Fedwa Wazwaz

Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian- American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US. By profession, she is a senior data warehouse programmer with the University of Minnesota. Read more about Fedwa Wazwaz.

Posts about Society

Conversation with Qays Arthur on Guidance and Faith 7

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: March 26, 2014 - 5:32 AM

"O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).  
Qur'an (49:13)

Through a conversation with Shakyh Qays Arthur, I began a series which explored some spiritual aspects behind faith and guidance in accordance with Islamic teachings.  The series ended with a discussion on surrender from the perspective of self-knowledge.  

At times understanding ourselves comes through challenges with others.  These challenges force us to face parts of ourselves that we need to work on and that we need to open up to.  Hwaa Irfan summed it best in the following advice:

"We can learn much about ourselves from the challenges that bring out our impatience, our bigotry, our lack of compassion, our need to control or to be a victim of circumstance, our ability to give and receive, and our ability to accept our own selves thus others. We are presented with an opportunity to realize what is really important, and that we are not perfect, and that we have a few issues of our own that we need to work on, or to better ourselves so that we may help others. If we are impatient for example, we ask ourselves why are we so impatient, but we do not ask and answer the question ourselves. How can we answer the question, when we still think, and perceive as before. When we think and perceive a situation without change, nothing actually changes, so we must wait for the answer to present itself to us. This will come to us in many ways, but in that process changes will be taking place within us to ready us for the answer, and to be open to that answer. By doing so, we learn more about ourselves, and are more ready to for the next stage in our jihad an nafs (struggle of the soul)!" 

We will now address some questions as promised.   Before doing so, let me address some confusion that was made apparent in the comments section.  There were some comments in the last blog that raised some issues regarding their understanding of the Qur’an.  The Qur'an was revealed in a span of 23 years, and changes were taking place to prepare Muslims to receive its revelation.  As the Qur’an was revealed – Muslims were not sitting down in a classroom learning it divorced from life and its challenges, but they were prepared internally either through trials, hardships or challenges with others to fully receive its wisdom and understanding.

At times accusations are made about the Qur’an as a book promoting hatred and violence.  A few verses that teach or guide Muslims on how to respond in times of extreme conflict like facing ethnic cleansing or genocide are taken as a general rule with how to coexist with others.  The general rule that promotes coexistence are found in the following verses:

“Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just.  Allah only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) Faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances), that do wrong.” (60:8-9)

If we read the Qur’an in selective parts – we learn and understand nothing.  We must read it as a whole, and reconcile all its verses as a whole.  Hence, understanding the Qur'an requires study.  It is the book of God addressed to all of humanity till the end of time.   It is a book of wisdom that calls humanity to read, reflect, think, to verify, to investigate and seek to understand.  Some verses are very clear.  Some verses take time to understand, as they require us to grow to receive their wisdom.  Some verses lead to field of sciences to emerge.  For example, the laws of inheritance were the impetus behind Algebra. 

Wazwaz:  Shaykh Qays – in the first blog of this series, we discussed monotheism according to Islamic teachings.  You mentioned in that blog that the disconnection between Western Christianity and the Middle East as well as Muslims disconnection with earlier faith traditions.  You said:

"It therefore makes sense that a religion as thoroughly Semitic as Islam would be unrecognizable to them despite what is in their own books! Yet that disconnection is only perpetuated when we treat the Bible and Christianity as alien to our faith or when we look upon ourselves as some new, independent community as opposed to simply believers in God's final Prophet (peace be upon him) who continue in the legacy of the prophets of the Bible (peace be upon them all)."

That is an interesting point. Given your life experience how would you answer the following question:

"please explain how Islam can stake any claim to Adam. Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Had it not been for Moses, Islam would have no knowledge of Adam. You (or Mohammad) can not simply appropriate the words, works, deeds, etc., of an historical figure and fold them into your religion as if they belonged there all along."

Shaykh Qays:  Well the short answer to “explain how Islam can stake any claim to Adam” is: through God, the Creator of Adam, Moses (peace be upon them), and the questioner. In point of fact, as attested to by the Pentateuch itself, Moses was not its author; rather it was dictated to him by God.  Other books of the Hebrew Bible contain inspired writings of prophets as well as sages, in addition to direct revelation from God – all attributed to other than Moses yet ultimately the believer sees them all as having legitimacy from God.

If one does not accept the Divine authorship of scripture, choosing instead to belie what the scriptures claim of themselves and designate their authorship to the men who bore and transmitted them, then one will never be able to grasp “how Islam can stake any claim” to anything in previous scriptures. In fact, given what I mentioned about other books in the Hebrew Bible how can those books lay claim to what they claim. The answer is: through God.

So for Muslims there is nothing to explain or justify and there is no misappropriation taking place as the question seems to imply. The same Entity that the Bible calls men to worship and the same Entity that the Bible declares it was revealed and inspired by, has revealed the Quran. It's that simple.

Wazwaz:  The following question is regarding our last blog. Why did God ask Satan to kneel before another creation and why did Satan's refusal mean he is arrogant?

Shaykh Qays:  God commanded the Angels, in whose company Satan was, to prostrate towards Adam as an acknowledgment of the veneration and respect that God bestowed on Adam. It was an act of worship and obedience to the Lord of Adam, Most High. In a similar manner when Muslims pray today we prostrate in the direction of the Ka'ba in Makkah, thereby acknowledging its God-given status, because the Lord of the Ka'ba commanded that prayer be done in that manner. No one was commended to worship a creature be it the Adam (peace be upon him) or the Ka'ba.

Satan refused to heed the command not due to a misunderstanding or a slip but it was a willful refusal on the basis of his superiority complex – he felt he was better than another creature despite the fact that God Himself accorded that other creature a superior status. Arrogance doesn't get much better than that.

Wazwaz:  There seems to be confusion on fear from a questioner.  Healthy fear pushes people to know.  Unhealthy fear pushes people to insularity.  God mentions in the Qur'an that only people of knowledge have fear of God.  He equates fear of Him with knowledge of Him.  It is not a fear of the unknown, but a fear grounded in knowledge and reality.  I noted that humility is best defined as fearing God.  When we accept who we are, thus others, we also accept who God is - Majestic and Lord of the Worlds.  That fear pushes us to know Him and abide by His commands instead of to oppose and challenge Him.  One questioner felt equating fear with humility is unhealthy.  I also want to share a quote by Martin Luther King on this.

“Normal fear protects us; abnormal fear paralyzes us. Normal fear motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare; abnormal fear constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives. Our problem is not to be rid of fear but, rather to harness and master it.”

How would you respond?

Shakyh Qays:  I tend to agree with the questioner precisely because of what you mentioned about healthy versus unhealthy fear. That is, I would say that equating unhealthy fear with humility is a mistake. I would add that unhealthy fear is any fear that is for other than God or for the sake of God, just as unhealthy love is love for other than God or his sake. One constant message of the Quran is that the believer should fear none besides God – it is part of worshiping none besides Him.

The fear of God is based on the worshiper’s knowledge of His sheer unfathomable, awesome perfection – manifested in justice and overwhelming power - and it is always to be counterbalanced with love of God which is based on the worshiper’s knowledge of His sheer unfathomable, beautiful perfection – manifested in mercy and disarming tenderness. The one who is characterized by that kind of healthy, knowledge-based fear cannot help but be humble and submissive. On the other hand, unhealthy fear such as of that of losing one’s prestige or wealth, or being wronged by creatures like an evil tyrant or criminal should never be associated with humility. For that reason being defiant and apparently arrogant before a tyrant or criminal may actually be a good thing when the situation calls for it, while being humble in the face of evil is blameworthy.

Wazwaz:  Satan is quoted in the Qur'an as having fear of God.  Yet, he challenges God's knowledge and seeks time till the day of Judgment to show that God's decision to choose Adam as representative is wrong.  Even though he had knowledge of God, it was a distorted and twisted knowledge - since he had a false sense of who he was.  Would you agree?

Shaykh Qays:  Satan is not characterized as one of the God-fearing in the Quran. He is characterized as a disbeliever who was one of the God-fearing but was ruined by arrogance. He has knowledge of God and the greater realities of the unseen but he lacks faith which requires what in Arabic is called idh'an or accepting and submitting to what one knows. Satan knows reality but opposes it. His knowledge is against him and not for him. So in the sense that his knowledge is against him due to his arrogance I would agree that it is distorted. May Allah be our refuge from arrogance and knowledge that does not benefit us.

Wazwaz:  Since you are a teacher and student of sacred knowledge - what experience can you share that helped you or challenged you to see things differently to understand others?

Shaykh Qays:  At the risk of opening a whole new area of discussion as we close this one I will say that without doubt going to Saudi Arabia was a life-changing experience for me. By suddenly being immersed in a traditional and particularly austere Muslim culture and environment I learned, not only about the country and people, but also about myself in the process.

Saudi Arabia, to a Westerner, is a very “different” or “other” place – even for a Muslim from the West. It became apparent to me how important appreciating and understanding others is to self-knowledge. I also gained a new appreciation of the Sharia and the mercy that is inherent in its limits, prescriptions and proscriptions. Against the backdrop of the Sharia I could not only see how Saudi morality is influenced by their culture and norms but I could see the same with my own view of morality.

I thus also saw how misguided and potentially dangerous it can be to reduce the Sharia, the principles of which ensure that morality is upheld across different cultures, to one's own cultural manifestations while denying the legitimacy of others. To me that mistake is the result of looking at the religion, the Sharia, others, and the world through the narrow, impoverished lens of the sociologist or anthropologist or other such investigator whose judgment is deficient of genuine spirituality.

The reality is that God is greater than all of that and religion and Sharia are about Him and seeing the world through Him. That is the way of the prophets, the way of their leader Muhammad (God's peace be upon them all), and the way of Islam.

#End

Prophets, Patriarchs, & People of Promise!

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: March 9, 2014 - 11:08 PM

"The rabbits' eye differs from that of the owl."   
--Greek Poverb

In 2013, the Minnesota Council of Churches and the Islamic Center of Minnesota began a dialogue series called "Prophets, Patriarchs, & People of Promise!"

In previous months, we had a dialogue on Abraham, the Angels, Adam and Eve, and last month on Prophet Muhammad, upon them peace and blessings.  In March, we will continue our dialogue series with a dialogue on David, upon him peace.

For Muslims, all prophets are spiritual brothers, with Prophet Muhammad being the last and final messenger of God in this long chain of prophets.  As a Muslim, I know of their stories through the Qur'an and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)

King David's honor and import spans religious traditions.  In Judaism, he is remembered as the legendary second King of Israel and ancestor of the coming messiah.  In Christianity, he is known as the forefather of Jesus and the psalmist.  In Islam, he is a king and a Prophet revered for his righteous wisdom and willingness to stand against oppression.  

Everyone knows of the David and Goliath story.  According to Islamic teachings - the story has a beautiful dimension that is not discussed much.  When David fought Goliath - it was not a fight of someone wanting to be a hero.  David, upon him peace, was not someone with a savior complex.  David, upon him peace, did not see his strength in face of Goliath, or Goliath's power in his face, but the whole journey was a journey of David's reliance on God's Strength and witnessing God's Greatness and Power over every power.  The David and Goliath story is a story of a faithful few who witnessed the power and presence of God in their submission to His Commands after struggling to be true in word and deed to Him.

When Talut(David) set forth with the armies, he said: "Allah will test you at the stream: if any drinks of its water, He goes not with my army: Only those who taste not of it go with me: A mere sip out of the hand is excused." but they all drank of it, except a few

Then when he had crossed it along with those who believed with him, they said: "This day We cannot cope with Goliath and his forces." but those who were convinced that they must meet Allah, said: "How oft, by Allah's will, Hath a small force vanquished a big one? Allah is with those who steadfastly persevere." 

When they advanced to meet Goliath and his forces, they prayed: "Our Lord! Pour out constancy on us and make our steps firm: Help us against those that reject faith." 

By Allah's will they routed them; and David slew Goliath; and Allah gave him power and wisdom and taught him whatever (else) He willed. And did not Allah Check one set of people by means of another, the earth would indeed be full of mischief: But Allah is full of bounty to all the worlds. These are the Signs of Allah: we rehearse them to thee in truth: verily Thou [O Muhammad] art one of the messengers. (Qur'an: 249-252)

This month, our conversation will be led by Dr. Cameron Howard, Zafar Siddiqui and Rabbi David Wirtschafter.

Cameron Howard is assistant professor of the Old Testament at Luther Seminary.  She is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature.  Howard has published in a number of commentaries and journals including “New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary” (Abingdon, 2010) and Word & World.  She is a contributor to WorkingPreacher.org and EntertheBible.org, where she co-hosts the podcast series “Everything You Wanted to Know About the Bible (But Were Afraid to Ask)."

Zafar Siddiqui is a co-founder of the Islamic Resource Group (IRG), an educational outreach organization dedicated to building bridges between Muslims and people of other faiths. He currently serves as the director of interfaith and civic relations at IRG.  Siddiqui serves on the advisory board of the Muslim Christian Dialogue Center (MCDC) at the University of St. Thomas. He is a member of the Twin Cities Interfaith Network (TCIN) and is active in several interfaith and diversity-related initiatives in the Twin Cities. 

Rabbi David Wirtschafter has served congregations in California, New Hampshire, and New York, and is currently rabbi of the Ames Jewish Congregation in Iowa. Raised in Minneapolis, he graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in English literature and from Hebrew Union College in New York with an M.A. degree in Hebrew literature. Actively involved in interfaith dialogue, social justice, and community service, he is a playful storyteller and a serious scholar who has given presentations on a wide variety of topics.  Much of Rabbi Wirtschafter’s current research focuses on troubling biblical texts and contemporary critiques of religion and on intelligent responses to both from within Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities.

If you cannot make it this month, watch for more dialogues in our series as we explore individuals revered as Prophets, Patriarchs, & People of Promise to learn and dialogue about Jesus (April 27) and Solomon (May 18).  Upon them peace.

NOTE: In recognition of Easter Sunday, April's dialogue will break our regular pattern.  Instead of the third Sunday of the month, we will gather together April 27th for a dialogue of Jesus.
 


When
Sunday, March 16
2:00 - 4:00 p.m.

Where
Islamic Center of Minnesota
1401 Gardena Ave. NE
Fridley, MN  55432

Parking
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.

Please foward to friends and family and spread the word.  We hope you can make it and open your heart and listen to three great speakers!  

RSVP Now

Training Cops to Fear Somalis and Muslims

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: November 22, 2013 - 5:08 AM

On Thursday, November 21, 2013, a law enforcement training on terrorism was offered in Minnesota. This training was organized by former Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher of the controversial new Center for Somali History Studies.  Yes, terrorism is a real threat to our nation and law enforcement needs to be educated about that threat.

As an educator and a concerned citizen wishing for the safety and well-being of every civilian, I support educational trainings.  Yet, I am concerned about this training.  Is the training meant to strengthen our law enforcement or is it meant to selectively create a circle within our nation that hardens our deep-seated prejudices and biases to keep the Muslim community marginalized and outside this circle?

American Muslim leaders and leading organizations have been very vocal and firm in unequivocally condemning terrorism and terrorist organizations, including Al Shabab.  Last month, Minnesota imams were the first to collectively condemn the horrific attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya. The Council on American Islamic Relations, a leading civil rights organization, has repeatedly stated that “any action that harms innocent civilians is reprehensible and deserves condemnation.”  Muslim organizations and scholars are quite vocal condemning terrorism whenever it happens, wherever it happens, and whoever commits it. 

So why am I concerned about this training?

As an educator, I focus on two important points: First, evaluate or question the source.  Second, evaluate or question the methodology - the research, processes, critical thinking, omissions and numbers.  I also immediately separate and remove any emotionally appealing statements.

Let us question the source.

Are the trainers experts on terrorism? 

Are their credentials and backgrounds sound or are they individuals who have no qualifications or have deep-seated prejudice against Muslims? 

Do any of these experts have the necessary qualifications or level of understanding to speak on terrorism or on the Muslim community?

Do any of these experts have a reputation for accuracy?

Do any of the experts have a motive for being inaccurate or overly biased?

Are there valid reasons for questioning the honesty or integrity of these presenters?

Let us begin with the organizer. Former Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher was referred to as “Ramsey County's most controversial cop.” His own police department alleged that he  "exaggerated or falsified" his investigation of domestic and international terrorism threats in the east metro.
SEE: Fletcher Defends Terror Probe (Star Tribune)

In an interview with the Twin Cities Daily Planet, a spokesman for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office stated that Fletcher's claims that Ramsey County residents were threatened by 22 domestic and 11 international terrorist groups "came from an active imagination" and that the Terrorism Information Briefs "never existed."

City Pages stated that "Fletcher's office apparently dreamed up the whole idea that his jurisdiction was under threat from dozens of domestic and international terrorism groups" and that "the research was done by staffers cruising the internet and watching CNN." It further states: "It's hardly the first time Fletcher and his office have been at the center of controversy. Some of his department's handiwork was employed in the run-up to the 2008 Republican National Convention, when he directed preemptive raids against Twin Cities activists who later became known as the RNC 8. Two years after they were arrested in the guns-drawn raid, the cases against them fizzled."

SEE: Meet Bob Fletcher: Ramsey County's Most Controversial Cop (City Pages)

Those 33 Terrorist Groups in Ramsey County? It Was "A Very Big Lie" (Twin Cities Daily Planet

Bob Fletcher, Former Ramsey County Sheriff, Fictionalized Terrorism Reports (City Pages)  

Along with Fletcher, the co-presenters for the training include: Omar Jamal, Abdirizak Bihi, Mohammed Farah, Michael Rozin, Jeff Weyers, and Gary Olding. 

Michael Rozin, "formally of the Israeli Defense Forces, trained at the Israeli Security Academy," was featured in an NPR story on racial and religious profiling at the Mall of America. 
SEE:  Shoppers Entangled In War On Terrorism (NPR) 

Omar Jamal, a convicted felon, has made unsubstantiated, hate-inspired statements, such as referring to Minneapolis as a "slaughterhouse for immigrants."
SEE: When Somalis are in the news so is Omar Jamal (MPR)

Similarly, the Pioneer Press reported that Bihi has had run-ins with the law, including a restraining order for "threatening and stalking" a woman and DWIs. In March 2011, there was an "active warrant for his arrest for violating the terms of his probation."
SEE: Domestic terrorism hearing witness from Minneapolis has had a troubled past (Pioneer Press)

Is this how legitimate community leaders behave? Are these individuals best suited to train law enforcement?

Fletcher has organized controversial trainings for law enforcement in the past. Concerned community members felt the trainings did not distinguish between terrorists and mainstream Muslims and Somalis. The training flyer referred to the terrorist organization Al Shabaab as an "Islamic" organization. It included pictures of Somali men with AK-47s on it with the headline, "Understanding the People of Somalia."

In November 2011, more than 30 Twin Cities Somali and Muslim organizations challenged the credibility of the seminar in Minneapolis. Several police departments across the state declined to participate.
SEE: Muslim groups to Bob Fletcher: There's No "Islam" in Terrorism (Minnesota Public Radio)
Groups Object to St. Paul Somali Seminar, Call It Anti-Muslim (Pioneer Press)

The training claimed that there is "an alarming trend of radical imams recruiting and radicalizing American-raised Somalis to be suicide bombers for the Al Qaeda-affiliated Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab." 

However, the FBI said it has no reason to believe the mosque was indoctrinating people:

"At this point, we have uncovered no evidence to show there was any effort of any mosque or mosque leadership or mosque imam to take part in any recruitment or radicalization of these young men," said Special Agent E.K .Wilson of the Minneapolis division of the FBI.

While investigators believe that some of the secret meetings happened in a mosque, it doesn't appear to be a case of a radical imam brainwashing his students. In most cases, Wilson said, it was likely friends influencing friends.

"It looks like the recruitment process of these men was on a very peer-to-peer type scale," Wilson said. "Some of the individuals were more culpable than others, but it was a very lateral chain of command when it came to who is responsible." 
SEE: Minnesota Muslim leaders skeptical and disappointed after radicalization hearing (MPR) 

In May 2012, Fletcher's training was canceled in Mankato after Somali leaders met with city leaders to discuss the controversial content of the seminar. As a result, all of the city organizers withdrew their support of the seminar.

In March 2013, Catholic Charities, who had agreed to host the training in Waite Park, apologized for the training's anti-Somali/anti-Muslim flyer. They also agreed to remove the anti-Muslim/anti-Somali content from the presentation slides.

The Executive Director of Catholic Charities publicly stated: “It used language that was wrong. It was a mistake on our part. No one should ever think of anyone from the Somali or Muslim community as affiliated with a terrorist organization."
SEE: Muslim Education Event Comes Under Fire (KNSI) 

We must support educational trainings on terrorism.  It is within our nation’s interest.  However, we must stand against trainings by fearmongers. It is against our nation’s interest. 

Fearmongering undermines our nation, in particular law enforcement’s ability to effectively protect our country.  It undermines peace officers’ relationships with the American Muslim community, leading to a rise in racial and religious profiling. Reports have highlighted law enforcement's use of biased experts and anti-Muslim training materials nationwide. The United States Congress has scrutinized these practices.
SEE: Congress Grills FBI Chief About Anti-Islam Trainings

Let us question the methodology. 

A sound methodology is a methodology that can be challenged openly and transparently.  It stands on arguments that are complete, critical thinking processes that are cold, sterile and devoid of emotional manipulation.  It is difficult to question the methodology of this training. 

On Thursday, November 21, CAIR-MN reported that a Muslim contacted the civil rights organization to report that he was barred from this controversial law enforcement training seminar on terrorism. The man reported that he approached the registration table, registered his name and email address, and was provided with a folder containing training materials and the agenda. However, he said that Bob Fletcher then approached him and asked him to leave. Fletcher allegedly told him that the training was by invitation only, mostly for law enforcement and for Fletcher’s Somali friends. Yet, this appears to be pretext. The event was publicized in public venues, including the main page of the organization’s website. The website includes an online registration page open to the community, along with a link to Paypal.

This raises a serious red flag:  Omission and suppression of alternative voices, hence the arguments are not complete or sound. 

Educational trainings for law enforcement should test for hidden bias.  Our ability to understand others can be obfuscated by our own hidden biases and stereotypes.  It is easy to argue we are not biased, but the reality is that bias is outside our sense of awareness.  Acknowledging hidden biases is the first step to an effective training.  Test Yourself for Hidden Bias

In addition, trainings on terrorism should involve terrorism experts that do not have a motive in the training.  Trainings that omit alternative voices and relevant evidence can appear to be stronger than they really are. 

As we work together to protect our country, we must be vigilant and firm in the face of arguments or expertise embedded with fear mongering and bias.  We must do the job well and right and rely on credible sources and factual information.  We must not readily accept whoever speaks on the matter without sound investigation. When sources and experts prove to be questionable, we must be accountable and responsible to seek out more reliable information, sources and experts.

A word of caution, it is extremely easy to manipulate people with numbers.  Hence, we must seek out experts on the fundamental principles of probability and statistics before believing statistical information offered to us in a manipulative manner. 

SEE: How to Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff, and Innumeracy:  Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences by John Allen Paulos. 

When sources and experts are biased or have a self-interest, chances are numbers and arguments are being used to manipulate instead of educate the audience.  This is not within the interest of our nation.  We must stand against such trainings.  Profiling, misrepresenting and alienating an entire community does not help combat terrorism.

Source: CAIR-MN Action Alert

Conversation with Qays Arthur on Faith and Guidance 6e

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: October 6, 2013 - 10:01 AM

"The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power. And, to speak truth of Caesar, I have not known when his affections swayed more than his reason. But ’tis a common proof that lowliness is young ambition’s ladder, whereto the climber upward turns his face. But when he once attains the upmost round, he then unto the ladder turns his back, looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees by which he did ascend." --Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

 
This conversation is continuation to a series of conversations toward understanding Islam and Muslims. It is not a debating piece, but a reflective one. It is meant to clarify some of the confusion on Islamic beliefs. This blog will address the question asked in variant ways which can be summed up in “why Muslims are backwards”or“why aren’t there many Muslims who are great” or “why are there social ills within Muslim communities?”  In this conversation we are addressing surrender or submission from the angle of self-knowledge. We discussed the importance of embracing our vulnerability, mortality, self-deception, embedded knowledge and here we will discuss briefly the human condition.
 
The beginning parts of this conversation are: 6a, 6b, 6c and 6d. This conversation on surrender will focus in on a few verses of the Qur'an.  It is quite detailed and long and requires some thought and reflection.
 
(Qur’an al-Waqia: 80-86)
“A Revelation from the Lord of the Worlds. Is it such a Message that ye would hold in light esteem? And have ye made it your livelihood that ye should declare it false? Then why do ye not (intervene) when (the soul of the dying man) reaches the throat,- And ye the while (sit) looking on,- But We are nearer to him than ye, and yet see not,- Then why do ye not,- If you are exempt from (future) account,- Call back the soul, if ye are true (in the claim of independence)?” 
 
(Qur’an Ta-Ha: 14-16)
"Verily, I am Allah: There is no god but I: So serve thou Me (only), and establish regular prayer for celebrating My praise. ”Verily the Hour is coming - My design is to keep it hidden - for every soul to receive its reward by the measure of its Endeavour. "Therefore let not such as believe not therein but follow their own lusts, divert thee therefrom, lest thou perish!"

Wazwaz: In this blog we will focus on understanding the human condition in our journey to self-knowledge.  For many, faith has become a journey or road to greatness, perfectionism or happiness.  What we have and how far up the ladder of success defines our self-worth or truth.  Going ahead or going up the ladder has become so important – that we resist in that journey to stop and ask where we are going.  We are so happy that we are moving ahead, that we lose sight of important dimensions of our humanity and unconsciously sacrifice our soul in the process.  In truth, we are here to experience life, to learn, understand and grow.  This is put best in words by Dr. Abdul Lateef Krauss Abdullah, a specialized counselor in social work and peace studies:

"….However, we are here to experience, and it is okay to fall down, it is okay to trip, it is okay to mess up (whatever ‘messing up’ means) and it is okay to get back up again. Get down. Get back up - a custom course work... Everything that is happening at every moment is the next lesson, like the next ‘flash card.’ Every person that walks in the door is the next flash card for you, your lessons. Everything that you feel is the next flash card for the next lesson. Everything that you see, everything that you taste, everything that you smell, everything that you hear and all of your realizations are part of the next lesson. Now ‘faith’ is starting to become something real and personally engaging.”

As we continue the discussion further, I want to stop and switch gear a bit and focus on Ibn 'Ata Allah al-Iskandari teachings.

"If you were only to reach Him after all your misdeeds had been eliminated and your pretensions all obliterated you would never reach Him.  But rather, when He wants to make you reach Him, He conceals your nature with His nature and your attribute with His attribute and makes you reach Him with what is from Him to you, not from what is from you to Him."

In some books that mock Islam and Muslims, their evidence is they go around people of faith, and they collect faults, shortcomings, and social ills.  So a person of faith doing wrong or violating their values is an argument against faith. Some examples they cite is this priest molested a child, or this imam beat his wife. They cannot reconcile reality as we discussed in the blog on Salman al Farisi, who had to deal with a priest violating the laws of the Divine.  God is not asking the believer to be perfect and faith is not about projecting an image of this perfect human, intellectual and great faithful being.  Shaykh Qays, how would comment on the above wisdom from this great scholar?

Shaykh Qays: Some people see the call to virtue as a denial of the reality of the human being or the human condition that is why they are running around exposing people. That is why the media and entertainment industry often thrive on invasive and intrusive programing. The argument is exposing people's faults is seen as an argument against God. Some feel obsessively unveiling the faults and shortcomings of people it will somehow show that there is nothing sacred and thus no God. However, true faith is not about denial of the reality of the human condition.

Faith is, in part, about establishing and protecting the Divinely-bestowed honor of human beings despite the weaknesses and failings that are part of our condition. Faith therefore, to a great extent, entails not only the pursuit of virtue, but the covering of human faults as long as doing so doesn’t itself result in harm. Given that, some people say that religion lacks accountability. There is an interesting gulf of understanding there.

The fact is that sound religion demands individual accountability: the Day of Judgment is real and is about absolute accountability. Yet those who deny that day try to make every day the Day of Judgment while denying people room to grow, to repent to purify themselves. That is not real accountability based on the pursuit of virtue.

Faults are part of the human condition, and they are part of what brings about the perfection of the human being to the extent that the individual realizes his vulnerability and deficiency - to that extent, he will achieve self-knowledge and knowledge of the truth. Prying, and trying to expose people isn’t helpful in that process.

Revelation calls on man to constantly further that process of knowledge by cultivating God-consciousness - evaluating his motives and acts in order to get closer to God. So we are to know the details of our inner selves and not concern ourselves with inner faults and shortcomings of others. This is how we are able to receive His guidance and live as noble creatures.

Thus human nobility is a gift from Allah, despite his own flawed and indigent condition and humble, created origin. A noble person, a believer in what we have mentioned, is familiar with his own deficiency and that very deficiency, in part, causes him to turn to Allah. He is not afraid of embracing his condition, but at the same time he is not complacent about his failings and faults. He identifies them and through repentance and making amends he uses them as means to turn to God. So human deficiency has a purpose.

When he thus turns to God and he looks at other creatures he sees the nobility that God has bestowed on them. And to the extent that he is aware of his own faults he sees others as better them himself and he deals with them accordingly. When he deals with himself - he calls himself to account daily and cries in the night to God for help with his faults.  That is how it works.

Wazwaz: Let me though point out something that concerns me regarding this understanding.  At times when people are exposed, they respond by saying, I am not perfect. They don't internally recognize that realization though, since they avoid accountability.  In a seminar once with some high profile people – the speaker was promoting civil speech.  However, civil speech and eloquence became a cover to avoid accountability.  The speaker was discussing the mistake in going to war against Iraq, since Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.  But it stopped there.  There was no remorse over the harm committed.  When I raised my hand to explain the concept of restorative justice and the importance of repairing the harm and feeling remorse – the speaker looked visibly upset and avoided me.

Another case in point is relationships between men and women – many high profile and famous people in this country were caught cheating and betraying their spouses.  People rush to seek counseling to save their face and feel good, and ABORT any feelings of remorse for the harm they did.  They just want to FEEL good again instead of repairing the harm or the relationship they destroyed.  They fear sadness or remorse and avoid it at all costs.

Shaykh Qays: That is a good point. There is a need for balance and public accountability when there is public harm involved. It seems to me that when people are exposed it is conservatives who draw the most media attention. Here is this person who is promoting “family values” caught having an affair. So people who criticize religion seize on such cases. But it’s not only the critics. Religious people also, often keen to avoid their faith being dragged into the dirt as a result, are often judgmental and defensive in such situations and a lynch mob quickly emerges against the offender.

And once a lynch mob takes over meaning and wisdom get lost in the frenzy. When an individual’s private wrongdoings are exposed there are many beneficial lessons to be learned and reminders to be heeded. Among them is the reminder that humans are weak. But with that we see that private sins can become public if God wills and that repentance and turning away from sin without delay is wise and prudent in this world even before the next. It means also that chastity is a weighty matter. It does not mean that chastity is impractical or naive any more than high murder rates indicate that peaceful coexistence is impractical or naive. Precautions have to be taken. It means the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad are true. It means repentance is due, and whose faults and sins were not exposed should thank Allah, concealing them by repenting from their own sins.

Wazwaz: Thank you for your comments.  Let us return to the verses in Al-Waqia and Ta-ha and perhaps reflect on how believers and disbelievers are described in the Qur'an and how they are guided.  Both believers and disbelievers are reminded with death.  The warning or reminder is sterner for believers.  Can you expand on that?

Shaykh Qays: Al-Waqia - To be clear disbelief (kufr in Arabic) entails rejection of all or part of what the prophets (peace be upon them) brought. According to Islamic tradition, belief in the existence of God, and in the Day of Judgment are denied either actually or effectively (partially by, for example accepting some prophets and rejecting others). The main reason that people abandon signs, the intellect, and miracles and reject all or part of God’s command is worldliness - the tendency to give worldly interests precedence over next-worldly interests and realities.

That tendency causes us to forget the next world, and the ultimate purpose behind our existence, God. So the worldly must forget and proceed to live based on mere conjecture or outright lies in the absence of real knowledge concerning our ultimate purpose and the meaning (beyond the mechanics) behind our existence. Human life is thus reduced to conjecture and convention based on what can be observed of the mechanics of this world.

Revelation offers guidance - interrupting the cycle of worldly thought and convention by calling people, and in Sura Al-Waqia disbelievers in particular, to ponder on death. That call takes the form, in this instance, of a threat. When God threatens the believers or disbelievers, it is a sign of His mercy. His Pure mercy proceeds from absolute knowledge of all reality and the human condition. God does not have a score to settle with anyone, even those that reject and insult Him for neither the praise nor denigration of human beings affects Him in the least. No one can harm God.

Rather, the divine threat comes in revelation to awaken hearts that are asleep. That is what is happening in this Sura and indeed all of the Quran. Allah reminds them about death, about trauma and vulnerability in order to guide them to reality. Not for any gain or benefit that may return to Him.

Wazwaz: Can you comment on the question - bring back the soul if you are true in your claim of independence?

Shaykh Qays: It is a rhetorical challenge meant to reinforce something that they and we all know. It is a reminder that strikes at the soul. We are not independent, we are all, believers and disbelievers alike, vulnerable.

Wazwaz:  The desire for greatness is a ladder that humans throughout history sought.  In the chapter at-Takwir, there is a beautiful question that is raised to humans who went blindly in search for greatness.  “where then are you going?”  The reminder of death is meant to help us reflect on our final destination and answer this question to help us walk humbly on the earth, grounded in reality, open to accountability and repentance. 

Throughout the Qur'an – we read God addressing the Prophet, “It was not you who threw. . “ or “It was not you who brought their hearts together. . .”  The believer embraces their vulnerability, their true selves, and their capabilities. We see this hatred of vulnerability in Pharaoh, and also in the group addressed in Al-Waqia - the huff puff argument is embedded in self-denial to their vulnerability and an embedded desire for greatness. Would you agree with that?

Shaykh Qays: Yes, I would agree to that. I would add that often that vulnerability is masked with mockery. Mockery is often countered by the Divine threat I spoke of earlier. It does seem as though mockery and ridicule (istihzah in Arabic) are common traits of those engaged in active rejection of the Truth. The mockery is a mask somewhat like a small animal’s defense mechanism to make it look bigger than it is. I suspect that some of those who have nothing to say about life’s purpose and meaning actually engage in mockery of things sacred in order to assure themselves (at a level that rational arguments cannot) that there is no Divine otherwise they would long have been struck down for their flying in His face so to speak.

In some way they are testing their own conjecture about the existence of God. But Allah, Most High, is not taunted into revealing Himself to the arrogant. He does though respond to all concerned parties in revelation. God speaks to the reality of their, our (human) condition, with which He, Most High, is better acquainted than we ourselves. In Sura al-Waqia it is as though the disbelievers are being asked “How can you make light of something so tremendous when your reality is so fragile, so vulnerable and you know that?”  That is the rhetorical question that is being asked.

Wazwaz: In light of our discussion and the passages in the Quran, what does God see that we are not aware of?

Shaykh Qays: Allah sees their vulnerability even though they are hiding it. But God knows their internal state and vulnerability. And it is as though they are being told “Look at how you are talking now, but what about when death is close, and you are helpless?” Thus those mockers and whoever else reads those verses are reminded of the meaning behind death of the account on the Day of Judgment and of meaning of human vulnerability and accountability, i.e. the greatness of God above all. So it is as if God is telling them that they, and indeed we all, should remember our own vulnerability and not be arrogant rejecters so that we can ultimately appreciate the truth that leads to God who is greater than this world and all it contains.

Wazwaz: Based on your understanding, do you agree that there is no obsession to make a non-believer believe, but out of a genuine concern, we invite. How do you respond to the over powering arguments or obsession to make those that believe - disbelieve?  For example, Richard Dawkins does not even understand Islam or read the Qur’an, yet he believes he is qualified to criticize it and attack Muslims.  In his recent attack, he mocks Muslims’ lack great achievements.  Also, in regards to those who attack Islam today.  Instead of obsessively acting on faith X which they believe is true, they spend their lives obsessively proving Islam is false.  How would you comment?

Shaykh Qays: I am firmly convinced that the so-called new atheist movement represents the onset of the death throes of modern materialism as a philosophy or worldview which, despite trying to ride on the back as it were of dazzling scientific achievements for quite some time now, has not been able to dislodge “organized religion” as the fundamental worldview of the vast majority of mankind in as quick a manner as some of its devotees had anticipated.

People like Dawkins would have people believe that by figuring out the mechanics of as many things as possible the meaning of all things, if there is such a thing, will emerge. There is, of course, no scientific basis for that religious and philosophical posture (and there couldn’t be it being the case that it is religion and philosophy that shape science and not the other way round). Yet despite such imaginings and assumptions people need to know the meaning of life now while they are still alive and can do something with it. And science or more precisely materialist pseudo-religion, of the type people like Dawkins offers only a promise, a proposition of arriving as the ultimate truth at some undetermined point in the not too foreseeable future.

Of course that is not a feasible proposition for those in search of meaning, who are confronted by life’s ultimate questions. That proposition inherently assumes that there is no ultimate purpose (at least no urgent one) which defeats the purpose of waiting for its discovery or confirmation of its nonexistence. So materialists have resorted to making a religion out of attacking religion as a way to destroy opposition to their religious and philosophical assumptions which are impotent regarding life’s big questions. The kind of claim about the lack of greatness and power on the part of Muslims is consistent with such an approach. That sort of tactic is self-defeating, is perhaps a further indication of the death throes I mentioned earlier, and stands in stark contrast to the genuine appeals to man’s spirituality and rational faculties that one finds in all ancient religious traditions, and which inform the Muslim concept of Da’wah or invitation to the truth.

Wazwaz:  Thank you.  For further reflection listen to:

(To Be Continued)

Reflecting on King's Challenge to America

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: January 20, 2013 - 2:50 AM

On December 14, 2012, late in the afternoon - I became aware of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. It was painful to read the stories, emails and newsfeed as they poured over the tragedy. In times of crisis and pain like this, as a Muslim I immediately turn to prayer to gain strength and to reflect on the situation. In the evening, I joined an online prayer service on SeekersHub in Toronto.

The Toronto team was able to gather a large crowd at the Hub and online for our prayer for the victims and families of the murder in Connecticut. "The believer is pained by the pain of another," said Shaykh Faraz Rabbani while leading the prayers for the affected families of Connecticut.

Mainly through social media discussions, I began reading various viewpoints regarding the shooting. Some argued for greater gun control. Is this tragedy due to a lack of gun control policies? Maybe. We can consider this argument. But let us consider the argument that frequent mass shootings of innocent people are not symptoms of lack of gun control policies as well. Did Timothy McVeigh use guns in the Oklahoma bombing?

 
Others compared the discourse on the Newton Shooting to a month earlier discourse on the Israeli bombing of Gaza. On November 2012 - while bombs were hitting Gaza, and over 160 people died – many of whom were children, the US House of Representatives in one minute gave its “vigorous support” and “unwavering commitment” to Israel. Both, the U.S. Senate and House passed by unanimous consent resolutions defending Israel's bombing of the Gaza Strip. These resolutions expressed no regret or mourning at the Palestinian loss of lives.
 
In response to the resolution, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) disputed statements that the U.S. House of Representative unanimously endorsed Israel's “right to act in self-defense” in Gaza. According Rep Kucinich, the bill was introduced at 12:04 pm. The resolution was “agreed without objection” by 12:05 pm. “There was no notice, no committee hearing, no discussion and no debate. In such a fashion, we achieve unanimity on great matters related to the Middle East,” said Rep. Kucinich.
 
As the discussion on the Newton shooting continued, some commented on the use of drones in Pakistan, and how the deaths of innocent people in Pakistan by US drone strikes has passed without mourning, grief or reflection in the US. Recently, a U.S. drone killed eight people in rural Pakistan, bringing the estimated death toll from drone strikes in Pakistan this year to 35.
 
In a Washington Post article published on January 13, 2013 - Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) argued, "A recent study by human rights experts at Stanford Law School and the New York University School of Law found that the number of innocent civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes is much higher than what the U.S. government has reported: approximately 700 since 2004, including almost 200 children."

What does the violence in Gaza or Pakistan have to do with the Newton Shooting? I believe they are all connected.
 
Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings taught Muslims that, "The people before you were destroyed because they used to inflict the legal punishments on the poor and forgive the rich." This is not just an Islamic teaching but it was also taught by noble Americans who nurtured our country to a higher understanding of human dignity and value.
 
On April 4, 1967, Reverend Martin Luther King challenged America regarding the Vietnam War. In my opinion, what is true of the Vietnam War is true of the war in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and in Gaza, where many Palestinian civilians were killed funded by the US tax dollars. In "Vietnam: A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal," Martin Luther King said the following:
 
"My third reason [for opposing the war] moves to a deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the past three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked me, and rightfully so, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today my own government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent…”
This weekend - as a nation we will celebrate Reverend King's life. As we reflect on his life - let us step in his shoes and imagine having a face to face interaction with the desperate, rejected and angry young Gazans or Pakistanis, like King had with the Blacks in the ghettos.
 
Then, they ask us, and rightfully so, what about Gaza and Pakistan, and look at the destruction of Gaza funded by US Tax dollars? And they further ask if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Doesn't the US hit Pakistan with drones killing innocent people in Pakistan? How can we talk about gun control when we are financing violence in Gaza. How will we respond?
 
Like Prophet Muhammad and MLK, I firmly believe you cannot condemn the violence of the oppressed until you firmly condemn the violence of the strong, of those with power and influence.
 
A condemnation of the violence in Connecticut requires us to also condemn the violence which killed many nameless children by our own weapons. Our drones and missiles kill children as well, and not just guns. Instead of a national debate on gun control, we need a national debate on all forms of violence and accountability to the rule of law. 
 
Furthermore, I encourage us to reflect on our thought processes and our self-defense rhetoric and ask ourselves - how different is our voice and our thoughts from those that took the lives of innocents in school shootings? Are we looking at people outside our boundaries, over there, the way the shooters behind the school shootings looked at our innocents in schools? Has our pain and fears blinded and deafened us from seeing, hearing or comprehending the voices of those "hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence?"  Read the article - The reviews are in: 'Zero Dark Thirty makes me hate muslims'
 
Tragic events like the Connecticut shooting remind us to do some soul searching. What makes any country great is the commitment to great principles like human dignity, human rights, value of life and rule of law. Are we going to hold ourselves accountable for selectively applying these principles when they suit us? Do we believe these principles are for everyone or only for certain Americans?
 
I think it is important for the American perspective to wake up and realize that all human life is created equal and that problems far worse do exist and need to be addressed just as urgently. By saying this, I don't at all mean to minimize the brutal massacre of children and school teachers or the pain and suffering of those who are in Connecticut. What I do mean is that violence like this is far more widespread than we realize, and that where these types of events occur on a massive scale there is rarely a movement to hold perpetrators with power and influence accountable to the rule of law.
 
My heart goes out to the people who were affected by the unspeakable crime in Newtown and to all the nameless and faceless children who died everywhere without a committee hearing, discussion, public debate and mourning.

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