In the Name of Almighty God, The Merciful, The Compassionate

بسم لله الرحمان الرحيم

Salaam Aleikum (Peace be with you)! I hope you may gain some insight from my work here. Remember, I'm not a scholar and don't claim to be. I only claim to be a person who has a passion for both Islam and this great republic in which I live and wish to share my thoughts with others. Remember that anything good you find in this blog is from Allah, and anything wrong or bad is from my own flawed self.

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The Holy Ka'aba

The Holy Ka'aba
The House of God built by Abraham (peace be upon him)

The Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance
take out the 9th line, and it would be haram (forbidden) to say this.

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Masjid (Mosque)

This is the khutba (sermon) that I gave at the Bruce Avenue Mosque in Ashland on Feb. 29, 2008
Muhammad Alshareef
Wesley Ja'far Porter
بسمالله الرحمان الرحيم الحمدلله رب العلمين و الصلاة و السلام رسولالله
Do you know the last public place where the Messenger of Allah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam was seen? He was seen in the Masjid. About 3 days before he passed away, Abu Bakr radi Allahu anhu was leading the prayer and the Masjid was full with an ummah of men and women prepared to illuminate the world with their da'wah. The Prophet's house opened up to the Masjid; there was a curtain separating his room and the prayer hall. He opened the curtain, saw the congregation, and saw his khalifah, Abu Bakr radi Allahu anhu, leading the prayer. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam smiled like the moon. The companions saw him while they were in prayer, and from their happiness, almost lost control of the prayer. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam then drew his curtain, and three days later returned to his Lord subhaanahu wa ta 'aala.During the life of the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam, there was a woman who used to sweep the Masjid with her hands, picking up the dirt and disposing of it. In the sight of the community her status was not that high, but in the sight of Allah and her Messenger sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam, she held a different rank. She passed away one night and the Companions, not wanting to disturb the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam, washed and buried her without informing him. The next day, the Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam recognized her absence and inquired about her. They told him about her demise and how they had not wanted to disturb him. The Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam was not happy at the action they took. He went to her grave and prayed for her there.What is a masjid? Many have misunderstood the role that the masjid plays in the development of the community. In some countries, it is a place where the tribal Imam is buried and worshipped. In other countries, it is a place only for prayer; absolutely nothing else will be tolerated. And in yet other countries, not even prayers are performed in it, so-much-so that the country may finally decide to convert it into a museum or a church, wa 'auzoo billah. Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to introduce you to our masjid!! In the literal term, masjid means a place of prostration. However, in the technical sense, a masjid is any clean place on earth, as the Messenger of Allah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said: "The earth has been made for me a masjid". So meaning that any clean place on earth can be a place for prayer. However, the term masjid has come to mean more commonly, a building that is used by a particular Muslim community for daily prayers and other activities such as halaqas, nikah ceremonies, janaza etc. Allah swt commanded us to honor and enliven the masjid by remembering him within it's walls .Allah (swt) says, " fee buyootin athina Allahu an turfa'aa wayuthkara feeha ismuhu yusabbihu lahu feeha bialghuduwwi waal asali". ( 'this light is found' in houses which Allah has allowed to be exalted and that His name shall be remembered therein. In there, offer praise to him in the morning and the night.) This holy verse is Allah commanding us to spend time in the masjid frequently, and to give praise to him from morning to night, and that in such a place, there is a light. It has been said that the masajid of the Earth lights the sky for the dwellers of the heavens, just as stars light the sky for the dwellers of the Earth. Now when we all are older, we all want to have a nice retirement home to be proud of right? So listen to this offer. The prophet Muhammad (sws) said, whoever builds a masjid, seeking the pleasure of Allah, Allah shall build a house for him in Jenna". Now what better retirement home can we ask for than a home built by Allah (swt) in Jennah? No house of this dunya could possibly compare to what may await us in Jennah, and only Allah (swt) knows who of us will attain that. So, let us all strive for that reward insha'Allah. The masjid has played many roles throughout our history as an Ummah. Children have known the masjid as a place where parents would take them from when they first could remember. The prophet (sws) used to pray while holding Umamah, the daughter of Zaynab, and when he would make sujood, he would gently put her on the floor next to him, and when he would get up, he would pick her up with him. The masjid is also a place for education. The prophet (sws) also said, " "No gatherings gather in a masjid, reciting the book of Allah and teaching it to one another, except that serenity befalls them, mercy envelops them, the angels surround them and Allah mentions them to [the inhabitants of the heavens]". This illustrates just how much Allah loves for us as brothers and sisters to gather to teach and learn from each other about Allah (swt) and His deen. No doubt all of us have felt the sense of peace and serenity, the sakina we feel when we gather with our brothers and sisters in Islam to share and teach other what we know of our deen, and that serenity is more profound here in the masjid then it is anywhere else. The masjid is also a place of shelter for the musafr. At the time of the prophet (sws) travelers would find shelter at the Masjid an Nabawi and the prophet (sws) would grant them shares of charity. And, speaking of that it was also a place where sadaqa was collected, and insha'Allah from now on we will have a sadaqa box here at the masjid for those who wish to give for the sake of Allah. The prophet (sws) said, "Give sadaqa, even if only with a half a date". So even if you have pocket change that you can spare, give it in sadaqa, gain the rewards, the ajr and the baraka from Allah (swt), and let us make a collective decision to use it towards the betterment of our community. The masjid is also a place of shura. A place that those who we consider leaders can meet and discuss matters relating to our communities. And, last but not least, it is a place for serenity. A place to escape the hustle and bustle of the dunya and relax in the comfort of Allah's house. I'll never forget the last time I was able to visit Masjid Al Aqsa in Al Quds, I and two other brothers were walking the streets of the old city of Jerusalem when we realized that it was time for Asr. So, we went in to the Haram al Shariff to pray Asr.It was particularly hot that day but inside the masjid it was nice and cool, especially down on the carpet. Afterwards we all laid down on the carpet, in front of the minbar, and fell fast asleep, and I remember feeling so incredibly relaxed in that place, as though I could lay there forever. Subhan Allah! We woke up about two hours later realizing that we were running late for our next engagement so we left, but I will always remember that experience of falling asleep in Masjid Al Aqsa and how tranquil and peaceful I felt in that place. As with almost everything in Islam, the masjid has rights! The masjid is al bayt Allah, the house of Allah, and has rights over us just as anything does. The first right, is that whenever someone enters the baytullah, they should pray two rakat. The prophet Muhammad (sws) said "If any of you enters the masjid, let him not sit down until he makes two rakaat.". Second, no business should take place in the masjid. The prophet said, " Whoever sells in the masjid, say to them 'May Allah make your sale fail". Third, the masjid should be kept clean and fresh smelling. The messenger (sws) said, "Whoever eats garlic, should not attend our place of prayer (until the smell is gone)." Fourth, advice should be given to fellow Muslims. When the prophet (sws) saw someone not praying correctly he would advise them and teach them the proper way. So we should not be afraid to help each to do things correctly when we see someone making a mistake, and likewise we should not take offense if someone corrects us, after all we are only human. We all know that many times when we go to the masjid we see people doing something "a little off" in their salat, and in American culture it is often times thought to be kind of rude to correct such a thing, just as it's rude to tell someone their getting fat, but it is the sunnah of our messenger (sws) to advise and remind each other when there is something noticeable that needs corrected. Fifth, Allah (swt) should be remembered frequently while you are in the masjid. Allah (swt) says, " ya ayyuha alatheena amino othkuroo Allaha dhikran katheeran" (O you who believe, remember Allah with much remembrance). Make a lot of dhikr while in the masjid, although it doesn't have to be as elaborate as that of the Sufis. Make tasbih, recite Qur'an, make du'a constantly while in the masjid so that you may maximize the amount of blessings from Allah (swt). May Allah (swt) give us the blessing of being amongst those that establish the masjid and are included amongst those whom Allah (swt) loves.A Qulu qawli hatha wa stag fir Allahi walakumMy brothers and sisters in Islam. We may not have a beautiful minbar or mihrab. We may not have elaborate designs decorating our walls and windows. We may not have minarets reaching high into the sky, nor do we have a master quality sound system or a plasma screen tv for our sisters. This place may not be what many of us are "used to" calling a masjid, but this is indeed OUR masjid. Since I've been staying here in Ashland, I'm noticing that the masjid is not used other than on Fridays for jum'ah. I would encourage all of us to take advantage of this blessing that Allah has given us in having our own masjid here. Our messenger (sws) said that if he could, he would BURN the houses of those men who pray only in their houses, and neglect the masjid. Many Muslims in other communities of similar size don't even have something like this. We should first and foremost be thankful to Allah that we have such a place where we're not having to pay electric, gas, and water; it's just HERE for us to use. Then, I would like to suggest to those in attendance today that we firstly try to use the masjid for daily salat in addition to jum'ah, and also that maybe we think of other ways that we can utilize this great asset for the betterment of our community. I think it would be wonderful to establish halaqas, and/or even a madrasa for children in our area. I would also again like to suggest we keep a sadaqa box here and that maybe we can collectively decide how we might use money collected thru sadaqa either for expenses related to the masjid, or for local charity. Without a doubt Allah (swt) makes it clear to us how much he loves those who spend their time in the masajid so I pray again that Allah might help us to be those that make dkikr often in this baytullah, and accept our remembrance as part of our ticket into jennah. I pray that Allah help us to become closer as a community here in sleepy little Ashland, Ohio; to reach out to those brothers and sisters in our community who do not regularly visit the masjid, and to use our masjid as a place to reach out to the greater community in Da'wah, and mutual respect and recognition. May Allah (swt) accept our du'a, and forgive us our sins. May Allah keep us safe and in good iman both in our personal and public lives. May Allah give us the wisdom and guidance to be excellent examples of our deen to those who don't know and don't understand, so that their hearts may be softened to the message of Allah, and of our beloved prophet Muhammad (sws). Allahuma eghfirli Al Muslimeena wa Al Muslimat…Wa Al Mou'mineena wa Al Mou'minaat….Al Ahya'ee minhum wa Al amwat…Innaka samee'un minibus dawat…Qal Allah Ta'ala
Surat Wal Asr...
Astaghfir Allah
Astaghfir Allah
Astaghfir Allah
Wa Aqimi Salah

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Blessings of Friday

بسمالله الرحمان الرحيم

In the name of Almighty God, the most Gracious, the most Merciful. All praise be to he that created us into many nations and tribes, and into many tongues. All praise be to he that created man with the ability to reflect, and contemplate the wonders of creation in remembrance of God. May God's peace and mercy be upon all of his messengers, and may He be merciful on us all, on the Day of Judgement.

There is undoubtedly one common practice amongst almost all major religions, and that is the practice of gathering, or congregating for worship. God almighty created us as social creatures. We need companionship and fellowship almost as much as we need food and water. This need for fellowship extends into every aspect of our existence. In our careers we need others to complete most tasks. We need others in our romantic lives, obviously. Faith, is no different, and Islam is one of the few faiths that make gathering or congregating for worship, an obligatory part of the faith.

The three major Abrahamic faiths, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, all have a concept of the "Sabbath". "Sabbath" in Hebrew, literally means,"seven", and refers to the seventh day of the week, Saturday. The Torah instructed the children of Israel, the Jews, to keep the Sabbath or "seventh day" holy. To not work or engage in worldly activity, and it was and still is common for Jews to congregate for worship on that day. Christians, originally kept Saturday as the holy day of the week, just as Jews did, because early Christians didn't see themselves as a "new" religion but rather as a continuation of the Jewish faith, recognizing Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, as the Messiah. It was later in Christian history that because of the story of the Resurrection on the "third day" after the crucifiction, meaning Sunday, that the holy day was moved to Sunday. Christians still recognize that the "Sabbath" is Saturday, but because they have become a separate religion from that of Judaism, they no longer consider themselves bound to the laws of the Torah.
In Islam, we recognize the story of the Sabbath and recognize the necessity of the Jewish people to maintain it's sanctity, but this was only a law given by Moses to the children of Israel. It was not a law set forth by Abraham to all believers of God. In the Qur'an and the Torah, it is recorded that God, almighty, created all that is in creation in six periods (not necessarily days), and the Earth was one of those things created in the sixth period. It is also recorded in Islamic scripture that the Day of Judgement will also fall on the sixth day of the week, Friday. So without a doubt, Friday is a significant day for us as part of God's creation. It is reported that the prophet Muhammad said, “Friday is the master of days, and the greatest of them before Allah. It is greater before Allah than the day of al-Adha and the day of al-Fitr (the two major Islamic holidays). It has five characteristics: on this day Allah created Adam, on it He sent Adam down to the earth, on it Allah caused Adam to die, on it there is a time when a person does not ask Allah for anything but He gives it to him, so long as he does not ask for anything haraam (forbidden), and on it the Hour will begin. There is no angel who is close to Allah, no heaven, no earth, no wind, no mountain and no sea that does not fear Friday.” This reported saying of the prophet Muhammad, illustrates to us the importance of holding Friday to a higher esteem than other days, and the necessity to not be lazy in our worship on this day.
Friday is called in Arabic, "yawm ul-Jum'ah", or "day of gathering". Likewise it is also on this day that we as Muslims are required to attend congregational prayers. God almighty says in the Qur'an, “O you who believe (Muslims)! When the call is proclaimed for the Salaah (prayer) on Friday (Jum'ah prayer), come to the remembrance of Allah [Jum'ah khutba (sermon) and Salaah (prayer)] and leave off business (and every other thing). That is better for you if you did but know!” In this verse we have a clear command from God that we as Muslims must attend the jum'ah prayer on Fridays. The only exception is given for women. Women are not required to attend Friday services, but if they are not busy it is very strongly recommended that they go.
As Muslims living here in America, attending jum'ah on Fridays is even more crucial to the survival of our communities. In many small towns such as Ashland, Ohio, where I'm from, the jum'ah is the only time that Muslims in the community come together. For many Muslims in small communities like this, jum'ah offers the only group Islamic education available. It is a time when we as a community come together in fellowship and discuss the issues that are important to our situations. This will be a relatively short post on this blog but my hope is to encourage all my brothers and sisters in Islam, DO NOT NEGLECT JUM'AH. I know that in my small home town, only maybe a third of the Muslims of the community actually attend jum'ah, and I venture to believe that it's probably the same in most communities. Remember all the blessings you could be missing out on by not being there. For those that work, remember that Allah has made it haram to work during the time of the jum'ah, so the money you are making during that time is haram and will not benefit you. For those that attend classes, I know it is sometimes difficult to schedule around things like this, however you must do all you can to be at jum'ah. Whatever education you are getting during this time will also be of no benefit to you if you are neglecting your obligations to God. This is just a friendly reminder to all my brothers and sisters in Islam to always try to attend Friday jum'ah, for the sake of yourselves and your akhirah (afterlife), and also for the sake of our community.
...And Allah Knows Best...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My Story: Becoming a Muslim

بسمالله الرحمان الرحيم
In the name of Almighty God, the most gracious the most merciful. All praise is due to He that created the heavens and earth and spread life amongst them. All praise be to he that guides us down the straight path of righteousness. May the peace and blessings of God be upon all the prophets and messengers of God from Adam to Muhammad.
Over the years that I have been Muslim, people, Muslims and non-Muslims, always ask me about how I actually became Muslim. Usually it's far too difficult and time consuming to give an entire explanation in a passing conversation. So, I decided that I would actually publish my story in this blog so that anyone who might be interested will be able to read the detailed version of the journey I took which led me to Islam.
In all reality I was born Muslim, as we ALL are. We are all born in a state of "submission to Almighty God", which is the meaning of the word "Muslim"; one who submits him/herself to God. However we are not all "raised" as Muslims. God blessed me with wonderful parents. They are loving, compassionate, sincere, and surprisingly tolerant people. I was raised in what I would call a suto-Christian environment. I was raised believing in God, in the sonship of Jesus Christ, and in all other basic Christian beliefs and celebrated the "normal" Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter. However, my family was not a "church going" family. My mother had once told me that they "just couldn't find a church that they felt comfortable in". So, while I was most certainly raised to be a God fearing person, I was not raised in and around churches. When I was about thirteen years old, a good friend of mine invited me to a Christian rock concert that was being held at the local high school. The band was pretty good and I enjoyed the show. During an intermission, a famous Christian Evangelist spoke about the blood of Christ, the love of God, and of the importance of accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and savior. In retrospect it is really from here that I mark the beginning of my spiritual journey to Islam. I was moved by what this preacher was saying that night. It struck me like a ton of bricks. As in most events like this, there are usually what they call "alter calls". The preacher asked if anyone wanted to be saved that night, and accept Jesus Christ as their savior. I accepted the invite. I was sent out to the hall where an older youth helped me to be "saved". After that I felt wonderful. I felt as though a huge debt had been lifted and I knew that I wanted to keep God at center of my focus.
I began attending church at Park Street Brethren Church. It was and is still a very nice church, situated in the heart of Ashland, Ohio. The pastor of the church was a very gentle soul, who seemed to just have a way of making you feel good about being alive. Now anyone who knows me knows that music is a HUGE part of my life, and when I saw the worship teams in the church performing music for God, I definitely wanted to do that. Eventually I worked my way into the "worship team click", and was fairly happy with that. It was during my time their that Park Street Church started their "Crossing" worship service, designed to help youth stay more interested in church. It really was a great idea and I was very happy to be a part of it. However while I was having a great time "performing", their were some aspects of the situation that was gradually eating away at me. Some of them simply had to do with the degree of "favoritism" and "clickism" that existed in the church, but these things were not directly related to being Christian. However there were some fundamental principals of Christianity that bothered me. Once in a Sunday school class some folks were talking about people who are saved and then later on commit horrible acts such as rape and murder. The question in the class was will they still attain heaven? The answer the pastor gave was yes, because they were saved. It seemed to me that that just didn't make any real sense. How could someone who is fundamentally wicked still enter heaven just because they were "saved"? What happens to people who never hear about Christ? And, why did things change from the ways of the Old Testament after Christ? Once I heard a pastor say that all people are born sinners, and the only way to erase that sin is to accept the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for your sins. That made me wonder, " So even a tiny baby is a sinner?". These things slowly but surely worked on my mind and heart.
Eventually it came to the point that I was just performing with the worship team, and then hanging outside during the sermons. I simply wasn't sure about all this. I was sure about God, and I was sure about Jesus, but I wasn't sure about "this". Well eventually my non-participation in other church functions led to me leaving the worship team and the church, and I never really returned.
After this, I more or less became a "spiritual person", not a "religious person". I knew that I had my beliefs about God and Jesus, and even that I considered myself a Christian, but I didn't go to church because I had fundamental differences with that which was preaching in convention Christian doctrine. I continued in this state for most of the rest of my high school career.
In college I became more and more exposed to different views of the world. I became much more liberal than I had previously been. I had started smoking later on in my high school career, and had also had my share of "big kid pop" as we called it, even though I was underage. I also had several relationships with girls that were not exactly what would be acceptable in most religious traditions. Most of all, by this point I really didn't consider myself a Christian anymore, just a "spiritual person". I had come to believe that "organized religion" was just something that didn't interest me. I viewed it as something that was divisive and ultimately was just another reason for people to kill each other. However, I still maintained my belief in God, and in his lordship, and even prayed on occasion when I felt I was in need of it.
One day while climbing the stairs of AU's Arts and Humanities building to go to my next class, I saw a flier advertising a new class that was being offered; "Understanding Islam in the Modern World". I found this interesting, and I was somehow inexplicably drawn to it. Over the next few days I pondered taking the class. It was something that definitely interested me because since 9/11 Islam was always in the news. I wanted to learn why these "people" hated us so much, and what was it about these "people" that was causing so much of the conflict in the world.
Thankfully, I got in the class. From the very beginning I felt drawn to this subject. While I unfortunately cared little for my other classes, I never missed this one. We started to learn about the basic beliefs and practices of Muslims, the five daily prayers, fasting during Ramadan, Zakat or alms giving, and the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. At first all this seemed complicated and really I wondered why it was necessary to do all that. Islam seemed like a very "hard" religion to practice. I thought "maybe that's why they are always so angry". We then started to learn about the pillars of faith, or in others words the six things that ALL Muslims must believe in order to be considered a Muslim. They are to believe in God, to believe in the prophets, belief in the books, belief in the angels, belief in the jinn, and belief in pre-ordained destiny. The first, to believe in God and that there is nothing else worthy of worship other than God, this I had no problem with and found it a pleasant surprise. The second to believe in the prophets of God. I was absolutely shocked to find that Muslims believed in many of the same prophets as Christians did such as Adam, Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, Solomon, and EVEN Jesus!! Of course we spent a lot of time talking about Jesus Christ. I was amazed that Muslims believed in the virgin birth, and in all the other miracles that he performed. However when they said that Jesus is not the son of God, this I had to think about. But, when I really thought about it, Adam had no father or mother, but Christians didn't call him son of God. So that made sense.
Ultimately after having learned about Islam in regards to many subjects such as women's rights, war and combat, justice and equality under the law, the lack of priesthood, and most of all that Islam gave people the right to believe what they want to believe. The Qur'an says,
"لا اكراه في الدين " or "let there be NO compulsion in religion". This to me seemed fundamentally opposed to ALL conventional organized religion. What religion gives permission to believe what you want?? The whole of that particular verse is, "Let there be no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from the wrong way; therefore, whoever disbelieves the Shaitan and believes Allah, he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and Allah is all Hearing and all Knowing. (surat al Baqarah, verse 256). This verse really floored me because it didn't make sense that any religion give this kind of permission. In my mind, religions were supposed to "compete" in the "market" of believers. But here was a holy book that basically tells it's reader that they don't have to believe in it! Also when we learned about the biography of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that also shocked me. Here was a man who really could have had all the riches and women in Arabia, yet he didn't. He could have killed anyone who opposed or mocked him, but he didn't. He could have demanded that people worship him, but he didn't. This man could have had it all, but he didn't. So what did he stand to gain by preaching this message? What did he stand to gain by telling the Arabs that there is nothing worthy of worship other than God Almighty! The fact that this man spent his life preaching a message that ultimately united the whole of Arabia, and within 80 years of his death had spread from India to to northern Africa, and all the while, during his life he was never rich, most of his wives were older widows, and that this message had cost him his status, and caused those who he once called neighbors to exile him and even try to kill him.... this utterly amazed me.
I became completely consumed by this subject. I researched various topics on my own time, learning more and more about the stance of Islam in various world issues. My other school work suffered a great deal, my girlfriend at the time thought I was nuts. Pretty soon I started to wonder myself if I was going crazy. So, I tried to look into other religions and study and learn about all these issues as they relate to them. I studied Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca, New Age religions, everything I could find information about, but nothing made as much sense as Islam. In fact I found good things in almost every religion, but Islam was the only one where I found ALL of those good things.
At the end of the class, we had a choice for a final assignment; either writing a paper, or visiting a mosque. I decided I wanted to visit the mosque. I traveled one Friday to the Islamic Center of Akron/Kent. I was very nervous but at the same time very excited. I had done some research into the proper way of behaving and so fourth. I went in, put my shoes on the rack, and sat down on the floor. While I was waiting for the sermon to start a man walked in a began praying beside me. I watched him bowing and prostrating and found it to be incredibly peaceful. The sermon began and the first half was in Arabic, so I couldn't understand, but the second half was English. To be honest I don't really remember what he was talking about, but when they started the congregational prayer it was amazing. As I listened to the Qur'an being recited, I remember thinking that as a musician, out of all the beautiful pieces of music that I had heard in my life, this sound, one mans voice, was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. I remember getting chills, and my eyes welling up with tears, as I made my own prayer to God, to guide me and to show me what to do. Later that night, while alone in my parents dining room, I got down on my knees and put my face to the floor, facing east and said, " Oh God, I testify to you that there is nothing worthy of worship other than you oh lord, and I testify that Muhammad ibn Abdullah, was your messenger".
One thing that I had been worried about was my parents reaction. So, one day I got up enough courage to ask my mother, who knew I had been studying Islam, " What would you think if I converted to Islam?". She replied, " As long as you believe in God, how you worship him is up to you". My father gave a similar reaction. After that I knew what I had to do. I had to make this official by doing it in front of witnesses. I contacted the head of the Islamic Society of Mansfield and asked if he would help me. He invited me to his home wear we had dinner, and after he had me repeat those wonderful, life changing words infront of him and his whole family.
اشهد ان لا اله الا لله
"Ashadu an La ilaha il Allah"
I bear witness there is no god but God
و اشهد ان محمد رسولالله
"wa ashadu ana Muhammadun Rasoolullah"
and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah
Also that next Sunday I travelled to the main mosque in Cleveland and pronounced my shahadah (this statement) in front the entire mosque.
That marked the turning point of my life. From that moment I began to learn to pray the five daily prayers and to recite them in the original Arabic of our beloved prophet. To dress Islamically, to speak Islamically, and absolutely most importantly to treat others especially my parents, Islamically.
Now, I don't want you to think that overnight I became this incredible perfect Muslim guy. I struggled for while with giving up drinking, I struggled making the prayers, and most of all I struggled with women. No doubt that was one of my biggest weaknesses and it pains me to admit that, but it is important to illustrate that becoming Muslim does not happen overnight. There comes a point when you make a conscience decision to really "be" a Muslim, whether you are a convert or were raised as a Muslim. Eventually Allah guided me away from that which was harmful to me, and replaced it with things that were far better. Allah gave me a beautiful, and wonderful wife, something that previously I never thought I could have. We are expecting our first child soon. Allah gave me the opportunity to use my musical talents for great Muslim artists such as Native Deen, and 786, and have had the blessed opportunity to travel the world and experience Muslims from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. It truly makes me tear up and cry when I think about ALL the blessing Almighty Allah has given me in my life, despite how much I feel sometimes I don't deserve it.
I pray that this, my story, may inspire other brothers and sisters in Islam to appreciate their own journey in this dunya, and I pray that my non-Muslim friends may find it an inspiring story of one small town American boys journey to a faith that is unfortunately rarely associated with being American. May Allah guide us all on the straight path, and give us peace in this life.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Life and Death

In the name of Almighty God, the most gracious, the most merciful. All praise be to he that created life from water, and brought forth all varieties of organisms into existence. All praise be to he that created our father Adam, from clay, and breathed life into him, and ordered the mighty angels to prostrate before him. All praise be to he who created all, finite, mortal. All of us and every creature that walks, crawls, slithers, swims, or flies shall taste death. I ask the Almighty that I only die in state of utter submission to him. May the peace and blessings of God Almighty be on all his prophets and messengers from Adam to Muhammad.

This past week, we witnessed yet another horrible tragedy in another one of our American institutions of higher education. It reminded me of first of all, of how bad certain elements of our society have become. Personally, it makes me wonder what they really mean by us being a "civilized" society. If what I saw on my television screen last Thursday is what can be considered a part of a civilized society, I think I'd rather be raized by wolves, because wolves and other animals don't kill without a reason usually related to their survival. Animals don't go on killing rampages because someone made them feel inferior. Animals don't seek out another that wronged them, years later, to kill them. What I saw on thursday reminded me that as human beings we sometimes behave not as animals, but much lower.
I can't say enough how much heart felt sorrow I feel for the families of those who lost loved ones last thursday. I pray with all my heart that Almighty God fill their heart with hope, and that He has mercy on those poor people who so tragically lost their lives. When I contemplate the situation, I can't help but ponder what God almighty told us in his holy Qur'an. God almighty says, "" Verily, with ALLAH alone is the knowledge of the Hour. And HE sends down the rain, and HE knows what is in the wombs. And no soul knows what it will earn tomorrow, and no soul knows in what land it will die. Surely, ALLAH is All-Knowing, All-Aware. "" 31:34 If there is anything good that can come out of sensless tragedies like this, it is that it reminds us that death can come to us no matter how old we are, whether man or woman, black or white, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, or atheist. Death is the ultimate certainty. God says, "Every soul shall have a taste of death; In the end to us shall ye be brought back" .(Surah Al-'Ankabut The Spider 29:57). In fact we know, without any religious text, that death will come to us all. No prayer, no lucky charm, no science can prevent this ultimate truth. So this begs the question, how do you want to die? I have heard many creative answers to this question over the years, but ultimately, logically, in order to answer that question, one must consider what comes after death.
We know from the Qur'an and indeed all major religious texts that without a doubt, there is an afterlife. All spiritual traditions are agreed that for those who are "good" will be rewarded, and those who are "bad" will be punished. The problem is what is the definition of "good" and "bad". The ultimate good of course is to recognize that there is a God, and to do everything in our power and in our knowledge to live a life that recognizes his lordship over us. After that, it is to serve our fellow human beings. It is to grant others the rights that they have over you. The rights that your mother has over you, for enduring overwhelming pain and suffering in order to bring you into this world. The rights that your father has over you, the rights that your husband/wife has over you, the rights that your children has over you, the rights that your fellow man has over you, and even the rights that the earth itself has over all of us. And, it is about not exceeding the limitations of our own rights over others, especially the rights that Almighty God has over you. And, of course to define "bad" it would be the opposite of this. "Bad" is to disregard the rights others have over you. It is to deprive a childs right to his/her parents, it is to deprive an innocent mans right to live, it is to deprive the animal's right to be slaughtered humanely, and to deprive all others the right to live and love as they choose, and to impose one's own will on others.
One can only pray that these poor individuals who died last thursday, were on the right side of this spectrum. Whether you are a successful business man, an elderly person lonely in a rest home, or college student sitting bored in your class, death can come at any time, and any place. I once heard a quote from Confederate States of America general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, when asked how he could remain so calm in the midst of such horror as that of battle. He replied something to the effect, " God has fixed my time of death, so I do not concern myself with that, but I strive to be ready whenever that time comes. That's how all men ought to live". Well Mr. Jackson, I completely agree. We shouldn't constantly be worried and paranoid about death, but rather we should live and love and enjoy our short time in this life, and make sure that when that Angel comes to us, to take our soul from our body, that we can be content that we will be leaving this life in a state that is pleasing to the one whom we ultimately will return, the Almighty, Allah, and if we can be content in that, we have nothing to fear.

...And Allah Knows Best...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Jesus Christ: Peace and Blessings be upon Him

بسم لله الرحمان الرحيم

In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful. All praise be to almighty God, the lord of all creation. All praise be to He that created Adam from clay, without the aid of a mother or father, and created Hawa (Eve) from Adam. All praise be to He who breathed into the womb of Mary and created Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah. May His peace, mercy and blessings be bestowed upon all of his prophets including Jesus Christ, and Muhammad.

Nowadays I seem to be seeing a lot of programs on channels like the History Channel, Discovery Channel, Science Channel, and others talking about different scenarios that could lead to the ultimate destruction of human life and of the Earth and universe itself. While these programs are indeed interesting from a scientific point of view, they are ultimately just entertainment. However after seeing such a program it reminded me of the many signs of the last days that either have come or will come to pass. One of these major signs is the return of Jesus Christ, the messiah, to usher in the final days of our time as a race on this Earth. Jesus Christ, is of course a well known figure amongst Christians and Muslims as a holy messenger of God. It is also well known by these folks that he will return in the final days, but it is not neccessarily well known to Christians what the Qur'an and the prophet Muhammad said about this holy prophet of God. So, my hope is that some Christians and other non-Muslim, and maybe even Muslim readers out there might benifit from it insha'Allah (God willing).

First of all, it may come as a shock to many Christians that yes Islam recognizes Jesus Christ as a holy prophet of God, and Islam is the only "non-Christian" tradition that does so. God Almighty quotes Jesus Christ in the Qur'an, "Lo! I come unto you with a sign from your Lord. Lo! I fashion for you out of clay the likeness of a bird, and I breathe into it and it is a bird by Allah’s leave. I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I raise the dead, by Allah’s leave. And I announce to you what you eat and what you store up in your houses. Lo! herein verily is a portent for you if you are to be believers. And (I come) confirming that which was before me of the Torah, and to make lawful some of that which was forbidden unto you. I come unto you with a sign from your Lord, so keep your duty to Allah and obey me. Lo! Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path." (Qur’an 3: 49-51). The Qur'an also quotes Jesus as saying, "I am indeed a servant of God. He has given me revelation and made me a prophet; He has made me blessed wheresoever I be; and He has enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live. He has made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable. So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!' Such was Jesus the son of Mary. It is a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute. It is not befitting to (the majesty of) God that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! When He determines a matter, He only says to it, 'Be,' and it is" (19:30-35)." In these holy verses, God almighty revealed to us something of the speach of prophet Jesus, and Jesus makes clear to us what his purpose was on this Earth.
Jesus came as a prophet and messenger to the Children of Israel. It is recorded that the priests and rabbis in Jesus's time were extremely currupt and it was Jesus who preached against the evil ways that they had made for themselves and the Children of Israel. His message was of worshipping God and God alone. Jesus also made it clear that he is not devine in and of himself, but that Everything he did, he did by God's permission. Many miracles were performed by Jesus including speaking as an infant in defense of his mother Mary, curing blindness, raising the dead, and breathing life into a clay bird. Jesus brought with him the Injil, or the Gospel as a revalation from almighty God. While most of the Injil has been lost or distorted, some parts may exist in the present day canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, however these sources are regarded by many Muslim and non-Muslims scholars as not completely reliable at best.
While the event of the crucifixion did indeed happen, the Qur'an brought the news that it was not Jesus who died on the cross. God almighty says in the Qur'an, "And for their unbelief, and their uttering against Mary a grave false charge, and for their saying, 'We killed the messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the Messiah of God"…yet they did not slay him, neither crucified him, only a likeness of that was shown to them. Those who are at variance concerning him are surely in doubt the following of conjecture; and they did not kill him of certainty…no indeed; God raised him up to Him; God is Almighty, Allwise. There is not one of the people of the book but will assuredly believe him before his death, and on the Resurrection Day he will be a witness against them." (An-Nissa 4:156-159). Jesus Christ himself was not crucified but was raised up to God, and those who sought to kill him were tricked into thinking that they had killed him. Now many Christians might say, "then what about the taking away of our sins through God's sacrifice". The truth is that only we can be accountable for our sins. This was true of the Old Testiment and it is true of the Gospel, and it is true of the Qur'an, and it doesn't really make sense that God would "change his mind" at the time of Jesus (pbuh). We are born pure, in a pure state of submission to Almighty God, as His servants. It is only later in life that we stray, and sin through the influence of others. It is only God that can forgive sins, and he frequently refers to himself in the Qur'an as "Al Rahman, Al Raheem", the most gracious and redeeming, and the most merciful and forgiving. What is amazing about prophet Jesus is that unlike any other prophet, he is not dead! He still lives in heaven, and eagerly awaits when God will order him to return to Earth and fulfill his destiny, and that destiny will be to usher in the last days before the final Day of Judgement.
In regards to his return, prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said, "There is no prophet between me and him, that is, Jesus (pbuh). He will descend (to the earth). When you see him, recognize him: a man of medium height, reddish fair, wearing two light yellow garments, looking as if drops were falling down from his head though it will not be wet. He will fight the people who oppose almighty God. He will break the cross, kill swine, and abolish jizya(tax that was implemented on non-Muslims living in Muslim lands). Allah will perish all religions except Islam (meaning submission to God). He will destroy the Antichrist and will live on the earth for forty years and then he will die. The Muslims (those who submit to God) will pray over him." In this statement, the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) makes it clear that Jesus will unite all believers in God (i.e. Christians, Jews, Muslims, and all others) against the unholy Antichrist, in Arabic known as the Dajjal. He will rule as a completely just ruler, ending all wars between nations and tribes, and in that time there will only be two religions; the religion of 'submission to God' ( Islam in Arabic), and rejection of God (kufr in Arabic). This hadith mentions that he would break the cross, and this is because that cross has become an idol, and represents associating partners in worship to God, which is the biggest sin one can commit. As the ten Commandments say " Thou shall not have any gods except Me" (i.e. worshiping things, people, animals, trees, or even ideas along with or instead of God) and " Thou shall not maketh unto me, any engraven image" (i.e. idols). It also says that he will kill the swine or the pigs, but this is not because pigs are evil (no creature of God is evil), it will most likely be in order to stop the rapent consumsion of pigs which has become so common.
One big part of Jesus' future reign will be the destruction of the Antichrist. The Antichrist will be a horrible being that will lead many, maybe millions astray and away from the path of God. Many hadith, or sayings of prophet Muhammad, make clear that he will work miracles and claim to be God in human form. Many people will follow him. It is said that he will appear somewhere between Iraq and Syria (i.e. the Middle East). He will claim to offer paradise or heaven to those who follow him, and hell for those who oppose him. However, it is said in the sayings of prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that his paradise is actually hell, and that his hell is actually paradise. Jesus (pbuh) will lead an army of the righteous (Christians, Jews, Muslims and those who believe in him) against the Dajjal's army of the wicked ( those who reject Jesus, and the message of God). He will destroy the Dajjal and then usher in 40 years of peace, and it will be a worldwide peace unlike any the world has ever seen before. When he dies his funeral will most likely be the biggest in human history, and all those who believe will line up in rows for the funeral prayer on him, and insha'Allah (God willing) he will be buried in a grave that is still being reserved next to prophet Muhammad, peace be upon them both.
Now some of these details may come as a little odd to many Christian readers and that's ok. Many of them may question the authority of the Qur'an and of prophet Muhammad (pbuh) on this issue. I don't consider myself a scholar of either my own religion or of Christianity, but I would ask my Christian friends to look to the words of Jesus Christ himself, as recorded by the Bible. In John 16:7 he is quoted as saying, "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Paraclete shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." Now I included the actual Greek word Paraclete in this quotation for a reason. In later translations and interpretations of these verses the word "Paraclete" was translated as the "Holy Spirit", in truth the word Paraclete means roughly "one whom people praise exceedingly". The Holy Spirit is said in Christian theology to have been present in creation from the very beginning so it wouldn't make sense for it to be coming "after" Jesus. Interestingly enough in the Aramaic language or the orginal language of Jesus, Paraclete can be translated as "Ahmed" as it is done in the film "The Passion of the Christ". Aramaic and Arabic are also closely related linguistically and "Ahmed" in one of the names of prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. It is clear from this word Paraclete that Jesus is referring to a person. But who? Jesus also says reffering to the Paraclete, "He shall Glorify Me!". Now if the Paraclete is indeed a person, then Muhammad is the only viable candidate for the Paraclete because he is the only major religious leader, as the name as well as Jesus' describtion would imply, that praised Jesus in the two thousand years after Jesus. These are only a few tidbits for interested Christian readers to chew on if they like.
Ultimately it comes down to the simple fact that Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, was one of the holiest men ever to walk the Earth. Both Christians and Muslims recognize this fact, regardless of theological differences. It must be said that Jesus' message was clear. There is only ONE God, and it is only God that should be worshipped. I would encourage all Christians who may read this to look closely at the message of Jesus Christ (pbuh) in the Gospels, and to believe what Jesus himself says; that "his father, and our father are one...his God, and our God are ONE" and when he said "Why do you call me good?...There is no good except for God". I ask all Christians to recognize that Jesus never asked to be worshipped himself and attributed all his works to God alone. I bear witness that there is no deity (person, animal, plant, thing or idea) worthy of worship other than Almighty God, with no partners, and I bear witness that Jesus Christ and Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon them, are the messengers of Almighty God.
...And Allah Knows Best...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Black History Month: The influence of Islam on the African American Experience

بسم لله الرحمان الرحيم
In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful. All praise be to the one who created us from a single pair, a male, and a female. All praise be to him who made us into nations and tribes so that we may come to know each other in mutual peace and love, and praise be to He that judges not by our national or tribal affiliation, but by our devotion and obedience to him. May His peace and blessings be on all his prophets and messengers from Adam to Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.

As many may know, Febuary is considered "Black History Month" here in the US and Canada. Of course many of us remember learning about brave human beings like Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks, during this month back in our elementary and secondary school days. However one aspect of the African American experience that is unfortunately not as talked about in the public school system, is the influence of Islam. As I have said in other blog entries Islam has been a part of the United States from the very beginning, in it's existence amongst early African American slaves. However in this blog I'd like to mention a few more details surrounding that and also leading up into our modern history.
There have been estimates, ranging from 10% to 40%, of the early generations of African American slaves were Muslim. One of these men was Omar Ibn Said. Omar Ibn Said (ca. 1770-1864) was born in the Muslim state of Futa Toro in Western Africa, in present-day Senegal. He was a Muslim scholar and trader who was captured and enslaved. He arrived in North Carolina in 1807 after escaping a cruel master in Charlestown South Carolina, and was sold to James Owen. He was considered a Muslim scholar and had been educated in Islamic law and Arabic language. Some of his Arabic manuscripts, including an autobiography and several hand written copies of chapters of the Qur'an, are kept today in the North Carolina Collection in the Wilson Library at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It is reported that he was still a slave when he died in 1864.
Another man by the name of Bilali (Ben Ali) Muhammad, was also a famous Muslim slave living in Georgia. He was well known for being a Muslim scholar and served as an Imam for approximately 80 Muslim men living on his plantation. He regularly observed the salat (prayers), the Ramadan fast, and the Eids, and was also known to wear a fez and thobe. He had also written manuscripts including a work on Islamic law and conduct.
Over time, during the 19th century however, many African American slaves lost their Islamic roots due to either forced conversion to Christianity, or simple ignorance and lack of access to Islamic education.
For much of the 2nd half of the 19th century and early 20th century, the practice of Islam lay dormant in America. In 1913 a "suto-Muslim" organization was formed called the "Moorish Science Temple of America", founded by Noble Drew Ali. While this organization was an African American one, it was not a truly Islamic organization and should not be confused with Islam.
In 1930 a man by the name of Wallace Fard founded the "Nation of Islam". Fard dissapeared in 1934 and Elijah Muhammad became the leader. It was under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad that the NOI grew to the status it is today. However, while members of the NOI did believe in the "five pillars of Islam" and believed in the Qur'an and in the prophethood of Muhammad (sws), they still were not really an Islamic organization. Elijah Muhammad taught that Wallace Fard was "Allah in human form", and had come as a savior to the black peoples of America. This notion alone is, in my mind, is grounds to disqualify them as Muslims. They also were a racist organization, and preached black supremecy, which is not in any way shape or form, an Islamic ideology. However, many folks who were formally members of the NOI went on to become some of the most influencial leaders of "true Islam" in America, leading us into the modern era of African American Islam.
Al Hajj Malik Al Sabazz, or better known as Malcolm X, was one of the greatest leaders and spokesmen to come out of the NOI. While he spent most of his life preaching the extreme racist teachings of the NOI, he later left the NOI, made the Hajj to Mecca, and became a mainstream, orthodox Muslim. It was at this point that he became a shining voice for Islam in America. He said in a letter he wrote from Mecca,
"Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors."I have been blessed to visit the Holy City of Mecca, I have made my seven circuits around the Ka'ba, led by a young Mutawaf named Muhammad, I drank water from the well of the Zam Zam. I ran seven times back and forth between the hills of Mt. Al-Safa and Al Marwah. I have prayed in the ancient city of Mina, and I have prayed on Mt. Arafat."There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white."America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white - but the white attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color."You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth."During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug - while praying to the same God - with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana."We were truly all the same (brothers) - because their belief in one God had removed the white from their minds, the white from their behavior, and the white from their attitude."I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man - and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their 'differences' in color."With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called 'Christian' white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem. Perhaps it could be in time to save America from imminent disaster - the same destruction brought upon Germany by racism that eventually destroyed the Germans themselves."Each hour here in the Holy Land enables me to have greater spiritual insights into what is happening in America between black and white. The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities - he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites. But as racism leads America up the suicide path, I do believe, from the experiences that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the walls and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth - the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to."Never have I been so highly honored. Never have I been made to feel more humble and unworthy. Who would believe the blessings that have been heaped upon an American Negro? A few nights ago, a man who would be called in America a white man, a United Nations diplomat, an ambassador, a companion of kings, gave me his hotel suite, his bed. Never would I have even thought of dreaming that I would ever be a recipient of such honors - honors that in America would be bestowed upon a King - not a Negro."All praise is due to God, the Lord of all the Worlds."
It was with these words that true Islam was really reintroduced to the African American people. It was his denouncation of the doctrine of racism, and hate that had been promoted by the Nation of Islam. However, only approximately a year later, he was assinated, and thus his shining voice, silenced.
However, after the death of Elijah Muhammad, his son Warith Deen Muhammad ended the racist organization's life and reformed it under a mainstream, orthodox Muslim ideology. Today W. D. Muhammad is one of the leading Muslim leaders in the United States.
In recent history, real mainstream Islam has seen a revival amongst African Americans. Scholars and Imams like Imam Zaid Shakir and Imam Siraj Wahhaj just to name a couple, have become highly respected leaders in the African American Muslim and non-Muslim communities.
Islam has undoubtedly had a huge influence on the African American experience in this country, and thus indirectly also has had a huge influence on all of America. As a musician I have to mention that a great deal of the great jazz musicians of the be-bop era were Muslim, including one of my all-time favorite drummers " Abdullah ibn Buhaina" or "Art Blakey". It is theorized that much of the traditional singing of slaves was influenced by their Islamic roots, thus meaning that jazz, blues, and subsiquently almost all American music was influenced by Islam.
However, despite the great achievements of the African American community, I believe there are still huge challenges. While there is still most certainly racism amongst white America, it isn't what it used to be. However many African Americans still blame most of the problems they face on that. I most certainly understand the historical plight of the African Americans, however I believe that many of the problems facing them today are partially on their own heads. Most certainly the popular culture that currently dominates BET, and MTV are not good for the African American community, but I don't want to criticize too much because there are plenty of African American leaders who do a much better job of that than I can. Insha'Allah during this "Black History Month" I wanted to express the importance of remembering the influence of Islam in America, whether you are a Muslim or not, and how Islamic roots have shaped the evolution of the African American experience.
...And Allah Knows Best...

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Being Muslim in America (our role and our responsibilities)

In the name of Almighty God, the most gracious, the most merciful. All praise be to God, the lord of all the worlds. All praise be to God, the lord of the heavens and the earth. All praise be to God, the lord of mankind and of Jinn.
In this blog entry I have posted a transcript of the sermon that I gave on Febuary 1st, 2008 at the Bruce Ave. Mosque in Ashland, OH. For those who are not Arabic speakers I appologize for all the Arabic, and for those who do speak Arabic I appologize for my poor Arabic in English transliteration.

Bismillah Al Rahman Al Raheem. Alhamdulillahi rabbi Alameen. Alhamdulillahi rabbi samawati wal `ard. Alhamdulillahi rabbi An Nas wal Jinn. Innalhamdullah nahmadahu, wa nasta`eenahu wa nastaghfirhu, wa na`uzoo billah min shurooi an fusina, wa min sayi ati `am aalina. man yahadillahu falla mu'dhilallah wa man yudhlil falla hadiallah. Ashadu an La illaha illa Allah, wahdaho La sharik Allah, wa ashadu anna Muhammadun `abdahu wa rasoolahu. Allahuma Salla `ala Muhammad, wa `ala ali Muhammadin, Kama Salaita `ala Ibrahima wa `ala ali Ibrahim. Allahuma Barak `ala Muhammadin wa `ala ali Muhammadin. Kama barakta `ala Ibrahima wa `ala ali Ibrahima. Innaka hameedun Majeed.
Qal Allah ta'ala;
"Qul Innani hadani Rabbi illa siratim Mustaqim
Deenan Qiyaman millata Ibrahima haniifa, wa maa kaana min al Mushrikeen
Qul inna Salati wa nusukii wa mahyaaya wa mamaati lillahi rabbil Alemeen
La sharik Allah! wa bi thalika umirtu wa ana awul ul Muslimeen".
Ama Ba'd

My brothers in Islam! As I was thinking of what to share with you today in the khutbah, I couldn't help but to be a little distracted by the television. On that television was CNN coverage of the ongoing political struggle going on here in this country, as Republicans and Democrats campaign their way hopefully to the White House, and to the presidency of United States. As I watched all of this on the T.V., I couldn't help but link it in my mind to what it means to be a Muslim living in this country. What does it mean to be a believer of "La illaha ila Allah, wa Muhammadun Rasoolallah", and be living in this pluralistic microcosm of the world we call the United States? What are our responsibilities to Allah (swt) in respect to living in a prodominantly non-Muslim community? What are our responsibilities to this country? And, how should we, if at all, participate in the greater society of our country? When we look to the shari`ah of the issue, that is the Qur'an and the Sunnah of our messager Muhammad (sws), we find some fundimental concepts that are directly related to this issue that we face in the 21st century, thus showing us the infinate wisdom, the glorious hikma, of our deen, and I hope insha'Allah ta'ala to share some of this hikma with you today.
First of all we must recognize what our obligations are to Allah (swt) regardless of where we live. We have the obligation to obey the words of Allah (swt) in all that we do. We MUST make sure that we are making the salat, as that is the absolute most important part of being a Muslim, after Ashahadah. Allah (swt) tells us in the Qur'an that the salat is what seperates us from non-Muslims. And the prophet (sws) compared the salat to bathing 5 times a day, in that if one did so they shall never be dirty. So, also the converse is true. If you NEVER bathed you would continue to accumulate filth and it would be hard for others to tolerate you. Also we must make sure that we are adhering to the proper Islamic Aqeedah, in our day to day lives. These are absolutely pre-requisit to addressing the issue of our position in our country.
Now coming to that issue; our position, status, and role in this country.. Muslims have been in this country for every bit as long as Christians have. At the time of the first European exloration of North America by the Spanish, there was amongst them A Moor by the name of Mustafa Zemmouri or as he is known in the western history records Estavanica of Azamor. He was one of the first Europeans to explore what is now the American Southwest. It is also recorded that many, as much as 40% of African American slaves who came here, were Muslim, and in some cases slave owners actually provided prayer areas for Muslim slaves. It is said that in 1790 a group of Morrocans settled in South Carolina and was given special legal status as "non-slave Africans" by the South Carolina legislature. So it really cannot be said that Islam is a new phenomenon to America. Muslims have been a part of this country from the beginning.
However, in recent history, as in the past few decades, there have been huge influxes of Arab and Indian/Pakistani imigrants to the US, as many of you may have been a part of, and it is this group that is currently the mainstream of the American Muslim demographic. And, as with any immigrant group, there are both great accomplishments as well as great challenges. These Muslims have been largely responsible for the creation of such organizations as CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, The Islamic Society of North America, and the Muslim American Society just to name a few. They have also been responsible for the creation of countless mosques, Islamic centers, and schools. On the the other hand there are still huge challenges.
One of the biggest challenges that Muslims living here in the US face is the prospect of living in a pluralistic society. What I mean by that is living in a society in which there are people from many many different idealogical backgrounds. This is sometimes a difficult prospect for many Muslims who come from countries that are prodominantly Muslim, and as a result often times isolate themselves in tight-knit communities like the Arab community of Dearborn Michigan, or the Somali community of Columbus, Ohio for example. First of all we must look to the Shari`ah on the matter of pluralism.
The truth is the very first Muslim country to exist was a pluralistic society. The city/state of Medina was a society made up of Muslims, Jews, and pagan Arabs. When we look to the Constitution of Medina we see that the prophet Muhammad (sws) supported the idea of plurality. He extended equal rights under the law to all groups in Medina, including those of different religious beliefs. Thus it was not incumbant upon those who were not Muslim to adhere to laws specifically given to Muslims. For example in the Qur'an, Allah (swt) sometimes refers to us, " Ya Ayu an Nas" or "Oh mankind!" and sometimes, "Ya Ayohalatheena Aminu" or "Oh you who believe (the Muslims)". When Allah says "Ya Ayohalatheena Aminu", these are laws for the believers, for the Muslims. However "Ya Ayunan Nas", these are laws to all mankind, and it was to these laws that non-Muslims in Yathrib (Medina) were to obey. Outside of these the Jewish tribes and others had the right to create and live by their own laws. Now if the Muslims of Medina could live side by side those who are not Muslim, we have to ask ourselves then what makes it difficult for some Muslims in this country to deal with the greater non-Muslim society.
An argument could be made that unlike in Yathrib, in this country and many others Muslims are a minority, and this brings us to the next major challenge, living as a minority. Being a minority has many challenges in itself. We feel it in trying to find quality halal food. We feel it celebrating our holidays. We feel it in trying to explain to employers about our prayers, and fasting, and dress code. Muslim children also feel it in the many pressures they face in there journey through public schools. There was however, an instance of Muslims living as minorities at the time of the prophet (sws). Those Muslims who fled to Abisynnia lived there as a minority, under the Christian king. They lived there under the King and even participated in a civil war on behalf of the King, as he was a just ruler, and treated them with peace and equality. My Islamic name-sake Ja'far ibn Abu Talib (ra) was primarily responsible for this by stating clearly to the King, the principles of Islam in regard to justice, human rights, and dignity, and it is his example that the Muslims living in this country should examine.
Sometimes we forget what the most important parts of our deen, and our identity are. It's hard to find a single Muslim who will eat a bite of pork, but at the same time it's very easy to find Muslims who sell or consume alcohol. We find Muslims who rarely if ever make their daily prayers, yet at the same time rave and rant and take to the streets when someone insults the prophet (sws). And, at the same time, we see seemingly very religious brothers wearing thobes, big beards, kufis and imamas, miswak in their mouth, and yet at the same time they are beating and abusing their wives at home. Allah (swt) says in the Qur'an, in the English translation, "It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practise regular charity, to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing." (Al Baqarah;177) It is in this holy verse that Allah expresses to us that it is not these outward expressions of our faith such as the rituals we perform, or the things we wear that are what makes us believers, even though those things are important to disiplining ourselves in our day to day lives. It is what is in our hearts and in our sincere intentions that Allah cares most about, and only we and Allah know what is in our hearts and what is in our intentions. It is in our encouragement of the better good in our community and working with all those, regardless of religious beliefs, for things that will benefit humanity. Also it is in our forbidance of evil around us no matter whether it be from so called Christians who fire-bomb abortion clinics, so called "freedom of speech" advocates that insult and desicrate people's symbols of faith, or so called Muslims who plot to kill thousands of innocents in their backward and extremely misguided view of Jihad. There is no doubt that there are many non-Muslims in this country who view us as strange, backward, and question are intentions in this country. These folks feel this way mostly out of ignorance of and lack of any real experience with Islam. However one of the biggest contributing factors to that ignorance is the Muslims themselves. We cannot expect for Islam to become an accepted part of American society by trying to "blend in", and being something we are not. We must strive to be good examples of our faith in all that we do; in our families, in our work and business, and in how we interact with our non-Muslim friends, neighbors and family.
Aqulu Qawli hathaa wa staghfirullaha lii walakum

The last thing I'd like to mention is the importance of Muslim participation in the political system in our country. In this year with the presidential election in full swing, this fact is even more evident. I was watching the Republican primary in Michigan a few weeks ago, and many of the candidates were in and around Dearborn, MI, home of the Ford Motor Company as well as probably the largest concentration of Arab American Muslims in the United States. I kept waiting to hear the pundants mention these folks but when they did it was only to say that they were relatively insignificant, because in a recent poll, a vast majority of those Muslim citizens "didn't believe in voting". This appalled me personally, as there is no shari'ah text that prohibit such a thing and in fact actually encourage it. The prophet (sws) said "The best Jihad is to stand up for truth before an unjust ruler". He (sws) also said, "If my followers fail to stand up to an oppressor and say to him: ‘You are an oppressor’, then there will be no good in them." In some countries there is no legal way to do this, and so the only way it's done is unfortunately through violence. However, we have in this country, a unique system that allows in the law, for those desenting voices to be heard without fear of persecution by the law. We Muslims should realize this opprotunity and be willing to participate for the betterment of all. Allah (swt) says, "How should ye not fight for the cause of Allah and of the feeble among men and of the women and the children who are crying: Our Lord! Bring us forth from out this town of which the people are oppressors! Oh, give us from Thy presence some protecting friend! Oh, give us from Thy presence some defender!" (An-Nisa; 75)
So, in conclusion it is important that we remember Allah constantly, and take heed of his message in all that we do, and especially with living amongst non-Muslims. I believe that it is our responsibility to be upright ambassadors of our faith to the people of this country, so that our children and grandchildren will know an America that welcomes Islam as an vital part of it's spiritual tradition.

Allahuma Eghfir lil' Muslimeena wal Muslimat...
Wal Moumineena wal Mouminaat...
Al Ahya'ee minhum wal amwat...
Innaka Samee'um mujibul dawat...
wa Qala Allah... (surat Wal Asr)
wa Qulu qawli hathaa wa staghirullahali walakum
wa aqimi Salat...