A Smile Just Won’t Cut it Anymore: Breaking Down Walls, Building Bridges

Muslim Matters - 19 December, 2016 - 18:58

by Safiya Ravat

So many of us are understandably upset about the rhetoric of Trump – trying to build a wall, trying to divide us. But a thought that occurred to me recently was, haven’t I been putting up walls all along?

One of the biggest regrets I have now in my mid-20s, is not making enough, nor keeping in touch with many of my non-Muslim friends I made throughout school. If I were to count how many of them I still keep in contact with (if saying “Congrats” and “Mazel Tov” for their marriage and new baby counts as being in contact) then I’d be able to count them all on my fingers, of one hand… make that half of one hand. Considering I’ve lived most of my life in a country where 99% of the population is non-Muslim, that number is downright pathetic. The truth is, I’ve been putting up walls for much of my life, living in my comfortable Muslim bubble. But the situation today calls for us as Muslims in America to get out of our comfort zones, break down those walls, and start building bridges.


I wasn’t always building walls. When I was younger, I had plenty of friends of all colors and religions. I was invited to Catherine’s house, Rebecca’s birthday party, I went with Nicole to the museum, and hung out with Rinum at lunch. Jessica even reminded my friend Asma and I to pray one day after school, knowing we hadn’t performed Dhuhr prayer yet. We were all great buddies, and I appreciated their friendship a lot.

Then around the end of high school and into my university years, a shift happened that I didn’t quite notice at the time… I started putting up walls. No longer did my friends list contain Christine, Anna, and Linda… but rather Aisha, Hafsa, and Mariam. I found a calling in the MSA (Muslim Students Association) and surrounded myself entirely with other Muslim students. I was comfortable, these were my people, we were all in this struggle together. No doubt, it was great for my Iman, however it took a hit to my da’wah. I started to think that I couldn’t relate to non-Muslim much anymore, and I stopped making an effort.

By the time I graduated university, my interactions with non-Muslims was limited to smiling at the clerk in the check-out line, and I’ve got to admit I was pretty proud of myself for it – I thought I was fulfilling my da’wah responsibilities.

But boy, was I wrong. After the recent election results came in, I’ve been smacked into reality. No, it was not enough. Just smiling at the clerk at the grocery store, or saying “Have a nice day” to the barista at Starbucks is no longer enough as Muslims living amongst non-Muslims in America.

A TIME Magazine poll in 2010 found that more than 4 out of every 10 Americans hold an unfavorable view of Muslims. What’s more important is that 60% of Americans in the poll said they’d never even met a Muslim before. That’s on us.

By no means am I saying to give up your Muslim circles or put yourself in a place that compromises your faith. What I’m saying is that if we’ve chosen to live as a minority in a non-Muslim land, isolating ourselves and turning inward is not going to work out as a long term plan. It’s actually arguably incumbent upon us to mix and socialize with the general population, to show them the reality of Islam, the humanity of Muslims. Think about the countless number of revert stories that begin with, “I had a Muslim friend…”

Perhaps if more Americans actually met a Muslim, not just for a few seconds in the store or at school, but actually sat down, talked with them, built a relationship with them – then perhaps they wouldn’t see all Muslims in as much of an unfavorable light. Perhaps the next time they hear someone bad-mouthing Muslims, they’ll say, “Well I have a Muslim friend, and she isn’t like what the media has made them out to be.”


We’ve been building walls for years, and now it’s time to build bridges. Bridges are in no way simple to build. You’re taking two separate entities, and putting in time and effort to create a link between them. Building bridges will require us to be brave, creative, and proactive in reaching out and building meaningful relationships with those outside of our faith. The time has expired for just smiles, we have to follow up our smiles with words, and follow up our words with action.

Unfortunately, there is a huge misconception held by both non-Muslims and Muslims alike that Islam preaches hatred and enmity towards all non-Muslims. This could not be farther from the truth, and the life of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) attests to that.
He was kind and compassionate to all he met, including non-Muslims. He would visit non-Muslims when they were ill, give them counsel when they sought it. He helped a non-Muslim woman with her heavy load even though she openly talked ill of his religion. When a funeral procession of a Jewish man was passing by, he stood up out of respect. He called upon us to be kind to our neighbors, whether Muslim or not. He stressed this so much to the point that Abdullah ibn Umar, after slaughtering a sheep, asked his servant “Did you give some meat to our Jewish neighbor? For I heard the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) say, “‘Jibreel kept on enjoining the good treatment of neighbors to the extent that I thought he would include neighbors as heirs.’” (Bukhari And Muslim)

Not only was he kind to others, he stood up for their rights. In his youth, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) participated in Hilf ul-Fudhul, a pact amongst many of the Makkans that fought to uphold the rights of anyone who was oppressed, regardless of race, religion, or origin. Even after prophethood, he praised the pact and said he would uphold it if he were ever summoned to.

As Muslims, we must take a lesson from the life of RasulAllah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) – that regardless of a person’s religion, race, or gender – we should be kind and respectful, and we should fight for the rights of all who are oppressed.


The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was a bridge builder, a compassionate human whose care for people of all faiths went beyond a smile. Building bridges is not going to be easy, but dire times calls for dire measures.

There are plenty of ways to start building bridges; here are some you could try out:

1) PARTICIPATE: Find something that sparks your interest and join the local group in your area. It could be the soccer club at your YMCA, the local Mommy and Baby play group at Gymboree, a book club at your library, the debate club at university, or the soup kitchen downtown. It’s likely that you’ll find you’re the only Muslim in these groups, which allows you an amazing opportunity to build relationships, clear up misconceptions, or even just have a down to earth conversation.

2) ENGAGE: At your workplace, don’t hide inside your shell. Engage with your co-workers, ask them about their families, talk about current events. Bring cookies on Eid and dates in Ramadan, everyone loves the guy who brings food! Perhaps it will spark a conversation about Eid, and the questions may keep rolling. After several years of working there, would you rather be the person that leaves without a single person knowing your name, or would you prefer to be that Muslim guy that was so nice, so funny, so generous, that broke down the stereotypes they previously had of Muslims?

3) BE NEIGHBORLY: Get to know your neighbors. A “good morning” on your way out of the driveway won’t cut it anymore. Invite them over to your home for tea, share Eid gifts with them, and when you make a surprisingly tasty dish, send some over to them. Your neighbor is the closest person to you (literally steps away), so there’s no excuse, you know exactly where they live – give their door a knock.

4) EDUCATE: Often we invite people of other faiths to our mosques for inter-faith events, which is great, but how about trying the reverse? We could contact every church, synagogue, and temple in our local area, and ask if they’d be interested in a Muslim guest speaker to come to their place of worship, offering to answer any and all questions, nothing is off-limits. Non-Muslims who voluntarily come to inter-faith events are often already quite open-minded. If we go to them, we’re hitting a larger audience, and allowing clarity for those who’ve always had questions, but never known a Muslim to ask.

Another great opportunity to educate is high school. In Texas, 9th grade World Geography class is typically where all students are introduced to the world religions. If we reach out to every geography teacher in the high schools in our locality, and offer to send a Muslim guest speaker to introduce Islam and answer any questions, perhaps we could change the minds of the next generation about what Islam really is.

5) TAKE ACTION: Get involved in organizations and movements that promote social justice. Islam stresses the importance of fighting against injustice of all forms, whether against Muslims or others. Don’t limit your support to Muslims who are facing injustices – support battered women who have nowhere to turn, march with African Americans who are being incarcerated because of the color of their skin, stand up for people with disabilities, protest alongside the Native Americans whose resources are being usurped. At the end of the day, we are all humans, and injustices done to anyone is a problem for all of us.


The wake up call has come- the time is now. Let’s roll up our sleeves and let’s start building.

Safiya Ravat is an Indian South African who grew up in Texas. She attained her degree in Journalism with a minor in Religious Studies at the University of Houston in 2011 and went on to write for the Houston Chronicle, Texas’s 2nd largest paper. There she wrote for the paper’s Belief Section, highlighting the lives and struggles of Muslims in her community.

Safiya studied under Shaykh Isam Rajab for two years at the Arees University. After graduating from the Bayyinah Dream Arabic program under Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan in 2012, she and her husband began pursuing a degree in Fiqh and Usul ul Fiqh at the International Islamic University of Malaysia. Follow them on their Facebook page. Safiya is currently a freelance journalist who enjoys writing and making educational videos about Fiqh and Women’s Fiqh. She has one son, Noah, who is an adventurous and charming toddler, mashaAllah. She blogs here

New antisemitism definition is justified | Letters

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 December, 2016 - 17:51

I was shocked by the letter (17 December) from Tony Greenstein and others about the government adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. The letter said: “The new definition has nothing to do with opposing antisemitism, it is merely designed to silence public debate on Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Antisemitic incidents comprise about 2% of all hate crime. Why then the concentration on antisemitism and not on Islamophobia, which is far more widespread?”

Those assertions are all either misleading or false and seem to say that antisemitism in Britain doesn’t matter. It is true that religiously based hate crime represents a very small percentage of all hate crime. In 2015 out of about 66,000 hate crimes in the UK, about 5,000 were on grounds of religion and, of those, about 1,000 attacks each were antisemitic and Islamophobic. Both types of attack are as abhorrent as each other. The British Jewish population is less than 10% of the size of the British Muslim population, so the Jewish community is facing far more frequent racist attacks pro rata than the Muslim community. In fact, the attacks on the Jewish community are concentrated on those who are easily identified as being Jewish, including those going to or from Jewish community centres, events or synagogues. Secular Jews are frequently unaware of such attacks.

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Mail pays out £150k to Muslim family over Katie Hopkins column

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 December, 2016 - 12:16

Hopkins had falsely accused Mahmood family, who were stopped from visiting Disneyland by US authorities, of extremist links

Mail Online has been forced to pay out £150,000 to a British Muslim family over a Katie Hopkins column which falsely accused them of extremism.

The column, published in December last year, said that US authorities were right to stop Mohammed Tariq Mahmood, his brother Mohammed Zahid Mahmood and nine children from travelling to Los Angeles for a trip to Disneyland last year. Hopkins also suggested that the two brothers were extremists with links to al-Qaida.

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Fatima Manji: ‘It’s really important that newsrooms reflect the population’

The Guardian World news: Islam - 18 December, 2016 - 09:40
Britain’s first hijab-wearing newsreader on the row over the Nice attacks coverage, minorities in the media and her obsession with The Thick of It

A correspondent on Channel 4 News since 2012, in March Fatima Manji became Britain’s first (and only) hijab-wearing newsreader on national television. Born in Peterborough, she studied history and politics at London School of Economics, before being accepted on a BBC trainee scheme. In July, she made headlines around the world when Kelvin MacKenzie wrote a column in the Sun questioning whether it was appropriate that she presented coverage on the evening of the terrorist attack in Nice.

When Kelvin MacKenzie wrote his column in the Sun, was it strange to be embroiled in something you couldn’t have seen coming?
If you say or do something controversial, you expect a backlash, but purely for just doing your job on the day… and it was just another day. Yes, it was a horrific, tragic, awful story, but it was another day of news. To go from that to, a few days on, suddenly being splashed all over the place, yes, that was surreal.

As a minority, you're more exposed to politics because you’re having to understand why you look different

I’m really amused when things happen in politics that could be scripts, like “trousergate”

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At least 30 Yemeni soldiers killed in Aden suicide bombing

The Guardian World news: Islam - 18 December, 2016 - 06:20

Many others wounded in attack targeting soldiers collecting salaries at base in northeastern Aden

A suicide bomber killed at least 30 Yemeni soldiers on Sunday when he detonated his explosives at a gathering in the southern city of Aden, military officials and medics said.

Many others were wounded in the attack that targeted a crowd of soldiers gathered to collect their salaries at a base in northeastern Aden, the officials and medics said.

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Muslim cleric banned in Pakistan is preaching in UK mosques

The Guardian World news: Islam - 17 December, 2016 - 23:30
It is feared that Syed Muzaffar Shah Qadri, who praised the murder of a politician, will incite hatred between Muslims

A Pakistani Muslim cleric who celebrated the murder of a popular politician is in Britain on a speaking tour of mosques. The news has alarmed social cohesion experts who fear such tours are promoting divisions in the Muslim community.

Syed Muzaffar Shah Qadri has been banned from preaching in Pakistan because his sermons are considered too incendiary. However, he is due to visit a number of English mosques, in heavily promoted events where he is given star billing.

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Ten Gifts for Aleppo

Muslim Matters - 16 December, 2016 - 03:32

By Rahma Shata

When Amr Ibn AlAs raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) asked Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) for an army of no less than 4,000 men, Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) sent FOUR men. With their Eman, each was worth 1,000 men and their goal was accomplished.

When Mohamed Ibn Qasim went with an army to open Turkey, he prayed fajr with them one day and gave them a speech. Afterwards, he looked for one man with the name Mohamed Ibn Wase’. When he found him, he said “by Allah that one finger of Mohamed Ibn Wase’ raised to supplicate to Allah is better than 1,000 swords.” With this man’s Duaa, Allah opened Turkey for the Muslims. 

When a tornado affected a small town, and in it was Shiekh Muhamed Ibn Mukhatil, people asked him to make Duaa for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to remove this punishment. He said “why would anyone ask me for Duaa, for I am probably the cause of this punishment.” With the heart of humility in this elderly man, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) saved the whole town.

When Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and his people gathered to ask Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for rain, they were denied for one amongst them who was a sinner. With the tawbah (repentance) of this one man, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) bought rain to the Muslims.

When our army was in battle to open Constantinople, they’d check if EVERY man in each tent was in Qiyaam (night prayer). If only one wasn’t, they’d say: “tomorrow will not be the day Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) grants us victory.” With their Qiyaam and dedication, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) opened Constantinople.

When Salah alDin freed Palestine, it was only after years of teaching the Muslims what proper Islam is. Only then, with pure hearts, did they know what Jihaad (the struggle in the way of Allah) was. With the light of knowledge, they formed an army and Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) granted them victory.

When the Muslims were defeated in Uhud because of ONE sin, they learned their lesson collectively. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does not give victory based on number but based on the heart’s faiths. With this instilled in them, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) granted 313 victory in Badr, despite them facing 1,130 enemies.

Syrian residents, fleeing violence in the restive Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood, arrive in Aleppo's Fardos neighbourhood on December 13, 2016, after regime troops retook the area from rebel fighters. Syrian rebels withdrew from six more neighbourhoods in their one-time bastion of east Aleppo in the face of advancing government troops, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. / AFP / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

Syrian residents, fleeing violence in the restive Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood, arrive in Aleppo’s Fardos neighborhood on December 13 2016, after regime troops retook the area from rebel fighters.Syrian rebels withdrew from six more neighborhoods in their one-time bastion of east Aleppo in the face of advancing government troops, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. / AFP / STRINGER (Getty Images)

The examples are many. We can list them all day. We just need to wake up. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has always granted us victory after we have done our parts.

Syria is burning to the ground and we aren’t moving. With one word or one Duaa, let’s wage ‘war’ against the enemy of not just Islam, but the enemy of humanity.

When each of us consciously took the shahada for the first time in our lives, we became part of this large family united under the umbrella of “La Ilaha Illa Allah.” The grief of the people of Syria is the same grief that’s resides in our hearts. That is what a family is.

Yes, from the creation of this universe, until this very moment, every single thing that has occurred was predestined by Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) ……But that He subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has allowed for it to happen does not mean He is satisfied and is in favor of what has happened.

Realize right now that YOU can do something and turn away from any person or article telling you otherwise. Each and every single one of us will be asked on Judgement Day.

Oh Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) , we have transgressed and failed our brothers and sisters in Syria, so forgive us and open for us doors to do good. SubhanAllah even during this painful time, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is STILL giving us gifts and opportunities to be a PROACTIVE community, as was the community of Rasool Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him):

Gift One: Tawbah. “And whatever strikes you of disaster – it is for what your hands have earned; but He pardons much.” [Quran 42:30] Let’s intend right now to leave our sins so that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) may aid our brothers and sisters in Syria and lift this catastrophe that has befallen our Ummah. Turn to Him. He is the Most Forgiving.

Gift Two: It’s winter. The days are short. The nights are long. Fast maybe just Mondays and Thursdays and make the Duaa at the breaking of your fast for your hurting brothers and sisters. Take a portion of the night and pray Qiyaam to your Lord. Organize a local Qiyaam night. Without doubt, no Duaa is refused, for Rasool Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Verily your Lord is Modest and Generous, when His servant raises his hands to Him in supplication, He is shy to return them empty.” It’s the right of our Syrian brothers and sisters on us. And although Duaa is the only weapon currently in our hands, it’s a very very powerful one.

Gift Three: The local Masajid. Request (actually, urge) your masjid to host a fundraiser. There are more than 3,000 masajid in the U.S alone. We have the numbers. If each of the masajid raised ONLY $5,000, we can easily send 15 million to aid our brothers and sisters in Syria. Imagine the difference that can make to the shivering child in the arms of his mother.

Gift Four: Organizations. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has blessed us with organizations that directly and indirectly aid our Syrian brothers and sisters. Donate and spread their names. Do not belittle a dime. If it’s what you have, give it. Some organizations doing work on the ground are Zakat Foundation of America, NuDay Syria, Syrian American Medical Society.

Gift Five: Qunoot Al-Nazila. Contact your local Imam and ask him to enforce this. When you’re praying jama’a with friends, do this. When only THREE men were captured from the Muslims at the time of Rasool Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), he would pray with the people and make Duaa for the captured in every prayer for over a month. Imagine Rasool Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saw what’s afflicting the Muslims today.

Gift Six: Democracy. Although many debate whether or not we are living in a democracy, note that we are blessed to be able to contact our local AND national officials. Reach out. Ask them to do something with their political power. And the more of us that call, the more the urgency in our voices is heard.

1. Call the White House at: 202-456-1111 or write to the President at: https://www.whitehouse. gov/contact#page 2. Contact your senator at: senators/contact/ 3. Contact your congressperson at: representatives/find/

Gift Seven: Democracy (part II). Participate in peaceful protests and vigils. Encourage your friends to. Organize a vigil. A protest. An online campaign. We are not living in a country which jails us for speaking up, and we must be thankful for that and utilize it. There are others suppressed by their governments and we must be their voice. So, go out. As a good friend worded it, laziness here is punishable.

Gift Eight: Media. Share. Share. Share. OVER share. If the news won’t adequately cover Aleppo, we will. Spread awareness with a click of a button. Keep the hashtag trending. Write about what’s going on. You’d be surprised how many people are misinformed. Educating one person may form a ripple of goodness for this Ummah.

Gift Nine: Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is the Most Knowing, the Most Wise, the Most Merciful, the Capable. Know that with every hardship comes a greater ease. Oh Muslims, “& do not weaken and do not grieve, and you will be superior if you are (true) believers.” [Quran 3:139]

Gift Ten: Lastly…With sincerity and unity, let’s hold firm to this religion for indeed it is the greatest gift we have ever been given. And open His book subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Read.

For indeed the victory of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is near.

Ya Arham Arrahimeen, You see the condition of the Syrian children, the women who are raped and the shuyukh who are disparaged– ya Allah with Your Mercy, take them out of this state and protect them.

Ya Qadir, You are the only One capable of changing the condition of a people. Ya Rahman ya Rahim change our condition and make us a2imma and khulafaa2 again.

Ya Allah , You say “Be” and it is. With Your Power oh Most High and our King, change the condition of our Ummah. Ya Salaam, restore peace in the lands of the Muslims.

Ya Wadud, with Your love for Your servants, allow the us to be from the superior ones. Ya Tawwab, accept our repentances so that You may change our state.

Ya Nafi’, You are the only One Capable of benefiting us, oh our Lord, benefit us with a near victory.

Ya Samee’ ya baseer, You see what the oppressors have done. Oh our Lord, destroy them with themselves and show us a day which will become a coolness on the hearts of the believers

Rahma Shata is a resident of New Jersey and a senior at Darul Arqam School. When she is not occupied with school or event planning, she can be found reading the books of one of her favorite scholars, Imam Al-Ghazali (ra). She enjoys learning Tafseer and everything Tazkiyah related. Rahma is one of the few people who equally enjoy both coffee and tea. She passionately believes every human is obligated to bring change to this world and hopes to leave behind her a legacy to be remembered.



Justice department sues Michigan city over denial of proposed mosque

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 December, 2016 - 23:38

DoJ alleges Sterling Heights violated religious freedom of American Islamic Community Center when it shot down a 2015 application to build mosque

The US Department of Justice is suing the city of Sterling Heights, Michigan, alleging it violated federal law in 2015 when it denied a proposal to build a mosque in the city.

The 20-page complaint filed in US district court says the city discriminated against the American Islamic Community Center (AICC) on the basis of religion, when it refused to approve a land use request for a proposed mosque.

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Government’s responsibility over sharia law | Letters

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 December, 2016 - 19:50

Sharia courts are a symptom rather than the cause of the problems many Muslim women face (Sharia courts have no place in UK family law,, 14 December). The real problem is that most mosques do not register themselves under the Marriage Act 1949 and imams are willing to perform marriage ceremonies without insisting on the marriage being registered. Muslim wives in particular are usually not aware that their “marriage” has no legal status until the relationship breaks down, and they discover that they are merely cohabitants with few rights and in that circumstance going to a sharia “court” may be the best option they have.

It is a criminal offence to solemnise a marriage that is not registered under the Marriage Act. If the government started enforcing that provision and ensured that all Muslim marriages are properly registered, that would achieve far more for Muslim women than yet another review of sharia courts.
Neil Addison
Barrister, Liverpool

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Homeless shelter opens with multifaith support in Leicester

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 December, 2016 - 15:17

Seven faiths or denominations involved, with shelter rotating between churches, synagogue and Muslim community centre

A night shelter for rough sleepers in Leicester will rotate between Anglican and Catholic churches, a Muslim community centre, a synagogue and a Hindu temple over the next 11 weeks in the first multifaith venture of its kind in the UK.

The shelter, which provides overnight bed, board and support for 10 homeless men, opened on Monday. Seven faiths or denominations are involved, with Quakers and Sikhs providing support and meals at different religious venues. More than 200 people from different faith communities and of no faith have volunteered to support the project.

Related: Spikes, railings and water are weapons of ‘dehumanising’ campaign against homeless

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Muhammad ﷺ, Example For All Times

Muslim Matters - 15 December, 2016 - 05:34

They say that reading biographies is perhaps the best way to learn real life lessons. That is because a biography is a record of practice. Of what worked and what didn’t. The life of Muhammadﷺ  is perhaps one of the most well documented in human history.

Having said that one may ask why his life and all the detail is important at all? I am not speaking from the perspective of a Muslim for whom to study the life of Muhammadﷺ and to live his life in accordance with it, is a religious requirement. I am asking this from the perspective of a neutral reader, Muslim or not, who is looking for biographies to read.

The answer lies in the facts related to his life which are public knowledge. Here was someone who in a period of 23 years, took his people from being the weakest, most despised and oppressed in their community to being the leaders and role models in the same community. And he did all that without lies, cheating, corruption, violence or bloodshed. My question is, ‘Would you like to know how to do that? Would you like to know how to bring about not incremental but transformational change in your society? Then read the life of Muhammadﷺ.’

In the words of J. Krishnamurty, ‘It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.’

I don’t think there is anyone, including the 1% who appear to have it all who will disagree that we are very sick. Humanity is sick. The earth is sick. We are all very sick. This is no longer an academic issue for people to write scholarly papers about. It is something that we, the people of the world, need to address recognizing it as the dire emergency that it is. If we don’t, the clock is ticking backwards for us and fast. And the time is very close where we will make our own position as the inhabitants of this earth; not its owners as we like to believe; completely untenable. We need action. And we need it now.

Call it a strange coincidence but 5th Century Makkah was a microcosm of our global capitalist, pluralist, multicultural, multiracial society. Let me describe the Makkah that Muhammadﷺ  was born, grew up and lived in, until the age of 50. That is a long time for someone to spend in one town but that is what Muhammadﷺ  did.

Makkah was a town with one single claim to fame – the Ka’aba. This is the House of Allahﷻ  built by Ibrahim (Prophet Abraham) and was a place of pilgrimage from times immemorial. Access to the Ka’aba was open to anyone who wanted to come. The environs of the Ka’aba were declared a sanctuary with all killing, hunting and fighting banned within that sanctuary. This was the main reason why Makkah developed as a town, because it was a safe haven for everyone from any of the many frequently warring tribes.

Another similarity that 5th century Makkah had with our modern society is that it was a world of business. Businessmen were its leaders and they ran the town. Acquisition of wealth was the primary concern. Makkan society was materialistic based on a free market economy. Markets were not regulated by any central authority. Traders charged the best price they could get, hoarded in times of scarcity and sold at great profit and bought goods from as far afield as Syria and Yemen to sell in Makkah.  Makkah being as sort of aggregator of people from all of Arabia, was a great seller’s market where high prices could be commanded as goods sold in Makkah were simply not available in any other part of Arabia. That is how Makkan traders became its nobility and created a sort of oligarchy. You can draw similarities with our capitalist society today and see how close 5th century Arabia was to most of our 21st century world.

Makkah was also a multicultural and pluralistic place as all centers of trade tend to be. That is because if you want to promote trade you must make it easy and safe for people from multiple origins, belief systems and cultures to coexist peacefully. All that is good for business. And so it was. In Makkah, the local people mostly worshipped idols. But Jews, Christians, Magians all came and went from Makkah, each practicing his religion without any interference from anyone else. Very much like what happens in most Western countries today. And for the same reason; it is good for business.

The reason I’ve spent so much time on drawing a picture of Makkan society of the 5th century showing its similarities to our 21st century society is because I want to hypothesize that because Muhammadﷺdespite being a person with almost no resources, support or political power, could bring about a complete transformation of his society, then we have reason to hope that the methods he used can work today for us as well.

To quote Alphonse de Lamartine, in his book, ‘History of Turkey’ who said, “If greatness of purpose, smallness of means and astonishing results are the three criteria of a human genius, who could dare compare any great man in history with Muhammad?”

Muhammadﷺ  didn’t focus on bringing about any materialistic changes in the lives of people. The changes he brought about ideological, ethical and moral, changed not only their lives but also changed the structure, laws, freedom and behavior of Arab society. Muhammadﷺ  brought about changes in the way people thought, in their ideals and benchmarks which led to a change in what they considered important, which in turn led to a change in their behavior which brought about a change in society. As they say, it all begins at the top; in the mind. Once we change our attitude, our behavior changes which leads to perceptible results in and around us. All change must begin with us internally, with how we view the world, what we want from it, what we find satisfaction in and what we are prepared to do (and not do) to get it. We need to define the meaning of a ‘good life’, and be clear about what investment we are prepared to make, to get it.

I mention this here because in our race today, to garner all resources for oneself without a thought about others, we have created a society that is crying out in pain and grief. It is inconceivable to imagine that the resources of the world can possibly be concentrated in the hands of so few, but as they say, ‘fact is stranger than fiction’. I can imagine the derision if any author dared to suggest that 62 people would own 50% of global assets and the rest of the world would watch silently. But that is not fiction. That is fact. For perspective, let me state that a bus has 65 seats excluding the driver’s seat.

What was the change that Muhammadﷺ wrought in his society?

In my view, there are three major principles that he promoted:

  1. Accountability to Allahﷻ from whom nothing is hidden
  2. Truthfulness
  3. Spreading goodness all around

This is the essence of the religion he brought, Islam. That is why he said, ‘The best of you is the one who is the most beneficial to all people.’

Let us look at each of these principles in the life of Muhammadﷺ briefly.

  1. Accountability to Allah  from whom nothing is hidden

What makes a mistake a crime is that the criminal knows that what he is doing is illegal, immoral and wrong. People don’t commit sins, oppress others, commit violence or evil because they don’t know the difference between right and wrong. They do it because they think they can get away with it. Muhammadﷺ taught that this belief is a fallacy because no matter what we think, speak or do is known and seen by our Creator to whom we will return and to whom we must give an account of what we did.

Muhammadﷺ taught that good and evil are absolute values. They don’t depend on who does them or who these are done to. He taught that human values apply to all humans, not only to Muslims. On the contrary Muslims have an additional responsibility to act according to the values of their religion because they believe in Muhammadﷺ and in Islam.

He said to his daughter Fatima, ‘O! Fatima, don’t think that you will be favored by Allahﷻ because you are the daughter of His Messenger. You will stand before your Creator on the basis of your own deeds.’

  1. Truthfulness 

Muhammadﷺ was known among his people even before he started preaching Islam as As-Sadiq ul Ameen – The Truthful and Trustworthy. And that is what he taught his followers; to be truthful in every aspect of life. Someone asked him, ‘Is it possible that a Muslim may be a coward?’ He replied, ‘Yes.’ They asked, ‘Is it possible that a Muslim may commit adultery?’ He replied, ‘Yes.’ They asked him, ‘What is it that a Muslim cannot possibly do?’ He replied, ‘A Muslim cannot tell a lie.’

He taught that virtue and vice are absolute values. They are not relative to your personal worth, religion, race or anything else. Right and wrong don’t depend on who does them. That is why truthfulness is the basis of all goodness. He held himself to this value of truthfulness to such an extent that when he was migrating to Madina from Makkah and his life was threatened, he still had valuables that his enemies had entrusted him with. Before he left, he gave them to his cousin Ali bin Abi Talib and instructed to return them to their owners. What can you say about the truthfulness of someone who was trusted by his own enemies?

  1. Spreading goodness all around

Muhammadﷺ said to his people, ‘The best of you is the one who is best to his neighbor.’ He didn’t say, ‘Muslim neighbor’. He said, ‘Neighbor.’ In Islam, there is no distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims in respect of the rights of citizenship.

He said, ‘A Muslim is responsible for the welfare of his neighbors, up to seventy houses on either side of his house.’ Imagine a society that is based on this value of responsibility to one’s neighbors.

On another occasion, someone asked him how he could determine if he was a good man. Muhammadﷺsaid to him, ‘If you neighbor says that you are good, then you are good. If your wife says that you are good, then you are good.’

Finally, on the issue of women’s rights which everyone today accuses Islam of denying. Women in Muhammadﷺ’s time were treated as property owned and inherited by men, to be used and abused at will. Women had no rights at all. Many Makkan people buried their newborn daughters to escape the cost of raising a girl child. Sounds familiar in today’s context? Let us see what Muhammadﷺ gave women in the 5th century.

  1. Right to own property and income and to keep whatever she earns without sharing anything of it.
  2. Right to be paid to bring up her own children including nursing them.
  3. Right to marry anyone of their choice.
  4. Right to divorce the husband even without his consent and to have this written in the marriage contract.
  5. Wife need not serve his parents or family at all.
  6. Right to receive the Mehr (bridal gift) and not to pay any dowry at all.
  7. Right to retain the Meher if she gets divorced. It remains her property to do with as she likes.
  8. Right to inherit from her parents, children and husband.
  9. Wife has a right in the husband’s property and income. It is the duty of the husband to support the wife unconditionally. He has no right in her income or property, even if it was purchased with his money.

The reality is that to this day many of these rights are denied to women in so-called advanced countries which don’t operate under Islamic law.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that Muhammadﷺ left for us all, Muslim or not alike, a way of life, a code of conduct and behavior that is as applicable today as it was in his time. It is my contention that if people followed his way, then we would be able to cure the sickness of selfishness, cruelty and indifference that we are plagued with and create a society based on compassion, mutual responsibility and accountability to Allahﷻ from whom nothing is hidden.

Now, how’s that for a new world order?



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