Change Happens: Qur’anic Principles for Social Change–Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

What is change? How does change happen? What is the purpose of change? What are the spiritual and worldly keys to change—for the individual, for groups, for communities, and for believers?

In the first part of the series, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani speaks about the definition of change, reform, and rights.

What is Change?

There is not, in fact, any intrinsic benefit mentioned in the Qur’an about change. Rather, we are called upon to change from an undesired state to a desired one, in accordance to what Allah has deemed to be good and true. Not only are we responsible to change our own states, but we also have  a social responsibility to have concern for the greater societal good.

Furthermore, we are taught about reform (islah). Something is considered to be reformed when it is free of harm. Therefore, a righteous person is called a salih, or someone who had made a personal change and fixed themselves.

We also have a definition for good. We have a moral criteria, we do not believe that good is relative. For example, just because someone is very rich, does not mean that we can steal from them. Allah has upheld justice, and His justice is not punitive. Rather, it is restorative. Justice entails that we are required to give everyone their rights, and deal with them in the best possible way.

Some obligations comes through choice, while others are circumstantial. For example, after choosing to get married, it is our duty to do well by our spouse. However, if we see someone bleeding on the sidewalk, it is our responsibility to help them, even if we haven’t been the cause of their injury.

In conclusion, we see social change as a responsibility, not as a whim-based function. We should be having a sense of responsibility to work to improve the lives of the poor or oppressed, rather than waiting until a picture goes viral.

Resources for Seekers


The Rohingya Don’t Need Our Volun-Tourism, by Rahima Begum

In times of human devastation and horror, like the situation faced by the Rohingya community in Myanmar, it is absolutely vital that our compassion translates to effective solutions and not just volun-tourism, writes Rahima Begum.

It’s crucial that what we do is also useful, directed and managed properly and comes with the right intention and preparation.

Volun-tourism. At RestlessBeings, we have been contacted by up to a dozen plus people on a daily basis in the last two weeks – individuals who are planning to make a trip to Bangladesh right now to help the community. These calls are from people who are not affiliated with any organisation. They want to go with their friends or by themselves to support those in need. Some are from newly-formed organisations that have never been on the field and have no experience working with the Rohingya. They tell us that they want to go and just ‘see’.

As much as the intentions and passion is sincere and they are keen to do more than just sit online and share news and make a little donation, it is very difficult as directors of an organisation that has been campaigning for this community for a decade now, to say, “Sure, go ahead.”

RestlessBeings have always had an upfront approach. We are ready to help those who want to make the journey but we have to be frank about the potential obstacles and sometimes, irrelevance of such efforts. If you are not an NGO worker, nor belong to a registered charity, nor from the press or major agency like the United Nations or Human Rights Watch or World Food Program, please stop and reconsider.

[cwa id=’cta’]

There is no shortage of manpower on the ground. In fact, many of our own team members, personnel from other charities and  journalists whom we have assisted recently, have said that the Bangladesh border is heaving with people who have no relevant experience.

Money well-spent? Why not put the cost of your plane ticket toward a donation instead? This can amount to £600-£1,500 just for the flights, accommodation and food, for just one person. Multiply that figure by ten, if not hundreds, of volunteers. That money could amount to a sizeable donation. Volunteer-run organisations like ourselves are present on the ground, with teams made up of the Rohingya community members and Bangladeshi trained staff.

Do not add to the chaos, unless you find a charitable organisation which needs you there.

Check your intentions. If you’re going for research purposes or with the support of an organisation, fair enough. Prepare well and keep your intentions in check. Don’t do it because you want to feel like a hero and bask in the glory of your Facebook friends asking you to ‘stay safe’.

Your presence and lack of adab is counter-productive. Many Rohingya refugees have expressed their discomfort at the sight of so many international visitors. Women-refugees are particularly deprived of privacy – including opportunities to shower, change or relieve themselves. Unauthorised volunteers do not come with the police check certificates, which are normally mandatory in the United Kingdom when working with vulnerable adults and children. It is thus, difficult to protect women and children refugees. We have found volunteers taking pictures of and touching women and children. The intention may be good, but many of the refugees find it uncomfortable and overwhelming. They are not a spectacle – theys need peace, rest and sleep. They do not want cameras in their faces, volunteers seeking selfies and random individuals or groups peering into their temporary tarpaulin shelter.

Let’s pace ourselves. The Rohingya people have suffered for decades. In a few months, when the story disappears from headline news, when the online buzz dies down, we would encourage individuals to visit. That is the time when the refugees will want to see that they are not forgotten, but right now, we have an emergency relief situation. The distribute of aid and support needs to be organised and structured.

Deepen your knowledge of the Rohingya. The images of suffering is enough to make us want to dig deep and donate but there is much to learn about this community. Read up and then educate those around you.

  1. Rohingya is the name of their community, not where they live so let’s all use the right terminology. Don’t say “Take me to Rohingya.” There is no place called Rohingya. The Rohingya community are one of the many ethnic groups of Burma. They live in Rakhine, which was once Arakan (Kingdom of Arakan)
  2. The Rohingya have been suffering for the last 60 years. There are waves of violence every few months followed by a burst of social media activity, so global support has not been consistent. Recently, the attacks on the Rohingya have been particularly horrific. The majority of the population have now fled toward the border of Bangladesh, which is currently open. While the leader of Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been widely maligned for her approach to this crisis, our team’s report from the ground is that the refugees are not being turned away.
  3. Not all the Rohingya are muslim. A large majority are but not all. Regardless, they have been heavily affected. This is more than a religious attack. It’s a geo-political, economic crisis. The land that the Rohingya occupy is well-sought after.

Getting aid through. The UN and World Food Programme, amongst other major agencies, have no access to Myanmar right now. Some charities have managed to get through but with limited, restricted operations in towns and villages where both the Rohingya and Rakhine live so understandably some of their aid has gone on to support both. Different charities, including RestlessBeings, manage to gain access at different times and this remains an unpredictable and complicated process.

As donors, it is vital that we all understand the ebb and flow of the work done by charities on the ground. Sometimes we are needed most inside Myanmar and at other times, we are needed most in neighbouring countries, such as Bangladesh, because it is too risky to work inside Myanmar, where the military is ransacking and burning down entire villages. This is why the monetary donations we make can’t just be ringfenced for distribution in Myanmar.

Imagine this – the 500,000 Rohingya who have fled into Bangladesh are living in unimaginable conditions. They will die of disease, starvation and thirst, unless charities and aid organisations have the funds to support them. So pick a charity you trust and support. Donate to them. Check if they are on the ground and have access. Some charities like RestlessBeings have a 100% donation policy because we are voluntary run while other charities don’t(they take a small percentage for administrative costs or to pay their staff). Whatever and whoever you choose does not matter because if the charity is honest and dedicated to the cause, they will ensure your donations reach those who need it most. But be vigilant and do your research always.

RestlessBeings work in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and other parts of the region where the Rohingya have fled to. Support their efforts here.

Photo credit: Steve Gumaer

The Fall Is An Opportunity To Rise, by Omar Sallam

Fall is slowly becoming Omar Sallam’s favourite season. Growing up in Eastern lands it was a time when weather gave respite from hot summers. In the West, it’s a beautiful time to notice changing colours in nature while exploring pumpkin spice lattes offered at local areas.

As a family member Fall also can come with mixed emotions. Children going back to school or youth going back to University is a time that ranges from moaning to misery or a chance to get in touch with friends after the summer holiday. For parents it can be a bittersweet moment seeing children leaving homes to school for the first time or a time of celebration from a tiring summer of parenting and family fun.

Regardless of where you fall in the spectrum, Fall is a great chance for us to celebrate school, work, and family through clear and far reaching intentions. For this we turn to our noble Prophet Ibrahim peace be upon him to take us by the hand.

1. Foundation of full rewards

“Our Lord, accept [this] from us. You are the All Hearing, the All Knowing.” [2:127]

Before the start set your sight on acceptance of your act. Be it school, work, family, worship, or business. As the scholars teach one makes one’s intention sincere, renews it often, and tries to expand it and grow it. Even when can’t do an act due to lack of resources but is sincere, one can get a full reward.

“Verily, the world is only for four kinds of people. There is one whom Allah has granted wealth and knowledge, so he fears his Lord regarding them, upholds family ties, and acknowledges the rights of Allah over him. He will be in the best position. There is one whom Allah has granted knowledge without wealth and he has a sincere intention and he says: If I had wealth, I would have acted like this person. If that is his intention, then he will have the same reward as the other. There is one whom Allah has granted wealth without knowledge and he squanders his wealth in ignorance, he does not fear Allah regarding it, he does not fulfill his obligations to his family, and he does not acknowledge the rights of Allah over him. He will be in the worst position. There is one whom Allah has granted neither wealth nor knowledge and he says: If I had wealth, I would have acted like this person. If that is his intention, then he will have the same sin as the other.” [At-Tirmidhi]

2. Sound submission

“Our Lord, make us devoted to you and make our descendants into a community devoted to You” [2:128]

Have the intention for sound actions with excellence in what you do. If you don’t have necessary knowledge of your act learn the basics. If you know the necessary basics, then do that act with utmost devotion. While this isn’t always easy, it is easy to keep looking back at this supplication and trying over and over again. For example one can just pray alone, or aim to pray with others, or pray in a masjid with high devotion.

“The group prayer is twenty-five degrees higher than the prayer in your house or the prayer in your place of business. Anyone who does wudu’ and goes to the mosque with no other object than to do the prayer, Allah will raise him up a degree with every step he takes, and a wrong action will fall away from him. When he prays, the angels pray for him all the time he is in his place of prayer, ‘O Allah! Forgive him! O Allah! Show mercy to him!’ One of you is in the prayer as long as he is waiting for the prayer.” [Agreed upon]

Take an act and establish a minimum you don’t want to fall below, a medium where can normally maintain, and a challenging level for aspiration and start on it.

3. Take a U turn as needed

“Show us how to worship and accept our repentance” [2:128]

None of our actions are without slips and falls intentionally or not. Commit to assessing your intention and action by finding any faults and fixing them right away. “Allah Almighty will stretch out His hand during the night, turning towards the one who did wrong during the day, and stretch out His hand during the day, turning towards the one who did wrong during the night, until the day the sun rises from the place it set.” [Muslim]

That Hadith gives us daily hope at times when we slip, when we break our resolutions, or if we relapse into a bad habit we quit. This Fall we should commit to going back whenever we fall. Going back to what’s right whenever we err is one of the highest stations to attain in this life.

A helpful attitude is to feel the humility that no act is complete except by Allahs guidance to be inclined to the act itself, during the act, and after the act is done. So when stuck or unsure turn back. Because turning back to Allah is our only way ahead!

[cwa id=’cta’]

Contemplating A Future Without Honey… Or Bees, by Saleema Umm Bilal

Saleema Umm Bilal reviews a documentary on the wholesale destruction of bee colonies that has shaken her to the core.

Just today, I was talking to my kids about the new, raw honey my husband bought us. It was thick, creamy and smelled so good. Bilal and Amina were eager to try some as I stirred it into my chai. I couldn’t help but spill out of my mouth, “Can you believe this comes from those busy buzzing bees??”… and then I paused and worried a little, which Bilal immediately sensed.

“What? What’s wrong?” he asked as I gave Amina a half spoonful.

“Well, it’s scary because the bees are having trouble finding flowers to drink nectar from and make honey. We aren’t seeing that many bees anymore.”

From that came a whole host of questions. In my simplified and, to be honest, ignorant explanation I started describing how all the smoke the kids notice from cars, airplanes, motorcycles, the one factory they’ve seen, etc is mixing with the beautiful clouds in the sky. When that happens, it’s like a blanket covering our Earth. They guessed that the Earth warms up, especially as the sunlight hits us. That sounds nice and cozy but it’s making the planet too hot, and causing problems. His face looked worried but we kept chatting. We got back to the issue of bees and honey when my son realized I might not be able to use honey anymore in my tea, something I enjoy so much. He almost laughed and then felt bad when he said, “You’ll have to use sugar…”

Then he quickly asked, “What about Shifa?” That’s the love of his life, his 4 month old sister. “Will she be able to taste honey?” (All this time, Amina is listening and enjoying the thick, sweet beautiful topic of discussion.) I had always heard those sentimental words, “I want my kids/the future to enjoy what I had…” And I always felt bit smug hearing them be used. But this time, it made me feel empty inside. I looked at her, in her swing, sitting a little bit from the kitchen table. I had hope God would let her taste something so pure like honey, one day. I did fear her kids would not. I knew I could not sit around status quo without doing my part to make sure they would.

We concluded that we need to make changes. Bilal suggested battery cars. I thought, less Amazon Prime. The solution is all that and much more. We have to live differently, dress differently, eat differently and spend differently… All the billions of people on this planet, if we want to keep enjoying and surviving. It starts with me and my family. and you and yours.

Later that same day, my sister sent me this video link. It had such an impact on me, I decided to send it to every email in my contacts list. Please watch, let it move you, and share with everyone you can. God is Great, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. I believe that and I believe He gave us free will to choose how we act.

“Before the Flood,” captures a three-year personal journey alongside Academy Award-winning actor and U.N. Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio as he interviews individuals from every facet of society in both developing and developed nations who provide unique, impassioned and pragmatic views on what must be done today and in the future to prevent catastrophic disruption of life on our planet. The film was released on October 30, 2016 and made available free by National Geographic through November 8, 2016. The “Before the Flood” website shows ways in which you can watch the full movie. Video from KarmaTube.

[cwa id=’cta’]

Reflecting on Water, the Anti-DAPL Movement, and Our Stewardship of the Earth

In response to the call from a native American tribal leader, there’s been a groundswell of support among North American based faith leaders to pray and reflect in solidarity with the water protectors at Standing Rock working to preserve local waters from the DAPL project. Ustadh Sharif Rosen delivered the following reflection at a prayer vigil, with particular focus on working to preserve the blessing of water. This movement combining both social justice and our roles as stewards of the earth appears to be one that Muslims should be invested in, however possible, he writes.


Ustadh Sharif Rosen’s reflection

In the name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
Allah, the Creator of the Heavens and Earth says in the Quran, in the chapter entitled “Rome”,
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ يُرِيكُمُ الْبَرْقَ خَوْفًا وَطَمَعًا وَيُنَزِّلُ مِنَ السَّمَاء مَاء فَيُحْيِي بِهِ الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا
إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ
{And from His signs is that He shows you thunder which incites awe and hope, and He sends down waters from the sky by which the earth is revived after its death; indeed, in this, is a great sign for those of intellect} [30:24]
ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ
{Corruption has surfaced in the land and the sea from what human hands have earned that they might turn back} [30:41]
The current struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project in the United States represents only one flashpoint in the wider crisis affecting each living creature. The insatiable desire to control and exploit our most precious resources is nothing less than a declaration of war on our own selves.
God invites us to witness and reflection upon His signs in the creation; to view existence through the lens of sacred meanings embedded therein.  As scholars like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf remind us, we might then see that the state of the earth’s waters mirrors the inward and outward state of humanity who have been tasked as custodians of the earth.  Thus, when our oceans, rivers and streams are corrupted with acidity, garbage, and toxins; when our seas are over-fished and then, overrun with hyper-consumers like the brainless, heartless, spineless jellyfish on one hand; and the far more destructive predator, ourselves on the other, by sacred measures, the imbalance we have caused is setting the table for our own annihilation.
Water is among the greatest proofs of God’s mercy; in this life as our sustenance and means to purity; in the next life, where the lush, shaded groves of the Garden are nourished by pure, flowing waters.  The Arabic word for water is ma-a, whose letters form the roots for the word mahiya which means “essence”.  Water is who we are, in the very composition of our bodies, and what will enrich us again in the world to come.  Yet, in our relationship with water now — whether through our care or our abuse — we may see the reflection of who we really are, or rather, what we have become.
The noble poet, Imam Muhammad al-Busiri, God have mercy on him, may as well have been describing the blessing of water when he said, “The more familiar and obvious a thing, the more subtle and hidden it is.”
Our prayer is that we not be of those who let all of that which is most valuable, most near to us, go neglected, and then, damaged beyond repair.
May we aid the struggle to preserve the right of all peoples to access the cleansing and pure water that is among God’s great mercies to all of creation.
May we support the centuries-old cause of the native peoples of this continent, and in all lands as they defend their lives, their water, their cultures, their sovereignty and dignity.
May we apply our entire selves to the restoration of sanity and balance in this world — in its ecology, in our consumption, in our political and economic systems, in our social discourse, in our aspirations, in our religion and spirituality, and in our very souls.
May our life’s impact be wide in benefit, but our footprint, gentle.
And all praise is God’s alone.

What You Need To Know About Standing Rock

The Native American tribes of Standing Rock are protesting the construction of a pipeline to transport shale oil from North Dakota to the Gulf of Mexico across their land. This pipeline threatens their sacred sites and their way of life, their water and very livelihoods. The situation brings to mind countless like confrontations, but this time, with global support, the Sioux of Standing Rock may have turned history’s tide.

“Perhaps you have noticed that even in the slightest breeze you can hear the voice of the cottonwood tree; this we understand is its prayer to the Great Spirit, for not only men, but all things and all beings pray to Him continually in different ways.”—Black Elk

Since the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the Sioux of Standing Rock and other Six Nations Tribes have seen a great number of promises broken with devastating consequences. One of the most well-known battles of the Great Sioux War of 1876 between the Sioux, allied with Arapaho and Cheyenne, and the US Government was the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

The war is also know as the Black Hills War due to the central object of contention between the Sioux Tribes and the Government, namely, the Black Hills—a site sacred to the Sioux. What sparked off the war was a 1874 violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty by General George A. Custer and the 7th Cavalry. They entered the Black Hills and found gold, which started a gold rush on Sioux Lands. The Standing Rock Protests of today are, in a similar way, the result of a contemporary gold rush.

The Bakken Oil Fields of North Dakota (Montana, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) were discovered in 1951. But only recently, with the advent of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, has oil production boomed since 2000. This kicked off a modern day gold rush, and marked improvements in the economy of North Dakota.

“You have to follow your heart and it will tell you what you can do to help. It’s not for me to say, we need this, we want this, or we have to have this. It’s up to you. Just being here is enough for me: to know that you are here, and that you’re supporting us.”—Standing Rock Sioux Chairman, David Archambault II, to Imam Zaid Shakir

As a result of this oil production increased and shipment of Bakken Oil from the fields to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico became necessary. The solution to this logistic problem was pipelines. The main one being the Keystone Pipeline. However, several plans for new pipelines that can accommodate the volume produced have been on the table for years. One of the more notorious of these is Keystone XL, which has also been met with a great deal of resistance. This was, however, rejected by the Obama administration in 2015.

An alternate plan, known as the Dakota Access Pipeline or the Bakken Pipeline, was made public by Dakota Access, LLC in July 2014. This plan, in turn, gave rise to the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests (NoDAPL) we see today. At the center of these protests are various Native American Tribes, most notably the Standing Rock Sioux. A protest camp was established by a tribal elder in April 2016.

Mainstream media coverage of the protests has been very limited until recently. It seems clear that the coverage is nowhere near that given to the Keystone XL protests in their time. Despite that the protests have received a great deal of international attention and support from other tribal and religious communities throughout the world. Many Muslim leaders and groups have stepped up in support of NoDAPL, among them, Imam Zaid Shakir, who visited the camp in October 2016.

Sources and further reading:

1. From a local protest to a Global Movement: What Standing Rock is about and how it grew

2. Imam Zaid Shakir visits the protest camp.

3. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe History.

4. The bigger picture: “The Bakken is the most dangerous oil field to work in the U.S. The energy producers never pay for their mistakes.”

5. Bad News For The Bakken As Obama Administration Blocks Pipeline

6. A Special Report on Standing Rock: The Environmental and Social Justice Consequences of the Dakota Access Pipeline

7. Standing Rock protests: this is only the beginning. The world has been electrified by protests against the Dakota access pipeline. Is this a new civil rights movement where environmental and human rights meet?

8. Standing Rock Sioux Pediatrician: Threat from Fracking Chemicals is “Environmental Genocide”

9. The Injustice At Standing Rock Is An American Story

10. Boom and Bust in the Bakken Oil Fields
The discovery last decade that fossil fuels could be tapped from rock deep beneath the windswept prairies of North Dakota acted like a magnet on American working people. By the thousands they came, from as far as Texas and California, fortune-seekers in a modern-day Gold Rush.

11. Muslims Defend the Sacred – Solidarity with Standing Rock

Etiquette of Social Media – Ustadh Amjad Tarsin

As main tools of communication and connectivity, Social Media is everywhere, and with immediacy. Ustad Amjad Tarsin calls us to ponder to what end? For what purpose?

Two individuals could be doing the exact same thing, and one is rewarded and one may be punished. What gives? What is the difference between the two?  Ustadh Amjad invites us to ponder on the value of purpose and intention in every deed and action performed by the individual; what makes or breaks our actions?
“As believers we do not go off on auto pilot” reminds Ustadh Amjad; the urgency lies in reflecting and making purposeful intentions. “Social media should not be a replacement for real life.”

Ask yourself, “what purpose is this for– to what end? How does this connect me to Allah ?” Sure , social media offers you anonymity from the creation and instant connectivity; but Allah is always with you and aware of all that you do–even before you think of it. What then have you to show your Creator? what is it that you wish to share with your Lord?

The believer should have purpose in life with God-consciousness and intentionality as the provisions and tools for true, long lasting success.

Cover photo by  MKHMarketing

Resources for the Seekers:

Vulnerability as the Pathway to Virtue – Dr. Ingrid Mattson

Join the conversation regarding sacred wisdom and pathways to non-violence at the 2016 Festival of Faith conference in Louisville, Kentucky with Dr. Ingrid Mattson  as she profoundly connects the viewer and listener to the nature of need as the true human experience and Vulnerability as its gateway.

It seems that all aspects of life stem down to the notion of power or the lack thereof.  Suffering is real; evil occurs and is experienced. What then is  our response? How do we understand and connect?

Dr. Ingrid’s response is real and compelling: “everyone will do what they will do and  my job is to learn in that situation; my job is to see the  opportunity for me to express my reliance and awareness of God’s Power ; to understand what it means to be in need of mercy, to be in need of compassion, and to be in need of justice.”
Vulnerability allows us to have the courage to go forward and try to exemplify prophetic virtues into action for the sake of all of those whose peace is being disturbed.

We are grateful to the Festival of Faith for the video. Cover photo by Bhatti Mashooque


Resources for the Seekers:

A Description of the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ Bed – Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

What did the bedding of the Prophet ﷺ like, and why did he choose it? In this short but inspiring video, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani discusses how the choices of the Most Beloved indicated his ultimate choice: the hereafter.

Why did he choose a mat that didn’t cover his body if he was given the keys to the treasures of the whole earth? What did he choose instead? What were his priorities? 

Resources for Seekers

Protecting The Environment – In Allah’s Words, by Shaykh Ali Hani

Shaykh Ali Hani is one of the greatest living experts of the Arabic language, the Quran and their sciences. In this video, Shaykh Ali describes what Allah tells us in the Quran about the environment – an important and timely lesson. The translator is Shaykh Hamza Karamali.

Resources on protecting the environment: