Hope After 9/11 – Globally

hope

Every year, my friend and I put up flyers before Ramadan, inviting others in our college in California to join us for Iftar. We hoped and expected to be contacted by Muslim girls excited at the opportunity of breaking their fasts with other Muslims. Instead, who we found were perhaps far more special – a Japanese student who decided it was crucial for her to learn Arabic in order to understand the Quran better (she later transferred to Al-Azhar to follow her aspirations), and a young seventeen–year-old Mexican girl, who had been hiding her desire to convert to Islam from her parents for three years and wanted to keep her first fast with us.

At a time post 9/11, when Islam was under intense scrutiny throughout the world and especially in the West, it was heart-warming yet mind-boggling how it still attracted young women with such vigour. Adding to the paradox, as political Islamophobia radically increased in Europe, Islam continued to be the fastest growing religion in the same region. Racist nationalistic governments or political parties in countries like France, Norway and Switzerland initiated steps to remove Islamic “symbols”. Niqab was officially banned in France and they wanted to eliminate Halal food options in school canteens. But these steps across a range of countries have not been able to halt the interest towards Islam. In fact, it keeps bouncing back with more intensity. It was no less than a miracle that Daniel Streich, the man responsible for initiating the successful campaign for banning minarets in Switzerland, not only converted to Islam but vowed to make the biggest, most beautiful mosque in Europe to counter his past hatred for the religion.

However, the most interesting aspect of the conversions to Islam is that although the West accuses Islam of suppressing women’s liberties, a large proportion of those embracing Islam happen to be Western women. Camilla Leyland, a 32-year-old single mother embraced Islam in her mid-20s for ‘intellectual and feminist reasons’. She explains: “I know people will be surprised to hear the words ‘feminism’ and ‘Islam’ in the same breath, but, in fact, the teachings of the Quran give equality to women, and at the time the religion was born, the teachings went against the grain of a misogynistic society.”

A new study by the inter-faith think-tank Faith Matters suggests that the real figure of conversions to Islam in the UK alone could be as high as 100,000 with as many as 5000 conversions in one year alone. The same study suggested that the conversion rate was more in females, and that the average age of converts was twenty-seven. Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, admitted that this report was the best intellectual “guesstimate” but added that “either way few people doubt that the number adopting Islam in the UK has risen dramatically in the past 10 years.”

Mughal attributed this increase in converts to the prominence of Islam in the public domain and the subsequent public curiosity it provoked. Batool Al-Toma, a 25-year-old Irish born convert to Islam, agrees: “There has been a noticeable increase in the number of converts in recent years. The media often tries to pinpoint specifics but the reasons are as varied as the converts themselves.” Islam’s latest convert that surprised the UK was Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, Lauren Booth. Broadcaster and journalist Booth, 43, recalls the day she decided to become a Muslim: “It was a Tuesday evening, and I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy.”

Another celebrity convert, London-based Kristiane Backer, is a former MTV presenter. Kristiane says: “In the West, we are stressed for super­ficial reasons, like what clothes to wear. In Islam, everyone looks to a higher goal. Everything is done to please God. It was a completely different value system. Despite my lifestyle, I felt empty inside and realized how liberating it was to be a Muslim. To follow only one God makes life purer. You are not chasing every fad.”

According to Kevin Brice from ­Swansea University, who carried this research out for Faith Matters, the female converts to Islam, “seek spirituality, a higher meaning and tend to be deep thinkers.” The depth of their thought rings true to me. Yuki had told me that when her sister committed suicide for no apparent reason in Japan, it provoked her family to seek the meaning of life, which is what led her to Islam. Her parents were ecstatic that she had found an answer. My much younger Mexican friend bewildered me with her very deep paintings, depicting souls in trouble seeking peace and light in the midst of trouble.

Kristiane Backer, who has written a book on her own spiritual journey (“From MTV to Mecca”), believes that women who were born Muslims became disillusioned and rebelled against it. When you dig deeper, it’s not the faith they turned against but the culture. The treasures of the true Islam lead so many to embrace it, despite the steps taken to demoralize its followers and mar the faith. It’s a jewel that those born in Islam perhaps take for granted. The image that can never leave my mind is when my young friend in California took out a beautiful wooden box from her drawer to show me, where she cherishingly saved her most price-less possessions: “Her book on how to pray Salah, her silk scarf and her Quran.”

Travelling with the Quran

Jul 10 - Travelling with Quran

Many of us often deny the presence of the Quran in our daily lives, because of our concern over the rulings surrounding the question of travelling with the Quran. All scholars agree that the word of Allah (swt) is above all other words in the world and has to be treated with respect by every Muslim. While it is important that we are careful of how we treat the word of Allah (swt), especially in Arabic, it should not imply that we do not travel with Quran. Nowadays, when we spend so much time travelling by car, bus, train and plane, it would be a great loss, if we decided not to take our favourite copy of the Quran with us.

There are several ways we can keep the Quran close to us while travelling. We can creatively use technology for not missing out on the holy book:

  1. The Quran can be nicely covered and kept in a safe place in our bags. Most of us are careful and have an outer covering for our phones and electronic gadgets. We can use the same strategy here. SunniPath.com states that it is best to carry the Mushaf that has a plastic cover/jacket, which is not sewn or glued to it – that way, it can be touched even when one is not in Wudhu.
  2. Women, who have their periods, can wear gloves or avoid touching the Arabic script of the Quran.
  3. If we want to be extremely careful, we can carry our favourite Quran in a translated language, which does not have the Arabic text.
  4. The Quran can be carried in the form of digital books or software. Islam-QA.com says that it permissible to have the Quran on one’s mobile phone or in any other digital form.
  5. Many of us have ipods, iphones and cell phones with enough memory to save the complete Quran text on it. There are styluses (or pens), which can be used to scroll up and down within these gadgets. When the electronic gadget is off, the Arabic text will not be in direct contact with anything else and, therefore, cannot be disrespected.

Scholars have addressed some of the frequently asked questions regarding carrying the Quran:

  1. Mufti Ibrahim Desai, Darul Iftah, South Africa, has specified that it is permissible to carry the Quran while travelling. However, one must be careful about Wudhu (ablution). If it is difficult to perform Wudhu repeatedly while travelling, then care must be taken only to recite the Quran (from the Mushaf, computer or a digital form) and not directly touch the Quran.
  2. He has also advised to try to sit in the front seat, so that no one has his/her back to the Quran.
  3. Also, according to Islam-QA.com, the Mushaf can be put in one’s pocket, pants or other clothes while travelling, as long as it is protected against tearing or mishandling. Mufti Ibrahim, along with Faraz Rabbani (SunniPath.com), has emphasized that it is best to carry the Quran in one’s shirt or jacket pocket rather than in the pockets of pants, as it is more respectful and keeps the Quran elevated. For similar reasons, it is best to carry the Quran in hand-carry, rather than send it off in the baggage.

Whether it is a working professional commuting to and back from work, a mother dropping her children off and picking them up from school, or someone flying to another city or even country, we all spend a considerable time of our lives travelling. May Allah (swt) give us the opportunity to make the best use of our time and remain close to Him and His word, Ameen.

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.