Afro-Brazilians are in a precarious political position falling between a support of Dilma Rousseff’s social inclusion policies and backing the impeachment of her government against alleged misuse of public funds
Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, was suspended on 12th May for 180 days in the country’s first impeachment in 24 years. Interim President Michel Temer’s all-white, all-male cabinet fails to represent the 52 per cent of the population who are female or the 51 per cent who are of African descent. Where do women and Afro-Brazilians stand with President Rousseff’s impeachment?
Why did Brazil impeach its first female president?
In 2011, Dilma Rousseff became Brazil’s first female president, as leader of the left-wing PT (The Workers’ Party). The party grew out of Brazil’s labour movement and helped pull millions out of poverty, particularly Afro-Brazilians, with affirmative action laws. In 2003, racial quotas were enacted by PT for universities to reserve places for black, mixed race and indigenous students according to the racial make-up of each Brazilian state. Another law was also approved by congress and sanctioned by PT, which made it obligatory to include Afro-Brazilian history and culture in the national curriculum.
Initially, Rousseff enjoyed some of the highest ratings of any leader in the world when she first assumed office. However, her popularity quickly plummeted along with the economy, now in its deepest recession for decades. Rousseff’s approval ratings were at an all-time high of 79 per cent in March 2013, then fell considerably to 10 per cent by March 2016. The timing of the corruption investigation of her government couldn’t have been worse, coinciding with the upcoming Rio Olympics and the economic recession. High inflation and high unemployment have hit Brazil’s Afro-Brazilian community hard in particular, who make up the majority of Brazil’s lower social-economic group.
The daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant, Rousseff became a socialist during her youth and joined a number of left-wing groups against the military dictatorship which ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. In her speech to the media after her suspension, she compared the pain of being impeached to the torture she suffered under the country’s past military dictatorship. Many of Rousseff’s critics celebrated wildly at the news of her impeachment as a return to the era of the military dictatorship. All eyes are now on Brazil as this political scandal unravels in front of the world’s media.
Last year, investigators revealed a bribery scandal involving the state oil company Petrobras before Rousseff’s re-election in 2014, but it later snowballed with accusations against top business leaders and politicians in PT that meant that while Rousseff herself wasn’t implicated, millions of Brazilians protested in the streets. As public opinion was in their favour, opposition lawmakers decided to forge ahead with an impeachment movement in congress. The lawmakers accused Rousseff of manipulating government accounts and juggling public funds to make her government’s economic performance appear better than reality to increase her chances of a second term. As a result, her opponents believe that Rousseff should be stripped of her office.
After losing a preliminary impeachment vote by 55-22 in the senate earlier this month, Rousseff had to step down in order to defend herself in the forthcoming trial, which is expected to last up to 180 days. Rousseff’s judges will be senators, many of whom are accused of far more serious wrongdoing. In her parting address, Rousseff said she was the victim of treachery and misogyny. During the rowdy lower house impeachment vote, many conservative congressmen and their wives and girlfriends posed with patronising placards reading “Tchau querida” (“Bye-bye darling”).
The lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha, a right-wing evangelical conservative who is leading the impeachment drive, is being investigated for more serious forms of corruption than Rousseff. Investigators have accused Cunha of perjury, money laundering and taking bribes of at least $5 million in relation to Petrobras contracts through his church. Swiss authorities revealed Cunha had secret accounts, which he denied.
On a nine-day family holiday in Miami at the end of 2013, the speaker and his family are said to have spent more than $40,000. There were similar shopping splurges in Paris, New York and Zurich. Prosecutors claimed this was completely incompatible with his declared annual income of about $120,000. Investigators also allege that Cunha and his wife own a fleet of luxury cars, properties and designer goods worth millions of dollars.
Despite Brazil’s supreme court finding Cunha guilty of the corruption charges, a date has yet to be set for a trial as he continues to maintain his position as a moral and political judge in Brazil.
Whitewash: The new all-white, all-male Brazilian senate
Newly elected Interim President Michel Temer is replacing Rousseff for the duration of her trial. At the unveiling of the new senate, the law professor Temer showed his conservative instincts with an all-white, all-male cabinet, including ministers implicated in corruption. It is the first all-male cabinet since 1979 when Brazil was under a military dictatorship.
Despite being the son of Lebanese immigrants, the heavily-tanned Temer is considered to be ‘white’ in Brazil, treated in the same vein as Brazilians of European descent. This stems from the national racial whitening policy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in which many Latin American countries encouraged European and then Asian (Arab and Japanese) immigration as a means to whiten the population.
The interim president has also been embroiled in corruption allegations. Temer currently faces an impeachment challenge himself and has been barred from standing for office for eight years due to election violations. In addition, he has been named in two plea bargains in the ongoing Lava Jato investigation into the Petrobras bribery scandal, along with other members of the new all-male cabinet.
In contrast to Rousseff’s departing cabinet which was more diverse in gender and race, Temer has already faced criticism from many quarters for his senate’s lack of diversity. Shortly after she was suspended, Rousseff herself criticised the new interim government for not representing one the world’s most ethnically diverse nations. “Black people and women are fundamental if you truly want to construct an inclusive country,” Rousseff said to journalists. “I think the government is clearly showing that it is going to be neoliberal in the economy and extremely conservative on the social and cultural side.”
Afro-Brazilians and Rousseff’s impeachment
According to Brazil’s latest census, the proportion of people self-identifying as black or mixed raced increased from 44.7 per cent in the year 2000 to 50.7 per cent in 2010, making Afro-Brazilians the official majority for the first time since the early 20th century. Prior to this, the Brazilian government’s afore-mentioned racial ‘whitening’ policy meant that European and later ‘white’ Asian immigrants were subsidised by the Brazilian government to help build the country for the industrial age, and to inter-marry to help eradicate Brazil’s African and indigenous population who were seen as primitive by Brazil’s white elite.
Despite the presently large make-up of Brazilians of African descent, in Brazil, “every black person is going to be a victim of racism, prejudice [and] discrimination, whatever your position,” said Ivone Caetano, a prominent Afro-Brazilian judge in Rio de Janeiro. “Our prejudice is disguised and hypocritical.” Even though Brazil’s population is 50 per cent smaller than that of the United States, their police forces have killed the same number of people in the last five years as American police have in the last 30 years. Seventy-seven per cent of young people killed in Brazil are black according to Amnesty International, and young black men dominate Brazil’s crowded prisons, in which there are one and a half times more black prisoners than whites.
Over the past several years, there has been a rising conservative element in the country that resents the social programme implemented under Rousseff’s PT party. There has also been a rise in anti-black racism towards Afro-Brazilian celebrities on social media and violent attacks directed at black immigrants from Africa and Central America. Last week, news broke out of a black Haitian student who was racially and physically assaulted by a group of Brazilians in southern Brazil. The assailants blamed Rousseff for the growing presence of black immigrants in Brazil, saying, “Macaco (monkey), you’re only here because of Dilma, but now you’ll have to go back.” The attack which took place in Foz do Iguacu in the state of Paraná, is majority white with many holding conservative views.
The much-publicised mass political protests which took place in various Brazilian cities in 2015 and 2016 prior to the impeachment vote reflected the country’s political and racial divide. Although protesters drew thousands from across Brazil’s social classes and races, many of them were white conservatives who spoke out against Rousseff’s alleged government corruption, but have historically remained silent about the country’s racial discrimination and colour prejudice towards impoverished Afro-Brazilians. Photos from those protests showed a vast invisibility of Afro-Brazilians in support of a change in government, and later pro-Rousseff protests explain why: Afro-Brazilians as a whole have made great strides under the 14 years of the PT government and are largely standing in solidarity with Rousseff against what they see as a coup d’etat attempt.
Many of Rousseff’s supporters argue that impeachment will strengthen the racism and sexism which pervades Brazilian society. The image of Brazil being a socially liberal, multi-ethnic racial democracy is, therefore, more myth than reality. Additionally, the “fiscal peddling” which Rousseff is being impeached for is the alleged misuse of budget funds to account for social programmes. However, advocates for Rousseff’s impeachment have strong support from wealthy white middle-class and upper-class conservatives who called for the end of affirmative action and social welfare policies such as Bolsa Família that have made a university education attainable for thousands of Afro-Brazilians and helped lift millions out of abject poverty. The fact that 73 per cent of the beneficiaries from these social and welfare programmes are black “seems to bother” Rousseff’s opponents who feel uncomfortable with the in-roads black Brazilians have made in universities and society, Afro-Brazilian activists argue.
Afro-Brazilians now find themselves in a precarious political situation; whether to support Rousseff and her government who have implemented social inclusion policies to help combat institutional racism in Brazil, or support the impeachment against the alleged misuse of public funds. Though many Afro-Brazilians have argued that the affirmative action policies which PT introduced are timid and insufficient, they undoubtedly have helped black and mixed-raced Brazilians climb up the social ladder. That being said, instead of tackling Brazil’s structural racism and entrenched white supremacist beliefs, the affirmative action policies which PT have introduced since being in government in 2003 appear to be nothing more than token gestures to celebrate Brazil’s African culture and heritage.
Others have pointed out that PT are exploiting the large Afro-Brazilian community to continue its reign without promising anything in return for the community’s support. Rousseff’s own cabinet consisted of only one Brazilian of African descent. Ultimately, the powerful dictate change – and real power lies in economics and resources which are still overwhelmingly dominated by a few white families.
In spite of Interim President Temer’s call to “trust in the values of our people and in our ability to rebuild the economy”, time will tell as to whether the socio-economic condition of blacks and rooted misogynistic views will improve with the return of the old boys’ club to the helm of Brazil’s political elite.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia seeks an alternative to its dependence on the petroleum sector and the House of Abdul Wahab
From the time of its establishment in 1932, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always been recognised as one of the most powerful members of the Gulf states. With a rapidly growing economy on the international stage, success has been credited to the oil booms in the 1930s which led to Saudi Arabia becoming the largest exporter of oil in the world. That said, in recent developments, the Kingdom has come to the realisation that its once most valuable and profitable natural resource can no longer be its only source of income.
A young prince with a vision
Confronted with plummeting oil prices which has created a budget deficit spiralling to over 13 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product (GDP), the country was forced to mete out funds from its coffers, consuming roughly $116 billion of its foreign currency reserves in a matter of just one year. It appears that money has been leaking out of Saudi Arabia following the Arab Spring era, with the Saudi-led war in Yemen diverting roughly 8 per cent of the annual GDP. Since the Yemen war, the country has been using up its foreign reserves at an alarmingly high rate. While it is no secret that Saudi Arabia has always relied copiously on the petroleum sector for a significant portion of its state budget, and nearly 100 per cent of its earnings come from exports, extreme circumstances like these beg the question of whether or not experts and the Saudi government itself ever predicted such a possible collapse to its economy.
Taking heed to possible insolvency being only a few years away, 30-year-old Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently decided to take matters into his own hands, announcing plans for a major restructuring of the Saudi government and its economic affairs. Having witnessed saturated oil markets with cheap prices, new reforms indicate plans involving a shift from unrefined petroleum to developing renewable energy. The deputy crown prince has reason to believe such transformations will help achieve what he refers to as his generation’s “different dreams” of a post-carbon future.
Last month, the Saudi government released the Vision 2030 highlighting the afore-mentioned reforms and restructuring. The main aim of the vision is to generate a significant amount of revenue from means other than petroleum. A number of action plans have already been put into place by reducing considerable subsidies for commodities such as gasoline, electricity and water. In fact, the price of retail gas was raised by almost 50 per cent, translating into a spike from 60 cents a gallon to about 90 cents. Furthermore, there is speculation regarding the possible implementation of an income tax in addition to a VAT and further levies on items such as luxury goods and sugary drinks. However, according to a statement made by Finance Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf, the Kingdom has no plans to enforce income tax on its people but has made the decision to introduce VAT by 2018 as agreed on at the 102nd meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) finance ministers which was held in Riyadh.
Quick fix solution
The current position of Saudi Arabia is a difficult one where the country’s only feasible export can no longer sufficiently pay the bills to sustain the nation. The deputy crown prince, however, aims to change such bleak perceptions of the Kingdom by raising funds at a time of low oil prices, announcing plans to make shares of Saudi ARAMCO – a state-owned oil company – open for public purchase. Sceptics are not too happy with the privatisation of the state’s largest asset even though the total shares of the IPO amount to less than 5 per cent of the company potentially being valued at $2 trillion.
Taking a look at the bigger picture has some people wondering what the rationale or end game is behind such an unprecedented move. Why is Saudi Arabia taking such actions now when they had 80 years to do so? Perhaps they see the IPO as a quick fix solution to the plummeting oil prices in the market.
Wahhabism and social reforms
Considered the power behind the throne, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has a vision that not only focuses on economic reforms, but also on social restructuring, a plan which he claims will work towards promoting and reinvigorating social development in order to build a much stronger and more productive society. The new reforms programme intends to introduce a modern curriculum focused on rigorous standards in literacy, numeracy, skills and character development. What’s more is that the prince has spoken about providing more freedom and rights to women, proof of which can be seen in the new ban issued to the Saudi religious police stopping them from making any arrests without obtaining assistance from other authorities.
These social transformations are potentially going in a positive direction, but the truth of the matter is that things are not always as simple as they may seem. All this would call for a massive breach of a historic pact the House of Al Saud made with the House of Abdul Wahab in which Al Saud agreed to protect and promote the doctrines of the Wahhabi movement, while Ibn Wahhab would support the ruler with power and monolithic control of the Kingdom in exchange for clerical power in matters such as education and the judiciary, in addition to segregation of women. As part of this status quo, for instance, the Minister of Religious Affairs has always been from the Al-Sheikh family, a descendant of the house of Ibn Wahhab.
The extremely conservative religious movement known as Wahhabism has often been referred to as the predominant feature of Saudi culture. So much so, that one can argue that education has always been the vital binding element that connects the religious clergy with wider state bureaucracy. With education as a powerful agent of socialisation, the clergy are at the forefront of creating a national vision of the state’s values which are tailored to the official narrative of the state. They play a major role in writing school materials and preparing textbooks which are in accordance with the religio-political parameter of the Wahhabi-Saudi coalition.
With that in mind, the government may be providing more social freedom and rights in the country, but educational and curriculum reforms will prove to be a much greater challenge. Clerical control over the curriculum at school and university results in generating Islamic extremists among Saudi youth, which may translate into domestic security issues. Such control is also producing graduates that have a weak understanding of numeracy, foreign language development and other skills that may be required to find employment. In other words, Wahhabi ideals are serving as barriers to economic reforms as they are hindering progress, as well as holding back women in the workforce.
As such, the Saudi government is currently cornered; it must consider the consequences of upsetting the House of Abdul Wahab in order to sustain the economy. What the future holds for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its plans for development is something only time will tell.Image from: http://www.mintpressnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/oil_0205.jpg
Difficult life experiences and breakthrough moments of the sporting legend against a backdrop of a fraught history on display at the O2
Muhammad Ali has meant “different things to different people” Mike Marqusee wrote in his book Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties. To me, he has always been the fabled hero of my father’s childhood. It is probably more than a coincidence that my brother shares his name. The current exhibition, I Am The Greatest – Muhammad Ali at the O2, examines the public and private spheres of his life, and includes over 100 artefacts making it a current must-see for any Ali fan worth their salt.
In preparation for my visit I had immersed myself in the world of Muhammad Ali, and I arrived keen to see which version of the great man would take centre stage. Muhammad Ali ‘the boxer’ peered down at visitors in all his glory, speaking at the camera while he trained in his own inimitable and poetic style. Renowned for his charismatic delivery and bravado, particularly when the cameras were rolling, the audio-visuals throughout the exhibit had done well to capture his boxing persona and ensure visitors were always within earshot of his recognisable voice. I was instantly absorbed and eager to see what else would unfold.
Early on in the exhibition, we were offered an insight into his fraught beginnings. He grew up at a time when centuries of racial tensions had finally come to a head in the USA, and the civil rights movement was in its early stages. He was a young boy of 13 when activist Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white person. There were photographs of his childhood home on display and a video reel depicting the Louisville Kentucky of 1953 that Ali would have known. This section included distressing footage of violence against African Americans, the Ku Klux Klan and segregation, while Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ played chillingly in the background. As a viewer, I felt saddened by the images, which embodied the struggle against discrimination Ali would have faced since childhood. His experiences during adolescence resonated throughout his life and were no doubt a key factor in his determination to succeed and bring about change.
‘Spirituality’ is something we readily associate with Ali and which the exhibition explored well. A turning point came when he converted to Islam and decided to change his birth name of Cassius Marcellus Clay Jnr to his chosen name of Muhammad Ali. This sector covered his former membership of the Nation of Islam and relationship with Malcolm X, his close contemporary in the civil rights movement. Many are still unaware of the impact Malcolm had on the then young Ali. The recently released book Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, claims it was indeed Malcolm who played a pivotal role in Ali “entering the world stage” and becoming a superstar whose influence superseded the sporting world. The two historians who wrote the text delve deeper into the highs and lows of the pair’s friendship, particularly when Ali broke ties with Malcolm, exploring the effect this had on their lives and Malcolm’s eventual assassination.
Ali’s impact on global matters was most poignant with his refusal to enlist for the Vietnam War. His famous recorded interview where he asserts his position was played at the exhibition close to the horrifying photograph of a child now identified to be Kim Phuc running naked from a napalm attack in the Trang Bang district during the war. His words ringing out alongside the image drew attention to the reality of atrocities committed in Vietnam against innocent people. Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title, fined $10,000 and sentenced to five years in prison, although this was later overturned. While many condemned him, he was praised by the likes of Martin Luther King for his conscientious objection. Although Ali was a divisive figure throughout his career his appeal transcended racial and cultural boundaries. Mike Marqusee put it best when he wrote that Ali “belonged to the world”; the diversity of visitors on the day I attended the exhibit felt like a testament to this.
Ali ‘the orator’ was palpable in the reproduction of newspaper clippings, headlines and quotations looming from many of the walls. A ring at the centre of the exhibit was the focal point for visitors and contained an array of Ali memorabilia including his famous split glove, items of clothing and various boxing accolades. The room showcased dozens of magazine covers, photographs and artwork based on the champion. His charisma and star quality meant the media were a constant fixture in his life from early on in his career. Ali’s post-retirement years were also covered in the exhibition, including his celebrated lighting of the Olympic torch at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games and the torch itself. Additionally, there were photographs of him with various political figures including Kofi Annan, Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela, highlighting the breadth of his influence outside of sport even in his later years.
Muhammad Ali has been bravely battling Parkinson’s disease for over 30 years now. His heyday may be long over but he remains as relevant now as he was to previous generations. An active Twitter user, he and his team often post quotations and photographs using the popular hashtag adopted by many Twitter users #motivationmonday. His 2012 appearance in a Louis Vuitton commercial alongside his grandson and spoken word tributes from Yasiin Bey – ‘Dream’ and ‘Word’ – showcase his enduring popularity and influence in the worlds of fashion and music. More recently, he used his voice to condemn the actions of presidential candidate Donald Trump. He continues to defy expectation and reaffirm his own identity, acting out his own words: “I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.”
It is fair to say Ali in all his alluring forms was tangible throughout my visit. The athlete, the wordsmith and the political activist, to name but a few, all made an impression. I Am The Greatest is a worthy homage to the prolific legacy of Ali. A captivating, nostalgic visual feast of images and words, the show successfully encourages visitors to engage with the complexity of his character alongside the magnitude of his achievements.
The Muhammad Ali at the O2 exhibition ends on 31 August 2016: http://www.theo2.co.uk/venues/detail/muhammad-ali-at-the-o2.Photo Credit: Naushin J Mushtaq
Sadiq Khan’s election as London mayor is a victory for Labour but his vision for the party and his plans for the capital city currently fall short
Having fought a bruising campaign against Zac Goldsmith in a battle that even Katie Hopkins thought was incendiary, Sadiq Khan is now the most powerful office holder in the Labour fold. His election, alongside that of Malia Bouattia to the leadership of the NUS, has extrapolated the role of Muslims in British public life to a new dimension, even if the overshadowing of policy by a focus on religious origin reveals a tireless obsession with the ethnic ‘other’.
These elections were ostensibly a litmus test to determine the effectiveness of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour party. Instead of the near 200 seats that the pollsters predicted Labour would lose, Labour lost only 23. This is by no means a great result for an opposition party against a government that has been incumbent for six years and is deeply unpopular. But Labour has increased its vote share in England by 1-2 per cent from the general election of 2015 and gained 8-9 per cent greater than when council elections were held in 2008 with Gordon Brown as prime minister, while holding on to almost all the gains made by Ed Miliband when the seats were contested in 2012. Add to this the victory of Labour’s Marvin Rees in the mayoralty of Bristol, a black man in charge of a city that made its wealth through slavery, and one is left with the impression that these elections were not the catastrophe that the Blairites are still trying to paint it. As Gary Younge put it, they testify that Jeremy Corbyn is indeed a viable leader.
Labour did disastrously in Scotland. This is a generational shift that Corbyn seems unable to change, and it cannot be analysed from the prism of electoral politics as they play out in England. However, Labour will struggle to win the general election in 2020 if their fortunes north of the border stay as they are. Instead, Britain’s two major parties will probably have to get used to a decreasing share of the vote as the UK continues to fragment into different voting blocs. Corbyn’s critics from within his own party are not about to be silenced, however much damage they do themselves in the process. Although the Lib-Tory coalition of 2010-15 was hardly a positive precedent, we may be looking at the possibility of a Labour coalition with Greens, SNP and Plaid in the future. For now at least, Labour should recognise that, electorally, things have only got better since the damaging general election of 2015.
Sadiq Khan’s victory has been hailed as a triumph for the politics of British values over the politics of fear. In the last Prime Minister’s Questions before the mayoral elections, Prime Minister David Cameron repeatedly insisted that Sadiq Khan had shared platforms with extremists, in an attempt to reinforce the now infamous Islamophobic smear campaign by Goldsmith. In doing so, he also falsely accused London imam, Suliman Gani, of supporting Daesh which turned out to be a ‘venomous’ calculated lie. All six times that he rose to respond to Jeremy Corbyn, he referred to Corbyn’s own affiliations with ‘extremists’. As such, London’s resounding rejection of such inflammatory rhetoric is both momentous and reassuring. It was also heartening to hear Sadiq Khan remind his electorate that he was the son of a Pakistani bus driver, therefore representing London beyond the Westminster bubble. Having also managed Ed Miliband’s Labour leadership campaign in 2010 to an astonishing victory, it is clear that Sadiq Khan is a seasoned winner. Labour’s core vote has remained intact despite the rank disunity in the party, stoked by an ideologically-driven media to the right of Labour.
Despite these strides, we must acknowledge that the new mayor’s vision for London is not beyond criticism. Welcoming more armed police in the capital and silencing non-violent forms of protest like the BDS movement in the UK are certainly not progressive moves and point to his conformity with the city’s elitist establishment. In addition, Khan’s call for ‘big tent’ politics reminiscent of the Blair-era is somewhat troubling. He used his first few public statements to bemoan campaigns which take an ‘us and them’ approach, as well as a Labour leadership which only appeals to ‘activists’ – thereby deepening tales of a rift between himself and Corbyn. He went further by calling on his own party to get into the ‘habit of winning’ without quantifying how this may hollow out Labour’s core principles.
In response to this, it must not be overlooked that just like Khan’s 57 per cent mandate in London, Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership election of 2015 against overwhelming odds. Corbyn’s vision for the party has to be enacted if Labour is to secure a viable future as a party of the left. Many Labour activists who consider Khan as tainted by his Westminster affiliations and misinformed statements still voted for him, because the mayoral elections emerged as a referendum on Corbyn’s leadership. Accordingly, Corbyn’s contribution to Khan’s votes needs this cognisance and Khan must be a force to enact the powerful anti-austerity message that marks the Labour leadership.
Corbyn’s vision for Labour has the potential to affect long-term change for both the party and the country, and this should not be curtailed within the limits of the electoral cycle. For Labour to win they must demonstrate that they are the real change, avoid unnecessary PR disasters, tackle any possibility of antisemitism and racism, and engage more with the voters – particularly in light of the rabid onslaught from a right-wing media machinery. Meanwhile, Khan must stand with us for a moment and really question the purpose of a party which is electable but unprincipled and regressive.
The Platform Editorial TeamImage from: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/article4508386.ece
Today marks the anniversary of the passing of a heavyweight radical intellectual few now remember
‘In addition to being an oral person – a sort of peregrine Muslim sage, and all of us his chelas, or disciples – he shouldn’t leave his words scattered to the winds or even recorded on tape, but collected and published in several volumes for everyone to read.’
So wrote Edward Said in regards to his great friend and mentor of sorts, Pakistani intellectual Eqbal Ahmad in the foreword for Confronting Empire, a collection of interviews between Ahmad and David Barsamian. Sadly however, the volumes Said had hoped for never materialised and Ahmad’s intellectual contribution has been increasingly overlooked in the years following his death in 1999. Addressing this gap, long-time friend and collaborator, Emeritus Professor of Middle East History at Brooklyn College Stuart Schaar recently authored the biography Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age, to several positive reviews. To aid his efforts, Schaar gained access to archives at Hampshire College where Ahmad once taught and left students enthralled. He also travelled the globe to speak to family members and former comrades of his Princeton class-fellow.
In the book we learn of a young boy born in Bihar (India) traumatised by the murder of his father over a land dispute, and subsequently by the chaos of partition. Moving to Lahore, Ahmad gained his formal education from Foreman Christian College, following which he attained a scholarship to Princeton where he completed a PhD on the labour movement in Morocco. As the book progresses, we learn of the maturation not just of a radical intellectual heavyweight, but one actively involved in tackling contemporary world events, whether raging against the Vietnam war or supporting trade unions and revolutionaries in North Africa; or whether fermenting cross-cultural Indo-Pak ties or holding frequent fiercely critical interactions with Yasser Arafat and the PLO after building a close friendship with Edward Said. Not one to be easily categorised, Ahmad was no unrelenting pacifist, swimming against the tide even among his own leftist circles when he felt it necessary, arguing, for example, in favour of NATO intervention in the former Yugoslavia.
Ahmad also alleged to have worked alongside Frantz Fanon (although somewhat controversially, Schaar denies this took place), and at one point found himself on trial for conspiracy to kidnap Henry Kissinger. Ever the idealist, he sketched a plan with anti-war Catholic priests to briefly detain the secretary of state in order to deliver him an education on the conflict in Vietnam. Among the priests with whom Ahmad engaged in acts of civil disobedience were famous pacifists the Berrigan brothers, the last of whom – father David Berrigan – sadly died earlier this month.
Earlier this year, Professor Schaar spoke about his book at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, his eyes twinkling while recalling stories about his old friend. I later contacted him for an interview:
You open the book with talk of Eqbal’s knack for predicting future events that later transpired, using six examples to illustrate this. How was it that in your words, he was ‘able to see trends emerging before his peers’?
Eqbal read widely and had a profound knowledge not only of political science, but also history. He was an iconoclast and therefore did not accept the paradigms in fashion in his day. He started with different assumptions than his peers in international relations – anti-imperialism, critical of capitalism, and distrust of official policies and statements – allowing him to see events in an original way. He was also quite smart, making it easy for him to see through state policies and criticise them. He championed many unpopular causes and in that sense was riding against the tide, making it difficult to succeed in some of his campaigns such as around Bosnia and Kosovo. He also opposed the nuclearisation of the Indian subcontinent, but did not have any chance to affect policy because of the extreme nationalism present in India and Pakistan. He also opposed Indian partition and thought that it could be reversed. Intense nationalism on both side of the Indian/Pakistani border made that an impossible dream. As a cosmopolitan, in contrast to narrow nationalism, he faced insurmountable barriers that he could not overcome. That never stopped him from championing those causes that he thought right.
Here was a figure who counted among his friends Edward Said, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk and others, and was respected by these figures as a prodigious intellectual. Why is it that his name isn’t as well known among activist circles?
By virtue of not writing the “big book” as Edward Said did with Orientalism, he was forgotten by all, but people over 40-50 years old who met him and remember him. The younger generation have found other heroes and heroines. I wrote the book to keep his memory alive and push people to read his collected works.
The younger generation have found other heroes and heroines. I wrote the book to keep his memory alive and push people to read his collected works.”
Eqbal spent a lot of his time critiquing the scourge of nationalism, after breaking from his own while studying in the states. How do you think he would explain the jingoistic nationalisms of today; could he have imagined an India led by Narinder Modi, or the ascendency of Donald Trump?
He wrote a great deal about the rightest trends in India, and of course he was very critical, especially of extreme Hindu nationalists attacking mosques and Muslim citizens. He was surrounded by jingoist nationalism, even among those that he tried to work with when he returned to Pakistan at the end of his life and it disturbed him. He was also a realist and joined groups that fought against blind nationalism. But that was like trying to swim against the tide, but he did it anyway because he thought that it was the right thing to do.
Eqbal learnt that centralisation associated with revolutionary movements such as that in Algeria often inadvertently sets up structures that pave the way for military take-overs such as Colonel Boumediene’s. In the second chapter you talk about Eqbal exasperatedly shouting at President Ben Bella for betraying the revolution at a trade union meeting. Did Eqbal propose an alternate route in revolution or is this phenomenon an inevitability post-colonial states must resign themselves to?
He wrote three critical long articles on the post-colonial state that should have been made into the core of an important book. [From Potato Sack to Potato Mash: The Contemporary Crisis of the Third World, Arab Studies Quarterly 2, no.3 (1980), Post Colonial Systems of Power, Arab Studies Quarterly 2, no.4 (1980), The Neo-fascist State: The Pathology of Power in the Third World, Arab Studies Quarterly 3, no.2 (1981)] He never found the time to write that book. I discuss those articles in a section of this biography starting on p.109 (US edition). He did not believe in inevitability and thought that activists had to fight fiercely for democracy.
In Confronting Empire Eqbal talked about Tagore’s attitude towards nationalism, decrying it an ideology of exclusion. How necessary, however, is such an ideology as a vehicle to rid states of colonisers, as was the case in British India?
Nationalism, of course, is a powerful force and Eqbal understood that. He also admitted that it was necessary in the anti-colonial struggle. But post-independence it could be nefarious and it was there that he criticised its worst aspects. Without strong legitimacy third world dictators used nationalism to consolidate and hold onto power. It was here that Eqbal criticised blind nationalism and saw it as a substitute for building strong institutions for state building. He came to oppose most partitions and favoured long negotiations over slicing countries into artificial pieces that needed jingoism to survive. Was this a pipe-dream? Was it utopian? Others thought so. He did not.
In chapter four you mention Eqbal’s understanding of ‘Islamists’ as a ‘modern phenomenon, a response to the crisis of modernity and identity’ which, you explain, occurs when ‘societies moved from agrarian/ pastoral mode of production to the industrial…men and women who are stranded between the deep waters of tradition and modernity’. With a remarkable number of today’s fundamentalists hailing from urban centres with western educations, growing up playing video games – does his logic still hold?
I think it does hold. After all, Muslims in the west are often alienated from their racist societies. Ghettos, where many are forced to live, do not foster integration despite all the rhetoric to the opposite. Alienation has little to do with levels of education or video games.
Perceptions of reality and blocked opportunities because of cultural backgrounds push young people to join radical movements within Islam, which attack the perceived victimisers. Lack of meaningful work and career opportunities also kick in and radicalise young Muslims.
You open the book ascribing Eqbal’s originality to his position as an outsider who was able to reach ‘maturity outside the frameworks of Pakistan’s social and political constraints’. Would you agree such positions of marginality are experienced increasingly today by second and third generation ethnic minority children growing up in the west; furthermore, do you see such marginality informing new waves of great intellectuals?
I hope so. Seeing the world from the outside sometimes radicalises people. It does not happen in all cases. It depends on the baggage that a person brings to her/his reality. In Eqbal’s case, his family’s progressive tradition and his ultra-moral upbringing by his older brother radicalised him and positioned him to be an outsider in an amoral world. He had a sense of social justice that few other people possess. He also studied and wrote about people who tried to change the world and failed gloriously. Despite their failure, he saw that these people had a significant impact on their society’s ideology and choices. That is what counted for Eqbal.
In the penultimate chapter you write: ‘When all the dictators and militaristic governments that the United States supported fell like a house of cards by the 1980s, Eqbal wondered in amazement how Kissinger with such a flawed global policy still remained a prized consultant of US Republican presidents and corporate executives’. He’s now a prized consultant of a certain Democratic frontrunner. How has Kissinger survived utterly unscathed?
Kissinger represents hegemonic culture in the United States. As an employee of David Rockefellar, the president of the Chase Manhattan Bank, access to the US elite were opened to Kissinger. His major scholarly work dealt with how European conservatives, such as Metternich, kept conservative options alive in a revolutionary era. Conservatives like Kissinger because they think he knows how reaction can succeed. He is needed as an ideologue of reaction and status quo in a revolutionary world.
Can you talk about any future projects you’re working on?
I just finished writing a book about a war surgeon, Chris Giannou, who worked for the Palestinian Red Crescent organisation as a war surgeon for 12 years and then became head war surgeon worldwide for the International Committee of the Red Cross for several decades. He, like Eqbal, was a very close friend and because of that became a friend of Eqbal. He has served in many killing fields and the book reads like a James Bond novel, but it’s a true story. I have 100 pages written about an African American woman doctor who died at the age of 47 and was the head of social paediatrics in a major hospital in the Bronx New York. She tried to change the shelter system in New York City for homeless women without husbands but with children, and had a welfare practice in Manhattan. She was also a close friend and we grew up together. She was a marvellous person. I also have begun a book comparing Tunisia in the 1920s (an incredible period in Tunisian history) with the period of revolt after 2011, trying to show how the earlier history helped propel the country into a unique place in the Muslim world, being the only country which passed through the so-called Arab Spring and established a democratic society, rocky as it might be. I then will complete my own autobiography, the early parts of which have been published in English in Morocco. After that, who knows?
Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age is published by Columbia University Press (2015)
On The Passing of Daniel Berrigan
April 30, 2016 witnessed the passing of Daniel Berrigan. Daniel Berrigan, along with his brother, Philip, both ordained priests, are among the most recognizable names in the history of protest against American military imperialism. One of the distinctions of the Berrigan Brothers was the strong spiritual basis of their activism. They had a “staying power” that is rare among many who wade into the murky waters of dissent and civil disobedience. The source of that staying power is clear in the following statement, spoken by Daniel Berrigan: “The short fuse of the American left is typical of the highs and lows of American emotional life. It is very rare to sustain a movement in recognizable form without a spiritual base.” It was his dedication to the life of the spirit that sustained a lifetime of activism.
In 1964, the Berrigan Brothers formed the Catholic Peace Fellowship, inspired by French activists who had been working against the French occupation of Indo China. This was the beginning of their anti-war activism. They were instrumental in shaping the American anti-war movement, which at that time, was focused on ending the Viet Nam War, and they were directly involved in one of the movement’s iconic moments, the burning of 378 military draft files with homemade napalm outside a military administrative building in Catonsville, Maryland, May 17, 1968. That action catalyzed the movement and marked a turning point in the creation of a critical mass that would eventually make the war too unpopular to continue to prosecute.
Daniel Berrigan’s anti-war activism did not end with the close of the war in Viet Nam. In 1980, the Berrigan Brothers, along with others, founded the Plowshares Movement to work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. One of the most widely publicized actions undertaken by members of the movement was their breaking into a nuclear weapons production facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, destroying several nuclear bomb nose-cones and pouring blood onto records and files. They were literally “beating swords into plowshares.”
At this critical time of insecurity and transition, both of which feed the escalating militarization of our country and culture, it is absolutely imperative that we take up the anti-war work so nobly embraced by Daniel Berrigan. It is easy to criticize the likes of ISIS or Boko Haram for their barbarity, but what about the barbaric depravity of our own country? That barbarity is prominently displayed in the illegal invasions and occupations we have undertaken, the extrajudicial assassinations, the collateral damage, which euphemistically hides the thousands of innocent civilians murdered by our bombs and drones, the extraordinary renditions, and, finally, the torture, which our presidential candidates so flippantly promise to increase.
Yes, as American Muslims, we are challenged to do everything in our power to beat back the threat of criminals who perpetrate heinous crimes in the name of Islam. Similarly, members of other religious communities are challenged to stop the crimes being committed by our country, if not directly in the name of Christianity or Judaism, then certainly in the name of the civic religion. Daniel Berrigan, perhaps more than any other figure in the recent history of this country, possessed both the courage and moral authority to raise this issue when he said, “We confront the Roman Catholic Church, and other Christian bodies, and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country’s crimes.” As those crimes are increasingly ignored or callously rationalized, we are reminded of just how much the voice of Daniel Berrigan will be missed.
How corporate exploitation and virtual water are at odds with human rights and the basic teachings of Abrahamic religions
Before approaching the topic of water injustice, it is worth highlighting how deeply ingrained water is in the imagery and cosmology of Abrahamic faiths. The Qur’an, Bible and Torah clearly establish that all living things were created out of water and that it is the single most important element to plant, animal and human life. As such, water is mentioned 63 times in the Qur’an and 722 times in the Bible.
Interestingly, the oft-disputed term ‘shariah law’ once meant the law of water. It should therefore come as no surprise that some of the most important Islamic rituals centre around water. For instance, Muslims use water regularly when ritually purifying themselves for the five daily prayers. Likewise, in Rabbinical sources, water is a metaphor for the Torah itself, and in Biblical Hebrew there are 10 words for rain, eight words for cloud, and a number of different names for spring, wells, cisterns and aqueducts.
In Islam, the Prophet Mohammed’s teachings and life exemplify the highest ideals of water justice. Indeed, water conservation is deeply embedded in the sunnah, the Prophetic code of practice. For instance, Prophet Mohammed eschewed the wasting of water “even if at the banks of a flowing river’’. Additionally, he instituted the harim, a protected conservation zone that prohibited the development of areas such as riverbanks to protect watersheds. He also made it very clear that each human being has a common share in “grass, water and fire” (Musnad Vol. 2, Book 22). Since water is a matter of life and death, it can be argued within the Jewish tradition that the act of providing clean water for everyone fulfils Pikuach Nefesh, a principle that emphasises saving human lives above all else.
The current global status quo of inequality regarding access to water violates the basic human rights to water, food – and ultimately, life. Not only are these rights enshrined in multiple religious scriptures, but they are outlined in UN international law. One of the biggest forms of water injustice is the monopoly of water sources by multinational bottled water corporations such as Nestle. Water is a matter of life and death and, therefore, should not be in the hands of organisations whose sole purpose is profit instead of the public good. Indeed, the Nestle CEO asserted that water is not a human right, but just another foodstuff with a commercial value attached.
Across developing nations such as Ethiopia, Pakistan and South Africa, Nestle has seemingly unlimited access to fresh water supplies, leaving millions of people who cannot pay high prices in thirst and squalor. The fact that over 1 billion people worldwide drink from water sources contaminated with faeces is perhaps of little concern to money-driven corporations. As well as reducing water for municipal water supplies, Nestle have paid very little in return for their rapacious extraction of water. It is estimated that in many places Nestlé pays just $3.71 for every million litres of water it pumps from the local watersheds.
The virtual water trade is another important example of a worldwide status quo of global water injustice. Virtual water is the water that is embedded in all the food and clothes that we consume. Considering that our western lifestyles depend heavily on produce from developing countries, naturally they generate an enormous water footprint. Peru’s export of asparagus to developed nations including the UK is a key case in point. In recent years, 9 million cubic metres of water, the equivalent of approximately 3,600 Olympic swimming pools, were consumed in growing asparagus destined for UK markets. The large-scale diversion of water resources to grow asparagus in one of Peru’s driest regions has generated a massive water deficit that deprives local farmers and their families from meeting their basic and economic water needs. Already, two wells serving over 18,000 local people have dried up and local people are forced to consume only 10 litres of water per person per day, much lower than the recommended 50 litres by the World Health Organisation.
As people of all faiths and none, we cannot tolerate a pernicious state of affairs where entire areas of developing countries are effectively vegetation colonies for richer countries at the expense of local people. Such systematic water failures have also endangered the food security of billions of the poorest people worldwide. It is not surprising that most of the 3 billion people expected to be born by 2050 will inherit countries crippled by water shortages. The situation will only worsen as global warming begins to have a catastrophic impact on the African continent where 80 to 90 per cent of all families in rural settings rely on water to meet their basic food needs. Amid this unfolding disaster, we are increasingly becoming accustomed to droughts as the global norm; currently 36 million people are facing hunger as the worst drought in decades persists across eastern and southern Africa.
As a Muslim, I feel obliged to combat this increasing ‘comm-eau-dification’ as it endangers the Haq al Shafa, an inalienable human right within Islamic law to access affordable, safe, clean water to quench one’s thirst. Considering that religious scriptures sanctify saving lives above all, it has never been more important for the Abrahamic faiths to join the conversation and movement to tackle the scourge of water injustice. Given how accelerating climate change is affecting diminishing water supplies, the moment must be now.Photo Credit (Original): MADE
Complaining (Shakawa) to other fallible humans has no part in our religion. Sincere advice (Nasiha) does. What is the difference between the two? Usually, the complaint starts with what we describe as the first person, “I”. For example, “I don’t like…” “I don’t feel…” “I want…” “I think….” etc. Therefore, complaining is rooted in one’s concern for him or herself and is therefore amenable to entering a person onto the slippery slope of egoism or narcissism. Complaining has been described as deadly poison by our scholars for this reason. The more we see ourselves, the less we see Allah. Conversely, the more we see Allah, the less we see ourselves. This is why the very heart of spiritual training is the negation of the ego, to say nothing of the id.
One might reasonable ask at this point, “If I don’t look out for myself then who will?” Our Lord provides the answer with great clarity, “Truly, my Protector is Allah, who has revealed the Scripture, and undertakes the affair of the righteous (7:196).” When we understand our inherent weakness and the awesome strength of our Lord, we gladly transfer our “insurance policy” to Him. Furthermore, when we can look beyond ourselves and look to our Lord, He alone becomes the one we complain to, for we understand that He alone can assist us.
This focusing on Allah is from the prophetic Sunnah, as illustrated by Ya’qub (Jacob). The Qur’an relates, “I complain of my sorrow and grief to Allah alone, and I know from Allah that which you know not (12:86).” This act of turning to Allah alone is a manifestation of Jacob’s “beautiful patience (sabran jamilan).” Each of us should constantly ask ourselves, “How beautiful is my patience?” If we find any ugliness in the answer we should work assiduously to beautify it.
Unlike complaining, Nasiha usually starts with the second person, “you”, and is offered with all due sincerity. “You should consider…” “You might want…” “You might not have realized…” “Your tone could have been better…” By turning from the first to the second person, with sincerity, seeking the addressee’s betterment, we are closing the door on our ego and giving priority to others. Until we can do this, we will never attain one of the most noble stations in our religion, Ithar (giving preference to others).
This station is one of the most important foundations of a prosperous Muslim community. How do we know this? From the description of the first community. When the Muhajirin (Emigrants) arrived in Madina to become part of the first independent Muslim community they did not come into a paradise where everyone had abundant wealth to share. The Ansar (Helpers) were largely poor, however, they placed the little they did have at the disposal of their brothers and sisters who had emigrated to them. The Qur’an describes this relationship in the following moving terms, “Those who were settled in the land before them, and had believed, love those who emigrated to them and find in their hearts no need for what they were given. They give preference (yu’thiruna from Ithar) to others, even though they were impoverished. And whosoever is shielded from the greed of their soul, it is they who will prosper (59:9).”
Like that first Muslim society, our community we will not succeed without faith, love, and the ability to give preference to others. To do this the “I” has to disappear and the “you” has to be brought to the forefront. We could elaborate on this at length, however, let us return to our grammar lesson. If we cannot eliminate the perceived first person, I, and elevate the second person, you, we will never truly get to know the perceived third person, “Huwa (Him).”
Complaining, which accentuates and empowers the perceived first person “I”, is one of the greatest barriers to getting to know the perceived third person, “Him.” If you understand this, then you understand spiritual grammar and all of the sentences you write with the pen of your life will be sound. In conclusion, I mentioned the perceived first and third persons, because in reality, and spiritual grammar is rooted in reality, the third is first, the second is always second and the first is third, or last. May we be blessed with understanding.
Our prized community spaces are being replaced by private gyms as austerity bites
I’m an A-Level student taking English Literature, History and Theatre Studies and books have always been a large part of my life. Most of my reading materials were borrowed from Carnegie Library in Lambeth, which was gifted to the people of Lambeth by Andrew Carnegie in 1902. However, on 31st March, it was officially closed by Lambeth Council to re-open as a ‘healthy living centre’: a fee-paying gym with an unstaffed ‘lounge’ containing an unconfirmed number of books.
Local community members occupied the library for ten days after the closure in protest, but the council still insists that funding the library through a gym is all they can afford. Unfortunately, this is not the only bad news. Of the ten libraries in Lambeth, Minet Library was also closed that day to be turned into a healthy living centre. Upper Norwood Library is currently at risk of losing its staff, while Waterloo Library is due to be moved to a temporary location and then closed.
‘Defend The Ten’ is a campaign organised by Friends of Lambeth Libraries group, who are fighting to keep the libraries open and staffed. This would be made possible through an alternative proposal put forward by Lambeth’s head librarian, which Lambeth Council has so far rejected. The problems with the reasons behind this rejection are discussed in more detail on Defend the Ten’s website, but Lambeth Council’s own plans have been unclear in many ways.
I feel strongly about the closure of libraries for a number of reasons. Aside from the fact that the availability of books helped me develop a love of reading, which has helped me at school in so many ways, Carnegie Library provides a quiet, solitary space dedicated to study for anyone who needs it. In my experience, school libraries are noisy, busy and full of distractions. As far as I know, Lambeth Council has been vague about the amount of study space that will be available when Carnegie Library re-opens, but Lambeth’s libraries were already brimming with people before two of them were closed. This situation will not be helped by reducing the space available, which is almost unavoidable if gyms are installed.
Books are so often a better source of information than the internet since the publishing process gives a reliability that cannot always be found online, but as well as this, libraries also give people internet and computer access for free. From browsing university websites to booking appointments and searching for jobs, using the internet has become a necessity in our society, but in most places it costs money and some members of our community are not able to navigate it alone. During the protest, I spoke to a woman who chose not to have her own computer and relied on libraries for when she needed one. Library computers offer people that choice, and more importantly, prevent people who are already struggling financially from dealing with another expense.
When I was growing up, a central part of the Carnegie Library were the librarians themselves. They were always happy to check if another library had the Harry Potter book I was so desperate to read. They would encourage me to take part in summer reading challenges and commend me on the number of books I had read, and after doing work experience in a book shop, I now know it involves a lot of hard work I never gave them enough credit for. If plans for an unstaffed ‘lounge’ do materialise, future children won’t get any of these benefits, and the whole place will become uninviting, disorganised and hard to use.
Additionally, the council has made it very unclear as to whether children under the age of 16 will be allowed in the library without an accompanying adult. There were a number of under-16s who took part in the occupation, from GCSE students who use the library regularly to children who come to borrow books. If Lambeth Council do not allow under-16s access to the library, it will not only deny many children the opportunity to read and study, but it would also directly oppose what the community wants and needs.
For the most part, Lambeth Council’s response to the protests has not been a good one. Early on in the occupation of Carnegie Library, police were stationed outside as if a protest including elderly people, babies and children with their parents was going to become violent or disrespectful. Security guards were placed outside the entrance, not allowing anyone to re-enter once they had left. I saw food, kindly donated for those inside, being passed through the bars of the gate, where occupiers stood talking to press and other protesters. Unfortunately, Lambeth councillors have also proved just how out-of-touch they are with the communities they are meant to represent.
Following multiple protests, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will investigate Lambeth Council’s plans. Under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, councils have to maintain a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service, and I sincerely hope that Lambeth Council will be prevented from carrying out their plans.Image from: http://bit.ly/1SQIrh5
Guns trump social hierarchies in Tarantino’s violence – and we shouldn’t be afraid to revel in it
carnival, n. A season of riotous revelry. (OED)
gratuitous, a. Done without any good ground or reason; uncalled-for. (OED)
Everyone recalls The Bride and her sword in the climax of Kill Bill, in which the blood of Gogo and the Crazy 88s is expertly dispatched around a gymnasium by Uma Thurman. This kind of orgy of violence is central to the Tarantino effect. During a recent screening of The Hateful Eight, my companion and I eagerly anticipated the most gruesome moments. We squealed with pleasure when captive gang member Daisy Domergue sawed off the arm of the corpse she was chained to. The gore doesn’t disappoint in this film, in which Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and companions seek refuge from a blizzard at Minnie’s Haberdashery. All is not as it seems as they gradually realise that this is a plot by Daisy’s gang to attempt to free her.
Like many of us, I have often been troubled by my attraction to director Quentin Tarantino’s excesses. I think of myself as a peace-loving person who doesn’t need gratuitous amounts of blood-spilling to have my movie-candle lit. Tarantino was forced to defend his previous release Django Unchained against what some saw as its exploitation of racial violence, with Spike Lee denouncing its ‘blaxploitation’. By contrast, Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker suggested that the violence in Django is actually a route to the ‘spiritual redemption’ of the characters. Though surely, given the passions stirred in us while watching any Tarantino movie, there must be something deeper happening as we watch.
Violence in popular cinema represents the industry’s struggles to ‘balance…the forces changing society and those controlling it’, as David Slocum wrote in Social Research in 2000. Violence is based on conflicts which drive the narrative, whether these function to cement or to challenge existing cultural ideologies. In Tarantino’s films, though, the dynamics of the conflicts are often subsumed by the dominant spectacle of the bloodshed itself. In an interview with Gerald Peary, Tarantino himself has commented that the work he admires goes ‘beyond gratuity’ and the violence becomes a ‘justification unto itself’. In The Hateful Eight, the black Major shoots to death an old white general after a tense conversation during which they realise that they were on opposite sides of the civil war. Soon enough, we care less about the war than what a chair looks like after someone has been shot whilst sitting in it. A gang member carefully covers up the chair with a cowhide rug, and our intrigue remains diverted from the plot to the cinematic details of the aftermath.
With our attention on the nitty gritty of the violence, the premise of the conflict is the other component in understanding its effect. Tarantino’s conflicts frequently exploit real-life power differentials: in The Hateful Eight, race relations; in Kill Bill, gender (the protagonist’s only identity is as ‘The Bride’, which symbolises the oppressive nature of women’s expected role in society). Tarantino makes explicit the social hierarchies of our environment, which usually operate beneath the surface. Starkly articulated power relations are then subverted by the installation of a crystal clear alternative power code: whoever is holding a weapon has the power. This subversion brings a visceral sense of liberation unique to Tarantino’s filmmaking. We revel in these moments, in which the gore and brutality is fetishised, and the hidden oppressive order of things is turned on its head.
This revelry is reminiscent of the carnival tradition, a season in which, as Mikhail Bakhtin wrote, ‘the jolly relativity of all things is proclaimed’. Think of the carnival king rites: a strong symbol of power from day-to-day life is elevated, exposed, warped and mocked. This brings momentary relief from the tyranny of the social order. The effect can also be found in non-cinematic parts of life: BDSM, or consensual power play, is a kind of carnivalisation of sex. Recent research has demonstrated what its practitioners have known for a long time: that BDSM is associated with improved psychological health. Perhaps research into Tarantino’s movies would demonstrate similar results. Since we are all affected by unacknowledged power dynamics, carnivalisation can bring a sense of community and control to anyone open to it.
Violence becomes gratuitous when it fails to acknowledge the unequal power base of the society it depicts. In the action movie Taken, for instance, sex slavery in Europe is used as a pretext for a story about male heroism (unsurprisingly, of the white, heterosexual, American, middle-class, able-bodied, fertile, married, monogamous, native English-speaking, muscle-bound variety). In what is practically a caricature of the hegemony, a father (Liam Neeson) must save his daughter from Arab slavers. We learn next to nothing about the nature of the girl’s ordeal or the psychological effects of it. The Arabs are two-dimensional incarnations of pure evil. This is just one example of many popular films that use violence to cement and glorify the status quo.
There is, of course, a long tradition in independent and world film – and in Hollywood to some degree – of using violence to explore the experiences of the oppressed, such as in Precious and City of God. These films explore complex power relations by zoning in on the perspective of the disenfranchised. We press on the pain in these movies; we pause and hover over the things that make us uncomfortable. Just as in Tarantino’s movies, hidden power relations are exposed: but here, the synergy we feel with the rest of the audience is one of collective sadness. The exposure of the truth is not pretty, polite or easy. Films that treat power in this way are more likely to be found in arthouse cinemas and festivals for an audience that demands more than pure entertainment.
At the multiplexes, though, the social order is reinforced and glorified on a daily basis. This fact – and not the projectile blood-vomiting or severed noses themselves – is what should make us uncomfortable. Insightful films that dwell on the consequences of the violence tend to have a lesser mass appeal. Quentin Tarantino has found a way around this, and The Hateful Eight encapsulates his expert use of the Hollywood machine. We cannot label his exploded heads and dismembered arms as ‘gratuitous’, since they are combined with underlying power conflicts that are consciously articulated. The exposure of these conflicts and their renegotiation serves to challenge the social order and create a ‘carnival’, attracting the masses and discerning viewers alike. In this way, cinema has found its very own carnival king.
The Hateful Eight will be released on DVD in the UK on 9 May 2016.Image from: http://bit.ly/1Wvj0DZ
A Poetic Reflection On The Life of Muhammad Ali
Part One: Ali the Fighter
He floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee,
the greatest fighter the world has yet to see.
On one thing his opponents agree, they all got it right;
in the ring with Ali your life was in danger that night.
Had he lived in the time of Marciano, Joe Louis, or Max Schmeling, his superiority over all of the former would be telling.
Had he fought Tyson or Holyfield at the height of his career, on the list of heavyweight champions their names would not appear.
For his right was full of power and his left was relentless, he’d whup people so bad he’d have to seek his Lord’s repentance.
So when you discuss the greatest heavyweight of all-time, to mention any name other than Ali’s is a crime!
Part Two: Ali the Man
With the grace of a butterfly and the tenacity of a bee,
he struck many a blow against injustice and inequality.
Coming of age in an era of legal segregation, he came to symbolize the highest values of the nation.
Standing up for the truth, defying the warmongering throng, he declared, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong!”
He refused to take up the gun and then pull the trigger, quipping, “Ain’t no Vietcong ever called me nigger!”
Knowing when to attack and when to retreat, he brought an entire nation to its feet;
Not to cheer his exploits going down in the ring, but to fall right in line with Malcolm and King.
Willing to give up his title, the money, the lights, he dedicated himself to another fight.
The fight for truth and justice to liberate lands occupied, by the highest court in the land his case would not be denied.
To fight that particular battle was not a mean feat, but in the arena of life he would know no defeat.
With a heart made of gold and a spirit to match, he was able to rebuild his life almost starting from scratch.
With the fuel of love and the flame of good, he lit the fire of hope in the hearts of many boys and girls in the ‘hood.
Not knowing the word “I can’t,” he was never deterred, and because of his example many a dream was not deferred.
Now slowed by time and far removed from the training camp, he will always be known as the people’s champ.
ISIS is squarely situated in the realm of modern utopian movements that are doomed to fail. The defining feature of these movements is captured by the British political philosopher, John Gray, when he says: “The use of inhumane methods to achieve impossible ends is the essence of revolutionary utopianism.”
In resorting to systematic terror to achieve its ends, ISIS is not alone, nor can it be considered the most notorious member of the macabre club it has joined. As Gray mentions elsewhere, “Nineteenth-century anarchists such as Nechayev and Bakunin, the Bolsheviks Lenin and Trotsky, anti-colonial thinkers such as Frantz Fanon, the regimes of Mao and Pol Pot, the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Italian Red Guard in the 1980s, radical Islamic movements and neoconservative groups mesmerized by fantasies of creative destruction -these highly disparate elements are at one in their faith in the liberating power of violence. In this they are all disciples of the Jacobins.”
At this critical juncture in human affairs, we must raise our voices, and more importantly our pens, to reject the sort of utopian fantasies peddled by these and similar ideologies. The only meaningful changes in human affairs are those that start when people change themselves and then apply the same techniques upon which that inner transformation is based towards working for change in society. Namely, patience, acceptance of human limitations, contentment with and trusting in the wisdom of the Divine Decree, and then ever so slowly working towards becoming a changed person -one prayer, one invocation, one supplication, one day of fasting, one page of the Qur’an, one instance of charity, one act of service at a time. In this process of evolution there is no room for revolution.
The following is a list of top 30 articles that were found to resonate most strongly with our readers this past year. It covers a full range of struggles and joys we have faced as a community and regularly bridges orthodox and contemporary Islamic knowledge. Articles covered Glimpses of Marital Bliss, inspired us about the Names of Allah, spoke to the unique struggles of our Black and Hispanic brothers and sisters, and stood up against the siege in Gaza. They discussed the role of women preachers, American holidays, how to overcome addictions and more. See the full list below.
There were many articles of significant impact that are not on the list for brevity’s sake. What was your favorite? Leave a comment to let us know!
IN THE MEDIA Your Facebook Posts, and why The Evil Eye is Real by Ubah
On social media, we are increasingly putting ourselves out there in ways that may promote envious feelings in others. Is it 100% our fault? Of course not. But here are a few important things to keep in mind.Films Today – and How the Muslims Killed Dracula by Shibli Zaman
We often bemoan the negative portrayal of Muslims in film and television, including a recent movie that gets the story of Dracula wrong. But who is to blame when we have absolutely no presence in popular media?An Imam’s Review of the Movie Noah by John (Yahya) Ederer
Potential benefits in watching this movie – and why it would be hugely advantageous to Islam and the Muslims if we made high-quality, well-funded, scripturally proper, and well-acted depictions of the prophets and our great history. Also see: Top Documentaries you Should Watch by Junaid AmjadKnow Thyself: Opinion on Hajj Selfies by Suhaib Webb
WOMEN Female Scholars and Preachers in Islam by John (Yahya) Ederer
The beauty of Islam among religions is in its universality, its compatibility with science, and its versatile legal tradition which remains relevant across times and cultures. Here’s why the majority of our scholars throughout history have said that there’s nothing wrong with listening to a woman’s speech unless it is flirtatious or provocative.10 Ways to be a Single and Content Muslimah by Ubah
Tip #2: Let Go of Entitlement. Remember that you are not owed a relationship. Just like the air you breathe or your eyesight and hearing, a decent and compatible spouse is a blessing from Allah (swt).Is it Allowed for Women to Teach Mixed Gatherings? by John (Yahya) Ederer
CULTURE, CUSTOMS, & FIQH Man’s Best Friend?: The Islamic View on Dogs by John (Yahya) Ederer
Reverts may have had a special relationship with their dogs growing up, or still do at the time of reversion. Sadly, the attitude of many Muslims towards dogs often alienates people from Islam. A closer examination of the issue debunks common misunderstandings.American Customs – What is Permissible? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Also see: Caught with My Foot in the Sink… Reasons to Be Proud of Wudu by Abdul Sattar Ahmed and Is the West Inherently Un-Islamic? by John EdererCan a Non-Muslim Person be in the Masjid? by Suhaib Webb
The stronger opinion on the issue of people of other faiths being refused entry into mosques is Abu Hanifa’s that this only applies for the Hajj and ‘Umra (meaning they are not allowed to make Hajj or Umra). Here’s why.Is Saying Jummah Mubarak an Innovation? by Suhaib Webb
Custom is so important that it forms one of the five major axioms of Islamic law. Based on this important principle and the large number of general texts that encourage us to speak well and be gentle to others, it is a stretch to say that such a greeting in an innovation.Can Muslims be Friends with Non-Muslims? by John (Yahya) Ederer
Qur’anic verses should not be mis-understood to prohibit us from making friends with our neighbors, co-workers, or schoolmates. On the topic of Muslim interactions with other faiths including Christians, see also: A Holiday Message from the Life of Omar by Shibli Zaman
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps for Overcoming Addictions or Sin by Reehab Ramadan
Remember the phrase “I am only the next 24 hours.” By the time the next 24 hours have been reached, hopefully our strength will have been regained, if not then we push ourselves a little further—24 more hours.10 Things that Shouldn’t Happen Once you Become a More Practicing Muslim by Ubah
There a few key things that we must all guard against as a result of turning a new leaf or becoming a more practicing (or new) Muslim – such as becoming narrow minded, becoming isolated, or rebelling against family.Beyond Romantic Love – Here’s What’s Missing by Reehab Ramadan
Beyond romantic or sexualized love, where’s the love that would allow me to go out of my way to buy my brother or sister in humanity a gift to bring a smile to his or her face during times of hardship?How Two Words Changed this Man’s Life by Maryam Amirebrahimi
He had never prayed two rak`ah (units of prayer) in his adult life. Two words he heard at his first Friday prayer penetrated through his heart and embraced his soul. The true story of a man’s path back to Allah (swt).
QUR’AN & PRAYER Building Habits as Worship: A Year Spent Quantifying Devotion by Alex Arrick (Guest Author)
How to use free apps for the iPhone or Android such as LIFT to make a regular, daily habit for memorizing the Qur’an. Also see: Stay Focused by PRAYing by by Marwa AbdallaIs the Qur’an a Violent Text or is Your Reading a Tad Off? by Joe Bradford
A lack of context and qualifications lead to blatant misinterpretation. The shallow misinterpretations of religious and irreligious extremists almost always lead to one thing: the escalation of conflict and the promotion of violence, instead of leading to dialogue and mutual understanding.Too Busy for Quran? Check these 3 Tips to Get Rolling by Mansoor Ahmed
Start off by making time after Fajr prayer or after `Isha’ (night) prayer, the two times you are most likely to be at home. Once it is a part of your lifestyle, it becomes easy to sustain. Remember, try a little by little, but with consistency!
OVERCOMING HARDSHIP Living with Depression and Islam by Anonymous (Guest Author)
Every morning I wake up and wish I hadn’t. I want anyone suffering like me to know that there are others that are observant, struggling Muslims and that they feel the way you are feeling. Also see: How to Overcome Sadness and be Happy by Taheerah AlamWith Hardship Comes Ease: Embracing Discomfort by Ismail Shaikh (Guest Author) Think You’ve Failed? Think Again by Jinan Bistaki
Some people always bounce back, but others always seem to crash down. Research has shown that the difference is the ability to see that a closed door somewhere means, at the very least, an open window somewhere else.
CURRENT EVENTS Erdoğan, AKP and their victory in the Turkish Municipal Elections by Shibli Zaman
Erdoğan, the world is watching you; but that pales to the fact that, above all, the Lord of the Worlds is watching you even closer. You can be the greatest leader the Muslim world has seen since the Ottomans whom you repeatedly invoke, or you can fall just like them when they lost their way. Which end of their history you resemble is up to you.
KNOWING GOD, THE MOST MERCIFUL When was the Last Time you Witnessed a Miracle? Al-Hayyiy by Jinan Bistaki
Whenever making du`a’ (supplication), have hope. Remember that “Verily your Lord is Generous (Kareem) and Hayyiy. If His servant raises his hands to Him (in supplication) He becomes shy to return them empty,” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).He has Your Back: Al-Wali by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wali, meaning the Protective Friend of all those who believe. It means that He has your back. He could have just been a ‘friend,’ but some friends are flaky. A protective friend will be there for you through hardship and bad times.Does God Exist? by Salman Khan (Guest Author)
Every person must think for him/herself and find Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) in his/her own way. Don’t choose a life of unhappiness because you choose to be blind or perform our religion physically without spirituality.Love is In Giving: Al Wadud by Jinan Bistaki
Allah is named Al-Wadud. When you are able to point out behavior that shows love, this kind of love is not called hubb in Arabic, because hubb is simply having a feeling of love. This kind of love – one that is apparent and shown – is called wud.
LOVE, RELATIONSHIPS, & GENDER RELATIONS 10 Guidelines for Gender Relations in Islam by Muslema Purmul and Maryam Amirebrahimi
The code of inter-gender relations comes from a noble kind of love. It is generous in giving, while conscious of Allah. It is full of haya.’ Haya’ is sometimes described as ‘shyness’, but misunderstood to mean a desire to hide, to be nervous, overly self-conscious, and unable to communicate.When you Marry for Four Reasons – Don’t Forget Your Reason by Karim Serageldin (Guest Author)
As a practicing psychologist, I was once consulted by a brother in Turkey in need of immediate relationship advice. In summary, the brother’s “emergency” was that he had met a nice religious girl from a good family but was not attracted to her at all. Here was my advice.The Goodbye Hug by Maryam Amirebrahimi
Many of us only hear destructive marriage stories within the Muslim community. However, the reality is that there are so many incredible, beautiful, passionate, fulfilling and compassionate love stories in the Muslim community. Here’s one. A number of the articles from “Glimpses of Marital Bliss” Series were also among the most-read this year. See also: A Love Letter, Will They Say Yes, and He Prayed instead of Fought
I have been living in the Arab world now for almost 3 years. There are some really taxing things here, tiring and frustrating to say the least. But there are also some exciting and uplifting things that keep me going throughout the days. And then, there are the hidden gems. The things that can be overlooked without a second thought, yet if they are given a second thought, they require a third and a fourth thought for one to even begin to benefit from their beauty. It is those things that get me time and time again. It is those things that take my breath away and leave me thankful for being placed in the position that I am in, living in a place where I do not always fit in or feel at home. One of those hidden gems can be found in the phrases that are oft repeated, with little thought, on a daily basis. There are many that could be spoken about, like the wishing of “na’eeman” [lit. blessings] when a person takes a shower or cuts their hair. Like the prayer of “kulli sana wanti tayyiba” [“may every year find you well”] on any happy occasion that occurs yearly. But my favorite has to be one that carries behind it a great story of a great man whom I recently read about, and after reading his story in the tafseer [exegesis] of Ibn Ajeeba, the oft repeated phrase “Ya sabr Ayub” [“O patience of Job”] has never been the same again.
It would be best, before diving into the gem-filled story, to give some information on when this phrase, in the Arab culture, is used. It is used mainly in two situations: 1) When a person is going through something very taxing and is wishing for an intense amount of patience to be poured into them, as a prayer and 2) when a person witnesses someone being ever so patient and is impressed by their firmness upon this patience. Naturally, after hearing that, one would assume that this story is about to be really great and I assure you: it is. The key here, however, is that something very important is done while reading this story: don’t just read it as a work of fiction or non-fiction. Read it as if this story is about you. Read this story as if you have temporarily stepped out of your own shoes, and into those of this amazing man, Ayub, and try to actually feel what he must have been feeling. And with that, all that is left is for me to begin:
Ayub, `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), was a great man and Prophet of the Lord many years ago. He was blessed with many great gifts that surpassed what others around him had been given. He had money in amounts (and some say types!) that surpassed those that were around him. He was given great amounts of land as well as many animals to graze on this land, and these animals varied in types and were of very high quality. He was kind and giving to the poor, he used to care for the widows and the orphans, he would be generous with his guests and accept any traveler into his home. He did all of this as an act of gratitude to God for giving him so much. This is something very unique to note, as for when a person is given such great wealth and great gifts, Satan then tries very hard to get him to be greedy and ungrateful. Satan tries very hard to get the person with such wealth to belittle that which has been given to him, or to become arrogant and not spread the wealth to those who may be in need of it. Satan however, was unsuccessful at whispering into the heart of Ayub (as) with regards to all that he had been given.
It is said that Satan heard the angels in the heaven praising Ayub (as) for all that he had done and was doing. Upon hearing this, Satan felt a twinge of envy (hasad) towards the state of Ayub. Satan, being one who acts upon these twinges of envy immediately, went and pleaded to the Lord of the heavens about his state. He complained to God: “O my Lord, you have blessed your servant Ayub, so he had thanked you. You have removed from him any affliction so he has glorified you. You haven’t allowed any hardship to befall him, but if you did then surely he would be an ungrateful servant.” This was a plea from Satan, and at the same time he was taking a shot at the honor and actual piety of Ayub. He asked God to just give him the ability to afflict Ayub with some hardship, and he told God that He would see the gratefulness of Ayub dwindle away. God then allowed Satan to have control over the wealth of Ayub, and nothing else—allowing him to afflict Ayub. At this Satan was joyous. He called together his troops of jinn and told them the “great” news. One of his troops said that he had been given the power to send storms of fire upon anything, and if Satan gave him permission, he could burn all of the wealth of Ayub by burning his lands. Satan agreed, and sat back and watched his troops burn down the wealth of Ayub. Once this was all over, Satan came in the form of one of the service hands of Ayub, dramatically recalling all that happened to the wealth of this Prophet. Telling him that God had allowed for his wealth to be destroyed. Ayub (as), with complete grace and gratefulness, informed Satan in the form of man, that God was the original giver of this wealth, so God could do as he pleased with this wealth.
Satan now was hit, not only with pangs of envy but also, pangs of despair. He had been sure that had this man who was so blessed, had some of his blessings taken away, he would break. He would not be such a great servant. But Satan, unlike many of us humans, does not give up that easily. When he has a goal, he does everything he possibly can to get to that goal. He went back to his troops for a brainstorming session. One of his troops had another idea. He informed Satan that he had been given the ability to blow harsh winds that would kill any animal that heard this wind. Satan jumped on that idea and sent him to kill all of the living animals that were left on the burnt grounds of Ayub. After all of his glorious animals had been killed, Satan appeared to Ayub as a different man, again telling him of what happened. He informed Ayub that the Lord that he had been worshipping for so long had killed all of his animals. Again, Ayub (as) with pure patience and love for God, replied that God was the one who had given him the animals in the first place, so He could do as He pleased with them.
Satan was hit again with deeper despair, feeling that he was certainly losing his grip on the battle that he had been fighting. Satan returned to God, again with another plea. He argued that God had blessed Ayub with his own health and the health of his children (some say he had 10 children), and this is why Ayub was still holding on, gratefully. Satan assured that if this was removed then Ayub would not remain a grateful servant and that his gratefulness was not based on Love but of contentment with that which had been given. Satan then requested to be given the ability to take away the children of Ayub to prove his point. God granted him this permission. Satan returned to the home of Ayub, and destroyed the home of Ayub, killing all of his children. He then appeared to Ayub as the teacher of his children, limping, as if he too had been hurt in the destruction. He then recalled for Ayub the detailed deaths that his children had faced, making certain to put emphasis on the pain that they may have felt. Ayub was instantly struck with sadness for his children. He fell to the floor and began to pour dirt over his head. Satan rejoiced, finally he had made Ayub be ungrateful. But after an instant, Ayub (as) realized what he was doing and looked up to his Lord, asking for forgiveness and returning to his state of patience. God instantly forgave Him, as He is The All-Forgiving.
Satan was furious. He felt that he had finally won, that finally this man that seemed to be over flowing with patience and gratitude had finally cracked. And before he could even rejoice, Ayub (as) returned to His Lord and His repentance was accepted. His sin was erased. (Take note at the Mercy of God. Take note at the persistence of Satan). Satan went back to God, again despairing and willing to try anything. He told God that the only reason that Ayub was so thankful and so obedient was that he had the most important thing, his health. Satan pleaded with God to allow him to take that away, to prove once and for all that Ayub was not, in his essence, an obedient servant. God allowed him this, but this time with some very important conditions. God allowed him to have rule over his body and health, but he was unable to touch two things: His tongue and his heart.
Satan descended down to Ayub and found him in prostration. He blew through his nose a wind that touched his entire body. It caused him to itch, with no relief. He itched his entire body with his hands, then with tools. The tools were so rough they tore at his skin, but the itch was so strong that he could not stop. His wounds began to fester, to be infected, and to even attract bugs. All of the people in his community who loved him so much began to look down upon him, unable to stand to see his appearance nor smell the stench of infected wounds. They kicked him out, ignoring all the good that he had done for him before. Everyone left him. Everyone. Except for one person, his wife. She cared for him in the trash dump that he had been cast to. She took care of him, and was his companion as much as she could. After much time she began to plead with him to ask God for help. I mean why not, he was a prophet. He in turn asked her how long they had lived in wealth. Her reply was 8 years. He then followed up with asking how long he had lived in sickness; she informed him that it was seven. His reply was that he was too embarrassed to ask God to heal him, if the time of ease overcame the time of hardship.
Satan, in his final attempt, appeared to Ayub’s wife. He told her that he (Satan) was the Lord of the world and that the reason why her husband, Ayub, had been afflicted for so long, was that he turned away from the lord of the earth and looked only towards the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth. He told her that if Ayub were to “simply” make one prostration to Satan, then he could be restored to health and wealth. Ayub’s wife returned to her husband and told him what had happened. Ayub was furious. He knew exactly who she had spoken to, and was angry that his wife had spoken to Satan and that she had tried to act upon his words. She couldn’t take his anger, and she left him as well. Now Ayub was completely alone, with reference to human companions. He turned to God and made the famous du’a that we hear time and time again “Lord hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.” Ibn Ajeeba here says something interesting. He says that the hardship that Ayub was speaking about was that Satan had conspired against him to get him to prostrate to him (Satan). (Why is this the hardship? Because it is said that if we understood the true essence of sickness, we would know that it is an immense gift from God.) God immediately responded to the plea of Ayub and instructed him to go to the nearest water source and bathe in it. He did so, and was returned to his complete health and beauty. His wife, shortly after, returned looking for her husband. She found a handsome healthy man in his place. She asked him if he has seen a man that was rotting and in pain. He laughed and said, “It is me, I am Ayub.” She wouldn’t have believed him except that she recognized his laugh.
Ayub—not an angel, a man. He (as) went through an immense trial, and looked only at God. A man that God used to lay down a map for us to follow when we too are in pain, in sickness and in distress. Of course we don’t always react this way. Of course it may be harder at times to let go and let God. But what we can do is look to him as an ultimate goal. We can use his name when asking God for patience. We can strive to be as close to Him as God will allow. And whenever we are in hardship, we can know that we have someone to relate to. We have someone who went through pain and anguish, and we can see that even in the worst of situations, God can instantly redeem us and make everything more than perfect. May God grant us the Sabr of Ayub in the smallest of matters and the largest of matters.
“Lord, hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.”
“Sins need to be eradicated through the internal fire of regret in this life or the fire of hell in the hereafter.” – Ibn Al-Qayyim
Years ago I came across this quote. I still can’t get over how true it is.
Muslim youth living in all corners of the world face similar struggles in our day-to-day lives. We strive to survive while being surrounded by the societal (and often times, cultural and familial) promotion, acceptance, and idealization of things that contradict the tenants of our faith: pride, lust, greed, extramarital relationships, alcohol/drugs, misogyny – just to name a few.
We are also surrounded by social practices and traditions that can also be pretty un-Islamic: issues such as racism, forced marriages, the withholding of education for females, and tribalism unfortunately exist on grand scales in Muslim societies all over the world.
As Muslim youth, most of us living in the diaspora, we have much to deal with. We struggle to maintain our Muslim identities while at the same time balancing our racial, national, and individual identities as well.
Sometimes it seems that everywhere we look, we are being called to sin. And inevitably, we answer that call.
We fall so many times only to fall again. We try so very hard to create our own, personal spiritual bubbles where Islam is the driving force in our lives, only to have it burst by things like temptation, other Muslims’ biases and discrimination, our own families making it hard for us, stress, our school lives, etc.
And slowly, as our hearts erode, a peculiar type of anxiety eats away at our souls and comes with a little voice in our heads. The voice tells us time and time again that what we are doing is haram (impermissible) or sinful, but we ignore it as we seek to numb the pain—a pain that has surfaced as a result of never being good enough. Never being “Muslim” enough, or “religious” enough, or “Western” enough.
How do we turn our faces from sin when it is everywhere? When it is adulated, respected, and upheld by our very own societies as a noble thing? We become confused – the bad becomes good. We go against our natural instincts. Eventually we become submerged in our own little hells, metaphorical places where internal suffering, sadness, disappointment, and self-loathing manifest. The “internal fire of regret”, as Ibn Al-Qayyim radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) puts it.
This quote teaches me that through one way or another, we will be purified of our sins. It’s up to us whether or not we seek purification in this life (through repentance) or we wait until the next (through the Fire).
I know. We’ve fallen so many times. We’re hurt, sore, and bruised. We are ashamed of our actions, and may even deem ourselves unworthy of seeking repentance. But something must quell that fire in our hearts. Something must quench our desires to be loved and accepted by the One whose love and acceptance is truly the only one that matters at the end of the day.
Say it – Astaghfirullah (I seek forgiveness from God).
I know; it hurts. But it certainly cannot hurt more than what is to come if we let our sins remain in our hearts, our minds, our spirits.
We are more than the sins that we commit. Don’t let the devil fool you. Don’t let those people who are a negative influence in your lives or those who sin openly and proudly fool you either.
We may fall a thousand times, but as long as we try to get back up, there is always hope.
And Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) knows best.
Names of Allah Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIX | Part XXX |Part XXXI | Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI | Part XXXVII | Part XXXVIII
In this journey through Allah’s Names, we have learned about both His attributes of Beauty and of Majesty. The intention is to inspire fear, hope and, ultimately, love. If we misunderstand Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), we may not see the wisdom behind the things that happen in the world or in our personal lives. We might not understand how Allah (swt) fits into our life. We may also find it difficult to love Him, because how can you love someone – deeply love someone – you do not know?
Thus it is hoped that these Names have increased our knowledge of our Creator, and have made apparent how Allah (swt) is with us in every moment.
Today’s Name should inspire in us ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’. These words are sometimes both translated as ‘fear’, thus removing the important distinctions between the two words. In the ‘Sweetness of Prayer’ series, we explained the difference between the different types of fear:
‘Khawf’ is to flee from the thing that you fear, and requires no knowledge of that which is feared. You can be afraid, or have ‘khawf’, of the dark. ‘Khashya’, on the other hand, is fear with knowledge. The more a servant has knowledge of his Lord, the more ‘khawf’ turns to ‘khashya’. As Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
“Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge” (35:28).
‘Hayba’ is fear associated with respect, awe and glorification. You could, for example, fear fire. But the reason for your fear is that the fire may harm you, so fire earns no ‘hayba’; you do not glorify it. However, you could have a certain ‘hayba’ of your father; you could be afraid to do something wrong in front of him, but that fear is out of respect.
Al-Qahhar: The Dominator
Allah’s Name al-Qahhar comes from the Arabic root qaf-haa-ra (ق-ه-ر). It means ‘to dominate over’ or ‘to subdue from above’. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an in Surat al-An`aam;
“And He is the subjugator (al-qaahiru) over His servants. And He is the Wise (al-Hakeem), the Acquainted [with all] (al-Khabeer). (6:18)
Someone with this attribute might be considered a tyrant, which is why Allah (swt) tells us that this attribute is possessed by the One who is also the Most Wise and the One who is Best Acquainted with everything. This reference is also for the benefit of those who doubt this attribute, and might ask “why has Allah not overpowered the tyrants of today, of whom there are many?” Allah (swt) is reminding us that there is ultimate wisdom in whom He chooses to subdue at any point in time. This is where our understanding of the holistic nature of Allah’s Names should come in: we spoke before about how Allah (swt) is Forbearing and Patient, and He gives people – even tyrants – the opportunity to turn back.
Thus we see in the Qur’an that Allah sends Moses and Aaron `alayhimaa as-salaam (may Allah’s peace be upon them both) to Pharaoh – and calling Pharaoh ‘oppressive’ would be an understatement! – telling them initially to speak to him gently. Pharaoh rejects them. Moses then shows him proof of his prophethood. Pharaoh rejects him again, insisting on enslaving the Children of Israel. Finally, Allah (swt) overpowers him by drowning him, using someone from the very people that Pharaoh was oppressing, who grew up in his own house. Such is the way of al-Qahhar, who manifests His power by subduing tyrants through the objects of their tyranny.
This is why Imam al-Ghazali describes al-Qahhar in this way: “The Dominator is the one who breaks the back of the powerful among His enemies… Indeed there is no existing thing that is not subject to the domination of His power, and powerlessness in His grasp. That is all.”
Therefore, when we look at events today and wonder “where is al-Qahhar?”, we should remember the story of Moses. Remember that Moses prevailed. Remember that Pharaoh was overpowered.
Our role is to strive against this oppression, knowing that ultimately this is what we will be asked about, and everything is subjected to the Will of Allah (swt). Indeed, so many tyrannical powers eventually come crashing down, bowing to the will of al-Qahhar. Unfortunately, we may not attribute it to Him, but as Allah (swt) tells us:
“The Day they come forth nothing concerning them will be concealed from Allah. To whom belongs [all] sovereignty this Day? To Allah, the One, the Prevailing (al-Qahhar).” (40:16)
On that Day, all will be apparent. All those who oppressed, in both seemingly small and big ways, will be before Allah, al-Qahhar. Then, there will be no ambiguity.
Living with these Names
1 – Balance fear and hope
Today’s Name might cause us to be afraid. This is not a subject we like to talk to about, because it is so much more reassuring to focus on those attributes that enable us to relax. But remembering that Allah (swt) has attributes of Majesty should instill in us the ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’ described earlier. Moreover, Allah’s Names are to be looked at holistically. He is al-Qahhar and He is also al-Lateef (the subtle, the most kind).
2 – Dominate your lower desires
In previous articles, we talked about how we should emulate the attributes of Beauty. But what about attributes of Majesty? How do we apply them? Al-Ghazali counseled: “The dominator amongst men is the one who subdues his enemies. The greatest enemy of man is his soul, which is within him. This soul is more of an enemy to him than Satan, of whose enmity he is wary. Whoever conquers his passions conquers Satan, since Satan lures him to ruin by means of his passions.”
3 – Use that fear to stop at least one sin
To know that Allah is al-Qahhar is to burn the desire for sin in the heart. Because Allah (swt) is the Dominator, we should fear that perhaps al-Qahhar, al-Mumeet (the Life-Taker) might take our soul as we are committing the sin. This should alert us that despite it seeming as though we are being allowed to oppress our souls, we may still face the fate mentioned in this verse:
“So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of every [good] thing until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair.” (Qur’an, 6:44)
These people used the gifts of Allah (swt) in the opposite manner to that for which they were intended, and then they were seized. In another chapter, Allah (swt) describes to us the people of the garden, who took an oath that they would reap all of their fruits and leave nothing for the poor. Allah (swt) caused their garden to be completely burned to the ground, but the owners of that garden understood the lesson. They willed something, but Allah (swt) overpowered their will, and so they turned back to Him.
Hence, this fear should not paralyze us from doing good, but it should paralyze us from doing bad. We should try to choose at least one thing – like backbiting or lying – and do our best to use this Name to help us stop it.
4 – Do not oppress others
The surest way to earn the wrath of al-Qahhar is to oppress others. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him] (fa laa taqhar)” (93:9). The word ‘taqhar’ comes from the same root of the name al-Qahhar. We should understand that oppression is not simply for unjust leaders or cruel human traffickers. We may also be oppressing others in more subtle ways, and thus we should be diligent to avoid this.
Imam Suhaib Webb talks about lessons from the life of Prophet Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him).
By Macksood A. Aftab
The conflict between science and religion has posed a serious threat to religious authority in the contemporary era. Many advocates of scientism have used the tremendous success of science in modern times to question the usefulness of religion as a means of seeking the truth. For example, Stephen Hawking recently stated in a Huffington Post article, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” More recently the harsh critique of religion based upon various forms of scientism by writers such as Richard Dawkins have escalated the conflict.
Their view assumes that both religion and science have the same purpose, namely of explaining the existence of the universe. Furthermore, the scientific method is considered a more reliable way to achieve this goal. This is primarily so because science deals with physical processes, which can be quantified and measured, whereas religion often resorts to metaphysical references, which cannot be “proven.” Professor Naquib Al-Attas, the celebrated Malaysian Muslim philosopher, summarizes the essential problem. He writes, “A gist of their [those who espouse science as the source for truth] basic assumptions is that science is the sole authentic knowledge; that this [scientific] knowledge pertains only to phenomena.” Excluded from science is anything that does not have a “physical” existence, anything that cannot be empirically studied. Therefore, implicit in a worldview that holds science as the highest authority of knowledge is a denial of God.
As the Nobel laureate Werner Arber, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, writes, “The natural sciences are in a steady search for truth, and so is theology.” This naturally creates two apparently competing methodologies of seeking and determining the truth, which inevitably leads to conflict between theology and science. Although the Catholic Church did generally support science, when the conclusions of scientists came in conflict with church dogma, problems arose. This can be seen in the experiences of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin.
Islamic history, however, took a different course. Despite the existence of a sustained robust scientific enterprise in the Islamic world, an overt conflict between science and religion did not arise. Professor Walbridge of Indiana University points out that “the Islamic world produced no martyrs for science like Bruno and Galileo.” One of the achievements of Islamic civilization was the creation of a worldview in which both theology and science could be accepted in a comprehensive rational framework.
The Islamic tradition of scholastic theology is known as kalam. The two primary schools of kalam are the Ash`ari and its close cousin the Maturidi schools. Both are based upon a rational understanding of God and the Universe, which also seek to rigorously preserve salient features of the Islamic concept of God. This tradition, along with its larger place in the Islamic worldview, can best be understood through the works of one of its main proponents Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE). Richard Frank, a scholar of Islamic theology, describes Ghazali as, “The most important Sunni theologian at a crucial turning point in the history of orthodox Muslim theology.” During his time Islam was emerging from a period of intellectual schism. Ghazali contributed to the development of a consensus on this issue, which was to largely become the dominant Sunni doctrine. Thus the Ghazali scholar and translator Walter Skellie writes, “With him [Ghazali] the religious philosophy and experience of Islam reaches its zenith.”
Demonstrative Proof (Burhan)
The triumph of Ghazali’s epistemology lies in its successful reconciliation of reason with revelation. One key element of this was the allowance of figurative interpretations of scripture, particularly when it relates to assertions that may conflict with what is known via reason. Ghazali sets the bar very high for a scientific proof to over-ride scripture, something he calls burhan. Burhan is demonstrative knowledge or definitive logical proof. According to Ghazali, it held an even higher epistemic status than even scholastic theology (kalam).
Professor Al-Akiti of Oxford writes, “For al-Ghazali, burhan [definitive logical proof], and not kalam, is what he considered to be scientific knowledge, the ‘gold-standard’ in the art of reasoning – a judgment expounded in his Mi’yar al-’Ilm.” The late professor Marmura, a Ghazali scholar, summarizes Ghazali’s attitude towards definitive logical proof as follows:
“A science whose conclusions are not demonstrably true and which are in conflict with the literal assertions of scripture must be rejected. On the other hand, if what is demonstrably true contradicts the literal sense of scriptural language, then the latter must be interpreted metaphorically.”
Having firmly grounded his worldview in rationality, Ghazali proceeds to point out that physical science does not meet the standards of definitive logical proof unless God is added to the equation. This is because science is based upon a flawed assumption, namely that of natural causation. Causation, Ghazali argues, can only guaranteed if God is there to secure it. And importantly, according to Ghazali, God is there to secure it. Belief in God then becomes a prerequisite to the successful pursuit of science.
Causation, God & Science
Ghazali was able to reconcile the most important principle of science (namely causation) with Islamic theological doctrines (as articulated by the dominant Ash`ari school). Ash`ari theology developed in response to certain heterodox formulations of Islamic doctrine (such as those adopted by the Mutazalites and the Philosophers) which had the effect of diminishing key Divine attributes. Some of these formulations share a belief in necessary causation with modern secular scientists. Therefore Ghazali’s critique of their view is particularly instructive in tackling similar issues in the contemporary era.
Some of the main articles of faith in Ash`ari theology are that God is all powerful, He is all knowing and all events occur due to His express will. The Ash`aris therefore believed that all events are directly caused only by God, and not by anything else. God is not merely the first cause but also the immediate cause of every subsequent minor and major event that occurs in the universe. This appears to run contrary to our contemporary understanding of secular science, which rests on the principle of natural causation. Namely, that things (or events) cause other things (or events). For example, we think fire causes cotton to burn when they are brought near each other.
Ghazali questions the principle of necessary causation adopted by certain philosophers. According to Ghazali, this relationship between cause and effect is not necessary. To use his terminology, there is no definitive logical proof (burhan) that it is the cause that is responsible for the effect. He argues that all we observe is a quick succession of events, cotton being brought close to fire and the cotton burning. But a relationship based simply on proximity in time or space does not imply necessary causation. Ghazali famously states, “The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary.”
David Hume in the Western tradition made a similar argument against causation. He asked, “Where is the causal glue” holding together the cause and the effect? Unlike Hume who was led to skepticism, however, Ghazali has an answer to this conundrum. For Ghazali, the causal glue is God. It is God who ensures that the relationship between cause and effect always holds. In doing so, Ghazali has made room for orthodox Islamic theology in which God is the direct cause of everything.
On its surface this line of thinking can be misunderstood to in fact undermine science, as several historians and scientists have thought. For example, the historian Tamim Ansary writes, “Take it however you will, the argument against causality undermines the whole scientific enterprise. If nothing actually causes anything else, why bother to observe the natural world in search of meaningful patterns?” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a preeminent Pakistani scientist, expresses a similar concern with the Ash`ari position, stating that in such a world, “even a speeding arrow might not reach its destination.” In other words, if the cause and effect relationship is not necessary then there would be no sure way to rely on our observations, predict natural phenomena or to do scientific experiments.
Conflict Averted, Science Flourished
This criticism, however, implies a dogmatic belief in science which sidesteps the very real problem of causation. Ghazali does not need to (nor does he) deny causation. He is merely denying necessary causation—namely, that there is no conclusive proof that things can influence other things by themselves. For Ghazali, God is required to ensure that the relationship between cause and effect always hold true. As Frank Griffel, a Ghazali scholar at Yale, writes:
“Trust in God (tawakkul) is a major condition for investigating the natural sciences. Such trust requires the certainty to know that God will not change books into horses or disconnect our knowledge from reality. Given that God habitually creates our knowledge to accord with reality, we can rely on our sense and our judgment and confidently pursue the natural sciences.”
According to this view God could suspend the laws of causation, but He never does and never will. So fire will always burn cotton but this is only true because in every instance of its occurrence God ensures that it is so. In effect, Ghazali has created a framework in which science can operate and the principles of Islamic theology (Divine power, knowledge and will) are also preserved.
Furthermore, Ghazali even located miracles – which he calls strange and wondrous phenomena – within the empirical world. Even miracles were then not Divine acts of suspension of the normal workings of the universe; rather they were unusual phenomena of nature due to causes not immediately clear to us at the moment. The possibility of additional causal chains other than those currently physically observed encouraged further exploration of the natural world. Ahmad Dallal, a historian of Islamic science at Georgetown University writes,
“The aspect that had the most influence on the development of science was the concept of multiple possibilities (tajwiz), the notion that specific natural philosophical explanations (or planetary models) are possible but not certain, and that there may exist alternative explanations for the natural phenomena… this idea was grounded in an epistemological criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics.”
After Ghazali, science in the Muslim world experienced a prolonged renaissance as documented by Yale historian George Saliba. His understanding had the effect of legitimizing science. Science was a discipline ensured by God. It also had the effect of effectively separating theology from physical science. Divine attributes are known through revelation, and science plays no significant role in informing us about these metaphysical matters. On the other hand revelation does not interfere with the workings of science; it is left as an independent discipline within the larger Islamic framework. Dallal explains,
“After Al-Ghazali, the need to invoke religion to vindicate science considerably decreased, not because science was not accepted but because it did not need vindication. Excluding final-cause explorations from science did not compromise the providence of God, which was simply assumed without questioning (bila kayf).”
This worldview rests on the premise that God exists and sustains the Universe. God is not the end goal of science, but rather the starting point. This created an organic and interdependent relationship between science and religion, which essentially eliminated the potential of conflict between the two disciplines. In fact, as professor Muzaffar Iqbal, a philosopher of Islamic science, writes:
“No one thought of them [science and religion] as two independent entities which needed to be related via an external mechanism… This relationship emerged naturally and because the scientific tradition was thoroughly rooted in the worldview created by Islam.”
This worldview was rational. It recognized the primacy of reason and in fact accorded burhan the highest epistemic status. Within this framework secular science is critiqued based upon logical fallacies assumed by its proponents. Science is then presented not as a competing force with religion, but rather as a viable enterprise, as part of a comprehensive worldview that encompasses God. In fact, it is grounded in the assumption of God. This delicate balance, which secured both science and theology, is one of the greatest achievements of medieval Muslim theologians.
Dr. Macksood Aftab is a neuroradiologist, and clinical assistant professor at both Michigan State University and Central Michigan University. He holds a Master degree in History of Science, and is an editor for the Journal of Islamic Philosophy. The author can be reached at: email@example.com.