Dear aspiring Khatib, A little advice…

BlueLogoDear aspiring Khatib,

Please pay attention to the following issues:

  1. One simple, harsh truth.
    If you cannot recite al-Fatiha, you should not be giving khutba. Concentrate on what is important before trying to teach others.
  2. Just say “Alhamdulillah” and move on.
    If you don’t know the liturgical recitations before the khutba (like khutba al-Haja) then don’t mumble through them at lightning speed. Just say “Alhamdulillah” and move on.
  3. Do not allow your khutba to be Frankenstein’s monster.
    A piece of Hamza Yusuf, a piece of Abdullah Hakim Quick, a piece of Suhaib Webb, a piece of Yasir Qadhi, and a piece of Nouman Ali Khan. It’s horrible. It’s hard to listen to. It’s unoriginal. Be yourself.
  4. Don’t promise special treats and then don’t deliver.
    If you mention something at the beginning of the khutba, then says “Hey I’ll get back to this at the end” then you never do, it leaves a gaping hole in the mind of the listener.
  5. Don’t tell the listener what they are most likely going to do.
    It’s condescending. “Hey I know that after this you won’t remember anything I say.” Well now I won’t. Actually I will. I’ll remember that instead of concentrating on a captivating topic and a stellar delivery, you insulted my intelligence and wasted my time.
  6. Please verify the sources you use.
    No more “There’s a verse in the Quran that says something along the lines…” or “There’s a hadith that means something like…” or for advanced aspiring khatibs “al-Suyuti narrates…” If you are standing on the Minbar, assuming the Prophetic station, don’t betray that by attributing to him lies. Do your homework, or don’t give khutba.
  7. Don’t mumble.
    I can’t stress this enough. Especially when quoting something. If you do quote something, say it clearly, where you got it from, and enunciate. Also, see #6 above. Also, don’t mumble.
  8. Learn the rules of giving a khutba.
    Start here. Actually learn it, just don’t click through.
  9. Stop being self-deprecating.
    The declarations in your khutba of “Oh I am so ignorant and all of you should be giving khutba instead, but oh well here it goes.” make me lose confidence in you. I need to be confident in what you are saying, so that I can leave feeling inspired. Also, See #5 above. Same sentiment applies.
  10. Don’t overreach.
    Remember that uncle that taught you in Sunday school? The one that would say “Eating Turkey is Haram because Kuffar are making fun of Muslims from Turkey!!!” Well, when you overreach and offer your unqualified opinion on what is and is not Islamic in a khutba, you are this generation’s “that uncle.” Seriously. Leave fatwas, broad commentary on social phenomena, and linguistics nuances of the Quran to qualified people that are teaching that in a class.

Take all of these in mind so that your sermons can inspire, uplift, warn, and give glad tidings.

Congratulating each other at the commencement of Ramadan

Resurrected from the now defunct “Islamic Law, Etc.” blog, here is a post I made a long time ago about the permissibility of saying “Ramadan Mubarak.”

I felt there may be some benefit in it given Suhaib Webb’s recent article “Can We say Jumu’ah Mubarak” and some of the discussions surrounding it.

Enjoy.

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In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

“Ramadan Mubaarak”

Every year Muslims all over the world wait in eagerness for the coming of the month of Ramadan. Ramadan, the month in which every night Allah has designated people to be freed from the hellfire, the month in which there is a night better than one thousand months, whoever fasts it with faith and reflection then all of his past sins will be forgiven.

Because of the status of this month and its importance, many of us greet each other in excitement with phrases such as “Ramadan Mubaarak” , “Ramadan Kareem”, “Kullu ‘aam wa antum bi khair” anticipating the great blessings of this month and wishing them for others.

Yet these phrases and greetings, even though we use them frequently, do they have a basis in our religion? Meaning: is there a precedent which has been set for such greetings? Read more

An Open Letter to Atheist Muslims – or – Is The Quran A Violent Text Or Is Your Reading A Tad Off?

Dear Self Described Atheist Muslims,

Let’s start with what I am not going to do.

I am not going to accuse you of never knowing anything about Islam. Most of you have grown up in Muslim families, attended Muslim Sunday school, gone to Muslim summer camp, etc. You know the drill and the day to day of what many Muslims experience, especially in a communal sense. Also, I will not accuse you of being sympathetic to the bigotry and hatred projected towards Muslims. Despite your self-declared apostasy and atheism, I am sure that when you are in line in the airport, pulled over for a minor traffic violation, or opening an account at a bank, you are wholly identified as an “other” and your “Muslimy” name doesn’t help you in the least. I get it. You are still, like it or not, culturally tied to the community that you have identified with much of your life, despite now rejecting the faith that that community holds dear.

A number of Assumptions

There are several of you who have written on this topic. See here, here, and here. You say you want to help. I am sure you do. Your advice to Muslims that label themselves as “Moderate” can be summarized in a few bullet points:

  • Muslims believe in the Quran as “God’s literal word” and this you say needs to stop
  • Muslims claim that the Quran is misinterpreted, while terrorist groups around the world use the same text to justify violence; this you claim, shows that something is missing.
  • Claims that the Quran contains metaphor, allegory, and is an interpreted document are just unacceptable, because unless all Muslims around the world accept these interpretations, then no one can accept them.
  • The only way past all of this is to admit that the Quran is an errant document, can be changed or discarded, and for Muslims to adhere not to an ideological identity but instead to a community identity.

I will not engage in appeals to emotion by waxing poetic on my background growing up as a Muslim. You know “as a distraught teen, I never X. Then I did, and my life changed because then I could Y, which lead me to Z…” all the while peppering the conversation with where I’ve lived and all of the random factoids on how Muslims around the world revere the Quran unrelated to the topic at hand that I know about. We get all that, because you’ve already said you identified with Muslims as a community of people.

What I do want to talk to you about is your propensity to conflate your years, if not months, in Sunday schools around the world as some form of expertise on Islamic thought, theology, and scripture. Clearly, by mere frequency of mentioning that you’ve attended Sunday school, or that you’ve lived in a Muslim Majority country (extra points if you mention the KSA or the UAE) you are more than well qualified to speak about issues that members of other faiths reserve for clergy, subject matter experts, and seminarians. This is something that many of you are not in the least qualified to do. In fact if having lived in the Middle East is somehow indicative of your familiarity with Muslim doctrine, scriptural veracity, and its theological underpinnings, then living and studying there makes one more than qualified to comment on these issues. So at risk of sounding condescending and/or vain, I must state for the record that I am qualified to speak on issues of interpretation of religious texts. I have undergraduate degree in “Shariah and Islamic Studies” from the Islamic University of Medina. I hold a Master of Islamic Law degree from the same university. I have studied in faculty and privately with scholars, professors, and experts from around the Muslim world. I did say at the beginning that I’m not going to accuse you of never knowing anything about Islam. You do know something. But I will say that this one thing, namely Quranic interpretation, is something you severely lack expertise in to put it politely. You’ve based a lot of what you’ve said on several assumptions. Let’s talk about the assumptions above and some of the issues related to them.

Who speaks for Islam

Who really speaks for Islam? This is a crucial question when we talk about interpreting religious texts. We hear it all the time: Muslims do not have formal clergy. This is a true statement, well at least in part. It does not take into consideration that “clergy” is a term with considerable cultural baggage, namely the sacerdotal function of the priesthood in Christianity. By sacerdotal I mean “relating to or denoting a doctrine that ascribes sacrificial functions and spiritual or supernatural powers to ordained priests.” So yes, Muslim Imams and scholars are not imbued with supernatural powers, although they do fulfill a function in the community. Some of those functions are merely pastoral in nature, while others are scholarly and interpretive. The Muslim “Shaikh” or religious scholar is probably a lot closer in concept to the Jewish Rabbi than he is to the Catholic priest. Depending upon where he is in his studies and the role he fills in any given community, he may be a bit of a chaplain and counselor as well.

In the end of the day, there is a broad self-regulating body of scholars that parse issues of interpretation and applicability to any given context. They are sometimes known as Muftis, Shaikhs, and as Imams (although this latter title is paradoxically reserved in Islamic circles for functional community prayer leaders as well as paragons of spiritual and juristic leadership).

The Dilemma of Interpretive Egalitarianism 

We are faced with a dilemma when talking about interpretation: Either everyone’s interpretation is valid or it isn’t. If it is, then in reality regardless of whether Muslim’s call themselves “moderate” or not, your opinion of them and what they believe really matters very, very little in the large scheme of things. If everyone’s interpretation, on the other hand, is not valid, then there must be some qualifications for engaging in interpretation. I’d go on about the qualifications for those involved in interpretation of texts, but the details of that are beyond this article. The least we can say is that when someone makes a claim about the application of a verse to a particular context, the uninitiated will almost always ask “Is she qualified to do so?” much like when a person advises you to undergo a medical procedure the uninitiated will ALWAYS ask “Is she qualified to do so?” So if there are those that are qualified, through years of study to speak on the interpretation of the Quran and its application to a given context, then again your opinion and what they believe in reality matters very, very little in the large scheme of things.

We seem to be at an impasse then. If we can no longer juxtapose our personal ideas of what the Quran says against the average “Moderate” Muslim, what are we supposed to do? We aren’t referencing scholarly opinion to validate our personal ideas about what the Quran says. In this case, how are we to know if the root cause is as stated again and again: the moderate Muslim’s inability to recognize scriptural inerrancy? In other words, the Quran makes people “Kookoo for Cocoa Puffs” crazy, so why won’t they just give it up?

Is the Quran a “violent text”?

Before we talk about reconsidering the infallibility of the Quran, let’s talk a little about the idea that the Quran justifies violence and is the catalyst for violence in the Muslim community. A recent Pew study showed that when asked about violence against individual civilians is justified, about 23% of respondents in 15 Muslim majority countries said that it can often or sometimes be justified. Crazy right! I know, it a shocker. But what is even more shocking, is when respondents from the US, Canada, East and Western Europe were asked a similar question, 24% of all respondents said the same thing. What is that allows a large segment of the Western world to allow (even if only sometimes and in certain situations) violence against individual civilians? Is the Quran? Certainly not. Is it the Bible? Highly doubtful. Is it popular media? Not sure. Could it be some other combination of factors? Possibly, but let’s leave that to statisticians and political scientists. We can only judge based on results. So far, violence and/or support for violence against individuals among all populations regardless of religion or region seem roughly split 25%/75%.

“God’s literal word” and the Quran as an errant document

Do Muslims believe the Quran to be God’s “literal” word? Yes and No. Yes, in the sense that the Quran is seen as representing the exact words of the original text as revealed by God. And No, in the sense that the Quran is not a book that is devoid of metaphor and allegory. What would be more correct then is to say that Muslims believe the Quran to be “God’s immutable word” because they believe it to be unchanging over time and unable to be changed.

I know, I know. You say that even this change in definition is not enough. You say the Quran is used by violent terrorists, and “Moderate Muslim” claims of the Quran being misinterpreted just don’t cut it. Even if “Moderate Muslims” accept their own interpretations, until all Muslims around the world accept these interpretations, then they are useless. But the Quran is written in a human language, and languages do not work the way that you want them to. They are ambiguous, equivocal, and indefinite at times. One word may have several meanings. One sentence may mean numerous things when read in or out of context. A group of sentences may be stated in a certain context or time, then no longer be applicable. The author of those sentences may include them for historical value, but not make them effective or part of the story line. All of these topics are included in the disciplines studied to interpret the Quran, because all of these topics are inherent to understanding language.

“Strike [them] upon the necks”

Therefore, when I read in the Quran “so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip” I naturally say “Wow that sounds really bad!” But when I back up and read the ENTIRE verse, and see that the verse begins with a conjunction

“When your Lord inspired to the angels, “I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip”

then immediately calls the reader’s attention to God’s command to a group of angels, not men. For the rational, fair-minded individual who understands what function language plays in speech, he should immediately realize that

  1. A) this verse is not speaking to me or any other human, and
  2. B) the conjunction is for “…tying up words and phrases and clauses. (here’s a link if you forgot)

Because of the conjunction, he will read a few verses before this to see what the overall context is, and find out what this is referring to. Earliest exegetes of the Quran state that this is referring to Angelic assistance to the Prophet and Believers during the Battle of Badr.

Yes, you don’t have to believe that this took place. And you certainly don’t have to believe in Angels, God, Angelic military forces, or anything of the sort. However what you do have to do is allow language to function the way it is supposed to. Allow texts to speak without projecting a particular meaning on to them detached from the text and the context. You claim that Moderate Muslims aid bigots by not accepting the Quran as fallible, and thus fall into the same category as the “extremists” who also believe the Quran to be immutable.

Perversion of Texts for Political Gain

What you fail to recognize is that you have projected an extra-textual meaning (the general use of violence in this case) onto a verse revealed about and speaking directly to an incident in medieval history (angelic hosts attending a medieval battle). Even if we do not accept the exegesis provided in the link above tying this to the Battle of Badr, the language of the verse is clear. This is not a general exhortation to commit violence in the name of religion. None of us are angels (literally or figuratively).

The problem here is two-fold: You have not contextualized. You have not interpreted. You have not even allowed language to function as it should. Because the plain language composing this verse and surrounding it does not denote general, wanton violence against individuals. What you have done is misrepresented and perverted a text by injecting shallow meaning into a verse which aligns itself with your preferred construing of this text. In this case, that objective would be the necessity to reject it due to a perceived command to commit violence. This is outside of what the text and context actually denote, but if that allows you to appeal to your idea of the Quran as errant, so be it. This is not only disingenuous, it is the same thing that extremists do to bend texts to justify their use for violence. This is but one example of why the words we use, how we use them, and how we read them matter. There are many, many other examples of this, not just in the Quran but even in our own expressions and speech.

What Is The Problem?

Immutability is not the problem. Unqualified interpretation is. Those that take dichromatic stances as to what the Quran means are extremists. To solve these problems we need to let languages and interpretive disciplines function as they are designed. I find it telling that the shallow misinterpretations of religious and irreligious extremists almost always lead to one thing: the escalation of conflict and the promotion of violence, instead of leading to dialogue and mutual understanding.

 

calvin_math_atheist

Image from JPAllen, Flickr. labeled for reuse with modification.

 

Explainer: What was that “Muslim Prayer” KC Chiefs Husain Abdullah did after his touchdown?

“If I get a pick, I’m going to prostrate before God in the end zone,” Abdullah said. (1)

Husain-AbdullahHusain Abdullah, Kansas City Chiefs safety, intercepted Patriot’s Quarterback Tom Brady’s pass. Rushing 39 yards to the end zone, he dropped to his knees in what many media outlets called “a Muslim prayer.” Thought to be celebrating at first, Abdullah was yellow flagged for “excessive celebration.” This drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which was quickly retracted. Players routinely gesture, pray, and thank God after scoring. Tim Tebow, native of Jacksonville FL and former Denver Broncos quarterback, made prayer famous by praying on one knee after scoring; Tebowing quickly became an internet meme with thousands of imitators.

As evidence to Husain Abdullah’s gracious nature and refusal to play the victim, when asked he thought the flag may not have been for prostration and posited that it may have been for sliding into the end zone.

Was the Referee’s call discriminatory?

Muslim youth, idolizing Husain Abdullah’s sportsmanship and love of the game, erupted online at the call. Many others agreed, saying they saw the flag as a slight against religion in general and against someone who merely “prayed differently” in specific. This could not be further than the truth. Most of us (myself included) are unaware that the NFL has changed celebration rules several times, with the most drastic changes happening 2013-2014 off season. (2)yellow_flag_nfl

Despite the Refs call that Abdullah’s slide-then-prayer was excessive celebration, NFL Spokesperson Michael Signora disagreed. He said that Abdullah “should not have been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct following his fourth quarter touchdown.” In an email to NBC’s ProFootBallTalk he quoted Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 (d) which states that “players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground.” Signora continued by saying that “a player who goes to the ground as part of religious expression” is not to be flagged and “…as a result, there should have been no penalty on the play.” (3)

Excessive or religious, when you are running that fast how else to safely transition into a prostration other than sliding? While the Ref’s call was wrong, I personally do not feel it was discriminatory. This is probably the first time this has ever been done in professional US sports and the Ref probably has no idea what he was witnessing. Someone forward NFL refs a copy of this explainer :).

But what exactly was Abdullah doing?

Mosque_sajdaAnd why would anyone prostrate when they make a touchdown? Prostration is probably the most recognizable aspect of Muslim prayer, constantly depicted in TV, Movies, and even cartoons. Muslims pray five times a day, placing their head on the ground in prostration at least 34 times or more during the day.

Why do Muslims bow to the ground in prostration, placing face, hands, and knees to the ground? Numerous verses of the Quran command that prostration be included in prayer. “Oh you who beleive! Bow, prostrate, and worship your Lord and do good so that you will be successful.” The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is recorded as saying “The closest a servant will be to his Lord is when he is in prostration.”(4) Muslim scholars commented on this saying that when a believer prostrates his head to the ground, he is farther from self-aggrandizement and closer to his Lord. Our physical state has a direct effect on our character and perspective, so at the very moment when we achieve a high point in life, we throw ourselves into a state of humility and thanks. (5)

“Prostration of gratitude”

God says in the Quran “If you thank me, then I will only increase you.” (6)

wahab_riaz_sajda

Wahab Riaz prostrates out of thanks after bowling out Khan.*

The “Muslim prayer” that Abdullah performed is called “A prostration of gratitude,” known in Arabic as “Sajdat Shukr.” Records of the Prophet Muhammad’s life, known as Hadith, record that whenever he was given good news that pleased him “He would fall prostrate.”(7) While not well known in US sports, around the world Muslim athletes have been doing this for years.

Not one of the five daily prayers, it is a display of gratitude shown at a time of intense joy and cheerfulness. Like the prostration done during prayer, we give recognition to God Almighty that it was His blessings, not our ability, that allowed us to obtain what we’ve been blessed with. It can be done because a person is pleased that something good happened or that something bad was averted. There are no specific litanies or invocations made during the “prostration of gratitude” except that a person thanks God Almighty for the blessing they have attained. There are no preconditions for it, such as ablution or facing Makka; the only precondition is that one feel gratitude and the need to thank God. (8)

Having had the pleasure of meeting Husain and his brothers, I am glad to see him center stage, bringing positive expressions of faith and morals to the public eye. Hopefully “Abdullahing” will be as imitated as “Tebowing” and we’ll see generations thanking God for their blessings.
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* Shout out to @AB_Syed for helping out my clueless self re-caption the picture of Wahab Riaz prostrating, and to Ammar Mirza for catching a few typos.

(1) Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/sports/nfl/kansas-city-chiefs/article2324330.html#storylink=cpy

(2) Section 3 Rule 12 of the NFL Player Conduct manual http://www.nfl.com/static/content/public/image/rulebook/pdfs/15_Rule12_Player_Conduct.pdf

(3) http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/09/30/nfl-says-husain-abdullah-should-not-have-been-penalized-for-praying-after-touchdown/

(4) The verse is from Quran 22:77. The hadith is recorded in Sahih Muslim (http://sunnah.com/muslim/4/245).

(5) See al-Munawi’s comments on the previous hadith in Faid al-Qadir.

(6) Quran 14:7.

(7) Recorded in Sunan Ibn Majah (http://sunnah.com/urn/1287420).

(8) See an extensive discussion on this in the Kuwait Fiqh Encyclopedia under “Sajdat al-Shukr.”

Shariah creeps onto the Washington Post (I keed)

A blog I read frequently, the Volokh Conspiracy (Eugene Volokh et al’s popular legal blog) has now moved to the Washington Post.

Volokh has serialized his article entitled “Religious Law (Especially Islamic Law) in American Courts, 66 Okla. L. Rev. 431 (2014)” for readers this week, which touches on broad aspects related to the compatibility between Islamic law and American law.

Reading this (generally very good) article, my first thought was that despite the author’s attempt to substantiate all his claims, some of them are still based on preconceived notions of what Shariah is without consideration for context and legal nuance. This to me means the door for more research and writing in the field.

My second thought was there is still a conflation of national laws and cultures with normative Islamic law by both Muslims and non-Muslims.

In the broadest sense possible, I touched on many of these topics in 2010 at a lecture hosted at Texas A&M University. You can watch it here:

How can a person be poor and still owe Zakat?

Do Poor People Pay Zakat?

As some of you may know, Zakat is one of my passions and is one of the most visited and asked about issues on my site. I use the Pubble service to field questions from readers of this site. Its a great service that I highly recommend. Occasionally, those questions deserve detailed answers or are common questions that deserve to be highlighted. The following is one of those questions.

Here’s what one reader wrote in yesterday:

so from what my mom is telling me, from what she is hearing from a some scholar, that given current value of gold/silver, if you have $400 in your savings (not the amount of income that you made), that you are eligible (or compulsory) to pay 2.5% in zakat? i’m not trying to start a fiqh fight, but my question is: what about people who themselves are in dire need, they are poor, they live off of welfare, food stamps, etc. yet Alhamdulillah at the time of paying zakat, they have like say $1000.00 in the bank, would they still be required to pay zakat? because I’m confused as to how people who in of themselves, their own nation’s standards classifies them as poor, even (these) poor people would have to pay zakat?
Also, can someone give me a simple way to understand:
a) conditions to make you eligible to pay zakat
b) conditions to make you ineligible to pay zakat
c) conditions to make you eligible to receive zakat
d) conditions to make you ineligible to receive zakat?
Do we go by the standards as set by the financial/political institutions of the nation of residence? OR do we just disregard that, and go only by the Hadith without any regard to the specific context that many of America’s poor live in today?
and tbh my intention is (hopefully) pure, because I believe that zakat has many purposes, other than purifying the donor’s wealth and giving him barakah, but to also address poverty in of itself. I do not want to see people who in of themselves are truly poor, for it to be compulsory upon them to pay zakat when they are in such a fragile situation, where every penny literally counts. and to give even 2.5% of that wealth could mean a difference.

Firstly, I think that a standard course in Zakat law would answer most of your questions. Here is a quick guide to many common Zakat questions. I usually do one yearly during Ramadan, so if you are in the Houston area it would be great if you attended. It is free and offered at local Masjids.

From what I understand from your question, you are perplexed that someone could own the minimum amount to make themselves liable for Zakat, but still be poor enough to receive Zakat. There is an essential condition that you may not be aware of, and that is the surplus wealth kept in savings (the $400 you mentioned) must be held consistently for one full calendar year.

Basically we’re asking the question: “If I have savings and spend from it, making my savings go below Nisab, do I still have to pay Zakat?” The short answer is: No, you do not have to pay Zakat if your savings go below Nisab.

If a person has savings of this amount or more for one calendar year, without ever dipping below that amount or having that amount earmarked for their on going expenses, then they will pay Zakat on that amount. While there are situations in which a person can be eligible to receive Zakat and liable to pay it (think of the concept of the working poor) they are very few and far between, given that Islamic law does not oblige a person to pay on their earnings and gross income, but only pay Zakat on their surplus savings after all expenses and other liabilities.

and Allah knows best,

Joe

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