Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hollywood Imams

I must be a bigger fuddy-duddy than I thought because I'm finding the rich-and-famous lifestyles of many religious scholars quite scandalous.

Moving into upscale neighborhoods, driving fancy cars and jet-setting first class, a growing number of scholars preaching in American mosques are definitely living it up as they fulfill a strong demand for spiritual leaders for a burgeoning Muslim population.

I didn't realize how widespread the posh living was until I joined facebook--where many of them post photos, status updates as well as personal notes--and got a glimpse of their celebrity-like personas and ritzy ways.

Some examples:
  • Hot Wheels. "Sh. (Sheikh or scholar) picks me and some brothers up in a Rolls Royce!!!" one scholar boasts in his photo caption.
  • Swanky Hotels. Another scholar invites friends to his next speaking gig: The Fairmont San Jose Luxury Hotel.
  • Gourmet meals. This note accompanies a close-up picture of one scholar's dinner plate: "Crab, shrimp, green peas, mushroom and vegetarian stir-fry sauce. Bismillah (In the name of God) & al-Humdulillah (All praise is due to God)!" he writes.
  • Bold and Beautiful. "Tall, dark and handsome father of three and voted coolest imam (religious leader)" is how one scholar is described in the About section of his facebook page. 
  • Outrageous fees. Some are demanding up to $20,000 per lecture!
Wow. How did this happen?*

Religious scholars are supposed to draw our attention towards the Divine and away from  materialism, consumptionism and other worldly attachments that distract us from God. They must do so by emulating the lifestyle of Prophet Muhammad (S), who led a simple and humble life dedicated to fighting oppression and establishing God's system of social justice on earth.

But how can these scholars do that when they are neck-deep in chasing the "American Dream," unable to detach themselves from the materialistic allurements of this world?

"Anyone whose heart is overpowered by the love of this world is ruined," says scholar Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr. "But when love of this world overpowers the hearts of us, the students of theology, we not only ruin ourselves but we ruin others also."

That's because they lead us away from God. Scholars blinded by such materialism can't make the pure connection to God needed to understand, interpret and apply His teachings correctly, and that is why we should not follow them (regardless of how charismatic their personalities or entertaining their speeches).

God to Prophet David: Do not make a world-loving scholar a medium between Myself and you because he would take you away from My path. These people are robbers on the path of those who love Me.

Once accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, these scholars often end up compromising their God-given responsibility to speak the truth--weary of jeopardizing their popularity and material support--and give a blind eye to the injustices around them.

Hussain, the son of Fatima (one of the four perfect women of all times), condemned such scholars, who have been present in every time.

"O scholars, who are celebrated and enjoy good repute on account of your learning! You have taken lightly your duty as leaders. You have neglected the rights of the oppressed and the lowly, but have assidously pursued what you regard as your personal rights."

To lift ourselves and the world out of oppression and injustice, Muslims must recognize and turn to the true scholars (those with correct knowledge, piety and insight) for guidance and leadership on attaining success in this world and the Hereafter.

"Let's redefine the terms," says scholar Abbas Ayleya. "Let's not even call the person who does not practice his knowledge an aalim (religious scholar)."

I tried to get such a debate going after reading a series of congratulatory comments under the so-called scholar's Rolls Royce picture.

"Isn't it an oxymoron for a sheikh to be driving a Rolls Royce?" I asked.

"Nop3," came the swift response.**

I'm still confused. Was that a typo--or is the "3" the new "e"?
* While these scholars by no means represent the religious leadership across America, they are significant in that they head mosques in big cities and hold posts in major institutions. They have a huge following and influence on Muslims not only locally but also via the Internet.

**He later deleted my comment.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Don't Shop Til They Stop

My middle child has always followed her nose. When she was a toddler and something fragrant went missing (tiny perfume samples, smelly erasers, her little sister's new powder-scent baby Cabbage Patch doll), we knew where to find it. (See Material Girl)

So it came as no surprise to me when she started clamoring for the clip-on scented hand sanitizers all the rage in her kindergarten class this year.

Problem is we're boycotting the company that makes them. 

A few years ago my husband and I decided to start putting our money where our mouth is and joined the Boycott Israel movement. We stopped buying from some of the major corporate sponsors of the Zionist regime--called an apartheid system by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter--for its continued occupation of Palestine and the oppression of its people. 

Companies on our boycott list include:
  •  Disney
  •  McDonald's
  •  Starbucks
  •  Home Depot
  •  The Limited (Structure, Lerner NY, Bath & Body Works)
Making ethical purchasing choices is not some hippie, extremist or useless endeavor (as some around us have joked), but the responsibility of every person of good conscience serious about ending oppression.

For Muslims, it's an obligation as "aiding an oppressor" is considered among the greater sins.

God says: "And do not help one another in sin and oppression; and be careful of (your duty to) God; surely God is severe in requiting evil."(Quran 5:2)

Both Sunni and Shia scholars have issued edicts supporting such boycotts.

"The purchase of any item which helps strengthen Zionism is not permissible unless it reaches the point of necessity," according to Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Today's women, who make household purchases in eighty percent of homes, wield great economic power and can use it to bring about a more just world as did our predecessors.

When the Iranian government gave control over the lucrative tobacco market to British Imperialists in 1890, the country's women helped end the concession by strictly enforcing a temporary ban on consuming tobacco issued by the religious clerics. Not only did they refuse to serve their husbands water pipes but they also led protests to the royal palace, shutting down tobacco shops along the way.

Further back in history, Fatima (the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (S) and one of the four perfect women) exemplified a life of resistance against falsehood and oppression from early on. She showed great strength and resilience, for example, when her family endured a three-year economic and social boycott (which eventually led to her mother's death) for opposing the injustices around them.

"God advised people to do good and avoid evil so society can improve," Fatima later said.

Thankfully, our kids have been cooperative in upholding the boycott, and I've usually been able to find substitutes for banned items. But these scented sanitizers had me stumped. (Apparently, other brands don't smell as nice.)

Then a tween apparel catalog arrived at our house last week. Flipping through the pages, my six-year-old stopped on one that caught her eye, or perhaps her nose.

"I want this one and this one," she said, pointing to a popcorn and a root beer float "I Smell Yummy" t-shirt.

Relieved to have finally found an alternative (on sale!), I readily gave her my approval.

Saved--at least until next time.