Letters to Dr. Abou El Fadl: An Apology 7.10.03

Salam Alaikum,

I want to start off by apologizing to you. I met you once in December 1997 at the Islamic Center of Southern California, it was an MPAC retreat or something similar I believe. I felt very uncomfortable at that center because of the blatantly unlawful "mixing" of men and women. I had been accustomed to and very comfortable with the fact that essentially women are a great "fitnah", similar to days as a 6 year old in elementary school when women (girls) were to be avoided because they had cooties. For some reason the former reason seemed mature and the latter childish. I heard a series of uncomfortable talks about Muslims needing to be a part of America and reexamine themselves bla bla bla, though I found them uncomfortable because they were given by people who weren't veiled, I listened because they were given by people who were similar to me and I just felt had been misguided by a place of great fitnah, as the Islamic Center of Southern California. You also gave a talk there and I felt an heir of superiority when I heard Maher Hathout introduce you as a graduate of Islamic Studies at Pennsylvania and Yale. Pennsylvania and Yale? Ah this man is no doubt a sell out to the West unable to maintain his Muslim identity, a grand part of the Zionist conspiracy to prevent Muslims from sticking to their "deen." I completely ignored you and felt a large lull of arrogance in me. This was an arrogance I deserved to have because I knew everything about Islam from the 20 or so lectures ranging from the all encompassing Hassan Al-Banna's 20 points to the halal meat controversy that I had listened to by engineers in our local Islamic Center here. It did not bother me that in Surat Al-Jathiya Allah says that Arrogance is only for Him or the warning of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that any one with a mustard seed of arrogance in their heart will not enter Jannah. It also did not bother me that I too was getting my education at a Western University and I too could be a sell out to the west. Naturally, this was because my education was in Computer Science and not in Islam and that CS was a science I could comfortably learn from the “Kuffar.” I unlike you however, would never resort to learning the deen from “them”. In essence, I was like the snobby 13 year old brat who harassed his siblings persistently, as you describe yourself as once being.

Anyways, back to my apology, when you came and spoke, I looked in your eyes and saw a man who was frustrated by the ignorance of those around him, of course from his own ignorance no doubt. I want to apologize for not giving you the respect that a human being should give another human being, much less one that is much more learned than he is.

I left that weekend and returned home where I continued reveling in the comfort of Zionist conspiracies and penetrating lectures about the "misguided" people who would wet toilet paper and then use it to clean themselves after defecating when Shari a clearly states the object must be either dry or water, followed by a sarcastic comment "Wet tissue paper is neither dry nor water it is ... pizza" audience "ha ha, oh Sheikh you are too funny." I laughing along with them. No doubt from then on I would be more careful about my defecation techniques lest I be amongst the misguided.

"Sheikh, what do you think of soccer and basketball and such things? The Prophet (PBUH) allowed us horseback riding, swimming, archery etc. But such new sports are obvioulsy 'Laghu' and in Surat Al-Muminoon it says 'wa latheen hum 3n illaghu mu3ridoon'" And then I would think to myself, oh he's an old man, Islam is for all times and places, other sports can be included to fit modern times. For you see, I was open minded. I am told Muslims can have differing opinions. For instance, some scholars allowed the Wudu' to be wiped on only leather socks while others (liberals) allowed for cotton as well, not withstanding the controversy of if there is a hole in the sock.

I listened to Sheikhs analyze the problems of American life by citing the two top problems Muslim youth were facing: An inability to articulate Quran with proper Tajweed, and lack of Hijab on the girls. I wasn't aware of it, (I basically caged myself in from reality) but most of these youth, whose “dawa” skills "sheikhs" were concerned about, were shooting up, drinking, and engaging in sexual maladies of different kinds. This is of course a problem that does not need to be dealt with except by reminding people it is haram. Muslims, do not have these problems because "Islam is the solution." And the Quran already solved these problems 1400 years ago. We can help, by making sure our mosques at least have a complete separation of the sexes and that Muslim children don't mingle between sexes. I wonder how they are supposed to meet that Muslim spouse of the future. It never occurs to anyone that perhaps by not offering healthy solutions to these natural tendencies, Muslim youth are either being driven to complete repression (the option I vied for), or to living dual lives. Parents of these kids may be surprised to find that their children would seek marriage from outside the community, though it should really not come as a surprise to them. Its strange, instead of Islam being the solution, we changed it to "Muslims are the problem"

We were taught that even having only Muslim friends is misconception, but to have only GOOD Muslim friends (someone with a PhD told me this). As of late I began noticing how immature Muslims were for closing doors on themselves from the outside world. Muslim kids put through Islamic school to help them "maintain an Islamic Identity" and hear the Adhan all day, graduated, and all went to the same public high school where they socialized with each other exclusively, and did not mature as such. I noticed 16 year old Muslim boys (mostly graduates of the Islamic School) playing freeze-tag in the parking lot of the Mosque, a proud site indeed, for their identities had been preserved?

Anyways, I also want to thank you because It was an excerpt from one of your books that a friend of mine read to me that I felt took a shield off of my head and allowed one of God's greatest gifts to function, my brain. Prior, Hassan Al-Banna, was the only person who could analyze problems in American Life. Muslim life in America is to be seen by this man who lived in Egypt 70 years ago. We are not to just take his moral insights and inspiration from his dedication, but we are to actually do the exact same things he did in a different society. Thus, I heard Sheikhs treading the “controversial” waters of Saint Worship and bizarre Sufi excesses, issues which of course have zero relevance to anyone they are being addressed to. We had been taught that anyone not holding up Al-Banna’s poster (or holding other posters besides) was a traitor to Islam. That excerpt from your book helped me make the distinction between criticizing Islam and what Muslims have done. Since then, I have valued the reading of books (written in the 20th century by people whose biggest issue is not the nature of halal meat or the amount of eye and forehead women can expose in public). I have read "Conference of the Books" and "The Authoritative and Authoritarian: Islamic Law and Women." I've also ordered your reader from the UCLA library and read most of the articles in it. I'm too anxious to wait for the publication of your "Reasoning with God Book" in the states so I've ordered it from amazon.co.uk in England. It should be arriving in the next couple of weeks. I have read other books by Fazlur Rahman, Esack, Armstrong, Lewis, Esposito, Hashmi, Ghazali, and others as well as some classical books. This is quite a shift from someone who loathed reading all through his life and whose mosque religious training had taught him to be scared of any books except the Quran, Bukhari, Kitab al Kaba'ir, Riyadh us Saliheen and for a taste of Islamic Thought in modern times, Sayyid Qutb’s, Milestones. One "Imam" when asked about a prescribed reading list even said "we know everything in Bukhari is authentic, read that, and drink it." I can not imagine someone who is allegedly trained in Islamic Scholarship would ask laymen to read Bukhari without any training, no less to just “drink it.”

I have learned reading is the only way to learn about this religion because Islamic Centers strive to make us ignorant and shallow minded (whether purposely or not) with regards religion and life in general.

I have been disillusioned by Mosque Politics, which are similar to the lunchroom politics of 8 year olds sitting at the "cool table" in the cafeteria. The institiution of the "fiqh session" makes my stomach curdle. "Sheikh, is music halal" "Wallah, there is dissension among the scholars, some allow it if it does not incite fitnah, some allow just the drum, and some completely forbid it, but truly no Muslim would think of listening to music when they know of the tragedy of Muslims in Palestine, Kashmir, and Chechnya? How can anyone face Allah having enjoyed themselves in these matters in such dire times?" Quite a display of Jurisprudence I must say. I struggle to listen to khutbahs and control myself from outburst. Anyways I keep rambling. I know you are a busy man and I thank you for taking the time to read my email. I hope my little quip will show you another example that your writings are not just theories hovering in academia but are encouraging others to reexamine themselves and their communities, and are having an impact. I ask Allah to give you and others like you patience to continue your work in helping to resurrect Islamic Intellect and Civilization and I ask that he keeps you humble to him and protects you from the plots of extremists and ignoramuses. Thank you for everything you do, and for helping me open my mind to reality instead of self-inflicted delusions.

Salam Alaikum

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