Thursday, July 29, 2010

Children Too Have Rights Over Their Father

Abu’ul Layth as- Samarqandi (ra) in his book, Tambih al- Ghafilin, relates that a man brought his son to Umar (ra) during his Khilafah and said; “My son does not obey me, he is very disobedient to me.”

Hearing this, Umar (ra) said “Boy don’t you know what rights a father has over his son?”, thereafter he narrated the rights of the father that are duties upon his children.
The boy after listening asked, “Commander of the faithful, do children also have rights over their father?”

Umar (ra) said, “Yes! The children too have rights over their father.”
“What are those rights?” asked the boy.

Umar (ra) replied, “First of all he should search for a good mother for his son. He should marry a virtuous, religious woman, and not any woman of questionable nature and doubtful character.
The second right is to name a child with a good name.

The third right of the child is that he should impart religious knowledge to him and teach him the Qur’an.”

The boy replied, “Commander of the faithful, my father has not discharged any of these duties. Firstly, the woman who is my mother is a slave woman that he had bought for 400 dirhams. She is a woman who is ignorant of religious education, Islamic social manners and morals. It is in her lap that I have passed my infancy. She has not given me any religious education. Who then could I learn from?

Secondly they have not named me with a good name. he has named me Ju’al (meaning an ugly man). I should have been given a good name which was my right, but my father did not discharge his responsibility towards me.

The third is the right of religious education, which they did not give me at all. Now whatever decision you give me I will accept it.”

At this Umar (ra) said to the boy’s father; “You first of all, have been neglectful regarding the boys rights which you did not discharge and now you tell me that your son does not obey you. Get out! It is you who has been disobedient and oppressive.” Read More...

Lots of Free Resources Here

Go to the Muslim Home Education Network and check out the free resources. There are lots. Read More...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Canon Ramadan Paper Craft Decorations

I plan to add some of these to the hallway leading to our classroom, InshaALLAH. If you would like them, choose your paper size and then print. Read More...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Book Review: Velvet Jihad

Name of the Book: Velvet Jihad—Muslim Women’s Quiet Resistance to Islamic Fundamentalism

Author: Faegheh Shirazi

Publisher: University of Florida Press, Gainesville

Year: 2009

Pages: 277

ISBN: 978-0-8130-3354-9

Central to Islamic scripturalist assertion, or ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ as it is often referred to, is the notion of the ideal Muslim woman, whose status, roles and functions are defined by rules and norms deriving from a narrow, restrictive and patriarchal reading of the Islamic scripturalist tradition. The ‘ideal’ Muslim woman in Islamic ‘fundamentalist’ discourse is defined as being submissive to male authority, while being modest and virtuous in a patriarchally-defined sense. She is to be carefully controlled and monitored, at all times, by patriarchal authority. The spread of Islamic ‘fundamentalism’ throughout Muslim communities has had seriously negative consequences for Muslim women’s rights and status. Not surprisingly, groups of Muslim women across the world have begun mobilizing against Islamic ‘fundamentalism’, some on a secular basis, using secular human rights arguments, others, working within a broadly-defined Islamic tradition, employing Islamic arguments for achieving gender equality and challenging patriarchy and misogyny in the name of Islam.

This fascinating book provides a general picture of the status and conditions of women in Muslim communities around the world faced with the challenge of Islamic scripturalist assertion. Shirazi admits that patriarchy is, of course, not a Muslim-specific phenomenon, but argues that the forms that it takes in Muslim communities and Muslim-majority countries makes it particularly problematic and difficult to oppose in that it is generally sought to be legitimised in the name of religion. Hence, challenging such patriarchy is a particularly arduous task as it is easily branded as a challenge to religion itself.

The book catalogues a long list of hurdles and restrictions that millions of Muslim women across the world are subjected to in the name of Islam. These includes stern restrictions on their physical mobility, on their acquiring education, on taking up jobs of their choice, on selecting their spouses, on controlling their own bodies, on choosing their marriage partners, on deciding how to dress, and even on thinking for themselves. They are subjected to deeply patriarchal family laws in most Muslim countries, all legitimised in the name of Islam and enforced by the state, such as those that provide Muslim men the right to arbitrarily divorce their wives, to take additional wives at will without the permission of their existing spouses, to control almost completely the lives of their wives, and even, as in some countries, to take the law into their hands and beat their wives and even and kill them on grounds of infidelity. Shirazi shows how radical Islamists, mouthing slogans of religious and cultural ‘authenticity’ and calling for their brand of what they call ‘shariah rule’, have sought to deny Muslim women a whole range of rights that are afforded to them in some countries, and to scrap progressive laws and replace them with a medieval, patriarchal code which they define as being based on the shariah or divine law. In addition, numerous cultural practices that heavily impinge on Muslim women’s lives that are widespread in certain Muslim communities and that sometimes derive from pre-Islamic practices—the most notorious of these being female genital mutilation and forced child marriages—are often sought to be projected as mandated by Islam. All in all, then, Shirazi very persuasively argues, Islamic ‘fundamentalism’, combined with local forms of patriarchal culture, pose a major threat and challenge to the quest for equality and justice for Muslim women across the world, particularly the poor.

With abysmal levels of education, and being economically heavily dependent on their men folk, it is not surprising that vast numbers Muslim women simply have no choice but to accept their lot. Many, as Shirazi tells us, even accept this as mandated by Islam itself. Yet, Shirazi tells us there is what she colourfully calls a ‘velvet jihad’ astir in across numerous Muslim communities spearheaded by bold Muslim women who are now vocally and stridently challenging all forms of oppression in the name of Islam. She likens it to the ‘velvet revolution’, a peaceful movement of resistance that brought down ‘communist’ dictatorships in eastern Europe in the late 1980s.

What, then, are the means that assertive Muslim women (and there are many, as Shirazi documents) are today adopting to fight patriarchy and misogyny in the name of Islam? They fall into two broad categories. Some Muslim women, who may be defined as ‘Muslim feminists’, are seeking to oppose patriarchal laws, rules and practices using modern human rights arguments, such as secularism, freedom, justice and democracy, linking up with reformers, both men and women, both within their communities and countries and at the international level, to highlight the oppression of women in the name of Islam. Shirazi describes numerous such Muslim women’s groups across the world which are using this approach, with varying degrees of success. This strategy might not, however, have much resonance with religious-minded Muslims, who could easily be made to be believe that such arguments for women’s rights are not just ‘un-Islamic’, but, rather, represent, as it is often put, an ‘anti-Islamic, Western conspiracy’. Indeed, that precisely is what Islamic conservatives and radicals never tire of arguing.

A more culturally-rooted, and, therefore, for many practising Muslims, perhaps a more acceptable way of shaping demands for gender equality and of critiquing misogyny and patriarchy in the name of Islam, Shirazi points out, is represented by the phenomenon often labeled as ‘Islamic feminism’. Not all the women (and men) who are engaged in articulating an Islamic feminist discourse and politics might, however, identify with that label, given the political and ideological baggage associated with the term ‘feminism’. Be that as it may, Islamic feminism, Shirazi shows by drawing on empirical evidence from extensive fieldwork in Africa, Asia, Europe and America as well as a massive corpus of literature available on the Internet, is today a growing challenge to the authoritarian, deeply-patriarchal versions of Islam zealously upheld both Islamic conservatives and ‘fundamentalists’, who, despite their differences, are almost unanimous on the ‘women’s question’.

Islamic feminism, as Shirazi describes it, seeks to recover what its proponents controversially argue is the ‘true Islam’, one which is based on compassion, equality and justice for all—including, most crucially, women and non-Muslims. In this it forcefully challenges conservative and ‘fundamentalist’ versions of Islam that are premised on the subjugation and repression of women and non-Muslims, not withstanding the pious proclamations of their proponents to the contrary. Shirazi describes the various strategies advocates of Islamic feminism employ as they go about their task of seeking to dismantle patriarchy in the name of Islam. A major focus of their efforts is critiquing certain fiqh or juridical rules that harshly impinge on women that were developed by medieval jurists. Islamic feminists insists, contrary to what the ulema or Islamic clerics, and hardliner Islamists, argue, that these are a later development, a human invention, and not part of the shariah or divine law. They point out that these fiqh prescriptions were developed by a class of male clerics who were heavily influenced in their understanding of Islam by the feudal, patriarchal context of their times, and so cannot be said to consist of divinely-revealed edicts. They argue that fiqh must remain dynamic if Islam is to retain its relevance, and that Muslims must come up with new, gender-just fiqh perspectives to conform to the demands and needs of Muslim women today. They see themselves as taking the lead in this task, recovering the lost agency and legacy of Muslim women scholars who, in early Muslim history, played a crucial role in the field of Islamic scholarship.

In dealing with the other principal sources of legislation and beliefs about women—the Quran and Hadith (statements about or attributed to the Prophet Muhammad)—Islamic feminists, as Shirazi shows through her analysis of a number of Islamic feminist texts—adopt a range of positions. In the face of certain Hadith reports that clearly militate against contemporary notions of gender equality and justice, some contend that the Quran is the only text that Muslims need to follow, and that, in any case, the corpus of Hadith is replete with fabricated traditions wrongly attributed to the Prophet by later Muslims simply in order to sanctify patriarchy and the subjugation of women. Hence, they argue, it is not reliable. Others argue that the seemingly patriarchal prescriptions contained in the Quran and the Hadith need to be viewed in the particular historical context of their revelation, in seventh century Arabia, and as relevant to that context but not as being binding and normative for all times. Yet others argue for distilling what they call the spirit of the Quran and focusing on core values that they discern in the text, such as compassion, justice and equality, rather than being bound by a strictly literalist understanding of the scripture.

Citing the works—both literary as well as practical—of a vast number of Muslim women scholars and activists as they seek to counter patriarchy in the name of Islam, Shirazi concludes that their valiant efforts, derided and fiercely opposed by powerful patriarchal forces, truly herald the arrival of a ‘velvet jihad’, one that can play a key role in not just championing Muslim women’s rights but also in fashioning more compassionate and just understandings of Islam while critiquing and standing up to violent, authoritarian, patriarchal mullahs and Islamists who claim to represent Islamic authenticity. That, in short, is what this inspiring book is all about.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Islam and Multiculturalism: Report on a Conference

Much has been written about conflicts involving religious communities across the world by journalists, academics and security ‘experts’. Although these conflicts have local roots, and owe to a host of causes, some locally-specific, others regional and even global, a common factor that links all of them are supremacist notions of the religious ‘self’ and, associated with these, negative images of the religious ‘other’ that are deeply-rooted in dominant understandings of religion. Efforts to resolve these conflicts must, some time or the other, necessarily address head-on the notion of the ‘other’ in religious thought, to critique understandings that brand all non-believers as ‘enemies’ and dismiss their faiths as of no worth at all. This critique needs to go hand-in-hand with efforts to promote more positive understandings of the religious ‘other’ and of other faith traditions and belief systems. In short, while most conflicts involving people of different religious communities are rooted in political and economic factors, they cannot be reduced entirely to them. The crucial role that negative, exclusivist, intolerant and supremacist understandings of religion and the religious ‘other’ play in creating and in fanning these conflicts cannot be denied.

That, in short, was what I learnt at a conference in Singapore that I recently participated in. Organised by the official Islamic council of Singapore, the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapore (MUIS), the conference brought together several dozen academics and activists, Muslims as well as others, from across the world to deliberate on the vexed issue of Islam, Muslims and multiculturalism in our globalised world.

‘Islam is not simply about Muslims alone,’ stressed the well-known Oxford-based Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan in his opening remarks. ‘Rather, it is about us and others working together constructing our common future. We need to dialogue—not just to talk to the other but also to listen to the other and to learn from the other.’ And, he went on, it was not enough just for Muslims and others to talk and listen to each other, but it was also necessary to be open to the possibility of changing and growing as a result of being in dialogic conversation with each other.

That inspiring message was echoed by Ustad Fatris Bakaram, Deputy Mufti of Singapore, who pointed out that multiculturalism was by no means a new experience for Muslims. Medina, where the Prophet and his companions shifted from Mecca, was a thriving multicultural and multi-religious society, as was Christian-ruled Abysinnia, where the Prophet instructed several of his companions to seek shelter, and where, for the first time, Muslims were able to practice their faith free from oppression. Critiquing the claims of radical Islamists (who are, of course, not known for any but the most stern views about non-Muslims and their religions), the Ustaz argued that the intention of the Prophet in migrating to Medina was not to set up ‘Islamic rule’ or Islamic political supremacy, as is often claimed. Rather, it was simply to seek a place where Muslims could practice their faith freely. It was thus wholly erroneous to argue, as Islamists do, the Ustaz explained, that only in an ‘Islamic state’, ruled according to shariah laws, and where Muslims were politically dominant, could Muslims willingly accept multiculturalism.

‘Muslims must learn to live with, and relate to, others amicably,’ the Ustaz insisted, arguing that unless this happened conflict, violent or otherwise, was inevitable. Muslims simply could not afford to continue to live in denial of the extremist tendencies that existed, he added, arguing that it was necessary for Muslims to critique and denounce radicalism and supremacism in the name of Islam that has now emerged as a global menace. ‘We cannot remain isolationist by seeking refuge in the comfort of our own communities,’ he argued. He lamented the fact that many Muslims, even in ‘progressive’ Singapore, hesitated to have close interaction with people of other faiths, with some even fearing that this was prohibited by Islam and that it was a threat to their identity as Muslims. A major issue that urgently cried out to be addressed in this regard, he said, was the widely-prevalent notion that Islam seeks or demands Islamic or Muslim domination over others. This powerful tool in the repertoire of self-styled Islamic radicals, he said, was a potent threat to multiculturalism.

The Ustaz was, likewise, critical of the marked tendency among Muslims to romanticize their past through which they implicitly sought to deny the very real problems in traditional Muslim thought and historical practice about the place and role of the religious ‘other’. In this regard, he insisted that several fiqh or juridical rules developed by the classical Islamic scholars in the early and medieval period with regard to non-Muslims urgently needed to be revised as not only were they not relevant to today’s context but they also conduced to conflictual relations with people of other faiths. The classical notion of non-Muslim territories or lands not ruled by the shariah as dar ul-harb or ‘land of war’, he opined, was, in today’s age, ‘unrealistic and archaic’. Arguing against those who might claim that his stance was tantamount to distorting the shariah, he pointed out that the notions of dar ul-islam and dar ul-harb find no mention at all in the Quran. Rather, he said, they were the product or ijtihad of later jurists, whose readings were based on the particular social and historical context in which they lived and to which they responded. To blindly accept their views, he opined, was sheer ‘ignorance’. The division of the world into dar ul-islam and dar ul-harb, so favoured by Islamists, he insisted, represented a binary thinking that had no basis in the Quran. It was also, he added, a major challenge to Muslims living as minorities, who were made to feel ‘guilty’ for living in what was termed dar ul-harb.

The Ustaz spoke about the need to understand Islamic injunctions by focusing on what are called ‘the intentions of the shariah’ (maqasid-e shariah), which would facilitate a much-need shift from a sternly literalist approach to legal matters. Accordingly, certain fiqh rules might need to change in changing contexts to uphold the underlying aims of the law. Critiquing scripturalist and legal literalism, he argued that numerous fiqh rules to do with relations with people of other faiths needed to be subjected to ijtihad or creative reasoning and re-interpretation in a contextually-appropriate manner in order to promote inter-community and inter-faith relations. This, he cautioned, was not a means to discard scripture, unlike what some Muslims might claim, but, rather, to re-read the scripture in today’s context in ‘an enlightened manner’. It was not tantamount to abandoning the shariah. Rather, it was a plea to realize the underlying aims of the shariah, which included justice, equality and friendly relations with others, in a contextually-sensitive manner.

While rethinking fiqh rules and received notions of other faiths and their adherents was a crucial task for Muslim scholars and activists to engage in so as to improve relations between Muslims and others, the Ustaz added that it was also crucial for Muslims to think beyond their own communities and work for the general good, collaborating together with people of other faiths in this task. In this way, he said, Muslims would learn to accept, even celebrate, religious diversity, to contribute to the welfare of the entire society (and not just of their own community), and to be, as he put it, ‘inclusive and adaptive, no matter in which environment they live in.’

Further dwelling on the importance of the task of critiquing supremacist notions of Islam and Muslim communal identity and of promoting alternate, more open interpretations of the religious ‘other’ in Islamic thought, Abdullah Saeed, Director of the National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies, Melbourne, Australia, pointed out that no religious tradition, Islam included, was a fixed, permanent and homogenous entity that had not undergone any transformation since its inception. Rather, he said, religious traditions are like living beings that emerge and grow over time and adapt to different contexts—although, of course, this is not how religious literalists and other ‘fundamentalists’ imagine them to be. In this regard, he added, in today’s context, where communities are in closer proximity than ever before, it was imperative for Muslims to develop new, and more positive, understandings of people of other faiths and their belief systems and of relations with them. A marked feature of today’s global context was the notion of common and equal citizenship, which is something entirely new. This, he said, necessitated the revision of several traditional Muslim understandings of the ‘other’, because these were rooted in a context of fundamental inequality between Muslims and other people. Mere tolerance of other faiths and their followers would no longer suffice, for it was not based on a positive value for engaging with the religious ‘other’. Rather, he argued, Muslims need to move beyond, to accept the ‘other’ and to champion religious pluralism based on common citizenship, while at the same time recognizing and respecting cultural differences. Yet, he said, multiculturalism has its clear limits, for, if stretched too far, it could lead to religious ghettoisation. It should be tempered, he suggested, with active engagement with people of other faiths for the common good.

Multiculturalism must not mean or lead to freezing communities into separate boxes or reifying religious traditions, argued Reuven Firestone, a trained Rabbi, who heads a centre for Jewish-Muslim Understanding in the USA. It must go beyond respecting cultural and religious differences to actively learning from and sharing with people of different faiths and cultures. This, he said, was precisely what the early Muslim Arabs did, because of which they were able to make marvelous strides in various fields of human activity. One of the major reasons for the later decline of Arab-Muslim civilization, he pointed out, was the shift to more exclusivist notions of the religious ‘other’ that did not conduce to learning from or interacting with them.

Lived Islam is a diverse discursive tradition, understood and expressed in diverse forms, and thus offers a variety of responses to, and interpretations of, other faiths and their adherents and relations with them, stressed the noted Indonesian scholar Azyumardi Azra, Professor at the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Jakarta. These responses ranged from sternly exclusivist and hostile to open and inclusive, each of which presented itself as authoritatively and authentically ‘Islamic’. Critiquing exclusivist and hostile notions of the other in Muslim thought was a necessary task, Azra said, and there were tools available within the broader Islamic tradition, such as tajdid (renewal) and islah (reform) that could be used for this, although not in the strictly literalist manner as advocated by self-styled Salafis and the Wahhabis. This task needed to go along with attempts to ‘indigenise’ Islam to make it part of, and responsive to, local cultures instead of appearing to be a foreign, specifically Arab, cultural import. What he was probably hinting at was the tendency of Muslims to conflate Islam with Arabic language and culture. In this way, he opined, Muslims would be able to understand and live their faith in a manner suitable to the local cultural context that they shared with people of other religions and thus be culturally more integrated with them. Alongside this task of the ‘indigenisation’ of Islam in local cultures what was also required, Azra suggested, was for Muslim scholars to promote the Quranic concept of Muslims as the median or balanced community (ummatan wasatan), followers of the ‘middle path’. This ‘wasatiya Islam’, as Azra termed it, could serve as a powerful counter to Muslim or ‘Islamic’ exclusivism and supremacy.

The thrust of Tariq Ramadan’s presentation was a plea for rethinking fundamental categories in both secular as well as Muslim/Islamic thought. Dwelling on the latter, he argued that ‘reform’ (for which he used the terms islah and ihya) in Muslim/Islamic thought on the question of the religious ‘other’ is an indispensable necessity, although many might balk at this. While the Islamic texts could not be changed or ‘reformed’, what could, he said, were our understandings of them on certain matters. This is because religious understandings are a human product and so can change in response to changing social and historical contexts. Religious traditions, he noted, are a ‘moving reality’ and one’s understanding of one’s tradition is—or should be—also dynamic and open to being transformed with shifts in time and context. The ‘reform’ in Muslim thought with regard to the religious ‘other’ and the fact of religious pluralism that Ramadan suggested was, he said, not to adapt to standards set by others or to be accepted by them but, rather, to make the world a better place for all—for Muslims and for others. Hence, he clarified, what he was advocating was what he called ‘transformational reform’, which was distinct from ‘adaptational reform’. Arguing against those who see the shariah as a closed, fixed body of laws incapable of change and reform, he appealed for a fundamental reform in fiqh rules about people of other faiths and religious pluralism and a concomitant shift in focus in Islamic thought from the rules of fiqh to the basic ‘principles of fiqh’ (usul al-fiqh), through which more appropriate and positive fiqh rules could be formulated to promote inter-community dialogue and solidarity in accordance with today’s context of religious pluralism.

Echoing what several speakers before him had stressed, Ramadan called for the Islamic texts to be read in context and for what he called a new ‘Islamic applied ethics’ that would conduce to better relations between Muslims and others. Again, like numerous other speakers, he indicated the crucial need to critique and challenge certain classical ‘Islamic’ definitions and terms (most notably, the concept of the dars) that, he argued, were a product of a historical context that no longer exists and that militate against better relations with others. He also suggested that Muslims needed to broaden their imagination of what was ‘Islamic’: for instance, a just, egalitarian law could not be branded as ‘un-Islamic’ or ‘anti-shariah’ simply because it was formulated by a non-Muslim political authority. If it was indeed just and egalitarian, it must also be regarded as in accordance with the shariah or even as part of it.

A similar widening of approach and perspective was needed, Ramadan suggested, in Muslims’ understanding of the notion of the ummah. The Prophet Muhammad, he noted, included the Jews of Medina as part of the same ummah as the Muslims, thus suggesting that widely-held Muslim understandings of the notion were restrictive and narrow in a manner not warranted by the Prophet’s own practice. Likewise, he said, Muslims needed to broaden their horizons and be concerned not only for and about themselves but, indeed, for the whole of humankind. ‘Muslims will be respected by others if they contribute and work for not just themselves but for others as well, working for and with them, for siding with the poor, for struggling for freedom and justice for all,’ he very rightly remarked.

For me, the highlight of the conference was hearing the arrestingly charismatic Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, head of the New York-based Cordoba Initiative, speak. The soft-spoken but extremely articulate Egyptian-born and Britain-educated Imam has been in the forefront of efforts to promote dialogue between people of different faiths, inspired by a truly universalistic—and, so, to me, powerfully attractive—understanding of religion. He began by pointing out that Muslims are today perceived as a ‘problem’ the world over. Owing to the actions of self-styled Islamists, Islam is now regarded by many as a security threat. This perception, he said, cannot be denied or wished away simply through apologetic exercises. Across the world, Muslim groups, using the vocabulary of Islam, have spearheaded violent political movements in the name of Islam. This is why, he said, many non-Muslims perceive Islam to be synonymous with violence and even terror. This undeniable fact, he went on, is a challenge to Muslims concerned about their faith, who must act to rescue it from terrorists who use it to give it a bad name.

The Imam debunked certain key myths that many Muslims, wedded to a narrow, communal understanding of Islam, zealously uphold. He pointed out that the Quran addresses itself not to Muslims as a communal group, but, rather to what it calls ‘believers’ or muminun. And this, he argued, is what the companions of the Prophet Muhammad saw themselves as. Based on his interpretation of certain key Quranic verses, the Imam pointed out that the category of muminun was not limited to those who call themselves by the Arabic term ‘Muslim’, and who generally construe the term as referring to a particular community. Rather, he persuasively argued, the muminun that the Quran talks about, for which any other suitable term could be used in other languages, included everyone, no matter what rituals he followed, what language he worshipped in, or whatever name he called himself by, who believed in the one God and in divine accountability after death and practiced good. This, he said, was the basic religion taught by all the prophets of God. Various prophets might have had their own methods of prayer and rituals, but these should be seen not as separate religions or as the bases of separate communities. Rather, they were more like different schools of thought or, in Arabic, mazhabs, of the same religion, or different sunnahs or paths. ‘The various prophets had different signatures, but they shared the same message’, he explained. All the prophets, the Quran says, were of the same status, and, critiquing Muslim claims to supremacy, he argued that nowhere does the Quran declare the Prophet Muhammad to have been the best among them or the most superior—contrary to what many Muslims contend. In actual fact, he pointed out, the Quran warns people not to make any distinction between the prophets. To imagine that the ‘believers’, in the Quranic sense, referred to a particular community that practiced a particular set of rituals in a particular language, as most Muslims do, was, the Imam argued, not at all in accordance with what the Quran says.

The universalistic understanding of religion and the notion of ‘believer’ that he argued the Quran actually preached (which is in marked contrast to how many of those who call themselves ‘Muslims’ understand them), the Imam suggested, was a powerful counter to the communalistic interpretations of Islam that have been, and still are, powerfully dominant and that inherently conduce to conflict. It was, he contended, also a firm basis to bring together the muminun in different communities, no matter what communal label they defined themselves with, to work together for a better world.

A host of other speakers addressed the two-day conference, which was easily one of the most engaging and enriching that I have attended so far. Read More...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Need Quick Math Manipulatives?

Go to the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives site and take a look. I didn't sign up for the free trial but I was still able to use them. Read More...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Top 6 sites for digital textbooks

Top 6 sites for digital textbooks

Monday, July 19, 2010

Lost Legacy of South Asia’s Leading Centre of Islamic Learning

Lost Legacy of South Asia’s Leading Centre of Islamic Learning

In the mid-seventeenth century, Aurangzeb, Emperor of India, granted a mansion in the city of Lucknow to one Mullah Qutubuddin Ansari, a scholar of Islamic law who had sided with him against his brothers in his war of succession for the Mughal throne. The mansion was named Firanghi Mahal after its previous occupant, a French (or Firangi, in Persian) trader.

One of Mullah Qutubuddin Ansari’s four sons, Mullah Nizamuddin Ansari, rose to become one of the most influential ulema of his times, combining mystical, rational as well as scriptural Islamic learning. Under Mullah Nizamuddin, Firangi Mahal, new home of the Ansari family, emerged as India’s leading centre of Islamic studies. Mullah Nizamuddin, and, after him, his descendants, attracted hundreds of seekers of knowledge—mostly, like them, Sunnis, but also several Shias and Hindus—many of who took up employment in various royal courts across the Indian subcontinent. Interestingly, most of them became government bureaucrats rather than professional ulema. Students stayed, some for several years, in buildings located around the Firangi Mahal, attracted by the fame of the scions of this illustrious family, many of who were regarded as accomplished scholars—not just of the Islamic sciences but of ‘rational’ sciences as well.

Mullah Nizamuddin prepared a reformed syllabus of study, which combined Sufi treatises, Islamic texts as well as books on the ‘rational’ sciences such as geography, logic, medicine, philosophy, literature and mathematics. The syllabus that he prepared, named after him as the Dars-e Nizami (‘The Syllabus of Nizami’) is still used by almost all Sunni madrasas across South Asia today, albeit in modified forms. In that sense, Mullah Nizamuddin and the ulema of his Firangi Mahal family can be said to be the founders of the existing madrasa system in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and among most South Asian diasporic communities.

Today, almost nothing of that past grandeur of Firangi Mahal remains. The Firangi Mahal—or whatever is left of it—is located off a busy road constantly clogged with slow-moving traffic. A narrow lane, lined on either side with overflowing open drains and strewn with garbage, winds through run-down unpainted barrack-like houses with broken windows and walls festooned with posters of rival political parties. Goats sniff through piles of vegetable peels and rotting fruit. Ahead, an enormous mound of bricks and mud squats like a crumbling pyramid. A thin slice of wall peeks out from the rubble. The serpentine roots of a peepul tree grow out of what was once a delicately-carved dome. This was once the grand Firangi Mahal.

A board tagged on to a layer of bricks announces the now non-existent ‘Madrasa Nizamia’. This madrasa was set up in 1913 by one of the most well-known members of the Firanghi Mahal family, Maulana Abdul Bari, best known for being the first President of the Jamiat ul-Ulema-i Hind, an association of Indian ulema who played a leading role in India’s struggle for independence. Prior to this, learning at Firangi Mahal had been informal, with students studying with individual members of the Firangi Mahal family or in rented houses while studying in the teachers’ homes. Abdul Bari had sought to transform his family’s tradition of teaching and instruction into something resembling a modern school. But of that nothing now survives save for this rusted tin board. A few unlit, crumbling rooms remain from the original structure. These are now occupied by half a dozen families of weavers and embroiderers. Washing hangs from rafters poking out skeletons that remain of the walls. Hand-looms click and clack where once learned maulvis lectured.

35 year old Khalid Rashid Firangi Mahali, Imam of the Lucknow Eidgah, is struggling to revive the lost tradition of learning of his forefathers. A student of the Christ Church College, Lucknow, he went on to finish the fazilat degree from Lucknow’s renowned Dar ul-Ulum Nadwat ul-Ulema, and then acquired a Ph.D. in Arabic from Lucknow University, where he worked on the contributions of his ancestors to Islamic education. The youngest member of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, he is known for his moderate, progressive views: he is the Convenor of the Lucknow-based Movement Against Terrorism, and is an ardent champion of girls’ education. Not surprisingly, he has his share of critics among the Muslims of Lucknow. He has even received death-threats for his outspoken views. Some months ago, he barely escaped death when he was fired upon by some disgruntled Muslim youth.

‘Our madrasa was once a leading centre of Islamic learning,’ Maulana Khalid says. ‘Numerous leaders of India’s independence struggle, including Gandhi, would stay in the madrasa when they visited Lucknow.’ The Partition of India, however, had spelled its doom. With Partition, most of the Muslim landed gentry of northern India left for Pakistan, and the madrasa, like so many others, lost a valuable source of patronage. Although several members of the Firangi Mahal family staunchly opposed the Partition—many of them were pro-Congress and some were even associated with the Communist Party—many others were fervent supporters of the Muslim League and the Pakistan demand. With the Partition, most of the family shifted to Pakistan, and some from there to the Gulf and the West, taking with them most of the precious books and other documents that had been the family’s prized possessions. None of them continued the family’s tradition of Islamic scholarship. Only two members of the extended family—Khalid Rashid himself, and his brother, Tariq Rashid, both sons of Maulana Ahmad Miyan Firangi Mahali—are qualified ulema.

Some years ago, Khalid Rashid explains, the family tried to revive the madrasa at Firangi Mahal. His brother Tariq Rashid, also a graduate of the Nadwat ul-Ulema, Lucknow, managed to have a single room in the crumbling ruins of the madrasa vacated from the illegal tenants who occupy the complex. Here he began giving lessons, but his experiment proved short-lived. Five months later, the classes were discontinued, and shortly after Tariq Rashid left for the United States, where he now manages an Islamic Centre in Florida.

In 2000, Khalid Rashid acquired a large plot of land in the heart of Lucknow, adjacent to the city’s Sunni Eidgah, where he set up the Madrasa Nizamia, named after his illustrious forefather. The madrasa, housed in an impressive three-storey structure, offers a seven-year alim course, structured on the Dars-e Nizami, along with certain ‘modern’ subjects such as English, Hindi and Computer Applications. Presently, some 150 students are pursuing the course. The madrasa also conducts a full-time six year alim course for girls, and now has some fifty girl students on its rolls. Khalid Rashid has opened a similar madrasa in Sihali, the ancestral home of the Ansaris of Firanghi Mahal.

In addition to the madrasa, Khalid Rashid also operates the Lucknow Islamic Centre, which is located within the madrasa campus. It has an ambitious publishing programme, Khalid Rashid explains, focussing particularly on printing books and fatwa collections of generations of Firangi Mahal scholars that are no longer available in the market, some of which exist only in manuscript form. The Centre organises haj orientation camps for would-be hajis, training courses for imams, and occasional lectures on communal harmony, to which people of other faiths are also invited. It also has a dar ul-ifta, manned by a team of three qazis. So far, it has issued some 300 fatwas, including, recently, a fatwa that met with considerable opposition from certain hardliners because it insisted on universal education for girls.


After my interview with Khalid Rashid, I stuffed myself into a cycle-rickshaw and headed down, two kilometres away, to Bagh-e Maulvi Anwar, the ancestral graveyard of the Firangi Mahal family. The area was fringed with scores of ancient structures—mosques, mausoleums and palaces—almost all in advanced stages of disintegration, that date to the times of Lucknow’s erstwhile Shia rulers. Nothing in this squalid sea of filth and poverty even remotely resembled the image of Tourism Department posters that tirelessly extol the ‘exotic Lucknow of the Nawabs’ for the benefit of gullible would-be tourists.

Inside, the graveyard was littered with hundreds of graves, some simple mounds of mud, others elaborate marble mausoleums topped with carved gravestones. In a corner of the graveyard was a large canopied complex—it contained, among others, the grave of Mulla Nizamuddin himself. It was a Thursday evening, when pilgrims flock to Sufi shrines. A party of women—Hindus and Muslims—squatted at the entrance of the grave, mumbling their prayers and fiddling prayer beads. I stepped inside, settling down on the bare floor in front of the grave of Mullah Nizamuddin—a slender structure draped in a fading green cloth and lined with rose petals. An ancient man with an unpleasant face hobbled about busily, placing bottles of water in front of the grave and spreading out bunches of incense sticks and packets of popcorn-shaped sweets. A woman poked her head in through the door—women are not allowed to enter—and asked him for some ‘holy water’. The man grabbed a bottle, murmured some mantras and blew his breath into it, and then passed it to her. She handed him a five rupee note, which he stuffed into his pocket. He turned to me and asked if I wanted a similar bottle, ‘blessed’, he added, ‘with the baraka of Mullah Nizamuddin’. I politely refused, and he seemed somewhat offended at that.

Mullah Nizamuddin was, of course, no acclaimed Sufi saint, and he was certainly no miracle-monger, but that is how the awe-struck devotees who flock to his grave think he was. When I met Khalid Rashid again later that evening, he lamented how the grave of his ancestor had been changed into what he called a centre for un-Islamic ‘corruption’ (khurafat). The men who controlled the grave were not members of the Firangi Mahal family, he said. They had turned the grave into a centre of a cult simply to fleece the credulous, he explained. ‘We’ve tried to stop this, but we couldn’t. It would have led to sectarian conflict’, he said.

Mullah Nizamuddin, I could not help imagining, must certainly be groaning in his grave horrified at what it has now turned into. And also at what has happened to the Firangi Mahal itself, at one time the leading centre of Islamic learning in all of India. Read More...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Islam and Enduring Hardship

(In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful, all praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger)

A-uthu billahi minash shaytanir rajeem. Bisillahir rahmanir raheem. Al hamdu lillahi rabbil 'alameen. Was salaatu was salaamu 'alaa ashrafil mursaleen. Sayidinaa wa nabi'na wamoulanaa Muhammadin wa'ala aalihee wa sahbihee wasallim.

We as Muslims have great source of information and knowledge for which we can adhere to it as a divine source of satisfaction if we understand and explore the right sources to experience the appropriate path of forgiveness and this is where you are to understand and practice the ultimate path of success and glory.

To help you understand the practical and social aspects of enduring hardship in the context of Islam it is that experience that each of us face at a point in our lives with grief, tremendous loss, materially and emotionally and tragedy which may be result of a accident, loss of a loved one, failing an examination, failure of a business or career venture which was built by your own hands or serious illness.

This is where one from another the experience and the hardship is difficult to share and this is precisely where the sense of emptiness, numbing of sense and utter despair becomes so intense that one starts to question things such as the entire purpose of existence or life. And this is where such a person is often seen as taking over stressed and fall a victim of depression for which the religion and other things become less important as the senses go numb.

For this reason Holy Quran tells us in Sura Al-Baqara, verses 155-157, Allah subhanallahu ta'ala reminds us: Be sure We shall test you with something of fear and hunger; some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil) but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere. Who say when afflicted with calamity: "Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhir raji-oon"




Friday, July 9, 2010

MashaALLAH! She's done it!

It's nice to be inspired/challenged by my children. They are young but they illustrate just how much time there is in a day and how much can be accomplished. They just sit down and do the work. Don't get me wrong, they know how to goof off and procrastinate, but sometimes they are so much better at focusing on their work.

My six year old has completed her task of reading 50 books in a year, mashaALLAH and she's done it in 11 months. Some of these books were easy to read and some were way beyond her scope - like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, (or so I thought).  I'm thinking of getting her an ereader as her prize because as soon as she read the 50th book, she picked up an old favorite and started reading it again.

I started my own 50 books in a year back in January and I'm almost halfway through. This challenge is no joke! I've hit a brick wall and my motivation has faltered a bit. Still, I'm trying to regain my composure and get ahead of schedule (I'm on books 19, 20 and 21) but I'm sharing my time with other endeavors (trying to get in some exercise and Arabic/Islamic studies, homeschool planning, Ramadan planning - eek!).

What are some ways that you challenge yourselves?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

How to Get Your Child to Graduate By Age 14 |

How to Get Your Child to Graduate By Age 14 | Read More...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Children's Literature - Resources for Teachers

There are lots of resources here and here, hopefully it's something that benefits you, InshaALLAH. Read More...

Friday, July 2, 2010

Halal and Haram in Quran

“O ye who believe! Eat of the good things wherewith We have provided you, and render thanks to Allah if it is (indeed) He whom ye worship” (Qur’an 2:172)

Halal is an Arabic word used many times in Quran, which means Permitted or Acceptable according to an Islamic law. It’s the opposite of Haram which means Prohibited or Unacceptable according to an Islamic law. In Quran Allah commands us not to eat any Haram foods and only to eat Halal foods; it’s mandatory.

“They ask thee (O Muhammad) what is made lawful for them. Say: (all) good things are made lawful for you. And those beasts and birds of prey which ye have trained as hounds are trained, ye teach them that which Allah taught you; so eat of that which they catch for you and mention Allah's name upon it, and observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is swift to take account” (Qur’an 5:4)

Even though cows, sheep’s, goats etc are Halal but in Quran Allah tells us that these animals should be slaughtered in the name of Allah before eating them.

“And eat not of that whereon Allah's name hath not been mentioned, for lo! it is abomination. Lo! The devils do inspire their minions to dispute with you. But if ye obey them, ye will be in truth idolaters” (Qur’an 6:121)

The following is a list of some of the Halal products according to the teachings of miraculous Quran:

• Milk (from cows, sheep, camels, and goats)
• Honey
• Fish
• Plants which are not toxic
• Vegetables and fruits
• Dry fruits and nuts like peanuts, cashew nuts, hazel nuts, walnuts etc.
• Grains like wheat, rice, rye, barley, oat, etc.

Some of the Haram products:

• Meat from pig - pork, ham, bacon, etc
• Pork-based products - sausages etc.
• Animals improperly slaughtered or already dead before slaughtering
• Animals slaughtered someone else other than Allah
• Birds of prey and animals without external ears (i.e., snakes, reptiles, worms, insects etc.)
• Blood, foods made with the help of any of the above products.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Amazing Origami

If I had this much time, lol...