Monday, 27 July 2009

Book Review : Agenda to Change Our Condition

First published in 1999, Agenda to Change Our Condition is a concise treatise written by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir, which aims to offer a simple but profound life changing program for all Muslims who want to rectify their current state of apathy and heedlessness of God's commands. This is simply more than a book of Advice as it offers us the readers, a clear practical and effective guidance for rectifying our states as conscientious and productive Muslims. It is written in clear and simple English ensuring that everyone can implement its counsel. The book has two subjects that it places emphasis upon, Taqwa (God-consciousness) and Ikhlas (sincerity).Islam is a submission to reality and the acceptance of behaving in the manner ordained by God. Therefore, Taqwa and Ikhlas are crucial for Muslims in order to ensure that their lives conform this submission to God. Agenda To Change Our Condition is an indispensable handbook for all Muslims striving for excellence in character and self-refinement. The book is formulated from classical books by Scholars and Gnostics such as Imam al Nawawi, Imam al Ghazali, Sidi Ahmed Zarruq and many others (May God All Mighty Sanctify their secrets).These great friends of God have walked the path of God- Consciousness and left behind their advice in order to help future Muslims walk the trodden path also of Taqwa.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf makes the objective of the book clear :

"Our hope is that you take this manual seriously. It is rooted in the Book, the Sunnah, and the example of our pious predecessors. We hope that you will commit to implementing it to the best of your ability, that you find a group of brothers or sisters, whichever the case may be, and work together"

Despite being small in size, the treatise deals with some very lofty topics indeed. The topics covered include: Taqwa: Its Definition and Its Benefits, The Heart and its Treatment, Practical Steps to Change Our Condition, a series of exercises for achieving Taqwa as well as three new appendices taken from Imam Nawawi and Sidi Ahmed Zarruq (May God All Mighty Sanctify their secrets). I have no doubt that if one follows the advice contain in this book sincerely and aims to implement it in their complicated busy lives, the results will transform their inner and outer struggles.

Finally, I leave you with what one of the authors, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf has said regarding his treatise:

"This path is indeed arduous, and it would appear to one looking at it that to arrive is too difficult for most of us. Let us set out first and then see how long we can last. A Divine wind will blow on your back, your feet will become light, and wondrous fellow wayfarers will show up with sustenance just when you thought you had none. Our success is by Allah, upon Him we place our trust, and to Him we return."

Monday, 13 July 2009

Deepak Chopra Mini Skirts, Yes. Burqas, No?

If France had a humane, democratic record in its treatment of Muslim immigrants, one might be bemused by Pres. Sarkozy's attempt to suppress the burqa. But the opposite is true. Arab immigrants are treated as second-class citizens, and the rightist politicians, including Sarkozy, are happy to keep them down. As a form of hyper-patriotism, controlling the dress of Muslim women is obviously unfair. Pres. Obama was right to criticize the policy.

Doesn't it seem strange that women in France have the right to wear mini skirts but not burqas? Both costumes are about sexuality, or if that seems too judgmental, both are about the issue of modesty. In the Arab world this is a religious issue, and it's not as though the Christian world is totally free of that perspective -- as far as I know, a woman will not be permitted inside the Vatican without covering her head. A secular society has no business making decisions based on religion, and that means in either direction. If God is neutral toward the mini skirt, he is neutral toward the burqa and chador, or the wig and head covering of orthodox Jewish women.

As for the argument that the burqa stands for the abasement of women, that is certainly true under the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the abasement revolves around forcing women to dress a certain way, taking away their free choice. Isn't France doing the same thing? In the name if fighting abasement, they are actually imposing another sort.

Finally, there is the simmering social resentment that occurs when a Muslim woman stands out in the crowd by her dress. In decades past, she stood out in an exotic and even appealing way. Since 9/11, Muslim dress is interpreted as a hostile statement. It's time we each become more mindful. The hostility is our own, a projection we impose on the innocent. Let Muslim women be as free to choose as any Western girl with tattoos and piercings. Beauty in this case is in the eyes of the wearer.

Published in the Washington Post

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Former model follows spiritual path at Yale

At age 26, Dawood Yasin was almost killed. Three times.

Back then, his name was not Dawood. He was not yet a teaching assistant in Yale's Arabic Department, the imam of the Masjid Al-Islam mosque on George Street in New Haven, or the chaplain of the Muslim Student's Association of Yale.

Instead, he was a nation-hopping male model, a man whose face and body splashed Paris billboards and Vogue fashion spreads. His name was David and he was Roman Catholic.

But three near-death experiences in the span of six months changed all that

In 1996 he was living in South Africa modeling in photo shoots. One night, he said, he got into a heated discussion with some South Africans vocalizing their unhappiness with the end of apartheid. Threats were issued. Tensions boiled. Then the aggressors pulled out weapons.

Luckily, a member of the group talked them out of a fight. But just a few weeks later, something else happened. Yasin was driving from Capetown to Johannesburg. At one point the fog thickened dangerously. The car behind him began to pass him and, at the same time, a truck approached from ahead. His own car narrowly avoided the horrific crash that followed.

Not long after, he witnessed another crash -- one he might have been in had he arrived at the scene 30 seconds earlier.

Many 26-year-olds may have brushed off the three incidences as merely unsettling. Not Yasin.

"Thinking that you could check out at any time made me think about spirituality," he said, sitting in Au Bon Pain Oct. 27, a dark beard covering his once-famous face.

Because his cousin had converted to Islam two decades before and become a better person for it, he said, the religion was already in the back of his mind. So when his brushes with death made him reconsider spirituality, he had no qualms about taking a look at the Koran.

"It worked for me," he said. "I find there to be justice. In the prophetic tradition, there's no preference of the Arab over the non-Arab, white over black, black over white."

But not everybody sees that side of Islam. Twice since Sept. 11, 2001, Yasin and his wife, dressed in traditional Islamic garb, have been almost run off the road, he said. Once, the driver shouted at them to "go back to your country."

"And my mother, my grandmother, they were born in America," he said, shaking his head.

Rather than let such ignorance get him down, though, Yasin said he focuses on raising understanding of Islam. His Arabic students said he was always very open about his life and religion. They could ask him delicate questions -- what the Koran says about homosexuality, for example -- and get a straightforward answer.

And because Yasin is American, students seem more receptive to what he has to say, said Bassam Frangieh, a professor in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department.

"The students identify with him," Frangieh said. "He has a very, very beautiful relationship with them."

Yasin has even welcomed his class into his mosque. Last year, 40 Arabic students took a class trip to George Street during the month of Ramadan. They covered themselves appropriately, the women in head scarves. As they walked, they stopped traffic, Frangieh said.

After attending services, which included a sermon by Yasin, the students ate a traditional dinner in his home.

Teaching about Islam and the Koranic tradition is important, Frangieh said. After all, one requirement of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations major is "Arabic and Islamic Studies."

Despite such glowing reports from students and colleagues, Yasin was not always so focused on Yale. When he came back to America after studying Arabic for five years, teaching at Yale was not the job he had in mind, he said.

Hardly the typical teaching assistant, Yasin does not even hold a college degree. He briefly attended Southern Connecticut State University, but he was discovered by a Wilhelmina Models agent during one summer break in Nantucket. At 19, his life turned into a whirlwind of runways in Milan and Paris, photo shoots with Christy Turlington and Brooke Shields.

"It's like, 'Wow, do I shoot a Levi's campaign and make a lot of money, or do I go back to school and get a degree?'" he said, chuckling. "You think about it for about three breaths."

And although he studied at a religious seminary in Damascus for five years after "embracing Islam," the events of Sept. 11, 2001 interrupted his education. In America at the time of the terrorist attacks, Yasin and his then-pregnant wife decided not to return to Syria.

A friend at the Yale Divinity School told him there was an opening in the Arabic department. At the time, Yasin said, he laughed off the suggestion, intimidated by the idea of teaching Yale students in a language that was not his native tongue. But when a few weeks went by and the position remained open, he decided to apply.

Rather than a one-on-one interview, Yasin presented himself to one of Frangieh's Arabic classes. They loved him. Yasin was hired.

This year, though, Yasin is on leave. Recently appointed as imam of Masjid Al-Islam, Yasin said he is now too busy to teach classes. As religious leader of the 300 people in the congregation, he has more responsibilities than he had even expected.

"I'm dealing with everything from the jurisprudence of someone's marriage, to someone asking you on the end-of-life decisions for their two-year-old child," he said.

And he has taken on a new project, as well -- managing a fashion company geared toward traditional Muslim dress. The former model described the clothing line as modest, but sophisticated and practical.

Running a clothing company is only the latest phase in his life. From modeling, to studying, to being a TA, he said each experience has made him who he is today.

But if his now-2-year-old daughter were to grow up and tell him she wanted to strut down the runways in Milan, Yasin knows exactly what he would say:

"I'd say, Tell me when you want to go and we'll go together."

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Interview with Kinza Academy founder and home school advocate Nabila Hanson

Home school is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. According to the U.S. government census in 2007, 1.5 million children are home schooled in the United States. Other estimates put the number much higher.

What is home schooling and why is it so popular? Nabila Hanson, founder of Kinza Academy, answers these and other questions in an interview with

In Part I, Nabila discusses home schooling in general. In Part II, she answers questions about Kinza Academy and its approach to educating children at home.

1. What is home schooling (or home education)?

Home-schooling and home-education literally mean teaching or having your children taught in the home. In contrast to public and most private schools, home-schooled children are taught individually, and to some degree the education is tailored for each child so the child's natural love of learning is allowed to blossom.

2. How has home schooling evolved over the years?

Home-education has always existed, making a name for itself in this country during the past thirty-plus years. There was a general dissatisfaction with state schooling that culminated with its revised “dumbed-down” curriculum in the 60’s. I think this was the turning point when some parents just said, “Enough! If you aren’t going to educate my child, I’ll do it myself!” And they did.

3. Why do you think it is becoming so popular?

I think it became popular because a few people were brave enough to reclaim the right to educate their children, and in so doing produced educated, self-governed, and moral people that made other parents stop and ask, “What’s going on here?” I think it continues to increase in popularity for different reasons.

Some families are concerned about protecting the family’s religious beliefs and don’t want their children secularized in public school; other families are concerned about the total failure of government schooling to produce educated citizens; and safety is also a huge concern now with children becoming the frequent victims of violent crimes and sexual abuse in public and private schools.

Amongst Muslims, I think the first concern is the child’s deen and the second concern is the quality of education.

4. What are the benefits of home schooling?

From a religious perspective, I don’t have to worry about my children’s self-esteem being damaged or their deen being hurt because they are teased about their religion in school. I don’t have to worry they are being taught things that contradict our religious belief, and I don’t have to worry that I will lose them to peer pressure. The Christian home-school studies have shown three out of four children that graduate from public school will no longer share the same faith or beliefs as their family. This is alarming.

From a mother’s perspective, every day I am amazed by my children. They are creative; they march to their own beat; they are eager to learn and interested in so many things, and they are self-motivated. My son memorized all of the US presidents' first, middle, and last names one day without being asked. My daughter memorized all of the states and capitals one day on her own. I am often times astounded by the things they have taught themselves and teach each other in their free time.

I would add that children need down-time, too. Because children educated at home are taught individually, they learn more quickly, and the school day is much shorter, permitting them time to explore their own interests and take part in family life. There is also no homework!

5. How do children who are educated at home compare academically with children enrolled in school?

Most home-educated children are superior in their academic levels to public schooled children. This has been studied, and it is no secret that top universities in this country, like Harvard and Yale, recruit home-educated children.

6. Is there a downside to home schooling?

Giving your children a home-education requires a lot of support. The Christian home-educators are well-established and have endless groups, conferences, publications, etc., so one feels very much supported as a Christian home-educator.

As Muslims, we are still in the beginning stages of our own movement, and it requires a lot of patience for those of us who don’t have much support. We need to have a vision and understand that we are laying the foundation for future Muslim families to educate their children at home. Someone has to be the one to begin, and each of us home-educating today is that person.

The socialization concern, which is often perceived as a downside to home-education, is a myth. There is more about this on our website

7. Do you have to be a teacher or have a background in education to home school?

This is another area that has been studied, and it is known that the educational level of the parent has little impact on his or her ability to teach her own children. I would say that you have to honestly want to teach your own children, and you have to have an interest in learning. It is that enthusiasm for learning that you must nurture in your child. A good teacher enjoys teaching and passes on the love of the subject.

As a home-educator, there will always be your favorite and least favorite subject to teach, but as long as you sincerely want to teach your children, you should do fine. If there really is a subject you can’t teach, you can swap teaching with a friend or hire a tutor.

8. If someone is interested in learning more about home school, what are the first things he/she should do?

The first thing parents should do is really try to understand why schools are not the best place for their children. I know so many people who don’t want to think about it, and ignoring the problem is a luxury we just can’t afford. Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah said years ago in reference to some home-schooling mothers he knew that teaching the children was a mother’s jihad, and if all parents took this as seriously, we could change the world. I firmly believe this.

The book to begin with is by John Taylor Gatto: Weapons of Mass Instruction. If and when they decide to home-school, then the parents need to consider the best way for their family to establish a home-school.

Our website has a lot of valuable information on education and home-schooling, and we also have anAmazon linked bookstore, with a good selection of books on the subject. Your readers are welcome to visit us at:

In Part I of our interview Nabila Hanson, home school advocate and founder of Kinza Academy, discusses home schooling and why you should consider it. In Part II she answers questions about Kinza Academy and its approach to home education.

. What is Kinza Academy and why did you start it?

After Hamza Yusuf spoke in Canada back in 2000 with John Taylor Gatto, he kept mentioning the need for someone to provide a home-schooling curriculum for Muslim families. Around the same time, I had ordered a preschool curriculum for my daughter, which was designed by educational “experts,” and was disappointed with the content. Those two factors were the catalyst for my determination to organize a program that any parent would love to teach and any child would love to learn from.

My greatest inspiration has come from John Taylor Gatto. He is a courageous man who has dared to expose the real purpose behind compulsory schooling. At a time in life when most people would be relaxing and enjoying themselves, he travels and lectures and has quite a demanding schedule. And he does it for the children.

In one of John’s talks, he calls us to put sand in the gears of the machine (compulsory schooling agenda) wherever we find it—I like to think Kinza Academy is some of that sand.

2. There are many different philosophies on home schooling. Kinza Academy uses the classical approach. Briefly, what is the classical approach and why do you use it?

The best description I know of is written by Dorothy Sayers and is entitled: The Lost Tools of Learning. There is a link to the article on our website. Rather than attempt a brief explanation here, I would prefer people read her paper. It is amusing and not at all dry.

I think the classical approach is the preferred model for Muslims. According to Hamza Yusuf, the Western classical model is the most similar to the Islamic educational model. Imam al-Ghazzali said that each student should learn grammar, logic, and rhetoric, which are the trivium components of the two part classical system.

It’s important to avoid the “public school at home” approach to home-education, where parents use similar or even the same books found in public school.

I was at someone’s house who is signed up with a charter school and she had this reading book for her six year old that was ridiculous. It was about a 400 page book with the most monotonous reading exercises. Learning to read isn’t difficult when the child is ready and doesn’t require 400 pages of instruction.

3. You do not recommend introducing a “formal education” until age seven. Would you explain that a little?

As Muslims, our sunnah advises us to let our children play for the first seven years. Western psychologists agree that postponing formal education until the age of six or seven is preferable, and is even necessary to support a healthy emotional development.

Too frequently, I have people tell me their child is in this class and that class, how they can read long books and do math, and extraordinary things for a young child. But, when I ask how the child’s social skills are, there is always this silence, and then the parent admits it is an area of concern. What does it matter how smart your child grows up to be if he can’t build meaningful relationships and get along in the world? This is what those first seven years are about.

4. How does Kinza Academy work? For instance, do you provide the curriculum, lesson plans, other support, etc.?

Our formal program begins with first grade and goes through the sixth grade. We provide a complete curriculum for each year, a selection of classical literature with each grade, and daily lesson plans. The lesson plans can also be used for record keeping purposes, or if the family needs to submit documents to state officials.

We are available for telephone or email support when needed.

For younger children, unstructured play and being read to are the most important things you can do to prepare them for formal instruction. The Kinza Academy preschool/kindergarten program offers a wonderful selection of mostly classical literature, and some light instructional material that can be used to informally teach your child.

5. How do you choose materials to include in the curriculum?

In general, we look for books that are well written and have substance, do not require unnecessary work from the parent, and are interesting to both teach and to learn from.

Though the curriculum uses a few CDs for stories and spelling, it does not incorporate any computer or DVD learning because of the known dangers to the developing mind of a child. Textbooks are avoided when possible in place of what Charlotte Mason called, “living books.”

6. Currently, Kinza Academy offers curriculum up to sixth grade. Are you planning to expand?

Eventually, we plan to expand our program through high school, in sha Allah. At this point, our focus is in publishing curriculum material for the grades that we do offer.

7. Is Kinza Academy only for Muslims?

The Academy was designed with the Muslim family in mind. With mild modifications, a family of another faith could use the program. Our focus, as I mentioned earlier, is really to serve our own community.

8. Anything else you would like to tell us about Kinza Academy or home schooling?

If you want to home-school, but feel nervous or afraid that it might be too much, just try. It’s almost impossible to get your child behind according to state standards, and you will probably find home-education is much easier than you had imagined.

I find the moms who oftentimes express the most fear about being able to home-school actually end up enjoying it the most.