Thursday, November 27, 2008

Salat: The Journey from Glorification to Surrender

Maryam Sakeenah

“Salat begins with Takbeer (glorification, acknowledgement of Greatness) and ends with Tasleem (Peace, Submission).” (hadith)
The declaration of faith_ 'La ilaha illallah' holds within it the essence of the dynamic journey to ‘Islam’ undertaken through recognition, acceptance, submission that progresses towards growth. And all this is symbolized in Salat. Its compulsive, regular performance reasserts the pattern of continuous onward progression that animates and vitalizes a Muslim's life.
Salat begins with proclaiming the greatness of Allah. When you begin to see and hear and feel and experience the exuberant panorama of life around you_ the miracle of Allah's creation, the honest soul declares and testifies the greatness of the Creator: 'Allahu Akbar'. It sings in His praise: 'Alhamdulillah i Rabb il aalameen'. And with that comes the submission, 'ruku', the falling down on knees when we experience the Presence; the 'sajdah' that teaches us to recognize our littleness and our need to submit to a Power on high greater than us, and to obey that Power to tame what is raw in our too human self; to submit the reason that suffocates if not made subservient to Faith. And with this, we rise to a station of rest and satiety, the 'qa'adah', where the human being can entrust his self to Allah, so that all action, all motives that drive them, all struggle, strife, effort is made for the One Being in whose keeping we give ourselves to secure a lasting peace. And with this statement of absolute Eemaan, we get the strength that makes us able to declare, amidst test and trial, 'Ash'haduallah ilaha illallah': 'I bear witness that there is no god but Allah'.
The moral action in Islam must seek its inspiration from the Sunnah and the lives of the Saaliheen (The righteous predecessors). When we bless them with peace in our Salat, we learn to acknowledge the invaluable worth of the 'shahadah' (testifying to the Oneness of Allah) that these people lived out in their heroic lives. In Islam, spirituality never implies social withdrawal or quietism but rather a building up of a fund of energy that finds its natural expression through social and communal action. Thus Salat teaches a valuable spirituality that not only sustains the individual but also his link with community. It prepares us for what is true moral action as we finish our spiritual experience by blessing with 'Islam' (Peace) those around us. The spirituality ignited through the supreme experience of Salat must radiate through the soul and express itself in behaviour and interaction with others.
Our lives have lost the Peace of Surrender, the integrity and uprightness that Salat trains us into. Rituals are performed like they were ends in themselves, and not established like they were means to the greater end of making our entire lives a testimony of Faith, and in turn, creating a better society. Our lives lack the ‘qiyam’ when we jump into the rat-race of procuring the most to get to the top of the endless ladder. They lack that ‘qiyam’ when we act so rashly and impulsively, trying to outdo others before the utilitarian system outdoes us. We lack a ‘qibla’ and a ‘kaaba’ for ourselves when the gods our world is so full of, win us to their side with wise lies. We lack the humility of ‘ruku’ when too much of the world invades our consciousness so that we become full of it, and when selfish desire fuels up the race towards Nowhere. We fail to fall in ‘sajdah’ out of gratitude when Allah works miracles in our lives and quietly blesses us. We are unable to reiterate the ‘shahadah’ when put to test. We fail to bless with ‘Salaam’ (the Peace of Islam) the ignorant with all their wiles on our left, and the friends in Faith to strengthen us on our right.
Life will come back to us when the spirit in Islamic rituals and the message of the Quran is translated into living experience, incorporated into our everyday lives. And we can get that life back by learning to be Allah-conscious every minute we live. We have to be the willingly surrendered: ‘Muslim’_by choice, not just by chance; people of deep thought and consistent action. The fullness of our empty lives is so distracting, it leaves us no time to think WHY we are here, what we are to do. And the end of it is abject loss as time steals by and we drown ourselves in all the pettiness. I am reminded of the message of Surah Al Asr, that miracle of the Quran which carries in its few words the essence of living life the right way: ‘By Time! Man is in Loss. Except those who believe. And do righteous good deeds. And exhort one another to the Truth. And exhort one another to Steadfastness.’
The consciousness of what is truly big and meaningful in life eludes us as we sail through, zombie-like, over life. The loss of that consciousness has been very costly. It has left us lifeless, bloodless. The Islamic belief-system and its spiritual dimension has a transforming power when established on the self. And that transformation doesn’t have to be visibly great and glorious, ambitious and idealistic enough to be beyond realistic doing. We have to get down and start from little everyday bits, and these will count for so much inshallah. Distances are travelled step by step, and each step taken makes up the whole journey onward. And then we have the reassuring Voice of Allah in our ears: ‘If you take a step towards Me I will take ten towards you. If you come to Me walking, I will go to you running.’ Subhanallah! What keeps us from taking that first step?
We have to learn to find the Truth by learning to look at the world clear-eyed, and by going inside the self to find its testimony; to turn heavenward when earthiness clouds over our souls_ and to come back rich and giving for the world that is in such dire need of help. The parched, barren Wasteland inside must receive its Rain, and the wastes we have reduced our world to will bloom, inshallah: ‘Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they change themselves.’ (The Quran)
"'When I am weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood,
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over...
Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch-tree
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped it's top and set me down again..."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ideologization of Contemporary Conflict


Maryam Sakeenah

The rule of thumb, like in Newtonian physics, is the inevitability of reaction. The frequently used label of 'terrorism' needs to be examined at a more insightful level. It is simply a violent expression of reactionary sentiment to victimization. It does not grow out of religious doctrine, but out of the psychology of the 'victim refusing to be victim.' (Arundhati Roy). Tragically, however, the deep-seated root-causes are never inquired into.

A lot is wrong with the way the ongoing conflicts involving religion are perceived and portrayed in the media monopolized by the West. This is important because this lack of sympathy and refusal to understand is what in turn fans religious sensitivities and reinforces the sense of being victimized and stigmatized, making us go farther away from resolution and peacemaking. Eric Brahm writes, "Popular portrayals of religion often reinforce the view of religion being conflictual. The global media has paid significant attention to religion and conflict, but not the ways in which religion has played a powerful peacemaking role. This excessive emphasis on the negative side of religion and the actions of religious extremists generates interfaith fear and hostility. What is more, media portrayals of religious conflict have tended to do so in such a way so as to confuse rather than inform, thereby exacerbating polarization." The tendency to throw around the terms 'fundamentalist' and 'extremist' is reckless and irresponsible. According to Karen Armstrong, "We constantly produce new stereotypes to express our apparently ingrained hatred of 'Islam'. The West must bear some measure of responsibility for why today many people in the Islamic world reject the West as ungodly, unjust, and decadent. . ."

The 'Clash of Civilizations' theory suggests the future larger role of religious conflicts generated by 'a clash between civilizations.' The theory however has been criticized for reasserting differences between civilizations. Edward Said argues that Huntington's categorization of the world's fixed "civilizations" omits the dynamic interdependency and interaction of culture based not on harmony but on the clash or conflict between worlds. The presentation of the world in a certain way legitimizes certain politics. Interventionist and aggressive, the concept of civilizational clash is aimed at maintaining a war time status in the minds of the West. Pope John Paul II observed: "A clash ensues only when Islam or Christianity is misconstrued or manipulated for political or ideological ends."

Secularism, especially in the context of contemporary politics, has assumed the form of an extremist 'ism' strongly opposed to religious belief and practice. The relentless imposition of Secularist principles by liberal regimes has often been offensive to religious sensitivities which have continued to live on as prized individual sentiment. According to Kosmin, "the hard secularist considers religious propositions to be illegitimate, warranted by neither rationality nor experience." An example is the banning of all religious expression in Secular France, including the Muslim headscarf. Secular Communism in China has brutally suppressed religious sentiment in Muslim Xinjiang province. The ruthless imposition of Secularism, therefore, has often exacerbated the sense of being unfairly treated by religious communities, fuelling tension and hostility in which lie seeds of conflict.

Today, with the West spearheading the liberal ideology and enjoying its zenith of power and influence, liberalism with its attendant ideologies of secularism and democracy have emerged as the de facto 'standard' ideological premise, de-legitimizing alternative ideologies rooted in Oriental tradition. The zeal with which the West imposes and exports its 'superior' brand of ideology has worked to alienate the Third world and non-Western communities whose indigenous alternative ideologies are undermined and slighted, and prevented from political expression. This is an underlying cause of disaffection and discontent within the non Western world. The West's ideological arrogance and a sort of ideological 'imperialism' that allows it to 'export' secular, liberal democracy all over the world through political interventionism lies at the base of ongoing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan and numerous other global crises. According to Joshua Goldstein, "Democracies and non democracies may increasingly find themselves in conflict with each other if this trend continues."

The 'ideologization' of the War on Terror has eclipsed the true ground realities and the actual root causes of the conflict, turning attention away from them. This has made a resolution of the conflict more elusive than ever. Particularly regrettable is the inability to understand terrorism as a desperate reaction by the socially outcast, economically deprived and politically oppressed. Terrorism, in fact, is a tactic used by disaffected individuals and communities, not an ideology. Instead, terrorism is seen as an opposing, challenging, hostile and 'barbaric' 'ideology' opposed to all that the West stands for and believes in. This is extremely misguided and helps divide the world into opposing ideological camps, lending strength to the dangerous 'clash of civilizations' thesis.

George W. Bush expressed the grandiosity of this 'clash of ideologies' in a statement:

"We've entered a great ideological conflict we did nothing to invite." Margie Burns comments on this: "This statement should sound alarm bells for the nation and the world. What does Bush mean by an "ideological conflict"? All previous grandiose Bush pronouncements on global conflict have focused on terrorism and the "war on terror."

Bush is trying to present terrorism as an "ideology," in an us-or-them global conflict, with Terrorism replacing Communism. Every thinking person knows that terrorism is not an "ideology." Terrorist acts are a tactic. We know by now exactly who uses them, too: individuals and small groups use guerrilla tactics when other tactics are not available to them, against a much stronger governmental power or foreign power. So, regardless how much expense is poured into making Terrorism the new Communism, it may not fly.

When Bush mentions our ideological opponents, he is again referring to the "radical Islamists". This is inaccurate and dangerously uninsightful (as well as religiously prejudiced). Bush is referring to all of Islam, at least implicitly. There is enough ill will and bad faith out there for the hot-button buzzwords to produce campaign contributions, to pay lobbyists, and to distract the press from actual governance. This may be the scariest possibility, although admittedly it's a hard call."

All of the conflicts in the world today with a death toll of over a 1000 annually, are either ethnic, religious or ideological in nature.

The statistics are appalling and underscore the urgency of peaceful conflict resolution. For this purpose it is important to be able to reach down into the root causes of conflict. In case of conflicts based on intangible factors, the causes are deep-buried into the recesses of human psychology, beliefs, perceptions and ideas.

The solution is to create awareness of the positive peace building and reconciliatory role of religion. It is important to fight ignorance of the true spirit of the Islamic faith and the ignorance of non Western cultures that leads to stereotyping and prejudices. Interfaith and intercultural dialogue has the potential to build the much-needed bridges of understanding. Learning about other religions, cultures and civilizations would be a powerful step forward. Communicating in a spirit of humility and self-criticism can also be helpful.

Every single human being needs to be recognised as an individual with a unique identity; everyone needs security and the freedom to be themselves. If these rights are withheld, people protest_ be they black, white, Muslim, non Muslim or whatever_ and this discontentment leads to rebellion and violence.

Cultures and values must not be exclusivist, and should not create 'otherness' for those that may be different. The cleavages of 'us and them' and the use of the language of discrimination, intolerance and hate must be rejected. Human beings need to create a society that does not see natural differences and human diversity as problematic but as valuable for social growth. The human race needs to redefine identitiy on the basis of a single, common humanity and universal values we all share as human beings. The focus should be shifted from differences to commonalities.

The Quran gives this necessary insight into conflict resolution through reinstating the singularity of humanity: "O Mankind! We created you from a single male and a female and divided you into nations and tribes so that you may identify one another." The Prophet of Islam (SAW) said in his Last Sermon: "(In the light of this verse), no Arab has a superiority over a non Arab, nor does a non Arab have any superiority over an Arab; and a black does not have any superiority over a white, nor is a white superior to a black, except by one thing: righteousness. Remember, all human beings are the sons and daughters of Adam (A.S), and Adam (A.S) was made from dust."

On the necessity of finding and holding on to the common essence, the Quran says: "And come to common terms, to that which is common between us and you, that is, we worship none but the One God…" (Surah Aal e Imran)

The return to the simplicity of this clear message is the need of the hour. We need to reach for the common essence, to respect the colours and shades of humanity as the Sign of the One Divine Being. This can help erase the false artificial divisions and make the barriers fall. It is only through following these universal directives that men can find the way out of the morass of hostility, hatred, prejudice, injustice, conflict and violence, in order to create a unified human brotherhood on the basis of a single Idea for the benefit of all creatures of the One Master.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008



The article 'Ladies As Hooded Bandits' by Khalid Hasan appeared in The Friday Times, October 20-26, 2006. In the article, the writer lampoons women who take up the veil as misguided. He claims that the Hijab and Niqab have nothing to do with Islam and are inventions of medieval clerics who wished to use it to subjugate women. Thus, these instruments of oppression must be rejected by modern liberated Muslim women.
Maryam Sakeenah wrote a response to the article, the text of which is as follows:

Dear Mr. Khalid Hasan,
This is in response to your article 'Ladies as Hooded Bandits' in TFT, October 20_26, 2006.
You have every right to have your views as in fact every human being does_ but when you feel you have the liberty to ascribe those views to Islam, one is compelled to set the record straight.
For starters, you say that 'anyone who has taken the trouble to read the right texts would know' that hijab and niqab 'have nothing to do with Islam', I only wish, sir, that you yourself had taken the trouble to read the 'right texts'_ not something spewed up by some downright typical feminist-orientalist, but the universal, original sources of Islam.
I quote: "O Prophet! (S) Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close around them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so they may be recognized and not annoyed. Allah is Ever Forgiving, Most Merciful." (The Quran, 33:59)
"And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms and not to reveal their adornment..." (The Quran, 24:31)
It is very clear that these verses prescribe an Islamic dress code for women. As implied by the word 'jilbab' used here, this prescribed dress must be an outer loose garment to cover what attracts the attention of a male stranger. The word 'khimar' used in the second verse means a flowing mantle and its root is from the word 'khamr' meaning 'poured down as a liquid'. This is a telling metaphor for this outer garment as prescribed by Islam.
Those who claim that these verses do not imply covering the head must know that Arab women before Islam, according to a cultural tradition, already covered their heads. However, they left their neck, chest and the rest of the body not covered by an outer extra bit of loose clothing. Owing to this widespread practice, it was quite redundant to give a repetitive order asking them to do something they were already doing. The verse therefore mentioned only that which they were not doing and must do: to extend the head garment lower, so as to cover the chest and the rest of the body. It is reported in an authentic tradition that as soon as this verse was revealed, there was hardly a woman in Madina who did not take off her waistband to make with it a loose garment to cover her body, as is the clear directive of this verse. They did not notice, as you seem to have, that the verse leaves out the head covering and therefore abrogates an Arab tradition. They very much included the head when covering themselves, which was clearly approved of by the Prophet (S), whose own wives were the first to take it up.
The true understanding and practical application of these verses can be reached solely through related ahadith and sources showing how the Companions (R.A) of the Prophet (S) understood and applied this ruling in their lives and time.
There is plenty of evidence showing that Muslim women at the time of the Prophet (S) covered their heads and according to certain traditions even their faces as part of the Islamic dress code. In a hadith it is said that Asmaa bint Abu Bakr (R.A) visited the Prophet (S) wearing a diaphanous dress. The Prophet (S) turned his gaze away and said to her: 'O Asmaa! When a girl approaches the age of puberty, no part of her body may be seen except this and this (pointing to the face and hands).'
While covering the head is a clear, unequivocal and agreed-upon command of Islam, covering the face is a matter of some difference of opinion. Although the majority concedes that it is compulsory, there have been scholars of note like Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz and Imam Abu Hanifa (and some contemporary scholars) who have dissented, saying that it is not an obligation on all women. However, these dissenting scholars also unanimously agree that it is still a highly recommended practice as it was done by the blessed Mothers of the Faithful. When certain Companions of note (including Umar R.A) were asked about the way a woman ought to cover herself, they demonstrated by covering the whole body including the head and face, only leaving the hands and the eyes exposed. Ayesha (R.A) narrates in the hadith of 'Ifk' that when she lay alone in the desert and Safwan bin Ma'tal (R.A) spotted her there he said 'Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon', realizing that she had lost the caravan and was alone and helpless there. She heard his voice and woke up from her sleep and immediately pulled her garment over her face. Similarly, Ayesha (R.A) says that on her way to perform Hajj or Umrah when people passed by, the women in the Prophet (S)'s caravan used to pull their head coverings on their faces.
While its obligatory nature might be debated, certainly desiring to follow these noble ladies who are examples and ideals for all Muslim women is admirable and praiseworthy. Even if one does not subscribe to this view, I believe one must at least respect it as a Muslim.
However, in a derogatory way, you call women who follow this noble Islamic practice a 'hooded bandit.' I wonder how a practice followed and upheld by the noble ladies of the Prophet (S)'s house 'flies in the face of clear Islamic injunctions'!!! I wonder as a Muslim what you would have had to say about Lady Ayesha (R.A), Fatima (R.A), Zainab (R.A), Saffiyah (R.A), Umm Salamah (R.A), Hafsa (R.A), or Mary, the blessed mother of Jesus Christ (A.S)_ all of whom dressed up thus, as have all Muslim women in history since the time of Adam (A.S). I really wonder...
Needless to say that the people whose interpretation you give weight to and quote as Gospel Truths do not qualify as a credible authority on Islamic jurisprudence by any criteria. Their research, contribution, training and experience in fiqh matters is a straight nil, to say the least. It is ridiculous that their feather-weight opinions could be given precedence over those who spent a lifetime striving to develop Islamic knowledge and jurisprudence leaving behind a comprehensive body of research, analysis and juristic rulings. What is more, the figments of the imaginations of a handful of orientalists and feminists is taken as an authority over and above the understanding, opinions and practices of the Blessed Companions (R.A), the Mothers of the Believers (R.A) and the Prophet of Islam (S) himself!!!! I only invoke sanity, sir!
Having studied at Christian missionary institutions all my life and being raised in a secularized set-up, I have chosen, Sir, to wear the hijab, and even the niqab for what it symbolizes; what it preserves, shields and protects me from_ for the freedom and confidence it gives me. To you, the hijab seems to imply that males cannot tame their libido_ Well, I have not lived the male experience, but as a woman I always felt in my 'pre-hijab' days, to often unwillingly and without my consent be subjected to an onlooker's lustful gaze which my whole being protested against but had no means to beat back or keep at bay. I felt objectified, reduced to a 'thing with a pretty face', lesser than myself, valued only for the exterior, the trappings of the skin. What's more, I know of countless women who, considering physical exposure to be their freedom, suffer lewd remarks, gestures and even assaults and I pity them. As I confidently walk down the public street in the God-given protection I have, I feel safe and free, and I see the bystander's gaze humbled, lowered. I feel the lustful stranger averting his gaze, held back at a dignified distance. I have got him to respect and preserve my dignity and thereby, educated him. That is the power I wield over him. I command respect, I get my womanhood honoured and respected. My hijab is my armoury. And I thank Allah. You have to be a woman, Sir, to taste that joy!
To conclude, I quote my Muslim sister Dr. Rakhshanda Jabeen who writes: "My decision to wear the hijab is an expression of my love for the Prophet (S) and the women of his family. Those of you who make cocksure statements about my dress, have you ever asked a woman who covers herself the way Allah wants her to_ what she feels? You are so sensitive to women's feelings_ but which women's? Your sensitivity to the 'plight' of the woman in hijab only pains her! You speak only for the right to reject the hijab of the woman who never chose it for herself in the first place! Who does that woman shout from over the rooftops for? We don't need her clamour. We are at peace. But the one who has never tasted the sweetness of submission to Allah, what would he know how much joy it brings us? Have you ever cared to understand the sensitivities and feelings of the woman who has chosen the hijab? Who do you sympathise with the one who doesn't need, doesn't want your sympathies? To me, my hijab is safety, honour and respect_ unattainable for the one who cast it off. My Prophet (S) said: 'Islam began as a strange thing, and will end as a strange thing_ so give glad tidings to the strangers.' It is we who, with our very being and our presence help to dispel that strangeness. And it is our rapidly growing numbers that ensure the thriving continuity of the spirit of Islam in this society."

Wishing you Peace,

A Reader.

Dear Miss Maverick

I suppose it is part of your observance of hijab/niqab that you do not sign your name.
Your long reaction to my column in The FridayTimes is very well written for which I compliment you.
However, what custom was right for 7th century Arabia is not right for the world in which we live, nor are such part of the Quran intended for all times to come. This is neither the essential message of the Quran nor is it the spirit of Islam. I would urge you to read Dr Fazlur Rehman's book 'Islam' to clear your mind.
If according to you only full coverage of the body and face can give a woman power and dignity, then by that logic those who do not follow your practice have neither dignity nor power.
I wish you a pleasant weekend. You write very well and you should use this talent to produce more creative work.

Khalid Hasan