Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Great Mosque of Cordoba - A reminder of Europe’s interfaith history

Selma Roth
Saudi Gazette

SPAIN’S culture is full of reminders that the Iberian Peninsula was once occupied by a Muslim population consisting mainly of Arab and Berber ethnics. Encompassing nearly 8 centuries, the Islamic Al-Andalus period left a clear Arabic influence in the Spanish language: Some scholars estimate that around 8 percent of the words found in the Spanish dictionary have Arabic roots. In terms of monuments, the highlight of this period most often mentioned is the imposing Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex located in the Spanish southeastern town of Granada.

The Alhambra complex and its Generalife gardens are indeed extraordinary and should be on anyone’s bucket list, but of more significance for the Muslim traveler is the Great Mosque of Córdoba, also known as the Mezquita.
The mosque, built initially by Abd Al-Rahman I and with various later additions, is an architectural marvel that leaves Muslim and non-Muslim visitors alike in awe. It is not difficult to imagine how this magnificent structure was a center of worship, religion, philosophy, anatomy, geometry, and all the other sciences the Al-Andalus scholars excelled in.

The story goes that when the exiled Umayyad prince, Abd Al-Rahman I, fled from Damascus to current-day Spain he bought half of the Visigothic Church of St. Vincent on which the Mezquita is built for the Muslim community’s Friday prayers. Soon, this space became too small for the fast-growing population, and in 784 A.D. the emir bought the other half as well, erecting a mosque that he hoped would be on par with those built in Jerusalem, Baghdad, and his home-town Damascus.

His descendants expanded the structure, built a new minaret, and adorned the mihrab, the niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of Makkah, with gold mosaics, a gift from the Christian emperor of Byzantium. Remarkably, though, the mihrab in the Great Mosque of Córdoba does not point south-southeast toward Makkah, but south. While in that time it was not uncommon for the qibla (the direction of the Kaaba) to be a bit off, the reason it is here is probably because the mosque was built retaining one of the walls of the old church. The structure reached its current dimensions in 987 A.D., when the outer naves and courtyard, used for ablution and full of orange and lemon trees, were completed.

Soon after and due to internal conflict, Córdoba fell in a state of steady decline, eventually leading to the fall of the caliphate in 1031. 

Thereafter, several dynasties ruled the city, but it lost its domination to Seville until in 1236 the Christian Kings “reconquered” Córdoba from the Moors.

While building numerous new churches, the center of the mosque was also converted into a Catholic church, although only very small alterations were made. A chapel was built within the mosque, and the minaret was transformed into a bell tower.

Nearly three centuries later, however, King Carlos I — allegedly against the wishes of Córdoba’s city council — approved the construction of a Renaissance altar area, choir and nave, largely altering the look of the mosque. Unsatisfied with the result, he famously regretted to the priests who built it: “You have built what you or others might have built anywhere, but you have destroyed something that was unique in the world.”

Regardless how history shaped the building for better or worse, the result remains simply awe inspiring. Visitors enter the Mezquita through the ablution courtyard, now called the Patio de los Naranjos, where lush citrus and palm trees protect the queues, waiting to buy their entrance ticket, from the scorching Andalusian summer sun.

Once inside, the peace and harmony of the large space overwhelms its visitors, as rows and rows of columns —a total of 856 remain from the 1,293 original pillars — and red and white striped horseshoe arches dazzle even the most seasoned traveler. The entrance side is the original part of the mosque built by Abd Al-Rahman I. Though quite dark, it is easy to imagine how full of light the mosque must have been when all original 19 doors were opened at the time of the caliphate, with the courtyard palm trees providing a natural continuation of the columns inside, leading Pakistani poet Muhammad Iqbal to describe them as “countless pillars like rows of palm trees in the oases of Syria.”

The columns were made from pieces of the church that had occupied the place previously, as well as from destroyed Roman buildings, while the red and white stone and marble were found in the region surrounding the city.
Opposite the entrance is the mihrab, spectacularly adorned with 1,600 kilogram of gold mosaic cubes shaped into flower motifs and inscriptions from the Holy Qur’an. This is the latest and most sophisticated addition of the mosque and according to many one of the most magnificent mihrabs worldwide.

In the center, the serenity of the structure is interrupted by a resplendent cathedral that boasts light and vertigo into the low-ceilinged mosque. Like Carlos I, many Muslims regret the building of the Christian structure, saying it destroyed the serenity of the place, and it is not difficult to understand that Muslim worshippers feel offended when security guards brutally order them to stand up when they prostrate in reverence of such marvel, while up to today it is still in use for Catholic services. Several incidences took place in recent years, and Spanish Muslims have lobbied to allow them to pray in the cathedral. 

But to say the sacred place belongs to the Muslims is historically incorrect as well. After all, prior to the mosque the soil was home to a Christian church. Rather than claiming it to be either Christian or Islamic, the site is the ultimate reminder of how intertwined the two religions are. For Muslims, the mosque may prompt them of the Islamic Golden Age, during which people of the three monotheistic religions lived together fairly peacefully. For Christians, the mosque is a living proof that Islam is not something alien to Europe: Its existence is intricately part of European history. In fact, it were the scholars in Al-Andalus who transmitted the works of Greek scientists like Aristotle to the hands of the Christians, eventually leading to the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment, which rescued Europe from the Dark Ages and led the continent to blossom.

Remarkably, the current monarchs of Spain directly descend from the Catholic Kings that expelled the Muslims and Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. In a sense, they represent the continuation of the “Reconquista,” the reconquering of the peninsula from the Muslim rulers, which one may doubt if it is, in fact, a re-conquering, as there was no Catholic monarchy prior to the arrival of Tariq ibn Ziyad and his small army that came to the peninsula upon request from the Visigoths to intervene in their internal conflict.

The “mosque-cathedral” of Córdoba, as the site is often referred to, could be a symbol of Spain’s history at the crossroads of cultures and religions. It could be an example of how civilizations can flourish if they live and work together. It could be granted the status of museum, as the Turkish authorities did with the Aya Sophia in Istanbul, another junction of the Christian and Muslim worlds. The Aya Sophia was a church during the Byzantine Empire, became a mosque under the Ottomans, and in the twentieth century the authorities decided to secularize the building and open it as a museum.

Instead, the Catholic authorities chose to keep using the Mezquita as a place for Christian worship and continue the spirit of the Reconquista.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Charity in Islam

Samar Yahya

Charity means willingness to help others. Helping those in need is a noble quality. Charity is preached by all religions. It is a way of bringing justice to society and justice is the essence of religion. Islam has therefore encouraged charity. Islam has rigid laws associated with charity.

Charity goes beyond kindness; it means generosity, empathy, and tolerance as well.

Charity in a Muslim’s life

The best type of charity is to offer food to a hungry person. Spending in the way of Allah, for example to support a pilgrim to perform the pilgrimage, or giving to the poor, to a widow, orphans, or to relatives or friends who are facing difficult times are all excellent ways of charity. The Holy Qur’an encourages Muslims to spend in charity and it mentions that the good deeds of the one who gives in charity are multiplied over and over again.

Charity begins at home

A characteristic of flourishing and highly developed societies is that its members do not spend all of their wealth to fulfill their own desires, but they reserve a portion for the poor and the unfortunate.

He who assists others is a true believer. Serving others always brings more satisfaction and happiness than when doing something for ourselves. To also reap the rewards from Allah, the one giving should have the pure intention to help for the sake of uplifting someone else’s misery and for pleasing Allah, and not for showing off. The one receiving the charity should be deserving of it.

Charity can even be practiced in one’s home by dealing compassionately with and looking out for the needs of those closest to us. Once we begin to encourage sympathy in our relationships, we will find it easier to do so with others as well. Once we begin with our homes, we can gradually extend the scope of our charity to include extended family, neighbors, community members, and people suffering hardships in distant countries.

In order for the charity to be accepted by Allah, the charity given should be lawfully earned or acquired by the giver.

Giving in Secret

This is the signature of the believer who gives only for the sake of Allah, without waiting for praise from others. Giving in secret is often better since it protects against insincerity, and it also preserves the dignity of the one receiving the charity. For a Muslim, charity is given to stave off miserliness and to draw one nearer to Allah. If instead the giver seeks fame, then the act of charity becomes worthless for the giver.

Giving Openly

In some specific situations, it is acceptable and even better to give charity in public, so that you can set an example for others to follow and encourage more people to give for a good cause. However, one must be careful and closely watch one’s intentions to avoid any hypocritical notions.

Avoid Taunting

Taunting is to remind a person or take advantage of him for a favor you have done for him. It is hurtful to that person to make it known to others or even to make him feel ashamed of his poverty.

Give of what is good

Charity should be taken from the best of your wealth and from what is dearest to you to increase righteousness and selflessness in the life of a Muslim. When donating clothes, do not choose only the old, tattered clothes to give away, but give away from the finest of your clothes.

Ongoing charity (Sadaqa Jariya)

The best charity is that which continuously benefits people, such as helping to build a school, a clinic, a hospital, or a water supply system, or a mosque, or planting a tree, or helping a poor person start up his own business.

Every Muslim must give in Charity

Muslims are obligated to give in charity. Every act of goodness is charity; enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, supporting the feeble, caring for the elderly, sharing a meal with your neighbor, even the smile of a Muslim is a way of charity.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the Best Example

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was never asked for anything, except that he gave it, and he would give without fearing poverty. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was the most generous, and his generosity in Ramadan far exceeded other times in the year.


Zakah, the third pillar of Islam, is obligatory charity. The literal meaning of Zakah is ‘purification’. It means purifying and blessing your wealth by giving a portion of it to those in need. The amount that must be given annually is 2.5% of a Muslim’s total cumulative wealth over the course of the year.

Those eligible to receive Zakah are:

Destitute: people who have no wealth or funds or source of income.

People in debt: people who are in debt but cannot pay it back.

Travelers: Muslims who are in the middle of their journey and have run out of money.

Orphan children: And there is a great reward in supporting orphans.

Zakatul Fitr

After the commencement of the month of Ramadan, all Muslims rejoice in Eid and even those living in poverty have a right to celebrate Eid and to enjoy a filling meal with their families.

That is why Zakatul Fitr has been established.

Every year just before Eid, every adult Muslim who possesses food in excess of his needs must pay Zakatul Fitr. It is preferable to pay Zakatul Fitr just before Eid prayer, first thing in the morning so that the poor can enjoy Eid as well. The amount of Zakatul Fitr is fixed. The minimum amount due is the equivalent of about 2 kg of flour, wheat, barley or rice from each member in your family and each dependent even if the dependent is not living in the same house. Zakatul Fitr provides the poor with a means with which they can celebrate Eid.

Laylat Al-Qadr - Prosperity from our Lord

We are approaching the end of Ramadan, that most auspicious and beautiful month where Muslims have helped one another and strengthened their relations of solidarity. We are about to complete another Ramadan that is the means for blessings, healing and prosperity. And last night, we welcomed the Laylat Al-Qadr (Night of Power) which is made as better than a thousand months and when the Qur’an’s revelation started to our Prophet (peace be upon him) 1,400 years ago...
Every day of Ramadan is a feast, a blessing and beauty, a time of prosperity for the Muslims. It is an important means for gaining the good pleasure of God and healing. As it is known, the Qur’an was first revealed to our Prophet (peace be upon him) 1,400 years ago on the Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Power). For that reason, Laylat Al-Qadr has a distinct quality from the other days of Ramadan, and even the entire year. Our Lord informs us of this distinction by stating that the Night of Power is better than a thousand months.

The word “qadr” has various meanings like “power,” “glory,” “esteem.” “Qadeer” is also one of the names of God and indicates our Lord has “infinite power and creates what He wills.” Almighty God has also assigned this name to the Surat Al-Qadr in the Qur’an: “Truly We sent it down on the Night of Power. And what will convey to you what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. In it the angels and the Spirit descend by their Lord’s authority with every ordinance. It is Peace until the coming of the dawn.” (Qur’an, 97:1-5)

Salman Al-Farisi (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated: “The Messenger of God (peace be upon him) addressed us on the last day of Sha’ban and said: ‘O people, a great blessed month has come upon you, a month containing the Laylat Al-Qadr which is better than a thousand months. God has made fasting during it an obligation, and steadfastly observing its nights in worship a voluntary act. It is the month of patience, and the reward for patience is Paradise. It is the month of goodwill, during which provisions are multiplied’.” (Ibn Khuzaimah, Saheeh, III, 191-192)

As we can see, the Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned the blessings of Laylat Al-Qadr when he was holding a discourse about the month of Ramadan, and stated that fasting is an obligation, and nights spent in worship and demonstrating patience and goodwill are of high significance. He also emphasized that believers’ provisions are multiplied this month. The Night of Power, the means for the strengthening of steadfastness of believers, was also the start of the powerful intellectual struggle of our Prophet (peace be upon him) against the hypocrites, idolaters and unbelievers with great perseverance. This beautiful communication of religion by our Prophet (peace be upon him) started in 610AH with the revelation of the Qur’an and lasted incessantly until his passing away.
Ramadan, the “month of patience” as described by our Prophet (peace be upon him), and the Laylat Al-Qadr which is better than a thousand months is a great example for bringing Muslims together in a spirit of unity, togetherness and cooperation.

The fact that the blessed night is better than a thousand months naturally enhances the worthiness of the observances that Muslims perform this night. However, this has also led some Muslims to develop various ideas that conflict with the Qur’an, particularly as a result of misinterpreting certain Hadiths about this blessed night. Some Muslims today believe that even if they follow the promptings of their lower selves on other days of the year, they will be forgiven all these if they repent on the Night of Power. They believe that all their debts regarding the prayers they have failed to perform in the past will be made good and that if they pray to God on that night, He will certainly answer that prayer, no matter what. That belief then leads them into the error of living in disregard of God, may He forbid, on days other than the Laylat Al-Qadr.

Of course a Muslim is not wrong to believe that his repentance will be accepted and that his prayer will be accepted and answered; our Lord promises us that He accepts prayers and repentance and that He will help His servants who prostrate themselves before Him. If God so wills, of course He will forgive all the sins of someone who sincerely repents and will answer all that person’s prayers on that night. The error consists in the Muslims in question having lost their sincerity toward God. All Muslims have a responsibility to live in a virtuous manner 365 days a year, not just one. God commands us to repent and pray, not just on one single night, but 365 days a year. Therefore, it is most insincere of a Muslim not to strive equally hard to serve God on the remaining days of the year and then to suddenly behave differently on the Laylat Al-Qadr and to seek shelter in God in the hope of achieving his desires.

Our Lord wishes us to live sincerely. He commands us to do all we can to earn His pleasure at every moment of our lives. In other words, all Muslims must try to maintain the closeness to God they achieve on the Laylat Al-Qadr over the rest of the year. It is obvious that when Muslims abide by the good morals our Lord commands us to in the Qur’an with sincerity throughout all 12 months of the year, this will accomplish outcomes that would be the means of salvation for the entire world. For that reason, the essential obligation of all Muslims devoutly attached to the Qur’an is to live by the morals of unity and association experienced in the month of Ramadan in the other 11 months of the year for the good pleasure of God, and consider the differences amongst Muslims as a source of richness and make the utmost effort to unite them all under one roof for achieving not only strength, but peace. 

• The writer has authored more than 300 books translated in 73 languages on politics, religion and science.

Zakat Al-Fitr is due before Eid prayer

Anas (may Allah be pleased with him), a companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) reported that when the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) migrated from Makkah to Madinah, the people of Madinah used to have two festivals. On those two days they had carnivals and festivity. The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked the Ansar (the Muslims of Madinah) about it. 

They replied that before Islam they used to have carnivals on those two joyous days. The Prophet (peace be upon him) told them: “Instead of those two days, Allah has appointed two other days which are better, the days of Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha.” (Hadith)
Eid Al-Fitr is celebrated on the first day of Shaw’waal, at the completion of Ramadan. Shawwal is the 10th month of the Islamic calendar. The Eid Al-Fitr is a very joyous day; it is a true Thanksgiving Day for the believing men and women. On this day Muslims show their real joy for the health, strength and the opportunities of life, which Allah has given to them to fulfill their obligation of fasting and other good deeds during the blessed month of Ramadan.

Sunnah of Eid 
• Wake up early. 
• Prepare for personal cleanliness, take care of details of clothing, etc. 
• Take a Ghusl (bath) after Fajr.
• Brush your teeth.
• Dress up, putting on best clothes available, whether new or cleaned old ones. 
• Use perfume (men only)
• Have breakfast on Eid Al-Fitr before leaving for prayer ground. On Eid Al-Adha, eat breakfast after Salat or after sacrifice if you are doing a sacrifice.
• Pay Zakat Al-Fitr before Salat Al-Eid (on Eid Al-Fitr). 
• Go to prayer ground early. 
• Offer Salat-Al-Eid in congregation in an open place except when whether 
is not permitting like rain, snow, etc. 
• Use two separate route to and from the prayer ground. 
• Recite the following Takbir on the way to Salaat and until the beginning of Salaat-al-Eid: “Allaho-Akber, Allaho-Akber. La ila-ha ill-lal-lah. Allaho-Akbar, Allaho-Akbar. Wa-lilahill hamd.” (Allah is great, Allah is great. There is no god but Allah. Allah is great, Allah is great. And all praises are for Allah).

How to offer Eid prayer
Ibn Abbass reported: “I participated in the Eid Al-Fitr prayer with the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman and all of them held Eid prayer before Khutbah, and then the Prophet (peace be upon him) delivered the Khutbah.” (Muslim)

Who should go to the prayer ground for prayer
Umm Atiyah (may Allah be pleased with her) reported: “The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) commanded us to bring out on Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, young women, hijab-observing adult women and the menstruating women. The menstruating women stayed out of actual salat but participated in good deeds and dua. I said to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him): ‘Oh! Messenger of Allah, one does not have an outer garment.’ He replied: ‘Let her sister cover her with her garment’.” (Muslim)
On the Eid day, every believing man, woman and child must go to the prayer ground and participate in this joyous occasion. 

Structure of Eid prayer
Eid prayer is wajib (strongly recommended, just short of obligatory). It consists of two Rakaat (units) with six or thirteen additional Takbirs. It must be offered in congregation. The prayer is followed by the Khutbah. 
The Khutbah is part of the worship and listening to it is Sunnah. During the Khutbah, the Imam must remind the community about its responsibilities and obligations towards Allah, fellow Muslims and the fellow human beings. 
The Imam must encourage the Muslims to do good and ward off evil. The Muslim community must also be directed to the state of the community and the Ummah at large and the feelings of sacrifice and Jihad should be aroused in the community. At the conclusion of the prayer the Muslims should convey greetings to each other, give reasonable gifts to the youngsters and visit each other at their homes. 
Muslims should also take this opportunity to invite their non-Muslims neighbors, co-workers, classmates and business acquaintances to Eid festivities to expose them to Islam and Muslim culture.

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