Monthly Archives: August 2010

Identifying the real enemy

Muslims For Peace

I am an American-Muslim who was born in Pakistan. I belong to a religious community which is persecuted throughout Pakistan for its beliefs – in particular for its rejection of an aggressive jihad. Voices calling for the killing of people such as myself are regularly heard in mosques and religious seminaries throughout Pakistan. Following the massacre of nearly 90 members of the community, while most of my Pakistani ‘friends’ failed to send me a message of condolence, my hospital program director led a moment of silence. He did not care if the victims were orange or green, believed in the Sun or disbelieved in the moon. All he cared for was humanity – welcome to America!

I am writing this article to remind America of its distinctive founding values.  At the same time, I have message for American-Muslims.

Controversy over the “Ground Zero” mosque is raging as opponents voice fiercer arguments against it. Actually they are just repeating the same arguments more fiercely – that a mosque is a center for terrorism and Islam, by nature, is a terrorist faith. Islamophobia has recently gained more support as some politicians repeat the same rhetoric against the Muslim faith.

Here is my point – we must be clear about what defines Islam and we must be able to tell the difference between Islam and those who exploit it. Islam is not what Osama bin Laden or Faisal Shehzad say. Islam is what the Quran says and what Prophet Muhammad practiced. Islam is not what we see with the government of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan’s suppression of religious freedom.  Islam believes in religious liberty as well as free speech. It says “There is no compulsion in religion.” And “Let him who will believe and let him who will disbelieve”. Prophet Muhammad was a champion of religious tolerance and freedom. Jews coexisted in Medina during his time. About the Christians of the world, he declared openly that any Muslim that harmed them in any way would spoil God’s covenant and disobey him. He said, “Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.”

Most American-Muslims today are peaceful law-abiding citizens. Why then should the acts of a few fanatic terror organizations that operate under the name of Islam elsewhere be used to attack the sentiments of over 2 million American Muslims?

America, I must remind you that you are a champion of human rights in the present age. You must not compare yourself to despotic and totalitarian regimes like Saudi Arabia or to countries like Pakistan suffering from the curse of fanaticism. You must uphold the clear injunctions of the First Amendment. There have been challenges in the past. Uprisings have taken place against the Catholic Church and the Jewish community. We must learn from these events and not fall prey to hate and religious discrimination in this age.

I admit that certain Muslim groups espouse extreme behavior, but remember that as a moderate Muslim, I am a bigger target of the hate of such fanatics than you are. I suffer each day at their hands across the Muslim world. In a recent sermon, an influential Pakistani religious cleric said he would tolerate Jews and Christians but would like to see members of my community killed throughout Pakistan.  Just this last week, two prominent members of my community were gunned down for their religious beliefs, one a US citizen. As such, you must realize who the fanatics are and who the moderates are.  You must understand that Islam is not to blame, that a particular fanatic interpretation of it is.

To my fellow moderate American-Muslims, I ask why are so few talking? Pick up your pen and make it clear that you stand against fanaticism and disown fanatic interpretations of our beautiful faith. If you truly disown the acts of terrorists, say it loud and clear. If your voice is not heard louder than theirs, you are complicit. Silence is usually soothing – not here!!

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Which is more ‘Islamic’, KSA or USA?

Muslim American

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia [KSA] is the largest Arab country in the Middle East. It is sometimes called “The Land of the Two Holy Mosques” in reference to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest places in Islam. Saudi Arabia’s government takes the form of an Islamic absolute monarchy. The UK and Thailand are also considered monarchies but what sets countries like KSA apart is the unlimited political power and governing authority vested in the monarchy. Oman, Qatar and the Vatican City are other examples of absolute monarchies in this age.

The basic law of the land, based on the salafi interpretation of the Islamic Law [Sharia], declared in 1992 that Saudi Arabia was a monarchy ruled by the progeny of King Abdul Aziz Al Saud. It also declared the Qur’an as the constitution of the country, governed on the basis of Islamic law [The salafi interpretation]

The United States of America on the other hand is a federal constitutional republic. In this article, we intend to compare the despotic regime of Saudi Arabia with the democratic power of the United States in the light of Islamic values and teachings.

Justice is one of the major principles mentioned in the Quran. It says: “Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency and manifest evil and transgression. HE admonishes you that you may take heed.”  [16:90]

“Verily Allah commands you to give over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice.” [4:58]

Justice is ensured by laws that aim to improve the social health of a community and by a swift and effective legal apparatus that ensures proper implementation. In Saudi Arabia, hundreds of Sharia courts operate under the Ministry of Justice that ensure proper punishments according to the Saudi interpretation of the Sharia, which is brutal at the least. Many of the laws are vaguely worded which means individuals can be arrested and imprisoned on religious or political grounds. Oftentimes, prisoners do not know for what crime they have been kept behind bars. They are denied any contact with family members or lawyers.

Torture from means as brutal as electric shocks has been reported from Saudi prisons. Free trials are not permitted. KSA has the highest rate of beheadings in the world. Those involved in armed robbery, rape, adultery, drug use and trafficking, and renouncing Islam are punished by public executions. With such a poor legal setup, many innocent victims end up on the guillotine. No family contact is permitted and a death notice is sent to the family post-execution.

The legal system in the US has its own cons. But as an innocent peace-loving citizen, chances that you’ll find yourself in prison one good morning is far less compared to KSA. Punishments for crimes are far more humane in the USA. Free trials are permitted. Family contact is almost always a privilege and so is the right to hire a lawyer.

The Holy Prophet [pbuh] has said that it is far better to pardon someone guilty by mistake than to punish an innocent. The status of the punishments per se is not the discussion here. The presence of a just and effective legal system is. Which system is closer to the principles of the Quran? Where do you expect swifter justice and a strong legal system based on those lines? You chose!

Freedom of Religion – Coming to Freedom of religion, the Quran says, “There is no compulsion in religion”. It also says:

“And say, `It is the truth from your Lord; wherefore let him who will, believe, and let him, who will, disbelieve.” [18:29]

With the First amendment in effect, there is complete freedom of religion in the USA. There are no compulsions and restrictions.

KSA is one of the worst offenders of this Quranic principle. The authoritarian government of KSA disallows construction of churches or synagogues on its soil.  Public practice of non-Muslim religions is strongly prohibited. The ultraconservative and strict interpretation of the Salafi Sunni Islam discriminates even against other Muslim sects including the Shia and Ahmadi Muslims. The Holy prophet [pbuh] used to judge the Jews of Medina based on Biblical Law. They practiced their faith freely in Medina. He considered Christians his friends and allies and prohibited restrictions on their practice. Saudi Arabia thinks he was being generous and Saalfi Islam does not entertain such generosity.

Separation of religion and state do not exist in KSA. Burial of non-Muslims is not allowed on KSA’s royal soil. Preaching any faith other than ‘Salafism’ is an offense of the highest order.

The Holy Prophet [pbuh] was clearly told in the Quran that his duty was to convey the message and it was upto people to believe or to reject. He never enforced on people what KSA does today.

Which is closer to the true principles of Islam and the practice of the Holy Prophet [pbuh] in this day and age? USA or KSA?

Democracy – The Quran says,And those, who hearken to their Lord, and observe Prayer, and whose affairs are decided by mutual consultation, and who spend out of what WE have provided for them” [42:38]

The Holy Prophet [pbuh] always consulted with his companions. It is well known that during the Battle of Uhud, the Holy prophet [pbuh] was hesitant to fight the enemy outside Medina but with majority of his companions being in favor of tackling the advancing enemy outside of the city, he decided to march out.

This democratic setup means that no individual could have absolute authoritarian power. Compared to the totalitarian regime sitting on the Saudis, the USA sounds far closer to the Quranic teaching of ‘mutual consultation’ and to the practice of the Holy Prophet [pbuh].

Women rights – Saudi women make up 5% of the workforce in KSA, the lowest world over. Women are barred from driving. Interestingly they are allowed to fly planes if they are able to find someone to drive them to the airport. They are not allowed equal opportunity to higher education by norms of society. About 30% of women in KSA therefore are unable to read and write.

Women were badly persecuted in Arabia before the advent of the Holy prophet [pbuh]. Islam came to liberate women from the clutches of oppression. Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] declared that he who does not treat his wife equally was not a true Muslim and that women were like fragile glass, they were to be loved and taken great care of. He also taught that one way to paradise was to educate one’s daughters and bring them up with good morals. Did the Saudis miss these sayings of the Prophet? Did they also miss the part where Muslim women are encouraged to pursue education and work towards the betterment of society?

Women are lesser humans in the KSA. They can be divorced at will. Where Islam has emphasized the rights of orphans and widows, the latter are considered ‘cursed’ in parts of the ultraconservative Saudi society.

Women in the USA have all access to education and work. Family and child support ensures that they are not left to the mercy of the streets if deserted. They enjoy equal opportunity in all ways.

Education – The Quran has repeatedly asked man to reflect and gain knowledge. Indeed, one of the most prosperous ages in the history of science was the early Islamic age. Islam makes it obligatory on every Muslim to seek knowledge and encourages travel to far lands in pursuit of wisdom. Do I need to write anything more? I find it shameful to compare the two countries in terms of the importance and place given to education, science and technology. KSA in spite of all its oil money has not made one good contribution to the world of science and technology.

Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] had said: If anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, Allah will cause him to travel on one of the roads of Paradise”.  Of the two countries, which is treading this road to paradise?

Peace and Tolerance – KSA wouldn’t tolerate a fly from neighboring Israel. The USA on the other hand is one of the world’s most tolerant nations. It is built on values that honor diversity and plurality, tolerance and mutual respect. KSA on the other hand enforces Salafism and tolerates little that is perceived outside its walls. Islam has clearly preached the former.

Equality – The Quran emphasizes absolute equality. The Holy Prophet [pbuh] is reported to have said, “O people! Your God is one and your forefather [Adam] is one. An Arab is not better than a non-Arab and a non-Arab is not better than an Arab, and a red person is not better than a black person and a black person is not better than a red person, except in piety.”

Needless to say, everyone is equal in the USA. You could be from the remotest jungle on earth and still work your way to become the Dean of a University or the Chairman of NASA. The key is hard work and determination – opportunities are equally available to all.

There is equality in KSA as well, just that Arabs are a little more equal than non-Arabs, Muslims a fraction more equal than non-Muslims. Did I miss an injunction in the Quran that said Arabs were supposed to be our Masters? The Quran says all are equal before God.

Animal Rights – Prophet Muhammad’s [pbuh] kindness to animals is well known. He is reported to have said, “A woman was punished because she had kept a cat tied until it died, and was thrown into hell. She had not provided it with food, or drink, and had not freed her so that she could eat”

The Holy Prophet [pbuh] once narrated the story of a sinful lady who was pardoned by God on account of her feeding a hungry dog. Dogs in KSA are considered ‘impure’ by many and stray cats roaming the streets are common sight. The teachings of the Holy Prophet [pbuh] on animal rights is better understood and followed in the USA than the KSA.

General Ethics – I had wanted to make a comparison between the Muslim world and the West but ended up writing on the KSA and USA specifically. Broadening the theme at the end, let us see who is better equipped with the morals taught by Islam.

Truth, honesty, cleanliness, humility, meekness, kindness, responsibility, hard work , patience, use of good language, mutual respect and care are a few of the numerous ethical injunctions of Islam.

The Holy Prophet [pbuh] for instance is reported to have said, “Cleanliness is half of faith”.

When I compare the West and the Muslim world with an unbiased eye with regard to each of the above-listed, I find myself convinced that we as a group have lost it! Our faith is limited to rhetoric and rituals. Those who do not understand our faith seem to be practicing it far better than we do.

But our system is based on the belief in the sovereignty of God? Well so is the USA’s. But they don’t believe in Muhammad [pbuh]? Sometimes I wonder which is more important, following in name or following in practice. I wish we followed both!

Muslim countries abound in conspiracy theories and blame everything on the USA. They should stop for a second and look up to the USA and learn the practicality of Islamic values from them. The Islamophobic population of the West should in turn realize that they have little to fear from a system that they are already so close to. The answer to which is more ‘Islamic’ depends on how you perceive Islam – a name brand or a set of perfect and practical teachings.