June 30, 2007


This is such a broad topic that it's difficult to do it justice in a relatively short answer. First and foremost, as I suspect most of you know, jihad does not mean "holy war." Literally, it means "struggle." I think this becomes apparent in a related word, ijtihad or "reasoning." As we all know from school, working through a problem can be a struggle. Those of you who are musicians should understand jihad very well as practicing music can often be a struggle. From a Muslim perspective, virtually any aspect of life can be a jihad. And this is why Muslims get rather upset when non-Muslims mistranslate jihad, because jihad is a concept far broader than many non-Muslims understand and is very highly regarded among Muslims. Fighting back against those who oppress, in Arabic, is qital, which is a completely different term (see below). Qital is part of jihad, but it is far from being the whole of the concept.

Sunni Muslims have developed a hierarchy for jihad. There is:
* Jihad of the heart/soul (jihad bin nafs/qalb) - an inner struggle of good against evil in the mind, through concepts such as tawhid (the oneness of Allah (swt)).
* Jihad by the tongue (jihad bil lisan) - a struggle of good against evil waged by writing and speech, such as in the form of dawah (proselytizing), khutbas (sermons), etc.
* Jihad by the pen and knowledge (jihad bil qalam/lim) - a struggle for good against evil through the scholarly study of Islam, ijtihad (legal reasoning), and through the sciences.
* Jihad by the hand (jihad bil yad) - a struggle of good against evil waged by actions or with one's wealth, such as going on the Hajj pilgrimage (seen as the best jihad for women), taking care of elderly parents, or political activity for furthering the cause of Islam.
* Jihad by the sword (jihad bis saif) - this refers to qital fi sabilillah (armed fighting in the way of God).

Despite the hierarchy, most Muslims think of jihad in two forms: the Greater Jihad and the Lesser Jihad. This comes from a hadith, one variation of which reads:

"Some troops came back from an expedition and went to see the Messenger of Allah Muhammad (pbuh). He said: "You have come for the best, from the smaller jihad (al-jihad al-asghar) to the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar)." Someone said, "What is the greater jihad?" He said: "The servant's struggle against his lust" (mujahadat al-`abdi hawah).

The lesser jihad then is the physical fighting in the cause of Allah (swt). The greater jihad is the jihad an-nafs, the struggle against our own desires, our ego. This greater jihad gets into the very heart of the concept of "struggle," because that struggle permeates our lives. As my wife is fond of saying, "We strive to be better Muslims." And that striving is jihad.

Cross-posted at Street Prophets, Daily Kos, and Dunner's.

June 07, 2007

Unity in Diversity

Khutbah from the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS)
Originally published: 3 December 2004 / 20 Syawal 1425H

Blessed Friday congregation,

On this blessed Friday, let us heighten our zeal and taqwa to Allah (swt) and let us carry all that He has commanded us to do and abstain all that He has forbidden. Let us hope that we will leave this world with deep faith in His religion.

Blessed Friday congregation,

In last week's sermon, the khatib shared on tolerance being one of the noble values that must be practiced by all those who are faithful.

This highly encouraged value can only be realized when we truly understand and trust that among the tests Allah have for us is through His diverse creations. Allah (swt) commanded in Al-Ma'idah (5), ayat 48:

"To each among you, We have prescribed a law and a clear way. If Allah had willed, He would have made you one nation, but that He may test you in what He has given you; so compete in good deeds."

Respected Friday congregation,

Diversity is a sunnah of Allah's creation. On the creation of men, we see diversity in race, culture, language and faith. Men are different in size, looks and skin color. Men too have varied interests, emotions, way of thinking, ambitions and more.

Let us look and ponder on nature. It too has its variety. The flowers and herbs have different shapes, colors and usage. The same goes for the insect life. Insects have got varied shapes, colors, sizes and abilities in managing the environment they breed in. In ecology, we see variations in weather, temperatures and seasons that follow the natural ecological cycle and Allah's will.

However, what is it that binds all of us? What is it that binds all of His creations? What is it that makes all of us the same? The thing that makes us similar is that we are all creations of Allah (swt) and we submit to the will of Allah (swt)

Dear Brothers,

Let us reflect on the beauty of Allah's creation, which are diverse in colors and beauty. It is actually a nikmat to those who wish to take opportunity of this diversity without hating nor ignoring it altogether.

This beauty in diversity needs to be protected and cherished so that it does not fall into bad hands or those schools of thought that are narrow, extreme and unbalanced, which rejects the sunnah of diversity in men's life and the universe.

Blessed Brothers,

Islam teaches us that in us acknowledging diversity, we too need to do so guided by balance and maintaining harmony amongst mankind.

Islam teaches us that all matters have their respective rights that are in line with Allah's laws and the laws of the universe. Islam teaches its followers to always be moderate in managing varying lifestyles and thinking, and not to follow one's desires blindly.

We acknowledged that the current state now is open to conflicts pertaining to differentiation in understanding. In addition to the fitnah of today's living where people are getting too liberal and taking mannerisms and pride too lightly. These have made people without pride like how Allah said in Surah Al-Ma'idah (5), ayat 49:

"And so judge among them by what Allah has revealed and follow not their vain desires, but beware of them lest they turn you far from that which Allah has sent down to you. And if they turn away, then know that Allah's Will is to punish them for some sins of theirs. And truly, most of men are rebellious and disobedient to Allah.

As we accept diversity and differences, it should not push us in giving away our identity until we get ourselves mixed up or rid of uniqueness.

Beloved Friday congregation,

In Islam we acknowledge the diversity in religion and way of life. Notwithstanding, we should manage the differences maturely and fairly so that it does not evoke any rifts. If that happens, it will be at the loss to the whole community.

The history of human civilizations has proved that there are two differences that will bring to the downfall. One is differences in behavior and, two, differences in thinking.

Islam encourages differences that promote diversity but not differences that promote disunity in the society. The differences in diversity should work together on the basis of mutual respect, strengthening and complementing one another. Islam encourages diversity in activities and thoughts, but it should not fall prey to the disintegration of ukhuwwah and social ties. In one hadith sahih narrated by Imam Bukhari, Rasulullah (saw) said:

"Do not breed hatred, jealousy and promoting ill-feeling. Be servants of Allah who are kindreds to one another, and no Muslim is to ignore a fellow Muslim for more than three days."

Blessed Friday congregation,

Cherish the diversity as a gift from Allah (swt). Administer this diversity by uniting the hearts to be self-strengthening. Make diversity a rahmat that will bring good to Islam and the lives of all humankind. Let us instill the spirit of togetherness in the hearts of Muslims and the nation and be careful with internal and external factors that are striving to disunite us from being united in diversity.

Remember that syaitan is the man's closest enemy. Syaitan are constantly striving to disintegrate the human nation from respecting one another and living harmoniously. Remember, "Syaitan is the wolf amongst human beings, and the wolf will only prey on those lost from their group."

Fitnah: Civil strife, war, riots.
Hadith: Reports on the sayings and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (saw) or what he witnessed and approved are called hadith (plural: ahadith). These are the real explanation, interpretation, and the living example of the Prophet (saw) for teachings of the Qur'an. His sayings are found in books called the hadith books. Some famous collectors of hadith are Imam Al-Bukhari, Imam Muslim, Imam An-Nasa'i, Imam Abu Dawood, Imam At-Tirmizi, and Imam Majah. There are many others.
Khatib: Orator, speaker, the one who delivers the khutbah (sermon).
Nikmat: Gift, blessing, satisfaction, enjoyment, comfort, comfortable, delicious, enjoyable, grace, luxury, pleasant, sensuous.
Rahmat: Mercy, clemency.
Rasulullah: The Prophet of God, Muhammad (saw).
Sahih: Healthy and sound with no defects, used to describe an authentic hadith.
(saw): These letters are abbreviations for the words “Salla Allahu ‘Alaihi Wa Sallam,” which means, “may the blessing and the peace of Allah be upon him.” When the name of Prophet Muhammad is mentioned, a Muslim is to respect him and invoke this statement of peace upon him.
Sunnah: In this context, sunnah means a recommended practice, something that should be done but is not obligatory.
(swt): These letters are abbreviations for the words of “Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala.” When the name of Almighty Allah is pronounced, a Muslim is to show his respect to Him by reciting this. The meaning of this statement is that Allah is purified of having partners or a son.
Syaitan: The Bahasa Melayu spelling of Shaitan. Shaitan (Satan) is the source of evil in the world. He always tries to misguide and mislead people. The Qur’an states that Satan is not an angel but a member of the Jinn. His other name is Iblis.
Taqwa: The condition of piety and God-consciousness that all Muslims aspire to achieve or maintain. It can be said that one's taqwa is a measure of one's faith and commitment to God. The love and fear that a Muslim feels for Allah (swt). A person with taqwa desires to be in the good pleasures of Allah (swt) and to stay away from those things that would displease Allah (swt). He is careful not to go beyond the bounds and limits set by Allah (swt).
Ukhuwwah: Brotherhood.

June 04, 2007

Is Life Choice or Chance?

The following is a comment I wrote to a diary at Street Prophets called, Is Life Choice or Chance? The diary is rather long, but I thought the crux of the diary was rather easy to answer. The block quotation below is from the original diary, and everything written below is my writing (except for the Qur'anic quotations, of course).

So why doesn't God's kindness result in a fair distribution of good things? I have no idea. I have to think that God is always trying to work with us, to give us good things, but that there are forces of evil in the world, and that those can be very destructive.

The answer is simple enough from an Islamic perspective: Allah (swt) has said numerous times (dozens of times) that He will test us in our lives and in our possessions to see who is best in conduct, because not all of us acknowledge Him in both the good times and bad. Following are a small number of ayat from the Qur'an to give a flavor for the topic:

Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere, (2:155)

Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? they encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: "When (will come) the help of Allah." Ah! Verily, the help of Allah is (always) near! (2:214)

Ye shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves; and ye shall certainly Hear much that will grieve you, from those who received the Book before you and from those who worship many gods. But if ye persevere patiently, and guard against evil,-then that will be a determining factor in all affairs. (3:186)

Thus did We try some of them by comparison with others, that they should say: "Is it these then that Allah hath favored from amongst us?" Doth not Allah know best those who are grateful? (6:53)

It is He Who hath made you (His) agents, inheritors of the earth: He hath raised you in ranks, some above others: that He may try you in the gifts He hath given you: for thy Lord is quick in punishment: yet He is indeed Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. (6:165)

And know ye that your possessions and your progeny are but a trial; and that it is Allah with Whom lies your highest reward. (8:28)

Among them is (many) a man who says: "Grant me exemption and draw me not into trial." Have they not fallen into trial already? and indeed Hell surrounds the Unbelievers (on all sides). (9:49)

See they not that they are tried every year once or twice? Yet they turn not in repentance, and they take no heed. (9:126)

If We give man a taste of Mercy from Ourselves, and then withdraw it from him, behold! he is in despair and (falls into) blasphemy. But if We give him a taste of (Our) favors after adversity hath touched him, he is sure to say, "All evil has departed from me:" Behold! he falls into exultation and pride. (11:9-10)

But verily thy Lord,- to those who leave their homes after trials and persecutions,- and who thereafter strive and fight for the faith and patiently persevere,- Thy Lord, after all this is oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. (16:110)

That which is on earth we have made but as a glittering show for the earth, in order that We may test them - as to which of them are best in conduct. (18:7)

There are among men some who serve Allah, as it were, on the verge: if good befalls them, they are, therewith, well content; but if a trial comes to them, they turn on their faces: they lose both this world and the Hereafter: that is loss for all to see! (22:11)

"That We might try them by that (means). But if any turns away from the remembrance of his Lord, He will cause him to undergo a severe Penalty. (72:17)