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.”

6 tips for job applications

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After reading this article about religion and job hiring, I’d like to share a few points about religion in the work place.

1- Don’t wear your religion on your sleeve and announce it as the only thing that defines you. MSA shows up on your resume, fine. Hijab, fine. Let your qualifications shine through.

So for example, an interviewer says “So, tell us about yourself”

BAD: “Well I’m a convert al-HUM-du-lillah…”
BAD: “I’m a Muslim, spirituality is SO important to me, I went on this Rihla and ehrmegerd. ..”
GOOD: “I was born and raised here in Anytown, USA. I’m a San Antonio Spurs fan, and Ive just finished an internship at a major industry player.”
You get the point.

2- Dont list your religion on your resume. And don’t lead with it in the phone convo or interview. No one cares really about that stuff when applying for a job. And don’t bring it up. They care if you are qualified not how many rakats you prayed last Ramadan.

3- Be cordial. They want a pleasant person to be around. If you are a jerk you probably won’t get hired, unless you are a total badass. If you are a badass, still be humble. That’s two things you’ve got going for you.

4- Be confident about your faith and identity but be private as well. Lead with stuff relevant to your experience. When religion comes up, if it does in your interview, control the situation. “Yes I feel I am a person of faith but I also believe faith is a private matter. I am more concerned about doing a good job and fulfilling my job requirements.”

5- Also, don’t make demands before you are fully hired. “Before you give me this baller 130k a yr job, realize that I’ll need every Friday off and a special room to pray in 5 times a day.” If you do that, they’ll find something to disqualify you for before you are ever hired.

6- You can still practice your faith, you dont have to comprimise. If you get hired on merit or good personality then go into the job and kick butt, you can easily say to your manager “hey do mind if I take a longer lunch on Friday? There is a service I’d like to attend and I’ll stay late or come in early to compensate. Rest assured if there’s an important team meeting then I’ll be here.”

All it takes is a little tact, humility, and confidence.

What are your experiences with applying for jobs?

An Introduction to Marxism for Non-Marxists by a Former Marxist – Part 3

Dr. Jerry Hionis

In part two of three of  “An Introduction to Marxism,” I’m glad to welcome back Dr. Jerry Hionis to the site. If you missed part one, you can read it here, for part 2 click here. For more about Dr. Hionis click here.

An Introduction to Marxism for Non-Marxists by a Former Marxist – Part 3

By Dr. Jerry Hionis, Jr.

From a philosophical standpoint, I believe that the Marxist analysis does offer an interesting intersection with standard orthodox Islamic doctrine. Marx holds that the only escape the modern worker has from the exploitive relationship with the capitalist is through defining his/herself through the production of goods and services. Unfortunately this alternative relationship leads to alienation. From an Islamic perspective, the concept of defining oneself by a relationship with another creation is both spiritually inept and, possibly, blasphemous. All creation is subject to change and lacks any concrete definition; that is, all material in the known universe is in a constant state of flux. To define oneself based upon any object or individual that is — at least as a possibility — subject to change, depreciation and/or inevitable destruction, will only lead to spiritual crisis and alienation.

Islam would propose to the worker a more “practical” and spiritually fulfilling solution: to define oneself through a relationship with God. Unlike the capitalist, God does not require humanity to define himself as God. God does not seek profit nor any advantage through the exploitation of labor. Unlike the the good or service produced by the worker, God does not vanish nor can he be taken away from the worker and supplemented by a lesser value. There is no circular relationship and, hence, the identity of the “modern man” — as a creation and worshipper of God alone — is stable.

Baath_Party_founder_Michel_Aflaq_with_Iraqi_President_Saddam_Hussein_in_1988

Baath Party founder Michel Aflaq (left) with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (right) in 1988

The interconnection between Islam and Marxist economic theory is more complex. Like most religious and nonreligious communities, the influence of post-colonial Marxism on Islam had hit its peak between the 1950s and the late 1960s. The responses to Marx have varied across the spectrum. Some, such as Sayyid Qutb, saw a complete synthesis between the two (although still claiming to have disavowed his Marxist beliefs). Instead of history being defined between the capitalist and working classes, Qutb and his ilk interpreted history as a constant struggle between Islam and those outside of Islam; namely, the proverbial “West”. Ba’thism too embraced socialist though a la Marx via Leninism but supplanted the Islam/non-Islam dichotomy with a pan-Arabist philosophy. The neoclassical and neoliberalism economic movements through the 19080s and 1990s brought Muslim thinkers closer to a more libertarian economic philosophy. Further, many still claim that Islam offers a system that is fundamentally distinct and separate from the two extremes of Communism and Capitalism.

I would argue that Islam: (i) does NOT propose a blueprint for an economic system distinctly different from either capitalism or socialism; and (ii) does NOT completely embrace capitalism and eschew socialism. There are aspects of each that have religious precedent. It is correct to assert that the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) establishes a proto-”capitalist” criterion but with the understanding that government intervention was necessary when seen fit. In line with what is known as the Big Push or Rosenstein-Rodan model, the Prophet (SAW) was said to have endorsed a system of government coordination, mixed with private investment, to help the extraction of minerals in newly conquered lands. Abu Yusuf, like John Maynard Keynes, saw the need of government to help steer an economy’s growth through various forms of taxation beyond zakat and the jizya.

This is not to say that the ‘Ulema was/is in complete agreement on this issue. While Ibn Taymiyah believed that markets can fail due to malicious intent or some specific unforeseen circumstances (such as floods, droughts, wars and so on), he also believed it to be unGodly to try and interfere with market prices. The famed Andalusian scholar Ibn Khaldun, the originator of supply-side or “Reagan” economics, believed that any economic intervention by the government was ill-advised and, a bit more hyperbolically, even signaled the decline of a civilization.

In the end, markets have never been truly disregarded. The Nobel Prize winning economist (and a personal intellectual hero of mine) Amartya Sen once remarked:

To be generically against markets would be almost as odd as being generically against conversations between people. . . . The freedom to exchange words, or goods, or gifts does not need defensive justification in terms of their being favorable but distant effects; they are part of the way human beings in society live and interact with each other (unless stopped by regulation of fiat). The contribution of the market mechanism to economic growth is, of course, important, but this comes only after the direct significance of the freedom to interchange – words, goods, gifts – has been acknowledged.

In other words, a functioning society and, hence, economy would be just as impossible without markets as it would be without communication. But as we have seen, not everyone would agree with Sen’s sentiment.

An Introduction to Marxism for Non-Marxists by a Former Marxist – Part 2

Dr. Jerry Hionis

In part two of three of  “An Introduction to Marxism,” I’m glad to welcome back Dr. Jerry Hionis to the site. If you missed part one, you can read it here, and for more about Dr. Hionis click here.

An Introduction to Marxism for Non-Marxists by a Former Marxist – Part 2

By Dr. Jerry Hionis, Jr.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) — the well known Prussian philosopher and economist — is probably the most read (both in animus and  admiration) thinkers of the modern-era yet one of the most misunderstood. To the average layperson, Marx represents the most prominent voice of diaphanous anti-capitalist sentiment; in general, the cynosure for any and all non-free market thought. To the more academic minded, Marx is synonymous to the conflict theory of history: all major movements in history are the result of two competing economic groups — namely, the working-class and the capitalists.

The conventional wisdom (especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union) is that Marxism — beyond being akin to atheism — is a failed economic and political system. In fact modern (mainstream) historians have established the consensus that this view of history is largely false; that is, it has been discredited as a standard blueprint for all of history. Of course this neither eliminates Marx’s theory as a whole nor the possibility that some major shifts in the history of political economy have been caused by class conflict. Even so, his ideas have yet to fade away. One may ask why? I would contend that while the economic system put into place by such despotic leaders as Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse Tung has been prove to have failed, Marx’s philosophical analysis of the modern human condition (the analysis and not the solution) still holds. Further, I would be so bold as to argue that this philosophical stance can be congruent to the life of a Muslim \ldots but again, this is outside of this essay’s scope.

The common approach to Marx’s work is commonly the exploration through two of his more well known works: The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital Vols.1-3. Unfortunately these two works are probably the most inaccessible of Marx’s writings to the lay philosopher. To navigate through Das Kapital requires a firm understanding of both economic theory and historical context; even then, much of it is outdated and, honestly, extremely boring. Being only fifty odd pages long, The Communist Manifesto — written by Marx and Engels as a political pamphlet gear towards a mostly illiterate working-class audience — is more political poetry than a philosophic and economic argument. In my humble opinion, to understand Marx’s philosophy, one must begin with his more humanist work Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.

To start, let us put Marx and his works into context. Marx came into his serious academic and writing career at a very special time in continental Europe. The Industrial Revolution and its effects on social structure where in full swing. What is now known as “wage labor” became the primary basis of household income. Along with this new payment system came a revolution in both how the realm of the family and the individual was structured.Marx Engels Forum01

In addition, the “revolutions of the 1840s” were giving way to a unification of many future countries — such as Germany and Italy — and the slow eventual decline of the once great Ottoman Empire (thanks in part to the independence of Greece and many others). Although Prussian, Marx identified himself within the German Idealism movement based around, fundamentally, the works of G.W.F. Hegel.

Under this setting, Marx developed his philosophy of Capitalist Alienation. To explain, suppose there are two individuals: a capitalist and a worker. Both of these people define themselves existentially by their relationship. The capitalist is a capitalist because the worker works for him. The worker defines him/herself as a worker because he/she works for the capitalist. Hence, the cycle of exploitation is established and a system is created.

Marx goes further to state that the worker has an out to this relationship: his/her work. The worker is historically a craftsman and an honorable position in society. Since the time of the ancient Greeks, work and being a worker was a “curse from the gods” and the most noble/ideal of pursuits was to be a philosopher. Plato himself established the Philosopher King as the pinnacle of his political system the Republic. This point of view towards work was later adopted by the Catholic church during the Middle-ages and censured by the Protestant Reformation. Marx himself, while promoting the essential positive qualities of work, agreed with the ancient philosophers by claiming that “labor is external to the worker; i.e., it does not belong to his essential being”. Given the increased economic and social importance of non-agricultural wage labor, Marx does claim  that a worker — whether we as humans like it or not — defines him/herself not as a worker-versus-capitalist, but as a creator of some good or service. Unfortunately for the worker, this product is then taken by the capitalist and sold at a price based upon its value in labor.

To ensure a profit, the capitalist then pays the worker a wage less than the price, or actual value of the good or service. Therefore the worker is defining him/herself around the good or service being created but is compensated at a value less than what the product is worth. The worker is left stranded and undefined. As Marx himself puts it,

 

This fact expresses merely the object which labor produces — labor’s product — confronts it as something alien, as a power independent of the producer. . . . Labor’s realization is its objectification. In the conditions dealt with by political economy this realization of labor appears as a loss of reality for the workers; objectification as loss of the object and the object-bondage; appropriation as estrangement, as \emph{alienation}.

 

Thus two key foundational points of Marx’s economic theory transpire from this (maladjusted) relationship: alienation and the drive for profits.

So how does Marx’s philosophy translate into his theory of economics. The famed French Existentialist Albert Camus (1913-1960) famously quipped, “The most eloquent eulogy of capitalism was made by its greatest enemy. Marx is only anti-capitalist in so far as capitalism is out of date”. Camus was correct in many ways.

True, Marx had philosophical objections with the capitalist system but actually spoke very fondly of its merits. According to Marx, capitalism could possibly advance technology, increase the economic growth and value of an economy, and excel at the distribution of goods and services. As a prime example, Marx agrees with the classical economists that monopolization of capital and production will only lead to higher prices and inefficiency; hence, prices will lower and efficiency will increase when the number of producers increases:

 

. . . it follows that the sole defense against capitalist is \emph{competition}, which according to the evidence of political economy acts beneficently by both raising wages and lowering the prices of commodities to the advantage of the consuming public. But competition is only possible if capitals multiply, and are held in many hands.

 

While the capitalist system could ideally achieve these goals, Marx felt that it had run its course. Capitalists were no longer concerned about the distribution of goods and services. The prime economic objective goal was not production efficiency but profit maximization — these two are not always the same.

Capitalism, according to Marx, was not a system that needed to be fought by some sort of violent uprising. It was only a matter of time before it naturally happened. To Marx, the foundations of the capitalist system were wrought with problems — mainly the illusionary balance of markets and accumulation of capital. To the point: capitalism is a volatile system (a sentiment that many could agree with). It was an inevitable that some economic shock — such as the myriad of recessions in the U.S. in the late 1800’s and the Great Depression of the 1930s — would occur and the static nature of capitalism would be ill-equipped to adjust.

Yet these “doomsday” shocks did, and still do, happen and market-based capitalist systems are still here. Why? Since the Great Depression, economists have learned that markets are much more dynamic than previously thought. The market does not have a problem sharing the spotlight, so to speak. All of the world’s economies — excluding North Korea and a few other smaller economies as outliers — embrace varying degrees of Market Socialism: allowing markets to be the basis of prices and production but realizing that government intervention, in the form of regulations and price controls, are necessary in certain cases.

So where does the Muslim and the field of “Islamic” economics fall in this debate? There are two separate issues to contend with: Marxist economic philosophy and Marxist economic theory.