Saturday, September 3, 2011

Musa Talib

Hello and Happy Saturday!

I wish to thank Justin Whitaker for his interesting and insightful interview last week. Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us Justin!

Today we have a new interview so please welcome Musa Talib. Musa was raised Jewish but converted to Islam and I know you'll enjoy his interview as well!

Here Is Musa Talib's Introduction:

Hello, my name is Musa, and I converted to Islam some years ago. I now live as a university student in New York City. I am likely going to be majoring in religious studies, and would eventually like to travel to the Middle East or North Africa to gain a traditional Islamic education. I grew up in a Jewish community, and spent much time studying various religions on my own. With all the rhetoric and controversies surrounding Islam, I decided to look into the religion for myself. I found it to be a beautiful religion with the potential to cure many of the current social ills. I wish nothing more than to please my creator, in part, by being a good Muslim and thereby reflecting the beauty of Islam onto the larger society.

1) What religion do you practice?
I adhere to the tenets of Islam – a word that literally takes on several meanings, including “submission” and “peace.” We believe that peace is gained through submission to God. That submission mandates not only how we worship, but also how we interact with one another.

2) Are you a convert/revert or were you raised within this religion? If you converted, what did you need to do to convert? And what did you practice prior to converting?
I was previously Jewish, and attended an Orthodox Jewish High School. I converted to Islam after realizing that many of the issues I found within Judaism were resolved within Islam. Conversion starts in the heart, and one who believes in his heart is indeed a believer in Islam. However, it is common practice that one recites the testimony of faith (known as 'Shahadah') in both Arabic and their native language ("I testify that there is no deity worthy of worship except God, and I testify that Muhammad is his last and final messenger") in front of witnesses.

3)Within your religion are there degrees of observance (ie. Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal)? What are the defining differences between the degrees of observance?
There are certainly sects within Islam, and like any practice, there certainly exists variation in the degree of practice. However, the commonalities and shared practices outweigh the differences and divisions among many sects. When we gather to pray, we all stand next to one another facing the Lord, regardless of sect, race, ethnicity, nationality, or anything else that may distinguish us from one another. Unfortunately, sectarianism has caused much strife in recent decades. But I do believe that religion is meant to break down the barriers between man.

4)Within your religion what degree of observance are you ((ie. Orthodox,conservative, moderate, liberal) ? Why did you choose this degree of observance?
I would consider myself Muslim first and foremost - and I shy away from sectarianism. I'm just a Muslim who has a lot of room for improvement. As Muslims, we believe that worship is not only in regards to prayer and fasting, but also in how we deal with our fellow human beings and the community around us. Worship is in following that which God has mandated to be good and abstaining from that which he has proclaimed to be bad. Being a 'good Muslim' boils down to two key elements: sincerity to the creator, and service to His creation. While I do pray five times a day, fast for the entire month of Ramadan, and attend the Mosque on a daily basis, (of course with human imperfection, I do sometimes grow lazy and lose sight of my priorities) I do have a lot of room for improvement in regards to living a truly and wholly God-mandated and pure life.

5)What is the Afterlife within your religion? For example: what happens when a person dies? Are there places for reward/punishment? (such as a Heaven/Hell concept)
This is a large topic that cannot possibly be covered in a short paragraph or two. But we do certainly believe that humans will ultimately be held accountable and judged according to what they did in this life. God says in the Qur'an that "anyone who has done even an atom's weight of good will see it; and anyone who does an atoms weight of evil shall see it." The Qur'an describes heaven as a garden wherein "rivers flow beneath." It is elaborated upon by our Prophet as a place where all of a human's wants are fulfilled. But in reality, we recognize that these are simply ways to help us understand the afterlife, whereas it is known that there will be aspects that are unfamiliar and unknown to us here on earth. Part of the beauty of paradise is being in the proximity of God.

Furthermore, those who do evil (elaborated upon in question #6) are warned of a fire whose fuel is man. Islam portrays hell in stark contrast to heaven, a place wherein no one would like to spend their afterlife – a place for those who disobey God's commands and fail to fulfill their purpose of existence due to their own failings, arrogance, stubbornness, and evil.

6) In your opinion, does everyone make it into heaven/paradise? If they do not, why?
God is referred to hundreds of times throughout the Qur'an as "the most merciful" and "the most forgiving." God does not expect those to believe who the message has not yet reached, for it says: "We do not punish people until we send them a messenger." In other words, humans are held accountable only for that which they have been made aware of. However, those who are condemned to hell in the Qur'an are largely those who have seen the signs and proofs of Islam, yet have stubbornly or arrogantly rejected them. Furthermore, evil-doers and oppressors will face punishment if they have not repented. In the hereafter, they will have to face the ugliness of their own soul and their own actions - a torment that they cannot escape, for it is within their own selves.

But God continually reminds us of his mercy and forgiveness: “Despair not for the mercy of Allah! Verily Allah forgives all sins. Truly he is oft forgiving, most merciful.”

7) What makes your religion a good fit for you?
I believe Islam to be a rational religion – a religion that does not find conflict in reason and science, but rather finds confirmation therein. Furthermore, it is a religion that promotes social justice and critical thought. It provides a straight path and a direct line to God without any intercessors, interruptions, or strings attached. It is a religion that I have found to contain balance (despite popular belief to the contrary) and offers true inner-peace. I feel spiritually and internally healthy.

Aside from the doctrinal aspects of the faith, the practicing community is largely quite friendly and welcoming. It took quite awhile for me to fully find my place in the Islamic Community where I live. But now that I have, I can truly say that I am in one of the happiest phases of my life, with a true passion to seek more knowledge and work to repair the image of Islam, through practicing the true teachings of the religion.

8) What are your holy days and what do you do to celebrate them?
Friday (Jumu'ah) is considered a particularly important day of the week for Muslims. All males must attend the Mosque, and attendance is optional (some may say recommended) upon females. Jumu'ah prayer is different from the regular prayers, as it is preceded by a sermon. Jumu'ah often becomes a communal event, as friends greet one another and often go out to lunch after the prayers.

Furthermore, we have two celebratory holidays:

Eid Ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, and lasts for three days. It is highly recommended, and some would say obligatory, for Muslims to attend a gathering in which there is a sermon and prayers, particular to Eid Ul-Fitr. The event is often held either in a large hall, an open field, or in the Mosque. Many Mosques celebrate it, with some sort of activity for families. People regularly give gifts to friends and family members.

Eid Al-Adha commemorates Abraham's willingness to follow through with God's command and sacrifice his son, before God spared him by replacing the child with a ram. For this holiday, which also lasts three days, Muslims once again attend prayers, a sermon, and then sacrifice a lamb, either individually or on behalf of the community. Traditionally, one third is offered to the poor, another third to neighbors, and the other third is consumed by the family.

9) Do you consider people of other faiths to be your friends?
Many of my friends are of other faiths. God commands us in the Qur'an to find shared similarities between each other, and rather than to argue about matters of religion, we are told to bring each other to common terms, such as the belief in One God.

10) Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of their holy days? Please explain why?
I would not participate in any actions that would constitute sinful, disbelief or idolatry according to Islam, such as kissing a cross, praying to Jesus (who we believe to be a Prophet, though not divine), drinking alcohol, etc.. I would participate in the social aspects of other religions such as Shabbat lunches or dinners.

11) What are your thoughts on the burka, and Shariah Law?
I think Shariah is a terribly misunderstood and misused terminology. First of all, there is Islamic Law as implemented by the state (and not truly implemented anywhere in the modern world), but then also that which is simply implemented in an individual's life, such as the mandated means of worship. On the legal level, it is meant to encompass a set of moral principles to which I think most could agree upon, such as: the right to practice religion (minorities are protected under this as well), the preservation of life, the protection of property, the right to retain honor and dignity, and so on. It is not necessarily one clear and set in stone system, but encompasses a variety of interpretations. Furthermore, the laws themselves do not, and never have, applied to non-Muslims. But I do not think Shariah should be implemented in non-Muslim led societies, such as the United States.

Furthermore, while it is often focused on in the West for its penal code, Shariah's moral compass is often ignored. It promotes fair economics (with or without it being implemented on the state level), speaking up for justice, and many more honorable values.

I know many women who have chosen to wear the Niqaab (covers face, but unlike the Burqa, not the eyes). I do not personally find it to be necessary, but it is their right. For many women, it has become an empowering symbol of their identity in the West. The Qur'an does command modesty (though maybe Burqa is excessive) in order for a woman to retain respect, and not be judged according to her appearance. The Qur'an specifically says that women shall cover themselves modestly so that they will “not be harassed.” Many women find it empowering to be judged by their inner being as opposed to their appearance.

12) Are women allowed to hold religious office (priest, minister, rabbi, iman etc) in your religion and how do you feel about it?
Islam upholds women and men as equal, but not the same. There are physical and biological differences between women and men. Females may become Islamic scholars, teachers, and lecturers. Some of our most famous female figures were scholars and even warriors. But admittedly, I have much critique for the patriarchal structure that exists amongst many Muslim cultures. However, women should not lead other males in prayer according to most legitimate and scholarly opinions. One reason some say for this is that prayer involves bowing and prostrating, in which case it would not be appropriate for males to be standing behind the woman (and looking at her backside). Most Muslim women would feel uncomfortable revealing themselves in that way.

13) Does your place of worship segregate? If yes, how does this make you feel?
It does, and I think it is a means of clearing the mind. Especially in our college years, gender interaction and attraction can dominate social life. It can be extremely purifying to refrain from such thoughts and focus purely on God.

14) How much does your religion affect your daily life and how much thought do you give it when making a decision? Does it affect in any way your decision on abortion, gay marriage, etc?
I would say it effects every realm of my life, as it makes up my moral compass and dictates much of my day. Some issues do not dictate my politics, as I believe Islamic rulings in most cases apply only to Muslims. Islam accepts the diversity in laws amongst different peoples.

15) How would you react/feel if your child wished to marry outside your religion?
Muslim males are permitted to marry females from amongst practicing Jews or Christians. I feel a bit young to be thinking so far ahead, seeing as I am not even married yet, but I would obviously prefer my children to marry Muslims. I hope that would be a want from their own choice, and I hope to present Islam positively and instill a love of Islam within them, simply by being a good Muslim myself and raising them as such.

16) Who do you think is not a practicing ----- in your religion and why? ie who in the public domain claims to speak for your religion? Do you agree with them or not?
Islam is a non-hierarchical tradition. Because there is no unified Islamic leadership (as there was in the past), there is a void of an official spokesperson or voice for Islam, such as the Pope. Many do not know who to listen to and are unsure of who presents a proper view of Islam. I would suggest those interested in the religion to investigate scholars and Islamic leaders such as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Imam Zaid Shakir and Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, who are all widely listened to Western leaders.

17) Have you ever been the target of a hate crime? Please explain.
Not in the traditional sense, but as a Muslim, we hear prejudiced statements coming from the media, fellow citizens, and the Government on quite a regular basis. Islam has been a very difficult religion for me to make public, due to the current animosity towards Islam in much of the western world.

18) Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?
Not at all. My religion gives me value. It teaches me not to care about what others think, and not to reach for material gain, but rather for eternal happiness that can only be achieved through focusing on doing good and working to improve my inner-self. I do not feel the need to please any human, or reach for material success – which is a force that causes many to feel devalued and despaired. I feel truly sorry for those who spend their whole life seeking monetary or hedonistic happiness, only to find that that sort of happiness does not exist.

19) Does your religion give you peace of mind?
My religion is ABOUT peace of mind.

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