Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Parenting a Tween!

When my eldest daughter dipped into a novel only after another student recommended it, I was quite miffed.

I had ordered the historical fiction The Watson's Go to Birmingham-1963 for her after having scanned many raving reviews online but couldn't persuade her to even crack it open all summer.

Then a random classmate pointed to it in the library earlier this week and said, "That's a great book!"

She was glued to the book for the next few days. Even the little girl on the cover was "cute" all of a sudden.

My ten-year-old is growing up and I'm not sure if I'm ready for it--or even like it. She's in her last year of elementary school and apparently entering the stage where age mates and their opinions are of growing importance, according to Mohamed Rida Beshir, author of Parenting in the West: An Islamic Perspective.

Here's the rub: The lifestyles of those peers (promoted through movies, television and even books) often don't match the way of life prescribed by God. So the friends have to be chosen very wisely.

Prophet Muhammad: "The conduct of everyone will be according to the beliefs and principles of his friend."

God: "And (remember) the day when the unjust one shall bite his hands saying: O! Would that I had taken a way with the Messenger! O, woe is me! Would that I had not taken such a one for a friend! Certainly he led me astray from the reminder after it had come to me." (Quran  25:27-29)

Ali ibn Hussain, great grandson of Fatima (one of the four perfect women of all times) gave his son detailed instructions on how to select a companion.

"O my son, don't befriend five types of people:

1. Don't befriend a liar. For a liar is like a mirage. He shows the distant as near and the near as distant. He will always deceive you and trouble you.

2. Don't befriend a transgressor. He will make God's worship appear as His disobedience, and His disobedience as His worship.

3. Never befriend a miser. For in your time of need and distress, he will withhold his wealth from you while he is in a position to assist you.

4. Do not befriend a fool. For (in his foolishness) he will harm you while he intends to help you.

5. Don't befriend the one who breaks relations (with his relatives). He is engrossed in his own affairs with scant regard for others."

While I realize friends will continue to play a greater role in my kids' lives, I'm not ready to take a backseat.

That's because scholars say a mother's job is never done. Rather, it evolves though adjustments, tweaks and creativity.

Imam Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran: "Respected ladies! You are responsible for the upbringing of the children; you have the duty of nurturing virtuous children in your care to hand over to society. We all have this duty, but it is in your care that they receive a better upbringing."

"Children must be guided towards choosing good books," says children's author Tahera Kassamali. "Not necessarily boring or didactic ones, but ones which have value in their stories and language."

When my daughter wrinkled her nose at the classic novel Pollyanna, which I purchased for her yesterday for an upcoming road trip, I didn't push it.

"That's okay," I said. "[Younger sister] can read it. It's about a really nice girl, kind of like Sara in the The Little Princess (the ten-year-old's favorite character)."

"Really? She can read it," my daughter said, "but only after me."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Eid Reflections

As a child, my favorite part of the Eid holiday was the melodious chants heard from afar as my sisters and I--dressed in assorted colors of the same traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez outfit and matching glass bangles--approached the mosque for morning prayers.

Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!
God is the Greatest! God is the Greatest! God is the Greatest!

La Illaah Illallah!
There is no diety but God!

Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!

Wa Lillahil Hamd!
All Praise is due to God!

Allahu Akbar Katheera!
God is even more Greatest....

This week that recitation has been echoing at mosques around the world as Muslims celebrate the three days of Eid marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. 

By repeating Allahu Akbar in unison and aloud, Muslims are supposed to be reminding ourselves and others that it is God who is the Greatest (and not us, our cultures, our traditions, society or any other power or even Superpower) as we struggle to fulfill our responsibility to Him to purify ourselves and help establish social justice on earth. 

"If we have fasted Ramadan as a matter of commitment and as a matter of investment in God then this is the time when we assert that God is greater than all of the challenges and all of the dangers and all of the threats that come our way," says Imam Muhammad Asi of the Islamic Center in Washington.

But in most mosques, while God is still Great, pleasing Uncle Sam is apparently of greater importance. 

We know that because not only are our leaders silent about the social, economic, political, military injustices being carried out by Washington ("If you see some Muslims scared to say the truth, that means when they say Allahu Akbar they don't know what they are saying," according to Asi.), but they are also now buddying up with government agencies and playing follow-the-leader in unprecedented ways.

"Today, when we Muslims are inside a mosque, we pay heed to every temporal power rival to God--presidents, princes, the FBI, intelligence agencies, the media--giving them all they want in terms of modifying our behavior, agreeing to their talking points, managing our activities according to their 'rules of order,' and forbidding ourselves the freedom of speech and assembly that we are supposed to have as citizens of a free society," says Afeef Khan, also an imam at the Islamic Center of Washington.

Indeed, the kowtowing has gotten so extensive that a former New York police official was prompted to write an op-ed in the New York Times (2/20/2012) reminding the American Muslim community that "Uncle Sam Is Not An Imam."

Like now, unjust governments have always tried to step in and manage the power of the faithful, who they know have the potential to bring about peace and justice for all.

When Ali ibn Musa, great grandson of Fatima (one of the four perfect women of all times) was going to lead Eid prayers for the first time, wearing white clothes, no shoes and chanting Allahu Akbar, a huge crowd of barefooted worshippers joined him. This terrified the tyrranical ruler so much he decided to lead the prayers himself.

While millions around the world ended Ramadan by organizing demonstrations of solidarity with the oppressed last weekend, none of the mosques in our area participated. 

Instead, nine of them united for the first time and put together a "Community Eid Carnival," sponsored by (drum roll, please) the spanking new American Muslim Advisory Council, formed to serve as "a bridge between the Muslim community and federal, state and local enforcement as well as other government and private agencies."

As the great poet and thinker Allama Iqbal quipped:

Eid of the truly free is the splendor of a community
Eid of the slaves is just a crowd of Muslims

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ruffled Feathers

My daughter usually doesn't mind coming to Quran reading-time, but her mood quickly deteriorates as I start correcting her Arabic pronunciation.

Me: It's "lay" not "lee."
Daughter: "Lee." (Starts fidgeting.)

Me: "Inna," stress the nnn.
Daughter: "Innna!" (Toes now curling.)

Me: Are you sure that's "ka"?
Daughter: "Fa!!!" (Head scratching and voice quivering, approaching the point of no return.)

While I'm usually able to navigate it so we finish the lesson without a complete meltdown, my daughter's sensitivity to being corrected makes these ten minutes of the day quite a stress bucket.

Like my little spitfire, most people find it difficult to take corrections or criticism. But those striving to perfect themselves to soar to proximity to God must not only learn to accept it but should also welcome it with open arms.

"Among my brothers my favorite is one who informs me of my failings and defects," said Jafar al-Sadiq, great grandson of Fatima, one of the four perfect women of all times.

In our quest for self-improvement and purification, we need to reform ourselves, and because we don't always see our own faults, critical words coming from the bird's eye view of others can alert us to weaknesses we can begin eliminating.

God: "I swear by the...soul and Him who made it perfect, then inspired it to understand what is right and wrong for it. He will indeed be successful who purifies it and he will indeed fail whoever pollutes it and corrupts it." (Quran 91: 1-10)

The consequences are indeed dire for those of us unable to take criticism constructively. God gives the example of Pharaoh, the husband of Asiya (another perfect women of all times) as someone who corrupts himself because of this inability. God asks Prophet Moses, their adopted son, to go to Pharaoh and tell him to correct his ways. The following is Pharaoh's response to Moses:

"But (Pharaoh) rejected it and disobeyed (guidance). Further, he turned his back, striving hard (against God). Then he made a proclamation, saying: 'I am your Lord, Most High.' But God did punish him, (and made an example of him) in the Hereafter as in this life." (79: 21-25)

Not only do we have to suppress our inner Pharaoh when we're criticized in day-to-day dealings, but we must also make sure that that Pharaoh, or dictatorship of the inner self, doesn't gain power when we face criticism in leadership positions--whether in the family, places of worship or political scene.

Imam Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, insisted that public figures be open to criticism because it is an important channel of communication through which they can evaluate the effectiveness of their policies.

"There should be criticism; without criticism a society cannot be reformed," Imam Khomeini said. "This is also true with faults. Man is defective from head to foot and these defects must be stated."

In the end, the best source of criticism is often the last place we want to hear it from--our spouses!

"Who is it that sees the bad side of us, afterall?" asks scholar Salim Yusufali. "We know when we get back home that's when our true colors are revealed."

Hope my husband doesn't read this and think he's getting the green light...guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Build Mosques, Not Country Clubs

After the recent string of violence, destruction and vandalism at houses of worship across America, stepping-up security at our local mosque--slated to open Friday after two years of intense controversy, including angry protests, lawsuits and even a burnt down tractor--seems like a no-brainer.

Tensions in this medium-sized town in the "Buckle of the Bible Belt" have indeed been high as many local politicians, media outlets and even religious leaders stoked the flames of Islamophobia in their drive to shut out the mosque.

While some common-sense security measures are in order for the safety of worshippers, God, the owner of the mosque, has provided us with His own instructions on how to protect the sanctity and well-being of His house. 

And it's not by putting up barriers. 

It's by relentlessly calling for and striving towards the establishment of the universally-accepted principles of social justice in society. The mosque is supposed to be a beacon, refuge and hope for the (growing numbers of) poor, needy and disenfranchised, thereby building bridges with the most oppressed segments of society. 

God: "Say (O Muhammad): 'My Lord has commanded justice; and that you set your whole selves (to Him) at every time and place of prayer....'" (Quran 7: 29)

The mosque established in Medina by Prophet Muhammad (S) 1400 years ago sets the example. Shortly after erecting a simple congregational prayer room and adjacent living area for himself and his family, the Prophet ordered the construction of a platform (suffa in Arabic) for the local homeless.

The Prophet (S), who used to sit, converse and share the best of his food with these refuge-takers, chided those who avoided them: “Do you fear that the poverty of the poor will be transferred to you?”

And he did not stop there. 

Prophet Muhammad (S) challenged the status quo and strove to change the conditions perpetuating injustice in society.  Our mosque must do likewise by raising objections to all forms of oppression and coming up with creative alternatives to the failed systems of capitalism and imperialism wreaking havoc around the world today.

Prophet Muhammad (S): "A moment of justice is better than seventy years of worship in which you keep fasts and pass the nights in offering prayers and worship to God."

With the country's economy, morality and healthcare in free fall, our society is in desperate need of such solutions, and it is the duty of the mosque to provide them. One frustrated rural town in Mississippi, for example, is already adopting an Iranian model of preventive healthcare to better serve its poor.

Indeed, it takes strong conviction, moral courage and perseverance to stand up to oppression, especially in an atmosphere like ours charged with hate, racism and xenophobia. That's why most U.S. mosque leaders (90% by some estimates) forego this God-given responsibility to the detriment of themselves and their communities.

"These mosques have become burial grounds for today's Muslims," says Imam Muhammad Asi of the Islamic Center in Washington. "They go there to bury their heads, conceal their thoughts and cover their minds."

Ali, the husband of Fatima, one of the four perfect women of all times, tried to reinforce the social fabric of the mosques during his tenure as leader of the Muslims but faced immense resistance from the old-guard creeping back into power. Ali was eventually assassinated (in these last days of Ramadan) while praying in the mosque but he did not give up even then.

While lying bloodied by a poisoned sword, Ali saw that the rope tying the hands of his captured assassin was tight and cutting into his flesh.  He immediately ordered the people to loosen it and treat the murderer more humanely, fulfilling the following Divine command:

"…Do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just…." (5:8)

We must do the same.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Khutbaaz (Sermons)

Below you will find summaries of Friday prayer sermons given this month that encourage people to oppose systems of oppression and establish social justice. Why? See my post: Preaching Justice.

Summaries will resume the weekend of September 7, God willing.

"Foil 'Divide & Conquer' By Forging Unity, Ending Fanatacism"
By Imam Muhammad Asi of the Islamic Center of Washington
Friday, August 24, 2012

If humanity wants to prosper, people should celebrate their differences and not allow mischief-makers to turn them into forces of division, bigotry and bloodshed.

A growing number of countries (most recently Syria) are on fire as those seeking to maintain hegemony over the world and its resources aim to do so by exploiting religious divisions (Sunni vs Shia, Muslim vs Christian/Jewish) and inciting hatred and mayhem.

"No one is telling you, me and the public that there are common enemies, intelligence agencies, mercenaries, informers, paramilitaries and even special operations forces in the thick and thin of what they want to become lasting divisions among the Muslims," Imam Muhammad Asi told his congregation.

But God and Prophet Muhammad (S) warned us of these obstacles to progress and instructed us to stay calm, collected and united.

God: "And hold fast, all of you all together, to the rope of God and be not divided amongst yourselves." (Quran 3: 103)

Prophet Muhammad (S): "All people are God's family. The most beloved by God is the one who is of most service to His family."

"If we can't acquire accurate information and immunize ourselves by what God and His Prophet are telling us, then we are going to fall into the abyss they have prepared for us--all of us," Asi warned.

Asi said there have always been fanatics and extremists in every generation of mankind and they cannot be supported and allowed to destroy society through their false interpretations of Divine scripture.

"Differences? We have differences," Asi said. "We are not carbon copies of each others."

"It's part of our creation to acknowledge differences. But these differences should never-ever become a matter of justification for wars and bloodshed and mayhem and divisions in society."

Asi said the scholar most Muslim extremists refer to, Ibn Taymiyyah of the fourteenth century, actually demonstrated love for and unity with others.

For example, he took offense when the Mongol invaders only agreed to free the Muslim prisoners.

"Ibn Taymiyyah said, 'No, if you are going to release the prisoners you are going to release all of them, the Christians and Jews along with the Muslims,'" according to Asi.

Asi said there is no room in the world nor basis in Scripture for "ill-tempered, trigger-happy, insular" people. On the contrary, the strong Muslims are those who stay committed to God and principled (as revitalized by fasting in the previous month of Ramadan) regardless of the pressures around them.

God says: "And the servants of The Merciful are the ones who walk with ease on earth and if they are addressed by the ignorant they say, "Peace!" (25:63)

"This is the epitome of confidence that comes from a will power that doesn't negotiate, that doesn't hide, that doesn't apologize for its principles," Asi said.

Asi said Muslims should be building these types of personalities and not just structural buildings. After all, Prophet Muhammad (S) did not build any mosques for the first 13 years of his mission.

"He wasn't concerned with the types of issues today's Muslims are concerned with," Asi said. "Look how many mosques we have in the world. But do we have strong Muslims who can walk into these mosques?"

Click here to listen to Imam Asi's complete sermon.

Meet Imam Asi, author of The Ascendant Quran, the first exegesis (tafsir) of the Holy Book directly into English, at the ISNA Convention in Washington on Labor Day weekend (Aug. 31-Sept. 3). Booth #215


"Uprooting Zionism Will Bring Justice For All"
By Imam Muhammad Asi of the Islamic Center of Washington
Friday, August 17, 2012

After fasting for four weeks to gain proximity to God, Muslims should emerge from the month of Ramadan with the courage to speak the Divinely-ordained truth to power: The Zionist occupation of Palestine must end for social justice to prevail on earth.

"Justice cannot be done in this world as long as the Zionist, racist, expansionist occupation of the Holy Lands persists," Imam Muhammad Asi said in his sermon on Al-Quds Day, commemorated worldwide on the last Friday in Ramadan to express  solidarity with all those suffering under oppression, in particular, the Palestinians.

Asi said it is God who exposes the Zionists as the source of world-wide oppression (social injustice, political scheming, military wars, economic plundering).

"And we conveyed to the Children of Israel in the Scripture that, 'You will surely cause corruption on the earth twice, and you will surely reach [a degree of] great haughtiness.'" (Quran 17: 4)

"God speaks about a topic humans don't have the courage to speak about," Asi said. "Our Scripture has not been corrupted. Our problem is God's words are there but our minds are corrupted."

"God revealed His words to be hidden?" Asi asks. "I hide it? I don't say it? I don't explain it? I don't expose the crimes against humanity?"

Asi said Zionism is not confined to the Holy Lands but "has its tentacles stretched throughout the world," thanks to the support of the governments in Washington and Saudi Arabia and the Zionist control of religious institutions, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim.

To prevent the people of the Middle East from rising up against it, adherents of Zionism (including the regime in Saudi Arabia) are stirring up sectarian strife in country after country, most recently in Syria, according to Asi.

"These Zionists pit Muslim against Muslim and spread this fitna (disunity and infighting) through the Muslim world so Muslims kill Muslims," Asi said. "And they can sit back and watch this scenario and laugh all the way to the military-industrial-banking complex out of which they are making a killing out of our killings."

But Asi says Zionism will eventually face defeat.

"It is going to take the free souls that are liberated from the shackles of their lies and fabrication, souls that can breathe freedom, dignity and justice with every breath that is taken to bring an end to the problem that seems unable to go away."

Click here to listen to Imam Asi's complete sermon.

Meet Imam Asi, author of The Ascendant Quran, the first exegesis (tafsir) of the Holy Book directly into English, at the ISNA Convention in Washington on Labor Day weekend (Aug. 31-Sept. 3). Booth #215


"Freeing Ourselves This Ramadan"
By Imam Muhammad Asi of the Islamic Center of Washington
Friday, August 10, 2012

True freedom can only be achieved by taking control of our carnal desires in conformance with God's rules so we can free our societies from oppression.

By abstaining from food, drink and other pleasures while fasting in Ramadan, Muslims receive annual training on the strengthening of will power over animal instincts, which is needed to establish just societies in accordance with God's dictates.

"Are we ingesting hunger, thirst and deprivation so we can expel them from our societies?"  asked Imam Asi during his Friday sermon.

Only by keeping our individual selfish desires in check can we build a society that is prosperous for all.

Prophet Muhammad (S) demonstrated the importance of this by relating a story of the traveler on a boat. This passenger was barred from drilling a hole under his seat to obtain water more efficiently because it would have brought the whole ship down.

"This is not a jungle," Asi said. "If you want to do something that is easy for you but is going to destroy society you don't have the freedom to do that."

While trying to establish justice in society, those seeking it will face resistance.

According to the Quran, it is only those able to overpower their base desires who will overcome the enemy:

On his way to fight the oppressive Goliath, for example, Saul (Talut in Arabic) forbade his soldiers from drinking water from the river. Just a handful who had control over their desires complied, and it was this small cadre who went on to defeat Goliath with God's help.

"When Saul set forth with the enemies, he said: 'God will test you at the stream. If any drinks of its water, he goes not with my army. Only those who taste not of it go with me. A mere sip out of the hand is excused. '

But they all drank of it except a few. When they crossed the river, he and the faithful ones with him, they said, 'This day we cannot cope with Goliath and his forces.' But those who were convinced that they must meet God said, 'How oft by God's will, has a small force vanquished a big one? God is with those who steadfastly persevere." (Quran 2: 249)

"When we deny our lower instincts, we invite the company of God," Asi said. "And if you are out to defeat an enemy, the enemy will be defeated."

Those opposed to the freedom, independence and prosperity of countries in the Muslim world are currently focused on inciting sectarianism and violence in countries like Syria.

"The Imperialist Zionists have bleeding hearts now for Syria?" Asi questioned. "Remember, they are responsible for the carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places. They are on both sides. They want this bloodletting to continue."

Asi said the Saudi government (in cahoots with the American and Israeli governments) is funding the terror in Syria, and Sunnis and Shias must get to know one another, cooperate with one another and through unity defeat their enemies.

"Let's grow out of  this individualism and let's take care of our social character," he concluded.

Click here to listen to Imam Asi's complete sermon.

Meet Imam Asi, author of The Ascendant Quran, the first exegesis (tafsir) of the Holy Book directly into English, at the ISNA Convention in Washington on Labor Day weekend (Aug. 31-Sept. 3). Booth #215

"Breaking Our Fast As One"
By Imam Muhammad Asi of the Islamic Center of Washington
Friday, August 3, 2012

Those who observe their fasts correctly this month should develop the affinity, will power and determination to together tackle the worldwide epidemics of hunger and starvation.

"If we are fasting as we should be fasting, we should be concerned with those billions of people with whom we are now sharing their life (of hunger)," Asi said during his sermon.

To challenge the unjust systems that perpetuate widespread deprivation, much resolve is needed and fasting helps us attain it.

During the competition between one's physical prowess and spiritual/motivational powers (morale, will power, determination) in Ramadan, it is the latter that gains strength and ought to become the guiding force.

"Our fasting is supposed to take us into the mess in world affairs so that we can sort it out when we qualify. We don't qualify by virtue of our muscular or military or material strength. We qualify because we have liberated our intentions. We have freed our will power and we can step into these world affairs and straighten them up."

That means we cannot be satisfied with feasting and gorging on fancy meals at the end of the day while others still go hungry.

"You want to fill your stomach and [the stomachs of] all those around you," Asi said. "We live in a human family and a worldwide neighborhood."

"Hunger becomes one. Thirst becomes one. Deprivation becomes one. And the breaking of this fast becomes one."

Unfortunately, too many Muslims fast in a traditional way, concentrating only on the individual benefits of daytime abstinence while neglecting its social aspects, according to Asi.

"It is ironic that some Muslim centers understand that they are required to defeat their desires and lusts and greed in their own selves but when we expand their horizons they can no longer see the lusts of people in power and the machinations of people in finance."

Asi says this is mainly because their mosque leaders hold wealth and power but neither merit nor virtuous characteristics. Too many are funded by the Saudi regime, which benefits from maintaining the status quo and is even planning "wars that will make rivers of blood flow in Muslim countries," says Asi.

Asi has a few parting words for them:

"Our combined will being nurtured in this month of Ramadan shall overcome your swords, your bombs, your militaries and your intelligence agencies."

Click here to listen to Imam Asi's complete sermon.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Repelling Evil

When my preschooler shared with me what another girl said to her in class, my mama bear instinct took over.

"She said, 'That shirt (navy uniform top with pink rose buds and glittery writing) is pretty but all the other clothes in your closet are not.'"

"What?!" I exclaimed. "You should have---"

"I told her all the clothes in her closet are pretty," my youngest said in between sobs.

Oooh, that was definitely not the response I had in mind. Sensing my baby had been hurt, a primal emotion had risen up from deep inside me. It wanted that girl put in her place--swiftly and permanently--even if it took a few strong words.

But my daughter's choice to repay with kindness is the way we are supposed to go, and it was at that moment that I realized how far I am from having inculcated those types of superior manners in myself.

Indeed, God teaches us that not only are we not supposed to stoop to the low manners of those who misbehave with us, but we are supposed to transform them (and society) through our response, which must always tread the higher moral ground.

God: "Nor can goodness and evil be equal. Repel (evil) with that which is better. Then will he between whom and you was hatred become as it were your friend and intimate." (41: 34)

"It doesn't help by fighting fire with fire," says scholar Salim Yusufali.

Prophet Muhammad (S): "Shall I inform you of the best traits of this world and the Hereafter? It is condoning those who wrong you, associating with those who breach relations with you, showing benevolence to those who mistreat you and granting those who deprive you."

Such traits were exhibited by Ali ibn Hussain, grandson of Fatima, one of the four perfect women of all times. Once a man showered him with insults while he was leaving a mosque. Ali's slaves started to punish the man but he stopped them and said to the reviler: I am more than what you have said, and you have ignored more than what you know about me.

The man was shamed by these words. Ali proceeded to give him his shirt and 1,000 dirhams. The man then confessed: "I must declare that this is one of the Prophet's sons."

Activists clamoring for a more just and peaceful society have also demonstrated such behavior in recent history. During the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Imam Khomeini asked protestors to  march peacefully in the streets and hand out flowers to Shah's military personnel, utilizing the most effective of nonviolent techniques. Egyptian protestors in Tahrir Square did the same last year [pictured above].

"Be like the flower that gives fragrance to even the hand that crushes it," said Ali, husband of Fatima.

My daughter's benevolence paid off, and that too, quickly. Later that day while laying out blankies for nap time, her classmate whispered to her:

"Actually, all the clothes in your closet are pretty too."