Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Koran and the Hadith

Abdullah, the gentleman who posted replies to some of my earlier posts is engaged in a debate on beliefnet over whether the Hadith (the collected sayings of the Prophet) should be considered as authoritative as the Koran itself. Here are some of the passages from the Koran he cites to support the authority of the Hadith.

Say: Obey Allah and the Messenger, but if they turn their backs, Allah loves not the disbelievers. (3:32)

And whoever obeys the Messenger, thereby obeys Allah (4:80)

And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has gone astray into manifest error. (33:36)

As a relatively new, but careful student of Islam, I appreciate seeing the Koran citations for why Muslims should follow the Hadith. I can understand why a reasonable person would interpret these passages this way, but I do not think that is the only possible interpretation of those texts.

These commands to obey and heed the messenger refer to Muhammad himself, and seem to me to be only applicable to people who could actually speak directly to him. When Muhammad was alive, it was obviously important that the Ummah accept him as its leader, otherwise there would have been chaos in this newly-formed and militarily threatened community. However, I see no reason to infer from this command that Muslims a thousand years later should pour over old documents and infer the existence of prohibitions that are not even explicitly stated in the Hadiths themselves.

The alleged prohibition against music is the example that bothers me the most, particularly since almost all of my music teachers have been Muslims. I don't think it is " obeying the prophet" to take a Hadith which says something like "when society starts to deteriorate people will behave badly, and some of those badly behaved people will play music" , and infer that no one should play music today. (particularly since there is ample documentation that the Muhammad permitted members of the Ummah to play music.) Firstly, If Muhammad had wanted people to not play music in his time, he would have said straight out "Don't play Music". Secondly, there is no reason to assume that all commands given by Muhammad to his Ummah should be automatically applicable today. Part of Muhammad's greatness lies in the fact that he was not only a religious leader, but a military and political leader is well. All military and political decisions have to be made to deal with the contingencies of the moment, and there is no reason to assume that all such decisions are as universally applicable as the moral truths found in the Koran.

Saying that one should follow the prophet means "do what the prophet tells you to do". Muhammad was both a saint and a genius, and if such a person were leading my community, I would definitely accept him as my leader. But now that the Prophet is no longer with us, he can't tell us to do anything. One should remember that Muhammad is the last prophet, which means that no Imam or group of Imams that came after him should be given the same kind of authority as the prophet in the flesh. I think it is important to read the Hadith, because they contain much wisdom and inspiration, and because they provide the context that enables us to understand the complete meaning of the Koran. But that doesn't mean they should be given the same authority as the Koran itself, or as words spoken directly to you by Muhammad himself.

As a non-Muslim, I can only offer these thoughts for your consideration. I will however quote two highly regarded scholars: Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and Imam Malik. They state that any attempt to construct prohibitions from the Hadith violates this passage in the Koran: Say: Have you considered what provision Allah has sent down for you, how you have made of it lawful and unlawful? Say: Has Allah permitted you, or do you invent a lie concerning Allah?” (Yunus: 59) They take this passage to mean that no one should construct prohibitions that are not specifically stated in the Koran.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Where is the Conservative Outrage?

On February 18th, a man who had posted conservative anti-tax rants on a website crashed his airplane into an IRS office in Austin Texas. This was the third act of far-right political violence since the FBI issued a report saying that such acts would become a danger. During that time there have been only two acts of Islamoid political violence.

Muslim Blogger Aziz Poonwalla says we should not blame the Tea Party movement for this attack. I understand and admire his willingness not to do unto others what has so frequently been done to Muslims, but I think he is being too easy on the far right fringe movements.

It is, of course, unfair to blame the Tea party groups and Sarah Palin for this act--exactly as unfair as blaming all Muslims for the 9/11 attacks. Nevertheless, it's important to point out that if we consistently applied the standards that many Americans use for evaluating and categorizing Islamoid terrorism, everyone would recognize that those standards are unfair and confused. Poonwalla points out that there is no evidence that this man is a member of the Tea Party movement. However, there is no such thing as membership to the Tea party movement. They are a mob, not an organization, and expressing ideas similar to theirs is the only requirement for membership. For many otherwise intelligent Americans, the shouting of "Alahu Akbar" was all that was necessary to transform Hassan from a lone gunman into a member of terrorist movement. Why should it be any different for Anti-Tax terrorists?

More importantly, no one is imposing the so-called obligation to renounce terrorism on the far right when it comes to this case. On the contrary, at least one prominent conservative refused to denounce the Austin attacks. According to NYTimes columnist Gail Collins:

"Scott Brown... the new senator from Massachusetts, was asked on Fox News about the I.R.S. office attack. He appeared to embrace the possibility that the pilot of the plane might have been one of his followers.

'And I don’t know if it’s related, but I can just sense, not only in my election but since being here in Washington, people are frustrated,” he said. 'They want transparency.'"

If a Muslim Imam had made this kind of statement about 9/11, he probably would have been jailed.

P.S. I just coined a new word "Islamoid", because I don't like implying that these terrorists are genuine Muslims when there so many renunciations of both suicide and slaughtering innocent people in the Koran. The suffix "oid" is usually used to mean something that vaguely resembles what the suffix modifies, but doesn't really belong in the category i.e. a planetoid is not really a planet, an asteroid is not really a star, and a humanoid is not really human.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Still more Muslim Outrage

thanks again to Aziz Poonwalla's Blog

It was about a year ago that Aasiya Zubair Hassan was brutally murdered by her husband in a horrific crime (must-read: Wajahat Ali's excellent piece about Aasiya in the Guardian on Friday). In response to Aasiya's murder, the muslim community stepped up to the plate, condemning domestic violence, hosting friday khutbahs devoted to the topic, and founding organizations like Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence and a grassroots facebook page devoted to remembering Aasiya as the face of the domestic violence epidemic for the muslim community to rally around.

This year, on the first anniversary of Aasiya's murder, the muslim community still remembers and is doing something about it. Here are a few examples:

1. MMADA has issued a Call to Action and PDF information packet to raise awareness in the muslim community about domestic violence. They encourage people to download the packet and distribute; see their website for more details.

2. For people in the New York area, there is a panel discussion hosted Sunday by the Domestic Harmony Foundation and Turning Point for Women and Families, from 11 am - 1 pm at 7 Jaymie Drive, Basement, Westbury, NY 11590.

3. A global Facebook Event - wear purple, the official color of domestic violence awareness -- February 13th through February 16th, in memory of Aasiya Zubair Hassan and other victims of domestic violence. Event organized by Hadayai Majeed of Baitul Salaam.

4. is hosting a domestic violence awareness photographic campaign - "aimed at providing an alternative to the dominant media image of oppressed Muslim women and angry Muslim men." Send your photos in!

5. Abdul Malik Mujahid, a prominent imam and community activist in the Chicago area, has written a 9-point plan for ordinary muslims (based on a khutbah he will deliver today) to take concrete steps against domestic violence. I am reprinting the document in its entirety with permission:

In memory of Sister Aasiya Zubair: 9 things you can do
By Abdul Malik Mujahid

1. Organize "In Memory of. Aasiya: Domestic Violence Awareness Day"

Get together a couple of Imams, leaders, mosques and Islamic centers in your city and organize a city-wide "In Memory of Aasiya: Domestic Violence Awareness Day", This would feature Khutbas and speeches by both men and women leaders from the local Muslim community, workshops on domestic violence awareness at local Islamic institutions, as well as the distribution of multilingual information about this form of abuse in area mosques, Islamic centers and Muslim institutions.

2. Audit Yourself for Domestic Violence

You many not be physically beating your spouse but verbal abuse can lead to physical abuse. Verbal abuse is also prohibited by the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. Verbal abuse occurs where there is a deficit of mercy and forgiveness. The low level of mercy points to a low level of love or an absence of communication. So let's do a self-audit in our own homes:

Start by saying praises to the Merciful God who says He has ninety-nine times more mercy than mothers and remembering that the Prophet did not raise his hand against anyone. Period. Ask yourself the following questions about your relationship with your spouse:

· How is our communication?
· How is our expression of love?
· How are we doing in terms of mercy and forgiveness?
· Is there any verbal abuse in the relationship?
· Is silence being used as a weapon?

Once you have done this personal audit, seek Allah's forgiveness if you feel it is required and then sit down with a pen and a paper to plan for a better life.

3. Name something after Sister Aasyia

Aasiya Zubair was a leader. She was the one who thought of the idea of starting a television station to correct the image of Islam and Muslims in the media. She was named Aasyia after the wife of a Pharoah who took care of the Prophet Moses, peace be upon him. She is considered among the four best women of the world by the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. So name something after her: a baby; a food pantry; a new not-for-profit organization; a sisters' Halaqa (Islamic studies circle); a. new media project; a Masjid; a school; a scholarship.

4. Stop ignoring a situation involving domestic violence

If you know of a woman who is being abused by her husband physically, verbally or emotionally, then start helping her today.

You may not be ready to confront her abuser. However, one of the first and most important steps you can take is to reach out to her. That means keeping in touch on a regular basis. One thing abusers do is isolate their victims by cutting off their relationships with the outside world, particularly with family and friends. By keeping in touch, you can literally be a lifeline by alerting authorities if her situation becomes deadly.

What's more likely to happen though is that by slowly breaking the isolation, you will help the abused woman gain the strength and support she needs to take a stand and get out of the abusive situation.

5. Insist that your Imam talk about domestic violence, using Sr. Aasiya Zubair's example or Sr. Shahpara Sayeed who was burned alive.

Call, email or snail mail your local Imam and discuss the need to have a Khutba about the Islamic perspective on domestic violence. Offer him specific points and insist that he use Aasiya Zubair's case to show a practical example in the Muslim community.
If your Imam does not respond, arrange an in-person meeting with a delegation and make sure to include some brothers to show this is not a "women's" issue but a community issue. If that doesn't work, keep contacting Imams in your city until you find one or more who are willing to give at least one Khutba on this topic.

6. Make collective Dua for Aasiya Zubair and all victims of domestic violence. Make this the closing of the Friday Khutba on this topic, as well as all related events.

7. Make this excellent directory available in every mosque and for all abused women in your community

Last year, the Muslim Women's League, in collaboration with the Peaceful Families Project, put together a directory of "Domestic Violence Programs for Muslim Communities" which is available here:

Make sure this is on the desk of every Imam and Muslim community leader in your city, as well as any woman you know who is being abused.

8. Contact a women's shelter or help hotline and see if you can volunteer

This may be emotionally trying and is not for everyone. If you don't think you can bear the sadness and pain, at least help the shelter or hotline with your money by making a small, monthly donation to support their work.

9. Seek and distribute multilingual information about domestic violence

There is information available online and through various social services agencies about domestic violence in Arabic, Urdu, Somali, Bangla, Punjabi and many other languages. Get these pamphlets and put them in the women's section of every mosque in your city, as well as in the main areas usually frequented by men.

If you cannot find information in the language you need, arrange to have it translated, published and distributed. Consider this your major project for year 2010, one that could very possibly save the lives of women and children suffering pain and abuse.

Some resources include:

If you have information on other activities please share in the comments thread.

And, have a happy Valentine's Day :) Inshallah every victim of domestic violence will someday be able to enjoy it too. It's our collective responsibility to make it so.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Culture vs. Religion

Here's another Beliefnet post. The rest of that post, and the discussion in which it occurs, can be found here:

As a christian, I read the bible several times and disliked how women were treated in the old AND new testament. The subjection of women in christianity is doctrine. You can't argue that women are equal using scripture and the scripture clearly points out that women are subject to men, shouldn't take leadership, and should wear a constant reminder that they are under the authority of a man. Do all christians do these things today? No, but I am a person who is concerned with principles and islam doesn't have those principles. I have often found it amusing that I left one religion where the (general) culture is that women are equal to men, but the religion does not prove it, to a religion where women are equal to men, but the culture doesn't prove it. Dealing solely with the principles, I wouldn't want to raise a daughter in a religion that considers her second class in relation to men. Islam does not teach this, and the culture of many muslims, I can deal with that by using the Quran to refute it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Hijab or my Job?

I just visited a discussion board on beliefnet, in which a woman who is interested in Islam is considering whether to wear the Hijab at work. Interestingly, most of the Non-Muslims encouraged her to do so, but many of the Muslims said that she shouldn't. Here are some quotes from that discussion. Full disclosure: I intend to quote fully the positions I am most in sympathy with, and only paraphrase the others. If you wish to see the full force of the arguments on both sides, you should click on the link above:

Here's something from someone who use the nome de web of Miraj:

{witness22, I apologize, but I don't get this. I'm not sure what you have been reading about Islam, but the faith is not primarily about clothing, and Allah certainly doesn't invite you to Him to give you an excuse to piss other people off. I was asked to intervene on this thread by a Muslima who is concerned about what she is reading here. Alhamdulillah , may Allah bless her for her warning, for there is much to be corrrected in what is being presented here.

First of all, hijab is never mentioned in the Quran as clothing. It is mentioned in the context of modesty and humility, none of which is conveyed by a piece of cloth, nor by condemning others who disagree with you. There are several rules in Islam of which you are to be reminded. One is that you do not back bite, gossip and use the faith to antagonize others. You have modeled all three prohibitions in your post. Allah says:

"Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious; for your Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path, and who are truly guided." [16:125]

It would not be fair to other Muslimas who are devout in their practice of faith to use a symbol that they hold dear to express ill-will to your boss and co-workers, and cause them harm. Muslims are directed by God to become examples of good and fair treatment. We are not to believe we are superior to others who hold to different faiths. Allah alone can definitively judge between us; it is His Will that we not all be the same. Allah says:

". . . To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If God had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to God; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute;" [5:48]

I regret that any of us should allow you, encourage you, to enter into Islam or to represent it with such a distorted perception of how one is to act within one's community. We are to keep our promises and to obey the law where we live; at work, your employer has the right to set policies that accomodate his business plan. If he is reticent about allowing you to wear hijab, be patient; you are not even a Muslima yet. If you decide to become a Muslima, believe that your conversion will make you a better person, not a more confrontational and alienated one. Even if you do not convert, know that Allah is the best of planners; He will always find a way for you to express your sincerity of belief to Him and to those you encounter.

One should never come to faith with a hateful heart. I will make dua that you will find a proper teacher who will show you the true tenets of the faith and allow you understand how to find the beauty in Islam so that you will not see it as a weapon to be used against others, but as a tool to draw them to Him through your example.


other Muslims said:

{If you're interested in Islam, I suggest that you start by learning the 5 pillars first and start implementing them in your life before being concerned about things like hijab. I''m not saying it's not important but after seeing so many converts leave Islam in so little I have really come to the conclusion that until someone is able to implement the 5 pillars consistently, we shouldn't be insisting in anything else.}

{Take it easy and take time to learn more about Islam. Start by practicing it privately. Once you have some knowledge of Islam and start wearing hijab after then, maybe you will be able to remove misunderstanding about Islam from good Christian people.In the noble Qur'an God said Christians are "Nearest to the Muslims" [ Ref: The noble Qur'an 5:82 ] and there is a whole chapter devoted to our spiritual mother Mary [ Chapter 19. The word "Jesus" was mentioned in the Qur'an 25 times and "Mary" was mentioned 32 time [ 19 times in the Bible].We pray to the same God of Jesus, Moses, Abraham and Muhammad [ Peace be unto them all] ."And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone."[ The holy Bible Mark 10:18 ]}

{I'm still in the don't wear it, never wore it, won't wear it, won't have my daughter wear it group!}

{I don't wear the hijab except as stated above {for going to the masjid or specific, religious things}. I like wearing short skirts, running shorts, bikinis at the pool or beach, and my hair flying free when I run in the mornings. Nobody is going to tell me I have to wear the hijab. BUT, nobody had better try to tell me I cannot either!}

{I go to the mosque and I see 98% of the brothers wearing jeans (some following the "low rise" fashion) or slacks, or khakis and their shirts tuck inside, or short t-shirts. So I have to endure the unfortunate sight of their bum and underwear while their are in rokoo` and if I'm really unfortunate I get to see their "cracks". If a woman went dressed like that... hell would break lose!!! Then all the khutbas about women's dress... how about those about men's dress???? Why don't I hear men going on and on about their modesty. After all, modesty is required for both men and women, and I can tell you that at my mosque the women do much better than men.}

The one poster who defended the the hijab most eloquently, and with the best scholarship has a nome de web of 'The Middle Way" (hereinafer MW> MW quoted the Qur’anic verse, “Say to believing women, that they cast down their eyes and guard their private parts, and reveal not their adornment save such as is outward; and let them drape their headcoverings over their bosoms, and not reveal their adornment . . .” (Qur’an 24:31) and said this is a specific requirement for Muslim women to cover their hair. MW followed many of the principles I have been advocating in this post: To understand what the Koran is saying you have to consider the historical context in which the words were revealed. He quoted several passages in Arabic in which the original word meant "head covering", and claimed that therefore we should interpret this as saying that the head covering should be tied around the neck and cover both the head and the breasts.

Miraj replied forcefully and with even more impressive scholarship:

{I am a native speaker of Arabic, and, as a scholar of Islam myself, I have a strong understanding not only of the theology of hijab, but the history of its development as an "obligation to God" in the minds of scholars.

Also, the word "khimar" did not mean headcovering in the Prophet's day, Sheikh Keller admits as much, stating that khimar is familar "in our day" as hijab. However, the fact remains that nowhere in the Quran does hijab refer to a means of costuming. That it does "in our day" is the result of fatwas, not sharia. Scholars connoted the word "khimar" to mean headcovering approximately 200 years after the death of the Prophet. Historically, it was not headcovering in the early ummah....Not to mention that Quran 24:31 never directs women to cover their hair. It does say use your khimar to cover your breasts, but I don't see many hijabis taking that command literally.

"Consensus", another word that is bandied about in a self-serving manner in order to stifle debate, is undefined - it is all too common for dissenting scholars to be dismissed as "illegitimate" - thus creating a consensus of convenience. A consensus of Sunni scholars, of Shia scholars; a consensus in the village, the nation, of the Arab world alone. There is a consensus for everyone who wants one. That doesn't make the fatwas Islamic.}

This discussion goes on like this for twelve pages, with a variety of positions being defended. One more dramatic piece of evidence that Islam is a religion with many faces, and in the process of growth.