Leadership Leading to Disunity

A heart that has not truly grasped the golden rule—loving for others, what you would love for yourself—will ultimately break it.  Too often the reason why it is difficult to be involved in the community is that too many of us lack this rule in our heart. This is especially the case when feelings get heated between members of the same community–or even religious organizations–over the correct way to resolve an issue.  Yet, many times the issue is not the worst part of it.

During discussions passions may become inflamed, hurtful words said and slander and backbiting becomes a norm. This often leaves greater harm in the community then the initial problem that prompted it.  The Prophet ﷺwas keenly aware of the effect of words. Very comprehensively he ﷺ said of their effect: “A man utters a word pleasing to God without considering it of any significance, yet for it God exalts his rank; and another one speaks a word displeasing to God without considering it of any significance, yet for it he will sink into the Hellfire.”

May Allah forgive and protect us…

Furthermore, due to our own ideals and goals community leaders, activists, and volunteers may become dismissive of the benefit another member of the community brings–simply because they do not share the same focus. This is like dismissing the moon for not shining like the sun, yet each was created with a distinct purpose.  It is a great blessing that we find in our community those who argue for more youth programs and services, another for fairer treatment of women, another for better religious education and another for interfaith work; all of this is needed!

Yet, while each leader walks the community towards a perceived destination, they stumble over the concerns of others.  And, not sharing the same focus, some (if not many) dismiss the efforts of the other.

If we are truly trying to bring some good to the community, we need to recognize and accept that the work that others are doing, and the concerns that others are bringing forward are all needed and come from a genuine concern for the good of the community. Leaders must understand the concerns of the people, even if the concern is not their primary focus. Though, I would argue that many times they are all interrelated.

Let us then speak well of the other and help them in their work, for ultimately we are all looking forward to living in a better community.  Let us not speak ill  or ridicule the efforts of the other; for they may be providing a much needed service to the community we would not be able to provide on our own.

             “Believers, no one group of men should jeer at another, who may after all be better than them; no one group of women should jeer at another, who may after all be better than them; do not speak ill of one another; do not use offensive nicknames for one another. How bad it is to be called a mischief-maker after accepting faith! Those who do not repent of this behaviour are evildoers” (Q. al-Hujurat, 49:10-11).

May God help us to bring good to others, but also protect us from preventing others from bringing good as well…

Encountering Tabataba’i

Encouraged by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, and my own interests in wanting to better understand the broader Islamic tradition, I decided to read and review a book on tafsir (Qur’anic commentary) composed by one of the Shi’a tradition’s most erudite scholars: ‘Allamah Sayyid M. H. Tabataba’i. Here is my, a Sunni Muslim’s, summary and reflection…

The Qur’an in Islam: It’s Impact & Influence on the Life of  Muslims, by ‘Allamah Sayyid M. H. Tabataba’i, trans. by Assadullah ad-Dhaakir Yate (Texas: Zahra Publications, 1987), 118 pages.

Written in Persian with the intension of being translated for an English-speaking audience, The Qur’an in Islam attempts to “make Shi’ism better known in the Western world” (p. 9). It was written by, as Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr relates in the book’s Forward, “one of the great masters of the traditional sciences in Iran” (p. 10). The author, ‘Allamah Sayyid M. H. Tatataba’i, was born in 1903 (or 1892) into a “distinguished family of scholars” (p. 10) and spent most of his life as a student, and teacher, of Islamic sciences. Tabataba’i was a prolific author and despite the hindrance of eye-problems that plagued him until his death in 1981, he continued to write books and articles on the Islamic sciences; especially on the subject of Islamic Philosophy. Through his later life and parallel to his other works he continued to write what would later become a “monumental commentary” on the Noble Qur’an, his Tafsir al-Mizan; a massive twenty-seven volume work (in Arabic, but also translated to Persian) which he “completed in his mid-seventies” (p. 11). The Qur’an in Islam, is considered to be a “synopsis of [that] major commentary” (p. 11).

Only being 118 pages (including the Forward and Index), Tabataba’i does not attempt to convey every point from his voluminous commentary, rather he distills it down to five key elements (separated into chapters): 1) The Value of the Qur’an in the Eyes of the Muslims, 2) The Teachings of the Qur’an, 3) The Revelation of the Qur’an, 4) The Relationship of the Qur’an to the Sciences, and 5) The Order of the Qur’an’s Revelation and the Growth of the Qur’anic Sciences. Though much of the text does deal with the role of the Qur’an in the life of a Muslim, much more of it is focused upon hermeneutics; that is, the methodology through which a text is interpreted. Tabataba’i makes clear in the introduction that the “purpose of this work is to define the position of the Qur’an in such a way that the Holy Book explains itself, rather than giving our own opinions concerning it” (p. 15). This is of course a difficult, if not impossible, position to manifest for any person and, while well-intentioned, one which I do not believe he presents. However, The Qur’an in Islam is still an excellent introduction into the Shi’i approach to the Qur’an, providing for its reader a rational, albeit brief, analysis of some very intricate hermeneutical debates between Sunni and Shi’i Muslims.

Continue reading “Encountering Tabataba’i”

Caring for Ahmad and Other Muslim Youth

To continue the conversation about youth at risk, and how imams and Muslim chaplains can respond, I asked my dear friend Sh. Jamaal Diwan to offer a reflection on the points raised in my article “What Happened to Ahmad: Responding to Muslim Youth at Risk.” The following is his insightful response:

Since I was asked to write about this topic from the perspective of a student of Shari’a, I would like to begin my comments with some reflections on the role of the imam in America and then work from there towards my thoughts on the relationship between chaplains and imams.

Generally, the imam is looked to as the leader of his community and the source of guidance for his congregation. In America this is no different and requires the presence of certain traits in the ideal imam. From these traits are things such as the following: having a strong training in and knowledge of the traditional Islamic sciences; understanding the people and culture that he is serving; speaking English fluently; knowing how to deal with people, empowering and motivating them; being aware of the major trends in society and cultivating the ability to address them from the perspective of Islam; having a spirit of humility, self-sacrifice, and servitude; and so on.

I recognize that it is very rare to find all of these traits in one imam, but it does represent an ideal that we as a community should strive towards. It is of note here that from the previous description, it is necessarily a part of the imam’s role in the community for him to engage in pastoral services at some level. However, that does not mean that this is what the imam is usually primarily trained in nor does it mean that it is the best place for the imam to spend large quantities of his time. In many of our communities we find that imams are busy in a never-ending flow of counseling sessions that wear them out spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. This has the devastating effect of taking them away from the crucial roles of religious instruction, guidance, and their own personal studies. We face many challenges and imams that do not have the chance to even review things that they learned in their studies, let alone increase their knowledge, will find themselves incapable of addressing these challenges and come up short in providing thought and guidance for the people.

Continue reading “Caring for Ahmad and Other Muslim Youth”

“What happened to Ahmad?”: Responding to Muslim Youth at Risk

“Ibrahim,” he asked, “can you speak with me?”  Ahmad*, 19, was a young Muslim man struggling with peer pressure at his community college to drink and engage in sexual activity. I was not the imam, nor was I a chaplain at this time, but I could see in his eyes that he was desperately seeking some good advice and someone who would listen to him.  While Ahmad came from a practicing Muslim home, he did not feel comfortable speaking to them about the peer pressures he faced.  He confessed to me that he had been giving in to them and knew that what he was doing was wrong.  Though he had wanted to seek help for some time from his local imam, he worried that the most the imam would tell him was that what he was doing is ḥarām. Ahmad also felt the imam, who had been raised in another country, would not understand the pressures of growing up in an American society.  He wanted to speak to someone who, he felt, would understand the pressures he faced and not simply offer a legal verdict.

Continue reading ““What happened to Ahmad?”: Responding to Muslim Youth at Risk”

Seminary Trains Muslim & Jewish Chaplains

Graduate Certificate in Islamic Chaplaincy

The Graduate Certificate in Islamic Chaplaincy is designed to provide Muslim religious leaders and chaplains with basic skills in pastoral care, arts of ministry, theology and ethics, dialogue and interfaith relations needed to serve as chaplains in a variety of settings. The areas of knowledge and skill acquisition provided by the 24-credit graduate certificate are:

  • the responsibilities of Muslim chaplains/religious leaders surrounding life events such as birth, death, marriage, and loss
  • the rituals surroundings these same life events
  • examination of Islamic law, which undergirds all Islamic rituals and includes ethics and morality
  • the application of Islamic law to daily life
  • exposure to and understanding of chaplaincy skills in multi-faith settings
  • understanding of faith traditions other than one’s own

To Learn More Visit Islamic Chaplaincy Program

Embracing the Truth: Answers After Converting to Islam

Imagine this. You are standing in front of a crowd of people, whom the majority you do not even know. You have been contemplating for weeks, months, some even years about this important decision that you are about to make. A ton of emotion and thought runs through your body.

Something had been missing your whole life, there was always something that didn’t feel right, and you never really knew why, but you continued to search until this day. After keeping faith, hope, and never giving up, you finally found exactly what was missing-Islam. And at this very moment, your are about to proclaim your faith. Suddenly, it’s said “ashadu a lā ilāha illa Allāh, wa ashadu anna Muammadan rasūl Allāh.”

Immediately everyone rushes you with gifts, kisses, handshakes, hugs, and advice. Those strangers whom you were looking at 5 minutes ago, now claim to be your brother and your sister in Islam. It is now that you are officially accepted, integrated, and welcomed by all who surround you. Your emotions run like crazy: the discovery of truth, the feeling of peace, joy, and for some…fear.

Sadness reigns as a result of the disapproval by your loved ones. Fear settles at the bottom of your gut because you now have to hide from ridicule and remarks by those who you trust. Uncertainty develops as you practice something you are completely new at, and unfortunately, those who called you a brother or sister in Islam don’t even realize it. Their backs are turned, and the help that was professed on day one is no longer there. You begin missing your salah’s without feeling any regret. Your mentality of the very existence of Allah is starting to diminish, and before you know it, you are no longer practicing Islam…


In order to address such issues, SALAM Center’s Outreach Committee presents a series of topics given by a panel of convert scholars and activists to help identify the unique needs and situations of converts, along with how to best assist our new brothers and sisters with integrating into Islam and the Muslim community.

The night will reflect understanding, encouragement, and change for many. Although the event is targeting a majority convert audience, we hope to have born Muslims, convert Muslims, and re-dedicated Muslims attend; as the message will relate to each group in a special way.

Each speaker will speak about issues including: Islam & Family, Culture & Islam, Islam in the Workplace, Women & Islam, and the American Convert Experience. Attendees will be given an opportunity to express issues they have faced after embracing Islam. For those of the immigrant community, attendance is encouraged. A well respected environment filled with thought is an absolute must for those who would like to help assist and understand their Muslim brothers and sisters.

Event will be held September 18, 2010 in Sacramento, CA

Registration is Required, Please Register Today!

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Below is a short bio of our selected panel of scholars and activists:

Br. Khalil Abu Asmaa (Christopher J. Moore)

Khalil Abu Asmaa (Christopher J. Moore) was born and raised in America into a practicing Christian family. While on the path to becoming a professional musician, he went through a deep spiritual and emotional journey that led to his conversion to Islam in the summer of 1994 at the age of nineteen.

He later traveled to the Muslim world in search of sacred knowledge and a balanced understanding of the prophetic legacy. He has studied in the blessed city of Madinah (1996 to 1999), the deserts of West Africa, the Atlas Mountains of Southern Morocco, and the Hadramawt Valley of Yemen.

He holds a B.A. in English, with a minor in Religious Studies, from George Mason University (2001) and a M.A. in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland (2007). He has also studied Arabic-English translating and interpreting at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.

Ustadh Usama Canon

Born and raised in California, Usama Canon embraced Islam in 1996. Since then, he has had the honor of studying various Islamic Sciences both at home and abroad under some of today’s foremost scholars. Currently, Usama Canon serves as an Instructor at Zaytuna Institute and as a Muslim Chaplain for the State of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Usama Canon is the Founding Director of Ta’leef Collective and maintains an active role in various facets of outreach and education, concentrating on issues facing Muslim youth, assisting converts, and developing support systems for Muslim ex-offenders.

Br. Mustafa Davis

Mustafa Davis embraced Islam in February 1996 in Santa Clara, CA. After traveling to many countries in the Muslim world he attended the Badr Institute for Arabic and studied various Islamic Sciences with a focus on Shafi’i Fiqh at Dar al Mustafa Institute in Tarim, Yemen. In 2003, he returned to the USA where he pursued studies in filmmaking at the New York Film Academy (Universal Studios – Hollywood, CA). Upon graduation Mustafa relocated to the Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates where he established the Media Division of the Tabah Foundation for Islamic Studies and Research. He held the executive positions of Media Division Director, Film Producer/Director and Media Advisor. Mustafa resides in the California Bay Area and is an established documentary film producer and instructor.

Br. Aaron Haroon Sellars

Aaron Haroon Sellars was born in Washington, D.C. and attended Virginia Commonwealth University, where he majored in graphic arts and developed a special interest in film, photography and music. Subsequently, after joining the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists/Screen Actors Guild, he worked for four years as an extra in movies and television, acted in commercials, and did voiceover work for film and radio broadcasts. For over two years he was lead singer and songwriter for the alternative band Motiongrind as well as a producer of a large body of material as a solo artist.

He converted to Islam in 1994 and has been serving as the audio-visual technician at Zaytuna College (former Zaytuna Institute) since 2001. At Zaytuna he uses a variety of media including digital photography, audio and video to document and share the college’s historic mission to be the first fully accredited Muslim College in America. A published poet, he lives with his wife and their three daughters in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Br. Isa Shaw

Isa Shaw was raised the son of a Pentecostal pastor and a Baptist minister.  He converted to Islam in year 2000 after serving with the Marines in the Gulf War.  His spiritual journey began while living on a Baptist theological seminary that his mother was attending.

Brother Isa works as an outreach volunteer for the Muslim Community Association of the Bay Area where he teaches the 5 week Discover Islam class for people of all faiths and the 14 week Exploring Islam Class for new Muslims.  He also serves on the Executive Committee for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area.

Sr. Christine Chase

Christine Chase has been a Computer System Administrator at NASA Ames Research Center for about 14 years. She is an American who became Muslim as a young adult. She married an Egyptian Muslim and has 7 children aging from almost 13 to 25 years old.

She has been involved with the Santa Clara Muslim community for over 25 years. She has volunteered in many positions such as the women’s committee, the outreach committee, the funeral committee, and the Granada Islamic School Board.  Her children have grown up in the Muslim Community Association of the Bay Area. They are active volunteers in the MCA community as well as in the greater community. They have also been volunteers at Stanford Hospital, Red Cross, and Second Harvest Food Bank.

Post submitted by Br. Joshua; a student of UC-Davis and fellow convert.

Prayer and the Prison Khutba

Speaking to incarcerated individuals can be very challenging. Their interests and culture are particular to a prison life which the chaplain does not live. However, as chaplains we have to try our best to speak not just for the sake of fulfilling the obligation of Jumu’ah prayer, but also make it mean something to those we leave inside.

It is not just the content of the sermon, but also how the speaker conveys his words. It is even critical how you handle yourself before and after the sermon as I have felt constantly “sized up.” One Friday I was severely tested.

After the sermon I sat to give a short halaqah; something I hoped could be of benefit since the brothers had very limited access to Islamic knowledge. However, before we even began, something set off one of the inmates into a verbal assault against me. For almost half an hour I dealt with the brother. I had to walk a thin line demonstrating that I could defend myself verbally without provoking the inmate into a physical response. It was a difficult time and I felt like I was being tested for my “toughness”. Last Friday I returned to the same group to try Jumu’ah again and something very interesting happened.

Continue reading “Prayer and the Prison Khutba”