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Discourses in the Intellectual Traditions, Political Situation, and Social Ethics of Muslim Life
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Podcast: Hijabi Girls in a Barbie World, Episode 1

1 October, 2020 - 03:53

Join Ustadha Zainab Bint Younus as she discusses the impact of social media marketing and hijab fashion with Shaykha Shazia Ahmad, Shaykha Umm Jamaal Ud Deen, and Ustadha Hosai Mojaddadi.

Today’s episode will be the first in a mini-series titled “Hijabi Girls in a Barbie World: Evaluating the Spiritual Ethics and Social Consequences of Hijabi Fashion Trends.”

About the Speakers:

Zainab bint Younus is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women’s issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da’wah. She was also an original founder of MuslimMatters.org.

Shaykhah Umm Jamaal ud-Din is a teacher of both Quran and various Shariah Sciences at the Islamic College of Australia, Sydney. Umm Jamaal ud-Din has an Ijazah in Tajweed from her teacher Shaykha Kareema Czerepinski; a BA Languages degree with a major in Arabic from the University of Western Sydney; and is completing her BA in Fiqh and Usul al Fiqh at Al-Madina International University. She has also completed her memorization of the Qur’an, alHamdulillah.

Shaykha Shazia Ahmad grew up in upstate New York and studied with local scholar and teacher Dr. Mokhtar Maghraoui before beginning her studies overseas. In Syria, she studied briefly at the University of Damascus and then at Abu Nour University where she completed an Arabic Studies program (Ad-Dawraat) and a program in Islamic Studies (Ma’had at-Taheeli). She also studied in a number of private classes and attained her ijaza in Qur’anic recitation from the late Sh. Muhiyudin al-Kurdi (rahimahullah). She then spent the following six years in Cairo, Egypt furthering her education through private lessons and study. She has ijazaat in a number of introductory texts in various Islamic subjects and has written on Islam for Jannah.Org, VirtualMosque.com, and various other blogs and publications.​ She also holds a BA in psychology and history from the State University of New York.

Shaykha Hosai Mojaddidi has been serving the Muslim community for over 25 years as a teacher, public speaker, author/writer, spiritual counselor and mental health advocate. She began her Islamic studies over 20 years ago at Zaytuna Institute in the Bay Area California where for several years she served as the lead female organizer and studied aqeeda, seerah, Hanafi fiqh, tazkiyah an-nafs, tajweed, hadith, Arabic, and other sacred subjects with several resident and visiting scholars including Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, Imam Zaid Shakir, Dr. Umar Faruq abd-Allah, Shaykh Abdullah al-Kadi, Qari Amr Bellaha, and others. She currently teaches self development and spiritual development classes for adults and youth through MCC East Bay & Rahmah Foundation. She is actively involved with her local community and offers talks throughout the year on a range of topics including spirituality, self-development, seerah, women’s issues, family/marriage, youth issues, social media literacy/safety, and mental health advocacy.

The post Podcast: Hijabi Girls in a Barbie World, Episode 1 appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Mockery: Comedy’s Weapon Against Morality

29 September, 2020 - 03:06

Mock mockers after that
That would not lift a hand maybe
To help good, wise or great
To bar that foul storm out, for we
Traffic in mockery.

-W.B. Yeats

Religion is a common target of mockery, and mockery is one of the quickest ways to destroy reverence. Laughing at the sacred and making seemingly benign comments whose harm is difficult to explicate is subversive to our sense of the sacred. Mockery may be aimed at the institution of religion, sacred texts, or holy figures. While Muslims remain distinctive in upholding the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammadﷺ, it is common to find Muslims caricaturizing practicing Muslims as judgmental, hypocritical, backwards, and stupid.  Making fun of instances of hypocrisy and judgmental behavior would not be so bad as that would target vices and inconsistencies. The caricaturizing of all practicing Muslims as backwards, however, occurs when basic tenets and practices become linked to absurdities. We should not be surprised when Muslim entertainers do this given that they exist in a larger culture which detests the sacred and champions mockery of authority. Furthermore, it is myopic to support such figures as religious representatives when they do not care to uphold the sanctity of basic religious beliefs and actions.

A comedian today is a cultural authority holding a role akin to the public intellectual. However, the comedian is not responsible for the views espoused and can always backtrack and say ‘it’s just a joke.’ He is not held to decorous standards or expected to hold any positions, nor is he expected to rationally defend the positions he does hold. He is an outsider as a critic, but an insider when on your side. A comedian enters discussions on his own terms, appropriates and disowns, has no committed position, and can always point the finger. The comedian is a transcendental figure not beholden to any moral standard or class of people. He does everything under the canopy of laughter. Mockery is such a comedian’s favorite tool. Mockery requires no critique, and it’s not an argument; however, it’s an effective way of devaluing and dragging something revered down to a level of flaws and the mundane. It’s a sneaky tactic that asserts superiority without making an argument or inviting rebuttals.

A comedian today is a cultural authority holding a role akin to the public intellectual. However, the comedian is not responsible for the views espoused and can always backtrack and say ‘it’s just a joke.’Click To Tweet

The comedian can justify anything by referencing his ability to incite laughter. Laughter – what we consider funny – is determined by the spirit of the age. What was funny 50 years ago is not funny today. There is a relationship between morality and humor. What is comedic is produced in relation to our moral sensibilities. When sacrilege is normalized it becomes a function of comedy. Jokes about God would not have been funny 100 years ago, but now they are commonplace.

Jokes about God would not have been funny 100 years ago, but now they are commonplace.Click To Tweet

Mockery is comedy’s weapon against morality. Mocking an aspect of Islam is not an attack on the truth of it, rather it attacks the moral weight. Mockery is not a challenge on epistemic grounds: it’s a challenge of reverence. It removes the weight of veneration. Everything you believe religiously has an external correlate to how you interact with the world. If you mock a concept enough you will recreate it as a parody of itself. This is extremely corrosive for our faith. Mockery provides a material way of making religious practices look stupid. A common target is prayer. We can never materially prove that a prayer has been answered. It’s easy to view unanswered duas with cynicism and chalk it up to a spiritual interpretation of nothing happening.

If you mock a concept enough you will recreate it as a parody of itself. This is extremely corrosive for our faith.Click To Tweet

Recently, Muslim comedian Hasan Minhaj made a mockery of dua. Much like voting enthusiasts criticized Colin Kaepernick for ‘only kneeling’ or bureaucrats paint protesters as ‘noisemakers’ who don’t do anything ‘real,’ many Muslims have come to mock the idea of supplication bringing about change in the world. We should not accept any Muslim celebrity partaking in such mockery as it transgresses orthodox Muslim sensibilities and negatively portrays us for taking our rituals and worship seriously.  This is especially true when such figures are bound by the protocols of Hollywood “activism,” in which missteps of a different kind result in ‘listening, learning, and privilege checking’ rituals to prevent excommunication.

In his monologue We Cannot Stay Silent About George Floyd, Hasan addresses Keith Ellison, asking, “how many Muslim fundraisers have you and I gone to where we   ‘pray for the community…you gotta make dua…'[closing his eyes, raising his hands, as if imitating someone making dua].”  Hasan then says “we cannot just make dua.” His portrayal of dua here is that of being an empty ritual and a way of not dealing with problems.

Minhaj juxtaposes two activities: human activity and prayer, and suggests that all Muslims do is the latter and it’s coming at the expense of the former. This juxtaposition suggests that the only way to take the former is to sacrifice the latter, which is untrue. We only act on our volition by the will of God. Seeking permission from The Creator who determined what we can do in the name of practical activity in a perfectly sensible thing to do.

Seeking permission from The Creator who determined what we can do in the name of practical activity is a perfectly sensible thing to do.Click To Tweet

Given that he cited such duas as occurring at specific fundraisers, we could have excused this statement as bad taste and getting carried away if it had been his only negative portrayal of dua. If Minhaj’s point was to poke fun at people using dua as an excuse to not act, the inconsistency of dua not substituting going to work or school for worldly success could have been pointed out.

In Minhaj’s follow up, Hasan And Keith Ellison On Justice For George Floyd, he portrays dua as inherently useless. In the episode, Minhaj shares the criticism he received from his last monologue, with Muslims asking “why did you have to go after making dua?” Minhaj then states that he wants to start the interview with Ellison with a dua, and he begins with a Quranic dua making it seem like he is going to make things right. He then pretends to pray with utter seriousness for what he means the audience to understand as frivolous. He nonchalantly tells his “white friends” backstage that they can “just participate” and before officially ending, asks Ellison if he wants him to make anymore “shout outs.”

Minhaj’s dua scene has several implications. It mocks the importance of dua and portrays religious Muslims as useless, frivolous, and unintelligent.Click To Tweet

Minhaj’s dua scene has several implications. It mocks the importance of dua and portrays religious Muslims as useless, frivolous, and unintelligent. It also suggests that dua has no capacity to change things, and because it won’t change things, we can make dua any way we want.  One message is that the ultimate point is to change things with your hands because dua has no real power to transform the world. This is used as way of criticizing Muslims for making dua and allegedly not taking action as if the two actions are at odds. Minhaj is also making the point in his mock dua that it makes no difference what we pray for because the act itself is inconsequential.  This portrayal removes the cosmic dimension of prayer and states ‘God won’t intervene in this situation, only you can do it!’ We should not accept tropes which divide prayer and action and presuppose an inherent divide which demands we limit prayer to intensify our commitment to action.

Furthermore, this scene suggests that when Muslims make dua, they are seeking refuge from ‘white women in yoga pants’ and other silly matters, which preoccupies them from doing any important work or having a positive impact on others.

His dua also seemed to be a response to his religious critics by mocking them, as if to say ‘religious people criticized me, so I’ll just show you how silly these religious people are and why they care about prayer, and then I’ll get on to the important matters.’

Dua further becomes an object of mockery when the name of Allah and an address to Allah become a comical address to the audience. In many places in the Quran, Allah glorifies the name of Allah. For example, Allah says

“Exalt the name of your Lord, the Most High” (87:1).

The name of Allah is itself sacred. Belittling the name of Allah or calling upon Allah, invoking His name in jest is a major sin. It is not absurd to ask Allah for trivial matters with seriousness, as the Prophet ﷺ  told us “Let one of you ask his Lord for all of his needs, even if his sandal strap breaks.”

The name of Allah is itself sacred. Belittling the name of Allah or calling upon Allah, invoking His name in jest is a major sin.Click To Tweet

Prayer was foundational for both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. in their respective civil rights movements.  They did not belittle prayer and deem their struggles ‘too serious’ for prayer. For oppressed people all over the world, all they have is prayer. Prayer is the barrier between oppression and despair. When Talut’s (Saul) army was to meet Goliath most of his soldiers despaired, saying “There is no power for us today against Goliath and his soldiers.”

But the believers from among them, “those who were certain that they would meet Allah said, ‘How many a small group has overcome a large group by Allah’s permission. And Allah is with the patient’” (2:249). The Muslims were guaranteed victory for the Battle of Badr, and the Prophet ﷺ was making dua with his hands raised before the battle to the point of his shawl shaking off his shoulders. The Prophet ﷺ also made dua while walking to the masjid and when waking up in the morning.  Dua is not just the refuge of the desperate, it is a manifestation of one’s connection to Allah and the realization of one’s utter dependence. It’s a dependence we affirm regardless of circumstance. It is wrong to view dua as something to do only when we are in a bad situation.

We would not tolerate jokes by non-Muslims which paint Muslims as buffoons and idiots. The fear would be that the negative portrayal would affect all Muslims.  When ‘religious Muslims’ are mocked by Muslims themselves however, it’s easy to stand outside of it as one of the enlightened ‘good ones.’ This leaves those who are hanging on to beliefs which are already mocked open to further mockery.

The Poets 

And the poets, only those in error follow them. Do you not see how in every valley they wander? And that they say what they do not do? Except those who believe and do righteous deeds and remember Allah much. And they avenge [the Muslims] after they have been oppressed.  And the oppressors will soon know to which place they shall be returned (26:224-227).

In this verse, Allah faults the poets as having no grounding in principles or beliefs. They go to and fro without commitment and say whatever they feel like or whatever helps achieve their personal aims. After a general rule, Allah mentions the exception of righteous and believing Muslim poets. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ told some of his poets to respond to poems of the polytheists which denigrated them by making poems denigrating the polytheists.  He told his poets that such poetry is harder on them than being hit by an arrow.  The Prophet ﷺ made dua for his poet Hassan ibn Thabit that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) assist him with Jibrael 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) in his poetry against the polytheists. Poetry was used as a tool to elevate and defend Islam and denigrate the polytheists.

Poetry was used as a tool to elevate and defend Islam and denigrate the polytheists.Click To Tweet

Comedy is potentially a positive tool, but we cannot be naive about its nature and the hurdles one has to overcome to make positive use of it. Excessive joking and exaggerated speech are faults of the tongue, and excessive laughter kills the heart. Joking occasionally or being cheerful is not analogous to making a career out of comedy. It is naive to think we can ‘Islamicize’ a medium by changing the content. Mediums which are intrinsically problematic like entertainment will win out and shape the content. This is especially problematic in the mainstream where industry standards push one to speak in a way that is not grounded in beliefs, conviction, or reverence. When a comedic standard is mockery and religion is often targeted, we cannot expect Islamic sanctity to be respected.  Jokes which depend on mockery are only funny if you buy into hidden premises, which are often predicated upon deliberate misunderstandings of their object. If you don’t buy into the premises, the jokes are revealed to be mean, insulting, and condescending

We must move beyond ‘halal and haram’ discussions on comedy and educate ourselves as to how comedy is used. Poetry is halal, but we are warned about it because it can pull us along to places we shouldn’t go emotionally and tug on certain heart strings. Likewise, in comedy, someone might make fun of an ideal in the religion, or a fiqh ruling by making it sound absurd, such as “why do Muslims have an aversion to just one bite of pork but eat plates full of fried food?” The false equivalency of “permit this, but prohibit that” is a common comedic schema for mocking religion. Such jokes are harmful because by coming in the form of a joke, they can get you to implicitly agree without realizing it, and once you laugh along you are entertaining the premise. This is how meaningful acts turn into heartless rituals.

The entertainment industry is very aware of its influence and will use its entertainers to propagate messages in support of its aims and ideals. This is an age-old tactic and we should not be surprised when we see Muslim entertainers used to propagate what we know is explicitly haram as being open to interpretation to begin a major change in the Muslim mind.  For example, five years ago, Reza Aslan and Hasan Minhaj wrote us an open letter in which they state their disagreement of homosexuality being haram.  This letter is intended for Muslims who seem to view Islam as a cultural identity primarily.

Unfortunately, many Muslims will overlook the anti-Islamic messaging in what they perceive as pro-Muslim messaging.  The desire for representation, safety, and acceptance overpower their desire to protect our religion. We should be happier to not have Muslim representation in the field than having Muslims who fall victim to vile industry norms and then want the same for us. However, we can promote comedians who do not engage in the mainstream. We should also expect Muslim organizations to not support or promote those who do mock our faith. Representation, normalization, and acceptance cannot become idols we create to rival God.

The desire for representation, safety, and acceptance overpower their desire to protect our religion. Click To Tweet

When it comes to Muslim celebrities in general, whether activists, politicians, entertainers, or even religious figures, gaining acceptance in the mainstream is often bartered for key Islamic principles.  This is seen as negotiable to liberal secular Muslims who do not believe in the inviolability and honor of the sharia as an eternally sacred institution. They may root their path to success in being Muslim and self-tokenize as Muslims, and while they are okay with weaponizing the oppression capital of Islam and using that as a stairway to fame, will mock institutional ideas of Islam to appease liberal secular sensibilities. They will challenge centuries old views of Islam in order to refashion Islam into the image of secularity. ‘Extreme’ and ‘balance’ are then defined by their own golden mean which is their own comfort level. The Prophetﷺ himself, who remains revered, will be reimagined in a way which suits their own sensibilities and parts from his life which do not suit these sensibilities will be ignored. They do not view the Prophet ﷺ as the ideal person whom we need to adjust our frames to understand, rather they center their own sensibilities as the perfect criterion.

In this reshaping, Islam is only good when it fits a secularism where we may mock religion and key ideas- just as American Christians mock Christian prayer. The tradition of Islam (opposed to very key tenets and values) become burdensome, and the fluid terms of ‘extreme’ and ‘balance’ will be alternated at will to justify this new approach to Islam.

In this reshaping, Islam is only good when it fits a secularism where we may mock religion and key ideas- just as American Christians mock Christian prayer. The tradition of Islam becomes burdensome.Click To Tweet

Knowing all this, we should not be surprised when Muslims in the mainstream make fun of Islam.  When someone else mocks us, it’s easy to view it as a clash and a challenge to what we believe, which evokes a defense. When we mock ourselves, it makes us indifferent and numb to its consequences.

Ghayra إن أصل الدين الغَيْرة ومن لا غيرة له لا دين له فالغَيْرة تحمي القلب فتحمي له الجوارح فتدفع السوء والفواحش، وعدم الغَيْرة  تميت القلب

The root of religion is ghayra. The one without ghayra has no religion. Ghayra protects the heart and protects the limbs and repels evil and lewdness. And a lack of ghayra kills the heart
Ibn Qayyim

Ghayra, which may be described as a sense of protection, honor, and love for something as sacred and inviolable will often better protect one’s religion than a rational understanding. Someone with ghayra for Islam will not laugh at sacrilege.

We exist in a broader culture, which when coupled with lack of knowledge may lead to a default assumption that Islam agrees with what we know of other religions or from our own cultural values. What is ‘good’ as defined by the broader context whether religious or cultural becomes what is ‘Islamic.’ Furthermore, for many, notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ vary between what religious authorities say about Islam and what their internal sense of right and wrong is, which is also negotiated within the broader context and mitigated by their own sense of what is or is not a serious issue.

‘Seeing both sides’ to sacrilege relates to its normalization. In a culture where comedy is meant to scoff at everything, a person sounds like a hardliner for affirming a unique status to religion. A point of mockery is to establish that nothing is exceptional and above mockery. Even as Muslims who understand making fun of religion is wrong, while existing in a broader culture where religion is the target of comedy, we understand that making fun of religion is a ‘different norm.’ One way to combat this, in addition to not watching such comedy, is to say astaghfirullah every time we hear such jokes, so the hate in our heart for sin remains and we don’t grow numb to sacrilege.

The tendency to uphold the honor of something comes with the tendency to feel disturbed when something is mocked. If you want a sense of ghayra for the sacred you also have to feel disturbance for its disrespect. The fact that we feel disturbed is a good sign.

All over the Muslim world- as well as inner-cities in America- the drunkard, the criminal, and the reprobate who has submitted to his own desires will have enough ghayra to draw a line at mocking Allah and His Messenger. He himself would not tolerate that disrespect, let alone engage in it.

A common complaint by liberals is the unacceptability of mocking the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. They are bothered by the honor and reverence Muslims maintain for their Prophet ﷺ and want us to be able to see such mocking as benign. Although their aims will persist, we have to remain uncompromising regarding the sanctity of our Prophet ﷺ and not let any Muslims be the gateway for this.

They are bothered by the honor and reverence Muslims maintain for their Prophet ﷺ and want us to be able to see such mocking as benign. Although their aims will persist, we have to remain uncompromising regarding the sanctity of our Prophet ﷺ and not let any Muslims be the gateway for this.Click To Tweet Comedic license

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ joked with his companions. His humor involved word play and making matters light while always speaking the truth. In Arabic, such joking is called mu’da’ba, which has a connotation of lighthearted humor that is not offensive. It was not undignified or an exaggerated joking like ‘mizaah.’ As some say, the Arabic word mizah for exaggerated jokes is named such because it expunges truth (إنَّمَا سُمِّيَ الْمِزَاحُ مِزَاحًا لِأَنَّهُ يُزِيحُ عَنْ الْحَقِّ).

Moderate humor is praised in books of tasawwuf.  It is often compared to salt in food, where too much or too little can be harmful. Buffoonery is blameworthy, as Aristotle mentions “The buffoon, on the other hand, is the slave of his sense of humour, and spares neither himself nor others if he can raise a laugh, and says things none of which a man of refinement would say, and to some of which he would not even listen” (104, Nicomachean Ethics).

Popular comedy is often viewed as an expression of truth unbound to convention. It’s a free time to delve into taboo and transgressions. Propriety takes a backseat to unfiltered expression. We do not believe the rules are suspended during comedy hour. Comedic license is not a license to mock, blaspheme, or indulge our caprice.  The Prophet ﷺ gave severe warning against using comedy as an avenue to falsehood.  Here are two hadith on the topic:

“Verily a man will speak a word to make those in his company laugh and will plunge by it further in the fire than Pleiades”

and

“Woe unto the one who speaks then lies to make the people laugh. Woe unto him. Woe unto him.”

Comedy does not give one license to commit sacrilege.

Many times in the Quran, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tells us the perils of taking His signs in jest, for example “That is because you took the verses of Allah in ridicule, and worldly life deluded you” (45:35).

Comfortable as strangers

“Islam began as a something strange and it will return to being strange, so blessed are the strangers” (Muslim).

We need to get comfortable as non ‘normalized’ religious people. As a religious group, we will have many things which set us apart from larger society, and that is okay. A numbness to blasphemy and sacrilege, mockery of Prophet ﷺ, or disparaging comments about Allah will spiritually kill your heart. We are better off in this world and the next for upholding the sacred. Being labeled boring and prudish is a small price for what awaits us in reward- God willing.


You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves. And you will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with Allah much abuse. But if you are patient and fear Allah – indeed, that is of the matters [worthy] of determination  –Quran 3:181

Allah tells us that we will hear much abuse from disbelievers. Not a casual snide remark, nor a microaggression. Much abuse. In the face of that abuse, we are told that being patient and having taqwa are from the great matters of this religion. The earliest known example of such patience and taqwa in America is that of African slaves who fasted Ramadan while being forced to work on plantations.  They performed their salat, even if they had to hide behind trees. As Sylviane A. Diouf explains “The slaves were, as a rule underfed and overworked. Yet these extremely brutal conditions notwithstanding, Muslims fasted.” She goes on to share the description of a slave Salih Bilali by his owner James Hamilton Couper as “a strict Mahometan; [he] abstains from spirituous liquors, and keeps the various fasts, particularly that of Ramadan” (66). This description indicates that Salih fasted non-obligatory fasts despite his horrific conditions.

These Muslims did all they could to uphold their religion and worship their Creator. They were oppressed and even in bondage displayed a nobility many Muslims throw in the garbage for the sake of being ‘normalized.’Click To Tweet

These Muslims did all they could to uphold their religion and worship their Creator. They were oppressed and even in bondage displayed a nobility many Muslims throw in the garbage for the sake of being ‘normalized.’ As we combat Islamophobia, we must ask ourselves, do we want to be a normalized faith group at the expense of our actual faith? Are we going to dishonor the legacy and struggles of our predecessors who in the most oppressive circumstances imaginable clung on to their religion and venerated their Lord?

As we combat Islamophobia, we must ask ourselves, do we want to be a normalized faith group at the expense of our actual faith? Are we going to dishonor the legacy and struggles of our predecessors who in the most oppressive circumstances imaginable clung on to their religion and venerated their Lord?Click To Tweet

The post Mockery: Comedy’s Weapon Against Morality appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Sex And Porn Addiction: Advice For The Wife

26 September, 2020 - 20:10

In this article I am going to focus on the wife’s perspective as I have predominately worked with wives, although the reality is that sex and pornography addiction is not a gender-specific issue.
One of the most heart-breaking stages in the therapy room for me is often the first session with the spouse of the porn or sex addict. The session is often dominated with heavy, sad emotions, feelings of distress, hopelessness, anguish, disappointment, fear and a seemingly endless sense of failure. Allowing the wife time to express these emotions is vital as well as acknowledging that she has experienced a huge trauma; these emotions are okay to hold onto for now as they are key for the therapeutic alliance. The reality is that the spouse is often unable to overcome the painful fact that the husband has been involved in either watching pornography or having multiple affairs often for months or sometimes years without her knowing. For the wife, the discovery means betrayal in addition to an immense loss of trust and respect. At this stage, she cannot rationalise his actions as being a brain disorder or compulsive or addictive behaviour, which it most likely is and stems from a lot of underlying emotional or psychological issues.

The initial disclosure is perhaps the most painful and unbearable event for the wife; even if addiction is mentioned initially, it is often rejected, as this behaviour is seen as immoral and a spiritual failure, driven by Nafs e Ammara and lead by shaitaan. The spouse will often voice that she rather the addiction be drugs or alcohol related as the cognitive distortion makes her believe that she would cope with that better. At this stage, emerges the strong sense of failure; she begins to blame herself, wondering had she been more attractive or sassy, she could have prevented the entire thing. This way of thinking starts eroding her self-esteem and confidence; this and many other cognitive distortions mean that she gets in a very volatile mental and emotional state. It is paramount to recognise the impact addiction has on the wife and to support her emotionally, spiritually and mentally. This article aims to help those wives who are married to porn and sex addicts and Insha’Allah will also be a useful guide for other concerned, whether it’s family, friends, counsellors or Imams.

In the first part, I would like to briefly describe what Sex and Porn addiction is, in order for the wife, when she is ready, to be able to understand the true nature of the problem rather than labelling it as a moral or spiritual issue or a straight forward issue of infidelity which may lead to the sudden and complete termination of the relationship. I hope that this clarity might allow the couple to break the barriers and stigmas attached to this particular topic, eventually being able to seek help both for the addiction and for relationship repair, if they chose to do so.

The Wife’s Perspective

Then I would like to explore in detail the wife’s perspective, strategies to regain confidence, self-esteem building and how to move forward. There must be space for the wife to focus on herself, avoiding falling between being passive while thinking she has to suffer in silence due to the stigma or on the other hand being volatile and aggressive, thinking that since her husband has been unfaithful he can’t be trusted, and loses all respect and love which makes the marriage toxic and unbearable, the couple starts suffering in silence without any help or intervention. The last section will focus on the couple’s relationship; if the couple wants to help each other and repair the relationship by working on building trust. They can reclaim  their sexuality and learn how to gradually bring back a healthy sex life to the marriage.

Sex addiction is a term that describes any sexual behaviour that feels ‘out of control’. It is not the behaviour itself that defines it as an addiction, but rather the dependency on it, to numb out negative emotions and difficult experiences. As with all addictions, most people with sex and porn addiction will have tried to stop or limit their behaviour on many occasions – but despite continuing harmful consequences to their self as well as others, especially their close relationships, they cannot stop. While they may go on for a short while without acting out, the relapse is never far. Many addicts in my experience are often victims of some form of trauma and childhood abuse. Sometimes early access can also make a person dependent. It is crucial to do the research and find appropriate help both for the addict and for the partner. Unfortunately, no intervention is ever effective if the person with the problem does not take ownership. The best chance for a healthy recovery is when the addict understands their cycle of addiction and takes responsibility for recovery.

The best chance for a healthy recovery is when the addict understands their cycle of addiction and takes responsibility for recovery.

As a wife, you can support them by helping them identify a qualified professional who will provide a safe and non-judgmental environment alongside the help they need. However, it is very important to remember that you, the spouse, have not caused this- you cannot cure it and you certainly cannot control it.

If the addict takes responsibility and acknowledges that there is an issue that is beyond his control and he is ready to seek help as well as take ownership of their own problem, then Insha’Allah that is the first step towards the road to recovery. It is also essential for you to take responsibility of dealing with your own hurt or trauma. Unresolved trauma can lead to a toxic cycle of guilt-tripping and fights, resulting in the relationship turning toxic and unbearable. Reducing shame is essential for recovery for both you and your partner. If he stays in a place which is shame ridden, shaaitan will isolate him by making him feel small, damaged and unredeemable- this state of mind will further push him toward the addiction.

Remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,

“O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
— Quran, Sura 39 (Az-Zumar), ayah 53

Similarly, if you decide to isolate yourself and not seek help due to shame and stigma you too will become emotionally and mentally unwell together with shaatian making you feel weak and vulnerable, costing you both, amongst other things, your relationship. It is paramount that your husband starts the recovery programme and works on resolving the underlying issues. He has to establish relapse prevention strategies while understanding his triggers and explaining them to you. At the same time, you will have to understand your triggers and how you are going to manage your emotional health and wellbeing. You will for a long time keep having flash backs of the initial disclosure. You both will have to work on three areas; he will have to focus on treating his addiction, you on healing your trauma and finally you both will work on building the relationship Insha’Allah.

You might often breakdown in despair and wonder why Allah tested you in this way, questioning your self-worth and dignity, wondering how you could live with someone who leads a double life and has made such morally degrading choices. Although these thoughts are natural, if unchecked they can erode you spiritually and socially. So it is important for you to remember that you have a choice to make and that choice will allow you to reclaim yourself. You had a life before you came into this relationship and you as a person are not defined by your marriage. Remember your role as a servant of Allah, as a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a neighbour, a colleague or as a cousin. Reconnecting with your authentic self, where you see your core strengths like courage, perseverance, love, kindness, gratitude, hope, teamwork, creativity, humour and generosity will help you to ground yourself. Additionally, one of the most powerful and easily accessible tool is establishing your spiritual connection. Try to remember you cannot use religion to spiritually bypass your hurt, sadness and frustration. You must work through these emotions to get to a better place Insha’Allah.

When we are down, due to one aspect of our life not working well, we seem to see everything from a position of deprivation and hopelessness. We have to stand at a position of plenty and look at what has worked for us all our lives and not let this take over our lives completely. Remember that Allah swt tells us, “Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear…” (Qur’an, 2:286). This does not mean that you passively disengage with your situation, it means that you have tawakul in Allah and believe that if you seek help and actively engage Insha’Allah you will find solace and comfort. Like our beloved Prophet saw said, “Tie your camel first, and then put your trust in Allah.” This is a time to look at your strengths as an individual. You can do this in therapy and explore your inner grit and resilience. Allah swt has blessed you with wonderful and amazing attributes.

This is the time to remember that if you want to stay and work alongside your husband, then you will have to work on fixing and healing yourself first and foremost. You may objectively look at your marriage and see that over the years, you have both shared many good things and generally complement one another, in addition to the fact that he has taken good care of you, honouring his responsibilities as a husband. If that is not the case and your relationship has not been a safe space and you have felt generally unhappy than it is time to seek help. A relationship health check is advised, through investing in therapy which can help you decide whether to fix the marriage or finish it. Living in a toxic, unhealthy and unsafe relationship should never be an option.

You will be tempted to cut ties with people around you and self-isolate, and although that may feel like a good coping strategy, it is unfortunately very unhealthy and unsustainable. Pluck up the courage to reach out to a few friends or family members that you trust and know will give you appropriate spiritual, social and emotional support. Be honest and transparent but refrain from constantly regurgitating the entire story to your support network. Constantly reliving the trauma can be like picking the scab- you have to leave that work for the therapy room. We all need recreation, rest and relaxation the most when we are mentally and emotionally drained. Make sure you let your family and friends look after you and create opportunities for you to practice some self-care and nurturing.

The ultimate question for you both will be whether or not the marriage will survive. In my experience over the years, many couples have bravely and beautifully survived through the trauma and turbulence of sex and porn addiction, but not all. The important thing is not to rush into making a decision. If after the disclosure you both feel that there is enough love between you both and you share the same goals; or you feel as though your children need both their parents, as you make a good parenting team and you believe that can help to build back the relationship, then make the decision to work on it. It is key that you take each day as it comes so that you can start rebuilding the relationship. The essential components for repair and rebuilding work are honesty, empathy, accountability and transparency. Your therapist should be able to lay down some rules for you which you both will have to adhere to.

Reclaiming and rekindling your sex life is extremely important but it will take time. Sexuality in marriage is a beautiful gift from Allah and although it isn’t the most important aspect of marriage, it is pretty important. Please remember that intimacy outside the bedroom will, in fact, lead to healthy sexual experience; investing time in each other by giving your relationship the respect it deserves and by gradually putting small but regular routines in place such as date nights. You might have lost all self-esteem and confidence in yourself or you might not feel attracted to your spouse due to the knowledge of his addictive behaviour, but the truth is, once you make the decision to work on the relationship you will Insha’Allah start separating him from his issue. Initially, it will be difficult, as you might constantly wonder if you are enough? Or if he is fantasizing about someone else whilst being intimate with you. Please remember that Shaytan will relentlessly try everything to put waswasas in your heart and head, as the best outcome for him is always separation between the couple. Remember to read the duaa that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) gave us before being intimate, “In the Name of Allah. O Allah, keep the Shaytan away from us and keep the Shaytan away from what You have blessed us with”.

Take your time, be more open about your sexual needs, take responsibility and talk about these issues in your therapy sessions. Your partner might struggle with arousal or erection, but this does not mean that he is not interested in you. Remember that the addict must go through his own long, lonely and painful journey towards healing and recovery.
To conclude, I must say that some of the most amazing and wonderful women that I have had the privilege to work with over the years have been spouses of sex and porn addicts. They have worked with grace and fortitude and many have managed to save their marriages, keeping the children out of it completely. Many have made the bold and brave decision to leave the relationship as they understood & accepted that they could not save it.

Where ever you are, whatever your struggle may be, please seek help and take it from there, may Allah (swt) hold your hearts & hands and guide you to what is best for your deen, Duniya & Aakirah.

The post Sex And Porn Addiction: Advice For The Wife appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Open Letter To Muslim Activists And Organisations In The US On Engagement With The Structures Of Policing

24 September, 2020 - 05:11

Recently, I have been messaged privately by a number of activists in the US, who are concerned about the ways in which prominent Muslim institutions in America engage with various forms of law enforcement, whether it might be the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the FBI, or even with programmes within the rubric of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). Although based in the UK, I have had the privilege of being involved in the legal and political defence of those detained in the US as victims of the global War on Terror. This has led to a journey of understanding the role that is played by law enforcement agencies in the construction of these cases, but also within a wider security industrial complex. 

I write this letter because I want us to think about the ethics of engagement with law enforcement. When it comes to the policies and practices of the global War on Terror, the extent of cross-fertilisation between the UK and US is profound, making their pathology of securitisation one that requires us to learn lessons in resistance collectively. 

In the US, even more than the UK, there exists a violence within policing that is almost unparalleled. This violence does not uniquely impact Muslims, but has a long history that is tied to the ways those outside of the white majority in society are deemed ‘Other’, and is most manifestly apparent in its anti-Black racism. If we start from the premise that the law itself, and the administrators of the law, the police, prosecution services, judges and indeed juries, all play a role within the structure of racism and discrimination, then to what extent can we actually seek to engage with that system? 

As Muslims, what is our own positionality in relation to the work that we do? For those of us who claim to be involved in the work of defending Muslims and Islam, we must recognise that we are not doing anyone any favours by doing this work. This is a unique opportunity and blessing that we have been privileged with, one that any number of other people could have been invited to do. Furthermore, we do not own this work or our institutions, the collective body does, and so we are answerable for all that we do, at all times. Expectations of trust without scrutiny are unwarranted, as we cannot claim to represent the interests of our communities, without first holding ourselves open to being held to account. Whether it is money, engagements, positions, or whatever the matter might be, we have an obligation to answer the concerns of the community when they are being raised because we cannot claim to represent them while there are doubts over us. We do not own this work, we are responsible to it. 

There are arguments that are often made by those who seek to build relationships with law enforcement, that ultimately without engaging, there won’t be any chance for changing the system. Thus, they claim that meetings with the FBI and DHS serve the purpose of correcting the flaws within the system. I want to think through the efficacy of these interactions, because ultimately, I think this is where many disagreements may exist. I hope to capture the usual arguments that are made, and to provide brief responses that I pray can help us think more acutely about the problem, and the solution.

“The police are necessary; they keep us safe.”

Before we take on any other subject, we need to think about policing, and the claim that it is a necessity, that it keeps us safe from those who might wish us harm. Largely, police do not stop crime from taking place, as much as they are part of a process of criminalisation after crimes have been committed. Keeping society safe requires addressing the root causes of crime, a prospect that goes well beyond the notion of policing – in fact, particularly within the context of the US, it could be argued that the structurally racist system of policing and punishment has only served to increase levels of disenfranchisement. Saying that we need the police to keep us safe, is akin to passing the buck, it means that we are less interested in doing the hard work that needs to be done for the whole of society to become safer. Resorting to the police, only serves to solidify its structure as a necessity. My own organisation CAGE has been attempting to provide some leadership in this regard, and our work has shown that there can be ways of reducing the threats to society as a whole, that exist beyond surveillance policing.

“Some law enforcement institutions are safe to work with, while others are dangerous.”

When thinking of the institutions that are responsible for policing, we need to consider their functions, and the way in which they fundamentally approach communities. The FBI, as just one example, has spent incredible resources in undermining what it deems to be subversive activities since the inception of COINTELPRO. Coming into the War on Terror, that programme found its way into every aspect of policing Muslim communities, but particularly through the use of entrapment. For those who make a favourable distinction between the way the FBI operates as opposed to other institutions like the CIA, then they only need to speak to my colleague Moazzam Begg and many others who have related the ways that the FBI have been entirely complicit in programmes of arbitrary detention and torture

The above only begins to touch on the functions that other institutions serve, particularly in the post 9/11 period. Perhaps the most galling example of an institution created for the purpose of securitising Muslims is the DHS, which in its conception, inception and practise, has legally discriminated against Muslims whether citizens or not. It is important to remind ourselves, despite our own normalisation of the harm, that nearly every single profiling stop whether coming into or leaving the US or UK, is an act of racism – even if they provide you with a sandwich or prayer rug to ‘soften’ the experience. Yes, the system is the way that it is, but we suffer a daily collective amnesia that results in us normalising the systemic discrimination we are forced to endure.

“A more diverse or culturally aware police force that includes Muslims will improve the system.”

As in the UK, we’re told feel-good stories about the non-Muslim community police officer who is willing to fast a day in Ramadan and even to break fast with the community at Iftar time. The thing about this token police officer, is that he really has no ability to overturn the structure that he is a paid up member of. Three roads away, his colleagues are profiling young black men on the streets, but equally worrying,  his colleagues are placing pressure on some of those same black men and other congregants in the mosque to spy on the community in order to extract information. The point is, that attempting to normalise relations with institutions that fundamentally not only mistrust us, but are actively involved in harming us is not engagement, it can only be seen, at its most generous, as pacification. Yes, maybe that individual officer you engage with might think twice before brutalising a member of the community, but think of what we give up in that moment too…we hand them the excuse that they (institutionally) have met with us, and heard our concerns. 

“CVE exists to tackle all forms of extremism!”

With increasing calls for the defunding of policing taking root, this opportunity should not fall short of pushing towards abolition of the security, military and prison industrial complexes. These structures reinforce one another in the way that they understand the communities they primarily focus on. In that sense, we have already seen a shift towards the marketing of Countering-Violent Extremism (CVE). This is a programme that is rooted to a DHS narrative of securitisation – in both its conception and practise, it is about Muslims. There is a stark difference, between those who are structurally racialised and marginalised feeling aggrieved, as opposed to those, within the majority of society, whose disenfranchisement is supported as a narrative within all the institutions of power. The source of White supremacy is mainstream. 

Claims that CVE is there to tackle all forms of ‘extremism’ are simply a marketing tool, otherwise every single racist statement that was ever uttered by a conservative or liberal would be covered. When it comes to white supremacy, the bar for what is considered to be unacceptable, is effectively at the point of violence. With Muslims, the structure of CVE operates at the point of belief or overt markers of ‘Muslimness’. This is important, because the idea that CVE funding can be flipped so that Muslims can do good with it is nonsense and should never be opened for discussion by any Muslim individual or organisation that claims to represent the rights of Muslims. 

“Muslim cooperation with law enforcement is about harm reduction.”

Ultimately, engagement is a calculus of risk that is being made by those who are engaging. The claim that they are working with law enforcement suggests that the specific and limited needs they are hoping to raise or change, are worth the normalising of relations with these violent structures. This is often presented as a benefit over harm calculation, that in the minds of those engaging, there will be a tangible benefit that emerges from the interaction. The question is, however, for who? From my working life and many studies that have been conducted on law enforcement, there has never been any reversal of policy that has been so significant as to justify such a relationship – the system largely remains the same, and in fact it is normalised and built upon further with the next piece of legislation or policy. 

“Are you suggesting engagement is always wrong?”

The point of this call is not to claim that there is never any point in engagement, but rather that any engagement should take into account the structural violence that is taking place, and so the calculus of risk should be based on discernible change, rather than limited to brokering understanding and good feeling. Increasing understanding might help to make a single law enforcement officer, or a few others potentially less hostile in their interactions, but they are still part of the system. 

Recommendations on transparent engagement: 
  1. What I would propose in terms of interacting with the state, is that any interaction should only ever take place with those who have the ability to actually implement a structural change at a policy level, if it is to ever happen at all. 

This should only ever take place with policymakers and legislators, and my suggestion is not with anyone within law enforcement itself while the structures remain as they are. The reason I say this, is because the greatest harm is in the structure of legislation and policymaking, not within the carrying out of the duties that have been imposed. At the very best, working with law enforcement might ameliorate the conditions of a small minority, but it is the structure that turns us all into second class citizens. So ultimately, this is a call for a radical approach of total non-engagement with law enforcement officials, and a call to unite towards more meaningful approaches of change. 

2. Communications should be made in writing to accompany any meeting, and the response should also be given in writing – this is to ensure that the communities we claim to represent are aware of our interactions, and the interactions that are being made are transparent. 

The process of transparency with the community is crucial, because it will inevitably keep us honest in our approach and hold us up to the scrutiny and ethics of our entire communities. It will also provide a necessary barrier with any representative of the state if they should ever try and use divisive colonial tactics of preferential treatment of one group over another, as they attempt to maintain their hold of power over us. Furthermore, for those who are most harmed by the violence of the state, they will understand better why an individual or organisation has chosen to interact with a structure that harmed them, and so will be able to make a better informed judgement on whether any engagement might normalise the harm they previously or continue to suffer. 

3. While transparency is important, it is crucial that before any engagement takes place, that those with expertise in these areas are consulted. Communities have a wealth intellectual resources and well-informed critical voices – these voices should be consulted by any community leader, imam or organisation prior to any communication with authorities. As mentioned in point B, victims and survivors bring their own lived experience of being impacted by these institutions, and so consulting them too will always be crucial to providing a human insight into how policies and laws are harmful. Without consulting those who have been impacted most heavily, we risk losing the nuance of the ways in which harm can occur. 

4. A final recommendation for those who claim to represent the interests of Muslims, but have a background that was part of the system of violence against us: they must make their current position in relation to their previous work clear, and do it publicly themselves. This is integral to their claim to transparency, and therefore to their credibility. While forgiveness and growth are important in the work we do, trust and confidence are both far more important. Without being able to trust those who represent us fully, the community will always feel undermined by the system, and those involved in its defence. It is possible for someone to have worked in projects that were harmful and then to change their mind or opinion, but they must also make clear what they were involved in, and publicly state its wrongfulness. Expectations of trust without clarity, are unreasonable. 

Ultimately these points can be summarised into: transparency, consultation and accountability.

Concluding remarks 

As discussed throughout this letter, the first premise that we need to challenge, is one that thinks of policing (in particular) as existing in a benevolent or neutral space. We need to appreciate that in its identity and creation, the very function of surveillance policing is not to keep society safe, but rather the function of policing is as a form of disciplining society, through arrest and ultimately prosecution. Considered at its most fundamental level, our relationship to policing should start from a position of questioning the practise and ideology it is built on.  

As Muslim individuals and organisations seeking to assist the oppressed, there is a duty that comes from being in this space that means any claims of representation cannot take place in the absence of understanding how our decisions have an impact in the complete structure of oppression. Small wins for one town or local community are meaningless while people continue to be arbitrarily detained, tortured and even killed. The oppression that is taking place is a structure, and without centring our responses to the entire edifice, we will continually risk normalising this system by reaching for small changes that only serve to temporarily make us feel less hostility from the state in the course of its violence. 

Finally, I pray that these words are taken in the spirit they have been written, from a brother who has benefited a great deal from the long history of activism and radical thinking that has emerged from the US. Inshallah I hope that we can all advise one another towards what is better based on our knowledge and experience, but chiefly, that we can work with one another in order to protect all those who are oppressed, ameen. 

The post Open Letter To Muslim Activists And Organisations In The US On Engagement With The Structures Of Policing appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Day of the Dogs, Part 5: Sorceress of the Forest

23 September, 2020 - 15:15

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

This is chapter 5 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 |

“You must overcome your fear.” – Mamá

Home Alone

OMAR WAS RELEASED FROM THE HOSPITAL two weeks after the attack. Nemesio was gone, and that was a barakah as great as a cloud. The miserable man had taken his things and disappeared, leaving behind only a scattering of old papers and business magazines in the drawers of Omar’s old desk – the desk that Nemesio had appropriated for himself. Omar was going to throw them out but Mamá said no, put them in a box and store it in the closet. Shaking his head, he did so. He did not tell Mamá about the ultimatum he’d given Nemesio.

Cash money in a canThe next day Mamá discovered that Nemesio had stolen the gold bracelet that had been given to her by her mother, as well as a wad of cash – Mamá’s emergency savings that she kept inside an old Thermos bottle in the kitchen cupboard. She hadn’t known that Nemesio knew about it.

Mamá was melancholy, but Omar tried to reassure her, telling her, “Whatever Nemesio stole is a small price to be rid of him.” After that they did not speak of him again.

Omar could finally breathe. Mamá’s mood too improved as the days passed, and he saw her smiling and laughing for the first time in years.

* * *

Hospital Nacional, Panama

Hospital Nacional, Panama

Mamá had to go back to her job at Farmacias Arrocha. She’d taken time off after the Day of the Dogs, but couldn’t afford to miss any more work.

On the three days a week when Omar had physical therapy, he took a taxi to Hospital Nacional and back. He got to know many of the nurses and orderlies by name. There was one nurse, an Afro-Latina woman named Leticia, who told Omar he reminded her of her younger brother, who had gone to New York for university. She often brought him chips or brownies from the hospital cafeteria.

There were days when Omar felt like the ugliest kid alive, with the scars on his face and his limp, and his hair that had still not fully grown in. He looked, he thought, like a gang member. Or an accident victim, which he was, in a way. Then Leticia would come along and give him a wide smile and say, “How’s my favorite young man today? Oh look at you, your hair is coming in curly like Eric Dane. And your scars are fading, I can barely see them. The ladies are going to fall at your feet!” And even though Omar knew it was half baloney, he would stand a little straighter, and his heart felt lighter.

When he wasn’t at the hospital, he was home alone.

In past summers, he’d avoided the house during the day, because Mamá was at work and he never knew when Nemesio might be there. He’d spent his days reading at the library, playing football in the street, taking classes at the dojo, and sometimes visiting the masjid.

So being home alone was a new experience. At first he loved having the whole house to himself. He could limp around in his underwear, turn the mop bucket upside down and pound it like a drum, or soak in the bath for an hour, reading a sci-fi novel. He could watch football with the volume turned up, and eat as much microwaved popcorn as he liked.

Once the novelty wore off, however, he realized he was lonely. Entire days passed where he neither saw nor spoke to another human being. His mother had purchased him a basic phone, a little flip-model with talk and text only, but he didn’t know anyone’s numbers except his mom at work and the taxi service. He found himself watching the clock, waiting for Mamá to come home. When she finally did walk through the door, he often didn’t want to talk to her. She’d end up throwing her hands in the air and walking away, and he’d be lonelier than ever.

Beetle Season

He lay on his back in the dark. It was storming outside, the power was out, and the house was hot. Perspiration beaded his forehead and glued his back to the sheets. The digital clock on his nightstand was dead, but Omar knew it was past midnight. The window was a meter from his bed; one of the geckos that gathered on the outside of the glass, eating mosquitoes and termites, startled him by calling out loudly: “DAP dap dap dap dap dap dap dap.”

He could smell the sickly-sweet strawberry air freshener that his mother sprayed in her room to help her sleep. Soothed her nerves, she said. Strawberries didn’t grow in Panama, and Omar was not sure he had ever seen one. Did his mother’s air freshener really smell like strawberry, or just some manufacturer’s chemical imitation?

Golden beetle

Golden beetle

It was beetle season and the creatures were everywhere, to the point that he could sometimes hear them scurrying about his room at night. There were common black beetles, striped beetles, huge brown hercules beetles, and once he’d even seen a golden beetle, gleaming in the dark. He’d once seen a TV show about Bogotá’s Museo de Oro, and the beetle looked like one of those golden artifacts, come to life.

Sometimes a beetle would end up helpless on its back and the ants would swarm out and devour it. Omar knew the feeling.

Sleep was a torment. No matter which side he lay on, there was pain. He spent many summer nights like this, staring up at the ceiling, trying to think of something other than the throbbing of his wounds. All too often he found himself reliving the Day of the Dogs. What if he hadn’t gone? What if he’d forced Tameem to stop hassling the dogs? What if they’d taken a different route? Why had no one helped him? Was he stupid for trying to fight those two dogs alone? But what else could he have done?

He’d told Hani that the past was gone. A lo hecho, pecho. But he couldn’t silence the self-recriminations, especially at night, when his body was exhausted and in pain. Ramadan was here, but he could not fast, and that shamed and angered him. He had not missed a Ramadan fast since he started at eight years old. He was in and out of the hospital, going through one procedure after another. A physical therapist worked with him three days a week, putting him through stretching and strength-building exercises. Omar wanted to know when he could resume karate training. The doctors said years, possibly.

Pain stalked his days and haunted his nights. It was a strange thing, to live with constant pain. He felt stretched out, like a rubber band about to break. He couldn’t concentrate, and was irritable all the time.

The doctors prescribed pain medication, but Omar remembered Toyo, a short, beefy man with the images of Catholic saints tattooed on his fingers. He’d been a brown belt at the dojo, one level above Omar at the time. Toyo had been tough, not only in the dojo but in life. One of those guys who grew up scrapping. Then he had a motorcycle accident and injured his back. In the wake of that he became addicted to painkillers, and when the doctors cut him off he switched to street drugs, so it was said. Omar watched Toyo waste away week by week until his skin hung on his frame like wet laundry on a line. Then he stopped coming. Some said he was living on the street. Others said he’d gone back to Santiago, where his grandparents were from.

Omar never wanted that to happen to him, so he took the medications only when the discomfort became severe.

Other times, when the sun was shining and his pain was dulled, he felt confident, and knew that he had done exactly what he had to do that day, and that Allah would take care of him, and guide him where he must go.

This was not one of those times. Lying there in his bed, sweating like a runner in a relay race – except that he couldn’t run, and had no one to pass the baton to – he felt like his breath was trapped within him, unmoving, growing hotter by the moment. He needed to cool down. He should get up, rinse the sweat off and splash some cold water on his face.

Stiffly, painfully, he swung his legs over the side, began to walk toward the bathroom – and stepped on something living. It crunched wetly beneath his foot, but before it died, it bit him. He gave a muffled groan – Nemesio’s fist-first training against crying out loud still in effect – and sat on the floor. He’d stepped on a beetle, of course, and though it was nearly obliterated, a few of its legs still twitched, and its antennae waved. Omar’s foot pulsed with pain.

Sitting there on the floor in the lightless room, with the rain finally beginning to tire of its assault, Omar cried.

E-Commerce For Idiots

A Saturday morning in July. He sat at the kitchen table, poring over a book titled, “E-Commerce for Idiots.” Mamá was trying to expand her makeup business. She’d always bought goods imported from Hong Kong and South Korea, but she’d recently started her own line of organic makeup, made from sustainable Panamanian forest products. She called it Puro Panameño.

The problem was that Puro Panameño products were expensive, because of the cost of sourcing the ingredients. Mamá’s usual customers were working class Panamanian women who could not afford these products. She had to find a way to reach middle and upper class women.

Mamá thought an ecommerce website would be the key, so here Omar sat, in a kitchen that looked like a storeroom, with boxes filled with raw ingredients, bottles, shipping labels and packaging stickers. His mother, who had the day off work, sat on the floor, cutting boxes open. She wore black sweat pants and a colorful Kuna blouse, hand-woven with a striking mola in the shape of a fish. Bits of cardboard clung to her long black hair. Her face was tired and sweaty.

Eventually she’d have to lease a proper manufacturing space, but they were a long way from that. Orders were barely trickling in. It was deeply discouraging.

Omar was trying to figure out how to place an advertisement on a social media website, and target it to a specific group of Panamanian viewers. He sat back and exhaled loudly, running his fingers through his curly hair, which had finally grown back after being shaved in the hospital.

His mother looked up. “You want something to eat?”

“What do we have?”

She gave an apologetic head tilt. “Tuna, crackers, peanut butter, rice, bananas. The usual.”

Omar grimaced. If he ate any more tuna he’d grow fins. Between the funds Mamá had invested in these new products, and the cash Nemesio had stolen, they were broke, with hardly enough money for food.

Staring through the barred window, watching a man selling single cigarettes in the street outside their home, his eyes wandered over their little yard, with its neat flower beds that his mother had planted, and the wide acacia tree that shaded the house in the mornings. Though his eyes were on the tree, his mind was elsewhere. He still received phone calls from reporters wanting to interview him. He’d always declined, partly because he didn’t have the energy, and partly because it was intimidating. What if his tongue got tied? What if he ended up looking foolish?

War or Death

Suddenly his eyes focused on the tree, and what he was seeing there. His mouth fell open in astonishment. His mother, busy with her work, did not notice. Omar closed his mouth, opened it again. “Mamá,” he said. “The tree. Look, Mamá.”

“Is it the neighbor’s cat again?” she said testily. “The silly thing can stay up there for all I-”

“No,” Omar broke in. He grabbed his cane and stood, pointing. “It’s a harpy eagle.” He gaped at it. The national bird of Panama. According to Brother Mamdooh, his biology instructor, there were only two hundred breeding pairs in all of Panama.

Harpy eagle

The harpy eagle

The eagle perched on one of the upper branches of the acacia, partly hidden in the foliage. It was looking off to the north, so he saw it in profile. The creature was massive, maybe 100 centimeters tall, with a gray head and a long, hooked beak, and wearing a tall gray crest. The upper body was charcoal gray, the belly white, and the massive black legs sported curved black talons the size of meat hooks.

He’d seen photos, of course, but had never imagined he’d see one in person. It was a bizarre looking creature, and made him think of a child wearing a dark cloak, a hood and a mask. A chill ran up his spine, and he shivered.

His mother leaped to her feet, scattering a pile of small metal canisters filled with pigments. She looked where Omar was pointing, then put a hand to her face, half covering her eyes. “La curandera del bosque,” she breathed. The sorceress of the forest. “Don’t look at it!” She reached out and put a hand over Omar’s eyes.

He pulled away, grinning. “What are you doing?” He looked back at the harpy and now it was gazing directly at him. It gave a loud squawk, and Omar had the sense that it was in fact speaking to him, communicating something.

His mother cried, “No!” then ran to the window and pulled the cord to drop the blinds, cutting off the view of the eagle. She said, “La ilaha il-Allah,” then sat at the table, closed her eyes and began to chant, rocking back and forth. She spoke in Ngäbere, the language of her people, and Omar could only understand a few words.

He sat beside her, gripped her forearm. “Mamá! What’s wrong?”

When she opened her eyes, they were liquid with fear. “The águila arpía is the curandera del bosque. She is the queen of the forest, while the jaguar is the king. When the curandera speaks, it means war is coming, or death, or both.”

Omar shook his head. “We’re Muslims. We don’t believe in all that. Second, I’ve already been to war. I faced death and survived.”

Mamá’s eyes, locked on his, went wide with surprise. “You might be right.” She jumped up again, and opened the blinds. The eagle was gone. Omar watched with amazement as his mother dashed into her bedroom and came out with her sneakers. She almost never wore these. She slipped them on, tied a scarf around her hair, and ran outside. Omar followed as well as he could, limping and leaning on his cane, and found her walking around the base of the tree, looking at the ground. Then, to his further amazement, she reached up for a branch, dug her sneaker toes into an old knothole in the tree trunk, and began to climb.

“Mamá! You’ll fall.”

She made no reply, but continued to climb, and in fact she moved with swift agility, as if she’d been clambering up trees all her life. Her small form moved higher, until she reached the branch where the harpy had been sitting. After a moment she cried out in triumph.

When she dropped to the ground she held up a single long feather, gray with black stripes. Her face bore a wide smile. “You were right. La curandera left this as a gift, in honor of your courage. But it is also a challenge.” She held out the feather.

Omar took it. The feather was half as long as his forearm. “What’s the challenge?”

“You must overcome your fear. Then your status as a warrior will be acknowledged by the jaguar and eagle throne, and you will be ready for the crown.”

“What crown?”

“You are nobility, remember? My father is king of the Ngäbe.”

“Oh yeah. But isn’t there, like, a whole gang of people in line in front of me? And aren’t you exiled?”

His mother gave a noncommittal grunt. “Yes, that is a problem.”

“What am I supposed to overcome my fear of, anyway?”

“That is for you to decide. I want you to wear the feather around your neck always. It will protect you.”

“We don’t believe that, Mamá. Only Allah can protect us.” Seeing the look of dismay on his mother’s face, he added, “I’ll frame it and hang it on my wall. Not for protection, just decoration.”

She seemed satisfied with that.

All this reminded Omar of something. “When I was in the hospital, I had a dream of an old woman who sang over me and gave me something bitter to drink. A Ngäbe woman.”

“It was not a dream. She was a krägä bianga. She healed you.”

“The doctors healed me.”

Mamá shook her head. “The krägä bianga healed you. The doctors helped.”

Like Father, Like Son

“How do you people get my number?” Omar’s mother said into her mobile phone. “He’s not interested. Do you know how many-”

“Let me.” Omar took the phone. The man on the line was from La Prensa. He wanted to conduct an in-person interview and take photos.

“Will you pay us?”

“No. We don’t do that. We feel it compromises the integrity of the interview.”

Omar thought. The memory of the harpy eagle, and the challenge it presented, was still bright in his mind. He must overcome his fear, his mother said. He’d avoided publicity so far, but he had an idea. Maybe there was an opportunity here.

“I’ll do it.”

Spanish newspapersThe reporter came to the house. He was bearded and middle aged, and spoke to Omar with great respect. There were the expected questions about the dog attack: Why did you try to help your schoolmate instead of running away? What went through your mind when the dogs attacked you? Do you regret intervening like you did? Are you angry at the owner of the dogs? Have you spoken to him?

From there the questions became more personal. Omar’s childhood and parents. When Omar explained that his father had been killed trying to stop a robbery, the reporter seemed pleased and excited. Omar stiffened with anger. The reporter must have sensed this, because he began to stammer. “I mean, it’s a tragedy of course…”

Finally came the question Omar had hoped for. When the reporter asked him how he was spending his time this summer, he said, “I’m helping my mom with her organic makeup company, Puro Panameño. It’s the best makeup in the world, made right here in Panama.”

Two days later, his mother came home from work with two copies of La Prensa. She layed one out on the kitchen table and they looked at it together. Omar’s story was on the front page. The headline read, “Like father, like son: a family of heroes.” Thumbnail photos of Omar’s face and Papa’s face stood side by side. Omar broke into tears. Why had they done that? He went to his room, and did not read the article. Later, he wasn’t even sure why he’d cried. It just caught him off guard, he guessed.

Nevertheless, when a female reporter from El Siglo called on the house phone the next day, Omar spoke to her and let her interview him over the phone.

That same day he received a call from TVN Noticiera Estelar, one of the most popular news shows in Panama. This was the first news outlet that actually offered to pay him.

The day before the interview Mamá pressed a suit that she had purchased for Omar for this occasion. Where she found the money he did not know.

Off With His Head

That night he could not sleep at all. His left leg throbbed and ached, and his many scars itched like wildfire. The doctors said the itching was a normal product of healing, and that he must not scratch the wounds, but the sensation drove him mad sometimes. Finally he could not take it. Rising in the dark, he took one of the pain pills the doctor had given him, downed it with a glass of warm tap water, and went back to bed.

 

Red boxing spiderThe Spiniflex hatchlings were beginning to eat their way out of his body. The pain was blinding, as if he were the centerpiece in a bonfire. The Ruby erupted out of his skin, and blood cascaded from his body, falling in rivers from his chin, his fingertips, his elbows… He fell onto his back, writhing in pain.

The Ruby spiders massed on his chest, gathering in a V formation, their cilia-covered bodies glistening with his blood. He saw that some had the heads of hedgehogs, and others of flamingos, but no matter what their eyes were all insect eyes, black and mirrored, and all focused on Omar’s face.

The largest spider stepped to the point of the formation. On its back it bore the shape of a red heart, the kind from a playing card. Pointing one hairy arm at Omar’s face, it cried, “Off with his head!” Its voice was thunderous, rattling Omar’s teeth. At the command, all the spiders produced axes. They were all hooded now, like executioners, and they advanced on Omar’s neck, coming to chop off his head.

 

He fell out of bed, panting as if he’d run a race, his stomach heaving like he might throw up. He remained on his hands and knees on the tiled floor, gasping for breath, his body drenched in sweat. When would the dreams stop? He shouldn’t have taken the pain medication. “Hasbun-Allahu wa n’em Al-Wakeel,” he said out loud. Allah is sufficient for us and is the best Protector. He felt a sudden urge to call Samia, which was ridiculous. It was the middle of the night, he didn’t have her number, and they weren’t even friends. Not really.

He rose, washed his entire upper body at the small bathroom sink, and changed the sweat-soaked sheets. His body hurt, but he could tolerate it. He would be okay. “A giant,” Samia had called him once. “You may be short,” she’d said, “but you’re a giant.” He’d be okay. And he’d never read that damned Alice in Wonderland book again.

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 6: The Curious Sensation of Pity

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

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

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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

The post Day of the Dogs, Part 5: Sorceress of the Forest appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Dr Yaseen Mazhar Siddiqui: An Obituary Of A Scholar of Seerah

22 September, 2020 - 07:00

A leading scholar of Islamic studies with focus on Seerah literature and history, he unconventionally broke many stereotypes—both orthodox and modern and all his life epitomized the cause of Islam on the intellectual front.

With the death of Yaseen Mazhar Siddiqui, at the age of 76, Muslims in South Asia lost one of the most respected and leading scholars of Islam. A graduate of, and now professor at Aligarh University is less known in the West for his 29 books than for his Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts at the Aligarh Muslim University, India, published in London in 2002 by the Furqan Heritage Foundation. An eminent Muslim religious scholar, academic and historian who served as director of the Institute of Islamic Studies at Aligarh Muslim University. Siddiqui was a well-placed and reputed figure of great spiritual and intellectual insight recognized on national as well as international level. Siddiqui was instrumental over the past 30 years in the framing, development and streamlining the influence of Islam in Aligarh Muslim University. To commemorate the outstanding services of Hazrat Shah Waliullah and to promote the Islamic values, the Institute of Objective Studies instituted an Award known as “Shah Waliullah Award” to honour eminent scholars who have done outstanding work in Social Sciences, Humanities, Law and Islamic Studies. The fifth Shah Waliullah Award was rightly conferred on Prof. Mohd Yasin Mazhar Siddiqi, as the renowned scholar for his contribution to Sirah and Historiography in Islamic Perspective in 2005.

Siddiqui was an exceptionally modest and humble man, with an intellectually engaging and honest commitment to Islam, away from self-eulogizing claims of pseudo-intellectualism. His commitment to Islam, which occupied him for his whole life, left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of people across territorial boundaries. One thing all this illustrates is Siddiqui’s intense sense of duty — a sense that he unthinkingly expected his colleagues to share. Siddiqui’s well-stocked mind, clarity and unflinching intellectual honesty devoted to respond the questions of Orientalist scholarship on Sirah literature and subsequent other corollaries. He had little time for Islam’s own accounts of its origins rather his interest revolved around “Qurʾān and Sirah” and its role in shaping the worldview of Muslims who are struggling to makes sense of their identity amid the challenges emerging from dominant discursive colonial Eurocentric episteme. Leaving the conventional hollow claims, without efforts to prove how and why so much sanctity is attached to Islam and its sources—Qurʾān and Sunnah/Sirah being the primary one, he reckoned, to fill the gap using contemporary sources and knowledge of Hadīth, from orientalist and now its pedigree of modernist claims. This task required both personal and intellectual bravery. As he knew the central beliefs of Islam, such as the way the Quran took shape, the place of Sirah, its underlying methodology, he was equally aware how outside scrutiny has tempered the flare, especially when the conclusions are expressed in a witty and sardonic style. His soft way of speaking, affectionate manner and hospitable nature made him a much-loved figure. Because of his erudition most people who came in contact with him thought of him as a teacher; many saw him as a spiritual mentor. With his humble appearance, it was easy to mistake him for a country bumpkin.

Born in India in 1944 in the Lakhimpur Kheri district of United Provinces of British India. He graduated in the traditional Dars-e-Nizami (pure religious textual studies of Islamic texts) studies from Nadwatul Ulama in 1959, and Master’s in literature from the University of Lucknow in 1960. He passed the intermediate exams from the Jamia Milia Islamia in 1962 and then acquired a B.A. in 1965 and B.Ed. in 1966 from the same University. In 1968, Siddiqui recieved a M.A. degree in History, M.Phil. in 1969, and Ph.D. in 1975 from the Aligarh Muslim University. Yasin Mazhar Siddiqui benefited from great teachers like Maulana Rabi Hasni Nadvi, Maulana Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadvi, Maulana Ishaq Sandelvi K. A. Nizami, Abd al-Hafīz Balyāwi and Rabey Hasani. Anwar was welcomed as an independent member of various advisory committees and expressed pride in the research done in the field of Sirah.

Professor Siddiqui wrote more than 40 books and 300 research articles in Urdu, Arabic and Persian. His publications and presentations have reverberated throughout the discipline of Islamic studies and social sciences, profoundly shaping the scholarship of a new generation of scholars as they develop a thoughtful, knowledgeable, and critical approach to Seerah and history. He was well known for the great quality and high calibre of his originality of research in Islamic studies and all related subjects. He was recognized as one of the compelling and intellectually grounded voice on Seerah studies.  As a scholar and teacher, he embodied and followed strong moral and political principles, and formulated new ways of understanding the subject of Seerah, history, religious freedom, and the rights of religious minorities. His writings on the Prophet and his teachings garnered wide acclaim. He wrote extensively in reputed literary journal, ‘Nuqoosh’ and got international ‘Nuqush Award’, ‘Seerat-e-Rasool Award’ and ‘Sirah Nigari Award’. Two of his most popular works are Muslim Conduct of State and Introduction to Islam. The first book was Ehd-e-Nabwi mai Tanzīm-e-Riyāsat-o-Hukūmat and the second book The Prophet Muhammad: A Role Model for Muslim Minorities has gained such wide acclaim—mainly for the reason that its contents are divided into chapters (which stand on their own as a monograph) which deal with related specific subject matter. It is easy to understand how his style of presentation has endeared the book not only to common folk, but also to the people who would like to gain a reasonable insight into the true spirit of the teachings of Islam.

Almost every country outside the traditional Muslim “heartlands” asserts Siddiqui in his book ‘The Prophet Muhammad—A Role Model for Muslim minorities is home to a Muslim minority population today. For such Muslim communities, the political perspectives reflected by the corpus of traditional fiqh are of little or no relevance, and can even be hugely problematic. Siddiqui therefore takes it upon himself to develop an understanding of Muslim jurisprudence that is particularly suited to their context, making a valuable contribution to the limited, but slowly expanding, corpus of writings on fiqh al-aqalliyat or fiqh for [Muslim] minorities. Siddiqui argues that the basis of fiqh for Muslim minorities must lie in the Makkan period of life of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his companions, a period of around thirteen years when the Muslims were a minority and did not enjoy political domination. In many senses, their position resembled that of Muslim minorities today. Muslim minorities need to see the role of the Prophet and the early Muslims in that period as a model for them to emulate, Siddiqui suggests:

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) had close personal ties with several non-Muslims in Mecca, and Muslim minorities, Siddiqui advises, must emulate him in this regard and must have “excellent social relations with non-Muslims” (p. 194).

As Siddiqui succinctly puts it:

Muslims all over the world, especially Muslim minorities, have to prove that they are the best community, devoted to the cause of protecting mankind against suffering and blessing everyone with happiness, regardless of caste, colour or creed. Their position is of the best community and their duty is to serve mankind […] Their presence must guarantee help for everyone, especially of their non-Muslim country. However, this cannot be affirmed merely verbally or by recounting old stories. They have to prove it by their conduct. (p. 194)

This monograph and his other works are a brilliant contribution to the on-going debates about fiqh for Muslim minorities. It provides valuable insights for developing new and more relevant understandings of Islamic jurisprudence in Muslim minority contexts, envisaging the possibility of reconciling Islamic commitment with Muslim minority-ness, an issue that has largely escaped the attention of Islamic scholars but one that has sometimes been, and continues to be, a troubling one for many Muslims living as minorities. Siddiqui’s diverse and intellectually engaging work that speaks eloquently to a wide spectrum of readers with different backgrounds and interests. To use terms such as “monumental”, “one-of-a-kind”, and “exceptional” to describe this work is not exaggeration. A committed Muslim, throughout his career Siddiqui maintained the principle of genuinely evidence-based research. Dapper and courteous, he was a highly effective communicator, quoted widely in the local context  as well as cited in academia.

A direct criticism to his work also emerges from scholars who assert that in his Introduction of The Prophet Muhammad—A Role Model for Muslim minorities’ Siddiqi (p. 62) formally describes himself as a humble and error-prone human being. However, he then proceeds to negate the worth of all previous biographies of the Prophet, claiming that these ‘conventional’ authors used ‘outdated methodology and lines of argument’. Consequently, according to him, all previous studies of the Makkan period were ‘markedly inadequate’ and ‘the entire life history of the Prophet remains to be analysed’ since ‘no biographer of his has ever given thought to this obvious fact that the Makkan period of his life represents the phase of subjugation’. Therefore, Siddiqi considers the conventional treatment of the Makkan and Madinan periods of Islamic history as ‘downright pernicious’ (p. ix). One wonders indeed whether the author is aware of some of the most popular biographies of the Prophet—beyond the classical ones: Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Hisham, and Ibn Kathir—including the works by Muhammad Hamidullah, Muhammad Haikal, Martin Lings, Karen Armstrong, and Tarik Jan, all contradicting his assertions.

With quite a serious criticism on his assertions about various aspects of mis-reading the Seerah of the Prophet there still remains a lot to be talked about his contribution to diverse areas of Islamic Studies. And though he is no longer here to share his thoughts, he has done enough to enable us to think with him. Certain towering intellectuals become integral to the vey alphabet of our moral and religious imagination. They live in those who read and think them through-and thus they become indexical, proverbial, to our thinking. Siddiqui lived so fully, so consciously, so critically through the thick and thin of our times that he is definitive to our critical thinking, just like Mustafa Azami, Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi, or other Muslim luminaries are. He was – and remains – a brilliant intellectual, whose legacy of rethinking certain conventional assertions around Islam and efforts still reverberate today and will continue to do so.

He cultivated with joyous attention her relationships with family and friends. He mentored, as one of his students mentioned once, with remarkable care and intensity, demanding their best work, listening, responding with a sharp generosity, coming alive in thought, and soliciting others to do the same. He immersed himself, in illness and heath, in reading the Quran post morning prayers and transformed himself and transmitted the values of thought and love, leaving now a vibrant legacy that will persist and flourish among all whose lives were touched by his life and work.

May Allah Almighty bless him with the loftiest of abodes in the Gardens of Firdaus in the company of Allah’s beloved Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and grant all those who cherished him patience.

The post Dr Yaseen Mazhar Siddiqui: An Obituary Of A Scholar of Seerah appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Day of the Dogs, Part 4: You Are the Miracle

16 September, 2020 - 20:40

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

This is chapter 4 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4

Krägä Bianga

“Fear no one.” – Samia

Hospital IV bagLIGHTS IN HIS EYES AND PAIN EVERYWHERE… warmth pouring into his veins like liquid honey… his mother’s face close to his, saying his name… darkness…

His mother and a doctor talking… everything blurry… his face hurt. He tried to touch his face, but his mother grabbed his hand and stopped him… sleep…

Someone sobbing… why?… pain everywhere in his body. He moaned then fell into darkness…

A nightmare, hands dragging him down into a well, and at the bottom of the well, sharp teeth and claws. He struggled, until a warm hand took his, and he settled into silence…

An old woman in a red Ngäbe dress standing over him, singing. Her skin was walnut colored and deeply seamed. Her long ebony hair hung free, falling below her waist. She spooned something into his mouth and he swallowed. It was bitter, but as it slid into his stomach he felt it nourishing and strengthening him. The woman’s night-black eyes stared unblinking into his as she whispered a single word in a language he did not understand. His eyelids came down like shuttered doors, and once again he was asleep…

The next morning he was somewhat aware. It was the third day after surgery. His mother and a doctor spoke at his bedside. He tried to eat something but could only manage a cup of pudding.

“There was a woman,” he said, and his voice sounded like radio static. “Singing.”

His mother touched his forehead. “A krägä bianga. A healer of my people.”

“But we’re Muslims.”

“Hush,” Mamá said. “She is a krägä bianga, not a curandera. Medicine, not magic.”

That evening, Omar’s mind was completely clear for the first time. The doctor spoke to him personally about his surgery and recovery. He was able to eat some solid food. Samia came for a visit as well, and he learned about what had happened to her. At some point, as Samia was speaking, he fell asleep.

The Old Nightmare

The fourth day, the old nightmare returned. The spiders.

Red boxing spiderTHE SPINIFLEX RUBIROSA LARVAE WERE IN HIS BODY, and they were hatching. They ate their way out, chewing through muscle and cartilage, fat and veins, destroying his body as thoroughly as if he’d stepped on a landmine. There was no point calling out for his mother. She was nowhere to be found.

The spiders burst out through his skin, blood pouring from a thousand wounds, and through a crimson curtain of pain Omar saw that they had the bodies of spiders, but the heads of vicious dogs. Dewed with his blood, they growled, thousands of tiny dog voices joining into a single rumble.

He rolled onto his back and saw that he lay on the muddy, putrid stretch of beach below the Panama City seawall. The ground was littered with rotting seaweed, plastic bags and used diapers. Above the seawall, the city was burning. Flames engulfed the tall towers, pouring from shattered windows. Smoke darkened the sky. Not a soul could be seen. The metropolis was dying.

The Spinifex hatchlings advanced up his body toward his face, intending to eat his eyes. Their little dog eyes were solid ruby red, as if filled with blood. Omar thrashed, slapping his own face and crying out in terror.

Where was Mamá, where was Papá, where were Samia, Halima, Hani, anybody? Anybody anybody the Ruby was killing him…

Eighty Seven Bites

“Hey. Wake up.” Someone touched his shoulder.

Omar’s eyes flew open and he gasped as he shot up to a sitting position in the bed, looking around wildly. His racing heart began to slow as he realized that he was still in the hospital, of course.

Samia sat in a chair beside his bed, wearing a fluffy gray robe and an orange hijab, and still reading Al-Ghazali’s thematic commentary of the Quran. One side of her face and head were completely bandaged, so he could only see her mouth, nose and one eye. Her skull had been fractured in two places from the attack. The doctors had shaved her hair, she had told him, but she wore her hijab on top of the head bandage, which made her head look about the same as usual.

“You’re still here,” Omar breathed.

“Where am I gonna go? Skydiving?”

Omar’s mother slept next to Samia in a chair, her head tipped back against the wall, her mouth slack. She wore black pants and a dark blouse rather than her traditional dress, with a gray hijab. She looked exhausted, with purple circles beneath her eyes.

He groaned and sank back. He hurt everywhere. It was not the pain of the Ruby hatchlings burrowing out of his body, but of the wounds from the eighty-seven bites he’d received in the dog attack. It must be almost time for his pain medication.

He’d been here for five days. When he’d first arrived at the hospital, his organs had been on the verge of shutting down due to massive blood loss. He’d been in surgery that entire first day and halfway through the night, they told him.

It hurt even to breathe, as he had a tube in his nose to prevent his nasal airway from collapsing, as Dr. Medrano had explained to Omar and his mother. A jaunty, heavyset man with thick black hair, Dr. Medrano had smiled and rocked back and forth on his heels as he detailed Omar’s injuries and the surgeries that had repaired him.

A stent had been placed under Omar’s left eye. It drained out of his nose to keep his tear duct system from collapsing as well. He’d lost a piece of the upper half of his left ear. He had lines of stitches everywhere, like Frankenstein’s monster. Several parts of his body, including his face, had required primary reconstruction during surgery, to repair or replace flesh and skin that had been torn away. Much of his body was still purple and swollen with bruising. He was receiving aggressive antibiotic treatment to prevent infection from the many deep punctures. His left forearm might never recover to full strength.

He would require multiple follow-up procedures, including secondary face, hand and calf reconstructions, as well as fat grafting to fill in depressed areas, cartilage grafting to reconstruct his nose, and ongoing scar treatments.

Goat standing on a cow's back“Hey,” Samia said, interrupting Omar’s morose mental review of his Frankenstein-like reconstruction. Samia had been in his room daily, when she wasn’t in her own. “Remember we were talking about unlikely things? You know what else is unlikely? A goat standing on a cow’s back. But I saw that once.”

Omar turned his head to look at her. The girl was certifiably crazy. He felt a laugh begin to form inside him, but it hurt to laugh, and it came out sounding like a cross between a chuckle and a moan.

Bruises

The sound awakened his mother. She stood with a soft exhalation of, “La ilaha il-Allah.” She came to his bedside and bent over him, gently stroking his cheek, taking care to avoid his injuries. “¿Cómo estás mi amor?”

Omar began to reply, but then, seeing his mother’s face up close, noticed something. The discolorations beneath her eyes were not the result of exhaustion. They were bruises. Her cheek was bruised as well, and she’d made an effort to conceal it with makeup. She’d been beaten.

Tio. Omar’s face settled into a hard mask. He seethed, wishing he could leap out of this bed and go thrash the little rat, taking the man apart limb by limb. For a moment these thoughts surprised him, as he had never been inclined to fight back against Nemesio in the past. Something had changed inside him.

Beating up Nemesio was not the solution, however. Omar had bested him that last time because Nemesio had been drunk. But the two of them fighting sober would turn into an all-out brawl. He needed another solution.

Mistaking his expression, Mamá said, “Don’t worry, baby. You’ll be back on your feet in no time. You’ll be as strong as ever. And these scars will fade.”

Omar nodded tightly, saying nothing.

“I’m going to go to the cafeteria,” Mamá said. “Can I bring you some guava juice?”

The doctor had prescribed a post-op dietary regimen for Omar, but it was so bland it was like eating paper. Normally Omar would have said yes to some tasty tropical juice, but he was too angry right now.

“I don’t want anything.”

Mamá hesitated, looking between him and Samia. “Okay,” she said finally. “I’ll be back soon.”

When she was gone, Omar spoke to Samia without looking at her. “You should leave now.” His fists were curled into balls beneath the blanket. Seeing the bruise on his mother’s face had brought it all back, pushing his rage to penetrate his very bones. His nightmare of a life just went on and on. Oh, you need something to break up the routine? life said. How about a dog attack? Okay, now back to the daily mess.

It wasn’t only his foul excuse for an uncle he was angry with, but everyone who was supposed to have been responsible for him, who was supposed to have cared. He resented his mother for not being strong enough to protect herself, or him. The principal and teachers at his school had surely seen the bullying directed at him year after year, and had done nothing. Even his father he blamed for dying and leaving him. Why had his father done that? Why had it been more important to stop the mugging of some stranger on a bus than to survive for his own family? And lastly, Omar blamed himself for being a victim. His father would have expected more from him.

He had to do something. Life could not continue like this. He heard Sensei Alan saying, “The only failure is the failure to act.” But what could he do here, in this bed, with his body torn half to shreds?

Fear No One

“I’ve been reading Surat An-Najm,” Samia said, hefting her book. “You want to hear?”

He had forgotten she was there. He wiped his tears with jerky motions. “No, I told you-”

Samia recited:

“Or has he not been informed of what was in the scriptures of Moses, and Abraham who fulfilled his mission; That no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another; And that there is nothing for man but what he strives for; And that his effort will be seen, and then he will be rewarded for it generously? And that to your Lord is the final return; And that it is He who makes one laugh and weep; And that it is He who causes death and gives life…”

A Thematic Commentary on the Quran by Al-Ghazali“Al-Ghazali says,” Samia went on, “that we must recognize Allah’s power over everything, and know that no man can control another’s fate. There is nothing for man but what he strives for. If you want something, make a plan and go after it. Fear no one.”

“Do I even have to tell you this?” she continued. “Even with one eye I can see you lying here all tight and angry. Do you have any idea what you did? You saved my life. How many people could have done what you did? How many did? Nobody. Only you. You might be short, Omar, but you’re a giant.” A tear ran down one cheek and she wiped it away.

She finished in Spanish, something she almost never did: “Tu, hermano. Eres el milagro.” You, brother. You are the miracle. Rolling her Spanish r’s hard, sounding almost like Halima, and almost bitter. How strange.

“Say hasbun-Allahu-wa-n’em-Al-Wakeel.” Samia commanded.

Omar did so, then Samia stood and shuffled away slowly, one chubby hand grasping her book.

Omar felt like Samia had taken a hammer and smashed the diamond-hard shell of fury that had encased him, shattering it. She was somehow able to see through his emotional walls as if they did not exist. Was she like this with everyone? And had she really just happened to be reading that surah, or had she chosen it specifically for him?

Alone in his room, Omar began to think. He was still angry but it was cold anger now, the kind that did not interfere with his ability to reason. Make a plan. The only failure is the failure to act.

Friends

When Mamá returned from the cafeteria with cups of mashed potatoes and mac n’ cheese for him – he could only eat soft foods for now – Omar said, “Tell Nemesio to come see me.”

Mamá looked alarmed. “Why?”

“Just tell him.”

“He will not come, I think.”

“Tell him I know a way to profit from this thing.” He waved a hand to indicate his ravaged body. “I want to consult with him.” That’ll get him here.

She studied his face uncertainly. “Your friends are here again. The doctor says you are ready for visitors now, but only two at a time, and only ten minutes each.”

He nodded his head, and his mother and Samia withdrew.

First in were the three Muhammad sisters, all with large black eyes and rings in their left nostrils. Nadia and Naris were decked out in colorful shalwar khamees outfits,  looking like young mahogany trees hung with bright fabrics for a festival, while Nabila wore jeans, a band t-shirt and hi-top sneakers. One or all of them wore a musky, jasmine-scented perfume that filled the small hospital room.

Many of the teachers and students at IIAP could not tell the sisters apart, but Omar always could. Nadia was quick to laugh, goofy and wide-eyed, as if constantly surprised. Naris was solemn, and asked hard questions, or gave uninvited criticism. Nabila – she of the band shirts and hi-tops – couldn’t stand still. She danced to her own music, ran when other people walked, and rarely spoke. Even now she was swaying her hips and rotating her hands Bollywood style. She had her own Youtube channel where she showed off dance moves. Omar had heard she was making money with it.

“I thought it was only supposed to be two at a time.”

Nadia grinned. “We dazzled them with our triplicate identicalness.”

“They wanted to know,” Naris said seriously, “if we were Hindu princesses.”

“Did you tell them you were Muslim princesses?” Omar asked. Nadia giggled, while Naris looked at him solemnly, as if he’d said something profound.

“We’re sorry about what happened to you and Samia,” Nabila broke in, ceasing her dancing momentarily. “Our family’s been praying for you. Everyone has.”

“Thanks,” Omar said, and he meant it. “So what’s new?”

“Árabe Unido beat FCDeeeeee,” Nabila sang, and she did a little dance that ended in a victory pose, her fingers in Vs.

“Halima and Hani are here to see you too,” Nadia said. “And the principal, and a couple of teachers, and the TV news people.”

Just the thought of seeing all those people exhausted Omar.

“And if you’re wondering if Tameem is out there,” Naris added, “he’s not. He wouldn’t dare show his face. He and his coward sidekick Basem.”

Not surprising. Tameem would never bother visiting him. “Why do you call them cowards?”

“He was the one who said to run, wasn’t he?”

“Didn’t you all run too?” Omar was not accusing, just trying to understand.

Nadia let out an explosive laugh. Naris shot her sister a chiding look, then said, “Yes, but we came back. Tameem and Hani kept going. I think they ran all the way to the main road. We haven’t seen them since the Day of the Dogs.”

When Omar raised his eyebrows she added, “That’s what we’re calling it now. You know what, I heard they were laughing about it later. If I ever see them again I’ll stick kebab skewers in their eyes.”

Omar sighed and adjusted his head on the pillow. His pain level was increasing, and he was tired.

“Do you want us to leave you alone?”

Omar thanked them for coming, and asked them to send in Halima and Hani. He was exhausted just from this short visit, but he needed to see those two. His memories of the attack were a mayhem of images and sensory impressions as overwhelming as a fireworks show. Teeth and claws, pain, slick blood on his skin, the hot metallic taste in his mouth, the smell of dog fur, the sound of Samia screaming, others shouting… a knife and a gun. People standing around as if they’d just witnessed a massacre. And Halima and Hani right there, above him. He needed to talk to someone who’d been there.

Panama Rainforest

Halima and Hani would not meet his eyes. Hani with his long face and nose that reminded Omar of a horse; shoulder-length greasy hair, and persistent acne. Halima, as lovely as a daydream, her eyes as green as the Panamanian rainforest.

Omar remembered his fantasy of marrying Halima one day. If she’d been out of his league before, how about now? He was a mangled mess.

He tried to put such useless thoughts out of his head. “What’s the matter with you two?”

“We’re sorry about what happened,” Halima said. “I’m the one who pressured you to come. If I hadn’t done that, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”

“If you hadn’t done that, Samia might be dead,” Omar countered, then immediately realized he’d said the wrong thing by reminding them that they had done nothing to save Samia.

“It was all Tameem’s fault,” Hani said, glancing up to meet Omar’s eyes, then looking away again.

Omar said nothing.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Hani went on. “I’ve been following Tameem like a robot. You and I were friends, and I abandoned you. I’m sorry. I know he’s no good. I can’t explain, man. He’s rich, and everyone admires him, and when you’re around him you feel important. But I’m done with him now. My eyes are open.”

“Hani,” Omar said kindly. “My memories are mixed up, but I remember you standing there at the end with a bloody knife in your hand. What happened?”

“Hani killed the one dog,” Halima said fiercely. “And the cop shot the other.”

“But I ran away first,” Hani said dejectedly.

“You were there when it counted. Whatever happened in the past, a lo hecho, pecho. And you, Halima, are a good soul. I remember you standing beside me when everyone else ran away. The Day of the Dogs is done. Let’s look forward.”

He began to realize that he had changed. In his mind he heard Samia saying, “You might be short, but you’re a giant.” He was not speaking as one in need, but as one who held power, and therefore possessed the ability to forgive. He felt a core of iron within himself, yet strangely enough, from that iron flowed benediction. Cowardly Tameem and Basem didn’t matter. Omar saw now how meaningless they were, how petty.

He thought of the verses of Surat An-Najm: That no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another... And that it is He who makes one laugh and weep…

Let Tameem and Basem bear their own burdens, laugh their own laughter, cry their own tears. Omar would be his own man, in the universe of his own soul.

A nurse came with Omar’s medication, and instructed his visitors to leave. On the way out, Halima turned back with a quizzical expression and said, “Day of the Dogs?”

Omar shrugged. “That’s what we’re calling it now.”

Get Out

He was awakened by a rough thumping on his shoulder. Nemesio stood there with his short, barrel-body and gold teeth, dressed in an expensive but rumpled yellow suit, the broken veins in his nose betraying his alcoholism. His breath stank and his cheeks were shadowed with a week’s growth of beard. A fat canary on a bender.

“What’s this nonsense ‘bout making money?” Nemesio demanded. “You thinking to sue? The dog owner is a policia nacional captain. Sue him, you bring a heap of trouble on your head. Stupid boy.”

In spite of Nemesio’s words, the man must have thought the possibility of a lawsuit held some promise, or he wouldn’t have come. Omar was going to have to disappoint him.

“You know,” Omar said casually. “The police captain came to see me. The one whose dogs attacked me.” This was not true, but Nemesio would not know that. “He was extremely apologetic. He said if I ever need anything, I should only ask.”

“Ah, I see.” Nemesio nodded knowingly and stroked his chin. “You wanna ask for compensation for the attack.”

“No. I want to ask him to investigate the fire that burned down your gas station.”

“Whaaa?” Nemesio’s eyes bugged and his cheeks turned beet red. He seized Omar’s bandaged wrist. “Watchu talking, you little bastard?”

Omar ignored the pain flaring in his wrist from the puncture wounds there. He kept his tone calm, and began a carefully rehearsed speech. “I seem to recall that gas prices were at rock bottom around the time your station burned. And you were always complaining about your employees stealing from you. You couldn’t have been making much of a profit. What did the fire inspectors say? An electrical problem? Did you bribe someone to say that?” This was pure speculation on his part, but he saw Nemesio’s eyes widen and knew he’d struck pay dirt. “Then you had a huge insurance payout, but you didn’t restore the station. You abandoned it. I think the police captain would find all this very interesting. And you don’t have anything left to bribe him with, do you? You’ll end up rotting in La Joya for fraud.”

Still gripping Omar’s wrist, Nemesio raised a fist.

“Go ahead,” Omar said. “The captain can add assault to your charges.”

Nemesio released Omar’s wrist and stepped back, looking as if he’d just released a viper. His chin trembled and a speck of spittle dribbled from his bottom lip as he spoke. “Watchu want?”

Man walking away, leaving Omar brought his voice to a low hiss, letting some of his rage show. “I know you’ve been beating my mother again, Nemesio.” Normally he would never dare to call the man by his given name as it would bring a terrible beating, but now he spat it like a curse. “I want you gone, today. Pack your things, leave and never come back. If I ever see you again I will beat you to a pulp myself. If you don’t think I can, wait and see. Then I’ll report you to the police.”

“I-” Nemesio stuttered. “I don’t got nowhere to go.”

“That’s your problem. Leave today, you understand? And don’t you dare touch my mother again. Now get out.”

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 5:  Sorceress of the Forest

* * *

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

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

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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

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The Estranged Middle Way

8 September, 2020 - 05:28

“Our entire system of life is truly as God Almighty defined, a middle among all people, never being confined to the different variations of thoughts of man, and encompassing and transcending all of them. God’s words cannot be limited by man.”

Islām is rooted as being a faith that has a holistic way of life because it is an all-encompassing framework of guidance. Its framework divides into three integral, interlinked, and inseparable components: actions, beliefs and spirituality.

Actions and practices encompass guidance of every facet of the private, public, and societal. Such a detailed framework in actions serves to ingrain the purpose and objectives of Islām through a practical faith that not only gives over-arching principles but carefully considers even the most minute of subtleties for individual context and scenario.

Beliefs discuss essential faith and foundational theology. Belief, or īmān, are not to be confused with theology, or ‘āqīdah. Often times they may be used interchangeably while there are key elements of differentiating between what īmān is and what ‘is aqīdah. Belief or īmān is referred to primarily in two different contexts.

The first is the breakdown of what comprises faith.

Belief (īmān) is comprised of actions (‘amal) and statements (qawl):
1. Actions of the Heart, which are the root and catalyst of actions of the limbs: like reliance on God, sincerity, hope, fear, awe, seeking the pleasure of God, etc.
2. Actions of the Limbs.
3. Statements of the Heart: is theology, the study of the nature of God and all religious belief. It encompasses the tenets of faith a person believes in and has certainty.
4. Statements of the Tongue.

The second context of īmān or belief refers to the state of spirituality which increases with righteousness and decreases with sin.

When we refer to beliefs, we are referring to  of these contexts, holistically. As you can see belief encompasses theology but does not solely define it. Among the functions of theology is building foundational understanding of the nature of God, the nature and function of man in light of the temporal world and the Hereafter, the reality of the Afterlife, the meaning of life, etc.

Theology,  here, subsequently contemporizes and responds to any contentions from philosophies or ideologies opposing to the universal belief Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sent to humanity. Beliefs also elucidate what is considered acceptable differences within orthodoxy and what is considered heterodoxy. The study of valid  (saigh) and invalid (ghair saigh) interpretation in theology include tolerance of differences within orthodoxy (murā’at al khilāf), highlighting what types of theological deviance are forgivable and what kinds are grounds for falling outside of acceptable faith, and what are unequivocal (qat’i) and equivocal (dhannī) aspects of theological belief.

The last component of spirituality (tazkiyah/tasawwuf), is the ultimate guide in balancing mechanics and belief. But it also contains within it pitfalls for those that focus on it in absence of and balanced with practice and beliefs. Spirituality is at the heart of faith. It is led by actions, guided by the sea of belief to wonder in reflection and amazement at the grandeur of the Almighty in the macro and micro.

Many have been drowned in and lost the objectives (maqāsid) of the holistic framework of Islām with dogmatic overt-focus of one aspect over another. They neglect one of the other of these components, in spite of the inseparable connection of the three. We witness a faulty approach on the practice and mechanics without considering spirituality. We see in certain groups a lack of focus on ethics, character, and delivery being as vital, if not more so, as the emphasis on correct action.

The example of faulty approach to theology is also visible. Neglecting spirituality is as much of a problem as the other extreme of esoteric philosophies and mysticism which delved into symbolism to such an extent that it contradicted foundational principles in how the faith is interpreted and understood according to the practice of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), and his teachings relayed to his companions as well as heterodoxical beliefs or innovative practices all in the name of “the spirit of Islam.” In some of these groups, the sum of proving theology was more important than the tone of delivery and capturing hearts. After all, even the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was disciplined by the Lord with nothing more in the Quran than how he delivered the message. An empirical tasawwuf as well is central to the faith of Islām. A spirituality which ingrained in prophetic teachings, the best of worshipers of course knows the best path to connect the Creator. Esoteric tasawwuf was sought after in neglect of such empirical spirituality.

In other cases, the practice of Islām becomes not only secondary but deemed irrelevant while ‘the bigger and most important matter is the heart in faith.’ A slogan which is outwardly true but misguided in application. While seeking the spirit of Islām, the integral component of spirituality is rooted and inseparable with practice and beliefs. The protective cloak of Islam, the shariah, is stripped, its logical framework and shield, the beliefs, usurped.

In summary, two extremes mutate and fight at odds with each other while both exemplify inconsistency and a false practice of Islam: the claim to see the spirit of Islām was lost without practice, and the dogmatic indignation to correct beliefs lost audience with abhorrent manners and vile speech, while the claim to follow correct practice is deluded with no objectives.

Actions are studied in fiqh, beliefs, in specifically theology in the study of ‘aqīdah, but beliefs (īmān) are ingrained in the studies of all Islamic sciences such as hadith and knowing the meanings of the teachings of the Prophet, his life, manners, and etiquette in sīrah, the meanings of the words of Allah in tafsīr, in understanding the intricacies of the eloquence in the arabic language etc. as well as the direct discussion of spirituality in the study of tasawwuf or tazkīyah.

Having a teacher is vital as well to model all of this. And we have dedicated and entire article to the importance of such guidance in teachers and avoiding religious complexes in Muslim discourse.

It is vital to enumerate the aforementioned issues in this introduction because often times the holistic approach of understanding faith is neglected in discussions regarding the sub components of Islām . There is an absence of awareness of such framework. The more compartmentalized discussions of theology, fiqh, or spirituality become the more distant they are from the essential interconnected relationship that our Islāmic paradigm functions in, the constructs in which we see the world through, and the principles on which we derive all matters from.

With this in mind, I also have a disclaimer that I will share in the form of a story. While shopping in a bookstore in Madinah, I ran into a good friend who works there and we caught up. We studied together very closely under a teacher; even though we have differences in the madhab we study, as well as the Sunnī theological school we ascribe to. But our hearts are one in faith, and love is uniform in its essence. We studied spirituality with a teacher who imparted this and it was visibly applied in everything that he taught. He had students not only from all four madhabs of fiqh but also theological sunnī schools (Ash’arī, Māturīdī, and Atharī), alongside the different nationalities that we all came from (in hindsight, this is what Madinah has always represented: known as Ma’riz Al Īmān — the refuge of faith, where all come together and unified in their bond of Islam).

After exchanging pleasantries, catching up as we were happy to see one another, my friend and I discussed a problem. We were both seeing those who ascribe themselves as scholars and students of Islam in their dogmatic discussions across theology, fiqh, and spirituality lack not only basic ethics, manners, genuineness, and sincerity but also lack a sense of just and amicable difference (insāf). He said something profound in our discussion:

“You know, those in the middle will always be attacked the most. Look at what’s happening now, an Ash’arī attacks an Atharī, an Atharī attacks an Ash’arī … and the people in the middle are attacked by both! The people in the middle work twice as hard!”

I chuckled in agreement and said,

“Yes twice as hard to relay to both sides how much they agree on and regarding the minority of views they contend, how to disagree amicably with love and care for what bonds them while maintaining balance in approach!”

He throws his arms in the air and says,

“This is why it would be great if people stuck to ‘aqīdat al ‘ajaiz!”

This phrase, “the belief of old women,” is a term used to refer to the essential and foundational faith of very devout, loving, and practicing older women who engaged in the dhikr (remembrance) of Allah, recitation of the Quran, du’ā (prayer) for all Muslims, and had no rancor or hatred in their heart for anyone because they were more engrossed in the love of God and His Prophet in yearning to be in companionship in the Everlasting Garden from engaging in highly-charged polemical theology. They were content with imān (faith) that’s the ultra-unifying variable for any dissent in Islām, and not in divisive kalām (theological discourse) which often times proved so theoretical that it lost tenability. Old ladies are blissfully ignorant of kind of theology.

The disclaimer is: the middle group will always be attacked more. I recognize that.

I ask the reader not to employ their rational abilities to find holes to criticize but to reflect on the message in light of this holistic aspect. If you have valid criticism and disagreement weigh it in light of the following: is your view valid? Is my view valid (saigh)? Are you criticizing my views in regard to invalidity or are you criticizing it based on what’s ideal? If you view what I’m saying as invalid provide evidence. If you feel what I’m saying isn’t ideal then don’t lose sight of the bond of fellowship our faith teaches us in kindness and disagreeing amicably. Reflect over the unifying unequivocal principles of our faith (muḥkamāt). You may disagree with an aspect, but do you disagree with the objective? If you disagree with the objective and approach, why? What are some critical reasons for why you differ? Do you perceive some harm, is it truly harmful, and to what level is this harm? Do you feel an aspect that you agree with generally but disagree on its application? State it. Do you believe it needs more specific elucidation? Can you clearly and succinctly state what you agree with prior to your disagreement by highlighting points of agreement before departures? Does this disagreement occur in something that is unequivocal (qat’ī) or equivocal (dhannī) and open to interpretation?

If we only exercised noble disagreement in points of contention, we would realize what kind of disagreements are fundamental and which ones superficial and unnecessary.

As a beloved teacher once said, when we look at who implements what we’ve mentioned above one will notice that everyone will claim that they follow the middle path. Everyone will agree with all that’s been mentioned in regard to temperament, amicable disagreement, and moderation, yet when it comes to the application, we all falter.

How do we recognize this middle and moderate way?

Shaykh Hatim Al-‘Awni says, “the middle and moderate path is the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم that Allah described as a marker of this faith,

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“And so We have made you ˹believers˺ a wasat )middle, upright, just) community so that you may be witnesses over humanity and that the Messenger may be a witness over you…” Quran 2:143.”

Wasat — middle is the marker of this nation. It’s a mark of its divinity. A revealed divine system of life from the Almighty can never be encompassed by human mechanism, understanding, thought, or ideology. Our beliefs in morality are neither completely moral universalism nor relativism. Our economics is neither capitalism nor socialism. Our politics isn’t based on absolute majority-rule neither is it autocracy with repression of voices, rights, and stifling opinion, criticism, and freedoms. Our entire system of life is truly as God Almighty defined, a middle among all people, never being confined to the different variations of thoughts of man, and encompassing and transcending all of them. God’s words cannot be limited by man.

A Muslim should always seek such middle path of understanding in the exemplar of it and whose life is the application of it, the Beloved Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). His life is the rubric of what is middle and what is right and wrong. Following that exemplar in the principles he set out is our objective while aiming to never estrange the middle path.

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Racism And The Plagues of Egypt – Coronavirus And Racism: America’s Two Pandemics

7 September, 2020 - 15:14
Introduction

The fight against anti-Blackness has once again hit the global stage, and American Muslims have a central role to play in the movement of racial justice. The spiritual history of America is a history of Black Muslim voices. Mansa Abubakari, a West African King, landed in South America almost 200 years before Columbus began the massacre of the indigenous population.[1] The biggest migration of Muslims to America was the slave ships where scholars fought to teach Islam to their enslaved communities. Modern Islamophobic attacks such as the Muslim Ban of 2016 are not just Islamophobic, but also deeply racist because it denies the humanity of the previous generations of Muslims. Black Muslims have carried the mantle of preserving Islam in America and have fought for racial justice for last four centuries. The immigrant Muslims who arrived during the last 50 years were a direct result of the civil rights movement that allowed immigration from Muslim majority countries. The fight for racial justice is a Muslim fight. We owe it to the generations of Muslims before us to continue their work.

The 400 years of struggle for racial justice in America can be compared to the Children of Israel’s fight for emancipation from Pharaoh’s Egypt 3000 years ago during which the country was hit by a number of plagues. Sheikh Mendes and Imam Dawud Walid have recently referenced the story of Prophet Musa (peace be upon him), whose demand to Pharaoh to, “Let my people go[2]” is well known in many religious circles fighting for racial equality in America. [3] The Quran discusses of the plagues of Egypt in the story of Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) in Surah Al-A’raf. “So We sent upon them the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood as distinct signs, but they were arrogant and were a criminal people.” [7;133] The plagues of Egypt are similar to the current coronavirus pandemic in that they made systemic oppression clear for all to see. The goal here is to explain the relationship between the coronavirus and racism epidemics.

First, the name of the surah will be discussed. Then, the story of Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will be put into context with the story of the other prophets mentioned in the surah. The events leading up to the Plagues of Egypt are explained and compared to the current American pandemics. Finally, there are recommendations for how to make our community spaces antiracist. A few Black scholars have been quoted throughout as to elevate their voices, and to provide some much-needed groundwork for readers who might be unfamiliar with these great American Muslim scholars. For further reading, Dr. Kayla Renée Wheeler compiled a far more exhaustive list of Black Muslim narratives in the BlackIslamSyllabus.

Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

To put this verse into perspective we must first reflect on Surah A’raf as a whole, and I encourage everyone to read and contemplate the surah in depth. The A’raf, mentioned in ayah 46, are an elevated place on the Day of Judgement where people of no consequence get stuck. They watch as others are sorted towards Heaven or Hell. The people of the A’raf are not evil, but they also would not leave their comfort zones to actually commit to righteousness. Their comments to the people of Paradise and the people of the Fire are mentioned in the Surah, but do not earn a response because they are then, as they are now, people of no consequence.

The surah begins by telling Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to not feel distressed by forcing people out of their comfort zones, and warns of previous peoples who were destroyed as they slept in their heedlessness. And how many cities have We destroyed, and Our punishment came to them at night or while they were sleeping at noon. [7;4] We cannot go back to the previous norm when Black people were suffering alone, while non-Black people could comfortably enjoy their lives whilst ignoring—and even benefiting from a system built on—the suffering of their Black brothers and sisters. A critical mass of people must refuse the continued oppression and the suffering of others for the current system to change. American Muslims should do more than give lip service to their Black brothers and sisters.

Anti-Blackness in Human History

The first prophet mentioned in the surah is our father Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), whose name indicates his dark black skin. And We have certainly created you, [O Mankind], and given you [human] form. Then We said to the angels, “Prostrate to Adam”, so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He was not of those who prostrated. [7;11] [Allah] said, “What prevented you from prostrating when I commanded you?” [Satan] said, “I am better than him. You created me from fire and created him from mud.” [7;12] Satan hated our father Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) for the form Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gave him, which included dark black skin. Anti-Blackness is as old as humanity itself. Dr. Bilal Ware has spoken extensively about the satanic nature of racism. Claims of superiority based on a birthright are rampant throughout human history. Egyptians claimed superiority over the Children of Israel based on where they were from centuries before. Jahili[1] Meccan society claimed superiority based on lineage. The American system claims superiority based on proximity to whiteness. These are characteristics determined at birth and are beyond any human being’s control. Such claims of superiority are counter to the Islamic ethos that sets the value of individuals based on their relationship with God alone. And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” [This] – lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.” [7:172] Many other prophets and their specific fights against the oppressive power structures are referenced in the surah, which illustrates the continuity of the struggle between the children of Adam and Satan.

A series of prophets (peace be upon them] are briefly discussed with striking similarities in the messages they delivered to their people. All the prophets teach their people about the Oneness of God and called them to rectify the vices that were specific to their society. The mala’a, or the elites, in each of their societies were mentioned as those who fought the prophets. They did so to maintain their chokehold on power, not because of a theological difference. The elites in Meccan society did not fight Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) until he began publicly preaching. They did not care that he prayed differently from them. They feared that his message would make them equal to people they belittled and disparaged. Similarly, it was the elites in Pharaoh’s court who demanded he increase the torment of the Children of Israel. This was a direct result of the magicians publicly declaring their belief and turning public opinion against Pharaoh’s magic, one of the pillars of his power. Similarly in America, the institutional structures of racism need to be dismantled.

Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)

The story of Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) begins with the demand mentioned in the introduction, “so send with me the Children of Israel.” [7;105]. Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) shows Pharaoh and his elites the signs Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has sent him with. So Moses threw his staff, and suddenly it was a serpent, manifest. [7;107] And he drew out his hand; thereupon it was white [with radiance] for the observers. [7;108] They refuse his message and demand a public contest with magicians in hopes of spinning the narrative in their favor. They fail miserably when the magicians recognize the truth and publicly declare their belief in the Lord of Prophet Haroon 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) despite Pharaoh’s threats of torture. Pharaoh said, “You believed in him before I gave you permission. Indeed, this is a conspiracy which you conspired in the city to expel therefrom its people. But you are going to know.” [7:123]

This now leads us to the discussion of the plagues, and how they came about. After that public humiliation, the elites around Pharaoh demanded that he increase the torment of the Children of Israel. [Pharaoh] said, “We will kill their sons and keep their women alive; and indeed, we are subjugators over them.” [7;127] Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a book specifically addressing how the White supremacist system feared a successful Black presidency and responded with an increased level of racism. As a spiritual response to this heightened oppression, Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) preached patience during the struggle because he knew Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) would deliver them.  The people of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) complained about the increased pain they were now experiencing as they had been suffering for years before a messenger was sent to them. Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) asked them to develop their spiritual strength and prepare themselves for a time when they would be empowered and would need spiritual discipline. Shaykha Ieasha Prime has recently called on the ummah to be increasing its spiritual strength as they organize against anti-Blackness.

The Economic Downturn

Then Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) tested the people of Pharaoh with an economic downturn. “And We certainly seized the people of Pharaoh with years of famine and a deficiency in fruits that perhaps they would be reminded.” [7;130] These circumstances are very similar to the economic recession of 2008, and as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Whenever something good would happen, the people of Pharaoh would claim credit for it, and whenever something bad happened, they would blame Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and his people. But when good came to them, they said, “This is ours [by right].” And if a bad [condition] struck them, they saw an evil omen in Moses and those with him. Unquestionably, their fortune is with Allah, but most of them do not know. [7;131] And they said, “No matter what sign you bring us with which to bewitch us, we will not be believers in you.” [7;132] This rhetoric is very similar to the wave of nationalism that took over the world in the last few years. It is used by nationalist political leaders, who blame marginalized groups for the economic recession. However, the oppression of those marginalized communities was a preexisting condition that was exacerbated and exploited by nationalist leaders.

The Plagues

Then Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sent them the plagues, “the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood” [7;133]. These were such overwhelming tests for Pharaoh. He was a man that claimed to be a god, but the True God was now sending him something that destroyed the riches he had built and could not be blamed on someone else. It revealed all of his lies. The plagues sent to Pharaoh were specific to the land of the Nile that depended on the production of agriculture and built imposing monuments. It is difficult to look grand when your fields are flooded or consumed by locusts, your water turns to blood, and you and your monuments are covered in lice and frogs. Similarly, the coronavirus pandemic exposed the faults in our health care system, the shortcoming of our food supply, the fragility of the economy, and the deep racism that is embedded into the entire system. The people who were deemed essential to work were treated as sacrificial and were forced to choose between paying for food and rent or risking exposure. They were offered empty platitudes that did not include the protective equipment they needed, increased financial compensation, or health care if they were to fall ill.

Coronavirus attacks the body’s ability to breathe, and it has been widely reported to have affected communities of color far harder than any other group. Black Americans are far more likely to have asthma due to highways going through their neighborhoods, and therefore more likely to die from Covid-19. This is a direct link to a racist system of redlining and highway construction that took away their ability to breathe. Black Americans are imprisoned at disproportionally high rates where social distancing is impossible. There are many false assumptions about the imprisoned population. The truth is that more than 90% of all cases never go to trial, and an accused person’s ability to defend themselves is almost impossible with exorbitant amounts of money. Many Muslims now claim affiliation to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), may Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) have mercy on him. Covid-19 could be killing the next Malcolm X in prison this very moment. All that without even discussing the economic impact of coronavirus on communities of color that if left unchecked will widen the racial wealth gap. The scarcity of food and resources that were created by the plagues undoubtedly affected the Children of Israel and not just their oppressors; however, the end result of plagues was justice for the oppressed.

From Eric Garner to George Floyd, Black Americans have been fighting to breathe in America. The Arabic word nafs which is usually translated to a soul/self has the same root word as nafas, which means a breath. So, a more accurate translation of nafs is actually a breathing soul. Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a nafs (breathing soul) unless for a nafs or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he/she had slain humankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he/she had saved humankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors. [Surah Al-Ma’idah; 32] American Muslims have tended towards the medical profession as a means of fulfilling the above verse in saving people. We should be focusing the same level of energy at saving populations by fighting both the coronavirus and racism epidemics.

Naming the Oppression

The coronavirus epidemic and the recent public murders of Black Americans created a tipping point that did not exist before. Former NBA player and prolific author, Kareem Abdul Jabbar said, “it feels like hunting season is open on blacks.” The murder of George Floyd was so egregious that groups dedicated to preventing police accountability called for Derek Chauvin to be held accountable. America was force to collectively acknowledge the murder of a Black man at the hands of a police officer. Corporations who peddled in racism were issuing apologies when they saw the tide of public opinion turn. The murder of George Floyd made America look the ugliness of racism in the eye. Of course, police brutality and racism did not begin with George Floyd nor did it end with him. Many more people lost their lives at the hands of the police during the protests. For every name we know, there are countless others we do not know. Police brutality is a leading cause of death for Black men in America. Even if we do not know their names, every victim leaves behind a family to mourn their loss while knowing that the murderer not only walks free, but wears a uniform that allows him to continue to kill without consequence. May the brave young woman who took the video receive Divine reward and healing for her bravery. May the burning in the heart of every mother who lost a child be granted Divine patience and healing.

In Surah A’raf, the people of Pharaoh also acknowledged their oppression of the Children of Israel, and they vowed to stop oppressing them. And when the punishment descended upon them, they said, “O Moses, invoke for us your Lord by what He has promised you. If you [can] remove the punishment from us, we will surely believe you, and we will send with you the Children of Israel.” [7;134] We know that the people of Pharaoh reneged after the plagues were lifted. But when We removed the punishment from them until a term which they were to reach, then at once they broke their word. [7;135] So We took retribution from them, and We drowned them in the sea because they denied Our signs and were heedless of them. [7;136] Pharaoh in his arrogance witnessed all of the signs Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gave Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) including the staff, his hand, and the plagues. He then witnessed the Red Sea split, and still he followed Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) into the sea until he was drowned. His hatred blinded him, and his racism killed him.

America is now at the same moment of realization. Of course, Black Muslims have never been unaware of racism. It is a privilege for non-Black Muslims to learn about systemic racism rather than experience it firsthand. The ability to see right from wrong is not guaranteed for us. Arrogance can blind us as it has blinded Pharaoh and his army. I will turn away from My signs those who are arrogant upon the earth without right; and if they should see every sign, they will not believe in it. And if they see the way of consciousness, they will not adopt it as a way; but if they see the way of error, they will adopt it as a way. That is because they have denied Our signs and they were heedless of them. [7;146] The ability to see the racism is a mercy from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). May we be protected from spiritual blindness. No Muslim in America should be able to claim a lack of awareness of systemic racism any longer. No should they continue to favor their comfort zones over our love for our Black brothers and sisters and assume they will be forgiven. And they were succeeded by generations who, although they inherited the Scripture, took the fleeting gains of this lower world, saying, ‘We shall be forgiven,’ and indeed taking them again if other such gains came their way. Was a pledge not taken from them, written in the Scripture, to say nothing but the truth about God? And they have studied its contents well. For those who are mindful of God, the Hereafter is better. ‘Why do you not use your reason?’ [7;169]

Fighting the Oppression

Pharaoh claimed to be god, and White supremacy is the false god of our time. It is built into our psyches, our financial systems, and our power structures. Statues were erected to idolize those who upheld it. White supremacy is a system where lighter skin makes people smarter, more trustworthy, and more beautiful. We know this is a lie on its face, and yet it breads anti-blackness that is deeply engrained into everyday life. Fighting anti-blackness is a spiritual struggle, and we should make sincere intentions to fight it in all its forms. We must stand with the people of righteousness who fought for the abolition, civil rights, and an end to colonialist exploitation.

White supremacy in America is in a housing system that segregates people and exposes them to pollutants in their air and their water. It is in an education system that funds or defunds schools based on that segregated housing, and uses the police as an extreme punishment for a child’s infractions. It is in a judicial system that criminalizes poverty and imprisons those who cannot afford bail. It is in a prison system that forces people to work without financial compensation and is protected by the Thirteenth Amendment. Plans to fight the coronavirus pandemic were halted because communities of color were more likely to be affected in yet another disturbing attack. White supremacy is so deeply engrained that it leads some to harm themselves by bleaching their skin and burning their hair in hopes of appearing more like their oppressors. It is everywhere including our spiritual spaces.

Muslims often quote ayah 48:13 and the last sermon of Prophet Mohamed ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) with pride that the tradition stands firmly against racial injustice. While Islam itself does, Muslims often unfortunately do not. One of my community members recently shared a story about entering a masjid in hijab, and being asked if she was Muslim. What was even more egregious is that after a discussion, the family that asked concluded that because of her black skin, she was in fact NOT Muslim despite praying in a masjid. Many of the non-Black Muslims were shocked to hear this, but the truth is that I have never met a Black Muslim who did NOT have a racism in the masjid story. Ask the Black Muslims in your circle about their experiences, and the flood gates will open. You will also see the hurt and betrayal in their eyes for having to endure racism inside their places of worship. Apologize to them for not listening sooner and thank them for being willing to teach you and trust you to want to be better despite their trauma.

Call to Action

It is not enough for anyone to not be racist; we must be anti-racist. Acknowledge the anti-blackness you have internalized within yourself and have those difficult conversations with your family members. Ustadha Zaynab Ansari speaks about the pathological ideologies of how black bodies are viewed in America.  Join and support organizations like the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and the Muslim Alliance of North America. Embrace a Black Muslim ethos of viewing Islam as a theology of liberation. Support Black scholars and the Black masajid. Invite them to speak not just about anti-Blackness, but on their areas of expertise in Islam, history, community development, etc. Demand that the immigrant masajid be antiracist. Black Muslims should be on the Board of Directors and on the Zakah committee to ensure the equity of those spaces. Hire a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion expert to have a difficult conversation about race in your organization. If the Black Muslims do not share their experiences of racism in the masjid, it is not because they did but happen, but because they do not trust the community to care to change it. Build that trust and build coalitions of communal healing to end the segregation of masajid into Black and immigrant masajid in the first place. The way out of the pandemic is to take care of those who are most vulnerable. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “You are given rizq sustenance based on the most vulnerable among you.” Communities who have turned the tide have done exactly that. Learning to be anti-racist is one of many steps we can take to lift the difficulty our communities are facing. We need at least be as non-discriminatory as the virus that only sees a human body.

Anyone who is not Black has benefited from the theft and subjugation of generations of Black Americans. We should not meet Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) having sided with an oppressor. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) says, “Oppression is layers of darkness on the Day of Judgement.” We can choose to follow the prophetic path, or we can choose to let our racism destroy us. And for every nation is a [specified] term. So when their time has come, they will not remain behind an hour, nor will they precede [it]. [7;34] There will be an accounting for our society as a whole, and there will be an individual accounting. Those who follow Prophet Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will enter eternal gardens and those who follow Pharaoh will enter an eternal fire. And the people of no consequence, those who choose to do nothing, will sit on the A’raf.

[1] This story is mentioned in West African oral histories

[2] “Let my people go.” (Exodus 5-1: NIV)

[3] The plagues of Egypt are discussed differently in the different Abrahamic faiths. “The Christian and Jewish traditions discuss the angel of death taking the life of the first-born son from every family in Egypt except those who left a marking on their doors so the angel of death could pass over them.”

[4] Jahili is a Quranic descriptor for Pre-Islamic Arab society. It is derived from a root word meaning ignorance.

The post Racism And The Plagues of Egypt – Coronavirus And Racism: America’s Two Pandemics appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Loving Muslim Marriage Episode 10#: Do Angels Curse the Wife Who Refuses Sex?

3 September, 2020 - 04:19

It is often heard that the Prophet ﷺ said that if a man calls his wife to bed and she refuses him, that the angels will curse her until the morning. There are a lot of ways that people understand this, but what is the right way of understanding this Hadith?

Join us with Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jandga to talk about this commonly mistranslated, misunderstood narration.

The post Loving Muslim Marriage Episode 10#: Do Angels Curse the Wife Who Refuses Sex? appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Our African American Siblings Are Speaking, Are We Listening? Here Are 15 Things African American Muslims Want You To Know

1 September, 2020 - 04:33

In the Fall of 2018, we surveyed Muslims of Hispanic/Latino descent and asked what is the one thing they would want the Muslim community to know about them. We gathered 25 responses and released an article called, “25 Things Latino Muslims Want you to Know.” The purpose of the piece was to educate the general Muslim body about the Latino Muslim community and its dynamics, to debunk common stereotypes about Latinos, and to lend a voice to a marginalized sector in the Islamic community and in the United States.

Now, with the current climate of racial tension in the U.S. and the revival of the national movement for Black rights, I thought it not only imperative, but seriously overdue to put together a similar list of reactions from our African American brethren. Moving away from the obvious fact that there should be no racism in Islam, we want to open up about the racism and anti-blackness that unfortunately does exist within the Muslim community and how that affects our relationships with each other and hinders the struggle for change.

When I was collecting responses for this article what I found was that, unsurprisingly, Latino Muslims and Black Muslims have similar messages to send to the general Muslim community. Our shared experiences fuel a mutual call for justice and equality in society and within our own places of worship. I also had a difficult time gathering the same amount of feedback, because I began at a time when images of the murdered Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks were still circulating social media as a constant reminder of the injustice happening all over the country, specifically the targeting Black men and women. These wounds, so deep and raw were gaping in the collective psyche of African Americans, both Muslim and non-Muslim, fueling sentiments of anger and mistrust, and rightfully so. Many people refused to comment while others could not find the right words to use to address the Muslim brothers and sisters who have often failed them, as well.

The following is a list of 15 things the African American community, not only want you to know, but have been saying for decades. Are we listening?
  • I think people should know that civility (avoidance of controversial topics for the sake of being polite and getting along) undermines anti-racism work. Anti-racism demands frank discourse, active listening, and reflection. None of that can take place if we cannot clearly define the problems we face. – Candice Elam, Nurse, New Jersey
  • Our culture is not the antithesis of Islam. We do not come from broken homes. Umm Layyan Zainab, Mental Health Counselor/Recovery Specialist, Brooklyn, New York
Our culture is not the antithesis of Islam. We do not come from broken homes. – Umm Layyan Zainab, Mental Health Counselor/Recovery Specialist, Brooklyn, New YorkClick To Tweet
  • We are not your religious underlings. Many foreigners, especially Arabs and Indo-Paks, feel as though they have religious and cultural superiority over us. Just to list a few reasons they may feel this way: Firstly, they never really took the time out to learn and understand the history of oppression the indigenous people have been going through for over 500 years. But when it comes to them and their people back home, it is a top priority and the world must hear about the tears of the people of Palestine, Yemen, etc. This mentality is counterproductive to our religion of Islam because our beloved Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was a mercy to mankind, not just one nation, but all nations. Secondly, we are viewed as guests in their religion so, therefore, we should follow and adhere to their way, like somehow, we lack the ability and capability to understand and apply the teachings of Islam. I have always said that the slave master said we were 1/3 of a human, but now in the eyes of some Muslim foreigners, we are 1/3 of a Muslim. Our shahadahs are not truly recognized in their eyes. Thirdly, I believe some foreigners have the disease of racism in their hearts and it is present in their own countries towards dark-skinned people. What I am saying is based on what I and others have experienced. Abu Taahir Jalal, Islamic teacher/Youth Advocate/Mental Health Coach, Yonkers, New York
  • One thing I would like non-black Muslims to know is that not all African Americans are the same.  We have differences in culture depending where we are from.  I grew up in the Midwest. Our culture is vastly different from those who grew up in the South compared to those who grew up in the North. Then you have those who are Muslim compared to those who are not.  Lifestyles are different.  People do not realize this. – Zaneta Trent, Homeschooler/Health Educator, Baltimore, Maryland
  • All Black Muslims are not African American. There are also Afro-Latinos, Caribbean Muslims, etc. Halleemah Munoz, Educator, Atlanta, Georgia
All Black Muslims are not African American. There are also Afro-Latinos, Caribbean Muslims, etc. Halleemah Munoz, Educator, Atlanta, GeorgiaClick To Tweet
  • I would like the immigrant and/or non-Autochthonous Muslim community to understand that the Indigenous/Autochthonous “Black American” community facilitated the changes in the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization laws through the Civil Rights Movement and we are the reason why your family was able to immigrate and prosper here. Therefore, we should be acknowledged and respected for our struggle for equality that led to your presence. Additionally, you need to understand that your opportunities here lie solely on the U.S.’s agenda to make us a permanent bottom caste and to deny our right to equal opportunity, reparations for chattel slavery and upwardly mobility. This is called the racial wealth gap inequality where, through structural racism, we have been denied equal opportunity and access to wealth accumulation and resources. Please do not conflate our poverty with lack of drive, lack of self-determination, laziness, or apathy. Please do not believe that we are criminals and vagabonds. On the contrary, we built this country and through our blood, sweat, tears, struggle, and resistance, you have benefitted. – Elenia Norman, disabled, former Educator, Baltimore, Maryland
  • All black Muslims are not converts/reverts to Islam. – Shareefa Carrion, Designer/Entrepreneur, Atlanta, Georgia Designer/Entrepreneur
  • We did not become, and we do not remain Muslim to switch slave-masters. We do not “convert to Islam in jail/prison en masse.” We do not aspire to be Middle Eastern/Arab, Desi, African, Asian, etc. via our religious adherence to al-Islam. We support #Blacklivesmatter. – Gareth Bryant, Chaplain, Muslim Afro-American, New York
  • I want all Muslims, and people in general, to know and understand that Islam and Muslims are not “new” or “foreign” to America. In fact, Muslims have been in America since BEFORE it was even a nation by way of over 400 years of the African Slave Trade. Some scholars have estimated that between 30%-40% of the Africans brought to this country were Muslim. Slave traders actually identified those who were Muslims and sold them for higher prices because they were educated. Therefore, African American Muslims were the first Muslims in the United States of America. So, there are African American Muslims who have been Muslim for generations here. Kyosanim J., Assistant Martial Arts Instructor and NASM-CPT, Maryland, USA
  • Another thing we would like everyone to know and understand: Just because we are African American, and not from a “Muslim country,” do not assume we know nothing about Islam. Do not think that our knowledge is somehow “less than” someone from a “Muslim country” or that of our Arab and southeast Asian brothers and sisters. Many of us are well educated in Islam; many times even more so. Especially when it comes to areas of how to navigate being Muslim in America. We are way more equipped to answer these questions than someone coming from outside who does not understand the subtle ins-and-outs of this country, its laws or its history. The majority of African American Muslims, mainly those of us who have slave-trade ancestry (not with an African homeland e.g. Nigerian, Somalian etc.), don’t get caught up and lost in semantics, culture and traditions considering the Quran and Hadith. Therefore, we take the message as it is. Islam is Islam period. No cultural or traditional baggage attached. No matter what time you live in whether it is 6th century, present, or future.  Kyosanim J., Assistant Martial Arts Instructor and NASM-CPT, Maryland, USA
  • We are not new to Islam. Our ancestors were the vanguard of Islam in the Americas, starting with the Spanish occupations of the Caribbean in the 1500’s to the mass exodus of African Americans into Sunni Islam in the 70’s due to the influence of Islamic leaders such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, W. Deen Muhammad, and even members of the Black panthers. Abu Yazid Dumas, IT Tech, student of religious studies, Detroit, Michigan
We are not new to Islam. Our ancestors were the vanguard of Islam in the Americas, starting with the Spanish occupations of the Caribbean in the 1500’s to the mass exodus of African Americans into Sunni Islam in the 70’s due to the influence of Islamic leaders such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, W. Deen Muhammad, and even members of the Black panthers. Abu Yazid Dumas, IT Tech, student of religious studies, Detroit, MichiganClick To Tweet
  • I want people to know that Whites, Pakistanis, Indians, and Arabs do NOT speak for me as a Black American Muslim Woman. I have my own voice. WE have our own voices. Furthermore, I am tired of news outlets and reporters thinking that THE ABOVE ETHNIC GROUPS, especially Arabs, Pakistanis, and Indians are the ONLY voices of Islam. Moreover, NOT every Black American MUSLIM embraced Islam via the Nation of Islam or the Warith Al-Deen community. Barbara L., Islamic & ESL/EFL Teacher, Chapman University Graduate Student, Anaheim Hills, California
  • If you are truly sincere about helping in the battle against oppression in this world (and only Allah knows the hearts of His servants), I’ll say this: Whatever you do, understand that truly standing up against oppression has two battlegrounds. your internal world, and your external world. There is no standing up for justice in the truest sense without both of these aspects working together, and simultaneously—at all times. This is true for all social justice work, anti-racism or otherwise, and it is true irrespective of your “work experience” and ethnic background. If a single one of us—whether Black or non-Black, privileged or underprivileged—subtracts any one of these two components in our fight against oppression, then our efforts are false, insincere, or steeped in harmful self-deception. There really is no exception to this rule. Not a single one. This rule applies to every ethnic group, even amongst those who are underprivileged and oppressed, but it applies most especially to those who are benefiting from the system of oppression, even if they wish to live in self-denial about this. Umm Zakiyyah, Author/Educator, Baltimore, Maryland (Read more about how you can help fight oppression and anti-blackness in “First, Remove the Chains from Your Heart” on her blog: uzauthor.com)
  • Because our people were once enslaved, does not make us “less than” and somehow not worthy of marrying your son or daughter. Which, unfortunately, is how many of our other immigrant “Muslim brothers and sisters” view and treat us. Many of our Muslim “Brothers and Sisters” need to go back and read the last sermon of our beloved prophet Muhammad (SAWS) where he touches on many points, one of which is race relations, where he says plainly, “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab…a white person has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action.” (Agreed upon) Kyosanim J., Assistant Martial Arts Instructor and NASM-CPT, Maryland, USA
  • As Autochthonous American Muslims, we deserve respect because our struggle has carved out a space for you among a predominantly White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Christian hegemony that would otherwise reject your Muslim immigrant identity. Join us now in the fight against anti-Black racism, anti-Muslim bigotry, White Supremacy, and Imperialism. Help us reach White Americans in the academic and medical institutions we have been locked out of with the message of la ilaha illallah instead of choosing the decadence of wealth acquisition, suburban comfort, and cozy seating  at the banquet table of White Supremacy. – Elenia Norman, disabled, former Educator, Baltimore, Maryland

According to a 2017 Pew Research Center Survey, non-Hispanic or mixed-race black people accounted for 20% of the Muslim population in the United States, meaning 1 in every 5 Muslims is Black, and that is not counting Afro-Latinos or Americans of mixed-race backgrounds. Just a little under half of that 20% are converts to Islam, and this also highlights the obvious fact that Black Muslims are not newcomers to our communities. In fact, they are pioneers who have been here since before the establishment of this country and paved the way for immigrant Muslims to migrate here to settle and build Islamic centers and schools. To deny our brothers and sisters fair treatment, companionship, or support based on the color of their skin is delusional and self-destructive.

If we are not pained and haunted by the images of African American victims of police brutality and hate crimes, then we need to take a long look in the mirror and really check ourselves. Our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, clearly defined true brotherhood when he stated, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” (Bukhari and Muslim) Right now, we should all be breathless, we should all be restless. Until anti-Blackness is eradicated from our own families and communities, we should not feel comfortable to worship freely and go on about our lives. We may not be able to extinguish the ugly flames of racism worldwide, but we can start with ourselves.

The post Our African American Siblings Are Speaking, Are We Listening? Here Are 15 Things African American Muslims Want You To Know appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

An Ashura Message: Proclaim Good And Refrain From Evil, Always And At All Costs!

29 August, 2020 - 05:50


“If you do not march forth, Allah will chastise you grievously and will replace you by another people, while you will in no way be able to harm Him. Allah has power over everything”. (The Holy Quran – 9:39)

No people can live successfully, fruitfully and triumphantly without a strong memory of their past. Ashura, the 10th of Muharram, is one such milestone.

Muslims attempt to recall the tragic event that took place around the 60th year after Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) migrated from Makkah to Madinah. This time it was his family led by his noble grandson Imam Hussayn ibn Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

Reciting Divine words, reflecting Prophetic advises and studying history enables us to crystallize our insights. However, when we attempt to draw the imagery of Karbala, no heart could be so hard as not to be pierced with sadness while replaying the Day of Ashura. Words cannot do justice to the sacrifices made that day.

They kept their heads high, faces flowing with blood and tears, looking one upon another. Others stood in dolorous pain, looking up to the highest heavens, fixing their eyes upon it, crying out, asking help from the Only Helper; while others made lamentations in the manner of dirge.

Today we try to recall their pain, suffering and sacrifices, as they happened, to inspire ourselves and to understand the concept of sacrifice for a noble cause.

Regrettably, sacrifice as it is generally understood today, is to give up something that should not have been touched in the first place. Selfless and unasked giving is a rarity and unheard of. Giving one’s entire self and offspring for His pleasure is unimaginable. Muslims must spiritually survive from the unparallel yesterdays of the Prophet’s progeny.

We have been largely overwhelmed by a culture that has emptied our memories, made us apologetic for who we are, and stripped us along the way of the sheerest hope of self-definition. We alone are presumed past less and are left to repair our self-esteem. Imperative it is for us today, to define ourselves by our ongoing tribulations and those who mete them out to us. Otherwise, we cannot be collectively successful if we have no idea or, worse that we have the wrong idea of who we were and who we are.

The intent of this writing is to stimulate, not to sate — to pose the question and to invite reflection — to cause ourselves to act for an almost forgotten legacy of the sacrifices made by our beloved Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)and his progeny.

O Allah! Bestow upon us the courage to enjoin, proclaim and enforce the good and the patience and perseverance to forbid and stop the evil for and by all.

The post An Ashura Message: Proclaim Good And Refrain From Evil, Always And At All Costs! appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Day of the Dogs, Part 3 – The Attack

27 August, 2020 - 02:14

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

This is chapter 3 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4

Stop Pitying Yourself

“I believe in six unlikely things every day before breakfast.” – Samia

Playa Santa Clara, Panama

Playa Santa Clara, Panama

OMAR DID NOT FIND A SEASHELL. At one point he heard the sound of muffled sobbing, and followed it to where Samia sat in her cabana. She had her face tucked into her knees, her forehead pressing against the book she’d been reading. When Omar said, “What’s the matter?” she looked up with a startled, tear-streaked face.

“Nothing.” She wiped her face with her scarf.

Omar shifted his weight and looked at the ground, unwilling to either press her or leave her alone.

“My parents are getting divorced,” she said finally.

“Oh. Sorry to hear that. I thought you guys were a perfect little Islamic family.”

“Yes, well. Things are not always what they seem.”

That sure was the truth. “Will you go back to Malaysia?”

“No. My dad’s going back. I’ll stay with my mom.”

That struck Omar as odd. Wasn’t it usually it was the man who traveled to work and the woman who accompanied him?

Seeming to read his mind, Samia explained: “She’s an executive for Petronas. She interfaces with oil company executives from all over Latin America. My dad owned an electronics shop back home, which is fine, you know, it’s a good, halal business. I just think…” Her mouth twisted to one side as she tried to hide her distress. “I think he was happier back home.”

Omar pointed with his lips to her book. “What are you reading?”

“That’s so Panamanian. Pointing with your mouth.”

“I am Panamanian.”

A Thematic Commentary on the Quran by Al-Ghazali“Oh yeah. It’s Al-Ghazali’s thematic commentary of the Quran. Hey, can I give you a little advice?”

Uh-oh. Omar’s shields went up. Samia always thought she knew best. Before he could say anything, she went on: “You should stop pitying yourself.”

He glared. “Excuse me?”

“How long have I known you? You think I don’t see you’re miserable? I know there’s something wrong.”

“That’s not your business.”

Samia sighed. “Would you listen? I’m trying to say that you’re so strong and smart. Almost as smart as me.” She grinned. “Whatever’s going on, you’ll get through it if you stop pitying yourself and just keep on working. You’ll come out on top. You’ll see.”

“Unlikely.” She sounded like Sensei Alan, but he’d never give her the satisfaction of telling her so.

“Is it? I believe in six unlikely things every day before breakfast.” Seeing his quizzical look, she added, “Halima told me you were reading Alice in Wonderland.”

He wasn’t reading it. And if he recalled correctly, the White Queen believed in six impossible things before breakfast. But whatever. “That’s fine for you and Alice. You don’t have my life.”

“Oh really?” Her voice was sharp. “Where’s your imaan, akhi? Allah always makes a way, don’t you know? You want to know something else unlikely? I’m unlikely!”

“What do you mean?” he muttered, chastised.

“One: My family comes from Kedah province, on the coast of Malaysia. On December 29, 2004, my father, who was not my father yet, was invited by my grandfather to go sailing on a boat he had bought. They were boarding the boat when my father received a mobile call from the wife of his best school friend. The man had been in a motorcycle accident and was in the hospital at Jitra, an inland city. My father said goodbye to my grandfather and went to see his friend. One hour later, you know what happened?”

Omar shook his head.

Indian Ocean tsunami

Indian Ocean tsunami

“The Indian Ocean tsunami. One hour later! You may have heard of it? It killed a quarter of a million people, including my grandfather, who was never found.”

Omar made a sympathetic face, not knowing what to say. “I’m sorry,” he managed.

“Two.” Counting on her fingers. “My father’s taxi was buried in mud, and he should have died, but the mud left his face exposed. He was able to breathe, and to lick rainwater that ran down the inside of the crushed car.

“Three: He was rescued by a volunteer relief worker. She was my mother. Soon they married.

“Four: My mother’s pregnancy was difficult. The doctors said she might lose the baby. I was born premature. In fact I was not breathing, but the doctors revived me.

“Five: I have type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

“Six: When I was five I had bacterial meningitis. My body didn’t respond to treatment and at one point the doctors told my parents I would die by morning. I remember hallucinating that the doctor was a wolf with a muzzle and huge black eyes. I tried to scream but didn’t have the breath. It was terrifying. My mother told me later that she spent that entire night making dua by my bedside. In the morning my fever broke and by noon I was walking. No one could explain it.”

Seven.” She paused, touching index finger to index finger, then shrugged. “I don’t have a seven. But my point is, you say it’s unlikely that your life might improve? My entire existence is unlikely. But Allah does what He wills.”

Omar hadn’t known any of that, and didn’t know what Samia was trying to tell him.

Samia snapped her fingers. “I’m saying, the unlikely happens every day. And you know what else? Ramadan is coming. Ramadan is about not only the unlikely, but the impossible. Miracles. Angels pouring out of Jannah by the millions. The battle of Badr. Think about that, akhi. Say hasbun-Allahu-wa-n’em-Al-Wakeel.”

Omar said it.

“Go back to your wanderings.”

The Gate Opens

It was funny how people kept telling him to go away. What was he, a bad smell?

At noon, when it was too hot to be out in the sun, the kids ate at a beach restaurant that served only fish and chips. Omar didn’t have enough money for that, but that was okay. He sat in a cabana eating the peanut butter sandwich from home. It was smashed into a trapezoid and the bread was soggy, but it tasted fine.

They prayed Dhuhr in congregation, with Tameem leading. Omar didn’t mind. It was not about who stood in front, but about his personal connection with Allah. Though sometimes he wondered about that connection. Not about Allah, but about his own heart. The Creator felt distant sometimes, and Omar knew that was his own fault. But he didn’t know how to fix it.

The group headed back up the road at two o’clock, wanting to make it to the highway before the afternoon rains came. As they passed the house with the vicious dog, the creature was nowhere in sight. Tameem kicked the gate and shouted, “Oye perro estupido!” and the dog came running, barking like firecrackers going off.

Doberman pinscher

Doberman pinscher

This time a second dog, a tall doberman pinscher with alert ears and a black muzzle, rounded the house as well and sped toward them on the other’s heels. Drool flew from its mouth as it growled and bared its terrifying teeth. Again the kids screamed and ran, except for Omar, who only shook his head and trotted away quickly, and Samia, who was not a fan of running.

A few houses further up the street they stopped and watched a massive silver-colored 4×4 truck cruising down the road. It might have been three meters tall, jacked up on oversized tires, with chrome running boards, and a top-mounted light bar that could probably turn night into day. On the front were bull bars that could be used to ram another vehicle.

As it passed they saw it bore the logo of the National Police, and had a rifle mounted in the cab, though the driver was not wearing a police uniform. He was a youngish man, in his late twenties maybe, sporting shades and a cowboy hat. Spanish gangster rap battered its way out of the truck’s speakers. Heading right for the awestruck kids, the truck blasted its horn. The kids jumped out of the way, a few of them cursing the driver.

The truck stopped in front of the house with the dogs, and the driver must have hit a remote control, because the gate began to roll quietly open.

The two dogs came flying out, snarling, and charged straight at the kids. The German shepherd was in the lead, its large fangs flashing white in the sun, but the doberman was gaining ground. Both dogs were enraged, in full attack mode. The driver yelled at the dogs to stop, but they were so inflamed by Tameem’s provocations that they ignored him.

The hair raised up on Omar’s arms and neck. He stood rooted, unsure what to do. Watching the dogs come was like watching a pair of nuclear torpedoes shooting at him. Living torpedoes of bone and claw, muscle and sinew, burning brain and vengeful heart. Their feet flew across the dirt, and their eyes were filled with rage.

The Attack

SAMIA HAD STOPPED TO CATCH HER BREATH after her brief trot and was now at the tail end of the group, closest to the dogs, with Omar just ahead of her, and Halima beyond him. All the kids froze utterly for one second, as if they were playing a game of red light green light where the losers would be shot dead. In that numb, dumb moment, the dogs covered half the distance from the gate to their motionless victims. Then Basem made a wordless whimpering sound, and Hani whispered, “Oh my God.” One of the girls screamed.

Halima started to say, “Nobody run,” but was cut off as Tameem bellowed, “RUN!”

Omar shot a glance in the direction of the group and saw they were all fleeing in a panic, led by Tameem and Basem. Only Halima was hesitating. He turned back toward the dogs and saw instantly that Samia wasn’t going to make it. She was jogging toward him but her run was little more than a fast waddle. The dogs were almost on her as they blazed forward with ears tucked and teeth bared. They would kill her.

He could not let that happen. It was not even a decision – there was no decision to make. The believers are a single body. The only failure is the failure to act. He ran toward Samia and the charging dogs.

Seeing him running toward them, the dogs hesitated, slowing just enough to buy Omar the time he needed. Samia’s eyes were wide with terror, and she looked like she might have a heart attack.

Just as Omar reached Samia, the German shepherd leaped at her from behind. Omar tackled Samia, taking her to the ground. The dog sailed over them where they lay in the dirt. He shrugged off his backpack and thrust it at Samia, shouting, “Shield your face!” Then he turned toward the other charging dog and started to rise, bringing his arms up defensively, with a crazy idea that he could use his copper bracelet to block the dog’s teeth – then the animal was on him, crashing into him with the force of a sledgehammer, knocking him back to the ground.

German shepherd

German shepherd

Pain exploded in his forearm as the dog’s fangs stabbed deeply into his flesh. He grunted in shock, but remained clear-headed. Falling back to his years of karate training, he used his free arm to deliver powerful elbow strikes to the dog’s nose and eyes. Not releasing its bite, it snarled and shook its head as if trying to rip the meat loose from Omar’s arm. He screamed as he felt the muscles in his forearm begin to tear.

The doberman, meanwhile, had overshot. It turned and charged back. Samia lay on the ground just behind him and to the side, calling out loudly for help. Goaded by her cries, the doberman aimed not for Omar but for Samia.

As the doberman raced past him, Omar shot out his good arm and made a desperate grab for the dog’s spiked collar. He caught it! But the dog’s momentum stretched his arm out until he felt something pop in his elbow. Between that and the spikes digging into his hand, he could not hold on. The doberman pulled free, and an instant later Samia cried out again. This time it was not a cry of fear, but a chilling wail of pain, shock and horror. Omar turned his head to look. Oh God. Samia must have begun to roll away before the dog reached her, because the beast straddled her side, and was biting the top of her head as she clutched the backpack tightly to her face.

Desperately, with every shred of strength he possessed, Omar struck the German shepherd repeatedly in the face with his wrist, using his copper bracelet as a weapon. Dazed, the dog released its bite and stood over him, swaying. Anguished over Samia and given fortitude by this outrage, Omar pushed, flinging the monster off him. He turned and scrabbled toward Samia. The doberman straddled her, not biting once and clamping down like the shepherd had done to him, but biting repeatedly about her head and shoulders, and sometimes biting the backpack as well.

The neighborhood Omar lived in was poor, and there were plenty of stray dogs, many of them hungry, rabid or vicious. He’d seen dog attacks, and knew what to do. He seized the doberman’s sleek black tail, and pulled it backward and up as hard as he could. The big black dog gave a yelp of surprise as it was dragged away from Samia’s weeping form. Then it spun and attacked Omar. The beast was lightning quick, and before he could get his arms up he felt the doberman’s teeth sink into his face, penetrating his forehead and cheek. At the same moment the German shepherd, recovered now, bit his calf, its teeth sinking into the muscle like the jaws of a bear trap. The pain was so shocking that he could not even draw a breath to scream.

They were both on him. He rolled and fought as best he could, punching, kicking, clawing at the dogs’ faces, even biting the shepherd in the neck at one point. And the whole time the dogs were biting him. He felt wet all over, and knew it was his own blood.

The blood in his eyes blinded him, so that he saw the world faintly, through a sheet of stinging red. He tasted it in his mouth, coppery and hot, along with the rank dog fur he’d bitten off. Pain burst and roiled everywhere in his body. He’d been in pain before, he’d been beaten and bruised and had even fractured bones. But nothing like this. He was baking like a piece of beef in an oven, transforming into something unrecognizable. They were killing him.

Some of the kids must have come back to help, because he heard voices shouting and crying, men and women, but above them all he heard Halima very near, screaming, “What do I do, Omar? What do I do?”

“Knife,” he managed to croak. “Hani’s knife.” Then louder, mustering his panic and fright, “Get me Hani’s knife!”

The dogs continued to bite and tear at his flesh, and he fought, but his strength was giving out. His arms wouldn’t work properly. Then the doberman yelped in pain and was gone, pulled off him. The shepherd was still on top of him, its teeth deep in his upper arm. Omar put a thumb in its eye and it yelped and released his arm, then went for his throat. He turned, and felt its teeth sink deeply into his shoulder. His body went slack. He couldn’t fight anymore. Cold seeped into his body and mind. Even the pain was beginning to recede.

Drifting Out to Sea

A tremendous blast rang through the air. The shepherd wailed in agony and released his shoulder. Another blast, and the dog was gone. Not on him anymore. He heard terrible, anguished weeping, and realized after a moment that it was him. Tears flooded his eyes, clearing the blood, and he saw people standing over him, their faces registering horror and disbelief. Halima and Hani were closest. Hani’s knife was in his hand, and the blade was bloody to the hilt. His eyes were wide with shock.

A man in a cowboy hat also stood over him, and Omar saw that the man was carrying a pistol, and that smoke wisped from the barrel. The man’s face was drained of blood, white as a bone. Who was he? Omar couldn’t think. He wasn’t even sure where he was anymore, or why he was lying here on the ground, burning with agony and covered in something wet.

“Samia,” he managed to say, and wasn’t sure why he said that. Then his body began to shake. His teeth chattered and his limbs convulsed, and he couldn’t stop. He was cold, and didn’t understand why. Panama was not supposed to be cold. His heart raced and he could hear it thrumming in his ears, pulsing and crashing like ocean waves.

He was half-conscious through all that followed. Hands doing something to him. Sirens. Someone wrapping him in something and lifting him up. Moaning rhythmically, asking for his father. A ride in the back of a vehicle, rocking. The pain going away, ebbing like the tide, to be replaced with a feeling of warmth and comfort, and a deep drowsiness. Something over his face, forcing air into his lungs.

Then he was gone, lying on the deck of a sailboat in the Indian Ocean, drifting out to sea, borne on the back of a giant, warm wave. He would live on this sailboat, and Allah would provide for him as He had provided for Maryam, and he would be content. He would sail the world with Alice and Halima and Niko and the white rabbit, and…

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 4:  You Are the Miracle

* * *

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

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

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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

The post Day of the Dogs, Part 3 – The Attack appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Mental Health & COVID-19: Light, Guidance, & Much Love | Part 1

23 August, 2020 - 15:00

Insha’Allah, you and your loved ones are safe & healthy. May Allah swt protect us all from COVID-19, Ya Hafidh, and open the way for our spiritual growth, Ya Fattah Ya Rabb. No doubt, we are living in very challenges times, and many in our community are suffering. As such, my intention for this two-part series is to provide some beneficial perspectives and practical strategies that will make your emotional journey safer & easier, insha’Allah.

And a journey it surely is. We are on a very long hike up a very steep mountain. And we have only two choices about HOW we approach this challenge: unskillfully or skillfully. If we wear flip-flops, and fail to pack water and snacks, we will have a very difficult time reaching the summit. And if we do, we will be in very bad shape. If we wear good socks, sturdy hiking boots, and our backpack is well-stocked, not only are we likely to reach the summit, but reach it in great shape. This is what I want for our beloved community, insha’Allah.

As Muslims, it is crucial to remember that the ultimate summit is the hereafter. Truly, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is our goal and pleasing Him is our aim. Truly, everything we do or fail to do here has an impact there. For many people, this haqq is much more difficult to remember and actualize when their day-to-day challenges are daunting. This is why historically and traditionally, in times of crisis, Muslims have always sought the nasiha of wise elders. Imam Muhasibi, the father of Islamic Psychology, developed this crucial, beautiful science in response to the human needs of his students. Sadly, the loss of these teachings as a widespread living tradition has contributed in large part to the widespread mental-health problems that have been plaguing our community for a very long time, which have now been exacerbated by COVID-19.

Here’s a good metaphor. The science of nutrition teaches us about our body, the properties of different foods, what to avoid to prevent disease, and the vital nutrients we MUST ingest to attain optimum physical health. Likewise, the science of mental health teaches us about our heart and mind, the impact of specific activities, what to avoid to prevent disease, and the vital psychological nutrients we MUST ingest to attain optimum mental health. Lack of knowledge about Islamic Psychology and the absence of the vital psychological nutrients have taken a huge toll on our community. The stories I hear would probably shock you. They would certainly break your heart. Especially the stories of our young people, who are my top priority. Insha’Allah, the wake-up call of COVID-19 propels us to reclaim en masse this lost part of our spiritual heritage, so we can reclaim our vitality and nobility as the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

To continue with the metaphor. Working one-on-one with an experienced nutritionist is very different than reading a book about nutrition. With the former, your nutritional program is specifically tailored to your particular problems, challenges, habits, and temperament. The same is true when it comes to mental health. So I must manage your expectations honestly and honorably by saying that it is not possible for me to do in two articles for the general public what I do one-on-one in my private practice as a psychotherapist, life-coach, and spiritual mentor. Truly, there is a palpable, powerful, fitrah-based alchemy that can only happen when two human hearts link-up in real time. That said, in the same way that reading and learning about nutrition is very beneficial, so too reading and learning about mental health, especially now.

Working Skillfully with Difficult Emotions

No doubt, COVID-19 has unleashed a wide range of very difficult emotions. People are struggling with tremendous anxiety, uncertainty, fear, sadness, loneliness, depression, helplessness, hopelessness, anger, frustration, confusion, grief, despair, and in some cases, a full-blown crisis of faith. So let me explain a little bit about emotions and how to work with them skillfully.   

One of the foundational principles of cognitive-behavioral psychology is called ‘reframing.’

It is the process of deliberately thinking differently about our situation. Reframing it. The fact is, the lens through which we view our circumstances makes all the difference in the world insofar as how we feel. Thoughts are like the front wheels of the car and feelings are like the back wheels. We must be in the driver seat, steering intentionally. Whichever way the front wheels turn, the back wheels follow. So paying attention to our thoughts moment by moment, and making sure they are aligned with the Qur’an and Sunnah, is crucial. The mind is a like a muscle that MUST be trained through specific exercises, and our tradition is rich in the techniques for doing so. Truly, we must hit the spiritual gym regularly. The heavy lifting of muhasiba (self-reckoning) and muraqaba (mindfulness/meditation) are not optional. If these are not already a consistent part of your spiritual practice, NOW is the time to take them up. You will be so happy you did!

Here’s a good metaphor. If you are a longtime couch potato, even a flight of stairs leaves you huffing and puffing. If you are in good shape, you’re able to jog around the block easily. If you’re in great shape, you’re able to leap over the hurdles like a gazelle. For many, COVID-19 has been like asking a couch potato to run a marathon. So we need to get in the best spiritual shape possible as quickly as possible. To that end:

The Centering Exercise 

Every time you notice that you are feeling sad, anxious, fearful, angry, hopeless, helpless, impatient, frustrated, confused, or depressed, here’s what to do.  

  • Turn off your devices and put them in another room.
  • Close your door and put a “Please do not disturb.” sign on the doorknob. Lay down.
  • Close your eyes. Turn your attention to your heart. Remember the Hadith Qudsi, “Heaven and earth cannot contain me but the heart of my faithful believer is where I reside.” Truly, Allah is closer than our jugular vein. (50:16)
  • Take some slow-deep breaths. On the out-breath, silently recite “La illaha.” On the in-breath, silently recite “il Allah.” After a few minutes, notice the shift in your state. Notice the deep connection between ‘self’ and ‘breath’, not just experientially, but also etymologically. They both derive from the same Arabic root, transliterated nfs.   
  • When you are centered, mentally review what you had been thinking about that gave rise to the difficult emotions.  Then do a ‘search and replace,’ deliberately and intentionally replacing your dark thoughts with the Light of The Qur’an or Hadith. Here is one example: Search: “I’ll never get through this.” Replace: “Allah never burdens a person with more than he is well able to bear.” (2:286)

As individuals, we each have our own particular dark thoughts. NOW is the BEST time to fix them. I lovingly encourage you to get a blank journal, so that each time you do The Centering Exercise, you can make note of what you observed, what you learned about yourself. Write down each dark thought and then write down each Rx of Light from The Qur’an or Sunnah. Having a personal journal gives you a concrete means of reinforcing your new thought patterns. 

We know from our neuroscience that the human brain possesses ‘neuroplasticity’, which is the capacity to be shaped, molded, changed. As such, the more often you do The Centering Exercise, the more your thinking patterns will change. This is how Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) created us, mash’Allah! It’s really quite amazing to realize that the Qur’an we’ve been given provides Light upon Light from The Lord of The Worlds. And the Sunnah is that Light fully actualized to perfection, mash’Allah. The fact is, no matter how dark a room may be, if we light just one candle, it illuminates the space. Mash’Allah!

Parents, once you get the hang of The Centering Exercise, please please teach it to your children! Insha’Allah, make it the new normal in your household, transforming discord and upset into harmony and peace.

Say “Ameen!”

Divine Reminders

Insofar as reframing COVID-19 in the broader sense, I offer you this lens, this Divine Reminder, with much love. May it shift your state from embittered to empowered. My beloved sisters and brothers, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is our Rabb, our Teacher, and COVID-19 is the Test we’ve all been given. Every single human being on the planet. We all woke up one day, walked into the classroom of Life, and got handed a pop quiz. The purpose of which is to show us the places where we weren’t prepared. This is great! Because the trumpet is absolutely going to sound, and we surely want to be ready. As long as we’re breathing, we have time to prepare. This is great!

Say “Ameen!” 

Beloved ones, we have the incredible privilege of being students of The One Who Knows Everything, including The Future and The Unseen.  It is very bad adab to question the teaching methods of our Teacher or to complain that we don’t like the Test.

This was the fatal mistake of Bani Israel that we are reminded 17x/day not to emulate. On the contrary, what we want to be asking ourselves is: “What must I do to pass this Test with flying colors, to ace this Exam?” Our beautiful Qur’an teaches us: “Not without purpose did We create heaven and earth and all between.” (38:27)  This pandemic is not some random event. It has a divine purpose. There is deep meaning in it. 

There is also enormous rahmah in it. Our beautiful Qur’an teaches us: “…My mercy embraces everything.” (7:156) The Divine Physician has dispensed this bitter medicine to heal us. To heal the whole world from its longstanding imbalances and injustices. Surely, it is no accident, the timing of COVID-19 vis-à-vis the murder of George Floyd and the global response it has galvanized.  Surely, every human being wants to and deserves to breathe.

COVID-19 is a wake-up call for the whole world. Ours to do as students is to be fully present in each moment, to practice mindfulness (muraqaba), so we can be deeply receptive to the Lessons we are meant to learn (muhasiba). Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (13:11) Beloved ones, NOW is the time for global tawbah (repentance). As the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), this is our Divine Assignment, individually, collectively, institutionally. 

My vision and personal commitment is that we wind up stronger and better-than-ever on the other side of this, insha’Allah. I can say this with great confidence because first and foremost, I know that COVID-19 or no COVID-19, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is not out of business! The presence of The Presence, the power of the Names & Attributes, are as robust as ever. 

We are being summoned to recognize our hubris and turn our hearts in humility toward The One Who Is In Charge, The One Who Calls The Shots, to The One Whose Decree we surrender. Humbly. Readily. Insha’Allah, NOW is the time to actualize the last part of Hadith Jibreel about qadr. The fact is, what’s happening around us is what’s happening, and this is always in the hands of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). HOW we respond to what’s happening is entirely up to us.

What I want for our community is the best possible response, the most skillful and beautiful response, the response that will be of maximum benefit here & hereafter, insha’Allah.

I can also say this with great confidence because time and again, working with Muslim refugees who have been through horrific trauma, I have seen with my own eyes how absolutely amazing human beings are. How resilient. How courageous. How creative. How capable of transforming sorrow into joy, lemons into lemonade, compost into roses. This is what I want for you, my beloved sisters and brothers.

No doubt, on any long and arduous journey, in addition to having the right equipment and supplies, having an experienced trail-guide makes all the difference. There is dangerous terrain you want to avoid, and beautiful vistas you don’t want to miss. In my experience over decades, I have observed that human beings thrive when we are given the right tools and the loving encouragement to master them.  So let me give you now some very practical guidelines to help you navigate skillfully, so you can extract from these precious days of your life what is meaningful & transformational. 

Practical Strategies

When it comes to protecting our physical health from the pandemic, there are certain steps we MUST take. Likewise with our mental health. As such, here are some practical strategies, culled from thousands of pages of research and decades of experience. My focus is on parents, whose job has never been more difficult. And with the new school year right around the corner, this guidance is extremely timely. 

Boundaries: Set clear boundaries regarding where and when devices can be used. This applies to everyone in the household, kids and parents alike. Parents, as your elder who loves you, I am reminding you that YOU are the CEO of your home. YOU are the policy maker. YOU are in charge. NOT your kids or their devices. So take charge!

  • No devices for kids 0-3. These guidelines are from the American Pediatric Association. 
  • No devices at the dinner table* or in the bedrooms.
  • No devices until after Fajr. Better yet, after breakfast.
  • All devices put away 1-2 hours before bedtime. Plugged in in the kitchen to recharge.
  • Limit on-line entertainment and socializing to 1 hour/day MAX.
  • Schedule tech fasts ½ day weekly, and 1-2 full days monthly, on a weekend.
  • An occasional family-time movie is fine on the weekend. Choose something meaningful, uplifting, thought-provoking, heart-opening. Pop some popcorn. Make tea. Engage in a special time afterward to really talk together about your experience. *Getting in the habit of real-time-face-to-face conversations is crucial. If you start when your kids are young, it will lay a strong foundation for their teenage years, when they desperately need wise, trustworthy, caring adults who really know how to listen from the heart.

Nature: Spending time in nature is the very best thing you can do for yourself and with your family. There are reams of data about the stress-reducing effects of being outdoors, especially in the woods. There are also reams of data about the benefits of exercise, not only for physical health, but for mental health. Given all the extra sitting everyone is doing during COVID-19, regular exercise is not optional. 

Furthermore, if your kids are schooling from home and you are working from home, everyone will surely need some breathing room, some physical and emotional space from one another, some time every day in solitude, unplugged from their devices. Spending alone-time in nature is the perfect solution. 

For family-time activities, unplug from your devices and enjoy these delightful experiences. They will engender tremendous awe (khushu’) and deepen your heart-connection with your Rabb, The One Who Created you and all the beauty around you. Subhan’Allah.

  • Take a 15-30 minute family-walk every night after dinner before homework.
  • Go hiking, biking, rollerblading, kayaking, kite-flying, or camping on the weekend.   
  • Set up bird feeders in your yard. Learn their names and identify their songs.
  • Go out nightly to look at the stars. Learn the names of the constellations.
  • Watch as many sunrises & sunsets, moonrises & moonsets as you can. 

As Muslims, our worship is guided by the natural cycles Allah put in place. The sun is our clock. It tells us when to pray. The moon is our calendar. It tells us when the new month begins. Sighting the moon is an act of worship, mash’Allah.

Divine Reminders

Our beautiful Qur’an teaches:“We will show them Our Signs (ayat) in the universe and in their own selves, until it becomes clear to them that this (the Qur’an) is the truth.” (Fussilat 41:53)

In this ayah, we are taught the two beautiful gateways into the sacred: the macrocosm of the universe, and the microcosm of the self. Both of these gateways open into the direct experience of Allah’s presence. 

As Muslims, we have been invited to spend time in this dunya in the company of The One Who is Love (al-Wadud). The One Who is Strength (al-Aziz). The One Who is Peace (as-Salaam). And on & on. What could be more beneficial during this time of crisis? Alas, calling upon our Rabb by His most Beautiful Names, with urgency & sincerity, is one of the Lessons we must learn from COVID-19.  My prayer for our community is that people do not squander the opportunity to connect in a deep, meaningful, intimate way heart-to-heart with Allah because they can’t put their phone down or turn their computer off. Insha’Allah, I will address the subject of digital addiction in the second article, as it plays a huge role when it comes to mental health issues.

Closing Du’a

Ya Habibi Ya Allah. Please grant us oceans of fortitude and mountains of strength Ya Sabur Ya Aziz. May we be dutiful beautiful students who strive with all our might in jihad al akbar to pass this test with flying colors, to ace this exam. May we, the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), love one another like he loves us, and strengthen one another every step of the way. May we wind up stronger and better-than-ever on the other side of COVID-19, reclaiming the standard of Insan Kamil as the Index by which we measure our lives. Ya Dhal Jalali wal Ikram.

Say “Ameen!” 

The post Mental Health & COVID-19: Light, Guidance, & Much Love | Part 1 appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Fighting back Against Porn: The Idea & The Industry

22 August, 2020 - 21:27

Say, “Oh My servants who have transgressed against themselves, do not despair of the mercy of Allah . Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (39:53)

Embarrassment. Defeat. A lack of self-worth.

In the eyes of the young porn addict, the man or woman who got married but still couldn’t quit, the spouse who got caught and feels like they will forever live under a cloud of shame and suspicion, or the spouse who caught their partner yet doesn’t know how to confront them or assess their own value in light of the discovery.

The child who was caught by their parents, or even worse, the parent who was caught by their child. The young person who attends halaqas and grows in religious knowledge, yet only feels like a bigger hypocrite because they can’t seem to hold to any resolution to quit, no matter what admonishing lecture they hear or self-inflicted punishment they endure.

The confessions of strange sexual cravings and impulses, and the inability to see people except as sexual objects. The dehumanization of the consumer and the consumed.

As an Imam, I can think of very few things that have wreaked havoc on pretty much every demographic in the community as pornography has. Yet how many Khutbahs have you heard about it? How much attention do we devote to helping people see the harms of it, see their own self-worth as they feel trapped by it, and find the resolve and practical program to overcome it?

As one young addict lamented to me years ago, “It seems like we censor discussion on porn instead of porn itself.” I never forgot those words, yet admittedly have often felt it difficult to address the subject. What is the right forum to discuss it? Is it appropriate from the pulpit? Should I be the one discussing it at all? Who are the experts we can turn to?

Allah’s command in the Quran to restrict the gaze precedes guarding one’s chastity because what enters the eyes regularly is bound to find a place in one’s heart and mind. But what happens when it has already settled in both of those places?

And while there have been a handful of noble efforts in the community to provide safe spaces to help people through their addictions, there are multiple ways in which we’ve become increasingly desensitized to pornographic content that have not been adequately addressed.

When the term “Pornography” is typically used, it refers to very specific genres and spaces. But in reality, it’s made its way into sitcoms and dramas that are casually referenced without reservation or acknowledgment of pornographic elements in the same way that people would reference any other shows. Just because it’s in an HBO or Hulu series doesn’t make it any less detrimental. For some, it’s the accidental glances on social media feeds that eventually turn into addictions. And the shame of being a porn addict in private, despite the growing shamelessness of consuming and referencing pornographic laced content in public spaces, makes it difficult for people to get help. Sadly, it’s usually not until devastating spiritual or social consequences occur that any steps are taken to address it. And then those mediums which offer hardcore premium content become the “drug dealers” so to speak.

Which brings me to the industry side of this. Not only does pornography wreak havoc on the viewer emotionally and psychologically completely altering their view of themselves and the world around them, but it tragically exploits some of our most vulnerable populations to feed that dependent viewer. “Barely legal” is in fact often outright illegal, yet very few efforts have come about to shed light on what is becoming the new normal.

As I was writing this, a new Netflix special, Cuties, which pompously is centered around 11-year-old girls twerking rightfully sparked global outrage. And while some retorted back that the film was actually meant to shed light on the sexualizing of children, to depict children in this fashion in the name of art or social commentary only further endangers them and normalizes the reprehensible behaviors that continue to put them at risk. A good read on this is an article written by Alan Jacobs in 2013 about an HBO show that unconcernedly includes a fantasy about an 11-year-old heroin addict.

Again, not only is it disturbing and in violation of basic human decency, but it’s also dangerous. The porn industry is driven by the demands of consumers, and those demands are unsurprisingly surging with regards to children. A recent article by NBC points to how Child sexual abuse images and online exploitation have specifically surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, reports of sexual child content have more than doubled this year, from 983,734 reports in March 2019 to 2,027,520 reports this March.

Is this not enough to warrant universal concern? Article 34 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children states that:

“States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. For these purposes, States Parties shall in particular take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent:

(a) The inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity;

(b) The exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices;

(c) The exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials.”

This treaty was ratified with global consensus, yet is violated regularly with impunity. So how do we start to fight back against this beyond continuing to highlight the immorality of pornographic content as a whole, and doing everything we can to protect our families from it?

A few months ago, I came across a video about the work of Exodus Cry, a faith-based campaign against Porn Hub which it appropriately deems #Traffickinghub. Led by Laila Mickelwait, the campaign is seeking to shut down Mindgeek, the parent company of Pornhub, for its disproportionate role in perpetuating global child sex trafficking. 70 to 90 percent of mainstream pornography is owned by Mindgeek. With the money and access to power the company holds, it has sought to minimize exposure to its criminal activities as well as the overall harms of pornography through sponsoring and propagating false research much like the tobacco lobbies of the 90s. Imagine the implications of shutting down the world’s largest porn stakeholder.

This is a campaign that I have specifically lent my support to, and would encourage Muslims and all people of conscience to get behind. The petition at this moment is almost at 2 million, and every signature counts.

And while most of those who organize against the commercial sex industry would be considered political conservatives, that should not in any way stop us from working together with them on this issue of urgent importance. To some, the issue of pornography is solely centered on harm. To others, it is solely centered on morality. To Muslims, it must be both. We must care for both the children in front of the screen, and those behind it. And so while we work to guard ourselves against the harms of this industry by being mindful of what we allow into our homes, by coming up with programs and safe spaces for those dealing with addictions, and by designing and uplifting alternative mediums that aren’t plagued by porn, we should also join hands with anti-trafficking and faith groups to fight the industry itself that shamelessly preys on the world’s most vulnerable population.

 

The post Fighting back Against Porn: The Idea & The Industry appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 20: Come to Success

11 August, 2020 - 07:47

Now that we have learnt about how Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) Mercy encompasses all things, let’s now talk about coming to success.

Whenever we hear the adhan (call to prayer), there is a part where the mu’adhin (person calling the athan) calls out: “حي على الصلاة” hay ‘ala as-salaah (come to prayer). Then he says: “حي على الفلاح”- hay ‘ala al-falaah.” 

Question: Does anyone know what hay ‘ala al-falaah means?

It means ‘come to prayer, come to success.’ Is that how we usually think of success?

Question: What is your definition of success?

Yes, sometimes we think that having a good job, a nice house, and a loving family are the measurements of our success. There may be some truth to that  for this world, but how does Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) measure our success?

Do you know that there is a surah in the Qur’an called “The Believers” (Al- Mu’minun), and that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) promises that the believers will be successful? He says:

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ 

“Indeed, the believers have attained success” [23; 1]

Let’s dig a little deeper into the Arabic word for success: فلاح (falaah). Do you know that a derivative of that word فَلَّاح (fallaah) means a farmer? 

Question: What are some of the things that a farmer needs to do everyday?

Farmers need to fertilize their soil, plant seeds, pull out weeds, protect their plants from predators, and water their crops. Do you think that’s a lot of work? Do you think it’s easy to be a farmer? I want you to imagine a time when farmers couldn’t turn on a hose to water their plants. They completely relied on rain to irrigate their crops. So, they could do all of this hard work, but if there was a drought, their crops wouldn’t be able to survive. To be a farmer requires a deep sense of تَوَكُّل, tawakkul (reliance on Allah)

So, part of success is hard work, and a big part is also knowing that nothing happens without the will of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). That’s why when the muadhin tells us to come to salaah (prayer) and to come to success, we respond by saying: 

لَا حَوْلَ وَلَا قُوَّةَ إِلَّا بِٱللَّٰهِ‎

“There is no power nor strength except by Allah.”

We can only come to prayer and we can only achieve success if Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wills it. The only thing in our control is the amount of effort we exert in the process. 

So, let’s be farmers; let us try our best to plant good seeds, water them, nourish them, and pray that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), places baraka (blessings) in all of our efforts! 

The post 30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 20: Come to Success appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

The Slave Of Ar-Rahman : A Story Of Illness And Faith

10 August, 2020 - 13:45

Life is Life.

It is a battle against the sensory and base impulses that are within us all, manifesting at moments of trial, seeking to strip us of the innate serenity of Trust between us and The Almighty.  You hear the call to arms and rebellion in the invocation of our blessed Nabi ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him):

“I beg of You, My Lord, contentment – Ridaa – after fate strikes.”

On occasion:

“O Allah, My Lord, I ask of You to grant me a tranquil soul that is faithful to the inevitability of meeting You, content with my destiny, and accepting of all that You have provided.”

To know Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is to accept.

To accept that all is from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

To accept that all is for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

To accept that all is to return to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

A life-changing diagnosis

March 2018: I had relocated from NY to California’s Bay Area and was working as the Executive Chef at Google in Silicon Valley. My life had been truly blessed. I was a Muslim woman who had achieved an unparalleled level of success in a male-dominated industry. Worldly success was in the palm of my hand. I thought this was it; this is what life is about. But I was about to learn that I was a misguided soul, and that a meaningful purpose was amiss.

December 3 2018:

My 38th birthday. Another typical day at work, when my phone rang.

It was the doctor. She asked if I ever had ever had an abnormal Pap before. She said: “Ms. Agha, we got the results of your Pap smear, and it shows some atypical cells. I would not worry too much, but we need to do a colposcopy.”

I honestly did not know what she meant by ‘atypical cells’ or a ‘colposcopy.’ I did some research, which gave me numerous possible outcomes; one more scarier than the other. I tried to convince myself not to be a Google doctor and not to worry unless I had to.

January 22, 2019,

I had  the colposcopy. A week following the procedure, the doctor called. She was not too pleased with the result and wanted to schedule me for a more extensive biopsy called a cone biopsy.

February 14, 2019:

I had my my cone biopsy; an outpatient procedure under general anesthesia. All went well, minus some discomfort and pain, which is typical of a procedure like that. The procedure was on a Thursday, which meant I would not have any results until Monday the 18th at the earliest.

I tried not to be very concerned and tried to stay positive. I had read that this happens in many cases, but it turns out to be nothing. Besides, I had just turned 38. You do not expect something terrible may happen to you. I had youth on my side, and I was healthy and fit.

Back at work on a Monday -which is the most demanding and busiest day in my profession- and despite being preoccupied, I was very conscious of my phone. I remember looking at it several times to see if I had missed a call from the doctor. The day went by in complete silence, and that night was restless. The next ninety-six hours were uneasy because fear and anticipation had clouded my head. This urge to know, but all I could do was wait patiently.

February 22, 2019, 9:34 AM:

The phone rings. I was in the kitchen, and immediately I dropped everything and ran to my office to take the call.

Hello?

I could hear the distress in my doctor’s voice.  She said, “Ms. Agha, I am so sorry to tell you, but you have cervical cancer. We do not know what stage it is, but I am going to set you up with an oncologist.”

I got off the phone and slumped into my office chair. I heard what the doctor said clearly, but my brain was unable to process the information. The words were replaying in my head over and over and over again. You could say I was in a state of disbelief or even shock. I did not cry. I did not tell anyone. I took a deep breath, and because I was at work, continued to work.

The forty-eight hours after the call I spent in a daze. I went about my life like a robot, without being able to process anything. I had to work; I was the boss. The doctors had gone into what I like to call “beast mode.” They bombarded me with phone calls, consent forms, appointments for MRIs, CT scans, and insurance issues. Everything sounded like it was in a foreign language. In hindsight, I could have taken time off, but that was something I did not do. I would have to be on my death bed to call time off. I put a brave front and functioned, while the voice in my head kept saying. “I have cancer.” “I have cancer.” “I have cancer.”

By Friday, I had told two very close friends, one of whom is a doctor. Their reaction naturally was one of concern, coupled with a lot of hand-holding, and reassurances that I was courageous and was going to fight it. They understood the magnitude of my diagnosis, but I still did not quite comprehend it. You could say that there was some level of denial there. It felt like an out of body experience.

I had never really been a very emotional person. I had always been tough; the years of being strong had given me this resilience, which was my armor. I could not afford to be weak; I needed to adopt a more practical and logical approach if I was to fight this. Besides, at this point, I had not even told my mother. Who would support her if I was falling apart? Just the thought of her gave me more anxiety than the tumor growing inside me.

I was born and raised in a Muslim family. Unfortunately, like many families, the focus on Islam was limited. I was, however, fortunate that around 2013, I had slowly started to take an interest and was curious to learn about my true faith. At the time of my diagnosis, I was practicing; I prayed five times a day, fasted, had been for Umrah, took part in the necessary obligations that were expected of me—living an honest life striving to do the best. Thus far, this was my understanding of faith. I knew nothing different. What I was about to realize was that this was mere action. I had not been calling out to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sincerely because I felt this distance from Him; there was this gap that needed to be bridged.

The Saturday after my diagnosis I was drinking my morning coffee when out of nowhere, my mind started to run a mile a minute. Thoughts of my diagnosis, realities of life, the purpose of life just started pouring in. I became incredibly aware of myself; conscious of this reality that was not on my radar before this moment.

You see, I walked this earth under the illusion that I have control of life, destiny. Until this moment, I had plans laid out, plans for promotions, a house, a car, and travel—an upward trajectory. Then I received that phone call, and in a blink of an eye, I had lost complete control of everything. The power of my youth, health, wealth, was all gone. I was insignificant, just so minuscule when it came to His decree. I came to realize that every moment we are alive, we are gasping for breath on life support machines. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) can pull that plug any second. I became conscious of the reality that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was The One providing for me every moment. I did not earn any of this on my own, and none of this was something that I deserved. Humbled -the first crack in my armor-, I cried, ashamed, and remorseful to my Lord for my delusion. I cried, begging Him and praying to Him as I have never prayed before, feeling closer to Him like I have never felt before, pleading with Him to carry me through this battle and the unknown I was about to face.

Cancer was the catalyst, that was the beginning of an arduous journey, one filled with a whirlwind of complications and diagnosis one after the other. Every moment from this point was going be a lesson in life. Every moment was going to be humbling. Every moment was going to be one of gratitude. Every moment was going to enable me to earn the greatest treasure I could even earn, and that is humility and a closeness to my Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

Relinquishing Control March 3, 2019:

The first appointment with the oncologist. I was anxious, eager to know what stage of cancer I had, desperate to know of a treatment plan. I felt like a blind person stumbling in the dark, looking for an answer, but it was not Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) Will that I find one that day. Unfortunately, my CT scan was inconclusive, and the sample of my cone biopsy was “too mushy” for the doctor to give me a staging. He said to come back, as he needed to speak to the tech. There was nothing I could do. I had to relinquish control and submit to Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) Will.

March 22, 2019:

I had my second appointment with the oncologist. By this point, my mother had been told and had flown into California. Having her there, seeing the fear on her face, the pain I felt in my heart to see her was more wearisome than cancer. I will never be blessed enough to know what a mother feels. That was not part of Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) plan for me. I would be wrong in saying that I can understand her pain. I can, however, say this: if I could have taken her pain away, I would have done anything to do that. We went to the doctor hoping for some answers, but again Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) had different plans. The doctor wanted to schedule me for another cone biopsy; the previous sample was inconclusive. To add to that, I could not have the second cone biopsy for another three weeks because I was still healing from the previous one.

It had been thirty days since my diagnosis, and I had to wait an additional three weeks for further testing. I did not know what stage it was, nor what my treatment plan was. All I knew was that I had cancer. These chain of events and the lack of control was a new reality. It was challenging, but Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was also teaching me a valuable lesson. He was teaching me tawakkul by putting me in a position where I had no choice. The circumstances were forcing me into submission. I was facing my mortality, not knowing if I am going to live or die, having to give up my complete autonomy. You see,  Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) only wanted what is best for me. My cancer was a mercy to me. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) willed that through this; that I return to Him. That I seek the path that leads to His door. That I understand, and accept the divine decree, and focus my reliance on Him and only Him. All Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) wanted me to do was knock on His door and trust Him.

March 25, 2019:

I had an appointment with a surgeon in NY. My doctor in NY became privy of my diagnosis, and she urged me to get a second opinion. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is one of the top cancer institutes on the east coast. NY was my home as I had just recently moved to California. I put my trust in the All-Merciful. He is the only one I could call upon for support, and I gathered all my reports and flew into NY on that Sunday. The next morning was my appointment, and I was catching the evening flight back to California. Twenty-four hours was what I had. I met the doctor, and finally, alhamdulillah, there was light at the end of the tunnel. The doctor examined me, diagnosed me, gave me the staging of 1B2, and presented me with a treatment plan, all in a matter of a few hours.

Surgery and complications

My cancer required a three-pronged treatment plan, surgery, followed by some chemotherapy and radiation as a preventive measure. The doctor in NY had emphasized a sense of urgency.

Here I was back in California, packing up a house again, that I had just finished unpacking, not knowing if I will ever return. My belongings in storage, I was forced to go back to NY to fight this battle. No home of my own, no job, and worried about my finances, it was all overwhelming and lonely. It was terrifying how much of all of this was outside of my control. We do not pay attention to just how one little event can drastically and wholly change our entire life.

April 29, 2019:

Pre- Surgical testing

April 30, 2019:

PET Scan and MRI

May 6, 2019:

Follow up visit with the surgeon, followed by a lab visit, and ECG

Hospital visits were my new life; a life full of uncertainty, and moments where it felt like everything was falling apart. I did not recognize this life. To add to this, I wanted to keep a brave face because I was terrified for my mother. I was living in her home. I could not even cry or grieve. If I cracked who would console her?

May 7, 2019: I was scheduled for a radical hysterectomy (removal of the cervix and uterus). The goal was to try and save my ovaries and tubes because I was still young. It was a 4-hour procedure; another step into the unknown, presented with paperwork, DNR’s, and health care proxies. I was 38, but I needed a health care proxy! I picked my younger brother. My heart broke for him. He put on a brave face, but I could see the sadness in his big brown eyes. They took me in, and there I lay on that cold table, bright lights shining down on me, my lips moist with the Ayatul Kursi. Count back from ten, and I was asleep. As I came too, I remember looking up at the clock. I knew something was wrong. Even in my semi-conscious state, I knew that I had only been in surgery for two hours. The doctor came into the recovery room. He said that they had discovered that I had severe endometriosis, which had caused my organs to fuse into each other. There were no clean margins. If he had tried to cut it out, cancer could have spread to my entire body.

The irony is that the surgeon ended up doing a bi-lateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries and tubes), deciding it was the best option to try and contain cancer from spreading. That night I lay in that hospital bed, nothing but the lights of the monitors connected to me. The voice in my head said: “They could not take it out. Not even a tiny bit of it. It is still inside me.” I began to think about my mother again and what this news meant to her. A sense of hopelessness overwhelmed me. It felt as though everything was spiraling out of control, and I was free-falling with no one to catch me. However, my inner voice called out to The One who put me in this difficulty, and I realized this difficulty as exhausting as it is, was to remind me fundamentally of who I am and who He is and what this world is. A reminder that I need to carry myself in an absolute state of trust and that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)  will see me through. That these events are in my best interest as the purpose is for me to gain a further closeness to Him.

Two types of radiation May 16, 2019:

I was introduced to my radiation oncologist. The new plan involved eight weeks of chemotherapy and two types of radiation. Forty sessions of external, in which I was to lie on a table, and a machine would direct X-ray beams at the affected part of my body. Two sessions of high-dose-rate (HDR) brachytherapy, internal, in which radioactive materials would be inserted into my body. I was overcome with emotion, not wanting to cause my mother any more grief and cry in front of her; I excused myself and walked away, to try and gather myself. The description of the treatment just broke me. I stood in that hallway outside the room, helpless. I thought Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was sending me hardship after hardship, and that nothing has gone right. I feared this was punishment for my transgressions. I turned back to Him penitent, drawing closer to Him than I had ever been, having moments of vulnerability, alone just Him and me, experiencing some of the sweetest moments of my entire life.

May 19, 2019:

The wound of my surgery had developed some drainage. The drainage started as a trickle in the morning. I put a paper towel there to collect the fluid. As the day progressed, the liquid increased. Paper towels were changed more frequently. I was trying to be secretive about it, and I did not want to stress out my mother. She was not dealing well with all of this. The liquid continued to increase, and eventually, I ended up calling the emergency at Memorial Sloan Kettering. It was a Sunday, which meant the clinics were closed. I had an appointment the next morning with my surgeon, so the doctor on call gave me the option to either come in or wait till the next morning. I opted to wait. The night was uncomfortable, and I could not lie for more than 15 – 20 minutes before I would have to change the paper towels out because they would get wet. I lay there at night contemplating; I was walking on this path of turmoil, surrounded by hardship, uncertainty, enduring difficulties, forced to be patient. I had plenty of people and support around me, but I was alone. No one understood me anymore. How could they? My cancer was my experience, not theirs.

May 20, 2019:

I had two appointments. The first one was with my surgeon, followed by a new doctor, my chemotherapist. By this point, I had an excessive amount of fluid draining from the site of my incision.  My surgeon examined it; he did not say much, but I could tell by his face that he was bothered. Right there, not even a moment to think, his nurses brought in sterile packaged instruments. The gave me some local anesthetic, and with a scalpel, while I was awake, he reopened my entire incision. It is burnt in my memory like it was yesterday, one of my nurses was holding my hand. I could not see what they were doing; I was not in pain, but I was completely conscious. It was a state of sheer terror, not because they were untrained or unprofessional, but the idea of what was happening to me was unnerving. I could feel my heart rate increase; my body, hands, and feet were perspiring profusely. The nurse was trying to converse with me to keep my preoccupied, but the only words on my lips and tongue were the remembrance of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

حَسْبُنَا اللَّهُ وَنِعْمَ الْوَكِيلُ Hasbunallah wani’mal wakeel

A fair amount of fluid drained, and the diagnosis: I had a seroma (an accumulation of fluid that can occur after surgery). There is no treatment for a seroma other than patience. Here I was two weeks after surgery. I was supposed to get my stitches removed today, go home and take a nice shower today, but again that was not in Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) plan. It is astonishing how we take these little blessings for granted. There was an open incision across my stomach 8 inches wide and 4 inches deep. I had to have the wound cleaned with saline and packed with gauze at least twice a day. This wound was debilitating. No more stitches; we were going let nature takes its course to ensure the wound heals from the inside out. I was already helpless, I did not think I could be any more disabled, and now I faced this complication.

I had a level of comfort with my doctors and nurses at the hospital, but now I faced a new challenge. I had to have a home nurse come in twice a day to dress my wound. I tried it for the first week, and it was terrible. I did not want to be at the mercy of a stranger, sitting saturated with fluid through the night, waiting for the nurse to arrive in the morning before I could get any relief. I was having a different nurse come in each time. It might seem trivial, but when you are that broken, tired, and so sick, and your body is falling apart, these little things matter. You do not want some stranger touching you, dressing a wound that causes immense pain. Some of them just want to be in and out, lacking compassion for the patient. However, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) already knew that this is something that I would have difficulty with, so He made a way out for me—blessed me with the help of a true friend. The following week my doctors and nurses trained her in the process. No longer was I at the mercy of a stranger coming over twice a day to change my dressing. Here was ease, relief, mercy in my time of need sent in the form of someone I was comfortable with, someone I trust to care for me, to clean me, to dress my wounds, diligently day in and day out, with love, patience, and compassion. A force by my side day and night through every chemo, every radiation, every hospital visit and stay. Urging me on and dragging me to my appointments when I was just too tired to fight.

There was a two-week delay in starting radiation therapy. Once radiation and chemo begin, it slows down the body’s healing process. The doctors wanted my wound to start to heal before any of the treatments.

June 3, 2019:

The external radiation started; they would last ten minutes each. I requested they schedule me first thing in the morning. I was in and out in fifteen minutes every day. Monday through Friday, this was my routine. The process was physically painless, but emotionally it took a toll on me. I would lie there every day on my chest, this hard table, naked, with a big open wound. Nobody in there but me and Him, my eyes closed in constant remembrance.

June 6, 2019: Right after the radiation was my first chemotherapy, and it would be administered every Thursday following. The nurses had trouble finding a suitable vein. I was not surprised; I have had small veins since I was a young child. Finally, they managed to get an IV in, and I got my infusion, but my chemotherapist set me with an appointment for a PICC line to help with future treatments. It had been a long day. My body was exhausted, but my mind was awake because of the steroids they gave me before chemo. It felt like torture. All I wanted to do was sleep, but the steroids had me so stimulated I could not bring myself to sleep.

June 8, 2019:

As the anti-nausea began to wear off, the effects of the chemotherapy started to kick in. I felt ill, dry heaving and vomiting, loss of appetite, exhaustion, mouth sores, slowly my body was disintegrating. I experienced the same side effects every week, becoming more and more aggressive and tiresome as the weeks progressed. It was like clockwork.

One of the many side effects of this chemotherapy is a loss of hearing. I had to have a regular hearing test; my ears would ring at odd hours. As the weeks progressed, my health started to decline. I could no longer sit in salat, let alone stand in salat. I would start retching in between, hoping I could just push through two rakat without having to start again. Sometimes I could not even make it to the bathroom. I used hospital vomit bags in bed. The radiation was starting to do its damage as well, and it was affecting my bowels, a constant upset stomach. I was unable to eat anything; my mouth would bleed from the sores. I was always fatigued, lost control of my bladder. My body was slowly disintegrating from all the poisonous chemicals. I was ailing, had no strength, queasy all the time,—a large open wound across my stomach, a PICC line in my right arm. I just wanted to close my eyes and sleep, but I could not lie comfortably. Very slowly withering away. All that was left were my tears, my supplication, and repentance, acknowledging Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) magnificence as I remembered Him.

June 26, 2019, and July 3, 2019:

Two of the most debilitating days of my treatment were the days I had the brachytherapy. The procedure done under general anesthesia involved the radiation oncologist placing a cervical stent attached to an applicator (two metal rods), used to deliver internal radiation. Following the procedure, they took me to my room. Here I had to lie still on my back; I could not move my legs; I could not sit or stand. I was only allowed to raise my head of the bed a little bit, about 20 degrees. I had to patiently endure this until they removed the applicator the following day. For the treatments, my bed was moved from my room to the Brachytherapy Suite, Radiation Oncology department. Here the applicator was connected to a machine. This machine then delivered tiny radioactive pellets into my body. We did this twice. I do not think I could have done it a third time. I did not even want to go the second time.

These two sessions were physically exhausting, but the effect that it had on my self-esteem, my sense of security. Each time was dehumanizing, heart-wrenching, and painful. There is no dignity in illness. Health is the greatest blessing from our Creator, and we take it for granted.

I was exhausted physically and mentally—my body ravaged by illness and chemotherapy. I did not have a home of my own; I had no job. There are no words that can do justice to how broken I was. I was not afraid to die anymore; I was afraid that I would die without earning complete forgiveness, which made me supplicate more. I held on to the dua of Ayub 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him):

 أَنِّي مَسَّنِيَ الضُّرُّ وَأَنتَ أَرْحَمُ الرَّاحِمِينَ Annee massaniya alddurru waanta arhamu alrrahimeen October 10, 2019:

My Pet scan showed I was cancer-free.

January 2019:

My wound from my surgery had finally closed.

February 6, 2020:

My MRI showed I was cancer-free.

This battle has not left me weak, defeated, or helpless. I learned to trust Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), never to concede or be defeated. I learned how to call upon Him, knowing that He loves me and loves to hear from me. I learned to put the highest level of trust in my relationship with Him while engaging in patience. I learned to be strong in my faith, in my body, my spirit, resilience to all that is around me. I learned piety, to be God-conscious, to walk a new path where I abandon all that is displeasing to Him, striving to earn His love.

I pray Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) enables me to never compromise my love for Him.

To make me beloved to Him in my repentance and allow me to reach better states of His love.

To make my weakness a reason for strength, being strong in every way possible, and to use this strength and this second chance at life he has given me, justly in the cause and the benefit of others.

Ameen

This article was checked and guided by Sh Yahya Ibrahim

The post The Slave Of Ar-Rahman : A Story Of Illness And Faith appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Principles of Success from Surah Al-Mu’minoon

10 August, 2020 - 06:55

Success; something which everyone desires. There has not been a person who has walked the face of this Earth, or who will come to this dunya except that they spent their life striving for success. What is success, however? We all have our very own perception of success. If you ask people “what is success to you?”, you will receive varied responses. For some, success is doing well in education, whilst for others, it is about excelling in one’s career. For some, success is driving a nice car, having a beautiful spouse, lovely children, a spacious dwelling etc. People have various perceptions of success. As Muslims, we must know and acknowledge that our religion has provided clarification for everything that we need to know. There is no issue that we will come across within our life, from the time we came out of the wombs of our mothers till we reach that grave, except that the shari’ah has provided some sort of guidelines for it. So, do you think that the religion of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will leave out this imperative issue that is at the forefront of every mind?

Without a doubt, the greatest form of success is earning the pleasure of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)  as Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in Surah Ali ‘Imran:

فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ النَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ ۗ

“…so the one who is saved from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has truly succeeded…” [185]

Having relief from the anger of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and achieving His mercy will be the only form of success in the akhirah. But that having been said, our religion is one which is comprehensive, and for that reason, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows that we will still crave success and have various perceptions of it within this dunya. There is nothing wrong with aiming for a top position that will accelerate your career, or working hard to earn a six-figure income; rather we are encouraged to excel and seek success within this dunya, but on the condition that we do not sacrifice the akhirah. From the mercy of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is that he Has never left us abandoned. He has revealed the shari’ah in order for us to know how to achieve success in the akhirah, but is that it? If that is the perception you have of the Qur’an and Sunnah; that it is only a source of guidance for our religious affairs, then know that Islam is more than that. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has not only given us the guidelines for achieving success in the akhirah, but he has also provided us with principles of success pertaining to the dunya. The Book of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is filled with gems and treasurers; it only requires us to analyse His verses carefully in order to extract those principles. The Qur’an will not give you details of a specific issue, but rather the Qur’an will give guidelines and principles, thus making it miraculously pertinent to every single time and era. The Sunnah of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) will then go into detail and provide commentary on those guidelines and principles.

Within this article, I aim to highlight a number of principles contained within Surah Al-Mu’minun (Chapter 23 of the Qur’an) that can aid a person in their striving for success. These golden principles are generic (as mentioned before regarding the principles and guidelines contained within the Qur’an); what I deem success to be will probably be different to what you portray success as, and so from the beauty of these principles is that they can be applied to whatever worldly pursuit you have.

Principle 1: The desire for success

For a person to achieve success, they need to passionately desire it. If you force your child to study something they do not like, they may not do well in it because there is no motivation there. However, when a person puts their mind to something and has that passion, the desire for success kicks in. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gives us a beautiful portrayal by describing paradise; but not just any level of paradise, but Al-Firdous: the highest level of paradise that will be inherited by a selected few. This mention of Al-Firdous is given here for us to have that desire to achieve the greatest form success within whatever mission we are open to,  making sure it is a halal path. Yes, even though everyone will not enter Al-Firdous, we should still aim for it, as having it as a goal builds our level of optimism, and our aspirations become robust. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“Paradise has one hundred grades, each of which is as big as the distance between heaven and earth. The highest of them is Al-Firdous and the best of them is Al-Firdous. The Throne is above Al-Firdous, and from it springs forth the rivers of paradise. If you ask of Allah, ask Him for Al-Firdous” [Sunan Ibn Majah No. 4331]

Principle 2: Realize how much time you have

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions the creation and the demise of the human being within a few verses to show how short this worldly life is:

وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ مِن سُلَالَةٍ مِّن طِينٍ

And certainly did We create man from an extract of clay.”

ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاهُ نُطْفَةً فِي قَرَارٍ مَّكِينٍ

“Then We placed him as a sperm-drop in a firm lodging.”

ثُمَّ خَلَقْنَا النُّطْفَةَ عَلَقَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْعَلَقَةَ مُضْغَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْمُضْغَةَ عِظَامًا فَكَسَوْنَا الْعِظَامَ لَحْمًا ثُمَّ أَنشَأْنَاهُ خَلْقًا آخَرَ ۚ فَتَبَارَكَ اللَّـهُ أَحْسَنُ الْخَالِقِينَ

“Then We made the sperm-drop into a clinging clot, and We made the clot into a lump [of flesh], and We made [from] the lump, bones, and We covered the bones with flesh; then We developed him into another creation. So blessed is Allah, the best of creators.”

ثُمَّ إِنَّكُم بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ لَمَيِّتُونَ

“Then indeed, after that you are to die.”

ثُمَّ إِنَّكُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ تُبْعَثُونَ

“Then indeed you, on the Day of Resurrection, will be resurrected.”

[Surah Al-Mu’minun; 12-16]

The objective here is to encourage us to be productive, efficient, and not lazy. By procrastinating, your motivation weakens, and as a result, your objective for success begins to die out. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions procrastination and laziness only twice in the Qur’an, and both references are pertaining to the hypocrites! The believer is the one who is always weary of their time and strives to make the most of it.

Principle 3: Remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) through the magnificence of his creation

In the next passage of this Surah, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) makes mention of some of His greatest creations and signs. When treading the path of success, ensure that you remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and take those practical means that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has created and provided for you in your conquest for success. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says:

هُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ لَكُم مَّا فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا

“It is He who created for you all of that which is on the Earth.” [Surah Al-Baqarah; 29]

Principle 4: People will try to put you down

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) within the next passage narrates for us the stories of four of the previous Prophets who came before our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him); Nuh, Hud, Musa and Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Even though their stories are mentioned in other places within the Qur’an, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) links these four stories by mentioning that when all of these four prophets came to their people and gave them da’wah, they mocked them and said “you are only men”.

Regarding prophet Nuh 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says:

فَقَالَ الْمَلَأُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِن قَوْمِهِ مَا هَـٰذَا إِلَّا بَشَرٌ مِّثْلُكُمْ يُرِيدُ أَن يَتَفَضَّلَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّـهُ لَأَنزَلَ مَلَائِكَةً مَّا سَمِعْنَا بِهَـٰذَا فِي آبَائِنَا الْأَوَّلِينَ

“But the eminent among those who disbelieved from his people said, ‘This is not but a man like yourselves who wishes to take precedence over you; and if Allah had willed [to send a messenger], He would have sent down angels. We have not heard of this among our forefathers.”

إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا رَجُلٌ بِهِ جِنَّةٌ فَتَرَبَّصُوا بِهِ حَتَّىٰ حِينٍ

He is not but a man possessed with madness, so wait concerning him for a time.’” [24-25]

Then regarding prophet Hud 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says:

وَقَالَ الْمَلَأُ مِن قَوْمِهِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَكَذَّبُوا بِلِقَاءِ الْآخِرَةِ وَأَتْرَفْنَاهُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا مَا هَـٰذَا إِلَّا بَشَرٌ مِّثْلُكُمْ يَأْكُلُ مِمَّا تَأْكُلُونَ مِنْهُ وَيَشْرَبُ مِمَّا تَشْرَبُونَ

“And the eminent among his people who disbelieved and denied the meeting of the Hereafter while We had given them luxury in the worldly life said, This is not but a man like yourselves. He eats of that from which you eat and drinks of what you drink.”

وَلَئِنْ أَطَعْتُم بَشَرًا مِّثْلَكُمْ إِنَّكُمْ إِذًا لَّخَاسِرُونَ

“And if you should obey a man like yourselves, indeed, you would then be losers.” [33-34]

Thereafter, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)says about Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Harun 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him):

ثُمَّ أَرْسَلْنَا مُوسَىٰ وَأَخَاهُ هَارُونَ بِآيَاتِنَا وَسُلْطَانٍ مُّبِينٍ

“Then We sent Moses and his brother Aaron with Our signs and a clear authority”

إِلَىٰ فِرْعَوْنَ وَمَلَئِهِ فَاسْتَكْبَرُوا وَكَانُوا قَوْمًا عَالِينَ

“To Pharaoh and his establishment, but they were arrogant and were a haughty people.”

فَقَالُوا أَنُؤْمِنُ لِبَشَرَيْنِ مِثْلِنَا وَقَوْمُهُمَا لَنَا عَابِدُونَ

“They said, ‘Should we believe two men like ourselves while their people are for us in servitude?’” [45-47]

There will be people who will work hard to put you down. Know, that even though those who love you will only want the best for you, there will be people who will try to put you down because of the jealousy and hatred they have within themselves. There will be people on your path who will not want you to succeed and thus, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) highlights this here in the Surah. However, through mentioning these stories of these previous prophets, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) also wants us to know that even if everyone is against us, if he wants success to come us, it will surely be delivered!

Principle 5: Seek protection from Shaytan

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) warns us time and time again within the Qur’an, of the tricks and traps of Shaytan. Our human bodies have been designed to detect danger; there is a part of the brain known as the amygdala that is programmed by the grace of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to detect danger. For instance, when you smell gas in your home, or when your young child lets go of your hand whilst walking down a busy street, you will automatically detect danger. But as for the Shaytan, the amygdala cannot detect this danger and so Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) warns us time and time again within His speech, because the traps of Shaytan come in steps and are subtle. You may have your noble goal of success, however, Shaytan will come and try to distract you, cause you to procrastinate, or lead you astray. But from the mercy of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is that not only has He warned us from Shaytan and his allies, He has also mentioned a supplication from within Surah Al-Mu’minun that we can use for ourselves and children to supplicate to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for protection:

وَقُل رَّبِّ أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ هَمَزَاتِ الشَّيَاطِينِ

“And say, ‘My Lord, I seek refuge in You from the incitements of the devils,”

وَأَعُوذُ بِكَ رَبِّ أَن يَحْضُرُونِ

“And I seek refuge in You, my Lord, lest they be present with me.’” [97-98]

If Allah, Al-Muhaymin (The Protector) wishes to protect you with his divine protection, who is there that can harm you?

Principle 6: Stay on the Path of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)

The final principle highlighted in Surah Al-Mu’minun is knowing the path of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). That is why in this last passage of this beautiful Surah, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) distinguishes the believers from the disbelievers and ultimately what their final fate will be:

فَمَن ثَقُلَتْ مَوَازِينُهُ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ

“And those whose scales are heavy [with good deeds] – it is they who are the successful.”

وَمَنْ خَفَّتْ مَوَازِينُهُ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ خَسِرُوا أَنفُسَهُمْ فِي جَهَنَّمَ خَالِدُونَ

“But those whose scales are light – those are the ones who have lost their souls, [being] in Hell, abiding eternally.”

تَلْفَحُ وُجُوهَهُمُ النَّارُ وَهُمْ فِيهَا كَالِحُونَ

“The Fire will sear their faces, and they therein will have taut smiles.”

أَلَمْ تَكُنْ آيَاتِي تُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْكُمْ فَكُنتُم بِهَا تُكَذِّبُونَ

“[It will be said], ‘Were not My verses recited to you and you used to deny them?’”

قَالُوا رَبَّنَا غَلَبَتْ عَلَيْنَا شِقْوَتُنَا وَكُنَّا قَوْمًا ضَالِّينَ

They will say, ‘Our Lord, our wretchedness overcame us, and we were a people astray.”

رَبَّنَا أَخْرِجْنَا مِنْهَا فَإِنْ عُدْنَا فَإِنَّا ظَالِمُونَ

“Our Lord, remove us from it, and if we were to return [to evil], we would indeed be wrongdoers.’”

قَالَ اخْسَئُوا فِيهَا وَلَا تُكَلِّمُونِ

“He will say, ‘Remain despised therein and do not speak to Me.”

إِنَّهُ كَانَ فَرِيقٌ مِّنْ عِبَادِي يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا آمَنَّا فَاغْفِرْ لَنَا وَارْحَمْنَا وَأَنتَ خَيْرُ الرَّاحِمِينَ

“Indeed, there was a party of My servants who said, ‘Our Lord, we have believed, so forgive us and have mercy upon us, and You are the best of the merciful.’”

فَاتَّخَذْتُمُوهُمْ سِخْرِيًّا حَتَّىٰ أَنسَوْكُمْ ذِكْرِي وَكُنتُم مِّنْهُمْ تَضْحَكُونَ

“But you took them in mockery to the point that they made you forget My remembrance, and you used to laugh at them.”

إِنِّي جَزَيْتُهُمُ الْيَوْمَ بِمَا صَبَرُوا أَنَّهُمْ هُمُ الْفَائِزُونَ

“Indeed, I have rewarded them this Day for their patient endurance – that they are the attainers [of success].” [102-111]

What is the point of succeeding in this temporary worldly life and then being from amongst those whom Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does not even talk to the on the Day of Judgement? This final principle culminates our whole life and existence: regardless of your worldly pursuit of success, do not forget the greatest goal or objective of this worldly life; to earn the pleasure of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and attain his salvation.

 

I ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) with His mighty names and lofty attributes that He fulfils all of our aspirations, goals and objectives. May He allow us to truly understand the Qur’an and grant us success in the hereafter by giving us salvation from the fire of hell.

The post Principles of Success from Surah Al-Mu’minoon appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Trump And The Holy Gobble: A Tongue In Cheek Short Story

8 August, 2020 - 21:29

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories. This story is satire, i.e. humor. You’ve been warned!

That’s Why They Love Me The EEOB

The EEOB

With Secret Service agents guarding his flanks, Donald Trump exited the White House and headed across the street to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which housed the majority of the White House staff offices.

“Mr. President,” the Special Agent In Charge protested. “I wish you would eat in your private dining room, or at least in the Navy Mess. It’s safer than the EEOB break room, of all places.”

Trump gave the man a condescending smirk. “You don’t understand what it takes to be a great president. I have to let my workers know that I care about them, bigly. I’m the best at that. No one has ever been better than me at being good to their workers. That’s why they love me.”

The SAIC rolled his eyes. He knew the real reason for the president’s desire to hang out in the EEOB break room. One of the new EEOB secretaries, a petite Russian immigrant blonde named Natasha Petrova, was a former “actress” known to her fans as Natasha Lipps. It wouldn’t be long, the SAIC expected, before Ms. Lipps – err, Petrova – would be made a presidential advisor, which would naturally require personal briefings with the president.

Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, strode beside him. Trump was fed up with the man, who kept trying to talk to him about the need to cover up his affair with Stormy Daniels.

“Can’t we just get the Russians to eliminate her?” Trump demanded.

The Nuclear Football

“Well, heh heh,” Cohen stammered. “That’s not really-”

Trump waved him off. Maybe it was time to fire the dopey dummy, if he couldn’t get things done. As they entered the EEOB, Trump turned to his aide-de-camp, a tall and muscular man wearing a medal-festooned military uniform and a beret. The man carried the nuclear football, and was always at the president’s side.

“Give me the football.”

The nuclear football

The nuclear football

The aide hesitated. The football, a Halliburton Zero aircraft-aluminum briefcase with a protruding antennae, the whole thing further housed within a thick leather satchel, contained a device that the president could use to launch nuclear missiles from any location. It was quite heavy. Besides, the aide knew that Trump only wanted to show it off to Natasha Lipps – err, Ms. Petrova.

Trump snapped his fingers. “Give it, loser.”

The aide handed it over, watching with satisfaction as the president listed to one side, nearly falling over.

In the break room, Trump, out of breath from the exertion of carrying the football, beamed with satisfaction. He’d timed it perfectly. Lipps was making herself a coffee. He admired her figure, resisting the impulse to grab part of her anatomy.

A few other employees sat at the cafeteria-style tables, eating sandwiches and chatting. A brown-skinned young man stood beside a humming microwave oven. They were losers, all of them. They weren’t the president. He was! They didn’t have people all over the world reading their Tweets. He did! Something smelled good, though. He looked around, trying to identify the source of the delicious smell, when the staffers noticed his presence. They all jumped to their feet, and one man saluted. Mental note: promote that guy to presidential advisor.

Natasha Lipps gave him a wide smile. Trump leaned forward even more than he normally did, all his attention focused on the Russian woman.

“Look what I have,” he boasted, grunting as he hefted the case. “The nuclear football.”

“You are such a poverful man,” Lipps purred in her Russian accent.

Cherokee People

“Something smells good in here.” He gave her a wink. “Is that you?”

“I vish it vas, Mr. President. Is Ahmad over there.” She nodded to the brown-skinned man. “He alvays bring delicious food.”

Trump frowned at the man, who had just taken a meal out of the microwave. Ahmad? Wasn’t that a Muslim name? He turned to Cohen. “Do we still have any Muslims on staff? I thought we fired them all.”

“I don’t know, sir. The White House has thousands of staffers.”

“Arrest him. But bring me his lunch. It smells really good.”

“I don’t know if that’s strictly legal, sir, there are laws-”

Trump silenced him with a chopping motion. “Hey, you. Ahmad.”

The brown-skinned man froze. “Yes, Mr. President?”

“You’re not Muslim, are you?”

Ahmad’s eyes shifted left and right. “I’m from California.” Which was technically true.

Trump made a face. “Just as bad.”

“I believe he is Indian,” Petrova whispered.

Oh, that was fine then. Trump had been dealing with Indian-owned casinos in Atlantic City for decades. “Cherokee people,” he sang out loud, “Cherokee trii-iibe. Hey chief, what are you eating?”

Aloo Gobi

Aloo Gobi

“Aloo gobi, sir.”

Holy gobble? What the heck kind of a dumb name? Getting back to more important matters, he set the football on one of the tables, touched his thumb to the biometric scanner, and popped the case open.

Inside, a special laptop computer was custom-fit into the case. The upper panel came on automatically, displaying a map of the world, with all the major cities marked with glowing dots. The lower panel contained a keyboard and a large red button, along with two smaller buttons, one labelled YES and one NO.

Allergic to Pepper

Trump grinned at Natasha Lipps. “Guess what this does? I could destroy the planet from right here if I wanted to. Pretty hot, huh?”

“Is vonderful.”

“Mr. President, sir!” the aide-de-camp protested. “This is highly irregu-”

Trump sneezed into Natasha’s face. It was a wet, jet-propelled sneeze. Her smile flickered for an instant, then returned as bright as ever as she wiped his spittle away. Trump scanned the room. The dark-skinned Indian guy had a hand-held pepper mill and was grinding pepper onto the holy gobble.

“Stop that, you moron!” Trump snapped. “I’m allergic to pepper.”

The man gazed at him pleadingly, and gave the crank a slow-motion turn. “But I like a lot of pepper on my food, sir.”

Trump let out a tremendous sneeze, one that shook him all the way down to his spinal cord. This time he felt himself losing balance, and reached out a hand, which landed right on the nuclear football’s red button. A loud beeping noise sounded, and lights flashed on the screen, along with the glowing words:

CONFIRM MISSILE LAUNCH = YES
ABORT = NO

Trump prided himself on being a positive person. No one had ever been more positive than him in all the history of the world. He didn’t believe in the word NO. He pressed the button for YES.

Arrest That Man

Everyone stared in horror, except for Ahmad, who used the distraction to give the pepper grinder three fast turns. Then he sat, said a quick dua’ and rapidly began to eat his aloo gobi.

“Dear Heaven,” the aide-de-camp breathed. “The Russians will retaliate. We’ll all be destroyed.”

Trump smirked. “You think I would point missiles at Russia? They’re pointed at Mexico and China. Immigration problem solved, plus we win the trade war! Am I the smartest or what?”

The aide-de-camp studied the laptop screen. “One of the missiles is off target. It’s headed for California.”

Trump nodded smugly. “I always keep one aimed at San Francisco.” Grinning widely, he crooned, “Goodbye, Pelosi!”

The SAIC tapped his earpiece. “We’re getting word. The Chinese have launched a retaliatory strike. We’ll be hit in fifteen minutes. We need to get you to the bunker!”

Ahmad took out a portable prayer rug, set it down and began to pray. “Alhamdulillahi rabbil aalameen,” he intoned. One last salat before the end of the world. He would meet his end with dignity.

“I knew it!” Trump pointed. “Arrest that man. For being Muslim, and for eating holy gobble.”

Cohen sighed, and Natasha Lipps – err, Petrova – began to cry.

THE END

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

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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

The post Trump And The Holy Gobble: A Tongue In Cheek Short Story appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

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