Category Archives: Islam

The etiquette of correcting others

I overheard the following conversation at our workplace:

Woman 1: I think I need a cleaning lady in the house.
Woman 2: If I have extra money I will definitely call a cleaning service.
Woman 1: I shouldn’t have said cleaning lady, it is probably sexist. I should have said cleaning service.

You have to admit how intelligent both women are. I am fortunate to be working in such an open minded environment.

This story reminds me of Prophet Muhammad’s grandsons, Al-Hassan and Al-Hussain. While both were performing Wudu’ they noticed an old man performing Wudu’ incorrectly. Because of their young age they thought it might be insulting to the old man to be corrected in public and may be out of respect to older people. They went to the old man and said, “My brother and I disagree over who amongst us performs wudu’ the best. Would you mind watching us make wudu’ and be the judge to see which one of us indeed performs wudu’ more correctly? Could you please correct us wherever we are wrong?” The man watched carefully trying to judge who is better. In the end he understood what was going on and said “By Allah, I did not know how to perform wudu’ before this. You have both taught me how to do it correctly.”

Knowledge is power. We should use this power for good. If we find someone wrong there is always a good way to correct this person. Insulting is not one of them. We are not supposed to think alike. Can you imagine if we all do? There is a reason God created us this way. We are not robots. One can really learn more from the mistakes of others.

The future of Islam in Arabia I

Some would argue that the reason behind Europe’s “Dark Ages” is the ruling of the Church. Scientists were jailed and books were burned. Saying that the earth is not the center of the universe is considered heresy.

Some Europeans didn’t like this model of Christianity so they hoped one day to live in a new land where they can practice their religion the way they believe is right. Those Europeans were later known as Americans and their dream land is now known as the United States of America.

Ironically, Americans who didn’t like conservative Europe became, now, more conservative than their brothers and sisters in Europe. Americans are more Christians than Europeans even if their constitution says it is a secular country.

So, the question is how come people who stayed in a church ruling land became less Christians than the people who left the land of the Church?

The answer is simply because the more pressure you put on an object the faster it is going to explode. That is what happened in Europe. The new generation became rebellious against their parents’ old and strict religion.

So, what is the relation between Europe’s Dark Ages and the future of Islam?

In the past ten years, a new generation of Satellite Muslim Scholars has emerged. These scholars are known in the Arab world as the “Satellite Sheikhs” since they appear on Satellite TV channels rather than writing books or giving speeches in Mosques.

The first generation of Satellite Sheikhs were young men. Either have no beard or their beard is trimmed nicely. Their audience was also young. Mostly, university age or 20 something. Very quickly they became very popular and took the fame from the more traditional Muslim scholars. They were closer to the young generation, the topics they talked about were current and of concern to the young generation. These young Muslims got fed up hearing the same old stories again and gain and it was time for them to hear something new.

For the American readers think of the charming Joel Osteen wearing a suit and giving a Sunday lecture in a stadium instead of wearing the white robe in a church.

Joel Osteen (Born 1963)
Amr Khaled (Born 1967)

Traditional old and more conservative religious scholars fiercely criticized Amr Khaled’s (see photo) theology, claiming his preaching is wrong and it produces a generation of young people who lack the real knowledge of Islam. When more speakers like Amr Khaled became popular, the old and conservative scholars decided to enter the era of Satellite TV to preach the stray youngsters (who follow Amr Khaled and speakers alike as they claim) the true meaning of Islam.

At that time a fair game started between the old and the new generation of Scholars. Each has his own show. The audience chose whom to listen to. But as with any TV show, producers are after number of audience not after the quality of the show. So, the fair game unfortunately developed into a bitter war. Very respected Sheikhs started talking nonsense. Digging for the most awkward story or an unknown hadith or a new interpretation of the Quran. Why? Because we all know the more shocking story on TV means the more audience it generates. It is the Arabs’ version of reality shows. The louder and less classy get the more audience. Poor Charlie Rose. How many prefer to watch his show rather than Jerry Springer? For the majority of people, TV is for entertainment not for enlightenment. And this is exactly what is happening in Arabia.

So, who was behind the Arab Spring? The new generation of Scholars, the traditional ones or the old time never ending conspiracy theory (i.e., Israel and its big daddy, America)? And is the Arab Spring going to affect the future of Islam in the region??

To be continued…

Should worship places be protected by video surveillance?

Back in August 2012, the only mosque in Joplin, MO was burned to the ground. It was the second attempt within a month. After that incident, the Muslim community here was afraid something bad would happen to our mosque as well. So, the Mosque’s management bought $5,000 high quality cameras for security.

Since September 11 many Mosques experienced some sort of vandalism. Unfortunately, there were even some cases in which residents of some small cities refused to give permission to build a mosque.
Although haters in any religion are always minorities their effect is very devastating.

Trust and Customer Service in America

Unlike America, trades in the Middle East do not involve fine prints chosen carefully by a group of lawyers. In the Middles East, a transaction between a merchant and a customer is so simple. Shops have only one policy. The shop’s policy is written in a large print and hanged up inside the shop in a place the customer can see it as soon as he enters the shop. Many business owners hang it up behind the cashier.

If you saw an American tourist at an Arab shop, especially a boutique, pulling her hair out you should know it is because she can read Arabic and that she read the large printed sign.

The one simple policy is “Goods sold will not be replaced or returned.” Meaning, once you paid for an item you can’t have a second thought. You should be 100% sure that the dress fits you perfectly and you like the color and everything else about the dress. This is customer service in the Middle East in a nutshell. Very simple and clear!

In the US, customer service has a whole different meaning. Its entire economic success is due to almost a perfect customer service. Unfortunately, customer service here is deteriorating due to outsourcing and to foreigners exploiting this new culture of customer service experience.

Many big companies, moved their customer service to India. One major problem is the language. Many of the reps answering the phones overseas don’t have good communication and English language skills. A friend who worked as a customer service rep in India, before coming to the States, told me that his American company employer had daily screening of the American sitcom Friends.  The company wanted their customer service reps to practice English and also learn about the American culture as well and they were forced to speak English only as long as they are inside the building.

Two days ago I was on the phone with a customer service rep. The young guy on the other side of the world wasn’t from India but from some other Asian country. His English was so bad and I am very good at interpreting broken English. I am very sure if an American made that call he would have never stayed on the phone beyond the first sentence. The culprit company is Simple Mobile. Unfortunately, they decided to move their customer service to even a cheaper place than India.

The other reason customer service is not as good as it used to be is because foreigners from South America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe countries, are not used to such customer service luxury. Sadly, some of these people made an unlawful profit, or exploited or misused this great service. Here is how:

  • Stealing: Someone would enter Walmart pick up a TV go to customer service and tell them he wants to return it back. Yes, back then you can even return an expensive item without a receipt.
  • Exploitation: Someone moves to a new house and finds out he needs to use a drill to hang up some frames. He goes to Walmart buys  one and returns it back once done.
  • Misuse: We have an Arab proverb that says “If your lover is made out of honey, don’t lick it all.” Meaning, if someone is very kind to you, don’t take advantage of the situation. Some people think because they can return goods they should do it all the time.

I am not saying that only foreigners do this but they take advantage of it more than locals who worked very hard to establish this amazing customer service. Because of the above three examples, customer service is not as used to be in the US and also is different from one city to another. I heard that in big cities like Houston for example their customer service and returning goods is not as easy and good as here in Columbia, MO.

In general, there is no difficulty in returning purchased items here. In some cases, you can even return goods without having a receipt.

Now, here is a story that will blow your mind, if you are an Arab. It happened to me and it definitely was quite an experience:

One week after returning from Walmart, I found out that I was missing a couple of things I bought.  I think I have forgotten to put one of the plastic bags in the shopping cart after being registered by the cashier. I know exactly what I had in the bag because that day I only bought few items including two duct tapes I went especially to buy.

Anyway, about a week after this purchase I decided I want to use the duct tapes so I went to Walmart to buy new ones. When I entered Walmart I thought maybe first I can ask the customer service to check if they have my bag by any chance. Here is our conversation:

The customer service lady, lets call her Kim: How may I help you?
Me: Hi, I was here about a week ago and it seems that I forgot to pick up one of the bags at the cashier. Is it possible that you may have it?
Kim: Do you remember when was that?
Me: Not very sure. More than a week ago.
Kim: Do you know what is in the bag? [Meanwhile, she opened a huge notebook]
Me: Two duct tapes, hand lotion, … [I mentioned few other small items that I forgot now what they were]
Kim [looking into the notebook and turning over pages]: mmm… I am afraid I can’t find it.
[I didn’t know Walmart keeps a record of uncollected bags.]
Me [preparing to leave while smiling]: Okay, no problem. I just thought to give it a try.
Kim: Tell you what go get these items and I will bag them for you.
Me: Oh, are you  sure? I don’t have the receipt!
Kim:  That is fine!

I went to get the same stuffs I bought thinking what made her “trust” me that I am not going to throw a couple more things in the basket or buy the more expensive brand instead of the more affordable ones I usually buy. I was happy I asked but was more moved by such great customer service which after all depends mainly on an important human trait called trust.

Later, during pondering of this experience I remembered what the Egyptian Muslim Scholar Muhammad Abduh said more than 100 years ago when he visited France and England, “I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam.”

Sadly, at some period of time -not sure when- something happened that changed Muslims. I am struggling to understand the reason behind this change. I don’t know how many authentic Hadiths are there but there are as many, more or less, Hadiths about Muslim’s relationship with Allah as there are about his relationship with others. Sometime ago, Muslims abandoned the quite many and sufficient Hadiths about ethics, manners, morality, behavior and what not and concentrated more on Muslims’ relationship with Allah.

The same Muslims who know by heart the virtues of fasting on the day of Arafa (Islamic holy day) are the same who speak ill of others. Our relationship with each other is as important as our relationship with Allah. This dual relationship between a slave and his Master and between a slave  and another is one entity.

Here is a recent TED talk about the importance of trust in successful businesses:

Al-Kindi and Deciphering Messages

Egyptians used encryption as a way to communicate messages in obscure form. Julies Caesar wrote his strategic letters in cipher, that is, by so changing the order of the letters of the alphabet. He replaced every letter with the fourth letter; A becomes D, Z becomes C and so on.

A very smart way to send a concealed message is to to shave the head of the messenger, wait till his hair grows back again and send him to the recipient. I am not sure who used this technique but I it is definitely very intelligent.

A very common way to decipher messages is known as frequency analysis:

One way to solve an encrypted message, if we know its language, is to find a different plaintext of the same language long enough to fill one sheet or so, and then we count the occurrences of each letter. We call the most frequently occurring letter the ‘first’, the next most occurring letter the ‘second’ the following most occurring letter the ‘third’, and so on, until we account for all the different letters in the plaintext sample. Then we look at the cipher text we want to solve and we also classify its symbols. We find the most occurring symbol and change it to the form of the ‘first’ letter of the plaintext sample, the next most common symbol is changed to the form of the ‘second’ letter, and the following most common symbol is changed to the form of the ‘third’ letter, and so on, until we account for all symbols of the cryptogram we want to solve [source].

The first known recorded explanation of frequency analysis (indeed, of any kind of cryptanalysis) was given in the 9th century by Al-Kindi, an Arab polymath, in A Manuscript on Deciphering Cryptographic Messages. It has been suggested that close textual study of the Qur’an first brought to light that Arabic has a characteristic letter frequency. Its use spread, and similar systems were widely used in European states by the time of the Renaissance [source].

I can’t find an answer of how a nation that used to be pioneer in science is now tailing behind every other nation in a dramatic way. Europe was a pioneer in science before WWI and WWII and they managed to get back on track after the war. Japan as well after the atomic bomb they stood up  even better than they used to.

The question is why Arabs still performing extremely bad in science? I know it is not the case when it comes to individuals because Arab scientists and researchers are doing great in Europe and the United States. We have the money and we have the brains but, unfortunately, we fail in leadership. Without good leadership we can’t build a successful organization or nation.

 

“Insha’Allah” is not an excuse to break your promise

Insha’Allah is a conditional Arabic statement that consists of three words:

  • إن: If
  • شاء: Wills
  • الله: Allah

Therefore, Insh’Allah means “if Allah wills.” In Wikipedia, I found the following quote which seems very close to the Arabic meaning: ‘If it is the Lord’s will’” (James 4:13-15 NIV).

Muslims believe that any thing to happen in the future is destined only by Allah’s will. So, it became a habit for us to say Insha’Allah whenever we are talking about something to happen in the future.

And never say of anything, “Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,” Except [when adding], “If Allah wills.”

[Surat Al-Kahf (The Cave) , 23-24]

Some usage of the term are:

  • Insha’Allah, I will see you tomorrow.
  • Insha’Allah, you will pass your exam.
  • Insha’Allah, you will feel better soon.
  • Insha’Allah, peace is going to be restored once again in the the Middle East.

Unfortunately, because some Muslims either don’t fully understand the meaning of Insha’Allah or they are misusing it many non-Muslims are confused of it’s usage and I fully understand their confusion.

The main reason for the confusion is how different cultures value time. Many Muslim cultures have no sense of time. For such cultures, the day is not categorized into 24 hours but to day and night only. For example, an American living in Jordan may tell someone, “Let us meet tomorrow at noon.” The Jordanian guy may answer, Insh’Allah. When the Jordanian shows up couple of hours late and when the same incident repeats again and again with every Jordanian the American guy meet he will think that Insh’Allah is an excuse for Jordanians to be late.

A non-Muslim Malaysian once told me that when a Muslim say Insha’Allah for a scheduled meeting and not show up the Muslim thinks he should not be blamed because God intended him to be late.

My friend’s American-born daughters have very interesting understanding of the term “Insh’Allah.” Whenever they ask their father for something and he answers “Insh’Allah” they insist he says “yes” instead. They understood that Insh’Allah means I may do the thing I promised or I may not.

Muslims should say Insh’Allah when talking about doing something in the future. But they should take full responsibility of keeping their promises. If you are not sure you will meet someone on time say Insha’Allah but I will be late. If you know it is not possible to take your children to a summer vacation don’t just say Insh’Allah and stop. You have to be honest whether you will take them or not. Don’t blame Allah for being late!

When someone answers me with just Insh’Allah I correct them to say “Insh’Allah, I will do it.” Muslims need to learn and teach their children that when we say Insh’Allah we have the full intention to keep our promise. Of course, there might be some circumstances that prevent us from keeping our promise but the time when we say Insh’Allah we should be sure that we will do what we said we will do. When we use the name of God it should be with complete openness and honesty.

Do you know how to treat a Muslim to Pizza?

Last week, my new American adviser ordered Pizza for his students during our meeting with a new faculty candidate. He told me that he ordered vegetarian and turkey pizza in addition to the common pepperoni pizza that Americans love. Although he knows me for couple of months only and without asking me he figured out that I don’t eat pork.

On another occasion, while with some graduate students at a restaurant an Asian student who I have worked with for six years acted surprised that I don’t drink alcohol, mind you we have been out many times and we discussed this matter many, many times.

I don’t assume people to know that because I am a Muslim I don’t eat pork and don’t drink alcohol. I actually like it when people ask me about my religion or culture. It tells me that they want to know something about my culture, religion or my background. But I find it strange that some people don’t put effort to learn about other people’s common culture habits no matter how many times they were exposed to that particular culture.

Some people, especially those who have travelled a lot, have a high Cultural Intelligence. From the above two examples you can easily figure out who has a high cultural intelligence and who doesn’t. Cultural intelligence is a learning process and hence we are not assumed to have a high cultural intelligence. But ignoring to advance our cultural intelligence rate is called Cultural ignorance or Cultural Intolerance depending on the reason for not caring to learn about other cultures.

Cultural differences between different nationalities or races are so extreme it can range from minor unharmful custom like smiling to strangers as Americans do or heterosexual men walking hand in hand like Arabs do to braking the law or even putting oneself in danger like I did.

In my first year in the U.S., I once was shopping at Walmart (mega shopping center) very late at night when I noticed a group of teenagers, three boys and one girl, whispering and trying to approach me as if they want to talk to me. I stopped just to confirm my hunch. Three of them stepped away a little bit and one [brave] boy came closer to me with a $20 bill in his hand. He said “Sir, can you please buy us beer?” I of course replied “Sorry, I can’t.” I then heard the girl shouting at him “You can’t just ask a stranger.” Although, there is only one reason that made me say “no”, which is because it is against my religion to drink, buy or sell alcohol, I felt it is wrong because those kids were really young, not even 16 or 17. Also, thanks to my addiction to American sitcoms I know a lot about American culture even before I came to the U.S. I know that serving or buying alcohol to minors is illegal (21 is the legal drinking age in the U.S.).

Next, I am going to share a story that was the stupidest thing I have done because I acted out of kindness. My cultural intelligence at that time was definitely ZERO.

to be continued…

The problem with Eltahawy’s argument

A good Muslim is the one who is moderate in his belief and practice. I do agree with this statement. Moderation is actually a key teaching in Islam. But the definition of moderate is different according to Americans and Europeans. A Moderate Muslim is one whose ideology and practice are agreeable to the American and European societies.

For example, Muslim women not wearing hijab and out spoken about how Muslim men are using their women as slaves are considered moderate Muslims. Mona Eltahawy, Ayaan Hirsi Al and Irshad Manji are best examples of how a moderate Muslims should be. The west takes them for granted as how Muslim women should be and urge all Muslim women to take them as role models. According to many Westerners, it is a FACT that Muslim men are selfish, abusing, polygamists, and wives beating. Hence, Muslim women should rebel against their masters.

One good thing about Eltahawy’s article is that many women, Muslims and non-Muslims, even Muslim feminists didn’t accept her argument that Muslim men hate women. There were huge numbers of articles against her argument. For anyone who has the slightest knowledge in conducting research can easily falsify her argument. Eltahawy’s based her article on listing some examples of how Muslim men treat women. Don’t you think we can list some bad examples from any culture and conclude with a result that will support our claim? But of course the western media is not interested in such article unless it is about Muslim weirdos. Since 1975 number of abortion operations in the U.S. never falls under 1 million. The total number of abortions performed in the U.S. since 1973 equals 54,559,615 [source]. Did all Americans participate in terminating the lives of 54 million fetuses? Did all Americans support the killing of 1 million fetuses every year? I always say that every culture has its good and bad practices. To generalize about the entire culture is very condescending and simplistic way of thinking.

While thousands of brave Arab men been savagely killed, jailed, and tortured to secure a better life to their families -ironically this includes mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and female relatives- during this current “Arab Revolution”, Eltahawy chose to climb to the top of the media ladder and secure fame in Western media. She took advantage of an old Western cliché that Muslim men abuse their women and built her argument on that. I believe her article would harms and damages any support Arabs would receive from Americans and Europeans to seek freedom from tyrant regimes. She offered a Carte Blanche to the West to not support any change in the Arab world fearing of monsters taking control of the country.

On behalf of Arab husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers who work very hard to make sure that they can put food on their families table out of LOVE for their wives, daughters, mothers and sisters I say you are wrong Mona Eltahawy and those women who celebrated your article. I would like to ask those women to be fair and answer why millions of Arab men cross the borders far away from their homes? And why thousands of North African men put their lives at risk crossing the Mediterranean Sea on small boats?

Although there are many bad practices by Muslim men but Eltahawy’s article was a cheap way to take advantage of abused Muslim women instead of helping their cause. I don’t think trashing a culture and religion, like Eltahawy’s did, is meant to be a positive criticism rather it was a way to secure many columns in Western newspapers and magazines.

What is your price?

Today, many Americans waited in long queues hoping to be 1 out of 175 million to win the $640 million mega lottery prize. The prize money is so big it made me ponder. In movies, the bad guy sometimes asks the good guy “what is your price?” This typical statement indicates that every man has a price that will make him deviate from whatever he stands for.

In Islam, lottery is considered one form of gambling and therefore it is haram (unlawful). As far as I know, without exceptions, all Muslim scholars agreed that gambling is a sin regardless of the way it is executed.

If no one wins Friday night, the jackpot will grow to $975 million. Lottery officials are considering moving the next drawing after Friday to Times Square in New York City as the anticipation and jackpot build, DeFrancisco said.

It is very easy for us to keep away from something when we don’t like it. For example, eating pork in Islam is haram and since Muslims grow up not eating pork meat it is very easy for them to not crave it. So, I don’t think Muslims struggle by not eating pork meat. There are Muslims though who drink alcohol and refuse to eat pork. They claim they don’t eat pork because it is haram but they can’t answer why they drink alcohol although drinking is a bigger sin than eating pork. My answer is because not eating pork is much easier thing to do than not drinking alcohol. There are many such examples. My idea is that we very often follow our religion’s command when it is easy to do or falls under our habits, cultures or traditions.

Now, going back to the $640 million lottery. How about buying a lottery ticket for a chance to win $600 million? I am sure many Muslims including myself will say “NEVER.” But let us make it a more challenging thing to test our belief, integrity, honesty or whatever makes us good followers of the religion*. What if the chance of winning the lottery is not 1 in 175 million but is 1 in 2. Assume no one won the lottery and only two tickets left. You got a chance to buy one ticket. You know for sure that one of the two tickets will make you $600 million richer. Would you buy this $1 ticket?**

If you answered no then you are not honest. Unless we are in the same situation we can’t answer this question. If you are a religious person you would hope to still say no and not disobey God no matter what but you don’t know yourself unless you are in the same situation. I don’t know whether every man has a price or not but I think our values are not unbreakable as we love to believe.

* Do you know of other religion, beside Islam, that considers gambling or lottery to be a sin?

** This question is for people who don’t buy lottery tickets because of their religion.