Years ago, when the Qiblah wars reheated in the United States (along with the Ramadan, `Eid and creed wars), I was fortunate enough to be in the presence of a dedicated set of brothers.
We diligently and eagerly tried to avoid the entrenched state of affairs between brothers who were vitriolically south-east Qiblah insistent (AICP and most of the East Africans)
and the fanatically north-east Qiblah insistent (most of the Arabs in the US on the West Coast and a number of other subgroups such as the Ethiopians and Djiboutis).
Back and forth, back and forth, each one stressing that the other had invalid prayers, Qiblah and the whole rest of it. I was relieved to escape from it whenever I could and head to my local masjid.
It would be there that I would be able to calmly and coolly discuss these issues in a spirit of maturity and evidence based reasoning. The text Port in a Storm: A Figh Solution to the Qiblah of North America by Huh Ha Mim Keller resembles some of this calm and evidence based reasoning.
Irrespective of whatever position one holds, the book is well written and discussed with all the relevant proofs and understanding of the scholars given for added reflection.
Having read the text, I feel that both ends of the argument have been fairly exegeted even though the author is very obvious on what position he holds.
This might be the only drawback as a discussion that is meant to be evenly weighted and valued is sometimes undermined by the conclusion already drawn by the author.
In theology, this is required as there is only one right answer in the foundations; but in fiqh one has to build the arguments first and then at the end draw the conclusion favoured by the individual.
The Arabic appendices in the back are a welcome addition and give the researcher ample authorities to return to if further in depth study is required. Most of the schools have been quoted along with the marja` of most of the schools (I don’t know who the Hanafi marja` are so I am unsure if they were quoted).
What remains is a book that is an honest and heartfelt attempt to solve a dispute that flares up nearly every half decade and divides Muslims in North America. I find it curious that my brothers in Central and South America have not had this problem for the most part.
Port in a Storm is also a very clear reminder of one of the many reasons I felt such relief upon leaving that land mass. The confusion and tribulation there is so severe (and has been exacerbated by the multiplicity of “spokesmen for Islam” that have now appeared on the horizons) I really do not envisage a short term solution appearing.
These issues have actually worsened with the diffusion of more “knowledge” in English among Muslims in the UK, US and Canada. The story always begins in the same way. Muslims in a local area have basic knowledge and try to act on it;
people then come back with “knowledge” (read debating points that they have learned from personalities that have told them that they must know them and their Islam is not complete without it,’ i.e. joining a tariqah, taking bai`ah to some ‘shaykh,’ dancing in dhikr, taking hallucinogenics, imagining one’s shaykh while doing dhikr and etc.) and the trials begin.
People started off breaking fast together and when they did not see the moon, consulting the closest country that shares their horizon to double check. Then “knowledge” comes and there are four different `Eids and no one believes the other has done Ramadan or `Eid.
Everyone starts off facing the Qiblah in one direction. Then “knowledge” comes and each side insists the other has no prayer. The affair starts with everyone praying `Isha and Fajr at the same time, then “knowledge” comes, each group claiming that the other has not prayed `Isha’ or Maghrib and that their fast is incomplete
(every now and then they throw in the word, ‘Consensus’ to a little chutney on the rice to spice it up a bit) and there will be one hour or two hours between the rival groups regarding the fajr times and no one wants to go outside and actually check.
I sincerely hope that Port in a Storm and similar texts like it in the future can help to disseminate a greater understanding among rival groups and if they do not agree, atleast they learn how to disagree with praiseworthy etiquettes.