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I would like to share with you the history of Ramadan – the Muslim month of fasting. In the year 610 AD, the Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed on the night of Laylatul-Qadr which is also known as the Night of Power. This night falls in the month of Ramadan and as a result, fasting was prescribed to Muslims for the duration of this month in celebration. So, while the concept of fasting is and was practised by other faiths, and even by the prophet, the concept of Ramadan is specifically tied to the revelation of the Quran.

In the Quran in Surah 2, Ayah 185, Allah says, “The month of Ramadan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.”

Thus began the Islamic ritual of fasting on the month of Ramadan. This ritual fast known as, Sawm, and is one of the five pillars of Islam. It requires that individuals abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse between the hours of sun up and sun down. Beyond the physical abstinence, the reason Ramadan is known as the month of detoxing or training is explained to great effect by Nouman Ali Khan who explains that the ayah in Sura Baqara says fasting has been prescribed for you so that you may gain Taqwa. Taqwa means piety, but its literal meaning is also protection. Ramadan is the month in which you train and protect your heart to become stronger, more pious and closer to Allah by controlling your body and physical and material desires. My favourite takeaway from his video is min 14 to 16 when he says inna zalika min taqwal kuluub – the heart is the place of taqwa – which is a reference to sura Al Hajj ayah 32 where Allah swt says, ‘zalika waman yuaththim sha’aira Allahi fainnaha min taqwaalquloob’ which translates to ‘he who respects the Symbols of Allah, surely shows the piety of his heart.’ Nouman Ali Khan’s video about Ramadan I highly recommend and linked here.

Now – to answer some frequently asked questions.

What’s the point of Ramadan? In general, the practices of Ramadan are meant to purify oneself from thoughts and deeds which are counter to Islam. By removing material desires, one is able to focus fully on devotion and service to God. Many Muslims go beyond the physical ritual of fasting and attempt to purge themselves of impure thoughts and motivations such as anger, cursing, and greed.

Do all Muslims fast? Most Muslims believe Ramadan fasting is mandatory, but there are some groups that do not. In the Quran in Sura 2, Al-Baqara, Verse (ayah) 256 it includes the phrase that “there is no compulsion in religion”. So each person practices in the way they wish. I personally believe it is the intention rather than the act that is important. You can abstain from food and water all day but if you are cussing, angry and mean spirited during this fast then how much have you achieved the goal of Ramadan which is self-purification to attain closeness to God.

How do you fast in Islam? During the month of Ramadan, most Muslims fast from dawn to sunset with no food or water. Before sunrise many Muslims have the Suhur or predawn meal. At sunset families and friends gather for Iftar which is the meal eaten by Muslims to break the fast. Many Muslims begin the meal by eating dates as the Prophet Muhammad used to do.

Why is charity such a big part of Ramadan? Charity is an important part of Ramadan because the fast emphasizes self-sacrifice and using the experience of hunger to grow in empathy with the hungry. During Ramadan, Muslim communities work together to raise money for the poor, donate clothes and food, and hold iftar dinners for the less fortunate and or with interfaith and other community organisations.

Do you spend Ramadan studying the Quran? Many Muslims use Ramadan to read the entire Quran or read the Quran daily. Many communities divide the Quran into daily reading segments that conclude on Eid ul-Fitr at the end of Ramadan. To tie this back to my earlier reference about tawqa – protecting the heart can only come from a closeness to and an understanding of the Quran. Therefore the importance of studying the Quran in Ramadan cannot be emphasised enough.

I am not Muslim but I want to fast – can I? Non-Muslims are free to participate in Ramadan. Many non-Muslims fast and even pray with their Muslim friends or family members. Non-Muslims are often invited to attend prayer and iftar dinners. Those wishing to be polite to someone who is fasting for Ramadan may greet them with Ramadan Mubarak or Ramadan Kareem, which means have a Blessed or Generous Ramadan.

Do you have to fast if you are sick? Fasting during Ramadan is discouraged for those who are not of sound body or mind. Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, people who are seriously sick, travellers, or those at health risk should not fast. Children that have not gone through puberty are also not required to fast during the month Ramadan.

Because the cycle of the lunar calendar doesn’t match the solar calendar, the dates of Ramadan shift approximately 11 days each year. This year Ramadan began on 26th May 2017 and will end in 29 or 30 days depending on the sighting of the moon. The end of Ramadan is marked by the holiday of Eid ul-Fitr. On Eid ul-Fitr, morning prayers are followed by feasting and celebration among family and friends. This year Eid ul-Fitr will most probably fall on Sunday 26th June and my video on Eid is here!

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Tell me do I look opressed, unhygenic or like a terrorist in these pictures to you? If you said yes to any of them above then please click here and check yourself!

Kudos to the creator of the Burkini – Ahiida designs.

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I recently finished a coursera course called, “Constitutional struggles of the Muslim world”. In it we had to write a final essay on our understanding of what was covered in the course. Here is my exposition.

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The constitutional struggles of the Muslim world point primarily to indigestion. The constitution cannot handle the over indulgence of some countries in stark contrast to the severe lack of social, military and economic reform in other parts of the Muslim world. 

For a person’s constitution to be in a state of healthy balance it requires the body and mind to work harmoniously in sync. Similarly the struggles of the underperforming countries in the Muslim world point to gaps in reform that cause desynchronization. An under-performing country is one which lacks a clear state structure, an emphatic, enthusiastic and diplomatic ruler or heads of state and a country in which the people’s values and morals point more towards personal gain than collective progress. These countries struggle because they cannot compromise or find middle ground on religion (Palestine), Politics (Bangladesh), Economics (Pakistan) or social stability (Afghanistan).

In the same way that a tums tablet can ease indigestion of the bodily constitution, an institution which is fair, just and progressive can work wonder for the constitutional struggles of the Muslim countries in the world. The role of such institutions is to enter the societies which in which they seek to make a difference, entrench themselves in the local consciousness (both literally and figuratively through offices and physical presence and figuratively through campaigns, emotional investment and buy in from stakeholders),  and work with the collective society to enact change and empower others to do the same. Such institutions should look to provide services which enhance the self sufficiency of the people and bring stability and harmony to the region through social dialogue, military and rebel compromise and greater empathy between those who disagree.

The reason why a tums tablet or an institution would be unsuccessful in such worthy endeavours would be if the heads of state (Saudi Sheikhs) are swayed by external forces (the US) and extenuating circumstances (9/11 and the ‘war on terror’) to compromise their interest in their own region (assistance to the arab spring) which would have bought about much needed financial and social support, to instead focus on siphoning their resources to worthless causes (the UAE’s hotels, resorts and buildings which are primarily empty and feed the growing middle eastern debt crisis). This kind of extravagance and pandering to western whims leads to a disengagement from the collective consciousness of the region much like what happened to Turkey when Kemal Ataturk sacrificed the social, religious and emotional sentiment of the collective consciousness of the Turkish people to instil in his regime western trends that brainwashed whole generations and caused lasting dissolution of religious and nationalistic zeal for economic reform and cementing of foreign relations with growing superpowers.

The role of political Islam in Muslim countries is varied. In some countries, such as Iran, Islam is used to justify political agendas and political reform that would otherwise be protested by the public. In some countries such as Afghanistan it is used to emphatically marginalise the majority to enforce the wishes of a minority (Taliban’s).  In some countries it is used to enforce gender inequality by enforcing cultural impositions under the guise of religious guidelines (women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia by themselves… why? It is not written in the Quran anywhere that women are not allowed to drive). Such acts of wilful political, social and military hegemony from leaders of Muslim states under the banner of Islam leads to Islamisation campaigns that are successful in pushing forward their agenda but pushing down the collective consciousness of the people who form deep seated resentment to the religion used against them. A religion that promotes peace and harmony is forced upon people as a condition of rule and order to further personal gain. This is how Muslim countries become weak nation states with social and religious factions stewing in the juices of their discontent.

There is however a solution to such problems. Countries like Malaysia and Singapore were highlighted as exceptions from this general trend due to their recipe for relative success. They used a mix of diplomatic, religious, western and secular rules and regulations to form the basis of their constitution, political reforms and relative success. Such countries do not forget their roots in the basic premise of Islam and the laws that should govern them, and build on those foundations with strong secular and diplomatic guidelines and input from institutions to form lasting advancements in social, economic and military reforms which aid to cement their places as thriving countries in a highly globalised modern sphere. This is the recipe for the cure to the constitutional struggles in the Muslim world.

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This was written by a friend of mine, Osama Qureshi, on his FB. I found it very well written and thought to share.

“Feminism came about in the Western lands due to the men being oppressive towards women. When men would go die in WW1 and WW2, however, many women went into the workforce. And well, many women just never came back. Combined with this sense of materialistic empowerment, they started to move against the oppression men in the West were inflicting upon the women.

Because Western society is based upon the idea that you should seek power and if you have it you should go forward as much as possible, it gave rise to the feminist movement. Women in Western society developed abilities in public speaking, education, work-skills, etc. The intentions started out well, which was to try to give women rights in areas like the workplace, education, having a say, etc.

However, the application in today’s context has slowly moved towards gender privilege, and there are many examples of this. However, this is not really the big issue.

The big issue is that they take the view that men and women are inherently and absolutely equal. This is false. Islam absolutely disagrees with this conclusion. Rather in Islam we accept that men and women are created with many differences. Men are generally physically stronger, parts of their anatomy is different, as is their psyche.

Men have testosterone which gives rise to competitiveness and aggression. Women have estrogen which makes them more inclined to and attuned to their emotions (an increase in serotonin) and more empathy. We see each gender geared to different roles in life. The father cannot truly replace the mother, nor can the mother truly replace the father.

This is why when Western institutions tried to take feminism to the Muslim lands they utterly failed. Because they are trying to solve a problem that simply doesn’t exist in the Muslim lands. Generally Muslim men and women in Muslim lands know their roles. Men know they are responsible for their family and must provide and protect the family. Women know that they need to cultivate the next generation. This is just generally understood. So feminism doesn’t make any sense to them because they simply don’t face the same issues or have the same history. When Femen went out to protest in Muslim lands, it was Muslim women who shunned them.

What has happened in Muslim lands, though, is severe intellectual decline. They didn’t develop the capability to intellectually address the points made by feminist thought (which is partly based upon the philosophy of John Locke). We must revive the thinking of the Muslims to make them understand that Islam is the intellectual truth about life and is capable of solving all of man’s problems.”

May Allah swt grant us all the ability to recognise the right for education to all and invest to make it a reality so that the men and women of the Ummah are once more an intelligent and informed group.

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