Thursday, January 27, 2005

Community Progress II: Newsletters and Websites

Salaam alaikum,

As Muslims, it is our duty to educate ourselves and others about Islam. Since September 11th, mild suspiscion of Muslims has turned into a complete disaster with the average American fearing us all. But it is not impossible to change these unfortunate circumstances and with a little effort, we can establish a sound, viable Muslim voice here in America. But let’s start off small and insha’Allah, grow into a strong American Muslim media.

Does your masjid have a newsletter or a website? If not, then some computer savvy Muslims can take charge of this project and create a newsletter and website for your masjid. I am suggesting that we go beyond the dawah pamphlets and books (though, they are quite helpful). Each newsletter should have a listing of prayer times, the names of contacts for information, times for halaqas, Arabic and Qur’an lessons and so on. You would be amazed as to how many masajid in the United States do not have some kind print media to offer interested individuals. Having a newsletter of events, such as weddings, Eid prayers and the like, makes for a well-informed community so that we can minimize some of the chaos and confusion.

And the newsletter does not have to have only an arcane listing of special events and classes. It can also evolve into a small newspaper containing articles of happenings within your local Muslim community. It can have a format like a secular newspaper with sports, employment, local news, and the arts along with articles about Islamic history, Qur’anic verse and Hadith selections.

Also, everyone is on the web these days. If a curious seeker is looking for a mosque, your masjid should be listed online with all important information. You can either register for freeweb space with Yahoo or Freewebs or buy a domain from Doteasy.com. (Ex: http://www.masjidraheem.com/) Think of the newsletter and website as your public face. People’s perceptions are formulated through media, as we all very well know. Having a website makes easy contact for news reporters and others who want to get the Muslim point of view on certain issues. Insha’allah, you can find Muslims with enough get up and go to help you in this endeavor. It’s just a small part in doing dawah, educating non-Muslims and creating a society safe for religious diversity. By doing this, your community can be prepared in case some controversial event occurs and by distributing the newsletter at different public areas (universities, coffee houses, libraries), the Muslim voice will be heard and understood.

Try it! It’s fun!

I am currently putting together a newsletter for my local Muslim Student Association.

May Allah (swt) bless your endeavors!

Monday, January 24, 2005

Community Progress I: Food and Clothing Drives

Salaam 'Alaikum

I chose to start with food and clothing drives because they are quite possibly the easiest things you can do as a community when it comes to charitible giving (short of writing a check, that is). No matter if you live in an urban, suburban, or rural community, chances are there are people around you -- individuals, families, children -- who are in need of food and good clothing. The USDA estimates that right now, 33.6 million Americans, including children, are hungry or at risk of hunger because they do not have enough to eat. Nobody should go to bed hungry in the United States or Canada. This is a very real problem that most of us can help alleviate.

It's important to remember that while newspapers, television stations, businesses, and others encourage a lot of giving between Thanksgiving and Christmas, hunger and need doesn't end on December 26th. You might choose to organize your drive around a special Islamic occasion ('Eid, the new Hijri year), but you can also choose just about any time of the year to give.

Although organizing a drive will take a lot of effort on the part of you and your co-organizers, it's something that really requires very little time and effort from your donors, so it should be easy to get people who are very busy with work and life to help out too. The MSA and Muslim teens should be invited to volunteer to collect or sort goods. You can also approach the local Islamic school (daily or weekend) and get the kids involved, by having them bring donations from home. Remember, sadaqa (charity) is an integral sign of true 'iman (faith), so you should try to get as many Muslims as possible involved, as donors or volunteers (or both!).

At least six weeks before you want to launch your drive, you're going to have to obtain written permission from your masjid's board to hold the drive. You will need to get them to set aside space for you to store the donated goods until you distribute them or give them to a non-profit agency. While some of the larger Islamic organizations have experiences with collection drives, it is unfortunately true that many masajid in the US are not involved in food and clothing drives. Sometimes the masjid is too small, or it's a commuter masjid. Sometimes people are living in their own world, focused on problems overseas and oblivious to the ones next door. And maybe sometimes the reason is something else, Allahu 'Alim. It is very likely that your masjid board will have no experience organizing drives and distributing food and clothing directly to the needy.

If you can not use the masjid, don't be discouraged. You can also collect donations at your office, your MSA office, your home, a community center, outside of the masjid after Jumu'ah (you may still need permission), or you can arrange to have volunteers pick up the goods from donor's homes. It takes a little more effort, but it's more than worth it.

If you are not distributing the goods directly yourself (which is most likely, unless you have the masjid involved), you will need to call your local food bank, homeless shelter, or other organization and ask them what they need and how you can bring the donations to them. Please remember that they often do not have adequate storage space, so don't give them winter coats in May. If you collect items like that, it's best for you to store it yourself and then bring it to the shelter as winter draws near. And remember, as much as they need food, clothing, and other goods, they also need volunteers, and they need money. You can help give to them in so many ways.

If you're organizing a clothing drive, you might want to consider hosting a "closet" for your local Muslim community. There may be needy Muslim women and girls (and men) in your own community who are desperately in need of appropriate, modest dress, and can't afford it. You can take special donations of modest dresses, skirts, pants, tops, scarves, jilbabs, and other garments and distribute them especially to Muslims, who already have a hard time finding modest dress.

Clothing collected in a clothing drive should be clean, free of holes and stains. Non profits and others often especially need clothes in plus sizes.

You'll need some supplies to launch your drive, including: tables to sort goods, bins to hold them, signs, balloons, fliers, and lists so that donors know what they should and should not donate. Contact local Muslim (or non Muslim) business people and ask them to get involved. They can collect donations around the office that you should offer to pick up. You should provide them with a bin or container that they can collect goods in. You can even have a theme. For example, with new rules for welfare, more and more non profits need work appropriate attire for people who are entering or returning to the work force. With that in mind, you can hold a suit drive. Put fliers up at the masjid and MSA, ask the imam to announce the drive, and put out e-mail notices on your city's Islamic events list serv.

You'll need to settle on a designated collection time (one week, two weeks) so that people can drop off their donations in that time. You'll also need to set aside a day or two to sort and organize the donations. It's important to provide chairs, tables, and snacks for volunteers. If you are distributing the goods directly from your masjid or another location, you should call your local food bank or non-profit agency for help on notifying people in need about the distribution.

Below are some internet resources to help you with ideas, organizing, and getting in contact with local food banks and non-profits. A special thanks to my friend, The Foodshelf Lady, who gave me tips and pointed me to several organizations. Check out her blog to read about what it's like to fight hunger in America.

The United Way The United Way is not a religious organization, and it is non partisan. Your local branch of the UW may be able to put you in touch with a local food bank or non-profit organization.

America's Second Harvest is the national foodbank network. Find a foodbank in your area, get information on hunger in the US, and tips on volunteering and donating.

The Canadian Association of Foodbanks How to donate or volunteer at a food bank in Canada, as well as information on hunger in Canada.

How to Organize a Community Food Drive A plan of action

Hunger Task Force's Food Drive Guide HTF is a local Milwaukee organization, but you will find valuable information on organizing a food drive here.

National Association of Letter Carriers Annual Food Drive is scheduled for May 14th, for all 50 states, DC, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and Guam. That allows you enough time to organize a drive and bring the foods to NALC's collection points, if you are unable to store or distribute the goods yourself.

Food Drive Theme Ideas

Dress for Success gives business and work clothes to women re-entering the work force. They also have tips for organizing a suit drive.

Goodwill and the Salvation Army both distribute clothing. The Salvation Army is a Christian denomination, but to my knowledge, they do not proselytize to donors or recipients. If you have a large donation, you can arrange for the SA to pick up your goods.

Organizing a Clothing Drive

Modest Clothing Giveaway is an interfaith Yahoo! group designed to help needy women of any faith (including Islam) get modest clothing.

Sisters in Need provides Islamic clothing to Muslim women in need.

Islamic Resources for Muslims in Need Clothing closets, halal food banks, and other information that you may find useful.

Real Community Progress

Salaam 'Alaikum

It's all good and fun to refute and pick apart some of the ridiculousness spouted out there in the name of "progressive" Islam, but as we've written before, true progress is something that improves the lives of people in general -- no matter their creed, race, or nationality. Real progress in Islam is that which brings you closer to God, and keeps your ego (nafs) in check. Initially, our plan for this blog was just to point out inconsistencies, inaccuracies, falsehoods, and other misleading claims and teachings put forth in the name of liberal or "progressive" Islam. However, over the past few months, interest in this blog has grown, as have our ideas (and the ideas of readers) of what we can use it for. Apparently, more people are paying attention than we thought.

Max and Risama have both pointed out, here and on their own blogs, that the fine folks over at MWU (the official mouthpiece for the Progressive Muslim Union), seem to have very little knowledge of or involvement in the Muslim community. As of yet, nothing has been written on the site about the masjid arsons, or the murder of a young, pregnant Muslim woman in New Orleans, or the fight in Memphis to keep Muslims from opening a cemetary to bury their dead. Maybe the focus of the Progressive Muslim Union of North America isn't things that are happening in the North American Muslim community. Allahu 'Alim.

If you talk about change and progress, you have to be willing to walk the walk. Debates are fun, but they have a limited value and benefit. So we're introducing a new occasional feature for Living Tradition, called Community Progress. Each part will highlight a different area of need in either the Muslim community or the community at large (or both), and how you, your friends, and family can begin to make real, positive progress in that area right in your own neighborhood. And we would really love to hear from you about your experiences with these issues, and whether or not our ideas have helped you.

Forward! March!

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Progressives vs Reverts

Has anybody noticed the criticism and outright hostility towards people like Siraj Wahhaj, Ibrahim Hooper, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson and Yusuf Islam coming from some “progressive” Muslims. If there’s one word which defines “nightmare” for a proggie, it’s a “revert” to Islam.

Progressives hold reverts in contempt because those who have returned to this deen reject many of the “values” proggies hold dear. Reverts defy the stereotypes being sold by serial opportunists like Nassef, Sadaawi, and Manji to name a few. Reverts are amongst the most active Muslims and know their Islam better than many “born” Muslims who often take it for granted. Anyone who has read books by Maryam Jameelah knows this.

Sure many of us “born” Muslims are on to the “progressive” agenda, but reverts are in a special position to expose proggies, being particularly familiar with their mindset having been there before embracing Islam. Reverts tend to reject identity politics, permissive attitudes towards sexuality, and the ridiculously reductionist progressive “shahada” that “a muslim is one who claims to be one.” Is it any wonder that folks like Siraj Wahaj and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf are vilified and called names by the RAND robots ?

Or perhaps the reality of strong, intelligent and independent Muslim men and woman asserting themselves within the confines of the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet (sallalahu aleyhi wa salaam) at a time where it would be so easy to do so otherwise doesn’t go well with the conformist pseudo-intellectuals at MWU. Indeed, how does Ahmed Nassef explain to the audience of FOX, CNN, and MSNBC that men and woman born in the West, raised in non-Muslim homes are embracing Islam and practicing it without making himself look incompetant or without any credibility ?

It seems proggies have come across people who truly define what it means to be progressive, and its those who have progressed from the darkness of kufr to the light of Islam. If I was a pro-regressive, I’d be worried too.

The "H" Word

Salaam alaikum and Eid Mubarak everyone! Long time, no hear!

Okay. Hijab.

There, I said it. Now let the brawl begin.

I can not tell you how many times I have come across articles about hijab. In the eyes of many people in the media, hijab and Muslim women are infinitely tied together. Whenever a reporter writes about Muslim women, he/she must mention hijab. If Muslims write articles about Muslim women, we state whether or not she is in hijab. Yes, the few inches of fabric that cover a sister's head has become the only subject that is worth addressing when it comes to Muslim women. I promised myself that I would never write a book or article about hijab but I guess I am breaking that promise.

But let me state from the beginning that this is an not entry arguing the validity of hijab. And we at Living Tradition would appreciate it if this entry would not receive responses that turn into an all out war between the pro-hijab and anti-hijab Muslims. I find it absolutely depressing that some people will spend hours arguing about hijab but can't utter a simple dua for suffering Muslims overseas. I want to address the current criticisms launched at Traditional Muslims from others and to clear the air as to how we really feel about hijab.

One of the many, many accusations hurled at practicing Muslims is that we place too much emphasis on hijab. I gazed at an article on MWU.com which stated that Muslims are beginning to make hijab "the sixth pillar." Indeed, for some Muslims, it is the litmus test as to who is devout and who is not. But we all know that life is not that simple. It is very disappointing to go to teaching circles and lectures about "Women in Islam" and the only subject that is discussed at great length is hijab. Not salaat, or women's rights in Islam, or ritual purity or even the great women of the Sahaba, just hijab. Unfortunately, there are many amongst us who believe that when it comes to women's issues in Islam, hijab and family are the only things that we should be concerned about.

Then there is the other side of the fence, the virulent, anti-hijab clique. I swear, some of the things I have heard said about veiled Muslim women are just not appropriate for this blog. It's bad enough to be demeaned in the American media as stupid, oppressed and brainwashed. It's harder to deal with insults and snide comments from Muslims who want to pick on you for following the Qur'an and Sunnah.

Yes, we do believe that hijab is fardh. We do not belong to the Fatima Mernissi madhab which states that hijab is some 1400 year old fraud and that the scholars (many of them women) have wrong since the beginning. We believe that it is supported by the Qur'an and Hadith. Some of the greatest women in history wore it including the wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) and Maryam, mother of Isa (peace and blessings upon them). But what we don't believe in is focusing on hijab to the inclusion of everything else.

We, at Living Tradition, would like to offer a different view. We believe that Islam addresses all aspects of a Muslim women's life - from her family to her education. Hijab is important but what about her iman, the often ignored subject when reporters want to write about Muslims? What about her knowledge of the Qur'an? Can she read and understand the Qur'an in the original Arabic? Is she aware of her rights in Islam? Are her male relatives making sure that her rights are being respected? What about her finances? Is she secure from exploitation and abuse? Does she feel welcomed by her community at the masjid? Is her husband helping her with the children and making sure that she is receiving all the kindness, love and commitment that a Muslim woman is due?

These are some of many chief concerns of women in Islam that are squelched in the hijab debate. While we bicker over hijab, many of the problems concerning Muslim women go ignored. MWU.com and other sites like it are quite content to write anti-hijab articles but there is silence on the murder of a Muslim woman stabbed to death in my hometown of New Orleans. They apparently can't be bothered with stuff like that. This debate rages on while Muslim women are being denied there Islamic rights to education, ownership of property, choice over marriage partner, choice of employment or private business and the freedom from commercial and sexual exploitation.

Islam, without internet ijtihad, seeks to develop the Muslima wholly. Modest attire is just one part of a Muslim's life - male or female. It is just one obligation out of many to Allah (subhanna wa ta'ala) and not always a good litmus test as to who is faithful and devout. Modesty is not just in what you wear but how you carry and conduct yourself. Which is why it makes no sense to veil and commit lewd sinful acts and expect to be exempt from criticism because you say, "Well, at least I wear hijab." It also makes no sense to wear sexually revealing clothing and then wonder why so many men are leering at you. If you dress like a cop, people will think you are a cop.

I promise all of you that the hijab debate will never end so let's attend to the bigger problems of the ummah. When every Muslim is safe, free and protected, we can argue about this thing until the cows come home.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Yet another cancellation....

I received an email today from the "leader" of the local "progressive muslim meetup," stating that his month's meeting has been cancelled. Thats three cancellations in a row. At this rate I'll never have a chance to "meetup" with the proggies! Looks like somebodys 15 minutes are almost up.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

A "Muslim for Bush" sighting

We have all been busy with different projects at the moment and I am currently working on another entry for the LT blog. But I had to pop in and tell you about seeing Muhammad Ali Hasan on a show with Dennis Miller. For those of you who don't know, Muhammad Ali Hasan is the son of Dr. Malik Hasan and Seeme Gull Hasan. If you add his sisters, including Asma Gull Hasan, author of American Muslims and Why I am a Muslim, you get the entire "Muslims for Bush" team. I thought that it was kinda funny that Islamica News has a T-shirt with an image of the devil saying "Bush Shaitan" but that's another matter all together.

Brothers and sisters, I would have watched the whole show but it was too much. There were two right-wing intellectuals whose names I care not to know bashing "the left" for every evil in this country. Dennis Miller, who is caustic enough for my taste, turned to the younger Hasan and asked him, "Well, how do the Muslims feel about this?" I had to change the channel. It wasn't so much that I feared what he was going to say but I get tired of this idea that one group or one person can fully express how Muslims feel on a particular issue.

We have already addressed our concerns on having Dr. Malik Hasan serve on the Progressive Muslim Union. I don't know what to make of a family that seems politically conservative but socially liberal. I don't why Asma Hasan can write articles on liberal issues for Beliefnet and then turn around and give thousands of dollars to the Bush campaign in 2004. She wrote a section in her first book called Whither Reform Islam? but made the mistake in a previous chapter (in both editions) that the "shahada" is the first verse of the Qur'an. Remember how we argued that ijtihad can only be performed by those who have the knowledge? But these days, if Irshad Manji can write a book claiming to be a reformist, anyone can. (13 minutes and counting.) I don't see how Muhammad Ali Hasan can claim to have any voice in the community while the Hasan family has not, to this day, created any programs to help Muslims. No fellowships, free clinics, scholarships, masjid donations, women's centers, children centers or anything of the like that could help the American umma.

So, I turned it off. Maybe next time I can stomach it but it is very hard to see the RAND report in action. But hey, he had on a very spiffy brown suit with an orange tie. Very spiffy!