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.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Music in Islam....Revisited

In the name of Almighty God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. I had posted a blog about a year ago now entitled "Music in Islam". For those who don't know, music is sometimes a controversial issues amongst Muslims.
Scholars of Islam throughout the ages have differed in their understanding of to what extent music is permissable. Some hold that only vocal music is permissable and that musical instruments are forbidden with the possible exception of a simple frame drum similar to a Bodhron of Ireland. Others hold that percussion instruments in general are ok but wind and string instruments are still forbidden, and others hold that there are no restrictions at all on music. I had stated in that blog that while I'm not a scholar of Islamic theology as whole, the subject of 'music in Islam' was something that I have studied quite extensively and felt I could indeed make an informed statement on the issue. However I realized as I read this blog that in actuality all I really did was quote the opinion of Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi. So, God willing, I'll actually tackle the issue in my own words.

As anyone who knows me knows, music is a huge part of my life. Before I became Muslim you could say that music was my life. Islam has taught me that music is not an end in its self but rather a means to an end. The end that is, serving God of course. Allah, God Almighty, gives all of us unique talents in a variety of different fields so that they may be used to serve Him, and serving Him is often done through serving creation. Sacred music has been used in almost every culture and every religion since the beginning, including amongst Muslims from the time of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), right up until today. In addition to sacred music, secular music or in other words music that deals mostly with human issues such as love, war, and sometimes not so wholesome subjects, has also been around since the beginning. Again, including amongst Muslims.

Within Islamic law, or the rules that govern Muslims' day to day lives, the guiding principle of the scholars has always been that in matters of worship, every thing is considered forbidden unless proven permissable by the authentic sources of law which are the Qur'an and the tested and proven traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), or called in Arabic, the Sunnah. The reason for this prohibition of forms of worship not officially sanctioned by God and/or His prophet, is because worship or 'ibadah in Arabic is considered a "right of God". Meaning they are something that actually belongs to God and we have an obligation to carry them out according to His terms, and not according to our own terms and whims. So for example it is forbidden to fast during Ramadan for the day and the night together, because this was never sanctioned by the Islamic scriptures.
On the other hand, the position of the scholars on what are considered matters of every day life, such as diet, clothing, sexual relations, war, and various other issues, is that these things are considered permissable unless they can be proven to be forbidden according to the Qur'an and/or the Sunnah. The need for this position has always been apparent as if we took the opposite approach, it would likely be considered forbidden to drive cars, or use computers or microwave ovens. Music of course falls under the catagory of "every day life" stuff, and therefore the ruling on its permissability is such that the burden of proof would fall on those who claim that it or elements of it are forbidden.
When trying to deduce the Islamic ruling on something, scholars first and foremost start wth the Qur'an, as it is the literal words of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). There are no verses of the Qur'an that deal directly with music. However there is one verse that the majority of scholars have held is speaking primarily of music.

"And of mankind are those who purchase idle talks to mislead from the path of God without knowledge, and takes it (the Qur'an) by way of mockery. For them, awaits a painful torment" (Qur'an Surah Luqman vs 16)

It has long been held by the majority of scholars that "idle talks" here refers to music. However, the verse is clearly speaking about a certain kind of music; that is music that encourages debouchery and things that leads people away from living a life pleasing to God. So from right here, without looking any further we can deduce that music like this would be considered forbidden within Islam. In other words there is no place in Islam for Lil' Wayne, Lady GaGa, 50 cent, Fergie, or the like. That is at least not the music they are known for. They may have some "ok" songs. What then, about other forms of music that do not promote debouchery or lead people away from the path of God? It is possible that even a seemingly good song, or even an Islamic song can be harmful if they are distracting a Muslim away from more important things such as prayer, fasting, etc. This concept is illustrated in another verse of the Qur'an.

"But when they spy some merchandise or pastime, they break away to it and leave you standing. Say 'That which Allah has is better than pastime and merchandise, and Allah is the best of providers" (Qur'an, Surah Jumah vs. 11)

This verse came as a response to an incident in which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was giving the Friday sermon and a caravan rode into town with beating drums and fanfair. The Muslims in the mosque left the sermon to go join the "party". So in that sense listening or playing music when you should be fulfilling religious duties is indeed forbidden, and one should remember that God is the best provider and that the music and "pasttimes" of Paradise will far exceed anything in this world.

There are no more verses of the Qur'an on this issue, so we would have to look to the Sunnah.

The following is the most common hadith (narration of the Prophet) used in conjunction with the issue of music

"From among my followers there will be some who will consider illegal sexual relations, the wearing of silk, the drinking of alcohol, and the use of musical instruments as permissable. From them, there will be some who stay near the side of a mountain, and in the evening the shepards will come to them for provision and they will, 'go away and come back tomorrow'. God will destroy them in the night and let the mountain fall on them, and God would transform the rest of them into monkeys and pigs." (hadith Sahih al Bukhari 7:494)

Now first and foremost, the authenticity of this hadith (as to whether it can be proven that the prophet Muhammad said this) has been brought into question by numerours scholars in the past and present including classical Islamic scholar Ibn Hazm as well as modern scholar Yusuf Al Qaradawi. However assuming that the hadith is indeed authentic and thus part of the Sunnah, the hadith seems to be illustrating to nature of these people more so than giving verdicts on the listed items. The phrase "consider as permissable" in the Arabic, could have two different meanings.
1. They consider all these listed things as permissable

2. They exceed proper limits in the use of these things.

It is on this hadith that scholars have differed. Some take the first possible meaning as being the most accurate and therefore consider all musical instruments as forbidden with the exception of a small frame drum because it is known that people used that at the time to sing religious songs. People who see musical instruments as being permissable are going off the second meaning.

While I respect the scholars who take the first meaning, and indeed some of them have been the most influencial teachers of mine, the second meaning seems more likely as for the prophet refers to them as "his followers" when if they considered all of those as being completely permissable, then they would not be taking the Quran as God's word or at least part of the Qur'an and therefore would actually be kufar or disbelievers. These things listed here are not always considered a sin but are considered as such "most" of the time. Alcohol is forbidden to be drank for recreation but it is permissable to use it for medicinal purposes such as treating infection, pain, or other ailments when other medications are not available. It is only forbidden for men to wear silk, not women, and a woman (or a man) is not guilty of adultery if they are raped. Musical instruments likewise are forbidden when used to incite sinful behaivior or when they distract from religious obligations (as the above Qur'anic verses indicate) however they are not "always" sinful. After all a gun is just a machine. It can do nothing without a human being with an intention to do harm or to do good. Likewise a musical instrument is just a machine. It can be used for good and for bad.

Upon further review of hadiths contained in the Sunnah, there really aren't any others relating a forbiddance of music. There are however hadith that seem to condone the use of music.

According to one hadith in Sahih al Bukhari, the prophet was speaking to his wife Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) who was attending a wedding party. He asked her, "have you given the bride a gift?" Aisha said, "yes". Then the prophet asked, "Did you send along a singer with them?" Aisha said no. The prophet then replied, "The Ansar (people of Medina) are a people who love poetry and singing. You should have sent a singer to sing for them."

It is also known that when the Prophet made the long and gruling journey from Mecca to Medina during the Hijra (forced migration), the people of Medina sang the song "ta'ala al badru 'alayna" when they saw him coming over the horizon and they beat drums as they sang.

In another hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) on the day of Eid (holiday), came to the house of his wife Aisha while there were two girls singing a traditional (non-religious) Ansari song and playing tamborines. The prophet Muhammad laid down to rest while the girls were singing. Later, the companion of the prophet Abu Bakr came in and said, "Musical instruments of Satan in the house of the Prophet???", and the Prophet quickly corrected him and said, "Leave Them, for these are the days of celebration".

In another hadith, reported in the Sahih al Bukhari, the prophet was walking past the home of one of his companions and he could hear the companion reciting the Qur'an in the most beatiful of voices. The Prophet listened for a while and then asked the companion, "Were you beautifying your voice because you knew I was listening?", the companion responded, "if I had known that you were listening I would have made it more beautiful". The Prophet then said, "Truly you have been given the flute of David". Now almost all scholars agree that when the prophet used the word mizmar or flute, he wasn't literally referring to a flute but rather to the voice of Prophet David (peace and blessings be upon him). However, why would Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), compare the voice of one of the God's great prophets to a flute if a flute was something forbidden?

I maybe missing a few additional hadiths that speak favorably about music but nonetheless my point is made I think. If we take the second meaning of the first mentioned hadith, which as I illustrated is the more reasonable and feasable one, then there is no sufficient evidence to suggest that musical instruments or singing is forbidden. There is no evidence that it is forbidden for a woman to be a musician provided that she does not sing, dress or act in a way that incites the lusts of male (and maybe female) listeners. The same applies to a male musician. I encourage all Muslims to respect the opinions of others. As I said before I respect the opinion of those who hold that musical instruments are forbidden and expect nothing more and nothing less in return. Ultimately there are much bigger issues at stake for our people and we need to support each other.
We need Muslims in the arts. We need Muslims in music (not just nasheed but also mainstream music), in film, in mainstream literature, and definately in the media. I hear that the Hollywood producer of "The Matrix" and "Lord or the Rings", is in the beginning stages of making a major Hollywood production about the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), and is doing so in conjunction with Islamic scholar Yusuf Al Qaradawi(note...they are not planning to depict the Prophet in the film according to Islamic beliefs). If it makes to the big screen it may very well be the biggest "introduction" to real Islam that mainstream American society has seen. Without doubt there will be Muslims who may not agree with certain elements of the film, or may not even agree with the film being made at all, but for once we have to put aside petty differences of opinion and just be happy that there are any positive images of Islam being produced whether they be by musicians, actors, writers, journalists or what have you.
I hope this may provide some insight into the issue of music in Islam, and that it may benefit some folks who are confused about the whole issue.

...And Allah Knows Best...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Muhammad Ali and Hope for Haiti Now

In the name of Almighty God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. I want to send a BIG jazakullah khair (May God reward you well) to brother Muhammad Ali for his appearance on the "Hope for Haiti Now" telethon. In light of the complete lack of so called Islamic countries around the world to respond generously and charitably to the Haiti crisis, this beautiful Muslim brother goes on national television to share with the world, the beauty of the third pillar of Islam, zakat or charity. Muhammad Ali, heavy champion of the world, appear alongside comedian Chris Rock during the telethon. Brother Muhammad was visibly suffering from a prolonged bout with Parkinson's Disease and was unable to speak for himself, but Chris Rock read the words of Mr. Ali.

"In my life, I've been called by many names. There are also many names for the charity that resides in the hearts of all human beings. In my faith, charity is called zakat. Zakat is one of the pillars of my faith. By any name, charity can bring the people of our planet together. Charity crosses borders and eases pain of oh so many. Charity changes lives, and saves lives. There is an old saying that charity begins at home, but it cannot end there. That is why we call upon all the good people in every corner of the world, to help those who cannot help themselves. Whatever you believe, which ever word you choose, zakat or charity, please give now. Go to Bless".

I would like to thank Mr. Muhammad Ali for being the face and voice of what Islam is really about. Shame on the rich Muslim nations that have so far done nothing. May Allah reward this brother many times over for not only these words but all that he has done in his retirement to help those in need.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Hell in Haiti

In the name of Almighty God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. The western hemisphere's poorest nation, Haiti, has been utterly devastated by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. The earthquake struck not in a forested area or otherwise loosely populated area, but the quake was concentrated right in the middle of the most densely populated area of the country; in the capitol city of Port-au-Prince. The neighboring country of the Dominican Republic who share the small island was hardly affected. One has to wonder at the chances that such a strong earthquake would hit this desperately poor country in it's most vulnerable of places. As Muslims, we know that human beings cannot always understand why such horrible things happen to seemingly innocent people. The Haitian government estimates that as many as 100,000 may be dead. It is natural and human to ask how a gracious and merciful God allows such things to happen. People who are astray and away from their fitra (natural state of worshiphood to God) are easily convinced at times that there can't be a God when such terrible things are allowed to happen. However these people have simply "failed the test". God created us for one purpose, and that is to worship Him. We worship him in two basic ways
a.) Obey His commands and performing acts of worship such as ritual prayer, fasting, pilgrimage in the manner in which He has commanded us to do.
b.) Serving creation; being beneficial members of society and the human race; loving our neighbors and being generous and charitable to those in need; standing up for the oppressed; and dealing kindly with our fellow human beings (in a way this also falls under "a" because these are things we are commanded to do by God).

God Almighty in the Holy Qur'an says,
"And I did not create Jinn and Mankind except to worship Me" (Qur'an 51:56)

Then God says in another passage,
"And it is He who has made you generations after generations of trustees/custodians upon/to the Earth and has raised some of you above others in rank that you may be tried in that which has been given to you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty, but is also most forgiving and merciful." (Qur'an 6:165)

As I said before we can never really know for sure why tragic events such as this happen, but we do know from the above verse that we are tested in this life. In fact the whole experience of life in this world could be compared to taking a class. We enter the class usually with a clean slate. As we make our way through the material we learn and are subsequently tested on our knowledge. Sometimes these tests we know are coming, and sometimes they are "pop quizzes". At the end of the class you will be given a final exam to determine if you are ready to move on to the next step. In life, we enter it with a clean slate as new born babies. As we attain the age of understanding, we are tested in lessons we learn. Sometimes these tests we know are coming like taking on the responsibility of marriage for example, and other times they are not expected such as dealing with sudden economic losses, deaths of loved ones, or on a larger scale even tragedies like the earthquake in Haiti. In the end, on the Day of Judgement, we will be given a "final assessment". The main difference is that if you fail a class you can go back and take it again, but this is not the case in life. So, events such as the quake in Haiti, could happen as a way to test humanity. Some may say, "how can a loving and merciful God kill innocent people for a 'test'; as if it was a game"? We have to remember that God is our creator. The very concepts of life and death are of his creation, and thus He is not subject to it no more than He is subject to the laws of Physics or Time as they too are among His creations. A finite being can never comprehend the nature of anything infinite. It is simply beyond the capacity of the human intellect. So, for us to superimpose our understanding of life and death, and specifically the negativity of death to God, is not understanding God for what He is. God Almighty best describes himself in the Qur'an as follows,

"Allah (God), there is none worthy of worship but Him, the Ever Living, the Infinate. Neither slumber nor sleep overtakes Him. To Him belongs ALL that is in the Heavens and ALL that is on the Earth. Who is he who can intercede with Him except by His permission? He knows that which shall happen to His creation, and all that has happened, while His creation knows NOTHING except what He allows them to know. The footstool of his throne extends over the whole of the Heavens and Earth and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them. He is the Sublime, the Tremendous." (Qur'an 2:255 "ayatul kursi")

In another place God also says,
"Say, He is Allah (God) the ONE
Allah, the Eternal and Omnipotent
He begets not, nor is He begotten
There is nothing in all of creation
comparable to Him" (Qur'an 112)

So while we are created with a sense of love for fellow humans, and feel a sense of grief at the loss of human life, we must remember that our creator is not bound by the same attributes we are. We are never to take human life without justification through the due process of law. However as His creation, it is God who takes us when it is our time, and only He knows when our time will come. This is why we as Muslims, whenever we hear of someone dying we say a prayer that reads, "To God we belong, and to Him we will return".

So when events like this happen, we have to know what our responsibilities to these unfortunately people are. God Almighty tells us in the Qur'an,

"Speak to my servants who believed that they must establish regular prayer and spend (charity) out of which We have given them, secretly and openly, until there comes a day in which there will be no selling or befriending. It is Allah who has created the heavens and the earth and sends down the rain from the skies and with brings forth fruit to feed you. It is He who has made the ships subject to you that you may sail through the seas by His command, and the rivers have been made subject as well. He has made the Sun and the Moon subject to you, both diligently pursuing their courses, and thus the night and the day have been made subject to you. And He gives you all that you ask for. If you try to count the favors of Allah, you will never be able to number them, yet indeed, man is inclined toward injustice and ingratitude." (Qur'an 14:31-34)

Giving charity is therefore a command by Almighty God. God beautifully outlines the ways in which all of the worlds natural resources have been given to our disposal to use for our benefit. We have a fundamental responsibility to God to spend out of that which we have given to help those who are in need. And, it is important to note as well that even people who don't have money, can still give charity.

The prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was known even before being a prophet for his honesty, uprightness, and charity. As God says in the Qur'an that to love God is to obey God and his messenger (Muhammad), we should look also to the recorded sayings of our last prophet Muhammad. He is reported to have said,

"It is imperative that everyone performs acts of charity every day that the sun shines in the sky in order to show gratitude to God for every joint and faculty of their body. It is charity to restore peace between two people with strained relations. It is a charity to give a stranded person a ride and to carry his load. It is a charity to speak kind words. Every step one takes towards the mosque for prayer is charity and removing litter or objectionable things from peoples' path is a charity."

Most certainly now, in their darkest hour, the Haitian people are in state of complete distress and it is imperative that we Muslims, as well as all people of good conscious whether they be Christian, Jew, Hindu, Bhuddist, athiest,etc... come to the aid of these people who are in distress as well as all people that are in distress. Some evil people who claim to servants of God have made comments about this incident. Pat Robertson, a Christian televangelist and host of the "700 Club", said that the earthquake happened because the Haitian people were "cursed" because of some story of them selling their souls to the devil to rid themselves of the French back during colonial years. Thankfully the Christian community at large denounced this filth that all to often flows from this man's mouth.
While thankfully I haven't heard of any Muslims saying anything like that, I wonder though, where is all the humanitarian aid from Saudi Arabia, Egypt or other wealthy Muslim countries? Oh there isn't any. This is yet just another example of the corruption of so-called Muslim countries to do what is most fundamentally Islamic and help their fellow human beings. So far the only Muslim country I know that has pledged aid is Turkey. Good for them, and may Allah reward them for their generosity. As for the wealthy gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, etc... who at least thus far haven't pledged any aid, let me remind them of the words of Almighty God in the Qur'an,

"Have you seen the one who denies the Day of Judgment?
He is the one who drives away the Orphan
He is the one who doesn't feed the poor
So woe to those who pray (Muslims)
But are heedless of their prayer
Those who only make a show of their good deeds
And withhold the most basic of assistance (to the needy)"
(Qur'an 107)

Thankfully many Muslim organizations here in this country have stepped up to the plate to assist the Haitians, who are of course predominately Catholic. A good friend of mine, Naeem Muhammad, singer from Native Deen and also works with Islamic Relief, is on his way now to Haiti to participate in the relief effort. The Islamic Society of North America has also started a relief fund. I encourage all my Muslim brothers and sisters and all my fellow human beings to donate generously to these funds or to other mainstream organizations such as the Red Cross, UNICEF, etc... to help the people of Haiti. May Almighty God ease the burden of the people of Haiti, may He guide them through the darkness of this time, and may He give them peace and prosperity in the time to come.

...And Allah Knows Best....

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Conan vs. Leno: Why am I writing about this???

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Now let me first say that I don't often concern myself with celebrity gossip or entertainment news. For the most part it's a complete and utter waste of time. After all, they are just people like anyone else. However the recent news of the conflict over time slots on NBC made me think a little.

Apparently Jay Leno, who has commanded (alongside Letterman) the late night comedy/talk scene for years, wasn't satisfied with retirement after handing the show over to Conan O'Brian. So, NBC gives him a show during "prime time", right before Conan's show. Now that Leno's show isn't doing as hot, they want to put Leno back closer to his old time slot, thus pushing Conan back closer to his old time slot. Gee, could it be that maybe the reason why Leno's show wasn't doing so great was because people thought it was ridiculous for him to have yet another show after "retiring". Like I said normally I would never talk about something like this but for one, I like Conan a lot better as a comedian, but also this whole situation brings up another more relevant issue.

Many people who retire do so only to go back into the workforce. Now I completely understand people doing this who retire from low paying jobs or otherwise can't make ends meet on their retirement. However, there are a lot of people who would be more than able to live comfortably off of what they make in retirement, yet still go back to work. I take issue with this. In my hometown I recently saw that the city fire chief was retiring....only to take the director of human resources job in place of it. My former band director from high school, whom I have a great deal of respect and admiration for, retired from Ashland High School, only to take a job at Hillsdale High School (a country school near my home town). The problem with this from what I can see is two fold:
A) It takes jobs away from qualified young people who are currently out of work and needing to support families, pay back loans etc... In a booming job market that might not really be an issue, but now-a-days with the job market as bad as it is, every job counts. For example, I personally know people with music education degrees who actually applied at Hillsdale High School for band director positions and were turned down. Shouldn't those applicants been the first people the school called? As opposed to a retired director who apparently didn't really have any interest in getting back in the game at first anyway. Like I said I love the man but I was severely disappointed when I heard he was now teaching at Hillsdale.

B) It stands in the way of progress. Anyone who is from Ashland, Ohio, my hometown, knows that it can sometimes accurately be described as "boring". Now I personally love my home town. I think it's a great place to live and raise a family, but it is true that the leadership of Ashland is not doing much to bring any kind of progress to it. Gee, I wonder why that is. OH! Could it be because the same people have been running it for decades? Many of those serving on the city council have done so for several decades. The last several mayors of the city have been jokes, because they are lapdogs of the local university which seems to think they own the city, and because they only pander to a select "click" of "Ashland-elite". How about having some mayoral debates at election time? How about debates for city-council seats? And, I don't mean debates that go unheard of until after they happen and only then do you see anything in the local newspaper about them. How about term limits for mayors and city council. I'm a firm believer in the statement... "Politicians and diapers are a lot alike...they both need to be changed often and for the same reason". I would venture to say that one of the most prudent laws the city could pass in terms of creating REAL potential for progress would be creating reasonable term limits for the position of mayor and especially city council. Let's get some fresh faces and fresh ideas in city government instead of people who are still learning to use a computer.

Now, don't get me wrong I'm not trying to be disrespectful to our older generations. Quite the contrary. We owe a lot to what they accomplished. All I'm saying though, is that communities need to be looking toward the future and imagining what places like Ashland "can be" and not focusing blindly on what it once was. I imaging that the problems faced by Ashland are being faced by communities across the country. People who are ready and able to retire should do so, enjoy the time they have to themselves and with their families, and allow the industries and organizations they once so admirably served move forward and progress naturally into a new era; don't try to hoard these positions for whatever benefit you get out of it whether it be money, reputation, or even a distrust of younger generations. So that means you Leno!!!!!
Oh yeah and you too Brett Favre!!!

...And Allah Knows Best...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Muslims in Early America: Part 3: The Founding Fathers on Islam and Muslims

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. In the last two posts I have discussed the history of Islam in early American society amongst slaves and minorities as well as amongst the few white Anglo-American Muslims of the time. But what of the Founding Fathers' opinions of Islam and Muslims? Given that they were the authors of the Constitution and thereby the very "creators" of the ideals this great nation was founded upon, it would definitely matter to this conversation what their opinions of the "Mohamatans" was.
I'll start with this; it is a quote from the Treaty of Tripoli, signed between United States (started under the Washington administration and continued and finished under Adams) and the Barbary states of North Africa. It states,

"As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion, - as it has in itself no character of emnity against the laws, religion or tranquility of the Musselman, - and as the said states have never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mohamatin nation, - it is declared by the parties (the US and Barbary nations) that no pretext of religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries". -Signed into law by President John Adams, June 1797.

This treaty was the initial "official" position of the United States (and it's founding fathers) toward the religion and the people of Islam.
It should also be noted that this came at the end of fierce fighting in the Mediterranean between Americans and Muslims of North Africa. The aggression of some Muslims in North Africa came mostly for two main reasons. A) The Barbary Pirates were just that; "pirates" and like the Christian Pirates of the Caribbean or the Vikings, care about religion only when it serves their plundering interests. B) Because the Muslims of North Africa had not yet understood the distinction between the United States and the Christian European nations who had been at war with Muslims for centuries. That was part of the purpose of this treaty and in particular this specific article; to make the distinction that the United States was not officially a Christian nation and therefore had no intent or interest in religious conflict with Muslim countries.
While this dealt with early American foreign relations, what then of the founding fathers opinions of American Muslims. It is known, as I pointed out before, that there were many Muslims living in America at that time; as slaves that is. There is no sufficient evidence to suggest that the founding fathers knew much of the presence of Islam amongst American slaves, however the founding fathers were not void of opinions of Muslims' place in American society. John Lock (an idol of American founder Thomas Jefferson), once insisted in his "Letter on Toleration (1689) that Muslims and all others who believed in God be accepted and tolerated in England. Thomas Jefferson echoed these sentiments in his view of America. In his autobiography he recalls his time in the Virginia legislature when he struggled to pass his "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom" (1786). He remembers proudly that the Virginia legislature "rejected by a great majority" a move to limit the bill's scope "in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohametin". In other words the body of Virginia Representatives recognize the basic right to freedom of religion to all faiths including Muslims. Earlier at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry Lee (one of the signers from Virginia and ancestor of Robert E. Lee, commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia of the Confederacy during the Civil War) said, "True freedom, embraces the Mohamitin, the Gentoo (Hindu) as well as the Christian religion". Officials in Massachusetts also insisted that the Constitution give "the most ample liberty of Deists, Mohametans, Jews and Christians". Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Theophilus Parsons also affirmed this in 1810, being the son of a clergyman and one of the 26 who drafted the Declaration of Independence. It was once wrote in a Boston newspaper that, "A Mohametan, is excited to the practice of good morals in hopes that after resurrection he shall enjoy the beautiful girls of Paradise to all eternity. He is afraid to commit murder, adultery and theft, least he should be cast into hell, where he must drink scalding water and the scum of the damned" (This person has studied Islam and the Qur'anic description of Hell). Benjamin Rush, Pennsylvania signer of the Declaration of Independence, reportedly admired this feature of Islam and said he'd "rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammad inculcated on our youth than see then grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles".

It is self evident by the statements quoted above that the founding fathers not only indirectly but actually explicitly included the presence of Islam and Muslims in their vision of America. The principals of religious plurality was at the core of their dream for this nation. While they were (for the most part) devout Christians of differing denominations, who of course had their theological differences with Islam, they were wise enough to realize that that Christian idea of God cannot be any "official" concept within the American dream. In reality, the American dream is bigger than the human labels of Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, or any other. The American dream is the dream of one nation, existing under God (by His many names whether God, Allah, Jehovah, Elohim, etc...), where all of His beloved human creation, could live, work and worship in peace, harmony and fellowship. That's what American pluralism is all about. "E Pluribus Unum", "From Many, We are One". This, I would say is summed up by a petition sent to the Virginia legislature by citizens of Chesterfield County, Virginia in 1785 that states,

"Let Jews, Mohametans, and Christians of every denomination enjoy religious liberty...thrust them not out now by establishing the Christian religion least thereby we become our own enemies and weaken this infant state. It is mens' labor in our manufactories, their service by sea and land that aggrandize our country and not their creeds. Chain your citizens to the state by their interest. Let Jews, Mohametans, and Christians of every denomination find their advantage in living under your laws."

"Our society is enriched by our Muslim citizens whose commitment to faith reminds us of the gift of religious freedom in this country"
----------President George W. Bush

...And Allah Knows Best...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Muslims in Early America: Part 2: The Anglo Muslims

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. This is the second installment of "Muslims in Early America", in which I am discussing the history and influence of Islam and Muslims in early American history. In the last installment I gave a brief history of the "Black Muslim Movement" dating back to slavery in early America as well as all the way back to early Spanish exploration of the North American continent. Some might subsequently say that Islam's presence in early American history was limited to small minorities within minorities. However that's not entirely true.
The earliest known white-Anglo American known to be Muslim was a man named George Bethune English. G.B. English was born in 1787 in Washington D.C. He was baptised as a baby and raised as a Christian. He attended Harvard College and received a master's in theology there in 1811. In an unexpected move for someone of his background, he then wrote a book called, "The Grounds of Christianity Examined", in which he raises concerns about the validity and thus authority of the New Testament and of modern Christian theology in general. Because of this he was excommunicated by the Church of Christ. He also published several works that were essentially responses to Christian criticism of that book. In 1815, he was nominated and commissioned by President James Madison into the United States Marine Corps during the War of 1812, and was assigned to the Mediterranean. It is said that English became the first American citizen to visit Egypt. It was at some point while he was there that it assumed he embraced Islam. He resigned his commission there to join an Ottoman general named Ismail Pasha as an artillery officer on an expedition down the Nile river to quell rebellions in what is today Ethiopia. While there was no explicit declaration of Islam in any of his published works, evidence of his Islamic faith are found in the narrative of this adventure which he published in London in 1822 called "Narrative of the Expedition to Dongola and Sennar". In one instance he was visiting in the home of some of the Natives he had encountered along the Nile. These particular people were Berbers (Muslims). While staying in their home the mistress of the house offered one of their daughters to him as a "nighttime companion". His exact words from the narrative are, "The family of this Malek (chief) carried their hospitality towards me to a very extraordinary length for people professing Islam. I was offered by the mother and mistress of the house my choice of two of her daughters as a bedfellow. They were both young and the handsomest women I have seen in Berber, but married to husbands whose houses were at the other end of town. When I understood this circumstance, I told the mother that a genuine Mussulman ought to regard lying with his neighbor's wife as a crime almost as bad as murdering him in his bed". He also records the dates in the narrative with the Islamic calender and makes other reference to the teachings of the Qur'an throughout. After his work with the Pasha, he joined the US diplomatic corps, working to establish trade relations between the US and the Ottoman Empire. He returned to the States in 1827 and died a year later in Washington D.C.

George Bethune English was a Muslim but definitely didn't seem to "wear his religion on his sleeve". Although the next known prominent Anglo American Muslim was much more vocal about it.

Muhammad Alexander Russell Webb was born in 1846 in Hudson, New York. He was raised as a Presbyterian. He was a writer and worked as an editor an several news papers, eventually moving to Missouri. His prowess as a journalist was such that he eventually became the assistant city editor of the Missouri Republican, which was the second biggest newspaper in the country at that time. While working at the Missouri Republican he was appointed by President Cleveland as the Consular Representative to the Philippines in 1887.
As early as 1881 he started investigating other religious traditions finding Christianity unfulfilling. He studied Buddhism for a while but didn't find it compelling, and then started studying Islam. In 1888 he formally declared himself a Muslim. In 1892 he resigned his post and toured India before returning to the US to promote Islam in America. In fact, "Islam in America" was the name of his book in which he outlines why he became Muslim, explanations of the five pillars of Islam, issues such as war and polygamy in Islam, and others. In 1893 he was the primary Representative of Islam at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Later he founded Islamic study circles in New York City, Washington D.C., Newark, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Cleveland and published an Islamic magazine called "Moslem World". He died in 1916 and his study circles had their final meeting in New York in 1943 and was attended by his daughter Aliyya.
God only knows but it is likely that if these two individuals could find Islam in America in the 1800's, it is likely that other Anglo Americans (who weren't as famous) likely did as well. Especially with the da'wah (outreach) efforts of Muhammad Alexander Russell Webb. It was the work of people like this that has opened the door for some of the most prominent Islamic scholars of today who are "white Americans", such as Hamza Yusuf, Suhaib Webb, Yusuf Estes, and others. These are not only renown for their scholarship and leadership for Muslims in the US, but indeed are respected and admired the world over. Yusuf Estes, a Texan and former Baptist preacher, held the position of National Muslim Chaplain for the federal prison system and today is one of the busiest Islamic preachers in the world. Hamza Yusuf, after having studied with some of the great scholars of the middle east, has illuminated the Muslim people of the world with his intellect and superb command of the Arabic language as it relates to the Qur'an and Islamic tenants. He founded the Zaytuna Institute in California along with African American Imam Zaid Shakr. Zaytune is quickly becoming the first accredited Islamic University in the US. It was also Hamza Yusuf that was called to the White House by President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks, to advise the president on proceeding with a response.
One prophesy of the end times in Islam is that the "sun would rise from the west". I once heard it speculated that metaphorically, it could be that the "light" of true Islamic scholarship may come from the west as it largely is today. Today, many of the most respected scholars of Islam are from America and Canada, whether they be white, black, Arab, or otherwise. The success of these modern scholars is the direct result of the struggle of Muslim slaves, explorers, and writers who lived in this great country before them, and it is also due to the very nature of American democracy that allows people to think, speak and worship freely according to their own understanding of God. The founding fathers, who were largely devout Christians, were wise enough to realize that the American dream is simply too big to be confined to any one theology, even if it be there own. God willing in the next and final installment I will explore their views of Islam and the influence Islamic civilization had on that "American Dream".

Muslims in Early America: Part 1: The Origins of the "Black Muslims"

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. For many the history of Islam and Muslims in America goes back about as far as immigrants from Muslim lands settling in the US in the early to mid 20th century. For others they may understand some of the history of the "Black Muslim Movements" of the early 20th century. However very few people know much about the existence of Islam in early America, early being pre1776 up thru the late 1800's. In these next few posts, God willing, I will describe some of the influences and history of Islam in early America.
For this installment, I will be focusing primarily of the experience of Muslims within our largest ethnic minority, African Americans. It is known that many (as little as 10% or as many as 40% depending on the study) slaves brought to America from Africa, came from areas of Africa dominated by Muslim Sultanates and were dominantly populated by Muslims. So it is safe to say that many slaves brought to the US were indeed Muslims. However, like most other elements of their being, they were stripped of their Muslim identity. Even Slaves who were originally Christian were stripped of their own brand of Christianity in favor of European Christianity, if any at all. However there were a small few that, because of their extensive Islamic education, retained their Muslim practices and even in some cases instructed fellow slaves in practices such as daily prayer and fasting.
Abdul Rahman ibn Sori was an example of a Muslim slave that gained a lot of notoriety. He was actually a prince from Africa who, upon their learning of his position back home, was freed by then Secretary of State Henry Clay and President John Quincy Adams. His life is fairly well documented and was even the subject of a PBS documentary titled "Prince of Slaves". He was freed in 1828.
Now that would definitely be early in American history but in fact the history of Muslims in America goes back a lot further. The first "well documented" Muslim to come to America was Estevanico of Azamor, or otherwise known as Mustafa Zammouri and many other nick-names such as "Black Stephen", was a Moor from present day Morocco who travelled to America around the year 1527 as part of a Spanish expedition to colonize Florida. He was one of the first early American explorers to chart what is now the U.S. southwest (i.e. Arizona, New Mexico).
Bilali Muhammad was a slave from Sapelo Island, Georgia, arriving there in 1802. He was known for being one of the earlist American Muslim "sheikhs" or theological scholars and wrote several written works instructing Muslims on the proper ways to pray, make ablution before praying, fasting, etc. He earned a great deal of trust from his "owner" and during the War of 1812 commanded the other slaves of the plantation as a militia and guarded the plantation.
Also, Omar ibn Said was a Muslim slave who also wrote several works on Islamic jurisprudence. He spoke and wrote Arabic and at one point received an Arabic translation of the Christian Bible from his owner James Owen. After his death the Bible was found to have an Arabic dedication to the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) in it. Today that Bible is housed at Davidson College in North Carolina. In 1991, a mosque in Fayeteville, North Carolina was named "Masjid Omar ibn Said" in his honor.
Muslims also served in early American wars including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. A freed slave named Peter Saleem (Saleem meaning "peaceful one" in Arabic, was a name he adopted after being freed) fought for the US during the Revolutionary War. A Muslim by the name of Muhammad Ali ibn Said fought in the 55th Massachusetts Colored Regiment and fought in the Civil War.
These are only a few examples of various African Americans who not only shaped the history of Islam in America, but indeed have helped to shape the history of America itself. It is these Muslim slave traditions that were the foundation of later "Black Muslim" movements of the 20th century, though these movements were not founded on actual Islamic teachings. It wouldn't be until 1975, upon the death of his father Elijah Muhammad, that Warith Deen Muhammad would take control of the Nation of Islam and lead them into the "real" Islam that many African Americans follow today; this being the largest mass religious conversion in US history. Hajj Malik al Shabaaz (Malcolm X) also was influential in this after he had made the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and realized that Islam was inclusive of all people, including white folks, which we'll talk about in the next installment insha'Allah (God willing)

...And Allah Knows Best...