Posted in Islam & Interfaith Subjects, News & Relevant Topics, Personal & Opinion, Social Issues & Politics

If We Learn Nothing From History…

…we are doomed to repeat it.

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What have we learned? Nothing apparently.

My biological French maternal grandmother told me many stories about what life was like during World War 2, her second husband was a soldier who returned to tell about it, and human rights are something I am passionate about. I had no idea that over the last couple of days I would be reliving the exact stories she told me. Ironically it was just a few days ago that I wrote about a movie called Immigrant that touched me greatly. Yesterday I watched Twitter explode with protests and this morning I’m shaking my damn head.

What the #&%@ just happened here?! First it was racist rhetoric about Muslims having to be added to some national registry to keep track of them, then mass-deportations of illegal immigrants and yesterday he wanted to get rid of green card holders too! American citizens were being detained at airports, families were separated, hopes for the future were shattered. I watched in horror as it unfolded right before my eyes, and I was seemingly powerless to do anything about it but then I remembered something that Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said:

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So I did like millions of others and took to Twitter to voice my anger, frustration, despair and shock at this insanity. Seeing the entire world (to the exception of mindless bigots and trolls but thankfully they were few and far between) come together like that gave me so much hope that we have more in common than what makes us different. The truth is, without diversity in this world we wouldn’t have all the amazing things we have today. You love that iPhone of yours don’t you? Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian refugee. Your other high-tech toys? They were most likely made in China. That shirt you’re wearing? It’s probably made in Bangladesh. And oh, you’re not Native American? Then at some point you too came from a pair of immigrants. That’s the vast majority of us.

Not only is the Muslim ban in itself incredibly discriminatory, other events surrounding it only infuriate me more. We all saw that empty brain Mike Pence at the pro-life rally didn’t we? I could seriously punch that guy in the face right now (and I’m one of the most non-violent people I know) for going up on that stage and preaching that unborn babies have a right to life, and basically that women have no rights to their own bodies, yet has zero regard for the life of innocent refugees trying to escape circumstances more horrific than anything we here in the West could ever imagine. And yes, most Islamic scholars permit abortions before the 120 day mark (when the soul enters the body) and under certain other circumstances. There is no single Muslim-majority country that completely outlaws abortions, yet the most powerful nation wants to strip women of their basic rights to their own bodies before turning around and calling us terrorists? I’m just about to throw my laptop out the window right now.

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And I’m just getting started… Did you know that Trump passed that executive order on Holocaust Memorial Day? Adolf Hitler took power in 1933 and The Final Solution came about around 1941 or so, before the Nazis decided that they wanted to wipe out the Jews from Europe completely they planned mass deportations, much like Trump is currently planning. What Trump wants to do to Muslims, refugees, Mexicans and other vulnerable people seeking a safe-haven in the United States is exactly what Hitler first planned to do to the Jews. When that didn’t work killing factories like Auschwitz (among many others) came into operation. On days like this I thank God that America does not have a totalitarian government and that the Supreme Court has blocked this order, at least for the time being, but I think the damage has already been done.

The White House deliberately omitted mentioning the Jews in their Holocaust address, and they sure don’t want to hear the stories of Muslims who saved Jews either. You can view more stories on the Yad Vashem website, and for that matter, some Nazis even saved Jews! We all know about Oskar Schindler but there’s also Gerhard Kurzbach, an SS officer only known as Alois, and Major Karl Plagge, among many others. We also all know the story of Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl who has captured the hearts of the world with her journal entries during the Holocaust, but what many ignore is that she could still be alive and living in the United States has it not been for turning away refugees escaping the Nazis.

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Have we learned nothing? Have we really let the world come back to this? The American people were once people I had the utmost respect for, now I question how such a great nation could elect someone as vile as Donald Trump. I’m Canadian, I was born here, but my entire family, both the biological one and the adoptive one, were once immigrants to this nation. My maternal grandmother’s family came here after WWI destroyed France and my paternal grandfather’s family arrived after WWII destroyed German. The people of Russian heritage who adopted me came to escape the totalitarian and brutal Soviet regime. People have more rights and freedoms than ever so how did it come to this?

The scary thing is that people loved Hitler too. So where is our Oskar Schindler in all of this? His name is Justin Trudeau. He’s my prime minister. He’s my hero. He’s my hope for the future. Even now I am still baffled and will probably be for a very long time. I am just a bit older now than my grandma was during WWII and like her, I will be able to tell future generations that I witnessed a tyrant rise to power, his regime falling, and heroes coming from all walks of life. What will be different in my story is that we will not have let the oppressors carry out their plans.

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I still don’t know what the future will hold, and my grandma told me yesterday that WWIII could still start tomorrow, but yesterday’s despair has been replaced with hope. I suppose this won’t be the last time I write about this subject, but for now my tears are clouding up my view of the screen too much to continue.

In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. ~Anne Frank

Posted in Reblogged Posts

Latest Developments in this Circus

Hours after a federal judge blocked a key component of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees and visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, the White House is backtracking on the order’s applicability to legal permanent residents of the U.S. “As far as green card holders moving forward, it doesn’t affect them,” White House Chief of…

via White House Says Green Card Holders Won’t be Subject to Immigration Order After All — TIME

Posted in Everything Else, Personal & Opinion, Social Issues & Politics

Immigrant

The first time I saw this film was on September 13th, 2016 but I watched it again last night and I felt motivated to write about it for several reasons. I feel as if I’ve had enough time to reflect and a good time to do this is now. This post contains spoilers and descriptions of child abuse.

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“Immigrant” is the coming of age story of Daanyik, a nine year-old Russian boy, whose family immigrates to the United States in the late nineteen-seventies to pursue the American Dream. Daanyik’s childhood of pencil drawings and toy soldier battles in Moscow is interrupted overnight as he is hurled into the harsh reality of adulthood in New York City. Upon losing his father Deema, Daanyik and his mother, Meela, are left poor, alone and helpless in a foreign land. Out of desperation for survival, Meela begins a relationship with Tolik, an abusive man that may have had a hand in Deema’s death. Daanyik finds himself trapped in a precarious web of torment brought on by his new stepfather, a lecherous Rabbi and a neighborhood bully. Drawing becomes his only source of comfort and catharsis. As his battles grow fiercer, Daanyik, at the tender age of nine, is left to overcome insurmountable odds to save himself and his mother from complete destruction.

A few months ago I bought this film because I’ve always been a big fan of Paul Sorvino and Andrew Divoff who are both in the movie. I first saw Paul Sorvino as Catch Turner in Greetings from the Shore almost ten years ago when I randomly picked out that film at the video rental store and Andrew Divoff as Mikhail Bakunin from LOST, my favorite TV show. Their performances didn’t disappoint me, but neither did the story depicted in this film. Generally speaking, I find that films that are based on true stories are usually good but this one hit particularly close to home for me.

The movie starts out showing a 9-year-old Russian boy named Daanyik (played by Samuel J. Dixon) playing with a toy airplane in the apartment and his mother Meela (played by Angela Gots) telling him to be careful and not be noisy. Then his father Deema (Harry Hamlin) arrives home, drunk, along with his uncle Maxim (Frederick Lawrence). Deema ends up going on a tirade about how he doesn’t want to move to America so their little boy can be a Jew as they say in the film. It’s 1979 when the family arrives in Brooklyn, New York but their American dream soon turns into a nightmare when they are faced with nothing but poverty and misery. Both Meela and Deema work like slaves and barely make it by, Deema is an alcoholic, and Daanyik is stubborn and defiant towards everyone.

One night Deema comes home drunk, probably returning from the bar where Tolik (Andrew Divoff) and his men beat him up, like they’d done once before right in front of Daanyik. Meela proceeds to give Deema a lengthy speech after which he walks into the living room with a knife and begins slashing his wrists right in front of Daanyik who is sleeping on the couch. Shortly afterwards, Meela shacks up with Tolik out of desperation for survival. Tolik is well off, he owns a restaurant and makes a decent living but there’s one big catch: he’s abusive to both Meela and Daanyik. First he starts off by being controlling, but when Daanyik (who reacted very negatively to having Tolik in the house from the very beginning) is constantly defiant and disrespectful towards him, the physical violence isn’t too far away.

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There eventually comes a time where Meela finally puts her foot down and kicks out Tolik, but she then takes him back the very next day. When Daanyik arrives home from school that day, Tolik is sitting on a chair next to the couch and apologizes to the two of them, asking for a second chance and promising to make things right. For a moment he seems legitimately sincere when he says that if it doesn’t work out he’ll leave and there will be no further problems, but of course that’s what abusers tell their victims.

When Daanyik doesn’t respond well to Tolik’s plea for forgiveness, Tolik attacks him once again. Meela takes out a knife and slashes him on the arm to stop the assault. Tolik apologizes and appears to grab his coat from the couch to leave as he said he would if they didn’t work out but instead he pulls out a gun from his coat pocket and turns it on Meela and Daanyik. Little Daanyik isn’t about to let Tolik abuse his mother any further so he grabs the gun and in the struggle the gun goes off, hitting Daanyik in the shoulder. He survives the attack and Tolik leaves (for the moment) but the action is just getting started.

When there is a knock at the door and everyone thinks Tolik is back to finish what he started but it’s actually uncle Maxim who arrived in America. Meela tells him everything and when Tolik does show up, Maxim and another man beat him up and drive him to an unknown location in the middle of the night. Maxim tells him that he’s going to see Deema (i.e. he’s going to his grave) and then shoots him dead. Maxim returns to the apartment to tell Daanyik that it’s all going to be okay, Tolik can’t hurt them anymore. But then there’s a knock on the door and Daanyik wakes up: it had been nothing but a dream. Maxim wasn’t really there to save them and it was a threatening Tolik pounding at the door.

He threatens Meela that if she doesn’t open the door he’s going to kill both her and Daanyik. She tells him to go away or she’s going to call the police, but then she changes her mind and lets him in. As soon as he steps in the door he puts a gun to Meela’s head and begins walking towards the bedroom where Daanyik is recovering from his gunshot wound. Hearing the commotion, he grabs a knife out of a nearby plate of food and decides to ambush Tolik. Once he walks into the room, Daanyik stabs him in the leg from behind, making him fall to the floor, where Daanyik then stabs him repeatedly to death.

Throughout his troubles at home, Daanyik also struggled with problems at school, punching a Rabbi in the face and getting into multiple violent encounters with other neighborhood kids, in each situation having to fend for himself. His repeated cries fell on deaf ears, he was failed by every adult in his life, but ultimately he managed to rise above all the unfair challenges he faced.

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The IMDb pages doesn’t say much, but the film is apparently based (to some degree or another) on the writer’s (Barry Shurchin) own life story. The acting in the movie was excellent but what I found annoying was the seemingly endless historical footage of both the Soviet Union and New Work in what looked like the 40s or 50s between the scenes. I don’t see what that added to the film but it doesn’t take anything away from the story being told either way. The film got very mixed reviews depending on which angle you approached this work from, but for me it hit very close to home. I was literally clawing at my chair during several parts of the show because I swore some of those scenes were taken straight from my own childhood.

I too grew up far away from my homeland (not another country, but the other side of the country in a very different environment) in poverty and in a single-parent home with strange people. I wasn’t subjected to even a fraction of the physical abuse that Daanyik had to go through but my childhood was filled with constant psychological torment and emotional neglect on behalf of the people who were supposed to care for me and protect me. I was failed by every single adult in my life in more ways than one. Watching this film, I relived many things from my own past which made it very emotional for me. After it ended I had to sit by myself in another room just to digest what I’d seen because I’d buried that far away in my mind, never expecting to be face to face with it like that again.

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I was kind of disappointed that I didn’t get to see more of Paul Sorvino, you see like two scenes with him in it, and he looks nothing like the photo of him they put on the cover. Andrew Divoff’s performance made up for that though! He played the bad guy masterfully once again. One reason (among many others) I’m such a big fan is precisely because his characters are badass and that’s what we love about him. At the end of the day I would give this movie four out of five stars.

I have no regrets buying this DVD. It told a very important story, be it a haunting and painful one for those who’s lived through something similar. I definitely recommend this film, but you should be prepared to hear more than your fair share of profanity. More than anything though, I hope that the viewer will take an important lesson from this movie and say something if they see something because stories such as this one are way too common and they unfortunately often end very differently. This is one movie that I won’t be soon to forget any time in the near future.

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Posted in Islam & Interfaith Subjects

Organ and Body Donation in Islam

Did you know? One organ donor can save up to eight lives, not to mention that it can enhance the lives of many others too in several ways. Organ donation is a deeply personal choice between you and God, but the majority of clerics agree that it is permissible (and sometimes encouraged) under certain circumstances whether you are alive or dead. It’s also permissible to donate blood according to the Grand Mufti of Egypt, among many others. All of those who permit and/or encourage organ donation cite the following verse:

“Whosoever saves a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” (Quran 5:32)

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For many, organ donation is a form of charity and service to the human race. After all, if you were ill and needed an organ to save your life, wouldn’t you want someone to step in and help? If God is mighty enough to create us from nothing, He is most certainly mighty enough to restore our donated organs when our bodies will be raised again. It’s easier for God to to that than for you to blink. I would be honored to be able to save a life, either while I am alive or after I’ve died. For me it comes down to treating others how I want to be treated.

Nowadays, especially here in the West, the issue of body donations (such as giving a corpse to medical research for example) has been gaining more traction these days. This is a contemporary issue with no direct command in Islam. More than that, there are no “official” fatwas by major scholars or clerics about the issue and much less from different Muslim groups. So what do we do about that?

So far it seems to be a grey area because bother great benefits and consequences to both sides of the issue. In the following paper published by the IDOSI (International Digital Organization For Scientific Information) both the benefits and controversies of this new issue are equally looked at in an unbiased manner when it comes to how it affects Muslims. The paper clearly illustrates why cadaver donations are needed, but how do we reconcile that with the Islamic rules regarding how we treat dead bodies and then properly bury them? Those who want to permit it say the following:

To say that it should be made permissible, we could rely on the fact that Islam does promote the preservation of life in all situations. The maintenance of human life is one of the ultimate goals of Islamic legislation, thus all possible means should be used to treat and save human life, as long as it remains within the realms of Shariah. It is also clear that all research conducted upon the donated human body is also aimed to produce new findings and technologies that will later improve our knowledge for the maintenance of human lives as well. These new findings will help treat new diseases and and imminent death. Another argument that can be considered is Islam does enjoin its believers to seek redress. In a renowned their bodies, as they actually belong to Allah, comparing it with organ donation, as long as it is done with the intention of saving lives and curing serious diseases, therefore it should be permitted. Saving the life of a living person is more important than the sacredness of the deceased person because the end justifies the means.
The paper outlines other reasons why it should be permitted, but also discusses the perspective of those opposed to it too, stating that cutting it up a dead body for a medical or scientific experiment would violate the cadaver and delay the burial, since in Islam we bury the dead as soon as we can and follow very specific rituals. Many condemn the practice but like Mr. Lakhani, I’m not quite convinced. He said this:
“We take advantage of scientific research. So why can’t the clerics see the reason that my body after death can help doctors and researchers? I have lived my life and have no complaints against anyone. I want to do my bit to the development of medical science with my dead body, which will in any way get wasted whether I am buried or burnt.”
Honestly, I’m not morally opposed to cadaver donations because like organ donations, there is a great opportunity for medical research and the enhancement and prolonging of the quality of life of others. I would also much rather have medical procedures and scientific experiments to be conducted on dead bodies than living people. The dead body feels no physical pain or mental and emotional distress and will not permanently suffer following procedures or experiments which could seriously harm a living person.
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Drug testing on living humans is prohibited in Islam anyway, but at some point we’ll have to put them in the human body to see how the organs or tissues react to it won’t we? Regardless of your position on this issue, consider this: dead bodies (with the consent of the person while they were alive) could be an essential tool to the furthering of science and medicine in this regard. And if you have a rare or serious illness, why not give your body or tissue so that medical condition can be studied? What if your cadaver held the key to unlocking a medical mystery that could lead to the saving of lives in the future? If you knew that your cadaver could do so much good for the human race, what would you do with it?
The Permanent Committee for Legal Rulings in Saudi Arabia concluded that dissection on dead bodies to discover whether there is any criminal act causing the death or to see if there is any contagious disease and to then conclude how to stop its spread is sanctioned. Any act of dissection for educational and training purposes is considered acceptable.
I would like for this discussion to be open and considered from all viewpoints by a variety of people: Islamic scholars from various sects, doctors, scientists, medical patients, average people and more. In the case of Muslim cadavers both sides could find a middle ground on the issue. For example, certain procedures can’t be done on the body and they can’t have it for a certain period of time. Just because a body is donated to science it doesn’t automatically imply that it will be abused or will not receive a proper burial once all is said and done. This is obviously something very new and very controversial that deserves to be seriously looked at by all those it affects. Islam urges treatment and although animal testing is another very controversial issue that has people divided, even if you do support it you know that it has its limits too. Personally, I’d gladly volunteer my body if great good would come out of it. What are your thoughts about this?
Posted in Islam & Interfaith Subjects, Personal & Opinion

Tattoos in Islam

Despite the popular belief that tattoos aren’t allowed in Islam, more and more Muslims are getting inked for various reasons. Traditionally, tattoos have been prohibited in Sunni Islam but permissible in Shia Islam. But what does Islam really say about this? In this article I’m going to prove that tattoos are in fact allowed in Islam based on authentic proof in the Quran itself and critical reasoning of the scriptures.

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First, let’s look at what the Shiites say about the practice. While I myself and not a super strict follower of the traditional Shia interpretation of Islam, my beliefs are primarily influenced by the Zaidi school on that side of the schism so I agree with their reasoning when they say that the Quran does not forbid tattoos. In fact it says nothing about them. Islam generally goes that if there is no direct prohibition on it, it’s allowed. Such reasoning makes sense to me because the Quran is abundantly clear when it comes to what is prohibited. The Quran is a complete book that is fully detailed. And God didn’t outlaw getting inked in it.

We have given them a scripture that is fully detailed, with knowledge, guidance, and mercy for the people who believe. (Quran 7:52)

Grand Ayatollah Sistani (a.k.a. a Shiite head honcho) said that tattoos are permissible regardless of whether they are permanent or temporary. In fact, tattoos among Shiites are quite popular too! Ayatollah Khamenei shares this view that tattoos are completely permissible along with most other Shiite jurists. It’s safe to say that it’s hard to convince a Shiite that their beloved ink violates their religion when most of their tattoos are done out of their love for God. The only time a tattoo would be prohibited is if it is insulting to Islam or depicts something forbidden.

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As for the Sunnis, it’s a different story. Here are their arguments against tattoos (not in any particular order):

  • It prevents water from reaching the skin so it makes your ablution invalid
  • The unnecessary affliction of pain
  • Making permanent changes to your body is destroying God’s perfect creation
  • There is a passage in the Hadith against it

Obviously I’m not a Sunni, and yes I’m going to rip up their arguments. Regarding the invalid ablution, this statement is incorrect as when getting a tattoo, the ink is deposited below several layers of skin, and so it does not prevent water from reaching the skin. The ablution cleans only the top layer and since the tattoo isn’t on the top layer, it makes no difference when it comes to the ritual purity routine. Many tattoos or no tattoos, the end result is the same.

Many (but not all) Sunni scholars use verses 4:117-120 to say that changing God’s creation is prohibited but that’s not what the verse is about as explained in this article. In addition, it’s worth mentioning that this is a change to the religion, not a change to the human body, it is not a reference to human tattoos. Another issue is the said unnecessary affliction of pain, which is also considered to be prohibited by some. To this, I would like to mention that a majority of tattoo artists would rub the area with numbing lotion that prevents you from feeling anything. It also differs based on the area in which you consider placing it, and your own pain threshold. With this, there are a good many things that people do which cause pain to the body such as waxing, threading and piercings, none of which are considered to be forbidden.

This begs the question, how does that then differ from dyeing ones hair, getting piercings, tanning, braces, amongst other things which all technically change the way in which a person looks? While these are not permanent when done, they can lead to the permanent alteration in pigmentation and the body in general. Tattoos carry obvious health risks such as infection but dyeing hair can also cause an allergic reaction, some people pass out after getting piercings, tanning is exceptionally bad for your health, and if the braces on your teeth are botched they can cause serious damage to both the teeth and jaw structure which can be permanent. And with modern technology that removes tattoos these days (that will only continue to advance in the future) I guess that tattoos aren’t so permanent after all either.

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I find it so hypocritical that there is a long list of things you can do to change your body but everybody flips out that tattoos are forbidden. I just don’t understand how it’s okay to have metal objects sticking out of your face (which I find disgusting but agree that they should be allowed) but not some ink easily concealable underneath some clothing. Sure that nose ring of yours can be removed but there’s still that hole in your nose to put it in that’s still there and will probably be for the rest of your life. A body modification is a body modification is a body modification.

Furthermore, Sunni Muslims allow the use of henna tattoos (which are temporary) yet they also have many health risks of their own, and lay on top of the skin which does render your ablution invalid. Did you know? Getting several tattoos help boost your immune system according to the American Journal of Human Biology. While that doesn’t remove or lessen the health risks, they do end up being beneficial in the long run. Some even claim that tattoos have mental health benefits and that it has helped them heal from traumatic experiences and boosted their self-esteem, like Boston Marathon bombing survivor Sydney Corcoran.

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Now, when it comes to the passage from the Hadith banning tattoos, the Sunnis like to quote Bukhari:

Narrated Abu Juhaifa: The Prophet cursed the lady who practices tattooing and the one who gets herself tattooed, and one who eats (takes) Riba’ (usury) and the one who gives it. And he prohibited taking the price of a dog, and the money earned by prostitution, and cursed the makers of pictures.

If you take this literally, it appears to be straightforward but there’s actually much more to it than that. My first problem is that most Sunnis see the Hadith as of equal authority to the Quran and some schools of thought even say the Hadith books even supersede the Quran in some instances. My objection to this argument can be found in its entirety in this article but to sum it up in short, from a Zaidi point of view:

Regarding the ahadith (reported sayings) of the prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) their authenticity is to be judged by comparing them with the principals laid down in the Holy Qur’an, and any reported sayings of the Prophet which contradict with the Qur’an in any way are invalid.

Even though I think I’ve made myself abundantly clear in my own article about my problems with the Hadith books without labeling them as complete fraud, I enjoy the perspectives the Muslim Slob Blog offers on much of the same problems. While I myself am not a Quranist per se, the only passages from any Hadith book I deem authentic are those who have support from the Quran.

So, to sum things up in addition to the fact that getting a tattoo was nowhere outlawed in the Quran itself, a single passage from a secondary and fallible source with an unknown context and a questioned authenticity isn’t nearly good enough for me to believe that tattoos are forbidden. What purpose to they serve? Nothing more than your piercings or tanning or any of that other stuff that you do and consider permissible to do. Having or not having a tattoo doesn’t make you any more Muslim or any less Muslim than anybody else. If they aren’t your cup of tea, don’t get one. Nobody is forcing you to do so. But to those who do want to get inked, I see no legitimate basis prohibiting you to do so. Take into consideration how your society and culture view tattoos and remain sensitive, moderate and modest in the process but from a purely Islamic perspective, I’m with the Shiites on this one saying that ink is good to go as long as it doesn’t depict anti-Islamic things or prohibited things. Depictions of Imam Ali are popular among Shiite tattoos.

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Even if I did accept the passage from the Sunni Hadith about tattoos, we have no way of knowing if that was said to all believers or to a specific group of people. The same passage outlaws pictures because the pagans used them in their vile practices, yet today pictures are common in even the most conservative nations because they are used for very different reasons. It’s the same story when it comes to that fraud of saying that music is prohibited based on a passage of the Hadith that has zero support from the Quran. When it comes to the ahkam pentad tattoos would be mubah (neutral, neither prohibited nor encouraged) at best and makruh (disliked or discouraged but not prohibited) at worst. At the end of the day it comes down to the individual perspective of each person but in my own research and own logic I see no legitimate grounds to prohibit tattoos. God knows best, but I’m sure that He wouldn’t get angry at us for showing the world that we love Him by marking it on our bodies.

Further reading: Challenging Taboos: Muslims & Tattooed

(Updated August 20th 2017)

Posted in Everything Else, Social Issues & Politics

Donate Your Used Books To Prison Libraries: What, Why & How

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When you research how to donate your books to prisons, the same phrase comes up over and over again: that books are a lifeline for prisoners. As someone who has had several prison penpals since 2012 in three different countries, I can tell you that the topic of books is one that comes up often. Many of them don’t have access to the TV or even the radio so books are all they have to pass the time and help stimulate their brains. I must’ve sent almost a thousand dollars worth of books to various prisoners by now, and I know for a fact that not a single copy went to waste or was left in a shelf somewhere to gather dust. According to a Baltimore Sun article about Maryland’s prison libraries:

Many who are within a year or two of release use library services to prepare for re-entry — to get their GED, to improve their vocabularies and language skills. The recidivism rate in the United States varies, from 50 percent to as high as 67 percent in some states, and there are two main reasons for that level of failure: the employment challenge facing ex-offenders on the outside and the lack of preparation for re-entry on the inside.

In Maryland, as in most states, re-entry services remain woefully inadequate for the thousands of men and women up for release each year. And given that we don’t invest corrections dollars for better outcomes, the very least we can do is keep the prison libraries well-supplied and adequately staffed. As a knowledge base and information bridge, the prison library is often the only resource the short-timer has.

Prisons are for punishment. Prisons exist to protect the public. But given that so many of their inhabitants eventually get out of them, they should be places of second chances, too.

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So many of us have more books than we know what to do with – I know I do. Let’s pass a few of them along to people who need them. Here’s what you need to know about donating your books to institutions:

 

  • Books in reasonable condition. There’s used, and then there’s used.
  • Paperbacks. Many prisons do not allow hardcover books but make sure to check with the facility beforehand.
  • Graphic novels.
  • Books in Spanish and teach yourself languages books.
  • Books on social movements and liberation struggles.
  • Yoga and fitness.
  • LGBTQ books.
  • Popular fiction.
  • Law books less than 5 years old.
  • Drawing and art books.
  • Fantasy and science fiction.
  • ESL – English as a Second Language books.
  • How-to (especially woodworking, plumbing, car mechanics, small motor repair).
  • Computer books less than 5 years old.
  • American Sign Language (ASL) instruction.
  • Books about starting or running a business.
  • Books about chess.
  • African American Studies.
  • Test Prep Books – GED, SAT, and similar.
  • Time. Even if you have nothing to give, you can volunteer.

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Here are also a list of books that you should not donate:

  • Books with spiral bindings.
  • Textbooks more than 5 years old.
  • Religious paraphernalia.
  • Magazines.
  • Anything laminated.
  • Books in bad condition.
  • Books with nude photos.
  • Books with written notes and/or highlighting.
  • Anything else forbidden by the organization or prison you donate to. Be sure to check the rules to save volunteers the time it will take to sort through your boxes and weed out what won’t work.

Alternatively, you can donate your religious books to prison ministry organizations who will then pass them along to specific inmates looking for such. It’s also worthy to note that if you want to directly send an inmate a specific book, you’ll most likely have to go through either a publisher or a bookstore (such as Amazon) and get a new one sent directly from them. Check with the specific institution since each have a different set of rules.

Contact one of these organizations, and they’ll tell you what you need to do. Some collect used books, some accept money to buy new books for prisons, others are looking for volunteers:

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Posted in Islam & Interfaith Subjects

The Stoning of Women: Quranic Prescription or Barefaced Misogyny?

Another great read posted on Huffington Post by Dr. David Liepert. I agree that stoning is not an Islamic punishment because the Quran clearly states that lashing is the punishment, not stoning. Traditions don’t alter the infallible word of God, and stoning for adultery was never part of the Quran.

Islamic punishments for “adultery” have been in the news a lot lately, but it looks to me like the real crime is nothing but barefaced misogyny.

First off, it’s always the women being punished, which begs the question, “Where are the men?” But then, if you ask how stoning became part of the Islamic punishment for adultery in the first place, that opens a whole different kettle of fish entirely. Strangely enough, stoning for adultery isn’t even mentioned in the Quran. The practice was common in the Middle East because it is the prescribed punishment in both the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible in Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22.

Modern day Christians like to pretend otherwise, but Jesus didn’t change that, either. In fact, he told his followers that every law on the books would remain there until the end of time.

However, what Jesus did was command, “Let he who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” which made executing the punishment problematic. But then, Mohammad did him one better.

The Quran is quite clear. From the Surah called An-Nur, meaning, “The Light,” verse 2 states: “The woman and the man guilty of fornication, flog each of them with a hundred stripes: let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if ye believe in Allah and the Last Day: and let a party of Believers witness their punishment.”

That means Muslims should have stepped it down a notch. However, they actually stepped it down all the way, because two verses later came the command, “And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses, flog them with eighty stripes: and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors.”

That’s right. The Islamic punishment for accusing a woman of adultery without proof is almost as bad as the punishment for the crime. Factor in Islamic rules of evidence: you need four witnesses to the actual act, not circumstantial evidence, not hearsay, not coerced confessions, but actual witnesses, and you get the situation in Medina after An-Nur was revealed.

A story from those days recalls a man complaining to Muhammad, “If a man were to find a man with his wife and if he were to talk about it, you would lash him; and if he killed, you would kill him, and if he were to keep quiet, then he has to consume his anger.” In Muhammad’s final years, not a single case of adultery was tried and convicted, and the level of gossip fell to almost zero. So what happened? It’s simple: Muslim scholars report that according to Caliph Umar, Caliph Abu Bakr chose to reinstate the earlier punishment because before An-Nur was revealed, Muhammad accepted it, too. Then apparently Caliph Ali went even further and combined both flogging and stoning, which remains the practice in Iran today.

But even given that, in the following 1,000 years scholars also report that only 14 transgressors were ever stoned. What’s truly disgusting to me is that today, it seems like Muslims are stoning that many women every other month. I’ve read the stories recounting times when Muhammad permitted stoning, and to me one thing is very clear: Muhammad did everything he could to prevent it, short of changing God’s laws himself. Two of the tales tell of transgressors obsessively confessing, and Muhammad doing everything he could to prevent them from making their confessions!

There are also scholarly references to a “Verse of Stoning” that was initially part of the Quran. However, others record that Muhammad considered it superseded by An-Nur and prevented it from being written down. Some sources even claim that the verse of stoning miraculously disappeared! Whatever happened, it certainly wasn’t there when Muhammad gave his final instructions and the Quran was compiled.

No matter what happened, I think that’s where today’s Muslims should take our lead, because all those stories make one thing very clear, at least to me: whatever the Judeo-Christian precedent, after Islam was perfected under Muhammad, neither God nor Muhammad wanted adulterers to be stoned anymore.

It’s horrifying. In the Muslim world, women are being flogged, stoned and killed for being raped, for being pregnant, or even simply for being caught out without their headscarves because men have “tweaked” the laws so far away from Allah’s intent and the earliest Muslims’ practice that they do the opposite of what those laws were meant to do — this from the religion that first declared men and women equal before God, and first created a society that truly had equal justice for all!

There is a reason why we have the Quran and the Sunnah. The Quran is a complete book, but it was revealed into a changing world. To understand the message, you need a deep knowledge of history, context and exactly what any particular Ayah did to the first Muslims the day it came. If you don’t have that, then for God’s sake, ask someone who does before you go killing someone! Because what some Muslims are doing out of ignorance today is nothing less than an abomination.

My solution? Non-Muslims and disaffected Muslim “reformers” are calling for Muslims to change Islam forward, so that it’s more like the modern world. Instead, we need to change Islam back, so it’s more like it was the day it began.