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Man considering legal action after Starbucks employee labels drink 'Isis'

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 September, 2019 - 22:10

Niquel Johnson said when he ordered at a Philadelphia store he gave his Islamic name, Aziz

A Philadelphia man has said he is considering legal action against Starbucks after an employee asked for his name to label his drink but ended up writing the title of the Islamic State.

Niquel Johnson, 40, told the Washington Post that when he ordered his drinks last week he gave his Islamic name, Aziz, as he had done in the same store “countless” times before. This time, the three drinks he ordered all came back labelled “Isis”.

Related: Coffee shop racism: where America's racial divisions are exposed

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Houston: Islamic group hosts Sanders and Castro and braces for rightwing rally

The Guardian World news: Islam - 31 August, 2019 - 14:00

In Texas, the Islamic Society of North America’s annual convention expects anti-fascist counter-protests

In Houston, an annual Islamic convention hosting presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Julian Castro is bracing for an armed far-right protest and a counter-demonstration.

Related: 'Tip of the iceberg': what a Nazi salute video says about Orange county

Patrick Strickland is a freelance reporter and author

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With hajj under threat, it's time Muslims joined the climate movement

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 August, 2019 - 08:00

Scientists say global heating could endanger pilgrims as soon as next summer. This must be our call to action

According to research published last week by US scientists, hajj is set to become a danger zone. As soon as next year, they say, summer days in Mecca could exceed the “extreme danger” heat-stress threshold. The news comes just weeks after over 2 million people completed their journey of a lifetime. The environmental threat to the holy pilgrimage is a panic button for British Muslims like me, signaling that the climate crisis is endangering an age-old sacred rite.

Hajj is a pillar of Islam that I’ve yet to undertake, and the physical endurance required will only become more gruelling in coming decades – scientists predict that heat and humidity levels during hajj will exceed the extreme danger threshold 20% of the time from 2045 and 2053, and 42% of the time between 2079 and 2086.

Too often 'saving the planet' is seen as something for the rich, a kind of green elitism

Related: My film is bridging cultural divides. This gives me hope in such polarised times | Sarfraz Manzoor

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China: A New World Order review – are we conniving with a genocidal dictatorship?

The Guardian World news: Islam - 29 August, 2019 - 22:00

This documentary dared to do what politicians the world over would not, asking tough questions of Xi Jinping’s hardline rule

The drink Mihrigul Tursun’s captors offered her was strangely cloudy. It resembled, she said, water after washing rice. After drinking it, the young mother recalled in China: A New World Order (BBC Two), her period stopped. “It didn’t come back until five months after I left prison. So my period stopped seven months in total. Now it’s back, but it’s abnormal.”

We never learned why Tursun was detained – along with an estimated one million other Uighurs of Xinjiang province, in what the authorities euphemistically call re-education centres – but we heard clearly her claims of being tortured. “They cut off my hair and electrocuted my head,” Tursun said. “I couldn’t stand it any more. I can only say please just kill me.”

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Time to put a stop to the 20mph zone fad

Indigo Jo Blogs - 24 August, 2019 - 23:26
Speed limit sign, Belfast.

Over the past few years, a number of boroughs in London have imposed 20mph speed limits across most or all of the roads under their control (which in London is all except motorways and “red routes”, which are controlled by the Department for Transport and Transport for London respectively). The first were in inner London but the trend has been spreading out to the suburbs in the last few years. Ken Livingstone was a big fan of the idea but he was voted out in 2008, and normal speed limits (usually 30mph) remain on most of the roads controlled by the mayor’s office. The latest to introduce borough-wide 20mph limits is Richmond, which is the neighbouring borough to mine (Kingston). These roads include main roads (A- and B-roads) as well as minor roads, and the limits have no connection to road conditions or the presence of schools or large concentrations of shops although a few specific corridors have been exempted pending further research or consultation.

To begin with, I must say that I am not opposed to 20mph zones in residential streets or in limited zones as was the case with the zones originally. Some boroughs have expanded them more sensibly, such as Croydon which has imposed 20mph limits on all minor roads in the north of the borough and kept the limit at 30mph on A- and B-roads. Other boroughs, such as Lewisham, Lambeth and Camden, have imposed them on all borough roads. The ostensible reason for doing this is road safety (though for reasons I will come to, the wisdom of 20mph limits on such roads is questionable), but there was no great safety imperative on some of the roads concerned; they were main roads, in some cases dual carriageways, and a better way to ensure road safety would have been more pedestrian crossings or to enforce the existing limits. I am also in favour of reducing car speed limits on main roads with national speed limits to 50mph on single carriageways and 60mph on dual carriageways with two lanes, to bring them into line with HGV speed limits (which were increased in 2015) and to eliminate dangerous overtakes.

The urban area speed limit in this country is 30mph. It always has been; it’s generally accepted, partly thanks to a long-running public safety campaign to educate people that the limit is there for a reason. Grumbles about speed cameras have become rather more muted since they were painted bright yellow and their locations are featured on navigation units, though there are still a few that smack of money-making rather than safety. The presence of street lighting automatically indicates that the limit is 30mph unless there are signs that state otherwise, which is why 20mph zones are advertised with repeater signs. This is not the USA where different states have different speed limits and other laws; local authorities set speed limits but this is within guidelines. We now have a situation where speed limits change on main roads not because of a change in the road conditions but because of crossing an arbitrary boundary and because of the whims of local politicians. Quite simply, we have gone from “it’s 30 for a reason” to “because we say so”.

In the case of Richmond, although the zone excludes a few major roads, notably most of the A308 from Kingston Bridge to the Surrey boundary, it also includes a number of A-roads which are good, wide roads which do not have houses fronting them, such as sections of the A311 and A312 near Hampton. The A307 from Kew to Richmond is of better quality than the A205 which is part of the South Circular Road which retains a 30mph limit and has always been the major route from the A316 to the M4 because it avoids a low bridge on the South Circular. It is also part of the only road from Kingston to the M4 other than the more circuitous route via the M25. The A312 and A313 (through Teddington) are the only reasonable routes from Kingston to Feltham (a major industrial area), used by buses in the absence of a rail link; the B358 is the main road from Kingston to parts of Hounslow, Heston and Southall and part of it (Sixth Cross Road north of Teddington) until fairly recently had a 40mph limit and is a wide road and is in part dual carriageway. Apart from Queen’s Road in Teddington, the conditions in no way justify a 20mph limit and the council has never seen fit to introduce speed cameras in any of these places which suggests that they do not have high accident rates. The 20mph limit will include Thames Street, the part of the A308 through Hampton village; the council imposed a 20mph limit on that stretch for a while a few years ago and then lifted it. What is the sense in re-imposing a limit that was tried, and failed?

Richmond council claims that the policy brings the borough into line with neighbouring councils which have imposed 20mph limits. In fact, they have not. My borough, Kingston, has 20mph zones on a small number of roads around town centres and in selected residential areas; the main borough roads such as the A2043 to Worcester Park, the A308 to Roehampton, the A307 towards Richmond and most of the A240 to Tolworth have 30mph limits (part of the Kingston one-way system — sometimes called the Kingston Racetrack — now has a 20mph limit, namely the bit that has several pedestrian crossings in a short stretch which also has several blind bends). Wandsworth’s borough-wide 20mph limit, like Croydon’s, excludes A- and B-roads. Merton has imposed a 20mph limit in much of the east of the borough but not the west (e.g. Raynes Park), although this may be planned for the future. Hounslow’s 20mph limit policy is, again, for residential roads and areas around town centres only (even the A315 through Bedfont still has a 30mph limit). All this is a long way from a blanket 20mph limit.

However, the biggest problem with them is that they are generally ignored and flouted almost universally. People do slow down, but rarely to 20mph or less unless there is a police car or speed camera nearby. This is, I suspect, why the schemes attract little protest; people know that they can get away with breaking them and generally do. This is the reason why they do not offer the significant road safety improvements the local politicians claim they do; in fact, they may give a false sense of security to many pedestrians. In the cross-party letter from local politicians to residents, it is claimed that “according to Public Health Wales, a 20mph limit which reduces average speeds from 31mph to 19mph reduces harmful gasses by 32 per cent”, but if average speeds are actually reduced to about 25mph, emissions will not be reduced by that much. If there were widespread fines and points being given out, there would be a public debate, which there so far has not been, and there would be complaints. Ken Livingstone lost the 2008 mayoral election in large part because of the unpopular western extension to the Congestion Charge, which a consultation had found was unpopular but he brushed it aside, saying it was not a referendum.

Finally, in my opinion London boroughs should not have the final say in setting main road speed limits. They are too small and too parochial. It is not only local residents that use them but residents of neighbouring boroughs who need to travel to or through the borough concerned. They were built to link towns, as the names of some of them (e.g. Uxbridge Road in Hampton) suggest. Outside London, the responsibility for these roads lies with counties, whose councils have to balance the needs of everyone in the area rather than just the immediate neighbourhood, and even the new unitary authorities are often the size of a small county, with both urban and rural parts, rather than of a London borough. Richmond is also an odd shape, extending a long way east to west on both sides of the river (its two parts were not even in the same county before the 1960s), and it does not make much sense for residents of Barnes to get a say in speed limits in Hampton but people in Kingston, which is much nearer, being excluded. As we have no proper council for Greater London and the boroughs are the highest democratic local authority, they need to be reminded that main roads are not just for their residents but are public highways.

This fad for whole areas with 20mph limits regardless of road conditions in whole boroughs must be stopped. We live in a United Kingdom, not a federation which means there should be one law for everyone rather than the laws changing with every municipal boundary. A well-enforced 30mph limit is better for road safety than a generally ignored 20mph one, and road safety can be improved by other means, including pedestrian crossings, traffic calming and the blocking-off of rat-runs. It undermines years of efforts to persuade people that 30mph speed limits are there for a reason. It is not in response to public demand but is a project by local politicians (hence the cross-party support for the Richmond scheme); it may be intended to drive traffic off their roads onto those controlled by other authorities, i.e. central government or the mayor. We must get back to the principle that the speed limit on main roads in urban areas is 30mph and that speed limits vary according to road conditions, not arbitrary boundaries.

Image source: Albert Bridge, via Geograph Ireland. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 licence.

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Book Review: The Quran: Epic and Apocalypse by Todd Lawson

Inayat's Corner - 24 August, 2019 - 22:51

What is an epic and what is an apocalypse? After reading this book, it seems that Todd Lawson, an Emeritus Professor of Islamic Thought at Toronto university in Canada, is arguing that an epic provides a narrative about human origins, about self-identity, social structure and our relationship to the supernatural. In that sense, the Qur’an does indeed appear to qualify as an epic. And the apocalypse? Apocalypse is the Greek work for Revelation, Lawson informs us, and reveals secrets about the heavenly world and Divine judgement. So, the Qur’an would qualify on that count too. Great, now – what?

Well, according to Lawson, the situation the world finds itself in means that everyone should better acquaint themselves with the Quran.

“No book has had a greater impact on the history of humanity and the development of world culture. I think it is not an exaggeration to say that to make it part of the educated global citizen’s reading – what used to be thought of as “soul formation” – is a desideratum of some urgency.” (p xii)

I try and keep an open mind with all books. After all, an author – especially a university professor – has often spent years carefully thinking about various issues and their arguments deserve to be heard respectfully before we come to a decision on whether they sound reasonable or not. Here, Lawson, made an argument that I found intriguing:

“If read in the tanzil order of revelation, the Quran sounds like an apocalypse; if read in the order of the mushaf, the Quran sounds like an epic…As sacred epic, then, the Quran is concerned not with a particular ethnic group (unlike previous epics), rather it is concerned with forging a new group for which it is providing a universal narrative. The new group is humanity. This is not a mere literary achievement; it is an epoch-making shift in religious consciousness.” (p xvi-xvii)

Does viewing the Qur’an as epic and apocalypse aid our understanding of its message and power. Lawson claims that it does:

“To recognise the Quran’s apocalyptic and epic voices and their contrapuntal relationship is to observe something quite essential about the way in which the Quran commands and grips an audience, the way it teaches, and the way in which its readership, its audience, develops its attachment to the book.” (p24)

There may perhaps be something in this. I recall reading somewhere – I can’t remember where – of a religious bookseller in a Muslim country who said his best-selling books all concerned topics about the Last Day and the Divine Judgement. But that is hardly conclusive.

I think Lawson is on surer ground when he contrasts the Qur’an with some other epics (think of the Old Testament or the Hindu scriptures):

“…the epic voice of the Quran also offers a critique of other competing, more narrowly ethnic or national epics. The Quran thus calls forth a universal human identity through its insistence on the originary Day of Alast, on the certitude that all human communities have received divine guidance from the same unique and only God, and that all humanity is participating, consciously or not, in a process of civilisation, an epic journey from ignorance to knowledge or enlightenment.” (p 169)

I have read much of the Old Testament and have always found the narrow focus on Israelite history to be somewhat off-putting. The Qur’an by contrast in its very first surah says that it is a message from the “Lord of the worlds” and its final surah calls on us to “seek refuge in the Lord of humankind”. It is an avowedly universal message.

Lawson’s book also includes a Chapter on “Joycean Modernism in Quran and Tafsir” which in practice contains an extensive discussion about the views of the “Iranian Prophet” Sayyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi (or the Bab) – one of the central figures of the Baha’i faith. The chapter seemed out of place in a book about the Qur’an until I learned that Professor Lawson was himself a Baha’i. The chapter seemed a bit forced and would have been better published separately rather than in a book about the Qur’an.

Challenges of Identity & Conviction: The Need to Construct an Islamic Worldview

Muslim Matters - 23 August, 2019 - 23:11

He squirmed in his seat as his Middle East history professor–yet again–made a subtle jab about Islam, this time about the jizyah.  This professor claimed to be pro-Arab and pro-Islam and was part of a university department that touted itself for presenting history and narratives that are typically left out of the West’s Eurocentric social studies sequence. Still, she would subjectively only present an Orientalist interpretation of Islam. Ahmad* sighed. He felt bad just thinking about what all his classmates at this esteemed university thought about Islam and Muslims. He was also worried about fellow Muslims in his class who had not grown up in a practicing household-what if they believed her? He hated how she was using her position as the “sage” in the room to present her bias as absolute truth. As for himself, he knew deep down in his bones that what his professor was alleging just could not be true. His fitrah was protesting her coy smile as she knowingly agitated the few Muslims in her class of one-hundred-fifty.  Yet, Ahmad had never studied such topics growing up and felt all his years of secondary education left him ill-equipped as a freshman in college.  He tried to search for answers to her false accusations after class and approached her later during office hours, but she just laughed him off as a backward, orthodox Muslim who had obviously been brainwashed into believing the “fairy tale version” of Islam. 

***

Asiyah* graduated as class valedictorian of her Islamic school. She loved Biology and Physics and planned to major in Engineering at a top-notch program. While both family, friends, and peers were proud of her (some maybe even wishing they were in her shoes), they had no idea of the bitter inner struggle that was eating away at her, tearing her up from the inside out. Her crisis of faith shook her to the core and her parents were at their wits’ end. While she prayed all her prayers and even properly donned her hijab, deep down she felt……..sort of….……atheist.  Physics was her life–her complete being. She loved how the numbers just added up and everything could be empirically proven. But this led to her greatest anguish: how could certain miraculous events during the time of the Blessed Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) have occurred? How could she believe in events that were physically and scientifically impossible?  She felt like an empty body performing the rituals of Islam.

*names changed

***

An Unwelcome Surprise

Islam is a way of life. Its principles operate in every avenue of one’s life. However, English, History, Science and Mathematics are often taught as if they are beyond the scope of Islam. It is commonly assumed that moral teaching happens, or should happen, only in the Islamic Studies class. Yet, if we compare what is being taught in the Islamic Studies class with what is being taught consciously or unconsciously in other classes, an unwelcome surprise awaits us. Examining typical reading material in English classes, for example, reveals that too much of the material is actually going against Islamic norms and principles. Some of the most prominent problems with traditional English literature (which directly clash with Islamic moral and ethical principles) include: the mockery of God and religion, the promotion of rebellion against parents and traditional family values, the normalization of immoral conduct such as lying and rude behavior, and the condoning of inappropriate cross-gender interactions. Additionally, positive references about Islamic culture are either nonexistent or rare. Toxic themes of secularism, atheism, materialism, liberalism, and agnosticism are constantly bombarding our young Muslim students, thus shaping the way in which they view and interact with the world.

Corrective Lens: The Worldview of Islam

We need our children to develop an Islamic worldview, one that provides a framework for Muslims to understand their world from the perspective of the Qur’an.  It is impossible for the Islamic Studies classes alone to successfully teach Islamic behavior and nurture moral commitment unless the other classes also reflect the Islamic worldview- an outlook that emphasizes the idea that all our actions should be focused on pleasing Allah and doing good for ourselves and others. Therefore, the majority of what is taught in all academic disciplines should be based on Islamic values, aiming to improve the life of the student by promoting sublime ethical conduct. The unfortunate reality is quite the opposite: a typical child in a school in the West spends a minimum of 576 periods (16 periods of core classes/week * 4 weeks/month * 9 months) of classroom instruction annually on academic subjects that are devoid of Islam and contain minimal teaching of morality that aligns with Islamic principles. How much Islam a child learns depends on whether their parents choose Sunday school, Islamic schools, and/or other forms of supplementation to provide religious knowledge. However, rarely does that supplemental instruction undo the thousands of hours of the atheistic worldview that children soak in by the time they finish high school through the study of secular subjects. By not having an Islamic worldview and not having Muslims’ heritage and contributions to humanity infused into the teaching of academic subjects, we witness the problems experienced by the likes of Ahmad* and Asiyah*–problems that plague modern Muslim youth.

Identifying the Unlikely Suspect

This realization is perhaps the missing piece in the puzzle when it comes to our bewilderment: how are large swaths of youth from some of the kindest, sweetest, practicing Muslim families going astray and getting confused? When we shepherd our flock and find one or more of our “sheep” lost and off the beaten path, we think of the likely suspects, which include negative influences from peers, family, movies, social media, etc. We may even blame the lack of inspiring role models. We are less likely to suspect that the very literature that our children are consuming day in and day out through our well-intentioned efforts to make them “educated” and “sophisticated” could cause them to question Islam or fall into moral abyss.

Ibn ‘Umar reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, “All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of the people of his house and he is responsible. A woman is the shepherd of the house of her husband and she is responsible. Each of you is a shepherd and each is responsible for his flock.”

Islamic Infusion in Academic Study as a Solution

There have been efforts across the globe to infuse Islam into academic study of worldly subjects. Universities such as the International Islamic University of Malaysia(IIUM), which has a dedicated “Centre for Islamisation (CENTRIS),” is an example. At the secondary school level, most brick and mortar Islamic schools do offer Arabic, Qur’an, and Islamic studies; however, few Muslim teachers are trained in how to teach core academic subjects using principles of Islamic pedagogy.

How exactly can educators infuse an Islamic perspective into their teaching? And how can Muslim children have access to high quality education from the worldview of Islam, taught by talented and dynamic educators?

Infusing Islam & Muslim Heritage in Core Academic Subjects, According to the Experts:
  • Dr. Nadeem Memon, professor of Islamic pedagogy, states that for a pedagogy to be Islamic, it should not contradict the aims, objectives and ethics contained in revelation (Qur’an) and should closely reflect an Islamic ethos that is based on revelation, the sunnah of the Prophet(pbuh), and the intellectual and spiritual heritage of his followers. It should also effectively develop the student’s intelligence (`aql), faith (iman), morality and character (khuluq), knowledge and practice of personal religious obligations (fard ain) and knowledge, skills and physical abilities warranted by worldly responsibilities and duties (Ajem, Ramzy and Nadeem Memon, “Prophetic Pedagogy: Teaching ‘Islamically’ in our Classrooms”)
  • Dr. Susan Douglass, expert in Social Studies, promotes a panoramic study of the world by global eras–emphasizing the interdependence of nations–rather than an isolationist civilizations approach (which in Western societies focuses only on Western civilization). Such study includes Islamic history and Muslims’ contributions to humanity throughout the ages.
  • Dr. Freda Shamma, pioneer in promoting culturally inclusive and ethical literature, emphasizes that English classes should carefully select literature aligned with Islamic moral values and include works by both Western authors and those from other cultures, i.e. literature that 1-features Muslim main characters and 2- is authored by Muslims.
  • Dr. Nur Jannah Hassan at CENTRIS, stresses that Science classes should be designed to awaken the student’s mind, to inspire a complete awe of and servitude towards the Creator and Sustainer, to instill the purpose of creation, vicegerency and stewardship of the earth and its inhabitants, to enable students to decipher God’s Signs in nature and in the self, to infuse responsibility in sustaining balance and accountability, and should include Muslims’ legacy in the field.
  • Dr. Reema alNizami, specialist in Math Education, advocates that Math classes should instill creative thinking, systematic problem solving and an appreciation of balance; include a survey of Muslims’ contributions to the field; and utilize word problems that encourage charitable and ethical financial practices.
Technology Enables Access to Islamically Infused Schooling for grades 6-12

Technology has now enabled this Islamic infusion for middle schools and secondary schools to become a reality on a global scale, alhamdulillah. Legacy International Online High School, a college preparatory, online Islamic school serving grades 6-12, whose mission is “Cultivating Compassionate Global Leaders”, offers all academic subjects from the Islamic worldview. Pioneered by leading Muslim educators from around the globe with background in Islamic pedagogy and digital learning, Legacy is the first of its kind online platform that is accessible to:

  • homeschooling families seeking full-time, rigorous, Islamically infused classes
  • Public school families looking for a part-time Islamic studies or Arabic sequence
  • Islamic schools, evening programs, and Sunday schools that are short-staffed and would like to outsource certain courses from the Islamic worldview
  • Schools and entities needing training/workshops to empower Muslim educators on how to teach from the Islamic worldview

Alhamdulillah, Legacy IOHS is an accessible resource for families with children in grades 6-8 who are seeking curriculum and instruction that is Islamically infused.

Strengthening Faith & Identity in College and Beyond

For those seeking supplementary resources to address the most prevalent hot topic issues plaguing young Muslims of our times, Yaqeen Institute, whose initial publications were more targeted towards a university audience, is now working to make its research more accessible to the general public through both its Conviction Circles initiative and its short videos featuring infographics.

Another online platform, California Islamic University, offers a comprehensive course sequence which allows college students to graduate with a second degree in Islamic studies while simultaneously completing their undergraduate studies at any accredited community college or university in the United States. Qalam and AlMaghrib Institute also offer online coursework in Islamic studies.

What We Hope to Avoid

While volunteering at his son Sulayman’s* public school with ten student participants, Ibrahim* was saddened when he met a young boy named Chris*. When Chris met Ibrahim, he piped up and eagerly told Ibrahim, “my grandparents are Muslim!” Through the course of the conversation, Ibrahim realized that he knew Chris’ grandparents, a very sweet elderly couple (and currently very practicing) who had not made the Islamic worldview a priority early on in their children’s lives. A mere two generations later, Islam is completely eliminated from their family.  *names changed

Our Resolve

Legacy IOHS recommends the following to Muslim families/educators and Islamic schools:

  1. Instill in our children a strong grasp of the foundational sciences of Islam, while preparing them with the necessary contemporary knowledge and skills
  2. Teach our children in their formative years to view the world (including their “secular” academic study) through the lens of Islam
  3. Follow this up with relevant motivational programs that assist them in understanding challenging issues of today and coach them on how to respond to the issues in their teenage years.

We pray that with the above, we will have fulfilled our duty in shepherding our flock in a comprehensive way, with utmost care. It is Allah’s help we seek in these challenging times:

رَبَّنَا لَا تُزِغْ قُلُوبَنَا بَعْدَ إِذْ هَدَيْتَنَا وَهَبْ لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ رَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْوَهَّابُ

‘Our Lord, do not let our hearts deviate after You have guided us. Grant us Your mercy: You are the Ever Giving. [Qur’an 3:8]

 رَبَّنَا هَبْ لَنَا مِنْ أَزْوَاجِنَا وَذُرِّيَّاتِنَا قُرَّةَ أَعْيُنٍ وَاجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا

‘Our Lord, give us joy in our spouses and offspring. Make us good examples to those who are aware of You’. [Qur’an 25:74]

يَا مُقَلِّبَ القُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِيْ عَلَى دِيْنِكْ

“O turner of the hearts, keep my heart firm on your religion.”

Freda Shamma has a M.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and an Ed.D. from the University of Cincinnati in the area of Curriculum Development. A veteran educator, she has worked with educators from the United States, South Africa and all over the Muslim world to develop integrated curricula based on an Islamic worldview that meets the needs of modern Muslim youth. She serves as Curriculum Advisor for Legacy International Online High School.

An avid student of the Islamic sciences, Zaheer Arastu earned his M.Ed from The George Washington University and completed his training in Educational Leadership from the University of Oklahoma. his experience in Islamic education spans over 15 years serving as both teacher, administrator, and dean of innovation and technology. He currently serves as the Head of School for Legacy International Online High School.

The post Challenges of Identity & Conviction: The Need to Construct an Islamic Worldview appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Grit and Resilience: The Self-Help vs. Islamic Perspective

Muslim Matters - 22 August, 2019 - 19:09

I don’t really care about grit.

Persevering and persisting through difficulties to achieve a higher goal is awesome. High-five. We should all develop that. No one disagrees that resilience is an essential characteristic to have.

Somehow, this simple concept has ballooned into what feels like a self-help cottage industry of sorts. It has a Ted talk with tens of millions of views, podcasts, keynote speeches, a New York Times best-selling book, and finding ways to teach this in schools and workplaces.

What I do care about is critically analyzing if it is all that it’s cracked up to be (spoiler alert: I don’t think so), why the self-help industry aggressively promotes it, and how we understand it from an Islamic perspective. For me, this is about much more than just grit – it’s about understanding character development from a (mostly Americanized) secular perspective vis-a-vis the Islamic one.

The appeal of grit in a self-help context is that it provides a magic bullet that intuitively feels correct. It provides optimism. If I can master this one thing, it will unlock what I need to be successful. When I keep running into a roadblock, I can scapegoat my reason for failure – a lack of grit.

Grit encompasses several inspirational cliches – be satisfied with being unsatisfied, or love the chase as much as the capture, or that grit is falling in love and staying in love. It is to believe anyone can succeed if they work long and hard enough. In short, it is the one-word encapsulation of the ideal of the American Dream.

Self-help literature has an underlying theme of controlling what is within your control and letting go of the rest. Islamically, in general, we agree with this sentiment. We focus our actions where we are personally accountable and put our trust in Allah for what we cannot control.

The problem with this theme, specifically with grit, is that it necessitates believing the circumstances around you cannot be changed. Therefore, you must simply accept things the way that they are. Teaching people that they can overcome any situation by merely working hard enough is not only unrealistic but utterly devoid of compassion.

“The notion that kids in poverty can overcome hunger, lack of medical care, homelessness, and trauma by buckling down and persisting was always stupid and heartless, exactly what you would expect to hear from Scrooge or the Koch brothers or Betsy DeVos.” -Diane Ravitch, Forget Grit, Focus on Inequality

Focusing on the individual characteristics of grit and perseverance shifts attention away from structural or systemic issues that impact someone’s ability to succeed. The personal characteristics can be changed while structural inequalities are seen as ‘fixed.’

Alfie Kohn, in an article critical of Grit by Angela Duckworth, notes that Duckworth and her mentor while studying grit operated under a belief that,

[U]nderachievement isn’t explained by structural factors — social, economic, or even educational. Rather, they insisted it should be attributed to the students themselves and their “failure to exercise self-discipline.” The entire conceptual edifice of grit is constructed on that individualistic premise, one that remains popular for ideological reasons even though it’s been repeatedly debunked by research.

Duckworth admitted as much in an interview with EdSurge.

There was a student who introduced himself having written a critical essay about the narrative of grit. His major point was that when we talk about grit as a kind of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps,’ personal strength, it leaves in the shadows structural poverty and racism and other things that make it impossible, frankly, for some kids to do what we would expect them to do. When he sent me that essay, of course, I wanted to know more. I joined his [dissertation] committee because I don’t know much about sociology, and I don’t know much about this criticism.

I learned a lot from him over the years. I think the lesson for me is that when someone criticizes you, when someone criticized me, the natural thing is to be defensive and to reflexively make more clear your case and why you’re right, but I’ve always learned more from just listening. When I have the courage to just say, “Well, maybe there’s a point here that I hadn’t thought of,” and in this case the Grit narrative and what Grit has become is something that he really brought to me and my awareness in a way that I was oblivious to before.

It is mind-boggling that the person who popularized this research and wrote the book on the topic simply didn’t know that there was such a thing as structural inequality. It is quite disappointing that her response essentially amounted to “That’s interesting. I’d like to learn more.”

Duckworth provides a caveat – “My theory doesn’t address these outside ­forces, nor does it include luck. It’s about the psychology of achievement, but because psychology isn’t all that matters, it’s incomplete.” This is a cop-out we see consistently in the self-help industry and elsewhere. They won’t deny that those problems exist, they simply say that’s not the current focus.

It is intellectually dishonest to promote something as a key to success while outright ignoring the structures needed to enable success. That is not the only thing the theory of grit ignores. While marketing it as a necessary characteristic, it overlooks traits like honesty and kindness.

The grit narrative lionizes this superhero type of individual who breaks through all obstacles no matter how much the deck is stacked against them. It provides a sense of false hope. Instead of knowing when to cut your losses and see a failure for what it is, espousing a grit mentality will make a person stubbornly pursue a failing endeavor. It reminds me of those singers who comically fail the first round of auditions on American Idol, are rightly ridiculed by the judges, and then emotionally tell the whole world they’re going to come out on top (and then never do).

Overconfidence, obstinance, and naive optimism are the result of grit without context or boundaries. It fosters denial and a lack of self-awareness – the consequences of which are felt when horrible leaders keep rising to the top due, in part, to their grit and perseverance.

The entire idea of the psychology of achievement completely ignores the notion of morality and ethics. Grit in a vacuum may be amoral, but that is not how the real world works. This speaks powerfully to the need to understand the application of these types of concepts through a lens of faith.

The individual focus, however, is precisely what makes something like grit a prime candidate to become a popular self-help item. Schools and corporations alike will want to push it because it focuses on the individual instead of the reality of circumstances. There is a real amount of cognitive dissonance when a corporation can tell employees to focus on developing grit while not addressing toxic employment practices that increase turnover and destroy employees physically and emotionally (see: Dying for a Paycheck by Jeffrey Pfeffer).

Circumstances matter more than ever. You’ve probably heard the story (of course, in a Ted Talk) about the famous marshmallow test at some point. This popularizes the self-help version of delayed gratification. A bunch of kids are given a marshmallow and told that if they can avoid eating it for 5 minutes, they’ll get a second one. The children are then shown hilariously trying to resist eating it. These kids were then studied as they grew older, and lo and behold, those who had the self-discipline to hold out for the 2nd marshmallow were far more successful in life than those who gave in.

A new study found that a child’s ability to hold out for the second marshmallow had nothing to do with the ability to delay gratification. As The Atlantic points out, it had much more to do with the child’s social and economic background. When a child comes from a well to do household, the promise of a second marshmallow will be fulfilled. Their parents always deliver. When someone grows up in poverty, they are more attuned to take the short term reward because the guarantee does not exist that the marshmallow would still be there later. The circumstances matter much more than the psychological studies can account for. It is far easier to display grit with an entrepreneurial venture, for example, when you have the safety net of wealthy and supportive parents.

Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post that grit discourse is driven by middle and upper-class parents wanting their spoiled kids to appreciate the virtues of struggling against hardship. Unfortunately, this focus on character education means that poor students suffer because less money will then be spent on teaching disadvantaged students the skills they need to be successful. Sisyphus, she notes, had plenty of grit, but it didn’t get him very far.

Strauss asks us to imagine if a toxic dump was discovered near Beverly Hills, and our response was to teach kids how to lessen the effects of toxins instead of fixing the dump.

The grit discourse does not teach that poor children deserve poverty; it teaches that poverty itself is not so bad. In fact, hardship provides the very traits required to escape hardship. This logic is as seductive as it is circular. Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is seen as a virtuous enterprise whether practiced by Horatio Alger’s urchins or Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs (bootstrapping is a common term in technology finance circles). And most importantly, it creates a purported path out of poverty that does not involve any sacrifice on the part of the privileged classes. -Valerie Strauss

This approach is a way to appear noble while perpetuating the status quo. It provides the illusion of upliftment while further entrenching the very systems that prevent it. We see this enacted most commonly with modern-day Silicon Valley style of philanthropy. Anand Giridharadas has an entire book dedicated to this ‘elite charade of changing the world’ entitled Winners Take All.

The media also does its fair share to push this narrative. Stories that should horrify us are passed along as inspirational stories of perseverance. It’s like celebrating a GoFundMe campaign that helps pay for surgery to save someone’s life instead of critically analyzing why healthcare is not seen as a human right in the first place.

Islamic Perspective

Islamically, we are taught to find ways to address the individual as well as the system. Characteristics like grit and delayed gratification are not bad. They’re misapplied when the bigger picture is not taken into account. In the Islamic system, for example, a person is encouraged not to beg. At the same time, there is an encouragement for those who can give to seek out those in need. A person in debt is strongly advised to pay off their debts as quickly as possible. At the same time, the lender is encouraged to be easygoing and to forgive the debt if possible.

This provides a more realistic framework for applying these concepts. A person facing difficulty should be encouraged to be resilient and find ways to bounce back. At the same time, support structures must be established to help that person.

Beyond the framework, there is a much larger issue. Grit is oriented around success. Success is unquestionably assumed to be a personal success oriented around academic achievement, career, wealth, and status. When that is the end goal, it makes it much easier to keep the focus on the individual.

The Islamic definition of success is much broader. There is the obvious idea of success in the Hereafter, but that is separate from this discussion. Even in a worldly sense, a successful person may be the one who sacrifices attending a good school, or perhaps even a dream job type of career opportunity, to spend more time with their family. The emphasis on individual success at all costs has contributed to the breakdown of essential family and community support systems.

A misapplied sense of grit furthers this when a person thinks they don’t need anyone else, and they just need to persevere. It is part of a larger body of messaging that promotes freedom and autonomy. We celebrate people who are strong and independent. Self-help tells us we can achieve anything with the right mindset.

But what happens when we fail? What happens when we find loneliness and not fulfillment, when we lack the bonds of familial solidarity, and when money does not make us whole? Then it all falls on us. It is precisely this feeling of constriction that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), give good news to those who are steadfast, those who say, when afflicted with a calamity, ‘We belong to God and to Him we shall return.’ These will be given blessings and mercy from their Lord, and it is they who are rightly guided.” (2:155-157)

Resilience is a reflex. When a person faces hardship, they will fall back on the habits and values they have. It brings to mind the statement of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that patience is at the first strike. He taught us the mindset needed to have grit in the first place,

“Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him” (Muslim).

He also taught us the habits we need to ensure that we have the reflex of grit when the situation warrants it –

“Whoever would be pleased for Allah to answer him during times of hardship and difficulty, let him supplicate often during times of ease” (Tirmidhi).

The institution of the masjid as a community center provides a massive opportunity to build infrastructure to support people. Resilience, as Michael Ungar writes, is not a DIY endeavor. Communities must find ways to provide the resources a person needs to persevere. Ungar explains, “What kind of resources? The kind that get you through the inevitable crises that life throws our way. A bank of sick days. Some savings or an extended family who can take you in. Neighbours or a congregation willing to bring over a casserole, shovel your driveway or help care for your children while you are doing whatever you need to do to get through the moment. Communities with police, social workers, home-care workers, fire departments, ambulances, and food banks. Employment insurance, pension plans or financial advisers to help you through a layoff.”

Ungar summarizes the appropriate application of grit, “The science of resilience is clear: The social, political and natural environments in which we live are far more important to our health, fitness, finances and time management than our individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. When it comes to maintaining well-being and finding success, environments matter. In fact, they may matter just as much, and likely much more, than individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. A positive attitude may be required to take advantage of opportunities as you find them, but no amount of positive thinking on its own is going to help you survive a natural disaster, a bad workplace or childhood abuse. Change your world first by finding the relationships that nurture you, the opportunities to use your talents and the places where you experience community and governmental support and social justice. Once you have these, your world will help you succeed more than you could ever help yourself.”

The one major missing ingredient here is tawakkul (trust in Allah). One of the events in the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that epitomized grit, resilience, and perseverance was the Battle of Badr. At this occasion, the Companions said, “God is enough for us: He is the best protector.

“Those whose faith only increased when people said, ‘Fear your enemy: they have amassed a great army against you,’ and who replied, ‘God is enough for us: He is the best protector,’“ (3:173)

This is the same phrase that Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), while displaying the utmost level of resilience, said when he was thrown into the fire, and it was made cool.

There is a core belief in Islam about balancing between fear and hope. Scholars advise when a person feels despair, they should remind themselves of the traditions that reinforce hope in Allah’s forgiveness. When a person feels themselves sliding further and further into disobedience to Allah, then they should remind themselves of the traditions that warn against Allah’s punishment. The focus changes depending on the situation.

Grit itself is a praiseworthy characteristic

There is no doubt that it is a trait that makes people successful. The challenge comes in applying it and how we teach it. It needs a proper level of balance. Too much focus on grit as a singular predictor of success may lead to victim-blaming and false hope syndrome. Overlooking it on the other hand, enables a feeling of entitlement and a victim mentality.

One purpose of teaching grit was to help students from privileged backgrounds understand and appreciate the struggle needed to overcome difficulty. Misapplied, it can lead to overlooking systemic issues that prevent a person from succeeding even when they have grit.

Self-help literature often fails to make these types of distinctions. It fails to provide guidance for balancing adapting the advice based on circumstance. The criticisms here are not of the idea of grit, but rather the myopic way in which self-help literature promotes concepts like grit without real-world contextualization. We need to find a way to have the right proportionality of understanding individual effort, societal support, and our reliance on Allah.

Our ability to persevere, to be resilient, and to have grit, is linked directly to our relationship with Allah, and our true level of trust in Him.

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The post Grit and Resilience: The Self-Help vs. Islamic Perspective appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

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