Sunday, February 27, 2005

Muslim Presence Online

Salaam alaikum,

I decided to hop on the web and see what kind of websites were out there for various masajid in the Anglophone world. I didn't worry too much about Great Britian or Australia. Partly because I have seen many fabulous websites from our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic and partly because I think the lack of online presence is more of a problem in the States. Unfortunately, we yanks haven't tapped into the endless possibilities that the internet offers. I am not sure if that is because some of us are afraid that our masajid will become targets of arson by some racists but our lack of online presence hasn't really protected us from that. As Living Tradition has stated before, there are many Muslims with training in computer science but we don't understand why their talents haven't been tapped into by the more influential members of the community.

But I did find some websites from various masajid throughout the U.S. so if you are planning on developing a website for your masjid, here are some examples to help you. Some of the websites are very nice and others are general but they get the point across. I hope these can help motivate others and myself to take on these projects. It's quite amazing, actually, to see that Muslims are everywhere. Even the places you wouldn't suspect.

Islamic Community Center of Missouri

The Islamic Center in Washington, D. C.

Islamic Center of Rhode Island

Islamic Center of Cleveland

Masjid in Carrollton, Texas

Colorado Muslim Society

Masjid in Plano, Texas

Islamic Society of San Francisco, California (great website!) we have any takers? You know of any great websites? Pop them in the comments area.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

El-Hajj Malik al-Shabazz: Forty years since the death of Malcolm X

Salaam alaikum,

This entry is not going to be a brief overview of Malcolm X’s life. Most of the people who come across this blog already know all about that. We all know that after 40 years of his horrible and tragic murder, his message still lives inside of us. We all know how the player-pimp-hustler turned his life around and made the ultimate sacrifice for humanity and that he was willing to lose his life in order to speak truth to power. This entry is written in solemn reflection of a man who means so much to me as a Black woman, a Muslim and a human being.

I can’t help but wonder what kind of life would Malcolm X had lived if he was given the chance. While reading the last pages of his autobiography, I wonder if he would have mastered Arabic as he had hoped to. Would we have seen an older tall, light-skinned, red and gray haired sage conversing with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Iman Zaid Shakir? I imagine him as an older man tempered by the changes of time but still as poignant and articulate as ever and always able to silence an audience by his charismatic presence. I wish he were alive now. He would have been a wonderful spokesperson for Islam in America. On that dark day in September, he could have rose from the ashes as a familiar face of Islam and could easily convey to others how we want nothing to do with the murder of innocent people. I can only imagine what kind of man he would have evolved into but Allah knows and I know not. We leave this Earth for reasons only He knows and He is indeed most merciful.

But as with every great figure of history that God has graced us with, we must remember the message and life that they left behind. There are so many lessons that we as Muslims could learn from him but one that sticks out at this moment is that of self-determination. Brother Malcolm told us that instead of demanding that people accept us, we should cultivate a community life where we can be comfortable being ourselves and to stop proving our loyalty to those who have rendered the verdict “guilt by association”. It is great to fight for salah and hijab at work but even greater to have thriving Muslim communities where the businesses cater to our religious needs and not the other way around. He told us that we have to build our own houses. Muslims must have their own media and stop hoping for the major television networks to throw us a bone. Even a well-done newsletter or website can have an impact. We must build our own houses of worship where people are greeted with warm salaams and women feel just as welcomed as the men.

One of the many dangerous neuroses of Western colonialization is that some of us have been convinced that everything that we say, do, think and believe in must be measured up against the yardstick of Western society. And while I applaud the wonderful technological advances of the West and how people are living longer, healthier lives, I do not applaud the centuries of racism and the systematic destruction of indigenous peoples who dared to live according to their own values and traditions. I can not celebrate a society that claims to uphold and value of all lifestyles while not acknowledging the sins of its past and present genocidal tendencies. For those us who shed tears on September 11th and grieved along with our American family, we have no reason to be ashamed. If a few powerful men from a particular race can launch a pre-emptive attack against any country they will and still walk the Earth without shame, why should we, innocent Muslims, hang our heads for sins we have not committed? As Malcolm X once said, “We have been sitting down, lying down and bowing down for too long.” This is not the time to hide, remain silent and hope that this whole thing will blow over. If we do not raise up this deen, teach to others and ourselves, live it and believe in it, God will replace us with those who will. For this message of hope, love and courage that Brother Malcolm has given us, I am forever grateful.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Ten Things Every Muslim Should Do: Community Reform Ideas

Salaam alaikum brothers and sisters,

When watching the news, listening to the radio or reading the newspaper, it can be very trying for us Muslims. The world is filled with corruption and despair. Innocent people suffer at the hands of tyrants and sometimes you can feel just helpless against its onslaught. This doesn’t even begin to encompass the problems that the umma faces here in the West. Some of our masajid are unorganized and ill equipped to handle the media savvy environment of America. Though we are united under “La ilaha il Allah, Muhammadan Rasul Allah,” we are divided into gross sectarianism where every sect is glorifying in the virtues of its own. There is racial tension amongst immigrants and African-American Muslims (a weakness that many are happy to exploit) and some of us have still not given Muslim women the rightful place in the community that we deserve.

But this is not an entry of despair. Yahiya Emerick has written an essay entitled Ten Things Every Muslim Must Do in the West that gives ten simple ideas to help promote and strengthen Islam. Most of us can only do so much but these tips are easy and involve less commitment and I hope that each of us can take on two or three of these helpful tips, insha’Allah. As stated in the original essay, our fellow Muslims need us and these small tasks can help us grow and are pleasing in the sight of Allah (subhana wa ta'ala).

#1 Sponsor an Orphan

YE: Before anything else, there are hungry Muslim children everywhere who have needs right now. There are several reputable relief agencies who offer orphan sponsorship programs that only cost from $20-$40 a month. You and I know that's nothing expensive on your part - so do it. Some agencies even offer automated withdrawal so you can send a letter once with a voided check and never have to fill anything out again. Doing this can make you close to the Prophet (peace be upon him) in Paradise.

RIS: For those of us who can afford it, this is a great way to follow the commandment given to us by Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) to take care of orphans. We must remember that our beloved Prophet (sallalahu alayhi wasalaam) was an orphan. The recent tsunami disaster has left many Muslim children parent-less and for only a few dollars a day, you can support their educational and religious needs.

#2 Subscribe to at least three Muslim magazines

YE: This is practically the only way you can keep abreast of issues important to the Muslims in the West. It also supports the budding Muslim media. Even if you don't intend to read the magazines, subscribe anyway. Someone around you will read or you can leave them with others. Make it at least three and try to subscribe for 2-3 years at a time.

RIS: Okay, this is a very fun tip and there are a multitude of Islamic magazines out there to suit your taste. We personally recommend Q-News, Islamica News and the Seasons Journal of the Zaytuna Institute. We also should support the budding Muslim media. The reason why we take such a beating in the news is because we don't have a viable platform to make our voices heard. By subscribing to a particular newsapaper or magazine, we can help put Islamic magazines into mainstream bookstores.

LT: I wanted to add that while I think this is a great idea, for many Muslims, three isn't feasible. Take Yahya Emerick's suggestions as just that - a suggestion. For those of us in the United States, the cost of subscribing to magazines coming from England or elsewhere may be high, particularly if you're a blue collar or even "middle class" family. It's true that we have magazines published right here in the States, but I wouldn't subscribe to a magazine that you disagree with politically or philosophically just to subscribe to it. Another idea is this: many of the bigger cities have one or two Muslim newspapers that report on local and national events. If you can, subscribe to one of them, and advertise your business in them. Even if you pick up the free issue distributed at the masjid, you're supporting them in some way.

#3 Go to the Masjid at least once a week for Salah

YE: In the West today, nearly all of us have a Masjid within driving distance. Even if you don't go to the local Masjid for Jumu'ah because of your job, then go for at least one Maghrib a week or for Zuhr on Sunday. Whatever, just go at least once a week- WITH YOUR FAMILY. It's the only way that you and your family will consider the Masjid to be your place.

RIS: I know it’s hard to find the right masjid. We all have our particular needs and differences when it comes to Islam. But if we can’t go for jumu’ah, we can always go for Maghrib or Isha on Fridays. In fact, the more we go to the masjid during times other than Friday afternoon, the more active our masjid community will be. A masjid should be bustling with life and energy, not private clubs for certain groups or fitnah-centers.

LT: In conjunction with this suggestion, I would say that those who are already active or known in the community should do what they can to make sure the masjid is welcoming to women and mothers with young children. In NY, the masajid near me simply were not "safe" for my son -- doors going into the streets left open, electrical outlets uncovered, bathrooms with slippery, wet floors.

#4 Give your children an Islamic Education

YE: If your children go to public school, and there is no Islamic school nearby, then make sure they either get into some Sunday school program, or, if the local Masjid doesn't run it right, then pool together with some like-minded families and run your own program at somebody's house every Saturday or Sunday and conduct it the way you think it should be done. This is the minimum requirement for not losing your children to secular Christianity.

RIS: I couldn’t have said it better myself. Our children need a strong Islamic education to help them weather the trials of living as a religious minority in the West. We have a wonderful legacy of religion, art, science, music, architecture, etc. While learning about the Sahaba (may God be pleased with them), they can learn about Islamic art or the famous Muslim mathematicians and scientists. It’s not as if they are going to learn about in a public school.

LT: Brother Yahya forgot one option, and that is that you can homeschool your children. Many states now have Muslim homeschooling groups or discussion lists, but even if there isn't one near you, there are online support groups for Muslim homeschoolers. Not only that, but we now have Kinza Academy (in add'n to several other programs) which will give your children a solid curriculum with diyn teachings rooted in classical understandings of Islam.

#5 Buy books, cassettes and videos on Islam

YE: Buy at least one book, audio or video produced by a Muslim company or author per month. Have you ever wished that there were better items for you and your family's pleasure? Unfortunately, Muslims don't support their own writers and artists very well. No one can make even a decent living if they want to write or produce for the Muslim market. That must change if you want to see wonderful products for you and your children. Just buy one thing per month. Either out of a catalog or from your local Muslim bookstore. For you it's only $5-$10 bucks, but collectively, it can encourage our creative and talented brothers and sisters to do more.

RIS: This is another tip that I really like because it is especially suited for us bookworms and lecture lovers. I also make the recommendation that the purchases come from a Muslim owned company. The reasons are obvious. Most mainstream bookstores have a poor selection of books on Islam. The selection usually contains works written by non-Muslims who either have their own Orientalist issues or dry, boring writers who treat Islam like an academic subject rather than a living faith. Why give your money to them when you can give your money to those struggling Muslim publishers that need it the most?

#6 "Adopt" a convert

YE: If you see any new Muslims at your Masjid, then partially "adopt" them into your family. The convert experience is basically one of isolation and loneliness. You'd be surprised to know that most converts are outright ignored by the people in the Masjid. Beyond a few pleasantries and handshakes, they are usually never made to feel welcome or accepted. They are often cut off from their non-Muslim friends and relatives so they are doubly vulnerable. A new convert should be invited into various peoples home for dinner a minimum of six times a month. Get together with others and make sure you all put the new convert on your guest list for any sort of gathering.

RIS: If there is a new Muslim at your masjid, please take them in. Give them your phone number. Invite them to a halaqa. Invite them to dinner. Give them books, hijabs, prayer beads, prayer rugs or anything that can further along their education. Some Muslims seem to think that new converts learn Islam by simply coming to Friday prayers. They don’t understand that converts may come from hostile environments where friends and family are upset and angered by their decision to convert. It’s a very vulnerable state to be in so new Muslims need that warmth and care to give them the support until they are confident in their new life as Muslims.

LT: This is something the Lubavitcher community has done for years, and as far as I can tell, it's strengthened their community and helped make the transition to the Orthodox lifestyle easier for converts or returnees to observant life.

#7 Give the gift of the Quran

YE: Keep three extra Qur'an translations and some literature in your home at all times. You never know when you'll find someone interested who wants to know more. Besides, your children read only and understand only English. (You wouldn't believe how many Muslim families don't have an English Qur'an translation in their homes! How will the child read it if they don't understand Arabic, and they never understand Arabic, even if their parents are Arabic speaking!)

RIS: Some companies have Qur’ans for a dollar. They are quite easy to come by and very inexpensive. You never know when a co-worker, family member or friend may ask you for more information about Islam. Why not start with the best source of information that money can buy?

#8 Go to one convention a year

YE: Even if you have given up on them, you have to go. It's the only way your children will feel a part of a greater community of believers. Think about it and realize that you don't just go to a convention for your personal enrichment. It's about Muslim solidarity. Go to at least one every year. Couple it with your vacation plans or something. Just go.

RIS: Insha’allah, I hope to do this one day, when I get the funds. The convention circuit is growing so that meetings and events are more localized. Every major city has some kind of Islamic event so why not check it out? It’s a way of bonding with Muslims across the country and staying on top of important issues within the larger community.

LT: I would guess that Brother Yahya wrote this before we had regular Rihlas, Deen Intensives, Zaytuna events, Ni'ma programs, the Nawawi Foundation, the Rawdah, and so on. If the convention scene is not your style, well, Alhamdulillah, in the US and Canada, we are now at the stage where at least once a year, there is a weekend, week-long, or month-long program in traditional, classical learning taking place in many regions throughout the country. Plan ahead, save up your money or vacation time, and do it. Several of these programs do welcome children.
#9 Eat only Halal or Kosher Food

YE: Besides all the religious aspects I could mention, which are the most important, by the way, there is another advantage. You solidify your identity and introduce to your family the concept that animals should not die cruelly (like they do in all American slaughterhouses) and that Muslims eat cleaner food. If there are no Halal meat stores nearby, you'll probably find a Kosher store. At least many of the Jews are not shy about Allah's commandment there and have established kosher markets everywhere.

RIS: Alhamdulilllah, animal rights activism is embedded into our religion. Many of us can use help in this area. Muslims can pool together some funds and make one trip to the local halal butcher and get some good meat. In these days of mad-cow disease and the twisted torture of animals in slaughterhouses, halal meat is the Godly, healthy and most kind way to go.

LT: Drawing on some of the comments, I would add a few things. I would say that rather than eat only kosher or zabiha, one should become more vigilant about one's diet, period. It's not just meat, it's the way you approach food as a whole. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf has spoken about this several times, including in the lecture "Food For Thought." Kosher is fine when it comes to meat and some grocery products, but alcohol can be kosher, so Muslims should not be lulled into a sense of security about every product with an OU or Star-K on it, which we sometimes are.

There is a growing market of organic kosher and halal meats in this country, and there are several farms where you can go out and slaughter or choose and pay for your animal to be slaughtered. Not only is vegetarianism or semi-vegetarianism an option, but so is choosing to replace red meats and poultry with seafood products if you like.

#10 Create an Islamic environment in your home

YE: Lastly, make sure you and your family have cultural-type items in your home in abundance that are associated with Islam or Islamic culture. Everyone in your home should have prayer beads, prayer rugs, kufis, Hijabs, (even if they're worn only for prayer), gowns, posters, wall plaques, stickers, logo-shirts, Islamic screen-savers on the computer, and on and on. You want to establish an identity in your home. Everything outside is totally un-Islamic. At least let the Islamic flavor be present inside.

RIS: When people walk into your home, do they think Muslims live there? If not then maybe we need to get to work on that. There are so many beautiful Islamic items that you can put in your home. Having these things will create a strong Muslim identity for the young ones and beautify your home as well.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Community Reform III: For the Reading Umma, Book Drives for the Masjid

I got this idea from the Abu Bakr al-Siddique Masjid in Metairie, Louisiana. The imam has decided to post a wish list of some of the books that the masjid needs for its library. This masjid already has a wonderful collection of Qur’ans, Hadith books, dawah pamphlets, and lectures on cassette and video tapes. There is also youth-based literature and old Islamic magazines. But many masajid in the United States and abroad do not have a solid collection of Islamic literature. Unfortunately, a typical mosque may have a few Qur’ans, a sirah and a booklet on Hadith Qudsi. In order to increase our knowledge as Muslims and to make our masajid centers for learning and development, we must invest a little money into its progression. Even at this particular masjid, on closer inspection, while many of the texts were very helpful, some were outdated and falling apart at the seams due to aging and poor ventilation. Ancient Islamic texts are constantly being translated into English and most masajid are not aware of this phenomenon. So, to develop a nice collection or to replenish the masjid library, here is an idea.

Start a list and have everyone write down his/her book request as to what the masjid really needs. Or you can go to an Islamic bookstore website and copy the list of its top 10 or 20 requested books or other media products. That way, you can get an idea of what is popular and what everyone else is reading or listening to. Do not limit your choices. The average masjid is lacking in all areas: biographies of the Sahaba (ra), modern youth literature, poetry, the newer editions of Islamic magazines, women’s studies in Islam, Islam in the West, etc.

After the requests are placed on the bulletin board or in the newsletter (if your masjid has a newsletter, insha’Allah), then you can make your decision as to which book or tape you will buy. It is a great sadaqa to the masjid to make sure that knowledge is easily accessible to the general Muslim (and insha’Allah, non-Muslim) public. And I wouldn’t worry too much about buying more than one copy of a book. Three to five of the same copy would be a desirable limit. The project or library director should be in charge of this for reasons stated as follows…

We all know that people “borrow” stuff from the masjid and it is never seen again. It’s not just the mindset that a borrowed item can be kept out of the masjid for months or even years, its just that there is no system to keep this stuff in order. The “librarian” or project director must keep a catalog of all the books in the masjid. Anyone who wants to borrow an item must ask the librarian if they can and there should be a time limit on how long the item can stay out. The masjid book collection should be managed like a library to prevent theft and “excessive borrowing.” It also means that the materials will have to be kept in a case or separate room for safe keeping. I suggest that the imam not be in charge of this endeavor because the imam has enough responsiblites on his shoulders. There should a system where you can check out a book by leaving your name and phone number for contact information.

Insha’Allah, for the sake of Allah (swt), your masjid will be able to have a nice book collection and to maintain it through the help of its masjid members. We must remember that knowledge is a duty on every Muslim, male and female, and this small charity of buying a book or a tape and can help further us all along on the path of Allah (swt). Dear readers, if you are doing anything similar or have other ideas, please let us know.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Muslim Food Drives -- Faith in Action!

Salaam 'Alaikum

I'm sure this had nothing to do with our recent post, but I thought it would be inspiring to those who are thinking about it.

Muslim Feast Boasts Food Bank: Over Two Tons of Beef Donated You may have to register to see this, but it is free.

Toronto is the site that organized the collection. If you go to the sacrifice page, there is info on how they collected it and a FAQ about the event.

Also, the Islamic Multi Service Organization in Boston hosts a monthly food drive. If you live in the Boston area and want to get your school, workplace, or organization involved, e-mail them for more info (or post in the comments area, so I can find out about people in Boston doing these things).

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Same Sex Marriages

Those of us who live in Canada are witness to a full blown debate taking place in Parliament and outside on the Government's moves to legalize same sex marriages. A lot of heat has been generated but the powers that be are determined to get their way. Another sign of the growing promiscuity in our society.

Various religious leaders and groups are spearheading the opposition to such a move, even at the risk of being labelled bigoted and intolerant. As Muslims, we should have no qualms about condemning this attempt to change the traditional definition of marriage. So imagine my disgust when The Muslim Canadian Congress issued a statement today supporting the concept of same sex marriages. But then, I should really not be surprised; this organisation is the refuge of these so called proggies, chief among them Tarek Fatah. Among their other shennanigans was a vitriolic campaign against allowing Muslims to rely on the Sharia in certain arbitration matters in Ontario (the Jewish community has been accorded this privilege for quite some time here by the way).

I keep asking myself why these Muslims continue to defy Allah and his Messenger (peace and blessings upon him)? Is the love of the dunya so overpowering that they have lost sight of the akhiar? How will they stand before Allah and justify their actions and deeds? A Muslim is one who is unafraid of enjoining good and forbidding wrong, political correctness be damned. Homosexuality was made haram by the Lord of the Worlds and yet these people continue to justify this lifestyle. Astagfirullah.

I shall, Insh'Allah, continue to keep you posted on developments on this issue. In the meanwhile, please make Dua that this legislation is defeated in Parliament. Ameen.

Feedback on Community Reform

For any Muslim who happens to peruse this blog and decides to take on any of these suggested projects from our Community Reform section, please let us know. We would love to hear if you started or in the process of starting a food/clothing drive or developing a website/newsletter for your masjid. We all know that faith is nothing without good works. Islamophobia is not going away anytime soon and doing nothing will only allow it to fester. We can keep track of your developments and progress and insha’allah, we will have people responding with their own creative community reform ideas. It can be any idea to foster unity and creativity in the umma and we are open to all suggestions.

Hoping to hear from you,

Living Tradition Members