Volume 3 Issue 1 Winter 2010

Misbah is Arabic for ‘lamp’, a symbol of illumination. Misbah Magazine explores and engages the ideas, history and development of Muslims and Islam in the world. It is offered free of charge to all students, faculty and staff of Princeton University and the surrounding Community.

Misbah Magazine
Editor in Chief Nabil Abdurehman ‘11 Executive Editor Zeerak Ahmed ‘13 Webmaster Tiffany Tong GS Editor Emeritus Babur Khwaja ‘09

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Exploring Islam and the Muslim World

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Views expressed in Misbah Magazine do not necessarily reflect those of the editors, sponsors, or the trustees of Princeton University. Photographs not credited to Princeton students were used under the Creative Commons License. Photographs do not necessarily imply the photographer’s endorsment of the content they accompany. Cover Image: Wazir Khan Mosque courtesy of Muzaffar H. Bukhari


Table of Contents
Editor’s Note 3 The Politicization of Islamophobia 4
Tasnim Shamma ‘11

The Martyrdom of Hamza and Husayn 7
Nebil Husayn GS

Navigating by Islamic Ideals 13
Derya Honca

In the Footsteps of the Sahabaat: Muslim 17 Women and Religious Knowledge
Hagar ElBishlawi GS


Editor’s Note
Greetings from a new Misbah board. We are pleased to present, as always, a diverse selection of articles. Whereas one article presents a synopsis of a campus debate concerning the Park 51 project in New York, another analyzes how new technology is providing women with unprecedentedly large audiences to engage with in religious discourse. While the cover story addresses a historical overview of the struggles of two prominent figures in Islamic history, also included is a book review which also discusses the importance of precision in the expression of theological issues. With much of the attention given to Islam and the Muslim world recently tending to focus primarily on turbulent political situations and controversial legal rulings, what we hope through these submissions is to provide perspectives not usually seen, stories not usually told. Just as the terms “Muslim” and “American” are not mutually exclusive, also there is no strict binary divide between “Islamic history” and plain “history.” There are and have been Muslim communities all over the world, and so it is important that these perspectives be given and be understood, whether as an aid to combatting extremism or simply as a building block towards establishing cooperative efforts between different communities in the future. Nabil Abdurehman ‘11 Editor in Chief Errata: The printed version of this magazine contained a number of typographic errors in the piece by Nebil Husayn. Also missing was a footnote that noted the author’s insipration from the work of Ali Shariati. These errors have been corrected in the online version. The editors would like to express their sincerest apologies to both the author as well as our readers for these errors.


The Politicization of Islamophobia
Tasnim Shamma ‘11

More than nine years after the attacks of 9/11, it is surprising to learn that suspicion and hostility against people who are Muslim in the United States has continued to grow. Even groups or individuals who are not Muslim but are perceived to be Muslim, because of their ethnicity or clothing, have been victims to this rise in hostility. On October 11, the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced the launch of a department devoted solely to “addressing the alarming rise of Islamophobic sentiment in American society.” One of the most recent and public forms of anti-Islamic sentiment has emerged this summer during protests over the building of Cordoba House or the “Ground Zero Mosque,” later renamed Park51. Through formal and informal discussion, lectures, debates and opinion columns in The Daily Princetonian, members of the Princeton community have tried to understand why there has been so much opposition not only to Park51, but also to mosques around the country. Park 51 In July 2009, a rundown Burlington Coat Factory was purchased and used as an overflow prayer space to another mosque in lower Manhattan, Al Farah, where Feisal Abdul Rauf is the imam. In December 2009, The New York

Times reported that there was interest in building a cultural center on the land that was purchased. Rauf explained that it would send “the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11.” This summer, over a year after its purchase and use as a prayer space, opposition groups and politicians mobilized to publicly protest construction – sometimes using hateful speech against Islam and labeling the religion as inherently violent. On September 27, a panel discussion about Park51 was held in McCosh 10 with Woodrow Wilson School Professor and Provost Christopher Eisgruber ‘83, Near Eastern Studies Professor Mark Cohen and Associate Professor of Politics Amaney Jamal. All three professors concluded at the end of their talks that Park51 should be built. Cohen, who specializes in Jewish history in the Near East, explained that he preferred the name “Cordoba House” because it was evocative of the peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Jews and Christians in Cordoba, Spain in the eighth century. Cohen said the proposed Park51/ Cordoba House could serve as a symbol of “tolerance and mutual understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims today.” Jamal cited the politicization of Islamophobia with politicians using the issue to gain political points and reports of opposition to mosque


Ground Zero View - Courtesy of Karen Blumberg

construction across the country as a troubling trend. “The mosque itself is more or less under attack in the United States,” Jamal said. The role of mosques Jamal explained that impeding the natural expansion of Islamic institutions like mosques is an attempt to “de-link the Muslim population from one of its most important links to mainstream America” because mosques serve as the most trustworthy civic institution for many Muslim Americans. Instead of promoting buildings that encourage political participation

and community involvement, Jamal said that “mosque projects are being stifled” and are becoming “sites of political scrutiny and sites to monitor Muslims.” Government officials revealed in December 2005 that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been secretly monitoring over a hundred sites of Muslim homes, businesses and mosques for radiation levels since 2002. “There’s this ongoing belief that mosques have direct link to terrorists abroad,” Jamal said. In 2004, Representative Peter King of New York said he believed that 85 percent of mosques in America

were controlled by Islamic extremists and that “this is an enemy living amongst us.” In 2005, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney suggested wiretapping mosques because he believed terrorist attacks in London and the United States justified such monitoring. “The reality that is the Park51 debates are almost a natural culmination of the last ten years,” Jamal said. “It’s no surprise that 61 percent of the US public is seeing the Park51 mosque as part of this attempt of the Muslim “other” to assert themselves in an un-American way in the United States.” At least three other local mosque

6 projects in California, Tennessee and Wisconsin have also seen protests or faced significant opposition. In Murfreesboro, TN, on October 18, the Department of Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division filed an amicus brief to support construction of a mosque that was facing a lawsuit and major community opposition over the past year. In the brief, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez wrote, “A mosque is quite plainly a place of worship, and the county rightly recognized that it had an obligation to treat mosques the same as churches, synagogue, or any other religious assemblies. This is not only common sense; it is required by federal law.” Legal and Ethical Arguments The brief cited the tenth anniversary of the Religious Land Use or Institutionalized Persons Act, which Eisgruber said at the panel that he testified against, believing the first amendment to be sufficient in protecting religious freedoms. Eisgruber began his talk by explaining that he would try to present the other side of the debate by examining the Park51 debate from a legal and ethical point of view. “The legal argument is easy,” he said. The right to build Park51 is protected under the First Amendment and additionally under the Religious Land Use or Institutionalized Persons Act unless there is a “compelling government interest,” meaning a

national security or health concern. He then went on to the ethical arguments by raising the question of whether there is a “limited duty to honor a perimeter of neutrality around culturally significant sites.” He made the distinction between temporary marches or protests and permanent markers like Park51. Eisgruber referenced the analogy frequently brought up this summer regarding the crosses placed near the grounds of Auschwitz and then later moved in 1998. Only a few blocks away from the former Nazi death camp, a Catholic group founded the Center for Dialogue and Prayer in Auschwitz. The center serves as a place for “reflection, education, sharing and prayer” according to its website, much like the goals of Park51. Eisgruber explained that the ethical argument did not stand because it was not clear what would count as a perimeter of neutrality in this context and reasons for opposing the center seemed to be grounded in prejudice because opposition to a Christian center would probably not have been opposed. “Would opponents be opposed to a Christian center? I seriously doubt that,” he said, continuing, “I don’t think we have a duty to respect other people’s sensibilities grounded in prejudice.” Jamal said that as a Muslim, an academic and member of the Princeton community, she has found the debates surrounding Park51 mosque

particularly demoralizing. “There’s been very little discussion about the basically un-Americanness of the current climate of Islamophobia,” Jamal said. “Once we start relegating space and where Muslims should be and where Muslims should worship and where perhaps they should work and perhaps how they should behave, we’re on a slippery slope and we all know where that leads.” As Jamal explained, the rise in the use of Islamophobia as a political tool to curry favor with constituents is alarming. With the Muslim community facing opposition to mosque projects on both the local and national level, hateful rhetoric and second-class treatment will only make a community desperate for acceptance in their own country feel further alienated.

Tasnim is a senior at Princeton, an English major on the creative writing track and Executive Editor for Multimedia Emerita at The Daily Princetonian. She can be reached at tasnim.shamma@gmail.com.

Sectarian strife in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq has led a number of analysts to consider some of the historical differences between Sunni and Shi’i Muslims. In contrast to most Sunni Muslims, Shi’i communities annually mourn the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Husayn b. Ali. Although Husayn is universally revered in the Islamic intellectual tradition, his murder occurred during a volatile period in Islamic history. His murder raises a number of theological questions that are considered controversial to most Sunni scholars. These questions include: why did Husayn refuse to pledge allegiance to the Caliph? Was he rightful in doing so? Is the Caliph liable for Husayn’s death? Some writers have inaccurately characterized Husayn’s rebellion as a failed military or political movement. This article shall briefly elucidate the difference between military conflicts and movements of protest as well as the terms jihad and shahada in narrating the story of Husayn’s martyrdom. I. The Holy Struggle Imam Ali b. Abi Talib once said: “God decreed The Holy Struggle to exalt [Man’s] Submission... and The Holy Declaration to reveal a Truth hitherto repudiated.”1 Man has never ceased in his age-old pursuit of felicity. Love offers but a taste of this rapture, yet like all things in this World, it is ever fleeting. Faith teaches us that Man’s only hope is to surrender his love to the Divine. “To become detached from the impurities of the world ... requires an intense jihad [Holy Struggle], for our soul has its roots sunk deeply into the transient world which [it] mistakes for reality.”2 The difficult, personal path to spiritual enlightenment describes the vast majority of cases in which Muslims participate in a “Holy Struggle.” However, scholars of jurisprudence also agree without exception on the permissibility of armed conflict in two instances, both of which are characterized as defensive. In the first instance, a person is permitted to take up arms for the purposes of self-defense against persecution or a general aggression towards life, family and property. The second case is when the Islamic faith in its entirety is a target of destruction, which may be manifested in a blatant attack on all persons, symbols, places of worship, and any remnants of the religion. Although the use of force is permitted in both cases, only the second is gen1. Nahj al-Balāghah, ed. Muhammad Abduh. Beirut: Dār al-Andalus, 1963, 4:55 (sermon 252). 2. From Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s essay ““The Spiritual Significance of Jihad.” See S.H. Nasr, Traditional Islam in the Modern World. London: KPI, 1987, p. 32.

The Martyrdom of Hamza & Husayn
Nebil Husayn GS

8 erally characterized as a “Holy Struggle” and obligatory.3 In addition, jurists also permit one to physically defend one’s self, family, and property from an attacking entity. Opinions may differ in calling this case a ‘Holy Struggle,’ but jurists universally uphold the innate human right to self-defense.4 II. Warfare In a state of warfare, a soldier strives to achieve three primary goals: he must fight to stay alive by defending himself from attacks, he must neutralize enemy targets and he desires that the war concludes with his own army’s victory. Scripture certainly praises the faith and bravery of a soldier who fights for freedom and justice. “God has conferred on those who strive with their wealth and live a rank above those who remain passive [sitting]...And He has distinguished those who struggle above those who sit by a great reward.” – Qur’an 4:95 A companion once asked, “How is it that the faithful face tribulations in the grave, but the martyrs do not?” The Prophet replied, “The glimmer of the sword – raised above his head (before it takes his life) is enough of a tribulation.”5 Early Islamic history is filled with stories of companions of the Prophet fighting in many battles throughout their lives. Although many of them lived long lives, many also died in war. One must pose the following question: Is the death of a comrade advantageous to his own army when considering the aforementioned three goals of warfare? The answer is a flat ‘no’. The victory of an army rests squarely on the survival of its soldiers. Once an army’s soldiers are killed, its power is vanquished and logically loses the war. The death of a soldier, however great his reward in the Hereafter, is an agonizing loss to his army, community and loved ones. Furthermore, if his
3. Ibid., 29-30. The Shāfi’ī jurist Ahmad b. Naqīb al-Misri (d. 769AH/1367) and the Shi’i Muhammad b. Hasan al-Tūsī (d. 460 AH/1060) concur that defending the faith from annihilation is obligatory, although the latter still hesitates in referring to armed struggle as jihād in the absence of a divinely appointed leader. See Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, The Reliance of the Traveller; a classic manual of Islamic sacred law. Ed. and Tr. by Noah Ha Mim Keller. Dubai: Modern Printing Press, c1991, Book O, Edicts 7.2, 9.1 and 9.3; Muhammad b. Hasan al-hūsī, al-Mabsūt fī fiqh al-imāmīyah, [Tehran]; al-Maktabah alMurtahawīyah li-Ihyā’ al-Āthār al-Ja’farīyah, 2:8. 4.Both Sunni and Shi’i jurists state that this is a consensus. See Muhyī al-Dīn Ābī Zakarīyā Yahyá b. Sharaf al-Nawawī (d. 676/1277), al-Majmū‘. Beirut : Dār al-Fikr, n.d., 19:251; al-‘Allāma al-Hasan ibn Yūsuf b. al-Muhahhar al-hillī (d. 726/1325), Tadhkirat al-fuqahā’. Tehran: [n.p], 1856, 9:7, 48. 5. Ahmad b. Shu‘ayb al-Nasā’ī (d. 303/915), Sunan al-Nasā’ī. Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1930, 4:99.

9 prowess and ability were great, then his death may even affect the outcome of the battle. III. Hamza How can we even begin to understand the agony of the Prophet when his beloved “Lion of God” Hamza fell in the battlefield? In Mecca, the nobleman and skilled hunter was a symbol of strength among a small band of meek men. In Medina, tales of Hamza’s feats in battle made him a hero amongst Muslims. Although the faithful companions of the Prophet entered the battlefield and secretly hoped to die as martyrs, to rid themselves of the troubles of this world and to attain eternal bliss, their primary concerns were to defend Islam’s existence, the very life of the Prophet, and the right to live and worship freely. It was in the heat of battle and in pursuit of victory that a soldier was cut down; Hamza was in the middle of defending Islam when death found him. The martyrdom exemplified by Hamza represented the loftiest of deaths in Islamic history. He was named the ‘Leader of Martyrs’ in Muslim tradition, an appellation that recognized his sustained struggle in defending Islam through truthful speech to the arrogant, patience in times of hardship and courage in the face of death. He surrendered his soul to glorifying the Divine for many years before finally surrendering his body. Thus, his final sacrifice only exalted and accentuated his previous submission and personified the maxim of Imam Ali, “God decreed The Holy Struggle to exalt [Man’s] Submission.” IV. The Holy Declaration But what of al-Husayn? Why is the paradigm of Husayn’s martyrdom so different that he becomes the ‘Leader of Martyrs’ after the massacre at Karbala? The Holy Declaration [shahada] refers to sworn testimonies, as in court cases, or in the declaration of Islam, when Muslims bear witness there is no deity but God and Muhammad is His messenger. Husayn exemplifies a different kind of martyr than Hamza. Husayn’s significance lies in his lofty role as the ‘Leader of Witnesses.’6 Those who have read the history of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties are aware of the countless examples in which leading Muslim scholars from every school of thought were persecuted or killed.
6. While witnesses in court cases are referred to as “shuhadā,” this same term can also mean “martyrs.”

10 Descendants of the Prophet, beginning with Husayn, led various religiously motivated revolts during this tumultuous period. V. The Caliphate of Yazid Yazid I was a caliph who ruled for only three years in Islamic history. In his first year in office, the caliph’s army massacred Husayn and the great-grandchildren of the Prophet. In the second year, the caliph’s army raided Medina and the children of the Ansar (those in Medina who supported the Prophet after he emigrated there) were massacred. In his final year of office, Yazid’s army partially destroyed the Ka’ba when they attacked the Sacred Mosque in Mecca with catapults.7 Medieval Islamic historians have overwhelmingly condemned those actions, if not the character himself. Several historians cited contemporaries of the caliph who admitted he knew nothing of Islamic scripture or law. The same man had the audacity to force the Prophet’s companions and his community to pledge him allegiance under the threat of his vast army. In the absence of the Prophet, the Caliph was supposed to symbolize and embody the teachings of the Prophet. Imagine this man saying “I am the successor to the Prophet Muhammad. I sit in his place and stand at his pulpit as the leader of the Islamic community.” This man was Yazid, the son of Mu’awiya the son of Abu Sufyan. The Prophet is reported to have said to Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husayn, “I’m at peace with the one at peace with you. I am at war with the one at war with you,”8 yet despite that, this caliph’s army decapitated Husayn and nearly all of the Prophet’s descendants and paraded their heads across the empire’s cities. Let us return to Yazid’s second year of office, when he sent his army to Medina – the city of the Hijra, the city of the Prophet, the city of the Ansar. The Prophet once said “Love of the Ansar is a sign of faith and hatred of the Ansar is a sign of hypocrisy,”9 and in a similar narration, “No one hates the Ansar except a Hypocrite.” No one loves a people by killing them or destroying their homes and families, yet Yazid sent an army to fight the Ansar and their children. The army of the Ansar was led by Abdullah b. Hanzala, Ghasil al-Mala’ika (the One Washed by Angels). He became a beloved hero in Muslim tradition after it
7. These events are recorded in most books of Islamic history, including the works of Tabari, Baladhuri, Mas’udi, Ya’qubi, Isfahani, ibn Qutayba, Abu al-Fida, ibn Athir, Suyuti, Dhahabi and ibn Kathir. Consult the collections regarding the relevant years [61-63 AH] or the caliphate of Yazid b. Mu’awiya. 8. On the authority of Tirmidhi, ibn Maja, and Imam Ahmed b. Hanbal. 9. On the authority of Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmed, Nasa’i

11 was learned that he had wed only the night before –but had left his bride the next morning to fight in the battle without having completed the ceremonial wash (ghusl). It was reported that the Prophet saw the angels descending upon Hanzala and administering this wash after he was killed – so he was called “the One washed by Angels.” The Companions chose Abdullah b. Hanzala as their leader and they fought bravely against the larger army of Yazid to protect the city of the Prophet from the Caliph’s transgressions. This battle fought on the outskirts of Medina is recorded in history as the “Battle of Harra.” The Muslim residents of the city obviously recognized the sanctity of Medina and did not wish to fight Yazid’s army in its precincts. So they defended the holy city by waging their last stand in the outskirts of Medina. However, after Yazid’s army defeated the Ansar, the army attacked their women and pillaged the city. In his final and third year as Caliph, Yazid sent his army to Mecca to destroy the opposition led by the Companion Abdullah b. Zubayr. Historians write that the army attacked the Sacred Precinct with catapults and fire, which resulted in the burning and destruction of the Ka’ba itself. There are some who wish to excuse the caliph of any wrongdoing in the murder of Husayn. Some attempt to blame a few soldiers or a governor instead of the commanding Caliph whom they obeyed. However, a well-wisher cannot consciously defend the caliph and the conduct of his army in Mecca and Medina. Every community has that innocent and righteous man who stands as a witness against the oppression of his day. The shahid is a man who uncovers a hidden injustice – a whistle blower – when everyone else is unaware. At that point in time, some thought that it was heresy to disobey the Caliph who represented the Prophet. Was anyone left with enough authority to flatly reject the pledge of allegiance to Yazid but the noble Husayn? Did not the Prophet bear witness to the community that Hasan and Husayn were leaders of Heaven?10 Husayn and his companions watched in horror as thousands pledged allegiance to Yazid (under threat of death), without voicing any discontent. If Husayn followed suit, he would have solidified Yazid’s power once and for all. If Husayn stayed silent, he would have watched the religion of his grandfather be destroyed before his eyes; few would ever stand up to Yazid, or any other Caliph for the matter and have the courage to say “you may not publicly disobey the Qur’an and Sunna and reign as successor of the Prophet.” Caliphs after the Prophet not only enforced laws, but greatly influenced their genesis by way of their edicts. If Husayn stayed silent, Islamic law, both in its formation and implementation, would fall victim to the whims of Caliphs and the silent men who feared to disobey them. The vicious cycle would
10. On the authority of Imam Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Tabarani and others.

12 continue indefinitely. So Husayn set the precedent. Husayn rose. When a Leader of Heaven set the paradigm and clarified the necessity of opposing allegiance to such a person, then all other Muslims became certain that such dissent was neither a sin nor did it mean apostasy. A Leader of Heaven does not lie nor could he turn apostate as some of his enemies claimed.11 Husayn was the first to protest and sacrifice himself to reveal the repudiated truth. He became the first witness to testify to the injustice that existed in his day. He became a shahid the moment he received the command to pledge allegiance to Yazid and he refused. Despite direct intimidation from government officials, surrounded by the Caliph’s men, Husayn in all his courage, said “no.” He knew the moment he refused to pledge allegiance to the Caliph that he would pay for such dissent with his life12. The Umayyads did not tolerate any dissent in their kingdom. By bearing witness against a community’s wrongdoing, Husayn assumed a role previously occupied by prophets. Scripture states that such witnesses reprise their role on the Day of Judgment: “And the Day We shall raise from every community a Witness from amongst them {testifying} against them – and We shall bring you as a Witness against them...” – Qur’an 16:89 When Husayn lived in Mecca with a warrant for his capture or death for many months, the community fully understood the facade of Islamic piety that the Umayyads displayed as they searched for this dissenter. Although everyone, including Husayn, knew that a small band of men could not defeat the Caliph’s army, Husayn clarified that his intention was not political supremacy or warfare, but shahada “to reveal a Truth that has been rejected.” He was a shahid long before he reached the hot deserts of Iraq. The shahid – who knows he faces certain death for protesting – does so anyway, so the community learns an inspiring lesson from his martyrdom. There is a fundamental difference between the martyrdoms of Hamza and Husayn. Hamza, the brave soldier, fought in pursuit of a victory and inadvertently fell before its realization, while Husayn, the protestor, consciously chose a path that would end in death. However, when future generations remember his sacrifice and follow in his example, the shahid’s legacy lives on. Yazid claimed to be the rightful successor to the Prophet and God’s deputy on earth. Husayn sacrificed his life to reveal the truth of the matter.

Nebil is a graduate student in the Near Eastern Studies department at Princeton and can be reached at nhusayn@gmail.com.
11. Abu Mikhnaf (d. 157 AH/774) and Tabari cite leading Umayyad generals and officials taunting Husayn and his family as liars and apostates in Iraq and in Damascus. 12. Ali Shariati argues this point eloquently, in A. Shariati, Husayn Wārithu Adam, Beirut: Dār al-Amīr, 2004. His enlightening comparison fully inspired this article.

A timely and compelling commentary on the uneasy relationship today between Muslim individuals, societies and self-proclaimed Islamic governments, Ali Allawi’s The Crisis of Islamic Civilization at once mourns the diminishing of the Islamic world of old and attempts to define what is needed to allow it to flourish once more. The book’s lamentation is profound, and most of its insights into the causes of the crisis are equally so. As a Muslim reader, however, I find a few of its arguments to be lacking in coherence, making use of metaphors that obscure the core aspects of Islam, to which all Muslims strive to submit. I believe it is worthwhile to review some of the many legitimate threads of argument in this book and to inquire into those that appear questionable, particularly in the final chapter, where the author seeks to delve deeper into what is beautifully described at the book’s outset as “the transcendent reality which lies at the heart of Islam.” (p. 10) Through this review, I would hope to refocus Allawi’s ultimately accurate diagnosis, to make it speak more intelligibly to those, like me, who were taught to take scrupulous care when choosing metaphorical language to distinguish the Creator from His creations. Perhaps the principal theme of the book is the need for balance in any and all societies. Allawi deftly identifies the many aspects of this necessary balance – between the

needs of the individual and those of the community, the inner beliefs and values of societal members and the laws, institutions, and culture that they build. Traditional Islamic civilization, like any religiously based endeavor, provided a continuum through rituals of worship, which connected the individual to the community and vice versa. Yet perhaps unique to Islam is balance of another kind; the inescapable dependence of the individual upon God, even with respect to personal free will. Allawi points out that the Divine Attributes are absolutely transcendent over those of the human, who can never attain them (p. 11); still, the concept of individual autonomy is recognized as illusory by the Muslim believer, whose very life and consciousness are granted by the Creator. As Allawi’s narrative develops, a second theme emerges – the contrast between secular, individual-centered human rights language that claimed universal priority in the 20th century, and the broad skepticism initially voiced in Muslim societies toward this language, as many Muslims felt that these claims were being forced upon them. The author argues that the rights articulated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights are a product of western societal separation from its ethical roots in religion; modern human rights effectively affirm the lowest common denominator of humanity, which is human dignity (p. 191). In traditional Islamic civilization,

Navigating by Islamic Ideals

Derya Honca

Kılıç Ali Pasha Complex, Istanbul - Courtesy of Michel Roland-Guill

human rights are inseparable from human duties to each other and to God. There exists a right to work so humans can improve their lot in life and provide for those who depend upon them, and a right to free expression so as to seek the

truth. The individualist ethic that prevails in secular societies today does not allow its adherents to admit that rights may not exist separately from responsibilities. By the same token, today’s Muslim societies may be criticized for not providing any

mechanisms to ensure that the rights and responsibilities of their members are being simultaneously fulfilled. Precisely this failure to induce individuals and communities to live up to the responsibilities that coex-

15 ist with rights has led to the current crisis of Islamic civilization, according to Allawi. Two vestiges of that civilization remain today – private Islamic faith and self-proclaimed Islamic governments. Allawi argues that personal piety is increasing among Muslims, but the excesses of political Islam are endangering any rebirth of the broader civilization. (pp. 251-252) Although I agree that political Islam today fails to promote necessary social balance, it is here that I begin to disagree with Allawi. I do not see that either Islamic government or personal piety in the fullest sense of that word has strengthened in recent times. Piety, Islamically defined as adherence to the obligations (responsibilities) and avoidance of that which is prohibited in the religion, depends strongly on knowledge of the correct Islamic beliefs and practices conveyed by the three primary sources of knowledge in the religion – the Qur’an, the Hadith and the consensus of the scholars. While personal practice of the religion does appear to be increasing in recent times, the practitioners’ knowledge of Islamic beliefs and practices, I would argue, has declined significantly, not least because of the failure of Islamic government and educational institutions to provide the requisite knowledge to Muslims on a broad level. The prospects for Islamic civilization today are dim, because Islamic knowledge has grown fainter on all levels, from the individual to the societal. History tells a similar story in reverse. In contrast to western historians, who appear challenged when they try to explain the rapid rise and spread of Islamic civilization in the first centuries after the death of Prophet Muhammad, Muslim historians would argue that Islamic civilization of old developed on the basis of correct beliefs and practices of the Muslims who spread it. As long as the Muslims adhered to these beliefs and practices, their civilization flourished. And this is not an entirely partisan argument; the same events are unfolding today in the context of global economic development and its travails. Allawi concurs on this point; he writes: “The economic growth which has accompanied globalization begins to lose its luster if the benefits are disproportionately distributed. In a 2005 report, the UN estimated that the income of the fifty richest people on earth is greater than that of the 400 million poorest… The mass rejection, from the modern mind-set, of the cardinal virtues, not least wisdom and moderation, seems to be complete. But the world cannot anymore sustain the cult of the rampant individual, except at its peril. There are too many ‘externalities’ and costs for which other individuals, communities and countries have to pay the price. … The rugged, autonomous individual, so beloved by liberal philosophers and by Hollywood movies, simply cannot exist outside the virtuous community. And Islam would add that neither the individual nor the society can be whole if they are not infused with the sense of the transcendent. The wheel returns fullcircle.” (pp. 258-259) From that eloquent articulation of need for a virtuous community, Allawi develops his ultimate argument, which is that Muslims, in addition to practicing the rituals of Islam, must sense its truth for themselves, through mystical knowledge. He argues that Muslims must redevelop a spiritualized language in order to regain the creative potential of their own society. He contrasts the mystical tradition in Islam with the west’s love of the imaginary realm; in the west, imagination or self-knowledge has been cut off from knowledge of God. If Islamic knowledge is to flourish once more, it must, according to Allawi, become more than “simply a matter of method and technique, or the elaboration of an ideology of metaphysical spirituality. Knowledge of God is at the heart of the Islamic Sufi tradition, and its ‘modernization’ must acknowledge the prior existence of a visionary realm, where God’s reality is also manifested.” (p. 260) As with the earlier argument regarding piety, my understanding of the necessity of mystical Islamic knowledge starts in parallel with Allawi’s, but it soon diverges. We agree that to achieve mystical awareness, one must have knowledge of God and know oneself. But Allawi defines the human being itself as a contradictory mixture of the corporeal and the “potentially divine.” (p. 261) In contrast, I understand the human being to be no more or less than a creation, albeit owned entirely by its Creator, and God alone has the status of Divine Creator. Muslims may not mix their inherent sense of the Transcendent, Whose Existence is necessary

16 and Who creates all other categories of existence, with either their empirical knowledge of the mundane, or their inherent sense of the imaginary, both of whose existence or non-existence is merely possible, contingent upon other factors. As articulated in his book’s final section, Allawi’s understanding of the human being appears incoherent or contradictory, both in and of itself and regarding the human relationship to the Creator. He writes: “On the one hand, a human being is no different from an animal; on the other, he or she can aspire to the highest forms of knowledge… the true seeker knows that, in the end, perfecting the qualities of God within oneself is the sole purpose of existence.” Yet, on the same page, he admits: “The ethics of spiritualized Islam are based on a foundation of courtesy and modesty; courtesy towards the names and attributes of God, modesty in terms of the individual’s affirmation that these traits are God’s alone. A person can aspire to perfect them, but their full measure will always belong to God alone.” (p. 261) In my understanding, human beings do have the aspiration toward perfection, as well as the yearning to comprehend God’s Attributes. But we do not have the capability to fully do so. All our attributes, including that of knowledge, are God-given creations, and we are always merely striving to perfect them. The sole purpose of existence is to strive toward perfect obedience to our Creator. This is where the meaning of piety that I gave above

becomes more powerful than the meaning that Allawi implies, when he speaks of personal belief. The striving in which we engage is ultimately an act of obedience to God. Those who achieve piety have done so by performing what God ordered humans to perform and by avoiding what God ordered us to avoid, in obedience to God’s orders. Allawi returns to a coherent summary of the moral compass of the human – the Sharia. He writes: “Nevertheless, the moral drive which generates the actions of the ethical human being cannot be left unregulated and entirely answerable to reason or whim. The Sharia – in the broadest sense of the word – becomes the means to effect a true and lasting guidance for the ethical individual. The word ‘Sharia’ is derived from the Arabic root word shar’, which means road or path; so the Sharia is, etymologically, the pathway to guidance and felicity.” (p. 262) But he does not explicitly articulate what makes the Sharia so powerful to a Muslim – namely the Will of God that this pathway be revealed, the inerrancy of the prophetic Revelation, and the lack of contradiction between any of the primary sources of its truth. Just as those verses of the Qur’an that contain more than one possible meaning are never to be understood in ways that contradict those verses that contain only one meaning, so Muslims do not diminish their knowledge of God by metaphorically comparing their own contingency and potential to His Necessity and Reality. Are my differences with Allawi

merely of rhetoric or also of substance? I lean toward believing they are rhetorical. Allawi admits the incompleteness of the mystical knowledge he is espousing. He writes: “The type of knowledge embodied in intuition, inspiration and guidance is firmly of the non-rational kind, one that cannot be subject to the empirical tests of scientific inquiry or to the rationalizing logic of the intellect...It is a knowledge for which certain people have a profound taste, but their commitment to it does not necessarily lead to their denial of other forms of knowledge. … Once again, Islamic inner spirituality has little to do with emotion and passion, but a lot to do with the systematic striving for an understanding of the attributes of God and the imperative of moral conduct that such seeking generates.” (pp. 263-264) May the issues that I take with Allawi’s writing become part of the path toward true knowledge that he, I, and all Muslims must undertake with patience, humility, and good humor, all in obedience to God.

Derya can be reached at derya_honka@hks.harvard.edu

Photo Courtesy of Sajda Ouachtouki ‘13

In the Footsteps of the Sahabaat: Muslim Women and Religious Knowledge
Hagar ElBishlawi GS

Counter to what your television may have told you, not all Muslim women are subjugated second-class citizens with intellects crushed down by oppressive male counterparts. Muslim civilizations hold rich examples of outstanding women who have fought for their faith and stood firm in maintaining their Godgiven rights. Rather than importing a sometimes incompatible western type of feminism, modern Muslims can seek inspiration from the extraordinary heroines of their tradition.

Imagine a woman today approaching the Head of State that also happen to be the religious authority and disputing an archaic marriage practice on the strict basis of injustice.1 And not only is this ordinary woman heard, but she is also honored for the rest of her life by her contemporaries. Khawlah bint Tha’labah stood firm in defending her position because she had faith in her religion as just to all, not only for men. What kind of situation was present in Arabia over 1400 years ago where a woman not only had a stage to voice her discon-

1. Abdul-Rahman, M. S. (2009). Tafsir Ibn Kathir Juz’ 28 (Part 28): Al-Mujadila 1 To AtTahrim 12, Part 28. London: MSA Publication Limited.

18 tent to authority, but more importantly held the mindset that she had the ‘right’ to do so? For the people of this time, both men and women, implementing their faith was of utmost concern. When they obtained a new morsel of religious knowledge, they would immediately try to incorporate it into their lives, even if counter to old social norms. For example, the wife of Umar Farooq, Aliqah, attended the mosque for prayer even though her husband did not prefer it.2 However, he never prevented her from going because they both were well aware of the Prophet’s saying: “When a wife of one of you asks for permission to go to mosque, she should not be refused.” (Muslim and Bukhari). Once aware of their rights, or, more specifically, their duties, women of this time saw it as an obligation to perform them. Their goal was not to tear down customs, but to flourish within the bounds of their faith. There is little doubt that Aliqah went to the mosque because she wanted to learn and pray rather than merely challenge her husband’s authority. Rather than a battle of the sexes, the early Muslims’ goal was living the faith as exemplified by the Prophet. And rather than as an exception, Khawlah and Aliqah characterized the women of early Islam. They were empowered by their religion and would actively inquire about, implement, and spread the wisdom they attained. Women could often be found asking questions to the Prophet in the mosque whether seeking religious judgments for themselves or on behalf of others. And just as significantly, they would seek the company of the Prophet’s wives to gain knowledge. Women had a place in religious institutions and a grassroots networks to learn from each other. The arrival of Islam presented women with many new freedoms, unheard of in Arabia. However, they learned about these rights by attending the mosque and through circles of learning. Today we are just barely catching up to this Prophetic model. Women have always held pivotal roles in the establishment of Islam. The first believer of the Prophet’s message was a woman: Khadija3; the first martyr was a woman: Sumayya.4 Women who lived within a generation of the Prophet were huffadh of the Quran (i.e., had memorized all of the Quran), narrators of hadith (Prophetic reports), jurists, Quranic commentators, muftis, and scholars.5 Since the time of the Prophet, men and women have strived to learn and interpret their religion as a duty. In a prophetic narration we learn: “Seeking [a certain amount of religious] knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim (male and female),” (Ibn Majah). In Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam, Mohammed Akram Nadwi provides textual evidence describing 8,000 stories of Muslim women scholars. His text published in 2007 is a startling reminder that women’s contributions to Islam are, rather than being non-existent, may have simply been largely forgotten. We know that Companions and Successors would seek knowledge from teachers regardless of gender. Then why thousands of years later are some asking the question, “Do women belong in the mosque?” As time moved further away from the Prophet’s era, tighter restrictions were placed on women limiting their role in the public sphere. As the Muslim world expanded, obtaining religious knowledge required traveling to the locations of scholars. With access to religious knowledge limited, we find a decline in female-produced scholarship. Higher education in the realm of religious scholarship and authority became the preserves of men. While lower literacy rates and hindrance on free movement may have once caused a decline in the contribution of women to the annals of Muslim history, this digital age may prove to be a catalyst in reviving that women’s spirit of involvement. Remarkably, it is this revolution in the “oral” tradition that is giving women a new voice. Women have been largely excluded from formal places of learning. Often barred from traditional institutions, they

2. Husain, S. (2004). Women’s Role under Islam. New Delhi: Anmol Publications. 3. O’Connor, K. (2010). Gender and Women’s Leadership: A Reference Handbook. California: SAGE. 4. Women’s Role under Islam. 5. Nadwi, M. A. (2007). Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars of Islam. London: Interface Publications. 6. Salvatore, A., & Eickelman, D. F. (2004). Public Islam and the Common Good. Netherlands: Brill.

19 are utilizing new venues to explore their faith and voice their opinions by heading online and on-air for religious education. Popular religious media is not limited to books, pamphlets, audio and videocassette, but radio, television, satellite television and the internet, are increasingly being used to reach larger and more diverse audiences.6 For example, the introduction of satellite television in many parts of the Muslim world, has transformed the impact of media. Freedom from on-the-ground censorship and the development of a “virtual on-air community” has created a new forum for women. With burgeoning opportunities for women as presenters in general, Muslim women are carving out a unique niche focusing on religious issues. These shows are extremely popular and have an overwhelmingly female viewership. The phenomenon of female preachers, and television preachers in general, brings up a question of who holds and controls religious authority. In the past, scholars have defined the legitimacy of other scholars. However, in today’s era of the “virtual mosque,” the influence of a preacher is often directly correlated with his or her popularity. The greater the number of listeners who hear their religious rulings, the greater the probability their opinions will be adopted by the general public. Television, internet, and radio are sources of religious opinions, but without the interactions, knowledge of personal context, and qualifications that could be provided by on-site religious authority. While this media has its dangers, it is producing a forum that women and the youth are obviously taking advantage of. With these new forms of communication, increasingly large pools of female religious scholars, or Sheikha, are being afforded the opportunity to have their voices heard. Hosts such as Neveen El Guindy, Doa’a Amer, and an array of others
Sattelite Image of Damascus - Google Maps

20 are preaching on satellite television shows, interacting with viewers, and dispensing religious advice.7 The women who have entered onto this stage can generally be placed into two categories. The first consists of former actresses and singers who became more religious and female preachers who dole out broad-ranging advice to listeners. Their popularity is on the same level as other singers and actresses, but because of their limited religious education, they can only express superficial answers devoid of context. The second category consists of women well-known as interpreters of religious knowledge. Soad Saleh and Abla al-Kahlawy, both trained by the world-famous religious institution of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, are examples of the latter category. These women not only host religious shows and issue fatwas, but also serve as deans at their universities. While present on the same format, their influence lies in both the general population and religious scholarship circles. Their expertise in Islamic law allows for opportunities to make impactful changes. For example, Saleh’s fatwa, or legal opinion, on limiting a man’s unilateral right to divorce is now the official interpretation of AlAzhar and is preached in hundreds of mosques in Egypt.8 Women have always committed themselves to the study of religious knowledge for personal transformation and development of faith. Modern Muslim women attend conferences, study circles, and read books to informally acquire religious knowledge. In a study of European Muslim women, interviewed women stated that an increase in their Islamic knowledge allowed for the capacity to differentiate between tradition and religion.9 Women have increasingly been aiming for not only personal, but also public authority in religious education. For example, during the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality global conference, attendees agreed that, “It is important for women to take leadership roles in religious interpretation and spirituality.” In this vein, they established an International Shura, or advisory, council of Muslim women leaders regarding women’s issues worldwide. They plan on establishing endowments sponsoring scholarships for women to train as muftiah, scholars certified to make fatawa or Islamic legal judgments.10 Whereas most Muslims agree that women should acquire religious knowledge, training of female religious authorities is where that agreement seems to end. Traditional institutions just need to catch up to the example set 1400 years ago by producing, not just popular voices, but qualified ones as well. Muslim women have been increasingly demanding inclusion in the religious arena, and their voices are necessary in the male dominated field of religious interpretation and application of Islamic law. In order to avoid being marginalized, they need the support of established seats of formal religious learning. More institutions which incorporate women into formal religious education programs, as Al-Azhar does, are needed. The tradition of female religious authority is a historical legacy that is being revived. Rather than just subjects of religious jurisprudence, women need to continue the precedent of past figures, such as Aisha, who shaped it.

Hagar is a graduate student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Princeton and can be reached at helbishl@princeton.edu

7. Otterman, S. (2006). Fatwas and Feminism: Women, Religious Authority, and Islamic TV. Transnational Broadcasting Journal. 8. Fatwas and Feminism 9. Jouili, J. S., & Amir-Moazami, S. (2006). Knowledge, Empowerment and Religious Authority Among Pious Muslim Women in France and Germany. The Muslim World , 617-642. 10. McGinty, A. M. (2007). Formation of alternative femininities through Islam: Feminist approaches among Muslim converts in Sweden. Women’s Studies International forum , 474-485.

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