Muslim Development Course: Update

The Muslim Development Course has been rescheduled! It is due to start up again on April 4th.

The Muslim Development Course is the class I will be teaching that is part of the Quba Adult Learning Program entitled, al-Qāfilah: ‘The Knowledge Caravan’. The objective of this course is to encourage the development of Muslim thought, action, and behavior, both individual and social, in such a way that it reflects a deeper and more personal understanding, ownership, and embodiment of the divine principles found in the Qur’ān and the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him.

This course will examine the current conditions of Muslims – most immediately of those living in the Philadelphia area (though the principles may be applied to any) – with the aim of looking critically at our current condition and how we might apply the Qur’ān and Sunnah in our lives by actively engaging in its historical realities and processes. Such topics will include, but are not limited to: the life of the Prophet [s] – a.k.a., the sīrah up to the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah; the early Qur’ānic Revelation (Makkan period): the cultural context as well as its audience; pre-Islamic life in the Hijāz (the jāhiliyyah): what was pre-Islam Arabia like? How did pre-Islamic Arabs think?; the language of the Qur’ān: its history, its audience, its changes – how do we as an English speaking audience conceive of its meaning?; the socio-political order of Makkah and Madinah: what lessons are there for us today, both personal and collectively? Through engaging in a dialog with the collective of Muslim Revelation, history, thought, and language, we can better understand ourselves and, God willing, have a deeper commitment to the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad.

The class starts April 4th. Running time is from 10:00am until 12:30pm. The class will run for four Sundays: April 4th, 11th, 18th, and 25th. This session, the second session, will be held at Masjid Mujahideen, in West Philadelphia:


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The first cycle of this class was started on March 7th, and will is currently running until March 28th [taught by Imam Anas of the [Qubā’ Institute]. If you would like to sign up for this course, please contact the Qubā’ Institute as follows:

Phone: 215-473-8589. E-mail: adultprogram@qubainc.org. The course fee is $50 [this is less than $15 a day!]

Islamic Education – Not Just For Muslims Anymore [?]

I greatly enjoyed Dr. Sherman Jackson’s keynote address at the 2009 fundraiser for the Quba Institute. In it, he touched on some key, if not entirely new, points about the nature of education as it relates to Muslims. To a greater extent, his talk was focused at Blakcamerican Muslims and specifically the need for us to address the detriment or dystrophy of education in our ranks and religious proclivities. I have a number of thoughts regarding it as well as expounding on them, but that will have to wait for a few moments as I am in the thick of finals. In the meantime, a short article by Stephen Schwartz entitled, “What Johnny Needs to Learn about Islam”. It was published in the Weekly Standard [Volume 015, Issue 12]. The excerpt below followed by a link to the full article. Something to chew on.

“In the past, American textbooks were prone to two great pitfalls: Either they dealt with Islam superficially or they presented it in the manner preferred and promoted by well-funded defenders of Islamic extremism. A hallmark of that latter view is an emphasis on the unity of Islam, which is portrayed as simple, monolithic, and benign. The wide range of belief and practice between Sunni, Shia, and Sufi Islam, to name only the best-known variations, is downplayed, and the problems of Islam, especially violent jihad, are simply left out. Some of the current efforts at revising textbooks successfully avoid these mistakes.” Read the full article here.

The Islamic Literacy Series – Fall 2009

The Islamic Literacy Series is a new program at the University of Pennsylvania aimed at increasing the level of understanding among Muslims about their own faith. Each week, a 50 minute class will be held on a different topic pertaining to Islam. A faculty of 5 instructors will introduce, explore and examine the richness and diversity of the Muslim past and present. The goal is that over the course of this series, students find answers, discover new questions, challenge conventions, appreciate tradition and gain a better grasp of who they are and what their faith means.

All classes will be held in Huntsman Hall, Room TBD. The classes will be on Tuesdays and Wednesdays on the dates listed below. Each class will begin promptly at 7:30 and will last for exactly 50 minutes. Faculty will be available for those who wish to stay after to ask more questions. All students are welcome to attend. If you are not a student, but would like to attend please contact Adnan Zulfiqar to request permission (azulfica@sas.upenn.edu).

SCHEDULE

October 14, 2009 (Wednesday): Discovering the Qur’an
Instructor: Adnan Zulfiqar
Description: This class introduces students to the various techniques used in the Qur’an to help convey meaning. Particular emphasis will be placed on how to better understand the Qur’anic language and the different schools of thought that have arisen to interpret the Qur’anic message.

October 20, 2009 (Tuesday): A Little Bit of Muslim Herstory
Instructor: Carolyn Baugh
Description: Since the beginning of Islam, Muslim women have made strong contributions to the story of Islam. This class explores the lives of a few of these strong and outspoken women, and asks how Muslim women today can capitalize on their stories to make their own voices heard.

October 28, 2009 (Wednesday): Spread of Islam in Africa
Instructor: Margari Hill-Manley
Description: This lecture explore Islam in Africa by providing the historical background to the development of Muslim societies and communities in Africa (Northern and sub-Saharan Africa). My aim is to complicate the dichotomy of Middle East and Africa by showing the ways in which sub-Saharan Africa has always been connected to the broader Muslim world.

November 4, 2009 (Wednesday): The Science of Tasawwuf (Sufism)
Instructor: Marc Manley
Description: What are its goals and objectives. An intorspection on what Sufism is “trying to get at” and how it can relate to the modern Muslim. A tie-in with a short bio piece and examples from Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s life.

November 10, 2009 (Tuesday): The Relevance of Muslim Thought in Modern Times
Instructor: Marc Manley
Description: A reading/lecture inspired by William Chittick’s Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul. An introduction into the mechanics of Muslim thought and how/why it is important to “think like a Muslim” in the modern age.

November 18, 2009 (Wednesday): The Spirituality of Muslim Women
Instructor: Margari Hill-Manley
Description: This lecture explores Muslim women’s spiritual practices and notions of womanhood in Islam. The lecture looks at women in the Quran, the significance of Hagar’s plight in the hajj rituals, and notions of womanhood in Sufism. The aim is of the lecture is to recover the feminine voice in Islamic traditions.

December 2, 2009 (Wednesday): Introduction to the Mad’habs (Legal Schools of Thought)
Instructor: Sadik Kassim
Description: A brief introduction regarding the historical development of today’s major schools of thought, their similarities, and differences with respect to legal theory and practice.

December 9, 2009 (Wednesday): Islamic Medical Ethics
Instructor: Sadik Kassim
Description: Introduction to basic principles underpinning Islamic Medical Ethics. There will also be a brief discussion regarding Islamic perspectives on bioethical issues such as abortion, end-of-life care, euthanasia, stem cell research, fertility treatment, and organ donation.

BIOGRAPHIES

Carolyn Baugh holds an undergraduate degree from Duke University in Arabic and Arab Literature, and a Master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Arabic and Islamic Studies. She is currently completing her PhD dissertation at Penn focusing on legal methodologies with regard to consent and marriage in Islamic law. She was a 2009 Dean’s Scholar.

Margari Hill-Manley is an educator and writer with an MA in history from Stanford University where she specialized in Islam in Africa and Sufi social networks. She has lectured on a variety of topics relating to Islam, African history and Black American Muslim communities at universities across the nation and has traveled extensively in the Middle East as a student and researcher. Her blog, “Margari Aziza,” has been featured in international magazines and noted as one of the outstanding female blogs for the 2008 Brass Crescent awards.

Sadik Kassim is a research fellow in the Gene Therapy Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He is currently Scientific News Editor of the international scientific journal, Human Gene Therapy. Sadik obtained his Ph.D. in 2007 in the field of Viral Immunology. He is a founding member and former Secretary of the Islamic Message Foundation in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dr. Kassim has spoken at several Universities and Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Hindu organizations around the country.

Marc Manley was born in Detroit, Michigan and embraced Islam in 1992. He subsequently learned and then taught the Arabic language for a few years. Marc has had an eclectic set of experiences including as a photographer, artist, chef and musician. He has been under the tutelage of scholars like Sherman Jackson and Shaykh Anwar Muhaimin. Marc is currently working towards a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies and has been a regular khatib since 2008. More information on him is available at www.marcmanley.com/.

Adnan Zulfiqar previously served as the Interfaith Fellow and Campus Minister to the Muslim Community at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his BA in Religion & Anthropology from Emory University, J.D. (Law) from the University of Pennsylvania and will be completing his Ph.D in the fall of 2012 in Arabic & Islamic Studies with a focus on Islamic law and the Qur’an. Adnan has also spent several years studying overseas mainly in Kenya, Syria and Pakistan.

Where To Turn To When Returning To Spirituality

 

There has been a great increase in interest in spirituality from the Muslim community over the last several years. Published manuscripts of this or that teacher, new translations of Ibn ‘Arabi’scosmology as well as lesser known, more esoteric authors have hit the shelves of book stores in waves. The Muslim readership in the English-speaking world are hungry for spiritual sustenance. But is this hunger being fed? That is the question I would like to ask.

This new call for methods and practices on Muslim spirituality have not been solely limited to print. Many neo-Traditional institutions have found themselves in demand, holding numerous seminars across the United States and Britain, calling for returns to a spiritual practice of Islam. And while I laud these efforts, I will illustrate how some of these mediums may not actually be accomplishing their goals: to help engender a spirit of God conscious amongst the rank and file believers. And finally, to go beyond just critique, I will try and offer a few meager suggestions myself.

It goes without saying that Islam is a religion that has a strong historicaland spiritual practice, what some may call Sufism, Tasawwuf, or mysticism, found in all corners of the earth, where ever Muslims have traveled to. It is linked with many of the great intellectual and philosophical figures in Muslim history (the aforementioned Ibn ‘Arabi, Mulla Sadra and of course, the famous Abu Hamid al-Ghazali). Many if not most of these spiritual traditions have survived up to the present day, from Africa to Asia, the Balkans to the Middle-East, in various turuq (plural of tariqah, or a Sufi brotherhood). And now that Islam has arrived on America’s shores, what will its spiritual tradition look like? Is there one at all? Proto-Islamic groups, such as the Nation of Islam, had their roots in a “holy protest” against white supremacist values and socialinjustices; spirituality was not a primary or even secondary focus of their experiences as Muslims (note: I am obviously aware of the doctrinal differences between orthodox Islam and the problematic theology of the NOI, but for the purposes of this article, I will refer to them nonetheless as Muslim here) in America. Following the popular demise of the NOI in the face of Muslims hailing from the historical Islamic world, again, we see most Muslims in America primarily concerned with existential matters: education, employment, assimilation. And while these are all necessary matters, they cannot sustain a community over the long haul alone. So why the recent interest in spirituality? And more importantly, how will it shape itself in this unique context, addressing the many various needs of the American Muslim community? These are some of the questions that beg many answers.

I have spent a fair amount of time over the last severalyears attending, photographing, and observing many religious functions of Muslims in America. Many of these, whose objectives are a call to spirituality and the return to a more focused spiritual life. The significance of this shift coming post 9/11 cannot be ignored, as it helps us to see who’s interested and why. To be more direct, calls for a return to spirituality have been championed primarily by immigrant-supported groups. By supported I mean groups either led by leaders or more importantly, support financially by immigrant Muslims. Many, though not all of these Muslims tend to come from more affluent backgrounds, having both more formal education than their Blackamericancounterparts as well as the disposable income to support such groups and even the human capitalto volunteer and assist in their implementation. This should not be thought of as a critique versus merely an observation. In fact, it is because of the lack of both economic and human capital that many indigenous [and here I am referring to Blackamerican] institutions have yet to fully take flight. So the question I ask myself is in what way, in what role, will indigenous Muslims have a role in shaping the future of the development of spiritual practices. But before attempting to answer such a question, first we must look at what are the current practices and trends on the ground and what does the triage call for.

Like any thing else in the American Muslim experience, divergent groups will have divergent needs. The spiritualneeds and practical implementation of any such developed practices will have to vary from community to community. The trials and tribulations of immigrant Muslims may indeed be very different from those of BlackamericanMuslims, regardless if they are low-income urban Blacks or educated, upwardly mobile. It is the different histories of the two communities that will drive (or ought to be) and dictate the spiritual needs of the communities. What I believe should be paid more attention to is that bothcommunities have a real need for such a return. And while this has been felt by the immigrant Muslim community, in large, this has either been ignored by the Blackamerican population, especially in urban settings, where there is a palpable mistrust of such practices as deviant, or not fully articulated into a “need”, and thus practice. But there has been a small groundswell of interest in more independent-minded BlackamericanMuslims, many of whom I have been in contact with and have discussed this very same topic. For them, the question is not “if”, in terms of spiritual practice, but “how” and “by whom”, and in what way. Many of us have toured the travel circuit, attended the lectures and workshops but have yet to be left with a feeling of a workable plan. A functional spirituality that gives meaning to their private lives as Muslims. That bring them closer to God.

With two possible tracks articulated, the question now turns to the institutions themselves. How are they, if at all, prepared to deal with the multiplicity of backgrounds, cultural proclivities and the like of the above groups. The traveling workshop has left many with just a taste of what might be possible, but with no solid or tangible means to pursue these practices further. Many have stated they do not feel they can learn or accomplish much in a one-day or two-day talk, often of which the topics seem more like a talk show format than something truly topical. Should we be asking more and/or different formats of dissemination from our Islamic higher institutions of learning? Many would seem to think so. And given that time and money are of limited supply, many of these attendees feel that their money, time, and resources could be put to better use for better results.

To be certain, a great deal of this difficulty is brought about by modern life itself, which at many times can seem and feel antithetical to the betterment of the human being. Time constraints, inflation, taking more to obtain less, all add to the stress and detracted interaction of not only Muslims from one another, but to all peoples caught in this bind. And while the Internet has made the dissemination of information doubly more proficient, it has yet to prove to be truly capable to mimicking the experience of bona-fide human involvement. In short, both short seminars and web casts are poor substitutions for proper teachers and real companionship (suhbah, the word from which the word Sahabah (the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم companions) is derived). And it may be true that the greater aspects of spirituality are those demons we all rankle with on the inside, there is also an outer aspect that involves companionship with our common man. And in our case specifically, with other Muslims. I myself saw the proof of this when interviewing many of the attendees at conferences such as MANA and ISNA or even talks by Zaytuna. They all attested to the fact that the greatest benefit from those conferences wasn’t the talks, wasn’t the shopping at the bazaars, but it was just the honest-to-goodness social interaction with other like-minded Muslims. I believe this to be step one in commencing our journey towards a healthy spiritual practice. We must come to know one another. And there is plenty of evidence that we, as an American Muslim collective, still do not know one another as well as we should.

“O’ mankind! Without a doubt we created you from a single pair of man and woman and made you of various sorts and tribes so that you may get to know one another.” al-Hujaraat, 13.

As for the second step of this journey, we, both the rank and file and the administrators of such institutions, must constantly ask, “is this serving our purpose?” Is this what we need? Along with a new generation of imams, who will need to be trained in more than just Qur’anicrecitation, our next generation of scholars and community educators must need be multifaceted, trained in many areas of expertise, capable of on-spot cultural analysis, assessing that the community needs, what they’re facing, and how best to prepare them for the world in which they not only live in, but for one they want to live in, and of course, for the life to come. Perhaps in there lies a hope for divergent communities to come together, utilize and celebrate the genius of our communities, and not just sending our best and brightest off to study medicine and engineering. I encourage many of my Blackamericanbrethren to take a second look at the intellectual and spiritual history and tradition of Islam and not right it off as just “bid’ah“. With all of the difficulties that Blackamericans face, especially those coming out of urban backgrounds, we need to deliver to them an Islam that is more than simply an conglomerate of rules and regulations. More intelligent ways of saying “halal” and not just “haram”, without giving up or into the demands of the dominant culture and yet not completely disassociating ourselves from it. Without a doubt, we need a return to spirituality, but we can ask for and receive better.

And God knows best.