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Living Da’wah

Bismillah ir-rahman ir-rahim

As-salaamu alaykum.

Being a Muslim in today’s world can be trying, especially for a Western Muslim.  It sometimes seems that our own governments are at war with us, and we quite often face Islamophobic bigots both on the street and online.  In America, the simple and seemingly straightforward act of proposing a new masjid or Islamic Center brings disinformation, hatred and bigotry from all over the nation.  Our Muslimah are attacked, verbally and (sometimes) physically, for the simple act of wearing a hijab.  Our men are viewed with suspicion and subjected to questioning by law enforcement or “stop and frisk” policies simply based on ethnicity or religious belief.  Our leaders are accused of ties to extremism where none exist, just on the basis of guilt by association.  Airlines remove passengers from planes because some kuffar are frightened by piousness.  Infants are mistaken for extremists on no-fly lists, and removed from flights.  If the extremist is Muslim, then all Muslims must be extremist, seems to be the thought process.

All of these things, along with things like the actions of our government in Muslim lands, lead to a great amount of anger.  Allah (SWT) tells us that, among those who will receive his blessing are:

Those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon (all) men;- for Allah loves those who do good; [Surat ‘Ali ‘Imran 134]

Abu Huraira (ra) tells us:

Allah’s Apostle Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him said, “The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger.” [Sahih Al-Bukhari 8.135]

Anger produces malevolence (hiqd).  Malevolence is defined as wishing evil to others; hatred; spite; malice.  If you are wishing evil upon others, you cannot simultaneously be upholding the command of Allah (SWT):

Hold to forgiveness, command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant. [Surah Al-A’raf 7:199]

What is forgiveness?  In his commentary on the above verse, the Shafii scholar Ismail Ibn Kathir said:

There is more than one report from Mujahid concerning the verse, “Show forgiveness,” that it means (to forgive) the people’s bad character and deeds other than espionage.

Sufyan bin Uyaynah reported that his father said: When Allah, the Exalted and Most Honored, revealed this verse to His Prophet, the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم asked:

مَا هَذَا يَا جِبْرِيل

What is this, O Gabriel?

Gabriel عليه السلام said:

إن الله أمرك أن تعفو عمن ظلمك، وتعطي من حرمك، وتصل من قطعك

Allah commands you to forgive those who wronged you, give to those who deprived you, and keep relations with those who cut theirs with you.

Some scholars said that people are of two kinds; a good-doer, so accept his good doing and neither ask him more than he can handle nor what will cause him hardship. The other kind is the one who falls in shortcomings, so enjoin righteousness on him. If he still insists on evil, becomes difficult and continues in his ignorance, then turn away from him so by ignoring him you might avert his evilness. [Tafsir Quran AL-A’thīm Verse 7:199]

As hard as it may seem, when faced with bigotry and hatred, we must forgive them, for they are ignorant.  Think of the example of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh): when he returned to Mecca, he forgave those who had killed his own family members.  He forgave those who had murdered his followers.  He forgave those who had spit on him and his followers, abused them, exiled them.  He walked among them with a smile on his face, knowing full well that he was still surrounded by those who despised him, but forgiving them.  This is what we are called to do in response to the Islamophobia that pervades America today.

A neighbor, upon returning from a protest over a new masjid proposed by the local Muslim community, falls ill.  He has no family to care for him.  He is weak and unable to care for himself.  What do we do for this neighbor?  Do we celebrate his illness, proclaiming it punishment from Allah (SWT) for his work against the Muslims?  No.  We forgive him.  We bring him food, and help him clean his house.  We take him to a doctor, if needed.  We nurse him back to health.  This is true da’wah.  This is living da’wah.

We are commanded to call people to Islam.  Many of us do so with our writing, or with words spoken amongst friends and acquaintances.  Some who have achieved a modicum of fame do so at seminars and speaking engagements.  But the best way to call people to Islam is to demonstrate to them, through the way you live your own life, exactly what it means to be a Muslim.  Demonstrate Islamic values to your neighbors by living your life based on Islamic values.  Demonstrate the falseness of the Islamophobes claims about Islam by living a life of Islamic values.  Demonstrate the truth and beauty of our faith by living a life of Islamic values.  Your example, should you live your life with Islamic values, will make people in your community take a closer look at Islam, and perhaps rethink the beliefs about Muslims that has been drilled into them by American society.  Upon closer look, and considering the example that you set, some of these people may just come to Islam.

And God knows best.


On Tawba (repentance)

As-salaamu alaykum my brothers and sisters. I have been gone from here for some time, spending that time getting closer to my Lord by reading his noble and perfect Qur’an and studying the Sunnah of the blessed Prophet, may the peace and blessing of Allah (SWT) be upon him.

Today, I wish to discuss tawba (repentance). In Surat at-Tahrim, verse 8, we are told:

O ye who believe! Turn unto Allah in sincere repentance! It may be that your Lord will remit from you your evil deeds and bring you into Gardens underneath which rivers flow, on the day when Allah will not abase the Prophet and those who believe with him. Their light will run before them and on their right hands; they will say: Our Lord! Perfect our light for us, and forgive us! Lo! Thou art Able to do all things.

Repentance is not something that you do once, and all is forgiven. It is actually an ongoing process that begins from the moment you wake up in the morning and continues throughout the day. It is an integral part of the spiritual life of every Muslim. Yet some Muslims take the religion for granted, and think that tawba is only for “new” Muslims, or those returning to the faith after being pulled away by dunya. This is very wrong. In Surat an-Nur 31, Allah (SWT) tells us:

And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.

The Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, is reported to have said:

“O people, make tawbah to Allah. By Allah, I make tawbah to Him more than seventy times each day.” (Bukhari)

There can be no more perfect example than the Prophet (pbuh), and it is him we should strive to emulate in all things. Neither the revealed word of Allah (SWT) or the words of our blessed Prophet (saw) make any exceptions to who should make tawba. By directing his command to “all of you, O believers”, Allah (SWT) makes it clear that he is speaking to those who already have believed, been through the tribulations and trials of faith, have done jihad, have made the hajj, etc. Good, solid Muslims who are, as imperfect human beings, yet in need of forgiveness. And, like all of us, always will be.

Nobody can ask forgiveness for you, and despite the beliefs of some faiths, no human being can absolve you of sins or intercede between you and your Lord. Only you can seek forgiveness from Allah (SWT) for your sins, and only He has the power to grant it. As reported by Bukhari, Shaddad ibn Aws (r.a.) relates that the Prophet (pbuh) would recite:

“Allahumma anta Rabbi la ilaha illa anta, Anta Khalaqtani wa ana abduka, wa ana ‘ala ahdika wa wa’dika mastata’tu, A’udhu bika min Sharri ma sana’tu, abu’u Laka bini’matika ‘alaiya, wa Abu Laka bidhanbi faghfirli innahu la yaghfiru adhdhunuba illa anta”

O Allah! You are my Lord! None has the right to be worshipped but You. You created me and I am Your slave, and I am faithful to my covenant and my promise as much as I can. I seek refuge with You from all the evil I have done. I acknowledge before You all the blessings You have bestowed upon me, and I confess to You all my sins. So I entreat You to forgive my sins, for nobody can forgive sins except You.

It is not enough to simply seek forgiveness for your wrongdoing. You must also work to correct the wrongdoing itself, and strive to never commit that sin again.

Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (ra) said:

A sincere repentant:

(1) is ashamed of his past sins;
(2) takes up the duties overlooked and fulfills them;
(3) makes good the willfully ignored conditions of a trust managed by him;
(4) forgives those who provoke him;
(5) does not demand repayment of loans from those who are in financial distress;
(6) makes firm determination not to sin ever again;
(7) surrenders his self to the adoration, devotion and service of Allah (SWT) when it had swelled to the point of exploding due to inordinate consumption of worldly pleasures, transgression and disobedience.

Understand that the depths of your sin can never be more than Allah (SWT) will forgive. In his early years, Abu Nuwas, a great Arab poet, was a drunkard and would write poems glorifying the pleasures of wine and flesh, and ridiculing people of power and standing in society and in Islam. In his life, he had been exiled to Egypt and imprisoned in Iraq for a period of time, due to not only his writings glorifying sin, but his own debauched behavior too. Then, one day, he changed. He repented and became a deeply religious man. Under the bed on which he died, the following verse was found (among others):

O my Lord, if the greatness of my sins increase, then I know that Your forgiveness is greater
If only the righteous called on You, then who would the criminal go to?
I call on You my Lord, as you commanded, with reverence
And if You turn my hands away, then who else will have mercy?

Allah (SWT) is Most Merciful, and never turns away the pleas of the faithful. Repent today, make your amends, and strive to live a pure life following the straight path that Allah (SWT) has set before us, and which has been illuminated by our beloved Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam. Ask forgiveness with reverence, and with a pure heart full of shame for your past and present sins and a resolution to avoid future sins.

Allahu a’lam, God knows best.

The Slave Girl and the Red Scarf

A friend of mine posted about this hadith several months ago, and I find that  it comes into my mind almost every day.  It is in Sahih Bukhari.

Volume 1, Book 8, Number 430:

Narrated ‘Aisha:

There was a black slave girl belonging to an ‘Arab tribe and they manumitted her but she remained with them. The slave girl said, “Once one of their girls (of that tribe) came out wearing a red leather scarf decorated with precious stones. It fell from her or she placed it somewhere. A kite passed by that place, saw it Lying there and mistaking it for a piece of meat, flew away with it. Those people searched for it but they did not find it. So they accused me of stealing it and started searching me and even searched my private parts.” The slave girl further said, “By Allah! while I was standing (in that state) with those people, the same kite passed by them and dropped the red scarf and it fell amongst them. I told them, ‘This is what you accused me of and I was innocent and now this is it.’ ” ‘Aisha added: That slave girl came to Allah’s Apostle and embraced Islam. She had a tent or a small room with a low roof in the mosque. Whenever she called on me, she had a talk with me and whenever she sat with me, she would recite the following: “The day of the scarf (band) was one of the wonders of our Lord, verily He rescued me from the disbelievers’ town. ‘Aisha added: “Once I asked her, ‘What is the matter with you? Whenever you sit with me, you always recite these poetic verses.’ On that she told me the whole story. “

This former slave girl was not a Muslim at the time of the incident of the red scarf.  Since she stayed with the Arab tribe after being freed, she was probably of their pagan religion.  And yet Allah (swt) saw into her heart, and saw that it was pure.  Because it was pure, Allah (swt) sent the bird back to drop the scarf in the midst of the girls’ accusers.

The non-believers always ask for “proof of God”.  Allah (swt) provides us with signs everywhere, yet still they don’t see.  They try to explain away things as “natural”.  Of course, that which is natural is from Allah (swt), since He created all.  The Arabs, the girl, the bird are all creations of Allah (swt).  This bird took the scarf.  It knew immediately after it picked up the scarf that it wasn’t meat.  Why did it not drop it right away?  Instead of doing the “natural” thing and dropping this thing that it could not eat, it flew around with it long enough for the Arabs to discover the scarf missing, accuse the girl, and search her.  Only then did the bird fly directly over the Arabs and drop the scarf in their midst.

As a result of this, the former slave girl came to Islam.  I can’t help but wonder about the Arabs though.  No mention is made of them, so I assume they remained pagan.  Just as the kufr of today, they either refused to see the straight path in front of them, or they saw, but chose not to follow, that path.  What a terrible decision for them!

On Fatwa

In 1988, the author Salman Rushdie published a book entitled The Satanic Verses.  In the book, there is a character called “Mahound,” transparently based on the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), along with allusion to an “Imam” in exile in the late 20th century.  Due to the real-world events of that time, the “Imam” character was instantly recognizable as the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a Shi’a Muslim scholar and the spiritual father of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which had installed him as “Supreme Leader” after years spent in exile.  Because of this reference, mostly, but also based on several blasphemous aspects of this novel, Ayatollah Khomeini issued what is known as a fatwa condemning the author and calling for his death along with those who were involved in the publication of the book:

In the name of God the Almighty. We belong to God and to Him we shall return. I would like to inform all intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book Satanic Verses, which has been compiled, printed, and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet, and the Qur’an, and those publishers who were aware of its contents, are sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly, where they find them, so that no one will dare to insult the Islamic sanctity. Whoever is killed on this path will be regarded as a martyr, God-willing.In addition, if anyone has access to the author of the book but does not possess the power to execute him, he should point him out to the people so that he may be punished for his actions. May God’s blessing be on you all.
Rullah Musavi al-Khomeini

For most of the West, this incident represents their first encounter with the Islamic concept known as fatwa.  For this reason, the fatwa against Rushdie has come to define the word, in Western society, as a “death sentence” issued by an Islamic scholar.  This is a very narrow and inaccurate definition that unnecessarily demonizes a simple word with a complex meaning.

The word fatwa literally means “opinion.”  In religious usage, it is a legal opinion sought by someone from a religious scholar.  The person seeking the opinion is not required to implement that opinion, because a Muslim is expected to use his/her own conscience, which is a gift from Allah (swt), to determine if the fatwa is one they should follow or not, and he/she bears ultimate responsibility for that decision.

As Muslims, it is extremely important to us that any fatwa be supported by evidence from at least one of the four accepted sources.  These sources are:

1) The Qur’an, which is the direct Word of God.

2) The Sunnah, which is the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).  Muslims live by his example as much as possible.

3) The consensus of current and previous scholars.  As in US case law, we look to decisions taken on a subject in the past in order to inform our opinion in the present.

4) Ijtihad, (an extremely important and complex subject that deserves a diary of its own). Basically, it is a technical term of Islamic law that describes the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the legal sources, the Qur’an and the Sunnah.  Why “independent interpretation?”  Because sometimes we encounter subjects that either have not been covered in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) in the past, or a situation has changed to the point that previous rulings no longer apply to current circumstances and thus need to be re-examined from a fresh viewpoint.

Properly, a fatwa is an Islamic legal ruling, issued by a mufti, who is an expert in Islamic law. This ruling can be on any subject, and is usually requested by either an individual or a judge to clarify an area where fiqh is not clear.  For example, a pressing issue in the religious community, including Islam, is cloning.  Is it halal, or permitted, for a Muslim scientist to participate in this research?  This is the type of question Muslim scholars are asked to issue fatawa (the plural of fatwa) on.  Since the end of the Ottoman Empire, there has been no central authority for issuing fatawa.  In modern times, scholars make their decision based in part on the reasoning of their predecessors, much like US case law.  Before he can be appointed as a mufti, a scholar must meet certain qualifications.  I won’t go into all of them here, but just one of the several requirements will suffice to show how educated he must be: He must be well-versed in the syntax, grammar, pronunciation, idioms, special linguistic uses, customs and culture prevalent at the time of the Prophet (pbuh) and the succeeding two generations.  Just imagine for a moment the amount of study required to meet that qualification.  Nor are the other qualifications much easier to attain.  It takes much time and dedication, along with strong iman, or faith, and a certain strength of character to become a mufti.

In addition to the above, there is another type (or perhaps I should say level) of fatwa, one which is used every day in the Muslim world but holds less authority.  Being a non-hierarchical faith, we have no priesthood in Islam. Leadership is determined by the local community, based on things such as the level of religious education, devoutness, ability to teach, etc.  The basic level of leadership, and the one which Westerners will find most recognizable, is the Imam of a local masjid, or mosque.  An Imam is a person chosen to lead prayers, and he traditionally also delivers the khutbah, or sermon, during juma’a, or Friday prayers.  Like a priest, reverend, or rabbi, the local Imam is someone people take their problems and questions to.  When they ask for his opinion on a subject, his answer is considered a fatwa.

The same applies for an Imam seen on television or even on Youtube when he issues an opinon on a subject.  Recently, in watching some old videos, I came across one by Imam Suhaib Webb, a very popular Imam in America with a fascinating back story.  In his video, Imam Webb talked of turning on the radio just to see what people are listening to.  He bemoaned the lyrics he heard, but made clear that listening to music was halal, or permitted.  He only advised Muslims to be aware of what they are putting in their heads with such lyrics, and how it affects their view of the world.  That, ladies and gentlemen, was a fatwa.  Because it is non-binding, nobody has to pay any attention to it.  But those who choose to follow Imam Webb and respect his opinions may do so.  That is how it works.  For the record, other Imams have issued fatawa saying that such music is haram, or forbidden.  When you have two conflicting fatawa, a Muslim is permitted to consider the evidence, if any, presented for each fatwa and choose which one he follows.

What is the difference between these types of fatawa?  One difference between a fatwa issued by a mufti and a fatwa issued by an Imam is in the level of religious certainty behind the ruling. Obviously, because of his high level of religious education, a ruling by a mufti will be much more widely obeyed than that of the Imam of a local community.  Another difference is the type of questions the fatwa answers.  The Imam may answer questions pertaining to everyday life, such as marital advice, suicide counseling, advice to teens on issues all teens deal with, etc.  A mufti, however, addresses questions of import to all Muslims worldwide.  Can a Muslim member of the armed forces of a non-Muslim nation kill Muslim enemies of his country on the battlefield, if those Muslims are combatants?  This is the type of deep and hugely important questions that a mufti must answer.

Despite its negative usage by right-wingers, media personalities, and mainstream politicians, fatwa is not a dirty word.  It is not a “death sentence.”  It is an intrinsic part of the practice of Islam, and represents another word worthy of reclaiming by the larger Muslim community.

Our Mission

One of my favorite historical figures in Islam is Umar al-Khattab, the 2nd Caliph.  Consider for a moment this speech of his:

“O ye people I counsel you to read the Qur’an. Try to understand it and ponder over it. Imbibe the teachings of the Qur’an. Then practise what the Quran teaches. The Qur’an is not theoretical; it is a practical code of life. The Qur’an does not bring you the message of the Hereafter only; it is primarily intended to guide you in this life. Mold your life in accordance with the teachings of Islam for that is the way of your well being. By following any other way you will be inviting destruction.

“Fear Allah, and whatever you want seek from Him. All men are equal. Do not flatter those in authority. Do not seek favors from others. By such acts you demean yourself. And remember that you will get only that is ordained for you, and no one can give you anything against the will of God. Then why seek things from others over which they have no control? Only supplicate God for He alone is the sovereign.

“And speak the truth. Do not hesitate to say what you consider to be the truth. Say what you feel. Let your conscience be your guide. Let your intentions be good, for verily God is aware of your intentions. In your deeds your intentions count. Fear God, and fear no one else. Why fear others when you know that whatever sustenance ordained for you by God you will get under all circumstances? And again why fear when you know that death is ordained by God alone and will come only when He wills?

“Allah has for the time being made me your ruler. But I am one of you. No special privileges belong to ruler. I have some responsibilities to discharge, and in this I seek your cooperation. Government is a sacred trust, and it is my endeavor not to betray the trust in any way. For the fulfillment of the trust I have to be a watch-man. I have to be strict. I have to enforce discipline. I have to run the administration not on the basis of personal idiosyncracies; I have to run it in public interest and for promoting the public good. For this we have the guidance in the Book of God. Whatever orders I issue in the course of day to day administration have to conform to the Qur’an. God has favored us with Islam. He sent to us His Messenger (Muhammad, pbuh). He has chosen us for a mission. Let us fulfil that mission. That mission is the promotion of Islam. In Islam lies our safety; if we err we are doomed.”
Umar ibn al-Khattab (R.A.), Second Caliph, in a speech upon the surrender of Jerusalem, April 637

Not only does this represent exactly how I’d like my own, modern-day, leaders to think of their position and responsibilities, but also how I’d like Muslims to view our “mission”, which is the promotion of Islam.  Too often today people view Islam through the prism of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and all that has happened since.  We, as Muslims, have not done a very good job of defeating the narrative of the unbelievers that says that Islam is evil, or that it is a violent religion, or that it is the embodiment of oppression.  We all know the truth, yet somehow we have failed to get the message out to a wide enough audience, especially in the West.  That is our failing…my failing.  It is one reason I write this blog and participate on others…to do all I can to correct such false narratives.

Never forget that jihad an-nafs is required of all Muslims.  It is fard ayn.  And part of jihad an-nafs is to call people to Islam and to argue with those who disbelieve, or teach those who do not know.  In other words, promote Islam, just as the great Caliph told us.

On Extremism and Freedom of Speech

On April 20, 2010, a cartoonist named Molly Norris made a mistake.  As a way of protesting the censorship by Comedy Central of the show “South Park”, whose creators had received threats to their lives from Muslim extremists, Ms. Norris drew a fairly innocuous picture poking fun at the traditional Muslim reluctance…even aversion…to depictions of our blessed Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, in drawings or other artworks.  The cartoon was done in the style of a poster, with wording above the drawings deploring the censorship by Comedy Central and declaring May 20, one month in the future, as the first annual “Draw Muhammad Day” as a means of protest.  She stated that by everyone drawing depictions of the Prophet (pbuh), the extremists would not be able to target so many, and therefore it would effectively “water down the pool of targets”.

The idea, and by extension Ms. Norris, became an instant hit on Facebook and other social websites, and spread rapidly.  Commentators on television news shows, both for and against such an idea, only fanned the flames more.  By April 25, Ms. Norris realized the monster she had created, but of course by then it was out of her control.  She stated:

“I did not intend for my cartoon to go viral. I did not intend to be the focus of any ‘group’. I practice the First Amendment by drawing what I wish. This particular cartoon of a ‘poster’ seems to have struck a gigantic nerve, something I was totally unprepared for. I am going back to the drawing table now!”

One day later, on April 26, she said:

“I am NOT involved in “Everybody Draw Mohammd [sic] Day! I made a cartoon that went viral and I am not going with it. Many other folks have used my cartoon to start sites, etc. Please go to them as I am a private person who draws stuff”

Then, after receiving thousands of cartoons drawn by fans, which got “more and more offensive”, she posted the following:

“Let’s call off ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’ by changing it to ‘Everybody Draw Al Gore Day’ instead. Enough Mohammed drawings have already been made to get the point across. At this juncture, such drawings are only hurtful to more liberal and moderate Muslims who have not done anything to endanger our first amendment rights.”

That was not enough, though, for some.  After receiving death threats from the likes of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American Muslim extremist who has become a leader in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula based in Yemen, Ms. Norris shut down her website and went into hiding, out of fear for her safety.  How ironic: a cartoon originally drawn to call out a television station for giving in to fear, resulted in the loss of any possibility of a normal life for the cartoonist due to fear.

It is more than just irony though.  It is a full-fledged tragedy, in two acts.  In the first act, Trey Parker and Matt Stone had their constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech abridged by their employer, ostensibly for their own protection.  In act two, a cartoonist protesting the events of act one similarly had her right to free speech abridged…not by an employer, but by extremists both at home and abroad.

Freedom of speech, despite the claims of the extremists, is not incompatible with Islam.  In fact, it is just as necessary to Muslim society as it is to Western society.  Allah (swt), as always, provides guidance for us:

O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.
Qur’an 5:8

Take the middle road.  That is what Islam is all about.  Stay on the path to justice and fair dealing.  We are also instructed:

Hold to forgiveness; command what is right; But turn away from the ignorant.
Qur’an 7:199

Forgiveness is a part of Islam that extremists seem to have forgotten.  We are not commanded to extract our own “justice” for ignorance; only told to “turn away”.  To turn away is to ignore…not to issue death threats.  Yes, we are to “command what is right”, but we cannot command non-believers.  How do we deal with them?

Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.
Qur’an 16:125

Issuing death threats, obviously, cannot be considered arguing with them in “ways that are best and most gracious”.  We are also instructed regarding non-believers:

It is part of the Mercy of Allah that thou dost deal gently with them. Wert thou severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about thee: so pass over (their faults), and ask for (Allah’s) forgiveness for them; and consult them in affairs (of moment). Then, when thou hast taken a decision put thy trust in Allah. For Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him).
Qur’an 3:159

Threatening the life of another human being over some perceived insult is not the path of Islam, and failing to put your trust in Allah (swt) and heed his instructions is a sin.  The correct response to both acts of this tragedy was to ask for forgiveness for these unbelievers, and do all in our power to teach them the truth of Islam, and to do so in the best and most gracious way possible.

Don’t get me wrong: I strongly condemn any insulting depictions of the Messenger of God (pbuh).  But the reaction by Muslim extremists to these scandals is doing nothing to address the issue, instead feeding the very flames of bigotry (both intentional and incidental) that led to the creation of such drawings.  As G. Willow Wilson, noted American Muslim author of “The Butterfly Mosque”, put it:

Drawing insulting depictions of the Prophet Muhammad has become a favorite pastime of hipster racists, whose bulbous-nosed bushy-bearded ‘satire’ resembles the anti-Semitic cartoons of the Third Reich. Thanks in no small part to the vigorous, often violent outcry from hardliners in the Muslim world, these artists are elevated to a kind of freedom-of-speech sainthood whether their work has any real merit or not.

It was not the drawing of these cartoons that led to “Draw Muhammad Day”.  It was the extremist threats against the cartoonists, and the act of censorship by a television network, for it is these things which Ms. Norris was protesting with her ill-conceived cartoon.  Censorship invariably leads to more censorship.  Speech must be free, not just when we like what is said, but also when that speech is anathema to everything we believe to be right and good.  Perhaps even more so, in the latter case.

The Battle for Words: Jihad

by Hamza Musa al-Janoob

In this age of terrorism and extremism, certain words have been co-opted from mainstream Islam for use by the extremists, and that co-opting has led to misuse of the words by the mainstream media, political figures, bloggers, etc.  The most well known of these, and perhaps the most significant for Muslims, is the use of the word “jihad”.

I believe it is time to start reclaiming this word in mainstream Islam.  Rather than allowing Western authorities and media to redefine jihad using the terrorists definition, we need to educate the American (and Western) public as to exactly what jihad is, and why it is not a threat to them.

Lets get the controversy out in the open right away.  Most of you, undoubtedly, have heard much about Islam being a religion of peace, and if you are like most Western non-Muslims, you have a hard time squaring that statement with what you see in the world around you.  When terrorists commit an attack, they claim it is in the name of “jihad”.  When a new terrorist group crops up somewhere, it is not uncommon for it to have the word “jihad” in its name (e.g. The Egyptian Islamic Jihad), or to hear the word uttered by the groups leaders and spokespeople.  You understand this word to have a particular meaning, based mostly on how it is used by politicians, media personalities, and “experts” in terrorism and such, along with the terrorists themselves.  Even the dictionary backs up your understanding.  From Merriam-Webster:

noun ji-ˈhäd, chiefly British -ˈhad\1: a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty; also : a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline
2: a crusade for a principle or belief

Emphasis mine.  Most people see that bolded part; see that it obviously matches their personal idea of what jihad means, and look no further.  And why should they?  They found their answer, right?  I do not blame Westerners or other non-Muslims for this lack of curiosity.  We live busy lives.  I was lucky, in that I was an exception to the rule in the West.  When the horrific attacks of 9/11 occurred, I had already been studying Islam for close to a decade.  I understood, thanks to those studies, that what Muhammad Atta and those others did was not jihad.  It was a criminal act of mass murder.

There are four types of jihad, and each type of jihad contains several areas.  In total, there are thirteen different areas of jihad.  There are also two levels of obligation in jihad: fard ayn, which means an individual obligation on all Muslims, and fard kafaayah, which is an obligation on the community as a whole.  With a fard kafaayah, if sufficient numbers of the community are engaged in this type of jihad, the rest of the community is relieved of the obligation.

The first type of jihad I will discuss is called jihad an-nafs, which means jihad against oneself.  jihad an-nafs is a fard ayn, obligatory on all accountable (all Muslims).  There are 4 areas within jihad an-nafs:

1. Striving to learn the teachings of Islam.  This jihad never ends, as only the blessed Prophet, may peace be upon him, could possibly know all there is to know of Islam.

2. Striving to make yourself act according to what you have learned.  It is not enough to simply learn something.  You must apply what you have learned in the way you live your life.  You must, so to speak, practice what you preach.

3. Striving to call others to Islam, and teaching those who do not know about it.  Having knowledge yet failing to share that knowledge is concealing the guidance and teachings of Allah (swt), and a person who does this will not benefit.  Indeed, he will face punishment from his Lord for such failings.

4. Striving to bear or tolerate the difficulties and insults which inevitably arise when trying to call people to Islam, or teach those who do not know.  This means, for one, keeping ones composure in the face of heated disagreement and insults thrown around when teaching Islam.  Another meaning is gladly bearing the risks incurred by calling people to Islam.  Such risks can include persecution, ostracization, and in extreme cases even violence or death.

Notice that word “striving”.  In the Holy Qur’an, Allah (swt) tells us:

“And those who strive hard for Us, We shall certainly guide them in our ways, and Allah is surely with the doers of good.” Qur’an 29:69

The word means the following:

1. Make great efforts to achieve or obtain something.
2. Struggle or fight vigorously: “scholars must strive against bias”

To make great effort.  To struggle vigorously.  It is not enough to satisfy jihad an-nafs if you are half-hearted about it.  You must try your hardest to complete all four areas of this type of jihad, and do so throughout your life (when there is opportunity present).  So, in summary, a good Muslim is to strive, throughout his life, to study Islam, act on what he learns, teach it to others, and be patient with the response of those taught, even when that response is hostile.

The second kind of jihad is jihad ash-Shaytan, which means struggle against Satan, and it too is fard ayn, or an individual obligation of all Muslims.  Jihad ash-Shaytan includes two areas:

1. Striving to fend off the doubts that Shaytan (or Satan) uses to undermine your faith.  For any Christian, this will be familiar and self-explanatory.  Shaytan uses lies and tricks to make you doubt your beliefs, and you must constantly strive to fight this evil.  This jihad is followed by maintaining certainty of faith.

2. Striving to fend off the corrupt desires Shaytan provokes.  Examples of this are striving to overcome lust, greed, the urge to gamble, the urge to drink alcohol, take drugs, etc.  This jihad is followed by patience.  Allah (swt) says:

“And We made from among them [Children of Israel], leaders, giving guidance under Our Command, when they were patient and used to believe with certainty in Our Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.)” Qur’an 32:24 (emphasis mine)

Thus, in Islam, leadership in religion comes through patience and certainty of faith.  This is an extremely important jihad, and one which non-Muslims rarely if ever hear about.

The third kind of jihad is a twofer: jihad al-munafiqin, which means jihad against hypocrites; and the one most Westerners will recognize, jihad al-kuffar, or jihad against the unbelievers.  Collectively this is known as jihad bil saif, which means jihad by the sword, and it is fard kafaayah, an obligation of the community as a whole.  This type of jihad is followed in four ways:

1. With the heart.  This means offering dua, or supplication.  Supporting those away on jihad with your thoughts and prayers.

2. With the tongue.  Using speech for the purpose of jihad.  Speaking out against the hypocrites and unbelievers in your midst.

3. With ones wealth.  This can mean financing the jihad, but it can also mean taking care of the families of those Muslims who are away fighting jihad.

4. With oneself.  Fighting jihad yourself, and accepting the risks thereof.  Considered the highest form of jihad.

To understand the concept of jihad bil saif in its proper context, we must first look at the circumstances that led to the first Qur’anic permission to fight.  When the blessed Prophet (pbuh) began preaching the word of Allah (swt) in Makkah (Mecca) to the Quraysh (his tribe), he and those who believed…the first Muslims…were ostracized from their community and severely punished by such things as beatings and starvation.  Their own clans, a sort of extended family, disowned them.  After patiently bearing this treatment for thirteen years, the Muslims finally fled to Madina (Medina).  However, instead of satisfying the Quraysh by having forced the Muslims to flee, this only enraged them further.  Now that they were gone from Makkah, the Muslims were out of their reach.  Then, as now, bullies hate it when somebody gets away from them.  Since they could no longer individually persecute the Muslims, they determined to either annihilate the growing Muslim nation entirely, or force them to return to the idolatry practiced by the Quraysh.

It is against this backdrop that the Muslims were given the first permission to fight their attackers:

“Permission (to fight) is given to those on whom war is made, because they are oppressed. And surely Allah is able to assist them – Those who are driven from their homes without a just cause except that they say: Our Lord is Allah. And if Allah did not repel some people by others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, in which Allah’s name is much remembered, would have been pulled down. And surely Allah will help him who helps His cause”.  Qur’an 22:39-40

This permission to fight was a direct result of the actions of the Quraysh.  Like some other verses that are abused by both terrorists and Islamophobes, it was a response to a situation that existed in real time in 7th century Arabia.  Because before this time the Muslims were enjoined from fighting, this represented a divine intervention on the behalf of the Muslims, allowing them to defend themselves.

The word “defense” is key here.  Remember, Allah (swt) said: “Permission (to fight) is given to those on whom war is made…”.  This was not a permission to wage an offensive war.  Permission was not given for an unprovoked attack against the Quraysh.  But if war was forced upon them, the Muslims had permission to fight back and to defeat the Quraysh for the glory of Allah (swt) and the protection of His religion, Islam.  When considering jihad bil saif, all of the above must be kept in mind.

To understand jihad al-munafiqin (jihad against hypocrites), lets consider what a hypocrite is.  From Merriam-Webster:

noun ˈhi-pə-ˌkrit\
1: a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion
2: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

All of us who attend a church, synagogue, or mosque have seen this type of person.  One who pretends at piety during worship, and spends the rest of the week in sin and debauchery.  There are also forms of hypocrisy, perhaps even more common, that aren’t so easy to see.  For example, a person who does not believe in his heart that which he professes with his mouth, though he seems to live his life according to that which he professes.  Only Allah (swt) can see what is in the heart of a man.   It is no less of a hypocrisy, though, for its invisibility to men.  This jihad is related to jihad an-nafs, in that it is a struggle to maintain certainty of faith.  In this case, though, it is the certainty of faith of the wider community, and also of other individual Muslims, that you must try to maintain.  It is followed, like that in jihad an-nafs, with certainty and patience.  You must maintain your own certainty of faith, and help others to achieve (and maintain) certainty of faith, being patient with their progress.

Hypocrisy is a tricky thing.  It can hide itself not only from others, but even from the hypocrite himself.  For this reason, it is permitted (though not taken lightly) to accuse another Muslim of being a munafiq.  This accusation, if taken to heart, may lead the Muslim to confront that in himself which is hypocritical that he didn’t realize was there.

Jihad al-kuffar, or jihad against unbelievers, is the one cited by terrorists to excuse their criminal acts.  In Qur’an 2:256, which was revealed after the permission to fight, we are told “There is no compulsion in religion.”  Because of this it is certain that there is no connection between religion and fighting.  Thus, there is no compulsion (or permission) to advance Islam through fighting.  Attempting to bring people to Islam through the use of war (or terrorism) is, therefore, not supported by the Qur’an.  In another verse, Allah (swt) said:

“And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, and be not aggressive; surely Allah loves not the aggressors” Qur’an 2:190

Aggressive war is never allowed in Islam.  Thus, such acts as those done by terrorists, which according to them are done for Islam, or in the name of jihad, are not valid in Islam, and thus do not comply with the duty of jihad.  Because of this command not to wage aggressive war, we can say with certainty that Islam is, indeed, a religion of peace.

Another thing which must be discussed here is the following verse:

“So when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolators wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush. But if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free. Surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful”. Qur’an 9:5

Other translations have it simply as “…slay them wherever you find them…”, and this verse, perhaps more than any other, has been taken out of context and used to stir up fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims.  This verse was revealed after the hijrah, or the migration of the Muslims from Makkah to Madina, and is referring to the idolaters such as the Quraysh, whom the Muslims were at the time waging defensive war against…a war forced upon them by the Quraysh.  The verse does not apply to Jews or Christians, despite the lies of the Islamophobes, for two reasons:  one, they are not considered idolaters, as they worship the same God that Muslims do; and two, this verse directly applied to an existing situation, and was not intended to apply to future situations.  It was a direct command relating to the historical situation in Arabia in the 7th century, and has no bearing on modern day jihad.  Treaties are to be honored in Islam, as long as the other side keeps the treaty.  Later in the same chapter, Allah (swt) says:

But if they violate their oaths after their covenant, and attack you for your Faith,- fight ye the chiefs of Unfaith: for their oaths are nothing to them: that thus they may be restrained. Qur’an 9:12

Note the conditional here.  If they attack you “for your faith”, then they must be fought.  They must be restrained.  Remember, the whole reason the Quraysh were attacking the Muslims is because they had accepted Islam over the pagan beliefs of the tribe.  The entire war was because of their faith.  The tribal leaders routinely made treaty with Muhammad (pbuh) and then broke it…thus these verses were revealed in direct response to the situation.  Attempting to apply this verse (Qur’an 9:5) as justification for an unprovoked attack on innocent people, of whatever religion or lack thereof, is criminal ignorance of the worst kind.

The last type of jihad is that against the leaders of oppression and innovation.  This jihad is fard kafaayah, obligatory on the community as a whole.  It has two areas:

1. Striving against injustice. Oppression is, of course, a major injustice meant here.  All other injustices are also to be addressed, though, wherever they are seen or known.  These injustices can include anything from occupation of Muslim lands to mistreatment of children.  In Islam, it is a sin to see an injustice, be able to correct it, and take no action.

2. Striving against innovation.  Note here that in Islam, the word innovation means making changes to the basic practices of the religion that are not supported by the Qur’an or the Sunnah.  An example would be adding an extra prayer on Friday, or changing the order in which things are done during prayers, or adding a hand gesture after offering a dua (a current controversy).

In Islam, we believe that our religion was delivered and perfected by Allah (swt) through his Messenger (pbuh).  Since one cannot improve on perfection, we do not believe in changing any aspect of the religion for any reason not clearly supported by the Qur’an and Sunnah.  We wish to worship in as close a manner as we can to the way in which our blessed Prophet (pbuh) himself worshiped, because there can be no better example for us.

In conclusion, jihad is not a “Holy War on behalf of Islam”, as Webster and the majority Western opinion would have you believe.  It is a struggle, much of which is directed inward and intended to increase the iman (faith) of the Muslim, and help him to deal with serious issues like temptation and avarice.  While there is a component of armed jihad, it is intended for defensive purposes only, as aggressive war is prohibited in Islam.  In addition, using jihad to spread Islam, as espoused by some extremists and screamed about from the rooftops by Islamophobes, is not valid jihad, and not representative of Islam.  Jihad does not belong to the extremists.  It belongs to Islam, and it is time for Muslims to reclaim it.

Article originally published to Daily Kos on July 4, 2011