March 30, 2005

Sun's Orbit in the Qur'an

idbc wrote: "Why does the Quran say that the sun has an orbit, when we know it doesn't?"

I suspect idbc is referring to either of the following verses:

"And He it is Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. They float, each in an orbit." (21:33)

"It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor doth the night outstrip the day. They float each in an orbit." (36:40)

We all know that the moon has its own orbit, revolving around the earth; however, the sun has its own orbit as well...around the galactic center, which is estimated to take about 225-250 million years for one "cosmic year."

The Qur'an is correct, yet again.

March 21, 2005

Muslim Names

I've read a lot of silliness in the past few days on Beliefnet regarding whether reverts to Islam should adopt Muslim names or not. This person, who shall remain nameless - and who should know better, has claimed that "converts want to become fake Arabs, changing their names and donning Arab dress." In addition, this person has either intentionally or unintentionally misinterpreted my challenges to her posts, and so I address this topic in the clearest possible language.

  • Is it wrong for a revert to Islam to take a Muslim name? No.

  • Is it permissible for a revert to Islam to take a Muslim name? Yes.

  • Does a revert to Islam have to take a Muslim name? No.

  • Should the revert to Islam be encouraged to take a Muslim name? Yes.
  • There is no sin if a revert does not take a Muslim name, nor should reverts be pressured in any way to take a Muslim name; however, there is nothing wrong with encouraging converts to take a Muslim name either.

  • Is there a need for the Muslim ummah to encourage a "diversity" of names? No. Granted, there are many "Muhammad's" and "Ali's" around the world, but there already is a great diversity of Muslim names in use around the world. Encouraging "diversity" in Muslim names is a red herring.

  • By taking on a Muslim name, will a revert be considered a "fake Arab?" No. In my experience, the only people who equate all Muslims with being Arab are ignorant non-Muslims. (Only 18% of the entire Muslim population is Arab.)

  • Is Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) a "fake Arab" because he took on a Muslim name? No.

  • Is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor) a "fake Arab" because he took on a Muslim name? No.

(I may add onto this list in the near future, insha'allah.

This argument strikes me as equivalent to saying "Chinese people cannot adopt English names; they may only use their given Chinese names." Which, if I told my told my Chinese colleagues and students (e.g., Pamela, Nigel, Louis, Kitty, Johnson, Eunice, Michelle, and so on) that, I'm sure they'd all have a hearty laugh.

A rose by any other name...

March 16, 2005

Hijab (Part 1; Insha'allah I'm sure there will be more... :) )

erey wrote: "I would say it is the muslim world more than the western media that seem to be fascinated with hijab. Half the conversations between muslims around women is all about hijab. Should I/should I not, must I/I don't have to. There seems to be more conversation amoung muslims regarding a head scarf than nonmuslims talk about their hair."

I can see where you might think this but, from my perspective, this is more a case of culture shock. The conversations about hijab are more common among Western Muslims (especially converts) than they are with Muslims living elsewhere in the world. For example, here in SE Asia, discussions about hijab (or tudungs, as they're called here) are rare among individuals or in the media. There's no real need for the "fascination" as so many women wear the tudung on a daily basis.

"She was further manipulated by the muslim men around her into this idea that because she is a muslim she has to wear the clothes of a arab woman."

Leaving aside your questionable issue of "manipulation," you need to realize that wearing hijab or tudung does not mean a woman is wearing the clothes of an Arab. It doesn't even really mean that a woman is wearing Muslim clothes. What is a nun's habit other than a form of hijab? Wearing a hijab or tudung means that a woman fears Allah (swt) in the positive sense. It's too bad non-Muslims can't seem to grasp that fact.

March 13, 2005

Islam vs. Unitarian-Universalism

EternalWallflower wrote: "But can one be a practising Muslim, continue to attend one's Mosque, and add on membership in a UU congregation?"

I'm a former Catholic turned (briefly) UU turned (eventually) Muslim.

IMO, my short answer would be "yes, one probably could," but for myself I would add, "why bother?"

For me, Islam is the priority; UUism is a luxury. Islam, as Muslims will tell you, is a way of life, not merely a religion. Islam is very pervasive in our lifestyles, affecting many aspects of life that (for example) Christianity does not affect. For example, in terms of prayer, the necessity of doing the five prayers daily is much more important than attending a church once per week. (If that. The UU congregation I had joined closed down their church every summer for about four months. I realize not every congregation is like that, but the experience made me question how serious these people were in their religious beliefs - something you don't worry about with most Muslims.)

Moreover, the UU service has always seemed to me to be more in the way of a sermon about some topic that may or may not touch on religion, with the congregation being more interested in coffee and discussion as opposed to prayer. There's nothing wrong with coffee and discussion, of course, but each has its place. A church, to me, is a house of prayer and, well, one ought to pray in it. :)

The other issue I think is a problem is that there are some significant differences from a philosophical perspective between the two religions. The Unitarian side of the church I think, historically, was a Christian attempt to come to the same position Islam came to; i.e., there is only one God (Allah - swt), and that Jesus (pbuh) was only a prophet as opposed to being a part of the trinity. That was the aspect that had originally drawn me to UUism. Of course, now, UU members have diverse opinions regarding whether to believe in God or not (the humanist/atheists vs. the theists), including the split between the UUA and the AUC.

On the other side, the Universalist position (how could God ever put someone in hell?) just goes completely against the grain of Islam. As a Muslim, I don't accept that idea. And there are other issues, primarily social, where Islam and UUism clash (e.g., gay rights, death penalty, abortion, etc.). Islam, I'm afraid, is too conservative for most UUs.

And so, as a Muslim, I feel my priority as good a Muslim as I can possibly be, but that if I were interested in some coffee and discussion, I *might* consider visiting a UU church some Sunday. (But don't expect me anytime soon. ;) )

March 06, 2005

Memorizing the Qur'an

arnof79 wrote: "is't very interesting!. To the best of my lill knowledge, there is no one which can recite the bible by heart. any idea? and what is the explanation?"

The Bible in its entirety (New and Old Testaments), I don't believe, was ever intended to be recited or memorized in full (although I believe portions of the Old Testament were written for the purpose of recitation). The Bible, of course, was written by numerous authors as opposed to the Qur'an (one - Allah (swt)). Moreover, the Bible is a combination of different writing styles, being mostly prose with a smattering of poetry. The Qur'an has a unified style, being neither prose nor poetry, but using some of the elements of poetry, such as rhymes and near-rhymes.

People are able to memorize the entire Qur'an due to several reasons. First, as I mentioned above, there is the poetic element of rhymes and near-rhymes. To the best of my knowledge, virtually every verse of the Qur'an ends in a rhyme or near-rhyme. For example, Al-Ikhlas:

Qul huwa Allahu ahad
Allahu alssamad
Lam yalid walam yoolad
Walam yakun lahu kufuwan ahad

"Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him." (112:1-4)

As you can see, each verse ends in an "ahd" sound. Even the verses that are the most "legalese" rhyme. (Ask your local legislators to try writing laws that rhyme! ;) )

Another reason why the Qur'an is memorized by so many is that children are encouraged to learn the Qur'an. Many are taught the Qur'an by rote, others learn Arabic and are able to memorize because they have an understanding of the language.

Of course, for us adults, memorizing the Qur'an may be more problematic; however, there are numerous websites that provide recitations by various people that allow us to listen to the proper pronunciation of the verses. You might find this page, Short Surahs of the Quran, to be of interest. (All of these audio clips are set up for RealPlayer.)

With regard to memorizing the Qur'an, one of my favorite quotations is from Mohammad Marmaduke Pickthall, an Englishman who converted to Islam and translated the Qur'an into English in the 1930s. In his footnote to verse 55:17, he wrote:

"It is a fact that the Koran is marvellously easy for believers to commit to memory. Thousands of people in the East know the whole Book by heart. The translator [Pickthall], who find [sic] great difficulty in remembering well-known English quotations accurately, can remember page after page of the Koran in Arabic with perfect accuracy."

"And in truth We have made the Qur'an easy to remember: but is there any that remembereth?" (55:17)