Article: Guarding our Spiritual Privacy

I was at a pharmacy today to pick up some boxes of tissues. As the cashier returned my credit card, she glanced at the name on my card and asked, “If you don’t mind, how do you pronounce your name?”

I told her and explained “Sikander” was Persian for Alexander. She appeared to be genuinely interested in uncommon names. But it made me think about how we feel about our privacy.

There is some information we are very careful about. For example, the PIN to our bank account, our credit card numbers and our social insurance number. These are all pieces of information we guard carefully and don’t want anyone to get a hold of.

With the increase in identity theft, there is other information that should be guarded as well, according to authorities, such as our home address and phone number. But the realm of privacy extends to much more than that. Of course, one of the reasons we wear clothes and close the door when using the toilet is because there are some things we don’t want others to see.

That’s for our physical privacy. But how about spiritual privacy?

Just as we have needs for physical privacy, our spiritual connection with Allah is in need of privacy too. That’s why the best forms of worship, prayer and supplication (apart from prescribed congregational worship) are those that are done in private.

Allah says in the Qur’an: “Call on your Lord with humility and in private: for Allah loves not those who trespass beyond bounds.” (7:55)

Thus, the relationship between Allah and ourselves is meant to be an intimate and private one. In the spirit of that intimacy and privacy, Allah often does us a great favour and hides our sins and shortcomings. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “My entire nation is safe, except al-Mujahirin (those who boast of their sins). Among the Mujaharah is that a man commits an (evil) act, and wakes up in the morning while Allah has kept his (sin) a secret, he says: „O so-and-so! Last night I did this and that.‟ He goes to sleep while Allah has kept his (sin) a secret but he wakes up in the morning and uncovers what Allah has kept a secret!” (Reported by Bukhari on the authority of Abu Hurairah [may Allah be pleased with him])

Since sins are blemishes on our character and our record, they should be kept hidden by default. Announcing them is a detestable act.

Just like we don’t go around announcing a failed exam or a terrible performance review, in the same way, any sin or act that diminishes our character belongs in our closet, not our front door.
With the expansion of technology though, the line between our closet and our front door – or our minds and our Facebook accounts – has blurred.

As a result, actions and thoughts that belong in the back of our minds categorized as regrettable and not to be repeated end up on our friends’ news feeds on Facebook or in our online photo albums.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Before we post a public thought or a photo, let’s think: Is this something that pleases Allah? If the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was on my friend’s list, would he “like” this status or picture? What does this post say about my character?

We all commit sins. It’s a part of being human. But let’s not publicize our sins and rob ourselves of the privacy Allah has granted us. Instead, let’s make a u-turn and wipe them out by seeking Allah’s forgiveness.

May Allah continue to hide our sins and may He forgive us for all our shortcomings. Ameen!

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I spy with my little eye…

Am I being spied upon?

That’s a common question many Muslims ask themselves nowadays.

The use of informants within Muslim communities in Canada is no secret. My feature article in the Montreal Gazette (back in 2007) looked into the issue. I also spoke to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to get their response.

I still get reports every now and then of CSIS agents meeting up with people and wanting to ask questions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on how it’s done.

But the interest in the Muslim community raises some serious dilemmas for ordinary Muslims like myself.

Who do you trust?

Trust is an important value – or so we like to think – in the Muslim community. We’re all brothers and sisters. Yet, a lot of times we’ve got to be very careful about what we say and how we say it, just because we don’t know who might screw us over.

Now, you might be thinking: “Aha, that mean’s you’re hiding something and don’t want ‘others’ to know about it!”

Not really. A lot of times, benign discussions (opposition to the Iraq war or the setting up of religious study circles, for example) can spark interest from CSIS. In the worst case scenario, something that’s said can be misconstrued and used against a person. That’s the fear anyway. Or an informant can possibly provoke a subject into saying something that could be remotely incriminating.

In any case, it’s not fun to have the feeling that you’re being spied upon. It’s even worse to know people think you’re a spy when you’re really not one.

That often happens to converts to Islam, mainly because the FBI has used supposed converts to spy on people and conduct sting operations. It happens to others too, like myself. While working at the Toronto Star in 2005, I was told by an imam (a friend) that some elder folks in the community were telling him to be careful of me as I might be a spy.

The bottom line is: There’s a serious trust deficit in the community, even if we don’t like to talk about it. Maybe that’s what CSIS wants.

To suspect or not to suspect?

The Qur’an clearly tells us not to suspect people. But the same verse tells us not to spy.

O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it…But fear Allah. For Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. (49:12)

Despite that fact we have nothing to hide and aren’t up to anything sinister, sometimes people act in such a way that it’s hard not to think of, at the very least, the possibility that they are informants.

Is it really bad?

When CSIS is criticized for spying on Muslims, the solution often given is that it needs to work with Muslims and be more open. But if a Muslim starts working for CSIS (not that anyone goes announcing it) and if word got around, they’d be shunned and looked down upon. Take Mubin Shaikh as an example.

So the question is: Is it bad to work with CSIS? Maybe you could do it with good intentions, like stopping terrorism and making sure the innocent don’t get screwed over? How about the argument that if I don’t spy for CSIS, somebody else will and that somebody might not know much about the community and could start causing trouble for truly innocent people? What if the intention is just to keep an eye out for truly bad folks and stopping CSIS from unnecessarily bothering innocent people?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I just think about this sometimes. And no, I’m not contemplating about becoming a spy.

How to know if you’re being spied upon

Whether it’s bad or not, no one likes being spied upon. If you want to know if you’re being watched, here are some signs.

1. CSIS knocks on your door and wants to speak to you. That’s a no-brainer.

2. If you’re too high-value of a target or a big mouth, they’ll use a more undercover method of spying on you. Now remember, the best spies are those who arise the least suspicion. So someone will get close to you and ask you for advice and seemingly benign questions on your views on stuff.  Or they might try to provoke you to see what sort of reaction you give.

3. You notice strange clicks on your phone line, your line suddenly goes dead and a Bell repairman shows up, you come home and your security system is strangely turned off, your car is broken into (especially if it won’t start afterwards). These are all signs that you’re likely being watched.

Some of the above has happened to me and for all those undercover informants I’ve dealt with: I know who you are.

But it’s all good. I’m not doing anything wrong and believe it or not, I trust you that you won’t either. InshaAllah (if God wills).

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Welcome

It’s been over four years since I stopped actively blogging. That happened after I discover my 180,000 words of blogging over eight months had virtually allowed Google to index my life.

Hopefully, that won’t happen again.

As the famous saying of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) goes, “Actions are judged by their intentions.” Thus, my intention in starting this blog is to make a positive contribution to the many discourses that are either going on or should be going on, by sharing knowledge, insights, feelings, tidbits or anything else that can be of some sort of benefit to myself or to readers.

If I feel this blog is doing more harm than good, I’ll shut it down.

Thanks for stopping by.

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