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.

Reflecting on King's Challenge to America

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz under Society, Violence, Education and literacy, Government, Politics 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.

Fighting for Survival, not Destruction of Israel

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz under Violence, Education and literacy, Government, Politics Updated: November 17, 2012 - 3:35 PM

I was preparing an article to respond to the current violence in Gaza when I realized that history is just repeating itself. Thus, I looked at previous articles and decided to simply repeat what was written before. It appears to me peace to some means a hope that the Palestinians would just disappear and stop seeking their rights protected under international law. Palestinians are simply fighting for their survival, not the destruction of Israel. 

 
Let me respond to the questions floating in cyberspace.
 
Israel’s Right to Exist?
In order to answer this question, it is important to understand how Israel was created.

 
Israel's right to exist cannot come through massacres, deadly force and the humiliation of Arabs. It cannot come through starving 1.7 million Gazans unless they accept submission to Israel. It cannot come through carpet-bombings of civilians in Gaza and Lebanon. It cannot come through the expulsion of Arabs from their land, Arab-only home demolition, and construction of illegal Jewish-only settlements. It cannot come through violating International Law. It cannot come through allowing Israel the right to act without any sense of boundaries or accountability to any rule of law. Israel must earn its way to legitimacy and make amends for the history of terror and violence in the region as well as the numerous massacres and war crimes upon which it was built.
 
Peace Process or Piece Process?
Juan Cole, a political analyst on the conflict writes:
“Israeli hawks represent themselves as engaged in a ‘peace process’ with the Palestinians in which Hamas refuses to join. In fact, Israel has refused to cease colonizing and stealing Palestinian land long enough to engage in fruitful negotiations with them. Tel Aviv routinely announces new, unilateral house-building on the Palestinian West Bank. There is no peace process. It is an Israeli and American sham. Talking about a peace process is giving cover to Israeli nationalists who are determined to grab everything the Palestinians have and reduce them to penniless refugees (again).”
 
 
 
Self-Defense?
Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at MIT, responded to this classic argument best:
“You can’t defend yourself when you are militarily occupying someone else’s land. Call it what you like, it is not self-defense.”

Some will argue that Israel left Gaza. However, to Palestinians, Israel did not leave Gaza, but instead turned it into an open-air prison. There was a recent report by the IDF to determine what the minimum caloric intake for Gazans should be in order to determine how many trucks of humanitarian aid can be allowed into Gaza without facing starvation.

 
Retaliation or Indiscriminate Killing?
And with every surge of Palestinian violence, Israel has struck with an evident lack of mercy. In the past, we heard “put the fear of death into the Arabs,” “mow them down,” and Israeli Deputy Defense Minister, Matan Vilnai, threatening Palestinians with a “shoah,” which means holocaust.
 
In the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, the UN-commissioned Goldstone Report found Israel applied the “Dahiya doctrine.” The report said on page 23:
"The tactics used by Israeli military armed forces in the Gaza offensive are consistent with previous practices, most recently during the Lebanon war in 2006. A concept known as the Dahiya doctrine emerged then, involving the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations."
 
Recently, Israeli transport minister, Israel Katz, recommended forcing the Gazan population into Egypt and cutting off their water and electricity.
Human Shields?
Stephen Zunes, a political analyst on the situation posted this on his Facebook:
“Following the 2008-2009 war in Gaza, detailed on-the-ground investigations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UNHRC and others took place that were quite critical of Hamas and accused them (and Israeli forces) of a number of war crimes. Yet they were unable to find a single case of Hamas using ‘human shields.’ (See pp. 75-78). And I'm seen no evidence that Hamas is doing that now, either. Yet members of Congress and others are still insisting that civilians being killed by Israeli bombardments are because Hamas is using ‘human shields’."
 
SEE: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE15/015/2009/en/8f299083-9a74-4853-860f-0563725e633a/mde150152009en.pdf
 
Security?
We must agree that security is a right for all, and not just for the exclusive set of people with nuclear arms. A state simply seeking security does not deny the right of another state or people to security. That is, unless it is not security that Israel seeks, but security from accountability for waging war crimes and ethnically cleansing Palestinians from their homeland.

See: Israel to counter Palestinian attempt at UN
"If the Palestinians go to the UN General Assembly with a new unilateral initiative, they must know they will be subject to severe measures by Israel and the United States," the station quoted Lieberman as saying on October 24.
 
Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?
In an interview with Norm Finkelstein, a political analyst and author of many books on the situation - I asked him the following question:

Wazwaz: Quite a few people assume that peacemaking means that you speak and act like Barney the purple dinosaur and they quote Gandhi and Martin Luther King selectively. In fact, both men were considered terrorists in their lifetime. MLK was very vehement against the war in Vietnam and very critical of American foreign policy. You recently explained that Gandhi also did not see nonviolence as allowing yourself to be raped and doing nothing. Can you explain nonviolence and respond to the call for the Palestinian Gandhi?

Finkelstein: Gandhi's opinions on nonviolence are complex and not always consistent. But it should be clear that Gandhi ranked courage and bravery as high as nonviolence, and he repeatedly said that if you don't have the courage and bravery to resist the oppressor nonviolently then you should use violence. He repeatedly denounced those who used nonviolence as a cover for their fear and cowardice.


Hatred of Jews or Israeli Apartheid?
It's true that some Arabs have expressed unjust anti-Semitic feelings. Similar sentiments were expressed by Jews toward Arabs. However, this conflict is not about hatred of Jews or hatred of Arabs, but an illegal military occupation that is against international law. The anti-Jewish and anti-Arab feelings are byproducts of the conflict, not the root cause of it. 
 
This conflict is not a Jew vs. Arab conflict. It is not Judaism vs. Islam conflict. Israel remains in violation of abundant UN resolutions. There are quite a few Jews, some quoted in this blog, who came out and spoke against the occupation. Some saw the striking similarity between what they suffered in the holocaust and what they are seeing in the lives of Palestinians.
 
Hajo Meyer is the author of The End of Judaism: An Ethical Tradition Betrayed. In this Huffington Post article, he writes of the similarities between his experiences in Germany and what he saw of the suffering of Palestinians. Here are his words:
See: An Ethical Tradition Betrayed
 
“I am pained by the parallels I observe between my experiences in Germany prior to 1939 and those suffered by Palestinians today. I cannot help but hear echoes of the Nazi mythos of ‘blood and soil’ in the rhetoric of settler fundamentalism which claims a sacred right to all the lands of biblical Judea and Samaria. The various forms of collective punishment visited upon the Palestinian people — coerced ghettoization behind a ‘security wall’; the bulldozing of homes and destruction of fields; the bombing of schools, mosques, and government buildings; an economic blockade that deprives people of the water, food, medicine, education and the basic necessities for dignified survival — force me to recall the deprivations and humiliations that I experienced in my youth. This century-long process of oppression means unimaginable suffering for Palestinians.”

Until we recognize the Palestinians as a people with rights protected under international
law - the conflict will continue and the map of Palestine will continue to shrink. Calling for restraint while financing an illegal military occupation against international law and protecting the occupier from accountability for violations of international law - will not produce peace or security for anyone, but violence and insecurity for all as is evident for all to witness to.
 
To follow the current conflict and stay abreast of the situation see the following:

Blessed Festival of Sacrifice

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz under Society, Education and literacy, Continuing education Updated: October 26, 2012 - 6:05 AM

Today, marks Eid ul-Adha, or Festival of Sacrifice, one of the major Muslim holidays. 

The Festival of Sacrifice falls on tenth day of the month of Dhul Hijjah on the lunar Islamic Calendar.  It comes right after the fifth pillar of Islam called the Hajj or pilgrimage.  The Hajj commemorates the life and trials of Prophet Abraham’s family, upon them peace and blessings.  Once in a lifetime, every adult Muslim who has the physical and financial ability is required to make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah, home of the Ka’bah, which Muslims believe was built by Abraham and his son Ishmael.  Peace and blessings upon them both.

The Hajj pilgrimage is an extremely communal event as over two million Muslims, men and women of varied ethnicities and nationalities, dressed in simple white clothing symbolizing the equality of all people, perform identical rituals.

There is also an additional spiritual dimension to the occasion.  The word Eid means to reconnect or to return. 

In an online video, Shaykh Ahmed Saad, a notable Muslim scholar explained the term Eid as: "Return to connecting with God, and once we connect with God, we will connect with people, and once we connect with people we will connect with our family because charity begins at home.  And once we connect with our family, we will be able to connect with ourselves...We should connect, and reconnect and reconnect every year with the essence of our deen(faith)."

Hence, Eid ul-Adha, or Festival of Sacrifice is not the end of Hajj, but an occasion to return to our heritage and reconnect to our creator, our families, ourselves and people around us to promote unity.  During this holiday, Muslims express gratitude for His countless blessings and grace, following in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad and his family, and Prophet Abraham and his family, upon them peace and blessings. 

Eid ul-Adha celebrations are similar to Eid ul-Fitr with the addition of sacrificing a lamb, goat or cow to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, who Muslims believe was miraculously replaced by a lamb, similar to the Biblical story.  People share the meat of the sacrified animal with the poor and needy, relatives and friends.

The day begins with a special congregational prayer followed by a short sermon.  People are dressed in their best clothing, and children traditionally receive new clothing as well as other gifts.  My daughter Maryam, requested two new outfits, a cool boots, and a new Wii video game.  I agreed after she fasts a day to give thanks and donate something she loves in sacrifice to the poor.  Children are nurtured to give and receive. 

Food, holiday congratulations, and festivities such as rides, balloons, and other fun activities for children follow the prayers.  The holiday lasts for four days during which people usually visit or invite each other.

I wish everyone in all places at all times a blessed Eid Mubarak (Blessed Return). May Allah accept your good deeds and all your efforts during the blessed month of Dhul Hijjah.

Conversation with Qays Arthur on Faith and Guidance 5b

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz under Education and literacy, Continuing education Updated: September 8, 2012 - 5:51 AM
"To David We gave Solomon (for a son),- How excellent in Our service! Ever did he turn (to Us)! ... And he enjoyed, indeed, a Near Approach to Us, and a beautiful Place of (Final) Return."  (Qur'an 38:30...40)
 
Due to the length of this conversation, I split it into parts.  In the first part, we introduced Prophet Solomon, upon him peace and the Queen of Sheba.  The introduction can be read here.
 
Before I continue, let me clarify something.  There is a difference in the understanding and view of the Prophets in the Qur'an and the Bible.  According to Islamic teachings, the prophets are sinless and the negative attributes and actions associated to them are not accepted as true.  The Qur'an tells their stories, so Muslims can learn from them how to be true and follow in their footsteps as the Prophets are the light and the way to God.  There are two articles on SeekersGuidance that help to clarify the view that Islam has of them:
 
 
Whenever we seek to learn anything, we always study or seek out the experts.  From math, sports or to cooking, we seek out the best in the field if our aim is to be the best in that field.  Likewise, in faith.  Studying and reflecting on what extremists do, does not help one to understand Islam.  To understand faith - the conversations must engage in depth on the journeys and inter realities of the prophets, truth seekers and those brought near to God.  Hence, let us continue with the conversation.
 
Wazwaz: The Queen of Sheba, whose name is Bilqis comes with a gift, to meet Prophet Solomon, upon him peace.  In this verse, Prophet Solomon was not moved by the "abundance in wealth." Throughout history and today, narcissists wage wars to steal the resources of towns or countries. The internal reality of both, Bilqis and Solomon, upon him peace, was seeking to benefit the other, and not enslave or abuse the other. He is not, like typical kings, thinking of how he can take over and make the noblest the weakest. How do you understand his response?
 
Now when (the embassy) came to Solomon, he said: "Will ye give me abundance in wealth? But that which God has given me is better than that which He has given you! Nay it is ye who rejoice in your gift! (27:36)
 
Shaykh Qays: Some of it has to do with diplomatic protocol of the time. When monarchs engaged with each other they sent/brought gifts to solidify their intent since the default position was war. If a nation was not fighting it was preparing itself for the next fight. That was the historical and political reality. Lavish gifts were often goodwill gestures, peace offerings or not-so-subtle indicators of the wealth and power of the sender. Such offerings were either accepted or rejected according to the party’s perceived intent and how the relationship was developing. 
 
Sometimes corrupt rulers would kill the emissary and seize the gift. Whatever the response the sending party would know what kind of rulers they were dealing with. Solomon, upon him peace, rejected the wealth and indicated his intent to march and conquer in God's way. He would not be appeased by what he saw as a pompous show of wealth to which he was unattached being a prophet and a man of deep spirituality
 
The important point here, again, is his directed-ness to God. The abundance of wealth was meant to impress him - but it did not impress him or sway him. Queen Bilqis had an apprehension regarding what kind of King he was from his peculiar letter with a clearly religious intent. Much of what she did was to test him. Likewise, he was testing her.
 
Wazwaz: We hear a lot of criticism regarding the verse in the Qur'an in chapter 9 where, in a battlefield, Muslims were ordered to subdue their enemy to the rule of law. If we reflect on the description of the political reality of oppression-- to quote the Queen of Sheba: "Kings, when they enter a country, despoil it, and make the noblest of its people its lowest thus do they behave" --we find that when true faith has power, - it repairs that social oppression. Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad gives more depth in the lectures here.  When true of faith are given power it brings the worst of people to follow the rule of law. The word in chapter 9, which most Islamophobes use to argue that Islam seeks domination, is saghiroon (to make small). Here Prophet Solomon (upon him be peace) uses that same word.
 
Based on Queen of Sheba's description of kings, one can understand many rulers at the time were corrupt because they acted without any sense of accountability to anyone. They are oppositional in nature and attached to power. Prophet Solomon, upon him peace is dealing with people who are aggressive and defiant in nature, so they have to be put in a humbled state to bring law and order and subdue their aggressive nature.
 
"Go back to them, and be sure we shall come to them with such hosts as they will never be able to meet: We shall expel them from there in disgrace, and they will feel humbled (saghiroon)." (27:37)
                                                                                                                
Do you agree?
 
Shaykh Qays:  Well, rulers of the past didn't have the instruments of state that are available after several industrial and technological revolutions. Modern instruments of state that rely on quantum leaps in technological advancement facilitate an unprecedented levels of control that obviate, for the most part, the use of trauma, humiliation, and fear to establish rule and control. In the past, conquerors had to establish rule by force to bring law and order. There was no UN or nation-states or, might I add – corporations - as we know today. The rule of a ruler, whether just or otherwise, was only enacted after subjugation of those he conquered. That subjugation could come by way of consensus because the people are organized and they have a leader and the leaders submit or through more traumatic means. Queen Bilqis' people were organized having had a court and a leader. But often - there were only loose tribal structures where any political change or disruptions quickly lead to chaos. War not only destroys physical structures but social ones as well. Today, we see it now for example in Libya. Libya was not a firmly established state by modern standards. Qaddafi had his own Arab, pseudo-socialist system in place. The institutions were not as well organized and structured as other modern states. So when he was removed – pandemonium quickly spread. Past rulers generally operated in a similar manner, so to prevent chaos and anarchy after conflict it was necessary to exert sheer power to subdue everyone to order.
 
So saghiroon may be said to refer to a post-modern form of rule of law but the context needs to be understood. The Qur'an is giving guidance concerning the political reality of war and chaos in pre-modern conflict and warfare and that does still often apply today. The term “rule of law” is a loaded term with distinctly modern implications, and there may be some misunderstanding if saghiroon is applied to it without properly unpacking and contextualizing the discussion. 
 
So for someone to take such verses and say they indicate that Muslims seek to subjugate people, is simply not fair. If the Qur'an said nothing about such matters – then we would be without needed guidance addressing the reality of conflict and war and people would not know the limits. Through the exchange between the Queen of Sheba and Solomon (and through many other incidents and verses) the Qur'an expounds on how nations fight, as opposed to how they ought to fight and win and establish rule. The difference is that the believers are directed to God like Prophet Solomon, upon him be peace, and are told to observe the limits of God. The limits of God are the higher rules of war, peace, and everything in between. 
 
Wazwaz:  You discussed how the Queen was testing him, and now let us discuss how he was testing her.  He asks for his forces to bring her throne - to test her. And it is a beautiful test. He does not test her to see if she has ever said a wrong word or did a wrong deed. He does not test her to see if she is like him and thinks like him and is willing to assimilate to his culture. It is a beautiful test. He hides the image of her throne - its beauty, its grandeur and honor. In reality, she is being tested to see if she is true to her people or one who seeks power and glory. Notice, he also puts her throne in front of the palace - leading one to understand that he was not seeking to dethrone her. Faith, true faith does not fear a woman in power or a person of no faith in power. The antagonism is directed toward people who are oppressors, as faith has a responsibility to repair the social oppression of narcissists and little people.
 
Her response shows that she was also testing King Solomon, upon him peace to see if he was interested in elevating her and her people or seeking power over them and their resources. When she found her throne it spoke volumes to her that he was not seeking to make the noblest of her people into the little people - hence she embraced Islam. Can you reflect on the following verse:
 
Said one who had knowledge of the Book: "I will bring it to thee within the twinkling of an eye!" Then when (Solomon) saw it placed firmly before him, he said: "This is by the Grace of my Lord!- to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! and if any is grateful, truly his gratitude is (again) for his own soul; but if any is ungrateful, truly my Lord is Free of all Needs, Supreme in Honour!" (40) He said: "Transform her throne out of all recognition by her: let us see whether she is guided (to the truth) or is one of those who receive no guidance." (41) So when she arrived, she was asked, "Is this thy throne?" She said, "It was just like this; and knowledge was bestowed on us in advance of this, and we have submitted to God (in Islam)." (42)
 
 
Shaykh Qays: He was testing her character and she was doing likewise as Imam Baghwi and others mentioned in our books of Tafsir. Both parties were sincere and genuine and by that point they were both directed to God. Queen Bilqis' empire was symbolized in her beautiful throne. She was not attached to her throne and recognized it despite the change to its appearance. Furthermore, she was not moved by its presence where it was not supposed to be. She was somewhat casual yet cautious in her response, saying “it seems/is like it” which the scholars of Tafsir mention showed the strength of her intellect as well as non-attachment to the world since she stopped short of expressing certainty when what was apparent didn't indicate certainty. 
 
Wazwaz: Can you expand on
 
"It was just like this; and knowledge was bestowed on us in advance of this, and we have submitted to God (in Islam)." (42)
 
Shaykh Qays: We find a reference to knowledge in Solomon's court and in the court of the Queen of Sheba. The Queen's testing Prophet Solomon was like Salman al Farisi when he came to Medina with foreknowledge to test Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings. He was given knowledge of what to look for from the Christian priest. Similarly, she was given knowledge of how to test him from her spiritual advisers. We do not know what it was in its entirety but Imam Razi and other mention that signs and the conduct of Solomon himself were taken into account - but it was to test his sincerity, genuine and truthfulness and by the time the Queen reached Solomon and beheld her own thrown she was already convinced of the truthfulness of his claim of prophet hood. Everything that she knew and was advised to look for was there so she did what a sincere person of integrity does - when the writing is on the wall - you submit to it.
 
That is a journey of faith - it is not acting on a lust for power, oppositional or defiant tendencies or a desire to retain power. Someone like Pharaoh would have denied the whole thing even though his advisers gave him sincere advice on what to look for. He was advised and saw the writing on the wall, but he rejected it. His was a severe, twisted egoism. The Qur'an calls it arrogance. Arrogance needs props to reinforce the self and promote the ego. That is why power is sought and the more the ego gets, the more it craves. Then after excess upon excess and persistent immortality the spirit and the heart dies and the truth becomes meaningless to it.
 
In contrast to Pharaoh and his power, Prophet Solomon was not attached to the power he was given. In contrast to Pharaoh and his arrogance, when Queen Sheba saw the truth she submitted.
 
Wazwaz: If we take another look at the same verse - and again reflect on Prophet Solomon's inner reality: gratitude. The argument of no faith in a nutshell is reliance on the self, whereas the argument of faith in a nutshell is reliance on God. Prophet Solomon was himself tested with his own power - which was given to him by God. Can you comment on his response?
 
"This is by the Grace of my Lord!- to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! and if any is grateful, truly his gratitude is (again) for his own soul; but if any is ungrateful, truly my Lord is Free of all Needs, Supreme in Honour!" (27:40)
 
Shaykh Qays:  Often in the Qur'an - gratitude is associated with faith and is contrasted with lack of faith which is associated with ingratitude. What we see in the verses you mentioned is power and knowledge joined with faith and gratitude, not delusion and ingratitude. We see in the actions and states of Solomon that the limits of God are heeded.
 
Anyone who learns anything has to be on guard regarding arrogance, since knowledge enables power, as we mentioned earlier with regard to the ego. What we learn from Solomon is only by being sincere, by constantly remembering God, being directed to Him and being grateful that guidance will come from the gaining of knowledge and the exercise of power. 
 
Wazwaz: What are some your final comments given our discussion? Anything you like to add?
 
Shaykh Qays:  This discussion is important to emphasize the importance of integrity in faith. Muslims need to have integrity and be people of true virtue when tested with the glitter of this world if our claim to faith is to be proven true as individuals and collectively.
 
When rituals and rites are practiced as they ought to be, with a directed-ness to God, and the decisions that we take in life – shall we consume interest or not, shall we cheat a little here and there or not, shall we break our contracts or simply ignore them or not – also have that directed-ness and when we repent for our moral failings and move on from them. We need to follow the footsteps of righteous people like Queen Bilqis, and Prophet Solomon.
 
Faith requires such integrity and perpetuates it - at the individual level first and then at the collective level. What perpetuates integrity isn't merely reason, but rather it comes when the human being can act outside of himself and his immediate self-interests and gaze at the Eternal. Solomon said, “O my Lord! So make me that I may be grateful for Thy favors.” When the human can smash idols of self, tribe, power, wealth or anything which, like he or she, is created and return instead to God with gratitude, hope, and longing - that is Religion.
 
So the Islamic testimony of faith, “There is no deity but God” is about that kind of human integrity. It is a declaration that there is no ultimate goal, entity or ego that I will turn myself to internally and externally apart from God, who is entirely unlike His creatures. It calls us beyond ourselves and the frustrating, stress-inducing transience of this world to the Perfect, the Divine who we are created to recognize as the Queen of Sheba recognized. For she was a person of integrity who knew, and acted like she knew, that life is about much more than the “stuff” we see around us like her throne.
 
And we ask Allah for guidance, success and bliss eternal.
 
#end

Additional resources regarding Warfare in the Qur'an can be found in PDF files located at SeekerGuidance here.  Both Qibla and SeekersGuidance offer classes for anyone wanting to explore the journeys of other truth seekers in Islam.  You are also welcome to visit your local Mosques and have face to face conversations with local teachers and Muslims.

Conversation with Qays Arthur on Faith and Guidance 5a

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz under Education and literacy, Continuing education Updated: September 4, 2012 - 5:00 PM
If any do seek for glory and power, to God belong all glory and power.
--Qur'an (35:10)
 
 
A few months ago, I began a conversation with Shaykh Qays Arthur, toward understanding Islam and Muslims. In the last blog post, we continued with the segment on faith and guidance–through a conversation reflecting on the journey of Salman al Farisi. This journey emphasized the importance of being true in one's journey to God. As I mentioned in the last blog, I will explore another journey of one coming to faith from a position of power.  Throughout his journey of faith, Salman al Farisi was under an authority figure.
 
In this blog, the conversation will reflect on a courageous meeting between two people, both given power and glory by God. One belongs to the world of faith, while the other born into a society of no faith. What happens when the world of faith and no faith collide? In this journey, we will explore the engagement of two powerful people who are both true to themselves, their values, and their people.
 
 
Wazwaz: The first question requires an introduction.  Let me introduce from the world of faith: the beautiful Prophet Solomon, upon him peace. Given power and glory by God that no other human being will possess.
 
As mentioned in my previous articles, I follow and research works by counselors.  In my research, I found a wonderful essay on narcissists and the little voices. Although the article deals with the domestic angle - my hypothesis is the bedrock of every oppression we face east and west is defined by this social reality. That is the underlying reality of the story of Moses, upon him peace, and Pharaoh. It is the spiritual reality of oppression of women in the East and in the West. To fight any oppression, - you need to have a thorough understanding of the psychological dimension of the narcissists and the little voices. 
 
In addition, while I support the concept of service to others, the article on little voices is one of the reasons I worry about obligating the little voices to serve society or our nation.  In reality, as we see in domestic situations or dysfunctional families, the call to serve becomes an emotionally abusive demand for the little voices to be slaves for the narcissists to be valued and accepted in society or in the family.  How a person deals with ordinary little people or an unprotected and misunderstood people tells us a lot about them.  
 
While reflecting on this article, in the Qur'an, we see a meeting point between Solomon (upon him peace) and ants in a low valley. Shaykh Qays, can you reflect on the inner reality of Prophet Solomon (upon him peace) and his response to the fear of the ants from his power?
 
At length, when they came to a (lowly) valley of ants, one of the ants said: "O ye ants, get into your habitations, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you (under foot) without knowing it."  So he smiled, amused at her speech; and he said: "O my Lord! so order me that I may be grateful for Thy favours, which thou hast bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may work the righteousness that will please Thee: And admit me, by Thy Grace, to the ranks of Thy righteous Servants." (Qur'an 27:18-19)
 
What does this verse tells us about his inner reality despite the tremendous power given to him in comparison to Pharaoh?
 
Shaykh Qays: In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.   Peace and blessings upon Prophet Solomon. What we see from Prophet Solomon (upon him peace) is an unflinching focus on God. He is constantly directed to God, as opposed to being directed to the self (or ego) when one has blessings of worldly nature.  Prophet Solomon (upon him peace) is given the ability to hear the animal kingdom - this is one of many different abilities given to him. Many forces were subjugated to Solomon as blessings from God. Such abilities and marvels were signs of high station, power, and reputation – all things that people aspire to. Even the ants are aware of him, and in awe of him. His response to all these blessings is to turn to God in gratitude and to seek refuge in God from losing the way and to seek the Divine pleasure. That is faith. The fact that he is directed to God in everything and not to others or his ego in every turn of his life is a sign of his true faith.
 
Wazwaz: And from the world of no faith: we have the Queen of Sheba, a woman who reigned over her people with wisdom.
 
Many times, people think that just because someone spoke against a tyrant that they are brave. But in reality - there are people who are psychologically oppositional and defiant by nature. As we discussed in the last blog, oppositional for the sake of being oppositional is a disease. It has a name: oppositional defiant disorder. One clear symptom of this disorder is a "hostility directed toward authority figures." In other words, a hatred of authority or people in power. The difference between brave people and oppositional people - the former hates oppression and seeks the betterment of society while the latter hates authority and seeks to be in power. As the link explains, there is a difference between being strong willed and being oppositional and defiant. I do not advocate people diagnosing others with this disorder, but for us to reflect on our own behavior when we oppose something. 
 
In any case, I want to draw your attention to this verse by the Queen and her response to the letter from Prophet Solomon, upon him peace. Also her comment on Kings, when they enter a country or town, sheds light that she is not in denial. Sometimes, during conflict people say such things as "make love not war."  In a sense, it shows a form of escapism from difficult and complex situations.  The intelligent description shows her intellectual, political and emotional competence. She did not go fear mongering or hate mongering, even though under her power are men "endued with strength, and given to vehement war." Rather, she consults the chiefs. Her people respect her to make a decision – illustrating she is not a narcissist. Can you comment on these verses? What is the difference between her internal reality and Pharaoh’s internal reality.
 
(The queen) said: "Ye chiefs! here is delivered to me - a letter worthy of respect.  "It is from Solomon, and is (as follows): 'In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful:  "'Be ye not arrogant against me, but come to me in willing surrender.'"  She said: "Ye chiefs! advise me in (this) my affair: no affair have I decided except in your presence."  They said: "We are endued with strength, and given to vehement war: but the command is with thee; so consider what thou wilt command."  She said: "Kings, when they enter a country, despoil it, and make the noblest of its people its lowest thus do they behave.  "But I am going to send him a present, and (wait) to see with what (answer) return (my) ambassadors." (Qur'an 27:29-35)
 
Shaykh Qays: Well it is certainly evident that she is not of this oppositional profile which isn't surprising given that she is herself a figure of authority. However, she is far from a typical authority figure. Much of what the verses mention show that she is a wise and fair leader who knows politics, knows how Kings are, and consults with her court. This shows political competence as well as lofty character. Like Solomon, she, may be contrasted with Egypt's Pharaoh who became deluded with his power. We see a woman who is aware of her circumstance, consults with her court, and seeks out wisdom. Wise people do not presume they are wise. They seek out wisdom as was said when we discussed Salman al Farisi.
 
She is also genuine and astute. She is neither a cowardly ruler nor a tyrant. It is expected that she is not oppositional because she has power and seeks wisdom sincerely. Because she was not arrogant, she was able to recognize Prophet Solomon. She deals with her own court in a way that makes her own people amicable to Prophet Solomon. Indeed her many virtues, despite her faith idols, are examples of God’s enabling grace.
 
She was not yet a believer but possessed a sincere heart. Everyone's destiny and final outcome is known to God. I have a ruling, you have a ruling, and the Christian lady next door and atheist down the street have a ruling with God in terms of our final outcome. God is not waiting to find out anything. So Queen Bilqis or Sheba is a believer in God's knowledge even if it was not yet manifest to anyone including herself. However, her heart was the place that was fertile for faith and faith grew because she was a person of sincerity, wisdom, and true virtue. That virtue is what stands out to me. 
 

Due to the length of this piece, it will be continued in another blog which will be posted in a few days.

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