God! There is no deity but He! To Him belong the most Beautiful Names. Has the story of Moses reached thee? (Qur’an 20:8-9)
Fellow Muslims ask me why I focus on other Prophets more than Prophet Muhammad, upon them peace and blessings. The reason is that I teach the way I learn. My learning and teaching style is what I call a “Listening In” conversation. Most conversations tend to be framed in the “elephant in the room” format. The elephant is understood as the obvious truth which no one is allowed to talk about. Often times, the obvious truths are based on many layers of self-deception that hinder our understanding of ourselves, thus others. In the eyes of anti-Muslims, Bill Maher, Sam Harris, or the recent Charlie Hebdo affair – the obvious truth is Islam promotes terrorism and hatred.
“In the hours following a shooting that left a Canadian soldier dead, Maher had this to say: ‘Turns out the attacker was Islamic—what are the odds, huh? It’s almost like there’s an elephant in the room.’”
The problem with this format is no one asks: who created the room? And how and why is there an elephant in the room? The room is usually the psychological and social construction of those with power and voice, while the elephant in the room is always the little people, or people who are unprotected and voiceless. It is somewhat dishonest to argue – “It’s almost like there’s an elephant in the room.”
Truth is not as obvious as societal ills and psychological constructions bury the reality of things and people. In addition, as Novelist Chimamanda Adichie argues in a TED talk, that our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories, and if we hear only a single story about another person or country, and make it the definitive story, we risk a critical misunderstanding.
It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is "nkali." It's a noun that loosely translates to "to be greater than another." Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.
Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, "secondly." Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.
For this reason, I learned not to attach to the crowd, but to pray for guidance, search, investigate and verify what I hear, as people when they love or hate, project their own issues onto others, and even God – and attack people for issues they hate within themselves. Or they try to define that person or group with a single definitive story, leading and enabling racism or xenophobia.
I learned about the Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, only after sifting through and trying to separate fact from fiction surrounding his personality. Some Muslims and non-Muslims have used and misused his name in projecting his image that stood in sharp contrast to the normative and authentic details of his life. There was so much ridiculous or distorted information surrounding him, that one felt uncomfortable and disturbed connecting to him.
In a “Listening In” conversation, the room is opened slightly either via a window or a crack to allow a light, an invitation to a conversation outside the room that calls us to reflect and better understand a higher level conversation that is taking place, a conversation where God is very much listening to our conversations and engaged and inviting us to guidance.
This conversation does not seek out the crowd, as the crowd usually follows authority, voices of influence and power. Rather, it seeks out a small group of people who within their circle of influence and power can take the conversation forward, creating a ripple to other circles of influence.
Through this learning style, I learned that Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings did not promote nepotism, tribalism or a crowd mentality that shouts down the voice of consciousness. He tore down psychological and social constructs that prevented the light from entering in the room. He taught his followers Jihad an-nafs, or the inner struggle of the soul. It is not self-hatred or blame. When you hate yourself - you engage in communication of projection and fear what is different. God told Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings; it is not you they are against, but the truth. The elevation of truth can destroy the psychological and social constructs or the room which enable racism and xenophobia and other forms of oppression.
At times to engage in the “elephant in the room,” conversations, there is an invisible social agreement that is not accepting of everyone. As we saw in the Charlie Hebdo affair, there were double standards regarding free speech that mocks people with power and those without influence and power. Today, at 4pm there is an event at the University of Minnesota that is discussing the Charlie Hebdo tragedy that took place in Paris, France. Check out the “elephant in the room” format where speakers will discuss Free Speech without any Muslim speaker. What value is in a speech or discussion where others are treated as objects and interrogated, psychoanalyzed and judged – but not engaged as human beings?
However, in “Listening In” conversations – is all about empathy and guidance, seeking the betterment of oneself and others.
For example, Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings did not violate the boundaries of another human being be it mentally, socially, or even spiritually. Once he tried to counsel a woman who was weeping at her brother's death - the woman did not know who he was, and told him - you do not know my pain. He stopped. He did not speak to her from behind a wall, but connected directly to her as a human being, yet still he stopped and left when she was not able to receive it. She later realized who he was and went to find him and accepted his advice of being patient.
I was recently in Saudi Arabia for Hajj or pilgrimage. With a group of people, we climbed the mountain of Hira and saw the cave where Prophet Muhammad used to spend time in to reflect. When he received revelation, he started out alone with a few supporters and slowly, he invited others - by promoting the truth. He was offered power, money and many material gifts to give up his mission but he continued to build a community of people who enjoin the good and forbid the wrong. Those closer to him, including his immediate family members were held to a much higher standard than those further away. He corrected his closest friends as well as family members.
This community was nurtured to accept diversity, human differences, and was open to growth and the gifts of each other. He did not just create a community for the strong, but also for the weak and oppressed. He gave people the courage to grow instead of to hide or pretend. They came to him with all sorts of problems, and he was known and mocked as “all ears” for being a compassionate listener.
He listened to the young and old, the weak and strong, and the poor and rich. He spoke on behalf of the weak and the strong, as the boundaries he set were boundaries to enable the community to grow and enable the growth of each other. It is not our differences or fear of our differences that nurture hatred amongst us, but rather it is acts of injustice that breeds hatred. And when these acts of oppression are not repaired and we have the power and voice to do so, then the hatred brews and festers. The obvious truths we want to discuss or elephant in the room may really be our attempt to erase in our psyche the injustices we committed against others.
Gary Younge raises an interesting point in this article here:
"The west does not see itself the way others see it; indeed it often does not see others at all. Solipsistic in its suffering and narcissistic in its impulses, it promotes itself as the upholder of principles it does not keep, and a morality it does not practice. Therein lays the dysfunction whereby it keeps doing hateful things while simultaneously expressing bewilderment at why some people hate it. It’s as though we are continually caught by surprise that others have not chosen to ignore their humiliation, pain, anger and sorrow just because we have."
Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, taught his followers to seek acceptance of God first and foremost, and in doing so, freed humanity from the illness of perfectionism. When we seek acceptance from God instead of people - we nurture a community to work hard and acknowledge that imperfections are part of being human.
Across the globe, amongst Muslim communities and others - what we see are communities built that protect the rights and needs of the strong and demand higher standards for the vulnerable and unprotected. Whether we use the language of promoting faith or freedom - the problems that our communities face are the same.
The word for oppression in the Arabic language is dhulm, which means darkness. One of God’s names is An Nur or The Light. Hence, one understanding of dhulm or oppression is a disconnection from God, the Light.
In this blog and the continuing blogs, I will discuss power and oppression by looking at the story of Prophet Moses, upon him peace. He is one of the five resolute Prophets, mentioned more times in the Qur'an than any Prophet. As Muslims, we learn of his story through Prophet Muhammad, upon them peace and blessings. As the Prophetic voice is a voice that connects people to each other.
In the series on Faith and Guidance, I discussed two important stories of Islamic teachings – the story of Salman al Farisi traveling the journey of faith from a position of weakness and the Queen of Sheba, Bilqis, traveling the journey from a position of power facing another force of power, Prophet Solomon, upon him peace. In both stories, the journeys were about people true to their faith and/or values.
The story of Moses, upon him peace is a story about people in power clashing with people who are weak where both sides are not true to their faith and/or values. However, things are not so simple. Amongst those in power are many shades, most notably are people who resist and support the call to truth, and amongst those who are weak, are people who support the oppression of their own people or rebel for tyrannical motives. Yet, deeper still are a few righteous believers, and within them the noble family of Moses, upon him peace. Truth is not an “Us vs Them” story or a single definitive story about “Them.”
Under the watchful gaze of God, Moses, upon him peace, was raised in the home of Pharaoh. The beauty of this part of the story is that God tells us that He cast His love unto Moses in the home of Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s wife, Asiya, developed a fond love of Moses, upon him peace and wanted to keep him as a son, hence protecting him in a climate of deep seated oppression:
"'Throw (the child) into the chest, and throw (the chest) into the river: the river will cast him up on the bank, and he will be taken up by one who is an enemy to Me and an enemy to him': But I cast (the garment of) love over thee from Me: and (this) in order that thou mayest be reared under Mine eye." (Quran 20:39)
Moses was reared, like all Prophets, by God Himself. From their birth, they are connected to The Light of God, as they are to be the light and the way to God.
The story of Moses is a beautiful story of power and oppression.
Has the story of Moses reached you?
Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings
A History of the Prophets of Islam Vol. 1 and 2 by Suzanne Haneef
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
― Robert F. Kennedy
In 2013, the Minnesota Council of Churches and the Islamic Center of Minnesota began a dialogue series called "Prophets, Patriarchs, & People of Promise!"
Over several dialogues we brought in speakers who helped us to explore and share with each other their faith tradition and perspectives on Abraham, the Angels, Adam and Eve, Jesus, Moses, David, and Prophet Muhammad, upon them peace and blessings. For Muslims, all prophets are spiritual brothers, with Prophet Muhammad being the last and final messenger of God in this long chain of prophets. The discussions were quite interesting and the series helped to throw a pebble, creating a tiny ripple of understanding between the faith traditions.
This Sunday, we are moving past this series to a new dialogue: Faithful Response: What does our faith say about how we respond to issues of power and oppression?
I will share my perspective with another speaker, Dr. Cameron B. R. Howard, assistant professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Dr. Howard received her Ph.D. in Religion from Emory University in 2010. Among her publications are contributions to the New Interpreter's Bible One-Volume Commentary (Abingdon Press, 2010) and the twentieth-anniversary edition of the Women's Bible Commentary (Westminster John Knox Press, 2012). Her current research focuses on postcolonial approaches to the Hebrew Bible. Howard is also a frequent contributor to WorkingPreacher.org and co-hosts a monthly podcast at EntertheBible.org.
And not all forces or voices who are weak are necessarily oppressed. I discussed this briefly in the blog on Salman al Farisi here. I will elaborate more on this issue in a coming blog.
In addition, it is true that many times, religion has been used to create problems in society, to control and oppress others.
However, there are cases in history and now, where power is not a force of good, but is abusive and people of influence - attach themselves to those in power for glory and fail to be sincere advisers. In such situations, as people of faith who believe in God, we ask ourselves:
Do you see power shaping your community?
What is our responsibility in such situations?
What do we see in the Muslim and Christian traditions that address issues of power?
What does our faith say about how we respond to issues of power and oppression?
Please add your voice to our conversation!
Join us to listen and then dialogue within small groups to go deeper and learn from each other as well.
Sunday, March 16
2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Islamic Center of Minnesota
1401 Gardena Ave. NE
Fridley, MN 55432
Participants in the Muslim Christian Dialogue are invited to park on the street, in the parking lot of the Islamic Center of Minnesota or in the parking lot of Totino Grace High School directly across the street.
On Saturday, November 1, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Minnesota (CAIR-MN), in partnership with the Abubakar As-Sidique Islamic Center, will host a Voter Education Forum featuring Minnesota Muslim civic leaders.
The event seeks to prepare community members for Election Day. It will include a training on government offices and positions, same-day voter registration, and voter rights; translated voter guides; and a Minnesota Muslim civic leaders panel discussion featuring Congressman Keith Ellison.
Ellison and other panelists will share some of their personal experiences of how they first became involved in the political process and why it’s important for Minnesota Muslims to get involved.
CAIR-MN Civic Engagement Project Coordinator Amber Michel explains, “The goal is to help our community members see government as something that belongs to them, a place where they are welcome and a system that is better for their participation in it.”
Saturday’s event is the first in a series of civic engagement projects aimed at inspiring Minnesota Muslims to not only vote, but join committees, become election judges, or run for office.
“Muslims in Minneapolis represent a rich diversity of experience, education and expertise. When Minnesotans work together, all of our communities benefit,” says Amber Michel.
Saturday’s Voter Education Forum is funded by a grant awarded to CAIR-MN by the One Minneapolis Fund. Per the City of Minneapolis website, “The One Minneapolis Fund is designed to support the development of diverse leadership development and community engagement in the City of Minneapolis.”
CAIR-MN’s year-long civic engagement program, funded by The One Minneapolis Fund, includes the 2015 Day at the Capitol, ‘Great Minds Get-Together’ on Civic Engagement, Muslim Civic Engagement Summit at the Capitol, Muslim Advocacy Days, and the Muslim Youth Leadership Symposium.
When asked what she would say to someone who might not see a place for themselves in the political process, Michel explained, “I would say come on Saturday and get a glimpse of the many opportunities available for anyone who wants to make a positive change in their community.”
WHAT: Voter Education Forum Featuring Muslim Civic Leaders
WHEN: Saturday, November 1, 2014, 1:00-3:00pm
WHERE: Abubakar As-Sidique Islamic Center, 2824 13th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55407
RSVP Online: http://voter-education-forum.eventbrite.com
For more information, contact CAIR-MN: 612.206.3360, email@example.com
"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use."
It is the same story.
Around the country, speakers are warning Americans about the danger of Islam and the threat of the Muslims within. Islam maligned, Prophet Muhammad attacked and the speakers threaten lawsuits if they are denied the space to spew their venom in an unchallenged manner.
They argue this is "freedom of speech." To such individuals, regurgitating your dirty saliva without any critical thinking or understanding of the subject matter at hand is free speech. Yet a society that values freedom of speech is best known by the presence of the voices of its minorities and politically weak in the public square. To my knowledge, the Muslims in many European countries and here remain mainly marginalized.
There is a strong social pressure for Muslims to speak the right way, breathe the right way, sneeze the right away or fear being accused of extremism or terrorism activity.
Let us play an imagination game.
Imagine in your mind's eye the following cartoon: a Muslim with a thought bubble that reads, "What is freedom of speech?" The Muslim figure is looking at two prevailing images from Western countries with Muslim minorities: One image shows some Westerners bashing Muslims, Islam and Prophet Muhammad, and another image shows law enforcement persecuting, spying, bashing and censoring Muslims for unpopular opinions and speech. In the first image a crowd surrounds the speaker attacking Islam and Muslims, and in the second image a drone is aiming at the Muslim speaker spewing venom at non-Muslims. What makes one speech socially and legally acceptable under free speech and another as in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, grounds for a drone attack for his inflammatory speech against the US?
Let us continue the imagination game.
Imagine a Muslim speaker who claims that American Christians and Jews "will kill your children" and that "we are in war with Crusaders," was invited to speak at Bagley High School.
Imagine the speaker incited the audience such that some neighbors felt endangered and decided to attend to challenge the speaker with their attendance and "Love Thy Neighbor" signs.
Imagine said speaker stopped his presentation and singled these people out, demanded they leave or threatened to throw them out.
Imagine the incited crowd yells, 'Get out' and 'You weren't invited.'
Imagine people getting up to their feet and moving towards them to lay hands on them and kick them out.
Imagine one Muslim upset at the Christian and Jewish presence, later approached the officer and asked: "Can I borrow your gun?"
Imagine one member describes the event as "The audience doesn't know where the line is, or that a line even exists. When [Muslim speaker] works a crowd, he does so skillfully, provoking responses and goading reactions. After listening to fear mongering messages the previous night, such as 'Christians are destroying the world,' 'Jews are coming to kill your children and grandchildren,' 'The day will come and Christian and Jews in America will have the upper hand, and they will kill your children for not eating what is liked. For not eating the lawful foods,' and 'Killing you is a small matter.'
Are we as Americans in favor of such speech? Are we in favor of the views of Anwar al-Alwaki and other Muslims who spew such venom? Would we be open to our schools allowing such views to incite crowds?
Noam Chomsky said, "If you're in favor of free speech, then you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you're not in favor of free speech."
The US killed Anwar al-Alwaki, and his children with drones. They did not commit acts of terrorism, but al-Awlaki was guilty of spewing hatred against America.
So I would like to ask Bagley High School, are you open to a Muslim speaker who spews venom towards Christians and Jews? I ask the Police and Law Enforcement in Bagley - had this been a Muslim speaker spewing venom against Jews and Christians - would you have handled this situation the same way?
I ask the radio stations and media in Bagley and around - had this been a Muslim speaker spewing venom against Christians and Jews - would you have favorably promoted the event on your station and paper? Are Muslim voices that you despise heard? This demonstrates whether it was hate or freedom that is motivating speakers and the audience.
I ask the FBI who is constantly asking us to keep our eyes and ears open to questionable behavior by Muslims and to aid them in preventing terrorism - had this been a Muslim speaker spewing venom - would you have remained silent?
According to Islamic teachings, freedom of speech is a valuable concept when embraced with a spirit engaged in the search for truth and is not laced with insults and vulgarity. For example, Islam forbids Muslims from cursing or attacking other faiths. Islamic teachings also prohibit sitting in the company of those who ridicule and mock God or the prophets. There is no value or critical thinking in such speech.
In the Qur'an, one hears arguments raised by Satan toward God as well as the objections toward Prophet Mohammed, upon him peace and blessings, by the early Makkans. God does not censor these voices but responds to the charges raised.
Satan was given time till Judgment Day to prove that God's ennoblement of human beings over him was a mistake. If you are for free speech, then you are for an equal platform for those you disagree with, who oppose or challenge your views and ideas, openly and transparently.
Speech that seeks to incite a crowd and rage at any opposing voice and muzzle everyone who can respond and challenge their argument - is not free speech, but hate.
In addition, in the Quran we are told of a conversation between Prophet Solomon, upon him peace, and the Queen of Sheba. The Queen of Sheba was of a different faith, different gender, and different ethnicity, in other words, the "other." When a subject of Prophet Solomon shares with him negative news regarding the Queen, Prophet Solomon responds with a call for verification and investigation. He respectfully writes to the Queen and engages her directly, openly and transparently.
(Solomon) said: "Soon shall we see whether thou hast told the truth or lied! "Go thou, with this letter of mine, and deliver it to them: then draw back from them, and (wait to) see what answer they return"... (The queen) said: "Ye chiefs! here is delivered to me - a letter worthy of respect. (Quran 27: 27-29)
When a crowd is easily incited by negative comments on the "other" and fails to accept its responsibility to verify, investigate, and engage openly and transparently, then that is not freedom of speech, but hate.
The quotes shared above in the imagination game were not the quotes of a Muslim speaker; rather, they are the quotes of Usama K. Dakdok, a Christian speaker, who came to Bagley, Minnesota this past weekend to warn Minnesotans about the "disease of Islam." I changed the quotes to help us understand that were similar quotes to be said by a Muslim toward non-Muslims, we would not be so open and receptive to such speech and we would not call it free speech. We would easily recognize it as hate speech.
I do not ask for the US to hit Dakdok with a drone, but why is al-Awlaki hit with a drone, while Dakdok and others are allowed to speak in public schools or spaces under the banner of "freedom of speech?" That is not imagination, but reality.
The issue for me is not that Dakdok and others like him are allowed to speak, but the platform in which they speak is a platform where Muslims are marginalized, mocked and silenced. It is a platform devoid of critical thinking, investigation, transparency, and verification. It confuses feelings with facts, projection with analysis and promotes a demented understanding of one another, which creates an atmosphere that is unhealthy for Muslims and all citizens in Bagley, Minnesota and America at large.
"Everybody wants to be somebody; nobody wants to grow."
--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Shaykh Muhammad Al-Ninowy was invited to the Twin Cities by Muslim Volunteers to fulfill one of the group's main objectives: promoting tolerance, peace, mercy and understanding within the Muslim community and with people of other faiths.
Shaykh Al-Ninowy acquired knowledge in many fields of the Islamic sciences. He particularly specializes in the fields of Hadeeth (sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad) and Tawheed (Islamic monotheism). Besides a strong knowledge in Islamic sciences and disciplines, he is also a scholar on Islamic spirituality.
The group came together and discussed topics that our community is in need of, and has planned a few events to benefit the Minnesota community. We would like to invite you to the following:
May 17th at 7pm - 9pm
Interacting with Your Non-Muslim Neighbors
Lessons from Prophet Muhammad
(upon him peace and blessings)
Dinner available for purchase at 6pm
Islamic Center of Minnesota
1401 Gardenia Ave
Fridley, MN 55432
Answering Your Questions on Islam and Islamic Spirituality
2221 15th Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Rights of Children in Islam
3300 Plymouth Blvd
Plymouth, MN 55447
Readers Note: Your questions on Islam and Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings are welcome at any of the events above. A special event on Sunday was planned for answering questions from people of other faiths. Face to face interaction over coffee and refreshments is the best approach to responding to your questions on his life and character.
Your attendance to any of these events are more than welcome.