Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Yom-e-bey-daari (Day of Awakening)

On this day ....

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Gifts from Israel

Israeli children sends gifts to Lebanese children:

Israeli girls write messages on a shell at a heavy artillery position near Kiryat Shmona, in northern Israel, next to the Lebanese border, Monday, July 17, 2006. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Lebanese children receive them:



Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Sound of Tradition, and the Road of Culture

I recently acquired a great CD of Sufi Chants. Interestingly, this is quite different from the confused ware coming out of the qawwali-sindhi-punjabi soup of South Asia or the new-age medley out of California. Nesidul-Huda has some interesting, orthodox (I mean that in a good sense), poems in Arabic, Turkish, Bosnian, and Farsi. The accompanying lyrics in English (and French) are good, and the voices soothing but not freaky.

I have also been thinking of and followed discussions over at my workplace with Indian, Jewish, and Persian immigrants about culture and success. Umar Lee also had some posts about similar stuff. The argument basically is, that some ethnic/racial/cultural groups in modern societies like USA, Europe, or many parts of Asia do better than others because of cultural issues that impart certain values to kids. I have some thoughts on this issue and I think that growing up culturally secure is very important. Marcus Garvey wrote that if you free men from mental slavery, they will free themselves of physical slavery. Growing up with the right values, which tells you that you are good enough to compete with anyone, but only if you work hard enough, is a big help. Imam Benjamin Kareem, the erst-while Assistant Minister Benjamin 2X, writing in his book "Remembering Malcolm", says that brother Shabazz used to lay a lot of emphasis on education. Every Tuesday (I think), he would rent a documentary to be viewed in his centre and hold a discussion. He would discuss anything and everything from geography, to genetics, history, or physics. He would also love to take the kids out on weekends to the Metropolitan Museum, or some such place and enthrall them with his live narrative and lectures. His biggest regret from his earlier life as Detroit Red, was that otherwise intelligent young men and women had fallen to crime, drugs, prostitution, etc., when they could have gone on to become scientists, teachers, and lawyers. Another thing that I have noticed is that many Muslims when we rightly frame our ideas of intellectual purity, and try to rid 'our' culture of hearsay and vanities, we leave out a lot of arts. This is more about the modernist, Islamist everyday Muslim. While I think that this is in a way good, because there's a whole load of junk out there, both modern and ancient should not corrupt pure education. But since, people don't live without entertainment, it means that we then finally break out and imbibe any and all bull out there, Woody Allen, Britney Spears (yuck!), and what not.

Finally, so what is the good stuff out there. There's a whole lot of popular science and math books, that our cousins, mostly the East Europeans, Indian Brahmins, and Ashkenazi Jews have written and used all their life. I used to wonder in college how and why do so many of these kids, who are otherwise only as smart as me or anyone else, have this specific knowledge which they used to build an almost cultic group identity. Then there's a great treasure of more serious, and contemplative stuff, in the writings of Ghazali, Rumi, Hafez, Taymiyya etc. A lot of times we get frustrated with one end or the other. I think Ghazali is just about the best out there, because of how he has tied the different ends together. If you get too confused, take a look at Ghazali.

And here's one more post of confused words, some interesting ideas, releasing some steam. Enjoy the summer if you live in the northern parts of the world. If you are in one of usually hotter parts of the Afro-Asiatic heartland, have some patience.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Hirsi and Cosby

Ayan Hirsi Ali has just been exposed as a fraud. She made up stuff like the story a forced marraige, and an escape from Somalia to get asylum in the Netherlands. She later used these same stories to win a seat in the Dutch parliament. After her expose, she plans to come down to Washington and work for the American Enterprise Institute. In other news, the US pumps money to some Somali warlords to fight other worlords.

On the other side, Bill Cosby says what needs to be said. I havent followed him too closely, but my impression is that he's not been another one of those Republican Black conservatives. He's done a lot for his community, and is now brave enough to call a spade a spade. You rock, Bill! Today, great Black Power icons need to be intelligent, hard working young men and women who are politically aware and strong willed enough not to fall for any Condi-style sell-outs, and decent and sociable enough to be well liked and respected members of the larger community.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Two endorsements

The Council on American Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights body in North America, appeals for the release of Afghan Christian Abdul Rehman (via Abu Sinan). Also, an appeal for the release of Jill Carroll, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor (arabic video here).

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Islam, America, and Freedom

So there's this huge brouhaha about Wafa Sultan, an LA psychologist on Al-Jazeera taking on an Algerian Islamist professor. It seems that a million atheists are praying for her. Of course, there's a million things wrong with many of the groups calling themselves Islamist, and Wafa almost touches on some of them.

However, her whole diatribe was about how you Muslims do this and do that. I am going to take a few pieces out of it and see where we go.

My colleague has said that he never offends other people's beliefs. What civilization on the face of this earth allows him to call other people by names that they did not choose for themselves? Once, he calls them Ahl Al-Dhimma, another time he calls them the "People of the Book," and yet another time he compares them to apes and pigs, or he calls the Christians "those who incur Allah's wrath." Who told you that they are "People of the Book"? They are not the People of the Book, ....
This was about the whole offending your religion bit. Now let us see what she is saying. I guess most civilisations allow me to use appropriate language if it intends to carry objective meaning in a dialogue. Sure, the whole monkeys and pigs bit is used in speeches by the looney fringe, and I sure as hell don't subscribe to their views. However, appropriate language is needed. I don't think it is disrespectful to tell my Catholic friend that I consider him to be following something which has the origin of God's religion. Now you could say that is because I have a soft spot for normal, religious people of political left-liberal tendencies that I share. For Wafa of course, it is a different story and she is an elitist western bourgeois mouthpiece. That is how I'd usually put it. However, when it is a legal free for all, it is possible for her to be called an imperialist pig (she is out there trying to white-wash the native American genocide). That's not the sort of language I actually use - but take it as an argumentative device for now.

So where do we end up with on the whole offending people issue? As a Muslim, I will always be offended and will never welcome mockery of any figure from Islam, Christianity or Judaism. Within an Islamic society, if such expressions are criminalized (and there's to be a debate as to if they ought to be), then my biggest issue is to see that legitimate debate about ideas is not hindered. In societies that do not wish to limit expressions here, well then, in a legal sense of course you ought to live with it. This is an issue that a lot of supposed religious people really need to understand, that we can only have free faith and its discussion if the both parties can bring stuff to the table. It seems many of us are learning our faith from those dusty orientalist books or the ebbing news about lack of freedom in the ME. Since people are free to take or reject faith, of course they will sometimes act in very abhorrent ways. The bottom line of course comes down to: in a society where there is freedom of speech, the blasphemers should be safe from physical violence or threats. Boycott their publications, and attack their hypocrisy, and move on!

So three cheers for freedom, for a free society can see its errors, and people are free to leave Falsehood, and move to Truth. Of course, the elitist songs of freedom are fairly hollow and bankrupt because unless injustice is also attacked, much of nominal freedom is meaningless. So class, race, gender, historical privilege, faith, objective truth are also needed. (Translation : Hell yes, they are important, and people are going to take to the streets if needed.)

But the bottomline is, let us use the freedom of expression in a positive sense, and have a real dialogue about everything. Vile racists, and fundamentally anti-Islamists will abuse it and there can't be a legal challenge to it. Of course, it is a real issue as discrimination and prejudice gains ground, but then we'll just have to fight them. However, many institutions, and those constitutional guarantees which have not been revoked have helped to limit these things.

There's a lot more which is wrong with Wafa's statements - which only underscores the need to build more open, mature, and caring Islamic movements. She was only able to get away with it because many groups are doing horrible things and getting away with it far too easily in our community.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

I am angry

Iraq - sectarian riots claim a Shia shrine with the tombs of two Imams, 90 Sunni mosques, the tomb of Talha (RA), 3 Imams, 11 prisoners, among others. All right, so if we really love God and His Prophet so much, how come the very places where His Name is celebrated are attacked - in Iraq - right in the middle of the Muslim heartland?

You know what, at least get serious. I have committed a lot of mistakes in my life, and most of us have. We can at least not use our vilest actions to malign Islam. You want to have your selfish power struggle, you want to have your racist anti-Arab or anti-Kurd orgy, well at least be man enough to claim you're just another hedonist, not some idealist revolutionary.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The same old, ad nauseum

The cartoon protests in Pakistan have turned horrible. Obviously, I think it is wrong, counter-productive and should stop. However, since Pakistan is indeed part of the Muslim world, I think it is important to understand and form a voice regarding it. Alt.Muslim has a column on how the Muslims of the past reacted to verbal and written attacks on the Prophet, by reacting in a "intellectual, secure, and civil" way. It can be argued that the reaction then was a reality of the existing socio-political order, and the Muslim civilisation could react that way. While I would agree with that if the goal was simply to understand the crisis, I think our goal here is to act, and take care of ourselves as individuals and as an ummah. In such a case, I think it is clear that such reactions will not change any opinions, and are not mandated by faith.

CAIR has reacted in a much more productive and pro-active manner by initiating a program of outreach and education regarding the Prophet Muhammad pbuh (information courtesy Abu Sinan). As to those who have taken a more confrontational approach, it can be argued that the political reality necessitates taking on the power structures that are implicated in this campaign of assault and attack on Muslims in general. However, I do not think that the argument finally holds much sway. For one, conflating a whole nation or continent with the actions of individuals, even if they be many and powerful is problematic. Secondly, the real power structures perpetuating the conditions are poverty, confusion, corruption, and lack of political fairness, etc. are not being attacked this way. There is no rhyme or reason in attacking KFC outlets in Pakistan while the real battle is in managing food procuction, economic opportunities and creating a secure cultural matrix, where KFC outlets would lose any signifacance. Further, the revolutionary rhetoric of attacking the power structures is incomplete at best, since it is useless to attack something unless you can create a more just, natural, and beautiful alternative. And that alternative in practice will have to be more than just a slogan of "Islam is the solution".

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Ziauddin Sardar and the quest for Paradise

Ziauddin Sardar's autobiographical Desperately Seeking Paradise : Journeys of a Skeptical Muslim is delightful reading. Sardar is described as a gross liberal distortion of Islam, and a grave threat to real understanding by much of the mainstream Muslim opinion and blogosphere. However his work is refreshing and he represents a very broad and existent Muslim opinion. I will attempt to offer my own thoughts on the subject and highly recommend the book. I am not a literary critic and this is not an academic review. As my views on Art in this paradigm follow those of the South African poet Willie Kgositsile, I am more interested in the issues than the language.

Sardar traces his relationship and understanding of many of the Islamic and Muslim movements, from the tablighis, to the Ikhwan, the Kemalist secularists and the Neo-Salafi. With his brilliant pen and British wit, he spares none. More interestingly, his criticism on many counts is representative of how many Muslims (even those sympathetic to the movements) feel.

The critical writing however, is not polemical and I felt that it is rather a necessary part of a process of review and judgement. Sardar had been part of the UK Muslim youth group FOSIS, which gave him the chance to interact with many of the defining personalities and thoughts. He describes dining with Malcolm X, and discussions with Ikhwan ideologues. His thoughts are those of a Muslim searching for real world answers, broadly devoted to the cause, but very critical. The "Paradise" being a metaphor for the goals of a socio-political Islamic ideal.

His personal encounters give deliciously simple details from a souk in Fez, a dream on Hodja Nasruddin's tomb, a street in Dubai, or a basement khanqah in London. The only issue that I will publicly take with his stories is his description of a proposal by a Chinese Muslim academic. I think it was in bad taste for Sardar to write about that episode and harm the privacy of a Muslim lady, or anyone else for that matter.

Broadly, his is a defence and championing argument for the pluralist and liberal faction of the Islamic movement. Towards the end of the book, you can smell the blood and the feel the crush as this faction is thrown out of its last trenches, and still see a new beginning as it settles down again, may be wiser and more determined. On one count however, I challenge Sardar's thesis, or at least one implication. In reviewing Imam Ghazali's work, Sardar offers his thoughts on the Mutazila, almost showing the Mutazila movement as a lost answer. The themes of Paradise, peace, and the Muslim sub-conscious memory of Andalus as a lost Paradise do play to favour the Mutazila symbols in Sardars book. However, I think that the Ash'ari phiosophy has been widely accepted by Muslims today, and I feel that theologically it is where I feel comfortable. I do not mean to say that Sardar writes a Mutazilite propaganda material, it is better if you read and find out for yourself. From within the secure and theologically sound fortress of mainstream Muslim, Ash'ari thought should arise a moderate, humane and liberal Islamic movement. Overall however, it is a song of justice, love, and revolution that I hear in Sardar's book, immensely enjoy.

ps. Another good work is his co-authored Distorted Imagination: Lessons from the Rushdie Affair.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Thursday, Feb 9 2006 is Ashoora, the 10th of Muharram. It is sunnah to fast on the 10th of Muharram, and the Prophet expressed a wish to fast on the 9th and 10th. The early Muslims observed the 10th as a mandatory fast. Ashoora is also the day when Hussein (R.A.) was martyred. A common perception is Ashoora being a Shi'a thing. The love of the Ahl-al-bayt is not a sectarian issue however, and the ashoora marks a turning point in Muslim history. There were no Shias, Sunnis, Sufis and Salafis in the 1st century Hijri, only a lot of Muslims shocked to see Madinah being sacked, Makkah bombed, and Hussein martyred in the frontiers. I think it is a good time to reflect on where we are headed collectively, and to draw inspiration from Hussein (R.A.)'s martyrdom as a muslim idealistic struggle against injustice and fitnah in the world.

To all my Muslim readers - Wednesday and Thursday are great days to fast. Take some time to think, and devote your energies to building yourself and cleaning up your world, and remember the old Urdu saying "Har Karbala ke ba'd zinda hota hai Islam". Roughly translated, Islam rises again after every catastrophe.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Civlity and Legalism

As much as I hate to talk about it, it seems that the situation has been forced upon many Muslims. The Danish cartoons controversy is escalating. I think it is good to explain a few things. Muslims believe in an absolute truth, and we believe that humans have a choice to personally explore for it, and to reject or accept it. The mission of Prophethood and dawa is to explain to humanity the truth of Islam. The most fortunate among us will believe in it whole heartedly, and will be willing to put their wealth, their lives, and anything they hold dear on the line for it. Some of us will believe it, and try to live accordingly, but also make blame-worthy mistakes in the way. And Allah is the best of Judges, the most Merciful, and the most able Enforcer. There will be others, and Allah is the best of Judges. The most unfortunate among humanity will understand the truth, but still ridicule and deny the truth. It is with regards to the worst of humanity, that we believe God tells us:

Can ye entertain the hope that they will believe in you?- Seeing that a party of them heard the Word of Allah, and perverted it knowingly after they understood it. - Chapter 2, Verse 75 (Yusuf Ali rendering of the meaning.)

To you be your Way, and to me mine. - Chapter 109, Verse 6. (Yusuf Ali rendering of the meaning.)

In short, the message of Islam to all, Muslim or not is alike. You have been given an intellect and signs around you. It is up to you to accept or reject the message. The cartoonists who chose to draw or publish them meant to offend. If they accept the message it is for their own soul, and if they chose to reject, deny, and ridicule, it is for their own soul. Islam explicitly forbids Muslims from insulting the divine that others believe in. No amount of physical force can explain the truth. If that had been the divine plan, all of humanity would be believing in one faith, for God is All-Powerful, and well capable of infinite force.

Now, all Muslims love and respect our Prophet, and all of the other Prophets like Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses, and Jesus (peace be upon them all) more than ourselves, our families, and our nations. It is a logical construct that those who do not believe, will not feel the same way. However, we believe that as a matter of civility certain manners should be observed. Just because I do not love your family the way you do, it does not mean that I should pronounce all manners of obscenities towards your family, or employ racial slurs against your community. However, if one does so, then the understood law of the land should be employed. Slandering, or speech that directly incites violence is a crime in many systems of law. For those systems of law in which sacrilegious insults are not a crime, we can, and should, only employ the better, and more civil of approaches. One can not expect everyone to have the same moral compass. However, if the message we have is better, it will shine in its own light. I do not think that violence or threats of violence are legitimate, or positive for the message of Islam, or for the harmony of nations.

We believe that there is a difference between conveying information in a good manner, and insulting someone. We Muslims believe that Jesus was a man, born of a virgin mother, and not God. This does not mean that we insult Christians. Similarly, Jews believe that Muhammad (pbuh) was not a Prophet of God. This is a truthful account of the beliefs, not an insult.


It is good to see a lot of the muslim blogosphere calling for an end to this fiasco and madness, eg., Abdusalaam, Eteraz, Chan'ad, Abu Sinan etc. However, I think I want to draw a fine line here. Muslims can and should feel strongly about this issue. Loving our Prophet, his family, and all the other Prophets is common to all Muslims - Shi'a, Sunni, liberal, conservative etc. So I think Muslims do, and should feel attacked when any of the above are mocked and attacked. I previously wrote against that excuse of an argument, MWU!, initially for playing around with these sensitive issues in the Sex and the Ummah columns. I don't think the trade boycott against Denmark can last, or that a complete and permanent one is even justified. The 57 member nations of OIC can't even make cheese or insulin, and they can't live without the crumbs that Europe throws at them. This is why the cartoons even hurt so much in the first place. The EU has threatened to launch trade wars, presumably against Iran or KSA. A cynical part of me roots for EU on this. May be a baptism in fire will give us a lesson. The conservatives need to know that some things will have to change if they even want to survive today. And the rich spoilt brats making up the uber-white, ultra-liberal wing in glitzy Tehran U figure out what some in Europe think of them. Unless the masses and poor in the heartlands have been absorbed in a vibrant economic system, we will continue to be humiliated. I am not so sure anymore if I want to say that Scandinavia is great.

The most shameful act so far : a Catholic priest in Turkey was killed. The Turkish police have arrested the suspect. Justice ought to be served. This is blasphemy too, and it is a sad day for Muslims.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sexuality, Power, and Culture

Al-Jazeera reports on Laylat Suqout Baghdad (The Night Baghdad Fell), a political fantasy film from Cairo. It plays in the backdrop of Arab, and Egyptian fears of a US invasion, and the quest of two men to create a deterrent weapon for Egypt. The Abu Ghraib photos provide a prominent backdrop, portraying how the sexual abuse was a way of subjugating, and claiming superiority over the Iraqi population. One of the men fantasizes about having sex with Condoleeza Rice.

I think it will be a good film to watch. Some excerpts from the Jazeera review:

"These aren't sexual scenes," explains Amin. "They're sexual meanings. It's a universal language that everyone understands: The active partner - in this case Tarek - in a sexual act is always in the dominant, more powerful position. Tarek hates US officials so he defeats them in bed in the form of Rice."

... In a scene where Tarek's deterrence weapon falters, Shaker's hopes fade and are replaced by a nightmare that his daughter is raped in Abu Ghraib.
I think it provides a good example of how violence is sexualised in Arab and American culture. If our conservarive values are really for promoting for healthy, natural and strong family values, why are these sort of ideas not attacked by the cultural vanguards? I am not attacking the artistic expression in the film, for it only portrays an already prevalent mindset. Is it any suprise then, that women are the principle victims of ethnic or national conflicts? How is it possible to have healthy, and positive relationships in this atmosphere?

Friday, September 24, 2004

Just what I wanted to hear!

I have to hand it to Pres. Maskhadov. Noy only did he condemn the Beslan massacre (good, but not enough), he has publicly called for trying Shamil Basayev in a court of law for the murder of the innocent children in Beslan, once the war is over. He has also called on the international community to try all war criminals from all sides.

Yes, the overwhelming majority of muslims, (not just extreme lefties at MWU!, or GOP sell-outs like Nawash), but also moderates, traditionalists, political pan Islamists, and nationalists like Maskhadov are as horrified by Beslan as anybody else. We just hope that the Chechen people also get some sort of justice - stop the genocide! Basayev's actions and remarks were offensive, irresponsible and immoral.

Stories carried by Al Jazeera, and yahoo - both sourced from chechenpress.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Today - 22 years ago

Today is the 22nd anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila Massacre.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Conservative, yeah right!