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Why the revival of Islam in the west and the struggling East ?

by Shyamalee Mahibalan

(August 28, Washington, Sri Lanka Guardian) Why does the Right Wing Republicans in the United States spewing so much hatred and demonizing the Cordoba (the proposed Islamic Centre) in the vicinity of ground Zero? It seems as if it’s their moral right to deny the existence of Islam in the US today. What does right wing fear mongers like Fox TV’s Glen Beck, Hannity Show, the islamaphobic Pamela Gheller and religious fundamentalists have in common? Well, aren’t they all the same? There is also another perspective to this story as American activist and writer, a revert to Islam Aishah Schwartz, claims “I simply believe that it was not necessary to exacerbate an already inflamed climate of Islamophobia by choosing a site for the construction that would be hard-pressed to escape the scrutiny of those who would conspire against its intended purpose. However, the decision was made, and now the Muslim community at-large will live with backlash that simply did not have to happen in the first place”.

I agree with her Muslims have co existed beautifully in every country they call it home. Radicalism is a political mafia of skewed minds and could be hijacked if one has not understood the religion. Recently I read an article in a Sri Lankan newspaper shouting out that radical Islam has now found its way in to Sri Lanka. Growing up in this community I found it a bit of a joke. We witnessed this deviation in our own families’ long time ago, no knifes and guns were used during this transition period. At least we didn’t kill each other. I have witnessed the rise and fall of Sufism in our own families. We remember the old days of halaraas Raathibs and maulids, (different types of get-togethers remembering some old saint or some form of so called alleviated spiritual contact where during halaraas they actually use sticks and knifes to cut themselves) nothing to do with the quran or sunna, but for us kids they were just ceremonies to eat good food. we were neither alleviated nor spiritually motivated. The dispute as mentioned in the newspaper took place in Beruwela, very interesting this is where we used to go as kids for the kandhiri (ceremony to put up green flags) this may sound like a UNP ceremony , not really it’s in the name of a saint. Does this mean anything spiritual to anyone? Well for us it was about eating khedoo rice. Over the years the Kandiris have shrunk and the people have since moved out.

If I may recall, the holy quran in many households is kept on top of a cupboard or in a high place on a raahiyaal (a wooden holder) like an ornament that adorns the house, only to be taken out when lebbaumma (a lady who teaches the quran) or hasraths( a man) comes home or to recite surah yaaseen on special occasions like in Ramadan. We were of a generation, who went to the madrasah where we read Arabic until eight years old along with the boys. I have to admit until recently I did not know the meanings of those four years of reading Arabic. Only when I first got hold of an english translation few years ago from Darussalam I understood my very existence and the endless mercy of god. I would say 80% of Sri Lankan Muslims have no idea of what is in the quran. This is the general norm across south Asia, where people usually listen to the sermons of the local imam or elders for guidance, and could be easily manipulated if your ignorant. Times are changing; the world is speeding up towards an information superhighway, the young are informed and empowered. The holy quran is now online. This explains the emergence of young Muslim women in the university system and workforce; they have understood the freedom and rights enshrined in the quran for women. There seems to be a revival of Islam that’s taking place and this revival is not coming from the east but from the west, some of these young Imams who have made this change in the west today are Imam Suhaib Webb converted to Islam in 1992; Oklahoma university graduate studied Arabic and Islam at the Al Azhar University in Cairo. Sheikh hamza Yusuf converted in 1972 studied in the Middle East and North West Africa. Hamza Yusuf is a cofounder of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California. He is an advisor to Stanford University's Program in Islamic Studies and the Center for Islamic Studies at Berkeley's Graduate Theological Union. He is known as the Western world's most influential Islamic scholar. Imam zaid Shakir who grew up with the civil rights struggle is a prominent American scholar who accepted Islam in 1977 while serving in the United States Air force. Dr. Ingrid Matteson a Canadian convert is the head of the Islamic society of North America. A strong voice in Islamic revival that is echoing from Europe is Swiss born Professor Tariq Ramadan; these are moderate voices resonating beyond its borders. Suhaib Webb is extremely vocal when he says Muslims in the west should not import theological complexes of the east but overcome daily struggles and contribute to the society they live in. Just like Suhaib Webb exclaims “we judge a human even before Allah has judged and we are quick to pass our verdict”. How many men and women from this community we have shunned due to our judgments. Too much attention is paid on how long the beard should be, how to wear the pants and how to wear the abaya. No emphasis on the mercies of god, and how to purify one’s heart. Masjids today have to be relevant Imaams have to be relevant; they should be open for the broken and the battered to walk in and find crutches not beat him up again with fear. Why not open the women section of the masjids even after Ramadan where the women should also be able to offer the Friday prayers. While the girls are beginning to shine the boys are dropping out of the system. Masjids and Imams have greater responsibility not to use fear but speak to the heart. I have to highlight here the consumption pattern of this community which is costing the families heart ache and millions in healthcare, diabetes, strokes and obesity and cancer are becoming so common. Ramadan is a time of mind, body, and soul experience and a change in our consumption pattern in vital by introducing more nuts and pulses and whole grains. Ideally olive oil, honey, dates and figs along with whole wheat should be staples in all Muslim household; these were the foods of the prophet. Unfortunately some of these items are luxuries, but we can still make use of nuts and pulses that are abundant in Sri Lanka. While people are returning back to our ancestral food towards more raw diet of nuts and grains and greens, while there is a global movement against processed food and fast food, Sri Lanka is turning in to a fast food disaster and the Muslim community tops the list. It’s appalling to watch on the internet the amount of cup cakes and donut factories sprouting out and the number of fans on face book. This explains the ever expanding Sri Lankan waistline. That’s all is needed for a nation of sausage consumers. Imams and masjids do have a greater role to play to educate the people to build a community that is responsible and useful citizens.

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