt can’t argue with a famous scientist about numbers or data, it’s a classic logical fallacy, the “argument from authority”.

To put it simply, a ‘nobody’ and indeed a widely and rightly disliked politician can indeed be right and a scientist with a PhD and however many dozen peer-reviewed papers and books published can be wrong. This is particularly true when the issue is not the scientist’s particular kind of science. Professor Hawking is a theoretical physicist, not a statistician; his work has been mainly concerned with black holes and gravity, and doubtless there is a major mathematical element to all this (I’m no expert; I got an E in GCSE physics and dropped it thereafter) but it does not make him an expert in health statistics (his Wikipedia entry does not even mention statistics once) or indeed anything to do with healthcare except his own condition, and that could be said of anyone with his condition, PhD or no.

Citing someone’s status as “a scientist” is potentially a very dangerous use of this fallacy. As George Monbiot has noted, a lot of the material purporting to disprove man-made climate change is predicated on the scientific credentials of its authors, but most of them are in fact not climate scientists; the vast majority of those are agreed that it is real. In the early 2000s a number of women were languishing in prison for multiple child murders which were, in fact, natural deaths; a major plank of the prosecution was the insistence by the paediatrician, Professor Roy Meadow, that multiple cot deaths in one family just do not happen. In the case of Sally Clark, who had lost two children to cot death, he told the jury that the likelihood of this happening were 1 in 73 million; this was based on an elementary error in maths, the presumption that the two deaths (in which cot death affects one in every 8,543 babies born) were independent of each other, and thus you could just multiply the two probabilities together to get the 73 million figure. In the radio programme that exposed the case, the interviewer noted to his interviewees twice that Meadow was a distinguished paediatrician, and one of the interviewees responded that he was not a statistician. The same interviewer also made the point many people would have made when defending Meadow: will you believe a scientist and a knight, or an unemployed barman (the then-husband of one of the other wrongly-convicted mothers)?

Proving a fallacy does not, of course, prove that the entire argument is wrong. Others have countered the idea of a “weekend effect”, and doctors commonly work beyond their hours in the event of an emergency or, say, an operation overrunning the time it had been expected to take. The point is that it isn’t valid to argue that Hunt must be wrong and Hawking right because of Hawking’s stature in the world of theoretical physics or cosmology, because those are different disciplines from statistics, much as is paediatrics or any other form of medicine.

(On the particular subject of the NHS operating on weekends: I’ve known people who have been admitted to psychiatric wards on Friday evenings after the consultants have gone home and then found they are prevented from leaving the wards because the consultant has not approved it — which they should not have to in the case of informal patients, but this requirement is commonly, and illegally, imposed. There have also been cases where leave has been granted but not written up, and this is only discovered when the relative arrives to take the patient out and the consultant is at home. In such cases, consultants should at least be contactable at weekends or at least whenever a new patient is admitted, especially if it is planned; the patients they have power over do not, after all, get the weekend off. But if it really were dangerous to fall ill on a weekend, it would not have taken a politician to notice it; it would have been a public scandal going back years, and it has not been. Most of the public dissatisfaction around the NHS has been to do with under-funding and specific incidents of negligence and malpractice unrelated to the fact that many staff work weekdays and not, usually, weekends.)

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Spiritual Preparation for Hajj

Muslim Matters - 19 August, 2017 - 02:54

Hajj is first and foremost a spiritual journey. The end goal of Hajj is simple–receive the gift of complete forgiveness of all of your past sins. All you have to do is complete the mandatory requirements of each ritual and step of Hajj while avoiding a few critical mistakes and the gift of forgiveness is promised to you.

Here are some spiritual preparation tips for those attempting the Hajj pilgrimage this year. I’m sure you’ve been packing (check out my previous recommendations for a Hajj Checklist and Packing Guide) but don’t neglect preparing yourself! Some of the preparation should begin before you leave for Hajj, so don’t wait. Some of these tips were given to me by others and some were tips that I wanted to share from my experience going on Hajj last year.

*Note: Asterisks (*) indicate that personal discretion may be used once the days of Hajj are completed. Some practices will be obsolete or unnecessary once Hajj is completed.

Before You Leave:
  1. Master the rules of Hajj according to your Hajj group’s leader/scholar. This includes memorizing the duas you need to make (according to your Hajj leader.)  Study the material that they provide for you, create summary lists/notes and even a cheat sheet to have with you on a note card. If you get lost or separated from your group or lose your dua book or Hajj guide, make sure you can complete the rituals on your own. Hajj is the final exam of a lifetime. (Note:  I don’t recommend taking Hajj rules from multiple sources because you will be confused. )
  2. Make sure you feel solid in your five daily prayers, even if you don’t pray regularly. Be comfortable with the basic rules of wudu and prayer and that you have the prayer and enough Quran memorized to adequately complete the prayer. Hajj is not the time to mumble and stumble through your prayers. Don’t simply assume that if you learned to pray as a kid that you are doing it right, check with someone more learned than you or refresh your knowledge and practice of prayer! If you’ve neglected learning or fixing your prayer you can and will improve and learn, but it may take a lot of work if you’ve left it for this long. Seek the help of a knowledgeable friend or family member, local religious figure, or even someone in your Hajj group if you’re still struggling. Pay a teacher–it’s that important.
  3. Field dua requests from loved ones you’d like to pray for. Do this by making phone calls, sending out text messages, or creating a form online. Write down their requests or print them out and have them with you.
  4. Make a small, specific shopping list for Saudi Arabia and set a small portion of time to spend in the marketplace (i.e. 3 hours on Wednesday before Hajj.)  Once you have your itemized list of the things you want to buy (for yourself or gifts for others), set a price for each item (for example, 4 modest dresses for myself at $30 each and 1 prayer rug for each of my siblings at $20 each.) Then, go over that list again and cut out half of the things you want to buy and keep just what you need. Don’t waste your time roaming around the marketplace–you’ll increase your chances of being exposed to sickness, your heart and soul will be distracted from getting into the Hajj mindset, and you’ll accumulate a bunch of things that will be a pain to keep track of and bring back with you.
  5. Gradually decrease your consumption of news, TV/movies, music, radio, etc. Resist the temptation of binging on movies on your flight, think about your Hajj journey starting from the second you step outside of your home to leave! Reassess your relationship with media once you return from your Hajj trip.
Start Now and Continue Until You Return:
  1. *Gradually decrease your food intake and free yourself physically and spiritually. Seek the help of a nutritionist or physician, if necessary. You will be able to waste less time eating, feeling preoccupied about food, wasting food when there are hujjaj starving around you, and needing to use the toilet (long lines in Hajj camps/sites). You will also unencumber your soul and spirituality, just like in Ramadan.
  2. Up your dua game–NOW with a specific, step-wise plan. Figure out a plan so that you feel increasingly comfortable having a conversation with Allah and that it comes as a reflex to speak to Him. Praying to God is a muscle–start bulking up for the most important day of Hajj, the Day of Arafat.
  3. Increase your exposure to the Quran. Spend more time with the Quran in any/multiple forms–reciting in Arabic, reading the translation in your own language, listening to your favorite reciter, etc. Don’t let your ability or inability to access the Quran in Arabic be a hinderance to you from benefitting from it.
  4. *Get yourself in the mindset to disconnect from your sexual impulses and physical desires with a concrete and appropriate plan. Whether you are intimate with your spouse, suffer from an addiction to porn, have the habit of masturbating, find it difficult to lower your gaze–figure out a way to be bigger than those impulses and work hard to master them. For spouses going together, you will probably not be sharing a room with your spouse during your Hajj trip, but be careful to avoid anything that may lead to intimacy. Discuss a plan with your spouse to help the both of you and set rules for yourselves.
  5. Through honest introspection, identify the few things that drive you crazy or push you to the edge on a day-to-day or semi-regular basis. (i.e., no coffee in the morning, traffic, unironed clothes, etc.) Know that those few things will occur to you throughout your Hajj journey. This is God’s way of testing you, so make sure you have a plan that works for you to cope with those pet peeves or calm yourself from those stressors. Start working on it now and seek professional help if needed.
  6. *Figure out a reasonable plan for staying in touch with family (your parents, spouse, kids, etc.) and make a plan to limit how much you stay in touch during the actual few days of Hajj. This journey is about YOU, so be “selfish” and take a few days to secure your Hajj without distractions.
Once You Start Your Travel:
  1. Plan your tawaf and sa’i duas according to themes for each lap. Seven laps around the Kaabah and seven legs from Safa to Marwa–a great opportunity to make dua, so get organized! Plan themes for your supplication (aside from mandatory or recommended supplications as advised by your Hajj group’s leader) as you carry out each of these Hajj rituals. (I.e., the first circle of the Kaabah I make dua for myself, the second circle I make dua for my spouse, the third circle I make dua for my mom, etc.  Or  the first circle I make dua for my livelihood, the second circle I make dua for my health, the third circle I make dua for my faith and religious practice, the fourth circle I make dua for my life in the grave, etc. Or the first leg of sa’i I make dua for the Muslims in my city, the second leg for Muslims in my country, the third leg for Muslims suffering in specific countries, etc.) Make different sets for the multiple times you make tawaf and sa’i. Write these down on flashcards or something else easy to carry and remind yourself. Why do I specifically suggest this? Firstly, tawaf and sa’i are chaotic because of the crowd and heat. It is very easy to get distracted or thrown off and if you don’t have a plan you may waste time. Secondly, this will allow you to think about all of the things and people you’d like to make dua for, so you can make sure you get a chance to make dua for everything.
  2. Plan your Arafah dua similarly to the previous point. Have a list of things you want to make dua for or about and if you get tired or distracted, keep going through your list. If you want to make duas in Arabic, memorize a few important ones and connect with their meanings deeply.
  3. Find your Hajj buddy in your Hajj group (and if you’re going with your spouse, find your Hajj buddy couple.) Your Hajj buddy/Hajj buddy couple will be the one who you want to have as your roommate or next to you in the tent in Mina, do tawaf with, spend the walk to the jamaraat with, etc. The company you keep on this journey may make or break the quality of your Hajj. Important note–many times you will be separated from your spouse due to logistical needs of gender segregation and you will not be able to rely on your spouse as much as you’d like to. Additionally, your Hajj group may feel a little like high school all over again, so avoid the drama and weird social dynamics that will inevitably occur. Also, don’t feel obligated to hang around with a friend or family member if you think they do not deserve to be your Hajj buddy or vice versa. Sometimes we have bad habits or get sucked into bad patterns with siblings, spouses, parents, or friends and these habits (i.e. backbiting about a mutual friend, insulting or acting harshly toward, quickly losing your temper, etc.) may destroy the quality of your Hajj. It may be difficult to broach the subject with someone you already know, but figure out a plan and communicate it with them. And if this is a problem you have with someone, then begin to rectify it or make a plan to rectify it on  your return (you may need professional help.)
  4. Decrease your talking. Many of the things that can destroy your Hajj are simply argumentation, complaining, gossiping, etc. Start gradually decreasing how much you talk and every time you want to say something, say it to yourself and Allah instead.
  5. Unplug from social media. Delete your social media apps and go cold turkey. You are not sharing your Hajj journey real time with your friends and family members–don’t rob yourself by being concerned with sharing with others. Reassess your relationship with social media once you return. It may be helpful to begin gradually cutting back before you leave for Hajj.
  6. Don’t worry about taking pictures at Hajj–this is not an average “vacation.” Plan to take a specific number of pictures during your whole trip–literally two or three, definitely under ten. (I.e. one with the Kaabah and one by the Masjid al Nabawi.) You can potentially start taking pictures once you complete the days of Hajj, but be careful to avoid distracting yourself and make sure you’re making the most of your trip.
  7. Give a small amount of charity to someone in need every day. Just $5 or $10, and you’ll find plenty of people in need all around you while you’re visiting Saudi Arabia.  

I hope you’ll find these suggestions helpful, God willing, and may you have a Hajj Mabroor!

Hajj Checklist and Packing Guide

Yasir Qadhi | The Fiqh of Hajj and Practical Advice for Hajj

Hajj: A Culmination of a Lifetime’s Work

Hajj Reflections: The Mortality of Man

New national council to issue progressive rulings for Britain's Muslims

The Guardian World news: Islam - 18 August, 2017 - 15:01

Qari Asim, one of UK’s most prominent imams, says central religious authority will interpret Islam in line with British values

Britain’s most senior Muslim clerics are to set up their first national council to issue progressive religious rulings that “embed Islam in a 21st-century British context”.

Qari Asim, one of Britain’s most prominent imams, said the central religious authority would promote an interpretation of Islam that was in line with British values.

Related: Muslim feminist plans to open liberal mosque in Britain

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Malcolm Turnbull backs Brandis in berating Hanson for burqa stunt

The Guardian World news: Islam - 18 August, 2017 - 01:53

Prime minister stresses that cooperation with Muslim Australians is critical to combating threat of terrorism

Malcolm Turnbull has backed his attorney general’s full-throated rebuke of Pauline Hanson, saying George Brandis spoke with “eloquence and wisdom”.

The prime minister told reporters on Friday he didn’t want to dignify “stunts in the Senate” with too much commentary but he indicated that Brandis had been correct to call out the One Nation leader.

Related: Brandis stands up for decency after burqa stunt – but that's exactly what Hanson wanted | Katharine Murphy

Related: Nationals deputy leader Fiona Nash referred to high court over citizenship

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Legacy of Khan: Eyebrows or the Lack Thereof

Muslim Matters - 17 August, 2017 - 18:55

When I was 14, my white mother sat me down- unprompted- and did what blonde ladies do to tidy up their eyebrows…I think. She shaved the top half of my eyebrows off and told me to keep it up. This might have worked for her. After all she was descended from a variety of European heritages. Irish, Scottish, and some German. My mother’s family came from many places but none of them were near Mongolia.

Being a non-blonde and bi-racial though, my Genghisesque eyebrows began growing back in full, immediate force. Instead of having thinner eyebrows, I now had a sort of gradient system going, starting from the darkest on the bottom and the lightest towards my forehead.

Later that same year, my sister and I went to spend the summer with our cousins in Pakistan. Being non-blonde descendants of Genghis Khan and his many savvy wives, they took one look at me and said: “What the heck have you done to your eyebrows!?”

They staged an intervention and threaded my eyebrows into the Pakistani equivalent of a bow that is meant to shoot the arrow of my glance straight into a young man’s heart.

Pakistani icon Noor Jehan is a classic example of “bow & arrow” eyebrows. Pew pew!

It was years before I learned that overhauling (versus tending) your eyebrows is not permissible in Islam, but by then, three things had already happened:

  1. I had forgotten what my real eyebrows actually looked like.
  2. I had grown to believe that my real eyebrows were hideous and that growing them out would cover the top half of my face.
  3. I was so far down the eyebrow rabbit-hole that I was more Golden Arches than Ghenghis.

It took me almost fifteen years to finally stop reshaping my eyebrows. It was hard at first – they grew in seemingly random places and kept straying further and further from the invisible boundaries that I had assigned to them.  I would look at myself in the mirror and sigh. Transitioning my eyebrows from “overgrown” to “growing out” took months.  My one source of encouragement- believe it or not- was my husband, and he had no idea what an emotional ordeal I was even undertaking.

He walked past me one day and casually said; “Hey, have you done something to your eyebrows?”

“What? Me?” I squeaked, my conscience guilty for wishing that I had. “I’m letting them grow in.”

“Oh,” he said.  “They look really nice.”

I was dumbstruck. It was another few months before my husband noticed the next boundary grown over, and this time he said, “I like your eyebrows this way.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, “Don’t you remember what they looked like when we were married?”

“I do,” he said. “I thought they looked…fake.”

I glared at him and went to the sock drawer where all truly important family records are kept. I found our wedding photos and to my surprise, my old, thin, highly manicured eyebrows struck me as looking… fake. While I wasn’t yet in love with the eyebrows au-naturelle, I was at least disillusioned with the artificial looking alternative.

If you’re a brother reading this article and wondering what place eyebrows have in the modern Muslim experience, trust me- it’s front and center. The clash between spirit and self happens on a daily basis for your sisters. Faith versus Fashion is the epic battle that rages daily in the hearts, closets, and bathroom mirrors of Muslim women every day.

If you’re a sister reading this article, then you’ve heard conversations like this before:

Sister 1: “Wallah, my eyebrows are so unruly. I know we’re not supposed shape them but I feel like such a neanderthal!”

Sister 2: “What are you talking about? Your eyebrows look fine. Now, MY eyebrows… they look like I ordered them from a Jim Henson catalog.”

#selfie

Sister 3: “You’re both crazy and your eyebrows frame your eyes perfectly! Now *my* eyebrows, they look like a handlebar mustache without a sense of direction…”

The circular consensus seems to be everyone has a real problem with their eyebrows, but everyone else looks fine and they’re just stressing for no reason.

Recently, heavier eyebrows have come back into fashion, I think this is a great time to piggy-back on the bandwagon and wave the flag for more natural looking eyebrows. While Muslims, of course, don’t wait for fashion to agree with religion before deciding to become religious, it is nice when fashion can do a part- even a teeny tiny one- to help boost our natural-looking self esteem when it comes to eyebrows.  Yes, the women are all still uncovered, photo-shopped, artfully painted and arranged by professionals- but the point is, they have big eyebrows and they are daring you to make caterpillar jokes about them.

I haven’t come as far as to say I’m in love with my natural eyebrows, but who am I to even suggest that Allah made a mistake in how He made them?  Allah Himself designed what my face and eyebrows were going to look like, and it should go without saying that His designs for what humans should look like are Divine (with a capital D) and everything else we do is just fixing what isn’t really broken.*

(*like when God makes women’s teeth too square.)

Please note- this doesn’t mean I’m saying that things like cleft palates are Divinely created and who are we therefore to alter them. Defects in the original human design are permissible to correct, like replacing a lost eye or reconstructing a face after an accident or congenital birth defect.  There’s a difference between correcting a defect to meet the standard and redesigning the standard altogether. Deciding that all of femalekind has been designed with the “wrong” kind of eyebrows is an attempt to redefine acceptable parameters for the female design.*

(*like when God makes women’s necks too short.)

While women in general has a problem accepting themselves in different shapes and sizes, accepting a tiny part of us- like our eyebrows- is a good first step. Eyebrows are perfectly designed for whatever it is that Allah designed them for.  Whether your naturally drop-dead gorgeous arches are meant to be a life-long battle with ego, or whether your hirsute forehead is an exercise in accepting the Qadr of Allah, they have a place in your life.*

*On your face.

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