Debating Homosexuality

September 14th, 2015

By Daniel Haqiqatjou

This article was originally posted on Muslim Matters.

In light of the recent US Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, we have seen a number of Muslim scholars reiterate the position of Islamic law on same-sex acts. What we have not seen much of, however, is reasoning explaining why Islamic law prohibits same-sex acts. Clearly many people today including Muslims do not understand why Islam or any religion would forbid homoeroticism. As it is often put, if two people love each other and want to consummate their love, what difference does it make if they happen to be of the same sex? What could be wrong about this?

To understand what is wrong requires addressing several large assumptions about sexuality and morality. These assumptions make it virtually impossible for people today to understand the moral reasoning and intuitions inherent to Islam’s stance on homosexuality. But once those assumptions are addressed, then Islam’s position starts to look more and more compelling. At the very least, Islam’s position stops looking like sheer hate, bigotry, prudery, etc.

The way that I have framed my thoughts on this issue is in the form of a “debate” with myself. Over the years, we have all heard the typical arguments and one-liners in support of homosexuality, so much so that these arguments have become embedded into the way most of us think about the topic. I give voice to this position in the form of questions and charges that a typical pro-gay advocate would raise against Islam’s stance on homosexuality. I then respond to these in turn, defending the Islamic view.

Q1: First of all, there are some Muslims who think that Islam is fine with homosexuality. Does Islam even prohibit same-sex acts in the first place?

I understand that there are a handful of outspoken Muslims who try to argue that Islamic law does not prohibit same-sex acts, despite the consensus of scholarly opinion to the contrary. I will not address the claim here mostly because the claim itself is so implausible and confused, frankly, that it hardly deserves recognition, let alone rebuttal. Typically, those who claim that Islamic law accommodates gay sex argue by radically redefining Islamic law and the methodology of Islamic jurisprudence and exegesis. It is on the basis of that redefinition that they then try to stake their claim. This is not unlike a person who claims that US federal law permits grand larceny, and when he is shown the copious amount of relevant legal and historical documentation to the contrary, responds by disavowing the relevance of legal precedent, historical documentation, and conventional juristic methodology in determining US federal law.

As far as same-sex acts are concerned, the legal precedent and historical record shows complete unanimity on the part of Muslim jurists — not a single dissenting opinion can be found permitting same-sex acts in nearly a millennium and a half. The primary reason for this, no doubt, goes back to the many clear and unambiguous statements of the Qur’an and hadith themselves that categorically prohibit all forms of sexual activity between members of the same sex, as well as the clarity of the Sunna of the Prophet ?allallahu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), Companions, and early community in this regard. Obviously, if one believes the weight of juristic consensus, combined with the unambiguous pronouncements of divine revelation and Sunnaic precedent, to be irrelevant in determining what God requires of us today, then it is hardly surprising (or interesting) that such a person would have divergent opinions on Islamic law vis-à-vis those who do put weight on that consensus, formed on the basis of those texts and those normative precedents.

Besides all this, some academics will also point out that premodern Muslim scholars worked with different categories of sex and gender than what would strictly map onto the modern categories we are familiar with today. What about the mukhannathun, the amrad, and so on? We will delve into some of these distinctions below, but for our purposes, what are germane are the moral implications of sexual relations between two adults of the same sex. This is the category of behavior the modern “gay rights” movement is primarily concerned with and, as it turns out, the type of behavior Islamic law unequivocally proscribes.

Q2: Let’s just cut right to the chase. Why should anyone regulate what people do in private? What business is it of anybody’s if two men want to have sex behind closed doors?

Even secular law regulates some of what people do behind closed doors. The distinction between “public” and “private” is irrelevant when it comes to issues of immorality and criminality. Part of this is because many things we do in the private sphere have an effect on the public sphere.

One straightforward example is drug use. We might think that if a person abuses heroin in private, that is his business. After all, the heroin addict is only hurting himself and what right does the state have to tell people what to do with their bodies? But if enough people start using heroin such that an appreciable size of the population consists of “junkies,” then this will clearly have a negative impact on society as a whole. Even in US political debates on the “War on Drugs,” both the “liberal” and “conservative” side acknowledge the negative societal impact of drugs. They just disagree on what is the best way for the state to regulate and curb drug use, i.e., whether to criminalize it outright or impose government programs to treat drug abusers and discourage drug use in the population. Either way, in the case of drugs, even liberals agree that what someone does behind closed doors very much is the business of a higher authority, i.e., the authority of the state, which aims to promote public welfare overall.

Another example is abortion. Studies have shown that the legalization of abortion in America and other countries correlated with drops in crime rates. Researchers believe this happened because legalizing abortion made it easier for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies. This, in turn, meant that fewer unwanted children were born and, hence, that fewer children grew up in detrimental environments and households that would make them prone to a life of crime.

Liberals often use these studies to argue that abortion is a good thing, that it has clear benefits to society as a whole. But, implicit in this argument is the idea that private behavior, namely whether or not women have abortions, has significant consequences for the public good. And if we acknowledge that private behavior has the potential to impact society at large and hence, impact each member of society individually, then why shouldn’t that private behavior be the business of a higher authority? As I argueelsewhere, this is one possible argument justifying Islam’s prohibition of premarital/extramarital sex. But, we could imagine other ways that a governing authority might regulate birth rates in order to protect society from the possible negative repercussions of private behavior.

Many other examples can be given, but the point is that the whole distinction between “public” and “private” easily breaks down when it comes to at least some questions of morality and protecting people in society from the negative impact of what others do behind closed doors.

Q3: Fine, drug abuse and abortion are two examples, but what does that have to do with homosexuality? How does two men having sex negatively impact society as a whole?

Well, the answer to this depends on what you think about homosexuality in the first place. The implicit assumption in this question is that same-sex activity is inherently harmless, but not everyone believes that. Muslims, for example, believe that certain sexual activities are deeply destructive — spiritually, mentally, and physiologically — to the person doing them, even if the person is physically enjoying him or herself. If enough people engage in these sexual activities, this will impact the character and health of society as a whole.

This is not unlike the drug abuse example above. While drug abuse is quite enjoyable for some, the fact is that drugs debilitate a person, and the cumulative impact of many such debilitated persons will negatively impact society.

Q4: But drug abuse is objectively harmful, not so with same-sex intercourse. Some Muslims might believe that, but that’s personal religious belief and has nothing to do with public law and morality in general.

Actually, drug abuse is not “objectively” harmful. Most people — liberal, conservative, religious, secular — all agree that drug addiction is harmful. But we can imagine someone that does not agree with this.

Imagine someone who truly believes that abusing hardcore drugs is a good thing. We might ask this person, “Don’t you see the harmful impact of drugs to the body, how drugs can cut someone’s life short, etc.?”

But our hypothetical drug advocate could respond, “Yes, I absolutely recognize the effects of drugs; I just do not believe that those effects are a bad thing.” In other words, while the empirical impact of drugs to the body is objective, considering that impact “harmful” is a judgment call based on a person’s normative outlook. For example, the drug advocate could try to justify his views by giving us an involved story about how life should be spent in a substance-induced euphoria, how the body was meant to be transcended, that self-destruction of the body is necessary for us to see the transience of life and the everlasting nature of the spirit, that a short and euphoric life is infinitely superior to a long but corporeal one, etc. Now imagine that this was not the view of one person but an entire community or demographic.

Obviously, given our contemporary assumptions about drug use, not many people would accept this story or find it the least bit plausible (unless the drug in question is alcohol, in which case some of our hypothetical drug advocate’s beliefs are widespread). But, ultimately, this is a dispute about what people believe about the human body, mind, spirit, the nature of life, death, and so on. Even if everyone agrees on the empirical, scientific aspect of drug abuse, they can still disagree on these metaphysical, value-laden questions.

Nonetheless, the liberal secular state must take a position on these questions, and it does: it deems drug abuse harmful and attempts to systematically curb it, either with criminalization or intervention, education, market manipulation, and other programming. The drug advocate, however, will experience these government programs as a forceful imposition on his beliefs, either by way of locking up “believers” or the use of public funds to “stigmatize” those beliefs and spread “propaganda” against them.

Islamic norms against same-sex acts could be cast in the same light. There are those that believe there is nothing harmful about homoeroticism, but Islamic law takes a different view. My point here is simply that what is or is not deemed harmful is ineluctably normative and far from objective. And since one’s notion of harm is so important in determining what is considered morally permissible or prohibited and whether an action should be subject to public scrutiny, we cannot so easily dismiss the Islamic view of same-sex acts as being harmful.

Q5: But it is still not clear how same-sex acts could be considered harmful, even from a religious perspective. It’s just sex. What’s the big deal?

Sex is a big deal, and it is not just Islam that thinks so. All cultures have extensive beliefs about the significance of sex, its meaning, its impact to the people engaged in it, its impact to society and to the world and beyond. Think about modern Western culture. If sex were not significant, there would not have been a whole “Sexual Revolution.” If sex were inconsequential, people today wouldn’t associate sex with human freedom itself. And look at Western popular culture and how much attention is given to sex and sex appeal. Sex even has implications for the economy since, as we know, “sex sells.” Freud, of course, went the farthest in interpreting literally all of human activity in terms of latent sexual drives and frustrations. And Darwin put sex in an even more pivotal, almost deified role by conceiving it as the fundamental force that creates new life and new species ex nihilo, as the most “fit” are those organisms that can out-reproduce and out-sex the competition.

Given this importance of sex on the individual, communal, physical, and metaphysical levels, it is only natural that cultures would feel the need to “regulate” sex, to define its proper bounds and its correct expression. And when those bounds are violated, it is always a big deal. And that is what we see. All cultures — even modern Western culture, as we will see — have specific beliefs about certain sexual acts being offensive and immoral and other sexual acts being deep violations.

As for “harm,” what we have to realize is that — regardless of whether we are Muslim or not, liberal secular or not — our senses of right and wrong are very complex and based on a multitude of different factors beyond just physical harm. The drug abuse example above was just a taste of that. Along those lines, consider that not all of our moral judgments are purely consequentialist, i.e., based on the tangible consequences of an action. For example, is it immoral for a person to daydream and fantasize about brutally raping and murdering someone? It’s just a daydream, so no actual consequences or physical harms result from that momentary act of imagination. But most of us would be at the very least disturbed by this, even if we cannot articulate why in purely consequentialist terms.

When we look at sexual morality specifically, all cultures — even modern Western culture — have specific beliefs about sex that go beyond consequences and physical harm. What is interesting is that each culture views its own set of beliefs as being preeminently rational and apt and the beliefs of other cultures as being nothing more than irrational taboos and prudishness, on the one hand, or lascivity and lewdness, on the other.

So while Western liberals might view Islam’s objections to same-sex behavior as just a cultural taboo with no basis in reason, other cultures view, for example, Western statutory rape laws in the same light. Or how about contemporary Western attitudes towards polygamy, adultery, public indecency, sexual harassment norms, and so on? Even among Western countries, different cultures have varying sex norms and view each others’ differences as either prudery or promiscuity. And when we look at how secular norms have changed over time…

Q6: Let me stop you right there. Sure, Western attitudes towards different sexual practices have changed over the past 300 years, from the Enlightenment, through the Sexual Revolution, and now culminating in the legalization of same-sex marriage. But that change is based on liberal tolerance and moral progress. Muslims, in contrast, are stuck in the 7th century.

The Western progressive narrative has it that, through the light of reason and science, Western civilization has been able to transcend puritanism as well as all other forms of sexual taboo and barbarity. This keen sense of triumphalism is dripping from, for example, the recent US Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage, which is seen by many as the culmination of the Sexual Revolution or even the Enlightenment. Accordingly, the belief is that we live in a sexually liberated age: Everything goes! Do what feels right (so long as it’s consensual, etc.). Depending on one’s outlook, whether “liberal” or “conservative,” this state of affairs is either a utopia or the End of Times. Whether it is cause for celebration or consternation, however, both sides of the political spectrum agree that moral inhibitions and taboos have been collectively chucked. Unfortunately, Muslims have also accepted this narrative.

A closer look, however, shows that this progressive myth has little basis in reality. It may sound strange to our culturally conditioned ears, but plenty of sexual inhibitions and taboos still stand in the West today, even though they are typically not conceived of in those terms. Contrary to popular belief, Western society is as judgmental as it ever has been on matters pertaining to sex, just not about exactly the same things and not in exactly the same ways. This stridence can be seen in how liberal secularists react to certain features of Islamic sexual ethics, e.g., polygyny, the age of `Aisha when she married the Prophet ?allallahu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), divorce (back when divorce was still taboo in the West), even marriage itself (back when liberal theorists were more forthright about their belief that marriage is tantamount to slavery), etc. Obviously, liberal secularists believe they have good reasons for these reactions, and as hard as it is for them to see beyond those feelings, the fact remains that from another perspective, from another set of normative assumptions and beliefs about the world, Islamic sexual ethics are perfectly reasonable and morally sound. Beyond Islam, there are also plenty of other cultures and religions that have sex practices and rituals the average liberal secularist would be squeamish and outraged about if those practices were common or prominent enough to show up on the West’s radar in the way Islam and Muslims, as subjects of colonialism, have over the past 200 years.

Beyond the cross cultural, further stringency can be seen in other areas of Western sexual morality. Consider views on voyeurism, indecent exposure, public masturbation, sexual harassment, etc. An imposing legal system with severe consequences for offenders enforces these points of Western sexual normativity. The question of legality aside, we see further sexual restrictiveness in the ever expanding realm of gender identity politics and policing, where even the most insignificant perceived slight is met with abhorrence and swift, harsh rebuke. To use “non-gender neutral” language, for example — simply using the impersonal pronoun “he” more than “she,” “he/she,” or “xe”  in one’s writing — is a grievous crime tantamount to rape in the eyes of some. Offenses of this nature typically do not have legal consequences, but anything not caught in the legal process is handled in the court of public opinion, where one’s reputationcareer, and livelihood are all on the line.

These examples show that there are many entrenched norms and taboos that continue to govern the sexual morality of Westerners, even though these restrictions are not experienced or conceived of as taboos or restrictions on sexual expression and autonomy. From a certain perspective, however, these could be seen as precisely that: overbearing restrictions on how individuals can express themselves sexually. When, for example, a person has to worry about something as seemingly small as pronoun usage in their writing, that is an indication of how objectively expansive and imposing the regime of modern Western sexual morality really is, as opposed to the free-for-all it is caricatured as. So this Western triumphalism, sense of superiority, and notion of progress toward more freedom and sexual autonomy are misplaced.

Q7: Even if it is conceded that Western sexual norms are extensive in quantity, they are nonetheless qualitatively less restrictive than their Islamic counterparts.

What does it mean for sexual norms to be more or less restrictive or more or less conducive to a person’s sexual autonomy? To answer this, we have to take a more theoretical look at the concept of desire.

What is desire? Plenty of religious and philosophical opinion has been expressed in both Western and Islamic discourse on this question. What is salient for us is the modern Western notion that any authentically experienced desire is worthy of satisfaction. Modern psychology, with its roots in Freudian psychoanalysis, tells us that if a man carnally desires another man, it would beharmful and, hence, oppressive to subjugate that desire. If an adolescent carnally desires another adolescent, it would beharmful and, hence, oppressive to insist on abstinence. Yet, if a person carnally desires an immediate family member, that desire must be repressed.

This connection between the satisfaction of desire and health (and human happiness generally) is important because that is how the typical modern Westerner conceptualizes sexual autonomy. The only just legal-ethical system is one that permits the maximum number of authentic, natural desires to be fulfilled while prohibiting the fulfillment of all inauthentic, unnatural desires, which inevitably lead to harm for the individual “perpetrator” himself as well as for possible victims.

From this it is argued that Western sex norms are the most just and liberating because they take into account people’s natural desires and allow them to fulfill all of them. Religiously-based sexuality, however, is unjust and restrictive because it recognizes people’s natural desires yet requires them to repress some of those desires for the sake of God.

There is much that can be said against this narrative, not least of which the question of how Western thought believes itself to have discovered what, in fact, is natural for a human being to desire. What constitutes essential human nature is very clearly a metaphysical question and, hence, cannot be answered by scientific inquiry. Tests in a lab are not going to reveal what human nature amounts to and what desires are in fact natural. And looking at the animal kingdom and trying to infer human nature by analogy to other species amounts to nothing more than the Naturalistic Fallacy.

In this way, conventional Western liberal attitudes about human desire are not based on any robust, objective theory of human nature. Without such a theory, there is no basis for liberals to claim that their sexual mores are more in line with natural human desire as opposed to, say, Islamic ones.

Islamic metaphysics, in contrast, does have just such a theory. Muslim scholarship frequently delves into metaphysical questions like the nature of man, his desires, his relationship to the cosmos and to God, etc. And the epistemological avenue Muslim scholars rely on is revelation, i.e., what God and His Messenger ?allallahu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) have said about these topics, coupled with the notion of thefitra (roughly translated as “normative primordial human nature”). Of course, non-Muslims may be skeptical about this source of knowledge, but at least Muslims purport to have a source of knowledge at all, whereas liberal secularism floats aimlessly, with no mooring from any consistent, principled standard of knowing.

Postmodernism, at least, is up front about this failing of modern epistemology and its resultant nihilism. Liberal secularism, in contrast, is in constant self-denial, insisting that liberalism and its sexual morality are what is most aligned with human nature but then failing to proffer a metaphysical account of what human nature is. By the same token, Islam and traditional religion are accused by liberal secularists of being contrary to human nature and, hence, oppressive, again without any underlying theory of human nature to give traction to these weighty accusations. How, then, can liberal secularism’s charge against Islam as “oppressing homosexuals” be taken seriously?

Q8: Look, I don’t care about whether or not Islam has a theory of human desire, etc. All I know is that homosexuals desire same-sex partners. They cannot help that. So to block the satisfaction of that desire is inhumane. Should we consign gays and lesbians to a life without sexual pleasure? What kind of religion wants people to be tortured like that?

Everyone has desires that cannot be fulfilled, whether due to social sanction, personal self-constraint, or sheer physical circumstance. That is just a part of being human. How we view the lack of fulfillment of those desires, however, depends on our beliefs about sexual morality. If someone cannot be sexually satisfied unless he publicly masturbates in full view of pedestrians, we would be fine “consigning” this person to a life without sexual satisfaction. The person himself might be sexually frustrated at not being able to fulfill his desires, but even he himself would not experience this frustration as torture. This is because he lives in a cultural milieu where public masturbation is socially frowned upon. Growing up, he was socially conditioned to understand that this is not appropriate behavior, that this is not what decent people do. Decent people must, as a matter of decency, morality, social cohesion, etc., learn to train their impulses and bring these under the disciplining force of moral habit and custom. So the would-be public masturbator does this, since he understands that public masturbation is not an actual, objective “need” that must be fulfilled for the sake of his physical and emotional health. In actuality, the impulses themselves will most likely decrease in frequency and strength or may disappear completely over time. And everyone, including the person himself, will see this as a good thing.

The point is that what we believe about which desires we must control and which we are free to pursue fundamentally depends on our moral commitments. Not only that, but our actual experiences of those desires will change depending on that normative worldview. Individuals today with same-sex attraction may feel that the inability to have intercourse with the same sex is a life of continuous frustration and misery, but that is in large part because that is what our current Western moral commitments entail. Individuals in different social contexts under different ethical frameworks would have a very different experience of these same-sex desires. And this is documented in both anthropology and history.

Furthermore, Western philosophers like Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, Talal Asad, and others have argued that ethical systems play a deciding role in determining and shaping our desires as well as our experience of those desires. Ethics and desire are intimately connected and interdependent in this way. This may sound counter-intuitive because we typically think that our deepest impulses are completely natural and authentic and are not the products of outside influences. But, in actuality, outside forces can deeply impact what desires bubble up in our consciousness in the first place.

For example, children who are taught that public masturbation is wrong will internalize that injunction, which will in turn affect their thoughts and desires later in life, often preventing the impulse from even arising. And if it does arise, it will be experienced as a waywardness of the concupiscent self that must be disciplined and denied in the name of decency, morality, social cohesion, and the like. Of course, children do not have to be explicitly “taught” such things. The fact that certain behaviors are not done, at least not openly in society, in itself does a great deal to socialize and discipline children. Similarly, if children are taught that public masturbation is normal, legitimate behavior, that there is nothing wrong with this, etc., then even if they were not inclined to publicly masturbate otherwise, they may nonetheless feel a desire to do so where no desire existed before. (Note, however, that societal endorsement is not the only way socialization can occur. The fact that a person grew up in an anti-public-masturbatory culture and, as an adult, may even feel great psychologically distress at experiencing the urge to publicly masturbate does not contradict the notion that those desires are nonetheless socially constructed. In fact, it is to be expected that cultures that obsess and fixate on a certain taboo will also see a higher incidence of people violating or feeling the urge to violate that taboo. The more forbidden the fruit, the stronger people feel the urge to eat it despite themselves, whereas if the fruit were not there or if it had not been forbidden or if it had not been called “fruit,” etc., fewer people would experience the temptation.)

In these ways, we can see how some desires, for all intents and purposes, are implanted or produced by one’s social and cultural context. Or, more tenuous, amorphous urges that a person might passively feel in the course of the day are highlighted by society, reinforced by social acceptance, and then interpreted by the person as a deep, inherent desire to, say, relieve himself at the mall. In this way, socialization goes a long way in influencing our appetites.

Of course, this is not to say all human desire is purely a function of socialization, though postmodernist thinkers like Foucault do go to that extreme. Islam, however, recognizes that some desires are purely natural in the sense that that is how Allah created human beings. But there is also a recognition that this sound nature can be corrupted, or reformed and recovered if corruption has already occurred.

In the Islamic view, same-sex attraction in the sense of desiring intercourse with the same sex is not natural. As the Qur’an records, Lut 'alayhi'l-salam (peace be upon him) said to his people, “Do you commit lewdness such as no people in creation ever committed before you? For you practice your lusts on men in preference to women — you are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.” (7:81)

That being said, finding members of the same sex attractive in the sense that a man recognizes another man as handsome or a woman recognizes another woman as beautiful is not unnatural. Similarly, it is not unnatural for a man to prefer the company of other men and prefer social interaction with them over women. Given this, it is not hard to imagine how a hyper-sexualized society could socialize children and adults to interpret such natural feelings as latent signs of same-sex sexual attraction. This would especially be the case in societies beholden to Freudian theories of sexuality, where a person’s every psychological impulse and conscious thought is somehow connected to some prior Oedipal frustration or childhood psycho-sexual encounter, where even something as nonsexual as breastfeeding an infant is understood to have sexual undertones. In such a society, these natural, nonsexual sentiments could be cast in a sexual light and then reinforced such that a person increasingly feels and is completely convinced that he desires the same-sex and that he is a “homosexual,” whether he is happy, neutral, or distressed by that “discovery.” Ultimately, the normative and metaphysical assumptions of that society — in addition to other psychological, emotional, or developmental issues — will crucially impact the way individuals see themselves in relation to their desires.

As it turns out, Islamic spirituality and metaphysics conceive the development and evolution of desire in much the same ways, as we will see below.

Q9: We don’t need to get into the dirty business of spirituality or metaphysics to know that, as long as two (or more) people consent to a sexual act, there is nothing morally objectionable about them going through with it. The fact that Islam restricts people from engaging in consensual behavior is plenty proof of the religion’s oppressiveness.

Actually, consent itself is a concept fraught with metaphysical assumptions.

On a theoretical level, the notion of consent is notoriously difficult to pin down. For example, feminists (and law makers) to this day have been struggling to define consent so that they can decide once and for all what constitutes rape. Rape, for nearly all people, is the ultimate example of sexual violation, so in many ways it has served as an archetype of sexual immorality in Western sexual ethics and liberal thought. And, of course, what makes rape a violation is the absence of consent. And while, in the case of a stranger sexually assaulting an unwilling person, the meaning of consent and its relevance to the moral status of the act is crystal clear, for other sexual behaviors and scenarios the meaning and relevance of consent is far less obvious.

Some extreme feminists, for example, argue that for a sexual encounter between a man and woman to be fully consensual, the man must continuously ask for permission throughout the act of intercourse since, at any moment during the act, his partner might change her mind and not want to proceed, in which case, what was permissible intercourse becomes rape.

In this vein, it is argued that for sex to be truly consensual and hence morally sound, every act between the sheets must be preceded with an, “Is this okay?” and a verbal affirmative from one’s partner. Before any change of position, any touch, kiss, or movement, a partner must stop and get formal authorization in the course of what would be a normal sexual encounter. (Yet, we are to believe that it is Islamic law that is autocratic in its regulation of sex compared to the supposed “Caligulan permissiveness” of the modern West!)

Other feminists and liberal theorists wonder whether the institution of marriage can ever be anything other than slavery and institutionalized rape. After all, given the existence of patriarchy even in modern society and how men are comparatively more powerful than women on average in terms of wealth and influence, how can any woman be independent enough to provide meaningful consent?

Beyond internal debates within feminism, there are other sexual behaviors where the significance of consent and its connection to morality are opaque. Again, let’s consider voyeurism. A man spies on women in a dressing room without them ever knowing about it. Since the women do not consent to being watched, consent-based sexual ethics deems the man’s action as morally wrong. But from a purely secular materialistic perspective, what impact does the man’s spying have on these women? Clearly, there is no physical or psychological harm to the women since they are none the wiser. One might say, well, maybe the man records what he sees and passes that along to friends and the overall reputation of the women is harmed. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that this does not happen, that the man does not record anything and just enjoys what he sees in the moment. In this case, presumably we still believe this is morally wrong, but why? From the perspective of secular materialism, what is so special about consent that it can operate beyond the realm of physical or mental harm? Does consent have some kind of metaphysical or supernatural significance that is not captured by any physical factor? Wouldn’t this mean that even secular sexual norms, insofar as they invoke consent, have a metaphysical component, not unlike religious sexual morality? But I digress.

Necrophilia and bestiality are two other examples where consent is for all intents and purposes irrelevant, but most liberals would consider the act in question as morally objectionable and deviant.

There are also examples of acts considered morally despicable despite the existence of consent. Incest is one example. Consensual cannibalistic fetishism is another. The number of such actions eliciting disgust and moral condemnation from even the most permissive liberal are as limitless as one’s imagination. Of course, there are those extreme liberal secularists who bite the bullet and argue that all these activities, including incest and cannibalism by consent, are perfectly permissible so long as all parties mutually agree to participate. But, again, most people feel in their bones that these actions are fundamentally disgusting and wrong. Shouldn’t such intuitions factor into our moral reasoning and what we ultimately consider right and wrong?

Q10: No, these moral intuitions are irrelevant. They are purely subjective after all. People used to feel that homosexuality was viscerally disgusting, but now no such reactions arise.

Premodern thinkers — Muslim and non-Muslim alike, from Aristotle to Aquinas to Fakhr al-Din al-Razi and beyond — almost took the reprehensibility of same-sex acts for granted, as if it were perfectly lucid and beyond the need for elaborate justification. Furthermore, these thinkers appealed to human nature, what we might call a person’s conscience, as plainly recognizing that such acts are vile. Modern readers interpret these appeals to conscience as evidence that the expressed abhorrence and categorical sanction are simply crass bigotry, prudery, and hatred.

But let’s examine this interpretation more closely. Is it that modern Western sexual ethics deny that viscerality and intrinsic human conscience per se are ever valid sources upon which to base our moral judgments?

From the perspective of the Islamic worldview, intuition and viscerality are very much a part of morality, whether in terms of how individuals exercise personal moral agency in their lives or in terms of how theologians theorize right and wrong. Modern liberal ethics and Western moral philosophy, in contrast, downplay the role of moral intuition and oftentimes completely disregard it.

Islamic sexual morality grounds the importance of our moral intuitions with the notion of the fitra. Certain moral reactions, tendencies, and postures are associated with the fitra in Islamic thought, as indicated in direct statements by the Prophet ?allallahu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) andpassages in the Qur’an. A full treatment of this topic is beyond the scope of this essay, but we should note how the notion of thefitra is conceived as the ground not only for the highest moral sentiments — such as the knowledge of God, His Oneness, and the yearning to worship Him — but also the source of more visceral elements of a person’s normative outlook, e.g., one’s involuntary abhorrence to fahisha (i.e., sexual impropriety), disgust at feces, attraction to purity and cleanliness, shame surrounding nakedness, and so on.

Due to one’s God-given fitra, a person will intuitively recognize goodness and feel repulsed at corruption and depravity. In a famous hadith, the Prophet ?allallahu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Take a fatwa [i.e., take moral counsel] from your heart. Moral goodness [birr] is whatever your heart feels ease at doing, and sin [ithm] is whatever brings discomfort to the heart even if people counsel you otherwise.” Of course, this does not mean that a person’s heart or fitra is immune to corruption, which is why a Muslim must defer to Islamic law whenever applicable rather than automatically assume that his intuition on a matter is valid. That being said, the idea is that the sound fitra will perfectly align with Islamic law because both were set in this harmony by Allah.

Numerous Islamic scholars stressed this relationship between fitra and normativity. What is significant for our purposes is that, when it comes to moral reasoning, Islamic ethics has a seat at the table for these visceral elements of our normative Umwelt as human beings, factoring in this universal aspect of human nature where applicable.

Liberal secular philosophies, by contrast, either downplay or completely disregard this dimension of the human experience. It is not that liberal individuals themselves do not experience visceral normative reactions — everyone has a conscience and an intuitive sense of right and wrong after all. It is just that liberal ethics and meta-ethics do not make much of this type of visceral sentiment. This is a significant oversight considering that if we survey the moral attitudes of any religion or culture, including modern Western culture, we will always find a class of normative reactions that can only be described, for example, as categorical revulsion (though the actions eliciting such revulsion may vary from one culture to the next). Revulsion specifically concerns actions that are so odious that to simply think about them causes one to gag in disgust and horror. It is significant that these reactions are non-cognitive, meaning they are not obtained through conscious thought or carefully considered moral reasoning. Rather, they are immediate in a way that instantaneously impresses upon the mind prior to any ratiocination.

Incest with one’s own mother is a straightforward example of an act that elicits this response in virtually all cultures and religions. No in-depth moral reasoning, no consideration of practical ends, harm, virtue, consent, utility, or anything else needs to be theorized or reflected upon prior to a person’s instantaneous and visceral reaction of abhorrence and a sense that something is seriously wrong.

What place does this intuitive sense have in liberal secular ethics? Clearly, visceral abhorrence does exist in the Western mind, even if it is not conceived as such. Typical sexual examples evoking this reaction include incest, necrophilia, pedophilia, vorarephilia (i.e., erotic desire to be consumed by, or to consume, another person), coprophilia (i.e., sexual arousal and pleasure from feces), and bestiality (even though public opinion on the latter has recently been shifting toward tolerance) — and, until very recently, homosexuality. But, when pressed to justify or explain their position on these acts, Western ethicists fall back on an often convoluted, over-intellectualized discussion of harm, objectification, and consent. Rather than admit that people find these acts intuitively repulsive and that this is the central, plain, and overriding reason such acts ought to be deemed immoral, liberal secular thought attempts to theorize and base its moral condemnation on a pragmatic analysis, in terms of a rationalized harm and consent.

As mentioned before, this tendency is in accordance with liberal modernity’s own self-image of being preeminently rationalist, pragmatic, and free of purely emotive considerations or irrational “taboos.” And while not all Western philosophers in history made short shrift of conventional moral intuition in their ethical theories, the predominant view among Western ethicists in the liberal secular tradition is that intuition is subjective and carries no normative force.

Q11: Right, our intuitions and conscience are subjective! If Muslims want to argue that the fitra is important and that the “purefitra” recognizes that same-sex acts are abhorrent, why should anyone else care? What significance does that have for determining the moral status of homosexuality?

Saying that the conscience is “subjective” is an epistemological point. It means that there are no “objective” ways by which we can know what moral intuitions are truly natural and hence universal to all human beings. But the question of what we can or cannot know objectively is separate from the question of what does or does not exist. In the parlance of analytic philosophy, we cannot conflate questions of epistemology with questions of ontology.

What does this mean? Well, Muslims can concede that there is no “objective” way to know that the fitra as described in revelation exists. We can concede that there are no scientific experiments that will unveil true primordial human nature. But, just because science cannot opine on this does not mean that the fitra does not exist and does not operate in the way Islamic thought describes. After all, science cannot opine on a lot of things that we nonetheless experience as realities, e.g., human consciousness, the nature of time, or normativity and our sense of right and wrong itself.

To recap, we have already discussed how moral intuitions and our conception of human nature are important in determining our beliefs about right and wrong and sexual norms specifically. We have also discussed how Islam proposes a robust theory about our intuitions, human nature, and how all that relates to Islamic law and its attitude toward same-sex acts. Modern Western secular thought does not provide much of an alternative theoretical view. This is in large part because secular thought sees itself as scientific to a fault and thus avoids metaphysical debates about human nature and the human essence, despite itself. This is significant because Islamic sexual norms against same-sex acts are underwritten by a full intellectual discourse with the weight of 1400 years of unanimity on the issue, whereas the West’s very recent acceptance and normalization of homosexuality is not based on anything other than changing cultural attitudes of the last fifteen to twenty years.

Q12: It’s not “changing cultural attitudes” that have led to sexual liberation for LGBTQ individuals. It’s recognizing human rights and rejecting illegitimate religious taboos against gay love.

Again, this is the progressive myth that “homosexuals” — as a category of people — have been oppressed for millennia and it is only the modern West that has recognized and stopped that oppression.

In actuality, the “homosexual,” “heterosexual,” and “sexual orientation” in general are modern Western social constructions (which is not to say that these categories are not experienced as real). Both religious and secular academics have made this point, while anthropologistssociologists, and intellectual historians have documented the cultural variance in conceptions of sex, sexuality, and gender. Even contemporary queer theory proposes a social constructionist account of same-sex identity and sexuality in general. (And academics like Joseph Massad go even further in arguing that the hetero/homo binary and Euro-American conceptions of sexuality in general are often forcefully imposed in an imperialistic way on other cultures and colonized peoples who, naturally, do not share these Euro-centric categories of “sexual identity.” Sexuality politics and a mission to “save the oppressed Muslim homosexual” thus becomes a pretense for “intervention” in the Muslim world, in much the same way Euro-American feminism and the mission to “save the oppressed Muslim woman” became and continues to be a pretense for Western imperial presence throughout the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and beyond.)

As far as Islam’s “oppression of homosexuals,” we should note that classical Islamic scholars did not even have a conception of “heterosexuality” let alone “homosexuality” (as was also the case in other cultures, including Europe up until the late 19th century). In Islamic law, what is impermissible is simply anal intercourse between two males and other male-male (as well as female-female) actions done with sexual desire. These sexual norms were on the books for centuries, despite the fact that same-sex activity did occur in Muslim-majority lands throughout history. Even though people were engaging in same-sex activity, they did not self-identify as “homosexuals” or as a separate category of people that could have even become a subject of systematic oppression.

So which narrative is more plausible?

1. For millennia across hundreds of different cultures across the globe, “homosexuals” — as a distinct, identifiable category of people within any given population — have been subjugated and repressed, and only the modern West of the past forty years or so has had the clear-mindedness and bravery to recognize this subjugation and “emancipate the homosexuals.” The modern West, after all, is the most enlightened and moral of all peoples of all times, so it should come as no surprise that they would be the first to “discover” what literally 99% of humanity throughout human history was too stupid or too cruel to see.

2. For millennia across hundreds of different cultures across the globe, people have experienced the full gamut of sexual desire. Different cultures regulated the expression of those desires in different ways, but the satisfaction of same-sex sexual desire was almost universally prohibited on the basis of robust theories of human nature and sexual morality. Then the Enlightenment happens, religious and non-Western notions of human nature and moral reasoning are deemed “unscientific” and eventually discarded, effectively unmooring cultural practice from the grounding of tradition or moral principles embedded in a larger ethical view of human meaning and life. Sanction of same-sex acts continues for a while due to cultural inertia, but little by little, attitudes change. What used to be moral deviancy is recast as a “psychopathological disorder” and then, finally, as just another normal, acceptable facet of a person’s “sexual orientation,” until “homosexuality” is recognized as such and no one can see why the “homosexual” should be constrained by “archaic” sexual mores.

To me, it is far more plausible that current views on same-sex behavior are the product of changing cultural attitudes that have been dressed up in the language and conceptual framework of emancipation. The alternative view, as expressed in the first narrative above, is nothing more than an ethnocentric, self-aggrandizing myth based on historical revisionism and a marked disdain for conceptual rigor and consistency.

Q13: If the West is so lacking in “conceptual rigor and consistency,” what conceptually rigorous and consistent account of sexuality does Islam provide?

The Islamic account of human sexuality begins with Adam 'alayhi'l-salam (peace be upon him), the first human being God created. As the Qur’an recounts, Adam 'alayhi'l-salam (peace be upon him) resided in Paradise with his wife until Satan deceived them into eating from the forbidden tree. Upon consuming the fruit, they became aware of their nakedness for the first time and felt the shame of this. So they used leaves from trees to clothe themselves. Realizing their mistake, they turned to Allah for forgiveness and He turned unto them in forgiveness while also sending them out of Paradise and placing them on Earth, a place of pain and hardship.

What Islamic scholars have taken from this event at the precipice of human history is that human beings naturally incline towards breaking the rules. God has set limits for us, but Satan, the evil inclinations of our own selves, and our tendency to immerse ourselves in the satisfaction of our desires push us to transgress these bounds. Violating the limits set by Allah is the epitome of ingratitude because He has given humanity many licit ways of satisfying our desires and enjoying life. Unlike Christianity and other religions, Islam does not consider bodily enjoyment and partaking in worldly pleasure to be inherently sinful. Rather, to imbibe of the permissible in life and, in doing so, to remember and be thankful toward one’s Lord and Master is a major part of what Islam considers as part and parcel of righteousness. Diametrically opposed to this are israf (i.e., wasteful overindulgence) and ghafla (i.e., heedlessness), in other words, to transgress beyond what Allah has made permissible and to do so in a heedless, ignorant manner without regard for the One who has provided all these bounties and blessings in the first place.

Accordingly, sexual misdeeds are the essence of such transgression. Here, a person’s nakedness and those parts of the body associated with nakedness are used in indecent ways. And that indecency is the cause of shame and human suffering, as a person debases and humiliates himself before God and all creation. By putting aside the permissible pleasures in order to taste the forbidden fruit, human beings show the utmost disregard for the Almighty and the very purpose of their creation and place on this earth. It is in this sense that, in the Qur’an, the people of Lot 'alayhi'l-salam (peace be upon him) are labelled “musrifun” (from israf): “For you practice your lusts on men in preference to women — you are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds [i.e., musrifun].” In these ways and more, sexual morality very literally has a cosmic significance.

In Islamic spirituality and ethics, desire is always something that needs to be controlled so as not to exceed these boundaries set by God. Even natural, God-given desires, like the desire to eat, sleep, or have relations with the opposite sex, must be tempered so as not to lead a person into transgression. If a person perseveres in keeping his desires in check and in accordance with what God wants, then eventually that person’s desires will transform such that even the thought of violating the Shari`a becomes abhorrent to him. But, if a person succumbs to his desire, transgressing sacred norms repeatedly without repenting to Allah, then this too leads to a transformation.

Islamic metaphysics, interestingly, does acknowledge the mutability of desire in the sense that a person may experience a desire for something, but that desire is not natural in the sense of it arising from human nature, i.e., the primordial normative form — the fitra — upon which human beings were created by God. A person’s fitra, after all, can be corrupted, whether by social circumstance, parental influence, or even the whisperings of shayatin (i.e., satanic demons).

As classical scholars like Abu Hamid al-Ghazali describe, according to Islamic metaphysics, no amount of indulgence of a desire can lead to complete satiety. Only temporary gratification is possible, so if a person becomes accustomed to yielding to his desires, eventually he will lose the ability to abstain until the desires themselves grow ever more demanding and take over the person.

Whereas modern Western thought distinguishes desire for intimacy with men versus desire for intimacy with women, Islamic thought (along with many other civilizations, both historical and contemporary) identifies the primary natural urge for males as the urge to penetrate, whereas females urge to be penetrated. As scholars like Ibn Taymiyyah describe, the same desire to penetrate women can be corrupted such that it is directed towards men, but that desire is not sui generis. Any man who gives free reign to his lust for women may eventually be driven toward craving to penetrate other men, animals, and beyond. A male who desires to be penetrated, however, is understood to be suffering from a kind of abnormality known as “ubna.” In this way, the “active” and “passive” partners are distinguished respectively, as has been the case in many cultures throughout history including ancient Greek civilization.

To this day, many Middle Eastern men who participate in same-sex intercourse in this active role do not typically consider themselves to be “gay.” They perceive themselves simply as men since they continue to play the typically “male” role even in an encounter with another man. Again, the operative distinction here is primarily one of role rather than of gender. The Western homosexual, in contrast, understands his very desires to be completely distinct from those of the heterosexual. Furthermore, it is his desire for sexual contact with a male, regardless of the respective role played, that marks him off distinctly as a “homosexual,” highlighting the modern West’s (culturally and historically bound) prioritizing of gender over role or any other potentially relevant consideration. This is the “orientation” a person is supposedly born with. As such, a homosexual man could never truly desire the opposite sex or have his desires satisfied by a woman.

Finally, when it comes to the prohibition of same-sex acts, Islamic scholars typically express four main ideas in their reasoning against male-male anal intercourse (i.e., liwat) as well as same-sex sexual acts generally (though female-female tribadism, i.e.,sihaq was less discussed):

1. An expression of disgust and abhorrence as well as condemnation in the strongest terms while citing not only the Quranic account of the people of Lot (i.e., qawm Lut), but also human nature (or conscience) as immediately recognizing the evil of this act.

2. Appeals to nature and teleology, specifically regarding the natural, God-given roles of males as penetrators and females as recipients of penetration and how liwat subverts this normative order. This language is especially prominent in legal treatises. Beyond jurisprudence, some theologians go further in discussing the inherent complementarity of the male and female bodies as well as other characteristic traits essential to each sex as well as how that complementarity bears life, propagates the “descendants of Adam,” and provides the basis for familial and societal flourishing, in contrast to same-sex acts which undermine all these.

3. Characterization of liwat as being driven by extreme, blameworthy desire where men who, in their lust and desire for sexual variety, turn to other men instead of females.

4. Mention of physical and mental diseases caused by liwat as well as characterizing a male’s desire to be penetrated as a mental affliction, i.e., “ubna.”

Obviously, the classical Islamic view of desire and how it leads to same-sex intercourse, as well as the reasoning for prohibiting that intercourse, are all outrageously offensive to the modern liberal mind. But this offense is due to specific cultural attitudes and assumptions that we have questioned and deconstructed throughout this “debate.”

Q14: I have gay and lesbian friends. Ultimately, what they say they feel and makes them happy is all I care about.

Islam cares about what people feel and what makes them happy, too.

It should be recognized that from the Islamic perspective, we all have to be constantly critical of ourselves and question whether or not what we believe about ourselves is true. A Muslim, for example, could spend his whole life believing that he is a just, righteous believer only to discover on the Day of Judgment that he was in fact a hypocrite because his false piety was only for the sake of people and not for God alone. In the same way, a person might see himself as a “homosexual” and subjectively experience what he thinks are immutable desires, but, in reality, he is only deceiving himself.

Even liberal secularists recognize this capacity for self-deception. Consider the latest identity groups that have entered the scene, such as the otherkin. For the uninitiated, otherkins are individuals who believe themselves to be partially or entirely non-human. For example, some otherkins have very strong feelings that they are partially animals, e.g., foxes, rabbits, kangaroos, etc. These feelings constitute a significant part of their sense of self such that otherkins feel an overwhelming biological or psychological connection to the species in question. Some have argued that being otherkin even has a genetic basis. Indeed, many otherkin activists have adopted the language of social justice and minority rights to fight for respect, acceptance, and equal treatment in society at large, which they believe to be deplorably “human-centric” and “kinphobic.”

One does not have to come from a religious perspective to see all this as ludicrous. Even gay-rights activists bristle at the audacity of otherkins and take offense at the comparison with homosexuality. After all, sexual orientation has a real basis in constituting people’s identities, they argue, whereas otherkins are a bizarre, invented subculture. Otherkins, however, interpret this animosity to their cause as not unlike the prejudice homosexuals had to endure prior to mainstream acceptance.

Otherkins obviously feel very strongly about their animal identities and believe that they were “born this way” and that being otherkin is an important component of human nature. Regardless of how strongly they experience these feelings, however, that does not mean the rest of us are wrong to think they are crazy. Analogously, self-identifying homosexuals may feel very strongly about sexual orientation, its place in the human psyche, and its role in generating desire. Nonetheless, all that subjective feeling is irrelevant to the derivation of moral norms and legal rulings in light of a robust theory about human nature as given in Islamic thought, especially given the fact that, from the Islamic perspective, individuals and entire societies can systematically mislead themselves about right and wrong, purity and filth, as demonstrated by the story of Lot 'alayhi'l-salam (peace be upon him) and his folk. Simply put, what God tells us concerning human nature and the fulfillment of desire trumps what people subjectively feel or claim about themselves.

Ultimately, it is unfortunate that modern society has bombarded individuals with the unchallenged idea that same-sex attraction is natural, that having a “gay sexual orientation” is immutable, that same-sex behavior is acceptable and even healthy. Given this, it is not surprising that that is what so many in our communities and in our society deeply believe and feel about themselves. But there is nothing wrong with us problematizing these assumptions and working in a compassionate manner to get people to see and experience an alternative reality that proceeds from an elevated and holistic account of who we are, what our purpose is, where we are going, and to Whom we shall ultimately all return.

_________________

About the Author: Daniel Haqiqatjou is a columnist at MuslimMatters, where he maintains his column The Muslim Skeptic. He attended Harvard University, majoring in Physics and Philosophy. He completed a Masters degree in Philosophy at Tufts University. Haqiqatjou is also a student of the traditional Islamic sciences. He writes and lectures on contemporary issues surrounding Muslims and Modernity. Contact: EmailTwitterFacebook.

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Women’s Mosque? Women’s Empowerment?

February 2nd, 2015

By Khalid Baig

Posted: 11 Rabi al-Thani 1436, 1 February 2015

The Women’s Mosque of America has started operations in Los Angeles. It is not a mosque per se, but the name of a non-profit organization. It began with holding female only Jumuah prayers, in an old synagogue with Stars of David etched on the stained glass windows. The decision to use this venue was made to “promote peace.”

Creating a separate space for Muslim women is a noble idea. Unfortunately the organizers chose the one event for this project for which it has no basis in the Shariah. Muslim women are not required to offer Jumuah. They are allowed but not required. (They can offer the Dhuhr prayer instead.) Further by consensus of scholars of all schools, Muslim women are not allowed to lead Jumuah prayers or deliver Jumuah Khutbahs. Not surprisingly the project met with disapproval from the great majority of local Muslim scholars who objected exactly on this ground. The women who prayed there were advised to still offer their Dhuhr prayer as the prayer obligation remained undischarged.[1]

But there is a larger issue that has not been discussed. One wonders what the officers of this corporation would think of establishing a women only school or women only college. Obviously if women need access to Islamic education in an exclusive space, then would not a daily regular school be far superior to a twenty minute sermon delivered once a month? Alas their future programs make no mention of such a plan. On the contrary other programs will be coed.

It is also interesting to see the media reaction. This was a media event and all the big names were there. And they were excited. From the Los Angeles Times to the Wall Street Journal, from ABC news to Fox News, everyone praised this as a historic event. It was considered a key development in empowerment of Muslim women. “Maybe we could get a female Luther out of this,” Los Angeles Times reported an excited congregant as saying.

The question that we must ask is what the media reaction would be if the organizers had opened a women’s only college instead. Would that be considered a historic event that would open the doors to scholarship for Muslim women? Would that be praised by the same media as a space “where Muslim women can ‘bring their whole self,’ learn more about their faith and foster bonds of sisterhood?”

It is more likely that this would be ridiculed as a step backwards, as another sign of oppression of Muslim women.

Why? Why the same act is praiseworthy in one case and blameworthy in the other?  The answer may be that it is flouting the traditions and well established Islamic teachings in one case and complying with them in the other. The first act is therefore considered empowering and the other enslaving. The hypocrisy has a rationale!

It may be therefore empowering to deconstruct the notion of “women’s empowerment” itself.

The sad fact is that we are caught up in the discourse of empowerment. Everyone these days is for “women’s empowerment.” And it is taboo to question this dogma. But let us ask, where does this word come from? Does it come from the Islamic discourse or its textual sources? The Qur’an does not talk about “women’s empowerment.” Neither does Hadith. Neither does the Islamic literature produced by authorities and scholars of varied persuasions over the centuries. If in doubt please tell me what is the Arabic term for “empowerment” and where do you find it in the Islamic textual sources?

Let us face it: It is a foreign term. And like other foreign terms it has to be examined carefully before we start using it and submit to its dictates.

The term as used today comes from the feminist discourse. And it brings with it the entire feminist agenda. Simply stated, the ideology of women’s empowerment means establishing an absolute-no-holds-barred-equality between men and women. Dozens of international organizations are devoted to promoting “women’s empowerment” and use the term interchangeably with “gender equality” and “gender mainstreaming.” At a more basic level it means fighting for your rights. As American feminist Gloria Steinem said, “Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself.”

Let us contrast this with Islamic history.

The pre-Islamic Meccan society, like all Jahiliyya societies then and now, had its share of the weak and the downtrodden. Women were oppressed. So were slaves. Anyone belonging to another tribe was discriminated against. Did the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, go to them and say I have come to empower you? Did he invite them to start an empowerment movement? If he did, the seerah and Hadith books do not record it. Rather his message to everyone was, “Become a believer and you will be successful.” The promise was falah, the eternal and ultimate success, to be achieved through iman (faith) and taqwa (righteous action performed with the fear of displeasing Allah). To men and women, to slaves and masters, the rich and poor, Arabs and non-Arabs, the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said one thing:

"O people, say there is no god but Allah and you will be successful." Belief in Allah and submission to His commands were the road to falah.

“O people, say there is no god but Allah and you will be successful.” Belief in Allah and submission to His commands were the road to falah.

“O people, say there is no god but Allah and you will be successful.” Belief in Allah and submission to His commands were the road to falah.

The society that was so built did eliminate the injustices to the slaves and women and the poor and all the downtrodden people. But the path to that uplifting was not through the talk of empowerment. Rather it was through an exactly opposite strategy. Islam did not urge women to fight for their rights; it urged the men to discharge their responsibilities toward the women, fearing Allah. It did not urge the poor to fight for their rights; it urged the wealthy to discharge their responsibilities toward the poor, fearing Allah. It also urged the women to discharge their responsibilities toward their husbands. In fact it changed the focus of everyone from their rights to their responsibilities. For in the Hereafter we’ll be held accountable for our responsibilities, not our rights. If we were shortchanged on our rights here, we will be fully compensated there. But if we were negligent in discharging other’s rights on us, we will have to pay heavily for it there. Needless to say, with everyone concerned with their responsibilities, the rights of the others are automatically secured. Further, with justice being a supreme goal of Islam, redressing injustices becomes everyone’s job not just those of the victims. With this approach Islam obtained justice in the society but without the incessant friction and disharmony that is an essential result of an ongoing fight. It uplifted women without instituting a perpetual gender war. As Imam Zaid Shakir notes: “Islam has never advocated a liberationist philosophy.”

The language of empowerment is diametrically opposed to it. It makes everyone focus on their rights, not their responsibilities. The battle cry is, watch out for yourself for no one else will. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. With no one being primarily concerned with discharging their responsibilities, securing your rights becomes a lifelong struggle. You will only get those rights for which you fight. Hence the perpetual campaign for women’s empowerment.

What has that led to? The exact opposite of what it aimed at. The empowerment rhetoric did not end exploitation of women; it actually has opened exciting new avenues for it. As Dr. Brooke Magnanti wrote in the Telegraph, “Too often the word is used as a smokescreen for increasing consumerism, a cousin of L’Oreal’s ‘because you’re worth it’ whereby you can presumably empower yourself by buying shoes and pretty little journals, which is somehow worthier than simply buying things because you need or like these things. Or worse still, by landing some 9-to-5 corporate grinding job.”[2]

But it has done much more. It has destroyed the home and family beyond recognition. Even more, it has drastically changed men and women. Here are the words of Father John McCloskey, a Catholic priest lamenting the disaster that this world has faced.

There is something radically wrong with the family and the relationship between the sexes in the West as we rapidly approach the third millennium of the Christian era… Indeed it would be hard to find similar situations in history, unless it be the pre-Christian paganism of the Roman Empire (cf. St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans l: ll-20) or the behavior of the barbarian hordes of central Asia as they poured into a weak and decadent empire… Today, in societies that are nominally Christian, we witness the phenomenon of women who do not act like women, nor men like men, nor families like families. Codes of moral behavior that have made the family the central unit of society and have been the “guardrails” of civilization for centuries have been discarded as antiquated.”[3]

If we blindly follow the talk of women’s empowerment, we will also be headed to this lizard’s hole. Or we can follow the path of falah shown by the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam and say goodbye to the borrowed language and borrowed ideologies.

The Women’s Mosque organization was started by two ladies, a comedy writer and a lawyer, as a reaction to their “mistreatment” at some other mosque. The “mistreatment” consisted in somebody in that mosque gently pointing them upstairs to a separate area for women.  They apparently thought that the separate upstairs space that had been provided was beneath them. One wonders if that is the attitude of a humble servant of God. In reaction they organized an event that violated the commands of the same God whom they so desperately wanted to serve. And they started a first ever “protest mosque.”

Among other firsts, it also encouraged women to “enter the mosque in the type and style of clothing in which they feel comfortable.” In other words it decreed that Islam does not prescribe any dress code for prayers. Anyone who thought otherwise was asked to keep their opinions to themselves. It asked that no woman should remind another woman to, say, cover her head while praying. If the mosque was a consecrated space which imposed its own rules of decorum and proper conduct, including dignified and modest attire, the “Women’s Mosque” had nothing to do with that.

Such is the tragedy when we become consumed by our desires. These ladies and their sympathizers would do well to listen to the words of Imam Zaid Shakir: “Our fulfillment does not lie in our liberation, rather it lies in the conquest of our soul and its base desires. That conquest only occurs through our enslavement to God.”

Does Islam ask the women to get sacred knowledge? Absolutely. And today, unlike the bleak picture painted by the marketing department of Women’s Mosque, women are very active in seeking religious knowledge. They are doing it from their homes over the phone and Internet; in gatherings arranged at private homes; in schools established for this purpose. And they are doing it in mosques as well. There are some institutions who have thousands of women studying with them from their homes. They are studying Arabic, Hadith, Fiqh, Qur’an, and so on. May Allah bless these efforts and multiply them. This is the right answer to the problem of women education. Not a Jumuah khutbah delivered by a woman once a month.

The organizers of the Women’s Mosque are right that for proper education women need a safe space where they are by themselves. Where they can discuss their problems freely, get inspired by other sisters, and seek both emotional and intellectual fulfillment from them. Where they do not have to act like men or compete with them. Where women can be women. If one is guided by Islamic teachings and not the talk of empowerment then one could easily see that it should lead to the development of female only schools, colleges, and youth groups.


[1] For a detailed discussion of the fiqhi ruling on women leading prayers, see Imam Zaid Shakir’s article at http://www.newislamicdirections.com/nid/articles/female_prayer_leadership_revisited. But the matter is simple to understand even without a detailed technical discussion. Dr. Salman Nadvi, who headed the Islamic Studies department at the University of Durban until his retirement and who is the son of the illustrious scholar Allama Sulaiman Nadvi, said: “If Allah wanted women to lead their own Jumuah prayers He would have asked the Prophet to order this and would have asked the Ummahat al-Mu’mineen to lead the prayers.”

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/journalists/dr-brooke-magnanti/

[3] http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/singlesexedu.html

source: http://albalagh.net/current_affairs/0107.shtml

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The Nobel Award and the Not-So-Noble Propaganda Campaign

November 30th, 2014

By Khalid Baig

Posted: 20 Dhul Hijjah 1435, 15 October 2014

“The US corporate media loves talking about the remarkable bravery and strength of Malala and the brutality of the Taliban forces that almost killed her. Such coverage fuels its racist, orientalist, neocolonialist narrative about “backward,” violent, misogynist Muslims and their need for “white saviors,” thereby legitimizing Western imperialist interests in South and West Asia.  (Ben Norton in Dissident Voice)

The news of the award of a Nobel Prize for Peace to a Pakistani girl was accompanied by a condemnation of the Pakistani society in the mainstream media. Its crime: Its people were not dancing in the streets to celebrate the honor given. They even had the temerity to question the motives of the award givers and the actions of the recipient. They refused to take the attacks of the young recipient on Islam in stride. If it was trying to give a message to Pakistan, the Nobel committee must have felt that it was doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful. Poor, fanatic Pakistanis who cannot appreciate a good thing.  “By winning the Nobel prize, Malala joins Pakistan’s loneliest club,” announced the Washington Post in a bold headline.

The distance between the make-believe world of the media and the reality can be seen in that headline itself. Did she win, as the headline says, or was she awarded? You win, say, a marathon race, by being the first to reach the destination. It reflects effort and achievement. You do not get it because of the largess of the judges. They do not declare you a winner to promote the diet and exercise routine that you had followed. A Nobel prize, on the other hand, is an award— a political decision made by the judges aimed at achieving a political goal. Even the award announcement makes it so clear. It says: “The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.” This is loaded political language.

Obviously if one does not agree with your political goals, one will not support the decisions made to advance those goals. There will be no reason to celebrate the award, in contrast to the win in the race. The media showed a singular inability to understand the distinction by blaming the Pakistanis for not celebrating the “win.”

Education is a wonderful thing. But what exactly do you want to teach? In case of Malala the agenda is very clear. In the writings that have been published in her name, she looks down on the education in the core values of one’s faith. She does not like Islamic studies. She is concerned about the increase in the number of madrasahs. She condemns female students who were the victims of barbaric military atrocities including dropping of phosphorous bombs on their own school. So much for being a champion of universal education!

Beyond education she also has statements to make on important issues of the day in Pakistan, like Blasphemy laws, Islamization of penal code, Hudood ordinance, even Muslim protests against the intensely provocative insults of Salman Rushdie. And on all these issue she parrots the lines taught by her imperial mentors. It is obvious that all her utterances are scripted. Further, her script writers and those who have awarded her for reading from the script are certainly working in harmony.

And then the pundits wonder with perfect disingenuity why the people are not rejoicing over her “win.”

But there was some consolation for the media. For some people did fall for the trap both in Pakistan and in the diaspora.

If you are suffering from  a very low self esteem (itself a gift of the media) you would be excused for grabbing on to anything to raise it up, including a tainted award.  They exhibited the signs of an inferiority complex: Denial, day dreaming and wishful thinking. Denial that a young girl is being used (Even when many of them agreed that her book is a case of that. No one defends her book and people in Pakistan are not rushing to the bookstores to get a copy.); daydreaming that the powers that be are choosing to honor a Muslim girl because of her goodness; and wishful thinking that some good can come out of the plans which are anything but good.

Their infatuation with the Nobel prize —itself a mark of colonization of the minds—led them to accept the Malala-for-education-versus-Taliban-against-education narrative. Little did they realize that this is a false dichotomy created by the propaganda machine. She is no champion of education and those questioning her status as a heroine are not against education. She did not build schools or help anyone get an education. She did not come up with any program for spreading education. She only allowed herself to be used by faithfully uttering the propaganda lines that she had been assigned. In a way she had been abducted. Her Nobel Prize award was a certificate that her abduction was complete.

After reading her book and her pronouncements the most charitable thing that can be said is that she is young and innocent and is unfortunately being used by powers with an agenda. This admission will lead us to pray for her liberation from the trap she has fallen into.

Let us mourn the abduction of a daughter of this ummah. And let us also mourn the celebration in some quarters of this abduction.

http://www.albalagh.net/current_affairs/0106.shtml

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Al-Hidayaah – Charity Fundraising Dinner

November 30th, 2014
Charity Fundraising Dinner - Al-Hidayaah Keighley

Charity Fundraising Dinner – Al-Hidayaah Keighley

More Information

Venue: Lala’s Banqueting Suite
55 Toller Lane, Bradford, BD8 9DD

Enjoy an evening of Inspiration with short speeches, Qiraat and Naats to enlighten the audience, followed by charity fundraising auction, ending the night with a three course meal

Special Guest:

Sheikh Abu Bakr As Shatri- World renowned reciter of the Holy Qu’ran.

Also attending the event are prominet scholars:

Mufti Saiful Islam – Prinicipal of JKN Institute, Bradford

Mufti Abdul Wahab – Presenter on IQRA TV, London

Maulana Dr Rafaqat Rashid- Senior Lecturer at JKN Institute, Bradford

Many more famous quran and nasheed reciters will be present at this event including

Maulana Imtiyaz Sidat– Leicester

Qari Zakir Dola– Preston

And many more local students.

Brothers and Sisters Welcome- Fully Segregated Seating

Tickets will also be sold at the door. Please purchase tickets now, tickets are fast selling out and is sold on a first come first serve basis:

This voucher admits one person only and should be presented upon entry.

for more information please call 07873 166437

 

Click Here to Purchase your ticket Now

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Quran Reflections – Juz Twenty Seven‏

July 25th, 2014

Juz Twenty Seven

Purpose of Our Life

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ
I did not create the Jinns and the human beings except for the purpose that they should serve and worship Me. (Adh-Dhāriyāt, 51:56).

ʿIbādah, which has been translated as service and worship here, implies total obedience, willing surrender, and dedicated worship. The purpose of our creation and of the freedom of choice given to us is that we choose the path of submission and lead a life of loving service to our Creator. If we do so we’ll fulfill the purpose of our creation—which is the very definition of success. Its manifestation will be the everlasting bliss in Paradise. If we fail to do that, our life will have been a failure which will be manifested in the never ending punishment in the Fire.

If we choose other goals in life—goals that are contrary to this goal—then regardless of whether or not we succeed in achieving those goals, our life will have been a failure.

Individual Responsibility

أَلَّا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ
That no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden. (An-Najm, 53:38)

As Muhammad  Asad writes, this  expresses  a  categorical rejection of the Christian doctrine of the “original sin” with which every human being is allegedly burdened from birth; secondly, it refutes the idea that a person’s  sins could be “atoned for” by a saint’s or a prophet’s redemptive sacrifice (as evidenced, for instance, in the Christian doctrine of Jesus’ vicarious atonement  for mankind’s sinfulness, or in the earlier, Persian doctrine of man’s vicarious redemption by Mithras).

This also has serious implications in law. No one can be punished for the crimes of another. It thus negates collective punishment as well as guilt by association, principles that are being violated in the new security states now emerging.

Qur’ān is Easy

وَلَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِن مُّدَّكِرٍ
Indeed  We  have  made  the  Qur’ān  easy  for  seeking  advice.  Then  is there any that will receive admonition?? (Al-Qamar, 54:17)

The  Arabic word  is  dhikr,  which  means  remembering, mentioning, reminding, and invocating. This also implies seeking advice. The Qur’ān has been made very easy for all this. Its words are easy to memorize and easy to comprehend and  follow. Its  simple message solves the  riddle of  the purpose of creation and our role in this world. Anyone who approaches the Qur’ān with an open mind to seek guidance will be guided by it.

At the same time it is a profound work with an unending store of meanings and fiqhi points within its limited word list. The best of experts may spend a lifetime to unearth them and the store will still not be exhausted. The task of deriving legal rulings is therefore to be entrusted to those who have developed the requisite knowledge and expertise.

Sūrah Ar-Raḥmān

Called the bride of the Qur’ān, this beautiful sūrah has a unique rhythm to it punctuated by the constant refrain, “How many of the bounties of Your Sustainer shall you deny?”

Addressed to both human beings and jinns it describes their creation, reminds them that everything in this universe has a finite lifespan after which it will end and then will be resurrected to face the results of its endeavors—either Hell or Paradise. There is a moving description of both.

The Space for Women

حُورٌ مَّقْصُورَاتٌ فِي الْخِيَامِ
Most beautiful eyed ones (houris) houris, cloistered in cool pavilions. (Ar-Raḥmān, 55:72)

Regarding the maidens of Paradise, it is significant that we do not find them in the public space, where there are eternal young boys as servants. The maidens will be in private pavilions. And they will be happily cloistered in their vast pavilions. Maqṣūrāt has also been interpreted to mean restrained as to their glances. Either way they will be leading happy sheltered private lives.

If anyone harbors the suspicion that this arrangement may be uninteresting they may do well to ponder on what the Qur’ān says elsewhere about the Paradise, “Ones who will dwell in them forever. They will have no desire for relocation from there.” Paradise is the ideal state. And if our ideas of the ideal state are at variance from the Qur’ānic description, we need to seriously rethink our ideals.

This Life and That Life

اعْلَمُوا أَنَّمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا لَعِبٌ وَلَهْوٌ وَزِينَةٌ وَتَفَاخُرٌ بَيْنَكُمْ وَتَكَاثُرٌ فِي الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَوْلَادِ ۖ كَمَثَلِ غَيْثٍ أَعْجَبَ الْكُفَّارَ نَبَاتُهُ ثُمَّ يَهِيجُ فَتَرَاهُ مُصْفَرًّا ثُمَّ يَكُونُ حُطَامًا ۖ وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ شَدِيدٌ وَمَغْفِرَةٌ مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَرِضْوَانٌ ۚ وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ
Know (O men) that the life of this world is but a play and a diversion, and pageantry, and (the cause of ) your boastful vying with one another, and (of your) greed for more and more riches and children. Its parable is that of (life-giving) rain: the herbage which it causes to grow delights the tillers of the soil; but then it withers, and you can see it turn yellow; and in the end it crumbles into dust. But (the abiding truth of man’s condition will become fully apparent) in the life to come: (either) suffering severe, or God’s forgiveness and His goodly acceptance: for the life of this world is nothing but an enjoyment of self-delusion. (Al-Ḥadīd, 57:20)

This is a description of the life lived in this world without concern for the life to come. Like the vegetation that brings delightful greenery and then withers and crumbles, this life goes through its cycles and no stage in this cycle is permanent, no matter how badly we may wish it to be. Permanencebelongs to the life to come. And wisdom is in not letting the fleeting pleasures distract us from the permanent ones.

One result of developing the correct outlook here will be a graceful life that will not be unduly impacted by the highs and lows of life. As the following āyah says: “so that you may neither grieve on what has escaped you, nor over-exult on what He has given to you.”

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Quran Reflections – Juz Twenty Two‏

July 25th, 2014

Juz Twenty Two

Sūrah al-Aḥzāb: Reflections on Hijab

In this sūrah, which was revealed at the time of the battle of the trench (also known as the battle of Aḥzāb), hijab was introduced as a formal requirement for Muslim women. This was a revolutionary change. The Arab society of the time was a stranger to the idea of segregation and hijab as mentioned in āyah 33 below. This era was declared as a dark era of ignorance (al-Jāhiliyyah al-Ūlā, or the earlier Jāhiliyyah) and the new Muslim community  was asked to move away from its cultural and social practices. The qualifier Ūlā (earlier) implies the prophesy of a later Jāhiliyyah, and what we are witnessing today in the modern world fits the bill.

Those who are trying to reconcile Islam to this modern Jāhiliyyah have been working hard to  water down these teachings. Among their arguments is that these āyahs were meant only for the wives of the Prophet ﷺ. Little do they realize that the household of the Prophet ﷺ was  charged with becoming the model that the rest of the  community would follow, for a revolutionary change in  such practices required the presence of cultural leaders. A careful reading of the following āyahs will make that amply clear.

يَا نِسَاءَ النَّبِيِّ لَسْتُنَّ كَأَحَدٍ مِّنَ النِّسَاءِ ۚ إِنِ اتَّقَيْتُنَّ فَلَا تَخْضَعْنَ بِالْقَوْلِ فَيَطْمَعَ الَّذِي فِي قَلْبِهِ مَرَضٌ وَقُلْنَ قَوْلًا مَّعْرُوفًا
O wives of the prophet, you are not like any other women, if you observe taqwā (righteousness). So, do not be too soft in your speech, lest someone having disease in his heart develop fancies (about you); and do speak with appropriate words. (Al-Aḥzāb 33:32)

This āyah makes two points. First, the wives of the Prophet ﷺ are at a level above other women because of taqwā. Second, in talking to other men their talk should avoid display of female charms to prevent the development of any fancies. Are we to believe that developing taqwā and preempting the possibility of developing lust were only the concern of the wives of the Prophet ﷺ?

وَقَرْنَ فِي بُيُوتِكُنَّ وَلَا تَبَرَّجْنَ تَبَرُّجَ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ الْأُولَىٰ ۖ وَأَقِمْنَ الصَّلَاةَ وَآتِينَ الزَّكَاةَ وَأَطِعْنَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۚ إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا
Remain in your homes, and do not flaunt your charms as they used to flaunt them in the days of earlier ignorance; and establish Ṣalāh, and pay Zakāh, and obey Allāh and His Messenger. Allāh only intends to keep (all sorts of ) filth away from you, O members of the family (of the prophet), and to make you pure through a perfect purification. (Al-Aḥzāb, 33:33)

Here again the question will be whether breaking from the Jāhiliyyah practices was only required of the wives of the Prophet ﷺ. What about Ṣalāh and Zakāh? Why are  they mentioned in this “exclusive” directive?

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَدْخُلُوا بُيُوتَ النَّبِيِّ إِلَّا أَن يُؤْذَنَ لَكُمْ إِلَىٰ طَعَامٍ غَيْرَ نَاظِرِينَ إِنَاهُ وَلَٰكِنْ إِذَا دُعِيتُمْ فَادْخُلُوا فَإِذَا طَعِمْتُمْ فَانتَشِرُوا وَلَا مُسْتَأْنِسِينَ لِحَدِيثٍ ۚ إِنَّ ذَٰلِكُمْ كَانَ يُؤْذِي النَّبِيَّ فَيَسْتَحْيِي مِنكُمْ ۖ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَسْتَحْيِي مِنَ الْحَقِّ ۚ وَإِذَا سَأَلْتُمُوهُنَّ مَتَاعًا فَاسْأَلُوهُنَّ مِن وَرَاءِ حِجَابٍ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ أَطْهَرُ لِقُلُوبِكُمْ وَقُلُوبِهِنَّ ۚ وَمَا كَانَ لَكُمْ أَن تُؤْذُوا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَلَا أَن تَنكِحُوا أَزْوَاجَهُ مِن بَعْدِهِ أَبَدًا ۚ إِنَّ ذَٰلِكُمْ كَانَ عِندَ اللَّهِ عَظِيمًا
And when you ask anything from them (the blessed wives of the Prophet), ask them from behind a curtain. That is better for the purity of your hearts and their hearts. (Al-Aḥzāb, 33:53)

We can continue the same question here. Was the purity of hearts only needed for the wives?

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُل لِّأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاءِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِن جَلَابِيبِهِنَّ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ أَدْنَىٰ أَن يُعْرَفْنَ فَلَا يُؤْذَيْنَ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا
O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they should draw down their shawls over them. That will make it more likely that they are recognized, hence not teased. And Allāh is Most-Forgiving, Very-Merciful. (Al-Aḥzāb, 33:59)

This āyah now extends the command to all Muslim women although wives and daughters of the Prophet ﷺ are again mentioned first. The reason for earlier specific addresses to them should now be obvious to everyone. They were charged to lead the cultural revolution—as they in  fact did. Hijab became a symbol of all Muslim women, not just that of the wives of the Prophet ﷺ. The ban on free mixing extended to the entire community. Islam established separate spheres for men and women, and Muslim societies throughout the centuries held fast to this norm.

Satan: The Eternal Enemy of Human Beings

إِنَّ الشَّيْطَانَ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ فَاتَّخِذُوهُ عَدُوًّا ۚ إِنَّمَا يَدْعُو حِزْبَهُ لِيَكُونُوا مِنْ أَصْحَابِ السَّعِيرِ
Surely Shayṭān (Satan) is an enemy to you: so treat him as an enemy. He only invites his adherents, that they may become Companions of the Blazing Fire. (Fāṭir 35:6)

There is only one permanent external enemy of human beings—Shayṭān (Satan), also referred to  as Iblīs or  the Devil. He is a sworn and irreconcilable enemy. Other external enemies, among humans, become enemies to the extent that they become agents for this eternal enemy. So there is a huge difference between the two classes of enemies. We do fight the human enemies when that becomes absolutely necessary, but we can also try to win them over with good character. Thus in sūrah Fuṣṣilat we are told how to turn enemies into friends: “Good and evil are not equal. Repel (evil) with what is best, and you will see that the one between whom and you there was enmity (will become) as though he was a close friend.” And if they stop following Satan, then former enemies become brothers as has been seen throughout the history of Islam. Not so with Satan. The Qur’ān reminds us repeatedly that Satan is a manifest enemy. Here, again, it is commanding us to make sure we treat him as enemy. We must fight him and protect ourselves from his cunning ways all our life. No appeasement, no compromises, no truce, no let up in the fight. Never.

While Satan invites us to unbelief, he also tempts us to commit all sorts of sins. However some sins have been specifically mentioned as high on the agenda of Satan. These include nudity and obscenities, consumption of alcohol and ḥarām food items, gambling, and extravagance.  A hadith mentions breaking up  the  family and  sowing dissension between husband and wife as being on top of the satanic agenda. To the extent that these are prevalent in a society, that society is under satanic influence. And the Believers have their job cut out for them to fight the enemy plans.

The True People of Knowledge

أَلَمْ تَرَ أَنَّ اللَّهَ أَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَخْرَجْنَا بِهِ ثَمَرَاتٍ مُّخْتَلِفًا أَلْوَانُهَا ۚ وَمِنَ الْجِبَالِ جُدَدٌ بِيضٌ وَحُمْرٌ مُّخْتَلِفٌ أَلْوَانُهَا وَغَرَابِيبُ سُودٌ. وَمِنَ النَّاسِ وَالدَّوَابِّ وَالْأَنْعَامِ مُخْتَلِفٌ أَلْوَانُهُ كَذَٰلِكَ ۗ إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ غَفُورٌ
Did you not see that Allāh sends down water from the sky whereby We bring forth fruits having different colors. And among the mountains there are tracks, white and red- of different colors, and (others) utterly black. And among humans and beasts and cattle, there are those having different colors as well. Even so only those of His servants fear Allāh who have knowledge; surely Allāh is All- mighty, All-forgiving. (Fāṭir, 35:27-28)

After mentioning the great diversity in plant and animal kingdoms, in  geological  formations and  in  humans, this āyah goes on to give a new perspective on the knowledgeable and hence on knowledge itself. The examples mentioned are all the subjects of science. But not all those who would study and master them will have true knowledge, for true knowledge produces consciousness and fear of Allāh. If the latter is absent, so is the former. Such a person will remain an ignorant person in the sight of Allāh, no matter how many professional degrees and awards he or she has accumulated.

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Quran Reflections – Juz Twenty Five‏

July 25th, 2014

Juz Twenty Five

The Purpose behind Economic Scarcity

وَلَوْ بَسَطَ اللَّهُ الرِّزْقَ لِعِبَادِهِ لَبَغَوْا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَٰكِن يُنَزِّلُ بِقَدَرٍ مَّا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِنَّهُ بِعِبَادِهِ خَبِيرٌ بَصِيرٌ
For if Allāh were to grant (in this world) abundant sustenance to (all of) His servants, they would behave on earth with wanton insolence: but as it is, He bestows (His grace) from on high in due measure, as He wills: for, verily, He is fully aware of (the needs of) His creatures, and sees them all. (Ash-Shūrā 42:27)

Economics is the science that deals with the issue of scarcity. However it cannot see the Divine plan behind this scarcity and therefore leads to the same wanton insolence that is meant to be avoided through it. Scarcity of provisions leads to interdependence and makes the working of the human society possible. It also makes us realize our limits and keeps us from being haughty. The result is that we are thankful for the bounties we receive and patient over wants that go unfulfilled. But when this understanding is not there, it results in exploitation and oppression. We want to have monopoly over the limited resources and use that monopoly for unfair advantage.

That is why Islamization of Economics, and other social and physical sciences, is so important  for the welfare of humanity.

Shūrā = Democracy?

وَالَّذِينَ اسْتَجَابُوا لِرَبِّهِمْ وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَأَمْرُهُمْ شُورَىٰ بَيْنَهُمْ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ
Those who hearken to their Sustainer, and establish regular Prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual Consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance; (Ash-Shūrā, 42:38)

This āyah highlights the importance of shūrā or the system of mutual consultation for the running of all collective affairs, whether in the family, in a small group or at the highest levels of the Islamic state. When carried out properly, the system shows that the power of the group is much more than the sum of its members. The group benefits from the best of individual resources, talents and ideas. The process of consultation also brings its members closer together, cementing the group. A hadith promises Allāh’s succor to those practicing shūrā.

Sometimes people mention  Islamic Shūrā as another name for democracy. This is a dangerous oversimplification and ignores the gulf of difference between their philosophical underpinnings.  Democracy is  not  a  system of  mutual consultation, but a system of negotiation between divergent interests. Each constituency on this negotiating table seeks to gain at the expense of others and will do whatever it can get away with—from vote rigging and gerrymandering to manufacturing consent through slick propaganda campaigns. The division of the community into political factions is part of the blueprint of democracy, as is the permanent division between the ruling and opposition groups.

All of these are the exact opposite of the spirit and purpose of shūrā, where everyone is working towards the same goals and seeks the greatest benefit for the entire group.

The centrifugal tendencies of democracy require some organizing principle to keep the group together. This was provided by territorial nationalism and the nation-state, which has done much harm to humanity. It is no accident that the rise of democracy and the nation-sate has been simultaneous. Needless to  say that  Islam stands in  total opposition to territorial nationalism.

The Perils of Affluence

وَلَوْلَا أَن يَكُونَ النَّاسُ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً لَّجَعَلْنَا لِمَن يَكْفُرُ بِالرَّحْمَٰنِ لِبُيُوتِهِمْ سُقُفًا مِّن فِضَّةٍ وَمَعَارِجَ عَلَيْهَا يَظْهَرُونَ. وَلِبُيُوتِهِمْ أَبْوَابًا وَسُرُرًا عَلَيْهَا يَتَّكِئُونَ. وَزُخْرُفًا ۚ وَإِن كُلُّ ذَٰلِكَ لَمَّا مَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۚ وَالْآخِرَةُ عِندَ رَبِّكَ لِلْمُتَّقِينَ
Were it not that all people would become of a single creed (i.e. disbelief),  We  would  have  caused,  for  those  who  disbelieve  in Raḥmān, roofs of their houses to be made of silver, and the stairs as well, on which they would climb, and doors of their homes, and the coaches on which they would recline, and (would have made some of these things) of gold-ornaments. And all this is nothing but an enjoyment of the worldly life. And the Hereafter, with your Lord, is (destined) for the God-fearing. (Az-Zukhruf 43:33-35)

This is a perspective on the perils of gold and silver that is totally ignored today both by the experts and the laymen. It is a mercy of Allāh that He did not make all of the non-believers extremely rich. Otherwise the road to unbelief would become so slippery that no one would escape sliding down to it.

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Quran Reflections – Juz Twenty Three‏

July 25th, 2014

Juz Twenty Three

Ignoring the Signs of Allāh

وَمَا تَأْتِيهِم مِّنْ آيَةٍ مِّنْ آيَاتِ رَبِّهِمْ إِلَّا كَانُوا عَنْهَا مُعْرِضِينَ
There comes to them no sign from the signs of your Lord, but they turn away from it. (Yāsīn, 36:46)

The Prophetﷺ called sūrah Yāsīn the heart of the Qur’ān because it encapsulates the essential message of the Qur’ān and the signs in the universe that point to its truth in a very powerful way.

Yet  the  signs cannot  benefit those who are bent  on ignoring them. After mentioning various signs of Allāh (dead earth that comes to life with rain, night and day and sun and moon, ships and other means of travel), it points out the state of self-imposed ignorance whereby human beings refuse to learn from the signs. This nonchalance results in foolish argumentation from them, mentioned in the next two āyahs. (Why should we feed the poor, God could have fed them if He wanted? And when is this resurrection after death going to take place?) The answer is to shake them out of this frivolity by giving a glimpse of the Hereafter where the sinners will be separated from the pious. The difference between the former’s doom and the latter’s bliss is not something that any sensible person can brush aside lightly.

The charge of ignoring the signs applies to those who pay no attention to them as well as those who study them in great depth but with a closed mindset that has already decided that this is a creation without a Creator and a design without a Designer. Their study does not lead them to God, because of its prior assumptions and predetermined conclusions. This applies to almost all study of science even in the Muslim classrooms  today because they just ape the methods and philosophies of ignorant science leaders. This is a similar message to what was given in sūrah Yūsuf4  and should be a point of much concern for Muslim educators and scientists today.

Did Man Create gods?

قَالَ أَتَعْبُدُونَ مَا تَنْحِتُونَ
He  answered:  “Do  you  worship  something  that  you  (yourselves) have carved, (Al-Ṣāffāt, 37:95)

Atheists, new and old, have declared that man created God. With this they laughingly assure themselves that they have satisfactorily answered the question as to who created man. But this absurdity has a basis, which the Qur’ān points out here. Man, in fact, has created gods. Whether it is the physical statues of deities or the false ideas about gods, they are all human creations. They result when we surrender to our own lusts, desires, and wishes. That however does not negate the existence of the one True God who created us. Atheism took root in the non-Muslim world, where its leaders only saw the false gods of human creation and decided that that was the entire story. In contrast those who read the Qur’ān with an open mind will come in conversation with the one True God.

Worship has always been a common practice in all human societies. But we have two options about it. We can worship the one True God who created us or we can worship the false gods of our own creation—including the “no God” of atheism.

Doubt the Hereafter? Answer This.

أَمْ نَجْعَلُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ كَالْمُفْسِدِينَ فِي الْأَرْضِ أَمْ نَجْعَلُ الْمُتَّقِينَ كَالْفُجَّارِ
Shall We treat those who believe and do righteous deeds the same as those who commit mischief on the earth? Shall We make the God- fearing equal to the sinners? (Ṣād 38:28)

This is the question that everyone who rejects or harbors doubts about the Hereafter must answer. Allāh is just and justice demands the existence of the Hereafter where everyone will be rewarded or punished for their good and bad deeds. Those who reject or doubt the Hereafter necessarily believe in an unjust world.

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Quran Reflections – Juz Twenty Four‏

July 25th, 2014

Juz Twenty Four

Sincerity

Sincerity and exclusive devotion to Allāh alone is the central tenet of Islam. In sūrah al-Zumar, which was revealed before the migration to Abyssinia and which is a concise statement of what Islam is all about, this tenet is repeated four times. It begins with a command and a statement of principle:

إِنَّا أَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ فَاعْبُدِ اللَّهَ مُخْلِصًا لَّهُ الدِّينَ. أَلَا لِلَّهِ الدِّينُ الْخَالِصُ
Surely We have revealed the Book to you with truth; so worship Allāh making your submission exclusive for Him. Remember, Allāh alone deserves the exclusive submission. (Az-Zumar, 39:2-3)

Then it reiterates the command:

قُلْ إِنِّي أُمِرْتُ أَنْ أَعْبُدَ اللَّهَ مُخْلِصًا لَّهُ الدِّينَ
Say, “I have been ordered to worship Allāh, making my submission exclusive to Him. (Az-Zumar, 39:11)

And again it asserts a statement of fact:

قُلِ اللَّهَ أَعْبُدُ مُخْلِصًا لَّهُ دِينِي
Say, “It is Allāh whom I worship, making my submission exclusive to Him. (Az-Zumar, 39:14)

Those who believe in Allāh being the sole creator and master of this universe still run the danger of losing the purity of their devotion due to lusts and desires. Attaining and maintaining this purity is a life long struggle.

It  helps to realize that  of all groups of Muslims, the Companions had the highest level of sincerity. And their unique status is due entirely to it. That is why Allāh announced in the Qur’ān that He was pleased with them, while Allāh does not accept anything which has any taint of insincerity. Learning about their lives and keeping an eye on their examples is thus an effective way of nurturing this sincerity.

Turning Back to Allāh

قُلْ يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِن رَّحْمَةِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ. وَأَنِيبُوا إِلَىٰ رَبِّكُمْ وَأَسْلِمُوا لَهُ مِن قَبْلِ أَن يَأْتِيَكُمُ الْعَذَابُ ثُمَّ لَا تُنصَرُونَ
Say: “(Thus speaks Allāh:) ‘O my servants who have transgressed against your own selves! Despair not of Allāh’s mercy: behold, Allāh forgives all sins. Surely, He is the One who is the Most-Forgiving, the Very-Merciful. Hence, turn towards your Sustainer (alone) and surrender yourselves unto Him before the suffering (of death and resurrection) comes upon you, for then you will not be helped.”(Az- Zumar, 39:53-54)

This is such a reassuring message for those who have sinned. By sinning we transgress against our own selves. But the All Merciful Allāh will still turn to us with mercy if we turn to Him in repentance. He is Most-Forgiving; there is no sin He will not forgive if we sincerely seek His forgiveness and take corrective action. The pencil which has been given to us to draw the course of our life’s journey does come with a huge eraser. It lasts as long as the pencil itself. There are no signs on the highway of life that prohibit a U-turn. No matter how messed up our lives may have been, we can always correct course. The door to repentance  is always open—until the very end of our life. But if we wait too long and the end comes in sight, then repentance will not help.

Admonishment to Pharaoh

يَا قَوْمِ لَكُمُ الْمُلْكُ الْيَوْمَ ظَاهِرِينَ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَمَن يَنصُرُنَا مِن بَأْسِ اللَّهِ إِن جَاءَنَا ۚ قَالَ فِرْعَوْنُ مَا أُرِيكُمْ إِلَّا مَا أَرَىٰ وَمَا أَهْدِيكُمْ إِلَّا سَبِيلَ الرَّشَادِ. وَقَالَ الَّذِي آمَنَ يَا قَوْمِ إِنِّي أَخَافُ عَلَيْكُم مِّثْلَ يَوْمِ الْأَحْزَابِ. مِثْلَ دَأْبِ قَوْمِ نُوحٍ وَعَادٍ وَثَمُودَ وَالَّذِينَ مِن بَعْدِهِمْ ۚ وَمَا اللَّهُ يُرِيدُ ظُلْمًا لِّلْعِبَادِ
“O my people, the kingdom is yours today, while you are dominant on the land. But, who is going to help us against Allāh’s punishment, if it comes upon us?” Pharaoh said, “I do not give you an opinion unless I myself believe it to be correct, and I do not direct you to anything but to the right way.” Thereupon exclaimed he who had attained to faith: “O my people! I fear for you something like a day of the (disbelieving) groups (of the past), like the fate of the people of Nūḥ and ʿĀd and Thamūd and those who were after them—and Allāh  does  not  intend  to  do  any  injustice  to  His  servants.”  (Ghāfir, 40:29-31)

The story of the believer in the court of the Pharaoh is described in some detail in this sūrah. He kept his belief to himself for fear of persecution. However when things started to go out of hand, he had to come out and tell the truth. In the first sentence above he spoke of we and us so as not to alienate them. Upon Pharaoh’s rejection of his passionate appeal, he had to tell them “I fear for you.”

Moral: The inclusive language should be used whenever possible and the exclusive language when necessary.

Fighting Evil with Good

وَلَا تَسْتَوِي الْحَسَنَةُ وَلَا السَّيِّئَةُ ۚ ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيمٌ
Good and evil are not equal. Repel (evil) with what is best, and you will see that the one between whom and you was hatred become as if he were a close friend. (Fuṣṣilat, 41:34)

This teaching will keep the callers to Islam from ever going on ego trips in dealing with the opponents. In his commentary on this Sayyidnā ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAbbās said, “Show patience when someone is venting his anger on you. Show forbearance when someone is rude to you. Forgive when someone hurts you.” We should never leave the high moral ground in dealing with adversity and it may even win over the most committed enemies.

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Quran Reflections – Juz Twenty‏

July 18th, 2014

Juz Twenty

Friendships

وَيَوْمَ يَعَضُّ الظَّالِمُ عَلَىٰ يَدَيْهِ يَقُولُ يَا لَيْتَنِي اتَّخَذْتُ مَعَ الرَّسُولِ سَبِيلًا. يَا وَيْلَتَىٰ لَيْتَنِي لَمْ أَتَّخِذْ فُلَانًا خَلِيلًا. لَّقَدْ أَضَلَّنِي عَنِ الذِّكْرِ بَعْدَ إِذْ جَاءَنِي ۗ وَكَانَ الشَّيْطَانُ لِلْإِنسَانِ خَذُولًا
And (be mindful of ) the Day the wrongdoer will bite his hands saying, “ Would that I had taken a path along with the Messenger! Oh, woe to me! Would that I had not taken so-and-so for a friend! He did lead me astray from the Message (of Allāh) after it had come to me! Ah! Satan is but a traitor to man! (Al-Furqān 25:27-29).

This is the last sūrah revealed before hijrah; its āyah 85 was revealed when the Prophet ﷺ had already started his journey to Madinah. This was a heart breaking departure and he was consoled that Allāh would be bringing him back to this city as a conqueror. This happened within a decade although at that time there were no apparent clues leading to this result.

In preparation for the encounter with Jews in Madinah, the first 43 āyahs give a detailed account of the life of Prophet Mūsā not given anywhere else in the Qur’ān. The parallels between the lives of Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ and  that of Prophet Mūsā are unmistakable.  Prophet Mūsā had also left his home when his life was threatened. He was later brought back and ultimately the Pharaoh was drowned. The account thus provides assurance for the Prophet ﷺ and admonishment for the unbelievers.

Qārūn (Korah) and Others of His Ilk

إِنَّ قَارُونَ كَانَ مِن قَوْمِ مُوسَىٰ فَبَغَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ ۖ وَآتَيْنَاهُ مِنَ الْكُنُوزِ مَا إِنَّ مَفَاتِحَهُ لَتَنُوءُ بِالْعُصْبَةِ أُولِي الْقُوَّةِ إِذْ قَالَ لَهُ قَوْمُهُ لَا تَفْرَحْ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْفَرِحِينَ. وَابْتَغِ فِيمَا آتَاكَ اللَّهُ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ ۖ وَلَا تَنسَ نَصِيبَكَ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَأَحْسِن كَمَا أَحْسَنَ اللَّهُ إِلَيْكَ ۖ وَلَا تَبْغِ الْفَسَادَ فِي الْأَرْضِ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُفْسِدِينَ. قَالَ إِنَّمَا أُوتِيتُهُ عَلَىٰ عِلْمٍ عِندِي ۚ أَوَلَمْ يَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ أَهْلَكَ مِن قَبْلِهِ مِنَ الْقُرُونِ مَنْ هُوَ أَشَدُّ مِنْهُ قُوَّةً وَأَكْثَرُ جَمْعًا ۚ وَلَا يُسْأَلُ عَن ذُنُوبِهِمُ الْمُجْرِمُونَ. فَخَرَجَ عَلَىٰ قَوْمِهِ فِي زِينَتِهِ ۖ قَالَ الَّذِينَ يُرِيدُونَ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا يَا لَيْتَ لَنَا مِثْلَ مَا أُوتِيَ قَارُونُ إِنَّهُ لَذُو حَظٍّ عَظِيمٍ. وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ وَيْلَكُمْ ثَوَابُ اللَّهِ خَيْرٌ لِّمَنْ آمَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا وَلَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا الصَّابِرُونَ. فَخَسَفْنَا بِهِ وَبِدَارِهِ الْأَرْضَ فَمَا كَانَ لَهُ مِن فِئَةٍ يَنصُرُونَهُ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُنتَصِرِينَ. وَأَصْبَحَ الَّذِينَ تَمَنَّوْا مَكَانَهُ بِالْأَمْسِ يَقُولُونَ وَيْكَأَنَّ اللَّهَ يَبْسُطُ الرِّزْقَ لِمَن يَشَاءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ وَيَقْدِرُ ۖ لَوْلَا أَن مَّنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَيْنَا لَخَسَفَ بِنَا ۖ وَيْكَأَنَّهُ لَا يُفْلِحُ الْكَافِرُونَ.
Indeed Qārūn (Korah) was from the people of Mūsā, then he rebelled against them. And We had given him treasures such that the very keys of them were too heavy a burden for a company of men endowed with strength. (Remember) when his people said to him, “Do not exult. Surely, Allāh loves not those that exult. And seek the (betterment of ) the Ultimate Abode with what Allāh has given to you, and do not neglect your share from this world, and do good as Allāh did good to you, and do not seek to make mischief in the land. Surely, Allāh does not like the mischief-makers.” Answered he: “This (wealth) has been given to me only by virtue of the knowledge that is in me!” Did he not know that God had destroyed (the arrogant of ) many a generation that preceded him—people who were greater than he in power, and richer in what they had amassed? But such as are lost in sin may not be asked about their sins (for ascertaining their sins). And so he went forth before his people in all his pomp; (and) those who cared only for the life of this world would say, “Oh, if we but had the like of what Qārūn has been given! He is a man of great fortune indeed!” But those who had been granted true knowledge said: “ Woe unto you! Merit in the sight of Allāh is by far the best for any who attains to faith and does what is right: but none save the patient in adversity can ever achieve this (blessing).” And thereupon We caused the earth to swallow him and his dwelling; and he had none to help him against Allāh, nor was he of those who could defend themselves. And on the morrow, those who but yesterday had longed to be in his place exclaimed: “Alas (for our not having been aware) that it is indeed Allāh (alone) who grants abundant sustenance, or gives it in scant measure, unto whichever He wills of His creatures! Had not Allāh been gracious to us, He might have caused (the earth) to swallow us, too! Alas (for our having forgotten) that those who deny the truth can never attain to a happy state!” (Al-Qaṣaṣ 28:76-82)

The account of Qārūn (Korah in the Bible) is given at the end of the sūrah. Qārūn is the personification of the possible evils of wealth. He was given tremendous wealth, which got to his head. He believed, as many do today, that his economic success was the result of his own knowledge and smarts. Little did he realize that for every smart person who has struck it rich, there are many smarter people who have not. How many are the economically successful who can see that their success was the result of simply being at the right place at the right time? Failure to comprehend that our wealth or lack thereof is a test decreed by Allāh according to His plan leads to the other common evil. The surplus wealth begs to be put on display to advertize the superiority of those who hold it. Qārūn did the same. And it did take its toll on the shallow people who are captivated by this world and have not received the revealed knowledge. (Such are the people being produced by our education systems today). They said Qārūn had got it made and wished they had the same. The people of knowledge (i.e revealed knowledge) tried to talk sense to them telling them the real important things were faith and virtue. The truth of this was finally realized by the first group when Qārūn was buried alive along with his wealth.

Wealth also took another toll on the poor Qārūn. He belonged to a colonized people (Bani Israel) and had accepted to work for the Pharaoh as his agent to control his own people. He betrayed his people and became an oppressor for them— because his narrowly conceived vested interests dictated so.
We can see the dark character of Qārūn, the agent, in the history of colonized people to this day. We can also see the character of Qārūn, the filthy rich, in every society.

Successful Personality

تِلْكَ الدَّارُ الْآخِرَةُ نَجْعَلُهَا لِلَّذِينَ لَا يُرِيدُونَ عُلُوًّا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا فَسَادًا ۚ وَالْعَاقِبَةُ لِلْمُتَّقِينَ
As for that Ultimate Abode (the Hereafter), We assign it to those who do not intend haughtiness on earth nor mischief. And the (best) end is for the God-fearing. (Al-Qaṣaṣ, 28:83)

The eternal success belongs to the good people. Their defining characteristic is that they seek neither oppression of others nor corruption. They are a God-fearing people or muttaqī in the special Qur’ānic terminology.

Nurturing of taqwā is a central Islamic goal. The Qur’ānic guidance is beneficial only for those who have taqwā. The purpose of fasting is also to develop taqwā. All acts of virtue are performed by the muttaqīn (plural of muttaqī). Paradise has been created for the muttaqīn.

Limits of Parental Rights

وَوَصَّيْنَا الْإِنسَانَ بِوَالِدَيْهِ حُسْنًا ۖ وَإِن جَاهَدَاكَ لِتُشْرِكَ بِي مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ فَلَا تُطِعْهُمَا ۚ إِلَيَّ مَرْجِعُكُمْ فَأُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
We have charged man to do good to his parents. But if they insist upon you that you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, then do not obey them. To Me is your return; then I shall tell you what you were doing. (Al-ʿAnkabūt 29:8)

The persons who have the  greatest right on  us are our parents. Yet when this right impinges on the right of Allāh to be worshipped alone, it will be disregarded. It follows that rights of other people will be disregarded even more when they conflict with the commands of Allāh. There is absolutely no obedience to other people that results in disobedience to Allāh.

A Great Reassurance

وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا ۚ وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
But as for those who strive hard in Our cause—We shall most certainly guide them onto paths that lead unto Us: for, behold, Allāh is indeed with the doers of good. (Al-ʿAnkabūt, 29:69)

This āyah holds great reassurance for all those who may find hurdles in obeying Allāh. When doors seem to be locked and all options look bad, let us have faith. We should turn to Allāh seeking His help and do the best we can under the circumstances. And we will find a way out with help from totally unexpected sources. The Qur’ānic words are very emphatic. Let us find comfort in their great promise. If we keep this āyah in front of us, we’ll never lose hope, no matter what the current circumstances.

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