Friday, October 30, 2009

Excellence of Durood Shareef

Almighty Allah says in Qur’an: "Surely Allah and His Angels send blessings on the Holy Prophet (Sallal Laahu Alaihi Wasallim). O you who believe! Send Blessings (Durood) and Salutations (Salaams) on the Prophet with worthy Salutation".(Surah al-Ahzab: 56)

It is now evident through Quran Recitation that the recitation of Durood Shareef (Salawat) is in perfect obedience to the Divine Command and in complete conformity with the teachings of Holy Prophet (Sallal Laahu Alaihi Wasallim) of Islam. There is no scope to choose anything else when we have with us the words of Allah Ta'ala and His Apostle, Sayyiduna Rasoolullah (Sallal Laahu Alaihi Wasallim).

Hazrat Anas (radi Allahu anhu) narrates that Sayyiduna Rasoolullah (Sallal Laahu Alaihi Wasallim) said: "He who reads a single Durood upon me, Almighty Allah blesses him ten times, ten of his sins are forgiven, and he is increased ten times in stages (internally). (Mishkaat)

Divine blessings on Sayyiduna Rasoolullah (Sallal Laahu Alaihi Wasallim) is the highest and the most meritorious act in our Deen. This "Divine Blessings" is called Durood Shareef.

Muslims are a very fortunate people. Allah Ta'ala chose for them the name of Islam as a religion, declared to be comprehensive and final for mankind. Children learn the practices of Islam right from their childhood from Islamic Schools. As Muslims we should recite Durood Shareef in the Arabic language. Islam seeks to create a unified outlook and it is in the Arabic language alone which welds all Muslims into one great brotherhood.

The more Durood Shareef we recite, the greater the gain and benefit will be achieved in both the worlds. Hazrat Shaikh-e-Akbar Mo'inuddin ibn Arabi (radi Allahu anhu) has stated that, "Those who claim to love and revere the Holy Prophet (Sallal Laahu Alaihi Wasallim) should increase their recital of the Durood Shareef in patience and perseverance until, through the mercy of Rasoolullah (Sallal Laahu Alaihi Wasallim), they have the opportunity of witnessing his blessed countenance".


A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Sometimes it's best to just let them out for the whole day.

Let's Go Outside!


Forest Grump

A Babe in the Woods

One Lone Boy

Falling Up

Golden

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Spiritual Teachings for Muslims

Muslims all over the world reflect a great character and behavior and known for their inner salvation and good deeds. These characteristics are brought to them by the spiritual teachings of Islam through Qur’an, Hadith and Muslim scholars. Prophet (PBUH) is blessed with great character and his life is the ultimate guidance for all mankind.

When the anti-Muslims came to peek against Islam and the people started teasing Muslims on Quran Recitation and performing prayers, then Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) started preaching the Oneness of Allah and the Greatness of Islam. At that time he was a Spirtual master for everyone. The one, who came in the circle of Islam, had great blessings on him.

There were thousands of people who embraced Islam at that time. But after the death of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) a lot of Sahaba Karaam preached Islam and gave their lives in the way of Islam. Those were the successful men who were the students of their spiritual master Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH). After Sahaba Karaam, this duty was fulfilled by the saints of Islam through Islamic Schools who were real lovers of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) and Allah. The saints of Islam preached in different areas of the world and those who became the real lover students of their spiritual masters earned great names in Islam and also in the world.

There are many examples before us who followed their Spiritual masters and got a famous name in this world and there miracles can be seen in this world. We need to have a spiritual master who can guide us to the right path.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

People of Pakistan

Pakistan is a country that was created as a welcoming haven for Muslims. Majority of the people in Pakistan are Muslims. It became a country following the partitioning of India in the second half of the 1940s. Hindus living in the region that is now Pakistan fled to India. Muslims living in what is now India fled to Pakistan to practice their religion i.e. offer their prayers independently, celebrate religious events, build Islamic institutes for Quran Recitation and other Islamic practices.

Pakistan is a versatile land enriched with precious resources, having rivers, deserts, fertile land, and mines. Culture of Pakistan in constituted with different cultures. Different languages are being spoken in different part of the country.

The education in Pakistan is a bit immature but progressing very fast. There are so many Islamic Schools as well as conventional schools, colleges and universities in Pakistan providing quality of education across the country.

People of Pakistan faced many problems right after and before the independence. Armies from the ancient Persian Empire once invaded the territory now known as Pakistan. After Alexander the Great marched into Persian, he marched further east. His army also tried to control the people living in the mountains that were east of Persia.
Monguls have invaded Pakistan. Turks have invaded it. Arabs have invaded it. Afghanis have invaded it. The blood of all those invading armies has been mixed into the blood of the people of Pakistan.

Today the people of Pakistan no longer need to fight off invaders because of gaining atomic power and strong military force. Pakistani people are playing their part in the progress of Pakistan and soon they will be successful to put their country among the developed nations of the world.

Free Reading Resources

This is an intervention program designed to help students who are weak in phonics but it can also be used as a free reading curriculum for K-1. There are lesson plans laid out for 40 weeks, 5 days a week for 30 minutes. Read More...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Calligraphy, an Islamic Art

The history of Muslims is full of innovative discoveries and arts. It includes fields as varied as architecture, calligraphy, painting, and ceramics, among others. The premier form of Islamic Art is calligraphy, which is derived from the French word calligraphie and Greek word kalligraphia, meaning "beautiful handwriting."

One of the main reasons that the calligraphy is given a pedestal status in Islam is the Muslim belief that Allah (SWT) used the Arabic language to narrate his divine message to the Prophet Muhammad in the form of Holy Qur’an. This makes it sacred for Muslims all over the world.

Secondly, Islamic Art cannot be depicted by the use of pictures; therefore, using words as creativity avoids this problem as well. Calligraphy was of such importance for Muslims that it was taught in most of the Islamic Schools but with the invention of the printing press in European countries, the art of calligraphic writing mostly vanished.

Islamic art in the form of Calligraphy is most commonly found in mosques. The walls and ceilings of mosques are decorated with calligraphically written ayah. These inscriptions are done in a very complex and intricate way. Quran Recitation has its own charm when done through beautiful calligraphic designs of Quran.

Calligraphy further branched out according to the spread of Islam through the Arab World, Persia, the Ottoman Empire, The Indian Subcontinent and wherever else Islam reached. Throughout these different regions, calligraphy attained a unique flavor according to the symbiosis of native culture with the Islamic culture.

Calligraphic Islamic Art has evolved into a very multifaceted form of expression. The different forms of calligraphy include Diwani script, Ruqah script and Sini script. Diwani script was invented by Housam Roumini during the Ottoman Turks' early reign. The Calligraphy has played a vital part in the growth and progress of the Arabic language, and the various Muslim cultures.

Monday, October 26, 2009

All Educational Institutions are Reopening in Islamabad

All educational institutions working under the Federal Directorate of Education (FDE), the Punjab government as well as majority of private institutions and Islamic Schools will reopen today (Monday) after a six-day break announced in the wake of security threats.

After the attack on Islamic University, students are still enthusiastic to go to their educational institutions and continue their education of Science, Fiqah, and Quran Recitation etc

Educational institutions were closed as a security measure and now the ministry had decided to re-open them so that students’ time was not wasted. All Pakistan Private Schools Owners Association (APPSOA) President Malik Ibrar Hussain said 750 private educational institutions registered with the association would reopen today. He said “We are hiring security guards from different private companies and have submitted an application to the chief commissioner for providing weapons to the schools owners”.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Zahid Saeed said all government educational institutions would reopen today (Monday). He said the provincial government had announced that all educational institutions would open on Monday. He said all educational institutions had been directed to strengthen their security. He said the district administration had formed special teams to inspect the security arrangements and submit reports to the provincial government. “If any institution failed to strengthen its security, the institution would closed,” he warned. Dr Shamim Zaidi, the spokesman for Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU), said that the university would open on Monday and the staff would start their working. However, she said, the classes would not be held, as majority of students had gone back to their hometowns.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Mini Office Completed

Quick Reference Mini Office

I finally completed a mini office for my oldest. It's handy as a reference tool for her and I can push her to work independently every now and then since the information is at her fingertips. There is information on all four sections, front and back.

Quick Reference Mini Office

Quick Reference Mini Office

Quick Reference Mini Office

She's Done It

So, after a few weeks of using the multiplication chart, my daughter has managed to fill it out, MashaALLAH.
A few days ago, she completed it but when she left the room to tell me, my two year old erased it! So, after many tears, she started it over but took her time because her motivation was down.


Yesterday, she brought it back and showed it to me and here is the finished chart: There was lots of erasing and rewriting on the bottom right corner but she managed to get the answers.

She did it! She finished it the next day after erasing a lot. Read More...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why Taliban Attacked Islamic University

The worst example of terrorism is seen in Pakistan when two suicide bombers blew themselves one after the other at the new campus of the International Islamic University in Islamabad, on Tuesday, October 20, 2009. The blasts killed six people, including three girls, and left many other injured.

Taliban have taken credit for the suicide attack at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. As noted in yesterday's report on the attack, Taliban have no problems with striking at mosques, Islamic Schools and other religious institutions and events. The question is why Taliban would strike at an Islamic university where teaching of Quran Recitation and sharia is given along with scientific education. The answer is simple yet shocking. They want to destabilize Pakistan and few important factors made Islamic University a vulnerable place.

1) More than 6,000 women are among the 17,000 students at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. To the Taliban, women attending schools is against sharia.
2) There are more than 2,000 foreign students from 45 countries (mostly from China and Africa, according to Dawn. The foreigners are prime targets for the Taliban.
3) One of the suspected targets, the chairman of the Imam Abu Hanifa Block, is "known for his liberal views" on Islamic law.

Attack on Islamic University is condemned by every Muslim and non-Muslim in the world as it is a major setback for the people of Pakistan. The outcome of this attack is the stoppage of educational activities in Pakistan which is quite alarming for youth as well as for the parents of the students.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Do We Need a Spiritual Master

Before Islam, everyone was in the darkness of false worship of stone made gods who were helpless themselves. To pull out the humanity from darkness Allah sent his last Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In the childhood he lived totaly differently as compared to other children of Makkah. He was well known of his honesty and beauty. After the time he was blessed with Islam, he started preaching Islam and the one and only Allah. He was blessed by countless miracles. The biggest and outstanding miracle is Holy Qur’an.

When the anti-Muslims came to peek against Islam and the people started teasing Muslims on Quran Recitation and performing prayers, then Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) started preaching the Oneness of Allah and the Greatness of Islam. At that time he was a Spirtual master for everyone. The one, who came in the circle of Islam, had great blessings on him.

There were thousands of people who embraced Islam at that time. But after the death of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) a lot of Sahaba Karaam preached Islam and gave their lives in the way of Islam. Those were the successful men who were the students of their spiritual master Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH). After Sahaba Karaam, this duty was fulfilled by the saints of Islam through Islamic Schools who were real lovers of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) and Allah. The saints of Islam preached in different areas of the world and those who became the real lover students of their spiritual masters earned great names in Islam and also in the world.

There are many examples before us who followed their Spiritual masters and got a famous name in this world and there miracles can been seen in this world. We need to have a spiritual master who cam guide us to the right path.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How Can We Serve Islam

Being Muslims we are obligated to serve Islam by spreading its teaching to the world and by showing the real image of Islam. For this, first of all we must have a character that perfectly reflects a Muslim’s personality.

We can serve Islam by having a correct resolve and sincere intention, for Allaah blesses an action that is done sincerely for His sake alone, even if it is little. We should teach the newly converted Muslims, that how to offer prayers, fast, proper Quran Recitation and other good deeds.

We can serve Islam by knowing the right way and following it. The Straight Path means following the way of Qur’an and our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) with regard to the principles, ways and means of da'wah and being patient in adhering to that, whilst treating people with kindness and compassion, because they are suffering from the disease of sin.

We can serve Islam by giving precedence to that which is in the interests of Islam over your own whims and desires. Serving this religion means giving what is most precious of your money, effort, time, thought, etc. Have you not seen those who love sport (football or soccer) for example, how they devote their efforts, time and money to their beloved sport? But more is expected of you than that.

We can serve Islam by following in the footsteps of the scholar of prestigious Islamic Schools, daa'iyahs and reformers, having patience as your companion and putting up with tiredness and exhaustion. For you are doing a great act of worship which is the mission of the Prophets and Messengers and those who follow in their footsteps.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Fortune Telling

Many people claim to have the knowledge of unseen and the future. They are known by various names, among them: fortune-teller, soothsayer, foreseer, augur, magician, prognosticator, oracle, astrologer, palmist, etc. Because of the sacrilege and heresy involved in fortune telling, Islam has taken a very strong stance towards it in Qur’an. Islam opposes any form of association with those who practice fortune-telling, except to advise them to give up their forbidden practices.

These people can be divided into two categories.

1. Those who have no real knowledge or secrets but depend on telling their customers
about general incidences which happen to most people.
2. Those who have made contact with the Jinn. This group is of most importance because it usually involves the grave sin of Shirk, and those involved often tend to be highly accurate in their information and thus present a real Fitnah (temptations) for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

According to Islamic School of thought anyone who visits a fortune-teller believing that he knows the unseen and the future is that of Kufr (disbelief). Abu Hurayrah and al-Hasan both reported from the Prophet (pbuh) that he said, "Whosoever approaches a fortune-teller and believes what he says, has disbelieved in what was revealed to Muhammad. Such a belief assigns to creation some of Allaah's attributes with regard to the knowledge of the unseen and the future. Consequently, it destroys Tawheed alAsmaa was-Sifaat, and represents a form of Shirk in this aspect of Tawheed.

Through Quran Recitation we clearly no one knows the unseen besides Allah. Not even the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Allaah said: With Him are the keys to the unseen and none knows it except Him alone."

So Muslims must take utmost care in dealing with books, magazines, newspapers as well as individuals who, in one way or another, claim knowledge of the future or the unseen.

Interview: Chandra Muzaffar on Islamic Inclusivism and Muslim Exclusivism

Chandra Muzaffar is Malaysia’s leading public intellectual. Author of numerous books, mainly on religion, hegemony and resistance, he is the President of the International Movement for a Just World. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand he talks about various aspects related to Islam and Islamic assertion in Malaysia.

Q: Could you tell us something about yourself and your academic and activist background? How did you get interested in Islam?
A: I was born in 1947 in the state of Kedah in northern Malaysia. Both my parents were Hindus who were originally from Kerala in southern India. My mother was a third generation Malaysian but my father had been born and brought up in India.
Since my teens I evinced a strong interest in religion. I kept wondering about the purpose of life, life after death and so on. And so I began reading about religion. I started with Hinduism, and then went on to Christianity and then to the Bahai Faith . I was even actively involved with a Bahai group but I left after a while. There was more emphasis upon rituals than I had expected. . In 1967, I enrolled at the University of Singapore to do a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, Politics and History, eventually specializing in Politics and that is where I began reading about how Western philosophers looked at the big existential questions about life.

In the second year at the University, I became very close to a leading Malaysian intellectual, who was at that time the head of the Department of Malay Studies at the University of Singapore—the late Syed Hussein Alatas, a very well-known sociologist and author of numerous books on Islam. I began spending a lot of time with him in his house. He had just then set up an opposition political party in Malaysia, and so we would spend hours together discussing politics, national unity, inter-communal relations and social justice in Malaysia. It was he who inspired me to start reading about Islam. I read numerous works by many Muslim authors who represented a diverse range of understandings of Islam. I also read Alatas’ own works on Islam and was influenced particularly by his personality, lifestyle and his very universalistic understanding of and approach to Islam.

After graduating from Singapore I returned to Malaysia, where I registered at the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang to do a Master’s degree. For my thesis I worked on Malaysian politics, in the course of which I did fieldwork, which gave me the opportunity to meet many Malay Muslim leaders from the Islamic party PAS and to learn more about their understanding of Islam as a political ideology. By this time, I had strengthened my own conviction in Islam—not the ritualistic, dogmatic sort of Islam, but the Islam that stands for universalism, that stresses fundamental values over forms, that does not recognize mere rituals and externals as a criterion of one’s religious commitment. And so in May 1974 I formally embraced, or, as it is said, reverted to, Islam.

Q: You mentioned that one reason for your disenchantment with the Baha Faith was its ritualism. Given what some might call the excessive ritualism associated with the general practice of Islam in Malaysia and elsewhere, it might seem strange that you were attracted to Islam, is it not?
A: As I just mentioned, I was attracted by the universalism that I discovered in the Quran, but which Muslim practice very often tends to completely negate by associating Islam with a particular community and with a set of rituals. This is quite in contrast to the understanding of Islam that I learnt from Syed Hussein Alatas. I think one could argue that every religious community has betrayed its leading figure by turning into a separate group, using rituals to shore up boundaries to set it apart from other similarly constructed groups. This has happened with Muslims as well, and has led to the universal message of Islam being negated in practical terms.

My own understanding of Islam is that it is basically a worldview, a distinct attitude, a weltanschauung, and not the creed of a narrowly-defined community. I do not believe that the purpose of Islam is to create a community defined in this sense. Rather, it is to nourish a certain outlook or way of living that reflects certain basic values and which should not be seen as being confined to a certain community. My understanding of Islam is one that is fundamentally opposed to communal thinking. I mean, how can one consider a person who commits a heinous crime like murder a ‘Muslim’ in the true sense of the word—which means one who submits his will to God—simply because he has an Arabic name and has verbally recited the shahada, the Islamic testimony of faith?
I firmly believe that the various messengers of God did not intend to create new communities of followers defined by external markers and rituals that had little or nothing to do with the central core of their message. Instead, they were sent by God to reform attitudes, to nourish proper ways of being human. Sadly, however, precisely the opposite happened after their demise in every case. According to conventional religious thinking, people are judged or viewed not in terms of the basic values that the prophets stressed, on the basis of how they relate to others, to Nature, and so on, but in terms of an elaborate set of rituals and external markers. This is really tragic.

Q: You seem to argue, if I get you correctly, that Islam did not intend to establish a separate community. But what about the concept of Muslims as an ummah, as a separate people defined on the basis of religion?

A: I think there is a lot of confusion about the term ummah. The Quran uses the term in different senses, which do not negate each other. For instance, it is used in the context of the ummah of Medina, which included the Muslim Ansars and Muhajirin and various non-Muslims, including Jewish tribes who were brought together through the Covenant of Medina. A second sense in which the term ummah is used is for those who accepted God and Muhammad as His messenger, as opposed to those who rejected one or both. A third sense in which it is used is to refer to the whole of humankind in general. In none of these senses does it necessarily convey the exclusivist notion of community that many Muslims understand it as.

So, I would contend that one of the major challenges before Muslims today is to reappraise the whole notion of ummah, to retrieve what I believe is its actual connotation as a group based on values and that transcends communal divisions. This notion of the ummah is suggested in the Quran but it has been subverted in the ways in which it has conventionally been understood and interpreted. I believe that in today’s context of rapid communications and the breaking down of barriers dividing countries and communities, it could be possible to move towards what I regard as the true Quranic understanding of the ummah that goes beyond the narrow notion of religious-based communities.
For this we also need to reevaluate our understanding of what ‘Muslim’ means. A Muslim should be understood not as someone born into a particular community that claims to be ‘Muslim’, but, rather, as a person who upholds certain values and reflects or possesses certain attributes, a person who believes in the one God, submits to His will and does good, irrespective of his or her community. This is why the Quran regards all the many thousands of prophets who appeared before the Prophet Muhammad, in different parts of the world, as Muslims. This means that belief in and devotion and surrender to God, which is also reflected in righteous deeds, suffices to be considered a Muslim in the literal sense of the term as one who has submitted to God’s will.

The Quran refers to the Prophet Abraham as a true believer, as a Hanif, and when it specifies that he was neither a Christian nor a Jew it seems to me to suggest the point that he did not create any sect or community defined in this narrow sense, and that he was free of any narrow communal affiliation.

Q: If, as you say, to be a Muslim is to believe in the one God and lead a righteous life, and that this suggests Islam’s universalism, why do ‘Muslims’ in practice place so much more importance on the Prophet Muhammad over the other prophets although the Quran very clearly specifies that all the prophets are equal and that no distinction should be made between them?

A: I think this has a lot to do with history, with the development of identity of an expanding community over time. So, very often what Muslims are protecting in the name of Islam is this narrowly-conceived identity or historical tradition rather than what the Prophet stood for—the basic values and beliefs, which, unfortunately, are not conventionally understood as the defining attributes of Muslims today. And what many of them defend in the name of Islam is not what the Prophet taught and stood for, but, rather, what some medieval scholars and jurists or fuqaha had written centuries ago, which they wrongly equate with Islam.

This blind adherence to the views and prescriptions of the fuqaha is one of the most fundamental problems of Muslims. Ironically, those who claim to interpret the divine word are themselves considered ‘divine’ now. Much of what passes off as divine shariah, which Muslims generally think is wholly unchangeable, is actually fiqh, the product of the ijtihad or the thinking and interpretation of ulema, who were after all, fallible human beings like the rest of us.

Q: Let’s turn to Malaysia. Many Muslims (and others) outside Malaysia think of Malaysia as a ‘model Muslim state’ or even as a ‘model Islamic state’. Do you agree with this perception?

A: What those who think in this way see when they look at Malaysia is just the brighter side of the picture: a country with a fairly high per capita income, a very high literacy rate and good infrastructure, and which has to a great extent succeeded in eradicating absolute poverty. On all these indices undoubtedly Malaysia has done well, much better than most other Muslim-majority countries. So, when non-Malaysian Muslims see all this they regard it as the achievement of a people and government who do not subscribe to a narrow version of Islam, and who are trying to ward off the creeping influence of this sort of Islam, and they contrast this with their own countries. They admire the fact that Malaysia, as a Muslim-majority country, has been able to do well by these standards without imposing a narrowly-conceived shariah state, for they know that the kind of progress Malaysia has achieved could not have happened if we were ruled by that sort of state. This is what particularly impresses them. Also perhaps the willingness of the former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to challenge the dictates of the International Monetary Fund and to raise the issue of continued Western imperialism.
But what people who consider Malaysia as a model Muslim country don’t look at is the other side of the picture: crass capitalism, rampant consumerism, lack of integration between the different communities and so on.

People who uncritically regard Malaysia as a ‘model’ Muslim state do not see or know that generally Muslims in Malaysia are very conservative when it comes to things that are presented in ‘Islamic’ terms, and that what the traditional ulema say or believe is still considered by most Malaysian Muslims as binding. Often, Malaysian Muslims have no problems if you talk about something as long as you don’t bring in Islam, but the moment you do, their approach becomes very traditional. A good instance of this is our legal system. In our civil courts we have had Muslim women judges for a long time. That has never been a problem. In fact, a few years ago the Chief Judge of peninsula Malaysia was a Malay Muslim woman. But till today we have had not a single woman judge in the shariah courts although there are many women in this country who are well-versed in what is considered to be Islamic law. This is because of a very conservative understanding of the Malaysian ulema that women cannot be judges in shariah courts, although there is actually no rule in Islam forbidding this. Even in countries like Sudan, Iran and Indonesia there are women shariah court judges, so why not in Malaysia?

Q: Are you suggesting that, overall, the traditional ulema still have a very decisive influence in shaping Malaysian Muslim understandings of their religion? What about alternate voices? The Malay middle-class has grown vastly in recent decades. Has this resulted in any sort of movement pressing for a re-thinking of Islamic theology and jurisprudence, for a contextual understanding of Islam?

A: There are only a very few, scattered individuals who are trying to do this sort of work. It certainly has not taken the form of a movement in this country. It is true that the modern educated and economically well-off Malay or Muslim middle class has expanded considerably in Malaysia. But still you find that when it comes to Islam they generally remain very conservative. For instance, on the issue of apostasy from Islam, a hugely controversial issue in Malaysia, most of middle-class Malays, despite their education, would continue to insist on its criminalization by the state even though this does not have any Quranic sanction and in fact violates the Quran’s insistence that there is no compulsion in religion.

Q: Scholars have argued that to a great extent the practice and perception of Islam among the Malays is influenced by Malay ethnicity. Does that have anything to do with the sort of conservatism that you refer to?

A: Yes, to a great extent. So, for instance, the issue of apostasy is also seen even by many well-educated Malays as a threat to the Malay community and its ‘special position’, as threatening Malay solidarity in the face of other ethnic communities in the country. This is a reflection of a pervasive fear among many Malays that if they move out of their ethnic cocoons, which they seek to bolster through appeals to a conservative version of Islam, and open up and embrace others the Malays will be overwhelmed by others. This is how Malay ethnicity and insecurities shape ‘Islamic’ understandings in the country.

Q: How valid are these insecurities, though?

A: Some decades ago some of these insecurities would have been understandable. At that time, the economy was almost entirely controlled by foreigners and ethnic Chinese. But today there is a very sizeable Malay middle class. Malays now play significant roles in the upper reaches of the economy.. So, I feel there is no need for them to feel insecure any more. Sadly, however, the political parties keep playing up, even creating and further magnifying, these insecurities. Even Islamic groups that otherwise insist that ethnic chauvinism is contrary to Islam are not averse to this sort of political manipulation.

I must add that this is not a phenomenon unique to the Malays. In large parts of the American mid-West you can find people who subscribe to the ridiculous theory that their country is under threat from poor little Cuba. Or in India many Hindus believe that the impoverished Dalits or heavily marginalized Muslim minority are a threat to them, while this is not the case at all. But because of this sort of ethnic and religious collective consciousness, which, contrary to what Marx claimed, is much stronger than class consciousness, many Malay Muslims, mid-West Americans or Indian Hindus would not be enthusiastic about opening up to others.

Q: Despite generous government patronage of various Islamic institutions, it appears that Malay intellectuals have not made a significant contribution to contemporary debates about Islam or in developing socially relevant and contextual understandings of Islam. This is in contrast to neighbouring Indonesia, where Muslim intellectuals have a rich legacy of articulating alternate Islamic perspectives on a host of social issues of contemporary concern. How do you see this?

A: Perhaps the over-dependence of the bulk of the Malay middle-class on the state, for patronage or for jobs or whatever, is itself a reason for the stagnation of Islamic discourse in the country. Obviously, if you are dependent on the state for your job or sources of funds you cannot really defy the line of the state, be it on Islam or any other issue. But equally or perhaps even more crucially, because of the ethnic issue in Malaysia few Malay intellectuals are willing to be seen as going against what is seen as the interests of their community. So, for instance, when it comes to many socio-economic or socio-political matters, very few of them would stress Islamic universalism over what they perceive as the ‘Malay position’. Another factor for the retardation of Islamic discourse in Malaysia is that, on the whole, the middle class Malay mindset is still conservative in matters of religion, relatively untouched by reformist trends in other Muslim countries.

When one compares the situation in Malaysia with that in neighbouring Indonesia the difference appears stark. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, religious reform movements were an integral part of radical nationalist and anti-colonial struggles in Indonesia. The Dutch in Indonesia directly interfered in Islamic matters. They did away with the local Sultans and set up their own board of Islamic affairs, which was staffed with Dutch administrators. This naturally made the Indonesian ulema much more involved in the anti-colonial and nationalist movement. In what was then Malaya, on the other hand, the British retained the royal houses of the Sultans and appointed them as ‘heads’ of Islam in their own states and generally refrained from interfering in Islamic matters. The perpetuation of these monarchical structures also resulted in the strengthening of a conservative approach to the religion since the Sultans wanted to preserve the status quo..

A second, and equally crucial, factor for the difference is that Muslims form almost 90 per cent of Indonesia’s population, while they only a little more than 60 per cent of Malaysia’s population. That is why Indonesian Muslims are much more confident about their identity and feel less threatened by other communities in their midst than the Malays. And so Indonesian Muslim religious intellectuals are much more open to questioning conservative understandings of religion and to promoting more contextually-relevant responses to a range of contemporary issues.

Q: Given the inextricable link between religious and ethnic assertion among the Malays, which numerous scholars have alluded to, how do you see the phenomenon of what is commonly described as Islamic revivalism in contemporary Malaysia? Is it really a purely religious or even spiritual phenomenon? Or does it have more to do with assertion of Malay communal identity?

A: I think it is related to a large extent to the quest for the assertion of Malay multi-ethnic Malaysia. It has little, if at all, to do with any spiritual awakening. In Malaysia, this superficial so-called Islamisation and Malay ethnic assertion are in many senses synonymous because ‘Malay’ and ‘Muslim’ are regarded as interchangeable terms. The Constitution of Malaysia even lays down that considering oneself a Muslim is an integral part of being Malay. So, especially due to the sort of ethnic-based politics in Malaysia, instead of heralding a truly cosmopolitan Islam, the sort of ‘Islamisation’ that Malaysia has witnessed is leading to further reinforcing of a narrowly conceived Malay ethnic consciousness. While it is portrayed as ‘Islamisation’ it is actually little more than Malay ethnic assertion.
Take, for instance, the question of hijab or modest women’s clothing. Today most Malay women wear a head-covering, though it is clear that the sort of covering that they are so particular about is not mandated in the Quran. But for many Malays, the woman’s head-cover is not just a religious statement. It serves as a crucial marker of Malay ethnic identity, to mark off Malays/Muslims from others.

Q: From Mahathir Mohamad onwards, successive Malaysian Prime Ministers have been using Islam as an ingredient in Malaysia’s economic development strategy. Has that at all worked?

A: I don’t quite agree. I don’t think Mahathir’s version of Islam or the Islam Hadhari of his successor, Abdullah Badawi, had any major role to play in shaping or influencing Malaysia’s development strategy. Mahathir’s use of Islam was a very political move in recognition of societal pressures, to win Malay votes and to out-maneuver the ‘Islamist’ opposition. So, he set up some ‘Islamic’ institutions, but was careful not to touch the country’s capitalist system. On the economic front, he established an Islamic Bank. His experiment in ‘Islamic insurance’ has not taken off. Other than this, he made no other effort to ‘Islamise’ the economy. And I must add that I don’t think the so-called ‘Islamic banks’ are really Islamic at all. At least in the form they have assumed in Malaysia, they have fully adjusted themselves to capitalism, and are now a lucrative means to make a lot of money, while small borrowers actually pay more than what they would have to if they took loans from commercial banks.

I don’t think genuinely Islamic banking needs an‘Islamic’ label. Any system that aims at proper generation and distribution of wealth, that helps sustainable growth along with equity, can be considered Islamic without needing the ‘Islamic’ tag. If someone wants to call it ‘Christian’ or ‘Buddhist’ banking it’s fine by me. I can still call it ‘Islamic’ if it cares for the poor and reinforces justice and equity.

Why must we want to put a so-called ‘Islamic’ label on everything? It is a reflection of a narrow-minded, communal, indeed tribalistic approach to Islam and Muslim identity, one that I feel is contrary to the Quranic spirit and its universalism. So, you have people talking about ‘Islamic’ sociology or ‘Islamic’ environmental science and even ‘Islamic English’ and so on. I think this is a very restrictive way of understanding Islam. We have to get out of this suffocating obsession with such labels.

Q: Let’s come back to the question of a certain vision of Islam, as articulated by Mahathir Mohamad or Abdullah Badawi, as an ‘input’ in Malaysia’s economic development policy. Can you elaborate a little more?

A: I don’t think Islam has been an input in this sense. Perhaps the only case is that of the Tabung Haji, the government-run Haj Fund, to which people who want to perform the Haj can contribute every month. Just before they leave for the Haj they are given the money that they have saved plus some bonus. The money collected by the Tajung Haji is invested in various companies. That, I believe, is the only Islamic ‘input’, if you can call it that, into Malaysia’s otherwise capitalist path of development which undoubtedly has some elements of social justice.

Q: Mahathir Mohammad and, after him, Abdullah Badawi, repeatedly stressed what they considered to be an ‘Islamic’ work ethic as essential to the country’s development. How effective were these exhortations actually?

A: Yes, Mahathir repeatedly stressed values such as dedication, hard work, loyalty and obedience, but overall in such a way as to make them capitalism-friendly. He did not, of course, refer to other such Islamic values as redistribution of wealth, compassion and social justice that would in any way challenge capitalism.

As for Abdullah Badawi’s Islam Hadhari, I don’t think it worked at all. Although it also ostensibly sought to promote a certain work ethic, and the agencies of the state tried to promote it, , it had no impact at all on people and society in general. Islam Hadhari consists of ten points. I have no quarrel with these points, which sound very lofty, but why brand this as a certain type of Islam or add an adjective to Islam? If you want to change Muslim attitudes you have to present and approach Islam as Islam itself, without any additional adjectives, like ‘Hadhari’ or whatever. That way of packaging Islam puts off Muslims and is sure to be rejected. This is one reason why many Malaysian Muslims resisted the very concept or label of ‘Islam Hadhari’.


Friday, October 16, 2009


We have been advised in the Qur’an that goodness and evil are not equal. Therefore we should return good for evil (41:34). We come to know through Quran Recitation that this has been expressed repeatedly in the Qur’an in different wording.

This means that believers should always react positively. At all events they should refrain from negative reaction. Their behavior should be proper, not only in normal circumstances, but also in abnormal circumstances. That is, even when any group displays bad behavior, it is still incumbent on the believers not to display a retaliatory mentality. At that moment, too, they should prove to be men of principle. They should maintain their good behavior, even in the face of bad behavior from others.

Interpreting this verse, Abdullah ibn Abbas comments: ‘God has commanded Muslims in this verse, even when they are angered, to resort to patience and tolerance. Whenever anyone shows any signs of ignorance or a biased mentality, believers should adopt the path of tolerance and fortitude. And whenever anyone displays bad behavior, believers should forgive him.

This Islamic School of thought may be described as positive behavior. That is, opting for moderation instead of retaliation. Whatever the attitude of others may be, believers should always remain true to the highest Islamic standards of human character.

A believer is one who begins to lead his life in accordance with the higher realities; the level of whose thinking is above that of ordinary human beings. Such a person comes to have a limitless capacity for tolerance. His inner-self is so deeply immersed that in peace, no outward event can disturb his emotional balance. He takes pity on those who are easily angered. Where ordinary people become provoked, he remains blissfully serene.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Adult Education in Pakistan

There is great difference between the education of children and the education of adults. The chief purpose of children is to go to school and learn. But the adults may also have been engaged in other professional activities too. So educating adults is a bit challenging task.

For the purpose of education, adults may be divided into two classes the illiterate and the partially literate. It is the aim to see that every person in the arithmetic. Such knowledge is absolutely necessary for every person living in a democratic country. Some adults only get Islamic education like Quran Recitation, Hadith, Qur’an Memorization, Fiqah etc. They are not really obsessed by modern education. The purpose of adult education should be to create awareness for both forms of education.

While some of the people have modern education but no religious education. This also makes their life difficult because being a Muslim one must have proper knowledge of Islam. Those people who aim to get Islamic education and are struck in professional life can benefit from online Islamic Schools.

It is the aim that such adults as are partially literate should be taken further on the road of knowledge. They would be taught their rights and responsibilities as citizens. It will be their duty to pass the knowledge on to those who have little knowledge.
In Pakistan too, an adult school was first started in Karachi in a spirit of social service. The work was done in night schools. With the increase in the number of pupils, the number of institutions has also increased.

Generally, almost all the work is done free. It is done out of a spirit of social service. The importance of the work has now fully recognized all over the country. The government has extended its patronage and encouragement to adult education. To derive out illiteracy from the country, the government is very keen. It is a matter of pride that more and more Adult Education Societies are coming into existence in the different parts of the country.

Interview: Zainah Anwar on Muslim Feminism

Based in Kuala Lumpur, Zainah Anwar, a leading Malaysian social activist and intellectual, is one of the founding members of ‘Sisters in Islam’, an activist group struggling for the rights of Muslim women. She is also one of the pioneers of Musawah, a recently launched initiative to build a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, she talks about her vision for an understanding of gender justice in Islam and the place of Islam within a democratic nation-state.

Q: You may not like being labeled, but how would you describe yourself? As a Muslim feminist? A feminist who is also a Muslim? An Islamic feminist?
A: I am a feminist. That is my foremost identity. But I am also a Muslim, and so I have no problems calling myself a ‘Muslim feminist’. I am very proud of my Muslim identity. I don’t see any contradiction in being Muslim and feminist at the same time, because I have been brought up with an understanding of Islam that is just and God that is absolutely just, including in matters related to women and gender relations. At the same time, I would hesitate to call myself an ‘Islamic feminist’. I find that term ‘Islamic’ too ideological. I prefer to call myself a ‘Muslim feminist’, because the term ‘Muslim’ signifies human agency and how I, as a human being, understand God and religion. Because of political Islam, there is a tendency to believe that anything labeled ‘Islamic’ is the divine word of God, unmediated by human agency and interpretation, which is not the case, if course. Islam does not speak on its own, without human intervention. So, at Sisters in Islam, we are trying to start using the term ‘Muslim’ more, rather than ‘Islamic’, to emphasise the human role in defining what is seen as Islam and what is not. For example, we prefer to use the term ‘Muslim Family Law’, rather than ‘Islamic Family Law’, to help Muslims better understand that the call for reform is not a call to change God’s words, but, rather, to change Muslim understandings of God’s message.
Q: Many Muslim feminists seek to articulate a gender-just understanding of Islam based almost wholly on their reading of the Quran, without taking recourse to the corpus of Hadith and fiqh, possibly because the latter two sources contain prescriptions and rules that seem to greatly militate against gender justice. How do you relate to these latter two sources of Muslim tradition?
A: For me, as a Muslim, the Quran is the ultimate authority. Anything that contradicts it, including in the corpus of Hadith and fiqh, cannot be considered to be Islamic. Furthermore, I also believe that the Quran is open to multiple interpretations, as a result of human agency in seeking to understand the text. There is no final, authoritative human interpretation of the text. Thus, the history of Quranic exegesis is a story of a constant, and continuing, endeavour of Muslims seeking to understand the word of God, a wondrous exercise that can result in new meanings and perspectives evolving over time. If you read a particular verse of the Quran you might derive a certain meaning today, but, five years later, the same verse might suggest something quite different or deeper. There is nothing as a static, frozen interpretation of the text. Interpretations of the same text can vary due to temporal and spatial differences, differences in the class and educational background or the gender of the reader or the sort of experiences the reader has been through and which informs her when she reads the Quran. Thus, every understanding of the Quran by us mortals is really simply an effort to understand it, rather than being the absolute understanding, which God alone knows. To claim that a certain understanding of the Quran—even if it be that of the most well-known ulema—represents the absolute, final understanding is simply fallacious. It is tantamount to the sin of shirk or associating partners with God, because only God knows absolutely what God intends to say and mean.
In other words, Muslim feminists argue against any monopolistic claims on the part of anyone, including the ulema, of knowing fully the mind of God, as revealed in the Quran. Every understanding of the Quran is necessarily a partial, limited, and humble one, which cannot be considered to be perfect or free from error. The great ulema of the classical period were always conscious of this. They never said, ‘Islam says this or that’. It is ‘I’ who is saying or interpreting, and ‘I’ could be wrong or ‘I’ could be right. Only God knows best, they always ended. But, today, such acknowledgment of the humble, fallible self no longer exists. The ideologues who claim to speak for Islam always claim that ‘Islam says this’ or ‘God says that’, and anyone who challenges this is at once accused of being against Islam and God. This is tantamount to claiming to be the embodiment of God, and is, in fact, a form of shirk.
Q: Muslim feminists are routinely accused of seeking to undermine, if not defy, the authority of the ulema as authoritative spokesmen of Islam, and of allegedly serving as fifth-columnists or ‘agents’ of the West or of what are described as the ‘enemies of Islam’. How do you respond to this charge?
A: We are not questioning the authority of the ulema because we want to. What we are saying is that if someone’s interpretation of Islam violates the norms of justice, which are so integral to the Quran, and if this interpretation is then imposed on us as a source of laws and public policies that are oppressive and discriminatory towards women, then we, as citizens of a democratic country, must speak out against this. If there are ulema who subscribe to a gender-just vision of Islam, there would be no reason for us to disagree with them. We would, in fact, have lent them our whole-hearted support. But, sadly, there are very few such ulema on the scene.
If you want to take Islam into the public sphere, you can only expect people to challenge you if they disagree with your views, especially when your views are made into laws that govern the lives of citizens. You cannot prevent others challenging you by using the argument that only you know what Islam is, and that no one else has the right to speak of, or for, it. This would, in effect, be tantamount to equating your own views with that of God, a grave sin in Islam. Sadly, however, that is precisely the tendency of conservative ulema and Islamist radicals alike.
We are not claiming that ours is the sole, authentic, authoritative interpretation or understanding of the Quran, which must replace the interpretation of the conservative ulema or Islamist ideologues. As I mentioned earlier, all interpretations are necessarily limited and partial, at best. But what we are arguing for is the need to respect everyone’s right—the Muslim feminists’, the ulema’s, the Islamists’ and everyone else’s—to seek to understand and interpret God’s word. We are all on a journey of discovery of the intent of God’s word, and this journey will never be complete. We are arguing for recognition of this fact. We are arguing against the authoritarian tendency, sadly so marked among many conservative ulema and Islamist ideologues, to imagine that one’s own understanding of God’s word is absolute and binding on everyone else and that this must be a source, if not the only source, of law and public policy. In this way, they are, in fact, limiting God to their own limited experience, understanding and intellect.
That said, I do not deny that the ulema and other religious scholars do have their own roles to play. And I do believe that there are principles within the rich heritage of Islamic jurisprudence that render open the possibilities for re-interpretation to bring about justice and equality in the modern world. What I am against are the monopolistic claims and the insistence that law and public policy must be based only on their misogynist and unjust interpretations, and that those who disagree with them are to be labeled as anti-Islam, as against God or as opposed to the shariah. This is what is turning people against the Islamist demand for an ‘Islamic state’ and Islamic law. It turns their project into a totalitarian scheme where there is no democratic space for anyone else to differ and disagree.
Q: Does this mean that you are opposed to the notion of the ‘Islamic state’, which is such a central pillar of the agenda of Islamist groups?
A: If Islam is to be a source of law and public policy-making, this has to come about as a result of democratic engagement, and cannot be imposed on the people, as the Islamists demand. The modern nation-state, with all its coercive powers, did not exist at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. For self-styled Islamist groups to seek to use the modern nation-state, with its massive coercive powers, to force people to lead a life that they see as consonant with Islam—that is to say, their own interpretation and understanding of Islam—completely negates the Muslim heritage, which was characterized by a tolerance of diverse schools of jurisprudence and theology that themselves emerged from diverse understandings of Islam.
Another reason for my opposition to the notion of a so-called ‘Islamic state’ is that this is used by many of its advocates simply as a tool for acquiring political power. It is also a regressive ideology, in the sense that, in the face, first of European colonialism, and, now, continuing Western hegemony, it is a reflection of a hankering for the times when Muslim political power was at its height. It is the yearning of a defeated people, a dream of a people who know, but perhaps refuse to recognize, that they are defeated by others. But going back in time is not really the way to overcome the predicament of loss, failure and defeat. It is not the way to acquire power and ascendancy, because the world has so dramatically changed today. Issues like human rights, justice, democracy, women’s rights are the major ethical demands globally today. In the face of all this, the sort of ‘Islam’ that conservative ulema and Islamists alike want to impose, stridently totalitarian and vehemently against democracy, human rights, minority rights and gender justice, is simply not the answer. It is, obviously, and needless to say, unsustainable. In Malaysia, even within the Islamist party PAS, there is now a debate on which direction it should take—to stay firm on its demand for an ‘Islamic state’ ruled by the ulema or to democratize and modernize, along the lines of the AKP model in Turkey. Hardliner ‘Islamic’ rule will in the end miserably fail in providing the credible alternative to the present global system that its advocates believe they are able to offer.
Q: Muslim ‘progressives’ like yourself seem to argue that the right to engage in creative, independent interpretation of Islam, or ijtihad, is not, or should not be, the sole preserve of the ulema, but that it should be democratized. On the other hand, the ulema argue that those outside their circle do not have the right to engage in ijtihad as they lack the necessary scholarly credentials in the Islamic tradition. How do you view this conflict, which is really about competing visions of religious authority?
A: I am most happy to be silent about religion if Islam is just in the private sphere, between me and God. But we live in a country where Islam is a source of law and public policy. Unfortunately, those in religious authority who construct these laws do not recognize equality and justice. They seriously believe God made men superior to women and therefore men’s authority over women is eternal and divine. Never mind the realities before their very eyes. There are some men who are superior to some women and there are some women who are superior to some men. But this belief in the inherent superiority and the authority of all men over all women has led to laws and practices that continue to discriminate and oppress women. I recognize the authority of the ulema to use their scholarship to help draft laws made in the name of Islam. But what I am opposed to is the belief that only the ulama and the Islamists have the sole authority to do this and that we as citizens of a democratic state have no right to question and challenge the injustice of these laws, in substance and implementation. What I am questioning is the use of one’s authority of the authoritative text for authoritarian purposes.
Now, if no one among those who consider themselves ulema or mujtahids is going to challenge this hegemonic agenda, then civil society will have to stand up and speak out and protest. We are not engaged in protesting against this simply to challenge the ulema. We are doing this because their understanding of Islam impacts so deleteriously on us, and so grossly violates our vision of Islam as a religion based on justice. I, as a citizen of a democratic state, who has not gone through a traditionalist education in Islam and do not speak Arabic, still have the right to speak out, and seek to understand and interpret my religion, because the conservative, misogynist ulema have miserably failed to make Islam relevant to women in the 21st century, to human rights, to social justice, to democracy. They have failed to address the social aspirations for justice and equality of the people. It is because of our experience of injustice, discrimination, oppression justified in the name of Islam that we seek to claim our right to understand our religion in ways that makes sense to our realities. I believe in a God that is kind, just and compassionate. So anything done in the name of Islam must be just and compassionate. It is as simple as that. We are doing this because as Muslims, we do not want to have to abandon our faith in order to be a democrat, a feminist, a human rights defender. We believe that equality, fundamental liberties, freedom of religion, gender justice and so on, do not contradict the teachings of Islam. The problem is our understandings contradict the understandings of Islam of the conservative ulema and Islamists, which they want to impose on the rest of society. Why should they have the right to deprive me of my right to love my God and love my religion?
If the ulema can provide me the answers that I am looking for, to enable me to be a Muslim and a feminist, a democrat, a human rights defender, then I’d rather they do that job. But, the sad fact is that they simply are not doing the job. This is the challenge before them. The answer is not to silence the dissenting and questioning ummah, and to declare them as apostates, but to rise up and engage in dialogue in the face of the huge challenges before us.
Let me come back to your point about the argument that is sometimes put forward that ‘modernist’ Muslim scholars, including Muslim feminists, do not have the necessary qualifications to engage in ijtihad, and, therefore, do not have the right to interpret the Islamic sources on their own. Let me say it again: if you want to use Islam as a source of law and public policy, then every citizen has the right to question and speak out. Public law and policy must pass the test of public reason. If you don’t want any public debate, then you must remove religion from the public sphere. Also, consider the various Islamist groups here in Malaysia, and around the world generally. Most of them are led not by traditional, madrasa-trained ulema but by graduates of secular universities, mainly doctors, engineers, science graduates. They have similar a secular educational background as us. They are not experts in Arabic or in Quran, Hadith and fiqh. They have not spent twenty years studying in madrasas or at Al-Azhar. Yet, why is it that their claims to speak for and of Islam and to engage in ijtihad are not similarly dismissed, as ours are? As far as I can see, the only reason for this is that they say the ‘right’ things, the things the conservative ulema want to hear, unlike us who dissent on a host of issues from the conservatives.
Q: How do you see the link or relation between secular feminism and Muslim or even Islamic feminism? Can there be a synergy between them for common goals and purposes, or are they mutually opposed?
A: I think the sort of feminism that will work in a given context depends on contextual factors, and so there is indeed a possibility, and even a need, for different forms of feminism to collaborate on common issues. Given the rise of political Islam in most Muslim countries, secular feminism today faces a brick wall. Perhaps it can work in some contexts where women are up against an authoritarian state that claims Islamic credentials and uses its own version of Islam to marginalize, even oppress, women. But in Malaysia, many Muslims still fantasise about this utopian Islamic state. Given the socio-political context, our struggle for equality and justice has to be justified in ‘Islamic’ terms for the Malay Muslims. But we believe that any understanding of Islam as a source of law and public policy must also be grounded as well in human rights principles, our constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination and our lived realities today. We do not live in a vacuum where Islam can be exercised in a vacuum. We pose a challenge to the Islamic state agenda of the Islamists because we speak for gender justice in the name of Islam itself, which is something that resonates with every Muslim woman who has suffered some form of oppression or discrimination in the name of her religion.
In such a context, for us to provide an understanding of Islam that is gender-just is a great source of empowerment for Muslim women because, all along, they have been taught that a good Muslim woman is one who meekly obeys her male guardians and suffers in silence because this is what Islam is supposed to be.
To return to your point about possibilities of dialoguing with other streams of feminism, let me say that Sisters in Islam is at the forefront of a global initiative to bring Muslim women activists together to build a movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family. We are generating hope among many Muslim feminists, those who work with religion and those who work just within human rights principles. What we bring to the women’s and human rights movement is the possibility of Islam as a source of liberation and empowerment, not a source of oppression. We believe it is important to ground our demands for reform of the discriminatory Islamic family law and practices within a holistic framework that include Islamic arguments, Constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination, international treaties that our governments have ratified and the lived realities of women and men today.
Q: Numerous Muslim feminist groups across the world, including Sisters-in-Islam, are dependent on foreign, especially Western, institutional funding. Why is this so? I ask this question particularly since their source of funding opens them to the charge of serving as ‘agents’ of non-Muslim forces that are portrayed as engaged in a ‘conspiracy’ to undermine Islam.
A: It is strange that although Islamist groups, too, get funding from overseas, no one levels the same sort of criticism against them. If we Muslim feminist groups are ‘tools’ of the West, the same could also be said of Muslim governments across the world that are so dependent on Western countries and Western-dominated institutions for aid. If our Muslim critics are so concerned that we should not have to take recourse to Western organizations for funding, why don’t rich Muslims, like the Gulf Arabs drowning in petrodollars, ever assist groups like us? We would be happy to accept their aid as long as they do not interfere with our work. But, of course, they will not aid groups like ours. The reason is simple: they do not believe in equality for women.
I would like to make it clear here that our donors do not interfere at all with our functioning. We draw up proposals, set the agenda, and set it before potential funders, who, if they provide us with money, do not at all meddle with the way we go about doing the things we do. We just have to be accountable for the money we spent.
That said, I must also add that we are now beginning to approach more local donors so that Malaysians have a greater stake in our work, with which they have become increasingly familiar in recent years. In fact, every attack against us is an opportunity for us to open up the space for us to be heard. Because of this, the support for our work has grown, as there is greater awareness of the significance of our work to Malaysia’s survival as a democratic multi-ethnic country.
Q: A major problem that ‘progressives’ face is that they seem to be dialoguing among each other, preaching to the already ‘converted’, without being able to reach out to others, particularly the ‘traditionalists’ and ‘conservatives’. Do you at Sisters in Islam face the same sort of problem?
A: I think the situation varies in different countries. In Indonesia, for instance, some of the most progressive Islamic thinkers are based within traditional Islamic institutions. Several Indonesian scholars associated with pesantrens or traditional Islamic schools have worked on issues such as human rights, religious pluralism, and gender justice, and are in the forefront of the movement for greater democratization. In their case, it appears that the deeper their understanding of Islam, the greater is their commitment to genuine democracy. One reason for the Indonesian case is that Islam has remained largely outside the purview of state authority and control. Some of the largest Islamic movements in the world are based in Indonesia, such as the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah, and, because they have developed independent of state authority, they are among the leading voices for democracy and social justice in the country. Interestingly, they are also opposed to the setting up of a so-called ‘Islamic state’ in Indonesia. Perhaps this is because they have a long history of struggle against dictatorship. This must have forced them to re-examine their own understandings of the relationship between Islam and politics, being wary, from experience, of any form of dictatorship. They seem very aware that an Islamic state would only impose one understanding of Islam on every citizen and this would lead to totalitarian rule and totally undermine the pluralism of Indonesian society. I am amazed to have met so many democracy activists in Indonesia from the pesantrens and Islamic universities who openly declare their opposition to the idea of an Islamic state and shariah rule. “Islam social” yes, “Islam politics”, no, they declare.
The situation is very different in Malaysia, where the state has much greater control over the Islamic discourse, and Islamic education and scholarship have evolved to serve state power. And over the past few decades with the rise of political Islam, what is being taught and propagated is an ideological Islam to serve the interests of those who demand for an Islamic state and shariah rule.
Q: Despite Muslim, particularly Malay, groups being actively patronized by the Malaysian state, and despite the rhetoric of Malaysia being a ‘model Muslim state’, why is it that the level of Islamic intellectual discourse in Malaysia remains so limited?
A: It is sad, but undeniable, that Malaysia lacks a vibrant intellectual tradition. The contrast with neighbouring Indonesia, for instance, is really stark. I think one reason for this is the sudden and enormous economic growth in Malaysia, which has made us a very materialistic people. Everyone here seems so busy with pursuing material accumulation that the intellectual scene appears so stultifying. One good indicator of this is the fact that there is no faculty of philosophy in a single Malaysian university! No one sees the usefulness of philosophy in life. The focus of our universities is not to encourage critical or innovative thinking, but, rather, to churn out people with degrees who can fit the so-called ‘development’ agenda, which is based entirely on material acquisition and consumerism, which has come to be regarded as the key measure of one’s worth. Consequently, intellectual activity or social activism has come to be regarded as something unrewarding, subversive even. Questioning the state can invite its wrath. Not surprising, then, our intellectual scene, particularly among the Malay Muslims, is pathetic. Since the Malay middle-class is so dependent on the state for its economic fortunes, it is hardly surprising that few of them would be willing to risk challenging the state, including the state’s discourse about Islam, which is largely very conservative. State patronage of the Malays has led the community to become very complacent. When life for them is ‘good’, they believe, why rock the boat, or push away the hand that feeds them? The government has also instilled in them the need to feel grateful to it for the material prosperity that they enjoy and that, therefore, they should desist from anything that might even remotely seem critical of the state and its ideology.
This tendency is buttressed by aspects of traditional Malay culture, which is feudal and hierarchical, which teaches that those in authority are always right and must not be challenged. It stresses conformity and frowns on questioning and dissent.
But this is now slowly changing, after the March 8th elections which saw the ruling party lose five state governments to the opposition. People are far more critical and questioning now. Thus the ever more open contestations on all issues, including Islam. We cannot be silenced anymore.

Q: You, along with colleagues from various countries, recently set up a platform, called Musawah, to galvanise the struggle for gender justice in Muslim communities world-wide. What sort of work does Musawah envisage for itself in the coming years?
A: Musawah was launched last February to a roaring welcome from Muslim women activists and scholars from 50 countries. Over the next few years, we are focused on knowledge-building and movement building. We are about to start a research project on the Qur’anic concept of qawwamah or men’s authority over women, which lies at the core of the unequal construction of gender rights in Islam. It is through this concept of qawwamah that women’s subjugation is rationalised, sustained and operationalised. The legal rights that emanate from this concept not only put women under male authority, they give men the right to terminate the marriage contract at will, to control their wives’ movements, to polygamy, and to other inequalities in the family. Given the changing realities of women’s lives today, the fact that women are also providers and protectors of their families, how can we re-understand and re-construct this concept so that equality and justice between genders and in the family are ensured? This is what we want to focus on.

At the international level, we plan to intervene with international organisations with regard to laws in place in many of our countries that restrict or contravene the international treaties that our governments are party to, especially on the issue of women’s rights and CEDAW. Musawah as a knowledge-building movement will concentrate on developing a body of knowledge on different issues related to Islam, women’s rights and human rights, that can help inform activism and legal and social change in Muslim communities worldwide.
Zainah Anwar can be contacted on
For more details about Sisters in Islam, see

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Letter Bb

Today was lots of fun for the kids. My oldest is a great help and I don't know what I would do without her presence. She is responsible enough to finish her own work and then assist with the others, AlhamduLILLAH.

She's currently finishing the third installment of her second grade reading series and I think that we will both be glad when she's done, InshaALLAH. Then, I hope to take a stronger literature approach.

Last In The Second Grade Series

We are also pushing along with multiplication and we've added copywork so that it will sink in.


She started division as well and she's grasping the concepts well, AlhamduLILLAH.


Then, we made a lapbook/folder for the letter "B".
Letter Bb Folder

We use Alphabooks so that my son can learn whole words as he recognizes the letters and their sounds.
Alphabooks - Letter Bb

For the inside, we used a story called A Little Bird and we made a hand puppet to go along with the poem.

Bb Folder Inside

B is for Bird

Coloring the pages

We also made paper boats after listening to and reading Curious George Rides a Bike and of course they had to try them out immediately.


The instructions are in the book and once my daughter got the hang of it, she was off and running.

Docking Station

We made 19 boats throughout the day!

We Made About 19 Boats

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How to Raise Up a Child?

Children are the blessings for their parents. Children are little angels of God with pure mind. They will learn exactly what you teach them. To make them good humans and Muslims they must be raised or taken care by the way of Allah so that they may succeed in this life and in the life hereafter.

An Islamic School would be the best option for your child to grow up in a purely Islamic environment. Where they teach your child about Allah and that we are only slaves to Allah. In Islamic Schools children are made to opt good deeds from early age and guidance is provided on every stage.

An Islamic School is a place where children not only learn Quran Recitation but completely understand the teachings of Qur’an, they are made to offer prayers regularly, enrich children's spiritual, mental and physical aspects.

We must always seek guidance so that we don't make mistakes and we must also threat our children properly, with softness and not just according to our will. Our children are our responsibility; we are the ones that should care most for them. Caring isn't just being nice or pampering the baby but we must also know what to do, what is good for them and what isn't.

These Pistachios Think I Am Stupid

Do I really need this allergy warning? :)

Restate the Obvious

Multiplication Games and Worksheets

I've only tried the Table Mountain game but they look like fun! Read More...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Online Education Gaining Popularity

Online learning has gained popularity over the past several years simply because it makes the students life easier. Though it may not really provide the socialization process that one can get by attending school the traditional way, in online learning students can complete their program in their own convenience and pace.

With the advent of the Internet getting an education now is easier and more convenient than before. You have an option to complete your degree in two ways. There's the traditional way where you attend classes in your colleges or universities with the other students. And there's the distance learning where you can get your degree online.

Online education is suitable when you are living in a region where there is no such school from where you could learn the desired course. As if you are living in a Non-Muslim country and you want to get Islamic education, what you can do is to join an online Islamic School where you can easily learn Quran Recitation and other Islamic knowledge sitting at your home. It is seen that many people in US, UK, Canada and other countries opt this method to get religious education because it is trustworthy and easily.

Online education will provide student the independence to complete their work in their own pace since there's no deadline. Schedules are flexible and you have full control of time. They have the choice to finish one module in a short period of time or do the same module for several days. It has always been the case that people will tend to delay their work to the point where it's impossible for them to even continue.

Online learning requires you to attend online classes, online discussions, downloading learning materials and uploading the completed assignments. You need to know how to do conferencing, logging in to servers to download materials and uploading content or finished materials to the same server.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Weaving Wonder

This was a productive week, MashaALLAH. My son is doing well with his reading lessons so I decided to add a tiny intro to phonics. He has learned the sounds of some of the letters of the alphabet (I try to do a little bit and then get them reading whole words as soon as possible).

These are the words that he has learned so far.

Teaching the 4 Year Old to Read

Each day, I rewrite them and then cross them off as he reads them. He struggles with the letters "F" and "C" so we will have to focus on those until he knows them without hesitation, InshaALLAH.

I started an alphabet binder for him back in August with coloring pages for each letter.

Alphabet Binder

Since his progress is steady and faster than I anticipated, I added a file folder for each letter by using lapbook pages from Homeschool Share and Preschool Express.

The folders have been three hole punched with the ends cut off (instructions and tips found here).


I might use the discarded portions later when he practices writing his name, InshaALLAH.


Now we can easily add them to the binder and it gives us something exciting (I hope) and different to do with each letter.

Alphabet Binder Letter F

Overall, he really liked making the Letter F Painting the best. We placed masking tape on the paper in the form of the letter and then colored over it. We then removed the tape and voila!

Meanwhile, my daughter has been bugging me to finish her scarf but she doesn't have enough control over the knitting needles just yet. I had to think fast (okay, not that fast, we started that scarf a long time ago) and AlhamduLILLAH I found a tutorial on on weaving with a cardboard loom.

It was a success, MashaALLAH and she really adored the project.

Cardboard Loom

She finished it in a couple of hours and made a nice little rug for her little dollhouse cottage.

Finished Weaving Product

I will have to take a picture of it in the dollhouse one of these days,maybe. Read More...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Character Building in Schools

Character development is a fundamental part of Islamic education and a primary interest in Muslim family's agenda for educating their children. Character building should be the ultimate goal of education followed by professional skills and knowledge. A perfect Islamic School should be a platform where children can learn to be the good citizens.

The role of parents is pivotal in nurturing the development of a child's aptitude toward learning at the most early stages of its growth. That’s why Muslim parents are focused to give the their children teaching of
Qur’an. What is it that we actually want our children to learn? Obviously, we would like our children to eventually become professionals in a particular field. But during the early stages, what do we want our children to develop most? It is of course a child's character.

A child's character is a key-indicator and provides distinctive qualities which may indicate their level of development. These qualities may also be used to distinguish between strong or weak progressions. Likewise, in adulthood we use character to identify and distinguish an individual or groups from one another.

It is observed that in
Quran Recitation schools, teachers are more concerned about the moral character of the children than scientific and modern education.