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.