Friday, September 30, 2011

A Summary of the Economic Law of Islam

The economic law of Islam given to man by the Almighty through His last Prophet for the purification of the economy is based on the Qur'anic philosophy of creation: the Almighty has created this world as a trial and test for man; every person has therefore been made to depend on others for his living. No one in this world can live independently as regards his needs and requirements. A person of the highest rank turns to the most ordinary to fulfill them. In other words, every single person has an important role to play, without which this world cannot continue. This role depends upon his abilities, intelligence and inclinations as well as upon his means and resources, which vary from person to person. In fact, it is because of this variation that a society comes into being. Consequently, laborers and workers, artisans and craftsmen, tillers and peasants are as indispensable as scholars and thinkers, savants and sages, leaders and rulers. Every individual is an integral component of the society and contributes to its formation according to his abilities. The Qur'an says:

We have apportioned among them their livelihood in this world [in such a manner that]
We have exalted some in status above others so that they can mutually serve each other.
And better is thy Lord's mercy than what they are amassing. (43:32) 
      By creating various classes of people, the Almighty is testing whether the big and the small, the high and the low create a society based on co-operation and respect or create disorder in the world by disregarding the role each person has been ordained to play. The latter attitude would, of course, lead them to humiliation in this world and to a grievous doom in the Hereafter. The Qur'an says:

We are trying you by giving you happiness and sorrow, to test you, and unto Us you will be returned. (21:35) 
    It is to salvage man in this trial that the Almighty has guided man through His Prophets and revealed this economic law to cleanse and purify him. The following is a summary of this law: 
    1. Zakat:  It is obligatory upon a Muslim to pay zakat from his wealth, produce and livestock if he is liable to it.
    2. Sanctity of Ownership:  If a Muslim has paid his zakat dues, then his rightfully owned wealth cannot be usurped or tampered with in any way, except if on account of some violation by him, the Shari'ah endorses it. So much so that an Islamic State has no authority to impose any tax other than zakat on its Muslim citizens.
    3. Establishment of a Public Sector:  For the just distribution of wealth, the establishment of a public sector is essential. Consequently, everything which is not, or cannot be owned by an individual should in all cases remain in the ownership of the state.
    4. Incompetence:  Since a person's way of using his wealth and property also influences the development and welfare of a society, the state has the right to deprive him from using them, while acknowledging him to be the owner, if he is proved to be incompetent .
    5. Usurpation:  It is prohibited to devour other people's wealth and property by unjust means. Illegal gratification, gambling and interest are some horrendous forms of usurpation. Other economic activities should also stand permissible  or prohibited in the light of this principle.
    6. Evidence and Documentation:  In affairs such as financial transactions and making a will and acquiring a loan, the parties involved should write down a document and call in witnesses to safeguard against any moral misconduct by either of the parties.
    7. Distribution of Inheritance:  The wealth of every Muslim must necessarily be distributed after his death among his heirs in the following manner: 
If the deceased has outstanding debts to his name, then first of all they should be paid off. After this, any legacies he may have bequeathed should be paid. The distribution of his inheritance should then follow.  After giving the parents and the spouses their shares, the children are the heirs of the remaining inheritance. If the deceased does not have any male offspring and there are only two or more girls among the children, then they shall receive two thirds of the inheritance left over, and if there is only a single girl, her share is one half. If the deceased has only male children all his wealth shall be distributed among them. If he leaves behind both boys and girls, then the share of each boy shall be equal to the share of two girls and, in this case also, all his wealth shall be distributed among them. 
In the absence of children, a deceased's brothers and sisters shall take their place. After giving the parents and spouses their shares, the brothers and sisters shall be his heirs. The proportion of their shares and the mode of distribution shall be the same as that of the children stated above.  If a deceased has brothers and sisters, whether he has children or not, the parents shall receive a sixth each. If he does not even have brothers and sisters, then after giving the husband or wife his (or her) share, one third of what remains shall be given to the mother and two thirds to the father. If there is no one among the spouses, all of the inheritance shall be distributed among the parents in this same proportion.  If the deceased is a man and he has children, his wife shall receive one eighth of what he leaves, and if he does not have any children, his wife's share shall be one fourth. If the deceased is a woman and does not have any children, then her husband shall receive one half of what she leaves and if she has children, the husband's share is one fourth. 
Together with these rightful heirs, after them or in their absence a deceased can make a near or a distant relative except his parents and children an heir. If the relative who is made an heir has one brother or one sister, then they shall be given a sixth of his share and he himself shall receive the remaining five sixth. However, if he has more than one brother or sister then, they shall be given a third of his share and he himself shall receive the remaining two thirds.  If a person dies without making anyone his heir, his remaining legacy shall be distributed among his male relatives according to the principle 'closest to the next closer'. 
This is the law the Almighty has revealed to us to purify our economic dealings. While following this law in letter and in spirit, a person may encounter financial difficulties, and he may have to sacrifice his interests. The real reward for this is the kingdom of heaven which the Almighty will grant him on the Day of Judgment. However, He has promised that if the Muslims in their collective capacity adhere to faith and adopt a God-fearing attitude, the Almighty shall provide them abundantly in this world as well: 
Had the people of these cities accepted faith and kept from evil,
We would have showered the blessings of the heavens and the earth upon them.
But they rejected [the truth] and [so] We punished them for their misdeeds. (7:96) 
According to the Qur'an, the Prophet Noah (sws) recounted this established practice of the Almighty in the following words: 
    I said to them: Ask forgiveness from your Lord. He is oft-forgiving. [As a result], He shall send rain upon you in abundance and give you increase in wealth and children and bestow on you gardens and shall bring forth for you springs of water. (71:10-12) 
    This what the Old Testament says in this regard: 
    And it shall come to pass, if thou shall hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command this day, the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: and all these blessings shall come on thee, if thou shall hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God. Blessed shall thou be in the city, and blessed shall thou be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kin, and the flocks of thy sheep. Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store. Blessed shall thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shall thou be when thou goest out. (Deuteronomy, 28:1-7)

Medina Charter of Prophet Muhammad and Pluralism

The original Madina Charter document does not exist but the most widely read version of the Constitution is found in the pages of Ibn Ishaq's Sirah Rasul Allah (For English translation of the full text see wikisource), 
The clash of civilizations, cultures, tribes, and religions seems to be prevalent throughout all of history. At the same time, history reveals simultaneous conflict and efforts to resolve tensions and division feeding animosity through mediation, diplomacy, and dialogue. Many conflicts seem too complicated for an agreement to be established on just one point, whether or not the conflict revolves around territory, religion, or ethnic discrimination. So what approach is best to mediate issues in a contemporary world that seems to be driven by economics, natural resources, and ethnic or religious ideologies? The Medina Charter serves as an example of finding resolve in a dispute where peace and pluralism were achieved not through military successes or ulterior motives but rather through respect, acceptance, and denunciation of war - aspects that reflect some of the basic tenets of the religion Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was guiding and promoting. Through an examination of the Medina Charter, I will show how pluralism was advanced and instated in Medina and the reasons reflecting on such a document could help avoid the divide and misunderstanding plaguing much thought, rhetoric, and media today between Muslims, Christians, and Jews all over the world.

When the Prophet was forced to immigrate to Medina, the population was "a mixture" (akhlat) of many different tribes (predominantly Arabic and Jewish), who had been fighting for nearly a century, causing "civil strife," and it was for this reason that the Prophet was summoned there (Peters 1994, 4). Tribal fighting and a lack of governance in Medina (known as Yathrib) meant disputes were dealt with "by the blade" on many occasions, which deepened the divides and fueled conflicts. Karen Armstrong explains aptly the mentality and workings of the tribal system dispersed through war-torn Arabia, where the Prophet was striving for peace (Armstrong 2006, 19). "The tribe, not a deity, was of supreme value, and each member had to subordinate his or her personal needs and desires to the well-being of the group and to fight to the death, if necessary, to ensure its survival" (Armstrong 2006, 24). Such a system was, in a political sense, representative of the little cooperation between the tribes in the Yathrib. In this region reigned power hungry strategies, an emphasis on arms and strength in military, and a belief that clearly mediation was unachievable except by a trustworthy outsider who had no connections to the issues or the tribes. Not only did the Prophet fit these prerequisites, but his personal ambition as given to him by God was also one of spreading peace and unity, creating a community, or ummah, made up of diverse groups, through the teachings of the Quran and in the name of Islam.

The Quran states that the Lord "teaches by the pen" (96:1-5). This is indicative of the Medina Charter in that it is a reflection of these verses, which show that God is educating people and changing thought patterns through discussion. In this case, the discussion resulted in peace achieved through contemplation and through seeking agreements in which tribes felt they had benefited from the charter and had not been robbed of status or unresolved antagonism from the past. "Many Islamic rituals, philosophies, doctrines, [different interpretations of] sacred texts, and shrines are the result of frequently anguished and self-critical contemplation of the political events in Islamic society" (Armstrong 2006, 14). Islam places great emphasis on reason - the reasoning of the universe, of life, and indeed, of religion too. Al-Ghazzali (1058-1111) said, "Doubt is to find truth. Those who do not have doubt cannot think. Those who cannot think, cannot find truth." Although this quote is more in reference to the philosophical side of Islam, it reverberates from the heart of reason - something that is central to Islam. Yetkin Yildirim writes about the use of one's own knowledge and the absolute approach of reason. If the answer is neither in the Quran, Sunnah, or Hadith, then one's own reasoning or ijtihad is required (Yildirim 2006, 109-117). So the Prophet, through the Medina Charter, was practicing Islam through action. For with reason, discussion, and contemplation, a peace treaty was created.

Quba Mosque in Madina. Considered to be the first Mosque in Islam. Date of photo unknown
The mere formation of the Charter and peace were tremendous feats, and the content of the Charter itself reflects this magnitude. The formation of an ummah through respect and acceptance resulting in pluralism shows us one of the ways in which the Prophet combated jahiliyyah, or ignorance - the state of mind causing violence and terror (Armstrong 2006, 19). Examining some of the clauses in the Charter also shows how the Prophet managed to take leadership and create a lasting peace. The first clause, "They are a single community (ummah)," (Sajoo 2009, 94) depicts the ultimate message and goal of the rest of the charter. It marked the creation of a community, and the Charter served as a unifying document in a city of diverse groups, cultures, religions, and languages. The Prophet came to Medina with tolerance - an aspect of Islam which is fundamental to the manner in which the religion operates in foreign lands. "It is for this tolerance in the Islamic view that Muslims have looked at the religion of the people in the lands they conquered with respect; they did not intervene with their beliefs nor touch their churches" (Can 2005, 172). Clause 25 epitomizes the level of tolerance in the charter and also serves as an example of Islam in practice. "The Jews ... are a community (ummah) along with the believers. To the Jews their religion (din) and to the Muslims their religion" (Sajoo 2009, 96) This statement ties in with the verse from the Quran (2:256) which says, "There is no compulsion in religion." For in the eyes of God, as it says in the Quran "... those who believe ... Jews, Christians, and Sabaeans ... and does right - surely their reward is with their Lord" (2:62).

The Medina Charter reflects pluralism both in the content and in the history of the document. F. E. Peters explains that "the contracting parties, although they did not embrace Islam, did recognize the Prophet's authority, accepting him as the community leader and abiding by his political judgments" (Peters 1994, 199). As there is no account of an uprising in history books and because the Prophet was there at the suggestion of the tribes, we know that he was never rejected. Because of the laws he introduced, the existing groups clearly did not feel threatened by his new presence or his new governance. The society was pluralistic, and it was not repressive. The Prophet - as clause 25 shows - never imposed Islam upon the people of Medina, which meant that they could still practice without disruption their religions and customs, aspects of life that were important to them. He did not create an ummah through denouncing all ways of life except for Islam or by recognizing Islam as the singular religion; instead he united all inhabitants of the city under one banner of ethical living and moral principles - commonalities between all humans and all religions.

The Prophet drew upon the essence of unity, respect, tolerance, and love to combine and create a pluralistic community. Clause 40 exemplifies this: "The 'protected neighbor' (jar) is as the man himself so long as he does no harm and does not act treacherously" (Sajoo 2009, 97). People were safe and respected and free to exert their beliefs and would be protected in doing so. This protection, however, could not shield them from treachery or wrong doing.

The Medina Charter is arguably the first constitution ever written incorporating religion and politics (Yildirim 2006, 109-117). And even though the politics of the region have changed since it was written - in recent times for the worst - Islam's values have continued to spread and are lived throughout the whole Muslim world. Despite the hold of power that some governments still have over their people, the true face of Islam shines through in how people live, communicate, and approach life. I speak from personal experiences when I traveled through Iran, Turkey, and Northern Iraq in January, 2009. And despite what the media had to say about the people in those lands, my time there was spent in the houses of complete strangers, who showered me with hospitality that transcended any I had experienced before. Although the governing body has changed, the points of the Medina Charter and tenets of Islam preached by Prophet Muhammad still exist amongst the people. My heritage was accepted with curiosity and respect - just as the Prophet implemented in Medina between the tribes. My place in the society was welcomed with honest enthusiasm, and I felt a part of a community - like the community that Prophet implemented in Medina. I was exposed to mainstream Islam, which we hear so little about in the West due to the confusion which unjustly joins Islam and extremism together. I saw tolerant Muslims who saw me as another person who wanted peace and respect - not treachery. This is what the Prophet also accomplished in Medina - a community which was not based upon religion or ethnicity but one built on unity and acceptance. One built on tolerance. One built on peace. It seems the Prophet was aware that spirituality and faith cannot be governed, and for this reason alone, he sought unity and respect as opposed to discriminating between tribes and their beliefs.

In contemporary times, an analysis of the Medina Charter can give us insight into Islam and religious pluralism (Sachedina 2001). Medina marked the first real occurrence of coexistence between religions and groups in Islam and mirrors the Quran which "in its entirety provides ample material for extrapolating a pluralistic and inclusive theology of religions" (Sachedina 2001, 26). The Quran is the unquestionable and the absolute; therefore, it is the key to understanding religious pluralism in Islam. Clause 39 of the Medina Charter says, "The valley of Yathrib is sacred for the people of this document" (Sajoo 2009, 97). And so too is the universe, which is sacred to all of humanity. The Quran reveals that "the people are one community" (2:213), so if we are one (which we are) in the world, in the universe, then regardless of religion, it is God's mercy and compassion which will save us. By differentiating between beliefs, we neglect that under one sun we all pray to a greater entity, a greater being. We were all created by God, so unity seems imperative and practical.

The Medina Charter is very relevant to current tensions existing between the Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Unfortunately, it seems that ignorance and fear, suspicion and disrespect plague the interaction and stereotypes that exist between these three great Abrahamic religions. In the post-September 11th era, a new wave of antagonism has arisen, and people around the Western world generally fear Islam. Sadly, people confuse the actions of nationalists and fundamentalists, who so unjustly hide behind a Holy Book claiming that their intentions are those of God, with what the actual religion promotes. As Rumi believed, the essence of all religions is the same, for they all teach love. The deep philosophical and even deeper spiritual teaching of Rumi is based on a state of mind that seeks mutual vision and dialogue, which I hope will be achieved one day, breaking down the polarized world of different religious thought. Another verse of the Quran emphasizes this need for dialogue, unity, and tolerance: "Surely this community of yours is one community, and I am your Lord; so worship Me" (21:92).

The Prophets action's in Medina prompt us to use reason in our approach to the wide, diverse beliefs of the world - from Europe to Asia, North, Central, and South America to Africa and everything in between. It prompts us to understand how "the spiritual space of the Quran [...] was shared by other religions" (Sachedina 2001, 23). Such an understanding reveals that Islam is a monotheistic religion that respects the rights of other faiths (Stewart 1994, 207). In a globalized world where we are connected so easily, unlike any other period in history, our mutual understanding of one another and our beliefs are the most important means to achieve peace and stability. It is in a contemporary sense, in a globalized world, that the Medina Charter is of such necessity. Inter-religious discussions took place with the Prophet in Medina, for Boase writes about a time when Christians performed their prayers in a mosque after a meeting with the Prophet during their visit (Boase 2005, 252). We can learn how in every country, a community, an ummah, is the single most effective way to produce a pluralistic state. The Medina Charter was a fusion of attributes which all world religions teach: peace, love, freedom, acceptance, and tolerance - resulting in stability.

Peace was achieved in Medina, not through the might of arms or the scale of wealth, but through the unyielding principles of Islam - tolerance, love, reason, and a belief in God - whether the God in the Bible, the Quran, or the Torah. The Medina Charter, arguably the first charter ever written, shows that Islam rejects the use of compulsion in religion and violence and that over centuries of human existence, the most effective way to resolve conflicts comes through mediation. The Medina Charter is an example that should be discussed and referred to in current conflicts. The creation of a community, or ummah, offers pluralism to everyone. For people are not judged on their beliefs, but on their actions. Persecution is the instigator of all tensions, and reason and tolerance is the essence of all peace. Just as in the streets of Medina, through tolerance and respect, we too may one day have a world-wide ummah, where a passing Christian will say, "Peace be upon you" to a Muslim, who will reply, "Peace be upon you too."

Sean William White has a degree in Islamic history from Monash University, Melbourne.
  • Armstrong, Karen. 2006. Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time, New York: HarperCollins.
  • Can, Sefik. 2005. Fundamentals of Rumi's Thought, New Jersey: The Light, Inc.
  • Lecker, Michael. "Waqidi's Account on the Status of the Jews of Medina: A Study of a Combined Report," in Uri Rubin (ed), The Life of Muhammad, Great Yarmouth, 1998.
  • Peters, F. E. 1994. Muhammad and the Origins of Islam, New York: SUNY.
  • Ramadan, Tariq. 2007. The Messenger: The Meanings of the Life of Muhammad, London: Allen Lane.
  • Boase, Roger. Ecumenical Islam: A Muslim Response to Religious Pluralism, in Roger Boase (ed.). 2005.
  • Islam and Global Dialogue, England, Ashgate.
  • Sachedina, Abdulaziz. 2001. The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism, New York: OUP.
  • Saeed, Abdullah. 2006. Islamic Thought: An Introduction, UK: Routledge.
  • Sajoo, Amyn B. 2009. Muslim Ethics: Emerging Vistas, London: Institute for Ismaili Studies.
  • Stewart, P. J. Unfolding Islam, Lebanon, 1994.
  • Yildirim, Yetkin. "Peace and Conflict Resolution in the Medina Charter," Peace Review, UK: Routledge, Vol. 18, Issue 1. January 2006.

  1. Muhammad B. Waqidi, 'Umar al-Waqidi. Kitab al maghazi. Ed. M. Jones. London, 1966, as taken from: Michael Lecker, 'Waqidi's Account on the Status of the Jews of Medina: A Study of a Com- bined Report', in Uri Rubin (ed), The Life of Mu-hammad, Great Yarmouth, 1998, p. 23.

Source: The Fountain Magazine

Islamic banking setting new standards in the Persian Gulf countries

                                       Since a few months, there has been a sudden rise in the Islamic loan market pertaining to the Persian Gulf countries. The investors in the Persian Gulf countries sold sukuk bonds that had inferior debt ratings so that they could elevate money for issuing even further sukuk bonds which are backed by the state. With the growth of the Islamic banking and investment in the Persian Gulf countries, an increased number of people are investing in the Islamic bonds and earning huge returns that are utilized in paying debt help services.

There is a sudden widespread in Islamic finance and due to the vast returns from Islamic bond investment, there is also a simultaneous increase in the number of investors getting lured towards investment in the sukuk or the main financial instrument of the Islamic finance. According to a survey, it has been predicted that there will be a sale of Islamic bonds that may have risen to $1.5 billion in November and this will perhaps be the highest till record. Such encouraging statistics is prompting more investors to keep on investing in those countries that allow Islamic finance.

As per a recent report, a Jeddah-based Islamic bank in the Persian Gulf has already sold $500 million of sukuk and this has set an entire new standard for the Islamic finances. In the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi Islamic bank, that is perhaps the next after the largest Islamic banks, is also foreseen to raise $1 billion debt for sale. All these offerings taken together could fetch an amount of $2.5 billion from all the Islamic financial institutions taken together.

There are some other banks in the Persian Gulf that are trying to match with the present state of the Islamic economy. The countries who are a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have increased the sale of Islamic bonds after the treaty signed by Dubai World. According to this agreement, it was decided that 98% of all creditors will revise their rules and regulations on their borrowings that amounts to $24.9 billion and lessen the risk of defaulting. With such positive financial improvements, economic growth in the Persian Gulf countries are expected to rise to 4.2% in 2010 that is an increase by 2% in the last year.

Therefore, it is quite evident that with the growth of the Islamic bond market, more consumers and investors can invest in sukuk and utilize the proceeds in paying off debt help services. The Islamic debt market has improved in the context of the global financial market and which such a dependable rate of increase, it will keep on attracting investors and generating enough revenue for the countries.
Rose Anderson is a financial writer. She is the Community Member of "Debt Community" and has been contributing her suggestions to the Community. She has also made notable contributions through various articles written on different subjects related to the debt industry.

Is Islamic finance a 'huge flop'?

In London, an acknowledged hub for Islamic finance, the Times had an eye-catching headline recently: 'After six years, Sharia-compliant bank products are 'huge flop.' It resulted in numerous comments by those involved in Islamic finance, reminding us all that negativity draws a reaction. But the jury is still out on the embryonic Islamic finance sector in London, and using a micro-cap size listed Islamic bank, the Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB), may be more about the entity and its offering than the viability of Islamic finance in a non-Muslim country.

Lets take a closer look at retail Islamic finance in G-20 countries like UK. IBB's situation may have been more about the consequence of cheerleading Islamic finance by emphasizing quantity - namely the two million Muslims in the UK - over quality. Obviously not many efforts have yet been bankable.

A quick glance at Islamic retail banking in Muslim countries - Islamic finance hubs like Bahrain, UAE, and Malaysia - reveals that not one country had Islamic finance surpass an estimated 30% of all types of banking. Yet, in Malaysia, majority of the customers for Islamic finance are not Muslims, but ethnic-Chinese and they are commonly assumed to be shrewd and savvy on financing.

So, how does the industry take this successful aspect of Islamic finance in Malaysia and transplant it to the UK? Or, is there more to the story, since ethnic Chinese are the largest Islamic finance users in Malaysia, and this phenomenon may not necessarily be transferable to Britain?

Economic immigrants

There is a "numbers bias" for British Muslims, as large majorities are from the Indian subcontinent - India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. They came seeking better economic opportunities, education for their children, upward mobility, and so on. These immigrants came from countries where Islamic finance was, at best, more of a theory and less of a practice in the 1960s-70s. But although the British Islamic banking experience, from Albaraka to United Bank of Kuwait to (now) the Islamic Bank of Britain, generally resulted in a leveled regulatory and tax playing field, that has not opened the floodgates to Islamic finance. Why?

First, the British government has been talking about a sovereign sukuk for a few years, though nothing has yet materialized. Post Prime Minister Tony Blair, each successive government has stated their enthusiastic commitment and firm support for Islamic finance, and yet the industry still awaits for this magical sukuk.

Yes, the credit crisis has provided set-backs, buts let's hope its not an opportunistic excuse for further delays. France's recent interest in being an Islamic finance hub, coupled with their comments about a corporate benchmark sukuk could actually pressure Britain to issue a sovereign sukuk beforehand.

Second, the inability of Islamic finance to take off at the retail level in Britain, or any other G-20 country for that matter, may be attributed to a variety of factors. The lack of interest in Islamic finance, coupled with a comfort with conventional finance, may foster the interpretation that a certain type of 'interest' is acceptable. Often, Islamic finance is simply too expensive, resulting in a financial 'penalty' for being a Muslim. For some, Islamic finance, as presently offered, is not 'Islamic' enough, or the scholars signing off on such products may not be well known or credible. Education may not be responsive to the needs of the bankable masses. Finally, in a post-9/11 environment, some Muslims may be concerned that if they adopt Islamic finance, they may end up on a government watch-list.

Then there is the theory that some Muslims may have a debt-averse mindset, compounded, in Britain, with the availability of 'Islamic' debt offerings, such as Islamic mortgages. The anti-debt mindset may be a cultural influence and/or a literal interpretation from the Holy Qur'an, which describes the permissibility of trade and prohibition against interest (2:275-279). There are countless stories of British Muslims living and operating in a cash economy, renting apartments, and accumulating enough savings over years or decades to finally buy a home in cash.

Education and awareness

We have all heard about the need for education about Islamic finance, in the form of seminars, workshops, conferences, newsletters, industry organizations, or on-line courses. The slow consumer acceptance of Islamic products may then be due to incomplete education, absorption, or understanding, leaving the reaction time cycle for product buy-in much longer than expected.

But what about all the surveys and questionnaires about Islamic finance that offer support as basis for the offering? The possibility of survey and interview bias must be factored into the formula. During the survey stage with the 'man on the street' and written questionnaires, there may not have been a conscious awareness of minimizing leading questions and minimizing impact of 'politically correct' answers. It would seem that British Muslims, like any other Muslim or non-Muslim interested in Islamic finance, want broad spectrums of products at market prices with comparable customer service and support.

However, the bottom-line is to look at the end result, as the take up of Islamic finance at the bankable retail level has not met expectations. Are a majority of British Muslims simply too old, too poor or too new to be interested in Islamic finance?

Back to basics

The stakeholders pushing Islamic finance may need to have a reality check concerning retail offerings in non-Muslim countries with an established Muslim minority. The enthusiasm Islamic bankers have had for Islamic finance may not be shared by a percentage of Muslims at the retail level. The Islamically bankable population appears to be quite small, hence requiring a better understanding of demand, the right mix of product offerings, proper distribution channels, and support service.

Calling Islamic financing a 'huge flop' may be a needed wake-up call for Islamic finance on the true market size and opportunity that exists and our ability to manage demand expectations. Obviously, something is broken and we need to move out of the cheerleading comfort zone, realistically assessing the lack of interest by the 'Muslim on the street' when it comes to Islamic finance.
Rushdi Siddiqui is Head of Islamic Finance at Thomson Reuters. Before joined Thomson Reuters he was Global Director for Dow Jones's Islamic Market Indices. He led Dow Jones Indexes entry and its global expansion into Islamic finance. Mr Siddiqui has considerable experience in the financial markets having worked at a Wall Street investment bank and commercial bank in the 1990s.

6th World Halal Forum Creates a Notable Paradigm Shift

Malaysia's Former Prime Minister, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi delivered  the keynote address at the opening of the 6th World Halal Forum held April 4-5, 2011 in Kuala Lumpur
The introduction of Halal 2.0 - the convergence of Islamic Finance and Halal
World Halal Forum, the Halal industry's premier event opened with over 600 delegates from over 40 countries at Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre  on April 4th, 2011. This international forum which is held in Malaysia annually marked the start of "Halal Malaysia Week", a week-long series of Halal industry events. Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Former Prime Minister of Malaysia and a strong advocate of the global Halal industry delivered the keynote address at the Opening Ceremony.

This year's World Halal Forum produced an exciting milestone in the Halal industry - the unveiling of a first of its kind 'Halal Food Index', which positions Halal as an Asset Class within the investment community. The SAMI (Socially Acceptably Market Investments) Halal Food Index comprises over 200 companies listed in Muslim-majority countries with a total market capitalisation of over US$100billion at time of release. The SAMI Halal Food Index is powered by IdealRatings with the backing of Thomson Reuters and supported by World Halal Forum.

This launch is in line with the current direction of World Halal Forum which will push for the convergence of two influential industries - Islamic Finance and the Halal Sectors into an integrated Halal Economy estimated to be now worth several trillions of US Dollars. The convergence of these two Shariah-based industries forms a strong economic platform that is built on a set of shared values -values that will play an increasingly strategic role in shaping global markets in the coming decade, hence the theme for WHF 2011 is "Towards a Halal Economy: The Power of Values in Global Markets".

In opening the 6th World Halal Forum, Tun Abdullah Badawi said "I congratulate the World Halal Forum for continuing in its quest to be the beacon of knowledge and a catalytic force of change in the global Halal industry. The industry needs leadership and for many years people have looked to the World Halal Forum to fill that vacuum. It is good to witness the progress and maturation of the World Halal Forum that is now ready to take on that role to steer direct change in the industry."

Abdalhamid Evans, Director of World Halal Forum commented:

"We have taken the bull by the horns, so to speak, to steer the two Shariah-based industries towards a holistic Halal Economy that includes all sectors, from farm to fork to finance. This convergence will make both industries stronger and give us a more resolute voice in the international business scene. Today we have witnessed the start of Halal 2.0, a transformation of mindsets towards value-based products and services which in turn will give rise to areas of new growth and wealth creation."

Rafe Haneef, CEO of HSBC Amanah Malaysia Berhad commented, "If we are going to move towards a Halal economy, we have to take a holistic approach; the whole cycle, the whole chain has to be Halal from the production to the financing."

The World Halal Forum, now in its 6th year, is the world's most sought after Halal industry event and has a proven track record as an important platform in determining the direction of the global Halal industry. The new structural change within World Halal Forum will see it being modeled into a Not For Profit entity under the International Halal Integrity Alliance ("IHI Alliance"), a move that will allow the brand to propagate change on a different level altogether, working within the strong international network and support system of IHI Alliance.

"Taking ownership of the World Halal Forum and steering it in its new direction of offering solutions and executing an action plan is definitely within our area of expertise and we hope to give this initiative a leg up with our international network and resources. It is indeed an honour to be handed the baton and with that the onus to start a new chapter in the direction of the Halal industry", said Darhim Hashim, CEO of IHI Alliance.

This year's World Halal Forum featured cutting edge speakers in both Islamic Finance and the Halal sectors giving birth to a whole new direction in the progress of the Islamic economic sector. The line-up of speakers feature industry thought-leaders such as Rushdi Siddiqui (Global Head, Islamic Finance & OIC Countries, Thomson Reuters), Rafe Haneef (Executive Director & CEO, HSBC Amanah Malaysia Berhad), David Smith, (Chief Executive, Global Futures & Foresight), Fazal Bahardeen, (Founder & CEO, CrescentingRating), Jalel Aossey, (Director, Midamar Corporation), Rafi-uddin Shikoh, (CEO, DinarStandard), Navid Akhtar, (Managing 

Director, Gazelle Media), Joohi Tahir, (VP Marketing & Sales, Crescent Foods Inc.) and Zahed Amanullah, (Director, American Halal Corporation).

The 6th World Halal Forum is hosted by IHI Alliance, and is supported by Platinum Sponsor HSBC Amanah Malaysia Berhad and Event Sponsors Colgate-Palmolive, Nestle Malaysia, Chemical Company of Malaysia and HPA Industries.

Preparing for The Realities of Marriage

How ludicrous would it be for a person to hold a grand opening for a new business then leave for vacation the next day or go to a job interview without having read the job description? Equally absurd is the way many people get married each year without any knowledge of or preparation for the realities of marriage. Couples make elaborate wedding and honeymoon plans but none for a life together. Additionally, many are looking for spouses to marry without looking at their responsibilities in a marriage. 
Based on fairy tales spun by the media and pop culture, young women dream of finding their Prince Charming and living happily ever after. We think that once we are married, everything will just sort itself out. Some of us think that marriage is a solution or an escape or that our spouses will "complete us." Compounding this are values of mainstream society and their effect on the psyche of adolescents. Years of struggling with issues of dating and pre-marital sex in school as well as constant bombardment through films and television of unrealistic images of what love, sex and marriage are have affected our outlook on marriage and the opposite sex. So, when the time comes to get married, we often carry unrealistic expectations of what being married will be like and how our spouses will be.
Many young Muslims are not prepared for marriage and have not cultivated the skills to create a lasting relationship. While the general American population has the world's highest divorce rate, 48.6 percent, Muslims in the United States come in not too far behind at 33 percent. One in three Muslims marriage here will end in divorce- not surprising considering we are living in a "divorce culture" where independence and individual happiness often come first. When the marriage does not fulfill the individual's needs, the marriage is questioned. Terms such as "starter marriage" are becoming more common in the Muslim community as divorces among newlywed couples, after only months of being married, increase. Furthermore, couples in multicultural marriages are experiencing complex issues because of their background differences and often find little support from their families and communities because of certain cultural ideas about marriage. These couples often become resigned to ending the marriage. Newlyweds sometimes don't readily acknowledge that they must work on the marriage for it to survive. Many divorce when marriage is not what they expected or harder than they imagined. Divorce is now considered a plausible option among young Muslims, unlike the generation before them. Now, more than ever, we should prepare ourselves and our children for the realities of marriage. Preparing for marriage is as important as having an accurate road map before driving cross country. 

Preparing for marriage is more than searching for a spouse; it begins with discovering who you are as a person.
Undergo Self-Reflection
Preparing for marriage is more than searching for a spouse; it begins with discovering who you are as a person and what you will bring to a marriage. Identify what innate beliefs you hold because these are the things that are least likely to change about you. Your values and beliefs are your compass in life and will determine your lifestyle and the choices you make. Understanding what is important to you clarifies the type of person with whom you will be compatible. Reflection is a process of self-growth that can be difficult, but it shows maturity and a true understanding of the intensity of marriage. Ask yourself these questions: "What is my personal set of life values?" "What are my fears?" "What are my strengths?" "What are my weaknesses?" Identifying your flaws is equally important because it provides you with personal goals for self-improvement. It will also provide your future spouse insight into your weaknesses, as well as the things that may never change about you.
Establish Compatibility
Before you can determine the type of person you are compatible with, you first need to understand what compatibility is. It doesn't mean you will be exactly like your spouse, but rather, that you share many similarities and hold mutual respect for your differences, It is important to find someone who shares your core values and beliefs and whose long-term goals correspond with yours. Having complementary values and goals helps married couples grow closer to Allah because they will constantly strive in the same direction and have fewer disagreements in their marriage. True and realistic love will be found in the everydayness of marriage when sharing common interests and doing interesting things together. But, be careful if you find yourself making excuses for incompatibility or you start believing that the other person will change once you're married. People rarely change. Qualities in a potential spouse that do not align with your core values and beliefs are red flags because that person is about as unlikely to change as you are. When making a decision about an element of incompatibility, ask yourself; "Can I maintain my beliefs while married to this person even if he/she doesn't change?" Acknowledge that you simply can't control your spouse's way of being. Being able to maintain mutual respect for your differences will likely prevent many tensions in the marriage.
Understand You- Expectations Ascertain the expectations you hold for marriage. Many couples enter a marriage with unspoken and usually unconscious expectations of what their spouse is going to provide and fulfill. Honestly examining your expectations of marriage and your potential spouse is a necessary step in preventing disappointment. Ask yourself, "What do I think marriage will be like?" "Who and what have influenced these expectations?"
"What is my parents' relationship like?" "How does this play a role in what I expect in my marriage?" "What does the term 'husband' mean to me?" The answers to these types of questions will help spotlight your expectations about marriage and the basis for those expectations. Understanding your expectations and assessing how realistic they are is a vital step toward helping you enter into marriage with open eyes.
Everybody should acquire two critical skills before getting married:
Communication and conflict resolution. These are essential to making a marriage successful. You and your potential spouse will begin to understand how you each communicate as you get to know one another. Not communicating and misinterpreting communication will cause numerous problems in a marriage. This is the time to ask yourself; "Am I good at communicating my feelings and thoughts?" "How do I resolve a conflict: do I ignore it, solve it?" "Am I a good listener?" Understanding your approach and identifying your weaknesses are valuable because marriage carries the responsibility to communicate your needs and frustrations with your spouse. It is equally important to understand your spouse's communication style and conflict resolution skills and how compatible they are to yours. Ultimately, the effort you and your spouse put in this area will form the backbone of your marriage.
Entering into a marriage is a time to grow as an individual and to grow interdependently with a spouse. Having the courage to discover your expectations and weaknesses and taking responsibility for the direction of your marriage requires a mature approach. To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humor to be successful. 
These values will help a marriage survive conflict, disappointment and problems. Marriage is a beautiful relationship that Muslims should enter with an understanding of all of its dimensions. If Prophet Muhammad reminds us that marriage is "half our faith," then how can we as Muslims go into something this central with a lack of preparation and understanding? We can only be good spouses once we understand what it means to be married and mentally prepare ourselves for the amazing journey.
Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine is the author of Before the Wedding: 150 Questions for Muslims to Ask before Getting Married. Munira has also written two Islamic Studies textbooks for the Bureau of Islamic and Arabic Education. She received her undergraduate degree from UCLA and is currently pursuing her master's degree in Marriage and Family Counseling at California State University, Fullerton. For the last eight years, Munira has worked with youth groups, teaching classes and mentoring. Her extensive speaking on the topics of marriage and gender equity coupled with her experience of being raised as a Muslim in the United States gives her the ability to connect with the young Muslim generation. Munira is happily married and has two children.

Gaza Boy Nobody Heard About

"Both of Ibrahim's arms were cut off. He had a hole in his lung. Parts of his legs were missing. His kidney was in a bad condition...we need people to stand with us." These were the words of an exhausted man as he described the condition of his dying son in an interview with The Real News, an alternative news source.

Ibrahim Zaza was merely a 12-year-old boy. He and his cousin Mohammed, 14, were hit by an Israeli missile in Gaza, fired from an unmanned drone as they played in front of their house.

The story started on August 18. The next day, the British Telegraph reported: "Israel launches fightback after militant attack on Egypt border." The whitewashing of the recent Israeli strikes at besieged Gaza leaves one wondering if all reporters used Israeli army talking points as they conveyed the story. Palestinians were punished for an attack at Israelis that reportedly accrued near the Israeli border with Egypt. There is no evidence linking Gaza to the attack, and Egyptian authorities are now disputing the Israeli account altogether.

"At least six Palestinians were killed in the first wave of bombing. Israel said they were members, including the leader, of the militant group known as the Popular Resistance Committees it accused of responsibility for the attacks," wrote Phoebe Greenwood and Richard Spencer (The Telegraph, August 19).

The Popular Resistance Committees had dissociated themselves from the attack, as had Hamas and all Palestinian factions. But that was hardly enough to spare the lives of innocent men and women in Gaza, already reeling under untold hardship. Among the dead in the first wave of attacks that targeted 'militants' were two children, one aged three and the other 13.

In the media, Palestinian casualties only matter when they amount to a sizable number. Even then, they are placed within a context that deprives the victims of any sympathy, or worse, blames Palestinian militants for indirect responsibility (pushing Israel to resort to violence to defend its security). In fact, the term 'Palestinian security' is almost nonexistent, although thousands of Gazans have been killed in the last three years alone.

Even the news of Palestinian children killed in the August strikes was reported with a sense of vagueness and doubt. News networks downplayed the fact that the majority of Palestinian victims were civilians. The Telegraph reported that: "Hamas, which runs Gaza, said that two children were also killed in the air raids..." Quoting Hamas, not human rights groups or hospital sources, is hardly shocking when the reporter is based in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

Neither was it shocking when the boy, Ibrahim Zaza, died. His heart was the only organ that had continued to function for nearly thirty days after the drone attack. The father, who was allowed to accompany Ibrahim and Mohammed to an Israeli hospital, was then prevented from leaving the hospital for he constituted a security threat. He kept circulating around his son's frail body, hoping and praying. He appealed to people to stand by his family, stressing his lack of means to buy a wheelchair, which he thought Ibrahim would need once he woke up again.

There is no need for a wheelchair now. And Mohammed's unyielding pain continues. His legs are bare with no skin. His belly area is completely exposed. His screams are haunting.

Ibrahim's death seemed to compel little, if any, media coverage. There were no New York Times features, no Time magazine pictorials of the weeping mother and the devastated community. Ibrahim's existence in this world was short. His death was mostly uneventful outside the small circle of those who dearly loved him. 

There will be no debates on Israel's use of airstrikes that kill civilians, and no urgent UN meetings over the incessant killings caused by Israeli drones, which in themselves constitute a highly profitable industry. Clients who have doubts about the effectiveness of the Elbit Systems Hermes 900 UAV, for example, need only view Israeli Air Force videos of the drone gently gliding over Gaza. According to sUAS News, it "can reach a higher altitude of 30,000 feet...(and) can be quickly and easily converted for the operator's needs, without the need to adjust the operating infrastructure for every mission" (June 6, 2011).

Israel has been testing its drones on Palestinians for years. In Gaza, these vultures can be observed with the naked eye. Whenever the glider draws near, people scramble for cover. But it took a WikiLeaks report to verify Israel's use of drones for the purpose of killing. According to a recently leaked document, Israeli army Advocate-General Maj. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit had, in February 2010, informed previous US Ambassador to Israel, James Cunningham, of Israel's use of weaponized unmanned aircrafts to kill suspected militants.

In The Real News video report, Lia Tarachansky spoke to Lt. Col. Avital Leibowitz, a spokesperson for the IDF, to try and understand why Ibrahim and his cousin were targeted.

Lia Tarachansky: "There was only one missile shot, according to witnesses, and it was at two children, one 12 and one 14, sitting outside of their house."

Avital Leibowitz: "The logic is that when someone is trying to launch a rocket at you, then the logic is - we better target that person before he targets us."

The one photo I could retrieve of Ibrahim Zaza showed him posing shyly for the camera, his hair brushed forward. My heart breaks now as I think of him, and all the other victims of Israel's "logic".

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Conceptualizing Islamic Housing

Islamic housing is a blend of the belief system, teachings and values of Islam, and the prerequisites and influences of indigenous cultures, climates, topographies, building materials, talents, technologies, and economies. The former is characterized as universal, total, permanent, immutable, and absolute. It came from Allah in the form of revelation (wahy). It is divine. The latter, however, fluctuates and varies from one region to the other, and from one community to the other. It is indigenous, though locally permanent and unchangeable, as far as climates and topographies are concerned, but it is impermanent, conditional and changeable, as far as some cultural manifestations, building materials, talents, technologies and economies, are concerned.

Islamic housing is a mixture of the heavenly and terrestrial factors and elements. Both sides are extremely important, playing their respective roles. They finely complement and add to each other's strength and operation. Neglecting either of the two poles in Islamic housing inevitably leads to a serious damage in its fundamental nature, at a conceptual or a practical level. The heavenly or divine factors give Islamic housing a soul, moral fiber, and its conspicuous identity. They present it with a special aura that is effortlessly exuded by Islamic houses inside as well as outside their ambits. The terrestrial factors, on the other hand, impart about Islamic housing an intuition about its compelling worldliness, simplicity and utter practicality and pragmatism. They provide a powerful feeling about Islamic houses' and their users' congenital mortality. Nobody should ever get carried away and deceived, treat his house or his self differently.

Even though Islamic housing is inspired and deeply rooted in a transcendental idea and message, it still operates and is greatly influenced and shaped by the exigencies of space and time factors and experiences. It is because of this that Stefano Bianca remarked on the extent to which the Islamic spirituality influences Islamic architecture: "Compared with other religious traditions, the distinctive feature of Islam is that it has given birth to a comprehensive and integrated cultural system by totally embedding the religious practice in the daily life of the individual and the society. While Islam did not prescribe formal architectural concepts, it molded the whole way of life by providing a matrix of behavioral archetypes which, by necessity, generated correlated physical patterns. Therefore, the religious and social universe of Islam must be addressed before engaging in the analysis of architectural structures."1

At the heart of Islamic housing stand Muslims as patrons, architects, planners, engineers, draftsmen and users. As we have explained somewhere else, Islamic education must give Muslims a clear picture of the religious and civilizational significance of Islamic housing, as well as of all the relevant issues which are directly and indirectly related to it. Surely, a segment of such an educational process and system should be a notion that there is nothing fixed or predetermined in the area of Islamic housing, and that Islamic housing is a result of a process where more than a few factors, phases, and parties are involved and are thus all equally important. It is as good as impossible to identify a phase, or a factor, or a party in that process and regard it as more important than the others. The Islamic housing process starts with having a proper understanding and vision which leads to making a right intention (niyyah). It continues with the planning, designing and building stages, and ends with attaining the net results and how people make use of and benefit from them. What is important is that everyone involved in the creation and actualization of Islamic housing: from patrons and various authorities, over planners, architects and builders, to the owners and users of houses, duly honours the dictates of both the teachings and principles of Islam, and the localized cultural, socio-economic and ecological elements and phenomena.

Indeed, this is the biggest requirement in Islamic housing. It is a requirement that everyone involved possesses a proper understanding and vision, that everyone sincerely tries his or her level best to rise to the challenge of transporting the idea of Islamic housing from the realm of theory and concept to the realm of physical realities and solutions, and that the goals and aspirations of Muslims, especially housing authorities and professionals, mirror, and are subservient to, the ultimate goals and aspirations of Islam. Regardless of what might be the net result of this approach of Muslims to housing, their houses are entitled to be rightly called and held as "Islamic" as they duly adhere to the few, but fundamentally pertinent, requirements of Islamic housing. It does not matter in Islamic housing how houses look like, if their appearances are not linked to, and are not inspired by, the force of the unification of Islam and the fluctuating space and time factors. Moreover, in Islam, it does not matter how houses look like, if their appearances are not due to some creative initiatives which have been stirred by the unification of the spiritual and material kingdoms of existence, by the unification of the heavens and the earth. A housing style that does not honor the tenets and values of Islam cannot be called "Islamic". In the same vein, a housing style that betrays the demands of its indigenous climate, environment, traditions, technology and economy cannot be called "Islamic" either.

It follows that concerning housing, the only thing that Islam wants from Muslims is that they entertain no compromise with regard to the subject of ardent following in pure religious matters, which too constitute the essence and character of Islamic housing, but at the same time that they completely shun imitation and that they become the greatest advocates of innovation and creativity while trying to overcome their housing problems and challenges. Since its inception, Islam declared a war against ignorance, mediocrity and blind following. Since its inception, too, Islam became the greatest proponent of knowledge, reason, ingenuity, initiative and excellence. For Muslims to turn away from the inspiration and guidance of Islam in their housing will be a serious crime against their religion, history, culture and their very selves. For Muslims, furthermore, to blindly follow and import other people's housing solutions will also be a serious crime against the very spirit of Islam, as well as against the innate disposition of life and the human consciousness. In other words, Islam insists that Muslims be devout, righteous and ethical. It also insists, as a condition for securing the benefits of the former, that Muslims be open-minded, sensible, proactive, productive and imaginative.
Islam did not instruct Muslims how to plan and build houses, but it did instruct them how to carry out a number of tasks directly or indirectly associated with the house and housing. Some of such tasks are: privacy protection against the outside world, among the family members, and between the family members and visitors, respect for the rights of guests and visitors, respect for the rights of neighbours, the relationship between men and women, the implications of carrying out religious obligations, hygiene, peaceful coexistence with the natural environment, safety, security, recreation, modesty, Islam's aim to preserve the life, religion, mental and psychological strength, descendants and wealth of its people.

The net result of this strategy is that there are - and there should always be -- many types of the Islamic house, such as those in the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, Turkey, Iran, the Islamic West (al-maghrib al-Islami), South-East Asia, etc., but the soul and fundamental nature of all those housing types will always be the same and will be easily recognizable by those familiar with the character of Islam and the character of its civilization. What those different-yet-same, or same-yet-different, houses represent are, in fact, people's solutions to the challenges posed by their living of their family lives in line with their religious guidelines while, at the same time, complying with the requirements of physical and cultural contexts in which they live. While creating Islamic architecture, Muslims betray neither their religion nor their living conditions.

Eventually, most of what became to be known as the language of Islamic residential architecture, such as the inner courtyard, partly or fully screened windows, raising windows above the eye level, bent entrances, parapets, or protective walls, along the edges of balconies and open roofs, double circulation inside houses: one for men and the other one for women, or one for the family members and the other one for guests and visitors, inward looking designs, guest rooms near main entrances and away from houses' core, gradual and held back progression from the outside to the inside, certain decorative systems and styles, arcades, arches, porticos, recesses or niches, etc. -- such must be seen as sets of best solutions that people have evolved for themselves. They are to be seen as no more than that. Such structural solutions must not be seen as the prescribed language of Islamic residential architecture that cannot be revised, enriched, improved, altered and even abandoned, to a certain extent or completely, if necessary and in favour of some other equally or more viable solutions presented by advances made by science and technology, and generally by the implications of people's living conditions. Likewise, such structural solutions are not to be held as religious symbols with some ontological significance.

Muslims must keep in mind that their Islamic houses are to be alive, pulsating, and serviceable. Their houses are to comfortably suit and fit them as their users just as a perfect dress comfortably fits a body. About this, Ibn Qutayba, a Muslim scholar of the 9thHijrah century, compared the house -- as quoted by Afif Bahnassi -- to a shirt, saying that just as the shirt should fit its owner, the house too should suit its dwellers.2 Every ingredient in an Islamic house is functional and serves a noble purpose, on its own or along with some other ingredients. An Islamic house contains no elements that are meaningless and lifeless, or that are unessential to its widest spectrum of functions and serviceability. An Islamic house does not function like a museum or a monument which only sporadically springs into life. An Islamic house is pleasant, friendly, warm, welcoming, relaxing and exciting. In short, an Islamic house is Islam manifested. Within and without its realm, it exudes the power and beauty of an Islamic lifestyle, promulgating its spiritual appropriateness and worth. At the outset, Muslims conceive and shape their houses and then they tend to influence and "shape" them and their attitudes. This is in line with a statement made by Winston Churchill on human built environment: "We shape our buildings (built environment) and afterwards they shape us."3 Finally, neither formalism nor literal symbolism has a place in Islamic housing.

Creating Islamic housing is anything but an easy and simple task. Muslim housing professionals must come to terms with the enormity of the task that awaits them. The good news, however, is that in no way can they fail in their undertakings as long as they remain sincere, try their best and stay the course while attempting to remedy the current Muslim housing ailments. This is an assurance from Allah to every servant of His who dedicates his or her life to the service of Allah and to the service of Islamic society. This is so because in Islam human deeds are judged by their intentions (niyyah), because Allah appreciates human efforts, which are under people's very jurisdiction, rather than the outcomes, which, more often than not, are beyond the jurisdiction of people, and finally because of the unique Islamic concept of ijtihad according to which if a person, while forming diligently independent opinions or judgments about matters on which divine texts are silent using as a platform the framework of available texts, gets things right he will receive two rewards, but if he for whatever reasons gets things wrong he will still get one reward for his sincere intention and dedicated efforts.

Certainly, there are no better incentives for Muslim housing professionals to get down to the project of reviving the phenomenon of Islamic housing than the above-mentioned Islamic precepts. There are no alternatives that can yield better results and benefits to them, in this world as well as in the Hereafter. If truth be told, at the present when the signs of a Muslim cultural and civilizational re-awakening are becoming increasingly evident, reviving Islamic housing becomes so vital. It becomes a sheer necessity. Nothing else could be an adequate alternative or a surrogate. Hence, the best contributions of Muslim housing professionals to the ongoing Muslim regeneration will be their contributions to the revival of Islamic housing. Such contributions will be on a par with any other colossal contribution in terms of its value, impact and general appreciation and approval. Finally, it goes without saying that deliberately failing to do their part, yet lead the way, in revitalizing and restoring Islamic housing exposes Muslim housing professionals to a serious peril. The peril will be on a par with any other colossal peril due to which the cultural and civilizational apathy and stupor of Muslims only exacerbated and lengthened. Reviving Islamic housing warrants great rewards. Ignoring, and thus aggravating it, warrants some serious and unwelcome repercussions for all the responsible parties.

About the state of the majority of Muslim architects and planners today, Cliff Moughtin and Tarik Shalaby in their paper "New approach to housing design in Muslim cities" said: "The planner and architect in the Muslim world seem to have rejected the discipline of their culture, unaware of the fact that each community has its specific social and cultural roots. Instead they adopted alien ideas which are unsympathetic to the tradition of the people they serve (i.e., Muslims). The "good" housing solution is the one that fully expresses the preferences, aspirations and psychological needs of the group for whom it is meant. It has nothing to do with the clever application of principles deduced from an abstract theory of architecture."4


From Oblivion to Eternity

"Sister Sumaiyya has passed away today. She recently reverted to Islam. As all relatives of the deceased are non-Muslims, you are requested to attend the funeral at 5.30 pm." "To Allah we belong and to Him is our return." August 1, 2011, 4.28 pm.

I received the above message on my cell phone while working in my office. I was just wondering who the sister could be, when I received a phone call saying that her husband was not allowing her body for burial. Later her husband finally agreed to hand over the body for the funeral.

When I reached the funeral site, I realized that there were no relatives of the deceased around. A group of female volunteers had shrouded the late sister. The funeral prayers were attended by a large number of people. Somebody called her son to join the funeral who came to participate in the ceremony. I offered my heartfelt condolences to her son. Her last journey had been in the month of holy Ramadan. He said my mother must be in paradise.

My curiosity to learn about this lady was piqued and this is what I discovered.

Here is the soul stirring story of Reena Manwani (name changed to protect identity). 52 years old Sister Reena belonged to a wealthy family and had all the luxuries of life at her disposal. Over a period she had developed various diseases like diabetes, asthma, and kidney trouble. She was undergoing treatment with Dr. Ayesha Shaikh (name changed to protect identity).

In March 2010, Reena felt ill and visited Dr Ayesha at her clinic. On examination, the doctor suspected Sister Reena may be suffering from swine flu and sent her for an H1N1 test. Sister Reena tested positive for swine flu and was quarantined along with other patients at a government hospital. There were around 8 -10 swine flu patients along with her. More than 50 people from the city had already lost their lives due to swine flu. One by one all the swine flu patients in the H1N1 ward died except Sister Reena. She recovered completely from swine flu and started leading a normal life again.

When asked how she survived from the dreadful disease, Sister Reena remarked that she had been saved by Dr. Ayesha's 'Bhagwan' (God/deity), as Dr. Ayesha prayed for every patient visiting her clinic.

In June 2010, Sister Reena came down to Dr. Ayesha's clinic to express gratitude and told her how she knew she had survived because of her 'Bhagwan' (God in Hindi). Reena wanted to know more about this' Bhagwan'.

The doctor explained the concept of monotheism in Islam, that there is one and only one God (Allah) who has created everything. He has ordained for humanity a very simple and straight path which is Islam. She explained how people have carved various shapes of idols and associated numerous partners with God. Allah's divinity is exclusive and all-powerful and he is not dependent on any other entity or human form to complete Him.

God has saved your life. You are His chosen one. Now it is your test whether you recognize Him. This was the turning point in the life of Sister Reena. Sister Reena was so impressed by the concept of monotheism that the Holy Ka'aba of Makkah began appearing in her dreams. She came to Dr. Ayesha to know whether she could visit Makkah and Medinah. Dr Ayesha replied, "Yes. Provided you accept the faith."  To know more about Allah (SWT), Sister Reena was given a copy of Hindi translation of Holy Qur'an and other books. Thus began the holy journey of the sister from darkness to light.

In July 2010, Sister Reena came back to the doctor and said she had studied the books and decided to accept Islam. She pronounced Shahadah (the proclamation of faith) in the clinic and entered in the fold of Islam. She changed her name to Sumaiyya, a name she found in the internet.

Sister Sumaiyya's world had changed. She wanted to keep her faith confidential. But at the same time she had a sense of urgency; "I have very little time. I want to learn how to practice Islam in the best way."

On Sister Sumaiyya's request she was provided with female teachers who taught her the ways of worshipping and took care that her faith was not revealed to anybody.

After a while, she started covering herself fully in accordance with the Islamic way of modesty. She cherished the noble and pure teachings of Islam. People who visited her said she was an extremely warm and cheerful person, very eager to learn and practice her new faith. When asked about her previous life, she would confidently respond, forget about my past, now that I have found the Right Path I am least bothered about my past. Simultaneously she was counseling her acquaintances to adopt her way of life. Sometime in December 2010, her family members began growing suspicious about her life style and started questioning her. Those were the testing times for her as she dealt with opposition and resistance from her family.

In spite of her illnesses and torments from her near ones, she never regretted her decision. She was the epitome of steadfastness and stood her ground. As the frequency of her dialyses increased, she wanted to make a will, proclaiming that she was a practicing Muslim and in case of her demise she should be buried in a Muslim cemetery. In July 2011, an affidavit was made as per her will witnessed by her only son and nephew.

On August 1st, 2011, when Ramadan had dawned in some parts of the world, Sister Sumaiyya departed from this temporary abode to meet her 'Real Bhagwan', who had transformed her life from oblivion to eternity.

"O (thou) soul, in (complete) rest and satisfaction! Come back thou to thy Lord well-pleased (thyself), and well-pleasing unto Him! Enter thou, then, among my Devotees!. Yea, enter thou my Heaven!" (Qur'an Chapter 89 verses 27-30)

As I reflect on her case, I wonder how many more Sumaiyya's may be in the waiting to be told of the Creator's message.

Roller Coaster Hijab Clash

What happened in Rye, NY, is an issue that should be reviewed by Muslims and their organizations. Thirteen people were arrested, two rangers were injured and several people were beaten or received bruises in a police action. There were so many police units involved in the incident that no one knew exactly who did what. The event took place at the Playland Amusement Park. The visitors were mainly Muslims who were celebrating the end of Ramadan festival of Eid ul Fitr. The visit to the park was arranged by the Muslim American Society (MAS) of New York.

Most of the Muslims at the park were from community groups in Westchester and New York City as part of a daylong event arranged by the Muslim American Society of New York. The trouble began after women wearing traditional hijabs, or head scarves, were told they could not wear them on certain rides. In response to the Muslims protesting the policy the police were called. Police in at least 60 vehicles from at least nine agencies converged on the park. It is reported that some of the officials uttered racial remarks, others resorted to using their batons against individuals.

According to the Park officials, the MAS leaders were told about the head scarves ban. Visitors say that MAS did not inform them of this rule. They learned about the rule only when they arrived at the park.

Muslims need to hold themselves to the highest level of behavior and responsibility.
The Park officials see it as a safety and policy matter and some community members see it as discrimination against their religious practice and use of excessive force by the police.

MAS, Police and Park officials, all have a lot of questions to answer.

MAS: Did they inform the park visitors of the head scarf policies of the Park? Were they aware of these policies? Where were the MAS organizers when the scuffle began? Why were people allowed to take matters in their hands without any involvement of the MAS leadership?

Police: Did they use excessive force to control the situation? Did any of their officials make any racial remarks? Did the police try to speak with the leaders of the Muslim organizing group to resolve the issue amiably?

Park officials: Did they clarify their policies about the headscarf and if the organizers had agreed to that policy and understood it clearly? Did the park employees try to talk to any of the MAS organizers to explain the policy to the park visitors?

Regardless of the responses, even if there was discrimination on behalf of the park, if any of the Muslim visitors contributed to the disorder, it is a shame. Muslims need to hold themselves to the highest level of behavior and responsibility. The Quran says "YOU ARE indeed the best community that has ever been brought forth for [the good of] humankind: you enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and you believe in God..." (3:110)

On the other hand if it is shown that the police used indiscriminate force then civil liberty organizations should demand corrective action. If police or park officials used any racial remarks they should be held accountable.

This event gives us an opportunity to question the relevance of such programs by Muslim organizations in these trying times for Muslims all over the world as well as for Muslims in the US. Do these functions really bring people of different ethnic groups together? Do these events really create Islamic spirit among people? Should Islamic organizations cater to the recreational and entertainment of the Muslim community?

For the last 10 years, it has become a trend among Muslim organizations to organize picnics, social functions or trips to fun places. In these programs, millions of dollars are spent and human resources equivalent to several hundred hours are put to organize events. However painful it may sound, Muslim organizations have realized that in their serious programs, not many Muslims participate. However, whenever they organize picnics or fun events, large number of people show up. They have also realized that whenever they organize events where food is being served freely, large number of people turn up and where the event is ticketed, the number of people is not that large. It is that harsh reality that has driven many organizations to arrange picnics and fun trips on a regular basis.

Muslims in this country and all over the world are going through one of the most challenging times in their recent history. There are skeletons of starving children in Somalia. There are bones and blood scattered in the streets of Pakistan. There is death and destruction in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Palestine. There are millions of laborers deprived of their basic human rights in places like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Gulf countries and there are sectarian and ethnic violence rampant in several places all over the world. In the US, there is an organized and systematic movement against Islam that is funded and supported by those who want to see Islam removed from the land.

It is at these times that our organizations are spending their resources on planning "fun" events. Can this be justified? Many people might argue that fun is also part of life and why should we let the sufferings around the world impact our sense of joy. If this is the case, then let us remove from our Islamic literature all the references to Prophetic statements that we are like the teeth of a comb or we are like one body, if one part is hurt, the entire body suffers, etc ... etc.

Can our organizations develop and plan events that will make our people conscious of the pains and suffering of humanity and ask them to work to help the voiceless and the powerless achieve self dignity? Can we demonstrate tolerance and perseverance in situations where we feel that wrong has been done to us? Must we always remain in a state of protest? Can we turn the indifference or hostility of others into kindness through our behavior and actions? Can we restraint our anger in unfavorable conditions? The answer of the Quran is simple: Yes we can. But we have to do change our attitude and behavior to live the Quranic answer.

Dr. Aslam Abdullah is editor in chief of the weekly Muslim Observer and director of the Islamic Society of Nevada.