“I don’t think it’s safe to come visit you in France with your Aunt…she wears a hijab, she will have trouble getting around”, my mother nervously quipped as we discussed travel arrangements for their trip. 

“Of course it’s safe! How could you say that, there are women wearing hijab all over this country!”, I protested as I tried to assuage her concerns. 

I was living as an expat in France when my family was planning their visit to the country last year. I was surprised to hear the reservations from my own folk; it went on to highlight the pre-conceived notions Muslims often have about the French. They hate Muslims, they are racists, they insult our Prophet. The list goes on.  

Having spent a considerable amount of time in France, Quebec and Suisse-Romande, I’ve developed an affinity towards the French culture, language and people. I’ve never felt marginalized in these lands because of my dark skin, my Muslim faith or my never-ending struggle with French conjugation. Yes, I am privileged in many ways, but that doesn’t negate the validity of my experiences. 

I was thus naturally taken a back with the recent calls to boycott France in light of the opportunistic and contemptable actions of Emmanuel Macron. If these boycotts made me uncomfortable, I can imagine the how much more offended the average French person would have been. Macron’s decision to first politicize an unspeakable crime, and then to insult our Prophet was a deplorable move. It exposed his true colours and showed us that he is just another disdainful politician who seeks to divide, rather than build bridges. 

As pitiful as Macron’s actions are, is the Muslim response calling for boycotts of France justified? Is it fair to hold all of France guilty for the comments made by its President? Are we not only advancing the ‘Us Vs Them’ narrative that extremists on both sides want? No one holds all of America responsible for the ridiculous comments that Trump makes – why a different standard for France? 

Collective guilt is a serious disease that we must overcome. We need to stop holding a people accountable for the actions of a few; we need to stop blaming a people for the actions of their ancestors. French corporations, that employ thousands of Muslims across the world, did not insult the Prophet, so why take them to task? French Muslims have not called for these boycotts, so why are we advocating for them?  If we collectivize and boycott all of France, how are we any different from those who hold all Muslims responsible for the violence pretreated by a few? 

We need to abandon the ‘Us vs Them’ mindset; this parochial idea of ‘Islam Vs the West’ or ‘Islam vs France’. We need to adopt a post-nationalist worldview where we look at all people as one, as our own. There is no ‘Them’ – it is all ‘Us’. It is ‘Us’ against hatred, bigotry, divisiveness and racism. It is ‘Us’ against those in power, on both sides, who seek to exploit ‘Us’ for political and personal gain. 

As one people, we should never advocate for boycotts which seek to create divisions and animosity between ‘Us’. Blanket consumer boycotts are short lived and have a minimal impact regardless. What lives long past the boycott are the feelings of resentment, hatred and enmity directed towards an entire nation. Our Prophet is a prophet to all people, to the French people – our people. We must not partake in actions which alienate our kin from being receptive to his message.  

Know that paltry cartoons will not take away from the rank of the Chosen One. One of his miracles in these modern times is that those wishing to disparage him have been unable to succeed. His enemies have caricaturized him over and over again, but none of their images have stuck around or gained acceptance. Despite all these attempts, the only descriptor with which he continues to be universally recognized is that of prophethood. You read a headline: ‘Artist makes images of the Prophet’, and you know instantly who ‘the Prophet’ refers to regardless of who you are. Unqualified, the word always brings to mind the thought of one man!   

Even those that don’t believe in him call him ‘the Prophet Muhammad’ – lips refuse to utter his name with anything other than his noble epithet. So, fear not about the Prophet’s rank – for the one being praised by angels in the Heavens cannot be belittled by lowly men here on Earth. 


Pakistan’s leading religious scholars issued a statement calling for the reopening of mosques across the country this week.

The government had restricted congregation prayers in mosques to five people or less since the last week of March to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus. However, jurist Taqi Usmani, leading the committee of clerics, said that restricting the prayer to three to five people was “not proving practical” and these impediments had to to be removed. He added that, “In the present conditions, five daily prayers along with precautionary measures are essential”.

In addition to the five daily prayers, clerics called for the resumption of Friday prayers as well. They also outlined preventative measures to be taken by mosques such as the removal of carpets, disinfection of prayer areas and use of hand sanitizers. The committee stated that the lockdown didn’t apply to mosques and that they will be resuming congregational worship.

The restrictions on mosques, in wake of the pandemic, were met with severe backlash in Pakistan. There were incidents  of mobs attacking policemen who tried to enforce these bans; often times the police would simply turn a blind eye to those gathering at mosques to prevent conflict.

Considering the call made by religious scholars this week, Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri confirmed that the government will officially lift the restrictions on daily congregational prayers in mosques. Permission will also be granted for Friday prayers, which draw thousands every week to mosques, and tarawih prayers during the upcoming month of Ramadan.

Pakistan stands as an outlier on this issue compared to much of the Muslim world. Most mosques around the world remain closed . These include Islam’s three most holy sites of Mecca, Medina and the Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

The public outcry against the closing down of mosques and defiance of government orders also appears to be unique to the country. In contrast to Pakistani clerics, who deemed the congregational worship a ‘necessity’, many of the leading religious bodies around the globe have approved of such restrictions considering the Covid-19 pandemic. Examples of these include the Egypt’s Dar-al-Ifta, UAE’s fatwa council and the Fiqh Council of North America.

Pakistan faces significant challenges in fighting the Covid-19 outbreak. The country lies east of Iran which at one point was the epicenter of the outbreak. Travelers returning from Iran first brought the virus into country which has since seen a steady increase in cases. While the number of deaths has remained low so far, it is feared that easing restrictions on mass gatherings will result in super-spreading which will cause the situation to get far worse.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that single young Muslims, despite not being in possession of any fortune, are always in search of a spouse.

However little prepared these people maybe to undertake this ordeal is given little thought, and they are thrust out into the world of modern Muslim matchmaking. The generational divide in the community has meant that young people have received little training at home to navigate the process of finding a spouse. These individuals are seeking high quality relationships, but few have the skills and emotional intelligence needed to find one. They are left to learn on their own through trial-and-error, and often a lot of pain.

With hopes of making this journey a little easier, we’ve compiled a few principles to keep in mind as you tread these cold uncharted waters.

1. Work on yourself: You won’t attract what you want, you’ll attract what you are. Do you find in yourself the qualities that you seek in another?

Aspire to be self-fulfilled and complete on your own, rather than hoping for someone else to do that for you. Operationally, this entails refining both your inner and outer self. On the outside this could include basic things like being well-groomed (especially for men), knowing how to cook a healthy diet, exercising regularly and supporting yourself financially. You should also ensure you have good relationships with loved ones – do the people you care about love you back? Make amends and take actions of love to improve your ties with them if they are strained. The state of your current relationships can be a good indicator of future ones.

On the inside, you should make a moral inventory and work to address your shortcomings in character. You must work on your selfishness, your anger, your dishonesty, your lust, your pride, your stinginess, your harshness, your resentments, your stubbornness, your fears, your jealousy, your self-righteousness, your vanity. This list is never ending and it’s a lifelong process; the sooner you get started the better off you’ll be.

You must also get help for any serious problems that you fear might affect a relationship – instead of hoping these problems will go away with the ‘right partner’. If you have a pornography problem, seek out help and don’t be deluded into thinking marriage will solve that for you. If you have no control over your desires before marriage, you won’t magically gain control afterwards. If you have a substance abuse problem, join a 12-step program. If you have a snoring problem, get it checked out. If you feel you are emotionally unhealthy, get help from a mental health professional. Bottomline is, have your house in order before you decide to build a new one.

2. Maintain good mental health throughout the process: Be purposeful in your search but don’t make it the purpose of your life. The process of finding a spouse can become emotionally draining and overwhelming if you don’t do it in a healthy fashion. Understand that this process entails too many factors that are completely out of your control; things won’t always go your way, so don’t be too attached to the outcome.  The only thing you control are your responses and actions, so just focus on putting your best foot forward.

A common mistake people make is they give themselves a timeline e.g. ‘I want to be married by X age, or by X year’. This only results in unnecessary pressure that can lead to anxiety and poor mental health; it can also force one to make imprudent choices. Everyone has a different timeline; have trust in God’s plan for you.

Anytime mental health is disturbed, stop and revaluate. Some signs of poor mental health include: obsessive thinking, inability to focus on and manage everyday affairs, compulsive attachment and clinginess, disturbed sleep, anxiety, difficulty making decisions and multitasking, feeling overwhelmed, panic attacks, depression, irritability, changes in eating habits, and a loss of inner serenity. It is best to get help from counselors, such as those at Naseeha, if you feel stuck in this situation.

3. Adopt a mindset of giving: The measure you give is the measure you get back. Instead of worrying so much about what you want, focus on what you have to offer.

While you should certainly express your interest in someone you like, don’t taint it with desperation and neediness. If you’ve implemented the first point mentioned, you are already a confident and self-sufficient person. You will be fine no matter what. Focus on giving without expectation and building a healthy companionship. Be a giver and you’ll be surprised how easily you will attract the right people towards you. The ‘mindset of want’ is a self-defeating mindset: you might not find all the things you want in someone, and even if you did, there is no guarantee they’ll want you back!

4. Don’t overthink it: Living in a capitalist society, we’ve developed the bad habit of picking out people the same way we go shopping for new product. We like to explore the market, do a cost-benefit analysis of various options, try to make sure the product isn’t damaged and hope to pick out the best possible item. We are careful about how we ‘invest our time’ and we try to ensure we can get an appropriate return on our investment. If we could, we’d ask for a money-back guarantee on people too!

Human hearts, unfortunately, cannot be picked out the way we choose commercial products. Each has its flaws and its strengths, you have to accept both the good and the bad; the pro-con list approach won’t work here. When we start taking this reductionist approach to relationships, we naturally get into overthinking, feel anxious and overwhelmed. With the widespread use of online dating, the choices seem limitless and it can seem impossible to try to figure out how to find the right person.

Marriage is a decision that’s to be taken with the heart; you have to rely on your guts and your instincts to steer you towards the person most suitable for you. This doesn’t mean throwing rational thought out the door, it means looking to your inner-self as the source of motivation for your decision making. It takes emotional intelligence and self-awareness to be able to determine what kind of a person you’ll be able to build a future with; it’s not always someone that looks best on paper. There are very few people with whom you’ll find compatibility and reciprocity, so don’t obsess over exploring as many possible ‘options’ with hopes of marking off all the items on your checklist.

We ultimately find most fulfillment in caring for and taking responsibility of someone we sincerely love. So, look instead for the ingredients that will act as the foundations of love in your marriage. These could include the fact that you: enjoy someone’s company, find them beautiful, admire their character and kindness, respect them, find reciprocity in your interactions, have shared values and compatible temperaments. You are looking for that certitude, that good feeling in your heart; focusing on these factors will hopefully give you that and will get you out of the common mistake of overthinking and worrying.

5. Work to bridge religious differences: One of the unique challenges Western Muslims face when looking for a spouse is finding religious compatibility. The diversity of our community, coupled with the individualized nature of faith in the West, has given rise to a plethora of ‘brands’ of Islam. Personal levels of observance can vary vastly, even within members of the same family, so it can be challenging to find the right fit.

You will always find differences in religious observance and views between spouses. It is impossible, and foolish, to try to seek out someone at the exact same level. Some people might be more conservative than you, some might be more liberal. Do you really have to turn someone down because they don’t agree with your views on conventional mortgages? What if you like dressing up for Halloween and going trick-or-treating, and they’re opposed to it? What if they don’t eat zabiha halal like you do? What if they don’t pray all the five prayers on time like you were raised to do so?

Given the unique circumstances we live in, we must be flexible and open-minded about resolving such differences. We ought to be careful when making a judgement about someone’s beliefs; we don’t know what’s in someone’s heart. Some of us were taught to honour God through worship and observing His law, some of us were raised with an emphasis on serving His creation with good character. People have their strengths and their weaknesses in faith; sometimes these are apparent, sometimes hidden. Your relationship with God is not perfect and neither will be your partners’; we are all a work in progress.

If approached with kindness, mutual respect and a willingness to compromise, these differing religious views could be resolved in many cases. While sometimes people really are on extreme ends, most of us fall somewhere in between and can find a comfortable middle ground. It is often our stubbornness, self-righteousness and a parochial understanding of religion that gets in the way. Good people are hard to find, so don’t let suitable matches go because they don’t follow your exact flavor of religious observance. This is certainly a sensitive topic and needs to be dealt with tact and wisdom; it is advisable to seek counsel of more experienced people.

6. Don’t expose your past and don’t pry about someone else’s: If you have a past you are not proud of and it doesn’t concern your future relationships, you should not feel obliged to expose yourself. In fact, if this relates to sins of the past, it is actually prohibited to reveal your sins to someone else – even in the context of marriage. Shaykh Nuh Keller summarizes this pitfall well, “In Islam, to mention a sin is itself a sin. How many a person has been unable to resist telling a friend or a spouse of the wickedness they did in their previous life, and Allah punished them with disgust and contempt in the other’s heart that could never quite be forgotten! There is no baraka in the haram”.

Similarly, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t be prying about someone else’s past and trying dig up details on their misadventures. The Prophet commanded us to have a good opinion of people; he warned against the destructive nature of suspicion and spying. He told us, “Beware of suspicion for it is the most deceitful of thought. Do not look for the others’ faults and do not spy, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not desert (cut your relation with) one another, and do not hate one another; Rather, be servants of God as brothers”

7. Istikhara is not a solution for indecisiveness: The prayer of seeking guidance, or Istikhara, is oft recited by those considering marriage. The mistake many make, however, is that we are really wishing for someone else to make the decision for us. We are so afraid of making the wrong decision that we find it difficult to make any. We hope for a divine sign or a miracle to happen that tells us that the other person is right for us and that we will live happily ever after with them.

Making big life decisions, emotionally prudent ones, is an important life skill that must be learnt. These decisions come with inherent risks, uncertainties and unknowns; there are no guarantees. If you habitually find yourself having a hard time deciding, it is likely due to external factors. It might have something to do with you, it might have something to do with person you are considering. It is advisable to seek counsel if you are in this situation.

Written August 2016

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Muslim man, regardless of possession of a good fortune, is in want of a wife – who is not his first cousin. New mobile applications such as Minder, Muzmatch, SalamSwipe and others are a potential remedy to the limiting options available for young Muslims to meet new people. So, if you’re a gentlemen caller out there looking to court your Elizabeth Bennett, here’s what you can expect to find.

1. The DAP i.e. The Desi American Princess
She loves wearing shalwar kameez; if her pictures are any indicator, that’s all she wears. You’ll see her pose by the grand staircase of her double garage house in a suburb of California, Chicago or Toronto. There is at least one picture of her at a Starbucks. Harry Potter is all she reads. Don’t dare ask her about cooking; her mom’s done that for her this whole time. Weddings are her favourite social outing. In fact, that’s the only reason she wants to get married – so she has date to take to her friends’ nonstop weddings. Just arrive galloping at her house on a white horse and you’ll win her over in no time.

2.The Traveler
All her pictures are somewhere abroad and she’s always carrying a massive backpack. She mainly wants to get married because her parents won’t let her travel alone and she’s sick of having to concoct excuses to leave town. If you need a roommate to cut back on travel costs for your next trip, she’s the one for you.

3. The Professional
Dark pinstripe suits are all she wears. There is usually a picture of her sending emails late at night. She makes far more money than you do and has no tolerance for insecure chauvinists; she’s probably a lawyer, doctor or an executive. Every morning she looks in the mirror and sees the next Amal Alamuddin. If you’re her George Clooney, go get her!

4. The Mipster
She’s too cool for you and way out of your league. Don’t even bother. She only wears ankle-length denim, bright tops and white converse shoes. You can’t tell if that’s a hijab, hat, toque or turban on her head – and never ask her what that is. She models part-time for Louella. Suhaib Webb is her favourite Imam. Ideally, she’d like to go to a Mumford and Sons concert for a night out. She’s probably organizing the next illMuslims event in your city; if you need cheap tickets, this is your girl.

5. The Niqabi
Sister, you are not getting how this app works….

6. The Academic
This one’s probably doing her Phd in Islamic studies at Harvard or McGill and is a self-described ‘sapiosexual’. Before going to bed, she likes to read Sayyid Hossein Nasr and René Guénon – en français, bien sûr. She does a khatm of the Study Quran every month – don’t ever criticize the perennialsim in that work in front of her. Tariq Ramadan and Jonathan Brown have already turned her down since they don’t do poly, so she’s willing to settle for you. You’ll disappoint her no matter what; just try not to be too boring. If you want to impress her, quote from Heidegger’s Being and Time and she just might respond to your message.

7. ‘Serious Inquiries Only’
One question: why so serious?

8.The Pious One
This girl feels guilty for just setting up an account on Minder; she seeks forgiveness every time she swipes. She couldn’t attend a seminary in Syria, so most of her time is now spent studying for Shaykh Faraz Rabbani’s demanding online-classes at SeekersHub. She’s Hamza Yusuf biggest fan and goes to the Rihla every year. All her outfits were bought from Shukr. Her ideal soul mate has spent several years studying in a desert in Yemen, Mauritania or Morocco. If you’re a broke student of knowledge abroad, get to the nearest wifi spot and message her.

9. The Single Mom
This woman loves her kid, like a lot. That’s why she decided to put him in every single one of her pictures. No pressure though. She’s strong, independent and an excellent cook. She can smell a mama’s boy from miles away; so if you are one, don’t go near her or she’ll eat you alive. If you’re looking for a real adult, this one’s a keeper.

10. The Desperate One
Her profile usually goes like “Omg! Omg! I am 25 and still not married. All my friends have kids! I want to move out of my parent’s house… I don’t want to die alone…or be married to my cousin…save me…”

One word of advice: RUN!

11. The Uptown Girl
She’s tired of playing with her high class toys, and she’s looking for a downtown Muslim man – who preferably works on Wall Street. On religion, she describes herself has more ‘spiritual’ than ‘religious’. She probably went to NYU and SoHo is the only place where she shops. You can expect to spend a good chunk of your life at fashion shows, art galleries and operas with this one. She’s all about fine dining, so don’t go near those $5 shawarma parlours. If you want her to say ‘Yes’, just show up with a pair of Louboutin’s and you’ll be set.

12. The 18-year old
Alright kiddo, you need to finish high school first – get off this app!

Written Dec 2018 

Nestled in the outskirts of the city of Geneva, surrounded by French vineyards and the Swiss Alps, lies one of the most preeminent scientific institutions in the world. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is home to the world’s cutting edge and most sophisticated physics experiments. It is here that the particle accelerator known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is located and physicists use it to study the subatomic particles that make up the Universe.

As I make my way through the CERN campus during a recent research trip to the lab, my eyes fall upon the street named after the late Pakistani physicist Dr. Abdus Salam. As someone of Pakistani origin, it gives me great pride that the Nobel Prize-winning scientist, with such poor and humble roots, is being honored in this bastion of science.

Dr. Abdul Salam’s contributions to science are little appreciated outside the small circle of academics who delve into the complexities of high energy physics. To share some perspective, Salam helped create the theory now referred to as the Standard Model. This theory is currently the most accurate description of the interactions between all the elementary particles found in nature. It has been rigorously studied and has survived all experimental tests. Salam’s contribution to this endeavor was so seminal that earlier versions of the Standard Model bore his name and theory was referred to as the ‘GWS model’ – after its founders Sheldon Glashow, Steven Weinberg and Abdul Salam.

In addition to his academic achievements, Salam exercised extraordinary scientific leadership in Pakistan. Virtually all of the country’s scientific infrastructure today can be traced back to initiatives he undertook as science advisor to the Ministry of Science and Technology between 1960 and 1974. During his tenure Pakistan’s space program was founded, the country’s first nuclear reactor was set up and science education greatly flourished at universities. He produced a generation of brilliant physicists who went on to become renowned scholars and lead the country’s scientific institutions.

As I reflect on Dr. Abdus Salam’s magnanimous contributions, I am forced to wonder whether any of them could have been realized in today’s Pakistan. Salam was a member of the much maligned and persecuted Ahmadi religion. During his golden years, his faith largely did not interfere with his ability to contribute to Pakistani civil society. This, however, slowly started changing in the 1970’s when prejudices against Ahmadis were on the rise. Salam eventually left the country in 1974 when the government declared members of his faith to be outside the fold of Islam and disallowed them to refer to themselves as Muslims.

In the country’s current climate where religious fanaticism runs rampant, it is unfathomable that Salam would have been allowed to contribute in any meaningful way. The recent controversy surrounding renowned economist Dr. Atif Mian is a reminder of this harsh reality. Dr. Mian, who is also a member of the Ahmadi faith, was appointed to serve on Pakistan’s Economic Advisory Committee (EAC) by the newly elected PTI (Pakistan Tahreeké Insaaf) government this Fall. Given the trying economic conditions the country is facing, the Princeton scholar would have been the ideal person to serve on the committee.

However, only days after his appointment, far-right groups demanded his removal and threatened to hold protests across the country. In addition, even members of the opposition refused to stand by the government and took the opportunity to score political points by demanding Mian’s removal. To its credit, the PTI government initially stood by the appointment and made a refreshing defense of minority rights. However, it eventually succumbed to the pressure from fanatics and removed Mian from the EAC.

It wasn’t too long after this incident that religious extremism reared its ugly head in the country again. In a landmark ruling in November, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Asia Bibi. Bibi was convicted of blasphemy by a lower court and was sentenced to death in 2010. The Supreme Court found there to be insufficient evidence for the judgment and freed Bibi after she had already spent nine years in prison. Amending the blasphemy laws remain a highly controversial subject in the country as they have a history of being invoked to settle personal vendettas.

Following Asia Bibi’s acquittal, violent protests by right-wing fanatics brought the nation to a standstill as they rioted in the streets for three days. Led by the TLP (Tahreeké Labbaik Pakistan) party, they called for overthrowing of the government and killing of the judges that decreed the ruling. The new government, once again, bowed to the protesters and had to negotiate a settlement with them to bring the riots to an end.

The sheer ability of these groups to mobilize thousands and hold the government hostage speaks volumes on how serious a problem religious fundamentalism is in the country. When such intolerant and puritanical thought becomes so widespread, it becomes a threat to society at large. Anyone who doesn’t agree with these groups is labeled an apostate and their life is under danger. The assassination of politician Salman Taseer in 2011 is a sad reminder of the costs associated with combating this odious brand of religiosity.

Under the new government, led by philanthropist and reformer Imran Khan, Pakistan is undergoing a historic transition and it has a unique opportunity to root out some of its most deeply rooted problems. Despite the PTI government’s commendable focus on human development and commitment to ending corruption, it has largely failed to highlight the need to systematically address and wipe out extremist ideology. If serious steps are not taken to this end, law and order in the nation will continue to be hostage to the whims and wishes of these hateful groups.

In his maiden address as Prime Minister, Imran Khan vowed to rebuild Pakistan on the principles laid out in the historic Charter of Madinah which was constituted by the Prophet Muhammad in his city-state. Inspired by the same Charter, a group of over 300 Muslim scholars signed the Marrakesh Declaration in 2016 reaffirming the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries. They also committed to developing the legal framework needed to integrate minorities as fully enfranchised citizens of Muslim states. The PTI government would do well to take notice of this declaration and work towards implementing it in its vision of ‘Naya Pakistan’.

Saladin Ayyubi, the celebrated Sultan who liberated Jerusalem, famously appointed a Jew to be his personal physician. Maimonides, who was also a prolific scholar of the Torah, loyally continued serving the royal court of the Muslims years after Saladin’s death. This was the tolerance, compassion and mindset of Islamic society over nine centuries ago. A return to these Prophetic virtues is imperative if Pakistan aspires to become the nation its founding fathers set out to establish.


Hey folks..I haven’t posted here in a while. Just wanted to put a note stating all my recent stuff has been on MuslimMatters.org. Please check it out here: https://muslimmatters.org/author/waleed-ahmed/


Bugzilla has a feature that can allow users to log bugs by emailing them – instead of having to go to the web-interface. There is a perl script, email_in.pl, which can take pre-formatted text file and log it as a bug in the database. Refer to Bugzilla documentation on how the emails need to be formatted.

Most of the instructions on the web are for setting up the script in Linux using a mail delivery agent called Procmail. However, I was able to setup a proof-of-principles using Outlook on windows. In summary, this procedure saves an incoming email with a specified title as a textfile in a designated folder. A script is scheduled in the task manager which collects these text files and passes them to email_in.pl to process the data. Instructions can be found in the attached file: emailin_windows_bzilla.

Bill Maher is once again on his tirade against Muslims. For a standup comedian who’s made a living out of mocking all things sacred, it’s hard to understand why anyone would believe the misinformation he spreads. His vitriol against Muslims and Islam are well-known; he has declared quite openly that he’s alarmed with a growing Muslim population in the West and fears a ‘take over by Islam’.

Maher pretends that he’s labeled as a racist for being a simple critic of Islam. Any honest observer, however, would recognize that he has a clear track record of launching baseless attacks on Muslims. He does this repeatedly by misconstruing facts, making unsubstantiated claims and cherry picking radical interpretations that support his pre-conceived notions of the faith.  Couple this with his condescending attitude and vile speech and you’ve got yourself a text book case of bigotry.

Take for example, his recent claim that ‘vast numbers of Muslims around the world believe that humans deserve to die for merely holding a different idea, or drawing a cartoon, or writing a book, or eloping with the wrong person’. Maher makes these profoundly inaccurate and unsupported statements and passes them as facts on national television with no consequences.  This isn’t mere criticism – it is a clear attempt to incite xenophobic sentiment with the intended goal of demonizing Muslims.

Maher often states there are ‘polls’ and ‘research’ to support his view that large swaths of Muslims are a violent and intolerant people – it’s not just a few bad apples he argues. Actual research, however, has repeatedly shown that Muslims overwhelmingly reject violence; in fact they are more likely to oppose violence than other religious groups. As for religious freedom, Muslims yet again show near perfect support for it.

Another example of Maher’s flagrant misconstruction of facts was on the recent flare up with Ben Affleck on his show. He again tries to give us the impression that Muslims are largely an uncivilized people by quoting a Pew poll which supposedly states that 90% of Egyptians support the death penalty for leaving Islam. The Pew poll he’s referring to is most likely the 2013 edition- and he forgot to mention one important piece of information: the poll offers no direct statistics on Muslims who support capital punishment for apostasy.

Instead, the poll offers statistics on people who support such apostasy laws as a percentage of those who support the adoption of Shariah as the official law of their country. It excludes Muslims who prefer to restrict the Shariah to the private sphere, who are opposed to the idea of a theocratic state or those that don’t have strong views on the subject. As a result, the numbers are misleading since the sample population for the survey doesn’t represent the total population. When this is taken to account through extrapolation, the poll actually indicates that as a whole, most Muslims oppose penal codes for apostasy – something Ben Affleck deduced from common sense.

Bill Maher quotes the disproportionally high numbers for Egypt that stand out from the survey – as if the country represents the entire Muslims world. In fact, the numbers he mentions are completely wrong since the poll never offers figures for the country’s complete population. Even if they were to be extrapolated (which introduces an error), the support would be at 64% – not the 90% he so forcefully claimed.  Maher also fails to mention the significant disparity Egypt has with other Muslim majority countries on this issue: Indonesia (13%), Lebanon (13%), Tunisia (16%) and Turkey (2%). Why single out Egypt and not mention the world’s largest Muslims country, Indonesia? Clearly, Bill has an agenda to make overarching simplifications about Muslims that are rooted in nothing but misinformation.

As an aside, an important question to consider is that why it’s only Muslims who seemed to be polled on such controversial questions? What would the stats be if similar question were posed to Israeli Jews, Christian Arabs, Indian Hindu’s, Catholic Filipino’s and American evangelicals? If you ask questions outlandish enough to any population, there’s bound to be support for it from a particular segment. More importantly, to what extent can we use polls to understand a population on such matters? These are important questions to consider.

Despite the contextualization I’ve offered to Bill Maher’s lunacy, one would argue that sizable Muslim minorities still support apostasy laws and this doesn’t explain the main grievance. I think that’s a fair point and agree that the contentious issue of these penal codes still needs addressing by Muslim scholarship. How is traditional Muslim governance to adapt to the modern nation-state? What is the relevance of exacting classical penal codes when they are unable to uphold justice and their implementation leads to more harm than good?

Muslims are working through these issues and these need to be addressed from within; Tariq Ramadan’s moratorium call is an example of this. There’s no denying that the Muslims world is facing a multitude of problems, but mocking these from a Hollywood studio is not going to get us anywhere unfortunately.

Bill Maher has no interest in actually understanding problems or offering solutions – he’s an entertainer, and bashing Islam makes for very good entertainment. His formula is to take problems from one part of the Islamic world (or concoct them), exaggerate them greatly and then use it to dehumanize the global Muslim population. He caricatures an entire people with brush strokes of prejudice, using the ink of intolerance and his canvass of hypocrisy.

And his solution to problems of the Muslim world: abandon your faith, adopt sexual promiscuity and you’ll be liberated. Clearly, Maher a professional jester – it’s a good trade for him, and he should stick with it.

I had the pleasure of first meeting Dr. Tariq Ramadan during the 2011 RIS Convention when I was covering the event for MuslimMatters.org. It was an amicable meeting; I recall being struck by his down-to-earth attitude. He took the time to have a genuine conversation with people – a rarity at such large events.

It was the year of the Arab Springs and I remember his insightful talk about the role played by American institutions in kindling the protests in Egypt. The next year I met him again at the RIS Knowledge Retreat where he gave a series of classes entitled, ‘Shariah, Sufism and Ethics’. It was a powerful analysis of ethics and spirituality in the Islamic tradition. I recall asking him advice on how to combat the shariah fear-mongering that was going on at the time; he responded with words of wisdom as usual, ‘Normalize your presence without trivializing yourself’.

So, I was naturally quite shaken to hear that he had publicly boycotted the RIS and ISNA conventions; especially given his active role in the past several years. While he doesn’t use the word ‘boycott’ is his essay, his action is just that – a public censure of an organization and disengagement to achieve particular goals. I found his stance particularly troubling, and more importantly, ineffective. The reason being that he fails to adequately answer the essential questions for a successful protest: why boycott, how long to do it and what needs to be done to address the underlying concerns of the boycott.

Dr. Ramadan’s first allegation against RIS is that it remains ‘apolitical’. I find this charge particularly disingenuous given that speakers, including himself, frequently address political issues at the convention. I clearly recall the atmosphere at the 2008 convention when Israel started its bombardment of Gaza; outrage and condemnation was outspoken. A fundraising session that year, led by Imam Zaid Shakir in the main halls, raised over $100,000 within a half hour for the victims.

When the civil war in Syria started and Bashar-al-Assad began his atrocious crimes, the speakers did not shy away from expressing their disgust with him. When Ghaddafi was captured and killed, Dr. Ramadan was the one who voiced the unacceptable way in which his case was handled. These are just a few examples I can recall from my numerous years as an attendee and volunteer. Perhaps RIS isn’t political in the way Dr. Ramadan would like it to be, but to accuse convention of being silent on political issues is an unfounded assertion.

Dr. Ramadan’s second and more serious allegation relates to the speakers at RIS. He accuses these speakers of supporting dictatorships, despots and all the oppression they perpetrate. He fails to elaborate on who these speakers are and neither does he bring proof as to why he believes some of the leading Muslim preachers are supporters of tyranny and war crimes.

Those well informed on sectarian politics of the Middle East assume they know who and what he’s referring to; the rest of us are baffled and in utter confusion by this accusation. In his blog post, he refers to these people in convoluted terms such as ‘some speakers’ who follow the ‘sufi’ trend. This has implicated all the scholars at the convention and we’re left wondering: could he be referring to Shaykh Hamza, perhaps its Habib Ali, may be Imam Zaid, what about Dr. Jackson, or is it anyone associated with Mufti Ali Gomma or the late Shaykh Buti ?

Professor Ramadan’s elusive approach only opens the doors to speculation, conjecture and confusion. By disparaging the moral character of the scholars that Muslims so deeply trust and rely on for spiritual guidance, he has sown the seeds of doubt in their hearts – his boycott will do nothing to remove it. Not only will his move lead to political rifts, it also creates a spiritual crises built on doubts and division.

In the worldview of the Dr. Ramadan and his supporters, the immoral stances of their opponents are obvious – to the average American or Canadian RIS attendee they are not; most are clueless about the subject matter in the first place. If he was going to make such egregious allegations in public, especially on a matter generally debated in inner scholarly circles, he should have taken the liberty of at least supporting and clarifying his claims. Sure, we hear of the occasional tweet here and a facebook post there, but those hardly offer the degree of certainty required to establish such bold claims.

Instead of identifying, confronting and refuting the people he so vociferously opposes, Dr. Ramadan sanctimoniously declares them to be puppets for tyrannical rulers. He neither engages in a debate with them nor does he give these scholars a chance to clarify the basis of their positions. Using unsubstantiated claims masked in ambiguity he fosters the very phenomenon of partisan politics he’s trying to combat.

I am certain Dr. Ramadan has convincing arguments to back up his views, but his failure to elucidate them for us only breeds suspicion and bars us from the opportunity to judge for ourselves. If the scholars speaking at our conventions have indeed committed such serious transgressions, we deserve to know with absolute clarity before we decide to boycott them.

As for his boycott of ISNA, the professor offers much more concrete reasons; his approach, however, is still divisive and ineffective. The grievances he has expressed about ISNA’s unacceptable silence over deeply troubling aspects of U.S. domestic and foreign policy are universally shared by American Muslims. These Muslims, however, have not decided to boycott ISNA over it.

Instead, the recent events have lead to serious introspection and have stirred a much needed debate on how Muslim engage with government institutions. These issues will no doubt be raised and discussed at the upcoming convention; Dr. Ramadan could have been an important voice in influencing change but he has decided to not be present at these meetings.

ISNA is at an important cross-roads; it has become manifestly clear that its current engagement model has shortcomings which need to be seriously re-examined. It has to determine an approach where it can collaborate with institutions of power without being stifled by them or compromising its integrity. Glenn Greenwald, like many others, have stressed the need for an effective outsider-insider strategy for engagement. ISNA will certainly fall under the ‘insider’ category; its mandate is not like that of CAIR – which always seems to be in conflict with institutions of authority. It needs to transform itself into a effective lobbying group which can advocate on behalf of Muslims without being paralyzed by fear. Now, more than ever, it needs friends, not boycotters.

Dr. Ramadan’s boycott no doubt succeeds in putting pressure on ISNA and kindling up much needed discussions, especially given the support he has received from fellow speakers. However, this pressure comes at a cost. He has chosen to take a highly divisive route and no doubt has burned many bridges with the Muslim leadership in North America. Given his influence, the move has also galvanized many of his supporters who too are re-considering their attendance at the convention. ISNA is the one of the few institutions American Muslims could look up to as a representative of their interests; being publicly chastised and boycotted by a leading Muslim academic is bound to create division at a time when unity desperately needed.

Furthermore, the more important shortcoming of this move is that Dr. Ramadan has offered no concrete actions that need to be taken to address the issues he raises. How long will he and his supporters disengage from two of the largest gatherings of Muslims in North America? Blanket boycotts with no clear demands and deadlines are pointless and ineffective. What steps exactly does he want RIS and ISNA to take? We’ll never know the answers to these questions.

Professor Ramadan felt it a moral obligation to dissociate from organizations he had serious political disagreements with. Instead of the method he employed, he could have easily taken a less divisive and more effective route.  This could have been achieved had he publicly published detailed criticisms of ISNA and RIS with suggestions for actions they need to take. He could have then, like many others, privately declined attending the conventions; his absence would then be more meaningful to the organizers as well as the attendees. I am thinking of something along the approach Shaykh Hamza Yusuf took to highlight his disagreements with ISNA over the moon sighting issue.

The current approach taken by Dr. Ramadan is rash and its impact is temporal. He has picked a fight with the very people he needs to be advising; its unlikely they’ll be receptive to what he has to say if he does’t resort to more diplomatic methods. No one questions the legitimacy of the criticisms he has offered or the concern for good that drives his actions. However, this highly controversial approach has lead to greater harm, in this author’s opinion, because it engenders disunity amongst Muslims, casts doubts on the integrity of our scholars and fails to provide any tangible solutions to the exceedingly complex challenges our community faces today.

The city of Toronto has many distinctions; the CN Tower, Skydome – the crack smoking escapades of its mayor – just to name few. One distinction, unbeknownst to many, is the city’s unique position in Islamic history. Toronto is one of the few cities, if not the only, which hosts mosques that simultaneously follow all permutations of moonsighting opinions that have ever existed in Islam’s legal history; local sighting, global, Saudi-sighting, astronomical calculations – perhaps there are more. This represents a trend which has become common occurrence across much of the North America; Muslim communities split along lines of lunar dogmatism.

So, how did we get here? In 2006 the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) and Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) decided to switch to astronomical calculations, as opposed to moon sighting, as a means of tabulating the Islamic calendar. The unprecedented decision led to a considerable degree of controversy due to its unorthodoxy. However, what is not as well known is the history and the context which lead to this decision. I had the unique opportunity to sit with Shaykh Abdullah Idris Ali, former President of ISNA, who shared with me a brief history of the moonsighting methods employed and what eventually lead to the current climate.

The Early Days

In the 1960’s and 70’s when the Muslim community of the US and Canada was still in its infancy, most mosques would rely on moon sighting reports from Muslim countries. Depending on the community, congregants would either rely on their country of origin (e.g. Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan) or would go with decision announced by Saudi authorities. ISNA itself relied on following Saudi Arabia in those days.

Given the diversity of immigrant communities here, relying on moon sighting from countries abroad would naturally lead to conflicts based on the differing dates of those countries. As the Muslim community grew, the issue of establishing local moon sighting organizations was raised. Moon sighting committees such as that of Chicago and Toronto started to appear in the late 1970s’ and early 80’s. In Toronto, these early Muslims would go up to the CN Tower to search for the moon; one year they even chartered out an airplane to scan the skies for the crescent!

However, it soon became evident that sighting the crescent was going to be no simple task in North America. Mosques within the same city would follow different opinions; some relied on local sighting while others still placed their confidence on reports from Saudi Arabia or other countries. Two groups of people emerged and the trend of having two (or more) Eids thus began.

To get guidance on the subject, Shaykh Abdullah Idris wrote a letter to the late Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaykh Abdal Aziz Bin Baaz, seeking advice. Sh Bin Baaz responded stating that Muslims in North America should follow their local moon sighting instead of following Saudi Arabia. Based on his advice ISNA switched to local sighting in the 80’s.

Local sighting came with its own set of problems however. The lack of a centralized authority meant there were numerous local moon sighting groups; each having their own criteria and procedures. There were concerns about the criteria of accepting testimony and how to verify reports coming from distant places by inexperienced sighters. Sometimes an organization would announce Eid but the congregants would question the decision due to their lack of trust in the process.

The extent of the zone from which to accept moon sighting reports was another issue; what if reports came from outside mainland USA and Canada? Should reports from South America be accepted too? Furthermore, the timing difference from coast to coast, which can be up to four hours, was another problem. This would mean Muslim communities on the East coast would have to until midnight at times until a decision was made based on reports after sunset from California. The cumbersome process made any kind of planning for Eid and Ramadan extremely difficult for the average Muslim.

The Lunar Calendar Conference

Frustrated with the situation, a major lunar conference was organized in 1987 at the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Herndon, VA. Over $100,000 were raised to invite renowned astronomers from around the globe. Experts from NASA, US and Canadian Navies, Adler Planetarium, British Almanac and others were present at this conference alongside Muslim scholars; Dr. Muhammad Ilyas was the keynote speaker.

A number of key issues were discussed and addressed at this conference. For example, it was decided that sighting reports contradicting the calculated birth of the moon were to be rejected. Further, since the earliest recorded sighting of the new moon had been 12 hours after its birth, any reports before this time were highly questionable.

The idea of relying entirely on calculations to mark the beginning Islamic months was raised as well during this conference. To make a decision on this matter a crucial question needed answering: is sighting the new moon simply a means of determining the start of the lunar month or is it in itself an act of worship which needs to be established? If it is only a means to calculate time, then the moon’s sightability can be determined to very high degrees of accuracy using modern astronomy and it removes the need for physical sighting. If, however, the sighting itself is considered a form of worship then it can’t be replaced by mere calculations.

The conference concluded with the aim of further investigating the method of using astronomical calculations. The FCNA and ISNA returned to moon sighting as a methodology and this was continued throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. During this time, they worked with astronomers and mathematicians to derive a method based entirely on astronomical calculations.

Also during this time rose the issue of whether it makes sense for North America to follow Saudi Arabia to determine the dates of Eid al-Adha. FCNA’s Dr. Muzzamil Siddiqui wrote to the late Shaykh Uthaimeen of Saudi Arabia to seek advice on the matter. To the surprise of many, he opined that even for Eid al-Adha Muslims here should rely on local sighting even if this means having a different day of Arafat from Mecca.

FCNA continued its work on the calculated lunar calendar. Abandoning moon sighting in favour of astronomical calculations is an unorthodox opinion that historically was never relied upon. To consult with other Muslim scholars on this issue, a delegation traveled across the Muslim world with this proposal. Sh Bin Baaz and other Saudi scholars didn’t demonstrate interest in the idea and told the FCNA to make their own decision based on their research. Similar responses were given by scholars in Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey; while some were receptive such as Sh. Muhammad Al-Ashqar of Kuwait, most were either opposed to the concept or felt that it was something that needed more investigation.

After much deliberation and in light of the continued disarray on the moonsighting issue, the FCNA and ISNA adopted its position to use astronomical calculations in June 2006. It deemed that moonsighting itself is not an act of worship and thus one could rely solely on calculations to start the lunar month. The European Council on Fatwa and Research (ECFR), lead by Yusuf-al Qaradawi, also adopted this position shortly afterwards. As was expected, this decision stirred a major controversy amongst Western Muslim scholars. A war of academic papers and articles soon ensued but it did little to unify the fragile cohesion that was there in first place.

On Unity

Since 2006, a number of initiatives have take place to try to unite and better organize the moonsighting organizations within the US and Canada. Examples of these are the 2007 National Moonsighting Conference in California and the 2009 National Hilal Sighting Conference in New York. Furthermore, since the late 2000’s, some organizations have changed their positions from that of a local sighting to a global one. This would allow for a greater chance for congruency with FNCA’s calculations and also greater unity with the rest of the Muslim world. While these are welcome steps, there is still need for considerable work to unite the community on this issue.

I asked Shaykh Abdullah Idris about how ISNA’s decision only further divides Muslims and whether such an approach is counterproductive. He explained that considering the divisions on this issue, their hope is that overtime people will adopt FCNA’s opinion as the best alternative to the current debacle. Further, he stated that ISNA’s position is that if there’s a city in which all the mosques agree on a single moonsighting position, ISNA will switch to that position for the sake of unity there. This was attempted in Toronto but all the mosques which rely on moosighting there were unable to arrive at a unified position.

It is evident that the ultimate reason for the divisions on the moonsighting issue arise due to the lack of an agreed upon authority amongst Western Muslims. There are hundreds of independently run mosques across the Americas; uniting them under a single banner is no simple task.

While its easy to have a dismal outlook on this debate, there are positive take a ways from this situation as well. As Shaykh Hamza Yusuf recently pointed out, Muslims arguing over something like moonsighting, which may appear as a trivial matter, is a sign of a serious community of believers. People disagree because they hold their convictions to be true, they care about their religion, and they strive to practice it in the most correct way. In a society where religion is increasingly viewed with an eye of irrelevance, it is refreshing to see a people who care enough about it to disagree over it.


I would like to thank Shaykh Abdullah Idris for taking the time to share the much needed information for this article. I undertook this project to document history and I’ve pieced together this chronology based on the best resources available to me. I am interested in improving it further and invite feedback from readers on any more details (e.g. dates,places,names etc) they may have or any chronological errors they see.



The Fiqh and Scince of the New Islamic Moon


ISNA’s on the astronomical moonsighting

Islamic Center of Wayland, Boston

Cesarean Moon Births, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Hilal Controversy in Toronto – The three positions: local, global, Saudi

International Symposium on Moon sighting and Science