Beyond Halal – A New Perspective on Ramadan

We sit, with awe and reverence in sha’Allah, to partake in the worship and blessings of another Ramadân. Some of us look upon this month eagerly, others with a sense of obligation and conviction. Doubtless, this year’s Ramadân will be long days of fasting for my of us across the globe. But in light of the recent dialog that has sprung up around the beyond halal subject, I thought I might share some thoughts, insights, and personal goals this Ramadân, from a food perspective.

To begin, Ramadân is more than just abstaining from food. It’s greater than the sums of abstention. Ramadân is an experience of both days and nights. I for one, as a diabetic, have struggled with the Tarâwîh prayers the last several years since being diagnosed as a diabetic. And therefore, just as we learn during the daylight hours how fasting awakens one’s senses while taming desires, one of my personal goals is to gain more of the night-time experiences that Ramadân has to offer. For me, this will require how I re-think food during this holy month. Continue reading “Beyond Halal – A New Perspective on Ramadan”

No Growth – No Surprise

Squeaky wheels gets the grease. There are some in our community who are attention seekers. They want a lot of attention and we obliged them. Perhaps if we work actively to steer our converts (so they can move beyond conversion into “being” Muslim) and other members of our community towards operationalizing their Islam, we could nip all of this in the bud. It’s no coincidence that some can rise to popularity in this age of social media and blogs (I myself have a well-read blog). It provides an (unhealthy for some) outlet for those who struggle with narcissism (a disease of our age).

For those of us who personally know converts who leave Islam, you’ll often see there was no progression, no growth of who they were as a person (not only as a Muslim) during their stint in Islam. I hold us a community (fard kifayah?) partially to blame: we have no expectations on ourselves other than beards, hijabs, and bummery (yes, that’s a word). This is also where, again for those of us who do know these converts, we should be challenging them by asking, “why did you spend x-number of years jumping from lily pad to lily pad instead of learning how to swim in the big pond?” What do I mean? Salafism, Sufism, progressivism, this ‘ism and that ‘ism. Some even claim that Islam, vis-a-vie, Muslims, are incapable of competing in the marketplace of ideas. How ironic that in making this statement (which in to some degree may actually hold a bit of validity) thet indict themselves! Obviously is you spend your life committed to the Cult of Personality and not to establishing a relationship with God and His Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم then you can’t expect blood from a turnip. This ordeal is bigger than any one personality; I see the same issue happening now with the UnMosqued people (which is interestingly enough, also taking place online via social media. Just go on Twitter and look for the hash-tag #unmosqued – also see #remosqued). People are whining and complaining about the predicament of our mosques (some true – some maybe not so much) but that’s it. It only amounts to complaints. Folks are unwilling to be that change they want to see in their mosques and communities. Case in point, I was just asked by a young Muslim this morning:

“Why did you want to become an Imam and grow closer and become an important part of your Muslim community? This MSA is my first ever Muslim community and I just can’t help be feel that maybe I just wasted my time by joining it.”

I am not chiding this person but as you can see, many struggle with seeing validity in their lives and the easiest and most convenient target for their frustrations is the Muslim community (an abstraction). My reply was:

“In short, because I like people, because if I don’t, who will. Because I have the necessary skills and talents, in sha’Allah. And because I don’t see it as a waste of time.”

For every commentator on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets, we should be asking critical questions, not simply refuting this or that particular person’s misguided reasons for leaving Islam. What can we do, right now, today, tomorrow, this month, this year, to make our community a beacon of light and hope, where folks (myself included!!) can be rehabilitated, where we can help reinforce our children’s love of Islam (and themselves!). Where Islam becomes a lived-in reality, a way of life, not simply a collection of do’s and don’ts (we need more do’s!!).

In a closing observation, I want to say this about converts, who often look for validation and a sense of belonging. For some, this is sought in the Black community (for others with Arabs or South Asian community). This is why for some, even in their demeanor, they attempted to co-opt Black vernacular, body language, urban modes of dress and even derogatory aspects of Black urban behavior. In essence, they seek acceptance from and by African-Americans. This is often the base because their his whiteness is perceived as an immutable barrier to BEING black. Why else do so many feel so comfortable in weighing in on issues with in the black community such as black masculinity. What is not addressed is they own perception of whiteness and how its seen as emasculation personified (look at the critiques of Nuh Ha Meem Keller, Hamza Yusuf, Joe Bradford and others by white converts). Some pursue their Islam through Salafism in its urban, Blackamerican form, not Arab or Desi Salafis (for they do exist in abundance). And even when Salafism “disappointed” them, their next “lily pad” they jump to is often Sufism (the sign of an imbalanced mind – this is nothing to do with those groups in particular); but not just any expression of Sufism (Naqshbandi, Qadiri, Shadhili) but the tariqah which is predominantly black: the Tijani Order. The issue here is seeking acceptance from personalities and groups of people: African-Americans in this case here, instead of dealing with their obvious identity crises and (erroneous) misgivings of being white (which for many white converts, they seem to feel — and indeed may be encouraged to feel — is in jeopardy of discrediting the authenticity of their Islam) has more to do with their apostasy than anything else in my opinion. You’ll notice that theology (tawhid) is often left out of the discussion and the reason being is that for many new converts, theology may not play a major role in the decision to convert (I know it didn’t in mine — I had no idea what tawhid was when I became Muslim. All I knew was my best friend since I was 5 years old became a Muslims, so I became a Muslim — the important part is that I eventually grew as a person which allowed me to grow in my Islam). The major reasons initially may fade over time (boyfriend, girlfriend, marriage, etc.) and if people grow in themselves then such things as tawhid, Sunnah, etc. may become the defining points in why they stay Muslims.

Food for thought.

Status Quo – A Khutbah

Islam is more than a religion. According to Cicero, religion comes from “relegere” or “to go through again/read again.” From “re” + “legere”.

But Islam is a way of life, a way of living your life, of seeing, of acting, all tied together. It can even be classified as civilizational, though this can sometimes be problematic when certain groups or races of people are seen to be indistinguishable with that civilization.

This way of life touches on every aspect of human existence: the personal, the public, the private; even the political. But in today’s world, where so much emphasis is placed on the political, Muslims have often lost sight of where in the grand scheme of things does politics fit. What about our principles? What happened to that simple piety of “doing the right thing”? We cannot wait-list our morals and principles until we achieve certain (perceived) political goals. What if we do not have the capacity to do so? Being Muslim isn’t always about what you’d like to be able to do but about what you ought to do with what you’re given.

إنكم في زمان من ترك منكم عشر ما أمر به هلك ثم يأتي زمان من عمل منهم بعشر ما أمر به نجا

“You live in a time that one will be destroyed if he does not fulfill a 10th of what he has been commanded to do. Then there will come a time when fulfilling a 10th of what you have been commanded will be salvation.” al-Tirmidhi, hasan.

Getting our community back to basics: morality, compassion, God-fearing and God-consciousness (warning people):

فَإِنْ أَعْرَضُوا فَقُلْ أَنْذَرْتُكُمْ صَاعِقَةً مِثْلَ صَاعِقَةِ عَادٍ وَثَمُود

Qur’an, Fussilat, 41: 13.

Even out theology connects belief in God to feeding poor people. This is not contingent upon any political aspirations:

إِنَّهُ كَانَ لَا يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ الْعَظِيمِ – وَلَا يَحُضُّ عَلَىٰ طَعَامِ الْمِسْكِينِ

Qur’an, al-Haqqah, 69: 32-33.

Current state of heedlessness: we are only jolted awake and into action when there’s a crisis. We live from crisis to crisis:

مَثَلُهُمْ كَمَثَلِ الَّذِي اسْتَوْقَدَ نَارًا فَلَمَّا أَضَاءَتْ مَا حَوْلَهُ ذَهَبَ اللَّهُ بِنُورِهِمْ وَتَرَكَهُمْ فِي ظُلُمَاتٍ لَا يُبْصِرُونَ – صُمٌّ بُكْمٌ عُمْيٌ فَهُمْ لَا يَرْجِعُونَ – أَوْ كَصَيِّبٍ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فِيهِ ظُلُمَاتٌ وَرَعْدٌ وَبَرْقٌ يَجْعَلُونَ أَصَابِعَهُمْ فِي آذَانِهِمْ مِنَ الصَّوَاعِقِ حَذَرَ الْمَوْتِ ۚ وَاللَّهُ مُحِيطٌ بِالْكَافِرِينَ – يَكَادُ الْبَرْقُ يَخْطَفُ أَبْصَارَهُمْ ۖ كُلَّمَا أَضَاءَ لَهُمْ مَشَوْا فِيهِ وَإِذَا أَظْلَمَ عَلَيْهِمْ قَامُوا ۚ وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ لَذَهَبَ بِسَمْعِهِمْ وَأَبْصَارِهِمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

Qur’an, al-Baqarah, 2: 17-18.

We don’t read the Qur’an with a sense of fear and awe. We think these “stories” are about “other people”. Why would Allah inform us of what they did wrong if not then to warn us to avoid the same pitfalls?

Are we committed to delivering Allah’s message and to doing good works? Or are we here just to enjoy this life? But then suddenly we find ourselves victims of this heedlessness as well:

أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَنْ يُتْرَكُوا أَنْ يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ

Qur’an, al-Ankabut, 29: 2.

إن قامت الساعة وفي يد أحدكم فسيلة فإن استطاع أن لا تقوم حتى يغرسها فليغرسها

al-Adab al-Mufrad, sahih.