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 Education and literacy

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)

Conversation with Qays Arthur on Faith and Guidance 6c

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: March 17, 2013 - 8:25 AM

“In their hearts is a disease; and God has increased their disease: And grievous is the penalty they (incur), because they are false (to themselves).”
(Quran 2:10)

This conversation is part of 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.  In this conversation we are addressing surrender or submission from the angle of self-knowledge.  We discussed the importance of embracing our vulnerability, mortality, our spirituality and here we focus briefly on the human tendency to engage in self-deception.

Surrendering to God is about being awake and aware that you cannot trick or deceive God, as He knows the deep secrets of our souls, hearts and minds.  As humans, we may deceive others while our souls bear witness to the truth.  We may also engage in self-deception - but God is aware of what lurks in our hearts and minds.  We must ask ourselves how can we receive the Higher Truth when we are false to ourselves?  Surrender is about self-accountability at a very deep level.  

The beginning of this conversation is here and continued here.  This conversation on surrender will focus in on a few verses of the Qur'an.  The conversation is quite detailed and long and requires some thought and reflection.  I will address civil questions at the end.  The previous blogs on the Queen of Sheeba are here: 5a and 5b.    

(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: There is an issue that I want us to reflect on between the Queen of Sheeba and the group of people mentioned in Al Waqia. The similarity I see is that both the Queen of Sheeba and the Meccans were born into a world of no faith. She received a letter worthy of respect and her response is interesting given her negative experience with kings. On the other hand, the Meccans received the message from a Prophet who lived amongst them and whom they gave the title Al-Amin, or the trustworthy one. Despite her negative experience with kings, she investigates and seeks advice from her court and goes to meet Prophet Solomon, upon him be peace. In contrast, despite their witnessing the truthfulness and trustworthiness of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, the group addressed in these verses – became arrogant. They do not investigate or seek advice but attacked him.

Another difference that I see is where the Queen compliments the letter they attack faith him ferociously without reflection or investigation.

Shaykh Qays: The verses in Al-Waqia are addressing the group of Meccans who are deluded with their wealth and power. Guidance ultimately comes from God and it has to do with the condition of people’s hearts. In the words of the Queen, we see a heart that is humble and connected to the reality of her circumstance. The Meccans – we see the normal type of reaction. What I mean is the Queen did not respond like normally those in power respond. Her reaction is atypical as she saw that Solomon, upon him be peace, was not writing to increase his power or reign, but out of principle.

The letter was strange – but she recognized it was an atypical invitation. The letter was addressed, “In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.” She saw the dignified and respectful nature in the letter. The Meccans – also received the same strange atypical invitation. They also found it strange that Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, would address them, “In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.” They never referred to God, as Ar-Rahman or Ar-Raheem (The Most Compassionate; The Most Merciful). That was foreign and strange to them.

It appealed to some Arabs except those with vested interests. The Queen also had vested interests, but her heart was fertile and she sought advice, as she was willing to rise above herself and her interests. The matter returns to God’s grace. God’s grace makes all the difference.

The Queen is one person and we know her outcome at the end. With the Meccans, some of those that fought Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, in the end became Muslim. The verse is a wakeup call, that these people know what it is like to be at the deathbed and God reminds them of that.

During the revelation of the Qur’an, the companions of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, would at times feel overcome with fear, awe, or anxiety due to the weightiness of the Quran’s moral teachings. Sometimes the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, would explain the enormity of things like wrongfully taking from the spoils of war, and the companions would ask questions about things they did in order to know whether what they did was wrong. At time they would be devastated by what the moral warnings in verses of the Quran. Yet, they accepted the Quran’s weighty moral force and were purified by these verses. So there are many personalities, it is not just the Queen on one hand versus the Pharaoh on the other. There are many shades in between as well. There are many people who do wrong and accept the warnings and the call to purification and faith.


Wazwaz: You said there are many people who do wrong yet they accept the warnings and the call to purification and faith. In other words, "their souls were convinced." However, instead of fighting the truth, they rose and submitted to it like the Queen of Sheeba. Can you expand on your comment in light of this verse in the Qur’an which addresses another mask people wear?

“And they rejected those Signs in iniquity and arrogance, though their souls were convinced thereof: so see what was the end of those who acted corruptly!” (Qur’an 27:14)

Shaykh Qays: What it tells us is true faith requires integrity. I hinted at such in the conversation on the Queen of Sheeba when I spoke of seeing the writing on the wall. Here is a lady who had knowledge and was properly advised by her advisors concerning a decision that would impact her realm, her prestige, her family, all her interests. She had this great realm but she also had personal integrity and that is why her heart is a fertile place for faith, not because she was weak or afraid. She had advisors who were given to vehement warfare. She had a formidable army or force and could possibly win. She went with that knowledge and Solomon wanted to see if she would behave the way normally rulers normally behaved. She proved to be a person of integrity.

Reflecting on Tasawwuf or self-knowledge, a corrupt person in a situation like that - while going on the journey - would likely say to themselves, “this King is probably a liar like all the other kings, he is probably an impostor”. A corrupt person may thus prepare themselves for confrontation or they may, with their false assumptions about the other party, contemplate bribery or some other form of corruption to get rid of their opponent. In their heart, there is only self-interest, corruption, and tyranny. We seek refuge from God from this state. Yet, the Queen of Sheba reaches Solomon, upon him peace, and finds he is sincere. She sees the writing on the wall and acts on it. This is integrity. This is enabling grace from God.

Still there are people who may not be happy with the writing on the wall but they will work on themselves against their oppositional feelings - and open their hearts to faith. Jihad-an-Nafs or struggle against the ego is about that kind of work, the purification of the soul. The people of such struggle acknowledge that their internal state is lacking and fight themselves so to speak. This too is faith. In the case of the Queen - her heart was sincere, an enabling grace from God. But even if a heart was not fertile in the beginning, still to recognize the truth, and recognize your heart has problems, and to work on it, that is also faith.

We see cases where people are convinced based on certain knowledge that they had, yet they opposed it to the end due to self-interest. That is Kufr or disbelief. They will oppose strongly and fight the writing on the wall because it is not in their interest. So conviction is not enough. You can be convinced of the truth, reject it and thus be a disbeliever. 

Submission and acceptance of the truth based on evidence, that is belief or faith.


Wazwaz: Furthermore, in the same chapter we are given a deeper reflection on a group of people who attack Islam without comprehension. So their fear is really a reflection of their blind attachment to whatever they believe, but are not in reality convinced of. If they were convinced of something else, they would invite to it out of a sense of generosity. However, they shut the doors to anyone understanding anything that is not similar to their blind attachment. Their internal reality is described well in this verse:

“Nor canst thou be a guide to the blind, (to prevent them) from straying: only those wilt thou get to listen who believe in Our Signs, and they will bow in Islam. (81) ...Until, when they come (before the Judgment-seat), (God) will say: ‘Did ye falsify My Signs, though ye comprehended them not in knowledge, or what was it ye did?’” (84)

Shaykh Qays:  People are accountable to the extent of their abilities and the truth that reaches them.  Both of these groups of people have the ability to recognize the truth.  The act of Kufr (disbelief) is taktheeb (to falsify).  So the verse is saying you cried lies to My Signs - you have the ability to recognize the signs, yet, you turned away.

This falsifying varies slightly between the groups.  A heart that is absorbed in itself will only glorify it's like in nature, or only pursue a means to its own glorification.  Externally, deniers may claim to have come to a reasoned rationale to deny God.  But deep down in their souls they are denying the signs for selfish purposes - yet, if they used their mind they would see the writing on the wall.

Everyone is accountable and taktheeb is in the heart.  People of taktheeb prefer it to seeing the truth.  We seek refuge from God from that.  They fall into a state of heedlessness because they choose to run away, to escape and avoid the steep road to understanding - not because they do not have the capacity to understand - but because they chose to turn away or cover up the truth.

Some people remain in that state of rejection, whereas others come around to faith and submission through the Enabling Grace of God which we are all in need of.


(To Be Continued...)

Conversation with Qays Arthur on Faith and Guidance 6b

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: March 13, 2013 - 10:24 AM

“Truly dost thou marvel, while they ridicule, And, when they are admonished, pay no heed,- And, when they see a Sign, turn it to mockery,”
(Quran 37:12-14)

The conversation is being continued from here.  This conversation will focus in on a few verses of the Qur'an.  The conversation is quite detailed and long and requires some thought and reflection.  I will address civil questions at the end.  The previous blogs on the Queen of Sheeba are here: 5a and 5b. 

(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: Everyone seeks and wants to know the truth, but with the exception of a few, we all prepare ourselves to receive it selectively. Many of us are prepared to receive truth that validates us, benefits us and elevates us against others. However, truth seekers don’t just seek the truth, but they also prepare themselves to receive it, all of it - since many truths are against us, against our views, our desires, and our opinions. Comment on the Queen of Sheeba and the group addressed in Al-Waqia?  Like the Meccans, she received a message from a prophet, but her response is drastically different. How do we understand her response in comparison?

Shaykh Qays
: The prophets call to something outside of themselves, to a higher source, a Higher Truth which, in reality is but God Himself. Queen of Sheeba was concerned with the truth, seeking knowledge, and having a life based on higher principles. The Queen put the principle of the truth, and living on the truth, and receiving the truth, above everything else, including their position, their culture, their religion, their wealth, etc.,

According to Islamic teachings, revelation is about noble values that guide to the originator of the heavens and the earth. So our understanding is that desires and selfish interests affect one’s perception and reception of the truth. People may be convinced of the truth, but may oppose it anyway because what is important to them is what they accumulate from this world.

From an Islamic perspective, you also have people who prevent themselves from recognizing the truth; they make excuses. We see this in many people in Mecca, where they made excuses like, saying the Prophet (peace be upon him) was insane or possessed. This was done, in fact, to all the Prophets. There are and always have been people who have vested interests, who use mockery and attacks to oppose the truth and nurture an environment where it is maligned and mocked. They say the person is mad. Today they say the people are uncivilized. Today, some people view Muslims as uncivilized.

During his presidential campaign, someone asked Senator John McCain if Obama was an Arab or Muslim, and Senator McCain responded that these accusations are not true, as Obama is a decent family man. So that is a kind of an excuse. In such excuses there is self-deception rather than self-knowledge. Such excuses allow people to fool themselves. For true self-knowledge to take place one has to have a direct relationship with God. There is something called the truth, and it has a greater right over us than everything we do and own. So Prophet Abraham said,

"Indeed, my prayer, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the worlds. No partner has He. And this I have been commanded, and I am the first [among you] of the Muslims." (Al-An`am 6:162-163)


Wazwaz: Would you agree that one accepts their mortality while the other is divorced from the knowledge of their mortality. One has self-knowledge of who they are while the other is in delusion and acts like they are immortal. They might claim to believe in death, but act as though they are independent of it.

Shaykh Qays: God is addressing a group of people who have forgotten something and He is reminding of it -, that at the moment of death - they are in dreadful anticipation. They are sitting there anticipating, waiting, powerless and vulnerable, dreading what is to come. Yet when they are talking to the Prophet, they are mocking, ridiculing, and jesting instead of listening, reflecting and investigating what the Prophet is saying.

God is reminding them that now you are in this state, but when you are sitting looking at someone who is about to die, someone dear to you, someone precious to you that is not in your state. Remember the reality of your state and that death will face you as well and with it the fear of God. God is simply describing the reality of their state at that time. It is a precise and clear description. Everyone is there, everyone is vulnerable, and everyone is traumatized.

Humble yourself and ask if your attitude toward the revelation, or your attitude toward the truth correct? Think about it when you consider that you are NOT able to bring back the soul, your precious loved one, not the machine, but your dear one back to life. I do not think that they felt that they could bring the soul back, but they are being reminded of what they knew from experience but forgot as they jested and mocked. I do not agree that the condition of the believer is always positive.

Both groups mutually disprove each other, and mutually act on what they believe. In Al-Waqia, God is reminding that group by bringing them to a point of vulnerability. It is a rhetorical challenge, not an actual challenge. So yes, there is that disconnection as you said.


Wazwaz: How would you comment on what you believe is the source of disconnection?

Shaykh Qays: The source of disconnection is the nafs (ego) and hawa (desires). They are content with the status quo, just how Mecca was, just how the idols were, just how the Kab’ah is, just how their fathers were worshipping. The status quo was self-serving, so they were content with it. They do not want to be bothered with self-accountability on the Day of Judgment, and reflecting on everything that they do, at every moment of the day. That state is called taqwa, being constantly aware.

When you look at animals, I was saying to my son recently, if we look at animals, they are seldom unaware. They are constantly alert; their ears turn this way and that way. Yet human beings who live on the same planet want to be oblivious. They want to sit back and relax and be oblivious to everything around us. Faith calls us to reality, to be constantly aware, to be conscious, to think, to listen, to reflect on our vulnerability, to be awake. The source of the problem here is the people’s stubborn attachment to their desires and ultimately to this World.

(To Be Continued...)

Conversation with Qays Arthur on Faith and Guidance 6a

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz Updated: March 11, 2013 - 8:45 AM

"No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge. The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness. If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.”
--Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

In previous blogs, I began a conversation with Shaykh Qays Arthur, titled, Toward Understanding Islam and Muslims.  Currently, Shaykh Qays gives private lessons on worship and Islamic beliefs at his home in Amman, Jordan and via the website QaysArthur.net.  In the conversation, we addressed monotheism, including several spiritual aspects on faith and guidance.  This blog will address the issue of surrender or submission in Islam, and it will complete the section on faith and guidance.

Surrendering to God requires knowledge, and not just knowledge, but more importantly self-knowledge.  In truth, you cannot surrender to God without knowledge.  In this blog – I want to first explore the concept of surrendering to God, or submission, which has been misunderstood as nurturing a mindset of blind obedience, an inferiority complex or irrational belief.  

Many of the conversations in the Qur’an aim to take us to the threshold of our own mind, the part that lies asleep, so we can stop, reflect, remember and understand.  I found the conversations to be quite unique and upon reflection, God removes the masks we wear to expose our inner reality, layer by layer, to help us see ourselves and our arguments with more precision and reflection.  Hence, as I explore surrender or submission to God, I will focus mainly on the importance of self-knowledge.

This conversation will focus in on a few verses of the Qur’an.  The conversation is quite detailed and requires some thought and reflection.  It is not meant for easy quick reading.  It is quite long and will be posted in parts.  If you can hold your questions til the end, as the conversation will first try to reconcile the previous discussions and then fully explain submission in Islam.  I will address civil questions at the end.

Wazwaz:  Shaykh Qays, I want to share with you some verses in the Qur’an regarding two groups of people and if we can focus on them for this conversation.  Can you share your initial comments on the following?

(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!"

Shaykh Qays:  From my reading the commentary on both, the verses in al-Waqia address a group of people who live in a world of rejection, and denial of the obvious. The Qur'an calls people to reflect on things that they are familiar with that ought to bring them to correct conclusions regarding truth. But people who are bent otherwise don't see it.

So the Qur'an advanced its argument to remind people about what it is that they ought to see by way of meanings as they experience life. One of the things I found interesting in the commentary of the verses in chapter Al-Waqia is how the Qur'an calls people to reflect on the moment of death.  This was not an uncommon experience in the past but it has become something of a rarity in contemporary society. Such things as death are taught and seen from a “scientific” point of view. There is no reflection on it. Like living, death, we are taught, goes back to functions of systems: the nervous, circulatory, respiratory systems simply stopped functioning due to some mechanical cause. The philosophical assumption being that the human being is a machine in a universe that is a machine. But the Qur’an speaks to the meaning of it all, beyond the mechanics. And it speaks to people who see themselves not as machines but as human beings who are creatures of purpose and meaning. It calls us back to a distinctly pre-modern mindset based on the grit of real life and, in this case, the death experience. I find this to be something that is extremely powerful and needed.

People now, perhaps more-so the young, need to come back to fundamental questions like that of purpose. Such questions require real knowledge to answer; not trials, studies, and theories. Contrary to what many of us are taught we are not merely machines. This we learn from Revelation, the highest source of knowledge we have. The fact that we are similar to machines in terms of how we function does not mean that is the reality of who we are. The Qur'an calls us to be aware of ourselves, aware of our circumstances, connected to reality; mere machines can’t do what the Qur’an asks. Our circumstance - what does it mean? This verse of the Qur'an is calling humanity to look at or rather recall the theater of death, if you will. It reminds us about something that is traumatic and humbling in its certainty, that tells us about our reality, and is worthy of reflection.

So it may be said that what revelation is doing is teaching us to read the signs that Allah has placed within us, and around us. That is perhaps, in today’s world, the most needed type of literacy and education.

Wazwaz: In Al-Waqia - verse 82 – there is an emphasis on negating something in an obsessive manner. I read it as defining your life on negating something that you do not believe is true instead of acting on what you believe is true. Do you agree?

Shaykh Qays: Well an obsessive approach is not necessarily bad in itself - artists and craftsmen are sometimes said to be obsessive about their craft. Neither is rejecting something in itself bad. For example, God says to those who believe, love God more than anything else. Those who believe could thus be said to have an obsessive love for Allah, while those who disbelieve have obsessive love for their idols. Also, God describes believers as those who reject falsehood while those who disbelieve reject truth. I don’t see it as saying simply that believers have a positive approach that focuses on affirmation while disbelievers have a negative approach that focuses on rejection which seems to be what you are saying unless I misunderstood you.

Wazwaz:  Let me clarify. What I am referring to is the lack of self-knowledge in people mentioned in the set of verses of Al-Waqia versus the people mentioned in Ta-Ha.  One group is obsessed with rejecting and promoting the other as standing on falsehood, whereas the other people are focused and aware on what they believe.  Is that clearer?

Shaykh Qays: The disbeliever strives to act on what he believes, not unlike the believer. And the disbeliever also strives to reject what they do not believe, like the believer. In our declaration of faith, for example, we start by rejecting or negating - there is no deity - then affirmation - except God - There is no deity except God. Our declaration of faith begins with an active rejection of all deities.  Both groups, believers and unbelievers, engage in rejection and affirmation. The distinction between the two is that one group denies falsehood and affirms the truth while the other group denies truth and affirms falsehood.

Another clear distinction is in what you referred to as self-knowledge. One group is honest and submits to the truth, and is not in an oppositional state of mind when it comes to the truth. This is manifested in that they are people who are humble servants who accept who they are, while the other group is arrogant, stingy, self-serving and concerned with their livelihoods in this world and accumulation of wealth, and/or fame, prestige, or power in this world.

To say that the overall state of the believer is constant positive action on what he believes while the state of the disbeliever is constant negating is a partial truth since they both engage in rejecting and affirming.


(To Be Continued...)

For clarification:

This conversation is meant for education only.  The internet is saturated with misinterpretations of the Qur'an and the term kafir, or disbeliever.   Some ignorant Muslims also have done damage by also interpreting the verses based on their own ego and their own pathology. 

According to Islamic teachings: "God will ask us about ourselves, not about what He should do with others."  It is strictly NON-INVOLVEMENT.  Saints and Prophets who are given Divine permission to appeal on behalf of others, appeal ONLY for DIVINE MERCY, not punishment.  While they had tremendous desire to see people in heaven and saved, they did not deceive humanity, and clearly said they have NO POWER to protect anyone from God.  They are given Divine permission to appeal for those who accept their station, and strive to follow them.

At the level of individuals, it is a major question as to what reaching and rejecting faith entail. This is why as Muslims, we cannot judge whether individual non-Muslims are in Hell — or, for that matter, in Heaven.  Likewise of Muslims.  As Muslims, we must also check ourselves if we are hypocrites or believers.  Likewise for me, I cannot say I am destined for Heaven.  I cannot say I am saved.  I do not know my state.  It is with awareness and not delusion that we read the Qur'an and reflect on our inner reality.  For references to help understand this conversation see the following links from SeekersGuidance: rejecting faith 1, rejecting faith 2 and rejecting faith 3.



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