Friday, November 30, 2007

"Off with her Head!"

‘“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.’ – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.

Gillian Gibbons received a 15-day jail sentence and deportation from Sudan for allowing young students to name a teddy bear Muhammad, after a popular student. But after Friday prayers on November 30, protesters in Sudan took to the streets, demanding her execution by firing squad. Her supporters, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, find the allegation of blasphemy and the reaction of Sudanese protestors both ridiculous. According to the BBC, a great many Muslim scholars and laypersons have come forward saying there is no problem with a teddy bear named Muhammad. Many have noted that she had no intent to insult in any way, and wasn’t even using the name to represent the Prophet of Islam (saw). Further, it is not uncommon for Muslim children all over the world to name pets and toys after the Prophet (saw) or other key figures in Islamic history they admire. This fiasco begs the question of what Islam really says about blasphemy. Do the Sudanese have any ground to stand on, or are they just uneducated radicals? It turns out that Islam does take a very strong stance against blasphemy, but cultural misunderstandings, political climate, poor practice of ethics, and undue attention to intent have led to this horrible situation.

In the now defunct ‘Aalim Network, Dr. Liyakatali Takim explained the Shia position in regards to blasphemy. “Blasphemy, by definition, refers to uttering profane language, insulting or abusing … that which is sacred to religion.” This includes God, the Prophet (saw), and the Ahlulbayt (sa). He cites the fatwa of Ayatullah al-Khu’i on the punishment for blasphemy. “…it is incumbent (wajib) to kill one who insults … the Prophet when one hears the insults provided there is no danger to his self, reputation or wealth. Agha also extends this ruling to cover insults against the Imams and Bibi Fatima (as).” In the same discussion, Dr. Takim goes on to explain rulings regarding apostasy and how punishments are drastically different depending on if one is born Muslim, and what one’s intent had been.
Therefore the Sudanese protesters understand correctly that the punishment for blasphemy can be execution. However, according to Ayatullah al-Khu’i, female blasphemers are not to be executed and people must be given the opportunity to repent. If they do, no punishment should be delivered. But no blasphemy occurred in this case. Blasphemy requires an intention to insult or defame as well as knowledge, and there is no doubt that Ms. Gibbons had neither. Her actions are no more blasphemous than those of the students she taught who suggested the name in the first place, because she, being non-Muslim, unaware of the potential damaging interpretations of her actions, and having no bad intent, is no more culpable than they. Further, her words and actions since the incident undoubtedly would indicate repentance, even if one insisted on interpreting the incident as blasphemy. Ayatullah al-Khu’i’s ruling also seems to indicate that the wajib punishment is on condition of an ‘adl adult having witnessed the insults. It is not clear that that happened. It seems likely and unfortunate that politics are at play here and Ms. Gibbons is an unwitting victim.

It is extremely frustrating to watch Muslims react with unrestrained and unjustified anger time and time again. It seems the people explode under misguidance and frustration from oppression and difficulties that have little or nothing to do with the incidents at hand. These bad-mannered and inappropriate actions only further spread misunderstanding, hatred and oppression, harming the entire Ummah and the whole of humanity. The Prophet (saw) and Ahlulbayt (as) endured abuse repeatedly without harming the perpetrators or getting angry, because they always had in mind to preserve and further God’s gift of Islam to us all. “To control your anger is praiseworthy in the eyes of Allah, whether you control your anger by patience or politeness.” (Mustadrak 2, p. 87) Further, if nothing else, we should see the screaming need for us to take great effort in emphasizing proper education and demonstration of ethics and fiqh for ourselves and our children.

Don’t be the Queen, shouting “Off with her head!” The Queen is a disgraced, foolish tyrant for losing her own head and heart.

The Ka'bah

The Ka’bah – What is it really?

The Hajj season is upon us, when millions of Muslims journey to Mecca and circumambulate the Ka’bah, that simple square building that we face toward when we pray. How strange it is that an insignificant structure such as this is the center of our hajj rites and the direction of our prayers! Why is this tiny stone cubic house so important? The Ka’bah has great cosmological significance that we all should understand in order to make better sense of our rites and prayers. The Ka’bah is the physical correspondence of the highest heaven.

The Ka’bah is called the Bait al Allah or Kaba e Allah, meaning House of God. But we know God needs no house, and is not confined to any space. It is also called the first house of mankind. Yet no human is known to have ever lived in it, so what does that mean? It is certain that Abraham (as) constructed the Ka’bah. But, before he built it, when he moved Hagar and Ishmael (as) to the empty desert, he said, “O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Thy Sacred House….” (Qur’an 14:37) So he was already aware of the Ka’bah before he built it! Many scholars say that the Ka’bah was first built by Adam (as) but the structure had wasted away. All agree at least that it existed somehow prior to Abraham (as).

The Ka’bah is like the Bait ul Mamur (the Oft-Frequented House) and is said to be built directly under it. The Bait ul Mamur is a house located in the fourth heaven that angels circumambulate and enter. Several traditions state that Adam (as) had prayed at that house, as well. So to understand the Ka’bah, we need to understand the Bait ul Mamur. So what is the significance of Bait ul Mamur? Both the Ka’bah and the Bait ul Mamur are symbols of how God brings about and attends to His creation.
To understand that, we have to first understand how the decrees of Allah swt come to reality. The Qur’an says, “And your Cherisher-Lord creates what He wishes….” (28:68) and “Surely His commanding is such that, when He desires a thing, He just says to it, “Become!” and it becomes.” (36:82) These two ayahs describe creation as mashi’ah (wishing), iradah (desiring), and amr (commanding), as well as symbolizing it by speech of Allah swt. All of these indicate that creation is the production of the outcome of Allah’s mashi’ah. A hadith of Ahlulbayt (as) says, “Allah created the Wish through itself, then He created the things through the Wish.” The Wish is symbolized as “the Water” or “Waters” in Qur’an and hadith. For example, “And from the Water We made everything alive.” (21:30) The scholars tell us this ayah also shows that every created thing is alive in some fashion. The fact that water (H2O) is repeatedly described as Mercy from Allah swt contributes to the symbolism of the Wish from which creation begins as the ultimate Mercy of the Creator.

The Creator-created relationship is a polar one, with the Creator in the seat of guardianship and authority. This position of guardianship is in the Qur’an called ‘arsh, which is translated most often as “throne (raised, shaded seat of authority)” or “empyrean” (the highest heaven). As Allah swt is not confined to a body, it does not mean a literal chair throne. The Arabic verbal root meaning of ‘arsh is a pillared structure raised from the ground. The Wish descends from and is beneath the empyrean “… and His empyrean was over the Water.” (Qur’an 11:7) Imam Ali bin Husain (as) said that in the ‘arsh or empyrean is a likeness of every created thing, and this is the meaning of “And there is not a thing except that its treasuries are with Us.” (15:21) The empyrean is also the gate of Allah’s administration over Creation: “He projects His guardianship uniformly to all creation over the empyrean; He administers the command.” (10:3)

Imam ‘Ali (as) has said that the empyrean is a cubical structure made of four pillars of light – one white, one yellow, one green and one red. The white light is the light of consciousness (‘aql) and knowledge and is the first, foundational pillar. Its symbol in the Qur’an is the pen (qalam). The green light is the Preserved Tablet (Lawh Mahfuz), the record or soul (31:28) of creation in the empyrean. The yellow light pillar is the Spirit (Ruh) as mentioned in Qur’an 17:85. It is through the Spirit that prophets and those close to Allah swt receive their knowledge and power. Ruh is related to rih, the wind. Thus, according to Imam Baqir (as), just was the Wish is symbolized by water, the Spirit is symbolized by wind - a movement and energy that effuses everything. The red light of the empyrean is the blood line that connects the empyrean to the physical universe or nature; it carries all the vibrations of created things.

So the Ka’bah is itself an ‘arsh, representing the ‘arsh of Allah swt, the highest heaven. Like the empyrean, it is a cube, with four corners mirroring the four corners of the empyrean. Imam Sadiq (as) quoted the Prophet (saw) about this correspondence. “The Ka’bah is called the Ka’bah because it is square-based. It is square-based because it is in correspondence to the Bayt ul Mamur. The Bayt ul Mamur is square-based because the empyrean is square-based. The empyrean is square-based because the phrases upon which Islam is based are four: Subhanallah, Alhumdulillah, La ilaha illa allahu, and Allahu akbar!” The corner with the black stone corresponds to the corner of the empyrean of the white light (consciousness). Incidentally, some hadith say that the black stone is actually white, but blackened by repeated touching. As pilgrims move around the Ka’bah, the move past the pillars of consciousness (white), then Spirit (yellow), then Soul (green), then nature (red).
With this knowledge, we can understand why we face toward the Ka’bah when we pray. We are facing toward the symbol of the highest heaven where Allah’s swt guidance, mercy and creation are all projected from. So facing toward the Ka’bah symbolizes facing towards the gateway between the physical Universe and Allah swt. This does not imply that Allah swt is confined out of the physical Universe, but rather refers to the methodology of creation, guardianship, and bestowal of mercy.

Scholars have noted that the Ka’bah is empty and has in its cubic shape all cardinal directions in three dimensions. All to be seen there is absoluteness, eternity. It is not a shrine. It is a symbol, a projection, a source of connection to the highest heaven, and an opening for the descent of Allah swt’s Wish into manifestation in the physical Universe. Some hadith indicate that the creation of the land of the Earth began at the location of the Ka’bah, as it is the Origin of physical creation. It is the symbol of our original home as we manifest from Wish in the empyrean, and that is why when we go for pilgrimage, we do not pray shortened prayers like travelers. We are going back to our source.

The hajj rites all are steeped in symbolism. We recreate the actions of Abraham (as) and Hagar (ra) to represent and learn from their deeds. Therefore, it is probable that the symbolism of the Ka’bah as the ‘arsh has a significant meaning in the context of those rites and our understanding of our roles in the Universe and in the Ummah. Knowing that the Ka’bah is itself a symbol can give us much to ponder about the possible meanings of events in history such as Imam ‘Ali (as) being born in the Ka’bah. At the very least, the Ka’bah as a symbol of the ‘arsh has very deep implications about the direction we face when we pray.


The History of Ka’bah by Hasan Zafar Naqvi
Islam Dynamic: The Cosmology, Spirituality and Practice of Walayah by Idris Samawi Hamid
Hajj: Reflections on its Rituals by Ali Shariati

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Box

I think there's a box in the shed with his stuff. He hadn't ever had a lot of stuff with me, but there were a few objects. I long ago got rid of the stuff I knew he wouldn't care about, but what about the other things? -- his diploma, a few pictures of his nieces. They're not mine. I don't know how to give them to him. No one else would want them. Yet it seems wrong to dispose of them. So they sit in the box, mostly forgotten.

I'm not sure why I'm writing this post - I haven't been planning it, but I woke up at 4 a.m. to a sound like a book or something falling over in the closet and the heater having turned on and blowing a bit too hot, and as I got up, gradually the urge was there. I find it hard just to say or write the word sometimes. And to mention his name, or to remember any memory that has him in it, no matter how mundane, because I don't know how I should feel about them, and especially to speak those memories, because I think most people don't want to hear about it. I'm normally a very calm person. So when I'm suddenly crying I am so surprised and shocked and confused as to why. I have to try to figure it out, why am I feeling this way? My life is just fine, and while I'm sorry over many horrible affairs going on in the world past and present, they're not the ultimate cause. Some of it is just chemistry, but some of it is things long past and not part of my life anymore, so it is amazing to me how it can suddenly be there when I thought it was resolved. And then leave against just as quickly, for no apparent reason either way. However a large part of my past in reality is something hidden away in a forgotten box.

I've never really talked about my divorce with anyone, no family or friend. It feels like you did something very wrong, like you had a great failure, like your worth to the world has become less, to have that descriptor attached to your name. I feel bad when I fill out all those various demographic forms for various things and the marital status box comes up, trying to figure out which box I should check. If single is an option, I always pick that one, but some of them that isn't an option, only "never married". Then I think of my family. My mother loves to talk about her children, but what mother wants to tell people about her daughter's situation like that? Unfortunately, my mother's friends know about it well, because one of them helped me in the end.

We had met in college. I wasn't looking, but it happened nonetheless. Eventually we got married. The nikah was pronounced by some people I knew up in British Columbia and they phoned to tell us it was done. The U.S. legal marriage was done before a judge here in town. I had just started a new job in Denver and he was still living in Oklahoma. I had to drive down from work on a Friday afternoon, no time to get ready, and stand before the judge with him and my parents. Then we went to dinner somewhere and that was it. I don't like being the center of a spectacle, but was the understatedness of our wedding not just because of that, but because of some underlying current of its impending failure?

Afterward, plans that were made for us to unite in one place never happened. There was always a reason that he couldn't finish his degree or that he couldn't tell his family. I had taken the job in Denver for him because he had said he preferred to live there, but when he never showed up, I tired of being away from anyone I knew if I didn't have to and went back to Colorado Springs to work. Still he didn't come, but I waited. He finished his two year degree in about five years if I remember correctly. He said he was coming. He showed up without his stuff, and having missed the deadline to file papers to start a new degree here. He didn't have a work visa and said he didn't want to sit around and do nothing for 6 months until the next school term, so he went home to visit his family. I never saw him again. Eventually I did hear from him, but I waited months. He said his family had taken his passport and he was trying to get a new one to come back. I often wondered what it was that made him stay away all those years and then leave and never come back. What was it I did or didn't do, had or didn't have? I realize this truth at least - his going or staying was never in my control. Nothing I might have been or done would've mattered.

He had disappeared once long before we had our nikah, shortly after we first met, saying that his embassy had transferred him to a new school against his wishes and he had been trying to figure out a way to tell me. I never had thought it wasn't the truth, but later looking back I was so confused over what was true and what wasn't that I have no idea anymore. Later, I often wondered how much of a gullible fool I was, or how much I should continue to believe and trust - after all, he was my husband. At the time, I believed everything,and thought there were just some unfortunate circumstances. It didn't occur to me that perhaps his intentions all along had been to just take a companion while he studied here and then leave. It was clearly more complicated than he realized at the beginning, because he made himself seriously physically and mentally ill, incapacitated and unable to function, over what was happening in his life. He told me it was because his family was pressuring him. He couldn't wash whatever he was going through off his skin, after spending half a day in the shower, ice cold, with his skin rubbed red raw. Half the things he owned he couldn't touch because to him they were najis. He had mold growing thick on his apartment walls from water that he poured or spilled in his obsession, but he couldn't stop his obsession nor get clean.

After he had gone home, I had no way of contacting him there for most of that time - he would give me no number or address because he didn't want his family to have contact with me at all. After a considerable time he got a cell phone and might call me or allow me to call him on his cell. I knew that sometimes I was being lied to, because his stories changed. But I just didn't know what the truth was. I suspected that if he wanted to come back he could. But he didn't want to. But he said he did - maybe he was telling the truth. Yet he didn't want me to go there, either, in my own best interest, although at the very end he waffled a bit about that. And at that point, I didn't even feel safe to consider going there - I felt he would never stand up for me and I wasn't even sure who he really was anymore. He showed no movement toward coming back, but he didn't want to divorce me. I waited even longer because I couldn't bring myself to be the bad guy, the one who doomed it all after in the very end what was ten years - all of my adult life - invested with him.

But eventually, after several years, I reached my breaking point. I felt I couldn't stand to live another day in limbo and needed finality. What's more, I needed to have hope for myself. It took great effort, because it was never spoken of in my family, but one night I told my mom I wanted to get a divorce. She works with lawyers and knows a lot more about many aspects of the world than I do, so I knew she would be able to tell me what I had to do. One of her friends at work who really cares for my mom took my case pro bono. He had never done a divorce case before as he is in a different legal field. I had to file an intent to divorce notice in the local paper of my husband's last known address in Oklahoma, because I didn't know where he was. I did manage to get one phone call through to my husband before all this, telling him of my need for closure that was overwhelming me. He eventually said his permission for divorce but that he would not have anything to do with it himself. From then on, I had lost all contact with him. I had to appear in court before a judge and appear on a witness stand and be questioned about the circumstances in front of my mom by her friend while the judge also questioned and listened. My mom's friend told me it was most likely only a formality, but still it felt so humiliating. The judge granted the divorce. As far as my mom was concerned, I was free.

But I wasn't. The nikah was still in effect. In some ways I felt worse than before. Before I could say I was married. That was how things were supposed to be. Now, to some people I was divorced but I was really not free to move on. It took me a long time to find an 'alim who would address the case. I don't know many 'alims to begin with, living in a rather isolated place, never having been an integral part of any Muslim community. It wasn't a case people wanted to deal with because my husband was not around to answer their questions or give/verify permission for divorce. All I had was an old cell phone number that was never answered, but that's what I gave the 'alim. The 'alim's actions were to every now and then try to contact my husband. I waited again. It was less than a year later when I got the news. I felt like I had waited a lifetime but at the same time I felt lucky because I heard stories of some women who waited many, many years. Somehow the 'alim had found my husband, and he had given permission for divorce. I never heard any more about what happened, except that the 'alim had done the divorce.

I felt both relief and grief, and felt the future looming before me. I had no idea how to go forward from that place. I was ready to start looking - I had been alone essentially all of the time that I was married, especially the last several years as most of it he wasn't even in the same country. But I also felt damaged. I had never intimately seen a good marriage. Before I went to college, I was frightened of marriage because what I had seen had been truly terrorizing. But I did it anyway, and it failed, and now I was thirty. Is it possible to do something right without having seen it or done it before?

One day I was going through some papers and found my ex-husband's cell phone number. I called, still seeking more closure, still wanting to know the truth. And he answered. He wouldn't answer all those other times, but now he did. He said he had not remarried. He told me about his job. He said his English language skills were helping him a lot. He told me his brother married a non-Muslim European girl he had dated for years. But I couldn't confront him about all the things that he said and all that happened, and so I guess I'll never know the truth of what really happened - what was truth and what was fiction; I'm not sure he would've been willing to tell me anyway. I don't have the number anymore.

So since then I've lived my life and sought a soul mate. While I have looked, I have not enjoyed the process. It is too messy to think of someone as a potential spouse, and then have things not work out for one reason or another. I never wanted more than one man in my life, ever. Just the right one. Maybe I was the reason - was I too picky, too impatient, or too damaged? Lots of people started telling me I had better hurry and get married. I only have so many childbearing years left. Every year that passes I become less desirable to a decent suitor. I was told that I should give up everything in my life - my family, my work, my home, my belongings, my stability, to marry someone I didn't know and wasn't sure about. This is what is expected of women and if I felt any reluctance to do so, there was a problem with my deen. But I didn't feel secure enough to do so. And after trying so hard to restore my relationship with my family after my conversion and succeeding, I didn't want to risk tearing that down again if I didn't have to. I was also told that I should not choose a suitor based on my heart at all, but only my head. If he looked good on paper, get married, then get to know him, and maybe love will follow. I looked for truth in all these comments and tried to learn and tried to see if I was off base, always questioning myself. Sometimes I listened even though my instinct said different than what I was reading or being told, and later I would wish I had trusted my instinct.

I also didn't know what to think about some of the interest I did get - lots of people half my age or twice my age overseas. Lots of married men. Lots of people not too serious but looking to have fun. But also lots of people who were not too different from me, yet my heart just didn't feel the way I thought it should in order to marry someone. Many times I have posted a profile and then removed it, finding it too much to manage. Then put it back after awhile, then taken it down again. I felt a lot of mistakes in this process - especially when things got further in process before deciding to move on. While sometimes I have felt failure, I still don't believe I ultimately failed; I am used to success in what I try to do, by the grace of God - I believe things happen for a reason and that I have always done my best and tried to do right, and I keep learning. So I don't think I would change anything even though I may still feel pain and confusion sometimes.

I feel hope. Maybe through this I am learning to understand what I want and need and will be better able to appreciate true love in my life and appreciate the person who may love me and I love him, too. Just as we are, imperfect, but great together. For I have seen that such a thing is truly a blessing and wonderful gift. Sometimes I have doubted - being pragmatic. In reality I know that not everyone ends up with a good marriage, a loving husband, and healthy, happy, good children. And I also know that I could lead a good enough life no matter what happens for me about marriage. After all, my life right now is "good enough" for me - I have a lot to be thankful for.

But deep inside me, I always felt everything good would happen to me - deep inside me I expect it from God and believe it will happen when and how it is supposed to. And although I have at times doubted, I also expect and believe that I can still freely give my love, and that this is more important to me than getting it back. And although sometimes giving love ends up with hurt, giving love has the best possible returns. Giving love is liberating for the heart and soul, it is elevating. I am hopeful that I will give lots of love and make someone know he is loved, and make children know love - insha'allah. Miracles have unfolded in my life before - how else would I be Shia today, would my father be alive, would I have received the money to go to college, and so much more? Thank you God for your great blessings in my life that continue always. I am very grateful for the guidance and blessings I have received and continue to receive. I pray that I may be a blessing in someone else's life, more so with every passing day, as long as I live.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Zip Skinny

Here's the 'skinny' on my zip code: Zip Skinny

How does yours compare?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving


With every breath you take, a thanksgiving is incumbent upon you, indeed, a thousand thanks or more. The lowest level of gratitude is to see that the blessing comes from Allah irrespective of the cause for it, and without the heart being attached to that cause. It consists of being satisfied with what is given; it means not disobeying Him with regard to His blessing, or opposing Him in any of His commands and prohibitions because of His blessing.

Be a grateful bondsman to Allah in every way, and you will find that Allah is a generous Lord in every way. If there were a way of worshipping Allah for His sincerest bondsman to follow more excellent than giving thanks at every instance, He would have ascribed to them the name of this worship above the rest of creation. Since there is no form of worship better than that, He has singled out this kind of worship from other kinds of worship, and has singled out those who practise this kind of worship, saying,

وَقَلِيلٌ مِّنْ عِبَادِيَ الشَّكُورُ

Very few of my servants are grateful. (34:13)

Complete thankfulness is to sincerely repent your inability to convey the least amount of gratitude, and expressing this by means of your sincere glorification of Allah. This is because fitting thanks is itself a blessing bestowed upon the bondsman for which he must also give thanks; it is of greater merit and of a higher state than the original blessing which caused him to respond with thanks in the first place. Therefore, every time one gives thanks one is obliged to give yet greater thanks, and so on ad infinitum, and this while absorbed in His blessings and unable to achieve the ultimate state of gratitude. For how can the bondsman match with gratitude the blessings of Allah, and when will he match his own action with Allah's while all along the bondsman is weak and has no power whatsoever, except from Allah?

Allah is not in need of the obedience of His bondsmen, for He has the power to increase blessings forever. Therefore be a grateful bondsman to Allah, and in this manner you will see wonders.

--From Imam Sadiq (as) in Lantern of the Path.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

NOVA Intelligent Design On Trial

Nova's latest episode was a two-hour documentary of the court case in Dover, Pennsylvania about teaching Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolutionary theory. I used to teach science in middle school - biology- and this issue came up for me then. I taught at a school with a good portion of its clientele being Christians who believe that Earth is a few thousand years old, fossils were put into the Earth as they are and were never living creatures, and that other galaxies cannot be billions of light years away because the universe is also only a few thousand years old. I'm a religious person myself and also a lover of science and the pursuit of Truth, and like many other people, I think that if both religion and science are accurate on a certain point that they both happen to speak about in some way, then there will be no conflict. But some people thrive on creating fitna and conflict. On this and many other issues, I have experienced that first hand and yet I am still always a bit shocked by it, and deeply saddened.

Anyway, I watched the episode and found it to be very interesting. I've always been a fan of NOVA - I was one of those lucky kids who grew up with much of her early years in the absence of cable TV so we watched PBS instead. But, now that I have cable I still watch the same kind of shows I did then for the most part. I do find it interesting how there are a lot of science-light or pseudo-science shows out there that present as science but aren't really quite there, because ultimately they're about entertainment. And the same thing for shows on religion - I see the same phenomenon in that arena, too.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Free Rice

This is cool! A novel take on the general idea started by the Hunger Site years ago....

You can improve your vocabulary and maybe help someone at the same time.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


I swear to Allah that He achieves His victory using you (the Shia) just as He used the stones.
Imam Ja’far Sadiq (as), Amaali of Tousi 1:167 and Bihar Al-Anwar 42:121

- ‘using stones’ refers to the Year of the Elephant when Abraha was trying to destroy the Kaaba. Allah sent an army of birds who carried stones and destroyed Abraha and his army of elephants.