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Archive for December, 2010

Technology is a double edged sword: it can bring you closer to Allah or take you away from Allah, it can be used for haram or halal. Without running after the latest gadgets or wanting just because my neighbor has one, if we kept our needs in mind and use it as tools to help us practice our deen, then it is Allah’s (SWT) blessing otherwise a fitnah. I wanted to share my favorite apps and technologies and how they help me be a better Muslim, InshaAllah.

My Macbook Pro – This was an Eid gift from my husband last year, it was better gift than any piece of jewelry. After getting it I started blogging and have I have found a piece of me that was lost somewhere between the kids and the dishes. May Allah (SWT) grant him Jannah; it’s portability has freed me from sitting at the desktop and I can write anywhere.  It syncs with my phone. My calender is right there so I am better organized, Alhamdulillah.

iTunes– Nasheeds , Quran, lectures. If my kids need to learn the month of Islam nasheed, I download it or when the latest Bayinnah podcast is ready , I can upload it on my iPhone, hook it up to my car stereo and have Sheikh Nouman on surround sound during our long drives in LA traffic.

iPhone Apps

  • iSubha – this app helps you keep count of your misbaha/tasbeeh. You can set the time and it keeps someone slightly ADD like me, on track.  There is a selection of azkaar and you tap the screen to keep count.  For example, if you know you have goal that you want to read at least 365 azkaar a day or as many as you can in an hour with this you can keep a visual count.

  • iQuran app- Quran and translation at your fingertips anywhere, whether you are in a waiting room at the doctor’s office or between meetings.

  • Asma-ul-Husna 1.0- learning the 100 names of Allah on the go- there are checkpoints so you can check yourself. My kids and I are competing who can learn all 100 first.

  • iPray-gives you salah timings on your phone (we are humans, we forget so if we have the technology to  help us, why not use it). The adhaan reminds you to pray lest shaytan makes you forget.

  • Qiblah compass pro- my husband uses this all the time as he travels a lot for work.

Online school– this has opened a whole new world for me,. I was so scared when I made the decision to home school my eldest daughter.  Their system is keeping me organized with her attendance & grades. Daily and weekly planning is done for me. It has simplified the process and the curriculum is state of the art.  Without the hassle of ordering books,  devising a curriculum, I can spend time actually teaching her.   When I can not explain something to her I use Khan Academy– This brother attended college with my husband; his goal is to provide a world-class education to people anywhere in the world. He posts short, simple videos on mostly math and sciences explained on an electronic blackboard. A great tutoring or homeschooling tool for kids and adults.  There are several online Islamic courses that you can take over the net along with fabulous websites like Halaltube- Lectures, duroos from scholars on my laptop, TV screen, need I say more.

Skype–  I love Skype. My mother sits across the world on her dining table and I sit on mine. She has her morning chai in her hand and I have my cup of evening tea. It is the closest thing to being next to each other. I can be a better daughter inquiring about her health, it makes her happy to see my face.  She shows me her new curtains and I show her the kid’s awards.

My niece and my daughter live many continents away. These best friends and milk-sisters have a  book club on skype, they read the same book and then have discussions about them.  The last one they read was Fudgemania. It keeps them close despite the distance.Using Skype, we broadcast my sister in law’s Nikaah to her grandma in Saudi and her aunt in Karachi simultaneously.

Our friends are moving and their kids are super excited about Face Time, Apple’s video conferencing tool on the new iTouch- so they can keep in touch with their friends where ever they move in the world. With distances and relative and friends all over the globe, technologies like these help keep the ties of the womb & kinship, as long as you keep the right niyyah and don’t let it overtake your life.

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I love books. I have hundreds, as I suppose any aspiring academic should. I need to move out of Manhattan, because I can’t afford an apartment large enough to house all these books. (Ask my wife: There aren’t enough walls left and my attempt to shelve books on the ceiling has, one lawsuit later, failed.) If you ever invite me to speak at your library, mosque, Mediterranean cruise, church, temple, workshop, tropical resort or university, and you can’t give me an honorarium, an Amazon.com gift certificate will find its way into my heart in a non-surgical and non-disgusting way.

And now, for most Americans, it’s the season of gift-giving. Some love the season, while some protest its commercialization. I suggest making the best of it. This holiday season, why not share the gift of good books — and all the wisdom they can provide? When misinformation on Islam, Muslims, and America’s relationships to the Muslim-majority world is in oversupply, we need relevant and useful information. Conversations about Islam shape local, regional, and global affairs: to not know about Islam is to be left out of issues that deeply affect all of us.

In that holiday spirit, I’m sharing a list of great books about Islam and Muslims, in the hope that you’ll share them too, as profound (and affordable) presents. What better way to create excitement on Christmas morning than by watching your loved ones unwrap presents to reveal the word “Islam,” and the noticeable, measurable, visible jump in their heart rate that follows? (Ask their doctors if they’re healthy enough to unwrap books about Islam. Chances are, their doctors, being Muslim, will get it.)

Or you can just gift them to yourself.

Are Civilizations Clashing?

Do Muslims hate the West? If so, why? Why do some Muslims radicalize? What cultural incompatibilities exist between Islam and the West? Building off of works like Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and Bernard Lewis’ What Went Wrong?, too many analysts presume that there is a core conflict, and that this conflict, of which Afghanistan and Iraq are manifestations, is cultural, and therefore both essential and inevitable. Don’t believe the hype.

Mahmood Mamdani’s Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror explains how and why radical Islam has become a threat, and how to comprehend radicalism not as an unavoidable cultural expression, but as a political grievance translated by the cultural world it emerges from. If you’re going to read one book on the “clash of civilizations,” read Mamdani’s.

Common Problems

Richard Bulliett’s The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization should be on every bookshelf. (Embarrassingly, it is not yet on any of mine). Bulliett, who is, like Mamdani, a Columbia Professor — Go Lions! — has written a fantastic book. He’s not making a facile case for Muslim-Christian fusion; Bulliett’s pointing out that Islam and Christianity spread across the Earth almost simultaneously, and produced similar institutions through their periods of expansion and entrenchment. An easy, breezy, bright introduction to history over the long haul, Bulliett neatly explains how Islam and the West are in fact comparable and relatable. Because Islam isn’t immune to, or exempt from, history.

Who Let Shariah Through Passport Control?

You can’t have a conversation these days without worrying about Shariah. The term is complicated enough to explain in a soundbite, never mind what hundreds of millions of Muslims all over the world make of it. And, of course, Oklahoma’s out to fight back against Islam’s conquest of Middle America, and will bury the Ten Commandments in a panic over surreptitious Islamification, Muslimization, or whatever. Everybody needs to calm down.

Start your detoxification with Dalia Mogahed and John Esposito’s Who Speaks for Islam? What A Billion Muslims Really Think. It’ll make you unthink everything you might think about Shariah. Next up: The best explanation of the political attraction of Shariah to many in the Muslim-majority world has to be Noah Feldman’s The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State; Feldman explains how Muslim societies had been structured in the past, the political shortcomings of many Muslim-majority states today, and how Shariah has become a symbol of democratic and Islamic reform, trashing any simple opposition of Islam and modernity.

If the topic deeply interests you, you may want to dig deeper with Geneive Abdo’s No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam, and Caryle Murphy’s Passion for Islam: Shaping the Modern Middle East: The Egyptian Experience. While these latter two titles concentrate on Egypt, the experience of other Muslim societies is quite different. Maybe one day I’ll do an Islam outside the Arab world list. For Valentine’s Day.

The Forest for the Palm Trees

Of course, one of the primary reasons for ongoing tensions between the Muslim world and the West has been differing interpretations of current conflicts. Did it start with Bin Laden? Is it about the Taliban, too? Is it about radicalism more generally? How do other Middle Eastern conflicts factor in?

There have been a huge number of works about America after September 11th, but certainly one of the most enjoyable and thought-provoking is Karen Greenberg’s The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days. Greenberg is a fabulous writer, pointing out the larger issues at work while describing the day-to-day drama at Camp X-Ray and the decency of the men and women on the ground who pushed back against a dangerous direction in American policy.

Complement Greenberg’s work with a broader look at the future of the Muslim world, going beyond the attention-stealing headlines, to the actual trends at or just below the surface — what the overwhelming majority of Muslims are doing and experiencing. If you’ve got a special someone interested in business, trade, finance, or emerging markets, I’d unhesitatingly direct your attention to Vali Nasr’s The Rise of Islamic Capitalism: Why the New Muslim Middle Class is the Key to Defeating Extremism. I reviewed the hardcover edition of this work (which had a different title) some months ago; Christopher Schroeder’s recent op-ed may also be helpful in illuminating Nasr’s general thrust.

American Muslims

Are we well-educated, suburban, often brown folks actually trying to take over your country, which is also our country? Why do some Americans believe that a tremendously religiously and ethnically diverse and also very tiny minority actually has any chance of taking over the country? Never mind that many American Muslims came here to escape the religious and political persecution our haters allege we’re all about imposing.

Of course, Islam is far deeper and more profound than the events that have dominated the news over the past few decades. Don’t mind those “experts on Islam,” who make comments like “Islam has existed in Europe since the 1960’s” (clear-up: there have been European Muslims on that continent longer than there have been Protestants in existence). Islam in the West is very often an indigenous phenomenon. I must push you towards Geneive Abdo’s overview, From Mecca to Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11, filled with great stories, and Mustafa Bayoumi’s troubling How Does It Feel to be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America. (It’s not about Islam per se, but does get to the heart of the conflation.)

There are voices from the inside that need to be heard. Wajahat Ali wowed audiences in New York last year with his hit play, Domestic Crusaders, now available in book form. His play takes you into a South Asian American family and the generational conflicts, cultural misunderstandings and religious tensions which shape what one Muslim family does and says at the kitchen table. How many artists can give you that intimacy? Comic book writer G. Willow Wilson traveled to Egypt, fell for Egypt (and an Egyptian); based on those experiences, she’s written the beautiful memoir The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam. Through anecdotes, observations, and tiny moments, she can speak to expansive questions of identity, faith, and practice in ways that supposed specialists cannot communicate, not only because they can’t write nearly as well, but also because they don’t even try to understand. I can’t wait for her next book.

Fear of a Green Planet

What does Islam have to say about the environment? Does Islam have anything positive to offer the world? How do Muslims react to the same challenges that affect all people, because Muslims are people? Ibrahim Abdul-Matin’s Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet outlines the ways in which Islam encourages stewardship of the Earth, and the many means by which Muslims are living a green practice of the faith. Structured to encourage short readings, reflections, and inspire local and national activism, Abdul-Matin’s work suggests the ways in which religiosity and ecological consciousness are not just compatible, but mandatory. For the flipside, you won’t be disappointed by Tom Bissell’s amazing tour through Uzbekistan, Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia. Witty, erudite, fascinating and at times hilarious, Bissell’s travelogue explores this young state as he trudges towards the disappearing Aral Sea, uncovering a social landscape ruined by Communism.

A Sound Heart

And, to end things, let us not forget that Islam is, at its heart, its beginning and in its ends, a religion. We hopefully don’t need the Department of Justice to remind us of this.

To better understand the Qur’an, Islam’s holy text, try Ingrid Mattson’s The Story of the Qur’an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life, and then check out the following translations: Tarif Khalidi’s (which is just a translation, without commentary and with minimal notes) and Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s (the most popular translation among Anglophone Muslims); if you’re looking for something inspirational, and easier to digest, Princeton Chaplain Sohaib Sultan’s The Qur’an and Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad is worth checking out (his The Koran for Dummies is, title aside, a wonderful introductory resource as well).

To understand the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and his place in Muslim life, either read Martin Lings’ tremendously ambitious, but sometimes overwhelming study, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources (only for the serious reader — it’s easy to get lost in the details), or go for Karen Armstrong’s much slimmer and more accessible biography, Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time. To get a good sense of the place of Islam in the world, from its emergence to the contemporary, you’ll certainly love Reza Aslan’s book, also titled No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. And to perceive Muslim spirituality through a more advanced text, which requires a fair amount of background knowledge, pick up Diseases of the Heart, by Hamza Yusuf, which does a good job explaining the core Islamic ideal of purification, which is central to the Islamic understanding of achieving nearness to God through a moral life.

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As a Muslim mom of two sons who will grow up in the U.S., one of my greatest fears is radicalism. What if I am taking them to the masjid to learn how to get closer to Allah (SWT) and somewhere along the way they are exposed to extremist ideology through internet radicals or overzealous ‘ticket to heaven’ freaks, or agent provocateurs. My sons are toddlers but this is a bleak reality faced by mothers of our youth; the horror of finding your own son involved in this craziness. But the answer isn’t to keep your sons away from masjids as some moms do but to communicate with them and teach them what Allah allows us to do in His name and what He absolutely abhors. We are so pleased that they are turning away from haram and towards deen that we stop reaching out to them, guiding them.

I am also a youth group leader and every time some young man falls prey to FBI baiting and decides to take other people’s lives, I feel the need to talk to the boys and remind them to be careful, to talk to a trusted adult if someone approaches them and talks about overseas contacts and other shady stuff. Many people just blame the FBI, but our Muslim youth have to take responsibility for their own actions too. That finger on a remote is yours and you will be accountable for what you have done.  Imam Zaid gives us some very direct words of wisdom that are loaded with common sense. Use them, talk to the youth in your community, repost this on your blog, you don’t know whose life you may save. (He is definitely a straight-shooter.)

Letter to a Would-be Mujahid

Recent developments have forced me to put some things on hold to write you this letter.  You might ask how I know you. I have met you at student events, in mosques, and at conferences. I have listened to your arguments and I have made my counter arguments. Oftentimes, my arguments have been somewhat formal. I figured I would write you a letter, since that is a lot more personal and less formal. Perhaps this way you will be more inclined to listen.
To begin with, whenever you are criticized for your bloody, anarchistic ideology, you point to the bloody abuses of the American war machine or their Zionist accomplices. This diversionary tactic on your part does not impress serious and thoughtful people. It is simply an abdication of your moral responsibility. It is as if you are saying you reserve the right to violate established Islamic principles, such as those guaranteeing the protection of innocent life, because the American military or the IDF do no respect innocent Muslim life. That would be a credible argument if the American military or the IDF claimed to be operating on the basis of Islamic principles. They don’t, but you do. I hope, without further elaboration, you can immediately sense the moral dilemma you are creating for yourself.
Along those lines, please allow me to remind you of something else. Your misguided attempts to kill and maim innocent Americans only make it easier for the American military to kill more Muslims with greater impunity. Your actions help to create a political climate that removes any moral restraint from the actions of the American military, the IDF and soon the forces of India’s increasingly Hindu nationalist armed forces. You see, fear is a very potent emotion and when it is carefully manipulated it can lead to very irrational politics. That most extreme form of those politics is called genocide.
Fear can be especially dangerous when it is combined with another emotion, insecurity. You are so divorced from reality that you probably haven’t noticed that a lot of Americans are extremely insecure right now. Especially, the white middle class or what is left of it. They don’t know if they will soon lose their homes, if they will have a job tomorrow, if their money will be in the bank next week, if they will be able to send their children to college or if their retirement funds will be stolen or totally devalued. Those insecurities combined with the spectre of the “Muslim terrorist next door” are a lethal combination that a group of people called demagogues is exploiting to justify an all out war on Muslims.
Those demagogues use the fear of you to prevent people from building the kind of grassroots, popular, movements that are necessary to challenge the corporate rape of our society and from challenging the destructive logic of permanent war. For example, remember the growing movement to challenge the new invasive TSA screening procedures at airports? Did you notice how it disappeared after the would-be mujahid in Portland allowed himself to be trapped into the scheme to blow up the Christmas tree ceremony? Do you think the timing was accidental? It is a shame that you and your ilk are so mindlessly complicit in such schemes.
Now you think the mujahideen can win an all out war against the Americans. Look at what the mujahideen are doing to them in Afghanistan. Sorry, but Afghanistan is not what all out war looks like. I’ll give you a clue what all out war looks like. Remember a couple years ago when the Israelis were bombarding the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Muslims, for all of their courage, couldn’t do anything except appeal to outside powers to stop the carnage? Or a few years before that when Jenin was flattened? Think of the scale of that devastation expanded to encompass all of the major cities of the Muslim world. Imagine America unleashing a new generation of “tactical” nuclear weapons being designed to be used specifically against Muslims targets raining down on Muslim capitals and there is no Muslim strategic deterrent available to stop it. AK-47s and RPGs will be of no avail. Imagine the calls to human rights organizations to stop the slaughter finding no ears to hear them because the neo-fascist forces your stupidity has helped to unleash have swept those organizations away in its maddening torrent.
I have heard you counter that such an argument is a manifestation of a lack of faith. God has promised the believers victory. Indeed, He has. However, it is very pretentious of you to assume that someone who murders women, children and innocents with blazon impunity in the Name of God are the believers that victory has been promised to. He has promised the believers victory, but that promise is not unconditional. God is not going to give victory to people who murder in His Holy Name.
I applaud your courage, but how it manifests itself puzzles me. You have the courage to fly halfway around to world to engage in an armed struggle, but you do not have the courage to knock on your neighbor’s door to explain Islam to him or to give him your take on world affairs. I am also baffled at how you can smile in his face, but are ready to blow him up if he happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. What calculus do you use to assume he would not be amenable to your message? What has he done to you to be the target of your bloodlust?
You claim a refined understanding of Islam, so refined that you can make grave decisions concerning life and death, decisions with huge strategic implications –yet you seem to perceive nothing of the divine wisdom of your being in this country. You have an opportunity to be an educator at a time people are looking for a new way. You have an opportunity to be a guide at a time people are looking for a new direction. You have an opportunity to provide a source of spiritual solace at a time people are confused, angry and afraid. You have an opportunity to be a fierce advocate for truth at a time when lies are transforming the image of your religion and the direction of your country. You have the skills, the command of the language, the knowledge of the people to do all of that and more, but you choose to run away from this battle to join one you do not even know who the commander is.
Did I say that? “To join a battle you do not even know who the commander is.” No! I didn’t say that. Do you think that if the FBI can send fake mujahids into mosques all around America to find confused, vulnerable Muslims, develop fake bomb plots, with fake bombs, for very real political objectives, the CIA couldn’t do the same thing abroad? No, wait a minute. Didn’t the CIA build the Afghan mujahideen network? Didn’t what’s his name, Zbigniew Brzezinski, describe the Afghan operation as the CIA’s finest hour?
They would never use fake mujahids, operating through fake websites, to recruit confused and desperate Muslim youth to engage in operations that keep the climate of fear alive, would they? They wouldn’t do that to keep support for bloodsucking, treasury-draining wars alive at a time when there is no money for the poor, the elderly, health-care, education, infrastructure or investment in the green economy. No! It’s preposterous. Those would be psychological operations (psych ops) and that would be cheating. America never cheats, we’re the good guys!
I apologize, I’m tripping. On a serious note, I hope you don’t one day end up feeling as stupid and abused as young Antonio Martinez or Mahomed Osman Mohamud, the Somali kid in Oregon, are probably feeling right now. They have been tricked, deceived, used, and abused by fake mujahids and then thrown in a dungeon to rot for the rest of their lives. Do you think your fate will be any different? Don’t be a fool.
Sincerely,

Imam Zaid Shakir

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