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The Power of the Halaqah in the West

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Reflections on the enormous contributions to Islamic thought and on popular programs for social and religious changes bring into focus an important component of the dynamic activism of Islam. That component is the halaqah-a group of Muslims coming together to learn about Islamic values, internalize them, teach them to family members and other close ones, and then strive to articulate them at levels of community and government. This Dawah imperative is important in all circumstances. However, in the West where distractions are abundant and where stereotypes and misconceptions are egregious, it is vital that the halaqah be made central to our activities and be appropriately structured to respond to these peculiar conditions.

It is a foregone conclusion that intellectual engagement will be inescapable in the process of confronting Islamophobia, “the fear of and hostility toward Muslims and Islam that is rooted in racism.” Intellectual engagement will be unavoidable also in the process of projecting the true image of Islam. This means that, in addition to the traditional subjects such as the Quran, the Hadith and the Seerah, studies of the dominant systems, as well as of disciplines upon which those systems are based, will have to be included in the curriculum. Liberalism, social science, and political science are important in this respect. However, important as all of these are, at the epicenter of the halaqah’s program will be the traditional subjects-the Quran, the Hadith, and Islamic studies.

The Transformative Power of the Quran and the Sunna

Nothing can “beat the Muslims into shape” like the Quran and the Sunna. History can easily testify to this. Before Islam, the Arabs were known for their barbarity. Bloodthirstiness, hunger for revenge, tribalism, female infanticide, racism, favoritism, brutal oppression, especially of slaves, and other forms of human injustices were the order of the day. While the Arabian society was marked by such despicability, in international affairs the Arabs existed in obscurity. Then came the Quran, and in a short period of time a whole new generation was created that now imbibed some of the most beautiful Quranic ideals.

 Justice, truth, fairness, patience, compassion and love, all intrinsic values of the Quran, now became dominant characteristics of the society. Moreover, this obscured people, now reshaped by the Quran and the examples of the Prophet, soon burst upon the surrounding lands that were ruled by tyrants, giving the oppressed the opportunity to hear the Quranic message and to learn about Islam. In a short period of time, a New World View came into being, one that allowed the people for the first time to feel truly free and dignified. The halaqah was the medium for both the transmission of these Quranic ideals and for the unprecedented shift in mindset that occurred.

The Halaqah Induces Critical Thinking

By its very nature, the halaqah is bound to create a shift in mindset (among participants). A shift in paradigm does not occur in a vacuum; rather it takes place against the backdrop of studies, interactions, discussions, observations and, above all, efforts at character building. The halaqah creates profound intellectual and moral changes -the ability to discern right from wrong, the moral conviction to adhere to the highest standards, the intellectual clarity to expose the flaws of the dominant systems that are responsible for racism and other social diseases, and the courage to show Islam as the only alternative to these destructive ways. These are, however, not without challenges.

 The hold that the dominant ideologies have on Western societies makes inherent flaws appear as progress and enlightenment. In some cases, these illusions are deeply entrenched in the psyche of the people. With this kind of orientation so embedded and with the influence of liberal ideologies, with variants that are anathematic to Muslims, so obliquitous, those committed to the mission of pivoting society towards a belief system that is based on morality, justice, and accountability to Allah will inevitably find their task difficult. The environment makes learning about Islam, applying, teaching, and propagating it, all of which constitute the purpose of the halaqah, difficult. However, with the Quran and the Seerah serving as the underpinnings of the halaqah, a new orientation emerges, one that sees personal sacrifices as the lynchpin for successful dawah in a skeptical environment.

Clarity of purpose, perseverance, fortitude and patience, all hallmarks of Muslim activists, are products of that orientation. Serving as the crucible of training, preparation, and development, the halaqah ensures the continuity of these qualities. That being the case, no sacrifices will be too difficult to make to deal with inevitable challenges such as verbal abuses and -increasingly-physical harms that frequently occur in the process of engaging with non-Muslims in our heightened environment. Many will be receptive, but many will not show good-will toward those engaged in inviting to Islam. This unpleasant reality has existed from the very inception of Islam.

The Futility of Opposing the Message of the Quran

Those who opposed the message when it was first proclaimed tried relentlessly to prevent it from being heard and practiced in public. But they never succeeded in stopping the tide of change unleashed by the message of the Quran. Through the knowledge gained from studying Islam in groups, the new Muslims exposed the flaws of their society and showed that only Islam could lead to the path of eternal peace, justice, and happiness. They were effective in this because of their strong conviction and because of their resolve to pattern themselves after the Prophet, described in the Quran as the best example for mankind.

As it was imperative in that era both to oppose and to transform society’s values and practices that did not accord with the ethos of the Quran, it is important now both to confront and to eliminate today’s social diseases, often disguised as progress and enlightenment, with a great sense of urgency. Otherwise, the dominant ideologies and belief systems that underpin ubiquitous injustices and wrong doings will continue to flourish. That is the focal point of the halaqah-to transform society through concretely articulating and spreading the message of the Quran and the Hadith. With the Quran and the Seerah as its curricular foundation, supported by other disciplines, the halaqah can be a powerful tool for change in the West.

Sports: Why Muslims Should Have No Ambivalence About Participating in It

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Talent, whether inborn or developed, is highly motivating. Those with a penchant for law, for example, are attracted to the gifted attorney-his or her oratory, style, compelling arguments and so on. Many who excel in sports, whether its basketball, hockey, baseball, or cricket, are elevated to the point where they become household names. Talented people, especially in the domain of sports, bring excitement and joy to hundreds of millions of people. They also exemplify certain values that Islam appreciates greatly. Foremost among them is physical fitness and strength, without which certain acts of ibadah will be difficult to fulfill. This, along with other factors, suggests that Muslims should not be nonchalant about sports but should rather take an active role in it.

Islam and Physical Wellbeing

Islam attributes great importance to the physical wellbeing of human beings. It will logically encourage the honing of any ability to achieve this. In this regard, sports -particularly competitive sports-occupies a position of unequalled merit. To compete is to place a high value on winning. This being the case, the body will have to be strong to withstand the physical rigors and demands the game entails. This is in keeping with the premium value Islam places on physical fitness. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “The strong believer is more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, although both are good.” While the meaning of this Hadith is not limited to the physical aspect of a believer, it places strong emphasis on being physically fit and healthy. In terms of sports, feebleness, which is not compatible with the world view of Islam, will not simply be frowned upon; it’s presence will have an exclusionary effect.  

Sports For All

This rule of exclusion cannot be circumvented except in limited circumstances. For example, many people with physical disability play competitive sports in contemporary times, albeit with modified rules that befit their circumstances. The fact that provisions are made for this demonstrates how much society has evolved in terms of appreciating the worth of all human beings from the point of view of sports and how far it is prepared to go to allow for an expression of that worth. This is an indication   that sports could be viewed as a conduit of emotional and physical wellbeing-that is, as conducive to mitigating stress and the feeling of low self-esteem. Arguably, this applies to all who play sports, not simply those with disabilities. And with all the demoralizing experiences Muslims suffer daily, sports can be a mechanism to boost the morale of millions of Muslim fans, especially in the televised context in which it is played and viewed.

Displaying Exemplary Behavior

In cricket, for instance, we have witnessed behaviors that would make us proud of being Muslims. Upon winning a series, for example, English players would celebrate in their traditional manner: pop the champagne bottle and then spray the contents upon themselves. The only exception to such impropriety would be the Muslim players on the team. They would excuse themselves from such indecorous celebrations by retreating to the back, virtually making themselves less noticable. For a practicing believer, sports does not get in the way of his values; he shows that he can be both a sportsman and a believer at the same time. This negates any notion one may have of any adversarial relationship between sports and Islam. Such conduct positively impacts not only Muslim fans; others too are moved by it. In this context, Australian Matthew Hayden, one of the two coaches of the Pakistan’s team, prominently comes to mind.

“Matthew Hayden in awe at how Pakistan cricket team’s whole culture is underpinned by Islam” was how the Hindu Post on November 8,2021 captioned Matthew Haden’s clip on the behavior of Pakistani cricketers. To put your religion on par with sports during a game, as is suggested here, underscores the fact that even sports, where emotions and sentiments run deep, cannot be a distraction for conscious Muslim sports men. Basketball is also replete with inspiring examples. One example will suffice here. Speaking about fasting in Ramadan while playing professional basketball, Portland Trail Blazers center Enes Kanter said, “It just feels amazing out there because I know that I’m doing something that I’m supposed to do, but at the same time, I am playing basketball.” Such fervency gives confidence to Muslims and may even leave an imprint on the top echelons of the game. Simply put, the mannerism and religious spirit displayed while playing sports can be pivotal in terms of changing perceptions of non-Muslims. Displaying exemplary behavior during a game, and earning a livelihood at the same time, seems to underpin the attitude of some Muslim sports people.

Muhammad Ali – the Advocate

Some have even become rich from the economic opportunities provided by sports and have used their wealth to ease human sufferings and to bring about a more equitable and humane world. An example par excellence is the late Muhammad Ali. “Muhammad Ali was a transformative humanitarian and peace advocate dedicated to improving people’s lives, reducing suffering, and recognizing human dignity.”  And some, in defiance of conventions, go so far as to use their prominent status in sports as a platform for speaking out against oppression and other forms of injustices. Again, the late Muhammad Ali comes into focus. “Throughout his life, Ali used his fame to shine a spotlight on suffering worldwide, to advocate for peace, and to amplify the voices of those unheard, particularly the youth.” This shows emphatically that the argument for Muslims participating in sports is not one dimensional- not only about talent and physical prowess coming into play. Today, fortunately, the multifaceted aspects of sports seem to have a galvanizing effect on Muslim organizations, including the masjids.

Sports and Youth

 Masjids have apparently taken notice of the salubrious effect of sports and seem to be giving sports an increasingly strategic position in their master plan. This is an apparent recognition that youths are naturally enamored of sports and that sports should be recognized as essential for physical development and strength. This trajectory seems also to consider the need for bringing about a different orientation among the youths – understanding that the masjid is the nucleus of our lives. Such an approach is undoubtedly an effective antidote to the many distractions facing our youths.

Again, it is not difficult to appreciate why Muslims should not be indifferent to sports. On the contrary, the efficacy of sports, in terms of the building a strong body and in the matter of setting great examples, constitutes a strong argument for fully endorsing it. Yes, Muslim communities should work diligently to inculcate their followers, especially the youths, with a love of sports.

Sheik Ayube

                                                                            References: 

  1. HinduPost Desk. (2021, November 8). Matthew Hayden in Awe at How Pakistan Cricket Team’s Whole Culture is Underpinned by Islam. Hindu Post. http://hindupost.in
  2. NBC.SPORTS.COM. (2021, April 13). Enes Kanter says fasting during Ramadan restores his ’superpowers’. www.nbcsports.com
  3. UL UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES. Muhammad Ali: A Transcendent Life: Humanitarian and Peace Advocate. https://library.louisville.edu