Dawah in Cyberspace – Why and How?

Vol 7 - Issue 1 Dawah in CyberspaceBy Fiza Fatima Asar 

The first time that I cried at the wonder of Allah (swt) was when I witnessed the resilience of a sixteen-year-old shy Mexican girl converting to Islam in my college in the USA. Born and brought up in a strict Catholic household from a small town near Los Angeles, Rosario had never met a Muslim before. She was brought closer to Islam solely through research over the Internet, which she started at the age of fourteen. 

Discovering Islam Online

Rosa, as friends called her, would have faced serious repercussions at home, had her parents found out she was taking an interest in Islam. Since she could not bring books on Islam to her home, she spent her time on the Internet, preparing for a school project that led her to know more about Islam.

Every year during Ramadan, a few of us, Muslim girls at college, fasted and sent an email out to the entire college, asking if anyone else would like to join us for fasting during the holy month. It was Rosa’s first year away from home, and she came forward not only saying she wanted to fast with us but also that she wanted to convert.

Types of Spaces Discussing Islam in Cyberspace

Rosa knew that Islam spoke to her, but it was our responsibility now to ensure that she remained steadfast in her decision to convert. Young college students such as ourselves had the passion for our religion but not the right resources or knowledge. The Internet world was literally where college students lived, and it became also the place where we would research in order to get help for Rosa. Islam’s cyber world was a myriad of resources with unending amount of knowledge. It became our group effort to make sure that Rosa utilized the Internet world to her most advantage.

I would classify resources on Islam in cyberspace into the following:

  1. websites of organizations/institutions backed by scholars and teachers;
  2. individual blogs and personal websites for Dawah;
  3. Forums and chat rooms, discussing topics on Islam.

Comparison of the Above Classifications

Our number one source of information remained the websites that were run by known organizations/institutions or were backed by learned scholars and teachers. They include such resources as Quran translation, Ahadeeth, stories of prophets and Fiqh related questions and answers. They may even provide short courses or online seminars.

Individual blogs and websites can be less reliable, because the developer of the site may not be a learned scholar. However, because it is a more personal approach, it may deal with more of everyday stories or discussions that speak to a person surfing the net.

Forums and chat rooms, on the other hand, are interactive spaces, where a number of users discuss issues and topics. In such websites, a lot of opinions and information come up, and it is for us to choose what suits us most or what sounds most correct. The users are not always scholars or learned teachers with the relevant knowledge of Fiqh, but their various backgrounds and experiences may be a great source of learning.

Remembering Adab (Etiquettes) in the Cyberworld

We wanted to succeed at every level of the challenge, but we faced situations that we had not confronted before. Since Rosa still did not know the text of Salah, was it okay to lead prayer and recite each world of Salah out loud? On the days, when we were exempted by Allah (swt) from prayers and fasting, could we still assist the new Muslim in her prayer? If someone like Rosa found certain fasting days tough and ended up sipping a little water, was it okay to show her the merciful side of Islam or were we expected to teach her the importance of fasting laws?

We found the sites and forums useful, and our daily discussions at the Iftar table were more often than not based on the Internet findings. At times, we were so passionate about a discussion on a website that we decided to leave comments or join the discussion. This brought us closer to studying the Adab of Dawah, which is just as applicable in the real world as online.

The Lessons We Learnt

  1. It is best to present your case in a simple, straightforward manner, backed by Quranic verses and verifiable Ahadeeth.
  2. The aim should be constructive criticism with a view to reaching consensus.
  3. Politeness is the key to winning hearts. It is easy to be blunt, curt and rude online, because not much is at stake and you are not physically present in front of the other person. It should be remembered that we are communicating not with computers but with real people – politeness will win more hearts.
  4. Politeness can only be achieved by killing one’s pride. It is rude to demean other religions, especially when we have the strength of Islamic teachings to convince people.
  5. Do not ask such personal questions as age/sex/location. It is easy to cross the border online. Many young Muslim boys and girls, who otherwise avoid useless talking, begin chatting for the sake of Dawah and end up discussing personal lives and becoming friends. It is easy to break rules online; however, the limits of respect and honour in cyberspace are the same as in real life, and Allah (swt) is watching us everywhere.
  6. Answer in terms the questioner can relate to. It is best to emphasize commonalities, so that the questioner can understand more easily.
  7. Differentiate between an Islamic act and an act of a Muslim. Not all actions of Muslims are in line with Islam; therefore, acknowledge, if a Muslim has done wrong.
  8. Nothing justifies dishonesty, not even Dawah. Always speak truth or remain silent.
  9. Study to gain knowledge for answering more coherently and wisely.
  10. If someone is being unnecessarily argumentative, politely walk away from the argument.

Finding Enlightenment Online

After accepting Islam, Rosa understood that her faith will only be strengthened by officially accepting Islam and finding a community of her ethnic and linguistic background. She needed to stand strong against the family and peer pressure she would get on the announcement of her faith. Over the Internet, Rosa found a mosque, which was led by a Latino Muslim and attracted a great number of Latino converts.

After Ramadan, Rosa visited the Masjid for a Friday prayer and read the Kalima in front of scores of Latino Muslims. With an understanding of Islam, Rosa attracts new Muslims towards her every year, sharing her experiences online. Alhumdulilah, it has been four years since she accepted Islam.

Muslims in Cyberspace

Vol 7 - Issue 1 Muslims in CyberspaceBy Zainub Razvi, Sumaira Dada and Hafsa Ahsan

Cyberspace, like this world at large, is a delicate testing ground for the practicing Muslim. On the one hand, there are enormous benefits that can be gained from the wealth of knowledge at one’s disposal via the information superhighway, but on the other hand, one is exposed to a murky world of temptations and addictions, which has few parallels in the real world.

When Muslims go on the Internet, they either tend to ignore certain aspects of the Deen, or they feel that Islamic teachings do not apply to cyberspace at all. This mindset then leads them to do things which they would never do in real life – after all, it is all virtual isn’t it?

Following are some of the common uses of the Internet, along with how the Islamic teachings apply to each of them.

Chatting

Chatting today is not just text-based – there is voice chat, video conferencing, etc. which takes chatting to a whole new level. Fahad Iqbal has coined a new term for chatting with non-Mahrams – cyber-Khalwa. “When two people chat, they’re in Khalwa” (i.e., there’s no third person between them that knows what is going on). “As Muslims we’re required to not be in Khalwa with non-Mahrams, and if we have to be, for some reason, then there are strict guidelines that ought to be followed.”

Online, the hesitation of chatting with the opposite sex is overcome to a large extent. What is the Islamic guidance in this regard? Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, former President of the Islamic Society of North America, states that Internet chatting is very similar to writing letters or talking to someone on the phone. Hence, Muslims have to observe the same rules whilst chatting. Intimate conversations are not allowed. In fact, it is forbidden for a non-Mahram Muslim male and female to indulge in long conversations with each other, unless it is necessary for education or for business.

Chatting is also very addictive. Time simply whiles away, especially when discussing any unsuitable topic or wasting too much time in casual chit-chat. Time for a Muslim, like everything else, is a blessing from Allah (swt) that he/she will be questioned about on the Day of Judgement, so it ought to be used wisely.

Sheikh M. S. Al-Munajjid, a prominent Saudi Muslim lecturer, says that in chat rooms a Muslim must be on guard, as he is dealing with a large number of unknown people. He should boycott the sites of Biddats and not engage in any discussions on these websites. He also says that the enthusiastic youth must not engage in matters of which they have little knowledge. In this regard, Allah’s (swt) words need to be remembered: “And on the Day of Resurrection, you will see those who lied against Allah (i.e., attributed to Him sons, partners), their faces will be black.” (Az-Zumar 39:60)

Blogging

A blog is an online diary. In chat rooms, you have a considerable degree of control over who can interact with you and how. It is much more complicated if you maintain a blog, which may be regularly read and commented on by virtually anyone in the world, which includes non-Mahrams. Hence, writing very personal entries on those blogs must be avoided, and if possible, blogs must be made private, accessible only to the blogger’s chosen audience.

Muslim bloggers also ought to make sure that they do not post unverified Islamic information, and they should especially think twice before making any remarks about anyone’s personal attributes or character traits in their posts.

Those who leave comments on the blog must be wary of committing grave sins, such as slander, backbiting and fighting. Muslims should be careful, because every word they utter will be recorded, even if typed in cyberspace. As a general rule, we ought to tell ourselves that if we wouldn’t say something to someone in real life, we ought not to on the Internet as well.

Social and Professional Networking

Social networking websites work by asking you to register and set up a profile page, then allowing you to add people you know, join groups, play games, take quizzes, put up photos, share links and do a host of other activities.

Because these websites ask you to put sensitive information online, it is very important to know how to use their privacy settings. Failure to use the right settings can seriously compromise your online privacy, disclosing your private information to complete strangers and third party companies without your knowledge. Avoid altogether putting up any private data that is prone to exploitation, such as your work history, your phone numbers or residential address. Once again, determine early on where to draw the line, because social networking is very prone to addiction.

Also, while there’s certainly no harm in keeping up with friends, it’s important to define not only who are our ‘friends,’ but also just how much time we ought to devote to ‘keeping up’ with them, and what actually constitutes the exercise of this ‘keeping up.’ Indulging too much into the private lives of others, even if they have put it up for everyone to see, violates Islamic teachings, which require us to refrain from spying and being over-curious.

Online Islamic Guidance

While there is no denying that the Internet is an extremely easy way to access Islamic literature, it is not the best place to go for ‘Fatwah hunting’. There are a lot of bogus ‘Islamic’ websites out there, which do not have authentic scholars and rely on casual Internet users to compile information they have heard, read or gathered from other online sources. We must be especially careful not to mistake genuine Islamic websites run by Dawah organisations with casual Internet message boards set up by ordinary Muslims, where one may find numerous contentious Fatwahs and Wazaif, which are often completely without proper references. Even when using websites claimed to be run by scholars or genuine organizations, we should do a background check on the particular school of thought the scholars and/or organization ascribe to and make sure that they come from a reliable background.

The Youth Trap

Today, children as young as 4-5 years old can be seen using the Internet on their own. Quite a few children have their own email accounts, an instant messenger ID and social networking account by the time they are in school. Peer pressure can drive children to all sorts of dangerous activities online, from the relatively innocuous Internet overuse to such more serious tendencies as viewing pornographic and other sexually explicit content.

“Sending your children on the Internet alone is like sending your kid on the highway alone,” warns Tasneem Ahmed, a mom of four. Her husband Anwer Ahmed, a university professor, nicely sums up the needs of online supervision. “Parents should do their best to be aware of what sites their kids are visiting and whom they are communicating with. It is very important for them to have open and frank communication with their children, without threat of retribution.”

Completely prohibiting the Internet can backfire, as children can then be more tempted to taste the forbidden fruit. Sheikh Abdul-Majeed Subh states that one must teach children the sense of differentiating right from wrong, instead of enforcing exclusive prohibition. He quotes a Hadeeth regarding the principle of Ihsan (Perfection) in worship: “To worship Allah (swt) as if you see Him, and if you cannot achieve this state of devotion, then you must consider that He (swt) is looking at you.” (Bukhari) Parents also need to educate their children about the fact that Allah (swt) is looking at them, while they are surfing the net.

Chat rooms should be strictly off-limits, and parents ought to supervise or monitor other chatting routines, even if they are sure their kids do not have any non-Mahrams on their contact lists.

Finding a spouse online

The use of match-making websites has increased. Are these services permissible? Dr. Salah Al-Sawy, the Secretary General for the Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America (AMJA), says that if correspondence takes place with a faithful and honest mediator running the service and Shariah regulations are observed, then he hopes that it will be permissible (after all, Allah (swt) knows best).

Direct correspondence, however, requires a lot of precautions. Nevertheless, if it is necessary, interaction should be normal, and a trustworthy third party should be present. Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi states that while looking for a spouse online, elders or responsible friends should be involved in investigating or negotiating on one’s behalf.

The Final Word

Ultimately, whatever the medium, be it blogs, social networking websites, instant messengers, email, Muslim merchandise websites or Islamic information portals, whether their harms outweigh their benefits depends on how we use them. So like in all our other daily activities, the reward or sin for our actions online too will be judged based on our intentions for engaging in those activities.

Quick Reminder # 1 – Every click is recorded!

While one is sitting on the Internet, it is very easy to get lost in the numerous activities. There are simply too many websites to visit, too many emails to read and too many friends to keep up with on social networking websites. At times like these, it is imperative for Muslims to remember that every click of the mouse is being recorded and will have to be accounted for on the Day of Judgement. Hence, wastage of time in useless activities must be avoided, and each click must serve some constructive purpose.

Quick Reminder # 2 – The Constructive Clicks

What can one do to serve their Deen in cyberspace? Here are some quick suggestions:

1)      Make your status messages on social networking websites meaningful – you can write a short Ayah or Hadeeth, or simply something informative.

2)      Provide links to Islamic websites, which have authentic information.

3)      Pledge to send a daily or weekly email to all your contacts – again, with some meaningful information pertaining to how Deen can be practiced in daily life.

4)      Stay away from all controversial arguments on non-issues – they waste your time as well as that of others.

5)      If you maintain your own blog, use it to propagate the true face of Islam. Write meaningful posts.

6)      Educate yourself – visit authentic Islamic websites and learn more about Islam.

7)      Join websites as a link manager, and add quality Islamic website to search engine directories.

Quick Reminder # 3 – The Useless Clicks

What activities do NOT serve the Deen in cyberspace, though they seem to do so? Here are a few:

1)      Useless arguments on controversial issues, which do not have any purpose.

2)      Hacking anti-Islamic websites – it is always best to promote Islamic websites than to hack the opposing ones.

3)      Chatting with the opposite sex on the pretext of preaching Deen to them.

4)      Being careless while posting Islamic information – even the slightest slip can cause a widespread Fitnah.

Quick Fact # 1 – What is Cyberspace?

The Internet has aptly defined “cyberspace” as “a computer network consisting of a worldwide network of computer networks” and “a world of information through the Internet.” In layman terms, when you are on the Internet, connected to the world through your computer, laptop, cell phone or any other gadget, you are in cyberspace.

Fasad – The Corrupter of Hearts

Vol 7 -Issue 1 Fasad

Although there are differences of opinion on several matters, strangely, every single human being on earth agrees upon one thing – today the whole world is affected by Fasad: unhappiness, discord, unease and corruption. However, different people offer different solutions to this Fasad.

The educated people say that the reason for Fasad is the lack of education. However, if education was the solution, then countries with a literacy rate of over ninety percent should not have any problems. But, if we go to any of those places, they tell us that they also have problems.

An economist will say that the reason for Fasad is poverty. People do not have enough wealth to fulfill their bare necessities, and, hence, this poverty is the cause of unhappiness in the world. If wealth were the solution, then people living in wealthy countries should be living lives of ease and contentment. However, if we go to them, they will also say that they are unhappy.

The Deen of Islam reveals the reason behind this unhappiness and discord. The Prophet (sa) said that in every son of Adam there is an organ, that if it is sound, the whole body will be sound, and if it is corrupt, the whole body will be corrupt and spoilt. That organ is Qalb -the spiritual heart of a human being. (Bukhari) This Hadeeth clearly tells us that if the heart is spoilt, the human being will be spoilt, and if the heart is pure, the human being will also be sound and pure. Therefore, all the worries and problems in the world are due to problematic people.

Fasad in the world exists because there are individuals, who have Fasad in them. Only that human being, whose heart is impure, will have corruption in him. So the reason why there are so many problems and difficulties in this world is simply because there are so many human beings, who have lost their lesson of humanity and who have corrupted, impure hearts. If the heart becomes pure, the human being will be pure; the family will be pure; the community will be pure; the society will be pure – consequently, the world will be pure.

Precisely for this reason Allah (swt) sent prophets and messengers, so that they purify the hearts of human beings and teach them, how to live pure lives. Through the Seerah of Prophet Muhammad (sa),we see that he first worked on the hearts of people, then he formed a community in Madinah and only afterwards they were able to change the society of the whole Arabian Peninsula. This is precisely, what Allah (swt) wants – that we submit our hearts to Him.

The Prophet (sa) said that Allah (swt) does not look at our bodies or at our faces, but He looks at our hearts. (Muslim) Allah (swt) looks, which of His servants has embedded His love and remembrance in his heart. Hence, we should beautify our hearts so that they look pleasing, when Allah (swt) gazes upon them.

Thus, there are two types of hearts: the purified and sound heart (Qalb-un-Saleem) and the corrupt and polluted heart (Qalb-un-Saqeem). Qalb-un-Saleem is that heart, which inclines a person towards good and everything that is pleasing to Allah (swt). A person with a pure heart is wonderful to live with, wonderful to look at and is able to see not only with his eyes but also with his heart. Qalb-un-Saqeem, however, is that heart, which invites a person to actions and thoughts that are corrupt and prohibited. The person with such heart does not view good as good and evil as evil. His heart keeps him occupied with unlawful thoughts and lustful desires. Such a heart will not allow a person to listen to counsel or to accept advice for changing its ways.

How can we purify our hearts? If we enter into a room full of dust, we immediately realize that some window must have been left open, through which pollution has entered. In the same way, the dirt comes into our hearts, because we have left some window open, which is bringing that corruption inside.

There are four windows to the heart.

The first window is a person’s eyes. If we we do with our eyes things that are good, such as look at our parents with love, look at the Quran with love, then these actions cast Noorinto our heart. However, if we look at unlawful things, for instance a woman, who is impermissible to look at, then that will bring darkness into our heart. So the eye is like a window into the heart. Allah’s (swt) has made it very easy for us to protect our gaze – He has given us a shutter called our eyelid. It is extremely easy to close our eyelids and save our eyes from seeing bad things. All we have to do is intend, and our eyes will close immediately.

The second window to a person’s heart is a person’s ears. Everything that we hear will affect our heart. If we hear something that is good – recitation of the Quran, good advice, good teachings – then that will have a positive effect on the heart. However, if we listen to lies, bad talks or music, then that will naturally have a negative effect on our hearts.

The third window is a person’s tongue. If we speak good things – recite the Quran, speaks the truth, talk about Allah (swt) and Deen -the Noorof these words will come into our heart. However, if we say things that are bad, for instance unlawful speech or backbiting, then darkness will come into our hearts. So we should always try to use our tongue in good speech and for mentioning the majesty and blessings of Allah (swt).

Lastly, the fourth window into the heart is our mind. Whatever thoughts we think will affect our heart. If we spend our free time thinking about good things and actions that are pleasing to Allah (swt), then such thoughts will cast a light into our hearts. If we spend our time thinking about bad things and engage in unlawful fantasies, then such thoughts will definitely have a very negative effect on our heart.

We have to guard all these four windows and prevent anything corrupt from entering and affecting our heart. If the heart becomes pure, everything in the world will change. For this reason, we must start purifying our hearts from its spiritual illnesses, so that Allah’s (swt) love can come into our hearts. We should make Dua to Allah (swt) to grant us such a heart, which is the abode of His love.

The Right Attitude

Vol 7 - Issue 1 The right attitudeBy Hafsa Ahsan

“Please forward to as many Muslims as you can.” This is the bottom line of most of the email messages which contain links to anti-Islamic websites, ‘fake’ Qurans and the like. Most people hit the forward button and send the email to their entire list of contacts. This response may be popular, but is it the right one?

Let’s have a look at some of the basic facts pertaining to such websites.

There are probably millions of anti-Islamic websites – you cannot stop them from originating. Most of these websites simply disappear on their own – simply because they have very little to keep the visitors coming back.

When you receive an email, which contains links to some of these websites, you naturally feel inclined to visit them. The people, to whom you forward the link, can similarly feel tempted to visit such a website to see for themselves, what it contains. This is the very act, which proves beneficial for the website owners.

Why? This is because every website has a counter for keeping track of its visitors. When a multitude of people visit the same website, the statistics counter shows very impressive figures. This helps the website get advertised and earn more revenue.

Plus, when you forward an email containing a website link, and it is forwarded millions of times, any search engine treats it as multiple web pages linking to one website. This improves the search engine ranking of the website, which means that this website will show up as first on such search engines as Google and Yahoo, even if the slightest keywords match the search.

The question arises: what should you do when you receive such an email? There are a number of possibilities:

1)      Click on the “Reply All” button to ensure that your email goes to all those to whom the original mail was sent. Make your reply polite, yet firm. Explain how forwarding such emails is counter productive, and that the best course of action is to delete them altogether.

2)      If you feel you will not be able to put your point of view across, then simply delete the email. Don’t even open such an email, if you feel you will be tempted to visit the offending websites.

3)      Never forward such emails! Most importantly, do not post the contents of such an email on public forums or social networking websites. If the offending websites have forums, try to avoid them altogether. You can never do proper Dawah there – in fact, you will only end up wasting your precious time.

At the end of the day, remember that Allah (swt) has promised to protect the Quran. Also, no anti-Islam website can shake one’s Iman, if it is truly strong. The next time you receive an email containing offensive websites, hasten to delete it from your inbox – that is definitely the right attitude.

Quick Fact: No References, No Authenticity

There is a barrage of forwarded emails and cell phone messages containing Quranic Ayahs, Ahadeeth and incidents from the Seerah/Islamic history without any references mentioned. Forwarding them without authentication will entirely be on your account, especially if the information they contain turns out to be incorrect. Any Islamic information must be verified and authenticated, before you forward it.

Cyber ACTIVE!

Vol 7 - Issue 1 CyberACTIVEBy Naureen Aqueel

On the eve of August 14, 2009, a community of digital activists was out on a mission, typing away on their keyboards to get Pakistan prominently mentioned on the homepages of the world’s most popular micro-blogging website – Twitter.

This effort was driven by a patriotic zeal to show love and unity towards homeland and to make a global impact, by drawing attention to Pakistan on its sixty-second anniversary. It proved to be successful, as Pakistan was able to make it to Twitter’s trending topics, a term used to describe the ten most talked about topics on the network. The combined effort came as a product of an e-rally launched by a group of digital activists across cyberspace to motivate people to include the term ‘#Pakistan’ in their tweets and turn their display pictures green to show solidarity to the nation.

Another such incident reflecting the power of cyber-activism was when Pakistan made headlines in Google’s Map experiment by being the fastest country to populate itself on Google’s Map Maker service, which allows users to post localized information about their country. Pakistani Internet users proved to be the fastest among the 160 countries in the experiment to map out locations. The drive for this commenced from a single blog post, which later spread through cyberspace through the ‘viral buzz’.

We have all experienced news and videos spreading like wild fire throughout such social media forums like Facebook, Digg, Stumble Upon, MySpace and Twitter. The sheer global outreach that is possible via the Internet is mind boggling. A few clicks and a few hits on the keyboard and you can reach out from your cozy, little room into the big, wide world. Today, activism is no longer limited to the streets. Now, you can launch e-rallies across cyberspace and mobilize a good number of people to work for a collective cause. Such social networks as Facebook and Twitter have proved particularly helpful in spreading awareness about issue or in promoting a cause.

The Internet has permeated our lives. What we know, what we learn, what we do and what we think all seems to be intricately shaped by the web. Today, the Internet plays a significant role in what communication scholars term the ‘agenda-setting function’ – the idea that the media is stunningly successful in telling people what to think about (if not what to think).

The need for Muslims to make use of these technologies is profoundly clear. Such social media as Digg and Reditt can help us get our content as close to the mainstream media as possible. Content that is popular and ‘dugg’ many times can find its way to leading topics on these websites that have global audiences. Furthermore, via social networks on the web, we can coordinate volunteer activities and mobilize support for charity work. Once again, we have the example of Pakistani bloggers earning international recognition for mobilizing support for the IDPs in the recent Swat crisis.

Many Muslims view social media and media in general with suspicion. However, such views are often based on ignorance. Prophet Muhammad (sa) used to utilize the media of the time to communicate with the people. For instance, at a time when Allah (swt) ordered the Prophet (sa) to proclaim the message of Islam openly to people in the early days of Islam, the Prophet (sa) went up the Mount of Safa, knowing that it was the technique of the time to communicate from there, when one had an important message and sought attention.

Today, we have the Internet and the social media as techniques of the time to communicate to wide audiences effectively. It is needless to say that Muslims must utilize these tools to communicate their message to the masses, draw attention to important issues and mobilize support for beneficial causes.

Quick Fact: What is micro blogging?

It is a form of blogging that allows users to publish brief text updates, with or without the addition of photos, audio clips or other multimedia, over the Internet. There are specific websites for micro blogging. One of the more popular website is Twitter at http://www.twitter.com.

Dignity of Islam: The Labour Day!

Vol 7 - Issue 1 Dignity of Islam

The holiday of May Day (1st of May) is a creation of an international labour movement. It pays tribute to social and economic achievements of workers and the strength, prosperity and well-being that the country has earned in lieu of its workers’ diligent contribution.

This idea spread with the growth of many labour organizations. Today, it is celebrated in many industrial centres of the world, including Pakistan. However, a vital question perturbs one’s mind. Apart from the clichéd speeches, parades and distribution of a couple of cheques among some poor workers, what is the overall achievement of this holiday that claims to commemorate a high standard of living and economic and political democracy of the labour class?

On May Day, I witness the daily wagers on the road, still striving hard to take home bread for the night’s meal, maids mopping floors and getting a piece of the Begum Sahiba’s (lady of the house) mind if they dare ask for a holiday. Some white collar employees discreetly turn up at the office for some important assignment their boss has decided to hand over to them on the eve of April 30th.

Justice is generally done to those who otherwise enjoy a higher place in the management hierarchy. They probably don’t even care whether or not they are granted a holiday, because they can manage a getaway every now and then, even in the form of an international conference, meeting, etc.

At the advent of Islam, dignity of labour was one of its winning cards, when slaves, such as Bilal (rta), earned the same honour as the elites of Madinah, such as the hypocrite Abdullah Ibn Ubay. Islam did not establish holidays. It carved out a way of life that demanded respect for the rights of workers. Allah (swt) did not give Muslims a choice to act otherwise. He (swt) made it mandatory to serve those who served us, regardless of race and religion, cast and creed.

Though one might look down upon the institution of slavery, ironically, slaves in the Prophet’s (sa) time enjoyed far more dignity and rights than most of our servants or workers today. Islam did not permit anyone to take a free man into captivity and to turn him into a slave. Only prisoners of war were taken as slaves. Their captivity was such that they were neither locked up nor shackled. They were allowed freedom of movement within certain parameters as well as permitted to assimilate in the society.

The rights prescribed for slaves hold applicable for all those who are employed by us today. Let us look at some of the remarkable standards of humanity set by the early Muslims.

It was a regular practice of many of the companions of the Prophet (sa) to manumit slaves as per the Quranic injunction: “But he has not attempted to pass on the path that is steep (i.e., the path which will lead to goodness and success). And what will make you know the path that is steep? (It is) freeing a neck (slave).” (Al-Balad 90:11-13)

Most prominent among them were Abu Bakr (rta), Usman Ghani (rta), Abdur Rahman Ibn Awf (rta) and Abdullah Ibn Umar (rta) – they purchased and manumitted slaves who were being persecuted for their conversion to Islam. It is stated that some of the Prophet’s (sa) companions released 8000 slaves a day.

Abu Hurairah (rta) has narrated that Allah’s Apostle (sa) said: “Whoever frees a Muslim slave, Allah will save all the parts of his body from the hellfire, as he has freed the body parts of the slave.” (Bukhari)

Today, freeing of slaves equates to liberating workers from the burden of debts, or as accepting to be their guarantors for securing interest-free loans, facilitating the release of prisoners, etc.

Narrated by Anas Ibn Malik (rta): “I served the Prophet (sa) for ten years, and he never said to me ‘uff” [a minor harsh word denoting impatience] and never blamed me by saying: ‘Why did you do this or why didn’t you do so?’” (Bukhari)

Abu Masud Al-Ansari (rta) has narrated: “Once, I was beating a slave of mine, when I heard a voice from behind saying: ‘You should know, O Abu Masud, Allah is more capable upon you than you on him.’ I looked and saw he was the Messenger of Allah (sa). I replied: ‘O Messenger of Allah (sa), he is free for the sake of Allah.’ Then, the Prophet (sa) said: ‘If you had not done that, fire would have scorched you.’” (Muslim)

Ibn Umar (rta) reported: “I heard the Messenger of Allah (sa) saying: ‘When your servant brings food for you and you do not seat him with you, you should at least give him a morsel or two out of it, because he has prepared it himself.’” (Bukhari)

Abu Musa Al-Ashari (rta) has narrated that the Prophet (sa) said: “He, who has a slave girl and teaches her good manners, educates her, then manumits and marries her, will get a double reward, and any slave, who observes Allah’s rights and his master’s rights, will get a double reward.” (Bukhari)

The Prophet (sa) ordered that the slaves be treated well, clothed well and fed well. He also insisted that they be taught. As a result, many became Fuqaha and transmitters of Hadeeths, Imams and commanders in the Muslim army. Prominent among these are Salman Al-Farsi (rta), Zaid Ibn Harithah (rta), Usamah Ibn Zaid (rta) and Bilal Ibn Rabah (rta).

When the Amir-ul-Mumineen Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (rta) set off for the historical journey to Jerusalem at the time of its conquest, he left with meager provision which he shared with his slave, who accompanied him.

Umar (rta) took turns with his slave riding the camel, so much so that when they entered the city, it was the slave’s turn on the camels’ back, and Umar (rta) was holding its halter.

Nowhere in the annals of history do we get a better example of human dignity and equality than in Islam. What we need is to follow the Quran and the Sunnah strictly. No holiday can establish the dignity and rights of labourers in any society. Only we can!

Just ask yourself, if you would want to have a boss or employer like yourself?

Some extremely despicable practices with regard to our servants and workers in society must be consciously undone. They include: maligning them, back-biting about them, constantly taunting them, finding minute excuses to scold them, accusing them of lying, especially if they don’t turn up for work, instantly suspecting them of theft as soon as some object goes missing, serving them in utensils kept separately, passing our faded rags to clothe them, feeding them tasteless leftovers and saving the grand gourmet for the rest of the house, incessantly reminding them of worthless favours, beating them and in some cases even torturing and abusing them.

We should all be mindful that the Creator (swt) is watching us, and He (swt) never appreciates injustices done to His creations!

Advisors of the Prophet (sa)

Oct 10 - Allah swt is beautifulCompiled by Hafsa Ahsan

The political system implemented by the Prophet (sa) makes an enlightening study. His political decisions were based on consultation with his Companions (rta). In his book “Advisors of the Prophet (sa).” Abdul Aziz Shanawi has detailed the profiles of all the Companions (rta) who gave wise counsel to the Prophet (sa). Following is a brief look at some of these individuals and their advice.

Sad Ibn Ar-Rabi (rta)

Sad Ibn Rabi (rta) belonged to the Khazraj tribe of Madinah. The Prophet (sa) consulted Sad (rta), when his uncle Al-Abbas Ibn Abdul Muttalib sent him a letter from Makkah, informing him that after the Battle of Badar, the Quraish were preparing another army for attacking Muslims.

Sad Ibn Ar-Rabi (rta) said: “O Messenger of Allah! I indeed hope that there is goodness in that (i.e. for the Muslims to overcome them in battle).” The Prophet (sa) requested Sad (rta) to keep the contents of the letter a secret.

Abdullah Ibn Jahsh (rta)

Abdullah Ibn Jahsh (rta) was the first Muslim to receive a flag for a military expedition. He was also the first one to assign one-fifth of the war booty to the Prophet (sa), which later became a rule, following the revelation of the following verse:

“And know that whatever of war-booty that you may gain, verily one-fifth (1/5th) of it is assigned to Allah and to the Messenger, and to the near relatives [of the Messenger (Muhammad)], (and also) the orphans, Al-Masakin (the poor) and the wayfarer…” (Al-Anfal 8:41)

Abdullah Ibn Jahsh (rta) was included in those Companions, who were consulted by the Prophet (sa) after the Battle of Badar. At the time, the Prophet (sa) wanted advice on how the seventy prisoners, taken during the war, should be treated.

Salman Al-Farsi (rta)

Prior to the Battle of Ahzab, the Prophet (sa) consulted his Companions on how the Muslim army should defend itself. Most of the Companions were reluctant to offer any advice. Salman Al-Farsi (rta) came forward and advised that the Muslims should dig a trench on the northern side of Madinah. He felt that the western and eastern sides were well-protected by rough terrain and volcanic rocks. A mountain and a cluster of date palm trees defended its southern side. This valuable counsel proved to be vital for the victory of Muslims in this battle.

Al-Hubaib Ibn Al-Mundhir (rta)

Before the Battle of Badar, both the Muslim and the Quraish armies hastened towards the wells of Badar. Obviously, the army which would have control of the water supply would be at a greater advantage. The Muslim army arrived at the wells first. At that point, Al-Hubaib Ibn Al-Mundhir (rta) asked the Prophet (sa), if Muslims had been commanded by Allah (swt) to camp at this spot. When the Prophet (sa) replied in the negative, he offered his advice. He informed the Prophet (sa) that the well closest to the Quraish army did contain plenty of water. He suggested that Muslims should make a reservoir over that well and destroy all other wells. The Prophet (sa) implemented this suggestion.

Al-Hubaib Ibn Al-Mundhir (rta) also gave some critical advice before the Battle of Khyber. When the Muslim army arrived at Khyber, they camped near the fortress of An-Natat. Al-Hubaib (rta) approached the Prophet (sa) and said that the people of An-Natat had excellent shooting skills. Being in a fortress gives them the advantage to shoot at the Muslim army from a height. They can also launch a surprise attack, as there is a thick cluster of date palm trees to conceal them. The Prophet (sa) then commanded Muhammad Ibn Maslamah (rta) to find another spot for the Muslim army, which was far away from the An-Natat fortress.

Usamah Ibn Zaid (rta)

The Prophet (sa) consulted Usamah (rta) at one of the most crucial times for him and his family. The hypocrites of Madinah had levelled a most serious allegation against his wife Aisha (rta). There was no proof of her innocence or her guilt. The Prophet (sa) consulted Ali Ibn Abi Talib (rta) and Usamah Ibn Zaid (rta). Usamah Ibn Zaid (rta) replied: “O Messenger of Allah, as for your family (wives), I know only good things about them. As for what the people say, it is a lie and completely false.”

Sad Ibn Muadh (rta)

Sad Ibn Muadh (rta) pledged his and the Ansars’ allegiance to the Prophet (sa) before the Battle of Badar. He also advised the Prophet (sa) to build a trellis, which could serve as the headquarters for the Muslim army. “Then, when we meet the enemy, if Allah (swt) honours us, and we come out victorious over the enemy that will be what we truly love and want. But if it is the other outcome (i.e., defeat)…you can return to those (Muslims), who are behind us (in Madinah),” he said.

During the Battle of Ahzab, Sad Ibn Muadh (rta) was chosen to be one of the delegates for the peace negotiations with the tribe of Ghatafan. This tribe was offered one-third of Madinah’s crops, if they returned without fighting the Muslim army. Sad Ibn Muadh (rta) opposed this deal. He (rta) informed the Prophet (sa) that in their pre-Islamic days, Ghatafan tribe was unwilling to eat even a single of Madinah’s fruits, unless they received it as guests or buyers. He (rta) said: “So now that Allah (swt) has honoured us with Islam, guided us to it, and honoured us with you, will we simply give them our wealth? By Allah (swt), we will give them nothing save the sword, until Allah (swt) judges between us and them.” The Prophet (sa) went forth with the counsel of Sad Ibn Muadh (rta).

Naufal Ibn Muawiyah (rta)

During the Battle of Hunain, Naufal Ibn Muawiyah (rta) advised the Prophet (sa). The Muslims had besieged their enemies, who had locked themselves in an impenetrable fortress with supplies, which would last them a year. When the Prophet (sa) consulted his Companions, Naufal Ibn Muawiyah (rta) said: “O Messenger of Allah, when a fox is in a hole, if you stand over it, you will get it. And if you leave it (where it is), it won’t hurt you.” The Prophet (sa) ordered Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (rta) to announce that they were leaving.

Sad Ibn Ubadah (rta)

During the Battle of Ahzab, Sad Ibn Ubadah (rta) was chosen to be one of the delegates for the peace negotiations with the tribe of Ghatafan. He (rta) offered his advice and said: “Then they will have nothing from us other than the sword.” The Prophet (sa), hence, told the men of Ghatafan tribe: “Return, for between us and you is the sword.”

Conclusion

When the Companions (rta) gave advice, they first asked the Prophet (sa), if a particular decision had been commanded by Allah (swt). It shows their level of submission to Allah (swt) and his Messenger (sa). It also indicates that they did not look for any personal benefit in crucial political decisions.

Cell-Phones: The Ignored Etiquettes

Vol 7 - Issue 1 Cell phonesBy Laila Ansari

I got my first cell-phone in college mainly out of peer pressure and the heartfelt desire to be in the ‘in’ crowd. All popular kids had cell-phones with flashy charms and high-strung ringtones. It was fascinating to see them lost in the growing frenzy of text messaging or dejected in the wait of an expected call. But, with time, the situation has gotten alarmingly out of control: conversations are being constantly interrupted by ringtones, lectures are being ignored amidst jokes being sent across the classrooms, drivers are losing control of their vehicles and indecent content and images are corrupting minds.

However, the responsibility for the use of a cell-phone – whether good or bad – is on the person owning it. We wake up in the morning to the sound of our cell-phone’s inbuilt alarm, our loved ones can easily access us when we are away from them, we make important business correspondence, we check our emails, we conduct banking transactions, we pay bills – in short, we just cannot imagine our lives without our cell-phones.

Fortunately for us, Muslims, the Quran and Sunnah have laid down the basics of social conduct and self-control that can help derive etiquettes to allow Muslims to embrace advanced technology, without harming either their Dunya or Akhirah. Some of them are as follows.

Know when to switch off

How many times has it happened that you were absorbed in your prayers and were harshly pulled away from Allah (swt) by the cacophonic warble of your cell-phone? Your mind lost all its peace, and you were torn between concentrating on your prayers and considering, who could it be on the phone. Allah (swt) urges Muslims to pray with complete concentration. Allah (swt) says: “… And stand before Allah with obedience [and do not speak to others during the Salah (prayers)].” (Al-Baqarah 2:238) Men should switch off their cell-phones, especially when they go to the Masjid to offer their prayers, as ringtones distract not only them but others as well. In case they have forgotten to do so, and their cell phone rings in the middle of the congregation, they must switch it off immediately rather than waiting for the caller to abort the call himself.

Know when to attend calls

Attending calls or texting while conversing with a family member or having lunch with your close friend can be extremely rude and annoying.Prophet Muhammad (sa) said: “If you are three, two should not converse secretly to the exclusion of your companion, for that hurts his feelings.” (Muslim)

Moreover, people should not attend calls while driving, as such an action puts in danger not only their lives but also those of pedestrians and other commuters. Being Muslims, we are obligated to refrain from any action which can harm other Muslims, as Prophet Muhammad (sa) said: “A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hands other Muslims are safe.” (Bukhari)

Mind your voice

Loud talkers are often poor listeners and come out to be rude and imposing. It can be jarring to converse with such people, and they are often labeled as attention seekers. People should keep their tone such that they are audible only to the person they are talking to.Allah says: “And be moderate (or show no insolence) in your walking, and lower your voice. Verily, the harshest of all voices is the voice (braying) of the ass.” (Luqman 31:19)

Know where to attend calls

People who talk loudly on their cell-phones in elevators, public transport or other public places should refrain from doing so, as they can incite people near them to eavesdrop on their private conversations. Allah (swt) says: “O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion, indeed some suspicions are sins. And spy not, neither backbite one another.” (Al-Hujurat 49:12) Here, spying refers to eavesdropping.

Use your gadgets wisely

Cell-phones are laced with gadgetry, such as high resolution cameras and video recorders. We see people casually taking pictures of their friends and colleagues via cell-phones, without prior consent, and sending them across via MMS. Some scholars maintain that taking pictures is impermissible in Islam, and such actions may offend people, who are strict in their religious values.

Lastly, one must be considerate and courteous whenever he/she uses his/her cell phone. The point is to refrain from creating nuisances for others in any way. As Muslims, we are expected to carry ourselves responsibly and wisely in every capacity.

Speak or Hold your Silence

Speak

Islamic scholars teach us that as Muslims we should focus on our utterances. What we utter can be placed in our balance of either good or bad deeds. Many Muslims tend to forget a Hadeeth by the Prophet (sa): “It is part of the excellence of a person’s Islam that he should discard that which is of no concern to him.” (At-Tirmidhi) It is significant for the health of our Iman to practice this golden rule.

On many occasions, when we are around people, we get caught up in conversations.These conversations can be of two kinds: one – a mere waste of time, because it does not benefit you in any way. It is probably wiser to stay away from such conversations. We want deeds that make a difference in determining whether we go to Paradise or the Hellfire, and deeds such as these do not make any difference at all. Two – such conversations can lead you towards backbiting or conjecturing about things which are none of your business. Hence, they fill up a page in your book of bad deeds.You can definitely do without such conversations.

Indulging in what is of no benefit or concern to us comes in many forms. Let’s look at a few examples to elaborate:

A person has come back from a trip. Someone asks that person: “How was your trip?” A person could answer: “It was a beautiful place. I saw such-and-such landmarks. They have such traditions and customs there. Their scholars are mostly concerned with…” If you add to people’s knowledge, then you will be rewarded; if not, then it is neither added onto your good deeds nor bad. At times, such a question can lead a person to brag, emphasize areas for effect and exaggerate to make things look grander.

Another example that scholars warn us against is indulging in other people’s concerns by asking them too many questions. It is said that once a wise man saw Prophet Dawood (as) making one of the lightweight vests for war. The man had never seen anything like it. He wanted to ask, what it was, but his wisdom prevented him. When Prophet Dawood (as) finished, he said: “Blessed is the vest for battle.” The wise man smiled and said: “Silence is wisdom, and very few practice it.” He got the information he needed without asking a single question, but rather by being patient.

So, what do we need to do to avoid committing this atrocity of the tongue?

1)      Know that you have a fixed balance of inhalation and exhalations in your lifetime. Make sure you spend them well.

2)      Silence, in many instances, proves to be the best. Your utterances are either for you or against you, or make no difference at all in the Hereafter. Let them make a difference by making them in remembrance of Allah (swt); or asking out of fear and obedience to Allah (swt); or asking for knowledge to bring you closer to Allah (swt).

3)      I am not asking you to isolate yourself, as it is against our Deen. But if you are currently around people who waste time by idle chatter, alert them to the fact and suggest ways for improvement. If you cannot change them, save yourself and join others that are meeting to please Allah (swt). It is your time and your life. Take charge.

Also, don’t forget that keeping in touch with people and asking about them is important. Making small talk with the people you care about and want to show affection to, like your parents, kin, seniors, kids, friends, neighbours etc., is vital. The intention of this small talk is to please Allah (swt). It connects people, builds bridges and strengthens bonds. Let this be your intention, without transgressing the boundaries set by Islam. These in moderation for the sake of Allah (swt) – not so that people say you are good person – are always required.

Adapted from a lecture by Islamic scholar Umar Abdul Kafy