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From a Same-Sex Attracted Muslim: Between Denial of Reality and Distortion of Religion

Muslim Matters - 22 August, 2016 - 22:02

Br.Yousef  is the moderator of www.straightstruggle.com

MuslimMatters has carried a number of articles over the past few years related to the topic of homosexuality. Some of these have focused on the scriptural evidence (here) and moral justifications (here and here) for Islam's prohibition of same-sex acts and relationships, while others (here and here) have offered perspectives on the stance Muslims should take with respect to the larger gay rights movement. Yet other pieces (here and here) have dealt with the issue from a more pastoral angle.

While all these pieces deal admirably with the topic of homosexuality from an Islamic point of view, none of them seek to acquaint the reader with an “insider's perspective” on the issue, that is, the perspective of a faithful Muslim who actually experiences same-sex desires and attractions. This perspective is important, however, for two reasons. First, many Muslims today are seeking a way to respond to the question of homosexuality that is both principled and compassionate, particularly when it comes to fellow Muslims who may be dealing with same-sex inclinations. At the same time, Muslims, like all members of society, are constantly being bombarded from all quarters by a strident and increasingly aggressive “gay affirmative” public discourse that presents itself as the only reasonable, just, or even moral response to the phenomenon of human same-sex desires and attractions. It is no wonder, therefore, that Muslims – both those who experience same-sex attractions and those who do not – have recently begun ceding to this pressure at the expense of their religious integrity and Islamic moral commitments. With very few voices to counter the dominant narrative, many Muslims today have become sincerely confused, and troubled, over this issue.

In these circumstances, the voice of an insider to the same-sex struggle is perhaps uniquely qualified to put a human face on this issue and to tell us how we as a community can best be of help to our brothers and sisters who need it. When such a person is also a practicing Muslim committed to dealing with his or her same-sex attractions in light of the teachings of Islam, their witness can also provide perhaps the most credible, and nuanced, alternative to the one-sided, black-and-white public narrative currently shouting down all other considered and principled perspectives on this issue.

The essay below is written by Br. Yousef, a Muslim with same-sex attractions who, along with many other Muslims in his shoes, has committed to living his life on the basis of established Islamic moral and spiritual teachings. In addition, Br. Yousef has moderated an online support group for same-sex attracted Muslims (www.straightstruggle.com) for the past 13 years, giving him a wealth of experience and a unique perspective from which to address this topic. His essay is addressed to imams, chaplains, Muslim activists and community leaders, to the Muslim community at large, and to other fellow Muslims who find themselves dealing with same-sex desires and attractions.

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In the late 1990s, one of North America's most prominent Muslim leaders was giving a lecture at a large convention. In that lecture, he described how disgusted he was that he had been sitting next to a gay man on his flight over to the lecture. An 18-year-old Muslim experiencing same-sex attractions was at that lecture, and the words like raining bullets are stuck in my head till this day.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Yousef and I write to you as a Muslim who has experienced same-sex attractions since adolescence. I am currently married with children, al-hamdu li'Llah, and have been working for many years now as a professional. My same-sex attractions, while still present, have diminished significantly over the years, and I have been blessed to enjoy a healthy relationship with my wife, whom I love. (As a side note, while marriage was definitely the right decision for me, it may not be right for every person who has same-sex attractions; no single rule applies to all situations.) I have also been the moderator of an online support group for Muslims with same-sex desires, called Straight Struggle, for about 13 years now. In that time, I have transformed, grown, and evolved in my thinking many times over, specifically with regard to the topic of homosexuality and Islam.

Critical Terms and Concepts

I will be using two main terms in this essay: same-sex attractions (SSA) and same-sex encounters (SSE). I believe these terms more accurately describe the relevant issues with respect to the topic of homosexuality, particularly for us as Muslims. The terms “homosexual,” “gay,” “LGBT,” “queer,” etc. in today's culture are labels that mean different things to different people, whereas there is no mistaking what is meant by “same-sex attractions / desires” and “same-sex encounters.”

It is also important for me to stress that I do not believe that my same-sex attractions are my identity. Same-sex desires are feelings that I, and others, have that I contend with in my daily journey towards Allah. They do not make me different in any essential way from any other Muslim. For this reason, I reject the idea that Muslims who experience same-sex attractions should be given a special label or that we should “self-identify” as “LBGT,” “gay,” “homosexual,” or “queer.” I believe these labels isolate people with such attractions and, from what I have seen, sometimes force them to conform to certain lifestyles even if they do not really want to. Also, these labels have the effect of elevating sexual desires – basically shahawat – and making them part of the “core of who I am” as a person. This seems arbitrary to me and something that I find hard to justify from an Islamic perspective, both legally and spiritually.

To be clear and upfront: there is absolutely nothing haram or to be ridiculed about anyone just having SSA (same-sex attractions). What is forbidden in Islam are SSEs (same-sex encounters and behaviors). No one that I have met over the years ever chose to be attracted to the same sex. Let me repeat: not one single person among the dozens and dozens that I have interacted with over the years ever wanted to have SSA or chose to have SSA. This needs to be understood and taken into account when thinking about your brothers and sisters who are dealing with this issue.

It is also critical that people in the Muslim community understand that there is a very important difference between SSA and SSE, between attractions and actions. Practically all of our religion rides on this distinction, not just in the sexual realm but across the board. I am not judged for merely experiencing a desire (to the extent that it is beyond my control), but only for what I choose to do – or not to do – with it. A person is not cursed or diseased or a walking sin just because they experience SSA. Only an action can be haram, not a person. Rather, they are people just like anyone else who are dealing with a particular difficulty or test in life, and they are doing the best they can with their life and faith. They have failures and successes just like everyone else. Of course, if we apply the distinction between desires and actions consistently, then we who experience SSA also have to concede that just because we have these desires – which can be very strong, as sexual desires often are – this does not justify us acting on them in defiance of Allah's command.

Who Are Your Brothers and Sisters That Struggle with SSA?

I have thought long and hard about what to write in this essay and it has been something that, in some ways, has been years in the making. I thought I might proceed by giving you some examples of the brothers and sisters that I have encountered over the years. I could tell you about the brother who, from a very young age until he was a young adult, was sexually abused by his older neighbor. I could tell you about the guilt he had since the abuse “felt good” at the time, along with the attention. Or maybe I can tell you about the brother who attempted suicide twice since his family found out about his SSA. Or the sister who lost her job because of rumors about her SSA. Or the brothers who contracted HIV as a result of SSEs.

On the other hand, I could tell you about the imam who chose his faith over his desires and continues to preach, practice, and live as a pious Muslim on his path towards Allah even while keeping his desires in check. Or the community leader who chose a life of celibacy while learning and teaching the faith to others. Or the man who was living a homosexual lifestyle with his partner and who left it all for the sake of Allah when he converted to Islam. Or the number of university professors and doctors and other professionals who made the conscious decision to defeat their nafs and who chose Allah above all else in order to attain the ultimate reward. These brothers and sisters, myself included, firmly reject the idea of making religion conform to one's needs and desires and rather struggle against themselves in order to follow the teachings of our faith.

What Causes SSA and Can It Be Changed?

The question sometimes comes up as to what causes a person to have SSA. There has been a lot of discussion and research on this issue, and the fact is that no one really knows. It seems that it is most likely due to many convergent factors that are different for each person. Also, the exact nature and intensity of one's SSA can vary from person to person. I have learned through my long experience that no two people's profiles are exactly the same. Some people with SSA experience attraction to their own sex as a rule but are not positively repulsed by the other sex. Some of these might be able to see themselves with an opposite-gender spouse one day, if the right person and conditions came along and they had their SSA firmly under control, were confident they wouldn't fall into SSEs while married, etc. This, in fact, has been my experience and that of a number of others I have known. Other people have no attraction toward the opposite sex at all and may even cringe at the thought of engaging them romantically. Conventional marriage, needless to say, would not be an advisable option for such a person, at least as long as this remains their state.

Also, some people really feel a need to “get to the bottom of” their SSA, to try to understand it and figure it out: what it is, where it came from, why it's there, what it “means.” Others don't care much how it got there or why they have it, but prefer just to focus instead on how to manage it effectively and get on with their lives. Personally, I have come to belong more to this second camp. When I was younger, I did spend time trying to figure out why I was this way or what “went wrong.” Eventually I stopped because I figured I didn't really need to know the “why” of it, but rather just the “how” of how to deal with it. And even this “how” is not something I can explain in any scientific way. It is just things that have worked out for me over the years – mostly through following the Sunna, learning how to outsmart my nafs through the practice of tazkiya, and a fair amount of good old trial and error.

All this raises another common question, namely, can SSA be “cured”? If “cure” means total elimination and 100% “heterosexuality,” then probably not. Statistically, it seems uncommon for someone who has experienced predominant or exclusive same-sex attractions consistently past the age of adolescence one day to have zero SSA susceptibilities and to become fully “heterosexual.” But this goal isn't just unattainable (for most); I also believe that it is unnecessary. Nothing in Islam says that I have to be “heterosexual” (in fact, we don't even have a word for that in our deen), but only that I must refrain from prohibited sexual acts (which are named and specified in our deen). Past scholars, for example, differed over whether it was blameworthy for a mature man to be enticed by the beauty of a younger male (typically a “beardless youth,” or amrad). Some thought that such susceptibilities were indeed blameworthy, but many apparently did not – as long as no haram actions were committed.

This last point about avoiding haram actions has been agreed upon by all Muslim scholars. This is why it is so important for us to keep in mind the distinction between desires and actions. As Muslims, we know that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will ask us about what He has put under our control. This always includes our actions, as well as our thoughts and fantasies to the extent that we have control over them. Taklif (moral accountability) would be meaningless if Allah had not given us jurisdiction over our actions and made us fully responsible for them. Of course we will all mess up and make numerous mistakes along the way, whether we are people who happen to be tested with same-sex desires or not. This is exactly what Allah has made tawba (repentance) for. It is also why Allah refers to Himself eight times in the Qur'an as “al-Tawwab al-Rahim,” the Merciful One Who ever turns back to His repenting servant, and assures us no fewer than 72 times (!) that He is “Ghafur(un) Rahim,” the Ever Forgiving, Merciful One – subhan Allah! Therefore, no amount of sin should cause a person to lose hope in the Mercy of Allah. At the same time, our chances of receiving Allah's help, and earning His ultimate pleasure, are always greater when we minimize our sins as much as we can.

Coming back to the question of change, the fact remains that many people with SSA have experienced meaningful change over time in the intensity of their desires and the hold their same-sex attractions have over them, and/or in the role these desires and attractions play in their lives and their sense of who they are. Sometimes this may happen on its own. Sometimes it is the result of long-term spiritual discipline and self-control. Sometimes it's a question of changing how you conceive of and define yourself in relation to your desires and to others, particularly those of your own sex. More often than not, any progress a person makes on the path of dealing with his or her SSA will usually come about through a combination of techniques and approaches. Some have benefited from professional, faith-friendly therapy in learning to understand and address their same-sex desires and related emotional and psychological issues that many people with SSA are often also struggling with. Others have reported benefiting greatly from books, programs, and resources meant specifically for addressing, comprehending, mastering, and reducing or minimizing one's SSA. (A wealth of useful, principled, and thought-provoking information – grounded in a Christian, but also a more generally religious, perspective that Muslims can derive benefit from as well – can be found, for example, at sites such as www.samesexattraction.org or www.peoplecanchange.com.) But again for me, the real goal is not “heterosexuality” per se, but rather contentment, fulfillment, and being at peace with Allah, myself, and others.

Islam as a Middle Path: Avoiding Extreme Narratives

“I Am a Walking Monstrosity and Allah Hates Me for Existing” vs.“Out and Proud: It's Okay to Be Gay!”

I believe a key step in reaching equilibrium in the process of dealing with SSA is learning to avoid two common extremes: the extreme of despising ourselves for mere desires and attractions we did not ask for and the extreme of “identifying with” these desires as somehow defining who we are as human beings and as Muslims. Islam, as always, is a Middle Way, and it can be very liberating when we learn to get beyond all the false scripts we've been fed by our modern culture and to conceive of our particular moral struggle as no different in essence from the moral struggle of any other Muslim. When we do this, we can then learn to see ourselves as no worse, no better, nor even different in any fundamental way from any other sincerely striving servant of God on this planet.

We also reject any attempt on the part of anyone to pressure or to bully Muslim communities, imams, leaders, mosques, schools, or other institutions into accepting what Allah has clearly made haram in the name of “tolerance,” “affirmation,” “acceptance,” “inclusion,” “diversity,” or any of the other buzz words that are normally used for this purpose. 

This talk of extremes – which are always un-Islamic – brings me to another point. Many Muslims dealing with same-sex attractions find themselves stuck today between two sharply opposing forces. The first, which has been debated and now effectively refuted on the level of Islamic teachings (see M. Vaid, “Can Islam Accommodate Homosexual Acts? Qur'anic Revisionism and the Case of Scott Kugle”), are self-described “progressive Muslims” who have taken it upon themselves to offer distorted interpretations of the Qur'an and who reject or dismiss ahadith and the consensus of Muslim scholars, all in an attempt to make SSEs – same-sex acts, encounters, and relationships – permissible in Islam. This group, however, is appealing to some because it offers a “safe space” for Muslims with SSA and offers them a lifestyle that they can easily identify with. Of course, the biggest drawback is that the life such Muslims would be leading is likely to be sinful in many ways. I feel I have to say it clearly here once again: I and many other same-sex attracted Muslims that I have encountered over the years completely reject such attempts to manipulate our religion in order to “accommodate” our (or anyone else's) “sexuality.” We also reject any attempt on the part of anyone to pressure or to bully Muslim communities, imams, leaders, mosques, schools, or other institutions into accepting what Allah has clearly made haram in the name of “tolerance,” “affirmation,” “acceptance,” “inclusion,” “diversity,” or any of the other buzz words that are normally used for this purpose. The meaning of Islam is “submission,” and my submission to Allah and my faith come above all else, including my own desires, sexual or otherwise. This is the test that Allah has chosen for me and I accept it from Him in hopes of attaining His pleasure and His reward, insha'Allah. Allah mentions in the Holy Qur'an in Surat al-Baqara (2), verses 155-157:

 

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And We shall surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, Who, when affliction strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him will we return.” Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided.

According to the tafsir of this verse, these tribulations from Allah come in many forms that we have no control over. It is only Allah that can choose what these tribulations look like. The only control that we have is how we respond to them. Will we give in to temptation? Will we give up? Or will we persevere with patience and remind ourselves of our ultimate goal in the journey towards Allah? Then Allah can count us among the muhtadeen, the rightly guided who deserve Allah's blessings and mercy.

So how do we know that we will be tested even if we believe, and that tests and trials are actually proof that we do believe?  In the Qur'an in Surat al-'Ankabut (29), verses 2-7, Allah says:

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Do people think they shall be left to say, “We believe” and they shall not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars. Or do those who do evil deeds think they can outrun Us? Evil is what they judge. Whoever hopes for the meeting with Allah – indeed, the term decreed by Allah is coming. And He is the Hearing, the Knowing. And whoever strives only strives for [the benefit of] himself. Indeed, Allah is free from need of the worlds. And those who believe and do righteous deeds – We shall surely remove from them their misdeeds and shall surely reward them according to the best of what they were wont to do.

These verses are very clear in their message that belief will be met with trials. Accepting that these are trials and striving against them for the sake of Allah is what is of utmost importance as a statement and proof of our faith, because ultimately it is Allah's meeting that we seek in the Hereafter no matter what hardship we face in this life on our path towards Him.

So, on the one side are people who try to distort the deen by changing its clear teachings, but then on the other side there is often the culture of hate and stigma within the Muslim community with respect to people who experience SSA: whether it be the fact that this topic is hardly ever discussed – leading Muslims dealing with it to find themselves in bubbles where many young people think that they are literally the only people in the world that could be dealing with it – or the fact that if the topic ever is “discussed,” it is likely by imams who describe how “the punishment of homosexuality is death” and how evil the people of Lut 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) were. Other ways it is “discussed” are with groups of friends who seem to find it okay to make fun of, ridicule, and put down “gays.” (Even for many of us who don't act on our same-sex desires and reject the notion of self-identifying as “gay,” we still feel that people like us are being targeted by these kinds of comments.) In my many years, I can only recall twice when someone who spoke about the topic of homosexuality in Islam was actually compassionate and understanding enough to say that these are our brothers and sisters and they need our support and help. Twice is not enough. This needs to be the mainstream message that is presented the majority of the time to ensure that people get the correct understanding.

Our Responsibility as a Community

It is no longer – and really never should have been – acceptable that we sweep this issue under the rug. We are losing far too many of our brothers and sisters because of the ignorance of those in places of authority and the indifference and carelessness of the general community. Where are the khutbas and durus where this topic is properly addressed and correctly presented so that people have the proper understanding of the issue from an Islamic perspective? Where are the imams and scholars explaining that the presence of a spontaneous desire is not sinful in and of itself and unpacking the amorphous categories of “homosexuality” and “LGBT” into the more concrete – and religiously faithful – distinction between SSAs and SSEs? Where are the khawatir telling people to watch their tongues when speaking about “gays and lesbians” and “homosexuals” so as not to hurt the feelings of their brothers and sisters who are suffering in silence (even as we reject these identity labels and caution the community against taking them over from secular culture)? Where is the research to allow parents properly to guide their children so they can come to them with such an issue? And where are the tools parents need to be able to help their children who do end up coming to them with the issue of SSA?

Until we, the mainstream Muslim community, find a way to offer a safe environment for people dealing with same-sex attractions to open up to caring and compassionate individuals among us, we will be losing many of our brothers and sisters to a falsified understanding of Islam, or to leaving the religion altogether, or even to suicide (wa'l-'iyadhu bi'Llah). Now, I certainly do not mean that people should start waving the rainbow flag, wearing pink triangles, and proclaiming their same-sex attractions publicly. What I do mean is that we need to end the isolation and the misinformation about SSA, on the one hand, and the twisting of the deen, on the other, by way of imams and leaders propagating the correct understanding presented above about same-sex attractions (SSA) versus same-sex encounters (SSE) in terms of halal and haram. I also mean that imams, leaders, and parents should acquire the tools necessary to be able to support their children if/when they disclose their SSA to them. If we cannot count on our leaders and our communities both to uphold the integrity of our faith and at the same time to support us – your brothers and sisters who are dealing with same-sex attractions – with wisdom, discretion, and compassion in this test that Allah has chosen for us, then who can we count on?

Please note that I am not asking for anyone's pity. What I am asking for is some compassion – true compassion rooted in proper Islamic teachings that ensure our welfare as Muslims both in this life and the next. When someone, especially a young person, hears things like “gays should be killed” or “gays are disgusting,” I don't think one can exaggerate the lasting effects such words can have on a confused and vulnerable soul. No wonder so many of our youth are leaving the deen over this issue or else going over to groups that “affirm” them – however misguidedly – in a gay identity and lifestyle. We as a community should feel sadness and a sense of culpability on both counts. But in addition to the true compassion of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)– who was the most merciful of all mankind yet never compromised in warning people against violating the command of Allah – I am also asking for respect. It is my right as your brother in faith to have your full respect and support. This includes respect and support for brothers who might be effeminate in their behavior or sisters who might be masculine in theirs through no fault of their own. Imam al-Nawawi raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) has stated, concerning a male with effeminate mannerisms (mukhannath):

“The scholars have said that the mukhannath is of two types. The first is one who was created like that; he did not deliberately take on the characteristics of women, their appearance, speech, and mannerisms. Rather, this is a disposition (khilqa) upon which Allah created him. For this [person], there is no blame, no rebuke, no sin, and no penalty, and he is excused as he has no hand in that. The second type of mukhannath is the one who was not created upon that disposition (khilqa). Rather, he deliberately takes on the characteristics of women, their mannerisms, appearance, and speech, and adopts their dress. This is what is blameworthy and has been reported in authentic hadiths as cursed [behavior]. This accords with the meaning of another hadith: 'Allah has cursed men who (deliberately) imitate women, and women who (deliberately) imitate men.'”

imam al-Nawawi is clear here that there is no blame on a person for such tendencies as they have little or no control over. (Scholars agree that a person whose mannerisms mismatch their biological sex should try to recondition their mannerisms to the degree possible, but that they are not blameworthy for what lies beyond their capacity in this domain.) So long as someone is not committing haram acts – and really, even if they are – they are still your brother or sister in faith and there is absolutely no justification for disrespecting or bullying them. As long as they are not trying to justify or to normalize any haram behaviors – like same-sex acts – or calling to them publicly, they should be accepted and treated just like anyone else.

Words of Advice to Fellow Muslims Dealing with SSA

In closing, I would like to offer some nasiha to my many brothers and sisters who read this that also deal, as I do, with unrequested same-sex desires. First of all, you should know that you are not alone. There are many of us out there just like you, who know exactly what you are going through – the confusion, the pain, the isolation. We are here to lean on and to support each other with helpful words of advice, an ear to listen, and brotherly/‌sisterly encouragement along what we know through experience can be a very difficult path. Secondly, as all help and support ultimately come from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), I cannot stress how critical it is to maintain one's relationship with the One Who created us, to trust in Him, and to remain as close to Him as possible – no matter how many times one may have messed up or fallen flat on one's face in managing one's sexual desires. Many factors are necessary in dealing effectively with SSA, as I have mentioned, but in my experience, the single most important overriding factor for me has been my faith in Allah,subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and my unwavering faith in and commitment to His deen. Without this critical element, I do not believe I would be anywhere near where I am today in all of this, wa'l-hamdu li'Llah. Finally, I would like to point out that there is no “one path” on the struggle with same-sex desires, no single place that every individual will end up in this life. Every person will walk his or her own path, and every person will have to live with his or her own choices.

The truth of the matter is that neither I nor anyone else has a complete and total solution for SSA. But the good news is, based on what I have seen and experienced, we really don't need one in order to carry out our lives and to fulfill our mission as God's khalifa on this earth. All we need to have are the key facts. And the key facts are that Allah has created us to worship Him, that He tests each of us with something unique to him or her, that He has concern for us and wants to see us succeed in our path to Him, that He has made certain actions halal and others haram, that He has given us the gift of moral agency and has made us responsible for our actions, and that, as He has promised us in the Qur'an in numerous verses, He “never burdens a soul with more than it can bear.” We can and we should use whatever means are available out there that work for each of us to help us control our actions and behavior first and foremost, as this is what Allah has made us responsible for in front of Him, and to address and work through our various issues as best we can. How our individual lives end up after that, what Allah ultimately has in store for each of us here below (not to mention “there above”) when we struggle patiently in His Way, with faith and trust in Him – all of this is in the hands of Allah, our Master, Who says in the Qur'an: “No soul knows what joy is kept hidden for it as a reward for that which they used to do” (Surat al-Sajda, v. 17).

Walking the Straight Path

I think, in sum, that this is a way forward: self-control and self-discipline. And no, I am not saying that we “pray away the gay,” but that we learn how to tame and control our nafs such that it doesn't govern our actions. This is what Allah has asked of us – no more, but also no less. What happens beyond that is open and is different for each person according to what Allah has decreed. Some may one day find marriage a viable option and go down that path. Others will remain celibate and continue on that path. Some will use their time and their talents to pursue Islamic knowledge and community work and go down that path. Each person's road to Allah is unique and specific to him or her, but we believe firmly in the words of our Lord when He says: “Those who struggle (jaahadu) for Our sake, We shall surely guide them to Our ways. Truly God is with those who practice virtue (al-muhsineen)” (Surat al-'Ankabut, v. 69).

As we all affirm as Muslims, Allah's path – which we ask Him to guide us to a minimum of 17 times a day in our daily prayers – is none other than the Straight Path (al-sirat al-mustaqim). It is for this reason that we Muslims who have been given the test of same-sex attractions refer to our struggle as the Straight Struggle. In reality, we as Muslims are all engaged in the Straight Struggle – the struggle to remain on the Straight Path of our Lord and Maker. We each have our own challenges to deal with and our own hurdles to overcome along the way, but our road in the end is one, just as our Goal is One.

In reality, we as Muslims are all engaged in the Straight Struggle – the struggle to remain on the Straight Path of our Lord and Maker. We each have our own challenges to deal with and our own hurdles to overcome along the way, but our road in the end is one, just as our Goal is One.

To the Muslim community as a whole I would like to say: the time to act on this issue was yesterday. Let us catch up now, because I might be the person standing next to you in the masjid. I might be your coworker, your friend, your blood brother, or your spouse. I might be your child or your parent. Who knows? I might even be you.

Let’s be clear: the French swimsuit ban is about hate

Indigo Jo Blogs - 22 August, 2016 - 20:05

A woman sitting on the edge of a swimming pool, wearing a black two-piece black swimsuit consisting of a tunic and trousers with pink decorative lines, with a black and pink hood over her head of similar material.In the past couple of weeks several coastal regions of France, including the districts that include Cannes, Nice and Menton, have banned women from wearing the full-body swimsuits known as ‘burkinis’ that are popular with Muslim women on their beaches. The mayor of Cannes justified it on the grounds of “security”, claiming that the swimsuits do not represent “good morals and secularism” and claiming, “manifesting religious affiliation in an ostentatious way, while France and its religious sites are currently the target of terrorist attacks, could create risks of trouble to public order”. In other words, they do not want to see anything that looks like Islam when “Islam” had just attacked them. (More: Aishah Schwartz.)

Full-body swimsuits have been around for a few years. They consist of a tunic with a hood (or a separate hood), and a pair of trousers made of similar material to swimsuits. They are more like the shalwar-kameez which is the standard dress in South Asia (not just for Muslims), and similar dress exists for men and women in other parts of the world. They were meant to (and do) enable Muslim women to swim, rather than stop them doing anything. Ever since they first appeared, I found the term “burkini” irksome, and Muslims’ insistence on using the term even more so. They do not resemble bikinis and, more importantly, look nothing like any garment called a burka, a term almost always used pejoratively. What they more resemble is a divers’ wetsuit, something there is no talk of banning because it is not Muslims who wear it.

There are two garments commonly called burkas or burqas worn around the Muslim world; one is the all-in-one “shuttlecock” body, head and face covering worn in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the other is a partial face covering made of cloth over a metal frame, worn by older women in the Emirates. I have never seen either in the West (and until about 10 years ago in the UK I saw women with faces covered all the time; these days you only see them in “Muslim areas” such as Whitechapel); the veil worn in the west is usually detachable, made of fabric, often in layers so that the wearer can cover her eyes and/or the fastening at the back if she chooses, and is known as a niqaab. I’ve never seen a swimsuit with a face covering.

Muslim women always swam. Before the full-body swimsuit, women who wore abayas swam in their abayas. That meant swimming (and then walking) against layers of wet fabric, which can be cumbersome. Swimming in any modern western swimming costume is out of the question for any observant Muslim woman, and probably most who do not cover their hair would not even think of it, even in all-female company. Even for men, swimming shorts (let alone Speedos) are not sufficiently concealing. This is why, in areas with a high Muslim population here, Muslims book single-sex modest swimming sessions at some public pools.

In response to some of the French politicians’ justification for the bans when they had been challenged, some people took this to be about the western ruling classes’ obsession with “saving” Muslim women, which has been used to justify some (but not all) previous attacks on Muslim dress in France. For example, a female member of the French National Assembly called the garment a “gender prison” and the so-called minister for women’s rights alleged that it “is the beach version of the burqa and it has the same logic: hide women’s bodies in order to better control them”. Pina Sadar, a Durham PhD candidate writing at The Conversation, says that both politicians “enunciate a highly patronising notion: the concept of Muslim women needing to be saved”. But it was clear that the politicians who imposed the ban in the first place did not care about “saving” Muslim women; they cared about banishing a garment they associated with Islam from a public space in response to an atrocity that was carried out by (male) Muslims and had nothing to do with swimming or dress.

Her article also alludes to the “ideologies” that Islamic or Islam-inspired dress is supposed to represent; distinctive dress is often assumed to be the result of adherence to an “ideology” rather than a mainstream religion which, it is assumed, doesn’t really impose such rules because the one they are familiar with does not. As with the hijab, the emphasis is on what it “symbolises”, the symbolism always being in those people’s imagination. The truth is that very strict Muslims would not think the full-body swimsuit is acceptable, especially in mixed company, becuase the material clings to the body and it is not fully concealing anyway. It is ordinary practising Muslims who wear it, and as media reports have suggested, an increasing number of non-Muslim women who want protection from the sun and from skin cancer, or to hide scars or lumps and bumps, or just to keep men’s eyes off their bodies, have been buying them as well. Ironically, the Lebanese-Australian designer of the suit has said that some 40% of her buyers are not Muslim.

Widad Ketfi, on Middle East Eye, calls the ban the latest example of the “French paradox” in which the French state demands that Islam itself be invisible while Muslim women be visible by showing their bodies:

The country calls itself a guarantor of freedom of expression only when it is not claimed by Muslims. The contradiction lies in wanting to render women’s bodies visible and at the same time to discredit and isolate and make the Muslim man invisible.

This is all hypocritical. They do not want to set Muslim women free. Instead, they want to undress them because in reality the purpose is not, never was, and never will be the emancipation of women, but only control of their bodies.

She also notes that France lags behind a number of other countries in gender parity, having never had a female leader in its history and only one female prime minister; only 10% of CEOs, fewer than 30% of parliamentarians and only 13% of mayors are women. The demand for control and exposure of women’s bodies is not really confined to Muslim women, though; during the school hijab “debate” in 2004, a psychoanalyst named Elisabeth Roudinesco asserted that the veil was a denial of women as an object of desire and, according to Joan Wallach-Scott in her book The Politics of the Veil (see earlier entry), that “the visual appreciation of women’s bodies by men brought women’s femininity into being”, an idea that would not strike many women, Muslim or otherwise, as particularly feminist. I have long held the suspicion that French women feel threatened by displays of femininity other than their own, and ones that are in some respects easier; Muslim women are less subject to guilt-ridden attitudes to food, in particular. Yes, we have dietary restrictions, but what we can eat, we (men and women) can eat plenty of.

The ban on full-body swimsuits therefore has nothing to do with protecting Muslim women from anything. It has to do with responding to a terrorist attack with hate against the entire religious community the attackers were associated with, despite evidence that the attackers were not even religious. Much as what passes for feminism in France is essentially a white-supremacist ideology that happily aligns with male politicians and uses male state violence to suppress the aspirations of women outside the mainstream and sees no need to listen to Muslim women’s voices, but these actions were on the initiative of men and reflect the hostility in French society as a whole towards Islam and Muslims. Let’s not pretend there were any good intentions behind these bans. The ‘feminist’ and ‘secularist’ justifications behind the hijab ban may have been an “excuse for prejudice”, but this is, no pun intended, naked prejudice.

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“The Awful Clarity” of Israeli Oppression Becomes Murky Spin in the NYT

When writer Michael Chabon visited the West Bank city of Hebron earlier this year, the brutal reality of the Israeli occupation hit him with force. During an interview with the Forward, he appeared “visibly jarred,” and he pulled no punches in describing his reaction.

“Once you see for yourself,” he said, “it is pretty obvious, I think, to any human being with a heart and a mind, it is pretty clear what to feel about it. It is the most grievous injustice I have ever seen in my life.”

His reaction echoes in the words of another author, Ben Ehrenreich, who recently published a book about the occupation, “The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine.” In his introduction Ehrenreich refers to “the awful clarity of the injustice,” and his book portrays Palestinian resistance under Israel’s state-sponsored system of oppression.

Both these American writers are saying that the suffering of Palestinians under Israeli rule is clear to see, an obvious truth to anyone who witnesses the situation firsthand.

Now, as Peter Baker, the latest New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, takes up his post, we can ask whether the newspaper will begin to convey this reality to its readers. Will Baker, a fresh new witness with full access to the sites under occupation, give voice to the oppression seen with such clarity by Ehrenreich and Chabon?

Baker’s predecessor, Jodi Rudoren, who left Jerusalem late last year, filed hundreds of stories over nearly four years at the post and managed not to clarify but to obscure the reality of occupation and dispossession. Her stories promoted a narrative of Israeli victimhood and Palestinian violence and deflected Israeli culpability. (See TimesWarp 12-22-15.)

Many voices vied for attention during her stint, but Rudoren turned a deaf ear to some of the most respected sources of information, not only the United Nations and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch but also Israeli monitoring groups and courageous Israeli journalists. These groups and individuals were constantly documenting and reporting abuses by the Israeli forces, but the news they bore rarely found even brief mention in the Times.

When a series of stabbing and vehicular attacks on Israelis began last fall, several monitoring groups issued alerts, charging that Israeli forces were using the situation to conduct “street executions” of Palestinians who actually posed no threat.

These accusations were bolstered by video and eyewitness evidence and came from groups such as the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, Amnesty International and Euro-Med Monitor. To give even more weight to their claims, a group of nine Israeli organizations, including Physicians for Human Rights and the Public Committee Against Torture, issued a joint statement saying Israeli officials were responsible for the climate that fostered these executions.

The Times took little notice. The newspaper’s headlines remained focused on Palestinian attacks, and any quotes about extrajudicial executions were attributed to Palestinian officials, as if these charges were nothing more than the opinions of partisans taking one side in a bitter exchange.

Anticipating Baker’s arrival in Jerusalem, the Times produced a video featuring him in conversation with Rudoren and another former Jerusalem bureau chief, James Bennet. The trio made many references to “the conflict” (with only a single mention of the occupation), and they insisted that Times reporting strives to be balanced and neutral.

If reporters were sincerely looking for balance, however, it would seem that truly neutral parties, such as the United Nations and human rights organizations, would provide an essential antidote to the partisan claims of two adversaries. Yet the Times turns a deaf ear to these sources, no matter how fully documented their findings are, and relies heavily on Israeli officials.

Thus, Times readers are left in ignorance, hearing almost nothing about urgent and repeated appeals from these non-partisan groups. Beyond the latest accusations of extrajudicial killings, for instance, rights organizations have consistently highlighted the mistreatment of Palestinian children held in Israeli custody and the demolition of Palestinian structures, including everything from homes and workshops to cisterns and animal shelters.

Organizations such as UNICEF, Defence for Children International, Save the Children, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child and the Committee Against Torture in Israel have tried over several years to publicize the abuse of Palestinian children (See TW 1-13-14.), but the Times has rarely mentioned these reports and then only in stories aimed to spin the information in favor of Israel.

Throughout 2015 some of these groups continued to issue frequent reports and news releases with headlines such as “Rising physical violence against Palestinian child detainees,” “UNICEF report confirms ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees remains systematic,” and “New U.S. government report highlights violations against Palestinian kids,” but the Times showed no interest in exploring the problem.

Likewise, Israel’s rampage of demolitions in the West Bank is never brought to the attention of Times readers although the United Nations, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and other groups have issued frequent statements and demands, urging Israel to end its policy of destruction.

While the Times has remained silent, Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, columnists for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, have often written about the terrible toll demolitions have exacted from some of the most vulnerable Palestinian communities.

Rudoren wrote occasionally about punitive demolitions, the Israeli policy of destroying the family homes of attackers, but her stories omitted any mention of the much more common demolition of structures because they lack building permits, which are rarely issued.

The policy is a constant threat to Palestinians in a large part of the West Bank, and over the decades of occupation, the state has demolished more than 48,000 Palestinian homes and other structures.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israel has destroyed 726 Palestinian structures so far this year, displacing 1,020 people. In a recent report, OCHA noted that during one week this month, 42 structures were demolished or confiscated. The report stated, “Twelve of the targeted structures had been previously provided as humanitarian assistance, including emergency shelters, animal sheds, latrines, a community centre, and a water connection; the confiscation of the latter means that nearly 1,000 Palestinians in five herding communities in the Jordan Valley will continue to suffer water scarcity.”

The OCHA report continued, “This brings the number of assistance items destroyed or confiscated since the start of 2016 to 200, almost double the figure for the entire 2015 (108).” In other words, donors such as the European Union and International Committee of the Red Cross have stepped in to provide tents and other items when Israel has destroyed Palestinian homes, schools, playgrounds, water wells and other structures, but the Israeli authorities have demolished even this humanitarian aid.

In this brief report from OCHA “the awful clarity of the injustice” is evident, as it has been evident in hundreds of other reports issued over the years. The rising tide of demolitions, with all its human-interest value, is most certainly newsworthy, but will the Jerusalem bureau of The New York Times report it?

So far the Times seems determined to muddy the waters, avoiding a clear exposition of Israeli brutality, but with a new bureau chief now on board, some readers may hold out a faint hope for change, for an honest and full accounting at last.

Unfortunately, here at TimesWarp, the expectation is for more of the same. It seems unlikely that the Times would allow any straightforward reporting on Israeli oppression to appear in its pages. This would destroy its carefully fostered narrative of Israeli victimhood, “ancient hatreds” and the need to place Israeli security needs above all.

Barbara Erickson

 [Thanks to the TimesWarp readers who wrote to ask why this blog fell silent for most of the summer. It was on vacation during a stint of travel to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and other places. Regular posts should appear from now on.]


Filed under: New York Times pro-Israel bia Tagged: Amnesty International, B'Tselem, Ben Ehrenreich, Forward, Israel, Michael Chabon, New York Times, Palestine, Peter Baker, United Nations

France’s liberal traditions won’t be helped by the burkini ban | Will Hutton

The Guardian World news: Islam - 21 August, 2016 - 00:05
Western nations need to stop stigmatising Muslims as ‘other’ and champion institutions that speak to everyone

Liberal Europe is fighting for its life. Across our continent, it is suffering reverse after reverse before the onslaught of violent jihadism, which in turn can provoke Islamophobia. In vain do European liberal leaders – politicians, philosophers, civic officials and even some journalists – counsel against stigmatising an entire religion for each successive crazed killing. The wider population is less willing to hear pleas to hold its nerve. Muslims should be confronted and stigmatised. Let there be a clash of civilisations.

I told a close friend I was planning to write about the several French seaside resorts that have banned the burkini, backed by the prime minister, Manuel Valls, and Germany’s proposed partial ban on wearing the burqa in public places. This comes with the gathering strength of mainstream feeling in both countries that they need to affirm their secular values and identity, not least to close down opportunities for the extreme right.

Related: German minister to propose ban on full face veils in wake of attacks

A teacher I know, in a Welsh town, said how shocked she was at the scale of the anti-Islam prejudice she encountered

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‘They want us to be invisible’: how the burkini ban is dividing the Côte d’Azur

The Guardian World news: Islam - 20 August, 2016 - 20:41
As the national mood hardens following terror attacks, the seaside resort of Villeneuve-Loubet is divided over the new ‘religious offence’

Late last week, officers Lucenay and Roux of the municipal police were resuming their patrol of the beaches that extend from the vast marina complex at Villeneuve-Loubet along the Côte d’Azur towards Nice. This would normally be a routine duty during peak season, but now they have an extra task: to look out for “burkinis” – swimwear that covers the body and head, preferred by orthodox Muslim women but now banned by the town.

Related: Nice becomes latest French city to impose burkini ban

I don't think this is religious dress; there is nothing in the Qur'an to say you have to wear a burkini

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The fatwa hotline: 'We have heard everything'

The Guardian World news: Islam - 20 August, 2016 - 09:30

Can men and women work together? (Yes) Should I fast during Ramadan if I have my period? (No) These are just some of the dilemmas answered by women running a Muslim helpline in Abu Dhabi

Sheikha Naeema lifts her glass to take a sip of water, but the large grey telephone on her desk blinks again, red and insistent. It is only 9am and she has already spoken to 11 callers. The woman on the other end of the line is in distress.

“Peace be upon you, blessings be upon you,” Sheikha Naeema says in a soothing tone. The woman tells her she has given birth twice and that both babies were stillborn. Now she is pregnant again. Her doctor has said the foetus is showing signs of severe complications and will probably die. The woman wants to know if Islam will permit her to have an abortion. After clarifying a few other details, Sheikha Naeema issues a fatwa. “If the foetus is severely ill and will not survive, you may have an abortion,” she tells the woman. “You must take advice from your physician, he will guide you. Religion does not conflict with medicine.”

On the internet, not everything is correct... we teach people about the real Islam

When we communicate with another woman, we understand how she thinks

When a woman confides that her husband is having an affair, she is advised to urge him to have two wives

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Danish Turks withdraw children from 'Gulen-linked' schools

The Guardian World news: Islam - 20 August, 2016 - 03:47

Parents urged on social media to ‘Save your children from Fethullah Gulen’s terror organisation’s schools’

Hundreds of Danish Turks have withdrawn their children from schools with alleged links to the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, accused by Ankara of masterminding last month’s attempted coup, it was reported on Friday.

A document circulating on Facebook listed 14 private schools in Denmark as being linked to Gulen and urged parents to “Save your children from Fethullah Gulen’s terror organisation’s schools”, according to a translation from Turkish by broadcaster TV 2.

Related: Fethullah Gülen: who is the man Turkey's president blames for coup attempt?

Related: Turkish court rejects Erdoğan's ban on his enemy's schools

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Is Life Just A Game? A Hopeless and Unhappy Worldview

Muslim Matters - 19 August, 2016 - 20:26

By Hamza Andreas Tzortzis

'And We created not the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, for mere play.'[1] [The Qur'an]

A popular view about life is that it is “just a game”. We have one life and we should make the most of it. However, is life just for mere play? This belief ignores or denies the Divine, and any form of Divine accountability. Even if some people “believe” in a religion or God, many still ignore the implications of holding such views. This is the crisis of a secularised mind, you can believe in God and religious values, but will practically ignore the implications of these beliefs in your life. This type of person has a de-compartmentalised mind, on occasion they hold on to some religious or spiritual ideas (usually at a funeral, when they lose their job or when their partners decided to move on), but most of their lives is premised on: you only live once, so make the most of it.

This article will focus on the existential implications of believing life is just a game. Please note, just because a certain worldview has negative implications, it doesn't imply it is false. My discussion here is not about the rational foundations of belief; I'll leave that for another article.

Ignoring or denying God and any Divine accountability leads to an existential nightmare. Rationally speaking, holding on to such views, leads to absurd conclusions (known as argumentum ad ignoratium). When you play a game, you either win or lose, and then you eventually die; game over. This irrational and unintuitive view on life is not simply a worldview that exists in a bubble. If its claims are true, then one would have to make some inevitable existential conclusions that are very bleak. Under this view, life is ludicrous. The formula is simple: denying or ignoring God, Divinely given purpose and accountability equals no ultimate hope and no true happiness (as well as many other things, but I have a word limit). This conclusion is not an outdated religious cliché; it is a result of thinking logically about the implications of this world view.

No Hope

Hope is defined as the feeling or expectation and desire for something to happen. We all hope for good lives, good health and a good job. Ultimately, we all hope for an immortal blissful existence. Life is such an amazing gift that no one really wants his or her conscious existence to end. Similarly, everyone desires that there will be some form of ultimate justice where wrongs can be made right, and the relevant people will be held accountable. Significantly, if our lives are miserable, or experience pain and suffering, we hope for some peace, pleasure and ease. This is a reflection of the human spirit; we hope for light at the end of the dark tunnel, and if we have tranquillity and joy, we want to keep it that way.

Since believing life is just a game denies or disregards Divine accountability, it also rejects or ignores the concept of an afterlife. Without that, there can be no hope of pleasure following a life of pain. Therefore, the expectation for something positive to happen after our lives is lost. Under this view we cannot expect any light at the end of the dark tunnel of our existence. Imagine you were born in the third world and spent your whole life in starvation and poverty. According to this worldview, you are merely destined for death. Contrast this with the Islamic perspective: all instances of suffering that happens in our lives are for some greater good. Therefore, in the larger scheme of things, no pain or suffering we undergo is meaningless. God is aware of all our sufferings, and He will provide recompense and reprieve.

However, according to the belief that life is just a game, our pains are just as meaningless as our pleasure. The immense sacrifices of the virtuous and the distress of the victim are all falling dominoes in an indifferent world. They happen for no greater good and no higher purpose. There is no ultimate hope of an afterlife or any form of happiness. Even if we lived a life of pleasure and immense luxuries, most of us would inevitably be doomed to some form of evil fate or an incessant desire for more pleasure. The pessimist philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, aptly described the hopelessness and ill fate that awaits us:

“We are like lambs in a field, disporting themselves under the eye of the butcher, who chooses out first one and then another for his prey. So it is that in our good days we are all unconscious of the evil fate may have presently in store for us—sickness, poverty, mutilation, loss of sight or reason…No little part of the torment of existence lies in this, that Time is continually pressing upon us, never letting us take breath, but always coming after us, like a taskmaster with a whip. If at any moment Time stays his hand, it is only when we are delivered over to the misery of boredom…In fact, the conviction that the world and man is something that had better not have been, is of a kind to fill us with indulgence towards one another. Nay, from this point of view, we might well consider the proper form of address to be, not Monsieur, Sir, mein Herr, but my fellow-sufferer, Socî malorum, compagnon de miseres!”[2]

The Qur'an alludes to this hopelessness. It argues that a believer cannot despair, there will always be hope, and hope is connected to God's mercy, and God's mercy will manifest itself in this life and the hereafter: 'Certainly no one despairs of God's Mercy, except the people who disbelieve.'[3]

Under believing life is just a game, justice is an unachievable goal—a mirage in the desert of life. Since the afterlife is ignored or denied, any expectation of people being held to account is futile. Consider Nazi Germany in the 1940s. An innocent Jewish lady who just saw her husband and children murdered in front of her has no hope for justice when she is waiting for her turn to be cast into the gas chamber. Although the Nazis were eventually defeated, this justice occurred after her death. Under this ludicrous worldview she is now nothing, just another rearrangement of matter, and you cannot give reprieve to something that is lifeless. Islam, however, gives everyone hope for pure Divine justice. No one will be treated unfairly and everyone shall be taken to account,

'On that Day, people will come forward in separate groups to be shown their deeds: whoever has done an atom's weight of good will see it, but whoever has done an atom's weight of evil will see that.'[4]

'God created the heavens and the Earth for a true purpose: to reward each soul according to its deeds. They will not be wronged.'[5]

The belief that life is just a game is like a mother giving her child a toy and then taking it back for no reason. Life, without a doubt, is a wonderful gift. Yet any pleasure, joy and love we have experienced will be taken away from us and lost forever. Since this worldview denies or ignores the Divine and the hereafter, it means that the pleasures we have experienced in life will disappear. There is no hope of a continuation of happiness, pleasure, love and joy. However, under Islam, these positive experiences are enhanced and continued after our worldly life,

'They will have therein whatever they desire and We have more than that for them.'[6]

'The people who lived a pious life will have a good reward and more…'[7]

'Verily, the dwellers of Paradise that Day, will be busy in joyful things… (It will be said to them): 'Salamun' (Peace be on you), a Word from the Lord, Most Merciful.'[8]

No Happiness

'And a happy future belongs to those who are mindful of Him.'[9]

The pursuit of happiness is an essential part of our human nature. All of us want to be happy—even when sometimes we cannot pinpoint exactly what 'happiness' is. This is why if you were to ask the average person why they want to get a good job, they would probably reply, 'To earn enough to live comfortably'. However, if you questioned them further and asked why they want to live comfortably, they would more than likely say 'because I want to be happy'. But happiness is ultimately an end, not a means. It is the final destination, not necessarily the journey. We all want to be happy, so we endlessly seek ways to help us achieve that final happy state.
The journey that people seek varies from one person to the next. The list is endless. However, those who believe life is just a game will pursue an existence focussed on pleasure and having fun. This begs the question: What is true happiness?

To help answer these questions, imagine the following scenario: While reading this, you are sedated against your will. Suddenly you wake up and find yourself on a plane. You're in first class. The food is heavenly. The seat is a flatbed, designed for a luxurious, comfortable experience. The entertainment is limitless. The service is out of this world. You start to use all of the excellent facilities. Time starts to pass. Now think for a moment, and ask yourself the question: Would I be happy?

How could you be? You would need some questions answered first. Who sedated you? How did you get on the plane? What's the purpose of the journey? Where are you heading? If these questions remained unanswered, how could you be happy? Even if you started to enjoy all of the luxuries at your disposal, you would never achieve true happiness. Would a frothy Belgian chocolate mousse on your dessert tray be enough to drown out the questions? It would be a delusion, a temporary, fake type of happiness, only achieved by deliberately ignoring these critical questions.

Now apply this to your life and ask yourself, am I happy? Our coming into existence is no different to being sedated and thrown on a plane. We never chose our birth, our parents or where we come from. Yet some of us do not ask the questions or search for the answers that will help us achieve our ultimate goal of happiness.

Where does true happiness lie? Inevitably, if we reflect on the previous example, happiness really lies in answering key questions about our existence. These include, 'What is the purpose of life?' and 'Where am I heading after my death?' In this light, our happiness lies in our inwardness, in knowing who we are, and finding the answers to these critical questions.

Unlike animals, we cannot be content by reacting to our instincts. Obeying our hormones and mere physical needs will not bring happiness. To understand why, reflect on another example:

Imagine you were one of 50 human beings locked in a small room with no means of exit. There are only 10 loaves of bread, and there is no more food for another 100 days. What do you all do? If you follow your animalistic instincts, there will be blood. But if you try to answer the question 'How can we all survive?' it is likely that you will, as you will devise ways to do so.

Extend this example to your life. Your life has many more variables, which can result in almost an infinite number of outcomes. Yet, some of us just follow our carnal needs. Our jobs may require Ph.D.s or other qualifications, and we may wine and dine with our partners, but all of that is still reduced to mere procreation. Happiness cannot be achieved unless we find out who we really are.

However, under the view that life is just a game these questions do not have any real answers. Why are we here? Just for fun. No profound reason at all. Where are we going? Nowhere. We will just face death; the game will soon be over. Even some philosophers understood life was not just a game. For example, Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, 'I do not know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.'

Worshipping God

In order to achieve true happiness, we all need to answer the fundamental question of why we are here. In Islam, the answer is simple yet profound. We are here to worship God.

'And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.'[10]

But worship in Islam is quite different from the common understanding of the word. Worship can be shown in every act that we do. The way we talk to each other and the small acts of kindness we do each day. If we focus on pleasing God by our actions, then our actions become an act of worship.

Worship is a comprehensive concept in Islam. It refers to loving God, pleasing Him, knowing Him and singling out all acts of worship to Him alone, such as prayer and supplicating to Him. Worshipping God is the ultimate purpose of our existence; it frees us from the 'slavery' to others and society. God, in the Qur'an, presents us with a powerful example:

'God puts forward this illustration: can a man who has for his masters several partners at odds with each other be considered equal to a man devoted wholly to one master? All praise belongs to God, though most of them do not know.'[11]

Inevitably, if we do not worship God, we end up worshipping other 'gods'. Think about it. Our partners, our bosses, our teachers, our friends, the societies we live in, and even our own desires 'enslave' us in some way. Take for example social norms. Many of us define beauty based on social pressures. We may have a range of likes and dislikes, but these are shaped by others. Ask yourself, why am I wearing these trousers or this skirt? Saying you like it is a shallow response; the point is, why do you like it? If we keep on probing in this way, many will end up admitting 'because other people think it looks nice'. Unfortunately, we've all been influenced by the endless adverts that bombard us.

In this respect we have many 'masters' and they all want something from us. They are all 'at odds with each other', and we end up living confused, unfulfilled lives. God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, who has more mercy for us than our mothers, is telling us that He is our true master, and only by worshipping Him alone will we truly free ourselves.

The Muslim writer Yasmin Mogahed, in her book Reclaim Your Heart, explains that anything other than God is weak and feeble, and that our freedom lies in worshipping Him:

“Every time you run after, seek, or petition something weak or feeble… you too become weak or feeble. Even if you do reach that which you seek, it will never be enough. You will soon need to seek something else. You will never reach true contentment or satisfaction. That is why we live in a world of trade-ins and upgrades. Your phone, your car, your computer, your woman, your man, can always be traded in for a newer, better model. However, there is a freedom from that slavery. When the object upon which you place all your weight is unshaking, unbreakable, and unending, you cannot fall.”[12]

From an existential perspective, worshipping God is true liberation. If worship entails knowing, loving and obeying God, then in reality many of us also have other gods in our lives. For example, many of us know, love and obey our own egos and desires. We think we are always right, we never want to be wrong and we always want to impose ourselves on others. From this perspective, we are enslaved to our own selves. The Qur'an points out such a debased spiritual state and compares the one who takes his desires, passions and whims as a god worse than an animal,.

'Think of the man who has taken his own passion as a god: are you to be his guardian? Do you think that most of them hear or understand? They are just like cattle – —no, they are further from the path.'[13]

From self-worship, sometimes we can worship various forms of social pressures, ideas, norms and cultures. They become our point of reference, we start to love them, want to know more about them, and it leads us to 'obey' them. Examples abound. Take for instance materialism. We have become so preoccupied with money and material belongings. Obviously, to want money and possessions is not necessarily a bad thing, however, but we have allowed these things to define who we are. Our energy, time and efforts are on devoted to the accumulation of wealth, and making the false notion of material success the primary focus in our lives. From this perspective, material things start to control us, and they control us to serve the culture of avid materialism, rather than serving God. I appreciate that this does not apply to everyone, however, but this form of excessive materialism is very common.

Essentially, if we are not worshipping God, we are still worshipping something else. This can be our own egos and desires, or ephemeral things like material possessions. In the Islamic tradition, worshipping God defines who we are, as it is part of our nature. If we forget God, and start to worship things that do not deserve worship, we will slowly forget our own selves,

'And be not like those who forgot God, so He made them forget themselves.'[14]

Our understanding of who we are is dependent on our relationship with God, which is shaped by our servitude and worship. In this sense, when we worship God we are freed from the servitude, slavery and submission to other 'gods', whether they are our own selves or things that we own.

The next question is: where are we going? We have a choice: to embrace God's eternal, unbounded mercy, or to run away from it. Accepting His mercy, by responding to His message, and obeying, worshipping and loving Him will facilitate our eternal happiness in paradise. Rejecting and running away from God's mercy necessitates that we end up in a place devoid of His love, a place of unhappiness—hell. So we have a choice. Either we decide to embrace His mercy or try to escape from it. We have the free will to choose. Even though God wants good for us, He cannot force us to make the right choices. The choices we make in this life will shape our lives after we die:

'… and when that Day comes, no soul will speak except by His permission, and some of them will be wretched and some happy.'[15]

'There they will stay—a happy home and resting place!'[16]

Since our ultimate purpose is to worship God, we must establish our natural balance and to find out who we really are. When we worship God, we free ourselves, and find ourselves. If we do not, we are forgetting what makes us human.

'And be not like those who forgot God, so He made them forget themselves.'[17]

In conclusion, believing that life is just a game cannot provide an intellectual foundation for our sense of ultimate hope. This view cannot give us profound answers for our existence, and therefore real happiness can never be achieved. If someone argues that they are happy under this view, I would argue it is a drunken type of happiness. They only sober up when they start thinking deeply about their own existence. 

Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, a convert to Islam, is an international lecturer, public speaker & writer. He is particularly interested in Islam, philosophy and politics. He has debated prominent academics & intellectuals.

If this has created some interest and motivated you to want to talk about this topic to your brothers and sisters in humanity, then join us on the 20th August 2016 for World da'wah Mission. To find out more, please visit: http://www.worlddawahmission.com/

[1] The Qur'an, Chapter 44, Verse 38

[2] Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Sufferings of the World. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/On_the_Sufferings_of_the_World.

[3] The Qur'an Chapter 12, Verse 87

[4] The Qur'an, Chapter 99, Verses 6 to 8

[5] The Qur'an, Chapter 45, Verse 22

[6] The Qur'an, Chapter 50, Verse 35

[7] The Qur'an, Chapter 10, Verse 26

[8] The Qur'an, Chapter 36, Verses 55 to 58

[9] The Qur'an, Chapter 7, Verse 128

[10] The Qur'an, Chapter 51, Verse 56

[11] The Qur'an, Chapter 39, Verse 29

[12] Yasmin Mogahed. Reclaim Your Heart. FB Publishing. 2012, p. 55.

[13] The Qur'an, Chapter 25, Verses 43 to 44

[14] The Qur'an, Chapter 59, Verse 19

[15] The Qur'an, Chapter 11, Verse 105

[16] The Qur'an, Chapter 25, Verse 75

[17] The Qur'an, Chapter 59, Verse 19

Nice becomes latest French city to impose burkini ban

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 August, 2016 - 18:04

The French Riviera city was the scene of last month’s truck attack on Bastille Day revellers that left 86 people dead

Nice has become the latest French resort to ban the burkini, the full-body Islamic swimsuit that has sparked heated debate in secular France.

Using language similar to the bans imposed in a string of other resorts on the French Riviera, the city barred clothing that “overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks”.

Related: Five reasons to wear a burkini – and not just to annoy the French | Remona Aly

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German interior minister backs ban on full face veils in public places

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 August, 2016 - 09:35

De Maizière wants legal requirement to show face in some situations, saying full veil does not belong in Germany

Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, has come out in favour of a partial ban on full face veils, amid a fierce national debate on integration.

“We agree that we reject the burqa, we agree that we want to introduce a legal requirement to show one’s face in places where it is necessary for our society’s coexistence – at the wheel, at public offices, at the registry office, in schools and universities, in the civil service, in court,” he said after a meeting with regional counterparts from his conservative party.

Related: German minister to propose ban on full face veils in wake of attacks

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Britain is full of inspirational Muslim women. They’re more crucial than ever | Mariya Hussain

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 August, 2016 - 08:00

In a climate of heightened Islamophobia, these educated, interesting women are pushing at the barriers – and reminding us to be proud of our identity

Type “Muslim women” into Google Images and the most common photographs show a woman wearing a niqab staring out into the distance or straight into the camera. Some may see such images as a reaffirmation of their view that Muslim women are an orientalised “other”; that they are passive, homogeneous, and silent. However, I see a complete erasure of the identity of Muslim women, their work and their roles.

Related: For Muslim women life had been getting better. No longer | Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Many Muslim women have sacrificed much in order to provide a life of better opportunity for their children

Related: Train passengers stand up against racial abuse of Muslim woman

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Oh, for a burkini in my youth | Letters

The Guardian World news: Islam - 18 August, 2016 - 19:12

I’m a pale person and I spent my formative years turning red on the beach and laying the groundwork for an impressive selection of brown blotches and spots that could easily turn nasty at some point. I could have done with a tiny burkini to keep my skin safe from the sun’s burning rays. My teenage years were riven with angst and embarrassment as I sought to hide my imperfections from public gaze. How I would have welcomed a swimsuit that could have shielded my pale, skinny frame from the eyes of the world instead of having to suffer the worst of British design that incorporated armoured bra cups which soared skywards when I lay on my back.

A trip to hotter climes saw me swathed head to foot in towels and sporting an impressive weight of greasy sunblock when I really needed a decent garment that didn’t leave my shoulders and thighs bare. Luckily these clothes are now available in the shape of swim tights and swim shirts so I can go to the beach covered head to foot in clothing that is designed to keep me safe in the sun and that works well as swimwear. If I want to add a swim hat to keep my hair from getting tangled in the water, I can do that … unless I am a Muslim woman (French minister for women’s rights defends burkini ban, 17 August). The burkini isn’t a million miles from some of the clothing sold to surfers or those who wish to stay safe in the sun, but because of the religious overtones, Muslim women are being denied the right to enjoy the beach and go swimming like any other person.

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Anjem Choudary was given platform 'by the media, not Muslims'

The Guardian World news: Islam - 17 August, 2016 - 20:15

Government is accused of alienating the very Muslims who have barred extremists such as Choudary from their mosques

Anjem Choudary was “given the oxygen of publicity” by sections of the media and ideologues more interested in culture wars than fighting extremism, even as Muslims threw him out of their mosques, Britain’s biggest Islamic group said on Wednesday.

Choudary’s conviction for urging support for Islamic State has sparked debate and soul searching about how he spread his message inciting terrorism for so long before being charged and convicted of a serious criminal offence.

Related: We’re still playing into the hands of Anjem Choudary | Miqdaad Versi

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We’re still playing into the hands of Anjem Choudary | Miqdaad Versi

The Guardian World news: Islam - 17 August, 2016 - 20:13
Britain’s counter-terror strategy has become a culture war, alienating the very people who oppose his extremism

Anjem Choudary was a gift for our media establishment. Here was a man who seemed to have more journalists on speed dial than he had mainstream Muslims. At a Muslim News conference last year Channel 4’s Simon Israel was able to share the latest text message he received from the loudmouth, proffering his outrageous comment of the day.

Related: Anjem Choudary has left a trail of broken families and lost youth | Robb Leech

Related: Anjem Choudary was a leader. His conviction will damage terror networks | Raffaello Pantucci

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