Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Abbasid and Ummayad Dynasties

This is an essay about the Abbasid and Umayyad Dynasties that I wrote for my History of Islam and the Middle East class. It is rather short and many things are left out because I was limited to two pages and could only use my textbook as a research source. It was very hard to fit 2 dynasties that ruled for around 800 years into two pages but I decided to share it for those who may be interested in Islamic history.
The Abbasid and Umayyad Dynasties

                In the early founding years of Islam the Muslim population was governed by the Prophet Muhammad until his death. He alone made all rulings, decisions, strategic planning with the aid of the divine revelations he received from God and acted as judge and jury to his followers should any problems arise. From his youth and beyond he was known to everyone as being an honest trustworthy person, but as he approached old age and near death his community was faced with the problem of who will guide them and preside over them once Muhammad was gone.  After the passing of the Prophet control over the Muslim population was passed on to the four rightly guided Caliphs Abu Bakr, Omar, Uthman, and Ali. During the reigns of Uthman and Ali much strife occurred and the collective Muslim community started to branch off into different sects. By the time of Ali’s death the inner turmoil had sealed the fate that there would be no rightly guided caliphs to succeed him.

 Uthman had established his cousin Muawiyah as the governor of Syria during his reign as Caliph which gave Muawiyah a path to gain leadership after the deaths of Uthman and Ali. In the year 661 Muawiyah was awarded the honor of becoming the next Caliph, he then set up his home and government body in Damascus and declared that his Umayyad dynasty was the ruling body over all Muslims through courts, military, religious officials and political administrators. As the first Muslim dynasty the Umayyad’s curbed the threat of someone from outside their family coming into power by setting up a system where leadership would be passed on to male members of the family. By using their military regime they moved through Europe, North Africa and Spain spreading Islam as they went and eventually expanded into India and China. During the reign of the Umayyad Dynasty around 90 percent of their societies population remained no Muslim, this was due to the discriminatory hierarchy that they had created that gave the most privileges to Muslim Arabs, then a step down was non-Arab Muslims, followed by persons of other religions who were not slaves, and then at the bottom of the totem were the slaves. The Umayyad’s faced opposition when their people became divided by some followers wanting equality for all and others viewing Arabs as being above everyone else, this combined with opposition by two of Muhammad’s grandsons caused the Umayyad regime to weaken and crumble.  As the revolts started to become stronger a major disagreement was met when non-Arab Muslims wanted equal social status was given to Muslims who were not Arab, even Umayyad princes who were born to mothers who were not Arab were discriminated against and removed from the possibility of ever being rulers. All of these difficulties combined and set the stage for Muhammad the grandson of Al-Abbas and his supporters who rejected the racial discrimination of the Umayyad Empire revolted against the Umayyad’s, slaughtering many of them and overthrowing their government and empire.

In 750 the Abbasids, who were descendants of Muhammad’s uncle arose to power became the second Islamic dynasty. The Abbasid Empire built Baghdad into a marvelous stronghold with extravagant palaces and mosques and made Iraq into a thriving economy with much trade and agriculture including irrigation systems that could produce crops up to twice a year. They revolted against Arab dominance in favor of the Quranic teaching that everyone is equal regardless of ethnic origin but, although they stressed equality and treated their Christian and Jewish citizens with much respect their system was not perfect and levied a tax on all non-Muslims and also taxed converts to Islam and on days that they felt like exercising their power enforced rules on converts and non-Arab Muslims that contradicted their quest for equality. During their reign an “Arabization” process also went underway in which all citizens regardless of their social status, ethnic origin, or religion utilized the Arabic language and became more unified. Much interest was placed on education, arts, and sciences and time was spent translating them into Arabic so that they could facilitate the spread of knowledge. The thriving Abbasid Empire after reigning or hundreds of years met its downfall when successive events such as revolts and assassination attempts by the Shia population, invasions by other military forces including the Turks, and Mongols, disintegration of agricultural infrastructure including the wonderful irrigation systems that had been destroyed by invaders.

                The two Empires shared many things in common besides their faith in Islam including both empires initially being built on the teachings of the Quran and prophet Muhammad by not resorting to Bedouin style ruling for personal gain but to work towards a better community for all citizens. Both were of Arab ethnic origin and were the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad’s Quraysh tribe and followed Sunni Islam, although the Abbasid’s had some Shia supporters that they tolerated and then eventually cut ties with. They also shared a taxation process that was levied on non-Muslims and Muslim converts that flourished as both dynasties became more wealthy and extravagant from the money of their subjects, in the case of the Umayyad caliphs as one succeeded another the level of taxes were raised so that they may achieve more monetary gain. Both also suffered from having persons in charge that were more concerned with their personal gain that in turn caused their whole dynasties to suffer at the expense of the citizens.

                Throughout the years that these two dynasties reigned each had had their strengths and weaknesses. One of the main differences between the Umayyad and Abbasid regimes is the time period each reigned, the Umayyad’s enjoined only around 100 years of rule while the Abbasid’s enjoying nearly 500 years of power suffered an interruption by Mongol invaders and then resumed power again for a few more years. They also focused on different areas while expanding their empires, the Umayyad’s put a lot of interest in conquering areas around the Mediterranean Sea while the Abbasids focused more on Iran as well as Iraq and surrounding countries. Women also had different lifestyles within the two dynasties, in the Umayyad Dynasty women did not have to wear the veil and enjoyed a lifestyle that was more public oriented as opposed to the Abbasid Empire who preferred women to be more modestly dressed with a veil and secluded from the public giving way to the concept of the harem. The willingness to accept converts into Islam was also a major difference, the Umayyad’s had a disdain for converts and treated them as a lower class than those who were born to Muslim Arab families which caused the Muslim population to not grow as much as it did under the Abbasids who readily accepted Muslim converts into their community and thus the number of converts to Islam grew rapidly and flourished under their rule. Another interest that varied greatly between the two dynasties was the Umayyad quest for military power and expansion which the Abbasids countered with the expansion of arts, knowledge, and medicine which is also another reason why the Abbasid Empire was able to last longer. While the Umayyad’s kept their focus on giving the best treatment and best jobs to only Arab Muslims the Abbasid’s practiced religious tolerance chose to employ the best individuals they could find regardless of ethnic background or religion as merchants, traders, and scholars. Through their advancement in translating literature from Greek they were able to spread ancient texts that would aid in the formation of the European Renaissance .

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Photo Essay: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The first time I ever went to UAE several years ago I was still Christian but was very interested in Islam and already had a deep love for Arab history and culture. Or what I thought was Arab culture, the more I learn I see that I loved Islam all along and had Islamic culture confused with Arabic culture. Arabic culture is beautiful on it's own but now since I have reverted I know that Islamic history and culture is one of the main passions in my life and I want to spend the rest of my life learning as much as I can about it Inshallah. 

When a friend offered to take me to see Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi last summer I happily accepted her offer. During my first trip to UAE I only got to see the Mosque from the road, I could only stand and stare with tears welling up in my eyes. This time I actually got to go inside and look around. Although I didn't get to pray there I enjoyed having a look around at all the intricate details, it is truly magnificent mashallah.

On the way to Abu Dhabi from Dubai the road passes through this structure, this picture does not do it justice at all it must be seen in person to get the full effect. 


Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Report: Islam: The Straight Path by John L. Esposito

                In present day America one of the most misunderstood things we encounter is Islam. The public often sees the glorified violence portrayed in the media and believes that it is an accurate presentation of Islam without delving further into the subject to uncover the facts. In his book Islam: The Straight Path, author and Georgetown university professor of Religion John L. Esposito delves into the history and practices of Islam from the early days when the Prophet received his divine guidance up until present time. Through his book we learn that Islam is not as one dimensional as the false representations make the public often believe but is in fact multifaceted and rich in diversity. Although the title of this book is "The Straight Path" it is very misleading because in fact it covers many paths and does not accurately explain how the majority of Muslims in the world actually are and what they believe.

                To the average person who is looking at Islam from the outside all Muslims appear to be exactly the same and doing the same things, which is very far from the truth. From the onset of Islam all Muslims were instructed to follow the Quran and the example of the Prophet Muhammad who possessed a high moral character in which personal and tribal centered gratification was not allowed, this moral character combined with following  other aspects of Muhammad’s life and the Quran was considered to be the straight path. Even as early as the era of the rightly guided caliphs started to end the Muslim community started to split and break into different factions and modify their beliefs and rituals of worship. Successive generations deviated from these teachings and examples, some went back to their pre-Islam tribal and Bedouin beliefs.  

In modern day times numerous sects have flourished and become widely popular including the Sunni, Shia, and Sufi. As popularity rose so did the population of Muslims who were born to Muslim families or converted to Islam on their own free will. The majority of Islamic sects accept reverts except the Druze sect who do not allow converts to become part of their group. These cultural nuances often alienate others and make converts to the Islamic faith feel as if they are second class citizens, as was the case with the  late Umayyad dynasty close to their downfall who preferred Arab Muslims over all others.

                As often is the case with Muslims, Esposito also treads a fine line between distinguishing Islamic facts that are derived from the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet with practices that are derived from the cultural backgrounds of some Muslims. Esposito states in regards to Muslim marriage practices, “The preferred marriage is between two Muslims and within the extended family.” (Esposito, pg. 116), this is a purely cultural notion that dates back to the pre-Islamic era and does not coincide with the life and teachings of the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad which all Muslims must emulate. By broadcasting these cultural practices  falsely as Islamic facts Esposito further corrupts the image and true practices of Islam.

                In today’s world Islam is constantly changing because of the “reassertion of Islam into politics and society.” (Esposito pg. 247). Because the faith of Islam has been usurped in some ways be extremist groups and individuals who twist the teachings of the religion to suit their own personal needs Esposito states that Mainstream Muslims worldwide need to aggressively address the threat to Islam from religious extremists, but their jihad (struggle) is much a much broader multifaceted process: religious, intellectual, spiritual, and moral.” (Esposito pg.247). To counterbalance this burgeoning threat of extremist groups and individuals hijacking mainstream Islam and causing social disarray the public needs to be taught the truth about Islam through interfaith dialogues so that they do not have to rely on the portrayal of Muslims in mass media  or in books such as this one who rely on cultural nuances outside of Islam and which often show only the unsavory individuals. Citizens of the world should not fear Islam, they should embrace the common ideas Islam shares with other Abrahamic faiths and work together to build a stronger, healthy community based on tolerance and respect.
*Note: This book report  was written for my History of Islam and the Middle East class, I would not recommend this book to anyone who  is trying to gain knowledge of Islam in any way. It is a textbook which makes it very a very dry read and very frustrating for those of us who know the differences between geographical cultures and Islamic culture.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Struggle of the Reverts

It's been over a year since I wrote my original post about how reverts are often treated badly, during the past year I have seen this stigma grow more instead of diminish and have encountered even more reverts who have faced the same dilemmas. I have even experienced it more myself, I was under the impression that as I grew more in my faith and became more adjusted to my life as a Muslim the stigmas and pressures from society would start to die down but instead they have only become more prevalent.

When the Prophet began to receive divine revelation his wife Khadijah became the first revert, which led to a slow but sure domino effect of the Prophet's family and close friends reverting and accepting Islam as their religion. As time went on Islam gained it's foothold and increased in numbers by gaining reverts and the children of reverts. With a core message of equality, peace, and becoming the best person you can be it is easy to see how Islam is appealing to people from any place or era that want to better themselves, think consciously and create positive impacts on everything around them. After the deaths of the prophet and the rightly guided caliphs the succeeding empires started off on the right path but at times caused their own downfall by rejecting reverts or treating the reverts as second class citizens, it wasn't until they corrected these practices that they could pick themselves back up again and move forward further expanding the ancient Muslim empires. But today, the value of reverts is discounted by many; we are looked down upon, shunned, ostracized, pushed away. All this even after the many hadiths warning every Muslim to stay away from racism, ancestor worship, tribalism, and pride.

The Prophet said: Whoever has pride in his heart equal to the weight of an atom shall not enter Paradise. A man inquired about a person who likes to wear beautiful clothes and fine shoes, and he answered: God is beautiful and likes beauty. Then he explained pride means rejecting the truth because of self-esteem and looking down on other people (Muslim).

Many reverts get through their days and nights by doing our best to do what is required of us Islamically and by trying to have positive thoughts, we just want what everyone else wants; to do the best we can for Allah, to help others, to have families and children, and to lead enjoyable healthy lives. Our want for families and children throws up even more dilemmas, many of us come to a point where we are criticized and rejected based on our skin color or nationality, which is out of our control Allah chose these things for us. Is it right for girls from countries in the Arabian Gulf to tell reverts that they will never be equal to them because they were not born to a Muslim family in a Muslim country? Who made it cool to rub it into a reverts face that we do not have Muslim family and are seen as the bottom of the barrel to many Muslims. Does my appearance and birth place make me less of a woman? Islam gives every Muslim woman the right to have children, why does society take that away from us and dictate who we can and cannot have children with?  That keeps many women from being able to have a marriage and consequently robbing her of her right to have children, which totally goes against the Prophets Sunnah of wanting us all to have large families so the Ummah can grow.  If someone is serious about Islam and trying their best to follow their deen why should the be criticized regardless of whether they come from a Muslim family or not. As reverts we spend many sleepless nights praying and shedding tears wishing our parents were Muslim for their sake and so that we don't have to walk through our lives in such solitude, it pains us to see that some who are born to Muslim families don't appreciate what Allah has given them.

This article claims that white converts in fact have special privileges and are treated better than any other convert from other backgrounds. I can look you in the eye and tell you that is completely ludicrous and false. I have never experienced racism as bad in my whole life as I have since I have reverted by other Muslims. We are outsiders, the ones without a tribe, the "others", and novelties to some. What privilege do I get by being segregated because of my race and nationality? I get humiliated and looked down upon for being white from other Muslims that I thought were my friends. These people don't realize how much they hurt us and make us feel humiliated and belittled.

They should know humiliating a fellow Muslim is a major sin:
"Those who hurt believing men and women who have done nothing to deserve it shall bear the burden of calumny and open sin (Quran 33:58)."

"Woe to whoever disparages others behind their back or to their face” (Quran: 104:1).

 Being a revert feels like you are stuck between 2 walls, on one side you have the non Muslims who have a problem with you and Islam, and on the other side you have a wall of so called Muslims that do not respect you and treat you as if you are beneath them and want to drive you away from Islam because you "are not born Muslim and don't belong here". So there you are between 2 towering walls, bouncing between them like a ping pong ball while they try to push you down. If you're lucky you meet other like minded individuals between the two walls that make it more bearable.

The Prophet said:  The Muslim is the brother of the Muslim. He does not oppress him, hang back from coming to his aid, or belittle him. It is sufficiently wicked for someone to demean his fellow Muslim.

 Does our status as a revert and the color of our skin and passport make us undeserving of having a family of our own? Undeserving of love and happiness? Are we undeserving of acceptance and an equal role in society? Why do we keep getting pushed away and told that our place is in a revert only community? Do these people that tell us these things realize that it makes us feel like they are pushing us face down into the mud? Why is it acceptable to reject someone and treat them badly for the mere fact that they are a revert?  Many believe that reverts can just go to a revert only community but I have yet to see one of these, there is no perfect utopia for us to just escape to, and even if there was that would discount and diminish the dialogue and knowledge that we can learn from those that come from Muslim families and follow the correct path. We all belong to a religion that was built by acquiring reverts, but now we are treated by many like we are the bottom rung on the ladder. The Sahabah, the most respected people in Islam, were all reverts, if they walked into a room today would you treat them as if they were inferior because they were not born Mulims?

"Deserting the Quran, as the great scholar Ibn Qaayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) said..."includes neglecting to listen to it and believing in it and neglecting to adhere to what it permits and forbids, even if one recites it and believes in it, and neglecting to refer to it for judgment in all matters of religion, major and minor, and neglecting to seek to understand it, neglecting to understand the meanings intended by Allah by it, and neglecting to seek healing from it for all diseases of the heart (i.e. spiritual maladies).

By viewing reverts as beneath them and ignoring Allah's commands of how all Muslims should treat each other in favor of their culture and societies standards these people have deserted the Quran and are the true losers.

"But whosoever turns away from my reminder (neither believes n the Quran or acts on its orders etc.)  verily, for him is a life of hardship, and we shall raise him up blind on the Day of Resurrection"[Ta-Ha 20:124]

Stigmas against reverts must be stopped immediately. It s not fair to any of us that people make up their minds about us and think they know everything about our lives without even talking to us and knowing the facts. It doesn't matter to the ones who look down on us that some of us came from conservative Christian families before entering the fold of Islam and have behaved with high moral standards our entire lives, we are still the "others" and are viewed as if we are still below par just for our revert status and nationality.  People should know that making up stories and situations about a revert or anyone else that aren't true is a sin in itself.

Everyone that has any type of interactions with reverts should be kinder and more considerate while also making a conscious effort to realize and understand that reverts do not have many of the same resources that born Muslims have and theses things should not be held against the revert such as:
  • Holding it against a revert female because she travels alone. As reverts we don't have mahram brothers or female Muslim relatives that can accompany us everywhere we go. Although I am lucky enough to have a Dad that will go with me anywhere within the state where we live and neighboring states he can't travel with me to Muslim countries yet because of work obligations. Always remember that if you see a revert alone it does not necessarily mean they are up to no good.
  • Holding the places a revert has worked against them. We are all supposed to work in someway, whether as a house wife taking care of a household and children, running a home based business, or by getting a job outside our homes. Some of us live in areas that do not have abundant jobs and even fewer that allow us to work with only women, and even workplaces that are all female aren't even as wholesome as they are often believe. I have worked at a factory and have seen all the horrible things that can go on in places like that, it does not mean I participated in them. I have also worked at a retail store that only employed women and it was just as morally frustrating because you are forced to market credit cards that will leave families in debt even if you tell your boss that they are against our personal and religious beliefs, plus we won't even go into how horrible the customers will treat you. I personally believe women should not work in either of these situations, that's why I don't work there anymore myself. I lived through those jobs learned, I left them in my past because they did not offer me the positive challenge I want nor the ability to make a positive difference. Because we have worked in mixed environments does not mean we were doing anything devious.

It is 100% true that every Born Muslim that walks this earth today comes from ancestors who were at one time reverts. Inshallah in the future the revert Muslims of today will be treated with more kindness and acceptance by those born to Muslims families that have a prejudice against them. It is only through acceptance and compassion that we can all truly be one Ummah and work together to make the world a better place for everyone.

For further reading you can check out how other reverts have been treated negatively here.