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“I can’t do this anymore,” the woman told me. “All this praying and fasting and staying away from sex, hoping I’ll get married one day. What’s the point? I’m thirty years old, and I don’t even know how it feels to be touched. And right now, all I want is for a man to touch me. What if I never get married?” she said.
“All those things we’re taught about being patient and obeying Allah so we can have a good life aren’t true,” she vented. “I haven’t experienced any of it. But you know who has? All my friends who broke every rule. While I was praying, they were partying. While I was fasting, they were feasting. While I was lowering my gaze and being a ‘good Muslim girl,’ they were out sleeping around,” she said, frustration evident in her tone.
“But now they’re the ones with husbands and children and big houses and lots of money,” she complained. “Meanwhile I’m alone, broke, and with no marriage prospect in sight. So I don’t see the point in following the rules anymore. All it’s brought me is misery and loneliness.”
It broke my heart listening to my Muslim sister’s emotional pain. I wished I could take the pain away. I wished I could tell her that she’d have everything she dreamed of one day. But I couldn’t.
So I just told her the truth, the truth she should have been taught in her earliest lessons on Islam. “But we don’t obey Allah so that we can have a good life in this world,” I said. “We obey Him so we can have a good life in the Hereafter.”
“But can’t I have a good life in both worlds?” she asked, exasperated.
“Yes,” I said. “But it’s Allah who defines what that looks like for us.”Putting Things Into Perspective
I remember reading a quote by Yasmin Mogahed that really resonated with me: “The secret to happiness is to not make it dependent on that which can be taken away.”
But unfortunately, so much of what we’re taught about our lives in this world, even from many spiritual teachers and imams, is that we’ll be granted worldly happiness and materialistic success if we’re “good Muslims.” Or that if we just have enough faith, all our wildest dreams will come true. I’ve even heard advice from fellow Muslim entrepreneurs that equated our income level with the spiritual state of our souls.
“If you think good of Allah, He’ll grant you all that you want in this world,” they say. “You just have to trust in Him.” While I certainly believe in both the power and necessity of thinking good of Allah and of our heart’s need to trust in Him, I grow very uncomfortable when these tools for spiritual nourishment and soul purification are taught for the purpose of promising very specific worldly outcomes.
It’s not that I believe that we shouldn’t strive for worldly success. Quite the opposite. In fact, I personally believe that we need to do a much better job at securing economic independence as Muslims, if for no other reason than we shouldn’t be relying so heavily on those outside our faith to sustain our families and communities.
Once during a keynote speech that I gave about increasing our wealth in this world, I shared this advice: Don’t use your belief in the Hereafter as an excuse to settle for failure and helplessness in this world.
When the Prophet and the Companions lived simply, it was because they were generous with their wealth and worldly success, not because they didn’t have any. And it certainly wasn’t because they shunned working for wealth and success in this world.
I then shared this ayah from Qur’an, which has been translated to mean:
“But seek, with that (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on you, the home of the Hereafter, and forget not your portion of legal enjoyment in this world. And do good as Allah has been good to you, and seek not mischief in the land. Verily, Allah likes not those who do mischief” (Al-Qasas, 28:77).
Thus, it is upon us as believers to strive our level best for the best in this world and the best in the Hereafter, while seeking from this materialistic world that which is blessed and halaal for us.
However, as we strive for worldly success, we need to approach this noble goal with a different mindset than we do for ultimate spiritual success in the Hereafter. If we do not, our spiritual lives will suffer tremendously, and we will continuously be confused when things don’t turn out the way we expected.Why We Get So Confused
Here’s a reminder I wrote to myself in my personal journal, in hopes of protecting my heart from the unnecessary turmoil that would befall it if I didn’t keep this world in proper perspective:
You know why we get so confused? Because we think of success in this world how we should think of success in the Hereafter. Allah promises us very specific rewards in the Hereafter due to our soul work, and we promise ourselves very specific rewards in this world due to our dunya work.
Relationship advisors share tips that promise long-lasting, loving marriages—or that guarantee knowing when someone is right for you. Business gurus share tips that promise having plentiful wealth and a successful business—and that promise ways to be debt-free and relieved from financial struggle forever. Even some spiritual teachers go as far as to tell you that all of this worldly happiness and success is promised to you if you’re a “good Muslim.”
And to prove they’re right, they’ll point to the perceived “success” in their own lives or in someone else’s—thereby taking credit for God’s work by saying these blessings are due to their own efforts.
But the life of this world doesn’t work like that.
You cannot gift your qadar (God’s decree) to someone else, no matter how convinced you are that they should follow in your footsteps to have success, wealth, or a lasting marriage. The result didn’t come from you, so someone following your advice won’t grant them your life path.
Yes, we can benefit from each other’s journeys, experiences and advice, but we cannot duplicate other people’s successful results. And we shouldn’t even want to. Because we have no idea what trials await our souls and our families if we taste the result of someone else’s definition of “success.”
There are only two things that every soul is promised in this world: earthly trials and inevitable death. So if you want “foolproof” tips that promise success, then look to divine guidance on how to patiently endure worldly trials and how to gratefully appreciate worldly blessings.
And through this, bi’idhnillaah, you’ll learn how to attain the only success that really matters in the end: meeting your Rabb in a state of sincere submission and faith, and then finding that He is pleased with you.
—from What Did You Expect? Let’s Be Honest by Umm Zakiyyah
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US federal appeals court rules on constitutionality of laws intended to crush boycotts.
Having lived in Switzerland for over 10 years, I’ve found the native people of this country to be amicable, a little bit insular, but always having a fair dose of pragmatism when it comes to making big decisions. All except when it comes to Muslims. Thats when rationality and level-headedness seems to go out the window.
On March 7, in just under a month, Switzerland goes to the polls to vote on banning the niqab in all public places. While the government is officially opposed to the niqab ban, arguing that existing laws are strong enough to ban forced veiling, right-wing populists and the usual bandwagon of ex-muslims and their secularist friends have been whipping up a storm of outrage against women who wear niqab.
That this issue has gone to a national vote, may have you believe that you can’t cross a street without seeing a niqabi. Perhaps you imagine they are in the educational system here, in the department stores and setting the agenda in the media. But the fact is that in this country of over 8 million people current estimates put the number of niqabis at a grand total of 36.
To put into context how insane this obsession with our sisters is: the cost of holding a referendum is around 10 million Swiss Francs ($11.1 million USD). That means the Swiss will be paying upwards of 333k Swiss Francs – per woman – to organise a vote on whether those sisters should be allowed to cover their faces in public or not (lets not even mention the absurdity that we’ve all been wearing niqabs, I mean face-masks, for the past 12 months since Covid entered our lives!)
This vote cannot be seen in isolation to what has been going on in the country and across continental Europe these past ten years. The motion to ban the niqab was developed and pushed by the same committee that successfully banned the building of minarets in 2009, and who have already declared that the minaret ban along with the banning of the niqab are “the first steps…”.
Headlines from news stories going back to 2016 ominously quote members of this committee saying they “have the headscarf in their sights”, so we have a good idea of where this is headed.
Against the backdrop of a young, politically inexperienced Muslim community, the media is having a field day. Pages and pages in newspapers and hours of TV-time is given to ex-muslims and their friends all regurgitating the same old tropes.
“Its the sign of extremist, fascist, political Islam!”
“We want to give women freedom!”
“Any woman who chooses to wear it of her own free-will, well, she’s brainwashed!”
They even try to teach us our own religion and tell us that the niqab has nothing to do with Islam!
So in the interim as we join efforts to organise the community here and help them to stand up, our eyes turn back to you: our brothers and sisters across Europe and North America. After Allah and His Messenger our support comes from Muslims around the globe.You can help us in the following ways:
1. First and most importantly, please make du’a that Allah swings this vote in the favour of our sisters. We are doing what we can with the little resources we have, and then we will leave the rest to Allah. Your duas will help us.
2. Learn from what is happening here, and has already happened in France. Standing up for the right to wear niqab is the same as standing up for the right to wear hijab. When one of them falls, the next is likely on the way. At such times you will need to put aside secondary differences with other Muslim organisations and unite on a common message.
3. Make a small donation to our campaign. Your money will go towards paying for adverts and flyers to counter the claims made in the media, and to cover the costs of brothers and sisters travelling across the country to speak and engage with the public. Any money left over will go towards helping in the campaign against the introduction of draconian anti-terror legislation – a vote that will be held just three months later, in June 2021
The link to donate is here: https://gf.me/u/zica7g
The post Organize Against The Ban of Niqab In Switzerland Before They Come For The Hijab appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.
On Thursday the Guardian reported that the government had ignored official advice to review a massive road-building programme on environmental grounds; taking such advice has been a legal requirement since 2014. This revelation forms part of a legal challenge to the set of projects by the Transport Action Network which claims that “the significant subsequent changes in climate policy and scientific understanding of pollution means it needs review”, both in terms of the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also of the newly identified problem of particulate pollution from tyres, which remains an issue even if much road transport moves to electric engines. The schemes include widenings of the A303 in Somerset and Wiltshire, including the Stonehenge tunnel, an improvement to the A63 in Hull and an upgrade to the A46 Newark by-pass in Nottinghamshire.
It’s this last scheme which suggests that the new roadbuilding programme is a worrying sign of a return to the days of “motorway madness” in the 1990s under the previous Tory government. The consultation brochure (PDF) describes the scheme as part of “a commitment … to improve the A46 ‘Trans- Midlands Trade Corridor’ between the M5 and the Humber Ports, to create a continuous dual carriageway from Lincoln to Warwick”. This points to future plans to upgrade the rest of the ‘corridor’ which presently includes 39 miles of single carriageway between the Lincoln by-pass and the M180 outside Scunthorpe. The scheme involves either a flyover or throughpass for the A46 across the junction with the A616 and A617 to the west of the town as well as a flyover over the A1 that avoids the existing junction. A consultation was carried out last year which proposed two fairly similar schemes, both of which feature the flyover over the A1 but no serious improvement to the rest of the junction. This would improve access from the A46 which comes up from Coventry and Leicester (with a road in from Nottingham also) and continues north-east towards Lincoln; anyone travelling this way would have their journey times reduced by the flyover. For whatever reason, the option that includes a flyover for the A46/A616 junction also includes two parallel dual carriageways north-east of the junction with the A1, with the traffic from the junction meeting the A46 at an upgraded roundabout further up.
However, the junction with the A1 would be unchanged: there are two signalised roundabouts either side of the A1 with some short, tight slip roads and very insufficient turn-off lanes which frequently cause traffic to back up onto that road, which has a 70mph speed limit for cars, causing delays and increasing danger for anyone travelling along the A1 or switching to the A46. The A46 and A1 form an important secondary route for people travelling from the Midlands to the north-east and Yorkshire particularly at times when the M1 is congested (or closed because of works or accidents) and this junction is a major weak link. Anyone travelling from London to Hull via the Humber Bridge (the most direct route, despite the toll) might also come up the A1 and then take the A46 and A15 via Lincoln; the junction is also the end of the A17, a fast route to northern East Anglia and south Lincolnshire. So traffic from Leicester to Lincoln is only one of many flows of traffic across this junction, yet it’s the only one that will see any change, and even there, there will still be two roundabouts between the improved bypass and the upgraded A46 down to Leicester. Perhaps this will cause the least disruption while the works are taking place, but has the least long-term benefit even if improving traffic flow is the only important thing; there is obvious room for direct slip roads between the A46 from the west and the A1 from the north.
It just looks like a grandiose scheme to boost the economy with some big infrastructure projects while filling the pockets of a few big construction firms, some of them no doubt with links to the Tory party. It will be a gift from the taxpayer to these companies that will keep on giving for decades to come. Now that the previous fad for converting motorways to “smart motorways” with four lanes with no hard shoulder has been quite rightly discredited, the only way they can increase road capacity is to actually build new roads again. This particular scheme will be of limited benefit and only makes sense in the context of future major upgrades to other main roads in the region; it resembles previous A-road upgrades in the east of England which left important work undone, to be redone at further expense and disruption later. This should be done properly, or not at all.
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I saw a piece by Freddie Sayers (former editor-in-chief of YouGov, now at UnHerd) billed as a look “inside the Zero Covid campaign”, a report from the conference of the “Covid Community Action Summit”, a pro-elimination group, the aim of which was to “share evidence and political advice to help campaigners lobby Western governments to abandon any notion of living alongside the virus, and instead to follow the lead of Asia-Pacific nations in aiming to eliminate the disease entirely within their borders”. The movement has a number of ‘believers’ among scientists who appear in the media regularly, notably Devi Sridhar, as well as MPs who believe in the strategy explicitly or in not so many words, among them Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and Jeremy Hunt. He accuses them of a “a unanimity of world view … that was unsettling; a fusion of overt progressive-Left politics with an ironclad certainty about their interpretation of the science”, referring to people who do not share their conviction as conspiracy theorists, deniers or “herd immunity apologists”.
Sayers’ criticism is that they do not look at “the cost” of achieving and maintaining Zero Covid within a society: first that you would never be able to relax border controls, and second that it is a totalitarian goal best achieved by an authoritarian state such as China. He quotes David Rennie of The Economist saying that you have to scan a QR code to do anything or go anywhere and to have a Covid test to enter or leave Beijing, leaving nobody with any privacy; “it’s very hard to know where Covid containment starts and a Communist police state with an obsession with control kicks in”. But the same isn’t true of other countries which implemented a harsh lockdown early on and stringent border controls and quarantine policies since, leaving their people able to enjoy normal life but not foreign travel, unless they agree to quarantine on return. Australia and New Zealand are not totalitarian societies and their governments are on different sides of the political divide but have both been fairly successful in keeping most of the country Covid-free much of the time. New Zealand has had better success, principally because it’s a fairly small, non-federal island nation while Australia has multiple states over a much wider area.
Sayers tells us that “British voters have not chosen to reject liberal democracy, no matter what the epidemiological allure of a ZeroCovid regime”. British voters were not given a choice in the matter any more than voters anywhere else were. It’s possible that Boris Johnson read the public mood, but that mood was influenced by a long-standing mistrust of politicians that has much to do with the Tories’ other main policy — Brexit — and this has only grown stronger over the course of the past year with one revelation after another of politicians and advisers flagrantly breaching lockdowns, contracts going to political insiders, policies chopping and changing over the space of a week (including the original lockdown which was being denied the Friday before it was imposed). Even during the relatively relaxed period last summer, we had to wear masks when we shopped and keep our distance from everyone else, neither of which are the case in Australia or New Zealand most of the time; the roads were gridlocked as people resumed leisure activities but avoided public transport and local authorities blocked off minor roads to facilitate “low-traffic neighbourhoods”. The country turned itself into a giant leper colony, only for the UK to be the origin of a new, more virulent virulent strain of the disease.
The main problem with achieving Zero Covid in the UK is the same one that was a major stumbling block for Brexit: our food supply. Much of our fresh fruit and vegetables come on trucks from Europe, and we don’t have the infrastructure right now to get produce into the country, and especially to places further north, without the driver coming in with it and possibly running into contact with other people at service stations and logistics depots (logistics companies make efforts to minimise such contact, but cannot eliminate it entirely). We would have to look at how other countries, including Australia and New Zealand which are both English-speaking democracies with similar cultures to our own, secured their food supply while ensuring that nobody entered the country without being quarantined. In the medium to long term, some relaxation of the border and quarantine regime could be achieved by establishing a bloc of ‘safe’ countries which also have the same bio-security rules, such that you could travel between those countries but not into or out of the bloc without going through quarantine. (This would obviously be difficult if the bloc included us and Australia and New Zealand, since flights to both those countries tend to stop in the Middle East or Asia.) The development of more rapid testing for Covid would cut the quarantine time to a few days for those who turn out not to be infected.
The comparison of strong public healthcare and social security with totalitarianism goes back a long way: we recall that Winston Churchill threatened the electorate in 1945 that if Clement Attlee’s Labour party, with its promise of a national health service and welfare state, won the election, they would “have to fall back on some form of Gestapo” to implement it; the voters saw through his rhetoric, no doubt offended given that Labour politicians had contributed to Churchill’s war cabinet and Labour voters had participated in the war effort itself, and voted Attlee in. American conservatives use similar rhetoric to ward off the ‘threat’ of a public healthcare system in the USA, with talk of ‘communism’ and even raising the spectre of “NHS death panels” deciding who lives and who dies. In fact, many democratic countries have not needed any kind of secret police to get people to pay for a national health system; in contrast from fearing the police, people have one less fear, that of illness bankrupting them, of having to sell their home to pay for a hospital bill. That doesn’t happen in the UK. In countries which have eliminated Covid, people do not have to worry about infecting others or being infected by just being around other people. There’s plenty to criticise both Australia’s and New Zealand’s governments about, but as British police raid students’ flats on flimsy grounds, they have not needed a Gestapo yet.
It could well be that it’s no longer practical to pursue Covid elimination in the UK; perhaps that ship sailed last March or even February. Every democracy that has achieved a low to zero Covid casualty rate is either physically or politically an island nation: New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan — countries not closely integrated with their neighbours nor dependent on close surface links with them, as we are with Europe. Whether or not it’s a realistic goal for the UK today, it’s not totalitarian to think a serious health threat should be eliminated when this would mean freedom within our own borders.
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Pornography is a Muslim problem, while the discussion on Muslims and pornography consumption has begun to enter mainstream discussion, we often focus on pornography consumption being forbidden, without addressing causes, effects, or recovery from pornography consumption.
In this episode, we are joined by Abida Minhas, who is a licensed professional counselor and supervisor with a BA in Psychology and a Masters in Clinical Psychology. She is also a founding member of MAPS, the Muslim Association for Psychological Services, which is a social enterprise whose purpose is to bridge the gap between mental health and the Muslim community.
Excerpts From This Podcast
“A well-meaning religious counselor once advised me to consider getting married in order to overcome my porn addiction. After no luck giving it up, I considered marriage and pursued a courtship – only to realize half way in the process that I was still watching it. If I couldn’t stop while I was in a relationship with a real woman, who’s to say I would stop if we got married? I knew at that point that my behavior wasn’t just a bad habit; it was an addiction that had a life of its own.” Read now: 10 Tested Ways to Overcome Pornography Addiction
“Many times we presume that being married or getting into a relationship with “rid” you of this addiction, which is not true. We’re talking about something that’s become part of your habits and behaviors that has also affected your brain. It is very challenging to get rid of it by saying or doing just one thing.”Marriage isn't the cure for Muslim pornography addiction. Complex, multifaceted problems like addiction never have a single, simple solution.Click To Tweet
“The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reports that 56% of divorce cases are unresolvable due to a partner’s obsession with pornography or their interest in pornographic websites. Addiction plays a big part, and believe it or not, it plays a big part in our Muslim communities as well. Many times we tend to brush it under the rug, or we have this stigmatized mentality that boys will be boys and that there are certain things that men are prone to do, but that is not true.”56% of divorce cases are unresolvable due to a partner's obsession with pornography. Believe it or not, this affects the Muslim community too. Click To Tweet
“When someone comes with a problem, they say I have a real problem, I have a serious problem and then somebody says ‘well just make dua, or just go to the Imam and you’ll get better,’ imagine the guilt and shame that sets in. ‘Maybe I’m a terrible Muslim and this is why it’s happening to me. Maybe I’m not making enough dua or zhikr and this is why it’s happening to me.’’
If you put icing on a complex issue, that doesn’t mean it’s not complex on the inside. The icing looks good, but unfortunately it doesn’t solve the problem. I don’t think we need to do that anymore. SubhanAllah we have great leaders and members and Islamic scholars in our community, and they give us so much enrichment, MashaAllah, but with something like addiction, we need a multifaceted treatment. Our Islamic values and education is one factor of that, getting professional help is another factor of that. Altogether, this can have great outcomes.”Pornography and sex addiction start around the adolescent years. If that's not helped or prevented, we see it years later. It has not gone away.Click To Tweet
“Pornography and sex addiction start early on, around the adolescent years, because that’s when the brain is more predisposed to addictive behaviors. Many times, if that’s not helped or given any kind of prevention, then we will see an outcome in later years that has not gone away.”Related Reading
“When I converted, people told me to forget my old life. They said it wasn’t necessary to think about what had happened and that Allah had forgiven my past mistakes, but nobody asked me if I had any trauma, addictions, or mental health issues.” Read now: Drowning in Bottles: My Muslim Story of Addiction and Substance Use Disorder
“This brother in his 60s with a beard and jubbah sat in front of me with his head hung down and hands clasped firmly together while his knuckles were turning white due to the pressure. I could see that talking about his issue was draining and it was taking every ounce of courage and willpower. He said he knew it was wrong and he was totally devastated and guilt ridden after each episode. He had huge regrets for he had caused so much sadness in their marriage but he just couldn’t stop acting out.” Read now: Confronting Sex and Porn Addiction in Muslims
The post Podcast: Pornography Addiction and the Muslim Community | Abida Minhas appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.
See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.
This is chapter 6 in a multi-chapter novella. Chapters: Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15
“Allah is on your side, you never have to hide.” – The Man MazenAnything Gold Or Silk
There were neither any Ngäbe nor Chinese names in either sphere. That didn’t shock him. Both populations were secretive and would not be tested willingly. And the only surprise with Nemesio was that he had been tested. Maybe the police had done it, to match his DNA to crimes he’d committed?
But Ivana Soto Serrano was Ivana. Fuad’s wife, Ivana. Although Serrano was a common last name, so maybe it wasn’t her after all. Omar looked at the birthdates: her birth date would make her twenty six years old now. That seemed to match.
So Tio Melo was not Tio Melo, but Abuelo Melo. Omar’s grandfather. And Ivana the maniac was his first cousin? It was impossible. She wasn’t even Panamanian, for heaven’s sake.
He stuffed the papers haphazardly into the envelopes and left, his mind spinning.
In the car, he rubbed his beard, thinking. There was a part of him that was deeply disappointed that Melo was in fact his grandfather, because that meant Melo was the man who’d abandoned Omar’s father. He was a deadbeat dad, a disappearing act. Any man who would desert his family in that way was a loser. A person with no integrity. He wanted to say, forget him. You don’t need to ever see him again.
But no, he needed answers. It felt critically important to know why Melo had done what he’d done. Maybe there was some justification Omar could not think of. And he needed to understand this craziness with Ivana. That part was certainly a mistake, no matter what the woman with the rainbow fingernails said.
He texted Fuad and asked for Ivana’s number. When Fuad didn’t reply right away – he was a doctor after all, and probably very busy – Omar started the car and returned to work, glancing constantly at the rear and side mirrors, looking for any sign of a white Mercedes.
Fuad’s answer came an hour later. He provided the number and added, “I’m so glad you and Ivana are becoming friends.” Omar laughed at that – a mean bark of a laugh that sounded uncharitable to his own ears. He called her.
“Who is this?” Female voices chattered and laughed in the background.
“Oh.” She sounded surprised but not put off. “Is everything okay?”
“Where are you?”
“At the Coronado Club.”
“I thought you quit drinking.” He knew it was a stupid thing to say. He’d been increasingly short tempered lately. It didn’t feel good, but he couldn’t seem to help it.
“I’m not drinking, idiot! Who are you, the morality police? How dare you!”
He sighed. “Sorry. I’m on edge lately.”
“Fine.” She sounded mollified. “What do you want?”
“When’s your birthday?”
She laughed. “That’s more like it. It’s February 20th. I like anything gold or silk.”
Omar pulled the genealogy papers from the envelopes and shuffled through them. He found the one with the three names. Ivana Soto Serrano, February 20th. He stared at the date, printed in black and white.
Laughter and glasses clinking on Ivana’s end. “Well?” she demanded.
“Can you meet me after work? I need to talk to you about something important.”
“I don’t want to say right now. I’ll meet you at your place at six.”
“Oh, a mystery. Sounds good.”
He was about to say, “Don’t shoot me,” but she hung up. Probably for the best.The Man Mazen
He had a little time before he had to return to work. He drove to the lot across the street from the Centro, where the Venezuelans were camped. Taking a notebook and pen from the glove box, he exited into the brutal afternoon heat.
There was no one in sight but a handful of people in the shade of one of the lean-tos. The tall teenage boy, Chiki – the one who’d thrown mud at him – sat on a milk crate, playing a plastic bucket like a drum, beating it slowly and methodically. One of the little boys Omar had seen playing football – he was maybe eight years old and had wildly curly hair that reminded Omar of his own – was playing a cheap harmonica, the kind you could get in Chinatown for a dollar. Though the instruments were inferior, the boys managed to produce a melody that sounded like tears turned into music.
A handful of younger kids sat around them, listening. There was one woman as well – the thin woman with frizzy hair. She sat cross-legged, swaying back and forth with a dreamy look on her face. The little boy with the harmonica had his eyes closed, and as the music wound down, becoming slower and quieter, the boy squatted and hunched over, as if his own sadness were shrinking him, so that he would soon disappear.
The frizzy haired woman noticed Omar and said, “Hey,” and the music stopped. Some of them waved to him, including the boy Chiki.
“Is your mom around?” Omar had concluded that Chiki’s mom, Graziela, was the leader of this ragtag group.
“Not right now.”
“Don’t you guys know any happy music?”
Chiki shrugged. “It’s what we feel. Do you play?”
“No. I could sing something.” He knew a lot of nasheeds, mostly from CDs Samia listened to in the car. He wasn’t a great singer, but he wasn’t terrible either.
Some of the younger kids cheered.
“You start,” Chiki said, “and we’ll join in.”
Omar chose an English song by one of Samia’s favorite artists, a British singer called The Man Mazen. It was a fast paced song, more like a rap, and as Omar sang he clapped his hands to establish the beat:
Allah is on your side you never
have to hide, whatever
comes your way you handle,
crush it like a vandal,
smooth it down and use it,
heat it up and fuse it.
He is always with you
and will never quit you:
raise your hands up high,
blessings from the sky,
prostrate your head down low,
feel your spirit grow…
Chiki joined in, drumming fast and hard, and the little boy added a lively melody on the harmonica. Kids jumped up and began to dance. People emerged from the other tents and shelters, all smiling.
Omar finished the song and bowed to a hand of applause from the crowd. One young woman asked what the words meant, and Omar translated. She nodded her head vigorously. “You’re right,” she said. “God is all we have.”
“Anyway.” Omar handed the notebook to Chiki. “Tell your mom I’m going to try to help you guys get legal residency. Have her write down everyone’s names and cedula numbers, if you have them. I’ll need that.”
The group fell silent, and Omar saw suspicion on some faces. The frizzy haired woman declared, “We don’t need your help! You want to get rid of us.” She knocked the notebook from Chiki’s hand, so that it fell in the dirt. Chiki jumped up and argued with her, saying that Omar was a friend.
Omar held out his hands. “It’s up to you. I know it seems like everyone is looking for an angle in this world. How to make a buck. Juega vivo, like we say in Panama.” Juega vivo was a Panamanian expression that literally meant, “game of life,” and referred to a belief that a person should seize any opportunity for advancement, even if it meant tricking someone, lying, or engaging in unethical behavior. It was a cultural attitude that was sadly common in Panama. “But maybe,” Omar went on, “there are sincere people here and there? People who act in the name of God? Otherwise this world is doomed, don’t you think?”
He looked around at the watching faces. Some looked distrustful, some were nodding in agreement, and all looked tired.
“I’ll be back on Saturday with supplies, God willing.” With that he waved goodbye and left.Chicken Brains
He was tempted to keep the DNA mystery to himself until he solved it, but considering Samia’s emotional explosion yesterday it was probably best not to keep any more secrets. On the way home from work he told her about the results.
“SubhanAllah!” she enthused. “That’s wild! And so exciting. A grandfather and a cousin.” Then, sensing, Omar’s lack of enthusiasm, she added, “Or maybe not exciting?”
“How can she be my cousin?”
“I don’t know. But she told us she got tested, remember?”
“At our wedding. She prattled on about being a beauty queen and descended from Castilian royalty. Fuad explained that he’d tested her to make sure she didn’t have the gene for epilepsy.” (Author’s note: see chapter 8).
Omar nodded. “But if she’s Castilian royalty, she’s no relative of mine. There’s nothing like that in my gene pool, according to the graph.”
“You share one grandparent. She has three others.”
Waiting at the traffic light at a busy intersection, he studied the mirrors, then did a double take. There was a white Mercedes about five cars back, in the neighboring lane.
“It’s back,” he told Samia. “The Mercedes.”
“This is Panama. There are ten thousand Mercedes.”
Which was true. This was a city of rich and poor. Traffic on the roads consisted of multitudinous taxis, diablos rojos (the smoke belching buses) with their packed and weary passengers, beat-up little trucks and cars held together by primer paint, and luxury cars.
“Yeah,” he said. “But this is the same one. Hold on.” He put the car in park, engaged the emergency brake, and leaped out of the car, ignoring Samia’s shout of protest. He dashed between the traffic lanes, trying to make out the Mercedes driver’s face. But the man reversed the Mercedes a few meters, almost hitting the car behind him, then swung a u-turn across the double yellow line and sped off on the other side of the road, going the other way. All Omar caught was a flash of dark skin and medium-length black hair. He actually started to chase the Mercedes before he realized how futile that was, and gave up, panting.
The light turned green. Traffic began to move, but in Omar’s lane the traffic was stuck behind his car. A chorus of cacophonous horns blared, as drivers rolled down their windows to shout curses at Omar. One woman rolled down her window right beside him and startled him by shrieking, “Chicken brains bastard! Move your car before I turn your head inside out like a bad hat!”
A few drivers began to get out, no doubt looking to fight. He hurried to his car, put it in gear and took off. The light turned yellow as he went through, and all those raging drivers were left behind.What About Us
Samia sat in stony silence all the way home, while Nur was excited, wanting to know why his papá had done that. “I thought I saw someone I knew,” Omar said.
“I would only do that if it was a alien,” Nur remarked.
“Why would you do that if it was an alien?”
“To see what’s in his hand.”
“Why, what’s in his hand?”
“I don’t know. It’s a alien. It’s not anything we know.”
A police cruiser was still parked outside the house, cigarette smoke drifting out through the open window. In the house, Samia made Nur a grilled cheese sandwich, and left him to eat and watch after-school cartoons. Omar was going to join him – he actually liked some of the cartoons, especially Spider-man – but Samia seized him by the arm and marched him upstairs to their bedroom. Shutting the door, she rounded on him.
“Don’t you ever do that again, buster! You left your blind wife and four year old son in the middle of traffic while you did Allah knows what.”
“But the white Mercedes was -”
“I don’t care if it was a red chariot pulled by four black horses with Shaytan driving! What if something happened to you? What if it had been Nemesio, and he’d shot you or stabbed you? What about us, then, huh? What about us?” She sat on the bed and began to cry.
Omar was stupid when it came to women, he admitted that, but even he could see that Samia was badly frightened. He sat and took her hand. “You’re right. I was thoughtless.”
“I need -” she said through sobs, “need you to be more careful. Promise.”
Omar went to Nur’s bedroom to lie on his bed and think about the meeting with Ivana that evening. He wasn’t sure what he wanted from her, except to confirm that the DNA results were genuine. Instead of thinking, he pulled Nur’s blanket over himself, covering everything but his mouth and nose. He imagined he was a small boy again, with no awareness of the dangers of the wide world, and no fear of anything, since his father was strong and could protect him.
What a powerful man his father had been. A convert to Islam in an overwhelmingly Christian nation. An expert martial artist, a stargazer, a kind soul. He’d shaped himself into all those things, because his father – the man who should have helped to shape him – had abandoned him. The man who went by the name Melocoton. Real name unknown, as was so much of his life. And now that man had the nerve to come around to Omar’s house, dropping off gifts for Nur and flowers for Samia, as innocent as pie.
Nur entered and clambered atop Omar. He rocked back and forth and pretended he was riding a horse, saying, “Giddyup!”
“Let’s see your handstand,” Omar said from beneath the blanket. He’d been teaching this in class. While not strictly a martial skill, handstands built balance and upper body strength.
Nur climbed off and performed a perfect handstand against the wall, using the wall for support. He was not yet at the level of doing it unsupported.
“Pretty soon,” Omar told him, “you’ll do everything on your hands. Walk down the street on your hands, go to school on your hands, and forget how to walk on your feet.”
“No,” Nur countered, “because everyone else would remind me.”
True, Omar thought. That’s always the problem. A man tries to rise above, to do something different, to be better and more pure, and the world says, “No. You can’t do that.” And they drive you out of your home, like they did to all the Prophets. Or they shoot you dead on a bus.The Weapon of the Believer
At Maghreb time the family prayed together, and Samia asked Omar to read a selection from one of her Islamic books. He opened Al-Ghazali’s Ihya Ulum Ad-Din and read:
Everything possesses a weapon, and the weapon of the believer is his intellect.
He asked Nur, “Do you know what intellect means?”
Nur scratched his head, then tried to do an unsupported handstand and failed, almost falling onto his mother. She pulled him down beside her and said, “Calm down. Do you have an answer?”
“Smart,” Nur replied.
Omar was impressed. “Almost. It means your ability to think and figure things out in a calm way, not getting excited or angry.” Not like me today. From the way Samia pursed her lips he knew she’d had the same thought. He went on:
Everything possesses a mainstay, and the mainstay of the human is his intellect. Everything possesses a support, and the support of religion is intellect. Every nation has a goal, and the goal of this nation is intellect. Every people has a missionary, and the missionary of the worshipers is intellect.
The oven timer dinged from the kitchen. “Think about that,” Samia said, and rose to check on the food.
“Yeah Papá,” Nur repeated. “Think about that.” Again he tried to do an unsupported handstand, and this time managed to hold it for two seconds before he started to tip. Omar grabbed the boy’s legs, stood up and lifted him into the air. He swung him back and forth like a pendulum, saying, “Think about this, you rascal!” Nur shrieked with delight.
He always enjoyed playing with Nur, but his heart wasn’t in it now. His mind was clouded and full of static electricity, like a brewing storm. He set the boy down, collected his things and passed through the kitchen, grabbing a popia basah spring roll off the tray as Samia took them out of the oven. He bounced the hot roll from hand to hand, blowing on it, then took a big bite. She’d made it with shrimp, fried onions and bean sprouts, and it was delicious. He gobbled it up, then tried to grab another, but Samia – again with her Daredevil senses – smacked his arm and said, “Wait for dinner.”
“But I’m going to Fuad’s house,” Omar complained. “I told you.”
“Then take some for them.”Tea and Flan
On his way out, Omar pulled up beside the police car outside the gate. “Keep an eye on the house, please,” he told them. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”
The cop behind the wheel, a uniformed officer with fat cheeks and a shaved head, responded with the barest of nods. He didn’t seem to be enjoying the post. Omar felt a flash of guilt for not sending any food or drink out to the two cops. They were there to protect him and his family, after all. On a whim, he gave them the package of popia basah rolls. The scent was mouth watering, and the men smiled.
He did not stop for French pastries. At Fuad and Ivana’s apartment, Fuad opened the door. Omar hadn’t seen his friend since the day of the shooting, though Fuad had called more than once to apologize. His friend looked far better than the last time he’d seen him. The dark circles under his eyes had lightened, and the perpetual vertical frown lines between his eyebrows were gone. His hair was newly cut and well groomed.
The destroyed furniture had been replaced. Once again the apartment could have been photographed for an interior design magazine as an example of modern luxury decor – with one notable example. Fuad’s brown leather recliner, the one Ivana had slashed like a horror movie victim, had been repaired with duct tape. It was a crude job, and Omar didn’t imagine Ivana would be too happy about this bit of ugliness marring her perfect home. A rare act of defiance on Fuad’s part? Certainly not a complete role reversal, as Ivana’s Catholic statues still stood in the floor-to-ceiling cubby shelf.
The apartment smelled of sugar and caramel. It was a different world from the last time he was there.
Fuad wanted to inspect Omar’s bullet wound. Omar had organized the genealogy papers in a folder, but he set that down, pulling his shirt down over one shoulder.
Fuad was stunned. “This is impossible. It’s totally healed. Even the scar is barely visible. I don’t understand.”
Ivana entered from the kitchen carrying a tray with tea and sweets. She was conservatively dressed – for her – in a yellow summer blouse with mid-length sleeves, and a red silk skirt that fell to her calves. She was actually smiling, though when she saw her husband studying Omar’s shoulder, the smile flickered. Maybe she’d hoped the subject of the bullet wound wouldn’t come up.
Omar pulled his shirt on. “Alhamdulillah. I guess I heal fast. It’s all history.”
Ivana handed him a plate with a perfect flan swimming in caramel sauce, topped with a sliced strawberry. Omar said bismillah and took a spoonful. The egg custard was soft and spongy, while the cinnamon, vanilla and caramel gave it a heavenly flavor.
“Who made this?”
Ivana frowned. “You think I don’t know cooking?” she replied in English. “I make it. Is Cuban style.”Private Information
Switching over to Spanish, Omar said, “Sorry. Listen, I have a weird question. Remember at our wedding, you said you’d had your DNA tested, and that you were descended from Castilian royalty?”
Ivana smiled. “Yes. You can truthfully say you’ve met a beauty queen princess.”
“That was one side of your ancestry. But didn’t you also have a grandparent with African ancestry?”
Her smile vanished. “Why, because I’m dark? There are dark people in Spain, you know.”
Fuad cleared his throat and spoke in slow but very passable Spanish. “What is this concerning, brother? This is personal information.”
“Bear with me.” To Ivana, Omar said, “Did your test happen to say that one side of your ancestry was mostly Ashanti, and that one of your ancestors was a Jamaican slave named Samuel Sharpe?”
Ivana’s eyes widened, and her face flushed. She turned on her husband. “How dare you share my private information with him! I’ll show you what it means to violate my trust!” She stood, and Omar had a sinking feeling she was going to grab a kitchen knife, or even worse her golden gun, though if Fuad had any brains he would have confiscated it by now.
Omar stood as well, hands outstretched. “He didn’t tell me anything! Look at this.” He opened the folder, took out the sheet of paper with the spheres, and handed it to her. “I just received my own DNA test results.”
She snatched the paper. She was still breathing hard. He might literally have just saved Fuad’s life.
Ivana studied the paper angrily. “This is ridiculous,” she said finally. “My grandfather was not some clown named Melocoton. And how could you be my cousin?” Her angry expression faded, and was replaced with a sly smile. “This was all a prank to get back at me for popping you, right?”
Fuad eased the paper out of his wife’s hand and examined it.
Ivana nodded. “You got me, Omar. We are empatados now, yes? How do they say in English, even-stevens.”
Ivana and I had been speaking in rapid-fire Spanish, and I saw Fuad struggling to comprehend. Even after twelve years in the Spanish-speaking world he still had trouble with very fast, colloquial speech. But he must have grasped the gist, because he said, “My lovely. I don’t think it’s a joke.”An Old Photo
“Please,” Omar said, gesturing to the sofa. “Sit.” He took his own seat. “Just tell me please, what was your father’s full name?”
Ivana gave an exasperated huff, then flung herself onto the sofa. “Marco González Serrano.”
“Hmm. And your mother?”
“Lenina Bayano Soto.”
“Bayano?” He stared at her. “That’s my last name. How come you never told me your mother’s name was Bayano?”
Uncertainty crossed her face. “No reason. It’s a common name.”
“In Panama. Not in Cuba, right?”
“Who was your mother’s father?”
She lifted her chin. “His name was Marcos Arron Navarro. He was a great man. He knew Castro and Che Guevara. He fought in the Bay of Pigs.”
“Why wasn’t he named Bayano?”
Looking annoyed, Ivana shrugged. “It doesn’t have to be. Maybe he only gave my mother that name to honor your Panamanian Bayano. He was a freedom fighter, like us Cubans.”
Omar pressed his palms into his eyes and thought. This was getting nowhere. An idea came and he looked at Ivana. “Do you have any photos of him?”
“A few.” She went to the bedroom, and came back with a photo album with a brown, water-stained cover. She leafed through it, and Omar saw old black and white photos, the kind with the white borders around the edges.
“Aha!” She set the album on the table, pointing triumphantly to a photo. “There he is, with Castro. He’s holding my uncle Eduardo. Look how handsome he is.”
It was a photo of a man meeting Fidel Castro. In it, Castro was young, his head topped with a mass of curls. He wore loose-fitting army fatigues. The other man was short and slightly chubby, clean-shaven and light complected, with European features. He wore what looked like a tailored suit and fine shoes. He looked like a businessman, not a soldier. He carried a healthy boy who might have been a year old. Castro was smiling and rubbing the boy’s head.
“What happened to your grandfather Marcos?”
“He died of lung cancer when I was ten. He used to bring us sweets. He had a caramel factory. Although the government nationalized it.”
“Hmm.” Omar paged through the album. There were the usual family photos. A stunning black woman who was clearly Ivana’s mother; a handsome, blonde man who appeared to be her father; and Ivana herself as a child, along with an older boy.
“I didn’t know you had a brother.”
“As if you cared. He’s a school teacher in Havana.”
He turned a page and his eyes locked onto a photo that was completely out of place among these family scenes. In it, Fidel Castro, the international revolutionary Che Guevara, and a third man stood with a group of other men crowded around them. The three men in the foreground wore army fatigues with thick black utility belts. All three were bearded and smiling. Che wore his iconic beret with the communist star, and was smoking a thick cigar. One arm was draped around the shoulders of the third man. Fidel and Che wore pistols on their hips, while the third man carried a rifle slung over one shoulder. The clear impression was that the three were good friends. Revolutionary comrades enjoying a moment of victory. It was an amazing, historical photo, and could have been published in any international magazine.
Omar knew the third man instantly. The man was so young in this photo, broad-shouldered and muscular. His hair was styled into a short afro, and the frizzy beard made him look wild. His teeth gleamed as he smiled. But he had the wide-set eyes Omar knew well, and the same shade of cocobolo skin. It was Melocoton.
Omar pointed. “Who’s this?”
Ivana spun the album around and looked. “Oh. He was a friend of my grandfather’s. I think my mother said he was killed fighting counterrevolutionaries. An important man, obviously.”
Now Omar understood the gestalt of what had happened, if not the details. It was just as he’d feared, and worse. It was repellent, in fact. Ivana would not want to hear it, he was sure.
He looked down at the tiled floor, his eyes shifting left and right. He’d discovered the answer to the mystery of how he and Ivana could be related. After abandoning Omar’s father, Melo had moved to Cuba and fathered another child – Ivana’s mother. And maybe others too, who knew? Then, true to form, Melo deserted that family as well, and went – where? That piece of the puzzle was missing. At which point this other man, Marcos Arron Navarro, came along and assumed the role that Melo had abandoned. He’d married Ivana’s grandmother, and adopted the children as his own. Ivana had grown up believing that Marcos was her grandfather.
Why throw a grenade into Ivana’s perfectly good family history? Why diminish the happy memories she had of her grandfather?
Abruptly, he stood and smiled. “You know what? This was all a crazy mixup.” He snatched the genealogy paper from Fuad and slipped it into the folder. “How could we be cousins? I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m just tired from stuff that’s been going on.” He gave an amused snort, realized he was acting deranged, and tried to tone it down. “I better get home. Samia’s making dinner.” With that he hurried to the door and let himself out, catching one last glimpse of Fuad and Ivana looking utterly baffled.A Figure In the Rain
He found his car listing badly to one side. Both tires on the driver’s side were flat. What the heck? He crouched and studied them. Each tire had a nail in it. What were the odds of that? If it had been only one tire he could have replaced it with the spare. What would he do? The auto repair shops were closed by now.
He decided he’d come back here in the morning and have the car towed to the repair shop. He didn’t want to go back up to Fuad’s place and ask for a ride. Ivana might have questions he didn’t want to answer. For now he’d take a taxi home.
He walked out of the Torre Cielo’s parking lot and onto Avenida Bolívar. In Panama one did not call a taxi – there was no such thing. Taxis were everywhere. You simply stood on the roadside and waved one down. But in this luxury neighborhood everyone had their own cars. There were no taxis in sight – hardly any traffic at all, in fact – so he began to walk, continually glancing behind him just in case some stray taxi came his way. It was dark now, and the clouds overhead were heavy and turgid with rain. Looking back, he thought he saw a dark figure walking along the roadside about thirty meters back, but it disappeared into the shadows of a roadside acacia tree.
The clouds released their burden. The rain came down like a million tiny hammers, uncompromising. It bounced off the road and turned the world into a blur. He was instantly soaked, with rain pouring down his face in a cascade.
He picked up his pace, taking long, fast strides. He looked back. The figure was there again, closer now, and the man was not trying to hide his presence. He was a short, thick-bodied man dressed all in black, with a hood pulled low over his face. If Nemesio had spent a decade lifting weights in prison, he might possess such a figure. The man was moving fast now, gaining on Omar, coming through the rain like a charging bull, and as the dark figure came closer Omar saw something long and slender extending from his hand. A knife. A very big knife.
Omar began to run.
Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 17: When You Forgive, You Live
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The post Day of the Dogs, Part 16: The Weapon of the Believer appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.
Spain’s CAF is helping build Israel’s illegal Jerusalem light rail.
Palestinians demand an immediate investigation that could lead to trials.
In a Muslim Matters exclusive, I sat down with NBA Champion and activist, Stephen Jackson, to speak about his conversion to Islam, along with Tone Trump, a Philadephia based rapper who has been a mentor and friend to Stephen Jackson in his Journey to Islam.
Hamzah Raza [HR]: Assalam Alaykum. It’s a pleasure to be in touch with you. I have been following your work for awhile. From your NBA career to your activism to your recent taking of your Shahadah…I used to play with you in 2K back in the day also.
Stephen Jackson [SJ]: It’s an honor man. I am just doing everything I can, and leading with my heart. I don’t know everything I am doing, but I know that Allah is guiding me, so I’m satisfied with that Alhamdulillah.
HR: So where we’ll start is, what was your first exposure to Islam?
SJ: I think the first time I was exposed to Islam was in high school through a friend of mine named Maya Abdullah. Me and his family grew up together. Through him, I saw the structure and balance of this religion, and just the way he stood on his deen. I also saw how his dad stood on his deen at the time. It was something different from everybody around my city. I knew there was something special there.
And as I got older, I started doing homework for myself. I became close with what would become a very close friend of mine from Philadelphia named Nees. He’s also Muslim. I had a number of conversations with him as we travelled. I used to tell him how I always lived my life like a Muslim man, and how it won’t be long until I accept Allah. We always had this conversation. It got to the point where another close friend of mine named Mazi…His name was Jabril.
Tone Trump [TT]: Yo Jabril was my brother, man. That’s my bro. Mazi’s my bro.
SJ: Man that was my brother, man. Mazi lived with me for almost three years. It got to the point where he would congregate a lot of dudes at my house. And my relationship with him and wanting to see him make it in rap and off the streets and to see him live a prosperous life with all that was going on in the streets. As I spent more time with him, my love for him grew. And as my love for him grew, my love for Islam grew.
As the time passed, we had become so close and he was living with me. Then he ended up getting murdered. And I went to his funeral. This was my first time ever at a Muslim funeral. And it changed my life. To see how personal it was changed my life.
“If you love me, grab that shovel and put the dirt on me yourself.”
That touched me. And I remember his momma saying that,
“Before you pick up the shovel, open up the casket. I want that dirt to get on my son. I want him to remember that we were made from dirt and we will go back to dirt. I want him to know that “From Allah we come and to Allah we must return.”
All of that. It all touched me. And I have never been the same after that. To see the respect that I got from standing with him…To see the respect that his momma received. I have never seen a woman so strong and so honored. She did not shed a tear at her son’s funeral. Because she had this confidence and strength. She understood what Allah was doing for her child. She had this trust in Allah.
It was deep. I have just never been the same after that. It grew to the point where I had the chance to sit down with the Minister a few months back. I told him about these things and how I have always tried to live my life like a Muslim man. And just all of those things. They touched me. From my brother, George Floyd, being murdered to me finding more truth about myself, about this earth, about what we come from, about what we owe, about who I am, about who Allah is…All of this came together in me taking my Shahadah. And this decision has been in place for at least seven to eight years, but only Allah knows when the time is right.
TT: Alhamdulillah, that’s beautiful, man.
HR: SubhanAllah, that’s beautiful. This actually reminds me of my father, who is a doctor. He has a doctor who works with him who is Christian. I actually am not sure if he’s even Christian, but he is not Muslim. And he asked my dad,”Is there something in Islam, that when someone dies, you are supposed to keep it together? Is there some sort of rule?” And my dad said “No, not really.” And the other doctor said, “I don’t know why. But with Muslim families, no matter what bad happens, I have observed that they just keep it together more than others.”
SJ: Absolutely. That’s what I saw.
HR: And I think it goes back to this tawwakul–This trust in Allah.I came to Islam for Allah and Allah alone @DaTrillStak5Click To Tweet
SJ: Mazi used to always say this. This is part of the reason that he was never afraid of anything. He knew that Allah was always with him. He knew the protection that Allah gave him. So when it was time to go, there was no need to be afraid of that. There was no need to be afraid because you know where you are going. I can honestly say that. I just took my shahada, but I can honestly say that there is no one who loves Allah more than me.
TT: Alhamdulillah. We should all feel like that in our belief.
SJ: You are bringing tears to my eyes, Tone.
TT: Man mine too. That’s why I like texting you. I don’t even like talking to you. Because you always do this. Every single time, Wallahi man.
And one thing about Mazi. He survived so much. He was a real dude bro. I first met him in like 2012. And he was just a country talking Philly nigga. And he just reminded me of home. When I was up there, I used to be homesick. And him being Muslim and so authentically street, but also so loving. He was so caring. I watched him take care of so many people.
SJ: Me too bro. His heart was huge.
TT: He was a good dude, man. I just had to speak on my brother. May Allah be pleased with him and grant him Jannah.
HR: And Brother Stack, what is your Philly connection? How did that come about?
SJ: Well it started with when I was doing music. I grew a relationship with Chris and Nees. I had reached out to them. I told Chris that I am playing in Philly, but I also want to get into the studio with him. Then we were at some club. I just went to the club where they were, and I was just standing outside.
And they were like, “Yo what are you doing?”
And I was like, “Y’all told me y’all would be here. So I am just waiting outside for y’all to come out.”
They were like,”You are just out in North Philly, posted up alone on a corner at night.”
And I said,”Hey I am protected by God. I am not worried about any human being.”
And just the humility and how authentic I was…That seemed to connect with them. The relationship grew to the point that when I started doing music with Chris, Nees was doing music too. But me and Nees had a deeper relationship because it was about more than music. We talked about life. We talked about Islam. We talked about family. We talked about the real things in life. I grew a relationship with them in two different aspects.
And that’s how I became in love with Philly, to the point where, after time passed, I started following Tone. And I think a lot of the guys who come from the struggle that we come from, we see Tone. And when we see him, we see a brother that is standing up and leading by example, and not hiding his flaws. He is standing up and embracing everything that he has been through to shine brighter than ever. I think any person who comes from what we have come from—the demographic we come from—they have some type of love in their heart for him. So he has to be respected.
That’s what drew me to Tone. It was that alone. It was the respect that I had for him as a man. And it was his embracing of the good and the bad. I respect people who can stand up in public and admit that he made love to the good times just as much as he made love to the bad times. I saw that. And that is what made me want to follow him and follow his journey. And that is what led to us becoming brothers. That is what led to me reaching out to him.
Alhamdulillah, Allah gave me the strength to reach out to him, and tell him that I want him to introduce me and walk me into taking my Shahada. And that was only Allah’s will. That was the way it was supposed to be. And now I have two feet, ten toes down stability in Philly, with different relationships and different people. I have different people out there that I can talk to and get educated from.
I have deep roots in Philly now. I plan on getting a condo somewhere in Philly, but it started with Chris and Nees and ended with Tone Trump.
HR: Alhamdulillah, that’s beautiful. And I know that you can speak to this. And Brother Tone can most definitely speak to this. There is a very rich Muslim community in Philly. It is a very sizable and historic community. They call it the Mecca of the West, and also Philastan.
SJ: That’s right.
TT: Let me correct you on that. They do not just call it Philastan. I named it Philastan. That came from me. Philastan is my neighborhood. And then everybody adopted it. Because when you put the -Stan like Pakistan, it means “land of.” So Philastan is the land of Philly. To be perfectly honest, it was first on some street stuff. And then we went with the more positive thing.
When I say “Muslim Don,” a lot of people don’t know that Don stands for “Deen over negativity.”
But because of my tattoos and my criminal background and the people I am around and stuff like that, people often assume that we are trying to bring some gangster stuff to Islam. And that is absolutely not true. Not at all. We are talking about positivity. We are talking about the transformation of human beings. If people listen to my message, I am trying to talk to kids about staying in school, and staying out of the streets. Jail is for suckers. This whole movement is positive.
The Philastan thing is also to connect our people to Palestine.
People in my position are often scared to talk about Palestine because, let’s be honest, you could get blackballed. But we understand the connection between our struggle in North Philly with their struggle in Palestine. And where I come from, we don’t believe in ever biting our tongue. And anybody that follows Stack definitely knows that he doesn’t ever bite his tongue. He has one of the biggest platforms in the world, and is saying and doing things that no one in his position would ever do or dare to say. That’s why he is so loved in the trenches.
A lot of people might get love from White people or with even…no disrespect, but with Arabs. But the brothers in the trenches, we have a different type of love for Stack. He’s been one of ours. And now that he has taken Shahadah, that was just the icing on the cake. And like he said, he already felt like he was Muslim, and we already felt like he was our brother.
When he took Shahada, it felt like a reunion more than it felt like a first anniversary. It felt like, “Bro came home after being on the road.” It did not feel like, “Bro just moved in.” That’s how it felt. That connection is just supernatural. It is greater than anything in this world.
Even when I travelled, most people thought that he was from Philly. I realized that when I go places, most people will be like, “Yeah I knew that he was from Philly.” And I’m like, “No he’s not from Philly.” But he’s from here now. We’ve adopted him. That’s how close that connection and that bond is. He’s from PA. That’s how close that bond is.
HR: Alhamdulillah. What percentage would of people would you say from North Philly are Muslim?
TT: In Philadelphia, I will put it like this bro, when you walk out of your door, you are going to have to give your Salaams…Pretty much every 25 yards you walk in Philadelphia, you have to give your Salaams. So I would say that the Muslim community is over 80% African-American. But as far as the overall city, I would say about 40% of Philadelphia is Muslim. And I am pretty sure we are the largest religion in Philadelphia. Everything from our politicians to our fighters…Pretty much all of the boxers are Muslim here. Everybody here is Muslim. Our police commissioner used to be Muslim.
But as far as the overall city, I would say about 40% of Philadelphia is Muslim. And I am pretty sure we are the largest religion in Philadelphia.
We’ve had Muslim mayors. We’ve had Muslim senators. The first Muslim woman to wear hijab in the state senate was from Philadelphia. It’s very rare not to be Muslim in Philly. Everybody’s Muslim in Philly. If you live in Philadelphia, someone in your family is Muslim, if you’re not Muslim yourself. Everybody has a Muslim in their family.
HR: I remember I saw an interview with AR-Ab and Dark Lo, and they said that there aren’t a whole lot of people here who aren’t Muslim.
TT: There is not. We have a whole bunch of halal food. We have a whole bunch of good things going on here. And free AR-Ab and Dark Lo. Free my akhs.
HR: And Brother Stack, what was your spirituality growing up?
SJ: I grew up Christian. I grew up in the South. Religion was what everyone was schooled with in the South. It was what everybody was taught. It was what everyone was brainwashed with. And as I grew up and became a man, I began to think for myself. I came to stop believing in a lot of the things that I was taught as a kid. I knew for a fact that a lot of the things I was taught as a kid were not true. So I took the liberty of educating myself.
And I think when I was a Christian, I did know right from wrong. My parents taught me a lot. And I think that the morals I was taught as a kid did not really come from religion. I think it came from my parents and grandparents just knowing right from wrong, and giving us love and affection. And then just teaching us how to treat people. I don’t think that came from religion. I think my family just had good hearts and they wanted to see us succeed. Teaching us hate was just not the way. They had seen so much of that growing up, that they knew that was not the way.
So I was taught anybody and everybody that comes in my path should be treated with love. That is the way that I was taught. And I lived my life like that. I tell people that the benefits of being real are so beneficial. And my life has been that. I have always treated people with respect. I have always been a stand up guy. What I say is what I am going to do. And I’ve always treated people how I want to be treated. And I’ve lived by that. And Allah has taken care of me. My whole life, I have always been put in the right situations. I have always had the right people around me, because I have always treated people the way that I wanted to be treated. I just dedicate a lot of my upbringing to my family. My grandparents basically founded the church. I was in church three times a day growing up. It shaped me. I do not regret any of it because it made me the man that I am today. But I am also glad that I was able to teach myself, and grow into the man that I am now.
HR: And in your adulthood, would you still go to church? Or did you kind of step away from that?
SJ: I haven’t been to church in probably around five years. I got away from that awhile back. I have to blame that on Mazi. Because I started getting so intrigued in Islam that I stopped going to church. I prayed a couple of times with Mazi. Just being with him put me in deeper thought and made me want to research more.
HR: So you’ve been thinking about taking Shahadah for like five years now?
SJ: Almost seven years.
HR: And when did Brother Mazi pass away?
SJ: Mazi passed away about three years ago.
HR: SubhanAllah. May Allah give him Jannah.
HR: Also, I saw on your Instagram that you post a lot of Malcolm X quotes. And Malcolm X is probably the most influential Muslim of the 20th century…Most definitely the most influential American Muslim of the 20th century. So did Malcolm X influence your decision to accept Islam in any way?
SJ: That ain’t even a question. Every Black man is influenced by Malcolm X. When you are growing up and hear the story of Malcolm X, you are influenced by Malcolm X, and by Islam, in some type of way. For me, I am of course influenced by Malcolm X. It is impossible for me not to be.
HR: And do you see yourself following in the legacy of Malcolm X?
SJ: I do not see myself just following him. I want to be greater than Malcolm X. Even when I say that, it might be damn near impossible, because the man was so special. Malcolm X was so special. I strive to be like him or even better than him. And for you to say that he is the most respected American Muslim ever, I strive to be that. I plan to be that.
HR: Inshallah. I also think of someone like Muhammad Ali. I remember, when he passed away, me and my friends were talking. And we were reflecting upon what it meant to be Muslims in the 1960s and 1970s. The greatest athlete on Earth at the time was a Muslim. Like imagine today if the best athlete on the planet was a Muslim. That’s what things were like back then.
SJ: You know what’s crazy though? They didn’t give Muhammad Ali his props until he couldn’t talk anymore [due to Parkinson’s]. We have to, as Muslims, change the narrative. As Tone says, we have to make praying cool again. We have to let people know how important it is to get on your knees and pray five times a day.
As Tone says, we have to make praying cool again. We have to let people know how important it is to get on your knees and pray five times a day.
There is nothing uncool about it. Everything I have today is because I get on my knees and pray five times a day. I wouldn’t be able to wake up, breathe, and provide for my child, if I didn’t get on my knees and worship Allah. Allah is the one in control, and each and every one of us in creation are reliant on Allah in each and every moment. It is only when we realize this that this inner peace descends upon us. And that’s what Islam is about–Salaam–that peace.
TT: That’s right. Salah changed my life akh.
HR: SubhanAllah, this is such a beautiful exchange. And did the murder of your twin, George Floyd, also influence you to turn towards God? Because you saw the finite nature of this life. That this life will eventually come to an end.
SJ: Like I said, I already had a deep relationship with God. I was one person who always understood that my relationship with God has nothing to do with nobody on this earth. I don’t care what any human being thinks about it, as long as my relationship with Him is intact. That’s how I always lived my life.
Definitely, losing George had a lot to do with it. Because during that time, I was going through it. At one point, I went four weeks with no sleep. I mean four weeks straight with no sleep. It got to the point where I couldn’t confide in anybody or talk to anybody except for God…Because nobody could understand my hurt. Nobody could understand my passion. Nobody could understand the helplessness that I felt at that time. So I started praying more.
And I’ll even be honest with you. I had talked to one of my big brothers, Mahmoud [Abdul-Rauf]. He had DM’d me during that time to see how I was doing. And I told him, that if any time I need you to ask Allah for strength for me, I need you to ask Him now.
Because I was out there and didn’t know what I was doing. I was just out there leading with my heart. I knew that there are a million people every year who are murdered by police, but no one has the celebrity to be out there and be their voice. And I knew that I was losing everything. But at that time, Allah gave me so much strength that none of that mattered. I didn’t even think about what I could lose or what I was risking. I went out there head up and chest out because I knew that I would be alright. During that time, as I started getting more in tune with myself and with God, everything started coming back to my mind. I thought of all of those conversations I had with Nees and Chris. I thought of all of the praying that I did with Mazi.
I thought of the first time I saw my friend Mayah Abdullah’s dad wear a thobe to a basketball game. All of this stuff played in my mind to the point where it hit deep in my soul, to hit Tone and say, “Tone, I’m ready bro.” I’m ready to take this step. I’ve been through a lot. You know I’ve been through a lot, and it’s that time.”
HR: How long have you known Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf? You knew him even before when he was Chris Jackson?
SJ: I’ve known for about four or five years now where I can say that we regularly talk.
HR: And what was the moment where you contacted Brother Tone?
SJ: Even before I contacted Tone, I had really been studying. I had been reading for four months. I can look right in front of me, exactly in this moment. I have thirteen books in front of me right now that I read about Islam. I waited until the time that Allah had written for me to take my Shahada. I was not going off of my mind or emotions. I was waiting until it was in my heart. I had to submit to the will of Allah. At that moment, I didn’t hesitate. I called Tone, jumped on it, and I was on. And I have never looked back. It’s the best decision I ever made.
TT: And I was on it too. At that moment, I said tell me what day you’re coming. I planned my whole day out. I told him that we’ve got you as soon as you land. It was one of the best days of my life, man. I still can’t believe it. It still seems so surreal. And I relive it everyday because people always bring it up. Everybody I talk to wants to talk to me about Stack, and him taking Shahada.
He has inspired so many people from so many walks of life. This is just so big for the entire Ummah. And I knew that. As soon as he called, I knew that. I already saw what the outcome was going to be. I knew that my phone was going to ring. Stuff like this interview, I knew that it was going to happen. I knew the impact that it was going to have.
Because everything that Stack does is authentic. Everything he does is sincere. And I knew that sincerity and authenticity was going to reek out. People see that. That’s why when he took his Shahada, there was nothing but positive feedback. No one had anything negative to say. That’s unheard of on social media. Everybody was happy for him. Even non-Muslims were happy for him. Everyone has seen his journey. Everybody has seen what he’s gone through, with his twin.
How can you not see that and be happy for this man? He could’ve gone crazy after all of that. He could have lost his mind, and we would all have to understand it. We couldn’t even have blamed him for it. He went from being a basketball player to having to be damn near Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr overnight. Nobody signs up for that. Nobody chooses that.
Nobody goes to sleep at night and says “Tomorrow, I want to lead millions of people overnight that I’ve never even met before.” People were out there getting maced and beat, and arrested and all of that stuff. And this brother was seen as the helm of all of that. That’s crazy, bro. You have the President of the United States watching your moves. That’s not normal or regular. You have to have a mindset to only fear or love Allah, because nobody that doesn’t fear Allah can handle that and not lose their mind.
That’s why you see so many celebrities lose their minds. These people have so much money, so much fame, and so much of everything in this world. But this world will never satisfy you. They go nuts. They take pills and all of this stuff because they don’t have Allah. They don’t have their oneness with Allah.
Stack took a lot on. I knew how big it would be for the Ummah. I knew how big it would be for Black people. I knew how big it would be for Black Muslims. And I also think: Imagine how nice it would be if Muslims treated every revert as nice as they treated Stack.
I understand that he’s a celebrity, but I posted a gang member from Chicago who took his Shahadah three days before I posted Stack. And I got a couple of DMs. But when I posted Stack, man my DMs are still being flooded.
They’re saying “Let me know if the brother needs anything.”
But y’all didn’t tell me that when the brother from Chicago took Shahadah. Because we’ve got Stack. Stack is taken care of. He’s got a support system. But that other brother from Chicago needs some stuff. We’ve got to do this with everybody. That’s what will make our Ummah one. Let’s treat everybody like they were in the NBA, or an entertainer, or a mufti, or an imam. Let’s treat everybody like that because that’s true brotherhood. All my brothers are stars. All my brothers are kings. I don’t have any little homies around me. My security is a king. He’s not treated like a pawn. We have to treat everybody like we treat Stack. That’s what Islam is. That’s what Tawheed is. That’s what it means to be one Ummah.
If it’s not that, then being one Ummah becomes like All Lives Matter, some nonsense. Just some words with no meaning.
HR: It’s like Allah says in the Quran, “Hold tight to the rope of Allah, and be not divided.”
TT: That’s right.
HR: It’s a major issue. People take their Shahadah. Everyone hugs them. We make a video, and take some pictures. But then the next day, no one is there for them. It’s almost as if we see the Shahadah as an end as opposed to a beginning.
TT: That’s the DMs I get because there are people too scared to go to the imams. But they know who I am and where I’ve been. And so I’m just like them. So they’ll come to me. So that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to build Shahada classes and new Muslim classes and Arabic classes for the brothers and sisters who don’t feel welcome inside these big temples and all of these big establishments where it feels like you have to be perfect just to walk in. We have to let those people who aren’t perfect know that there’s a home for you too.
No matter what your status is, no matter where you’ve been, you’re going to be side by side, shoulder to shoulder, in the ranks standing and praying with us. You are going to be eating with us. We are going to be treating you just like you were born and raised with us. We let you come as you are to Islam as it is. That’s how we’re going to do it.
HR: And Brother Stack, was your conversion to Islam in anyway connected to understanding the intersections of Islam and justice?
SJ: I came to Islam for Allah and Allah alone. My journey to Islam came because of my heart. It was strictly between me and my heart knowing that it was time. It was something that I had thought about, and that was in my soul for a long time. Like I said, I had approached life as a Muslim for so many years. My soul and my heart got tired of thinking about it. I had to accept it fully. I had to put these thoughts into action. And that’s why I took that step.
HR: And what is next for you? You said that you strive to be bigger than Malcolm X. And we ask Allah that you have that impact.
SJ: With what I’m doing right now, I just want to continue to build. I have as of now…When did I take my Shahada Tone? Like a month ago?
TT: It feels like a month, but I think it’s probably been like a month and two weeks.
SJ: I’ve already had four or five NBA players call me and ask me to send them books, and ask me to educate them about Islam. They want me to educate them before they take their Shahada. They’re really thinking about it. Alhamdulillah, that really makes me feel good.
TT: I knew that was going to happen.
SJ: And we’re 12 in out of 50 states. I made a pledge to visit all 50 states, and help those that are in need. There are so many areas that are in need around the country. I want to fulfill that. We have already done 12 states, Alhamdulillah. I want to continue to be the best Muslim man that I can be. I want to continue to lead. And I think that by what I am doing, in getting calls from all of these other NBA brothers and being the face of the biggest civil rights movement around right now, I hope to make an impact.
TT: And let me add to that. I am actively recruiting him to go to Africa with me in April inshallah. So Inshallah, he is going to be making international moves for the Ummah as well. If his scheduling works, he is going to be in Africa with me. And I think that is going to really show people even another side of Stack because we are going over there to do cataract surgeries during the month of Ramadan to help people get their vision back. So imagine how huge that will be to have the legend out there with us in Ethiopia inshallah, during Ramadan. So there’s a lot of big news coming man. And that’s just in the immediate future. So I know there’s a lot of stuff happening. He’s set to do major, major work.
HR: So when NBA players hit you up, what exactly do they say?
SJ: They ask me what made me convert, how long have I been thinking about it, to send them some books, if they have any questions, can they call me? When they’re in Atlanta playing the Hawks, they’ll want to have dinner with me. They want to be educated and they have questions just like I had questions. They want to ask me just like I asked Tone…Just like I asked Nees…Just like I asked Mazi.
When you have a certain respect for your brothers and know that they’re going the right way, and you’re a real man, you have no pride in following them because you know they’re going in the right direction. That’s how me and my brothers all move, Alhamdullillah.
HR: So inshallah, by the will of Allah, we’ll be seeing a lot more NBA players taking Shahadah soon.
SJ: Inshallah, brother, I guarantee it.
TT: And you’re going to be seeing a lot more than just NBA players. Stack is bigger than an NBA player. He is bigger than an athlete. He is respected beyond the lines. You have boxers, and football players, and activists looking up to him. That George Floyd thing was bigger for him than winning the NBA championship.
SJ: By far.
TT: His impact is far beyond the NBA. You have gang bangers. You have brothers in the streets. You have brothers who are just Christians who didn’t even know that you could revert to Islam. He’s waking up people in a manner that’s way bigger than the NBA. Basketball is just the tip of the iceberg Mashallah. This is bigger than that. This dude represents so much more than that. When the thing happened with George Floyd, there were people who followed him that didn’t even know he played basketball. They just thought he was George Floyd’s brother and that was it. They later found out that he played basketball. This movement and this following is way bigger than that. A lot of people who follow him are asked, “You didn’t know that was Stephen Jackson, NBA Champion?” Now they learn about that.
This is huge, man. I get a lot of brothers who are basketball fans. And I just get a lot of brothers who are just out there in the struggle. Real recognize real. I told you he was in the streets of North Philly. Just so you can know how dangerous it is, the reason Chris and Neece were asking what he’s doing out there. That’s murder-death-homicide out there. And he’s there as a known millionaire with jewelry on, but he’s respected and loved. Not too many NBA players could have been out there, and been okay.
Philly is a dangerous city. I’m telling you, bro. It’s hard to even explain. We had 500 homicides last year. That’s 365 days. That’s almost two bodies a day. And back then, it was even worse. There weren’t cameras or anything around back then. So people were really getting their heads knocked off. So his movement and following is so much bigger than basketball. Basketball is just a small part of it.
This is so big for the Ummah. It’s huge. Let’s not underestimate what it means for young Black Muslim boys to see someone who they know who is successful. They see an NBA champion who fights for Black people. They see Stack put that rug down in the morning because we have a lot of famous Muslims who are very private about their Islam. So to see someone on his level being so proud makes us all so proud. It makes me proud, and I’ve been Muslim for so long. And I’m a known Muslim.
HR: My final question is what do you all see as the future of Islam in Black America? Studies have shown that Islam is the fastest growing religion amongst all Americans, but specifically amongst Black Americans. So much that studies have shown that Islam will be the most followed religion amongst inner city Black Americans. How do you all plan to contribute to that spread? And what does that mean for the future of Black America?
SJ: It means everything because us being stand up guys, it’s imperative that we make it cool to be a stand up guy. It’s imperative that we make it cool to be good to your family, and be responsible for your kids. It’s imperative that we make it cool to better your neighborhood, and take care of the elderly. It’s imperative that we make it cool not to shoot each other, and love one another. It’s imperative that we make all of these things cool again, that they made uncool to make money.
TT: And what I will add to that is that the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), he spoke the language of the people. So when me and Stack go to North Philly or Atlanta or Compton or wherever we go, we can speak the language of the people. We have a lot of these scholars who get all of this knowledge, and then they just sit around with other scholars. You have to come to the people. The people who need us most right now are not going to be coming to those Zoom meetings or hitting those links in the bio. They are out there in the streets. They are out there fighting. They are out there dying. The future of Black Muslims in America is that we are about to be the leaders of the Ummah. We are about to not be quiet anymore. We are not going to be stepped on. We are going to be loud and bold and unified. We are going to be following the Sunnah. We are going to be loving for our brothers and sisters what we love for ourselves.
And like the brother said, we are going to be making these things cool again. And by cool, we don’t mean trendy. We are going to be making these things the law. We are going to make it clear that there are some things in our community that no one should be doing. There are certain things you shouldn’t be doing around your elders. That respect and honor has been lost in our community. And we are bringing it back. It starts with us and then will spread out far and wide. We have to unify first, and then we will unify with our brown brothers and our white brothers and everyone else. But we have to build our firmness and tighten our rope. And we have to pull others out with that rope.
And if these billions of Muslims unify, we can change the world. We need to truly become unified and show that we are the best Ummah that follows the best of creation, the Prophet Muhammad(Peace be upon him). If we do that, we will be the ones to change the world.
HR: It reminds me of verse 11 of Surah Ra’ad: Allah doesn’t change the condition of a people until they first change what’s in themselves.
TT: That’s right.
HR: This is also something that Imam Jamil Al-Amin would say: The first step to changing the world is to turn yourself around.
TT: That’s facts.
HR: Jazakullah khayr. Thank you so much for your time. Do you all have any final words?
SJ: I have some last words. There is nothing more important than what I am about to say:
Ashadu An La Ilaha Ila Allah Washadhu Ana Muhammadur Rasulullah.
[I bear witness that there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah and that the Prophet Muhammad is his Messenger].
TT: I have nothing more to add in. I gotta get back in the streets. Stack’s probably busy too. There’s nothing better to end beyond those words. Brother Hamzah, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much. I know both of y’all have busy schedules.
SJ: I love you brothers, Assalamu Alaikam.
HR: Walaikam Assalam
The post Exclusive: Stephen Jackson Discusses His Journey to Islam appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.
Last Thursday the BBC radio programme Woman’s Hour (10am, Radio 4) interviewed Zara Mohammed, the new secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain and the first woman to be elected to that role, and a clip has been widely shared and criticised on Twitter as the BBC presented it as a ‘gotcha’ in which Ms Mohammed was unable to answer a question from the presenter, Emma Barnett, about how many “female imams” there were in the UK. (The answer is none; an imam, in the sense of a prayer leader at a mosque, has to be male.) Zara Mohammed did not give a straight answer, and although she hinted at the fact that this is not actually part of her role at MCB, she did not say that very clearly, to the point where people have accused her of being evasive, though this is not a fair criticism when the question is a loaded one, intended to make a point about Islam itself rather than elicit information. The interview can be heard on BBC Sounds here and starts at 9:24 and runs for about 13 minutes.
I’ve listened to the whole interview and most of it is not as confrontational as this particular section; Barnett could have been harsher in the discussions on Muslims who claim the MCB does not represent them, including self-styled ‘moderates’ such as Qanta Ahmed who claimed as such in an article for the Spectator, and on the ‘strained’ relationship between the MCB and the government which have refused to engage with them since at least Cameron’s time; fashionable right-wing opinion holds that the organisation is dominated by ‘Islamists’ and there were attempts to cultivate “dissident voices”, often people with sectarian agendas. (Barnett said that the government had been approached for a statement and had not given one.) On the other hand, there was not a huge amount about what the MCB actually does and Barnett mentioned that she would talk about the pandemic at some point but they didn’t. She asked about the size of their membership; Zara explained that its membership consisted of about 500 affiliate bodies such as mosques and charities, rather than individuals. Again, this is the sort of thing Barnett should have researched before conducting the interview.
In the section about “female imams”, Barnett first asked her about the Muslim population of the UK (she replied 3 million; Barnett responded that this is what she thought it was) and then asked her how many women imams there were. Zara asked her whether she meant prayer leaders or chaplains and Barnett responded, “well, you tell me” as if she was supposed to remind her of her own question. Zara told her, “my role is making sure that we include our affiliates, particularly women, in the work that we are doing in making sure that our structures, as well as the work we do, are truly representative”. Barnett reminded her that there had been female ‘priests’ and rabbis for some time in this country (in fact, there are women vicars and deacons in the Church of England and female rabbis in some liberal branches of Judaism, but not in the Catholic church and not in orthodox Jewish communities whether ‘modern’ or Haredi). Zara told her, “I think my role isn’t really to adjudicate or examine that part of spirituality”. Pressed again, she said, “I think what’s really important for the Muslim Council of Britain, the work that we do, actually is that … it’s not about defining or going into these types of questions regarding spirituality but actually looking at how we can benefit our communities, especially given the pandemic and the role that everybody needs to be playing”.
That’s a rather round-about way of saying that the MCB are a representative body; they are there to represent the Muslim community, not to dictate to Muslims. If you want to compare it with any similar religious body, it has more in common with the Jewish Board of Deputies than the Church of England’s General Synod which did authorise female vicars. It’s not a theological body and its members are, for the most part, not religious scholars or theologians. It doesn’t have the power to reform Islam, least of all for the satisfaction of outsiders, nor even to dictate to affiliated organisations how they should run themselves. Zara Mohammed seemed intimidated by Barnett’s line of questioning, which is why the impression may have been given that she “could not answer” when in fact she knew (and I suspect Barnett did as well), but any representative of the Muslim community is going to face loaded and hostile questions so they had better get prepared. The simple answer should have been that the MCB does not dictate to Muslims in the UK, cannot change Islamic law, cannot legislate for women imams, that it’s not in the job description and that’s that.
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