Is IslamiCity.com Still Relevant? – Part 1

IslamiCity logo

Has IslamiCity retained its relevance?

I remember when there were relatively few significant Islamic websites. It was the mid to late nineties. Quality Islamic websites were rare. I had recently founded Zawaj.com Muslim Matrimonials, and it was one of only three Muslim matrimonial services (now there are scores).

Back then, IslamiCity was the Big Daddy of the Muslim web. It had more Islamic features, articles and information than any other website.

I remembering meeting a few of the brothers who founded and managed the website. It was at an Islamic conference in Los Angeles many years ago. They seemed honest and enthusiastic ma-sha-Allah. I had the impression that their intention was genuinely to offer a quality Islamic service. It was not a mercenary venture.

Since then, I have always included IslamiCity in any list of must-see Islamic websites.

But, more than a dozen years later, is IslamiCity still relevant? Has it retained its usefulness and cutting edge? I don’t seem to hear much about it these days. So I went back and took a close look. Here is what I found:

Appearance and Design

Let’s take a look at the most prominently featured content, where I think most newcomers would look first. This is the content in the left-center column, and the right-center column. Later I’ll come back to the top, left and right navigation bars.

Left-Center Column

  1. There is a left-center column with a list of articles called “Highlights“. However, many of the articles are sourced from iViews.com (a website I’ve never cared for due to its narrow political focus), and open a new window in that website. I think this is a mistake. Such a prominent location on the home page should be used to feature dedicated IslamiCity content. Only one point for this section.
  2. Below the Highlights is a small section titled “Islamic Gifts, Multimedia, Books.” It consists of three links to the IslamiCity Bazaar, which is a standard type of online Islamic store. It seems like a well stocked store. I have no problem with any website wanting to earn revenue by offering good products to readers. One point for this.
  3. Below that, a small section titled, “Community”. Among the handful of links in this section is one to request a free copy of the Quran. Another link allows one to send a free e-card to family or friends. There’s an excellent selection of cards in a variety of categories, including Islamic holidays, thank you, and congratulations. The cards themselves are very basic, but it’s still a useful and free service. The bottom link is to the IslamiCity forum, an active discussion board with a current count of more than 150,000 Posts in almost 18K Topics in 58 Forums. In my opinion this Community section should be moved to the top of the column, as these are the kinds of functional services that people seek and use. Three points for this section.

Right-Center Column

  1. The right-center column features “News and Analysis”. But once again, the links open a new window to other websites, ranging from the Los Angeles Times to the Independent (and one that failed to respond). Again, a mistake. Why use the most prominent real estate on your home page just to send people off to some other news site? Zero points.
  2. Below News and Analysis is “Multimedia”. This, finally, is dedicated IslamiCity content, and is where IslamiCity displays its strength. The only drawback is that many of the multimedia links create pop-up media players that require a plugin (RealPlayer) that I do not have. Still, I suppose I could install it easily enough. Two points for this section.
  3. Below Multimedia is “Science”. Again, links to other websites. The first link I clicked on took me to a website called the Mail Online. The article itself was interesting, but on the right side was a column called, “Femail today” with images of various celebrities wearing bikinis. Not a very appropriate place to send your Muslim visitors. Zero points.
  4. Below that, “Finance”. Same story, external links in new window. Zero points.

Okay, so far we’ve got a few good points and quality features, but also a lot of wasted space and external links to non-Muslim content. I would have liked to see more dedicated content. I understand that this is an age of economic hardship and budgetary constraints, but it’s starting to look like IslamiCity has given up. Though the website has some useful functionality, it feels frozen in time, no longer evolving.

Still, let’s give them a chance. In part two I’ll take a look at the top navigation menu, the left-side menu bar (which seems to be chock full of good stuff), and the right-side menu bar.

Khaleafa.com: the Islamic Approach to Environmentalism

Leaves and light

Khaleafa.com examines the Islamic view of environmentalism.

Muaz Nasir’s new blog called Khaleafa.com is focusing attention on the Islamic approach to environmentalism.  Nasir is a Muslim Canadian environmentalist living in Toronto. He has a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies, and works for the City of Toronto, promoting water efficiency and conservation initiatives for Toronto Water.

Nasir explains on his website that:

“The term ‘Khaleafa’  is the Arabic term for steward and represents the sacred responsibility that has been bestowed upon us by Allah. The concept of stewardship is the inspiration of this project and has formed for the foundation for discussion of the environmental ideals already present within the Islamic faith. The goal of this website is to reignite the discourse surrounding the Islamic approach to environmentalism and to draw upon the essence of these teachings, emphasizing the movement from a Canadian perspective.”

Recent articles on Khaleafa.com have included an explanation of sustainable energy; a look at the Prophet’s (sws) simple diet; and the importance of water in Islamic teaching.

I’m personally deeply concerned about the environmental legacy we are leaving to our children. Our food sources are often tainted and suspect; our wildernesses are disappearing; and some of earth’s most beautiful and exotic animals are on the verge of extinction (or already gone).

So I am gratified to see Muslims focusing attention on this vitally important subject.

Online Muslim Resources – an Islamic Website Review Service

Online Muslim Resources

Online Muslim Resources

There are so many Islamic websites now that it’s hard to know what’s worth your time. That’s where Online Muslim Resources comes in. They review websites on a number of criteria including content, appearance and loading time, and provide the result in a short capsule review.

Online Muslim Resources says about themselves, “Our objective  is to provide cohesive online resources from authentic, straight forward Muslim businesses to the entire Ummah.”

It doesn’t look like they’ve been at it a terribly long time – maybe a year or so – as there are not too many reviews yet. Maybe 15 or 20.

Right now, Online Muslim Resources is a cute idea. In the future it might be a formidable presence on the web, if they continue to provide concise reviews of valuable Muslim websites.

MuslimMatters.org – a Muslim blog at its best

MuslimMatters.org screenshot

MuslimMatters.org screenshot

I’m a fan of MuslimMatters.org, a multi-author Muslim blog which features articles on a wide variety of subjects, from Muslim world news and analysis, to the arts, to spirituality, to family issues, and more.

The writing is relevant and well edited, and the large number of authors insures that a wide variety of interesting reading material. I don’t find every article appealing, but I always find something of interest.

Comments are intelligent, sometimes argumentative, and always thought-provoking.

It’s no surprise that the site has won several Brass Crescent awards. It’s a very interesting community, and one to visit again and again.

Profound writing at New Islamic Directions, even though it does not allow comments

Imam Zaid Shakir

I am a big fan of Imam Zaid Shakir. I find him to be classically knowledgeable in ways that are highly relevant to modern life, and still very humble and sincere. May Allah aid him and preserve him. He is now publishing some of his writing at his website, New Islamic Directions. Click on the “blog” link at the top to read his writings. Here’s an excerpt from a poem he published on August 10, 2010:

As we stand on the verge of beginning the great fast,
let us pray that the blessings we enjoy are decreed to last.

Let us pray for the people, who have lost their homes, fields and cattle in the flood,
that they are patient and see their sins washed away by torrents of forgiveness and divine love.

Looking at the website just now I see there are some new pieces that I have not read yet. But I’ve read his piece titled “A Higher Ground for Our Marriages”, and I think it is a must-read for every married Muslim. I read “Graveyard Detroit” and was impressed by the historical context in which Imam Zaid framed the murder of Imam Luqman Abdullah. You really can’t go wrong reading Imam Zaid’s work. He will educate and enlighten you.

I like the color and look of the website as well. It’s a good showcase for Imam Zaid’s work. My only real complaint is that although there is a comment link at the bottom of each post, none of the comments appear. When you click on the comment link you get a form to fill out your comment, then when you submit the comment you get a message saying that the comment will be published after review.

However, no comments are published. It can’t be only my comments that are denied, because none of the posts have any published comments. So why waste our time? Why let us sit there typing out our comments, and letting us believe they are being reviewed? It’s annoying. To compound matters, there is a form to submit feedback about the website. I wrote to complain about comments being published, and received no response.

Imam Zaid himself is a generous soul, a great thinker ma-sha-Allah, and an important Muslim American leader. Whoever is managing his website is not doing him justice in their handling of reader comments.

IslamicAnswers.com, an important service and an attractive website

I don’t think there is anything else on the web like IslamicAnswers.com. There are several good fatwa websites, but IslamicAnswers.com is the only one in which a staff of lay people, utilizing common sense and experience, dole out common-sense advice on every imaginable type of family, marriage, parenting, or relationship issue. Some of the problems people bring to the website are quite shocking. Adultery, drug use, abortions, lies and abuse. The editors reply to each one with compassion, and sometimes indignation.

The amazing thing is that the volunteer staff of only five editors (three women and two men) answer every single question, even if there is a delay due to the large backlog of questions in the queue. They answer about two or three every day. The answers are frequently given with evidence from Quran and Sunnah, but again the focus is not on fatwas or legal rulings but simple common-sense advice.

The formula is clearly working, as the website traffic has been constantly climbing and recently soared past 2,000 readers per day. The website is looking for additional qualified editors, by the way, so if you think you’ve got what it takes you should contact them. The requirements are basic Islamic education, life experience, common sense, and compassion.

New Websites: Islam is Life, and Islamic Sunrays

IslamicSunrays.com logo

IslamicSunrays.com: finding hope and inspiration in Islam

I recently completed two new websites, one for a client, and one for myself. The website I built for the client is IslamIsLife.org. It is a da’wah website, intended to provide basic information on Islam for non-Muslims and also for new converts, and to address timely issues regarding Muslims.

(By the way, I am available for hire for any web development work you may need, whether building a new website or improving an existing one).

The website I built for myself is IslamicSunrays.com. I built this site in order to express some ideas I have about finding hope and inspiration in Islam. I write from the heart, sharing the lessons I’ve learned and the positive messages that I derive from Islam. Please visit it.

IslamicSunrays.com also has a Facebook pageSo if you have a Facebook account, please become a fan.

Alhamdulillah, I’m also pleased with the evolution of Zawaj.com Muslim Matrimonial Service, and IslamicAnswers.com. I feel that both of them are on a good track, and doing a good service to the community Insha’Allah. I hope to see readership and participation continually increase.

Masjid Fresno Website: Mistakes to Avoid

Masjid Fresno at Sunset

Masjid Fresno at Sunset

I’ve been living in Fresno, California for about a year and a half now (this time around – I went to junior high school here, and attended university here as well). There are four mosques here, the oldest of which is “Masjid Fresno”, located on Shaw Avenue across from Fresno State University. I remember when the mosque on this lot was simply a small, rented house. Most of the attendees were international students from Malaysia, Palestine and Saudi Arabia, back in the days when the USA still admitted Muslim students freely. There were a few walnut trees in the yard, and after prayer we would shake the trees until some walnuts fell, then work on cracking them open to eat the walnuts. There was a ping pong table in back, no place to park, and not enough room inside.

Later the community bought that house, and then in 1987 or so tore it down and built this modern mosque. It’s large and attractive, but I will always remember that tiny house where I had good friends, walnuts and ping pong.

The Masjid Fresno Website

Well, enough with the reminiscences. When I talk to people at the mosque and they find out I’m a web developer, they often complain to me about the mosque’s website. They say that it’s too cluttered, difficult to navigate, and generally not useful. One person told me that the Imam pays a web development company $400 per month to maintain the site, and has rejected offers from Muslim students to do it free of charge.

As far as appearance and navigation, they are right. The Masjid Fresno website is a case in point of what not to do as far as design and usability. Animations and small icons overwhelm the page and make it difficult to focus on any single thing. Some of these small icons lead to pages with more icons, some initiate pdf downloads, and some cause new windows to pop-up. There is no indication in advance of what action each image might perform. It’s like clicking on a field of jack-in-the-boxes, not knowing what will pop out.

The only saving grace is a column of text links on the left side that lead to a few useful, if still poorly designed, features.

In January 2008, Smashing Magazine wrote a classic piece on the 10 principles of effective website design. See the article for details. I will summarize the ten principles here:

10 Principles of Effective Web Design

  1. Don’t make users think
  2. Don’t squander users’ patience
  3. Manage to focus users’ attention
  4. Strive for feature exposure
  5. Make use of effective writing
  6. Strive for simplicity
  7. Don’t be afraid of the white space
  8. Communicate effectively with a “visible language”
  9. Conventions are our friends
  10. Test early, test often

The masjid Fresno website violates almost every one of these guidelines. It makes me think like a overclocked computer processor; it squanders my patience left and right; it scatters my attention; there is no effective writing on the home page; it is as far from simple as it can get; you’d find more white space in the Amazon; and there is no acknowledgment of conventions, meaning what the typical user would expect to find, and where.

I give the Masjid Fresno website a 2 out of 10 on the design and usability scale.

Honoring the Dove

Leila Abu-Saba, the Dove: Rest in peace

Leila Abu-Saba, the Dove: Rest in peace

I recently came across the personal blog of an extraordinary woman named Leila Abu-Saba. Her blog is titled Dove’s Eye View. Leila passed away last year after a five-year battle with breast cancer. She left behind a husband and two young sons. She was only three years older than me.

Upon returning from her family home in Lebanon a year ago while living with metastatic breast cancer, Leila wrote:

“So please, friend, bless what you have and let go of fear for the future. Today is the only day you have got. You are breathing. Enjoy your breath. You are alive. Enjoy your life. You have a daughter and parents. Love them. Bless everybody who comes across your path. And the work? Whatever. Bless your work, too. Bless your town, your bills, your possessions. You are lucky to be here for all of it. If some of it gets taken away, well fine, something else will take its place. You are an amazing confluence of billions of variables and nobody else is having your life right this minute.

Enjoy! And don’t worry about hope. Just breathe and appreciate your breath. Everything arises from that.”

I also want in particular to point readers to Leila’s post titled “Forgiveness“.

If it surprises you that I am honoring someone who was not Muslim and linking to her site from IslamicSearch.com, it should not. Islam is not a myopic religion that cares only for its own adherents. Muslims must honor and respect goodness and decency wherever it is found.

Because I don’t know whether or how long Leila’s blog will remain online, I am reprinting her “Forgiveness” post here, with the hope that her family does not mind:

APRIL 11, 2008

Forgiveness

How do you forgive a wrong? and why bother? someone asked in the previous post. Herewith an essay, an attempt, at describing why and how I go about practicing forgiveness.

Forgive:

1. To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon.
2. To renounce anger or resentment against.
3. To absolve from payment of (a debt, for example).

If someone has done something you think is absolutely wrong, and you harbor anger and resentment, your feelings will cause you harm. Does repressed resentment cause illness? I don’t have scientific data for it, but resentment causes all kinds of emotional problems, and those can cause illness. People in physical crisis are often asked to practice forgiving old angers and resentments as part of gaining peace of mind, which contributes to healing.

You could try to forgive your enemies out of a sense of duty or moral righteousness: “to be a good person, I must forgive this criminal.” But many of us might question why? Why bother with this charade?

If you only forgive in order to feel that you are doing the right thing, you won’t get the benefit of forgiveness. It will be a kind of performance, a fake, an act in the sense of doing something that is not felt sincerely, in order to please or entertain others.

In forgiving, you renounce anger or resentment against someone else. The act of forgiveness, genuine forgiveness, causes a change in the forgiver. Try it. Personally, I have felt a physical release from practicing forgiveness. I also feel emotional relief.

Judy in comments below asks how are we to forgive (for instance) Israelis who cause such suffering to Palestinians in Gaza today? Perhaps an Israeli suffering from the aftereffects of a bombing may ask the same – how to forgive Palestinians who cause his neighbors pain?

This question matters a great deal to me, because I am struggling with metastatic cancer to my liver, and believe that forgiving my enemies will help me heal. My father died in September of 2006, just after the Israeli attack on Lebanon. This war seemed to accelerate his final illness, which proceeded with terrifying rapidity.

The barrage of cluster bombs Israel left upon the fields and mountainsides of South Lebanon has felt like an unforgivable sin to me. Somehow the seeding of the land of Lebanon with a million pellets of death has appeared the most insurmountable obstacle to forgiving and moving on. I associate it with the whole horror of that war and my father’s sudden decline and death. The land of Lebanon was poisoned, my father died of poison/cancer, and now here I am fighting innumerable tiny lesions in my liver, like mirrors of the cluster bombs embedded into my organs. Some things feel unforgivable; for me, this is one.

Here is how I can forgive. First of all, it’s not me alone. My ego wants to be right. I will not truly forgive of my own unaided will, so I ask that some larger force – whatever you want to call it – help me forgive.

Second, I consider that the persons who ordered and carried out the attacks on Lebanon act out of fear and error. They possess a constellation of ideas about conflict, and about Lebanon and its people, that are simply in error. Those erroneous ideas lead them to harbor fears for their own destruction and that of their people (the Israelis). So, driven by fear and error, these military and political leaders ordered this action which I find so terrible.

Have I ever acted rashly, driven by my own fear and mistaken ideas? Yes. I have never caused so much harm (I hope). I have never killed anyone or caused such destruction. But it’s only a matter of degree. I have harbored terrible fears, terrible prejudices, enormous mistakes in judgment or perception that have driven me to irrational behavior. I can forgive myself for such errors (with difficulty). I know I am only human.

Next, I observe people around me, some of whom I love dearly, who also harbor fears that lead them to say or condone actions I cannot accept. Let’s give the example of a hypothetical relative (nobody in real life, I assure you), who harbors fears and resentments left over from a terrible mugging on a city street. That person may say things against ethnic or social groups that I cannot accept. I do not accept that person’s words or ideas; however I can see how their ideas are shaped by their fears and their history. So I let it go. I forgive them their mistakes. (This example is entirely fictional by the way)

It is not too far to move from forgiving a beloved relative or friend for her/his failings, to forgiving a stranger. If I think I cannot do it, then I imagine my small child. If he is seized with a terrifying fear of some teacher, and expresses hatred for that teacher, and the desire to spear her with his Star Wars light saber, I don’t reject my child for this. I try to understand what is driving his fears; at the same time I attempt not to cater to the emotional storm. Let it pass. I can forgive my child for his unskillful reaction to his fear of a teacher.

In forgiving the stranger who has caused so much harm, I also have to stop arguing with myself: but they SHOULD know better. They SHOULD NOT be so fearful, violent, willing to kill for retribution, and so forth.

My job is to give up anger and resentment. I can only do this when I can see the other for the flawed, frightened human being he is – my alter ego.

My enemy is my mirror. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I trespass against others and need forgiveness. So must I forgive others for their trespasses. It all goes around and around. The cycle of forgiveness is the only way to break the cycle of violence.

And by the way, it never helps me to say “but he needs to say he’s sorry first.” Or, “he has to change before I can forgive him.” This makes my power to forgive conditional upon somebody else’s behavior. I always have the power to forgive. The other party has no power to keep me from forgiveness.

Now if I am trying to forgive somebody who continues to do things that harm me, I don’t continue to put myself in the way of that harm. I take what measures I can to protect myself, or remove myself from that person’s orbit. Forgiveness does not mean allowing myself to be beaten if I can help it.

“Resist not evil” is a kind of Zen concept. Make yourself like water and flow around and away. Fighting evil directly just gives it power. It doesn’t really have power. Let it dissolve in your indifference, move around and away from the appearance of evil as if you are a running stream flowing around a rock and down to the sea. The rock will wear away one day; meanwhile you can keep flowing.

Islamic Website Awards

Nominations for the Islamic Website Awards are invited

Nominations for the Islamic Website Awards are invited

2Muslims.com used to give gold, silver and bronze awards to quality Islamic websites, but for some reason they discontinued it in 2007.

I think it’s time to restart an Islamic website awards program. IslamicSearch.com will be giving a monthly award to one selected Islamic website. For now the award will consist of recognition only, but in the future I would like to add a cash prize, Insha’Allah. I would need sponsors for that and I invite any interested parties to contact me, or comment on this post.

I would also like to invite readers to submit your choices for the best Islamic website in any of the following categories:

    • Quran
    • General Islamic website or portal
    • Islamic knowledge, including Fiqh, Sunnah, Aqeedah, etc.
    • Islamic discussion forums
    • Da’wah and information for Muslim converts
    • Islamic social network
    • Muslim blog
    • Muslim marriage or matchmaking website
    • Islamic advice or questions-and-answers
    • News about Islam and the Muslim world
    • Best new Islamic website (for sites created in this calendar year)

Did I miss any categories? Please let me know.

The first award will be given at the end of December Insha’Allah.