(Washington, DC) –The US Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have targeted American Muslims in abusive counterterrorism “sting operations” based on religious and ethnic identity, Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute said in a report released today. Many of the more than 500 terrorism-related cases prosecuted in US federal courts since September 11, 2001, have alienated the very communities that can help prevent terrorist crimes.
The 214-page report, “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions,” examines 27 federal terrorism cases from initiation of the investigations to sentencing and post-conviction conditions of confinement. It documents the significant human cost of certain counterterrorism practices, such as overly aggressive sting operations and unnecessarily restrictive conditions of confinement.
“Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch and one of the authors of the report. “But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”
Many prosecutions have properly targeted individuals engaged in planning or financing terror attacks, the groups found. But many others have targeted people who do not appear to have been involved in terrorist plotting or financing at the time the government began to investigate them. And many of the cases involve due process violations and abusive conditions of confinement that have resulted in excessively long prison sentences.
The report is based on more than 215 interviews with people charged with or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, members of their families and their communities, criminal defense attorneys, judges, current and former federal prosecutors, government officials, academics, and other experts.
In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act. Multiple studies have found that nearly 50 percent of the federal counterterrorism convictions since September 11, 2001, resulted from informant-based cases. Almost 30 percent were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot.
In the case of the “Newburgh Four,” for example, who were accused of planning to blow up synagogues and attack a US military base, a judge said the government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles,” and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man “whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”
The FBI often targeted particularly vulnerable people, including those with intellectual and mental disabilities and the indigent. The government, often acting through informants, then actively developed the plot, persuading and sometimes pressuring the targets to participate, and provided the resources to carry it out.
“The US government should stop treating American Muslims as terrorists-in-waiting,” Prasow said. “The bar on entrapment in US law is so high that it’s almost impossible for a terrorism suspect to prove. Add that to law enforcement preying on the particularly vulnerable, such as those with mental or intellectual disabilities, and the very poor, and you have a recipe for rampant human rights abuses.”
Rezwan Ferdaus, for example, pled guilty to attempting to blow up a federal building and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Although an FBI agent even told Ferdaus’ father that his son “obviously” had mental health problems, the FBI targeted him for a sting operation, sending an informant into Ferdaus’ mosque. Together, the FBI informant and Ferdaus devised a plan to attack the Pentagon and US Capitol, with the FBI providing fake weaponry and funding Ferdaus’ travel. Yet Ferdaus was mentally and physically deteriorating as the fake plot unfolded, suffering depression and seizures so bad his father quit his job to care for him.
The US has also made overly broad use of material support charges, punishing behavior that did not demonstrate an intent to support terrorism. The courts have accepted prosecutorial tactics that may violate fair trial rights, such as introducing evidence obtained by coercion, classified evidence that cannot be fairly contested, and inflammatory evidence about terrorism in which defendants played no part – and asserting government secrecy claims to limit challenges to surveillance warrants.
Ahmed Omar Abu Ali is a US citizen who alleged that he was whipped and threatened with amputation while detained without charge in Saudi Arabia – after a roundup following the 2003 bombings of Western compounds in the Saudi capital of Riyadh – until he provided a confession to Saudi interrogators that he says was false. Later, when Ali went to trial in Virginia, the judge rejected Ali’s claims of torture and admitted his confession into evidence. He was convicted of conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists, and conspiracy to assassinate the president. He received a life sentence, which he is serving in solitary confinement at the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.
The US has in terrorism cases used harsh and at times abusive conditions of confinement, which often appear excessive in relation to the security risk posed. This includes prolonged solitary confinement and severe restrictions on communicating in pretrial detention, possibly impeding defendants’ ability to assist in their own defense and contributing to their decisions to plead guilty. Judges have imposed excessively lengthy sentences, and some prisoners suffer draconian conditions post-conviction, including prolonged solitary confinement and severe restrictions on contact with families or others, sometimes without explanation or recourse.
Nine months after his arrest on charges of material support for terrorism and while he was refusing a plea deal, Uzair Paracha was moved to a harsh regime of solitary confinement. Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) – national security restrictions on his contact with others – permitted Paracha to speak only to prison guards.
“You could spend days to weeks without uttering anything significant beyond ‘Please cut my lights,’ ‘Can I get a legal call/toilet paper/a razor,’ etc., or just thanking them for shutting our light,” he wrote to the report’s researchers. After he was convicted, the SAMs were modified to permit him to communicate with other inmates. “I faced the harshest part of the SAMs while I was innocent in the eyes of American law,” he wrote.
These abuses have had an adverse impact on American Muslim communities. The government’s tactics to seek out terrorism suspects, at times before the target has demonstrated any intention to use violence, has undercut parallel efforts to build relationships with American Muslim community leaders and groups that may be critical sources of information to prevent terrorist attacks.
In some communities, these practices have deterred interaction with law enforcement. Some Muslim community members said that fears of government surveillance and informant infiltration have meant they must watch what they say, to whom, and how often they attend services.
“Far from protecting Americans, including American Muslims, from the threat of terrorism, the policies documented in this report have diverted law enforcement from pursuing real threats,” Prasow said. “It is possible to protect people’s rights and also prosecute terrorists, which increases the chances of catching genuine criminals.”
To return to status quo before Israeli attack would mean “living death,” say dozens of Gaza civil society leaders.
Michael Gove sat in unaccustomed silence in the chief whip's place on the end of the government frontbench in the Commons yesterday. His face was impassive as his successor Nicky Morgan began picking up the pieces of his school reforms after the collision of practice and ideology revealed by the Trojan horse affair. Ms Morgan claims that she is continuity Gove. She says she has no intention of undoing his revolution: only days into the job, and months out from an election, she could hardly be expected to say anything else. But the logical implication of her statement yesterday in response to Peter Clarke's report into extremism in Birmingham schools could be seen as just that. The fundamental weakness identified by Mr Clarke was lack of oversight, the flip side of the very autonomy so treasured by the former education secretary.
Mr Gove's decision to send the former Met counter-terrorism chief to investigate the Trojan horse affair was a deeply flawed response to allegations that a small group of Muslim extremists was running an entryist plot in some schools. Perhaps Mr Gove imagined that the move would distract attention from the systemic weakness of his reforms. It did not. The draft of the Clarke report obtained by the Guardian last Friday found that the city's academies, lacking proper oversight, were in a state of what the draft called benign neglect, "vulnerable to those without good intentions". It is indicative of the resistance to the message at the report's heart that in the final version published yesterday the phrase "benign neglect" is missing.Continue reading...
Can revelations about 'sting' operations move the government beyond 9/11-era discrimination? Because you can't stop terrorism by alienating a generation of people
Even after immigrating as a child from Syria, for a new life, I learned to view my new government with a certain level of suspicion. My parents drilled into my head the understanding that law enforcement and government officials were there to protect "the community" but whether that protected community would be mine, well, that felt like an open question in the United States after 9/11.
Our parents had to caution my siblings and I to be wary of strangers at the various mosques and community centers that we frequented, just in case those strangers might try to convince us to participate in radically-informed activities. My father himself was no stranger to the odd men who would appear out of nowhere, spout plans to commit "jihad" against the "horrible American government" and then disappear entirely once they discovered that nobody else was particularly enthusiastic about their quest.Continue reading...
We are told that Ramadan is the month of the Qur'an. It is a month when many aim to read the Qur'an from cover to cover. While this is a commendable task and has many benefits, the Qur'an is a book to reflect on, ponder and take action. It is an instruction manual for our lives, which we must not only read but also implement. This article will reflect on two ayats, which are particularly relevant for this month.
In Surah At-TakwirAllah says,
“So where are you going?” [81:26]
In such a short ayat, Allah asks us a powerful question. Where are you heading? What are you doing with this life that Allah has given you? What are you doing with the blessings He has provided? How are you using it? For what purpose? Before we set out on a journey, we decide where we are going, pack any provisions that are required, we plug in the details in our satellite navigation systems and we follow the directions. This is only for small journeys. What about the journey of our life?
Ramadan is a time to reflect and reevaluate how we are progressing and in what direction we are heading. Time constantly ticks away, so we are either actively moving forward or moving backward. Islam is a constant struggle to do good deeds against our own nafs. Allah says that :
“…We are constantly testing our servants.” [23:30]
Therefore, we have to be in a constant state of striving. At times we lose patience in this struggle and slip behind. This is the month to bring ourselves back into motion and actively get back on track.
It is not just about having an overarching broad long-term goal such as reaching Jannat ul Firdous (highest level in Paradise). But also specific short term goals that encompass our daily life, for example your career, personal relationships, regular Qur'an and dhikr. Everyone has different strengths, weaknesses and lifestyles where different acts of ibadah suit them better. These short-term goals make up the over-arching bigger picture. However, it is important not to overburden ourselves with goal lists and measuring our deeds by their quantity as the second ayat will illustrate.
Allah says in Surah Muminoon :
“And those whose scales are heavy (with good deeds) it is they who are successful.” [23:102]
It is interesting to note that whenever Allah describes this incident of measuring our good deeds it is in terms of weight. Allah talks about our deeds being “heavy” or “light” rather than the number of good deeds. This is because Allah does not look for quantity but quality. A small act performed sincerely for His sake, is weightier and greater on the scales of Allah than a large act without full consciousness of Allah.
With this in mind, when we evaluate ourselves and what we are doing with our lives and how to progress, we must not always look at the outward actions. In other words, we should not just numerically count our deeds but also examine our state of heart and mind. For example, rather than adding the goal to read more prayers daily, add the goal to do the same amount of prayers but with better concentration. Instead of vowing to read more Qur'an in Arabic, use that time to study short bursts of tafseer in order to reflect and implement the verses you read. In this way, the same amount of time will yield a greater connection with Allah.
In recent years, du'a lists and goal planners for Ramadhan have become popular. While they are immensely useful (and I myself use them) we must not fall into the trap of each year adding to the list of things we must do in order to attain a false feeling of progress. Progress is not just found in our physical actions but also the state of our heart. We can quantitatively do the same number of good deeds but gain more benefits just by our level of focus and presence of mind.
Therefore, this Ramadan we must take the time to reflect upon these two ayats. Where am I going? What am I doing with my life? And how can I improve internally to make my deeds weightier on the Day of Judgment?
On social media, posts, relating to the crass coverage and devaluing of Palestinian life versus Israeli life are being shared and commented upon.
In one such instance a pic. with the headline “Sharp Rise in Gaza deaths” is being shared, the by-line reads, “13 Israeli soldiers, 70 others killed…”
What is an other? Is it a human being? Is it so hard to type “PALESTINIANS?”
My guess is that this has to do with latent racism and Islamophobia, in which one people’s blood is thought of as more precious than another.
(h/t: Fred)The Terrorist That Wasn’t by JAMES RIDGEWAY and JEAN CASELLA
Talha Ahsan was today sentenced in a federal court in Connecticut for terrorist acts committed in and against the United States. This despite having never set foot on American soil until he was extradited from the UK in 2012. Federal District Judge Janet Hall sentenced Ahsan to time served, surprising family and friends who had gathered at the New Haven courthouse, and perhaps also the U.S. government, which had requested 15 years.
Time served is a significant sentence, however, since Ahsan has spent a full eight years without a trial in prisons on both sides of the Atlantic. He will be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and deported to London, where he will be free. His co-defendant, Babar Ahmad, received 12½ years, of which he has already served ten.
Ahsan, 34, a British citizen of Bengali descent, is an award-winning poet, a scholar and translator of medieval Arabic writing. He has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. He was raised by immigrant parents who were practicing Muslims, but not unusually devout. As a young man he became engrossed in the history and teachings of Islam, including the concept of jihad—the religious duty of Muslims to “struggle in the way of Allah.”
In 1999, when he was 19 years old, Ahsan travelled to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where he was reportedly something of a washout in military training. He later briefly did administrative work for an Islamic fundamentalist website run by Babar Ahmad.
According to his family, Ahsan’s interests shifted toward Sufism, a mystical, contemplative aspect of Islam. He was planning on pursuing an advanced degree in philosophy and had applied for a job as a librarian in July 2006 when he was arrested at his family home in London by Scotland Yard, at the request of the United States government.
What happened next is a study in America’s ability to ride roughshod over Europe’s sovereign governments and its international human rights apparatus. It also showcases the U.S. justice system’s willingness, in its prosecution of terrorism cases, to rewrite history, distort Islam, inflate evidence, and manufacture threats where they quite clearly do not exist.
Although the fundamentalist web operation for which Ahsan worked, Azzam Publications, was based in London, it briefly utilized a server in Connecticut. This fact was key to the extradition of Talha Ahsan, who had never been to the United States.
Also key was the existence of a 2003 treaty between the U.S. and the UK, which made it possible to transport Britons to the United States to stand trial without any prima facie evidence. In fact, the UK apparently lacked enough evidence to convict Talha Ahsan of anything under British law. But it also ordered his extradition to America, where standards were likely to be less exacting.
The case was appealed to the High Court of England and Wales, to the House of Lords, and finally to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which simultaneously considered the extraditions of four other terrorism suspects, including the far more notorious Abu Hamza. Under consideration by the Court was whether conditions in the U.S. supermax prisons where the men were likely to be held, violated the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Convention clearly prohibits prisoners from being tortured or subjected to “cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.” And the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, has stated that “indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement, in excess of fifteen days, should be subject to an absolute prohibition.” But despite considerable evidence to the contrary, the ECHR accepted a series of grotesque misrepresentations from the U.S. government claiming that life in an American supermax was not really solitary confinement, and not really all that bad.
Meanwhile, the extradition aroused controversy in the UK, where resistance was spearheaded by Talha Ahsan’s younger brother, Hamja. Some opponents saw it as evidence of the vilification of the British Muslim community—especially after the UK refused to extradite accused military hacker Gary McKinnon, who was also diagnosed with Asperger’s. Other opponents felt it threatened national sovereignty, and demanded “British justice for British citizens.” At one point, Parliament went so far as to debate the matter and the underlying extradition treaty.
But other Britons no doubt concurred with the Daily Mail, which described the Muslim terrorism suspects as “unwanted guests” despite the fact that several were British citizens. The Conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron–and especially his Home Secretary, Theresa May, who signed the extradition order—apparently agreed. “Wasn’t it great to say goodbye – at long last – to Abu Hamza and those four other terror suspects?” May said at a Conservative Party Conference days after Ahsan left Britain for the United States.
At the time of his extradition in October 2012, Talha Ahsan had already been held for more than six years in high security prisons in England. He was closely watched, but was permitted to congregate with a small number of other prisoners, and had weekly visits from his parents and brother. He passed the time by reading mostly English literature, translating Tenth Century Arabic poetry, and writing poetry of his own—including a sonnet to Teresa May and a sestina called “Extradition,” which begins:
Five years ago they brought me to a cell
and ever since a waiting game plays here.
As they decide on sending me away,
my parents grow so grey and sad at home.
How will they manage visiting me there
or must they wait until the end of time?
In the United States, although a federal prisoner, Ahsan was housed in Northern State Prison in Connecticut—the state where the server that had housed Azzam.com was located, and where he would presumably be tried. He was in solitary confinement—23 hours in a cell alone, with one hour to exercise alone—but unlike many supermax prisoners, he was permitted to call his family. According to his brother, he has written another volume of poetry while in solitary.
Talha Ahsan was by no means the first Muslim terrorism suspect to be held in solitary confinement while awaiting trial. Opponents of the practice point to evidence that solitary is a form of torture that leads to psychological anguish and breakdown, and argue that it becomes a form of coercion, pressuring the accused to agree to a plea bargain.
The track record of terrorism trials in post-9/11 America—where the accused are virtually always convicted, and sentences are harsh—also weigh in favor of plea bargains. On December 10, 2013, Talha Ahsan pleaded guilty to offering “material support” to terrorists.
The sentencing memo provided by Talha Ahsan’s defense team also notes: “Throughout these proceedings, the government has insisted that Mr. Ahsan’s case is about ‘jihad’”—defined as “the use of violence including paramilitary action” against perceived enemies of Islam. Ahsan’s defenders assert that the broader definition of jihad, as simply a religious duty to struggle that takes many forms, applies in his case.
Ahsan came of age in the 1990s amid news of the genocide in Bosnia where Muslims were attacked and killed by foreigners on their own soil, right in Europe itself. He believed, according to the sentencing memo, that “Islam requires adherents to prepare oneself for the possibility of self-defense and the defense of others.” In pursuit of this goal, he joined several thousand British Muslims in traveling to Taliban-led Afghanistan for training—an act that was, at that time, not illegal under UK law.
Ahsan’s presence in Afghanistan—and that of many other “holiday jihadists”—was reported by an informant. But by all accounts he was a terrible military trainee, and returned home chastened, convinced that violence, even in self-defense, was “not his jihad.” Ahsan never had any contact with Al Qaeda on this or on a second trip to Afghanistan in mid-2001 for study, which was cut short when he became ill. And in fact, Ahsan was indicted for nothing having to do with the trips to Afghanistan.
Instead, all charges stem from Talha Ahsan’s work for Azzam Publications. The family of web sites was named for Abdullah Azzam, an Islamic scholar from Palestine and a major figure in the battle against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, which he considered a jihad. It was operated in large part by Babar Ahmad.
According to the sentencing memorandum, “Mr. Ahsan played a minor role in the operation of the website…Mr. Ahsan never edited, proofread or in any way contributed to the content placed on the websites.”
He was one of the website’s “mailmen” for only six months, between March and August of 2001. That was the beginning and the end of his involvement with the website. The website offered books and videos for purchase. Some of the books – like those written by Abdullah Azzam – were widely available in libraries and bookstores, including the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies. Some of the videos provided a perspective on the Second Chechen War that was not featured in mainstream media. Those accessing the website could print out an order form and mail it to a Post Office box. Mr. Ahsan’s sole job was filling the orders. He was provided with a box of Azzam Publications materials, envelopes, and postage, and provided instructions on how to proceed: send the customers what they ordered and save an electronic copy of any written correspondence sent to the mailbox.
Many other volunteers also worked for Azzam, and they were duly investigated, but never charged. “What separates Mr. Ahsan from the many known individuals with far greater responsibility for the website, its contents, and its message is that he—unlike any of them—received a letter sent to Azzam Publications post office box by a man calling himself ‘Hassan Abu-jihaad.’”
This was a letter that arrived out of the blue in the mail box which “purported to describe the port of call schedule of a group of US naval ships sailing from the United States to the Persian Gulf.” No one has claimed that the letter was solicited. It is clear that Ahsan received the letter “in the normal course of his limited duties as a mailman.” He typed it up and saved the file on a floppy disc, but “nothing was ever done with the electronic document. It was never, in any way, disseminated.”
According to the memo, “It is undisputed that Ahsan did not in any way aid or encourage Hassan Abu-Jihaad to break the law and, moreover, his actions were neither intended to nor led to any harm whatsoever.” Abu-Jihaad was a naval officer sending out classified material, and was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison—less than the 15 years the government sought for Talha Ahsan.
Beyond the handling of the naval letter, Talha Ahsan is supposed to have provided “material support”—a catchall charge that resurfaces again and again in federal terrorism cases. This took place through his clerical work at Azzam, which supported and encouraged other to support not only the Taliban, but also for Muslim independence fighters in the Second Chechen War.
Richard Haley, a British activist, points out in his introduction to a booklet of Ahsan’s poetry: “The British government has never branded the Chechen separatist forces as terrorists. No Chechen separatist group has been place on Britain’s list of proscribed organisations.” A Chechen resistance leader is based in Britain and the British have blocked his extradition demanded by the Russians. “If the leader of the Chechen resistance can operate from Britain, how can it be criminal for a British citizen to show support for the Chechen resistance?’’ asks Haley.
In fact, the Chechen separatists became something of a cause célèbre in the early 2000s among American neo-conservatives, who hoped support for the rebels might result in a further diminution of influence of the former Soviet Union.
As for Afghanistan, throughout the 1990s the Pakistani secret service, the ISI supported the Taliban, and the United States generously supported the ISI, providing Pakistan military aid and intelligence. As late as June 2001, unofficial representatives of the Taliban traveled freely about the United States, speaking in public and soliciting support from the State Department in return for which they promised to turn over Bin Laden.
Nothing that Talha Ahsan is accused of doing took place after September 11, 2001. Nothing he is accused of doing had anything to do with Al Qaeda or with any act of terrorism against the United States or U.S. citizens.
Talha Ahsan seems to have encountered one piece of good fortune in his dealings with the U.S. justice system—a reasonable judge. In most similar cases where defendants are accused of providing “material support” to terrorists, judges have handed down the sentences requested by the government, or even longer ones. For example, Fahad Hashmi, an American college student who pled guilty to conspiracy to provide material support, got 15 years. His crime consisted of allowing an acquaintance to stay in his apartment with suitcases containing socks and rain ponchos meant for Al Qaeda.
Judge Janet Hall, appointed by Bill Clinton, is Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court in Connecticut. In a pre-sentencing hearing yesterday, she questioned both the U.S. attorney and the defense team sharply regarding the actual evidence that Ahsan, via Azzam Publications, had provided material support to terrorists. (At one point, the government pointed out that “Azzam.com published bin Laden’s declaration of war.” The judge replied, “So did the New York Times.”)
Hamja Ahsan, who has devoted the past eight years of his life to his brother, said after the sentencing, “the judge exposed both the U.S. and British governments as liars. There was no evidence of any terrorism.”
James Ridgeway and Jean Casella are co-editors of Solitary Watch (www.solitarywatch.com).
Democrat Eliot Engel appears at pro-Israel rally featuring anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller
By Alex Kane (MondoWeiss)
Engel is a liberal Congressional Democrat, though he is a hawk on foreign policy issues. Geller is a far-right anti-Muslim blogger whose organization Stop Islamization of America was labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Geller has called President Barack Obama “a muhammadan” and floated theories that Obama is the child of Malcolm X and was involved with a “crack whore.” And she is allied with Tea Party groups.
But those stark political differences melt away when it comes to showing up to support Israel’s assault on Gaza. Engel’s and Geller’s speeches were delivered to a rally featuring hundreds of people chanting things like “Israel wants peace, Hamas wants war” and “We are the Jews and we are not afraid.” The show of support for the Israeli assault on Gaza, which has killed at least 375 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians, was reportedly organized by local New York Jews.
Here’s more footage of the rally from VIN News:
“I urge you to stand with Israel today,” Geller said at the rally. “But if you don’t, the devil will be at your doorstep tomorrow. Am Yisrael Chai!”
Geller is a staunch advocate for Israel, and has repeatedly created controversies by buying ad space in cities and putting up inflammatory anti-Muslim messages on them. One ad she has put up in New York and elsewhere reads: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.” Below those words and in between two Stars of David, the advertisement read: “Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” She repeated that message at the rally.
Engel’s ardent support for Israel has lead him to appear alongside right-wing figures in other venues. In 2008, Engel came under criticism from progressives for speaking at the Christians United for Israel conference.
Human Rights Watch documents 'sting' operations
Report raises questions about post-9/11 civil rights
Nearly all of the highest-profile domestic terrorism plots in the United States since 9/11 featured the "direct involvement" of government agents or informants, a new report says.
Some of the controversial "sting" operations "were proposed or led by informants", bordering on entrapment by law enforcement. Yet the courtroom obstacles to proving entrapment are significant, one of the reasons the stings persist.Continue reading...
Hate is just as blind as love, if not more. Many of us, at one point or another, have disliked another human being to a sinful degree. Our heart, normally soft and forbearing, constricts in rancor against them. Naturally, there are usually justifications for our hatefulness, and in reality the reasons probably warrant some level of aversion.
Often I am asked to sit in mediation between estranged couples, emotionally charged fathers and sons, feuding relatives, distrustful neighbors or disputing former business partners. On one such occasion a seemingly outwardly devout gentleman leaned over and said, “Shaykh, if I die before you, please lead my janāzah and make sincere du'ā' for me. Also I give this as a wasiyya, if Omar (the man he is in dispute with) comes to pray at my funeral, I want you to kick him out of the masjid and tell him that I do not need his prayers.”
The seed of hate begins to sprout in the depth of the heart and, without intervention, the seed takes root and rises out of the heart into a thicket of anger, mistrust, gossip, fear, separation and condescension.Barakah and Taqwa
With Allah's barakah – divine gracious blessing – all that seems broken can be fixed. Those cut off can be reunited. No one is beyond redemption and no error is beyond resolving.
Anger can be quelled, disputes can be settled and hate can be turned to tolerance and eventually, God willing, love.
Barakah – a gracious blessing is the beneficent force from Allah that flows through the physical and spiritual spheres as prosperity, protection, and fulfillment.
Barakah is the attachment of Divine goodness to a thing, so that if it occurs in something little, it increases it, and if it occurs in something great it preserves it and benefits it. It is blessings that arrive from where none was anticipated.
It is the continuity of spiritual presence and revelation that begins with Allah and flows through that and those closest to Allah. Allah is the sole source of barakah and He alone has the power to grant or withhold it.
Barakah symbolizes the connection between Allah and His servants, through His direct and intentional blessing of those that are most reflective of Him and His orders. Baraka is not a state, it is a flow of blessings and grace that is attained in life through Taqwa – an ever-growing God-Consciousness.
It is that very same Taqwa that punctuates our Ramadan. It is the attainment of Taqwa as an outcome of the blessed month of Ramadan that establishes the barakah resulting in the emancipation from Hellfire, redemption from our sins, and release from lustful inclination and salvation from our inequity.
It is this barakah that reconnects distant hearts, heals broken relationships and transforms spite into goodwill and discord into harmony.
The month of Ramadan comes with an ascending, three tier self-development framework:
At the first tier, the abstinence from food, drink and spousal relations instills an appreciation for what we normally take for granted.
At the second level is the fasting of the limbs from sinful indulgences and impulses, such as the eyes that are lowered, the tongue that is more reserved, and the hands that are restricted. It is here that the words of the Prophet come to heart:
Fasting is a shield; so when one of you is fasting he should neither indulge in obscene language nor should he raise his voice in anger. If someone attacks him or insults him, let him say: “I am fasting!” (Muslim)
He also said in a hadith reported by Bukhari:
Whosoever does not abandon false speech and the acting upon it, Allah is not in need of him leaving off his food and drink.”
The third and most elevated level of abstinence in Ramadan is that of the heart. The aim is to restrain the heart from all the distractions that distance one from Allah and His messenger.
The heart is integral to a complete fast. By its virtue a believer can grow closer to Allah and in it is the root of faith. From it, correct actions are predicated on its sincerity and intention, and most importantly, love – for Allah and His Creation exists in the heart.
It is through this process of Taqwa and sincere love, that barakah arrives. As the beginning of Ramadan would approach the Prophet would say to the companions,
Where is the barakah?
Ramadan has come to you. (It is) a month of Barakah, in which Allah covers you with blessing, for He sends down Mercy, decreases sins and answers prayers. In it, Allah looks at your competition (in good deeds), and boasts about you to His angels. So show Allah goodness from yourselves, for the unfortunate one is he who is deprived in (this month) of the mercy of Allah, the Mighty, the Exalted.” [Narrated by Tabarani - Accepted]
So I begin to wonder, as should you, about the absence of barakah from our homes, mosques and community?
How come it remains so hard, in the blessed month, to find enough compassion in our heart to overlook the faults of others?
Why is it so hard to apologize to a spouse and seek reconnection with those worth keeping in our life and with whom we share a home and family?
How is it that we sincerely call out to Allah for His mercy, during His sacred month of mercy, yet we are unwilling to treat those around us with benevolence?
How is it that we beg sincerely for forgiveness, yet we audaciously remain unwilling to pardon those who have wronged us?
For how long will our arrogance and desire for worldly gain cut us off from our kith and kin?
How is it the Prophet can forgive and provide amnesty and a path to redemption for those who committed atrocities against him and the early believers, while our own blood relatives at times are given no hope to ever recover from their sinful error?
Since when is sternness considered leadership and harshness associated with “religiousness”?
How can a husband and wife, fasting all day from food and drink, indulge in vulgar abuse of one another at the close of the day?
How is it that the Prophet teaches not to boycott a person for more than three days, and a brother can be out all day at work and feel apprehensive at the thought of returning home to a disgruntled partner who will give him the silent treatment over a petty squabble that has extended into weeks of dreary, isolating depression?
How is it that our mosques are segmented along juristic schools of thought, that intrinsically allow difference, but dim hearts translate the Fiqh into disunity and Moon-fighting.
At a time when we all search for Allah's divine love, where has the love of Allah that binds us all, gone?
Stay tuned for part 2 to learn the 5 steps to finding love in Ramadan.
A gang of armed, masked men stormed the headquarters of the Sudanese newspaper Al-Tayar, beat up its editor-in-chief, Osman Merghani, threatened other employees, and then stole their computers and cell phones.
Merghani, who was repeatedly struck by the gun butts, was unconscious when taken taken to hospital, reports the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (Anhri), which denounced the attack.Continue reading...
“As of 2008 the FBI had a roster of at least fifteen thousand informants–the number was disclosed in a budget authorization request that year for the $12.7 million needed to pay for software to track and manage them. The proportion who are assigned to infiltrate Muslim communities in the United States is unknown but likely to be substantial, given the the FBI’s prioritization of counterterrorism and its analysis of radicalization. There are also thought to be three tims as many unofficial community sources of information, known as ‘hip pockets.’” (Kundnani, Arun., “The Muslims Are Coming!,” p.198)
AlJazeera English: “Informants”
Alhamdulillah, we have entered the last ten days of Ramadan. Isn't it amazing that we are privileged to live during the most blessed nights of the entire year? We all have the opportunity. Now we have to decide what to do with it.
Some of you might be planning to play video games or watch TV for the rest of the month, thinking, “I'm just a kid” or “It's hard enough to give up food all day; I can't give up video games, too!” But Ramadan is more than just going without food and drink during the day and stuffing yourself during the night. It's about remembering Allah, doing ibadah, and helping others. And even though you may be a kid, you can still take advantage of the blessings of Ramadan. And what better time to do it than during the last nights of Ramadan?
This is the month the Qur'an was revealed! If you're not going to read Qur'an now, when will you? Even if it is hard for you to read very well or if you have a low attention span, dedicate a certain part of each day just for Qur'an reading. Set a goal for yourself and see how well you can follow through with it. It's even more fun when you and your siblings or friends compete with each other to see who can read more Qur'an. And as you read, remember that every single letter you read earns you hundreds of good deeds because of the blessings of Ramadan. It's also very important to read the translation so that you understand what you are reading. Yahiya Emerick has a great translation of the Qur'an designed just for kids to make it easy for you to understand what you are reciting.
Listen to Islamic Lectures
There are tons of lectures online that are beneficial and entertaining at the same time. Follow a series, watching a few minutes every day. Invite friends over before iftar you can watch the videos together. Some great series are Prophetic Dynasty and the Qur'an Weekly videos. BayyinahTV also has a great channel of videos on lots of awesome topics. But don't make listening to the lectures a one time thing. Rather than forgetting about everything except the jokes in the video, try to follow at least one thing you learned for the remainder of Ramadan.
Make Lots of du'a
This is one of the easiest things to do throughout the day. Remember that Allah is always listening to you, especially during Ramadan, so ask Him for whatever you want! Don't forget to make du'a for the people suffering all around the world. It is also a good idea to memorize some of the du'as our Prophet Muhammad (S) used to say. Fortress of the Muslim is a great book for this purpose and the title is really cool because du'as really are a fortress to protect us.
Increase the Quality of Your Prayers
This Ramadan, instead of rushing through your prayers, try to make your prayers better. Say longer surahs or just try reciting them slower. Pray in a quiet area without any distractions and take a few minutes to say dhikr and make du'as after you are done praying. If you go to the masjid during Taraweeh prayers, don't spend the whole time hanging out with the kids who are playing outside or in the back of the masjid. Try praying at least a few rak'ahs. If it's too hard for you to pray more than two rak'ahs at a time, try taking a break after every few rak'ahs. One of the best ways to help you concentrate during the prayer is to read some of what the imam will recite during the day. The other night, I was a little tired when I was praying, but all of a sudden I heard the imam reciting the story of Ibrahim (A) when he was about to slaughter his son Ismail (A) and I started paying full attention to the prayer because I had recently heard the story in a lecture online. This is also a good way to avoid being distracted by the noisy kids running around. I don't know what kind of distractions you have during Taraweeh, but the last time I went to Taraweeh, there was one little kid who kept running around without a shirt on and another girl who was running between the lines counting the number of people, and then stopping to poke some of us on the way. Some things that happen during Taraweeh are so weird that we could probably make a whole book called “Taraweeh Distractions”!
Ramadan is the month of giving. This is when people are encouraged to give the most charity. Okay, maybe since you're a kid, you're not exactly that rich. You're probably depending on Eid as a time for you to increase your wealth. ;) But there are so many other ways to help others out. You can help out with simple things around the house or by simply being nice to those around you. Remember that the Prophet Muhammad (S) said that even a smile is charity? Everyone has heard these words, but have you ever really thought about what they mean? Could they mean smiling at your brother after he broke your favorite toy? Could it mean smiling at your sister after she wore your favorite hijab? Could it mean smiling at that really annoying kid in the masjid? Hadiths are there for you to follow when it's harder to follow them. It's easy to smile and laugh with your friends, but can you smile even when everyone around you isn't? Another way to help others is to raise money for a cause you feel strongly about. You can start a team with a group of friends and work together to help others this Ramadan with a project like 99 Orphans.
Don't Be a Grouchy Faster
When fasting, people have a tendency to have a short temper. The excuse, “But I am fasting” always drives me nuts. Okay, I understand you're fasting, but so is everyone else! Part of fasting is controlling yourself. You're not supposed to repeatedly get angry or scowl whenever someone tries to talk to you. If everyone just did their part to be nice, then it would be so much easier to be nice to each other, wouldn't it? And everyone says, “I'll be nice after my brother starts being nice.” That's giving up without even trying. And besides, do you really want your brother to get more good deeds than you for being the stronger person, the person who is able to control himself better? Take sibling rivalry to another level. Have a competition to see who can be the best Muslim!
Start a Beneficial Hobby
Lots of kids these days spend so much time playing computer games or video games that they don't have real hobbies. (Video games are not a hobby, in case you were wondering.) This Ramadan, start a new hobby for yourself with the intention to use your time more wisely. Try sewing, knitting or crocheting. There are tons of tutorials online that can help you get started. Don't think sewing is solely a feminine activity. Why should girls be the only ones who can sew? Boys have the ability, too. And, if you don't know the differences between sewing, knitting, and crocheting, now would be a good time to find out! Arts and crafts are also a great way to stay occupied and have a great time. They also have an added benefit by helping you with your Eid gifts. :) Now that there are so many tutorials online for making cool crafts and Muslim-run websites with guides on doing cool Ramadan and Eid crafts, you won't be alone. My siblings have spent many nights this Ramadan watching craft tutorials they made over the years! If you're into stamping, take advantage of the new Ramadan and Eid stamps that just came in. This Ramadan, my family started a Ramadan blog where we all write about things we have learned and various Ramadan ideas. It's never too late to start something new. Your family can start a blog for the last ten days of Ramadan. Blogger makes it really easy to make your own blog even if you don't have any experience with websites. Other great hobbies are movie-making, photography, or cooking. One of my hobbies while fasting is to look at pictures of yummy food online, get a severe craving for some type of food, and then make it for my next suhoor. Of course most people say, “The point of a hobby is to keep your mind off food, not on food!” But thinking about food makes me feel better for some reason. :) And Ramadan is the only time during the year when I actually want to make food!
Don't Be Selfish During Iftar Time
One of the reasons I don't enjoy eating iftar outside is that fasters can sometimes be really selfish. I would never have believed this if I didn't actually see it with my own eyes, but I have witnessed people in front of me in a twenty-person line getting five pieces of food when there were only twenty pieces total! How is that even fair? One of the most important parts of Ramadan is to think about others. However, the way some people eat iftar is completely contrary to this idea. So remember everyone else who is fasting, too, this Ramadan.
Do Good Deeds Even if You're Not Fasting
It's easy to get out of the Ramadan mode when you're not fasting, but don't let this stop you. Ramadan is not all just about fasting. You can still take advantage of Ramadan by helping out others more and doing lots of dhikr. Try to concentrate on making the fast easier for those who are fasting. (One good way would be not to be first in line when it's iftar time!)
Avoid Wasting Away the Night
I know that most people choose to stay up throughout the night since the nights are so short. And since the nights are the most blessed parts of Ramadan, what a great way to take advantage of all the blessings! Instead of playing games or lazily lying about doing nothing, try doing the things above to maximize your benefit from this month. It's like using two coupons at the same time. One is the Ramadan coupon and the second is the last ten nights coupon. Instead of reducing the price, however, these coupons gain you unlimited rewards from Allah!
Enjoy the rest of your Ramadan!
(Attention, writers! Muslim Kids Matter is a regular feature at Muslim Matters. New articles for kids are posted every other Sunday. You're welcome to send in your entries to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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