The Art of Paper-Making

Jan 11 - The Art of paper-making

By Saulat Pervez

Muslims transformed the Chinese art of papermaking into a major industry as early as the eighth century!

Muslims learned the secret of papermaking from Chinese prisoners captured during the battle of Talas in 751 A.D. Before long, paper began to be manufactured in Samarkand, the very first Muslim hub of papermaking. By 793 A.D., there were many paper mills in Baghdad; as with all other major developments in the Muslim world, paper production soon spread to Syria, Egypt, North Africa, Sicily and Spain. From a Chinese art, paper was thus transformed into a major industry by the Muslims.

This was a revolutionary development, because the existing alternatives to paper were papyrus, which was fragile, and parchment, which was expensive; paper, on the other hand, was relatively cheap because it was made out of cotton – and Muslims made its manufacturing more efficient through the use of water-powered mills. This mass availability of paper enabled Muslims to commit vast amounts of translations and original research to paper; as a result, libraries and bookstores thrived and became a common sight in Baghdad and other Muslim cities.

For example, by the thirteenth century, Baghdad had thirty-six libraries and a 100 book dealers, some of whom were also publishers. The concept of a library catalog dates back to this period – books in these libraries were organized under specific genres and categories. Besides these, many nobles and merchants had private collections of books.

“We hear of a private library in Baghdad, as early as the ninth century, which required a hundred and twenty camels to move it from one place to another. Another scholar of Baghdad refused to accept a position elsewhere, because it would take four hundred camels to transport his books; the catalogue of this private library filled ten volumes. This is the more astonishing, when it is realized that the library of the king of France in 1300 had only about four hundred titles,” writes Frederick Artz in his book “The Mind of the Middle Ages”.

Furthermore, James Burke notes of Cordoba in Muslim Spain: “Paper, a material still unknown to the west, was everywhere. There were bookshops and more than seventy libraries.”

In fact, this was the case because the very first paper mill in medieval Europe was established as late as 1268 A.D. in Italy and appeared in other major countries, such as Germany and France, centuries later.

Islam in Chicago

Jan 11 - Islam in Chicago

When I moved to Chicago just three weeks after I got married, I really didn’t know what to expect. Having always lived in such predominantly Muslim cities as Dubai and Karachi, I was looking forward to beginning a new chapter in my life but wasn’t quite sure how to start from scratch.

I wasn’t sure about a lot of things at first. I had never filled petrol in a car, never cleaned a bathroom and never made Khatti Daal (lentils). However, I was sure of one thing – I was not going to be just one more ingredient in a melting pot of nationalities that simmered together to become one sauce. I didn’t want to be called Karen, even though that was so much more convenient than having to spell out (sometimes twice) K-I-R-A-N. I was going to be a productive part of American society; however, instead of mixing into a melting pot, I wanted to be a part of a salad bowl of sorts – where each ingredient’s own flavour, colour and texture has its own place.

I was lucky to have arrived in a metropolitan city like Chicago, where there are Masajid and Halal meat stores in practically every town. It is not hard to find good Islamic schools and great chicken Tikkas, too. There are close to 400,000 Muslims in the greater Chicago area alone. Approximately a quarter of them are indigenous African-American Muslims. The next two of the largest ethnic groups include 20% Arab and 20% from South Asia. The remaining is a beautiful blend of Bosnian, Turkish, West African and increasingly white reverts to Islam. The result is that women may wear differently-styled Hijabs, and men may speak different languages, but when the Adhan is called, Allahu Akbar, each person sheds their ethnic differences and stands shoulder to shoulder in front of the One God.

Chicago has made a name for itself in the American Muslim landscape. The architect of the world-famous Sears Tower (now called Willis Tower) was a Muslim. Seven of the five hundred most influential Muslims in the world call Chicago home. The Chicago Muslim community is highly educated, affluent, civically engaged and socially responsible. Loosely translated, there are always at least four community events taking place every weekend. There is an array of volunteer opportunities. Youth paint Masjid classrooms, have Qiyam around a bonfire in Ramadan and pick up trash in the park. Women attend Quran circles, befriend newly-arrived refugees, attend girl scouts meetings and participate in breast cancer awareness marathons. Men volunteer to direct traffic in Masajid parking lots when they are jam-packed for Jumuah, even though they have to rush back to work. Chicago Muslims do not hesitate to let their elected representatives know how they feel about such national issues as the New York Islamic Centre or international ones as the crisis in Gaza.

There are more than two hundred places to pray Jumuah in Chicagoland. From multi-million dollar mega Masajid to small storefront prayer spaces, where people overflow on to the sidewalk due to space constraints, you can perform Salah in a different Masjid every day of the month and still not be done.

I believe I have become a stronger Muslim, since I moved to the United States. I bake cookies for my neighbours on Eid, and I read stories about Ramadan in my children’s classrooms. Like many other Muslim-Americans, I feel I am on an auto-Dawah mode. Every action of mine can be taken as representative of my Ummah. If I am rude to the cab driver, he may feel all women in Hijab are condescending. If the cashier forgets to charge me for milk, I remind her, so that she knows Muslims will not be comfortable to go home with something they haven’t paid for. Yes, it is hard work, but I feel this is one way of dispelling myths about our Deen.

My husband and I became American citizens early this year and while I know some readers may disagree, I am at peace being a Muslim and a Pakistani-American. I don’t think this tri-fold identity is at odds with one other. I can dress how I choose, pray where I please and eat what I like. I can file a lawsuit, if I believe I am discriminated against.

Looking back, I didn’t know Chicago would provide me with so many opportunities to give back to the community. I have definitely learned a lot – and I’m not just referring to the Khatti Daal.

Kiran Ansari is the editor of the “Chicago Crescent” ( ), a monthly Muslim newspaper.

The Difference between Deen and Madhab

Jan 11 - Difference bw Deen and Madhab

By Dr. Israr Ahmad

The words Deen and Madhab are entirely different from each other with regard to their underlying concepts. Although in our part of the world we generally refer to Islam as Madhab (religion), yet what is interesting indeed is the fact that the word Madhab has never once been used in the entire treasury of the Quranic text and Ahadeeth literature! Instead, the word that has almost always been used for Islam in the original sources is Deen.

The fundamental difference between the two terms must be understood. Madhab, or religion, is a term used for a set of beliefs and rituals of worship. On the other hand, Deen refers to an entire way of life that pervades all aspects of life. In other words, as compared to Madhab, Deen is a far more comprehensive, all-encompassing reality. With this backdrop, it will perhaps not be entirely correct to say that Islam is not a Madhab (religion), because all of the elements of a Madhab are certainly part and parcel of Islam – it includes the articles of belief, spirituality, and the etiquettes of worship (Salah, Saum, Zakah and Hajj). Hence, it would be more accurate to say that Islam is not merely a Madhab, but an entire code of life (Deen). It not only offers whatever constitutes religion, but is endowed with the elements of a complete way of life. Hence, Islam is, essentially, Deen.

In this context, it must also be understood that while several religions can co-exist at a time in a particular region of the world, there can only be a single Deen (way of life). It is not possible, for instance, for capitalism and communism to coexist in a country at the same time. Only one will be dominant and prevail over others. Similarly, monarchy and democracy cannot simultaneously be established in a country. A system can either be based on the law of Allah (swt), or it will be against the law of Allah (swt). There cannot be two parallel systems, although there can be several religions co-existing at a time in a certain place. The only exception can be made in the case of a single dominant system ascendant above all, subservient to which, all shrunken up and sidelined, may exist other systems. Allama Iqbal said: “In a state of enslavement, it is reduced to a single, small droplet / The very same life which, when freed, becomes a ceaseless, shoreless torrent!”

When Deen is subjugated, it is reduced to mere religion. At the high point of Islamic history, Islam was the single dominant system, under which existed Christianity, Judaism, Magianism and other creeds as religions. They were given this allowance on the clearly laid out condition to pay a nominal tax (Jizya) and accept their subservience to the ascendant system, as said in Surah At-Taubah: “Fight… until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (At-Taubah 9:29)

The law of the land shall be Allah’s (swt), and the dominant system will be Islam, but as far as personal law and private life was concerned, they were free to live according to their own beliefs and practices. However, during the period of the decline and downfall of the Islamic state, the situation was entirely reversed. It will not be wrong to say that in the Indian subcontinent, the dominant system of life belonged to the British. Hence, Islam in the subcontinent was reduced to mere religion – Muslims could pray as they wished, and the British never objected to that; they could declare the call for prayer from the mosques, and they could marry and inherit according to their religious laws, but the state law had to be none other than British, according to the dictates of the British Crown, without interference from the local people. This is exactly what Iqbal expressed in his verse: “Since the Mullah (cleric) in India is allowed to prostrate in prayer / He foolishly thinks it implies his freedom.”

In other words, Islam was not free, but had shrivelled up and been reduced to the level of a mere religion among many.

Deen is essentially that which dominates and pervades. If it is subjugated, it will no longer remain Deen, but will be reduced to Madhab. Its true character will be distorted. If studied from this angle, it becomes clear that no matter how great a system, if it is presented merely as a vision and idea, or presented in the form of a written treatise, it can at best be an idealistic utopia, but can never truly be a criterion, a standard, or a benchmark. It can become a decisive criterion for the whole of mankind to judge and live by only when it is brought into practice, established and fully implemented.

Translated and transcribed for “Hiba” by Maryam Sakeenah.

War in Monotheistic Religions – Judaism

Jan 11 - War in Monotheistic religions

By Laila Brence

Throughout history, many wars have been waged with religion being their stated cause and peace as their desired outcome. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the historically and theologically related monotheistic religions, are all dedicated to love and benevolence and yet, all three, at some points of history have developed concepts of war. Let us delve

into the history of Judaism in search of the origins of war in this religion, as defined by Karen Armstrong, a renowned writer of modern religion.

In her attempt to identify the origins of war in Judaism, Armstrong looks back at the very beginnings of Judaism – the time of Prophet Ibrahim (as). In about 1850 B.C.E., he left his home in Ur of the Chaldees to set out on a journey to the land of Canaan, the modern Israel. Allah (swt) commanded Ibrahim (as) to enter into a special covenant with Him, in return for what He would bless him – his descendants would become a great people and would be given the land of Canaan.

Among the first words that Allah (swt) spoke to Ibrahim (as) were: “To your descendants I will give this land.” (Genesis, 12:7) Armstrong maintains that this revelation has served as the basis for numerous wars fought by the Jews in order to make this promise come true. Also today many Jews see this Promised Land as essential to the integrity of Judaism.

In about 1700 B.C.E., the descendants of Ibrahim (as) migrated to Egypt. By 1250, their position there deteriorated to such an extent that they became slaves. At that point, Allah (swt) intervened and commanded prophet Musa (as) to save his people. Through a series of miracles granted by Allah (swt), Musa (as) forced the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go and then led them towards the Promised Land of Canaan. However, instead of going directly to Canaan, the Jews lived for forty years as nomads in the Sinai Peninsula. In these forty years, they learned to depend on Allah (swt) for all their needs, including their daily provision of food. But, most importantly, during this time, on Mount Sinai, Allah (swt) gave to Musa (as) the Ten Commandments, which became the basis of the Torah.

One of the Ten Commandments given to Musa (as) was: “Thou shalt not kill.” However, points out Armstrong, as Jews got ready to enter the Promised Land, Allah (swt) told them that they would have to engage in a ruthless war of extermination. Although Jews believed that the land of Canaan was theirs, it was not empty – there were other people living there, who had made it their home. Canaanites were in the way of the divine plan; they were enemies of the new Jewish self. Thus, according to Armstrong, the normal human rights the Jews were commanded to observe did not apply to the Canaanites, who had become the enemies of Allah (swt). Canaanites had to be exterminated. “I shall exterminate these,” Allah (swt) told his people, “they must not live in your country.” (Exodus, 23:23, 33)

Since the order of conquest came directly from Allah (swt), we can assume that this was the first holy war ever fought. In Jewish holy war, says Armstrong, there was no peaceful coexistence, mutual respect or peace treaties – their enemies were to be fought to death. When Jews had to establish themselves in the Promised Land, the ordinary morality did not apply.

Since Musa (as) died before reaching the Promised Land, it was Joshua (or Yoosha (as)), who in about 1200 B.C.E., led the Israelites into Canaan and established them there by means of a long and ruthless military campaign. He acted according to Allah’s (swt) command (Deuteronomy, 7:1-6) – the conquered areas were put under a ban, which meant total destruction and extermination:

“When Israel finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the open ground and where they had followed them into the wilderness, and when all to a man had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and slaughtered all its people. The number of those that fell that day, men and women together, was twelve thousand, all people of Ai. (…) Then Joshua burned Ai, making it a ruin for evermore, a desolate place even to this day.” (Joshua, 8:24, 25, 28)

This holy war for conquering the Promised Land continued for two hundred years, until the time of King David (Dawood (as)). His conquest of the Jebusite city of Jerusalem (around 1000 B.C.E.) departed from the practice of his predecessors – he did not massacre the Jebusites. According to Armstrong, it seemed that he wanted to make them his personal followers, since their survival totally depended on him. It was King David, who made Jerusalem the capital of his kingdom and the centre of Judaism. As history would evolve, Jerusalem would gain special significance for Christians and Muslims.

Since the time of early history of Judaism, rabbis, the Jewish religious teachers, have defined three types of permissible wars:

1)       Obligatory wars: these are commanded by Allah (swt). This category includes such wars as the biblical conquest of the Canaanites.

2)       Defensive wars: if Jewish people are attacked, it is obligatory upon them to defend themselves. This category includes also pre-emptive strikes, which means attacking the enemy who is about to attack you.

3)       Optional wars: these are undertaken for a good reason in cases when no other form of negotiation is possible.

Distinct rules of warfare have also been developed. According to Jewish tradition, before declaring a war or starting a battle, attempts have to be made for negotiating peace. Non-combatants are not to be killed intentionally and should be given the chance to leave the area, before the battle starts. However, if non-combatants intentionally stay in the area of war, then they lose the previously-mentioned protection and can be killed.

Today, Jews often find themselves in a tight situation regarding the ethics of warfare. They are required to find the balance between the need to wage a war and the obligation to value the human life. Since the modern political situation is very complicated, there is a great debate today among the Jews, as to how apply the warfare principles defined in Torah to the current situations.