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CHAPTER 10: Why Islam? Part 2

VI Women’s Rights in Islam

Both women and men in Islam are promised equal rewards for good conduct and equal punishment for bad.  The Qur’an says:

Whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, provided he is a believer, we shall surely grant him a new life, a life that is good, and We will certainly reward such people according to the noblest of their deeds in the hereafter.

(The Bee, Surah 16; 97)

The Qur’an condemns men who oppress or ill-treat women:

Believers!  It is not lawful for you to consider women as a part of your inheritance and retain them against their will in order that you may force them to give up a part of the dowry you have given them, unless they are guilty of proven fornication. Treat them with kindness even if you dislike them; it is quite possible that you dislike something in which Allah has placed much good.

 (The Women, Surah 4; 19)

In Islam a woman can independently make any contract in her own name.  She is entitled to inherit and has the right to choose her own husband.

Motherhood has always received significant attention in Islam. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stated clearly that a mother’s rights are paramount.  Once he was asked, “Who is the person who has the greatest right over me?” The Prophet replied, “Your mother.” He was asked twice more, “Then who?” Both times he said, “Your mother.”  Only when asked a fourth time did he respond, “Your father.”

 

VII Government in Islam

Prophet Muhammad established the first Islamic state in Medina, (located today in Saudi Arabia). After the Prophet, his Companions initiated the process of choosing a head of state.  These are some of the functions of an Islamic government:

1.   The Islamic government does not separate spiritual life from one’s rights and duties in society.  The function of Islam is to create a complete entity of humankind, with balanced levels of spiritual and   material accomplishment. Islam combines belief and action in a harmonious blend.

2.   Governing laws are derived from religion.

We ordained in the Torah for them: ‘A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for a wound an equal retaliation’.  But if anyone remits the retaliation by way of charity it will be an act of atonement for him; those who do not judge by the law which Allah has revealed, they are the wrongdoers.

(The Table, Surah 5; 45)

3.   The Governor (or head of state) is not immune from standing before a judge by virtue of any executive privileges. He is responsible for the affairs of the Islamic nation, its security, and the implementation of its laws.

4.   The role of a Governor (head of state) is to implement Islamic laws and the duty or function of the people is to obey those laws. The Governor is expected to apply the Islamic principles of consensus and consultation. In the Qur’an, God describes believers of high quality as those who respond to their Lord, who maintain regular prayers, and conduct their affairs by mutual consultation.

Answer  the  call  of  their  Lord,  establish  Salah,  conduct  their  affairs  with  mutual consultation, and spend out of the sustenance which We have given them.

(The Consultation, Surah 42; 38)

5.   The basis of the Islamic financial system includes:

a. Individual property: a crucial responsibility of an Islamic state is the safety and independence of private and corporate property.

b. Fiscal responsibility: monopolies and usury are not allowed in Islam and cheating in business is a crime.  Moderation in spending is encouraged and the poor due (charity, called zakat) is a social duty. Islam forbids putting a lien on the personal possessions or property of a debtor who has defaulted payment.

c. The principle of income taxes in Islam includes:

  • Prioritizing the needy for governmental financial support.

  • A preferential taxation system depending on one’s level of wealth.

  • Maintaining the principle of contingency between need and reward.

  • Assigning more benefits to the poor to meet their basic needs.

  • Providing social security for the sick and needy of all faiths.

6.   Islam established the principle of accountability through which an individual is responsible for proving that he or she earned money from lawful sources. The rich have a moral obligation to help the poor and the powerful are expected to support the weak. All Muslims are expected to live in peace within society and do their best to maintain healthy social relationships. In the Qur’an God says, “And keep straight the relations between yourselves.” (The Spoils of War, Surah 8; 1)

7.   Social consciousness: it is important for Muslims to develop a sense of duty based on the instructions of Allah and the Prophets (Peace be upon Them). The poor due, general charity, and social interactions are basic ingredients of a healthy social consciousness.

And obey Allah and his messenger; and fall into no disputes, lest you lose heart and your  power  depart;  and  be  patient  and  persevering:  for  Allah  is  with  those  who patiently persevere.

(The Spoils of War, Surah 8; 46)

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said “it is not allowable for a Muslim to desert his brother for more than 3 days.  He turns away and the other turns away.  The better of the two is the one who initiates the greeting of peace.”

He also said, “The parable of believers in their mercy, tenderness to one another and passion is like one body; if part of the body aches, then the rest of the body aches also. The Prophet of Islam said that the one who does not have mercy for others does not receive mercy (from Allah).”
 

9.   Freedom: types of freedom protected under Islamic laws include personal freedom, religious freedom, political freedom, cultural freedom and social freedom. Islam leaves us subservient only to God. It frees humanity from the fear of need, poverty, or pressure by any financial, political or social systems.

10. There is no priesthood or formal theological hierarchy in Islam: no earthly intercessor can come between God and creation. Islam is not sustained through the sacrifice of hard-working individuals who are expected to support religious leaders living in seclusion apart from society. Islam also encourages science and innovation and fosters respect for the status of scientists.

11. Equality: in Islam, all are equal in duties, responsibilities and rights. This concept runs counter to ancient tribal traditions, nationalistic cultures, or geographical differences.

12. Islamic communities are expected to become unified.
 

The Concept of War in Islam

One of Allah’s attributes is The Peace, and paradise in the Hereafter is also called The Dwelling of Peace.  The word itself derives from the Arabic meaning of the word Islam and peace is the goal of the divine revelation. God made it clear that we have been sent on a specific mission that includes outreach and the building of relationships among diverse peoples for the social, political and economic well-being of all.  In the Qur’an, we are told:

Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good (Islam), enjoining Al-Ma’ruf (i.e. Islamic Monotheism and all that Islam orders one to do) and forbidding Al-Munkar (polytheism and disbelief and all that Islam has forbidden). And it is they who are the successful.

(The Family of Imran, Surah 3; 104)

O mankind!  We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another.  Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has Al-Taqwa [i.e. he is one of the Muttaqun (the pious - See V. 2:2)]. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.

(The Dwellings, Surah 49; 13)

In Islam, war is not an opportunity for gain, but an extreme solution, which should only be considered with the utmost gravity. War is seen as an exceptional permission from God to defend oneself and one’s people. The concept of war, and when to go to war in Islam, is made very clear in the Qur’an. Muslims can go to war only to defend themselves when other peaceful and less drastic methods fail. It is a permission granted for defence, not for acquiring more territorial, political or economic benefits through attacking others.  In this regard, the Prophet (PBUH) said:

Do not hope (aspire) to meet the enemy (in war) and ask God for forgiveness but if you meet them be patient and learn that paradise is under the shade of Swords.

The Qur’an says:

Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loves not aggressors.

(The Cow, Surah 2; 190)

In fact, war is considered in Islam as a harsh trial inflicted upon us – both as a divine reprimand for our misdeeds, and as an ultimate test to distinguish the most devout believers who aspire to the highest reward from God.

Fighting has been made obligatory for you, much to your dislike.  It is quite possible that something which you do not like is good for you and that something which you love is bad for you.  Allah, knows, and you do not.

(The Cow, Surah 2; 216)

In the past, many Prophets have fought, in the Way of Allah, with a large number of godly people. They did not lose heart during the adversities that befell them in the path of Allah; they neither showed weakness nor submitted to falsehood. Allah loves the steadfast. Their only words were, ‘Our Lord!  Forgive our sins and our excesses; establish our feet firmly and give us victory over the unbelievers’.

(The Family of Imran, Surah 3; 146-147)

God promised Muslims protection when they defend their religion.

Allah turned back the unbelievers; they retreated in their rage without gaining any advantage (financial or political), and Allah was sufficient to fight on behalf of the believers; for Allah is All-Powerful, All-Mighty.

(The Confederates, Surah 33; 25)

It was formerly a common practice that captives of war, as well as prisoners in jail, had to earn their own food, or their own redemption. In Islam, human rights are preserved to a much higher standard. A good example is found in the treatment of captives in the first war between Muslims and non-believers at the Battle of Badr. This fight happened after almost 14 years of continuous harassment, abuse, and killing of Muslims because of their faith. They became refugees in order to escape torture and death, but the non-believers didn’t stop there; they mustered an army to attack the Muslims in their new settlement.

Against great odds, the Muslims were victorious. Yet in their moment of victory, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) nevertheless ordered his followers to be generous to their captives. This event set an Islamic precedent, whereby even in times of drought and famine, Muslims would offer their captives and prisoners food and drink before attending to their own hunger and thirst. This is also noted in the Qur’an:

They are those who keep their vows and dread the Day of widespread terror, who feed the poor, the orphan and the captive for the love of Allah.

(Man, Surah 76; 7-8)

In war, Muslims are forbidden to harm the innocent, including women, the elderly, the ill, and children. They are also strictly forbidden to destroy plants, crops or trees.

 

Why Should We Embrace Islam?

1.  Many among our current human generations are being raised to denigrate and mistrust religion. For Muslims, however, God expects us to acquire a heightened interest in learning about all religions for the sake of our eternal life.  We are expected to be responsible for making informed choices, which include dismissing prejudices against Islam itself and all religions.

2.  The idea that Islam has little to offer its adherents is wholly unjustified.  In fact, the argument goes the other way; distancing our behavior from proper Islamic ideals can only lead to stagnation in the Muslim world.

3. Another misconception is that Islam is no longer relevant to an      infinitely more educated and faster-paced world than that in which Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) first taught the revelations of Allah. But a fast-moving civilization without a spiritual life and strong code of ethics results in the loss of healthy relationships.  This eventually spreads into widespread moral decay, violence, high rates of mental illness and suicide and disintegration of the basic essence of society – the family itself.

4.   We cannot afford to underestimate the positive impact of an Islamic system on our lives. To claim that Islam has no place here because the West is more advanced than most Islamic countries is like comparing apples and oranges, or a less-optimal system to an inefficient one.  The West, for its part, must learn to compare its current social structure to the moral system of Muslims when their society lived by true Islamic principles. Progress in technology and material advantages without similar progress in spiritual development threatens to turn humanity into a soulless collective machine (the infamous Borg of Star Trek, or the Daleks of Dr. Who come to mind).  

How many towns have We destroyed who once flourished in their economy?  Just see those dwellings of theirs, only a few of which have been inhabited after them; at last We Alone became their inheritors.

(The Narration, Surah 28; 58)

5.   We should also look in our own backyard. In spite of abundant scientific advancements, we are becoming a dysfunctional society ravaged by the pain and hurt of materialism, along with the loss of heartfelt security, contentment and belonging. People who refute religion rob themselves of its wonderful empowerment in their lives. A tragic result is the growing incidence of mental illness throughout our community.  The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that 1 in 4 people worldwide experience some degree of mental illness in their lifetime. Sometimes it is so severe that sufferers are driven to take their own lives. Mental illness also manifests itself in a seemingly endless variety of psychiatric disorders such as; depression, anxiety, drug addiction, eating disorders and alcoholism, all of which share a common origin in a poor sense of belonging and a loss of interest in life.

Without the healthy parameters of religion in our lives and in our world, we all lose. Of course, not all ventures are healthy; without God’s guidance, we can push ourselves dangerously beyond appropriate limits and suffer often-irreparable consequences. Religion helps to guide and order our lives by channeling natural human ambitions, desires and intuitions toward what is important and beneficial to us.

Sex and its abuse in Western cultures is a good example. As society increasingly encourages people to speak out about sexual abuse, many, including spiritual leaders of various faiths, have been exposed as pedophiles. This is a tragic consequence of sexual delinquency.   Inappropriate relationships between men and women can lead to: teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, the abortion of viable human beings, emotional breakdowns, bullying, increased youth crime rates and higher divorce rates. Islam has long realized that living a celibate life is very difficult and its teachings refute the perverse notion that a natural physical relationship between a wife and husband should be any cause for guilt. This is why marriage is strongly encouraged. It ensures that young Muslims discard wrong ideas, such as the belief that men and women are exactly alike. Instead, they experience a healthier realization that man and woman complement one another.

Another example is the negative impact of gambling, a secular pastime prohibited for Muslims. And similarly, there are the embarrassing and dangerous results of drinking alcohol, another activity prohibited in Islam.

6.   The Qur’an narrates for us the fate of previous civilizations in order to teach us valuable lessons and motivate us to maintain the integrity of our society. These previous civilizations were initially mindful and devout through religion, but excelled in many other ways that resulted in attaining great power and glory. The people became complacent about their faith and ethics and as a result, morality collapsed, justice failed and society rapidly declined. God sent Prophets with warnings and advice, but they were ignored. In the end, the people deserved only punishment from God.

The Qur’anic narration about these failed states and cultures warns us against transgressions and unfairness; instead, we are urged to continue humbling ourselves when we are strong, rich and capable. In doing so, we gain power to protect and defend ourselves. In Islam, we aspire to wealth not for selfish motives, but to help and aid others. We are expected to lead, not by coercion, but by example. The Qur’an also warns us not to discriminate against the weak and poor.  It reminds us that our politics and manners should not change when we acquire power over others; and when we are the ones under oppression, or in a subordinate and weak position, we must continue to hold with religion as our shield and comfort. After all, power and weakness are simply mirror images by which God tests us in this life.  What really matters is how we use our power and how we react to our weakness. Islam does not teach mere ritualism; it emphasizes the importance of forming intention before every action.  We need Islam to develop such wisdom.

7.   Fear of God is necessary as a self-controlling mechanism, for it deters us from finding excuses to do wrong.  In Islam, a few foundational rules are far better than a thousand written laws and it is our fear of God that helps us apply those rules. This reality again emphasizes how high a cost people pay when they distance themselves from God.

8.   As noted earlier, the prevailing norm of our present age is the rejection of organized religion. People have come to despise or ridicule so-called “fat cat” preachers leading a lavish lifestyle. Many seek a simpler and more grassroots form of religious community without rituals and hierarchy. For Muslims, the simple life of Prophet Muhammad and his followers set a higher spiritual and moral standard. Teaching and living by personal example, he was the best embodiment of Islam. His sincerity and truthfulness gave him credibility for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

For example, Muhammad (PBUH) stated clearly that everything prophets leave behind belongs to the people, and that the true inheritance from the Prophets is knowledge. In fact, when Prophet Muhammad died, his entire wealth consisted of no more than a few derhams (pennies). Even the few modest items left in his house immediately became the property of the government; none of his wives or daughters inherited anything. Scholars narrate that in the Prophet’s house, there was usually no fresh food served for three consecutive days.

I recommend that the reader take on the role of a juror and assess this book, as well as similar ones by Muslim scholars, to determine whether Islam is a divine message to humankind or otherwise.  I also suggest that readers take a new look at Islam, especially after learning about this religion, the tradition of the Prophet of Islam and his followers. Most importantly I encourage people to reserve judgment about Islam and Muslims, despite the current media portrayals of so-called Muslim communities and organizations. If I want to learn about the Bible, I am expected to ask a Christian scholar or theologian. If I wish to learn about Judaism, I visit a synagogue and speak with the rabbi. Why then, do so many accept material written on Islam by non-Muslims before verifying and comparing their opinions with actual Islamic scholars?

9.   Those who attack Islam reactively, out of fear and ignorance, apparently do not comprehend the many blessings and benefits we all enjoy in the Western hemisphere – freedom of speech and opinion, tolerance and respect for diversity, equality of opportunity, democratic government, constitutional human rights, and much more – achievements that were in fact already part of Islamic society more than 1400 years ago. Sadly the leaders of some so-called Muslim countries today have forgotten this.

Those who attack Islam ignore two other important facts. First, Islam has nothing against the West. If the West were to adopt more Islamic principles, however, we would all prosper. Secondly, unbelievers attack our religion out of hostility that is rooted in their own failure to humble themselves to the will of God.

10. Another misconception is that religions (Islam and others) limit the intellectual and experiential horizons of their adherents by replacing their individual identities with fixed and rigid systems. In fact, Islam has historically dispensed with such constraints and instead liberated humankind. It did so by accepting all sound and beneficial pre-Islamic traditions while encouraging believers to maintain their identities. The Islamic faith does not, and did not, seek to alter or compromise any positive values or behaviors before and after its revelation; it is a religion that expects people to use their minds and talents to solve problems.

To possess faith is to possess potential for excellence in all domains and disciplines of life.  Within the Islamic faith there lies the nucleus to empower all of humanity to excel and expand.

11. People should not be trapped in the false sense of freedom that arises from believing that they are the center of their own universe. Since none of us can stop our heart from beating, or our lungs from breathing, self-absorbed individuals should seriously consider the validity of the presence of a Supreme Being who holds us all accountable.

12. Muslims find their happiness in choosing Islam as a complete way of life.  They waste no energy or emotion over calculating other choices because they believe in surrendering their self-absorption to follow God’s guidance.

They find a sense of special fulfillment in applying the religion of Islam in their lives and save themselves the worry of anticipating the unknown. They surrender their limited human capacity to the freedom of choosing the unlimited revealed wisdom of God. To Muslims, describing this system as fixed or rigid feels like an insult to God’s wisdom, for without our Lord’s guidance, we are not only limited, but also biased by our differing human experiences. Being conscious that nothing happens except by the will of God, a Muslim’s spirit is filled with awe, fear, desire and the hope of fulfilling the responsibilities their faith requires. This is why devout Muslims experience instant joy when they do right and, just as intensely, feel the pain of giving in to sinful acts. In their quest to pursue their Prophet’s footsteps, Muslims share a collective yearning to reach their Lord.  By surrendering their freedom to choose other paths, they acquire the serenity and tranquility that comes with living in a spiritually meaningful way. By contrast, those who persist in making choices apart from what God would have us do, lapse into a state of spiritual death that is the fate of unbelievers. Without a vital link to their Creator, unbelievers’ actions are driven by the poor motivation of instant gratification.

13. An unbeliever can be compared to someone who has hardly any belongings. A believer, on the other hand, has found a source of constant light; the freedom it gives eliminates the need to make further choices amid the things of this world.

14. Embracing Islam, therefore, is a sound decision because it beneficially regulates our lives. It first sets in our hearts the principles of fear, hope and love for our Lord. From this secure and redemptive relationship comes a greater ability to balance and regulate inter-personal relationships, as well as bonds with family, community, and ties between global societies. Beyond the sphere of human civilization, Islam also regulates the relationship between humans and their natural environment, including animals, plants, water, air, etc.

Islamic rules are crystal clear; they are not simply critical principles or suggestions. They were practiced diligently by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) throughout his 23-year ministry of receiving, teaching and preaching the divine revelation of God. Islam in effect provides (through the Qur’an) a guided manual for our behavior, showing us clearly how to treat parents, family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and so on. Just as easily found are the duties and rights of individuals within communities, as well as instructions for relationships between societies.

In essence, all the beneficial and progressive concepts we associate today with advanced human civilization were prescribed by the system of Islam more than 1400 years ago. These include: self-respect; respect for others; peace-making and peace-keeping; prohibiting theft; enforcing just laws of inheritance; recognizing that men and women are both different and equal; giving care and aid to the needy and weak; reaching decisions by consensus; prohibiting backbiting, smearing, lying or fabricating to hurt others; and treating others with courtesy. All of these attributes and more reflect the basic tenets of Islam as prescribed by God, the eternal All-Knowing One.

15. The Islamic guide-book understands and deals appropriately with our weaknesses and strengths, rather than trusting to the trial-and-error system of human laws and regulations.  Islam can therefore claim a distinct advantage over every human-made regulation because its source is God alone, who knows the complexity of human behavior down to its minutest detail.

16. With the passage of time, civilizations rise, change, and decay. A religion based only on simplistic faith, having no substantial rules or laws, cannot guide all civilizations. To respond to the increasing complexity of human life, we need a religion that trains the self, purifies the heart, and guides our actions in the right direction. This guidance can come only from a knowledgeable and just Supreme Power.  Someone who decides to worship independently without considering God’s commands is unacceptable in Islam because such behavior opens the door for anarchy, for who could decide right from wrong?  In addition, a religious practice that might fit one person could antagonize another. So if we want to be on the right track, our only choice is that our practices are inspired directly from our Lord. As the Quran relates:

Have you seen him who makes his desire his god, and Allah sends him astray despite his knowledge, and seals up his hearing and his heart, and sets on his sight a covering? Then who will lead him after Allah?  Will you not then heed?

(The Crouching, Surah 45; 23)

17. Muslims take their belief in Islam seriously: Why would we do otherwise? It decides our eternal life in the Hereafter! Embracing Islam guarantees a prosperous life because all the moral standards previously mentioned originate and are reinforced by our merciful Creator. Through divine guidance, methods were built into Islam to help us implement the values of religion in daily life, transforming them into actions. In this way our faith builds both individual and collective human character, which can ultimately set the train of civilization back on the right track.

18. Religion is a contract, or covenant, between humanity and God. Therefore, the way we choose to worship must be acceptable to our Lord; otherwise, we have no right to ask for divine mercy, forgiveness, or reward.

And who seeks as religion other than the Surrender (to Allah) it will not be accepted from him, and he will be one of the losers in the Hereafter. O you who believe!  Observe your duty to Allah with right observance, and die not save as Muslims. Lo! The riches and the progeny of those who disbelieve will not avail them anything against Allah; and such are rightful owners of the Fire (of Hell).   They will abide therein forever.

(The Family of Imran, Surah 3; 85, 102, 116)

19. God’s wisdom has warned us about the complexity of this life and that we are guaranteed to go astray if we try to map out the road to success without proper directions. God tests us by giving us the choice to accept (surrender to) divine guidance, or strike out on our own. This is an individual responsibility that each of us has to face. Since death comes to everyone, we have no choice or control over our ultimate fate. Therefore, the choice of one’s religion should be the most relevant act in any person’s life.

20. We become more complex as we grow, both individually and collectively; and growth leads inevitably to changes in human civilization. Yet the internal laws that shape and govern our psychology have not changed. Thus we need an integrated spiritual system that positively influences our relationship with our surroundings.

21. Islam implements the concept of jihad within our personality. Contrary to the numerous negative, menacing and incorrect references to this term in contemporary media, jihad means striving in the way of God to do good. It is the driving principle we must adopt against the false influences of worldly life that continually try to lure us away from the right path. The religion of Islam urges us to respond to God’s call by striving to do righteous deeds and implementing our moral beliefs through right conduct. Muslims believe that everything they encounter in this life is an opportunity to strive in God’s way. It thus becomes second nature for a Muslim to be generous, to avoid idleness and dependency, to forgive and be merciful, to resist the irrational influence of anger, to love rather than hate, to develop compassion, and to bring justice and peace to their society.  Believing in God gives our lives purpose and focus, as we simultaneously grow into more compassionate, patient, generous and loving beings. Our struggle to be the perfect vicegerents of Allah on earth is at the heart of jihad and that is the most important definition of this word in Islam.  It is the operational principle by which we grow in virtue. Islam implements the concept of jihad to keep us spiritually alive.

 

Should Muslims force others into Islam?

The Qur’an tells us that some people will go astray under the influence of Satan because they choose to follow their own selfish motives, or lack sufficient knowledge of Islam. In this context, Muslims are expected to share their religious knowledge and call others to Islam; but they are forbidden to enforce their belief. Muslims are taught to share this life and build societies with everyone. In order to maintain peace on earth, Islam must express the utmost tolerance. God’s invitation in the Qur’an says:

There is no compulsion in religion. Truth is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejects false deities and believes in Allah has grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower.

(The Cow, Surah 2; 256)

Moreover, Islam does not forbid its believers to deal with people who follow different religions.  The Qur’an says:

Allah forbids you not those who warred not against you on account of religion and drove you not out from your homes, that you should show them kindness and deal justly with them.  Lo! Allah loves the just dealers.

(That Which Examines, Surah 60; 8)

 








 

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The Great Mosque of Kufa, or Masjid al-KÅ«fa, or Masjid-al-Azam located in KÅ«fa, Iraq, is one of the earliest mosques in the world. The mosque, built in the 7th century, contains the remains of Muslim ibn ‘AqÄ«l - first cousin of Husayn ibn ‘AlÄ«, his companion HānÄ« ibn ‘Urwa, and the revolutionary Mukhtār al-ThaqafÄ«

 

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