Archive for the ‘Capitalism’ Category

Spending a week and a half volunteering at the Rohingya Culture Center (RCC) in Chicago has changed my perspective.

It is as if I can imagine this entire Earth, with all of its abundance flowing from Divine Generosity.

“who made the earth a bed, and the sky a canopy; and it is He who sends down rain from above for the growth of every kind of food for your sustenance…” (2.22)


And from those free gifts, we build societies. Without land and air and water and crops, there would be no skyscrapers and smartphones and hospitals and universities. As Bataille showed so many years ago, it is not scarcity that drives us – it is expenditure of the surplus. We create more and more because our basic needs are met.

But these possibilities are not equally spread across the globe. Building a skyscraper in Chicago is easier to do than in many other places, because there is a concentration of wealth and talent. But what is harder to see is that Chicago is also a place where it is easier to connect people to basic needs. If you can build a skyscraper, the infrastructure already exists to help people in terms of school, health, and work.

I sat with Rohingya kids trying really hard to do their math homework, even though those of us who grew up here would consider the institutions they attend as “bad schools.” But guess what – it is either the best school they have ever gone to or the ONLY school they have ever been allowed to attend. I saw Rohingya elders sit patiently listening to someone translate for them a letter explaining their government-supported health benefits. I listened to Rohingya young adults talk about working at Dunkin Donuts or O’hare airport with pride, because as undocumented refugees in Malaysia their only option would have been the shadow economy. School, health, and work are all available to them, and thus they are now perhaps some of the most privileged Rohingya globally. And they channel that relative privilege into doing everything they can for their friends, family, and community in other countries who are in much worse circumstances.

And in doing so I realized that I had made a mistake in considering something specific like treatable glaucoma to be where I needed to focus my efforts. Rather, there is a more fundamental issue at stake. Will those with access to the global surplus make the effort to help those who are struggling with basic needs? Matters of inequality need to be understood globally, and take into account everything from ecological systems to international refugee politics.

Let us be clear. After seeing how Chicago is handling 1,500 Rohingya refugees who came through Malaysia, I can say with absolute confidence that Saudi Arabia has the capacity to welcome at least 10,000 of the more than 59,000 Rohingya living in Malaysia. Easily. And yet, the Crown Prince boasts about wanting to spend $500 billion to build a new economic hub on the Red Sea.

I literally could not dream up a more grotesque example of injustice in the Ummah, but this is the reality of the world we live in. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya want a clean place to sleep, a simple meal a few times a day, an opportunity to work manual labor, a safe place to give their kids an elementary school education, and the ability to travel freely with a passport. The so-called “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” not only does not provide that because he’d prefer to build skyscrapers in the desert, but then grants citizenship to a robot just to rub it in their face.

It is so sick. So so sick. Like, I can’t even believe that it is true. Like, I am literally writing these words and asking myself if I am dreaming because how could that possibly be real. How could I possibly live in a world like this, and how could a person like this possibly be in control of the most sacred places of worship in my faith??!!

And so the truth of what I wrote on October 30th, 2017 is even more clear now:

Now is the time when zuhd must become central to our lives. To give up our need for this world and what other people have, because there are so many who literally have nothing but memories of their loved ones’ brutal deaths. This world is already a dystopia, and the only way we make it livable is to be people of zuhd. The vast majority of Rohingya have nowhere to go simply because no one is willing to take them in and share with them what they have.

I cannot control the immigration policy of wealthy Muslim countries, but I can greet my Rohingya brothers and sisters in my hometown of Chicago as best I know how. My wife and I have donated money to the RCC and intend to give more insha’Allah. Over the last week and a half I got to know the board, the employees, the many volunteers, and most importantly, the kids. I truly hope that the little girls of the RCC like Lala and Zaynab, and the little boys like Yunus and Yusuf, will grow up safe in Chicago. They are far away from the horrific brutality of the Tatmadaw and the lack of welcome experienced by so many Rohingya around the world. May they always be protected, and may their lives be filled with Love and Light.

Insha’Allah, the RCC will bring great benefit to the Rohingya worldwide and also bring blessings to the city of Chicago. Almost every night, I came home before my parents went to sleep, and they asked me about it. Through me, they learned about the Rohingya and expressed their support and concern. If we had not had these exchanges, at best they would have read a newspaper article somewhere in between debates about the tax bill and the latest sports scores. But now their son knows one of those young Rohingya men from the articles, Abdul Samad, the youngest board member of the RCC. And so what was once just the name of an ethnic group from some faraway place is now transformed in our minds and hearts into real flesh and blood individuals who live only 25 minutes away from where I grew up skateboarding and playing in a band with Pete Wentz.

I feel like God had this all planned a long time ago. The Powerful (al-Qadir) created the conditions for me to make a choice, and The Witness (al-Shaheed) waited and watched as I figured it out over the last few months. As if it was stated, “I am going to turn the son of the former CEO of a Chicago-based investment bank into a Muslim in 1998, and then in 2012 I am going to start bringing Rohingya to Chicago, and then in 2017 I am going to make him aware of it and see what he chooses to do…”

“It is He who has made you successors on the earth, and raised some of you in rank above others so that He may test you in respect to what He has given you. Indeed your Lord is swift in retribution, and indeed He is all-forgiving, all-merciful.” (6.165)

I cannot force the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to use his privilege in the right way. All I can do is use my much lesser privilege as best I know how. Each individual has to figure out how they can spiritually respond to the realities of systemic injustice. At the end of the day, both the Crown Prince and myself ultimately owe our social position to our fathers, and have never once worried about our basic needs. We will be judged justly by the Just (al-‘Adl). For the fundamental global issue is the same, and we both are on the proverbial hot seat. It is in our best interest to constantly remember the prayer attributed to the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him and his family:

Praise is due to Allah Who has fed us, provided us drink, satisfied us and gave us protection. Many are those who have no one to provide for them, or give them shelter.


The Board of the RCC (Allah grant them tawfiq and taysir, ameen!)

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I am afraid to write these words. Words mean very little. Realities are what matter. I know I can write the words, but can I live the reality?

According to the world population clock, there are currently over 7.5 billion human souls in bodies on Earth. That number increases every day. The world population is divided up amongst the 193 member nations of the UN. Almost 1.4 billions souls in the People’s Republic of China. A little over 323 million in my own country, the United States of America.

And yet, there are approximately 10,000,000 who are not given a home within this system.

I would not have faced this reality without the current media coverage about the genocide of the Rohingya. Where are hundreds of thousands of people going to go after being gang raped, watching their family members shot before their eyes, and losing everything as the Burmese military burns entire villages to the ground? The People’s Republic of Bangladesh, The Kingdom of Thailand, and The Federation of Malaysia – three nearby nations with significant Rohingya refugee populations – have not offered to make them citizens. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran have not offered them asylum, even as they vie to be “leaders” of the Muslim world.

Alhamdulillah, for all of my country’s flaws, over 5000 have been welcomed here. They have even established a small community organization in Chicago, my hometown, where they are mobilizing on behalf of those abroad. Insha’Allah, more of them will come in the years ahead. It is my duty to be of service to them in whatever way I can. Those who have made it here are best poised to help their friends and relatives, whom they will never forget for the rest of their lives, long after the world forgets them. I cannot change the world, but I can intend to change my self for the sake of Allah by committing to assist them.

It is reported in Sunni hadith collections that the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him and his family, said:

ازْهَدْ فِي الدُّنْيَا يُحِبَّك اللهُ، وَازْهَدْ فِيمَا عِنْدَ النَّاسِ يُحِبَّك النَّاسُ

Be unattached to the world and Allah will love you. Be unattached to what other people have, and people will love you.

And it is reported in Shi’i sources something similar:

إِرْغَبْ فِيمَا عِنْدَ اللٌّهِ يُحِبُّكَ اللٌّهُ، وَ ازْهَدْ مَا فِي أَيْدِي النَّاسِ يُحِبُّكَ النَّاسُ

Actively seek that which is in the presence of Allah so that Allah will love you; keep away from that which is in the hands of the people so that the people will have love for you.

The word that is translated as “being unattached” or “keeping away from” is zuhd (زهد). Now is the time when zuhd must become central to our lives. To give up our need for this world and what other people have, because there are so many who literally have nothing but memories of their loved ones’ brutal deaths. This world is already a dystopia, and the only way we make it livable is to be people of zuhd. The vast majority of Rohingya have nowhere to go simply because no one is willing to take them in and share with them what they have. The Qur’an speaks directly of this spiritual challenge in Surah al-Balad:

فَلَا اقْتَحَمَ الْعَقَبَةَ

وَمَا أَدْرَاكَ مَا الْعَقَبَةُ

فَكُّ رَقَبَةٍ

أَوْ إِطْعَامٌ فِي يَوْمٍ ذِي مَسْغَبَةٍ

يَتِيمًا ذَا مَقْرَبَةٍ

أَوْ مِسْكِينًا ذَا مَتْرَبَةٍ

Yet he has not embarked upon the uphill task. And what will show you what is the uphill task? [It is] the freeing of a slave, or feeding [the needy] on a day of starvation, or an orphan among relatives, or a needy man in desolation,

If it is a “day of starvation,” most likely you are hungry too. It is not easy to share what you have in such a situation. But that is what we must do. It is not a false ideal – it is a Qur’anic description of the righteous.

I have met no scholar nor activist nor mystic yet who is more worthy of the decent life they are already living than the Rohingya that are mentioned in the news stories. This includes myself – God may ask me at any moment about the luxury that I drown in every day. The only way forward is to do something – to recognize that whoever you are, God may ask you about the Rohingya and what you did once you knew. As Imam Khalid Latif said the other night at NYU after returning from Bangladesh, “The world is killing these people. We are killing these people.” I know Khalid personally, and I know that he traveled halfway across the world to raise money for relief aid because it deeply pains him that this tragedy can happen. Ali Yusufali from the Orlando area has been there multiple times, and his organization Comfort Aid International is taking responsibility for 100 orphans for the next two years in addition to providing emergency aid. I learned that an old friend, Dr. Imran Akbar, has already been working with the Rohingya in Chicago, and even traveled to Bangladesh to set up a medical clinic and connect with some of the relatives there of those who have made it to Chicago.

This is the inspiration we all need – to know that serving other people that you never knew before on the other side of the world is not only possible, but something we must do. To use one’s privileges in the service of others, as opposed to the service of one’s self. To give up our worries about what my job will be, who my spouse will be, who my friends are, where will live, and every other manifestation of the ego that keeps us from reaching states and stations more like our spiritual exemplars, upon them peace. Could we imagine Musa, upon him peace, going on with his life while this is happening? Could we imagine ‘Isa, upon him peace, saying that it was acceptable to just give a few dollars and then go back to thinking that the world is okay?

Sure, we all want things. I want so much, I could live “a thousand lives” on this Earth before getting bored. I even dream about lives in space. But maybe in a world where a storefront community center is trying to stop the genocide of hundreds of thousands, we need to stop thinking about what we want and instead reorient our lives to think about what we can give. That is how we might attain something of zuhd, as an attempt at an adequate response to a world that abandons so many.

The Generous has granted us so much. The Earth is full of land and resources. But our short-sighted selfishness has turned it into a nightmare for millions.

ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

Corruption has flourished on land and sea as a result of people’s actions and He will make them taste the consequences of some of their own actions so that they may turn back

Knowing what is happening is a catalyst for repentance. If it hurts you to look at the pictures and hear the stories of the Rohingya, then imagine how much harder it is to endure what is actually happening. Consider Rajuma. The journalist who interviewed her stated, “So I started thinking: If we don’t cover this, that’s even worse. That would be a further injustice, a further insult to the Rohingya’s humanity. It would be like telling Rajuma that the world couldn’t be bothered about what she suffered.” And this was how he described his encounter with her:

But as she reached the end of her horrible testimony, Rajuma broke down.

“I can’t explain how hard it hurts,” she said, tears rolling off her cheeks, “to no longer hear my son call me ma.”

She hunched over on a plastic stool in another family’s hut, covered her mouth with a red veil and started sobbing so hard she could barely breathe.

Every thing I have ever learned in my life about empathy, both personally and professionally as a chaplain, is being put to the test. Every word I have written on this blog is coming to the fore.  The sincerity of my search to be on the side of the Just and Merciful is on the line, and my standing before the Judge is right before my eyes. But the whole point is that it is not about me. It is about Rajuma. It is about Nasir. It is about the tens of thousands of Rohingya living in Karachi without official recognition. It is about all the unique souls with a name and story, most of which I will never know.

But I want to know. And I want to help. I am taking steps, and maybe these words are just a small step that will lead to something greater. Maybe I will be able to live these realities as opposed to just talking about them. So that maybe, just maybe, the Divine Justice that is in wait for allowing this corruption to flourish will spare me because I “turned back.” And perhaps, the Guide will connect me with those about whom these verses were revealed:

وَيُطْعِمُونَ الطَّعَامَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ مِسْكِينًا وَيَتِيمًا وَأَسِيرًا

إِنَّمَا نُطْعِمُكُمْ لِوَجْهِ اللَّهِ لَا نُرِيدُ مِنكُمْ جَزَاءً وَلَا شُكُورًا

إِنَّا نَخَافُ مِن رَّبِّنَا يَوْمًا عَبُوسًا قَمْطَرِيرًا

فَوَقَاهُمُ اللَّهُ شَرَّ ذَ‌ٰلِكَ الْيَوْمِ وَلَقَّاهُمْ نَضْرَةً وَسُرُورًا

They give food, for the love of Him, to the needy, the orphan and the prisoner saying, ‘We feed you only for the sake of Allah. We do not want any reward from you nor any thanks. Indeed we fear from our Lord a day, frowning and fateful.’ So Allah saved them from the ills of that day, and granted them freshness and joy.


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النظر إلى علي عبادة

“Looking at ‘Ali is worship.” (al-Mustadrak)


It is the night of the 19th of the month of Ramadan, a blessed night.

The shaykh had us collectively ask God for forgiveness, and my heart burned as I thought of how little I follow the example of Imam ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, upon him peace. Afterward, I read my poem “The Eyes of Ali” to all those gathered. We heard stories of the generosity of the Commander of the Faithful. How he served a widow in need and showed compassion to her orphans. How he has been called “The Voice of Human Justice” even by those who are not Muslim. And how he walked the streets of Kufa in the hot sun looking for people to feed.

I was struck by that story, for it was said that he looked to the heavens and proclaimed, “God, bear witness that I did everything I could to make sure the people were fed.” He went out of his way to address the needs of others and make sure people received their rights. No wonder those who make light of injustice fear the constant mention of Abu al-Hasan.

I was reminded of this hadith of his great great grandson Imam al-Sadiq, upon him peace:

Allah, the Most Powerful and High, certainly made in the wealth of the rich an adequate share for the poor, and if it was not so He would certainly make their share greater. If they are needy, it is because some of the rich refuse to give them their share.

For earlier today, I was talking with a friend about her various health care needs. We talked about how hard it is when one loses physical and mental capacity while not having the financial resources to receive quality care. In the process I quoted the following hadith qudsi of the Prophet, upon him and his family blessings and peace:

Allah said, “If I deprive my slave of his two beloved things (i.e., his eyes) and he remains patient, I will let him enter Paradise in compensation for them.”

I said that I fear losing my eyesight, as I love my eyes very deeply. I know viscerally that there is nothing I can do to show true gratitude for the blessing of my eyes that I have enjoyed all my life. And yet, if Allah were to take my sight away from me, I know it would not be an injustice done to me, as much as it would be greater than any tribulation I have faced so far in my life.

Then, later in the night after the gathering for Imam ‘Ali was concluded, I saw another friend who is studying optometry. I recounted the story of my conversation during the day. She replied by saying something that shook me to the core. She said, “it is so heartbreaking to see the injustice though, of poor people who know they are going to go blind from glaucoma because they cannot afford the eye drops they need.” While she works in one of the richest cities on Earth, there are people that have to face preventable blindness. She said they give them as many free samples as possible, but after that do not know what to do.

When I left to walk to home, all of this rattled around in my head and heart, and I found myself hearing the voice of God within.

What are you going to do about it, David?

For there are so many times when we face a problem, and we don’t know what to do. We know we don’t have the time, or the money, or the skills. But in this instance, as hard as it may be, I know that it is not impossible. It is not impossible to ensure that nobody in the United States of America goes blind from glaucoma simply because they cannot afford eye drops. If the Commander of the Faithful can walk in the hot sun to make sure no one goes hungry, then the least I can do is try in some small way to follow in his footsteps. Insha’Allah.

Sometimes, the signs are just too many to ignore. I wrote this out to remind myself that a hujja (moral proof) has been established in my heart and I cannot turn away.

Please pray for me, that Allah accepts this intention, and grants me the facilitation (tawfiq) to achieve this goal, and grants ease and recovery to all those suffering from conditions that could be treated if we were people who truly gave their share.


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bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem

I have reached certain conclusions about politics.

One is that most people don’t actually understand it. Those who understand it have valid differences, but most people just have no clue. Politics is the ability to organize human beings to work together towards a tangible earthly goal. As such, militaries, schools, courts, legislatures, corporations, and other collective institutions are all “political” on some level.

My brother-in-law Muneeb, who studied political theory at Yale and Univ. of Chicago, always says that most of life can be boiled down to the dialectic between “autonomy versus solidarity.” I believe he is right. The basic unit of society is the individual – you can’t chop up a person into little bits. And from that foundation of individual autonomy all forms of solidarity are achieved. Walmart has approximately 2,300,000 employees, including Muneeb’s sister, my wife Sumaiya. They work together to bring thousands of products from around the globe to the shelves of almost 11,000 stores around the world. It is one of the most tangible forms of solidarity in the world.

If in economic terms Walmart gives us a form of solidarity, in terms of electoral politics it is political parties that express that solidarity. This graph shows us how the declining solidarity of the Democratic Party led directly to the Republican sweep of the 2016 elections:


In 8 years, the Democratic Party lost the support of 10,000,000 voters. Trump won with less votes than both of the previous Republican candidates who lost! What caused that decline, I am not learned enough in American politics to know. But even though I am not a member of the Democratic Party, I voted Democrat in all three elections. Why? Because I know that my autonomy as an individual means very little when it comes to comes to electoral politics.

When I choose what to eat for breakfast, I have an enormous range of options. When I choose what to believe about the deeper metaphysical realities behind the events of human history, I can literally believe anything another human being has ever believed, or even make up something new. If I believe in something that others believe in, like the Qur’an, I have hundreds of non-profit organizations within NYC where I can worship alongside others who believe in the same thing. But when it comes to my NY Congressman, NY Senator, or President of the United States, I usually have two options, and there is only one winner.

When I choose to buy an organic, fair-trade coffee to drink for breakfast, it does not cause the maker of Folger’s (the J.M. Smucker Company) to go out of business. It does not cause Walmart to rethink their purchasing of Folger’s to stock on their shelves. Only if tens of millions of American consumers rethink their choice in coffee purchases will those corporations change. They have plenty of other consumers that in solidarity with them through their purchasing choices.

But there are currently only two political parties that really matter in the United States. Lack of solidarity towards one means greater strength for the other. Period. Full stop.

That is just how it is. That is the reality of this world we share.

And at the level of Muslims in America – the thing I know the most about – there is very little solidarity of significance. On the level of religion, the American system encourages division for the sake of ideological purity. If you want, you can create a religious organization to serve the needs of black gay Isma’ili women, get tax-exempt status, create a house of worship, publish books, and host annual conferences. But only 100 people will ever come, and that will be the limits of the solidarity you achieve. And that may be great for those 100 people, but it will do nothing for the approximately 324,000,000 American citizens who could care less.

Ayatollah Khomeini changed the structure of the Iranian government from a monarchy to a constitutional republic because the vast majority of the Iranian voters were in solidarity with him. The current generation of Iranians may debate the merits and dismerits of their system, but it was the solidarity of a previous generation that brought it into being. In the United States, we have not had a political revolution since 1865, when the Civil War brought about the end of the Secession. And all the states that seceded voted for Trump, with the exception of Virginia (the northernmost state). I do not think that is a coincidence, but representative of a deep and abiding political difference extending across generations.

So what is my point of explaining all of this? In short, it is to help everyone think more clearly about “autonomous ideals” and “the limits of solidarity.” When I am alone in my apartment reading books and praying, I can strive to determine my ideals to the furthest extant possible. When I leave to go to the supermarket, I can choose from 30 cereals that are made from grains grown around the world, and determine if any of them are “for” or “against” my ideals in some palpable way. Maybe I’ll find the perfect cereal. Maybe I won’t. But I have to choose something to eat, or else I will starve. Solidarity is only determined by the actual choices I can make as a consumer who does not grow his own food.

So when we come to realm of seeking explicitly political outcomes – the realm of domestic and foreign policy – we have to realize that the current system forces us to make choices. You can have ideological purity if you want. You can create a political party whose central goal is the return of all land taken from Native Americans in broken treaties. And your cause will be just, but you will actually achieve nothing of significance. Why? Because there are just not enough autonomous individuals at the national level that share your ideals.

For the believer, the complicating factor is accountability towards the Divine. If “opting out” feels right to you because of fear of Hellfire, then I am not going to critique you. But at least be cognizant of the fact that you are still part of the body politic, the capitalist world-system, and the American Muslim community at large. Your choices will continue to impact the rest of us. Because American citizenship is a form of involuntary solidarity that binds us together whether it reflects our ideals or not.

And God knows best.

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It just hit me: orphan sponsorship is a serious spiritual practice. The aspirations of the spiritual path in Islam can be summarized in two goals. The first is being with the Prophet, may blessings and peace be upon him and his family. He is considered to be the best of creation, and mystics long to know him and be in his company. Obviously, walking this path involves saying salawat and other forms of devotion. But reflect on the meaning of this hadith: “‘I and the one who looks after an orphan will be like this in Paradise,’ showing his middle and index fingers and separating them.” (related in Sahih al-Bukhari) What more vivid illustration could the Messenger of Allah give us of the path leading to his companionship, may blessings and peace be upon him and his family!

The second goal is intimate experience of Allah directly. So reflect on this verse: “The one who gives from his wealth in order to purify himself, not giving for anyone who has done him a favor to be rewarded, but only seeking the countenance (wajh) of his Lord, Most High. He is going to be satisfied.” (92.18-21) The seeker wants to see the face (wajh) of God, and God is promising that the seeker will be satisfied. Orphan sponsorship involves giving to someone that the donor will probably never meet in this life, thus increasing the likelihood that one gives with a pure intention.

This is another reminder of the practical nature of Islamic spirituality, which flows from the balanced example of the Prophet Muhammad, may blessings and peace be upon him and his family. May Allah accept the orphan sponsorships of every Muslim in the United States, whether done through Helping Hand, Islamic Relief, Zakat Foundation, NuDay Syria, or any other institution which facilitates this act of worship, and may the facilitators be granted the same, and may the orphans all have long lives full of good deeds, ameen.

Organizations facilitating orphan sponsorships:


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It is tax day. The day when we are forced to show, in very real ways, that we are part of a national collective. On this day, we cannot avoid the fact that national debates about the military, health care, and scientific research are relevant to all of us who carry an American passport, regardless of our faith or worldview. However, we also need to keep things in perspective. One of the most famous sayings of the Prophet (may God bless him and his followers and grant them peace) is:

من حسن إسلام المرء تركه ما لا يعنيه

“From the perfection of one’s Islam is leaving that which does not concern them.” [Hadith #12 of Nawawi’s Forty Hadith]

One of the keys to spiritual sanity in the current climate is not letting the choices, beliefs and discourses of other human beings get us down. We need to look for where we can build what we think is good and true, or add to what has already been built in the best of ways. We all will have to answer for our choices, not the choices of others. And that awareness should preoccupy us from the choices that other people have to make.

Imam al-Ghazali said (to paraphrase) that we should consider ourselves fortunate if we even find one other human being who is a true helper and supporter on the path to Allah. An organization – whether a small non-profit, a corporation, or a nation-state – is made up of many people, so we should pause when we put too much faith in organizations. While that attitude can lead to a sense of loneliness, or a “me-against-the-world” attitude, it is really about knowing that Allah will always take care of the “big picture.” Allah wants us to take care of that which Allah has given us to concern ourselves with today, such as our worship, family, close friends, body/mind, job, and so on. As Allah states in the Qur’an:

005_105“O you who have believed, upon you is [responsibility for] yourselves. Those who have gone astray will not harm you when you have been guided. To Allah is your return all together; then He will inform you of what you used to do.” (Qur’an, Chapter 5, verse 105)

Imam Zaid says it like this in the Treatise for the Seekers of Guidance: “The Prophet, peace upon him, said, “From a person’s Islam being good is his leaving what does not concern him.” Our concern is the Hereafter, and the successful meeting with God. Our concern is working so that we can be amongst those experiencing the Beatific Vision. Whatever helps us towards these goals in this world we gladly engage in it. We leave all else.”

If my seeking of God leads me to becoming the President of the United States, you can expect some major changes to the federal budget. Otherwise, I will just do my best with the cards I have been dealt, and leave the rest up to Allah. That being said, I do recommend that people check out the National Priorities Project, whose focus is to make “our complex federal budget transparent so people can…influence how their tax dollars are spent.”

May Allah make it easy for me, you, and all those whom we care about, whatever the details of our lives may be, ameen!


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Immanuel Wallerstein writes in his book “World-Systems Analysis” that, “to the extent that we each analyze our social prisons, we liberate ourselves from their constraints to the extent that we can be liberated.”

I am a citizen of the United States, the most economically and militarily strong country in the contemporary world. I am a participant in global capitalism – everytime I go to the ATM or buy something at Whole Foods, I am linking up with organized firms that provide a service in pursuit of a profit. I am bound by the system of taxation, a unique confluence of political power and economic production, which means that whatever I have that is defined as “income” by the government of the United States can be taken from me, and used by people other than me.

Such economic and political forces (including many others not sketched out for the sake of brevity) were in place before I was born, and I participate in them because I have no other choice. The world-system is pervasive. As such, my real choices are bound by these social realities.

As a Muslim, I do not lament this characterization of the world, because I believe that God is ultimately in control of history. But it is upon me to analyze the world properly so that my choices within it can be justified before God after I die. To what extent am I required by God to struggle against this capitalist world-system? To what extent do my ethical choices as a Muslim contribute to acquiescence or resistance to the larger forces of wealth and power which deeply influence the lives of all living human beings?

In many respects, Islam provides a form of resistance to these realities. Ritual prayer, for example, is a central tenet of Islam, and a defining characteristic of Muslim cultural systems. Ideally, Muslim men (who historically have been the primary economic actors within the economies of Muslim societies) are supposed to be in the masjid five times a day. While this does not prevent economic activity from taking place, it does limit its scope in the social life of the Muslim. One can see this most clearly in the places where shops close at the time of prayer; in short, the pursuit of profit must stop repeatedly during the day in order to re-focus oneself on the pursuit of intangible spiritual rewards. Perhaps this is why economic imagery is so common in the Qur’an and hadith, for human beings in general are inclined towards productive economic activity, yet must learn to limit the amount of time and energy they devote to such concerns.

However, what this example does not take into account is a number of things. First, women are not required to be in the masjid, and so as capitalism seeks out people willing to devote their time and energy to economic pursuits, it will increasingly draw upon women to replace any man who refuses to subordinate their mosque-centered life of ritual prayer to a 12 hour workday in an office space. Secondly, as those who work within the capitalist system accumulate their own capital and thus increase their power in society, the mosque-going man becomes an increasingly peripheral social actor. He cannot abandon the capitalist system completely, and therefore often must rely on wage labor in order to make enough money to survive.

We see in Muslim socieities that the two most common groups of mosque-going men are peripheral laborers, and those who are wealthy enough that they can determine their own work schedules. This is not to say that others do not attend the mosque as regularly, but that these are the two most conspicuous social groups that are in the mosque five times a day around the world. Those in the middle, the cadre of professionals that keep the capitalist system functioning smoothly, are more beholden to the mores and attitudes required for maintainence or advancement of one’s position in the capitalist world-system. Academics, lawyers, business people, and technocrats are the most conspicuous of these groups. These people are either unable or unwilling to resist the demands of global capitalism at the risk of their own economic disenfranchisement, nor are they so wealthy that they can remain significant actors within the system while disavowing some of its claims to universality. Perhaps the most potent symbol of this are the pictures from the G-20 where the only leader dressed differently is King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. All the other leaders wear the dress of capitalism (the dark European suit), but King Abdullah wears his traditional clothing. The Saudi royal family can resist some of the cultural demands of global capitalism because it controls a quasi-monopoly on an essential good for the functioning of the global economy. The enormous income that the sale of oil produces means that Saudi Arabia has more room to negotiate the ways in which it deals with global capitalism without necessarily becoming more peripheral to the world-system. Part of the reason that Saudi Arabian society is able to control women so much more intensively is because their productivity is not necessary for the creation of surplus-value.

From this analysis, we can see that global capitalism has a way of eroding the social bases of daily congregational prayer for the most economically productive members of society. So what does this mean for me? It means knowing that capitalism as a social force is resistant to the formation of the day around congregational prayers in a mosque. A mosqued life is not obsolete, but it is threatened by the requirement that one’s productive activities be as economically productive as possible. Going to the mosque is like scheduling a meeting – it takes time and commitment, and means that there is less time in the rest of the day to do other things. As such, the usual compromise by practicing Muslim men who must compete within the rules of the system is to pray in their workplace or school, with the common exception of jumu’ah. After all, according to most interpretations it is not required for the Muslim man to be in the mosque for all five prayers. But what is undeniable is that it was the sunnah of the Prophet (may God bless him and his family and grant them peace) that was well established in the city-state of Madinah. The Madinans’ pursuit of capital accumulation was constrained by a belief system which encouraged them to devote considerable time and energy to activities which were primarily for their spiritual, not economic, benefit.

Muslims in the United States, almost all of whom have access to all their daruriyat (absolute necessities of life like clean water) and many hajiyat (beneficial things like access to transportation), need to resist the temptations and demands of global capitalism that might erode the social bases of their faith-system. The ritual prayer in congregation is one such example; the re-orientation of daily life during Ramadan is another. This resistance is not a direct challenge to the supremacy of global capitalism, but rather a personal and communal negotiation with its pervasive nature. But the more that people make these conscious choices, the easier it will be for more Muslim men (and women if they so choose) to make congregational prayer an important part of daily life. And as the hadith literature informs us, the spiritual rewards for doing so, are enormous. Put in terms a capitalist would understand, the return on one’s “life capital” is greater than 2000%!

wa Allah al-musta’an – and it is God’s help which is sought

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