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Monday, December 14, 2009, 7:52 PM
The Inviolable House of Worship is under the jurisdiction of the people of Saudi Arabia. Of course, the endeavors of men are always imperfect—no one knows this better than God. If perfection were required, God might have sent down a band of angels to maintain the Ka’bah. The one thing I hope the Saudis never change is their policy of not allowing non-Muslims to build their houses of worship there. This is the site of the first masjid ever set up by God for mankind. Richly blessed by God, it is a source of guidance unto all the worlds. God made it a place where Believers might retreat often for prayer. Wherever Muslims are in the world, God commands that we turn toward the Inviolable House for prayer. Abraham once stood there and prayed with his son, Ishmael. God commanded Abraham and Ishmael to purify this House making it a sanctuary only for the worship of the One True God. All who believe in God and the Last Day may pray there; God only forbids those who reject clear guidance. Why should Unbelievers be allowed to erect their monuments to falsehood in the vicinity of what God has established?
How can there be any doubt that Islam is completely free of bigotry and prejudice when it is the Word of God that we uphold? Bigotry and prejudice are the fruits of weakness, fear, and ignorance. God is All-Powerful, All-Knowing, and Sovereign Lord. Everything from God is pure, beneficent and merciful to all who embrace it.
Islam is not for the faint of heart, not for those who are brought low when others find fault, not for those who think themselves enlightened by the human experience and not in need of the guidance that can only come from God, Most High.
Sunday, July 5, 2009, 3:58 PM
Ramadhan is a time for acts of worship, a time for introspection, and a time for seeking the purification of our souls. It is a time to ask forgiveness of our sins and to forgive those who have transgressed against us. It is a time for deliberate acts of charity. As this year's Ramadhan approaches, we see the politicization of the act of giving charity. Some say that in an effort to suppress financing of terrorism, US laws have suppressed charitable giving by Muslims. Some have said that if not allowed to give to charities outside the United States, they cannot or will not complete this religious obligation.
Perhaps because the Arabic zakat is often translated as tax, for some of us its significance has become more worldly than spiritual. The spiritual importance of giving charity is emphasized in the Holy Qur'an by its inclusion--with prayer--in many verses. Prayer and charity exemplify righteousness. Prayer and charity are goods we send forth for the benefit of our souls. We give charity, with hearts full of fear, seeking God's countenance, and hoping that some of our sins will be forgiven. Giving charity saves us from the covetousness of our souls and acknowledges that all that we are given is merely a loan to us from God and that therein is the right of those who have been given less.
Forgoing this part of our religion would mean willfully neglecting a requirement God has given. In this circumstance it would mean replacing the criteria God has given with your own invented criteria. Are you prepared to stand before God on the Day of Judgment and declare that in your neighborhoods, in your towns, and in the country where you have chosen to live, you found no person or organization that met God's criteria for receiving your charity?
It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards east or West; but it is righteousness to believe in God and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing. (Holy Qur'an, II:177)
Saturday, April 25, 2009, 11:45 PM
Why does Islamic financing look like usury? On a recent episode of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly (April 10, 2009), Hussam Qutub, Director of Communications for Guidance Residential, explained how his company helps a family purchase a home. After the family makes a qualifying down payment, the home is purchased with the family and Guidance as co-owners. In lieu of interest the family pays Guidance a monthly fee. With each payment the family makes, their ownership increases while the financier's ownership decreases. As with other financial institutions, if the borrower should default on the loan, Guidance will foreclose, but only after "trying to work things out."
Reading the final verses of the second chapter of the Holy Qur'an (Al-Baqara), beginning with verse 270, we find that the true concern in the charging of interest is its lack of charity and lack of concern for the needs of our neighbors. If a neighbor comes to us with a need, those of us who submit to God, will help without profit or benefit to ourselves. If it becomes difficult for him to repay, the devout among us will remit the debt as charity.
Those who devour usury will not stand except as stand one whom the Evil one by his touch Hath driven to madness. That is because they say: "Trade is like usury," but God hath permitted trade and forbidden usury. Those who after receiving direction from their Lord, desist, shall be pardoned for the past; their case is for God (to judge); but those who repeat (The offence) are companions of the Fire: They will abide therein (for ever). (2:275)
In trade, one agrees to pay for a product or service at a price the seller and buyer both agree is fair. In usury, one person has a difficulty that compels him to ask for help. The usurer agrees to a loan but only if the debtor agrees to repay more than what is loaned. If the debtor's difficulty continues, the usurer adds more fees until the amount of the debt is perhaps doubled or multiplied.
O ye who believe! Devour not usury, doubled and multiplied; but fear God that ye may (really) prosper. (3:130)
How is it that Islamic scholars have so clearly missed the mark on what God forbids? According to an article on Forbes.com, "Islamic Finance" (April 21, 2008), Islamic finance is booming. With only twenty men said to be qualified to determine Sharia compliance, each scholar sits on from ten to forty compliance boards and annually earns ten thousand to one million dollars for each seat. And Islamic financing is projected to grow to up to one trillion dollars in the next few years.
It is disingenuous to say that Islamic financing is investing or risk sharing. Huge profits are being generated not by the buying and selling of goods and services but by usury. Without a clear understanding of what God truly allows, some Muslims are opting not only to pay interest--cloaked as something else--but to pay at a rate higher than if they chose traditional financing.
The foundation for truly Islamic financing must be charity; it must be a system that allows those who have more than they need to assist those who would otherwise not meet their needs. It must be void of any opportunity to profit from the misery of those who are less fortunate, with only the desire to please God.
O ye who believe! Fear God, and give up what remains of your demand for usury, if ye are indeed believers.
If ye do it not, Take notice of war from God and His Messenger. But if ye turn back, ye shall have your capital sums: Deal not unjustly, and ye shall not be dealt with unjustly.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009, 7:01 PM
In matters of faith, God does not separate women from men. A sign of the essential equality of men and women is that God created Adam and then from Adam God created a woman to be his mate. We all--male and female--believe in God, worship and praise God, and prostrate before God in adoration. Every Muslim willfully submits to God. Every Muslim believes that Muhammad was God's final messenger. We all believe in God's angels, His revelations, and the prophets that preceded Muhammad. We all anticipate our meeting with God on the Day of Judgment and spend our lives preparing for that meeting. We all seek forgiveness of our sins through prayer, fasting, good deeds, and charities. We all trust in God and in the Holy Qur'an, God's final revelation.
In matters of family, God has ordained different roles for men and women, with different rights and different responsibilities. In everything that God has created, He has established order and proportion and the family is certainly no exception. God has ordained marriage for men and women in order to make it easier for us to keep His commandments, in order to purge our souls of evil inclinations, and so that we might be a comfort to and a cover for each other during our spiritual journey in this world. In so creating man and woman as mates, God has put love and mercy between their hearts. No one--male or female--should use what God has ordained as an excuse to harm another person in any small way.
God has given men more strength than He has given women and so men are more bountiful. For this reason God has ordained that men should be the maintainers and protectors of their wives. In marriage the husband makes a most solemn pledge that he will act according to what God has allowed. He gives to his wife a gift according to his means. He inclines toward her with his desire, as God allows, and treats her always with love and tenderness.
Because, as God has ordained, men provide for their wives from what belongs to them, righteous women are devoutly obedient to their husbands. In her husband's absence, she protects what belongs to him. While her husband establishes the direction the family will take, the wife helps to implement the strategies that will enable the family to achieve their goals and fulfill their dreams. She manages the household so that the family benefits most from her husband's bounties.
The mother is the first teacher for the children. During the earliest years of their lives, she lays the foundation for future educational experiences; later she helps with school lessons. She teaches them right from wrong and prepares them for understanding the importance of law and order. She begins to prepare them to have their own families and to be members of the community. She encourages them to grow and to explore the world around them. She shapes the way the children will view the world--possible forever.
God did not create the heavens and the earth for His amusement. All that God has created has meaning and purpose. During our sojourn here, God has given us the opportunity to purify our souls so that we might dwell in paradise everlasting. In this life we are each given a burden to bear and no one--neither our mates nor our parents or our children--can bear our burden for us. It is through life's burdens that we are each tested for the steadfastness of our faith. The earth is our proving ground. We are all encouraged to explore what God has created, all the while observing what God has enjoined and forbidden. Were it not so, God will have created this great earth for naught.
Every person--male or female--has a right and a need to explore God's creation and to create a relationship with God without the intercession of any other person. Education gives us the tools we need to explore God's creation, to experience the order and proportion God established in what He created, and to glorify God's name. Women have the same need and right to be educated as do men.
A husband should not fear an educated wife because she is his soul mate, confidant, and advisor. Her education gives her the tools to make her role as mother, wife and homemaker more rewarding for her and more beneficial for her family. An educated woman is more confident and more at peace; she imparts her peace and contentment to her family. She is a better companion because she understands the world her husband negotiates. She creates a home environment where her family will flourish mentally and spiritually.
And God is indeed aware of all that any of us does.
Monday, March 2, 2009, 10:50 PM
In his remarks during the Department of Justice African American History Month program, Attorney General Eric Holder accused us of being a nation of cowards in things racial. He said we must begin to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us. I am not a coward. I simply do not believe that it is possible to talk about race without been racist. How might one man speak of race without inadvertently implying that he speaks for his entire group? How might a black man speak about race without condemning all whites for the wrongs of a few? How do we talk about race without reinforcing the notion that blacks have been and will continue to be victims until whites decide to liberate them? How do we talk about race without reinforcing the notion that whites are being asked to give up something that is rightfully theirs to give or to keep?
Mr. Holder suggested that we must have a basic understanding of one another in order to respect one another. He said this makes the study of the history of black America essential. Black history is certainly as worthy of study as the history of any other people. We all have an interest in insuring that when history is taught, it is taught without the systematic omission of the contributions of any people who have shaped our great nation. But many people-including me-are not interested in or do not have the time to read history books.
In sixth grade my teacher, who I remember being above average in other respects, often left the room after assigning pages for us to read in our history book. I loved school but I remember reading my history book was among my worst times in education. Perhaps my teacher had the same aversion for the study of history that I acquired and so she didn't teach it with the same enthusiasm she gave to other subjects. Or perhaps I was just never going to enjoy history under any circumstances. I was always drawn to mathematics. I enjoyed the way mathematics was open to easy learning. I appreciated the way I could read a few paragraphs and then start working problems. The more problems I worked the better I understood the theory being presented. When there was a test, I could rely on what I had learned. But the study of history is not structured for true learning. It is basically rote memorization of names, places, and dates. Preparing for a history test requires cramming many facts into your head and hoping that you retain enough to get a decent grade. Of course, I learned a lot of important history as I passed through school and continue to learn today; but I doubt I will read another history book before I die.
God save us if we truly cannot respect people who are different from us until we have read their history. With the increasing level of diversity we encounter in the workplace, in our schools, in our places of worship, and in places where we shop, dine, or enjoy our diversions, the task would be too daunting. A much more practical approach would be to treat everyone we meet as though we know that he wants and deserves the same respect and kindness that we demand for ourselves. This is not a new concept; it goes back to the message God gave to Moses.
Blacks stand in the way of ending racism as much as anyone else. We still cling to our own stereotypes of other groups as well as of ourselves. We continue to pass these stereotypes to our children even though no group has suffered because of racism more than we have. Just as in 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us of the "fierce urgency of now" and of the pitfall of "the tranquilizing drug of gradualism," we must sacrifice starting now the comfort we have taken in our own racism to instead help lift our nation to the "solid rock of brotherhood."
As one nation we recently elected our first black president. As one nation we must continue to press forward-without looking back to past wrongs-to build the nation that Dr King inspired us all to dream of: a nation where race is never the criterion for any choice we make, a nation where we greet every person with the love and acceptance with which we greet those who look just like us.