Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Concept of Nazar (Evil Eye) in Islam

Turkish Evil Eye talisman
Ibn 'Abbas reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The influence of an evil eye is a fact; if anything would precede the destiny it would be the influence of an evil eye, and when you are asked to take bath (as a cure) from the influence of an evil eye, you should take bath. Sahih Muslim Book 26, Hadith Number 5427.
The concept of "evil eye" has existed for several thousand years, and can be found in ancient Greek myths and Jewish folk stories. It is based on the idea that if someone is envious of another's good fortune, their envy can cause that good fortune to end. Many Muslim cultures express this belief using the concept of nazar (evil eye). The Quranic roots of nazar come from two verses in the Quran:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Homosexuality in Islam

Mukhannathun in Pakistan
Note: I am extremely interested in feedback on this blog entry. Please provide constructive feedback below

Despite the pronouncements of many Muslim scholars, Islam’s stance on homosexuality is extremely complicated. Allah clearly has a preference for believers to engage in heterosexual marriage based on his praise of it, yet neither Allah nor the Prophet ever overtly banned homosexual relationships for Muslims, nor did Allah condemn alternative sexual identities.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Disparaging the Prophet

"Muhammad" by
Over the past few years, many Muslims have decided that it is there personal responsibility to avenge insults to the Prophet and Islam by burning down their own neighborhoods, imprisoning children with mental impairments, and killing innocent bystanders. This activity is more insulting to our religion than the original insults they seek to avenge.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Quran and Marriage

Another of His signs is that He created spouses from among yourselves for you to live with in tranquillity: He ordained love and kindness between you. There truly are signs in this for those who reflect. Quran 30:21
The relationship between husbands and wives in the Quran is truly sacred. As Allah describes men and women originating from the same original soul:
People, be mindful of your Lord, who created you from a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them spread countless men and women far and wide; be mindful of God, in whose name you make requests of one another… Quran 4:1

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Deeper Dive into Islamic Finance

Ahmad recorded that Sa`id bin Al-Musayyib said that Umar said, "The Ayah about Riba was one of the last Ayat to be revealed, and the Messenger of Allah died before he explained it to us.'' Tafsir Ibn Kathir
Clarifying the meaning of Riba

A few weeks ago I summarized Allah’s guidance on commerce. Allah’s guidance is centered on the principles of truthfulness and fairness. Built into the doctrine of fairness is the idea that Muslims should not take advantage of people in distress. To that end, Allah banned riba. Today I am going to take a much deeper dive into that topic. The key takeaways are:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Contextualizing the Quran

This is the Scripture in which there is no doubt, containing guidance for those who are mindful of God, who believe in the unseen, keep up the prayer, and give out of what We have provided for them; those who believe in the revelation sent down to you [Muhammad], and in what was sent before you, those who have firm faith in the Hereafter. Such people are following their Lord’s guidance and it is they who will prosper. Quran 2:2-5
Although all Muslims believe that the Quran is the word of God, interpretations of the Quran have evolved and changed over time. As I have blogged about my reading of the Quran over the past few weeks, I have received comments and emails both praising and criticizing my interpretation. Here are the primary sources I am basing my reading on.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Allah's Guidance on Diet

Today all good things have been made lawful for you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful for you as your food is lawful for them. Quran 5:5
When reading Allah's guidance on food, it is important to remember that early Muslims had an identity complex. Early chapters in the Quran stressed that Allah was the same God described to both Jews and Christians. Prayers were made facing Jerusalem until the Prophet was given permission to change the prayer direction to Mecca. Early Muslims, therefore, could be forgiven for assuming that Jewish dietary practices applied to them. Early Quran commentators relate an incident of Jews questioning Muslims on their diet:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Reinterpreting Islam after the Mongol Invasion

It is impossible to exaggerate the trauma inflicted upon the Muslim world by the Mongols. For 600 years Muslims had seen their spheres of influence grown from Arabia to Iran and Spain. Muslims simply assumed that they were the benefactors of divinely orchestrated success. Baghdad was the jewel of the Muslim world, capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, ruled by the Prophet's own family, untouched by any opposition forces since it became a Muslim city over 500 years earlier. To put that into context, Washington DC was burned by the British a mere 200 years ago during the War of 1812. When the Muslim historian Ibn al-Athir was asked to describe the Mongol invasion (Tatars), which he lived through, he couldn't do so for many years. He wrote:
For some years I continued averse from mentioning this event, deeming it so horrible that I shrank from recording it and ever withdrawing one foot as I advanced the other. To whom, indeed, can it be easy to write the announcement of the death-blow of Islam and the Muslims, or who is he on whom the remembrance thereof can weigh lightly? O would that my mother had not born me or that I had died and become a forgotten thing ere this befell! Yet, withal a number of my friends urged me to set it down in writing, and I hesitated long, but at last came to the conclusion that to omit this matter could serve no useful purpose. On The Tatars

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Quran and Women

To whoever, male or female, does good deeds and has faith, We shall give a good life and reward them according to the best of their actions. Quran 16:97
Whoever does evil will be repaid with its like; whoever does good and believes, be it a man or a woman, will enter Paradise and be provided for without measure. Quran 40:40
Allah provides guidance to the Prophet about women throughout the Quran. In some cases Allah talks about women in general, but in others he provides specific advice on how to deal with specific situations. Outside of those specific situations, Allah continually stresses equality between men and women. As 16:97 and 40:40 point out, Allah promises to reward all Muslims based on their actions; in this life and the next. Allah continually refers to men and women in the Quran as equals ( 3:195, 4:122-124, 9:71-72, 33:35, 33:73, 49:13, 57:18, 85:10 ). Not only does Allah view men and women as equal, he sharply criticizes those who do not. Allah condemns fathers who favor sons over daughters, and promises to condemn them to Hell for contemplating filicide:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Allah's Guidance on Slavery

What will explain to you what the steep path is? It is to free a slave, to feed at a time of hunger an orphaned relative or a poor person in distress, and to be one of those who believe and urge one another to steadfastness and compassion. Those who do this will be on the right-hand side, but those who disbelieve in Our revelations will be on the left-hand side, and the Fire will close in on them. Quran 90:12-20
It is impossible to read Allah's guidance to the prophet without seeing his disdain for slavery. In 2:177 and 90:13 Allah makes it clear that he sees the freeing of slaves as a pre-requisite for earning his favor. Allah puts the freeing of slaves on the same plane as poverty eradication when he makes it one of the acceptable uses of required alms-giving (zakat):
Alms are meant only for the poor, the needy, those who administer them, those whose hearts need winning over, to free slaves and help those in debt, for God’s cause, and for travellers in need. This is ordained by God; God is all knowing and wise. Quran 9:60

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Allah's Guidance on Commerce

Although Allah places primacy on prayer, Allah also understands the need to trade and conduct commerce:
Believers! When the call to prayer is made on the day of congregation, hurry towards the reminder of God and leave off your trading—that is better for you, if only you knew— then when the prayer has ended, disperse in the land and seek out God’s bounty. Remember God often so that you may prosper. Quran 62:9-10
Its noteworthy that the prophet was a trader prior to receiving revelations. Perhaps that is why Allah reinforces the numerous verses which call for honoring pledges to one another with a command to accurately record contracts:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Allah's Flexibility

...God makes things easy for those who are mindful of Him. Quran 65:4
We shall show you the easy way. Quran 87:8
Allah tells us that he chose to reveal the Quran to an Arab in Arabic (instead of Jesus's Aramaic or Abraham's Hebrew) to make it easier for the prophet to spread the message among his people. Allah doesn't want the language of revelation to be a barrier to its adoption:
Yet the scripture of Moses was revealed before it as a guide and a mercy, and this is a scripture confirming it in the Arabic language to warn those who do evil and bring good news for those who do good. Quran 46:12
We have made it easy, in your own language [Prophet], so that you may bring glad news to the righteous and warnings to a stubborn people. Quran 19:97 similar 12:2, 13:37, 14:4, 16:103, 19:97, 20:113, 26:195, 39:28, 41:3, 42:7, 43:3, 44:58

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Interacting with Non-Muslims

'People of the Book, let us arrive at a statement that is common to us all: we worship God alone, we ascribe no partner to Him, and none of us takes others beside God as lords.' If they turn away, say, ‘Witness our devotion to Him.' Quran 3:64
Growing up in the US, I have had to reconcile my faith with the reality that I live in a non-Muslim society. Fortunately, Allah's guidance to the Prophet was extremely straightforward about interacting with non-Muslims. For fellow monotheists (ie 'People of the Book') we are repeatedly told to try to find common ground. For those with whom we can't find common ground:
Say, ‘Disbelievers: I do not worship what you worship, you do not worship what I worship, I will never worship what you worship, you will never worship what I worship: you have your religion and I have mine.' Quran 109

Friday, July 13, 2012

Understanding Goodness

"Goodness does not consist in turning your face towards east or west. The truly good are those who believe in God and the Last Day, in the Angels, the Scripture, and the prophets; who give away some their wealth, however much they cherish it, to their relatives, to orphans, the needy, travelers and beggars, and to liberate those in bondage; those who keep up the prayer and pay the prescribed alms; who keep pledges whenever they make them; who are steadfast in misfortune, adversity, and in times of danger. These are the ones who are true, and it is they who are aware of God.” Quran 2:177
When people ask me about Islam, I inevitably return to this powerful verse from the Quran. Allah summarizes his religion in this verse better than any Imam I ever heard. The opening sentence of the verse is a reference to the incident of al-Qiblatain. The Prophet Muhammad had been leading a prayer at Masjid al-Qiblatain in Medina, and received the following revelation from Allah: