The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Islam began as something strange, and it shall return as something strange as it began. So glad tidings to the strangers!” [Muslim]
Thoughts, advice, reminders, and rants from your brother. Sometimes controversial, never boring. Anything correct I say is from Allah, anything wrong is a conspiracy by the Illuminati to make me look bad.
When we think of the Civil Rights Movement, what comes to mind? We think of the achievements and the victories, the marches and the protests, the struggles that eventually paid dividends. But the struggle for racial equality in this country wasn’t always in motion—there were bleak times, desperate times, where the injustices seemed insurmountable.
For decades before the movements of Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, black activists worked and wrote and toiled, often when it seemed in vain. Countee Cullen was a poet of the Harlem Renaissance, and he wrote a poem that has striking resonance with many struggles for justice today. In his day, as in ours, the artistic community was a powerful engine for change in society. The entertainment industry plays a powerful role in shaping public perception, and celebrity and athlete idols are often as revered today as stone and wood idols were of old.
Countee Cullen wrote a poem about the trial of the Scottsboro boys—young black men who were falsely accused and convicted of the rape of a white woman, though the alleged victims admitted in court that the boys were innocent. Biased, racist juries returned guilty verdicts multiple times for the boys, a blatant example of the widespread discrimination African Americans faced in the era. And the artistic community was silent, to the disappointment of Cullen, who wrote his poem, “Scottsboro, Too, Is Worth Its Song.” His disappointment echoes today, where even the most liberal figures in the artistic community, or “Hollywood,” are silent about the plight of the Palestinians, and the injustices those people face as a matter of policy. Indeed, we saw many celebrities attacked this past summer for merely offering sympathy for the innocents killed.
The poem reads powerfully, especially relevant when the word “Scottsboro” is replaced by “Palestine.”
Scottsboro, Too, Is Worth Its Song
(A poem to American poets) 1934
Now will the poets sing,
Their cries go thundering
Like blood and tears
Into the nation’s ears,
Like lightning dart
Into the nation’s heart.
Against disease and death and all things fell,
Their strophes rise and swell
The foe smug in his citadel.
Remembering their sharp and pretty
Tunes for Sacco and Vanzetti,
Here too’s a cause divinely spun
For those whose eyes are on the sun,
Here in epitome
Is all disgrace
And epic wrong.
Like wine to brace
The minstrel heart, and blare it into song.
Surely, I said,
Now will the poets sing.
But they have raised no cry.
I wonder why.
The Scottsboro boys were imprisoned, beaten and shot. The last of them went into hiding, until 1976 when he was pardoned by the State of Alabama. That injustice was recognized by a shamed world, after much work had been done to remedy the injustices of society. That struggle continues, as does the struggle for Palestine. The poets are silent yet on Palestine, but that is changing. So we do not give up, we do not give in, and we will never be silent. Because Palestine, too, is worth its song.
It’s back to school for us, and that means being part of the cramped masses of tens of thousands of young people on four campuses on the Banks of the Ole Raritan. And being young people, there are inevitable challenges that we’ll face as these pleasant September days roll on, especially as Muslims.
So, dear readers, you have come to expect certain things when you visit my blog column. A certain amount of coherency. A certain level of restraint. A certain expectation of Islamic advice and righteous talk and yada yada yada. In a way, this blog column and I have become… predictable.
Now, we can’t have that. Today, I go on a rant.
Desi food is awesome. Can’t no one say nothin’ bad ‘bout Bombay Biryani. Or slightly charred Seekh Kabab, spicy and sizzling. Or just some good ol’ Chicken Khorma, tender chicken marinated in spicy stew. (All of which is making my stomach rumble, and all of which can be super unhealthy, but that’s another rant for another day.) This food is great as we chow down, its smell making our mouths water as it rises off the plate. But the Secondhand Smell, that which lingers on clothes and bodies long afterwards, is terrible.
The stereotype other Americans have about “Indians,” meaning Desi people, is that we smell bad. Our food, with its unusually strong aromas, is likely the source of this stereotype. All too often, this stereotype is proven true because brothers don’t deal with the lingering smell properly. We get it, you had a bucket of Nihari at home for lunch, but your co-workers and classmates don’t need to be “experiencing” it for the rest of the day off of you. Many of our Saaluns and other food dishes leave a strong odor on our clothes and bodies. The Sahabi Mus’ab ibn Umayr was famous for leaving a trail of scent from his amazing ‘itr, such that people could tell he had walked by, hours after he was in a certain place. I think a lot of brothers are imitating him, but with the smell of Desi food instead. It’s, uh, not the same, guys.
This is terrible da’wah. Our Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wassalam always smelled nice, and taught us to be the same. If a person eats garlic, i.e. smells bad, it is better for him to avoid the masjid. Even with the importance of salah in Jama’ah in this deen, that some scholars held the opinion that it was mandatory. How will anyone pay attention to the message of Tawheed you’re presumably conveying (everyone’s still in da’wah mode right now, right? IAW was only a couple weeks ago and the final Da’wah Table is next week, Insha’Allah! ) when they can’t stand to be within ten feet of you?
Muslims have been known in history for being clean, and therefore, pleasant-smelling people. Our ritual ablutions, the Wudu and the Ghusl, are intended to remove spiritual impurity, but have the pleasant side effects of leaving us pretty clean physically, too. There was once a time when the kings and queens of Europe considered it sufficient to bathe once every few months, and Muslim peasants washed themselves multiple times daily. What a way we have come! It’s disgraceful.
The problem is: making Desi food, eating Desi food, just having Desi food around, leaves us in danger.
I reached out to my friends, to see how they dealt with this scourge, and there were mixed responses. Some guys were fatalistic, declaring that “You don’t [deal with it].” They advised, “Embrace it. You’re fighting a losing battle.” But I refuse to accept that. Others gave cautious advice, learned after many years battling the lingering odor of Desi food. There are practical steps, both from my own experiences and from the responses of friends, which we can take to overcome Secondhand Smell.
Protecting Your Clothes. Smell lingers long on clothes and sticks to them, so they need to be exposed to Desi food as little as possible. Keep your clothes in a tightly closed closet, in a room far away from the kitchen/dining space. A friend of mine even set up his wardrobe in the sun room of his house, a room that was practically outside the house. By no means should you leave your coat in the kitchen. In fact, it is probably best to change out of any set of clothes you value as soon as you get home and place in the aforementioned closet. Eat your nicely cooked, delicious Desi dinner in some comfortable clothes that you don’t plan on wearing anywhere but inside the house.
Ventilation. Desi food smells tend to linger. Don’t encourage them. The best option is to have a range hood on your stove to immediately remove the smell of cooking food, but not everyone has one. When cooking, try to leave some windows open, or even doors. This might be difficult in the winter, but there is no excuse in the spring and summer. Scented candles do wonders for dispersing the smell, so have a few lit around the house when cooking something particularly strong-smelling.
Personal hygiene. Take the initiative in keeping yourself clean and fresh-smelling. Before you leave the house, shower, and then dress and exit the Desi environment as quickly as possible. Keep deodorant with you when outside the house, in the car or in your bag. While it can be obnoxious to drown yourself in Axe or Old Spice, the smell of Desi food is more obnoxious still. We have to choose the better of two evils. Use deodorant or cologne to suppress lingering odors. Try having multiple layers of good scent, you have plenty of options- body wash, deodorant sticks, deodorant sprays, cologne, ‘itr.
What are some ways you deal with bad food odors? This is definitely a Desi problem, but this advice goes for other cultures and their strong-smelling food, as well. Leave a comment with your advice or Desi-food stories below.
When you think of the things Allah loves from us, what comes to mind?
Is it Hajj, traveling across continents and oceans to visit the Sacred Sanctuary? That’s a huge act. Is it Salah, spending time alone with the Master in the deep quiet of the night? That, too, has its reward. Is it spending from our wealth, emptying our pockets freely for the sake of Allah? That deed is loved to Allah.
But we are told by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ what deeds Allah loves best. He said,
“The most beloved of deeds to Allah are the most consistent of them, even if they are few.” (Al-Bukhari no. 6464 and Muslim no. 2818).
And Muslims don’t live our lives with this in mind, because we, the “religious” people, are often too focused on other things. This is because some of us have an unhealthy approach to religion.
At some point in our lives, many young Muslims get a burst of religious energy. They attended a conference, heard an amazing talk, or just came into the company of good friends. Their iman feels sky-high, they’ve got that Iman Rush, they want to serve the deen of Allah. So they dive into the work, volunteering at MSA, taking every Al-Maghrib class that comes into town, spending their weekends at halaqaat at the masjid. All of these things are great things to do, and rewarded by Allah, Insha’Allah.
But the problem is that all too often, these Muslims do not find a healthy balance in their lives. They go all in, and shoot for Sahabi-status after leaving a life of partying the week before. What inevitably happens is Burnout. Major Burnout, where people soon find they have no motivation to act at all. The original religious fervor is gone, and they often didn’t find a consistent spiritual and motivational source to maintain it. This Tarbiyah is necessary for anyone involved in Islamic work—a consistent regimen of studying sacred knowledge, developing one’s manners and good Islamic character, and progressing in one’s worship. Too many Muslim activists don’t have a teacher or mentor they can turn to for advice and who guides them along with Tarbiyah.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah was one of the greatest and most influential thinkers in our history. He was a prolific writer and activist, writing hundreds of books and defending orthodoxy from foreign influences. One of his students, the famous scholar Ibn al-Qayyim, reminisced about him,
“I once attended Fajr prayer with Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah. He then sat and remembered Allah until it was nearly midday. He then turned round to me and said, ‘This is my early morning meal, if I do not take this breakfast, my strength will drop.'”
He compared remembering Allah to food—spiritual food that nourished the soul and gave it the energy to continue on in life. All people care to satisfy is the hunger of their stomachs, but too few spend time to satisfy the hunger of the soul.
I remember hearing about Burnout as I was growing up from people who saw it happen before, and was warned about it as I started taking the deen seriously. I’ve personally seen it happen to people, and I don’t doubt there will be people in the future who will go through it (may Allah protect us!). Every generation of Muslims growing up seems to repeat the same mistakes and conflicts of those that have gone before.
I’ve written before about how Islam gives everyone and everything their due rights. Some religious young Muslims in danger of Burnout are out of balance in fulfilling these rights. While they may fulfill the rights of Allah (for now), they may not give the full rights their families have over them. They might neglect their job or their education. Allocating time and energy to all of the people and responsibilities we have is essential to preventing Burnout.
Some people will take on too much responsibility and will end up failing at everything, and not give anything its due right. Know Allah created you a human being, with limited time and resources. Don’t volunteer to pick up the Shaykh for the event, moderate the talk, and record a video with him for another organization, the same night your parents want to go out for a family dinner and you have an assignment due at midnight. Learn to say no. Don’t be an officer/executive of every group you’re a part of if it’ll mean that no organization will receive your full attention, and they will all suffer.
And above all, we need to keep in mind the most beloved deeds to Allah are the consistent ones, even if the deed itself is small. Allah loves it better if you read and memorize one ayah every day, than if you read the Qur’an cover-to-cover in Ramadan and let it gather dust on that high shelf the rest of the year. It is more beloved to Allah if a person fasts every Monday (and/or Thursday) than if they fasted for a month straight and then never fasted again. Islam develops in us the practice of remembering Allah in everything we do, and letting that have a positive impact on our lives and character. If the remembrance of Allah isn’t consistent, then it won’t change us into better people over time. And so the deeds done consistently are better and more beloved to Allah.
These deeds can be as small as listening to Qur’an on our drives to school, every day. Or offering two raka’ah of Salah when we have a quiet moment between classes, every day. Or collecting our change in a jar, every day, and giving it in sadaqah when the jar is filled up. Or visiting the local hospital once a month and “spreading smiles.” (Shoutout to MSA’s Project Ummah Walk—let’s do it again soon, even if on a smaller scale!)
If a smile is sadaqah, why don’t we make it a habit to smile and thank the bus drivers we meet every day? Our small deed can be as simple as sitting for a few minutes after each salah, remembering Allah with dhikr, and reflecting on our own condition and actions. Don’t finish reading this article without having thought up of at least one small deed that you can do consistently in your own life. That small deed is beloved to Allah, and I want a share of the reward for advising you about it. ;)
May Allah give us the ability to be consistent and remember him, and may He save us from burning out, in this life and the next. Ameen.
Our hearts break when we hear the news from around the world these days.
Every dewy morning brings with it fresh news of the death and destruction of innocent lives. Syria has become an unprecedented bloodbath. The Central African Republic is being ‘cleansed’ of its Muslims by extremist militias. And the issue that weighs in mind in recent days, as Russia and Ukraine seem set to go to war, is the Tatar Muslims sitting in the line of fire, dreading the latest tragedy in the long history of oppression they’ve faced. Many peoples among those in the cross-hairs of tyrannical and oppressive regimes are Muslim. There is relatively little political strength or motivation in any nation today to prevent many of these atrocities, and much confusion about what to do in many of these cases.
Such powerlessness brings to mind the situation faced by the Muslims at Makkah. And so we must understand the comfort Allah gave them in those difficult times because that comfort is valuable to us today. Surah al-Burooj comes particularly to mind as a powerful message of support from the Master to the Muslims communities around the world under threat. Allah begins,
وَالسَّمَاءِ ذَاتِ الْبُرُوجِ
“By the Sky containing Al-Burooj.” [Qur’an 85:1]
Al-Burooj is an amazing word. It refers to the large stars in the sky, according to many scholars. But linguistically, it comes from the word, “Barj,” a word the ancient Arabs would use for large buildings. We still see that in the names of skyscrapers like the Burj Al-Arab and the Burj Khalifah in Dubai. Just like these skyscrapers, the Burooj the sky contains requires a person to crane their necks and look high in the sky to observe.
The large buildings the ancient Arabs were familiar with were military forts. When Allah swears by the Burooj in this Surah, he is describing for us forts spread across the galaxy, in strategic military positions, just like the huge stars are spread across the sky. Forts manned by armies of angels, professional soldiers, that aid the believers when the Master sends them. There are narrations of battalions of angels being sent to help the Prophet ﷺ in many of his battles. But there will come a Day when those angels march out in full force, as Allah describes:
وَجَاءَ رَبُّكَ وَالْمَلَكُ صَفًّا صَفًّا
“And your Lord has come and the angels, rank upon rank…” [Qur’an 89:22]
The participants of these tremendous events are waiting for it. The stars spread across the sky are like a manifest promise that these heavenly forts will one day be emptied. They are a promise, for anyone who cares to ponder, that the Day of Judgment will soon arrive. And so Allah says next,
“And [by] the promised Day” [Qur’an 85:2]
Many people, including Muslims, don’t understand the reason for the Akhirah. Why should such a thing even be, this incredibly terrifying day, where all people are judged for their deeds? It is because Allah is Just, something that is a part of His Perfection. “Life isn’t fair,” but Allah is, so there must be a Day when perfect justice is done: Justice to every criminal, justice for every victim, justice for every person who was patient in the face of trial. Surah al-Burooj in later verses highlights one genocide, in which a king massacred a group of Muslims because they declared their obedience to Allah.
Their story is also told in a long hadith narrated by the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, but this incident is hardly unique in the history of the world. How many have been the terrible crimes committed on this earth? Every patch of soil would be perpetually red, if the blood did not wash away. How many have been the criminals that committed war crimes and genocide, without ever expecting a tribunal to hold them to account about the mass graves left behind them? They thought no one was watching to hold them to account. Who could track every deed and every action in the confusion of terrible war…? And so Allah says,
“By the Witness, and That Which He Witnessed” [Qur’an 85:3]
This simple sentence is powerful in its implications. The scholars of tafseer described many of the ways this ayah can be taken, but one meaning resonates here: Allah is the Witness (Shaahid), and everything in this world is That Which is Witnessed (Mash-hood). Not a single event happens on earth but Allah is aware of it, and will give justice for it on the Day of Judgment.
This goes for the huge events, such as the taking of innocent life, but it also goes for all the problems and trials every single human being faces. We are constantly worried for the sake of our communities, for ourselves and many of our brothers and sisters, who act in a way disobedient to Allah. Our masajid and MSAs have event after event on the uber-haraamness of drugs, alcohol, and acting inappropriately (to say the least) with the opposite gender, but all of these are symptoms of the greater problem. The disease is a lack of understanding or awareness that Allah is watching what we do. A young man or woman is visibly shy of owning up to their parents half of what we do, but we don’t display this same shyness with Allah, who is closer to us than even our parents. As the poet versed:
إذا مـا قـال لـي ربــــــي ** أمـا استحييت تعصـيني ؟
وتخفي الذنب من خلقي ** وبالعـصيــان تـــأتـيــنــــي؟
When my Lord asks me:
Are you not ashamed to disobey Me?
You hide your sins from My creation,
Yet with sins come you to Me!”
This was the start of a poem that reduced Imam Ahmed to tears. Actually, many of the early scholars, from the Sahabah and their students, were noticeable for living life in constant awareness that Allah was watching. Imagine the state of this Ummah, should we live up their standards. It’s a change of mindset we can implement, in the big things as well as the little things, that can yield some serious results. The habits we make of the little things, of not cheating on our exams, or lying to our parents about where we were, help form our character, so we refuse to even consider violating the bigger commands of Allah.
As for those who are oppressed, they are all too aware that their hope and their salvation lies with Allah and His Help. The Sahabah were known for smiling in the face of oppression, because they saw in whips and knives, eternal reward and the pleasure of their Lord. The people of Syria and other places today, too, are an inspiration for us all. As my teacher Sh. Abu Eesa said, “Look at what our people have gone through and look at their stoicism, character, and acceptance of qadr. Don’t pity these honourable, amazing people. Pity the criminals that will pay for this suffering oh so severely.”
In a touching photo making the rounds of the internet, the last words of a Syrian child, echoing thousands of his brothers and sisters, are recorded:
Allah says in Surah al-Burooj, “By the Witness, and That Which He Witnessed.” The great scholar of the early generations, Sa’eed ibn Jubayr, in an observation of great understanding, would follow this ayah up by reciting
This advice is first and foremost for myself, before anyone else.
Islam is beautiful, and it is us Muslims that sometimes give it an ugly face.
It happens too often that a non-Muslim curious about Islam, or a less practicing Muslim, is pushed away by the behavior of the Muslim community. This Islam is interesting, but these people are something else! On paper, this religion is stellar—in the real world, some bring so much drama to it that it’s a wonder people are entering Islam. Many converts tell us, with a wry smile, that they are grateful to Allah they got to know Islam before they got to know Muslims.
We hear stories about incredibly contradictory people—a man frequently in the first row at the masjid for every salah is abusive to his wife at home. A brother dropping fat checks every year at the masjid fundraiser actually makes his money from a chain of liquor stores. Some Muslims avoid MSA because they feel people there are judgmental, which can be true to some extent. One imam reports a young man came to him asking for advice—he had gotten a girl pregnant. The imam asked him, why didn’t he use birth control? The young man said he refused to, because he knew it was makrooh (disliked) in the religion. SubhanAllah, how do we think like this?
Another phenomenon we see is the opposite. Muslims who are far away from the deen it seems, but who display good character. People who refuse to cheat and steal, who are honest in their words, but have never seen the inside of a masjid. These people are among those who are disgusted by the actions of the aforementioned religious people. A familiar scene at many a desi dinner party is a bunch of uncles shaking their heads at the latest proof of corruption among “those mullahs.” While this disillusionment with religious authorities in the Muslim world is also a problem, there is merit in the criticism.
In truth, both of these types of Muslims embody an aspect of Islam. The Prophet ﷺ giving us advice on marriage proposals, said:
“If someone comes to you whose religion and character pleases you, then marry him.” [Tirmidhi]
“Religion” here means those things that come to mind when we think of religious deeds—from praying and fasting to volunteering at the local masjid or MSA to wearing a beard or hijab. But the Prophet ﷺ recognized such people didn’t necessarily have good character, but that character was something to look for on its own. Islam develops both good character and good “religion” in Allah’s servants.
But from the behavior of many, may Allah forgive us, you’d think Islam was just the outward appearance. This confused mindset isn’t new, but was a problem for the Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book) in the time of the Prophet ﷺ. They were too concerned with ritual and the letter of the Law, while failing to implement the spirit of the Law.
At the start of his Prophethood, Muhammad ﷺ was a continuation of the Prophets that came before to the Bani Isra’eel. The qiblah the Muslims faced in salah was the qiblah of Bani Isra’eel, Jerusalem. The Prophet ﷺ was from the Arabs, who loved the House Ibrahim عليه السلام built. In Makkah, the Prophet ﷺ was able to face both the Ka’aba and Jerusalem by standing in the south side of the Haram, and facing north. But after the Hijrah, this was no longer possible, and the Prophet ﷺ faced Jerusalem alone, with his back to the Ka’aba, something which saddened him.
And then came Independence Day. Not the Will Smith movie.
The followers of Muhammad ﷺ were declared a new and independent Ummah of their own. The favor and responsibility of Prophethood and Da’wah was given hereby to the sons of Isma’eel, the Arabs, and their qiblah at Makkah made the qiblah commanded by Allah for all Muslims. And there was uproar in Madinah. Some of the Bani Isra’eel teased the Muslims, saying, “You’ve been facing the wrong qiblah for all this time! All your prayers were wasted!”
But Allah does not allow the good of the Believers to be wasted. He reassured the Muslims, saying:
“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” (Surah al-Baqara, Ayah 177)
It didn’t matter which Qiblah the Muslims faced, because either way, they did it to obey Allah. Sincerity gives value to religious actions.
The scholars of tafseer call this ayah, Ayat al-Birr, the Ayah of Piety. Allah gives us His definition of what good Muslims ought to be, correcting those that get hung up on the small technical details when defining a good Muslim. It’s interesting that here, helping the poor and the needy is mentioned before salah or zakah. The rights of people are here mentioned before even the rights of Allah.
Islam can be defined, in a way, as giving everyone and everything their due rights. Allah established rights between everything, and gave us guidance on what these rights are. The religious rituals of this religion are important, because it is Allah’s right to be worshipped. But the rights of people are important, too. Our parents have rights on us. Our wives and husbands have rights on us. Our brothers and sisters in Islam have rights on us, as do our brothers and sisters in humanity. The poor and the needy of society have rights we fail to give them all too much. Fulfilling these rights is good character in a person.
A Muslim out of balance is someone who neglects some rights someone has over him, even though he’s doing well to fulfill other rights. We have to get over the superficial understanding of good and bad to improve ourselves. It doesn’t matter if a person has the face and religious devotion of Musa, if his actions and character are that of Fir’awn.
Forget everything you may think about Islam and Qur’an burning. There needs to be a serious reevaluation of how Muslims deal with it.
This issue first came to worldwide attention three years ago, when Terry Jones, pastor at the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida, announced he would burn a bunch of Qur’ans on the anniversary of 9/11. He did this presumably in memory of those who died at the World Trade Center and Pentagon on that horrific day, but it soon became clear he was nothing but a small self-promoter who had struck on a big idea—a novel and outrageous way to attract attention.
And the Muslims gave it to him.
There was outrage in many parts of the Muslim world at the desecration of the Qur’an. Unfortunately, this erupted into violence and rioting in some places. The world wondered why the Muslims went wild over the burning of what they saw as just a book. Why the Muslims care for the dignity of the Qur’an is another story, but it is truly a shame one man could rile up so many people and have them playing his tune, actors in the play he directed, raking in the profits while people suffered and died.
In a way, Terry Jones’ actions were the straws that broke the camel’s back (a racist pun was not intended by the use of this animal in this analogy about Muslims). They served as insults on top of injuries; after a decade of the U.S.’s war in the Middle East, and decades of political corruption, occupation, and neo-colonialism, this was perhaps one blow too much.
The need for dialogue has never been more urgent for the Ummah, and the need for proper, thorough education regarding this religion also. They say, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” and they’re absolutely right. A lack of comprehensive information and nuance in Muslim discourses around the world is dangerous. Many people have a tidbit of information about the deen and think they know it all. They commit big actions, like rioting against the offense intended to the Qur’an, and they feel religiously justified and righteous in doing so. And yet they cause more harm than good as a result: Terry Jones gets book deals and speaker engagements as the frightened Christians’ champion against the Muslim hordes, and they are even less receptive towards hearing the message of Tawheed we communicate to them.
And the irony of the situation is that in the eastern world, book burning does not mean what it does in the western. The West lived through centuries and millennia when knowledge was actively repressed, when information was jealously guarded by a few, and dissenting ideas were censored for the benefit of the state. The image of the Nazis burning books is still fresh in the minds of Europe and America. That is what it means to them. And yet, that is not what book burning means in the East, where there was light when Europe was in darkness, under Muslim rule. The most famous example of book burning in Islamic history was actually of the Qur’an itself, and by a righteous Muslim Khalifah!
Uthman ibn Affan, the Companion of the Prophet ﷺ, one of the ten noble Sahabah promised Paradise as they lived on Earth, and the third of the Rightly-Guided Khulafa’ of Islam, was responsible for standardizing the Qur’an. It is not well-known, but the Qur’an was revealed in the multiple dialects of the Arabs. As Islam spread, disputes arose between the Muslims of multiple Arab tribes, each of whom claimed their dialect was superior. So Uthman made the decision, as the Qur’an was taught outside of Arabia, to standardize the sacred text and keep one dialect. The dialect of Quraysh was chosen, the one the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ spoke and recited primarily in, and the other written manuscripts in other dialects were burned, to dispose of them.
And yet, the Muslims still considered what they burned to be Qur’an. It boggles the western mind, but in the eastern tradition, burning the written Qur’an, the mus-haf, is a most respectful way of disposing of it when it becomes old or damaged. Is it befitting the Word of Allah to rot in some landfill, surrounded by filth, or litter the street as trash to be stepped on? No, the Muslims preferred to wipe the words away, either by burning or by drowning the manuscript in a river, where the ink on the pages would be washed away by the flowing water. Rather than being upset with Terry Jones, the intelligent Muslim should’ve thanked him for boosting the book sales of the Qur’an, then following up by respectfully disposing of it according to Shari’a!
The Qur’an can never be burned away. It’s not recorded on paper, but in the minds of its Huffaadh, literally, the Guardians. They have been called in previous centuries, Haamil al-Qur’an, the Carriers of the Qur’an. Were all the copies of the Qur’an burned away today, within a few days we’d have it reassembled from memory with just the students of this university, forget the rest of the world. This has been the case since the Qur’an was revealed; while there were parts of the Qur’an written down here and there, the vast majority of Muslims didn’t own a written copy, as Muslims do today. Muslims memorized the Book and passed it on orally. The Arabia of Muhammad ﷺ had a rich oral tradition, where poets were the celebrities of their people and could memorize hundreds of lines of normal verse. How much easier is it to memorize words which are divine miracles, ayaat, so that even many non-Arab Muslims can do it?
Terry Jones had his fifteen minutes of fame and faded into obscurity since. Others like him will come, poking, mocking, and criticizing Islam. But we cannot engage with them on their terms, sacrificing our values and the collective wisdom and knowledge of centuries of Islamic civilization. We must understand our iman is not merely on our tongues, but in how we act when Islam is challenged and confronted. No one who believes in the truth of the Qur’an could’ve believed it was ever in serious danger from Jones or his ilk; Allah says in Suratal Hijr,
“Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian.”
Jones intended to disrespect the Qur’an, and that should displease us. But we should look at what he was trying to accomplish, and feel pity for the ignorance he’s operating in and the futility of his efforts.
Pictured above is the recent billboard that caused some serious buzz. It’s an ad by a company called SnoreStop, which makes an anti-snoring mouth spray, and it first appeared on a billboard in Los Angeles. It was such a successful campaign for the company (I mean, who heard of them before this controversy?) that they tried to bring the ad to the premier advertising spot of NYC—or perhaps the world—Times Square. Officials in charge recently decided it would be too controversial, and rejected it from being shown there.
The ad comes at a time when Muslims are front and center in the public eye. Every minority in this country’s history went through this scrutiny under which others examined and questioned their loyalties and identities before the group becomes a part of the fabric of American society. The Muslims undergo this painful process now.
I had mixed feelings when the billboard was brought to my attention. The niqab worn by some Muslim women, regardless of the fiqh ruling behind it, has become a uniquely Muslim symbol in recent years. France banned it, and the U.K. considers doing the same. Women wearing the niqab are ubiquitous in many European cities. Images and symbols have meaning. The advertising industry in particular is aware of this, using symbols and banking on the fact their audience will make certain associations and draw certain conclusions. And so, this treatment of the Muslim symbol reflects in some measure how Muslims and Islam as a whole are considered in the United States today.
The ad features a soldier and a niqabi standing as a couple. Our fictional sister is wearing a wedding ring, so we can assume this couple is husband and wife. On the surface, this seems like progress. Muslims are included in advertising, as normal Americans with normal issues. The ad seems to be saying, “Muslims are human and they have snoring issues with their spouses, too!” It’s nice to be portrayed as having mundane problems, as opposed to the usual problems faced by extremists posing an existential threat to the American way of life. Needless to say, a significant segment of the population opposed the ad on these grounds. The rightwing Islamophobia industry brainwashed them thoroughly, and they see any normalization of Muslims as propaganda meant to weaken America, and they won’t stand for this propaganda to spread. Ironic in the extreme. The company responded by defending the values of diversity its ad purportedly promotes.
But the ad deserves legitimate criticism. What do the symbols here actually represent? We discussed the niqabi, but the other individual on the ad is just as striking. It is a soldier, standing tall and brave. A symbol we’ve seen often in recent years, celebrated and promoted in order to maintain public support for misguided wars. The respect and reverence of the military in modern American society borders on a national religion. Some of the propaganda over the past decade made the wars our military engaged in look like missions of liberation; our soldiers “went over there” to free innocent Muslim women from the oppression of savage Muslim men. The ad subtly evokes this image.
Even more troubling is how the couple in the ad is meant to be a clear juxtaposition, a bringing together of two opposites. The ad campaign’s motto is, “If we can keep this couple together, we can keep anyone together.” These two pictured are expected to be viewed as opposites, people you’d never think could get along, let alone be married. But even this couple can maintain their marriage, thanks to SnoreStop’s miraculous product! If the soldier is the quintessential American, then what is this ad saying about the Americanness of his opposite, the apparently-quintessentially Muslim woman?
Clearly, we have a great deal of work to do in making Islam familiar to the people around us in the months and years ahead. It’ll take a lot more than snoring medication to bring the American people as a whole and Muslims together in a comfortable relationship.
All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost… (1)
Many of us are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Although I, like many in this younger generation, love this land dearly as my home, it always felt weird to sing “Land where my fathers died/ Land of the Pilgrims’ pride” from the song “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” in elementary school, because my fathers did not actually die here. They were not natives of this land, they were not part of the story of America in the decades and centuries since the landing at Plymouth Rock. We their children are here, and starting to make our mark, but it is in other lands and other times that our roots already lie.
On a visit to Pakistan recently, this reality was made very clear to me. My family had lived in that house, in that neighborhood, for generations. Every family knew every others’ family and its entire history, both before and after the Partition (2). Walking the streets of my neighborhood in Karachi, people recognized me, without blinking an eye at my years-long absence. The local tailor gave me salaam as I passed by and informed me that he still remembered making the sherwani (3) my dad wore at my parents’ wedding. And everyone knew how to say my name. To me, this was an experience unlike any other. I could see that however much I felt at home in New Jersey, there was much missing from my experience of what a home could be.
The feeling I got that summer was like finding something I had not been looking for, but had sensed was missing all along. It was my cultural heritage, the comfort of knowing who I am and where I came from. I was more complete for recovering it. And as I grew up, I came to find a greater heritage, one I thought I had always had, but had never known for its true value. While cultures are part of our lives, Islam is even more essential to us. And too often, this is the heritage that is not used and enjoyed by many rightful heirs.
As this generation of young Muslims comes of age, it’s clear many are looking for that sense of identity. There is a lot of confusion at heart, to be sure. It’s hard to go on Facebook and scroll down the Newsfeed, without physically cringing. Guys identify themselves as sneakerhead skaters. As punk. As emo, complete with depressing status updates. So many are wanna-be ghetto, in love with the rapper image, saying ameen to lyrics about the thug life from the comfort of their well-lit suburban bedrooms. Imam Abdul Malik summed it up pretty well, as he raged, “Brothers saying ‘Where’s my G’s, where’re my ni**as…’ YOU FROM PAKISTAN, SAYIN NI**A! YOU FROM EGYPT, SAYIN NI**A! Youre a Muslim, worshipping Allah and reciting the Qur’an, SAYIN NI**A!” You cant help but feel pity for these brothers and sisters, whose search for identity has led them to some degrading lifestyles.
But alhumdulillah, there are many as well who have found their heritage in Islam. Those who came from perhaps not the most practicing families, who came to fall in love. Those who were looking for their roots, began searching perhaps just with their names, and ended at the beautiful treasure that is our deen. Young American Muslims are populating the masaajid, attending the halaqaat and the Islamic classes, and raising the standards with MSAs, all seeking the pleasure of Allah.
Because deeper than the roots of ethnicity, deeper than the roots of town and country even as I had found, are the deep roots of Islam. Allah answers the Quraysh and all those who mistake their culture for their heritage, “He has chosen you and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty. [It is] the religion of your father, Ibraheem. He named you “Muslims” before and in this [revelation]…” (Surah Hajj 22:78) In this day and age, what person observing from the outside would expect Islam to be on the rise? Would expect the seedlings of imaan to be planted firm in the youth? With all the distractions of dunya and, outside forces making it dangerous to be Muslim, to the point where we are watched by the police for no other reason? And yet, here we are.
It can only be that Allah has willed it, that Islam will survive, and thrive, and give honor to those who submit to it. No other identity found in our society, in none of these pathetic subcultures under the overall culture of Jahiliyyah, is as strong or as proud or as rich as the identity of Muslim. Being lowered in submission led to being raised to great heights for our predecessors. It is not so long ago that high in the esteem of all the world were the Muslims; bright were the warriors’ swords, sharp were the scholars pens and heavy the books, and full were the coffers of sultan and merchant. Great ideas grew and adorned the world like flowers abounding, the garden with it’s center, la ilaha illlah.
And if we begin with the same source, the same growth is possible again. Every young branch that sprouts out of our tradition, no matter how distant, is intimately connected to the roots. I got the chance recently to begin a formalized study of tajweed, the science of beautiful, proper Quranic recitation. I am reciting in practice to my teacher, Abu Zayd. He in turn once recited to his teacher, and he to his teacher, and so on and so forth, all the way back to Imam Hafs, who learned from the great teacher from Kufah, Imam Asim, who learned from Abu AbdurRahman Al-Sulami, who learned from Uthman ibn Affan, who learned the Quran as it was revealed from Rasulullah. This connection with the Prophet himself is precious, and is incredible to consider, sallalahu alayhi wassalam!
This knowledge will continue to spread after us, connecting others to their heritage. Every Muslim that lives their life seeking the pleasure of Allah, through dawah, learning, or ibaadah, is walking the well-worn path of Rasulullah and the Prophets, ‘alayhimus salaam. It is a heavy burden, a noble responsibility, and a great honor. The well of Islam is a deep one. So let us drink deep, giving praise and thanks to Allah, because there is plenty to satiate the thirsty.
(1) The Riddle of Strider, from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
(2) Partition of British India into the independent countries of Pakistan and India in 1947, after which there was a great mass migration of Muslims across the border into the land of Pakistan.
(3) A type of traditional Pakistani tunic, worn on formal occasions.
I welcome everyone’s thoughts and feedback. Please comment below and share if you liked it. Jazakumullahu khayran, all, for the positive reception I’ve gotten since my first piece!
Next up, I want to do a multi-part post on an epic man that is justifiably known as “the Salahuddin of Africa,” who is an incredibly relevant example for us, who not many people have actually heard of. Would you like to read about him?
The bitter bite of grief sunk into the Messenger of Allah, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wassalam. Of all the tragedies he had faced, the one that he now experienced was painful unlike any other. The Messenger of Allah had just lost his sons, Qasim and ‘Abdullah. And as he went out of his house to face the world, coping with his grief as best he could, there were those who tried to drive in that dagger of pain, deeper and deeper. “Muhammad is abtar!” they shouted as he passed. “Muhammad is cut off, [with no sons to carry his name and lineage forward]!” they gloated.
There were two different types of people among the enemies of Rasulullah, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wassalam. On the one hand there were those who maintained a sense of dignity and nobility, even as they opposed him, and weren’t crude or obnoxious in their attacks upon the Messenger of Allah. But on the other hand were those who stooped to every low in their hatred. These were people who dumped animal carcasses on him as he made Salah by the Ka’aba. They were those who tried to physically assault him on many occasions. And they were those who used the sad occasion of the deaths of his children to mock and degrade him, a despicable and low thing to do.
Today, as ever before, the character of the Rasulullah, is under attack. So-called Islam experts make millions every year, writing articles and books, doing interviews on Fox and conservative talk radio, defaming Muhammad, sallahu ‘alayhi wassalam. It gets the Muslims’ blood boiling when they see all the haters spew their venom online, brave behind the veil of anonymity the Internet provides. It’s hard to ignore or avoid it. One minute you’re rocking out to the Colors of Islam nasheed by Dawud Wharnsby on Youtube, then you scroll down to the comments and BAM! Out of nowhere someone’s trolling. These commentators don’t care that most people watching are kids; they don’t worry that by their words they’re putting down and bullying children. By their actions they show themselves to be the heirs of the riff-raff of Makkah. Just as the likes of Abu Jahl and Umayyah bin Khalaf drowned their humanity in hate, so too do these modern day Spencers and Gellars.
We need to have a controlled, effective response to this campaign of defamation, one driven neither by pure emotion nor pure apathy. Rasulullah held his head high and didn’t allow the attacks to stop him in his mission. He continued to call to Tawhid, the pure, beautiful monotheism of Islam. He continued to speak out against the social and economic evils practiced by his ignorant people. He continued in the mission Allah (swt) had entrusted him with. That is the man we model ourselves after. We will educate the people about who he was and what his message is. We will strive to imitate his character and his behavior as much as possible, and by holding tight to his Sunnah, show our love and honor for him.
The truth will be made clear to the world just as it was made clear to the Arabs in the time of Rasulullah and his companions. The most obnoxious leaders of Quraysh were killed, even as they marched to attack the Muslims, at the Battle of Badr. Since the day Islam returned to Makkah, idolatry was dealt a death-blow in the Hijaz, and the sound of La ilaha ilAllah has been resonating across the world.
And yet, this knowledge does not stop the words of the liars and defamers from piercing our hearts; it hurts us to hear the loud, angry voices turned against a man we hold so dear to our hearts.
But yet: Every day before the Sun rises in the East of the world, a Mu’addhin in Japan is declaring, “Ash hadu anna Muhammad ar-RasulAllah!” “I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah!” And as dawn nears the mountains and valleys of China, the thousands and millions people of the believing nations there wake up to that sound,multiplied manyfold by the repetition on their lips. And it echoes in the Sindh and the Punjab, in the mountains and highlands of Khurasaan. The mention of Muhammad is announced across the wide lands of Iraq and Shaam. The Hijaaz remembers its native son, as does the land of his ancient forefathers, Filasteen. As the Sun breaks through the night over the world, the teeming Muslim masses of Misr and the Maghrib, victorious yet still fighting for their lives, hear hope come again in the remembrance of the Messenger and his struggles. And the athaan is sounded in the modern metropolises of Europe, and in echoes across time from the jewel of the world, that was Al-Andalus. By this time, as Fajr comes to the Sea and the growing, thriving communities of Muslims in the lands west thereof, the lands east are again are calling the athaan for the time of Zhuhr and ‘Asr.
Not a single moment passes on Earth when the praise of the Messenger of Allah, sallahu ‘alayhi wassalam is not heard, not a single moment goes by in which thousands are not bearing witness to the truth of his Message. Compared to this, what are the all the lies and the propaganda put out by the enemies of the Messenger of Islam worth? Haters gonna hate! They are trying to extinguish light from the world by spitting at the Sun.