Category Archives: Culture

The Preamble to the Constitution and its Meaning

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

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Establish justice: The reasons why there was Revolution against England were still important to the American citizens, so they wanted to make sure that they would have justice under the Constitution.

Insure domestic tranquility: One of the main reasons why the Constitutional Convention was held was because of Shays’ Rebellion. This was an uprising of farmers in Massachusetts against the state for having to repay war debts. Citizens were worried with the keeping peace within the country’s borders.

Provide for the common defense: There was still a change of being attacked by other countries. No individual state had the power to defend itself against attacks. Because of this, the Framers knew that it was important for the states to defend the nation together.

Promote the general welfare: This phrase meant that the well-being of the citizens would be taken care of as well as possible by the Federal government.

Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity: The point of this phrase in the Preamble, and the constitution as a whole was to help protect the country’s hard-earned rights for liberty, unjust laws, and freedom from a tyrannical government.

Ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America: This last phrase of the Preamble is a powerful statement saying that the people made this document, and the people give the country its power.

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Islam, The Female Scholar and Tradition

 

ramadan_2012_17-350x245There are prevailing misconceptions within Christian communities that Muslims hate Christians and that women are oppressed by Islamic teachings. It is widely reinforced by many Christian leaders. The most profound revelation was the reality of their limited interest in understanding beyond their perceptions and preconceived notions.

They see Muslims as monolithic. We are only Shia or Sunni and if we even divert from their perceived “oppressive,” “hate filled” and “violent,” understanding of Islam, we must be Sufi; completely misunderstanding our schools of thought, diversity within our communities and relevance in modern society. They miss the multitude of complexity and individuality within Islam.

In Islam we have no hierarchy of clergy. There are scholars of different scopes, from social policy, language, history, law and interpretation. There is no governing body of Muslims. There is a tradition of personal responsibility and individual commitment to scholarship. There are schools of thought and their proponents. In that sense, many Muslims will follow a school of thought which closely resembles their scholarship and others also follow proponents of those schools of thought.

The Islamic orthodoxy of law is quite vast and versatile, although there are hindrances to that versatility. There are issues that have led to some scholars blindly following certain fixed schools of thought, and in turn to the subjugation of religious values to popular culture; thus our current dilemma/dichotomy.

“Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason.” (Quran 8:22)

In many patriarchal societies the role of the woman Imam or scholar is limited to preaching and teaching other women, regardless of the core of Islamic teaching that men and women are equal and both are teachers of Islam to each other.

Since immigrants are still the major stakeholders in the Mosques, most mosques have not had a female board member, executive director and have never had a woman scholar or preacher speak to the community.

This perspective of patriarchy does not reflect on the teachings of Islam. It reflects on the cultural factors of a society and within what have become socially acceptable norms.

“The believing men and women are patrons of each other. They command to good, rebuke evil, establish prayers, give alms, obeying God and His messenger. They will have God’s mercy. Indeed God is Mighty and Wise.” (Qur’an, 9:71)

This verse, like many others, puts men and women on equal footing regarding the practice of religion. It is especially significant because its linguistics equates men and women working together in preaching.

Early Islamic leaders recognized the importance of women in society as leaders and reformers in a time when women in the world were seen as of little significance, Islam gave women a voice and rights.

“Back in the days of ignorance before Islam, we didn’t consider women of much significance at all. This all changed with the emergence of Islam in which God mentioned them with respect and gave them new rights then we realized their rights over us.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 5843)

“Sometimes we the companions of Muhammad would get confused about Islamic teachings. We would then go and ask Aisha about itand we found she always had the knowledge we were seeking in it.” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi, 3883)

“I never saw anyone more knowledgeable of the Qur’an, Islamic Law, poetry, Arab history and lineages than Aisha  (may God be pleased with her).” (Al-Hakim, 4/11)jewelofmedina460

Aisha being a great female scholar of Islam, wife of the prophet and religious leader in her own right even after his death, spoke to, counseled and was the influence to many of the Caliphs which were to follow.

Female scholars were the teachers of the male scholars and leaders of Islam in Islamic history.

The exceptional women of Islam are too numerous to name. Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr is only one of many. Zainab bint Kamal taught hadiths in the 12th century. Umm al-Darda became a teacher of hadith and fiqh and lectured in the men’s section. One of her students was the caliph of Damascus. The Prophet taught that there is no difference in worth between believers on account of their gender.

The gross violations of women’s rights in the Muslim world today, relegating the Muslim woman only to the role of a mother and housewife is a relatively modern phenomenon. In early Islam women were the driving force in the formation of Islamic history. Fatimah supported the prophet and was his counsel. Aisha Led an Army.

In the religion of Islam, there is no original sin. Men and women bear equal responsibility. Many traditions have grown weak and women have been relegated in patriarchal societies to second class citizens, contrary to the core teachings of Islam, with cultural norms overtaking the religious teachings of Islamic tradition and the female role in Islam in many cultures.

Women scholars spent their lives in pursuit of historical facts. Historical criticism is a fundamental principle in Islam.

The Qur’an requires

“O believers! If any iniquitous person comes to you with a slanderous tale, verify it, lest you hurt people unwittingly…” (49:6)

Many Muslims have strayed from scholarly tradition and have become used to certain ways of dealing; that does not mean that our traditional sources of law are not relevant in modern society. These traditions to include the female scholar are better suited for modern society and helping to identify in regard to social issues.

It is important not to judge Islam by the state of nationalist and conservative mindsets refusing to proceed with the progressive and forward thinking nature of Islam. The religious doctrine does not support the cultural norms of these nationalists. The religion of Islam is much bigger than that. There are generations who laid the foundation of modern civilization.

Islam is more than capable of addressing and resolving many contemporary issues. There is an obligation within Islam to provide the tools and a setting to address issues like racism, misogyny and oppression that have been lost on those who refuse to remain relevant.

To address the question for Christians about where Islam and Muslims stand on Christianity; there is only to look at the Quran, the words and mandates of the prophet Muhammad for answers.

Muhammad saw Christians as part of our community, our people, to be allowed freedom of religion and protection from oppression and religious suppression as evidenced in his writings and promises to Christian communities.

The Quran expresses religious unity between Jews, Muslims and Christians as one community with many paths to the same destinations and refers to Jews, Muslims and Christians as “the believers.”

“Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.” (Quran 2:62)

Preachers who teach falsehoods of a dubious nature to subvert pluralism and unity will lead their followers astray and thrive on sectarianism. A thinking population is always dangerous to the status quo. A religion that was only devised to control and cheat people would never expose religious preachers like this, for it would be against their very interests,

“And they (the common people) will say: O our Sustainer! Behold, we paid heed unto our leaders and our great men, and it is they who have led us astray from the right path!” (Quran, 33:67)

Islam teaches Muslims to be free and critical thinkers, to question everything and then question it again.

The Quran tells Muslims to think for themselves, to uphold justice, to speak up and speak out against injustice and oppression.

The Quran expresses the need for social justice and the mandate in fighting oppression. Islam is not a religion that only gives you dogma to follow blindly, in return for some grand reward of paradise. Instead it expects one to use intellect and resourcefulness to help those less fortunate and vulnerable in society and to do all this in the pursuit of justice.

The Quran establishes that faith is only the beginning on the path. It isn’t the end of the journey. And on that journey are men and women on equal stance.

Contrary to popular belief, women are not subjugated by Islam, they are empowered by it. They have played an important part from the beginning, as teachers, preachers, warriors and leaders.

Research can present women with confidence in their role in Islam, while some are confined to their homes because of cultural norms others are vying for and fighting for leadership  throughout the Muslim world.

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I Can’t…

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by A.N. Bayat

I’m angry, you’re angry, everyone’s angry and if you are not angry you will be.

I went for hot chocolate with a friend last night. A lady approached us asking how she could help and how bad it all made her feel and she wanted to do something because she felt helpless. My friend told her we were fine and we appreciate it. She insisted that she felt so bad she had to do something. She offered to pay for our hot chocolate. At first, we said no and she was so distraught, so we allowed it. She said she felt so much better. Her husband pointed out that she wasn’t doing anything to help us, that we were doing more to help her by helping her feel better.

I thought about what he said, and that hit the nail on the head. I had someone message me yesterday to offer their help and support and in the same breath chastise me and judge me for posting what she thought were angry posts.  

It made me realise that so much of this, although it doesn’t affect many directly, it affects so many indirectly.

In the past few days, I’ve come across people who I thought were being insensitive or not empathetic. I felt they were making this situation about themselves while others were hurting, afraid and even uncertain about their futures. They tell me they feel helpless and want to help, want to reach out, how can they help and what can they do? They want to go to mosques and invite people for Thanksgiving and are concerned how that works. That’s thoughtful. Something about all that kept bothering me and I couldn’t pinpoint it until the hot chocolate incident.

It also made me realise that it is still everyone for themselves, even those it affects and those who say they want to help. This isn’t unity. There are enough people out there who really don’t care, who don’t want to help and people who it doesn’t affect directly. The rest of us – empathise.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I appreciate those who care. If you are judging me for how I feel or express my feelings and in the same breath want me to not feel it or express it to make you feel better, what is really happening? If you understand the anger of those of us whose rights and freedoms are on the line, then understand it, but don’t ask me not to feel it to make you feel better.

Don’t tell me, not to be angry, not to speak out, not to make waves, not to…Don’t tell me to help you feel better. I can’t even help myself.

I can’t empathise right now. I’m confused. I can’t lift you up right now. I’m exhausted. I can’t spell it out for you. I’m unfocused. I can’t help you feel better or tell you what to do to not feel helpless about it. I am trying to sort it out. I can’t be strong for you. I can’t be silent or polite for you. I can’t…I can’t…can you?

A part of me knows, I’m not angry. I’m disappointed and determined. You’re safe with me.

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Once Upon a Time

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They say perception is reality. If that is so, then there is beauty in everything.
There is beauty in the darkness as well as in the light.

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Field Notes: “Dear Joe…this is what I happened today…or what I saw, thought or heard…”

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Sometimes when I am writing to him, or we talk about something, it inspires me to write. Those are usually the best times and the best ones. They are usually the ones where I dig deep. With him I let down my guard and am not just thinking, but feeling. I reach for deeper understanding. My field notes begin with “Dear Joe…this is what I happened today…or what I saw, thought or heard…”

I carry two books with me wherever I go. Both are addressed to the man in my life. He is my best friend, my muse and my confident, all wrapped into one. In one I do vent and just speak from emotions. Mostly it’s just saying things I don’t mean. The other is just me speaking to him, when I have no other way of connecting.  To me, he is my best friend. Right or wrong, that’s how it is. He’s my inspiration. Over the years, I’ve tried to distance myself from him and turn those feelings and connection into something different, something distant and disconnected. But, it isn’t just about feelings. Not for me. It’s about a place he holds in my life that is only of family. He is not replaceable and never expendable.

I have asked so many questions and looked beyond doctrine alone to understand this place, to examples and places beyond just what I am told. I can’t just believe without question. I have to know the why, how and what. I didn’t come back to my religion out of fear or hopes of some grand reward. I did so because I truly believe. Maybe I don’t seem to believe in the same sense as many people do or maybe not in the same manner as most. I didn’t do it through ritual or conservative dogma. I believe in the God who created us, gave us free will, expressed his most intimate concerns and expectations for us as people and a society. I believe in the God that taught us to love and gave us the ability to discern.

I don’t believe God put anyone in my path that has given me so much, for no reason. I have grown a lot in all the years since I met this man and that wasn’t something I did alone. That very much had to do with his coming into my life and being a part of it. It’s the biggest reason he matters beyond just emotions. It is why I believe he is in my life for a reason. He’s a blessing. Because he has made me a better person. I looked at all the aspects of my life. He has inspired me to grow and expand my worldview. He gave me wings and security so that I feel I can do anything. He helped me to progress and has shown me to love and look at myself in a critical way. He’s pushed me to be someone beyond who I was. He’s given me vision and helped me to have hope and believe. He is the reason I came back to God. I cannot ever see him as anything negative or have any regret. He is not a mistake. God put him in my life when I didn’t know I needed someone. He keeps him in it for a reason. No one has to tell me who he is in my life. I’ve known it a while. It’s why I came back to him. I do not see him as just sex or someone I love. He’s is beyond that in my life. Those are just the perks. I was once told that the definition of family is its members working to support, accept each other and see each other through. Whenever I think of him I can’t help but feel thankful, it’s always what I mean. When I become angry it’s always from fear. He’s someone I value and can’t imagine him not in my life. He is the one man I measure everyone against.

When he asked for another chance, I thought about it over and over. When he asked me to trust him again, I turned it all over looking for some kind of deception. Even when he expressed his feelings for me, his concerns and his struggles, although it scared me, I couldn’t turn away. I thought about all of it. I even thought to run. But, I pushed through those feelings and thoughts to try to be the woman who learned once again, that there is so much to life, to be grateful for all the gifts I’ve been given and to cherish every moment I’m bestowed.

He is my tether when I might just float away into my own world.

Sir Thomas Moore said it best, “You wouldn’t abandon ship in a storm just because you couldn’t control the wind.”

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Salvation and Mercy

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I sit in the shadows watching as an old priest in orthodox tradition, giving the liturgy in Arabic…talking about salvation and mercy. Some parts of Cairo are pristine and untouched. Then suddenly as one turns a corner, nothing but skeletons; the bare bones of old memories and long ago picked carcasses of history. The rhythmic timbre of his voice, like musical notes slipping through time and entering my thoughts,

[…]You don’t hurt others to save yourself. God will not accept your salvation on the backs of another. God won’t have mercy on you in the end. Have mercy on those who help you, care for you and take care of those who take care of you and your soul will be washed or cleansed and you shall be first in salvation[…]

His incantation, but a slow murmur; almost hypnotic as he slips between Arabic and Greek. The building empty, except for 2 old women whispering in the corner and a young mother dragging her little one across an isle. His voice filling the void between chaos and calm. My heart beating faster as I hide in distractions from my own thoughts and memories. Sometimes the suffering becomes too much. Then I realize, maybe it’s me and not them. I look around and life is moving forward. I’m standing still. His voice bleeds into my thoughts. His monotonous tone suddenly lifting and swaying in comforting rhythmic waves. 

[…] There is no power greater than sacrifice…sacrifice and redemption require compassion and mercy. Be kind to those are kind to you. Have compassion for those who hurt you and love those who will love you back. Sacrifice for those who will sacrifice for you. The offering fuels the calm…To be among the merciful is the highest 1456489546_web1calling there is[…]

I wasn’t really listening after that. What stuck in my head most was:

 

“[…] you don’t hurt others to save yourself […]”

 

71215733I’m not sure of the intended focus of his topic. I could only hear bits and pieces though my own distractions. There was an odd silence and a slow hum. I could hear voices beyond the walls, speaking rapidly and sometimes I could hear laughter in the distant night. Maybe it was the influence of my journey to get here.  Maybe it was my own paranoia. I heard every sound, even the silence was overwhelmingly and unnerving. In the distance, was it gun fire or just my imagination out of control? Every shadow, friend or foe?

I try to relax and put on a façade-confident and unafraid. That’s my reputation. I’m tough, fearless and self-assured. I’m reminded. It’s amazing what a person can get used to. Not tonight. Tonight I sit watching shadows fading from place to place. I watch lights flicker and burn away. I hear every sound and nothing at all. I watch the everyday, as people come and go. I’m startled out of my thoughts and jump slightly as I hear the sounds of an angry mob. I pause for a moment, uncertain; take a deep breath, I remind myself. I look around. No one is moving. When in Egypt…I walked slowly through the aisles and toward the front entrance. I see a crowd running past. The new normal of Cairo…the peace and chaos meshed into some unimaginable new civility. 

I’m not too bright when it comes to danger. Most run from it. I tend to run to it. I would be that person running into the woods alone at night chasing after some mysterious figure , all for the satisfaction of assuaging my curiosity.  That’s me. I walk down the road following the crowd. Nothing serious, but only in my own mind. Just a wedding; a moment of happiness and joy in in all the chaos; something good and positive rising from the rubble. How amazing that life goes on. When morning comes, I still can’t sleep.

It’s the mundane that I take for granted. I take for granted all of my every days, my usual trip to the gym without a worry or my bi monthly grocery shopping spree. It is not only Egypt.  I’m a Muslim woman in an uncertain world, the violence growing, the attacks against my community and soMideast Egypt much anger and hate, drowning out any semblance of peace. So maybe this security which I once took for granted, isn’t so assured now. Maybe what I am seeing here, is a glimpse into the future of my adopted homeland. This is new normal, the calm-chaos of everyday life. Did that already happen? Did I become numb to the chaos and violence?  I did not noticed until I had no other choice.

Life continues, through the anger, through the pain and even through the destruction. We are a resilient species. It is another sign of mercy in an uncertain existence.

Churches burnt to the ground all in the name of Islam, I’m told.

All of this for what? It is not in the name of Islam. It is in the name of power and control. People being the victims to another oppressive force, superimposing itself upon Islam to achieve an agenda. They don’t even pretend to follow Islam. Not by action or thought. It’s just the facade placed upon them to validate the existence and aggressive nature of their intentions. The world coming apart it seems.

…just stuck in my head the rest of the morning.

This is not my Islam. This is some vapid creature that not even the Prophet would recognize.

It reminded me of a saying by the Prophet Muhammad(pbuh)…Allah will not be merciful to those who are not merciful to others

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The Quran in Context

3696176326_e1fe5d8d04_thumb[1]The Quran is a guide to social progress established in a time when there was little freedom of choice, equality or social justice in the ancient Arabian world. The terms by which many of the ideas of justice are based are very much established beliefs within Islam and throughout the progressive world. Early Muslims were problem solvers. To Muslims, the Quran is considered a revelation from God and historically a great piece of literature.

Over time dogma, culture and traditions have over taken the progressive nature of the Quranic experience in the time of  Prophet Muhammad and his contemporaries. Whereas it once resolved social, political and economic  issues; dogma , contrary to the Islamic teaching has changed the direction of  contemporary  Islam .  It has become the tool of regressive and conservative mindsets in portraying the teachings as expressions of force and contempt.

Early Muslims following the teachings of Islam were explorer and problem solvers.  They expanded their world through knowledge as well as conquest, spreading the message, not through forced conversations but through the experience of Islam and social justice.  They endeavored to explore and obtain knowledge through early proto scientific concepts and the progressive nature of the insatiable need to understand their world. It was through that experience that early leaders supported the collection, preservation and expansion of knowledge.

In modern times those ideas have been set aside  in the service of political and dogmatic applications . In essence it has stifled the Muslim world and set its progressive nature back 1500 years.

The Quran is clear in its direction to the degree of establishing the need for independent ideas, questions and applications of that knowledge and understanding.  Any challenge beyond dogma is met with traditional and cultural popular expectations and understanding that those  customs of well known interpretations should never be questioned or reassessed; this in total is a  contradiction to the guidance of the Quran itself.

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The Quran encourages people to think for themselves.

“Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason.” (Quran 8:22)

“And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart – about all those [one] will be questioned.” (Quran 17:36)

cc54fcea97e9_thumbA thinking population is always dangerous to the status quo, and hence these surahs were set aside and forgotten, replaced instead by unusual sentiment of blindly following those in power [religious or political].  Add to that the notion of a non Arabic speakers unable to read the Quran in Arabic, instead recited by the clergy, and you’ve got a largely ignorant population at the whims of what religious figures teach them about Islam.

The Quran discourages blindly following of the ancestral ways and religious preachers.

“O you who have believed, indeed many of the scholars and the monks devour the wealth of people unjustly and avert [them] from the way of Allah . And those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah – give them tidings of a painful punishment.” (Quran 9:34)

“And they (the common people) will say: O our Sustainer! Behold, we paid heed unto our leaders and our great men, and it is they who have led us astray from the right path!” (Quran, 33:67)

“And if you obey most of those upon the earth, they will mislead you from the way of Allah . They follow not except assumption, and they are not but falsifying.” (Quran 6:116)

It might surprise anyone who has never read the Quran, even some Muslims that the Quran discourages blind following and the dubious nature of religious preachers.  A religion that was only devised to control and cheat people would never expose religious preachers like this, for it would be against their very interests, As Mark Twain also once said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

The Quran promotes pluralism and explains that there are multiples paths to God. We walk our paths as we endeavor to reach the same destination.

“Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] – those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.” (Quran 2:62)

“And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them 38cb0829fab92565bbf4d9dd17ec62eb_thumbto Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good.” (Quran 29:69)

Sectarianism thrives in the belief that there is only one way and that way is the only way to reach God. But, By acknowledging that there are multiple paths, the Quran disavows the very belief of only “one right way” to God.

The Quran supports freedom of conscious, choice and speech.

“And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed – all of them entirely. Then, [O Muhammad], would you compel the people in order that they become believers?” (Quran 10:99)

In other words, if God had willed us all to believe, we would. Instead he gave us free will, to think for ourselves and make our own choices.

“There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” (Quran 2:256)

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Despite laws of apostasy and blasphemy, the Quran supports total freedom of speech and expression. Otherwise, there would be no need for insistence of thinkers and and the process of free will.

The Quran asks Muslims to be socially aware and to be activist for the rights which should be assessed as for all humans.

“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.” (Quran 4:135)

The Quran expresses the need for social justice and the mandate in fighting oppression. Islam is not a religion that only gives you dogma to follow blindly, in return for some grand reward of paradise. Instead it expects one to use intellect and resourcefulness to help those less fortunate and vulnerable in society and to do all this in the pursuit of  justice.

The Quran establishes that faith is only the beginning on the path. It isn’t the end of the journey.

“Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried?” (Quran 29:2)

One’s actions are relevant. Thus, the things we do today and in this life, matter. Surah 29:2 is very specific. So many religious individual (Muslims as well) put all their energy in a list of “things to images_thumbdo” or “to believe.” While putting no action behind those thoughts. For many religion has become just a list to enter “paradise” without any genuine effect.

Believing in values of truth, justice and honesty are not enough. One must live those values and put them into action.

The surahs are the concepts in which many Muslims throughout history established their societies and resolved their social,political and economic issues. These are the reasons which guide everyday life, beyond the expectations of social pressures. These values and ideas go beyond dogma alone. They are defining factors in history and the social progress by which Muslims have based their expectations and their human experience.

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