Monday, 30 November 2009

The Poem that Made Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.) Cry

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

This poem made Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.) cry, so much so that one of his students said that he almost perished due to him crying so much.
“If my Lord Asks me,
‘Have you no shame in disobeying Me?
You hide your faults from My Creation,
Yet full of sin you come to Me’
So what will I answer?  O Woe to me!
And who shall protect me, do you see?
I keep forestalling my soul,
With thoughts of hope from time to time,
And forgetting what is to come after death,
And after I am warped in the sheets of the dead,
As if I have guaranteed living forever,
And that death will not overcome me,
Then the harsh drunkenness of death overtakes me,
Who now will be able to protect me?
I looked at the faces, is there not from amongst them
Who will ransom me?
I will be asked,
What have I put forth in my life to save myself?
So what will I answer,
After I have been neglectful regarding my Diyn?
O woe to me!  Did I not hear the,
Speech of Allah Calling out to me?
Did I not hear what has come in Qaf, and YaSin?
Did I not hear of the day the crowds will be Summoned?
The day we will be Collected, and the Day of ad-Diyn?
Did I not hear the caller of death,
Calling me; seeking me?
O my Lord, a slave to you I come repenting,
Who then shall grant me shelter,
Other than an Oft-Forgiving Lord?
To the truth, He will Guide me.
I have come to You, so have Mercy on me,
And Make heavy my weights
And Lighten my Reckoning; You are the Best
Of Those Who will Bring me to Reckoning?”

Kareem Salama & a Land Called 'Paradise'

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Kareem Salama is an Arab-American musician.  He was born in Ponca City, Oklahoma in 1978.  Kareem has the distinction of being the first known American-Muslim country music singer.  His music is a hybrid of country and pop.  Kareem's parents immigrated to the United States in the late 1960s.  Kareem Salama, whose name literally means ‘Generous Peace’, used that as the title of his first album.

On the 09th May 2007, Kareem was interviewed on Fox News on his views on profiling, discrimination and his musical influences.

In December 2007, two thousand Muslim Americans were asked what they wished to say to the rest of the world.  Some of their answers were used in the video presentation.  Lena Khan used Kareem Salama’s song "A Land Called Paradise" and put out an independent video based on the various quotations received from the survey.  This is the video above.

Kareem Salama on Fox News

The Dowry of Fathimah az-Zahrah (r.a.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

It is said that when Fathimah az-Zahrah (r.a.) saw her father constantly saying, “My ummah.”  She wanted to do something herself for the benefit of the ummah.  When Allah (s.w.t.) Ordered the Prophet (s.a.w.) to find a husband for his daughter, Rasulullah (s.a.w.) called his swahabah (r.a.) and said to them that Allah had Ordered him to tell them that whoever was able to recite the entire Qur’an in that night tonight quickest had the permission to marry his daughter, Fathimah, with her consent.  That night, the swahabah stayed at the mosque to khatm the Qur’an.  All stayed at the mosque the entire night to finish except ‘Ali ibn Abi Thalib (k.w.), who went home and slept after less than an hour.

Everyone, including the Prophet (s.a.w.), assembled in the mosque when Bilal ibn Rabah (r.a.) called the adzan for fajr.  After performing fajr, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) asked, “Who finished the Qur’an last night?”  None were able to answer; it is very difficult to finish reciting thirty juz of the Qur’an in only seven or eight hours.

‘Ali ibn Abi Thalib (k.w.) said, “Ya Rasulullah, I finished reciting the Qur’an last night.”  The other swahabah wondered how it was that he was able to finish reciting the Qur’an?  He had slept much of the night.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) asked ‘Ali (k.w.), “Who is your witness?”

‘Ali (k.w.) said, “Allah is my witness, and you are my witness that I completed it.  O Messenger of Allah.  I recited the following: ‘There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah’ three times; ‘I seek the forgiveness of Allah’ seventy times; al-Fatihah once; al-Ikhlasw three times; al-Falaq once; an-Naas once; ‘There is no god but Allah’ ten times; and ‘Peace and the Blessings of Allah be upon Muhammad and the Family of Muhammad.’”

The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) said, “As Allah Bears Witness, I also bear witness that ‘Ali has completed the Qur’an.  If you recite what he has recited, it is equivalent to having completed the Qur’an.”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) asked Fathimah (r.a.), “Do you accept ‘Ali as your husband?”

She said, “On one condition.”

All the swahabah looked at ‘Ali (k.w.), at Fathimah (r.a.) and at the Prophet (s.a.w.).  The Prophet’s (s.a.w.) face changed.  They all wondered why Fathimah (r.a.) said this and they were curious about the condition.  The angel Jibril (a.s.) appeared and told Muhammad (s.a.w.), “O Prophet, do not make a quick decision concerning her.  Allah Tells you to ask her about her condition.”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) asked, “O Fathimah, what is your condition?”

She said, “The condition does not concern ‘Ali but is related to me.  If that condition is accepted, I will marry ‘Ali.  If not, I will not marry him.”

Again, the angel Jibril (a.s.) came to the Prophet (s.a.w.) and said, “Allah Orders you to ask her what her condition is.”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) asked, “O Fathimah, what is your condition?”

She said, “I hear you continuously, day and night, praying for your ummah.  You say, ‘O My Lord!  Give me Permission to lead my ummah to You!  Forgive them!  Purify them!  Take Away their sins and difficulties and burdens!’  I hear you and I know how much you suffer for your ummah.  I know from what you have said that when you pass away you will still be saying, ‘My ummah!’ before your Lord, in your grave and on the Day of Judgement.  My Father, I see you suffering so much for your ummah.  Since that love of your ummah is also in my heart, I want your ummah as my dowry.  If you accept, I will marry ‘Ali.”

She asked for all the ummah of Muhammad (s.a.w.) without discrimination.  But it was not in the hand of the Prophet (s.a.w.) to give such a dowry.  He waited for Jibril (a.s.) to come but Jibril (a.s.) took time to come.  The Prophet (s.a.w.) was kept waiting for some time.  And then Jibril (a.s.) came and said, “Allah Sends you His Greetings and Accepts Fathimah’s (r.a.) request.  He Gives her what she has asked for as her dowry to marry ‘Ali.”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) immediately got up and performed two raka’at of swalah shukr to Allah (s.w.t.).  Fathimah az-Zahrah (r.a.) was only concerned about the Salvation of the ummah of Muhammad (s.a.w.).  No one is outside her dowry because if Allah (s.w.t.) Removes one person from her dowry, it will invalidate her marriage to ‘Ali (k.w.).  She is going to take the entire ummah under her wing and they will enter Jannah with her.  This is the power of one Muslim woman.  She will take everyone to Jannah with her.  No man can claim that.

In this story, despite everything, Fathimah (r.a.) always had a choice.  Even in this, Islam gave women the right to choose their husbands.  There is a hadits that women have four times the nafs of man and seventy times the ego.  But the desire for Allah (s.w.t.) and His Pleasure is also a nufus.  And that is why the first person to accept the call of Islam was a woman, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid (r.a.); the first shahid was a woman, Sumayyah bint Khayyat (r.a.); one of its greatest jurists and swahabi ‘Aishah bint Abi Bakr (r.a.); one of its greatest saints was Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya al-Qaysiyya (q.s.).

As to the recitation of ‘Ali (k.w.), it has ever been part of the daily awrad of the Naqshbandi Haqqani and many Sufi orders as well as the format of tahlil.  And whoever does it has the Reward as if he recited the entire Qur’an.

A Supplication to Ease Anxiety & Depression

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

As recorded in the Musnad of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.), it was reported from ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (r.a.) that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “No person suffers any anxiety or grief, and says:

Allahumma innii ‘abduka wa ibnu ‘abdika wa ibnu amatika, naaswiyatii biyadika, maadhin fiyya hukmuka ‘adlun fiyya qadhaa’uka.  As’aluka bikulli ismi huwa laka sammayta bihi nafsaka aw anlamtahu ahadan min khalqika aw anzaltahu fii kitaabika aw asta’tsarta bihi fiyya ‘ilmi al-ghaybi ‘indaka an taj’ala al-Qur’an rabbii’a qalbii wa nuura swadrii wa jilaa’a huznii wa duhaaba hammii

O Allah, I am Your slave, son of Your slave, son of Your female slave, my forelock is in Your hand, Your Command over me is forever executed and Your Decree over me is Just.  I ask You by every Name Belonging to You which You Named Yourself with, or Revealed in Your Book, or You Taught to any of Your Creation, or You have Preserved in the knowledge of the unseen with You, that You Make the Qur’an the life of my heart and the light of my breast, and a departure for my sorrow and a release for my anxiety.

- but Allah (s.w.t.) will Take away his sorrow and grief, and Give him in their stead joy.”

Imam ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (r.a.) said about this du’a in his book, “The Provisions of the Hereafter” that the verse, “Lord, I am Your servant, whose father and mother are Your servants,” embodies the core of Knowledge and Recognition of Allah (s.w.t.), and the secrets of worship, and no single book can ever detail their full meaning.  Yet, this prayer is full of recognition of Who Allah (s.w.t.) is, and in it, the worshipper calling upon His Lord, acknowledges his Creator, and presents himself as Allah’s (s.w.t.) servant, and the son of His servants.  The caller also places things where they belong by recognising that his fate is in Allah’s (s.w.t.) Hand; that his destiny is moving according to the Divine Plan; that Allah (s.w.t.) Does whatever He Pleases with it; that the servant can neither bring benefits nor harm to himself; that he cannot bring about his own birth, death, or resurrection; that his destiny is in Allah’s (s.w.t.) Hand; that he has no power to alter it except as Allah (s.w.t.) Wills; that he is totally dependent on his Creator, Cherisher, Sustainer, and Lord; that his own existence is subject to whatever Allah (s.w.t.) Decrees; and that Allah (s.w.t.) is Just, and what He (s.w.t.) Wills shall Be.

Imam ibn Qayyim (r.a.) then explained the next part of the du’a, “My fate is in Your Hand, and my destiny is moving according to Your Plan.  You are indeed Just in Your Judgment.”  This section of the prayer embodies two cardinal aspects which are the core of the doctrine of tawhid.

The first is the recognition and confirmation of fate, and that Allah’s (s.w.t.) Decree regarding His servant shall unfailingly come into force, and that the servant cannot escape it or repel it.  The second aspect proclaims that Allah (s.w.t.) is Just, that He does not oppress His servants, and that what His Decree is due by virtue of Divine Justice and Knowledge of such needs.  This is because injustice represents the need, ignorance, incompetence, weakness, and inferiority of an unjust person, and therefore, such attributes are not Divine, and they cannot come from one who is Omniscient, All-Knowing, Wise, and has no needs.

Hence, Allah’s (s.w.t.) Wisdom is Operative wherever His Will is Ordained.  Allah (s.w.t.) is Rich beyond any need, and everything is poor and seeks its nourishment from Him.  He is All-Wise, and there is not a single atom throughout the entire universes where His Will is not Operative.  The absolute dependence of each and every cell in the entire Creation, and their soliciting of their support and sustenance from the sole and only Provider requires their gratitude.  Hence gratitude, shukr, is Rewarded with Blessings and ingratitude, kufr, is Rewarded with disapprobation and consequent punishment for the non repenting ones.

When the unrepentant and ungrateful disbelievers and idol worshipers threatened Allah's (s.w.t.) prophet, Hud (a.s.), to invoke the curse of their deities upon him, he replied:

… He said, “I call Allah to Witness, and do ye bear witness that I am free from the sin of ascribing, to Him other gods as partners!  So scheme (your worst) against me, all of you and give me no respite.  I put my trust in Allah, my Lord and your Lord!  There is not a moving creature, but He hath Grasp of its forelock.  Verily, it is my Lord that is on a Straight Path.” (Surah Hud:54-56)

This meaning that Allah’s (s.w.t.) Power which is Unlimited and Unrestrained, is Operative over all creatures, and no one can withstand His Decree.  He Alone has the power to Move them as He Pleases, and He does so Rightly, Justly, Wisely and Mercifully.

In this prayer, the servant’s proclamation, “My destiny is moving according to Your Plan,” means the same as, “There is not a moving creature, but He hath Grasp of its forelock,” and his saying, “You are indeed Just in Your Judgment,” is also parallel to “Verily, it is my Lord that is on a Straight Path.”  Furthermore, Rasulullah (s.a.w.) called, in this prayer, upon Allah’s (s.w.t.) Most Holy Names and the Divine Attributes He Proclaimed in His Kingdom, Revealed in a Book, Taught to a privileged servant or kept as His sole Secret, so that no angel of the nearest and most exalted status and no prophet or messenger has ever known to ask by it.  Such invocation surpasses all supplications, and of all prayers is the Dearest to Him, and most Worthy of immediate reply, because it proves the servant's knowledge and recognition of his Lord.

Rasulullah (s.a.w.) then prayed to Allah (s.w.t.) to Make the Glorious Qur’an the Prime of his heart, meaning the spiritual food of his body, mind, and soul, and through it, to Wash Away, Dispel, and Cure his stresses, worries, and concerns, making it the one conclusive medicine that will extract illnesses, and restore the human being to his true status and balance.  Hence, he asked his Lord to make the Qur’an the Light of his soul that removes any corrosion that tarnishes his clarity and wisdom, and that polishes his heart.  Such medicine works only if the patient is truthful in his asking for it, sincere in his trust in its effectiveness and uses it as prescribed by his physician.  Hence, insha’Allah, the correct use of the medicine will certainly be followed by complete recovery, excellent health and vitality and Allah (s.w.t.) is the Supreme Helper.

The Decline of the Befrienders Scheme

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Analysis of the Programme

The Befrienders Scheme was once one of the most phenomenally successful programmes at Darul Arqam Singapore.  At one time, it was the only consistently active volunteer programme running.  The legacy of the programme can be attested in the fact that a significant number of currently active volunteers, teachers, Council members and Executive Committee members are from this programme or were in some way involved in it.

The programme is actually a modified version of similar programmes found in churches and other volunteer organizations.  It was originally envisioned as part of a wider convert’s follow-up programme by Sheik Mustafa in that particular incarnation.  The pilot batch was a resounding success.  And the first few batches of volunteers were of good quality.

The current Befrienders’ Scheme is actually the 3rd incarnation of the programme by that name.  It has existed in some form or other in Darul Arqam Singapore for many, many years.  It was Sheik Mustafa and the resident social worker, Siti Maryam, who decided to tag it to the latent Beginner’s Course in Islam and that, is where the programme found its niche.

The initial recruitment had the most stringent standards and conditions.  One of the core principals was dedication.  This pilot programme was supposed to be the first phase of a converts’ follow-up programme.  It was recognised that almost all the major challenges of faith occur after conversion.

An analysis of past cases of apostasy and the patterns of the counseling cases indicated that in many cases, conversion actually damaged the support network of the converts.  The idea was to ‘be their friend’ and to recreate a support network whilst at the same time putting a framework for identifying potential cases that might require counseling early.  We are not replacing the support network.  We are supplementing it and trying to repair it.  You cannot, for example, replace the relationship with the parents.

That in itself was the reason the programme was initially managed with the support of the social worker / counselor.  The Befrienders were supposed to be the first line of contact.  The original plan was to carry it further by developing the post-Befriending period of the programme as part of the overall follow-up.

Conversion is a sensitive and very personal decision.  It is imperative for people to understand that a significant minority of these people who convert do not feel the need to highlight their conversion.  Many times, their parents, their colleagues or even their employers do not know.

Despite the official party line, the fact remains that in many parts of the government service, there are still no Muslims or they have a token, marginal presence.  Due to historical reasons and the realities of the current political climate, Muslims are still for the most part, distrusted.

The Selection of Volunteers

The volunteers were selected on a very stringent criterion to match the demographic of the attendees of the Beginner’s Class.  But, in the main, they had to be dedicated and they had to be flexible.  We wanted friends, not preachers.

Also, it was recognised that it is easier to lower standards but extremely difficult to raise them once they were slackened.  For this reason, the drop-out rate was high and the culling of unsuitable candidates was brutal for the pilot batch.

What is not generally known is that some of the initial batch of Befrienders was not even Muslims, although they eventually converted.  But there was a conscious effort to recruit between the mid-twenties to the late thirties to better match the age group of the students.  Also, we wanted people with working experience and who had been married.  Converts were preferred over born-Muslims to better establish the credibility of the Befrienders.

The Mechanics of the Programme

The Beginners’ Course in Islam is the primary programme for those who want to convert to Islam.  At that time, it was once a week for 15 weeks.  This included one mosque visit and a practical swalah and wudhu demonstration.

The class begins at 2000h on weekdays for an hour and a half.  At 2130h, the students were released and highly encouraged to join the Befriending circles.  They would be introduced to the Befrienders for the first week and there would be a structured discussion based on a pre-set series of topics.

Every 7th and 15th week, there would be session with catered food to better facilitate interaction.  The session would be held from after maghrib before the class began.  If there was a mosque visit, it took up almost all of the class.  Same with the swalah and wudhu demonstration.

The BCI course has since been amended to 10 weeks.  The swalah and wudhu demonstration has been removed since a swalah tutorial covering both has been appended to the course.  The mosque visit is no longer integral.

There was a briefing before the start of the class (after maghrib) and another one after the Befriending session ended.  There used to be a separate day for discussion of the topics.  The purpose of the briefing was to compare notes on the Befriendees, how to deal with the topics and any other issues that may arise.

The most important aspect of the Befrienders Scheme was supposed to be the post-Befriending period.  And that is why initially, Befrienders were banned from doing a cycle immediately after the end of the current one to focus on the Befriendees.  They had to plan at least two social events within a 2 month period.  Depending n their rapport with the Befriendees and the skill in which they planned the programme, the attendance varied.

What went Wrong?

How do you measure the success of the programme?  By the following criteria: -

Attendance of the volunteers: There is a dearth of volunteers for the programme.  It is so dire that for the second half of 2009, there has been no Befriending whatsoever.  The recruitment was a failure and the retention of previous volunteers is abject.

Attendance of the Befriendees: The key indicator of how good your Befrienders are is the retention rate of the Befriendees.  You cannot say the programme is working if at the end of the cycle, no relationship has developed.  If by the middle of a cycle, the attendance to the break-out session declines precipitously, there is something wrong.  It impacts on the morale of the Befriender and the failure becomes cyclical.  At the end, the volunteer does not come back.  If they are new, they might even leave halfway.

The converts’ follow-up rate: By these criteria, the Befrienders’ Scheme has been a failure for a long time already.  It has simply become a programme that has been run for the sake of being something on the budget and the AOP.  How many of these converts have come back t Darul Arqam Singapore in any sort of capacity?  Most of the time, we never see them again.  Or worse, when they end up in Shari’ah Court because of divorce or as another statistic - an apostasy case.

The 2 Main Reasons: Lack of Understanding of the Programme’s Position and Lack of Focus

The decline and ultimate failure of the Befrienders’ Scheme can be attributed to two main areas.  One of them is the lack of understanding of the programme’s position in the entire context of conversion and converts’ development.  The programme out of necessity remained autonomous since the volunteers needed to think outside of the box when dealing with a fluid series of event involving people’s lives.  But it was never meant to stand alone.  It was mean to complement an entire converts’ follow-up programme and the counseling unit.

The other primary reason for the failure of the programme is the loss of focus.  Convert’s Development Division itself does not do any convert development.  The entire Annual Operating Plan of CDD does not have a primary programme dealing with converts’ development.  CDD should rightly be renamed ‘Welfare Division’.  When the entire division has lost focus of its primary function, it is almost impossible for the programmes to be on track.

Over the course of several years and many cycles, the focus of the Befrienders’ Scheme had moved from the post-Befriending and converts’ follow-up to the presentation of the weekly topics.  The ceased to become the friends and started to become the preachers.

The Discussion Topics are Irrelevant

The topics of the Befriending sessions are outdated and a distraction of the primary purpose of the session.  Some of the topics are presumptuous.  For example: Would you leave Islam after conversion if your boyfriend or girlfriend left you?  This is insulting since it assumes that everybody converts because of relationships.  It shows the failure to understand that whilst relationships may be the catalyst, it is overall simplistic to assume that people convert because of that.

Furthermore, whilst the world had changed, the topics became concretized.  In the aftermath of September 11th, there was a wonderful opportunity to address the issue of terrorism since people were converting to a ‘terrorist’ religion.  Unfortunately, it was decided that it be best to avoid it altogether for fear of controversy.  In terms of public relations, it was a disaster.  It implied that Islam had something to hide.

The Quality of Volunteer Recruitment has Declined

It is always easier to lower the bar rather than raise it.  With the loss of focus, it was inevitable that the volunteer retention and recruitment would ultimately fail.  Since they have no idea the raison d'être for the programme, the demographic matching became irrelevant and was eventually discarded.

This presented a problem on several fronts.  The commitment of the volunteers declined.  Morale became a problem since they were unable to identify why Befriendees started skipping or simply refused to come for the sessions.  Their commitment waned.  There have been several times when they have trained an entire cohort but due to mismanagement of the schedule, the volunteers have not turned up for the actual Befriending.

The Befrienders have focused too much on the topics without understanding the psychology of the people considering converting to Islam.  Furthermore, the demographic of the Befriender was not compatible with the demographics of the Befriendees.  Far too many were too young with little understanding of the challenges of conversion.

Volunteer Development is Curtailed

Darul Arqam Singapore’s strength during its development has always been the volunteer spirit.  The constant flow of volunteers engendered a family atmosphere within the organization.  People who volunteer must be part of the dynamic process of organizational development.  Make them feel like genuine stakeholders in the process and not only will they come, they will stay.

The added responsibility of developing, running and managing programmes help them to develop skills and add to a shared organizational memory - the proverbial Learning Organization that our Civil Service is always talking about in the 1990s and early part of this decade.  In return, as they develop, it is hoped that some of them can contribute by sitting on the policy-making body of the organization - the Council itself.

One of the mistakes that Ridzuan Wu’s old Executive Committee made was in deciding to have more staff and giving them executive control over the programmes.  The net result is that the volunteers (including the Council and Executive Committee have become complacent) and the programmes have stagnated.  To the staff, this is just a job, not a calling.  It is not in their interest to make things difficult by tweaking what already ‘works’.

With the influx of volunteers stilled, Darul Arqam Singapore has become less dynamic and the flow of ideas has stagnated.  The people who work there or are part of the establishment (such as many on the Council) are simply unable to think outside of the box, enact a paradigm shift and identify the problems, let alone solve them.  There is not a single volunteer programme developed by the staff that is an unqualified success.

With the staff in charge, there is an autocratic set-up of the system.  As people are wont to do, they only work with people they are comfortable with.  As a result, it can be argued there is an inherent prejudice within the system.  Consequently, new ideas have become an anathema.  This has contributed to cyclical decline.

Recommendation?  Or Inevitable Outcome

It is quite obvious that the programme has become a waste of funds.  It has had a glorious run bit it has since become irrelevant.  Just like the previous incarnations of the programme over the last two decade, there is a need to relook the system.  Of course, the most likely outcome is that the programme will die a natural death.  There will be a cut back of the Befriending sessions corresponding with a cut in budget.  And then, one day, it disappears from the budget.

Darul Arqam’s Befrienders Video

Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Good Muslim

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

When I first converted, I attended Abdal Hakim Murad’s talk on ‘The Muslim Jesus.’  Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad was born Timothy John Winters in 1960.  He was educated at Westminster School, and graduated with a double-first in Arabic from the University of Cambridge in 1983.  He studied and taught the traditional Islamic sciences at al-Azhar for several years.  He also spent an equal number of years in Jeddah administering a commercial translation office.  He maintained close contact with Habib Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad (q.s.).  He returned to England in 1989 and spent two years at the University of London concentrating on Turkish and Persian.

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad is currently the Shaykh Zayed Lecturer of Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University, Director of Studies in Theology at Wolfson College.  He holds many positions in various Islamic institutions and is a renowned scholar of the Islamic sciences, both internal and external.

Because of the subject of the talk, it was a packed venue.  There were many Muslims and there were many Christians who came with their Bibles.  It was after all, a controversial topic.  I remember when they left, they left their Bibles behind.  However, the nature of 'Isa (a.s.) was dealt with in a sensitive manner with respect and insight.  It was something new to me considering my Catholic background.

After the talk, I asked Shaykh Murad how long it took for him to learn that much.  And he said 25 years.  And I said, insha’Allah, in 25 years, I would know that much.  The arrogance of youth.  It has been a decade.  I have long way to go.  If other converts to Islam could reach those heights of knowledge, I fail to see why we should not try.  As converts, we came to this faith in a journey; it is incumbent upon us to seek that knowledge actively and aggressively.  It is with that intention that Allah (s.w.t.) Gives.  And how Generous is He

Another thing I learnt was the Sufi way.  It is all-inclusive.  We are searching for that transcendent Truth, al-Haq.  Islam is the superhighway there but it is presumptuous to think we are guaranteed Salvation.  It neglects the belief in Allah’s (s.w.t.) Grace.  There is no need to put another faith down to prove our superiority.

And thus the first hallmark of a good Muslim is the love of Allah (s.w.t.) and His Messengers and Saints.  It is the reflection of His Attributes and the emulation of their acts.  Love the religion and love the knowledge of it.

Another speaker I met was Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl.  One of the things that struck me about him was his love for books.  He bought hundreds of dollars worth of books when he was here.

The biography, I had, states that he was born in Kuwait which is interesting.  I remember sitting in his hotel room until late and he told us about Egypt during Anwar Sadat’s time.  About the crackdown, the torture of many scholars and the burning of religious books, many of them rare works from earlier times.

Anwar Sadat was assassinated on 06th October 1981 whilst reviewing the troops after the ‘successful’ Yom Kippur Campaign.  The assassins were identified as members of the banned Islamic Jihad with the collusion of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ikhwani Muslimin.  They shot him and threw grenades.  Hosni Mubarak was amongst the people there.  He cowered under the chair.  One of the attackers ran up to him, pointed a gun and saw how scared he was.  He said, “You’re not worth killing.”

Hosni Mubarak, former Air Force Officer and now President of Egypt, never forgot that affront to his manhood.  He and General Fouad Allam, head of Egypt's security service, rounded up thousands of suspects.  Many of them were guilty of the crime of coming from the same villages as the assassins.  There were tortures to elicit confessions, mass murders and human right abuses.  It was genocide.  This served as a recruiting tool for the future al-Qa’ida.  Amongst those rounded, jailed and tortured were Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was later convicted of conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks, and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of Osama bin Laden's two top lieutenants and former leader of al-Qa’ida Iraq.  This was always personal.  The American-backed despot had killed their family.

He told of how they were forced to run around a huge bonfire of Islamic books and sing or else they were beaten by the guards.  He later sough asylum in the US and became a crusader for human rights in the Muslim world.  And ever since then, he collected books all around the world.  He told me that we are so fortunate in Singapore.  He found copies Islamic books here that he could not find anywhere else in his extensive travels.  He showed me a cheap paperback he bought from Haji Hashim at Joo Chiat Complex.  He said that he could not find this book in the Middle East and it was thought lost.  But here in Southeast Asia, copies and translations were churned out and could be bought in neighbourhood bookstores.  Because of that, I learned to appreciate books and I have my own library.

And the second hallmark of a good Muslim is one who values knowledge.  Knowledge is precious.  It is to be respected.  Treat the books well.  Treat the teachers better.  Respect the ‘ilm.  Allah (s.w.t.) is al-‘Alim.  All Knowledge is His.  And if that Knowledge is Blessed, it brings you Closer.  But if Allah (s.w.t.) were to Punish a people, he takes away the knowledge and the teachers.

Another great speaker is Dr. Mustafa Cerić, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Dr. Mustafa Effendi Cerić was born 1952 in Visoko, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslavia.  He is the Grand Mufti (Rais ul-‘Ulama) of Bosnia-Herzegovina.  He is currently serving his second 7-year term as the Grand Mufti which expires in 2013.  He is fluent in Bosnian, English and Arabic, and has a working knowledge of Turkish, German and French.

Dr. Mustafa Cerić graduated from a madrasah in Sarajevo.  He received a scholarship to al-Azhar.  He then returned to Yugoslavia, becoming an imam.  In 1981, he accepted the position of imam at the Islamic Cultural Center of Greater Chicago (ICC) in Northbrook, Illinois and lived in the United States for several years.  During his time in the United States, he learned English and earned a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago.  After his studies, he left the ICC and returned to Yugoslavia and became an imam again in a learning center in Zagreb in 1987.  He officially became the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999, although he has led the Islamic community in Bosnia since 1993.

Dr. Mustafa Cerić told us a first-hand account of the Siege of Sarajevo.  The Siege of Sarajevo is the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare.  Serb forces of the Republika Srpska and the Yugoslav People's Army besieged Sarajevo from 5th April, 1992 to 29th February, 1996 during the Bosnian War.

Because the Bosnian army was poorly equipped, they could not break out of the city.  Many massacres of Muslims took place.  NATO and the UN stood by and dithered in the Security Council.  Eventually, the siege was lifted when NATO forces started attacking Serb positions and bombed Serbia itself.  The Bosnian forces were also getting a supply of weapons - from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Saudis.  An influx of mujahidin that started as a trickle was threatening to become a flood.  NATO, the UN Security Council and the United States acted in self-interest.  By that time, tens of thousands of Muslims were dead - raped, murdered, tortured.  Before that, it was a minor conflict in the forgotten part of Europe.

It was a lesson in not taking religious freedom and racial harmony for granted.  It was a lesson in the idea of what constitutes a good Muslim.  Dr. Mustafa Cerić told us how the Serbs came and how the Dutch peacekeepers stood aside and watched the atrocities.  The Bosnians came to the Dutch peacekeepers begging for sanctuary.  They declined and retreated, leaving them to the mercy of the Serbs.

“We will never forget how they stood aside and let us die.  We will never forgive what they allowed to happen to us.”  I remember the exact way it was said.  It was a graphic description.  It was as if we were there.  The crowd was silent.

He told us that when the Serbs attacked, “they did not ask if you were a good Muslim or a bad Muslim.”  If you were a Muslim, if you looked like a Muslim, if your name sounded Muslim; they killed you.  It was an extermination campaign, ethnic cleansing, genocide.  Like killing rats.  The women were raped, the men were sometimes sodomised.  Sons were killed before their mothers, husbands before their wives; men, women, children.  Even the livestock, the cows, the chickens, the dogs, the cats.  It was as if the Mongols had returned to Baghdad.

So those who were ‘good’ Muslims?  Many of them ran away.  Those who were Muslims in name, stayed to fight.  They fought for their lives, they fought for their homes, they fought for their families.  And later they fought for their religion.  And because they fought for their religion, they started to learn their religion.  And these ‘bad’ Muslims became the good Muslims.

The Sufi groups that were banished since the fall of the Ottomans were revived.  Especially the Naqshbandi.  And the old ways returned in full force.  From the flower of conflict, from the nourishment of blood, Islam took root in a place after the fall of communism.  This, I know, since one of the people who taught me was Shaykh Fikret Karcic.  He went back to become the Mufti of Sarajevo.  And this is a lesson where Allah (s.w.t.) declares that He is the Best of Planners.

A long time ago, that part of the Europe until the Gates of Vienna was Muslim.  Bulgaria, much of Greece, Romania, Southern Russia, Albania.  This was a heartland of Islam as old as al-Andalus.  And like al-Andalus before, the Muslims were reduced from a majority to almost nothing.  They did not leave their religion in droves.  They did not convert out.  They were killed in campaigns of genocide.  If you ever go there, you will see thousands of remains of mosques and Sufi dargah.  Of mosques that were converted to churches.  Of maqamat torn down.  And perhaps mass graves that no one except the oldest inhabitants of the area know.

So who is a good Muslim?  You or I?  The imam of the masjid?  Or the person down the street drinking in the afternoon during Ramadhan?  Only when we are tested do we know our faith.  And it is not our faith.  It is His Faith.

The Story of Onan

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

In the Book of Genesis, Onan was the second son of Judah and the younger brother of Er.  Er was married to Tamar.  Tamar eventually had a son, Perez who was the ancestor of David (a.s.).

Genesis 38:8-10
8 Judah, therefore, said to Onan, his son, “Go in to your brother’s wife and marry her, that you may raise seed to your brother.”  9 He, knowing, that the children should not be his, when he went in to his brother’s wife, he spilled his seed upon the ground, lest children should be born in his brother’s name.  10 And, therefore, the Lord Slew him, because he did a detestable thing:

“Judah”, the Qur’anic “Yahudh”, means “Give praise to God” in ancient Hebrew.  This was the same Judah (r.a.) who sold his brother Joseph (a.s.) into slavery.  “Onan” means “the virile one”.  “Er” is a pun since, in Hebrew, spelt backward, is their word for “evil”.  “Tamar” means “date palm”.

Er was somehow unable to do his duty and get Tamar pregnant.  In any case, he died and left Tamar a young widow.  In that sort of tribal system, she had little standing being childless and a widow.  Under the ancient Levite law, she was inherited by her brother-in-law, Onan.  It was Onan’s duty to get Tamar pregnant, the nafqah al-bathin.  However, any child beget would be considered Er’s progeny.  Said child would inherit from Er’s legacy and also be a challenge to Onan’s children from his other wives.  Onan, being mindful of this, fulfilled the letter of the Law, but not the spirit.  He entered Tamar but always practiced coitus interruptus.  He “spilled his seed” in the Biblical parlance.  Thus, he earned God’s Wrath and was killed for his hypocrisy.

Since then, despite the fact that “Onan” means “virile one”, and was associated with virility in ancient Hebrew, it has entered the English language as “onanism”, which means the practise of masturbation or coitus interruptus, depending on the context.  It has since acquired the association of impotence in modern English.  “Onan” is, therefore, “impotent”.

How appropriate an allegory of the Muslim Converts’ Association of Singapore at Onan Road, an impotent organisation led by impotent leadership.