Friday, December 18, 2009

Imam Shafi's Elegy for Imam Hussain (Peace be upon him)

My heart sighed, for my innermost being was in dejection;
Sleep no longer came, and sleeplessness was bewildering.
O who shall be the bearer of a message from me to Husayn,
(Though the hearts and minds of some may disapprove!)
Slaughtered, though without sin himself,
His shirt as if dyed through with crimson.
Now the sword itself wails, and the spear shrieks,
And the horse which once only whinnied, laments.
The world quaked for the sake of the Family of Muhammad;
For their sake, the solid mountains might have melted away.
Heavenly bodies sunk, the stars trembled,
Oh veils were torn, and breasts were rent!
He who asks blessing for the one sent from the Tribe of Hashim,
But attacks his sons;truly, that is strange!
And if my sin is love of the Family of Muhammad:
Then that is a sin which I do not repent.

Imam Shafi'i (May Allah be pleased with him) said:

"They said, 'You are a Rafidi!', and I said, 'But no,
Nor is my religion nor are my beliefs of that kind ...
'But if love of the Prophetic Household be Rafidism,
Then I am the most Rafidi of the servants of God!"

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Eid Message

In The Name of God Most Merciful and Most Compassionate

We would like to congratulate all Muslims who have successfully performed the Haj and wish all Muslims a happy Eid. Eid-ul-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice at the end of the Haj marks the story of the Prophet Ebrahim and the immense sacrifice that he and his family were prepared to make for the sake of truth and faith. The rituals and symbolic acts contained in the Haj are a constant reminder of the principles by which we are called on to live our lives by: faith; repentance; honesty, simplicity; equality and charity.

And who could be of better faith than he who surrenders his whole being unto Allâh and is a doer of good and follows the creed of Ibrahim who turned away from all that is false – And Allâh chose Ibrahim as His friend.” (4:125)

On the blessed day of Eid-ul-Adha, we relive the struggle and sacrifices of Ibrahim Alayhis-Salâm. The sacrifice of an animal and the spill of blood is a symbolic demonstration of our unreserved love for Allâh. It is our display of unquestioned obedience to the law of Allâh and a reminder that the closer one gets to Allâh the greater the struggles and sacrifices. Ibrahim’s Alayhis-Salâm legacy reassures the Believers that truth must prevail if we have conviction and commitment.

“Say: ‘If your fathers and your sons and your brothers and your spouses and your clan, and the wealth that you have acquired, and the commerce whereof you fear a decline and the dwellings in which you take pleasure (if all these) are more beloved to you than Allâh, His Rasûl and the struggle in His cause, then wait until Allâh makes manifest the fulfilment of His Command – (Know that) Allâh does not guide those who are openly wicked.’” (9:24)

Those who are consumed by the love of Allâh find indescribable joy in placing the sword of denial on everything that impedes the true love of Allâh. Loving Allâh necessitates obeying, trusting, surrendering, adhering and yielding to all that pleases Him. Our families, our wealth, our properties and palatial abodes should not prevent us from striving in His path and searching for His love. Those whose hearts are immersed in the love of Allâh freely subjugate themselves to His pleasure. The Qurbani of Ibrahim Alayhis-Salâm was not some kind of heartless compliance of a slave before His Master. It was the undying love of a slave seeking to win the love of his Master. “It is not the flesh, nor the blood that reaches Allâh, but it is your conscious awareness of Him, that reaches Him.” To believe is to acknowledge His existence, to love is deny your own existence. “Muhabbah [love] is the erasure of the qualities of the lover, affirming the essential being of the Beloved.”

Allâh instructed Ibrahim to sacrifice his son. He obeyed the command of Allâh without question. Ibrahim Alayhis-Salâm believed in “Divine Rights” and human obligations. He believed that Allâh’s law embraces the whole of man’s life- his individual, social, private and public life. Divine law was beyond the sanction of his people, governments and politicians. The Holy Qur’ân says: “Have you seen those who claim that they believe in what was revealed to you and what was revealed before your time (and yet) are willing to defer to the rule of the powers of evil- although they were bidden to deny it: … And when they are told: ‘Come to that which Allâh has revealed and to His Prophet,’ you see the hypocrites turn away from you in aversion.” They instinctively draw back from Divine law when it conflicts with their personal interests or ideologies. To the secularist, Ibrahim Alayhis-Salâm was willing to murder, yet to the Believer this was unparalleled sacrifice of the friend of Allâh! The beast of secularism is threatening to devour the very identity of man; same sex marriages, prostitution and gambling have been legitimised under the guise of ‘rights.’ The position of women, penal law and the character of Nabî Sallallâhu ‘alayhi wasallam have been besmirched. Only a nominal version of Islam is acceptable to the ‘secularists’… an Islam that is relegated to a private communion between man and God… Islam that is confined to the masjid and has no relevance when making law, or in settling our disputes… an Islam that has no place in our day-to-day living.

Struggle and Sacrifice:
When the people of Ibrahim Alayhis-Salâm failed to prevent him from the truth, they resorted to plotting and punishing him. “So naught was the answer of (Ibrahim’s) people except that they said: ‘Slay him or burn him.’” (29:24) Ibrahim could have given up his message and his beliefs to save himself from the fire of Nimrod. He chose to die for Allâh's message to live. He chose to step into the fire of oppression and tyranny in order to save humanity from the fire of ignorance and godlessness. Ibrahim Alayhis-Salâm challenged oppression, prejudice and ignorance. He turned away “from all that is false” at the cost of being branded, mocked and ridiculed, yet he remained steadfast, positive and unwavering in challenging falsehood. The crusade against Islam is as old as human history. Muslims today are being stereotyped and profiled negatively. Are we prepared to take up the cudgels and relentlessly champion the teachings of Islam, as did Ibrahim Alayhis-Salâm?

And do not lose hope of the mercy of Allâh; verily none but people who deny the truth lose hope in the mercy of Allâh.” (12:86) Truth and justice will prevail if we have the conviction in Allâh’s mercy and commitment to His word and command. Eid-ul-Adha is in essence a day to renew our bondage to our Creator, to embrace His word without a murmur of hesitation and to positively respond to the challenges that we face. Are we prepared…?

Indeed Muslims in the Philippines as well as in other parts of the world celebrate this festive event in spiritual remembrance and imitation of Sayyiduna Ibrahim's divine servanthood to Allah's will.

And as a great tragedy has befallen families recently who were unceremoniously murdered and dumped as corpses, we too mourn the families who has lost their loved ones... Indeed as the Holy Prophet has reminded us to be steadfast in trials and challenges on the path of spiritual perfection...may we all perservere in the face of this trial....

May Allâh Ta’âla fill our hearts with His love and grant us the steadfastness to uphold the banner of Islam for as long as we live.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Should Islamic Pluralism be used as a basis for Educational Philosophy?

Should Islamic Pluralism be used as a basis for Educational Philosophy?

A question for Muslim Educators

by Yusuf Roque Morales

School Administrator

Asian Academy of Business and Computers

Bismillah Hirahman Niraheem

Iqra Bismirabbika Ladhi Khalaq

Alladhi alamal bil Qalam

Iqra'a wa rabbukal Akrm

Allamal Insana ma lam ya'alam

Indeed as the first words from the Holy Quran was Iqra'ah , roughly translated as read or recite. a manifestation to instruct or teach.

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has said , “Al-Ulama al-warasatul al-Anbiya'ah (the learned are the successors of the prophets.”

What could be deduced from the Holy Prophet's words is that indeed the learned, the ones who teach, has a divine task of passing knowledge, whether this may be secular, religious or technical, and as such are facing a divine mandate to perform.

However in the myriad of conflicting ideological paradoxes, where notions of self-righteousness, highly opinionated views and perceptions as well as propaganda-infused material has been used in teaching there has been a strong need to follow an educational philosophy that would allow Muslim educators to use all the tools of pedagogy, as well as various paradigms in education in order to fully maximize their teaching as well as ensure that their students achieve their full potential.

Sayyiddna Ali (karamallahu wajhah), the fourth Khulafa al-Rashidoon has said, “do not raise your children the way you were raised, as they live in a different world today”. And as such, points out that indeed teachers must find new ways that may not contradict Islamic Education but in fact enhances it. It is here where Islamic Pluralism finds an impetus to guide Muslim teachers.

The `fact' of pluralism in Educational Philosophy is no surprise. Yet, if educational Philosophy is representing and explaining the basis of teaching pedagogy and Philosophical foundations, why is there such a diversity of representations and explanations ? In this article let us consider the Islamic philosophical basis of Islamic pluralism that will explain the existence of both competitive and compatible alternatives.Let us see an integrative approach for understanding Islamic pluralism by adopting it in Education. The challenge is to explain "how can a diverse, well confirmed, but irreducible set of theories be used collectively to achieve a more complete understanding than any of the theories taken in isolation?" Let us consider the reasons for reductionism and defend an alternative based on the integration of compatible, not competitive, explanations.

As an educator, one must learn to integrate concepts as well as identify ideas that although intrinsically coming from other belief systems but are productive and be assimilated into both the pedagogy and methodology of education. When one looks at the myriad of opportunities available for the Muslim educator to access knowledge, it would seem unfair for the Muslim teacher not to acknowledge these sources disregard the authors or advocates of these principles or concepts that he may have come across. Indeed by acknowledging the source of his teaching methodologies and pedagogies can he further enhance them

We must always remember that in education there are always multiple methods and methodologies that can be used to harness and develop a more detailed and insightful understanding of what it means to learn.

Integration of commonly shared values and the philosopy of integration in Education which is in reality a manifestation of Islamic Pluralism has advatages that outweigh the disadvantages. And as such schools are the most logical and effective treatment for students better perception and respect for “the other people”.

There is always the fear among us to tread on uncertain ground, to touch the sacred and the profane as well as the fault marks in one's faith both as a person as well as an educator. It is this that points out that we as educators must be grounded in Islamic Pluralism as a basis of our educational Philosophy.

What then is Islamic Pluralism?

Islamic Pluralism is defined as the concept of maintaining peaceful relations between different religions manifested in various ways:

  • Islamic Pluralism may describe Islam's worldview that it is not only one's religion as the sole and exclusive source of truth, and recognizes that some level of truth and values exist in at least some other religions.

  • Islamic Pluralism is now being used as a basis of Interfaith dialogue and at a minimum, this leads to promotion of unity,cooperation and improved understanding between different denominations or religions.1

It is the non-institutional character of Pluralism that has attracted a substantive majority of the worlds population because it manifests the universal social dimension of ones personal and private life in order to project them to the world2. As a result in furthers inter-human understanding that goes beyond a level of exclusivity and intolerance for others.

What must also be understand, is that Pluralism as a concept has gradually been accepted and accepted in the educational pedagogy of the west. And as such, it s only a matter of time that this Philosophy permeate all others. But worthy of note is that Islamic pluralism as a concept has long existed before any of todays Giants and scholars of education ever exdisted or even spoke of Pluralism and as such, it is our intellectual heritage that as educators, we take this and imbibe into our educational philosophy.

When this is translated into action by educators, this would translate into a mutliplicity of learning and experiences for his students considering the diversity of cultures, belief systems, values as well as technological advances that continually push the world to become a more globalized community.

Kallen (1957) defines Pluralism from a cultural persepective to be both “a working hypothesis” and an ideal affirming the primacy of differences as well the right to differences. Kallen's guiding metaphor for pluralism was that each group or unit is an orchestra and that each of the individual components contributing its own unique tone and timbre.3

Efforts allowing students to cross ideological, cultural and personal barriers are the best ways to create a process of integration and conscientization, and that these elements would allow a person to be more conscientious of what others feel and think and adopt a more “open approach” to other peoples beliefs and perceptions with a tone of respect rather than disgust.

This approach and philosophy can be best described in the words of Wilber and the Integrationist (pluralist) movement:

To integrate and to bring together, to join and to link, to embrace not in the sense of uniformity, and not in the sense of ironing out all the wonderful differences,”4

Then how to we translate Islamic pluralism as an Educational Philosophy?

In a way this means that we learn to see and research and combine concepts as well as dilineate other concepts that must be taught although, we may personally have biases against these concepts but in a way, we teach them in the best manner possible allowing our students to explore the various mazes of human knowledge, understanding and Philosophy, guided by the Islamic Philosophical bases in our faith, we show them the sources of knowledge, the processes of gaining knowledge as well as the methods of gaining knowledge.

Remember that even the universal message of the Qur'an reaveals that without subordination to a limited historical concept, that revelation theirein respects pluralism as given and even nescessary, requiring Muslims to continually negotiate, transform and emphasize the fundamental unity of mankind in its origins, and that human diversity is indispensable for human development and progress.

Developing Islamic Pluralism as an educational Philosophy to be used by our educators will in a way boil down to students. In the end it will allow educators formulate their own methods in teaching, allowing them to reflect on questions as to what they want to create inquiry or interest. Would they want to let students develop a genuine interest in understanding of the interior meaning the process of making;or generate interest in what is happening;Or generate interest for the students to examine these issues or create interest to make others study;or generate interest in learning about an individual's beliefs, actions or focusing on more complex interactions in meaning or making in systems. By reflections in these questions,Educators can help students develop skills in the process of inquiry in order to contribute to the furthering of knowledge as well as the development of a well-educated individual.

On a final note, I would like to sum it up in the following concepts:

  1. Truth and knowledge is a universal legacy, and as the Prophet has said, "All beneficial knowledge is the lost property of believers"; it is also our sacred duty to impart this beneficial knowledge if not enhance it.

  2. Islamic Pluralism in a way is a suitable basis for enhancing Educational Philosophy as it allows the process of recognition, conscientization, integration and fusion of productive concepts into teaching pedagogy fr the productive use of mankind

  3. Truth, knowledge, wisdom and illumination is the universal property of mankind, and as scholars,in the true meaning of heirs to the Prophets, we must impart these to the world.

And as such, Indeed Islamic Pluralism as an Educational Philosophy is more than attuned to todays educational situation, it is one of the best models in Educational Philosophy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Who speaks for us Muslims

Who speaks for Islam Today?

Ever since the tragic events of 9/11, There has been a deluge of voices claiming to speak with authority over issues claiming to speak with authority about Islam have become increasingly dstressing. There are relatively few contemporary topics that are as controversial than that of how to interpret Islamic practices and beliefs.

And as such, the interpretation of Islam in the West as well as in the Muslim world has become much of a cottage industry.. Indeed as one sees the ranks of those who interpret they are really diverse, among them are counter-terrorism experts, policymakers and journalists, as well as religious studies academics, political scientists, Muslim ulama (Islamic legal scholars), Muslim feminists in the West, people who as leaders speak on behalf of various religious groups. The public's Interest on how Islam is being understood and practiced as a result experienced a dramatic increase in the recent years, and because of the blurring, its not always clear whom should we listen when its comes down to our “deen” listen to amongst the din.

A survey of language used in prominent North American and European newspapers and magazines reveals an extensive list of labels categorising Muslims based on their postures toward Western culture and politics as well as towards one another. Journalists, editors, and academics alike are inquisitive about the extent to which conservative Muslims can be integrated within mainstream Western culture (e.g. “For Conservative Muslims, Goal of Isolation a Challenge” or “Progressive Muslims Challenge Tradition”), and the extent to which they can be dissuaded from adopting radical stances vis-à-vis current political issues (e.g. “The Quest for a Moderate Islam,” “Muslim Refusenik Incites Furor with Critique of Faith” or “Islamic Extremists: How Do They Conjure Up Support”).

Among non-Muslims as well as among Muslims, it seems that everyone has become a stakeholder in the future of Islam, with everyone attempting to label groups with different perspectives: conservative Muslims compete with progressive Muslims for airtime, traditionalist Muslims denounce self-hating Muslims and Islamophobes alike. Meanwhile, moderate Muslims challenge militant Muslims, putative Muslim refuseniks denounce Muslim extremists, and would-be reformists repudiate apologists who refuse to embrace the need for change.

Everyone, it seems, has a party line about who the good Muslims and bad Muslims are. Sadly, many of the dichotomies distort as much as they reveal, and use simple labels based on superficial preconceptions and over-simplifications.

At a time of heightened insecurities and acute perceptions of threat, everyone has arrived at the conclusion that their identity and values are under attack, hence the tendency to represent the stakes as absolute: for example as a struggle to save the “real” Islam, defined in either staunchly traditional or authoritatively progressive terms.

Funny as it is. Everywhere in the world, there is a perception that many Muslims who feel abused by the West often fall short of their own proclaimed values, including justice. And it is true: some Muslim activists who thrive on denunciation of Western wrongs are culpable in the silencing of other Muslim voices and inclined towards genuinely immoderate views and behavior. But one can see a similar dynamic among those Westerners who allow themselves to become entrapped by fear of the Muslim “other”.

What happened to the idea that dissent can be patriotic, or that a plurality of views can be a blessing? We seem to be losing the capacity for a commonsensical moral honesty that places principles above fear, opportunism and cultural or party politics.

While these sorts of contradictions weigh upon us heavily in a time of increased tensions, diagnosing the malady is the first step toward a cure. To avoid becoming extremists ourselves in the very process of arguing against the extremism of others, we need to develop better habits of listening and of dialogue.

Listening alone is not a path to harmony, as the substantive differences among the many parties who are in some way “concerned about Islam” are real and enduring. Yet cultivating an ability to listen has become more critical than ever, and remains the most vital means of building trust.

Only high-quality and sincere listening can enable us to hear unstated concerns and articulate the fears, anxieties and negative experiences that underpin much political and religious stridency. To overcome the West’s anxiety about Islam and reduce the volatility of debate among Muslims, we have no choice but to return to the basics of human psychology and communication, and to relearn the arts of civility: which starts not with labelling, but with listening and relating.

And therein lies the need to have an open ear in listening to others.

And perhaps consider adopting Islamic Pluralism as a way of life.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Reflections on the first to third chapters of Aqeedah Tahawiyyah

Reflections from Reading Aqeedah Tahawiyyah

I have recently been reading Aqeedah Tahawiyah prepared in English by Shaykh Muhammad bn Yahya Ninowy (may Allah prolong his life and bless him for his efforts). Aqeedah tahawiyyah is one of the simpliest and easiest manuals in explaining Islamic aqeedah without creating any conflicts.

It was Shaykh Ahmad (may Allah bless him) who forwarded me some materials and guides... I eventually started reading it alone and now am reading it with Sister Nur. She has been very supporting and guiding as to how the text is being read (studied with a teacher). We have been done last Saturday morning with chapters one to three. And I appreciate and am very glad with how I saw things .

I have decided to write my reflections and understandings of the first three chapters as a result of my readings.

It is important to note in the words of Shaykh Muhammad bn Yahya Ninowy that, “Aqeedah is Islam, as it constitutes our faith, must be found on unshakeable convistions and established beyond doubt, therefore Muslims are demanded to search for the indisputable truth, base their aqeedah on sound convictions and naturally...use their intellect and oppose blind imitation.”

As this being the basis of our path, I put my reflections on the feet of the illustrious scholars to see if indeed it is under the shade of the aqeedah of Islam.

One must understand that indeed Tawheed or the path of understanding tawheed is a knowledge acquisition process. Although basiocally worship for the laymen is learning by imitation (taqlid) of the scholars as taught through the chains of transmission). It must be emphasized that people ( Muslims in particular) become accountable to Allah for their actions and decisions on the basis of their knowledge ... and that belief must always be substantiated by knowledge. It would be best be put in the principle of : belief=knowledge+understanding and faith=belief+satisfaction. One must always consider that the main role of aqeedah is to teach tawheed in effect teach man the correct set of beliefs and valuesto prepare one's heart for the correct state of belief. (perhaps prepare him for yaqeen)

A lot of people conceive Monotheism as tawheed. Perhaps it may be so and it may not be so.Tawheed establishes what is the limitations and concepts when associated with understanding how to aproach things. How to know the gulf that separates the One who has created and the created. The verse in Surah ikhlas is the best parameter to use, “wa lam yakoon lahu kufuwan ahad”.

Reflecting on what are the basic prerequisites to studying Aqeedah tahawiyyah indeed it is but important that the following which I have found to be trully important among them was that worship and obedience is always the result of applying acquired religious knowledge. And that this acquired knowled is required to be put into action. Remebering that every act of worship must be firmly grounded on correct knowledge. Mere intentions are not enough.The path to faith must be based on the correct understanding and knolwdge of Faith, Islam and Tawheed.

There are 4 things that I have realize as a result:

  1. To possess correct knowledge one must go back to the basics so that all succeeding efforts to acquiring knowledge will bebguided from the basics

  2. Correct actions only will come from correct knowledge

  3. Good intentions and acttions are not enough but must be firmly based on correct and accurate knowledge

  4. We are mandated to acquire knowledge.

A very notable part of the discussion and reading is that one must acquire knowledge from a teacher and not mere books. One taking ones knowledge directly from a book is a suhufi, bereft of the guidance and teaching of a teacher. A good point to consider here also is that books can never answer back your questions in detail, and that teachers contain the sum of all his personal knowledge, experiences as well as that of the teacher who had preceeded him or her. Thus this is indeed one of the very important reasons why transmission of knowledge through teachers is needed. I have discovered in this process the five (5) criterias in acquiring knowledge:

  1. Sincerity to Alah

  2. Great effort must be exerted in this process

  3. Take knowledge from someone who posesses it (a teacher not simply a book or a person who has learned through a book)

  4. Students must employ proper etiquette with their teachers

  5. Humility and kindness.

Tawheed is made up of two categories, one is fard/obligatory to be understood personally like the five pillar and 6 fundamentals of belief and second is the communal obligations wlike understanding the precepts and basis of Islamic teachings and the ability to refute those who are teaching the wrong concepts.

When one possess knowledge it is a divine task upon him to impart it to others like truth being told . And that finally ones words and speeches should never be without basis.

Wa salaatu wa salaamu alal ashrafil anbiya'ah wal mursalin wal hamdulillah hirabeel alameen.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Whe one is an atheist

It is not fiction to say....
That we have become atheists ,
For although we profess God exists...
Our minds do not embrace it

We may say and shout....
None exists save God,
But in reality....
None exists in our minds

I too am guilty...
For I too have this frailty,
Forgetting None exists except Him
except when all hope is lost and dim

None here can say....
That in one time in his life
He himself did not stray...
Claiming not would mean he has failed.....

I stand in the door...
Of Mercy and Mystery...
Knowing at that knock,
Lies the guide to the light

If indeed the guide...
Has led me to the light,
So shall I say,
I am an atheist no more....

Allahumma Salli ala Sayidna Muhammad an-Nur wa alihi

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Islamic home finance offers new solutions in this economy

Washington, DC - The business model and growth of the Islamic finance sector – the only financial system in the world today that is based on the teachings of a major religion – may present new opportunities for American households – Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The Islamic home financing sector is active in nearly 40 states in the United States. While operating on an interest-free business model, Islamic home financial institutions are compatible in every way with modern capitalism, just like conventional financial institutions.

There are differences, however.

At the core of the Islamic model is the view that lending is a charitable act as opposed to a business activity, that debt is not something to be exploited for profit.

Instead, Islamic finance uses a participatory model that seeks to engage all parties – as partners – in the sharing of both risks and rewards, without guaranteeing returns.

By prohibiting interest, Islam has actually prohibited disinterest, in the sense that partnerships encourage active management, accountability, responsibility and joint oversight.

Islamic home financing means that an Islamic bank and its client-partner acquire a real-estate asset jointly – as co-investors. Where conventional mortgage banks profit from interest, Islamic home finance companies derive revenues from co-ownership agreements in which rent – in return for the client-partner’s ability to live on the property – is paid to the finance company on its portion of the property.

“Rent plus equity” payments are usually equal to “principal plus interest” payments. When the client-partner takes full title of the home, rent payments to the bank partner stop.

Because Islamic home finance caters to first-time buyers who for religious or financial reasons cannot consider conventional, interest-based mortgages, the business continues to grow and thrive as Islamic banks expand their services within the US market, even in this time of shrinking job markets and economic crisis.

The three largest US-based Islamic home finance companies (Chicago-based Devon Bank, Virginia-based Guidance Residential and Michigan-based University Bank) report that they have done “substantially more” business in the first two months of 2009 than during the same period in 2008. Devon Bank reports that operations during this period have nearly doubled.

In keeping with the concept of partnership and risk sharing, Islamic home finance is more attractive to American buyers because it uses non-recourse contracts. This means that banks can recover no more from homeowners facing foreclosure than their homes. While conventional mortgages work this way in some states, Islamic home finance companies offer non-recourse contracts to buyers in every state in which they operate. Thus, even if the value of the home falls below the amount financed, the finance company has no recourse to the other assets of the homeowner.

Islamic home finance companies have also shown themselves more willing to restructure financing than to foreclose. The three largest Islamic finance institutions in the United States report, for instance, that delinquencies “are less than half the conventional mortgages rate.”

While the fewer cases of foreclosure, coupled with the willingness to restructure financings, may be a function of the still relatively small size of the Islamic home finance sector (estimated at less than one billion dollars in annual investment for each of the three largest institutions in the United States), it is also reflective of the basic philosophy of concerned partnership and joint responsibility.

Perhaps now is the time for ethical and religious values to make a comeback in the banking business, and in the home finance sector in particular. In 2009, while the world looks for solutions to the global financial crisis and American families worry about the financing of their homes, the goal of Islamic finance, like that of all successful commerce, should be to profit by sharing what it knows with others.


* Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo is chief shariah officer at the US-based Shariah Capital Inc. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 5 May 2009,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Youth Views

Youth Views~ Taking dialogue to the next level
Joshua M. Z. Stanton
Jerusalem - In recent years, peacebuilders have recognised the need for interfaith discussion. It is no longer difficult to find a medium for dialogue. Churches, mosques, temples and synagogues, as well as a myriad of non-profit organisations, offer programmes centred on dialogue between members of different religious traditions. Yet many of these well-intentioned initiatives succumb to an unproductive default: we are all really just the same.

Fundamentally rooted in politeness, such notions overlook the differences that do exist between religious traditions and inhibit conversation about the topics that actually cause friction between communities. The real challenge in interfaith dialogue is finding a way to effectively engage difficult topics. Doing so holds the potential to bring a deeper level of understanding between religious communities and a significant reduction in tension.

Recently, I had the chance to meet with Muslim and Jewish high school students participating in the Face to Face programme, sponsored by the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI). The group is said to be the only inter-religious programme for youth in Israel that continued to meet regularly even after the outbreak of the recent conflict in Gaza.

Their strategy for success was not to avoid feelings of anger and grief in the course of meetings, but to guide the expression of these sentiments.

Some Muslim students in the group had relatives living in Gaza who were directly impacted by the war. Some of the Jewish students worried about siblings in the Israeli military and the threat of Hamas rocket strikes against civilian areas in Israel. Many of the group’s meetings during and after the war were tense, with voices raised and tears shed.

But because of careful facilitation by the groups’ leaders – who provided simultaneous translations in Hebrew and Arabic and encouraged students to focus on issues surrounding the war rather than blaming one another for its occurrence – the group held together.

Just a couple of months after the war, the students were able to sit together again and laugh over a meal of hummus and falafel. As one student proudly reflected, eliciting nods from other participants, “If we were able to get through those times without hating each other, nothing can keep us from being friends.”

The recently-founded Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue ( hopes to follow the ICCI’s example by facilitating dialogue about social, political and cultural issues affecting religious communities around the world, including those most challenging to discuss.

By approaching contentious issues in an academic manner, it will provide a new means of engaging on matters that often underlie inter-religious interaction but are seldom discussed. In so doing, we hope to provide a stronger basis for collaborative efforts and intellectual cross-pollination between religious communities.

The journal began to take shape in June 2008, when I approached Stephanie Hughes, Student Senate co-Chair at Union Theological Seminary, with an idea for a kind of inter-religious publication that goes a step beyond the present literature on inter-religious dialogue. As a rabbinical student, I felt motivated to find a partner from another religious background equally invested in the ideas of mutual respect, learning and collaboration.

Having formed a strong partnership, the two of us set off to found what became the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue Neither of us held a PhD, but both of us felt compelled by our traditions to contribute to inter-religious work and study. In recognising our own limited experience in formal academic scholarship, we found a niche as facilitators who could both encourage and guide discussions.

While the first issue of the journal, scheduled for release on 1 May 2009, will be dedicated to the dynamics of dialogue itself, subsequent issues will address topics that participants in inter-religious dialogue often shy away from. Thus the second issue in October 2009 will be entitled, “Engaging the Taboo: Gender, the Body, and Sexuality in our Religious Traditions”, and the third issue in March 2010 will focus on the role that religion can play in both fomenting and preventing violence.

The journal’s goal is to bring scholars together with activists and non-profit leaders to discuss these topics. By drawing members of all three groups together to learn, discuss and debate on a free online platform, we hope to promote innovative programming within the field. Moreover, because of its electronic format, the journal will be accessible to an international audience of seminarians, professors, and religious and civic leaders. The inter-religious dialogue, work and scholarship will often take place locally, but lessons learnt can be applied globally.

By engaging with some of the most difficult, yet important, topics in interfaith dialogue, we know these lessons will be worthwhile.


* Joshua Stanton is co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue ( and a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Monday, March 9, 2009

Can Sufi Islam be an alternative to Radical Salafism?

Can Sufi Islam counter the Taleban?

Sufi devotees in Lahore
Some believe that Pakistan's mystic, non-violent Islam can be used as a defence against extremism (Photos: Kamil Dayan Khan)

a corner of the upper courtyard at the shrine of Baba Shah Jamal in Lahore, famous for its Thursday night drumming sessions.

It's packed with young men, smoking, swaying to the music, and working themselves into a state of ecstasy.

This isn't how most Westerners imagine Pakistan, which has a reputation as a hotspot for Islamist extremism.

Devotional singing

But this popular form of Sufi Islam is far more widespread than the Taleban's version. It's a potent brew of mysticism, folklore and a dose of hedonism.


Inside the Sufi drumming session at the shrine of Baba Shah Jamal

Now some in the West have begun asking whether Pakistan's Sufism could be mobilised to counter militant Islamist ideology and influence.

Lahore would be the place to start: it's a city rich in Sufi tradition.

At the shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh Hajveri, musicians and singers from across the country also gather weekly, to perform qawwali, or Islamic devotional singing.

Qawwali is seen as a key part of the journey to the divine, what Sufis call the continual remembrance of God.

"When you listen to other music, you will listen for a short time, but the qawwali goes straight inside," says Ali Raza, a fourth generation Sufi singer.

"Even if you can't understand the wording, you can feel the magic of the qawwali, this is spiritual music which directly touches your soul and mind as well."

But Sufism is more than music. At a house in an affluent suburb of Lahore a group of women gathers weekly to practise the Sufi disciplines of chanting and meditation, meant to clear the mind and open the heart to God.

One by one the devotees recount how the sessions have helped them deal with problems and achieve greater peace and happiness. This more orthodox Sufism isn't as widespread as the popular variety, but both are seen as native to South Asia.

'Love and harmony'

"Islam came to this part of the world through Sufism," says Ayeda Naqvi, a teacher of Islamic mysticism who's taking part in the chanting.

"It was Sufis who came and spread the religious message of love and harmony and beauty, there were no swords, it was very different from the sharp edged Islam of the Middle East.

"And you can't separate it from our culture, it's in our music, it's in our folklore, it's in our architecture. We are a Sufi country, and yet there's a struggle in Pakistan right now for the soul of Islam."

Sufi drummer
Sufism is a mixture of music, chanting and meditation

That struggle is between Sufism and hard-line Wahhabism, the strict form of Sunni Islam followed by members of the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

It has gained ground in the tribal north-west, encouraged initially in the 1980s by the US and Saudi Arabia to help recruit Islamist warriors to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

But it's alien to Pakistan's Sufi heartland in the Punjab and Sindh provinces, says Sardar Aseff Ali, a cabinet minister and a Sufi.

"Wahhabism is a tribal form of Islam coming from the desert sands of Saudi Arabia," he says. "This may be very attractive to the tribes in the frontier, but it will never find resonance in the established societies of Pakistan."

So could Pakistan's mystic, non-violent Islam be used as a defence against extremism?

An American think tank, the Rand Corporation, has advocated this, suggesting support for Sufism as an "open, intellectual interpretation of Islam".

There is ample proof that Sufism remains a living tradition.

In the warren of Lahore's back streets, a shrine is being built to a modern saint, Hafiz Iqbal, and his mentor, a mystic called Baba Hassan Din. They attract followers from all classes and walks of life.


The architect is Kamil Khan Mumtaz. He describes in loving detail his traditional construction techniques and the spiritual principles they symbolise.

Sufi gathering in Lahore
Huge crowds are attracted to Sufi gatherings

He shakes his head at stories of lovely old mosques and shrines pulled down and replaced by structures of concrete and glass at the orders of austere mullahs, and he's horrified at atrocities committed in the name of religion by militant Islamists.

But he doubts that Sufism can be marshalled to resist Wahhabi radicalism, a phenomenon that he insists has political, not religious, roots.

"The American think tanks should think again," he says. "What you see [in Islamic extremism] is a response to what has happened in the modern world.

"There is a frustration, an anger, a rage against invaders, occupiers. Muslims ask themselves, what happened?

"We once ruled the world and now we're enslaved. This is a power struggle, it is the oppressed who want to become the oppressors, this has nothing to do with Islam, and least of all to do with Sufism."

Sufi food distribution
Sufi people are often actively engaged in social welfare programmes
Ayeda Naqvi, on the other hand, believes Sufism could play a political role to strengthen a tolerant Islamic identity in Pakistan. But she warns of the dangers of Western support.

"I think if it's done it has to be done very quietly because a lot of people here are allergic to the West interfering," she says.

"So even if it's something good they're doing, they need to be discreet because you don't want Sufism to be labelled as a movement which is being pushed by the West to drown out the real puritanical Islam."

Back at the Shah Jamal shrine I couldn't feel further from puritanical Islam. The frenzied passion around me suggests that Pakistan's Sufi shrines won't be taken over by the Taleban any time soon.

But whether Sufism can be used to actively resist the spread of extremist Islam, or even whether it should be, is another question.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Life In Kosovo... A duality of worlds

Mehmed Sezai Shehu
Meti began teaching English part-time in 1992 and went full-time in 1998

In the fourth of five pieces by BBC journalists examining life in Kosovo today, Patrick Jackson meets an Albanian English teacher whose ancestors taught the values of Sufism.

His English is flawless, local knowledge near faultless but having him guide you around Pristina can take awfully long.

Mehmed Sezai Shehu, or Meti as he likes to be known, seems barely able to cross a street without running into an acquaintance in the Kosovan capital.

On the two visits I have met him, a simple stroll about the city centre became a wade through handshakes, jokes and banter.

Not a few of the people knew him from across a kitchen table or a classroom desk because for the past decade, apart from the war period, Meti has been teaching his city English full-time.

Yet if his job is to supply Kosovans with the lingua franca of the modern world, he himself is a living link to an old time of religious mystics at risk of disappearing.

Against the clock

Meti launched his own language school this January, putting secondary-school pupils and post-grad students alike through the TOEFL English test.

Two young women walk down a Pristina street
Pristina today is very much a young person's city

The language is an essential for entering some local colleges, such as the American University of Pristina, and demand is high.

In the downtown classroom, teaching aids other than the course book include DVDs of the latest TV drama series from the UK and US.

His enthusiasm as a teacher is infectious as he works the class - between six and 12 students at a time - with a mixture of erudition and wit.

"I push them to limits they didn't know existed but the satisfaction I get when they come back to thank me for their exam results is priceless," he says.

When we first met last February, he was teaching at a school inside Pristina's giant sports centre by day and, by night, in his modest flat, where he lives with his wife and two school-age children.

Somehow, he also fitted in translation work in a hectic lifestyle that left him with just a few hours' sleep each night.

"My head only has to hit the pillow, and I am out for the count," he says.

I myself always say that I am first Albanian and that my religion is a private thing

He still conducts a busy social life in Pristina's cafes, where it is somehow a pleasure to watch him shake, then rip open, two sachets of sugar at a time to sweeten his tiny cups of black coffee.

His appetite for life is no mere metaphor, either, just to see him devour a pizza at his favourite 24-hour bakery - "this place has never closed its doors since it re-opened after the war", he boasts.

The war saw Meti enduring the first week of the Nato bombing before being expelled from Pristina by Serbian police and plunged into a refugee existence in Macedonia and Austria.

It is a time he is trying to erase from his memory, he says quietly.

To this day, he can smell a decomposing corpse - Albanian, Serb, nobody could tell - which he saw after his return, in a springtime Kosovan field, while working as an interpreter for international investigators.

Another time

A tiny building, a mere speck in the concrete jungle that is modern Pristina, provides a unique relic of its past in more senses than one.

Coffins inside the tekke
Dervish pilgrims from outside Kosovo come to the Pristina tekke
It is a tekke, a cross between a house of prayer for Sufi Shia Muslims (dervishes) and a funeral vault, which dates back four centuries.

Inside are several coffins of sheikhs, or religious leaders, draped in green shrouds, including that of the tekke's founder.

The remains of the other sheikhs were brought from tekkes destroyed under communism.

Behind the tekke is something more recent but also quite unique in Pristina: a grave in a tiny garden.

Here lies Meti's paternal grandfather, after whom he was named.

Sheikh Mehmed Sezai Shehu died in 1947 and his last request was for the dervishes not to build a tekke for him, but bury him in his garden.

Family history has it that the communist authorities decreed the night before he died that he had to be buried like everyone else outside the city.

Muhedin Shehu inside the tekke
Muhedin's friends come every Sunday

However, in what his family thinks was an act of God, they dropped their insistence the next day without explanation.

Once a week, a small group of his grandfather's elderly dervishes assemble in the tekke along with Meti's uncle, 82-year-old Muhedin Shehu, who looks after the building.

There are mats for them to make themselves comfortable and their gatherings seem to be as much social as religious occasions.

"When I come here, I feel serenity and peace," says Meti.

Dervishes are a minority among Kosovo's Muslims, who are mainly orthodox Sunnis, but Meti has encountered no sectarian strife:

"When you come to Kosovo and ask someone their religion, if they say 'Muslim' you cannot tell by looking at them whether they are Shia or Sunni because there is nothing distinctive here, they don't grow beards like in Bosnia, for instance. Islam here is moderate."

He believes that most Kosovo Albanians define themselves by nationality before religion.

"I myself always say that I am first Albanian and that my religion is a private thing," says Meti, whose maternal uncle was also a sheikh and died in communist Albania in the late 1940s (the exact year is not known).

The great healer

Meti is also a proud citizen of the new state declared this year though he finds it hard to think of himself as Kosovan, rather than Albanian:

The grave of Sheikh Mehmed Sezai Shehu (image from February 2007)
How the grave was permitted in the city remains a mystery

"I will teach my children to think of themselves as Kosovars [sic] but I am 43 now and I don't think it will be very easy for me to say 'I'm a Kosovar'. I'm Albanian."

His politics do not mean that he cannot still have Serb friends, admire the frescoes in Kosovo's mediaeval churches or, as a linguist, savour the richness of Serbian swearwords.

In the agency he runs in conjunction with the English school, Meti employs seven Serb freelance translators, who live across Kosovo and work by e-mail.

I ask him if he sees a day when Serbs can accept Kosovan independence.

"Time heals all wounds," he begins.

"I think they will see that this is a new reality which some will embrace. Others will still defy it or pack their bags and leave.

"It won't be their country but they will have dual citizenship, Kosovan and Serbian, and this time will come much faster than some sceptics think."

Meti looks forward to Kosovo, Serbia and the whole region joining the EU and the borders disappearing.

Meanwhile, he goes on fine-tuning the English of Pristina's younger generation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sabr by Imam Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi


Imam Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi1

Sabr (steadfastness) is mentioned in the Qur’an in more than seventy places. This is

because of the tremendous importance that steadfastness has in the din. It has been said

that every good action has a limited reward, from ten-fold up to seven-hundred fold,

except for steadfastness whose reward has no limit. That is because of Allah’s words

Only the steadfast are paid their reward without reckoning.”

Allah mentions eight types of honour shown to the steadfast:

 The first is love. Allah says, “And Allah loves the steadfast.”

 The second is help. He says, “Truly, Allah is with the steadfast.”

 The third is mansions in the Garden. He says, exalted is He, “They will be

recompensed with mansions because of how they were steadfast.”

 The fourth is a full and ample reward. Allah says, “Only the steadfast are paid

their reward without reckoning.”

 The other four are all mentioned in one Ayah (in al-Baqarah) in which they (the

steadfast) are given the good news. Allah says, “Give good news to the

steadfast.” And there is mention in the same Ayah of mercy, compassion, and

guidance as rewards for the steadfast ones. Allah says, “Those, there is on them

mercy and compassion from their Lord and those they are the guided


There are four aspects of steadfastness:

There are four aspects of steadfastness:

 Steadfastness in affliction, which is the act of preventing the self from becoming

discontented and impatient;

 Steadfastness in good fortune, which is to bind it fast to gratitude, without

overstepping the limits or becoming proud and self-important because of the

good fortune;

 Steadfastness in obedience by safeguarding it and becoming constant in it;

 Steadfastness (in refraining) from acts of disobedience by withholding oneself

from them.

Above steadfastness there is surrender, which is abandoning opposition and

discontentment outwardly and abandoning dislike inwardly.

Above surrender there is contentment with the decree, which is the self’s happiness with

the act of Allah; it issues from love, for everything the Beloved does is beloved.

11 The author was born in 693 AH. His name was Abu `Abdullah Muhammad, called al-Qasim,

ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi, i.e. from the Arab tribe of Kalb, may Allah be

pleased with him and make him contented, and make the Garden his shelter. He was al-Gharnati

(from Granada in Andalusia, Spain) and thus European. Ibn Juzayy wrote widely on all the

sciences of his day: Hadith, fiqh, Qur’anic recitations and tafsir. He died fighting as a shahid in the

Battle of Tarif in the year 741 AH.

1 The author was born in 693 AH. His name was Abu `Abdullah Muhammad, called al-Qasim,

ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi, i.e. from the Arab tribe of Kalb, may Allah be

pleased with him and make him contented, and make the Garden his shelter. He was al-Gharnati

(from Granada in Andalusia, Spain) and thus European. Ibn Juzayy wrote widely on all the

sciences of his day: Hadith, fiqh, Qur’anic recitations and tafsir. He died fighting as a shahid in the

Battle of Tarif in the year 741 AH.

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