Muslim women in the midst of revolution

By: Ismael Mukhtar

In the recent wave of revolutions sweeping the Middle East, Muslim women’s active participation at all levels was clearly evident. Their participation went beyond simple presence to actively leading, inspiring and courageously taking a stand. Many of them were detained, tortured and some executed. Despite all the odds, they remained firm in their resolve to fight for justice and liberty. Among the many women voices of revolution receiving greater publicity, two are noteworthy: Asmaa Mahfouz and Tawakul Karman.

Asmaa Mahfouz is a 26 years old Egyptian activist and one of the founders of the April 6 Youth Movement. She is credited with helping spark the mass uprising in Egypt. Her main tool was video blogs on YouTube and face book. She broke the wall of fear by calling on Egyptians to rally in full force against the dictatorial regime of Mubarak. Her simple, yet powerful message electrified the masses and inspired millions. Despite all threats and warnings, Asma continued her struggle with admirable resolve.

Tawakul Karman is a 32 years old Yemeni mother of 3, a journalist and political activist. She heads the ‘Women Journalists Without Chains” group. She is an outspoken human rights defender in Yemen. She became a leading voice in the Yemeni uprising against the dictatorial regime of Abdullah Ali Saleh. She was arrested many times, but continued to lead peaceful protests against the regime. Tawakal’s activism gained her international recognition and was a co-recipient of Nobel peace prize for 2011.

 

The resilience and courage of Muslim woman in these revolutions might come as a surprise for casual observers of women in contemporary Muslim societies. Muslim women are sometimes perceived as being submissive, laid back, un-interested in social activism and living under the shadow of their men. This perception is probably true in relation to certain cultures, but not to all. Referencing the textual and historical framework of Islam reveals that these perceptions are a reflection of anomalies that emanate from cultural norms more than Islamic ideals.

 

One of the highly acclaimed figures in the Quran is the wife of Pharaoh (Surah 66, verse 11). She is set as a model for the believers for her faith, courage and principled stand. She defied her brutal husband and distanced her self from his wrong doings. She chose, instead, to be on the side of prophet Moses and his oppressed people. Similarly, another reference is made in the Quran to a woman in the chapter known as “disputation” (Surah 58). This woman, known as Kawla Bint Tha’laba, came to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to speak out against a pre-Islamic woman-dehumanizing social norm prevalent in Arabia, known as Zihar. Many women suffered under this norm with no other recourse. This particular woman, however, took it upon her self to courageously challenge this norm and point how unfair it was to woman. Her stance didn’t go in vain; her name became a fixture in the exegesis of the Quran as well as Islamic jurisprudence on family. Zihar was strictly prohibited in Islam.

 

Early Islamic history is full of examples of woman who defied the current stereotypical perceptions. It is known historically that the first person to die as a martyr in Islam was a woman known as Summaya. She renounced the idol worship of Arabia and as a result she was subjected to severe torture by her masters. Despite her old age and frail health, she stood for her belief and was brutally executed. In her resolve, Summaya, was not an exception. She was a reflection of the new sense of self worth gained by women as a result of their new faith.

 

In every juncture of the early struggle against Meccan pagan hegemony, Muslim woman were part and parcel of that struggle. Names such as Znira, Umu Salama, Asma Bint Omais, Asma Bint Abubaker,Umu Haram and many others stand in prominence. One of these women, Asma Bint Abu-Baker, lived long enough to witness the era of Al-Hajjaj, the tyrant of Iraq. Asma’ had a lengthy discussion with him. She courageously challenged him and told him, “I heard the prophet (PBU) saying, “from the tribe of Thaqief an imposter and annihilator will emerge”. We have witnessed the imposter (she was referring to an imposter known as Ubaidillah) and now we are now witnessing the annihilator and that is you!

 

Early Muslim woman were more engaged civically, had greater social awareness and were active participants in the social life. Much of the norms debilitating Muslim woman today in some Muslim societies are remnants of pre-Islamic cultures that persisted for centuries and are far from the authentic legacy of Islam.

 

 

 

kaaba

My Hajj Experience

By: Sr. Rita Ramchandar

My son Ryan and I left Winnipeg on October 30th, 2010, to begin a trip of a lifetime; always wanting and wishing to visit Islam’s holy land, and never imagining fully that this could become a reality. Insha Allah, Allah swt fulfilled this dream for both Ryan and I, and may Allah swt accept our Hajj. I feel truly blessed to have been given this opportunity.

We over nighted in Toronto, in order to prepare ourselves for the long 12 hour flight to Abu Dhabi the next day. After an overnight stay in this beautiful city, we boarded our flight to Jeddah, and arrived late into the evening. Here we waited for about 4 to 5 hours as officials checked our passports and placed the appropriate stickers to admit us into Saudi Arabia. We later checked to make sure our luggage had arrived, and then made our way to an awaiting bus which would eventually take us to our hotel in Mecca, where we would spend one week. Our hotel restaurant remained open late into the night for us to have a proper meal, before resting up a bit, so that we could proceed to perform Umrah. This was done about 1.00 am that morning.

Standing in front of the Kaaba, after only reading about it and seeing pictures of it was totally awesome, incredible, and I felt a sense of peace watching this beautiful black robed structure; knowing that our prophets Ibrahim and Ishmael and Muhammad (phut) had walked here, had prayed here, had been in this very place so many, many, many years before us. We performed our rituals of circumambulating the Kaaba 7 times and made the journey between the two mountain spots of Safa and Marwah.

The pressure and closeness of the pilgrims as we proceeded around the Kaaba was daunting but tolerable. We all moved together as one, for the same purpose to worship our one God. Later we completed the shaving of the men’s heads and cutting of the women’s hair. We stayed to pray Fajr prayer, and later explored a bit of the Grand Mosque, before heading back to our hotel across the street for some breakfast, and much needed sleep. We woke up later that day to heavy rain, thunder and lightning. Ryan had gone out to pray Maghrib prayer and was blessed with squeegee water (from the cleaners) all over his head while in sujud J With the large numbers of pilgrims onsite daily, we felt comfortable heading up to the 3rd floor for prayer as it was less crowded there, men praying together, and women praying together. From this floor we could look down and see the perfect rows of the pilgrims as they surrounded the Kaaba, all moving as one as they performed ruku and sujud together. Temperatures were in the high 30s, with many 40 degrees Celsius days.

In Medina, we prayed in the Prophet’s mosque (pbuh) whenever we could get in or in the courtyard when necessary under the huge folding umbrellas. We had to wait our turn in order to visit the Rawdah (green carpeted area of the Prophet’s original mosque representing bit of Jannah on earth). Women are only allowed to visit at certain times of the day. This area was very crowded with groups organized by language or country.  We awaited our turn to enter this sacred place to give our salaams to our Prophet (pbuh) and his two companions who were buried next to him, and to pray our 2 Rakats.

In Mecca and Medina, we were also fortunate to go on the Ziyarah (tours) where we were able to see and visit Aziziah, Mina, Muzdalifa, Mount Arafat, Masjid Quiblatain, Masjid Quba, and Mount Uhud.

Our next stop was at Aziziah, a suburb of Mecca, a trip that took about 12 to 13 hours. Two days later we headed out to Mina which had now been transformed into a tent city to accommodate the millions of pilgrims who had come to perform Hajj; to our surprise this trip took just approximately ½ hour. Our tent was close to the Jamaraat and it did not take us long to go back and forth to perform the ritual of throwing the stones.

The next day, we left for Arafat at 6 am, with our bus winding its way through the heavy traffic – many buses, cars, scooters, trucks, pedestrians, arriving about an hour later. Here we were shown to large covered tents where we rested, read, slept, until it was time for Dhur prayer, after which time we would be spending the rest of the day until sunset praying to Allah, and asking Allah for whatever we wanted. We left Arafat after sunset arriving in Muzdalifa around 9 pm. The crowds were phenomenal; no matter where you looked there was a sea of people stretching from end to end. Our bus stopped on a street very close to a washroom for women. We bunked down close to our bus for the night, and under a half moon and a one star night, I slept surprisingly well! We awoke at 4 am to take our bus back to Mina arriving around 6.30 am. After a quick breakfast we left for the Jamaraat, taking the escalators up to the 4th floor to avoid the heavy crowds. Here, Ryan and I were able to walk to the far side of the pillar and throw our stones without any crowd congestion.

What an experience, to be among so many people from all over the world (the rich, poor, old, young, feeble, different languages, cultures), all here for the same cause, to worship Allah, and perform this pillar of Islam, the Hajj. After the hair cutting, we rested and I got to know our sister Hajjis better. I have met some wonderful sisters on this trip. On this Eid Ul Adha day we enjoyed a very delicious lunch. Our next test was to perform Tawaf al Ifadah and Sai at the Haram in Mecca.

Due to traffic congestion we were told that our buses would not be able to come to our tents to pick us up for our trip to Mecca, therefore we would have to walk part of the way to where the bus would pick us up. At about 1.30 am in the morning with a 29 degree Celsius temperature it was cool enough for our walk. We arrived at the Haram in time to do Fajr prayer before completing Tawaf al Ifadah and Sai. At 8.30 am we returned to our tents in time to go to the Jamaraat to throw the stones at the 3 Jamaraats.

The crowds appeared to be huge and a bit scary, and I was happy to have my son with me to guide me through these massive crowds of pilgrims, as we wended our way to the 3 pillars. Back in our tents the skies opened up and we were treated to some heavy rain, thunder and lightning. At bedtime, for the first time I was very, very exhausted. The next day, after a bit of breakfast, I felt refreshed and energized. We completed the Jamaraat one more time before leaving our tent city in Mina for Aziziah.

As we prepared to leave Mina, the skies opened up once more and this time we had hail along with the heavy rain, thunder and lightning. The rain flooded the hallways between our tents and slippers floated by like miniature boats. For the second time we were told that our buses would not be able to make it to our tents due to the rain. We waited for the rain to slow down somewhat before heading out at 3.30 pm in light rain to walk until such a time we could flag down a bus. We walked through flooded streets helping those with luggage. The air was cool and comfortable for our long walk, and after negotiating a bus we arrived in Aziziah around 9 pm. Ryan and some of the brothers had to walk almost all the way back. On our last day, we were up and ready by 2 am to leave for Makkah to make Tawaf ul Wida (the farewell Tawaf) before we could return to our homes.

The Haraam was crushingly full of pilgrims, and we finally made it to the 3rd floor, and then decided to move down to the 2nd Floor to complete our Tawaf, as it seemed less crowded. By 8.15 am we had completed our rituals and were back on the bus for our return trip to Aziziah, and later that night, our trip to the Jeddah airport, then Abu Dhabi airport for our final journey home, a 13 hour flight back to Toronto.

This journey of a lifetime was a joyful and happy one for me. Just being there made me feel closer to Allah; my emotions were on a high as I prayed and contemplated the Haraam, the Kaaba, the Prophet’s Mosque, Mount Arafat , drove by place the prophets had walked, and lived. It was an overwhelming and wonderful spiritual experience. Insha Allah we can all make this journey one day to please Allah swt.

 

For those sisters hoping to make this journey Insha Allah one day, I would offer these words of advice and encouragement during their stay in Mecca, Medina, and the days of Hajj:

 

  • Before you begin your journey, read as much as you can about Hajj and what is required. Attend seminars on Hajj when offered.
  • Discuss your trip with tour planners in advance, and with others who have already performed Hajj to get feedback on their experiences and their itineraries, and what to take with you. Ask lots of questions.
  • On the very hot days, stay in your hotel or in the shade to cool off, to avoid heat strokes, etc.
  • When you are in large crowds, especially at the Haraam, follow the stream of pilgrims heading in the direction you are headed. This makes it much easier than trying to cut through the many, many pilgrims. Crowds are manageable, and be sure to have your mahram or someone with you so that you can assist each other.
  • Be sure to take breaks during the day and night so that you do not tire yourself needlessly; drink lots of water during the hot days; plan washroom breaks in advance, so that you are not waiting in long lines.
  • While you are at the Haraam, for a fee, there are wheelchairs and attendants readily available to take the elderly and those who may have problems walking.
  • Travel light and smart – you may have to carry your luggage from time to time.
  • Be Patient.  If you feel angry or upset at someone just remember they may be someone who has saved their entire life for this once chance to be next to the Kaaba.
  • Enjoy the experience and do not worry too much about other people.  Remember the focus is Allah swt – not the food, hotels, shops and other distractions.

 

Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence is Haraam

Domestic Violence is Haraam

By: Shahina Siddiqui*

I am yet again dealing with another case of domestic violence within the Muslim community and wondering when will we take our families and their needs seriously. When will we start supporting organizations like ISSA so that it can reach more families and help preserve our community.

First it is important to assess how much do we actually understand about this social ill, this disease of the nafs.  Do we actually understand the sheer abhorrence with which Islam looks at wife abuse? Do we know the impact it is having on our families and our youth and our viability as a healthy community?

By neglecting to address this disease that is becoming more and more apparent in our community, we are becoming complicit in an injustice that each and every one of us will have to answer for, to the Merciful Creator.

Due to our inaction we are allowing our mothers, daughters and sisters to be used and abused, harassed, beaten, maimed and killed. Do we think that their pleas and cries are not reaching the heavens?

Have we forgotten that during 38 years of married life of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h), we do not find even a single incidence of abuse or mistreatment of his wives and daughters?   In fact Prophet Muhammed instructed us, “I recommend that you treat women with goodness. The best of you are those who treat their wives the best.”(Sahih).  In another hadith he stated,” The best among the faithful is the one whose character (akhlaq) is the best, and the best among you is one who is best towards his wife.” (Tirmidhi).

By ignoring to tackle the issue of ill treatment of women, we are complicit and responsible and in violations of the sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad ( p.b.u.h).

Many verses in the Quran specifically warn Muslim men about their duty to women and of the purpose of marriage. “Among His signs is that Allah created spouses for you from among yourselves so that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and Allah has planted love and mercy between you. In this are signs for people who reflect” (30:21).

“O humankind be careful of your duty to your Lord, Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate…Be careful of your duty to Allah in whom you claim your mutual rights” ( 4:1).

” In accordance with justice, the rights of a wife with regards to her husband are similar to the rights of her husband with regards to her”.(2:228).

“O ye who believe ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will nor should ye treat them with harshness…If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good” (4:19). Men are protectors and maintainers of women …. “(4:546)

Some Muslim perpetrators and critics of Islam, wrongly based on faulty translations, take the Quranic verse 4:34 to prove that Islam allows men to abuse their wives-  “As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill conduct admonish them, (first), next refuse to share their bed, and last chastise (wadribuhunna, but if they return to obedience seek not against them means of grief for Allah is most High Great above all” (4:34).

This falsehood of associating this verse to condoning wife abuse is a blatant lie that the Quran warns us against, ” Behold how they invent a lie against Allah but that by itself is a manifest error” (4:50).

The Quran also warns against applying means of grief against the wife. Furthermore, the obedience the wives owe their husbands (within reason) under Shariah is conditional to the husband’s obedience to Allah and His Prophet Muhammad.

Obviously a shariah-violating, non-practicing, abusive, violent man is not in obedience to Allah and therefore has no right to demand or expect obedience from his wife.

If issues are not resolved through this last stage of resolution then divorce is imminent. Verse 4:34 is not a verse that gives blanket or in fact any approval or condones any action that can be used as a justification for wife abuse. If it did, it would be abrogating all the other verses that call for peaceful, equitable and loving relationship between husband and wife and this would be against the rules of exegesis of the Quran.

Verse 4:34 is not about wife abuse or domestic violence at all.  In fact the Quran states, “If a wife fears cruelty or desertion or ill-treatment on her husband’s part there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves…”(4:128).

Furthermore, classical scholars of Shariah also stipulated that the above steps towards conflict resolution leading to reconciliation can only be implemented if the wife is totally in the wrong and the husband is innocent of any wrongdoing or contributing in any way to the conflict and only after both have decided that divorce is not an option.

This practice of the Prophet sustains the linguistic interpretation/translation of the Arabic word ‘dribah’ in  the verse 4:34 and is  being  considered by scholars is as valid as  to ‘walk away’. A husband should walk away from a situation that angers him – partly to cool down and partly to show his disapproval. Even if this interpretation is not based on ijma or consensus, the sunnah makes it clear that wife-beating and abuse of any kind are not acceptable since these cruel acts violate the Islamic spirit of justice and compassion and do not promote peace at home.

The overwhelming number of verses of the Quran dealing with marriage and husband-wife relations, encourage peace and tranquility as the goal and purpose of domestic life and mercy and love as the governing principles.

The logical conclusion is obvious –  domestic abuse does not promote or nurture peace at home and therefore cannot be tolerated within the Muslim community.

The community needs to understand that domestic violence accounts for 50% of murdered women in Canada based on statistics from the Canadian Mental Health Association. There is no general character composite of a man who is violent towards women, since they come from all socioeconomic classes, religious and ethnic groups.

We often mistakenly blame women for staying in abusive relationships and therefore refuse to believe them when they do come forward and speak up.

What we seem to forget is that these women are afraid. They fear for their lives and that of their children since an abuser often threatens in order to control his victims. They are also usually financially dependent because even if they are earning, he controls the money.

In North America many immigrant women do not have an extended family or a support mechanism to help them to move out of a abusive relationship.

Some Muslim women, due to their poor understanding of Islam or anti-women norms, come to believe that this is their fate and that they must accept it in order to gain paradise. This is further enforced by well-meaning but misguided community leaders who tell these women to go home, be better wives and have sabr.

Abused Muslim women also fear community reaction and rejection because many a  times their husbands are well-respected and well-known members of the community. They are kind and well behaved in public and therefore people find it hard to believe that they become monsters behind closed doors.

As a community we need to deal with this social ill not only by treating it but also by taking preventive measures:

  • To prevent we must develop “How To” kits for Muslim couples based on the Quran and sunnah on all aspects of Marriage – husband and wife relationships, stress management, parent & child relationship, roles of in-laws, extended families, pre-marriage preparation and counseling for both men and women.
  • we must expel any practice that is against the spirit and teaching of Islam. We must identify behaviors that are not acceptable as well as apply social consequences for unacceptable behavior.
  • to help break the cycle we must implement educational programs in Islamic schools that promote healthy family values and teach.
  • zero-tolerance for domestic abuse.  We must provide children coming from abusive homes with positive role models and treat them with mercy and compassion.
  • Parenting, stress management, anger management and communication classes must become regular part of Islamic school curriculums and Community Awareness Programs.
  • We must start acknowledging at a leadership level that abuse is a problem in Muslim communities and that we need to address it.
  • Myth and fears can only be put to rest through education. workshops on peaceful homes and functional marriages must become regular features of Islamic centers.
  • Treatment must be two-fold. Both victim and abuser must be helped.  During this period, victims must have access to Muslim shelters and must receive assurances from the community through financial, emotional and spiritual support.

 

Islamic Social Services Association of Canada and USA, along with other initiatives in North America, have been doing pioneer work in prevention and education about domestic abuse.  ISSA needs the community’s assistance to help break this cycle of violence from plaguing our future generations as well as helping to restore peace and security to the victims of abuse and their children.

ISSA needs assistance in continuing the education of Imams in assessing and dealing with cases of domestic abuse effectively, fairly and legally.

Imams and community leaders are usually the first responders in cases of domestic abuse and if they are not trained or informed in the pathology of this social ill, they may inadvertently become complicit in this injustice.

ISSA needs your help to employ social workers, establish shelters and provide counseling. These services need to run professionally and within the Canadian legal framework while maintaining the spirit of Islamic principles of justice, compassion and fair play.

Lest we forget in the last sermon, Prophet Muhammed (p.b.u.h.) instructed his followers for all times to make sure that the rights of women are maintained and secured because these rights are sacred.

No cultural practice, no tribal custom, no ignorant tradition, no matter how entrenched, can be allowed to take precedence over the teachings of the Quran and sunnah.

Sexism, racism and ageism are vices that we must purge from our midst if we are to be true followers of Islam and to benefit from its blessings.

 

* Sr. ShahinaSiddiqui is the President of Islamic Social Services Association(ISSA) of Canada and author of ‘Helping Victims of Domestic Abuse-A guide for Imams and Community Leaders.’

Abandoned Brothers

By: Dr. Idris Elbakri

Our Muslim community is blessed with individuals who have come to Islam after being born into a different faith tradition. These are individuals who, of their own accord, have found and accepted the truth of our faith. They come to Islam from different backgrounds, and for different reasons. Converts, usually from the indigenous people of the land (i.e., Canadians) strengthen the Muslim community in several ways. They help our faith strike its roots in society, they provide their immigrant brethren with a better understanding of the country’s history and culture, and they can become capable spokespersons for the community.

The purpose of this article is to critically examine, and suggest remedies to, the response of the Muslim community to its stream of converts. This article looks at the issue after a convert has proclaimed his/her shahadah. The evidence for the arguments and suggestions made is anecdotal in nature, based on the author’s observations and experiences.

Many converts have arisen to positions of prominence in the North America. A few examples include Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Shaikh Hamza Yusuf, Imam Zaid Shakir and Dr. Ingrid Mattson. The latter was recently elected the president of the Islamic Society of North America. Despite these luminary examples, many if not most local Muslim communities are falling short in providing converts with the necessary support for their transition into the faith and community.

We generally meet the new convert with cheers and proclamations of “God is Great”. Often times, after the 5 minutes of fame that the convert receives when he/she proclaims his/her shahadah, they are all but abandoned. Conversion can be a very lonely experience. Converts risk their family ties, their jobs and their friendships when they come to Islam. Because our faith is often identified as the “other” in the Western psyche, converts can be considered cultural apostates by their families and friends. Our Islamic centers and other institutions have virtually no programs to offer support and to compensate for those potential losses. Converts are left to fend for themselves and to depend on the kindness and goodwill of individual Muslims. The private efforts of individual Muslims to welcome their new brothers and sisters are admirable in many cases. However, there is always the risk of the convert coming under influences that seek to shape them into a certain idealized image of a Muslim; an image that is often informed by allegiance to certain movements, cultural influences and that is almost certainly alien to the historical and cultural experiences of the convert. I have often wondered (sometimes in despair) how a week-old Muslim suddenly appears like they have just emerged from 7th century Arabia (or so they were lead to believe).

One of the categories of people for whom the Qur’an admonishes us to give Zakat charity to is the category of those whose “hearts need to be reconciled”. This includes new Muslims who require assistance and support to remain firm in their new faith. Our community and its representative organizations should consider creating programs, funded from Zakat, that ensure that our new brothers and sisters are cared for and supported. A program of support for the new Muslim can include the following elements.

  1. Social support: This is, in my opinion, the most important. New Muslims need Muslim friends. Friend to whom they can talk, share their experiences and struggles and “unwind” when the going gets tough. The primary role of these friends/mentors/supporters/ansar is not to teach or indoctrinate, but to open their hearts and homes to the new Muslim, and to just “be there” when needed. A formalized support program could match converts with mentors based on surveys and personality profiles. It could also provide training for the mentors to ensure they are sensitive to the struggles of new Muslims.
  2. Educational support: There is a dire needed for formal educational opportunities that introduce the convert to the beliefs and practices of Islam. This can take the form of periodic offerings of introductory courses, as well as one-on-one mentoring. Appropriate materials for self-study would complement a formal learning program.
  3. Financial support: Funds need to be marked for the sole purpose of helping converts deal with the possibility of financial difficulties. These difficulties could arise due to family support ceasing, job loss, or may exist from before accepting Islam.

In researching, designing and implementing such a program, it is important to have a clear educational and social philosophy. The goal of such a program should not be to help the new Muslims become copies of their immigrant brethren. Rather, it should strive to ultimately help them reconcile Islam with the other dimensions of their Canadian identity. The prophet Muhammad (S) was reported to have stated that those who were “the best” (in character) in pre-Islamic times were also the best in Islam. Effectively, becoming Muslim should affirm everything that is wholesome and beautiful in one’s character. Attitudes that lead converts to change aspects of their identities, from their names to the way they dress, should be abandoned altogether.

Instructing the new Muslims in the beliefs and practices of Islam should encourage questioning and critical thinking. We can expect that converts have come to Islam after a long period of study and thinking. They are lead to the faith by their hearts and minds. We have to adopt teaching methodologies that respect their intellectual capacities and critical thinking.

Another challenge is for the Muslim community to learn to embrace converts regardless of their ethnic or socio-economic backgrounds. We have to be able to embrace new Muslims whether they are White or Black, Aboriginal or Anglo-Saxon, rich or poor, a North-ender or South-ender. Islam is only as colorblind as we are.

To conclude, I recall the bitter words of a convert who had been Muslim twenty years or so. He said that when he embraced Islam, he was told all of his problems would end, but that, in reality, he felt they all began then. Nonetheless, he had remained committed and had successfully raised a Muslim family and rose to a position of prominence in his community. There are many like him. Their endurance and faith, against all odds, is a testament to the power of the truth of Islam, once it penetrates and illuminates someone’s heart.

 

Islam and Science

By: Nazeer A. Khan (faculty of Civil Engineering Technology).

The Limitation of Human Knowledge

Whenever theological discussion happens, we inevitably fall into two camps: the evolutionists and the creationists. Evolutionists naturally make reference to science to support their point of view. This is natural since today’s sciences are the limits of man’s current knowledge and understanding. The issue that is troubling with this methodology is that Islamic regulations are handed down from Allah (God) and the rationale for these regulations may be beyond our present knowledge and our present science. It is mentioned in the Qur’an (the final revelation of God) that Allah is All Knowing which means that He has knowledge of which man is unaware. Let’s discuss one avenue of human limitation. Consider the solar system; it has a center (the sun) which is the largest mass in the system and around the sun, there were nine orbital planets, one of which was Pluto. However, Pluto was then demoted to the status of a comet on August 24, 2006. As is evident, our knowledge changed and what was previously known to be a fact is now no longer so. Let’s now compare the universe to an oxygen atom. Both systems have a large dense center and eight orbiting objects (planets and electrons).

What is the matter with you, that you are not conscious of God’s Majesty? (71:13)

We also know that molecules are a combination of atoms that form a larger body or a different material. For example, two hydrogen atoms (gas) form a bond with an oxygen atom (gas) to create a liquid (water or H2O). This comparison of the universe and the oxygen atom raises questions; is our solar system a minor part of a much larger body? Is it possible that our knowledge is limited and we cannot comprehend that bigger picture? Based on such limitations, would it not be irrational to even question the existence of Allah? Nevertheless, it happens.

Using Theories to Disprove Allah’s Existence

The Big Bang Theory and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution are the main arguments used against creationism or Allah’s existence. To use theories in this way, an explanation of the difference between theory and fact is needed. There are several definitions of theory; however, the simplest explanation is that, theories are not facts. Now, it is necessary to define what a fact is. For something to be considered as fact, it has to be subjected to the scientific method. The scientific method consists of three main steps; observation, theory and prediction (testing). As is evident by the scientific method steps, theory is one step in that process. Based on today’s scientific principles, the debate for disproving Allah’s existence falls apart if it is based on the Big Bang Theory. Firstly, the use of theories to disprove the existence of Allah will only satisfy the weak of faith (iman). The Big Bang Theory is based on the premise that, at some point in the history of the universe; time, space (time-space fabric) and matter were created from nothingness. Beyond that instant in time, there are no theories or explanations for the creation of the universe. Even with the support of today’s science, it is easy to conclude that, this is a weak argument. To imply that the universe was created from nothing and to use this to deny Allah’s existence is a state of denial. Without a plausible explanation for the creation of the universe, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution loses its importance simply because; before life could be created, the universe had to have existed.

The Evolution of Science

It has to be realized that science is an evolving discipline/process and will change with time. Some examples of bad or evolving science are: during the dark ages, one method of curing the sick was to slit their wrists and allow the bad blood to bleed out. Another example of bad science is that, the earth is the center of the universe, and another is that smoking minimizes the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (the victim dies by smoking related disease before they get the Alzheimer) and let’s not forget, Pluto is no longer a planet. With this type of scientific mishaps, it is entirely possible that some modern theories will be subject to the same fate.

Islam and Knowledge

The Qur’an and Hadiths have provided truth, meaning and knowledge throughout the ages and will continue to do so until the end of time. As man’s knowledge grows (through Allah’s guidance and science) the meaning of the Qur’an becomes vivid. What was not known yesterday is now known. This is partly because of the progression of science but mostly because of a person’s degree of faith (iman). Islam encourages the seeking of knowledge as demonstrated by verses in the Qur’an such as; “[58:11] …Allah will raise up to (suitable) ranks (and degrees) those of you who believe and who have been granted knowledge, [20:114] High above all is Allah, the King, the Truth. Do not be in haste with the Qur’an before its revelation to you is completed, but say, “O my Sustainer! Increase my knowledge, [16:8] …and He creates other things beyond your knowledge…”.

Caution is required when comparing Islam with science, simply because of man’s limited knowledge and the fact that science itself is an evolving process/discipline. Presently, there are convincing comparison of verses of the Qur’an with science in regards to; the origin of the universe, origin of life, expansion of the universe and the embryo. While Islam encourages the seeking of knowledge, it would be prudent to use the verses of the Qur’an to verify that science is on the right track and not vice versa. Let’s consider, if science were to be used to justify the verses of the Qur’an today; would the Qur’an be incorrect when the science changes tomorrow?

Private school, public school or Islamic school? – that is the question.

By: Sr. Nussrat Masood

For parents getting ready to send their kids to school, here are some words of wisdom from Omair Hamid, a former Winnipegger who did very well for himself masha Allah. I contacted him via email and got these responses to my questions.

Which high school did you graduate from?

Shaftesbury High

Was that a public school or a private school?

Public

What is your current occupation?

IT Security consultant

How do you think your private/public education helped you become accomplished?

I do not think there is much difference between public and private school… but entering a top Canadian university, I did notice that the students that were exceptional were the ones that took on the heaviest course loads in high school. These are the students who went through the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, or did 4 or 5 AP (Advance Placement) courses in their senior year. Both these programs are available in both public and private institutions. I suppose the resources available in a private school may make accessibility to these programs easier.

What kind of student is suited for public school?

A student who is self motivating and can get extra work done will do fine in public school. As long as they don’t measure themselves against the standards set by public schools, which is far too low, or by the majority of their peers, they will be fine.

What kind of student is suited for private school?

A student who requires constant pushing, or needs to compare himself to others to be motivated to do more work will find it more helpful to be in a private school because the standards and quality of students will be slightly higher.

What kind of student is suited for full time Islamic school?

Full time Islamic schools are good for those students that have a lack of Muslim friends. The best way to stay strong in iman and deen is to surround yourself with encouraging, like-minded people, which is the greatest benefit of Islamic schools. If the parents can ensure that their children are supplementing their school work with higher standards (AP or IB or whatever), but are worried about the environment and social circle of their kids, then Islamic school may be the best option.

Looking back, what advice would you give students?

Marks are not everything. Do as much work in the community as possible from an early age, even if it eats into your study time. Learn to study more efficiently, so you have more time to be an active member of your society. You will be a better Muslim, make more friends, learn about the world, be smarter, be better prepared for life.

What advice would you give fellow parents with regards to their child’s education?

Reward your children’s effort (and punish their laziness), not their results.

Here are some rough guidelines to keep in mind. These are my own opinions after having been raised in Winnipeg and graduated from high school here as well:

  1. Not all private schools are created equal. A good private school will cost around ten thousand dollars per year per child. That is a significant sum of money and should not be wasted on a bad private school. If you have the financial resources (masha Allah) to invest in your child, then here are the schools to consider: St. Mary’s Academy, Balmoral Hall, St. Paul’s College, St. John’s Ravencourt and the U of W Collegiate.
  2. Not all public schools are created equal. When I was young students were only welcome in the schools in the area in which they lived. That is not the case everywhere in Winnipeg. Students have the option of going to many schools now. That may mean extra travel time, car pooling, or even moving, but consider it. It is worth it. Unfortunately there are many instances of drugs, violence and teen pregnancies in schools. Make sure your kid is going to schools with lower occurrences. The province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg are divided up into different school districts. There are good schools in each school district but you will need to visit the schools, talk to the principals, talk to the teachers and make a very great and concentrated effort to decide which school deserves the honour of educating your child. Consult parents of students who were educated in Winnipeg or Manitoba for further opinions. Pembina Trails school division should be considered.
  3. Every child is different. Every child has different needs. Make sure your kid gets what he/she need from the school. If your child needs ESL programs (English as a Second Language) make sure the school offers it and has many qualified professionals so that your child is getting as much attention as possible. Teacher to student ratio is important. The better the ratio the better the opportunities for your child. If your child needs sports, make sure your school offers many different teams and make sure the teams are actually good and win often because that’s a sign they have good coaches. If your child likes a particular subject (Physics, Math, English, Art, etc.) make sure the teachers are qualified to teach that subject. If your child has a gift for carpentry or other trades, make sure those programs are available. All teachers need a Bachelor of Education to teach but they don’t need an undergraduate degree in the field they are teaching. Try and find gifted teachers. This will be difficult.
  4. School can be horribly boring sometimes. There is a lot of material to get through and if your teacher doesn’t love and I do mean love teaching, then it will be difficult for your child. The school system has in many cases bleached the fun out of learning. For this reason, you will need to supplement your child’s learning with educational outings to spark their curiosity from time to time. Malls, movie theatres and amusements parks are okay but also consider going to the zoo, the planetarium, the museum, the library, the bookstore, take art classes, go camping, watch a live play, etc. Try and find job shadow opportunities for your child as well.
  5. Turn off the tv. A television is not ever meant to give your child companionship. Your child certainly doesn’t need a tv in their bedroom either. There should be a limit to the amount of tv that is watched per week. Internet usage should be supervised as well. Your kids will watch what you do. If you would like your kids to read more, then make sure you read to them when they’re kids. As they age, consider discussing books together or getting magazine subscriptions. If you need something to watch together consider documentaries of fascinating things like animals or volcanoes or whatever else is age appropriate and interesting to your child.
  6. Make your kids efficient learners. Keep them busy. Your kids should also be enriched spiritually. There are youth halaqas (Islamic learning circles), camps, Quran classes, etc. Your kids should be involved in the Muslim community and it should be a part of their identity. Consider enrolling them into activities like swimming lessons, taekwondo, wall-climbing etc. as well.
  7. Parental involvement is crucial. There is no substitute for parental involvement. You need to know how your child is doing in school and what they need from you to do better. If your child is finding school difficult, go to a school counsellor together and address the issues.
  8. University is a completely different environment. Most University professors do not teach. Most University professors do not know how to teach. They are researchers that are forced to teach students to fulfill their contractual obligations. For every one hour a student spends in lecture hall a student needs to spend two hours of study on their own. This is a huge adjustment. Consult the University learning assistance center for more professional advice.

Notes Towards an Analysis of the MIA Crisis Between February 6th and June 6th, 2010

By: Br.Youcef Soufi

I want to relate two stories. The first is about Islam; and the second is about the West. While stories about Islam and the West are well known to us, the stories I want to tell here are somewhat new.

My stories will not end up labeling one group as depraved and the other as godly or one group as backwards and the other as progressive. Rather explanation and elucidation on a very particular matter is my goal: I want to use these stories to encourage us to think about how what happened to the MIA, between February 6th and June 6th, 2010, could have happenedat all. After all, I think that what struck many of us was that what unfolded in the MIA simply does not happen in other Manitoban institutions and organizations outside of our Muslim community.

It is difficult, for example, for us to conceive that our schools, hospitals, legislature, etc., could ever be controlled for months by one individual who has no regard for their official rules, has virtually no support among those who have legal authority over the institutions, and engages time and again in plain defamation, which is a criminal offense under Canadian law. So while we might rejoice at the founding of a new executive that is committed to upholding the constitution, my hope is that what follows will serve as a catalyst for sober reflection from our community as to how to prevent this from reoccurring.

My two stories about Islam and the West seek to reveal two different ways by which a society can gain stability and order. I want to suggest that we as Muslims have inherited a very different tradition than that of the West in this regard, and that this has a significant impact on the management and operations of our organizations today.

I could begin the story on Islam anywhere prior to the modern era, but the point is more forceful if we start earlier than later because it shows the pervasiveness in our community of the trait I want to highlight. We find a famous tradition about the Khalifa Ali (R): a man asks Ali, “Why is there so much turmoil in your era and not in the time of Umar and Abu Bakr.” The answer of Ali was quick and blunt: “Because they ruled over people like me and I rule over people like you.” In short, the Caliph was instructing his followers that the state of a society depends upon the moral integrity of its members.

For the Khalifa, it was because the companions were imbued with moral qualities from the Prophet that their society was not only stable but could forge an empire in a matter of a few years. Otherwise stated, being good Muslims equals having a good society. This is because good Muslims are imbued with qualities like honesty, trustworthiness, obedience to those in authority, and diligence, necessary for collective striving towards a common goal. What is perhaps more important is that when we examine the method through which Muslims were and still are supposed to gain their moral virtues, we find that it is done in two steps: first, there is mutual exhortation among believers, hence the terms tadhkir, maweezha , and naseeha, expressed in such settings as the Friday sermon. Second, there is personal effort or individual striving to adopt good habits or morals through good actions, whether they be prayer or helping one’s brother in need. In both steps, it is important to note that the individual must recognize the truth of the Islamic moral teachings and be committed to following them through. Our heritage then, counts or depends on individual conscience or on changing the hearts of Muslims to ensure that they do the right thing.

The second story that I want to present begins to take shape in the late 17th century Europe. This is a society that for various reasons does not have much faith in human nature or the human ability to reflect high virtues. The thinkers of this society are turning their attentions not towards the hearts of individuals that make up the sum of society but are beginning to theorize about society as a system. Thinkers such as the physiocrats in France and Adam Smith in Britain were emblematic of this way of thinking. Their hope was to organize society in such a way that human selfishness, avarice, or deceitfulness would not harm society’s stability and economic prosperity.

Like the method of instilling virtues in Islam, this was historically done in two steps. The first was to organize an economic system, which, despite having fixed and rigid rules, nonetheless made it possible for men to seek out their economic self-interest and amass the amount of wealth which they desired. This is still today how we sometimes speak of capitalism—as a system that is based on self-interest. Bernard Mandeville famously characterized this situation as making “private vices” into “public virtues.” The other step was to ensure that those who broke the rules would be denied their desires. This depended on various mechanisms of surveillance and of punishment. Leadership started to become increasingly divided, like the checks and balances we know so well from the United States government. As for the masses, they were increasingly subject to various state institutions, like schools, the army, and hospitals, in which rules were scrupulously applied and where they learnt that disobeying rules would only end to their detriment. Another way we could call these two methods is to say they reflected a social system of “carrots and sticks”, i.e. rewards and punishments.

By the early 19th century, Europe was undeniably becoming more militarily capable than Muslim states. In response, Muslim thinkers began to ponder about the reasons why. Many, such as the Egyptian Rifa’ al Tahtawi and Khayr al Din al Tunisi, located the problem specifically in our lack of those social mechanisms in the West that I mentioned above. They used the term “civilization” not in a moral sense, but to designate this system that encouraged members of society to work diligently and collectively for the state’s prosperity. As a result they did not believe that Islam was at odds with European mechanisms of civilization.

However, by the early 20th century, it became evident to thinkers such as Rachid Ridda and Hassan al Bannah that the effects of adopting the social mechanisms of Europe could actually affect the individual virtues of Muslims in a negative manner: thinking about the reasons that made Europe stable and productive societies then gave way to concerns about how to retain Islam in a world that had in fact adopted many of the West’s institutions.

When we look to our community today we find the legacy of the history of Islam that I have related. When people seem apathetic to organizing activities for the community, when leadership is remiss in its expected duties, and when there is conflict between Muslims, our initial reaction is exhortation—naseeha, maweezha, and tadhkir. Statements like “brothers, we have to care about our community and get involved,” or “leadership is a trust, we shouldn’t violate it” or still, “as brothers and sisters, we have to be kind and respectful to one another” abound. But establishing mechanisms that reward good behaviour and monitor abuse of power are virtually nonexistent. We have not, for example, established official review boards to periodically monitor the performance of the executive council of the MIA or made use of salaries to motivate the most capable people to fulfill positions within the MIA. While our community would be a sad one if we abandoned the notion of mutual exhortation towards being righteous, it is perhaps time we think about the ways in which we can neutralize the darker sides of human nature by creating mechanisms for the monitoring, punishing, and rewarding of those in positions of trust in our community.

How to Agree to Disagree: Restructuring Negative Thinking this Ramadan

By: Br. Abdulrehman Abdulrehman

Most civilized societies pride themselves on their ability to learn from the mistakes of previous societies. Even within societies there are individuals who are determined to pursue/achieve self-improvement. They strive to avoid the mistakes made by not only those before them, but those around them, to improve their present lives, and also their futures. I remember, as a child in this community, the youth watching community meetings deteriorate to petty squabbles and at times, physical violence. To children at that time, the flaws in the process of these meetings seem so clear. Yet, interestingly, as adults we seem doomed to repeat the same mistakes we had previously laughed at.

Although the source for disagreements may vary, a common thread that runs through these conflicts is the inability to agree to disagree. Many will argue the certainty of their position, without being aware of the validity of another perspective. Although once a primary contributor to our growth as a global community, the coexistence of diverse thought (even within Islamic perspectives) has become difficult for many to withstand, each of us an island arguing the validity of a sole/single point of view.

Islamic scholars denote a variety of issues that have contributed to this phenomenon of disintegration of unification in our communities. This ranges from addressing the basics of adaab and Islamic etiquette in dealing with conflict and disagreement, to our levels of imaan and how that affects our ability to communicate well with each other. Needless to say, the issue identified is that in order for us to change a community, we need to start with a change in ourselves.

From the study of psychology, we know that the way we think can alter the way we see life, and hence how we behave. This includes the ways in which we see each other, interpret the behaviours of others, and the ways in which we respond to them. The perspectives we hold in life are some of the most influential predictors to our behaviours and our feelings. Learning to handle conflict better, and to learn how to agree to disagree, is dependent on us changing our perspectives to something more functional. Psychologists have identified numerous distortions in thinking that negatively influence our mood, behaviour, and hence dealings with others. Noted below are some of these distortions in thinking for us to consider, which may assist us in positively changing our perspectives, and hopefully allow us to better deal with conflict.

Emotional Reasoning: One of the most common distortions in thinking is that of emotional reasoning. This occurs when we use our feelings as a gauge on reality, when in fact, our feelings are a reflection of our interpretation, rather than the absolute truth. It is worse when we use these feelings as a guide to making decisions. If our interpretations are incorrect, the outcome can be disastrous.

Labelling: Labelling occurs when we make assumptions about people, and label them with a title or quality we’ve assumed about them. If we are quick to assume things about a person or a situation, it leaves us less able to see other things about them or the situation that are crucial to the understanding of them. This also applies to labelling ourselves. If we are set on labelling ourselves, we assume we are doing everything to live up to that label, when in fact, we may not be. Labelling can make us complacent in the way in which we see ourselves and others.

All or Nothing Thinking: This occurs when we think of people, situations, or anything for that matter, in absolute terms, like “always”, “every” or “never”. Few aspects of human behavior are so absolute. If we don’t leave room to see the gray (versus black or white), we can often blind ourselves to what may actually be happening.

Overgeneralization: Similar to the above, overgeneralization occurs when we take isolated cases and use them to make wide and sweeping generalizations.

Mental Filter: At times, we can filter out important pieces of information about people or a situation. When we use a mental filter, we focus exclusively on a negative and upsetting detail of something or someone, ignoring many other components, which may be very positive.

Jumping to Conclusions: This type of thinking occurs when we assume a negative outcome, even when there is little to no evidence to support it. There are two types of this distortion.

  • Mind Reading: when we assume to know the intentions of others.
  • Fortune Telling: when we predict how things will occur, before they even happen.

If we ignore the distortions in thinking noted above, our faults in thinking can not only lead to conflict with others, but also negatively affect our own personalities. Furthermore, ignoring them can also lead to a false sense of validation of negative beliefs. For example, a distortion in thinking can influence the way in which we deal with others, and in turn have them react negatively toward us, fulfilling our original negative (and possibly incorrect) perception of them. This highlights our need to be vigilant in our thoughts and ever mindful of the distortions that can occur.

The distortions outlined above are very common to mankind. In fact, many of you will recognize that these concepts mirror what we are taught in our faith, and that improving these distortions, would in fact assist us in gaining patience and increasing the quality of our personalities. The patience derived from restructuring negative thoughts, allows us a mindfulness that can assist us in tolerating disagreement and better allow us to come to a resolution. After all, Allah is with those who are patient.

Manitoba Islamic Association as a Community Organization: From Membership to Ownership

By: Dr. Idris Elbakri*

The Manitoba Islamic Association (MIA) was established over 40 years ago to serve the interests and represent Muslims of Manitoba. The pioneers who established the association had the foresight to structure it as a membership-based organization. Membership is a right to every Muslim in Manitoba who adheres to the values and constitution of the organization and chooses to join and pay the membership fee. The membership of MIA holds the ultimate authority over the affairs of the organization and it delegates, through elections, management of the affairs to an executive council consisting of seven people.

In the recent past, most of us have come to think of membership as merely a means to vote in the MIA elections. Holding elected office in MIA, especially the position of president, became a much sought after goal. We have seen aggressive membership drives, often spearheaded by potential candidates who sometimes even subsidize the fees. There is nothing illegal in that, but whether it is ethical and inline with the spirit that the community upholds is a different story. Is that what membership is all about?

I call on all Muslims in our community to become members of MIA, but don’t think about membership in the very narrow scope of elections and power, but rather, as a way for all of us to assert the values of community service, participation, and brotherhood. Let your membership be a practical way in which you implement the Prophet’s Hadith where he said, “who is not concerned about the affairs of the Muslims is not one of them”. In short, we need to move from membership to ownership. You will achieve a sense of ownership when you feel that you have a personal (but not selfish) stake in this organization and in the affairs of the community. When you feel the communal pain, and celebrate the communal achievement. When you look around in your masjid and you think to yourself, I am working to make this a better place. When you help foster a feeling of safety and ease for all members of the community in their places of worship and gathering.

Over 90% of the affairs of MIA are managed through volunteers. While there is a tremendous need to professionalize the management of the organization, promoting a strong volunteerism ethic must remain a core value for our community. Have you ever asked yourself: who pays the bills, who checks the mail, who updates the website, who puts tape on the floor for Eid prayer, who sets up the audio system, who cuts the grass, who manages the weekend school and who distributes charity? All of these activities are carried out by volunteers. Are you one of them? If you are, you do not need to be thanked because you do it for a higher purpose. If you’re not, maybe you should consider giving a bit of yourself for your community.

The MIA executive council is establishing a number of committees including office administration, green space, properties management, event organization, community programs, fundraising and takaful. The functions of these committees are the bare-minimum that is needed to operate the organization and meet a minimum of the community’s needs and expectations. Details about these committees and their executive liaisons are posted on the MIA website. Volunteering to staff these committees is a great way to contribute to the well being of our community and to have a direct say in the affairs of the MIA.

Let’s go from passive observers to committed members, and from committed members to active owners.

* Idris Elbakri is the president of the Manitoba Islamic Association executive council. He can be reached at president@miaonline.org

You Are What You Eat!

By: Harun Cicek

Bismillahirrahmanirrahim, All Praise is due to Allah!

As Muslims, we take pride in the “purity” of our religion in both physical and spiritual sense. For instance, there is great emphasis in Quran and in the example of our Prophet (saw) on personal hygiene and eating wholesome, halal food. Many great scholars have equated the purification of heart with the purification of our body, soul and food. Therefore, aside from the ‘halal or haram’ discussion, it is important to reflect on what is ‘pure and good food’. The following beautiful and comprehensive Hadith illustrates the significance of this issue:

Abu Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said: “Verily Allah the Exalted is pure. He does not accept but that which is pure. Allah commands the believers with what He commanded the Messengers. Allah the Almighty has said: “O you Messengers! Eat of the good things and act righteously” [23:51-53]. And Allah the Almighty also said: “O you who believe! Eat of the good things that We have provided you with” [2:167-172].Then he (the Prophet) mentioned (the case of) the man who, having journeyed far, is dishevelled and dusty and who stretches out his hands to the sky (saying): “O Lord! O Lord!” (while) his food was unlawful, his drink was unlawful, his clothing was unlawful, and he is nourished with unlawful things, so how can he be answered?” [Muslim]

There are many other Quranic verses and Hadiths, specifically dealing with pure, good and wholesome foods and their importance. These references are not necessarily talking about halal or haram foods, rather, they are explicitly referring to the purity and goodness of food. All good and pure food -within the Islamic boundaries- can be halal but not all apparently what is often called halal food is good and pure. Alhamdullilah, when it comes to technical details of slaughtering, we can differentiate between halal and haram meats but how about what happens to that animal before it is slaughtered? Here, our intention is not to define, discuss or declare what is halal or haram, but rather, the intention is that through what is presented in this commentary, Muslims resume to the vigilance of our righteous ancestors regarding what is filling their stomach. “That flesh which has grown out of Haraam food will not enter Jannah. Hell has more right to it” (Ahmad: Tirmidhi).

Before the industrial revolution food was produced in simple manner; in harmony with Allah’s creation, good and pure. Especially after the Second World War, however, agriculture has undergone a rapid transformation in the direction of mechanisation, extensive chemical dependency and biotechnology. Environmental degradation caused by such modern agriculture practices have been well documented over the years. Less researched, however, is the health implications of mass production agriculture and its offshoot, the processed food industry.

This subject may cause some confusion because most people, not involved in agriculture, are unaware of the methods employed in modern agriculture to produce food. Some may even ask; what could be impure about agriculture and food? In our minds, we still have the image of those idyllic farms with green pastures and happy animals, but the reality draws a different picture. The picture of abused animals, eroded soil, lost biodiversity, chemical residues and genetic modification. This reality, in my opinion, is far from being good and pure.

Lets briefly investigate how crops are grown in conventional agriculture. From seed to harvest, crops are constantly under the “protection” of chemicals. Some seeds are coated with fungicides, and then crops are sprayed during the season with herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, and on top of all these, some are sprayed again before the harvest in order to desiccate and easily harvest the crop. One should consider how much chemical residue would be left on these crops and whether they are “good and pure”.

Beside the excessive application of chemicals, many crops are also genetically modified in order to increase yields or create resistance to pests and herbicide applications. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are created by taking a gene from one organism (animals or plants) and inserting it to the other species. If we don’t “create” them, they will not appear in Allah’s nature randomly. In Europe, food containing GMOs must be labelled accordingly, but in North America such food is not labelled. The chances are that if you eat any kind of processed food, you consume the GMOs in the form of by-products or directly, especially, from corn, soy beans and canola. SubhanAllah, Satan is keeping his word and working hard to make us disobey our Rabb; “I will mislead them and I will order them to slit the ears of cattle, and to deface the (fair) natural creation of Allah.” (4: 119).

In the above discussion we briefly investigated how Satan ordered us to “deface the (fair) natural creation of Allah”. Now, let’s look at the meat we eat and how we are, again, following the Satan’s orders. Let’s question where the meat that we eat comes from and how were the animals for slaughter are raised. Surely, we all remember the “mad cow” disease but how many of us actually thought about it? Just because Muslims eat halal meat, it doesn’t mean that we are immune to such diseases. Unfortunately, most of the time, the source of halal and non-halal supermarket meat are the same. Today most animals are raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), under unhealthy, and unnatural conditions. They have barcodes on labels inserted in their ears (slitting the ear? Allah hu Alim), containing all the information regarding the animal. Thousands of animals confined in these buildings are fed with feed that contains mostly soy or corn, animal by-products (fat, crushed bones, feather, intestines etc…) from all kinds of animals, antibiotics, synthetic minerals and vitamins. Allah has created these animals vegetarian and made their metabolism to handle only grasses and forages. But the modern agriculture forces them to eat things that are against their nature. That is one of the reasons that they have to be given antibiotics, because their metabolism cannot handle this diet. Remember the “mad cow” disease; a result of feeding animals with animal by-products.

Agriculture is the largest consumer of antibiotics worldwide. Recently, Silbergeld et al. (2008) reviewed the antimicrobial resistance, which they defined as the “major health crisis” because this resistance is “eroding the discovery of antimicrobials and their application to clinical medicine”. In the same article they commented that “CAFOs are comparable to poorly run hospitals, where everyone gets antibiotics, patients lie in unchanged beds, hygiene is nonexistent, infections and re-infections are rife, waste is thrown out the window, and visitors enter and leave at will. Finally, because these large numbers of animals produce large amounts of waste, which are largely untreated prior to land disposal, there are substantial environmental pathways of release and exposure.”

Chickens are also raised in such, maybe even worse, circumstances. Chickens in these surroundings get stressed and attack other chickens, hence, for this reason, beaks of these chickens, often times, have to be cut. With the diet containing animal by-products, chickens grow so fast that in 45 days they cannot carry themselves and their weight can break their legs until they are ready for slaughter. Sheep are, so far, in better condition especially because, it is not, as yet, profitable to put them in CAFOs.

Then, there is the issue of animal welfare. We all know that our Prophet (PBUH) treated animals with care and compassion and ordered us to follow his example. Animals in CAFOs are treated against their nature. They are essentially tortured. They will ask for their rights on the day of judgement!

What should we be eating then? Before answering this question consider that it is a duty of a Muslim to investigate carefully what is going into his/her stomach. What we eat is what makes us who we are. Impure food and behaviour will make our ummah impure. We are not only responsible for our own health but also responsible for the health of this planet and all creatures therein.

Now if we choose to put effort into obtaining food that is pure then there are options for the seekers. Organic products are widely available in most grocery stores. Organic production is in line with Allah’s nature and produces wholesome pure food without the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides and genetic modification. There are also local farms around Winnipeg, which are respectful of Allah’s creatures and grow pure food. You can visit these farms and buy meat and produce directly from them (see references for one of the local organizations).

Lastly, it should be recognized that, Muslims should always lead the way to righteousness. Allah says in Quran; “You are the best community raised up FOR mankind, you enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil…”(3:110) As Muslims let’s strive to choose what is pure and be exemplary in our lifestyle for the rest of mankind.

In conclusion, the simple logic of “halal =good and pure” may not hold true in today’s food systems in especially industrialized countries. If we want to be pure and clean, we must be vigilant and selective about our actions.

“Truly, what is halal is evident, and what is haram is evident, and in between the two are matters which are doubtful which many people do not know. He who guards against doubtful things keeps his religion and honor blameless, and he who indulges in doubtful things indulges in fact in haram things. Sahih Bukhari (Hadith # 50) & Muslim (Hadith # 2996)

** Br. Harun Cicek is a masters’ student at the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Manitoba researching on organic farming. He is also the education coordinator for the Muslim Student Association at the University of Manitoba.


References:

Sapkota A. R., Lefferts L. Y., McKenzie S., and Walker P. 2007. What Do We Feed to Food-Production Animals? A Review of Animal Feed Ingredients and Their Potential Impacts on Human Health Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 115, Number 5.

Silbergeld E. K., Graham J., and Price L. B., 2008. Industrial Food Animal Production, Antimicrobial Resistance, and Human Health. Annual Review of Public Health Vol. 29: 151-169

Eco Green Tips Website available at http://ecogreentips.com/the-truth-behind-your-meat-part-i/ (Accessed on December 05, 2009)

The Greenpeace Canada Shoppers GMO Guide. Available at http://gmoguide.greenpeace.ca/ (Accessed on December 05, 2009)

Harvest Moon Local Food Initiative, available at http://www.harvestmoonfood.ca/ (Accessed on December 06, 2009)