Sunday, August 14, 2011

British Secularists' National Debate: "Islam in a Secular Europe"

11 August 2011

The UK's leading annual secularist assembly this year will focus exclusively on scrutinizing Islam and Europe's Muslims.

"Islam in a Secular Europe" is the theme of the 2011 Secular Europe Campaign debate, hosted on 16 September by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and the Central London Humanists, in association with Conway Hall.

Using a "Question Time" format, this debate comes one year on from the Pope's state visit to the UK, which prompted the largest ever secularist protests against the policies of the Vatican, and demonstrated the strength that secularists wield in the UK.

This year’s event purports to bring together some of the country's leading secularist thinkers and activists to debate and discuss topics including: whether there is a clash of cultures between European values and Islamic ones; whether religious freedom of Muslims in Europe depends on secularism; if veil and burkha bans are secularist or counter-secularist; what the relationship should be between sharia rules and secular law; and if secularism can admit any limitations on freedom of expression in religious matters.

Panellists include:

Yahya Birt, the Commissioning Editor at Kube Publishing and co-editor of British Secularism and Religion: Islam, Society and the State

Sir David Blatherwick, diplomat, writer, distinguished supporter of Humanism, and current Trustee for the British University in Egypt

Humeira Iqtida, lecturer at King's College London and author of Secularising Islamists? Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat-ud-Dawa in Pakistan

Maleiha Malik, Professor in Law at King's College London teacher of courses in Jurisprudence and Legal Theory, Discrimination Law and European Law;

Maryam Namazie, well-known critic of political Islam and commentator on women's rights, violence against women, cultural relativism, secularism, Humanism, religion, and Islam.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, "Secularism is a way of protecting people of all different religions and those with none. It is vital that public debate and enquiry into secular issues includes people from all backgrounds, and to question how, in a continent that gave rise to liberal democracy and the values of human rights, we can ensure that no one is discriminated against on the basis of religion. Being able to put questions to this expert panel is a tremendous opportunity for the public to explore the effect secularism has on a multicultural society, and will contribute to ensuring that public policy is informed by open public debate."


"Islam in a secular Europe" Cision Wire August 10, 2011

"Islam in a Secular Europe" British Humanist Association August 10, 2011

Fasting in Ramadan: Worship or Habit?

Is fasting a habit or is it an act of spiritual devotion?
It is related that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Good conduct is a habit, and bad conduct is just obnoxious. ” [Sahih Ibn Hibbān and Sunan Ibn Mājah with a good chain of transmission]

This Prophetic statement brings up the question of the extent to which our formal worship is prescribed to us to positively develop our personalities and cultivate our spirituality.

This role for our worship is further reinforced by the Prophet’s words: “A man continues to speak the truth and verify the truth until it is written with Allah that he is an honest man… And another man continues to lie and chase after false reports until it is written with Allah that he is a habitual liar.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim]

When we do an act over and over again, it becomes a habit. Carrying it out becomes part and parcel of our personalities and identities. When a person strives to be honest by deliberately and consistently choosing to speak truly (even against self-interest), then honesty becomes a character trait. Ultimately, Allah elevates that person to the status of Siddīq (One Who is Truly Honest).

For honest people, honesty is indeed a habit. However, this does not negate the fact that speaking the truth remains an act of worship and pious devotion.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did not separate between habituation and devotion. In fact, he did the opposite. In fact, he said: “The most beloved of good deeds with Allah are those which are practiced with constancy over a long period of time, even if the deed is small.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim]

Also, `Ā’ishah relates that: “When Allah’s Messenger practiced a good deed, he would do so consistently.” [Sahīh Muslim]

Habituation becomes a problem when people begin carrying out habitual acts unthinkingly. Some habits – like the manner of combing one’s hair, or moving one’s hands, or biting one’s nails – become so ingrained that the person ceases to be conscious of doing the habitual act. People might even deny such a habit if it is brought to their attention.

At the same time, some positive habits have a tangible good effect on a person’s character and outlook on life. For instance, a person who has a habit of devoting a certain hour of every day to the remembrance of Allah or to reading the Qur’an has integrated these virtuous acts into daily life. They become, as a consequence, resulting in greater blessings and spiritual growth.

Once a man came to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and said: “All the Islamic rites have become so many for me. Give me something I can hold fast to.”

The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: “Keep your tongue moist with Allah’s remembrance.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhī and Sunan Ibn Mājah] This is a recommendation to turn the remembrance of Allah into a good habit.

We should therefore not use the word “habit” as if it is a bad thing, like when some of us say: “Prayer is an act of worship and not a habit.” Certainly prayer is an act of worship, and if it is our constant habit as well, then all the better.

It is a good thing that it is a person’s habit to pray, as long as we do not mean by “habit” that the person is just going along with the crowd or is praying absentmindedly. The positive connotation of habit we intend here is that of constancy and dedication, along with presence of mind and sincerity. A habit is something a person is comfortable doing. Leaving it off is something that makes the habituated person uncomfortable. How good it is for worship to be easy and comfortable for a person so that it never feels like a burden.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said: “O Bilal! Call the people to prayer. Give us our relaxation in prayer.” [Sunan Abī Dāwūd] This shows us that for the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companions, the performance of prayer was a source of comfort and solace.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) also said: “Prayer has been made the sweetness of my eyes.” [Sunan al-Nasā’ī]

Devotion and piety can themselves become habits. When a person starts concentrating in prayer, it is difficult at first to keep focus. The mind is easily distracted. However, after years of persistence, devotion and presence of mind in prayer become second-nature.

Ask yourself honestly: Do you feel happy about the arrival of Ramadan? Or does it get you down? Or do you have mixed feelings?

If you have any negative feelings, then take some time to read about the virtues and blessings of Ramadan. Then think of your own life and your shortcomings. Think of how much you need Allah’s mercy and forgiveness. Know that fasting in Ramadan was prescribed by the One who is Most Generous, Most Kind, and Most Forgiving. He did not prescribe fasting to punish us, but rather to purify our minds and hearts, and to make us more generous, compassionate, and healthy people. You will come away from such thinking looking forward to the arrival of Ramadan, thankful that you are able to fast.

With the same spirit, you will be motivated to perform the nightly Tarāwīh prayers, or at least to observe of those prayers daily what is easy for you. Think of the great number of people who are praying with you. Look for a location where the positive atmosphere sis most conducive. Find a mosque where the imam reads most beautifully. There is nothing wrong with that.

Observe the prayer as much as your heart stays engaged with it. If you find yourself growing weary, then depart. Keep in mind that Allah’s mercy is descending upon the congregation and you are among them sharing in that blessing. “They are such an assembly, that one who is in their company is not bereft of blessings.”

When you are prostrating, disclose your troubles and sorrows to Allah while beseeching Him to forgive you and overlook your sins. No matter how great your transgressions might be, they are nothing in comparison to Allah’s generosity and mercy. Be optimistic that Allah will accept your prayers, despite the shortcomings in your devotion and presence of mind. Everything in life requires striving, and we all have our shortcomings and difficulties. We place our hopes in Allah.

Remember that Allah says: “I am as my servant expects of Me to be.” [Sahīh al-Bukhāri and Sahīh Muslim]

Ramadan will become the beginning of a change for the better. It will be an experience of faith that will bring joy, new hope and greater happiness to your life.

Make it your habit in Ramadan to spend in charity. When you are shopping to choose nice foods to break your fast with, consider those who do not have enough to eat. Think about the mothers in the world who do not have enough food to feed their starving children and whose decision is to determine which of them is presently closer to death.

Make it your habit in Ramadan to be with your family. Make the atmosphere at home one of love and kindness. Ramadan gives us many occasions to spend quality time together and to share memorable experiences with our children. We should likewise make it our Ramadan habit to cement ties with our relatives, neighbors and friends, even by making phone calls, sending an e-mail, or giving Ramadan greetings by Blackberry.

Let us not make it our Ramadan habit to overeat at night. Let us not make it the month where we eat more than at any other time of year.

Instead, make it your habit to show kindness to others, to keep your anger in check, and to forgive others their faults.

May Allah accept from us our worship during this blessed month.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Illness that Permits a Person to Break the Fast

For our purposes, an illness is defined as anything that takes a person out of a state of good health. Some illnesses prevent a Muslim from fasting. Other types of illness do not. It is important for Muslims to know the types of illness that justify a person breaking his or her fast in Ramadan.

A sick person for whom fasting would be injurious to his health may break his fast. On this basis, Ibn Qudâmah writes in al-Mughnî: “It is a matter of juristic consensus among scholars that it is, in general, permissible for the sick person to break his fast.”

The proof for this is the verse: “Whoever among you is ill or on a journey can make up the number from other days.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 184]

In this verse, Allah has given permission for the person who is ill to abstain from fasting in the month of Ramadan and to make up however many days he misses on account of his illness at a later date.

There are many types of illness:

1. Illnesses that make fasting unbearable

A person afflicted with such an illness can break his fast according to the opinion of all scholars, and this is backed up by a considerable amount of evidence.

Allah says:

“Allah does not burden a soul with greater than it can bear.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 286]

“…and do not burden us with what we have not the power to bear.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 286]

“And fear Allah as much as you are able.” [Sûrah al-Taghâbun: 16]

2. Illnesses that do not make fasting impossible but which can be aggravated and made worse by fasting

If it is determined by at least one reliable doctor that fasting will indeed aggravate a person’s illness, then it is preferable for that person to refrain from fasting. However, if that person insists upon fasting, the fast will be valid.

In this context, Ahmad b. Hanbal, when asked about fasting for a person beset by fever, gave the answer: “And what disease could be worse than fever?”

It is also related that Ahmad said: “A woman who fears for herself being beset by tonsillitis may break her fast.”

3. Illness that requires medication to be ingested during the day

A person who needs to take medication during the day may break his or her fast, especially if the consequences of delaying the medication could be serious, like a worsening of the condition or the loss of a limb.

4. Illnesses where breaking the fast will facilitate recovery

In cases where eating or drinking frequently is medically determined to facilitate or speed up recovery, then it is permissible to for the patient to refrain from fasting and make up the missed fasts after recovering.

Other Cases Where Fasts can Be Broken

A person who is on a journey may break his or her fast. “Whoever among you is ill or on a journey can make up the number from other days.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 184]

Also, a healthy person may refrain from fasting if he or she has well-grounded fears that fasting will precipitate illness, bring on severe difficulties, or place unbearable demands upon his or her person.

Ibn `Abbâs permitted breaking the fast for someone “…who suffers from severe and chronic thirst”. Some people suffer from chronic thirst and cannot go for long periods of time without water. Such people can break their fasts.

Ahmad b. Hanbal was asked about fasting for a very young girl who attains puberty and menstruates during the month of Ramadan. He replied: “She should fast, and if it is difficult for her, she should break her fast and make the missed days up later.”

Ahmad’s fatwâ takes into consideration the girl’s young age as well as her not being accustomed to fasting. It also takes into consideration that she may be beset by weakness in those circumstances.

Though Ahmad stated that she should make up her fast, his students did not mention that she had to do so in that particular situation.

And Allah knows best.