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Da’wah to Christians in a northern Midwestern state October 3, 2011

Posted by BrownS in Da'wah.
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Bismillah walhamdulillah

Around the summer of 2010 there was a period of time when public Islamophobia in the US was heightened and aggravated. I remember feeling as if things were going to get overwhelming soon. Alhamdulillah, the hysteria died down (at least in public) but it made me and a dear friend realize one thing: we’ve really gotta step up our da’wah efforts in this country or things were going to get really bad really soon. Islamophobes can use television and newspapers to spread their venom, but we can and should be using our privilege of being on the ground and ability to establish personal connections to undo their damage (and they’ve been at it for at least a decade now). I’ve learned that knowing even one Muslim, or having heard from one Muslim can be enough for people to look past the superficial propaganda they hear from other sources.

Alhamdulillah, being at one of the few masajid in a mid-sized city one gets to interface with visiting school and church groups if one is so interested. Last year around Fall a church group visited our masjid and a followup opportunity came up to continue the conversation we were having with the larger congregation, as well as to address an adult education class at their church. My friend and I grabbed this with both hands and it went on to yield even more opportunities with more churches alhamdulillah. This marked the beginning of our semi-structured da’wah efforts with churches in my state. Our visits have two main purposes: 1) To present the message of Islam the best we can and to fulfil our obligation of da’wah and 2) to personalize Muslims in the minds of those who live around us and clarify common misconceptions so that they at least don’t hate us. Alhamdulillah we have been able to visit a few churches since February and have a few more lined up for this month. Some observations from our experiences follow. I’m not a very good storyteller so please bear with me.

Our first visits were to two rural towns in my state. (more…)

Wasbir Nafsak – Make patient your self January 8, 2011

Posted by BrownS in Uncategorized.

Keep yourself patiently with those who call on their Lord. So begins one ayah in Surat Kahf. Even before I started paying attention to what stuff really means, this ayah was one of my landmarks in this surah, just due to its distinctive words and beautiful sound (especially the way Tawfeeq As-Sayegh reads it mashaAllah). Allah says:

وَاصْبِرْ نَفْسَكَ  مَعَ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُمْ بِالْغَدَاةِ وَالْعَشِيِّ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَهُ ۖ وَلَا تَعْدُ عَيْنَاكَ عَنْهُمْ تُرِيدُ زِينَةَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَلَا تُطِعْ مَنْ أَغْفَلْنَا قَلْبَهُ عَنْ ذِكْرِنَا وَاتَّبَعَ هَوَاهُ وَكَانَ أَمْرُهُ فُرُطًا

Keep yourself content (or patiently) with those who call on their Lord in the morning and the evening, seeking His Face. And do not let your eyes overlook them desiring the pomp and glitter of the life of this world. And do not obey that person whose heart I have made heedless to My remembrance, one who follows their own desires and whose deeds have become lost.

Sh. Bilal Philips has a great audio tafseer of this surah up on Kalamullah. I took some notes on this verse and tidied it up for this post. I want to focus on the beginning, i.e. the patience part but inevitably there will be links to the other parts.

The Prophet (saws) is being instructed to sit with those who remember Allah, those who praise Him, declare His greatness, say laa ilaha illallah, those who call on Him morning and evening for their needs. And this encompasses all people who do this, which rich, poor, strong or weak (this is important because of what comes near the end). And this part of the ayah has both general (for us) and specific (for the Prophet( saws)) implications. It begins with a command for patience, patience in righteousness.

So what does “be patient” here mean? When we think of patience, we typically associate it with some kind of trial or calamity. Imam ibnul Qayyim (rahimahullah) noted that patience is required in basically 3 areas: (more…)

Intention and Conviction August 23, 2010

Posted by BrownS in Uncategorized.

Subhanallah. Intention is everything. Much has been said about intention and the famous hadith of ‘Umar (ra) but here is a reflection from a slightly different angle. This is another one of those things I learnt a while ago but whose full import is hitting me now. I didn’t really think much of it then and didn’t think it was all that relevant to me but over the past few days it’s been popping up all the time in my mind. The specific lesson has to do with a plan and with conviction.

The word hamm in Arabic can mean an idea or a thought (or concern, but that definition isn’t germane to this discussion). Now there can be two kinds of hamm: one that is accompanied with conviction (‘azimah) and one that isn’t. Here’s the thing: one of my teachers said the reward or punishment from Allah can apply to a plan we have with conviction. So if a thought came to us involving some kind of sin, and we decided and made a firm plan or intention to go forward with it, that sin is written for us right there regardless of whether circumstances allow us to follow through on our plan or not. If it is fear of Allah that makes us not follow through later, then that’s OK, but if something else caused it to not happen and we were forced by other factors to abandon it, that sin is still written for us. Similarly for good deeds, if we make a firm plan to do an ‘amalun salih but circumstances prevent us from actualizing it, inshaAllah we get the reward for it. A classical example given to demonstrate this point is say for example someone intends to rob some place but is unable to do so. He doesn’t refrain from fear of Allah, but rather he’s forced to abandon his plan due to other reasons. He still gets the sin – regardless of whether he did it or not, as long as he doesn’t repent. Same thing with someone out to commit zina – even if they ended up not committing it due to something other than the fear of Allah, that’s a kabeerah sin right there.

(Sahih Bukhari) Volume 1, Book 2, Number 30:

Narrated Al-Ahnaf bin Qais:

While I was going to help this man (‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib), Abu Bakr met me and asked, “Where are you going?” I replied, “I am going to help that person.” He said, “Go back for I have heard Allah’s Apostle saying, ‘When two Muslims fight (meet) each other with their swords, both the murderer as well as the murdered will go to the Hell-fire.’ I said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! It is all right for the murderer but what about the murdered one?’ Allah’s Apostle replied, “He surely had the intention to kill his companion.”

When I first heard this I just wrote it down and moved on because it seemed academic and I didn’t relate to it immediately. But on further thought a few days later I realized (more…)

Jerseys & Relevance of ‘Ulema and Maqasid July 21, 2010

Posted by BrownS in Uncategorized.

Don’t wear ‘devilish’ Man Utd jersey, Muslims warned

Here’s what I want to know: How did ‘ulema in different regions of the world get so marginalized and so irrelevant that they end up doing similar desperate things in order to grab some relevance back? What was the historical sequence of events that relegated our scholars to this position?

I don’t see the use in criticizing them for making a big issue out of something like this (and they do – you have major ‘ulema talking about something that is comparatively trivial). It’s a natural reaction to lash out and grab at anything in order to save oneself from drowning (in this case, in a sea of irrelevance). It’s not that this is something they shouldn’t educate the Muslims about, it’s the fact that they don’t really educate the masses about other things. Why aren’t the top ‘ulema coming and issuing statements the way they did about this on issues or far greater import like social justice and family rearing and fairness in trade and sticking to agreements and being professional and not wasting time and all those other things? If they’re going to devote this much attention to football shirts and not to other issues, does it mean that shirts are more important than the other things?

Back to my question: I really want to trace the historical events that relegated our ‘ulema to this position. Clearly colonial practices had a lot to do with this. But what was it within the Muslims that catalyzed this? Was it prosperity? How did such secular ideas seep into our society? When and how did our elite decide that it was “cool” to reduce religion?

This goes back to another common characteristic among Muslims today. We call out people for not having a beard or not wearing hijab, but we don’t call them out for being rude, or being late, or not smiling, or not saying salam, or not treating their family in an “aHsan” manner, or dealing in riba, or whatever. We just don’t. I think one reason for that is that beard and hijab are very visually apparent, self-contained, and individual things. The other things are abstract, they don’t hit your eyes. Despite that I think we need to hold ourselves to higher standards and proportionate our efforts between important and not-as-important things. We can’t be content at the level we are now because it is a level of superficiality.

I heard this within the past few days but I’m not sure exactly where or who said this. I find it extremely annoying (more…)

Beautifying Deeds July 11, 2010

Posted by BrownS in Uncategorized.

Allah SWT says in the Qur’an that Shaytaan beautifies our deeds for us (e.g. 29:38, 27:24, 8:48) and makes them seem beautiful to us.

…  وَزَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الشَّيْطَانُ أَعْمَالَهُمْ

One clear meaning of this is that he makes bad deeds seem beautiful to us and attracts us to evil that way. Here are two possible additional meanings. Note that the word ‘aamaal in the Qur’an in these cases  is unqualified with either saalih or saiyyiah, or even any adjective. In contrast, at some places when Allah says He beautifies deeds, it’s clear what kind of deeds He is referring to (e.g. 49:7). So when something is unqualified, it could be either good deeds or bad deeds. How does Shaytaan beautify good deeds?

  • Ar-Razi said in his tafseer that one way this can be done is by making deeds of lesser reward more appealing to us. Shaytaan seeks to make us busy with what we’re doing now so that we don’t contemplate doing better deeds.
  • Another way that he might do this by beautifying our past deeds, to make them seem like they’re worth something, like they were accepted for sure. This is quite dangerous because it can lead to arrogance and complacency. One way to keep this in perspective is by looking at the sublime example of Ibrahim (as). This Prophet of Allah did perhaps the most valuable deed of all in this world: he (as) built the Ka’aba. Can there be a better example of such massive and perpetual hasanah royalty? Every time a Muslim prays, or does tawaf or anything, the Ka’aba is central to their actions. But right after doing this amazing deed, what were his (as)’s words? (more…)

Grad school and Balance July 8, 2010

Posted by BrownS in Uncategorized.

Addendum: This post is not only about grad school obviously, the ruminations in it apply to any situation where one experiences time pressure and finds it hard to balance that with healthy progress on the path to purification.

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out how to balance grad school with Rest of Life. Of course, for many grad students Rest of Life is a work hazard. At some point, at least in my field, in order to progress it feels as if one needs to let the area of research take over one’s entire brainspace. You need to be walking, talking and breathing the topic you’re working on. You need to be doing a lot of reading, making connections with other people’s research and approaching a problem from all conceivable angles and trying everything you can think of. Every minute you’re not doing this, somebody else is. And they could be moving ahead.

A dear friend and mentor was back in town a while ago and I took the opportunity to ask him what a Muslim is supposed to do in this situation. A situation which leaves little time or brainspace for pursuing other things like learning or memorizing or extra worship. Now of course, one can never completely master time management but I’m assuming that the lack of time and brainspace are not due to laziness or indiscipline or sloppy time management. I received primarily 3 pieces of advice:

  • Allah SWT says in the Qur’an in Suratu ash-Sharh

    فَإِذَا فَرَغْتَ فَانْصَبْ وَإِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ فَارْغَبْ

    The rough translation of which could be:
    So when you have finished (your occupation), devote yourself to Allâh’s worship. And to your Lord (Alone) turn (all your) intentions and hopes.

    The lesson here is to not slack off from Allah’s worship due to heightened pressure at work, but rather to increase in it. That is the source of succor and the source of support. It is very tempting to use the excuse of being overwhelmed to skip certain ‘ibadaat. In fact Shaytaan makes it seem easy and natural and justified. But one needs to fight that momentary waswasa and be aware of this and motivate oneself to increase rather than decrease.

    Imam ibn Taymiyyah used to say that if he didn’t get his morning dhikr in properly, he would feel deficient in capacity to face the rest of the day. This scholar, who was a prolific writer and debater found his strength in his worship and remembrance of Allah.

  • Don’t give up on delivering khutbahs (or halaqas or whatever) because you have other work to do. There are several benefits involved here: 1) It forces you to keep your intention pure 2) It forces you to act upon what you preach for fear of hypocrisy and 3) The preparation involved substitutes as a learning experience and as a reminder.
  • Keep good company, the kind who can sense you slipping in ‘ibadah and nudge you back on track. For if you begin to get caught up in work and let go of some good deed you used to do, Shaytaan keeps reducing its importance in your eyes and it may be a while (much longer than you intended) before you come back to it.

Of course one can never forget that the strength to do all of this comes from Allah SWT, so rely on Him alone, and make His support firm and reliable by periodically purifying your intention and making sure that all this work is for His sake.

May Allah SWT reward this brother for concise and simple advice.

I saw a bumper sticker in Michigan the other day that went: “How’s that change going for ya?”

Emotional Reactions – Muslim Sentiment and FB June 3, 2010

Posted by BrownS in Uncategorized.

“Man, if you really truly loved the Prophet (saws) you’d delete your Facebook account right now”

EDIT: This post isn’t about whether Muslims should be using something like Facebook or not – that’s a separate debate on its own and it best left outside this question. This is about an appropriate reaction to the drawing controversy only.

Why is it that we Muslims typically don’t react in a measured and strategic manner? I get quite frustrated when I hear conflated arguments and red herrings and emotional responses from my brothers. The FB fiasco of a couple of weeks ago is a case in point. I’ve had several (well-intentioned) people arguing with me about closing our FB accounts. I didn’t really keep up with the sequence of events, but as far as I know here’s what happened (please correct me if I’m wrong). Someone decided to make a FB group for some event caricaturing the Prophet (saws). Some people complained to FB that it was a group hurtful to Muslims. FB deleted that group. Another group popped up. Then a few more. More people complained. FB decided the group could stay.

Now the argument goes – since FB allowed our Prophet (saws) to be insulted and they could have prevented it but instead chose to condone it, we should have no part of it. Someone a little more sophisticated might say that FB is applying double standards because they don’t allow pages about that German dude from 65 years ago, and that because they’re singling out Muslims and condoning their insult we should disassociate ourselves from FB.

So this happened. The question is, how does the Muslim react? Or rather, what is a good reaction? (more…)

Random May 21, 2010

Posted by BrownS in Uncategorized.
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These are some interesting op-eds I came across in the recent past, plus an incident from today.

Knowledge, Truth and Human Action: America Hits the Wall
This one is just great. It’s a little more abstract than regular op-eds but I think it really hits the mark. It basically talks about why the truth about so many things is so obscure from most people today, or if it’s not why they have such a hard time accepting it that they ignore it. Some excerpts:

This debasement of truth stems from two misguided beliefs that many Americans hold. They affect much of American society and define the American psyche. One belief is that the truth emerges from a debate between adversaries. The other is the belief that everyone has a right to his/her own opinion.
The point is that no debate between adversaries will reveal the truth if neither is willing to check the facts, or as is often the case in politics, just lying. But why would adversaries do that?
Public policy based on mere beliefs or opinions sooner or later crashes headlong into the wall of reality causing disastrous consequences, for in the end, the truth cannot be denied.
If the truth is emancipating, the false is enslaving. Indeed Americans are serfs ruled by an oligarchy devoted to the promotion of dumb ideas.

I would add that especially in today’s atmosphere, the “extremes” presented to people are not really extremes in the sense that they don’t provide a true picture of the spectrum of opinions. The space between Democrats and Republicans is only a fraction of the space of possible views – but the great victory in presenting it that way to us is that anything outside that narrow range is then the view of a nutcase extremist. Just because two people are adversaries doesn’t mean that one of them has the truth and it’ll come out when they face each other, and it doesn’t mean that the truth is contained between their positions.

Antiwar.com has had a few really good pieces recently. H/t CaptainKirk for these.

A Timetable for War – Philip Giraldi
He talks about why he thinks Iran will be invaded by a certain regional country very soon, perhaps even before the end of summer this year. He gives his reasons. They don’t sound crackpotty.

Followup article: (more…)

Identity May 16, 2010

Posted by BrownS in Uncategorized.
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Random tidbit from the khutbah a few days ago (paraphrased for my purposes :) )

If we don’t give our children a coherent identity they can be proud of, they will adopt someone else’s.

That other identity could be an amalgam derived from the kids they hang out with at school (for example, if one doesn’t homeschool) or from popular culture or wherever else. But most times it won’t be the identity we want them to have – a taqwafied Muslim confident in their beliefs and attitudes, personifying the sunnah.

I don’t think most parents understand this. With immigrant parents they had no such identity issues growing up so it never occurs to them that this might be something their kids wrestle with. Even if they are aware of it, they basically just assume their kids will “deal with it.” They have no idea how deeply something like this can affect someone, especially children.

It’s a little scary if you think about it. How do you even begin to establish an identity? It used to take generations!
I guess at a basic level, as a parent one has to be constantly vigilant, always aware of their children’s thoughts and fears and always be able to connect with them and present the Qur’an and sunnah to them in such a way as for them to be proud to be its recipients.

Communalism vs. True Service May 14, 2010

Posted by BrownS in Uncategorized.

I keep coming across instances of people wanting to help other people or protect other people, and when it comes to Muslims sometimes I feel sad when I notice that someone’s niyyah or intention is off-base.

The secular, non-religious intention for any kind of service done is to either do it for the sake of itself, or for a “cause” or for one’s community, or for humanity at large. The intention goes sideways, from one created being to another. The Islamic intention for doing anything looks nothing like that, or it shouldn’t. For Muslims, our niyyah should be to gain the pleasure of Allah only, and if we are doing something that benefits someone else then that is not the primary aim but rather a side effect of following Allah’s commands and the sunnah of the Prophet (saws) in helping those less fortunate than ourselves. This reminds me of something one of my mentors told me about 6 years ago when we were talking about helping the Muslim community with something. He said there was a difference in wanting to help people because they were “your people” (this is communalism) and wanting to help people because of a desire to follow the commands of Allah and work for the establishment of the deen and create conditions for His worship to be established and to strengthen the believers and to take the message of Islam’s justice and equality to non-Muslims through mercy and compassion.

The difference is subtle, especially because the actions on the ground don’t differ between the two intentions at all. It’s all in the heart. But this difference can be either the cause of our deeds turning into dust on the Day of Judgment or a cause of our entering jannah. In the famous hadith of ‘Umar on intention, it starts off by saying that every person shall have what they intended. If we intend to help “our people” then that’s what we’ll get. Allah was out of the equation, and so Allah will be out of the equation on the Day of Judgment. But if we do it with the intention of fulfilling one of Allah’s commands (help the believer, or feed the needy, or take care of the orphan, or whatever) then inshaAllah we will accomplish it in this world as well as have a reward waiting for us in the Hereafter.

Like I said above, the actual activities remain almost the same. It could be about participating in a food drive like with Project Downtown, or volunteering for any of a number of social service organizations. Or it could be about volunteering for the masjid or a da’wah group. When I see Muslims all excited about giving back to the community and talk about working for causes and helping people and working with like-minded Muslims and so forth, I feel disappointed when they talk about their activities and they sound like they’re leaving Allah out of the equation. Many brothers and sisters have their priorities straight, but again many don’t. Their desire to help and work for change is admirable and commendable and an example for all of us. But they could be investing so much in the Hereafter simply by orienting this intention in the right direction. For example, a group of people hold a lot of fundraisers for say some very worthy cause. Then they call in one person to give a speech to “Islamicize” the whole thing and talk about the benefits of donating to that cause and so on. I don’t mean to take anything away from the great work that’s being done; it’s certainly more than I contribute to in many cases.  I’m just imagining how much more awesome it could be with a small reorientation of intention.

We shouldn’t want to help Muslims because we’re also Muslim – we should want to help them because (more…)


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