Sunni Islam in the Lehigh Valley

Mohammad Elshinawy

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Welcome to the March edition of First Friday from the Institute for religious and cultural understanding. My name is Chip grin. I'm the director of the Institute and we'll be your host today. Before we get started, I would like to remind everyone that there are informational materials out in the table in the in the vestibule about future programming, about our podcasts, religion wise,

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and the rest of the first Friday series. If you're at home on the webcast, you can find all of that material at religion and culture.com.

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Today, we're very pleased to welcome Sheikh Mohammed Al shonali. From the Islamic education center of Pennsylvania, it's so good for you to join us today. My pleasure, appreciate it. So the way we typically start these conversations is I just give you the floor and say five to 10 minutes, you want to have any introductory remarks and then and then I'll start grilling you with all the hard questions. Is that how it works? Or that's how we're not going to do it? No, that is how it works.

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We can jump right into it. I mean, I'll just as a preface we begin the name of Almighty God is usually do the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and everything between them. And everything in each of them and everything we know and everything we don't amaze finest peace and blessings be upon His prophets in his messengers, when we sent as a guide to humanity. I'm your brother in humanity Mohamed Mohamed El shonali. I serve as the religious director

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at the Jesus son of Mary mosque in Upper Mackenzie Allentown,

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which is a subset, if you will, of the Islamic education center of Pennsylvania. And so I'm honored to be amongst you, and I hope it's a it's an enlightening conversation for me and for anyone else out there seeking to broaden their horizons. And I appreciate the invite once again. Yeah, so we I want to ask a little bit about a little bit more detail about the Islamic education center. And as you said, the relationship to the Jesus side of Mary Mosque, which I'll tell you when I'm on my way into campus, I pass and have been passing it for several years coming down Tillman Street, and

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the name at first it struck me I mean, you know, being a scholar of religion, I know that Jesus is a significant is a prophet right within, within Islam.

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But I'm sure that there are a lot of people who see that and are struck right or struck by it, because it's not what people's expectations are, which I think is going to be a lot of what we talked about about people's expectations. And now those minutes might not mean up. But could you tell us just a little bit more about the community itself about the education center about the mosque about the name all of that? Yeah, for sure. I mean,

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so it was called the Jesus son of Mary mosque as a conversation starter. So I'm glad it worked. Absolutely, first and foremost. And I think maybe that's the first disclaimer, I should make or clarification that

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there may be a little bit of a difference here between the mainstay procedure in naming other types of houses of worship in other faiths. So historically speaking, Muslims, for the most part, by and large, they differentiate between one mosque and another. It's almost like the Sixth Street mosque and the 10th Street mosque by these identifiers. These are just identifiers of names of concepts or values or personalities that we hold in high regard as Muslims. So it is not a brand of mosques as much as is an identifier for a particular mosque. Muslims

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don't name their mosque really based on denomination is what I'm trying to say here. Right? And that may be a little bit of a difference from what the expectation is like we're not a particular strain of Muslims that believe in Jesus or like we extra believe in Jesus. We believe in him enough to make him the centerpiece or the Keystone, the nameplate of our mosques. No, it is simply a matter of, we believe in Jesus peace be upon him, all Muslims do. You can't be Muslim without believing in Jesus Christ, peace and blessings be upon him. There's an entire chapter in the Quran, which we as Muslims believe to be the final, literary, literal word of Almighty God, sent to humanity than anything

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chapter of the Quran is called Mary, Mary, the mother of Jesus, peace and blessings be upon them both. And so calling people's attention to that specially that we are in a Christian majority country,

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even post Christian America people are intrigued and fascinated that wait but you're Muslim and like they pull up all the time be like

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I don't want to offend you, but

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Could someone explain it to me and so we have like a stack of we love Jesus because we are muslims like pamphlets in case they're in a rush. But we're hopeful that more meaningful conversations can come about as a result of it. So we believe in Jesus Christ, peace and blessings be upon him. Being an almighty Prophet and Messenger of God, we believe he was born of Immaculate Conception, we believe he was particularly anointed, chosen by God, to receive the evangelists.

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In that sense, we believe that he is the Christos, he is the Christ. We believe that He performed miracles, such as giving life to the dead, and such as

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multiple miracles, some of which actually are not in biblical tradition, even those and then some.

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And so there is so much there. And I think it's an opportunity for people to realize as a starting point, that we actually have so much more in common than we may think, or that others may want us to realize, without being too conspiratorial about this. Yeah, yeah. Well, and that leads into my next question, which is about conceptions and misconceptions? I mean, I don't need to tell you about the public conversation about Islam in this in this country and globally is, is not very good, right, that it's,

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you know, full of misinformation and full of so, you know, what, what would you? What are the biggest misconceptions that you would want to fix? I mean, you say that the conversation starter, the name of the mosque, what does that conversation lead into? I mean, you talked about commonalities. But But given the global are the the narrative in our culture about Islam? I mean, how do you start that conversation about straightening out some of those misconceptions? So I think we need to be very intentional in general Muslims and non Muslims about starting at places of commonality, whether it's our common humanity. Or sometimes it's further beyond that our common

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beliefs, we have certain fundamental beliefs. We believe in a God we believe he has one. We believe that he says prophets and messengers, we believe in, you know, revealed morality, scriptural morality, these types of things are very important. And I think they're they're a huge rallying point in a very

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confused time confused world, I think it is wholly beneficial for all of us. Not just to humanize each other, but to be contributors to the human collective, you know, as a united front, on at least the points we agree on. I mean, one of the greatest,

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I guess,

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accusations, criticisms leveled against Islam is that it is a religion that is religiously intolerant and tolerant of other religions. And I think

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that is actually one of the greatest aspects of Islam, not it's religious intolerance. It's a religious tolerance, I would claim

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is far greater than the religious tolerance that exists in the postmodern milieu right in our secular era. And what I mean by that is,

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we have to speak about differences, right. And there is nothing impressive to me,

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about tolerating each other's religions, you know, in the secular era, if we're saying they're all equally worthless, they all need to equally be shoved under the rug and locked away into an hour on Sunday or Friday or otherwise, that's not really tolerating the differences, that is dismissing them and their differences. Whereas in Islam, Islam makes some very unequivocal assertions, right, that departs, for example, from, you know, mainstream Christian doctrines and otherwise. And despite that, It tolerates people's right to accept or reject that as a very big difference, right? It's not saying, I believe in you know, more relative relativity or the relativity of truth, right? No, Islam

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makes there are certain differences. We don't believe, for example, that Jesus Christ, peace and blessings be upon him

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is Almighty God, we believe that there happened to be a historical conflation between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, whereas the father is, you know, Almighty God, this son is actually a mighty prophet of God, one of the five greatest human beings that ever lived, a model for human excellent would still creator and creation have to be separated. And then the Holy Spirit is the Archangel Gabriel, another creature at the end of the day, the Almighty

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being created from light by God, so we do depart there. But the fact that we unequivocally say that and at the same time, say to each their own, to each their piece that is far more impressive in my eyes than saying, we're not going to talk about it, because if we talk about it, we're not going to be able to get past our differences. And even Adam Smith, the famous you know, economist, who, who pioneered the free market system, he said that, you know, the the tolerance that existed during the errors of the first princes of Islam, and their mild governance and that atmosphere of tranquility is

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What caused the Renaissance is that later became, by the way, the cultivation of the sciences and the ability that atmosphere that allowed for us to explore the the connecting principles of nature, he said, which later became a catalyst for the European Renaissance secondarily. And so the religious tolerance of Islam historically, is actually one of the greatest aspects that it celebrates that we celebrate about our Islam, that we assert differences. And at the same time we tolerate that people have their have a life to live, and it's their life and their Choice and Accountability would be meaningless if people were not allowed to explore on their own and choose

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their paths.

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So you started to talk about difference. And I want to just follow up on that a little bit. It's, it's interesting. I mean, we've been doing these kinds of conversations in this milieu of talking to people from different types of religious communities. And one of the things that the trap that you're not falling into, but some sometimes it's amazing how often so you set traps on

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how it works? The the, no, it's a cultural trap, not a personal trap.

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The the thing that the message that many people come with, is, you think we're so different, but we're actually really just the same as you. Right? It's up there. Well, yeah, we pay our taxes, our kids play soccer together, right? We both have a sense of, of ethics of morals, right, that we both believe in God, you know, end of story. And, you know, this is, you know, you say, to just dismiss all religions, as, you know, equally wrong and shove them under, you know, I guess my critique of, of our public discourse, is to say, oh, all those religious traditions are really basically the same anyway, with a little bit of window dressing being different, that it doesn't give respect or

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dignity to the real differences that that exists. Absolutely. So you mentioned some of the, you know, theological differences about Christology, for example, or cosmology. But

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can you talk a little bit more even, even less theologically less doctrinally even about practically, right, that, that you run into differences that, that set you apart, that make your life more difficult than it might be, you know, if your community

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you know, chose, uh, you know, chose more assimilation, for example.

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So we talked last semester, I think about kosher to a local rabbi. Yeah, absolutely. It sets us apart, right. It makes things different. So sure, practically, theologically, doctrinally, but also ritually, I mean, how are you different? How does that operate in your community? For sure, that's another great point as well. I mean,

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where do I start? There's a lot of differences. Yeah, absolutely.

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In terms of like, lifestyle considerations, we Muslims, you know, we pray five times a day. And so being able to pray five times a day in the dynamics of, you know, modern life, right, the Monday to Friday, nine to five, you know, world could be quite challenging. Of course, our religion teaches us to, you know, be a torchbearer for people that forget God in the blur of life and the grind of life that gives you back so little, God asks of you so little on these five prayers and the returns on it are so great. But that's certainly a departure from

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mainstream practice mainstream lifestyle in the US.

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The fact that we celebrate Ramadan and don't eat at a time when others are eating, I'm not gonna act like it is, you know, a humongous sacrifice to be very honest. I mean, I don't think I need to anymore. The intermittent fasting trend is, is normalizing getting people to appreciate at least on the physical level, the element is actually good for us not self harm, or all that people think. Are you crazy? You don't eat like for the whole month of Ramadan? I was like, no, no, no, it's just during the daytime in Ramadan, but still don't during the day. Why are you starving yourself?

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We say no, I'm not starving myself. I'm just tasting a bit of hunger, because it's really beneficial in so many different ways. And so I think even just the the stigmas around, not always conforming to dominant culture, could be certainly challenging, you know, feeling we are 1% of the population in a very wide continent. And, you know, we just heard I mean, this is a little bit more of a dramatic example. I don't want to over like dramatize this, but we had a brother visit our community today at our sermon, our mass, and they have just two houses of worship in all of Washington state. Again, it's a little bit of an anomaly, relatively speaking, someplace like

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It Tacoma, right? But they had this one house of worship, they worked so hard, of course, because the numbers are less to mobilize their funds to, you know, put together the assets for House of Worship like this. And then just one night, someone replete with hate came in through like a Molotov cocktail and burned the place down. And they're now their local community college, gave them a room until they get back on their feet and study the shift a little bit, and he's traveling the country collecting funds for this, for sure, those are very real challenges. And every time you know, political runs, you know, avail themselves, this boogeyman to you know, weaponize it and the fear

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mongering these hate crimes do spike. But in general, we are told that it's part of our service to humanity, sometimes to stand out for people to recognize a better alternative, that we do believe this is God's religion for humanity. And even the word religion has so many connotations. This is their betterment in this world, not just you know, like the martyr syndrome. And I don't mean literally martyr, but like just overdoing it, and just killing yourself and just putting up with it for the sake of the next life and the hereafter. And it's not like that at all. It's about this world. And the next, one of the most common prayers of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be

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upon him, that he used to make and it's in the Quran

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is, oh, our Lord and Master grant us the good of this life and the good of the next life and protect us from the torment of the Fire. We do believe that Islam is an all or none the best of this world and the best of the next are available through walking this planet and living life in a way that is determined for us. We're blessed to have by the definitive guidance of the Creator, we're not left to play trial and error. We're not left wondering why we're here how to operate. We're not waiting for,

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you know,

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agendas or sciences or otherwise slam will never conflict with definitive science. But at the same time, we are at the end, we are all human beings, we conduct this research, we conduct the science, we conduct these political campaigns, and we manipulate and maneuver as we wish, we are spirit from all of this, right. And we are told, just listen to the voice of your Creator, if you will follow the example of His Messengers, peace and blessings be upon them all. And you will be an asset to yourself and to the world around you. And so that's a lot of solace in whatever challenge may come with that breaking away from what's normative for people that are socially conditioned in a

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different lifestyle.

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So I want to talk a little bit.

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And we may come back, but I want to talk a little bit also about the community itself. And this didn't dawn on me really until last fall, we were talking from two to someone from the Syrian Orthodox community down here in East downtown. And we were remarking about the Syrian church and Ukrainian Church and

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the Greek Orthodox Church. Those are all down there in a bundle, but they're different communities. And of course, in Islam, you don't see that right. But yet there is a diversity, tremendous diversity and ethnic racial diversity within Islam, but yet it's I mean, maybe more than frowned upon right to call attention to that in worship. So can you talk a little bit about the, you know, some of that diversity that that ethnic, racial national diversity that you I can, but I may need a clarification on I may have just brain fried about

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it may be frowned upon one part of

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it would be frowned upon there to say, No, we are the Jordanian mosque, and we are the Egyptian mosque and accurately identify, Okay, well, Islamically speaking, first of all, there would actually be nothing wrong with that, because

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God told us even on the ethnic front that I made you into nations and tribes, I made you distinct peoples to appreciate, you know, God's ability to create diversity is something we see through cultural and ethnic and complexion based diversity.

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So, we actually have no problem with this. It is when this grows, you know, the ego underneath which, you know, all it'll sneak into our lives right when this grows to being assumed to be the ultimate determinant of a human beings value, that he's from this culture that culture has discont skin color, that skin color.

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That is when it becomes

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demonic that is when it becomes absolutely condensable and Islam. As for on the community level. Yeah, we are extremely blessed. And I guess hopefully understandably so when that is that the straightforward teaching pedantically speaking about how we should look at you know, the differences in our, in our languages and in our colors as being a sign of God right to remind us of our Almighty Creator, who creates all this

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The entire spectrum for us to appreciate one another for us to also marvel at his power. Islam is just quickly speaking, the most culturally diverse religious community in the United States. These are standard numbers. I've never seen them disputed anywhere. I personally read studies of late from the Pew Research Center,

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who's I would think, rather authoritative for,

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for most people, irrespective of even their political alignments.

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They're seen as non partisan, as far as I understand. But no one argues this, that, you know, the American Muslims are the most culturally diverse religious community in the United States, and also around the world. There's this like understanding perhaps with some people that Islam is an Arab religion for Arabs by Arabs.

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In reality, no, I mean, less than 1/5 of the global population of Muslims or Arabs, less than 20% and 17 18% of them are Arabs. And so yes, the Quran came down Arabic in its language, and we can talk about some of the wisdom and that, you know, perhaps in a different context, but it was very clear that it came down universal and its message. And whether people believe that or not, is actually secondarily people lived and felt that this religion does apply to me as a human being it throughout time and place, there is no other religious system as a system, not just an emotion, not just an ethos, but as a system of, you know, doctrines and morality and law that has been so

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timeless and so universal, and that is why it continues to spread like wildfire, a gentle wildfire.

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All over the world. I mean, the numbers are talking about, like a place like Sweden, you know, will be 1/3 Muslim by 2070. You know, people I know, they use this as a scare tactic sometimes, but they shouldn't be worried that at this rate, you know, it is not even hard to imagine any more.

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Europe becoming majority Muslim in 100 years. And, you know, before actually

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before colonialism, and even before that the missionary work also that happened in Africa, you know, and Marshall Hodgson wrote on the history of Islam, famous University Chicago professor, he said that in before these, you know, past few centuries, were an alien to look down upon this planet. He was, he would say, the world is about to become majority Muslim, right then after that the wars took place, and the borders started shuffling crusades, and otherwise, and then ultimately, Imperial invasions and missionary work. But besides that, Islam continues to go. It's the fastest growing religion, United States as well.

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A huge part of that our conversion rates. And a big part of that is also family values and Islam. Birth rates.

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So yeah, it has like a built in not just survival mechanism, but thriving mechanism.

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It is timeless, like the God who sent it, who revealed it. That's what we believe as Muslims. And so on a more

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tangible level. If I were to walk into Jesus, son of Mary mosque on a Friday afternoon, I mean, what kind of who would I mean, I'd see Muslims, obviously, but what other types of what this diversity you talk about from all over the world? I mean, it's here too, right? Absolutely. So you you would see Latino Muslims in the crowd, you will see African American Muslims in the crowd.

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Yes, the majority of the Muslims in my congregation.

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Our first of January 1 or second generation, right Muslim born to Muslim families for the most part.

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But there are, you know, massive swaths of you know, convert to Islam or child a second first generation of a convert of a migrant.

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to Islam all throughout the country with Yeah, you would find maybe I would roughly say

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20% assortment in my community, Bulgaria, Canada, Indonesia, you know, Germany, whatever it may be, and then about 40%, Indian subcontinent,

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in particular, like Pakistan, Bangladesh, India,

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Kashmir, Afghanistan.

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And another 40% would be the assortment of Middle Easterners, North Africans, Arabs in the wider sense of the word.

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So, I'm not good at demographics. You're making me know, hey, you read the pew, you know, survey data, so we don't have my mom.

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Now,

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and this is sort of just professional curiosity. You're

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the Quran is is viewed as untranslated. Well, what does your worship look like? I mean, is it do you stick do you do continue to do

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it

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Arabic worship in Arabic readings in Arabic sermons in the vernacular, how does that work? Okay, so the Quran is untranslatable in the sense that it is not God's word, it is an explanation, a, you know, a commentary on God's word. So we do scriptural studies,

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the sermons are always in English, I would, you know, cite the sacred texts in the language in which they were first authored.

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Because, you know, there's no such thing as an actual translation, not just the Koran, everything is lost in translation.

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And so, that is actually the question of someone may say, I've been asked, Why is the Quran in Arabic of all languages? If you're saying it's universal, and its message? And so their response is,

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well, what language would you like it to have come down in English, the Chinese are going to be very upset. Right? We don't have a universal language, right? And someone may say, why can't they could? Why couldn't it have come down in an innumerable number of iterations, so that in all languages, well, then it wouldn't have any connotation wouldn't have any meaning? Because every language comes with its own mindset, its own paradigm, its own worldview, its own reference points, right. And so there had to be a singular reference point, God, the Almighty chose that this would be the, you know, the ideal from which the meanings can be explained. But you don't ever want to lose the

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primary text and the source, because then you won't have a referee. Right? And so the original Arabic is part of the hermeneutical system, the interpretive mechanism by which we are confirmed this is what the meaning that was intended by God or was not, it is not the only one the Quran interprets itself, like cumulative read intertextuality, the prophetic example interpreted, you know, the first community of Muslims how they live their life, makes it very clear. What was intended and approved by the Prophet peace be upon him through their, their life, with the original Arabic as well, right. And so we teach people to recite the Quran, yes, our rituals are done in the

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Quranic language. And so there's a bare minimum, which is like seven lines that any Muslim learns to perform. And if you're praying five times a day, you're going to get this in one to two days, regardless of, you know, when you become Muslim.

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And everything else can be carried over in meanings for the most part. You don't need to master Arabic to be Muslim. I know that's the case in certain other traditions, part of the conversion process or the prerequisite is for you to become a student of Hebrew, for example, or otherwise, that is a non factor when it comes to Islam and becoming Muslim.

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So for your, this connects to the community, I mean, the question I have seems very opaque, but the question of what does it mean to be Muslim in the 21st century? What does it mean to be Muslim in the Lehigh Valley? So I know, you've said that this is, you know, you've made the case on a number of occasions that this is it's universal, it's timeless, right? That these things don't change. But yet, here we are the 21st century in the Lehigh Valley, and how does the context matter? How does that affect your Muslim identity or your community's identity?

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It's a very thought provoking question to be honest. Because there are in Islam, certain constants and certain variables. So the constants will not change wherever we are, such as like the doctrinal and the moral fundamentals, the fundamental morality within Islam.

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Those can't change. But Islam actually one of the reasons why it's timeless is because there is a built in flexibility. We're in it leaves room for cultural norms, right? It leaves room for culture, it doesn't totally like leave the room for culture. Culture gets to do what it wants, because our cultures are also the product of the human experience with its positives with its minuses with its beauties and with its you know, with its raw ugliness, right. And so it came to refine human culture, but wherever that refinement is not there in the constants, then we're going to say that the culture can feel free like can I be

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100% Muslim and authentic Muslim and, and not eat middle eastern food? To give it I already explained it's, it's completely two different subjects. They're mutually exclusive. Right? What you eat, there are boundaries for what you eat. That's it. Can I you know, be a Muslim that

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trades in cryptocurrency?

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Right, we there. I my wording could be sometimes a little bit controversial, but what's behind what I'm saying is not there is no full fledged economic system in Islam. There are economic guardrails, no cheating, no inequity, no interest bearing transactions that could complicate things in a world that is infested with interest bearing clauses at every front

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Uh, but at the end of the day, that's what my Islam requires of me. Now there's 1001 business models that operate within those guardrails, right? That sort of thing. That's just in terms of like parameters. But also in the 21st century, Muslims are taught and call to action and being reformers at heart, every Muslim is, you know, taught through the Quran through the prophetic example, that they should never look at themselves as, you know, a marginalized by standard of world events or community events, and I'm just a drop in the ocean, what can I do to better my world? We're told no, what is the ocean with like an accumulation of drops, you do your part. And if all you have is a

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drop, that's all God's gonna ask you about. So the Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him, for instance, he said, that, if the Day of Judgment is about to commence, and you just picture it from like, the the eschatology element here, they have judgment means this world is ending and other world is, you know, commencing or ensuing. Now, that means this world is about to get crumbled up and thrown into the shredder, he says, if the Day of Judgment is about to happen, and you have a sapling in your head, a baby tree in your hand, and you're able to stick that sapling into the ground planted, plant the tree, if you're able to plant it into the ground before the Day of

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Judgment begins planted in the ground, you think about that, look, why it's not going to grow, it's not going to fructify, it's not going to produce anything for me, why should I plant it in the ground, they have judgments about the start. The point is, you had the ability to plant a tree, so you plant the tree,

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the fact that it's not going to grow is none of your business, it's not going to prevent it from showing up in your scale of good deeds, that you added a green plant into this world. That is the concept of the believer, regardless of you know, how life may change or how the world may darken, you need to be a force for good, you need to be a lighter of candles, you need to be a positive contributor in any capacity, a person of contribution service, selflessness

00:31:58--> 00:32:00

and concern, genuine concern for human welfare.

00:32:01--> 00:32:22

A part of that, yes, it's sharing the message of Islam, which we believe is the greatest, you know, contribution you can make. But a part of that is helping people live dignified lives, helping people pursue justice, helping people feel safe and secure, helping people get into their cars, helping people you know, walk away from whatever vulnerabilities they may have in their life. That's a huge part of it.

00:32:24--> 00:32:32

So on the icpa website, on your own website, there's a lot about this a lot about outreach.

00:32:33--> 00:33:08

And I wonder, you know, if you could give us some examples about the communities activity, not only with and for and among other Muslims, but also the Lehigh Valley generally, that you're, you're a part of your community, you're not sequestered off. Could you talk a little bit about, you know, how you're involved? Yeah, the the open house was one of many functions that the management that I ECPA, you know, makes it a point to, we're sort of in our re infancy because we had a house of worship and inner city Allentown burned down.

00:33:10--> 00:33:29

And not arsenal, electric fire, and we're sort of restarting now. And it was that and sorry, the fire was in 2016, June 2016. We were, we were homeless for about a year as a religious community. And then God blessed us with this new place and in Upper mcconchie, West downtown.

00:33:31--> 00:33:39

So ever since then, even before the renovations and the reconfiguration of the building to make it a bit more utilitarian, had completed

00:33:40--> 00:33:46

the management front and center wanted to create these staple programs that outreach your right

00:33:48--> 00:33:57

and this is something that was done by the previous houses of worship as well like the the Whitehall Mosque, which is probably the senior most mosque in the Lehigh Valley, it's been there maybe 25 years now.

00:33:59--> 00:34:26

But it was not just the open house, the open house was up and running the candidates night opening a venue for the for the police precincts to come and try to find also some room for for common understanding when the George Floyd incidents happened. And we felt like you know, God, you know, really blessed us with being somewhat instrumental in creating those avenues between maybe some some sort of standoff positions

00:34:27--> 00:34:31

within the community. Lots of this has taken place even

00:34:33--> 00:34:53

social work on many different fronts and helping out with other food pantries and otherwise there's a community garden that Valve also runs and I speak in their name because as I said, we don't really have sort of like membership this masjid or that denomination this mosque we, when it's time to pray in your nearby you pull over in any house of worship and you meet your brothers and sisters and you pray. That's the way it works.

00:34:55--> 00:34:59

But the open house yeah, we'd like to feed people. So you're all invited for

00:35:00--> 00:35:30

First and foremost, we like to feed people. And we also believe it's a duty. So the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him in a very beautiful tradition, he used to say to his companions, by God, he does not have full faith, he does not have full faith, he does not have full faith, he said, who he said the person who his neighbors don't feel secure from his harm. So it's not even just like that you're not harming your neighbor physically, or emotionally, or whatever it is. But you're breaking ice and you're opening doors, and you're breaking bread, and you're feeding people, and you're

00:35:31--> 00:36:05

connecting with them on a very meaningful level. And so it is not purely evangelical only, right? We're not just there to preach, simply allowing, you know that door to be open that we are here for you. And we are brothers and sisters in humanity, that is an inherent good and gold in Islam. And that's why we do it. And hopefully we can do more of it and a better job of it. As the days go by. I'm rather new, by the way, I'm not like Lehigh Valley. And I mean, I am it's been six years. So I should just stop saying that, right. I'm a New Yorker. So I'm, I'm a recovering New Yorker.

00:36:06--> 00:36:12

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York spent 30 years there. That's why as soon as I came, the mosque burned down. I was just like,

00:36:13--> 00:36:15

don't worry, you don't have to laugh at my jokes. It's fine.

00:36:16--> 00:36:17

We'll talk later.

00:36:18--> 00:36:33

So I hope I hope it's the first of many great strides in connecting with people in a meaningful way. That's got to be hard, though. And, I mean, maybe a little less hard in Brooklyn, Lehigh Valley, but it's gotta be hard.

00:36:34--> 00:36:40

Wanting to be open to the community, when there's so many forces in the community that

00:36:42--> 00:36:46

willfully misunderstand, willfully or ignorant.

00:36:47--> 00:36:53

I mean, there are some community members here from from our house of worship and from the valley in general, some

00:36:54--> 00:37:15

Allentown Muslims, they can speak better than me, they've been here longer than me, but I've never felt it to be honest. Like the closest thing I felt was some incident at a gas station in Redding. Right, or maybe one other further beyond that, like in Harrisburg, but I don't know what it is. I'm guessing Allentown is such a

00:37:16--> 00:37:39

an offshoot from New York City and big cities in general like Philadelphia and, you know, Manhattan and otherwise, that I don't feel it. I feel like we have enough diversity here. That stereotypes just begin to naturally diffuse in a healthy way. I mean, if you know any, like militant, like, well, from your mouth to god's do, let me know. I'll steer clear. But I mean, I believe this is a really beautiful community.

00:37:41--> 00:38:04

Well, Far be it for me to ever downplay right, the struggles that a community might have, but I'm happy to hear I'm happy to hear so you have said and point taken about sort of the Brotherhood of Muslims that if you're near another mosque, that you it's time to pray you go in and pray, but just because

00:38:05--> 00:38:12

I'm curious, and I think literacy is important, I mean, there are varieties of Muslim in those Sunni Shiite

00:38:13--> 00:38:14

you know, and then

00:38:16--> 00:38:19

you know, the also the mystical Sufi,

00:38:21--> 00:38:41

speaking beyond your own community and beyond your own experience, I mean, are all those types of Muslims representative Lehigh Valley? Are there different communities? How does that how does that work on the local level? So certainly, there is a To my knowledge, a Shiite one Shiite mosque on 309

00:38:42--> 00:38:43

Ridge view.

00:38:44--> 00:39:08

I think that's considered white hole if I'm not mistaken, right South white hole perhaps. And there is a mosque or a seminary called Mikasa. The retreat that is usually identified as Sophie. Some people may try that mystical, but I wouldn't necessarily use that term. But the mosques that I'm familiar with in eastern Bethlehem,

00:39:09--> 00:39:11

kata SOCO Whitehall

00:39:13--> 00:39:19

Westown downtown our own, and to be honest, even Mufasa, which is in breinigsville, which is the

00:39:21--> 00:39:33

the Sophie want to sum, right. I would consider all of those to be Sunni mosques. They're all one in the same in that regard, because there is there is a considerable significant difference in reference point.

00:39:35--> 00:39:49

The gap has grown historically, between Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims. And I think in in the spirit of transparency also, I don't personally believe that it's entirely political. Some people try to, I would assume it is a little bit of

00:39:51--> 00:39:59

a superficial explanation or an oversimplification to say that it was just some historical incident that separated between the two. Now there are doctrinal issues on what you

00:40:00--> 00:40:20

consider sacred What are your sources from which you derive and extrapolate rulings and otherwise, and so that would probably be the only one and otherwise like I said, these are all mosques you know Eastern Phillipsburg Muslim sociation Lehigh Valley, when I mentioned Bethlehem there is respect graduate school, they have a prayer space within it now, the Jesus son of Mary mosque, even my call so

00:40:22--> 00:40:28

I would consider all of those and they do consider themselves Sunni Muslims, basically a Sunni Muslim as a Muslim,

00:40:29--> 00:40:37

that their primary sources, the most authoritative texts for them are the Quran because they believe, you know,

00:40:38--> 00:41:07

this is the word of God. And for the most part, Shiites will say the same thing, but then they're called Sunni because of the second primary text, which is, the sooner the sooner is the, it just means example, what sort of it's referring to the prophetic example of the prophetic tradition, we believe the prophetic tradition is most authoritative. And after those two, everything else is secondary. Nothing really compares. They're in A League of Their Own. They've been preserved by God as infallible text, the only thing left is interpretation type thing. Whereas

00:41:08--> 00:41:47

Shiites, the majority of Shiites, follow what is known as the twelvers doctrine called Twelver Shiites, or Imam it is because they believe in 12 Imams, right, and those are basically religious figures that have risen historically, that they consider their words to be law and their word to also be beyond question infallible. So that's like a primary divergence on reference point. And that's where the bifurcation happens. But as far as I know, it is that one mosque on 309. And because the reference point is different, seeking to reconcile it becomes hard, like we're trying to arrive at a common point with you're measuring with inches, I'm measuring centimeters, it just would

00:41:47--> 00:41:55

frustrate us to try, right. And so there's, of course, no hostility between the two mosques, we've collaborated on events and otherwise, but when it comes to practice,

00:41:57--> 00:42:11

the premise will not allow for there to be enough commonality in the practice to be salient. That's all. They attend our mosques. I have not visited their mosques, yet, but we are brothers and sisters in faith.

00:42:12--> 00:42:47

So before we open up to questions, I'm sure there are a lot of questions from the audience. But I always want to finish up with what have we not talked about? What is the thing that I should be asking you? What is the thing that if you were me, you would ask you that we that we need to talk about what is the big elephant in the room or the thing? Let the crowd decide that I actually don't know. I would love for them to decide for us. All right. Well, I guess with that note, we can start our q&a portion. So be ready and they're gonna Christine Kerry is going to have a mic and come around and get your question.

00:42:49--> 00:42:53

Just a little bit more on the distinction between Sunni and Shiite.

00:42:54--> 00:42:55

Both leaving the Qur'an

00:42:57--> 00:42:58

I couldn't write it down.

00:42:59--> 00:43:02

Apologies, recovering the Oregon forgive me.

00:43:04--> 00:43:05

I'm trying to catch a train here.

00:43:07--> 00:43:17

So Muslims, anyone who says they're Muslim, you know, they believe that the Quran is the final word of God, the literal word of God is really no contention there whatsoever.

00:43:19--> 00:43:32

Then Sunni Muslims are those who hold equally authoritative we believe the Quran is miraculous, and its word in its potency in its language, it is God's word. But in terms of legal authority, how much legal weights, right?

00:43:34--> 00:44:13

Sunni Muslims, which are over 90% of the 1.8 billion worldwide, right? Believe that the Sunnah, that's why they're called Sunni. To some, some people don't like the term they don't like the label. So I'm Muslim. And that's it. Right? What Sunni refers to those who consider the Sunnah which is the prophetic tradition, authoritative, equally authoritative, in the legal sense. And so the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, his tradition has been preserved in a way that no other prophetic tradition has been preserved. So his statements, his actions, his tacit approvals when he just allowed to happen in front of him and did not object. All of that has been documented with traceable

00:44:13--> 00:44:34

transmission rigorously authenticated, and is around with us until today in the compendiums, of Islamic scholarship that documented this. And so what do you do with that? Is that the most authoritative way to understand the book of God? They would say yes, Sunni Muslims say absolutely no question about it. God's prophet knows best what God meant.

00:44:35--> 00:44:41

The Shiites would consider their Imams, their infallible Imams, I don't

00:44:42--> 00:44:59

wish to to misrepresent them, but perhaps it would be a good analogy to make it somewhat comparable to the doctrine of a papacy that it does not have to be demonstrable. It could be a bit esoteric, it

00:45:00--> 00:45:42

Good God, you know, inspires within me, right? Intuitively to tell you what he actually meant. So we don't have this. Islam as Sunni Muslims we have Islam was born in the light, there's equal access to the texts, there was never like any sort of ban or prohibition to translating the Quran or interpreting the Quran or anything like this. It's all there, so long as you develop the, the instruments to become an independent investigator, a jurist or otherwise you feel free, open access, whereas the mechanism on the other side is a little bit different, that it's through that Imam, he is authorized by God, to let us know what he meant, even if it does not

00:45:44--> 00:45:47

get illustrated for us not justified in the, you know,

00:45:49--> 00:46:00

in the hermeneutical sense that this plus this equals this, here's the formula that would not be required for them for the most part. And so it's consequential. It adds up on the end, right? Like the Prophet said this, but the Imam said that right.

00:46:02--> 00:46:14

And God knows best. That's the best way. I tried to summarize it for people hopefully, it was coherent, weren't. You're welcome. So it's almost like there's a continuing revelation. Somewhat. Yes. Yeah.

00:46:17--> 00:46:31

I was wondering if you could discuss a little bit about the significance of Friday, and how that might compare to a Jewish Sabbath or Sunday in that observing sex? That's a great question. So the Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him,

00:46:32--> 00:47:15

said to us that Friday is the greatest day the sunrises upon it's the greatest day of the week. On this day, Adam peace be upon him was created. And on this day, he was admitted into paradise. And on this day, he was removed from paradise. And on this day, he was forgiven. And the Day of Judgment will not commence except on a Friday. And so it's a day that reminds us of our origin and our purpose and our ultimate inevitable destination. And that is why remembering God, which is our purpose, you were created in this world, to devote your life to God through knowing him becoming acquainted with him, as a result of that living in awe and love and devotion to Him. Right. That's

00:47:15--> 00:47:34

our purpose, chronically speaking, Friday's the recharge day for that, right to remember why we're here and where we came from and where we're going. And that is why there are so many acts of ritual devotion, and spiritual enlightenment that are enjoined upon a Muslim on Friday.

00:47:35--> 00:47:43

So you're not taking me away from my Friday, by the way, this is part of it. Right? We're rehearsing, you know, guidance here.

00:47:45--> 00:48:00

So we believe prayer Friday prayer, basically, that's the, that's the the number one, or the fulcrum is Friday afternoons. The second Muslims pray five times a day, the second prayer on Friday is actually preceded by a sermon, and a

00:48:01--> 00:48:07

slightly modified prayer, not the same. Second prayer, we pray throughout the week. That's all

00:48:09--> 00:48:15

your will. And I'll just say, you know, we noticed our special time today for because

00:48:16--> 00:48:35

Mohammed busted his tail to get here for us. And so we're very appreciative of that. And and we've been having conversations. I mean, one of the things that the Institute of religious and cultural understanding expanding its mission is very interested in getting humans in the room.

00:48:37--> 00:48:59

Not just angels, not well, not not just not just whatever identifying characteristic right and and so I would invite everybody to keep tabs on all our correspondents because we don't want to have the day of the week, preclude anybody, you know, from feeling like they can come and participate and learn about the religious diversity in our world.

00:49:01--> 00:49:12

My question goes back to your comments about interpretation. And you said, especially within Sunni Islam, there really is not interpretation it is as presented.

00:49:13--> 00:49:21

And I my question, I'll give you my back. ism. Sorry, Shiite ism. Oh, I got it backwards. Yeah. Okay.

00:49:22--> 00:50:00

So I can sit down with someone, and we read in original Greek, and can still get into an argument about the meaning. I could sit down and read an original Hebrew and still get into an argument about meaning and what I'm hearing but correct me if I'm wrong, is that within Islam? You don't really have that. Well, we like arguing just as much as anybody else. Okay. We're not going to let you guys argue on your own. Okay. It's just not fair. But it's a great question. And let me just add

00:50:00--> 00:50:22

LISI that argument. I know this is more of a, again, didactic or like an academic question on intellectual one. But on the spiritual level, we do believe in Islam that arguing is more a spiritual issue than it is an intellectual issue. You know, it's very interesting actually that my friend who's a neurologist is telling me that there's mounting data of late

00:50:24--> 00:51:05

that people are far more bound to emotionality over rationality than they realize like the amount of people that you know, when you when you control for certain factors, statistically speaking, that have actually have their biases locked in and immovable, like their presuppositions there before they even investigate is actually far greater than we first thought. Right? So the ego is a real problem. The prejudice is a real problem, the biases are a real problem. And so that is the reason why you will find argument everywhere, right? It's a human issue that requires spiritual training and spiritual refinement to truly become egoless or tame your ego. You can't really become an eagle.

00:51:05--> 00:51:22

It's humanly impossible. I'll fight about that one later. But in the on the intellectual level in terms of hermeneutics, yes, in Islam, there are relatively speaking far more points of agreement. Right. Like, we all agree, unless we have like,

00:51:23--> 00:51:53

any any rebels in the crowd, that the US Constitution is the US Constitution, no more trying to say I disagree with the Constitution. When people want to debate, the debate on what are the Constitution mean? Right. So at least that framing that verbiage is agreed on? In principle, there is far more agreement in Islam than in the constitution of any country. Yes. Right. In terms of our theology, in terms of our doctrines, in terms of our our laws, right.

00:51:54--> 00:51:55

They are

00:51:56--> 00:52:34

far more conclusive and definitive. And that's why I said it's like an obligation on the Muslim to allow the world you know, an opportunity to find definitive guidance. Like when the Pew Research Center, they asked why is Islam growing rapidly so fast? Those numbers we spoke about the number one number two reasons were I read the text myself, and they just make sense. Like, it adds up. It's crystal clear. And then it just offers me definitive guidance. I don't have to wonder what God wants. I don't have to wonder what's good for me in terms of like, social maneuvering or dynamics or otherwise, I know exactly. It's spelled out for me. And the amount of spelled out in this in Islam,

00:52:34--> 00:52:36

relatively speaking is far greater.

00:52:37--> 00:52:54

Are there speculative matters in Islam? Yeah, sure, tons of them. And we believe that even that God left them as speculative for a great wisdom. Part of that wisdom is will you check your ego? Or will you play like cherry picking and selective textualism as they call it, and all that other fun stuff?

00:52:55--> 00:52:59

But in general, yes. More agreement, way more agreement. Thank you. You're welcome.

00:53:09--> 00:53:36

So the first question we have is where does the hippie fit into Islamic authority? Is that what you are talking about when you talk about Imams? interpretations of the Quran? Actually, the Sunnah, the prophetic tradition. The hadith is basically the corpus, the canon that documented the prophetic tradition. So the Sunnah, is compiled in the Hadith literature. So they are, in a sense, two sides of the same coin.

00:53:38--> 00:53:45

Another question, is intermarriage common allowed in Islam? And are there any taboos between intermarriage between Sunni and Shia?

00:53:50--> 00:53:53

Generally speaking, because Islam

00:53:54--> 00:54:07

places such wait an emphasis on compatibility, religious and otherwise, there would naturally be less intermarriage between Sunnis and Shiites historically speaking than

00:54:08--> 00:54:11

than Sunnis and Sunnis, yes. So,

00:54:12--> 00:54:15

if my religion is, you know,

00:54:16--> 00:54:46

enjoying the greatest primacy in my life in my worldview, then alignment on my religion is going to be one of my biggest factors in what I'm getting married. Right. And Islam recognizes and appreciates but downplays the value the truth value or the the humanization. You know, component of, of skin colors, that that's why you find interracial marriages for example, far more common than intersects sectarian seconds, marriage, and God knows best.

00:54:48--> 00:54:53

And there's another question here, how does one become an imam or religious leader in Islam? How long does it typically take?

00:54:57--> 00:55:00

So an eemaan with an end like Nancy means

00:55:00--> 00:55:05

Is faith an imam with an M like marshmallows

00:55:06--> 00:55:26

are Montgomery means a religious leader and a religious leader. For sure, there is a great deal of studious pneus that is needed to develop the skill to become like an independent independent researcher investigate on a juristic level simply would require more training to become a lawyer or a judge.

00:55:27--> 00:55:28

There are

00:55:29--> 00:55:49

other offices of Imam if you will, which is leading, for example, in the ritual function of the prayer. And that is done by a law of relativity. Whoever knows more of the Quran reciting the Quran, even if they don't understand it necessarily, even if they don't know how to derive rulings from it. Then they the most qualified in its recitation

00:55:50--> 00:56:12

are the ones that are the Imams for the prayers. So when we're at home, and we have guests and like we know that one brother memorize the Quran, actually very common, I should mention that there are 10s of millions of people, at least around the world that memorize the Quran in the original language cover to cover all over the globe, even though only a fifth of us are Arabs, right.

00:56:13--> 00:56:19

But that would be a qualification metric for leading being an imam of prayer. Being an Imam, like

00:56:21--> 00:56:35

a jurist, an expert specialist of law would require a different degree of training. So it varies. We're at the end of our hour. So I'd like to thank you very much for coming and sharing your time with us. Thank you.

00:56:39--> 00:56:39

Thanks, guys.