Muslim blogs

Egypt: Between Old Men and Starfish Throwers

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sun, 30/08/2015 - 19:23

Most of us are familiar with the story of the boy, the old man and the starfish. A storm had washed up thousands of starfish onto a beach. An old man who was strolling on the sandy stretch noticed a little boy in the distance frantically throwing as many of the creatures as he could back into the sea. When he drew close to the boy he asked him what he was doing. The boy replied that he was saving the starfish. The old man, knowing that most of the creatures would perish before the boy could even begin to return all of them to their watery home, called out, “don’t be silly you can never save all of these starfish!” The boy, undaunted, scooped up one of the creatures and tossed it back into the ocean. He ran up to the old man and proudly proclaimed, “I saved that one!”

We can take many lessons from this story. One is the oftentimes callous disregard older folk can sometimes have for the idealism and passion of youth. If our young people cannot envision themselves saving the world then who can? We oftentimes feel they are young and naïve and will eventually learn that the task of saving the world is a lot more difficult than their tender years permit them to imagine. Despite our feelings, we should allow them to learn that lesson on their own in due time. Perhaps Allah will grant them Tawfiq and they will be able to make a far greater difference in the world than any of us older folks. At the very least, let us encourage them to maintain enough idealism and passion to save at least one starfish.

I say this by way of commenting on the massacre of the innocent throngs who were killed in Cairo two years ago, August 14, 2013. Human Rights Watch estimates that those killed in Rabia Square alone numbered between 817 to over 1,000. Those numbers are likely matched by the combined number killed in other protest sights throughout Cairo.

Many of those who were so mercilessly gunned down were young people, including seventeen-year-old Asma Beltagy, daughter of the Muslim Brotherhood leader, Muhammad Beltagy. Like virtually all of the people killed that day, she was unarmed and committed to the path of nonviolent change. Like all of the young people killed that day, she dreamed of a new Egypt committed to the rule of law. Like all of the young people murdered that day, she dreamed of a better Egypt, which had cast off its legacy of authoritarian rule and neo-colonization and in so doing had finally released its immense potential. Unfortunately, their dreams would not be fulfilled.

Like the old man in the starfish story, old men committed to the restoration of the authoritarian ancien regime questioned the wisdom, idealism and practicality of those young martyrs. Some declared they were rubbish deserving of their fate. To others they were accomplices to the “terrorists” seeking to destabilize the country. Others railed that their parents should not have placed them in harm’s way and bear the responsibility for their deaths –not the snipers, police, military and paramilitary forces. And, there are those who pontificated that they did not know their religion, which forbids even peaceful protests against those in power; theological wisdom seldom directed towards those protesting the Morsi regime.

There will be those who will question the wisdom, timing or judiciousness of even penning these words. Some will declare that the Egyptian people have spoken and Sisi is their preference, so get over it and move on. Others will argue that had the protest camps not been cleared Egypt would have been placed on a path that leads to the place Syria, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq currently occupy.

In response to these and other protesting voices, I simply say that these words are not intended to open old wounds or stir up old grievances. They are simply meant to tell those young people who are throwing starfish back into the sea to keep tossing. Young folks, when old men tell you that you are unrealistic, throw a starfish into the sea. When old men tell you that you are too idealistic, throw another starfish into the sea. When they tell you a storm is rushing towards the shore, so hurry home and protect yourself, defy the winds and rain and throw yet another starfish into the sea.

If we cannot stand and peacefully condemn those who are working to ensure another fifty years of authoritarian brutality in places like Egypt, and encourage our children to do the same, then whither our future generations? If we cannot tell them that the best Jihad is a word of truth spoken to a tyrannical ruler, then what do we have to prevent them from believing that the likes of ISIS, al-Qaeda or Boko Haram embody the best Jihad? If we cannot reveal to them the fallacy in the statement that the only choice before them is to cower silently in their homes or see their countries descend into the hell currently afflicting Libya, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan or Iraq then what vision do we expect them to hold for the future?

There is a third less-traveled path that involves a principled advocacy of truth and justice coupled with a principled and uncompromising advocacy of nonviolence. If our societies are so fragile that such a path would threaten their demise, then the political community that Shariah injunctions governing protest and rebellion aims to preserve does not exist in the first place. This third path is the path of most of the young people who were killed on that fateful day in Rabia Square and elsewhere in Cairo. If we can at least remember them in an honorable manner, and encourage those coming after them to keep throwing those starfish back into the sea, they would not have died in vain.

Categories: Muslim blogs

We Need to Talk About Claudia Jones

The Platform - Sun, 30/08/2015 - 12:16

Today’s Notting Hill Carnival rests upon the legacy of a remarkable persevering campaigning journalist


From Trinidad and Tobago, to the United States, to Britain, Claudia Jones stood firmly at the centre of every struggling society she entered, transforming even dark detention centres into active political arenas and causing colonial establishments to dread her influence. While Claudia’s name now surfaces in discussions about the founders of the Notting Hill Carnival, few have understood her legacy, and access to her speeches and television interviews remains limited.

A dedicated grassroots community leader active on both sides of the Atlantic, and a black woman no less, Claudia Jones captivated an audience of 14,000 in New York’s Madison Square Garden in the mid-1940s, an era which preceded the modern civil rights movement and followed women’s suffrage. In Britain, she set up one of the earliest black newspapers, the West Indian Gazette, and among her many campaigns, she organised the week-long hunger strike tent for the Free Mandela movement at St Martin in the Fields in the early 1960s.

What Claudia witnessed clearly paved her path. Her family emigrated from the then British colony of Trinidad following economic unrest and mass upsurges in the city of Port of Spain where unemployed workers’ councils were growing. There was a mounting consciousness particularly amid the Trinidadians through the Garvey Movement which, rightfully, was a cause of concern for European and American colonial powers. A few years after their arrival in Harlem, New York City, when Claudia was just 12 years old, her mother collapsed over a sewing machine in a factory, dying out of sheer exhaustion. As a teenager, she had to abandon further education and contracted tuberculosis due to poor living and working conditions, and this plagued her with ill health for the rest of her life. At the same time, she began to observe the systematic discrimination taking place around her, and was especially affected by the Scottsboro Boys trial of Alabama between 1931 and 1937 in which nine African-Americans were falsely accused of raping two white women. She also closely followed Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia and Eritrea) and its closer alignment with Nazi Germany.

Claudia sought a radical political force to combat the social issues being faced by black communities during the Depression: the least paid, least educated, highest mortality and most imprisoned. She found this in the Communist Party. During this period, the Communist Party in Harlem was carrying out strong work in the social sphere, stepping in to stop evictions by white landlords and leading high profile legal-political cases in relation to the incrimination of black men in the south. As such, Claudia Jones joined the youth league swiftly rising to become the “negro affairs” editor for the Daily Worker newspaper and a regular speaker addressing the issues of working-class women. Poet and activist Elean Thomas comments in a 1989 edition of Spare Rib magazine: “She did not seek to compartmentalise human beings or see social activities as merely another method of politicity – but as a natural human interest.”

The FBI spent more than ten years spying on Claudia Jones. She was arrested on a deportation warrant in 1948, and again, under the McCarran Act in 1950, charged with being a communist “alien” (non-US citizen). In a letter she addressed to her friend John, she describes activism within the confines of Ellis Island with a vivacious pride: “There are trade unionists and maritime industries, who smile their firm greetings of approval when, from shops and locals, wires or letters come, telling of actions taken on behalf of American liberty.” Moreover, she petitioned the United Nations with fellow detainees, asserting, “Our freedom of conscience [has been] violated and our right to think outlawed.”

This Orwellian feeling is reiterated in an extraordinary court speech in 1953 when she is accused, this time under the Smith Act, with the ludicrous charge of advocating the overthrow of the US government. She appeals to judge and jury:

“The thinking process, as your honour well knows, is a process that defies jailing. When it is all boiled down what shows is not the strength of the policies and practices of our prosecutors – which are akin to police state practices – but their desperate fear of the people. Nothing shows this more, your honour, than our exposure of the biased jury drawn from a system which virtually excludes Negro, Puerto Rican and manual workers. This virtual exclusion exists not because of a lack of qualifications or even financial hardship, but because of deliberate discrimination based on consciously cultivated white supremacist ruling class prejudice which sullies our boasted western culture.”

Eventually, in 1955, the courts ruled that Claudia needed to be deported under the McCarran Law. Her country of origin would not take her, petrified of the power she would have on the small island. So Britain had no choice but to accept her as a colonial subject. After 33 years in America, ejected by a superpower frightened by this one woman’s courage, she left for Britain penniless and alone.


The West Indian Gazette and the Notting Hill Carnival

Impoverished as she was, Claudia Jones forged networks from the moment she stepped into Britain. She surrounded herself with creative practitioners and humanitarians, including Paul Robeson, Trevor Carter and Pearl Prescod. She immediately recognised that the community needed organising and a voice of its own.

The West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News – its full name – was launched in 1958 in the aftermath of the Notting Hill race riots in which Kelso Cochrane was killed. As well as the newspaper, Claudia set up a committee with Amy Ashwood Garvey (the ex-wife of Marcus Garvey) to defend black victims.

The black press in Britain had a strong history in campaign journalism, published as letters in the 18th-century and gaining momentum as journals in the 19th-century. The mob violence of 1919 perpetrated against returning black servicemen of the first world war who were denied settlement – as well as Arab, Portuguese, Chinese and other minority groups – was the worst race riot in British history and gave the government licence to strengthen its immigration laws. Some black communities escaped targeted areas like Cardiff and Liverpool, while others stayed to launch papers and fight back.

Rooted in local and international campaign work, the West Indian Gazette lobbied the government on anti-racial legislation, featuring news stories on culture, immigration and responses to the media’s racialised language. Its publication period coincided with the pan-African movement and the liberation of many African countries, and its message very much echoed the sentiments of the 1945 Pan-African Congress in the UK, namely, the eradication of the colour bar and unity against British imperialism. In a December 1959 edition of the paper she writes, “We can only stop the prejudice in people’s minds by education, by persuasion, but we can stop the actions of incitement and discrimination by outlawing them.”

Claudia Jones went beyond the newspaper – and the unreceptive British Communist Party – to bring the local community together. She set up the first roofed festival in St. Pancras in the winter of 1959, televised by the BBC, in the belief that “unity can defeat rising racial tensions”. With carnival’s strong emancipative traditions, particularly in Trinidad where creative organic celebrations once provided the opportunity for people to dress-up and mock colonial powers, this was an ideal medium. Today, discussions on London’s Notting Hill carnival revolve around its commercial structure and its originality, and for decades it has been under threat from authorities and police clampdowns, and now, gentrification of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea. Its communal energy, however, continues to reverberate upon Claudia’s previous festival work and anti-racism marches in London.

The vast impact of Claudia’s work is still being unearthed. Earlier this year, the National Archives of Ghana released a “thank you” letter dated 27th October 1942 which she was sent by Kwame Nkrumah of the West African Students’ Union (WASU), a man who went on to become independent Ghana’s first prime minister and president.

Claudia Jones passed away in her sleep on Christmas Eve in 1964, not living long enough to see the UK’s first legislation addressing racial discrimination come about – the Race Relations Act of 1965. Claudia helped lay the foundations for the progress to come, as well as the values we must savour and revisit as we face refugee crises and the prejudiced discourse that has ensued.

Last week on a hot and sunny Saturday afternoon, British Jamaican author Donald Hinds sat in front of an audience at the Brixton Cultural Archives, humbly smiling, and spoke of her legacy. Having worked with her at the West Indian Gazette of 250 Brixton Road, Donald described Claudia as a woman with a big heart who laughed a lot and worked beyond her physical capacity. His wife now tells him he has inherited Claudia’s messy desk policy. In a calm but poignant recital, he read the words of George Lamming at her funeral in Highgate where she now lies buried to the left of Karl Marx.

“I shall think of her as a person, as a superior person – superior to the quality of our response to living… Here was a great source of our strength… If we mourn her, it is only to celebrate her example.”

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Categories: Muslim blogs

Policing Black Women: Capitalism’s Violent Assault on Hip-Hop and Civil Society

The Platform - Mon, 24/08/2015 - 09:03

The media focus on the bodies of black women diverts attention away from the very real problem of racist social and economic policies in the US


From mad love to bad blood? Taylor Swift’s white saviour complex gets her into trouble with Nikki Minaj, but this ‘feud’ goes beyond just a Twitter argument. The co-option of rap and hip-hop by the imperialist culture industry has overshadowed its radical origins and potential, contributing to the media’s constant obsession in hyper-contextualising black women in the entertainment industry.

The recent grievances made by Nikki about Taylor and the music industry is just one example of this. It is quite easy to parrot the tens of thousands of tweets by both Nikki’s fans and activists that have rightly concluded that there is and always has been racism in the music industry. If Nikki Minaj was not black, she would not be under as much scrutiny nor forced by the media to be an emblem for black hyper-sexuality – as, indeed, her counterparts Miley Cirus and Katy Perry are not. The sexual exploitation of black female subjects like Nikki has also created the means to police them. The political expression that forms the essence of hip-hop has been ignored by mainstream media and shaped by disparaging gendered images of black men as hyper-violent and self-destructive, which, in turn, has reduced the agency of black women to their sexual appeal.

It is also true that Taylor Swift and her luxury brand of faux-feminism hold more weight in exposing the systemic white supremacy of institutions that continuously silence black women and women of colour, rather than elevating women into equality. It is also very easy to make accusations of respectability-politics onto powerful figures such as Beyoncé and her supposed ‘feminist anthem’ in the form of her fourth and fifth studio albums 4 and most recently Beyoncé. However, in a world run by capitalist ideals, this often entails re-articulating these values in the form of visual cues for the purpose of selling music. You could argue that Nikki Minaj has also implicated herself in the consumer identity that profits off her body and has enabled the ‘jezebel’ stereotype to be reinforced in mainstream hip-hop.

But let’s go back to the beginning. The messages in hip-hop started to change as corporations started eating at independent record labels. With the passing of the Telecommunications Act in 1996, large media corporations engineered the phasing out of black-owned radio and television stations. Today, only 3.4 per cent of all radio stations and 0.6 per cent of all TV stations are black-owned. Media corporations have therefore played a detrimental role in reshaping hip-hop, with white corporations policing black artists through green-lighting misogynistic, sexist, racist and hyper-violent imagery that has now become the signifier of what hip-hop means today.

The fact remains that there is a perpetual need to commodify black women’s sexuality and the most accessible images of this lie in the entertainment industry. However, hinging the discourse on black entertainers like Nikki Minaj and Beyoncé becomes a distraction from the wider state of black women. The rapidly changing structure of hip-hop has forced an antagonism towards the ethics of black revolutionaries such as the Black Panthers, who have succumbed to capitalism as a result of the imprisonment, exile and murder of their own, leading to most resistance being neutralised. This really is where capitalism, racism and gender intersect. The racially motivated shooting of Michael Brown that sparked the Ferguson protests resulted in nationwide dissent against the police brutality of African Americans. This exposed the capitalist legislation on private property found in laws such as ‘Stand Your Ground’ that sheds light on the institutional racism justifying the violence on black bodies. This has perpetuated the marginalisation, oppression and ultimate dehumanisation of black women, as well as the silencing of their collective agency. The double consciousness of black women is met with an epistemic violence from both dominant and alternative systems of representation. The government polices black women by devaluing their reproduction with racist social and economic policies.

The brutal murder of 28-year-old activist Sandra Bland by a racist militarised police state led to global petitions and protests for investigations into her death, which was ruled by police as a suicide by hanging in her jail cell. The violence Sandra Bland endured reflects the long history of the US in using the profit system of capitalism – her arrest followed a minor traffic violation – to racially target and exploit black subjects, putting black women in further jeopardy. By watching Bland’s 15-second videos entitled ‘Sandy Speaks’, one can tell she was an outspoken advocate for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in which she vented her frustrations with the racist structures of the state. Yet, her own story remains erased and she becomes a victim deprived of the spirit and agency she expressed in life.

The cultural integrity of hip-hop has been compromised and the racialised misogyny of the entertainment industry and media means that black female artists are scrutinised on deeper epistemic levels. Editorial agendas have informed journalism through the fetishisation of black womanhood. In the African-American context in particular, the public and socio-political voices of African-American female discontentment are often overlooked in popular black music and culture. Black women in the entertainment industry are forced to re-inscribe stereotypical performative identities to make sense of their gendered identity and doing this within a racial context proves to be the most challenging.

Singer, songwriter and notable civil rights activist Harry Belafonte is outspoken in his anti-capitalist sentiment, and in providing the financial aid needed to bail out many jailed civil rights activists (which included Martin Luther King Jr.), he describes “unbridled capitalism” as the ultimate enemy, and has publicly criticised high profile celebrities like Jay Z and Beyoncé for turning their backs on social responsibility. The responsibility, argues Belafonte, lies with black celebrities to participate in popular struggle. Janelle Monae and Jidenna recently did just that in Philadelphia by leading a rally against police brutality. In public interviews, Monae has in fact expressed her passion for instrumentalising change in communities. Many high profile black celebrities in the entertainment industry, or otherwise, participate in similar ways, such as young actress Amandla Stenberg and her recent evaluations of the appropriation of black culture in her viral educational video, “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows”. Even so, as Belafonte explains there is a clear disconnect with current black celebrities, such as Jay Z and Beyoncé, in being vigilant towards the ills of capitalism and the violence it enacts on working class black people, particularly when they are the beneficiaries of capitalism themselves. It is easy to identify with the plight of black bodies, all the while ignoring the roles celebrities play in profiting from the capitalist structure that simultaneously marginalises them for their race. Therefore, in order to advocate for black women, one must vehemently stand against capitalism, state violence, police brutality and the racism that has ultimately poisoned our societies and dehumanised the bodies of black subjects.

Now is the time to create a true camaraderie between black celebrities and progressive activists in critically assessing and being watchful of both the imperialist, capitalist culture industry they are part of and the communities from which they hail.

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Categories: Muslim blogs

Why Women Dominate on Exam Results Day

The Platform - Thu, 20/08/2015 - 09:45

Covering women’s achievements in the media sometimes covers up their worth


August is that time of the year in Britain when hundreds of thousands of 16- and 18-year-old students nervously receive their long-awaited GCSE and A-Level exam results.

It is a day full of joy and delight for many successful students and their parents, as well as sadness and disappointment for those not getting their desired grades. For television news, online and newspaper editors, it’s also a great day for a regular and predictable news story, providing easy fodder to fill broadcast minutes or column inches.

But take a close look at the pattern in these reports. You’ll notice a bias towards photos or video clips of mainly female students celebrating their results – looking, of course, young, attractive and photogenic. Count the number of female versus male students in the photos illustrating the news stories or in the opening seconds of TV news reports, and the contrast will be clear. A cursory look at the first page of Google Images search results is also revealing. According to the Guardian’s picture desk, there were 40 times more pictures of female than male students receiving their A-Level results on the morning of Thursday 13 August 2015. You’d be mistaken for thinking this is confined to just the tabloids, but the bias is present across the board.

Some may question why this is a problem. After all, editors can choose to broadcast or publish what they please, and naturally they will tend to select photos that are more photogenic than others.

The motives are obvious: it’s no secret in the media industry that images of attractive women with bare-skin revealed will hold onto more viewers or readers, for the same reasons that adverts with increased sexual content attract more attention to the product that is being advertised than those without. But the consequences of the editorial choices are dangerous.

It is a sad truth that today – despite all the movements for gender equality in recent decades – women are still being judged on their appearance over character traits. Female news show presenters are regularly slated in the press for wearing clothes that are too revealing, or else too boring and “Victorian schoolmarm-like”. In the recent 2015 UK General Election campaigns, we were bombarded with articles commenting on what female candidates (or the wives of male candidates) were wearing, rather than what they were saying. Male presenters and politicians are rarely subjected to the same attire-based scrutiny.

In the workplace, too, there are often great indirect pressures on women to conform to a sexist male-centric view that women must always be looking physically attractive, leading to an environment where they are judged based on how much make-up they wear in the morning, rather than intellect and aptitude in the job.

In 2014, #nomakeupselfie was a viral social media campaign which encouraged tens of thousands of women to share photos of themselves on social media without make-up on, to raise money for Cancer Research. What few people stopped to ask themselves was, why should being without make-up be seen as so “subversive” or “different” that it was worthy of a campaign. It can only be so if society’s default expectation is that women should wear make-up all the time.

Such examples point to a wider trend of the increasing sexualisation of society.

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines sexualisation as when a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behaviour, when a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness with being sexy, when a person is sexually objectified, or when sexuality is imposed on a person.

There are numerous damaging consequences of this trend to both individuals and society. The APA’s research finds evidence that sexualisation – as per their definition – has a causal link to three common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. Emotional contentment can be severely reduced as girls’ confidence in their self-image is affected by constant streams of images of perfect bodies in the media. The social consequences are even further ingrained and may include increased sexism and increased prevalence of sexual violence or exploitation.

It is too simplistic to suggest that the selective bias in the use of imagery within mainstream channels is the root causes of social problems like sexual exploitation. These are complex social issues with many factors behind them. But it is fair to say that it is a contributing factor for the increasing sexualisation of society – a trend that is unconsciously being accepted by many sections of society, with little knowledge for the very real and harmful consequences it has for us.

You could argue that the bias towards photos of women on exam results days, is simply the media celebrating female educational achievements, and is in fact a positive feature. After all, more women are now entering university than men, with 53 per cent of the 409,000 students accepted to UK universities in 2015 being female. However, this view ignores the intense pressures on media outlets to increase viewership or readership numbers, the nature of the photos selected, and the sheer quantity of the bias – factors that all point to the objectification and sexualisation of female students. The recent controversy over the Alpha Phi recruitment video for the University of Alabama is a case in point.

The more we are bombarded with this content – whether it’s from TV news reports, newspapers, marketing adverts, or the music and film industry – the more we are subliminally conditioned to a social norm. A norm where it is acceptable for men to objectify the opposite sex and expect all women to continually look young, attractive and photogenic; and for women to feel the most important quality they need is “sexiness”, and not intellect, diligence or ambition. These are deep-rooted male attitudes to women, and attitudes which women are being encouraged to believe about themselves – and this is what must be challenged.

So the next time you watch a news report or read a newspaper article about GCSE or A-Level exam results, will you look on – whether as a man or woman – unconsciously consuming image after image of young women, accepting the media narratives that come with it? Or will you pause for a moment, reflect and question why the editor has chosen to present the story in that way?

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Categories: Muslim blogs

From Eastern Skies

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Wed, 19/08/2015 - 21:56

From eastern skies the stars brought forth their light,
Conveyed by hearts transcending desert nights,
Igniting flames that burn the dross of sin,
Bequeathing the courage to gaze within,
Freeing the hearts to know the secrets there,
Those secrets to their lovers do they share.
Their wisdom sometimes subtle, sometimes frank
Defy pretenses of a social rank.
For knowledge is for all men to enjoy
And ignorance their calling to destroy.
For Moses, Jesus, David, Muhammad
Are guiding stars that light the firmament.
Its ancient vault spanning turbulent seas;
The storms they birth become a gentle breeze…
That whisper to the far shores of the west:
With knowledge, truth and faith ye shall be blessed!

Categories: Muslim blogs

Mass Shootings

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Wed, 19/08/2015 - 06:51

There have been 210 mass shootings in the United States this year. A mass shooting is described as a shooting that has four or more victims. Of those 210 mass shootings, only one, the killing of the Marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was perpetrated by a Muslim. That unfortunate and tragic incident is the only mass shooting in which the media mentioned the religion of the shooter. It is also the only one where the psychological issues the shooter was clearly struggling with were dismissed as the most important factor informing his actions. Instead of focusing on his mental state a fervent but futile search was undertaken to discover his connection to “Jihadi” groups.

Hence, someone is over 200 times more likely to be a victim of a mass shooting perpetrated by a non-Muslim, yet the media has skillfully cultivated a fear of Islam and Muslims to such an extent that most people think the greatest threat to their safety and well-being is Muslims. I don’t blame the media for this, they are only doing their job. We need desperately to develop our own media resources to tell our own story and to define ourselves to the public as we are and not as some parties wish to present us.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Locarno’s Silver Screen Underdogs

The Platform - Wed, 19/08/2015 - 02:06

This year’s Locarno Film Festival displayed a peculiar combination of world cinema classics and fresh Hollywood hits in a dramatic Swiss setting


The Locarno International Film Festival, although having just celebrated its own 68th year, now plays a bit like the Sundance. Taking place in a beautiful and remote mountainous summertime setting, its focus is European independent films. It makes a conscious effort to focus on lower profile films that are unlikely to win mainstream awards – unlike, perhaps, festivals in Venice and Toronto (not to mention, in New York and Telluride) that begin in about a month.

Locarno is mostly about art house films that are trying to establish audiences in the present and not striving for a particular future glory. The films are made to challenge, and are somewhat obscure, yet the festival is not completely immune from Hollywood buzz. Films such as Southpaw and the European premiere of Trainwreck made for a bit of an uneven but interesting programme.

Over the four middle days of the festival, of which I attended, the most interesting films I saw included Schneider vs Bax from Dutch filmmaker Alex van Warmerdam (Borgman, 2013). This was a Coens/Tarantino-like film about a day in the life of two hit men hired to take out each other. A dark comedy, Warmerdam mixes pathos and cleverness with a sense of threat and silliness. It’s a fun watch if you can accept that the characters’ actions are not convincing.

Another one of my film selections was Chant d’hiver (Winter Song) from 81-year-old, France-based, Georgian director Otar Issoeliani (Favorites of the Moon, 1984). It’s a lengthy but often enjoyable film of vignettes, beginning around the time of the French Revolution when a baron who is about to be beheaded insists on facing the guillotine while continuing to smoke his pipe. The film eventually settles into contemporary Paris and introduces us to a world that incorporates an old “sophisticated” arms dealer, roller-skating 20-something hat thieves, corrupt bureaucrats and strange older men. It becomes a kind of a mix between comedic Woody Allen and the work of droll Swedish auteur, Roy Andersson.

James White, an American indie that previously played at Sundance, is directed by Josh Mond, who produced Antonio Campos’ uncomfortably riveting Simon Killer which has a similar structure and feel as this one. The film follows a 20-something Manhattanite (Chris Abbot), tortured by an unexplained inner turmoil that is hardly helped by the condition of his dying mother (Cynthia Nixon). The vérité style at first seems disarmingly too much like Simon Killer, yet this film veers into a more sympathetic – still uncomfortable – character portrayal, as Abbot’s self-destructive soul is helpless in the face of his mother’s digression towards a horrible death.

There is also a splash of commercial world cinema at Locarno, mostly to be seen at night in the Piazza Grande, the main square in Locarno, which seats a remarkable 8,000. The screen is huge, the sound impeccable, the Piazza gorgeous; it could easily be named one of the most beautiful cinemas in the world (although only in business for two weeks annually).

This year, the European premiere of Trainwreck, the box office hit written and starring the comic Amy Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow, played at the Piazza on the mid-festival Saturday night. After sitting through uneven art house fare, it was surprising that the Hollywood comedy with a feminist bent was perhaps one of the freshest films showing.

Worth mentioning, too, the scheduling on the Piazza was odd at times. Starting at 9.30pm for a double feature, Trainwreck, for example, was followed by the unusual Austrian serial killer “redemption” film Jack (Elisabeth Scharang) – a well-made, peculiar psychological study that, well, had nothing to do with Trainwreck.

The highlight of the festival for me though, without a doubt, was the centrepiece screening of The Deer Hunter, also screened at the Piazza, as part of the Michael Cimino retrospective put on by the festival. The reclusive (both literally and cosmetic surgically) Cimino was in attendance at the film, which was absurdly placed as the second of a double-bill following a mediocre French comedy-drama, Floride, about an old man getting older. At 9.30pm, Cimino was in front of an audience of thousands and was presented with a lifetime achievement festival award, and he touchingly spoke to the huge crowd. Despite having to wait until after midnight to watch The Deer Hunter, when it was time, we were settled in for a true all-nighter to watch the three and a half hour masterpiece. Of course, 20 minutes in, it started pouring – torrentially. Some people left, but many hurried over to stand beneath the ancient awnings that circle the Piazza Grande.

And so, hundreds of us watched the film at awkward angles, peaking through the downpour, into the early hours of the morning. Despite the conditions, this brutal, intense, occasionally melodramatic tragedy looked and sounded as great as it ever had.

The dedication of the filmgoers to stay that late, in that rain, knowing that this was not something to miss, was as much of a display of l’amour du cinéma than I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness in an audience. And it made a trip to the Locarno Film Festival more than worth it.

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Categories: Muslim blogs

ISIS, Sex Slaves and Islam

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Fri, 14/08/2015 - 15:22

Today’s New York Times’ (NYT) article highlighting ISIS’ sexual enslavement of Yazidi women has cast a critical light on the issue of slavery and Islam. The ensuing implications should concern all Muslims. This is so owing to the fact that ISIS presents its practices as normative Islam and accuses the masses of Muslims who reject their draconian interpretation of the religion as ignoramuses or cowards who are afraid to identify with “real” Islam.

ISIS’ practices and fatwas are based on a type of literalism that has never been part of normative Islam, both during its formulation and after its maturation. Why is this so? Normative Islam is based on both rulings and interpretive principles. Those who, like ISIS, separate the rulings interpretive principles both misrepresent Islam and open the door to varieties and degrees of harm that the religion strictly forbids.

The idea of understanding rulings in light of interpretive principles is implied by the Prophet,  Today’s New York Times’ (NYT) article highlighting ISIS’ sexual enslavement of Yazidi women has cast a critical light on the issue of slavery and Islam. The ensuing implications should concern all Muslims. This is so owing to the fact that ISIS presents its practices as normative Islam and accuses the masses of Muslims who reject their draconian interpretation of the religion as ignoramuses or cowards who are afraid to identify with “real” Islam.

ISIS’ practices and fatwas are based on a type of literalism that has never been part of normative Islam, both during its formulation and after its maturation. Why is this so? Normative Islam is based on both rulings and interpretive principles. Those who, like ISIS, separate the rulings interpretive principles both misrepresent Islam and open the door to varieties and degrees of harm that the religion strictly forbids.

The idea of understanding rulings in light of interpretive principles is implied by the Prophet, ﷺ, when he stated, “Whosoever Allah desires good for, He gives him a good understanding of the religion.” By implication, one Allah desires to ruin is left void of any understanding. The relevant point here is that merely knowing a particular ruling is not sufficient. One has to understand it.

The first thing we should understand about slavery is that it is not an integral part of Islam such as praying, fasting, the prohibition of interest, etc. As such, it is amenable to being rejected without any sin falling on the one rejecting it. For this reason, every Muslim nation has legally outlawed slavery and there have been no noticeable protests or accusations of sin or disbelief levied at the ministries and scholars who oversaw the drafting of the relevant legislation. We remind Bernard Haykel that these prohibitions occurred long before the advent of ISIS, so they were not motivated by embarrassment.

The fact that slavery is not an integral part of Islam also means that fatwas associated with it are amenable to change with changing circumstances, something that factored into the prohibitions mentioned above. We can cite the following as an example of an issue calling for a change in a fatwa associated with sexual slavery. For those who argue that Islam has retained sexual slavery as a deterrent to other nations from going to war against Muslims; in the current context, the actions of ISIS are being used to fan the flames of war against Muslims as hatred and fear of not just ISIS, but Muslims in general grows. In that the ruling to re-institute slavery has lost its deterrent power, the ruing itself collapses. The legal principle relevant here is the following: “A ruling is associated with its legal rationale, implemented when the latter is present, voided when it is absent.”

The widespread rejection of slavery among Muslims approaches the level of irreproachable consensus as it has become the ‘Urf or convention of the Muslim people. In this case, such convention has legal authority. One indication of this is that ISIS had to publish articles rebuking its hesitant minions who were repulsed by the idea of enslaving and raping Yazidi women and girls.

Another relevant legal principle is consideration of the future harm resulting from implementing a ruling. This principle is subordinate to the principle of removing the means that lead to an unlawful end, even if those means, in some cases, are themselves lawful. In the case of ISIS and slavery, one of the frightening implications of their actions is that it is turning people away from Islam in droves, including many Muslims. Combined with the rise of an organized and aggressive Atheist movement, the murderous and rapacious actions of ISIS are becoming the poster child used to highlight everything that is wrong with religion in general and Islam in particular, in the view those attacking Islam from this angle.

The first and highest objective of Islamic law is the preservation of religion itself. When an action, such as sexual slavery, which in no way, shape, or form could be described as an essential of the religion, is undermining the religion, that action is to be rejected. Hence, we reject these repugnant actions of ISIS and urge all Muslims to do the same.

Our religion is not this hideous Frankenstein-like creation being cobbled together by ISIS and their ilk and endorsed by some Islamic studies professors at Princeton University. It is a beautiful gift of a sophisticated civilization, however, that gift will not be understood or understandable when the principles that allow us to make sense of various rulings are cast aside. May Allah grant us all understanding., when he stated, “Whosoever Allah desires good for, He gives him a good understanding of the religion.” By implication, one Allah desires to ruin is left void of any understanding. The relevant point here is that merely knowing a particular ruling is not sufficient. One has to understand it.

The first thing we should understand about slavery is that it is not an integral part of Islam such as praying, fasting, the prohibition of interest, etc. As such, it is amenable to being rejected without any sin falling on the one rejecting it. For this reason, every Muslim nation has legally outlawed slavery and there have been no noticeable protests or accusations of sin or disbelief levied at the ministries and scholars who oversaw the drafting of the relevant legislation. We remind Bernard Haykel that these prohibitions occurred long before the advent of ISIS, so they were not motivated by embarrassment.

The fact that slavery is not an integral part of Islam also means that fatwas associated with it are amenable to change with changing circumstances, something that factored into the prohibitions mentioned above. We can cite the following as an example of an issue calling for a change in a fatwa associated with sexual slavery. For those who argue that Islam has retained sexual slavery as a deterrent to other nations from going to war against Muslims; in the current context, the actions of ISIS are being used to fan the flames of war against Muslims as hatred and fear of not just ISIS, but Muslims in general grows. In that the ruling to reinstitute slavery has lost its deterrent power, the ruing itself collapses. The legal principle relevant here is the following: “A ruling is associated with its legal rationale, implemented when the latter is present, voided when it is absent.”

The widespread rejection of slavery among Muslims approaches the level of irreproachable consensus as it has become the ‘Urf or convention of the Muslim people. In this case, such convention has legal authority. One indication of this is that ISIS had to publish articles rebuking its hesitant minions who were repulsed by the idea of enslaving and raping Yazidi women and girls.

Another relevant legal principle is consideration of the future harm resulting from implementing a ruling. This principle is subordinate to the principle of removing the means that lead to an unlawful end, even if those means, in some cases, are themselves lawful. In the case of ISIS and slavery, one of the frightening implications of their actions is that it is turning people away from Islam in droves, including many Muslims. Combined with the rise of an organized and aggressive Atheist movement, the murderous and rapacious actions of ISIS are becoming the poster child used to highlight everything that is wrong with religion in general and Islam in particular, in the view those attacking Islam from this angle.

The first and highest objective of Islamic law is the preservation of religion itself. When an action, such as sexual slavery, which in no way, shape, or form could be described as an essential of the religion, is undermining the religion, that action is to be rejected. Hence, we reject these repugnant actions of ISIS and urge all Muslims to do the same.

Our religion is not this hideous Frankenstein-like creation being cobbled together by ISIS and their ilk and endorsed by some Islamic studies professors at Princeton University. It is a beautiful gift of a sophisticated civilization, however, that gift will not be understood or understandable when the principles that allow us to make sense of various rulings are cast aside. May Allah grant us all understanding.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The World’s Worst War Crime and the Countries Willing to Do It Again

The Platform - Thu, 13/08/2015 - 19:02

The horror of nuclear weaponry is not just a matter of the distant past but continues to form power relations between current governments


“That fateful summer, 8:15. The roar of a B-29 breaks the morning calm. A parachute opens in the blue sky. Then suddenly, a flash, an enormous blast – silence – hell on earth. The eyes of young girls watching the parachute melted. Their faces became giant charred blisters. The skin of people seeking help dangled from their fingernails. Their hair stood on end. Their clothes were ripped to shreds. People trapped in houses toppled by the blast were burned alive. Others died when their eyes and internal organs burst from their bodies. Hiroshima was a hell where those who somehow survived envied the dead.”

Excerpt from the memorial statement on 6 August 2007 by Hiroshima mayor, Tadatoshi Akiba, in a plea to rid the world of all nuclear weapons.

“A woman who covered her eyes from the flash lowered her hands to find the skin of her face had melted into her palms…Hundreds of field workers and others staggered by, moaning and crying. Some were missing body parts, and others were so badly burned that even though they were naked, Yoshida couldn’t tell if they were men or women. He saw one person whose eyeballs hung down from his face, the sockets empty.”

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard (Viking, 2015)


Seventy years ago the United States became the first and only country to ever use nuclear weapons.

On 6th August 1945, an American bomber dropped a nuclear device over a hospital in Hiroshima, a Japanese city with little military significance. The bomb was attached to a parachute and set to go off high in the air to maximise the number of people who would be exposed to lethal radiation. About 140,000 city residents were either killed or so badly injured that they died within a few months.

When informed about the blast he had ordered, U.S. President Harry Truman gleefully exclaimed, “This is the greatest thing in history.” To show just how “great” the atomic bomb was, three days later, on 9th August, the U.S. dropped another one, destroying the city of Nagasaki and killing another 70,000 people. Many years of suffering from the effects of the radiation continue to lie ahead for the survivors and their children, which Susan Southard outlines in the interviews contained in her new book. As 192,000 of the victims are still alive, these events are not ancient history for our generation.

Shortly after the war ended, the U.S. occupied Japan and suppressed any news articles recounting the horror that had occurred. Instead, newspapers like the New York Times parroted official lines denying the existence of radiation sickness, and downplaying the seriousness and special nature of the devastation caused by atomic weapons – which, as it happens, the U.S. government was also considering using on the USSR. The general in charge of developing the atomic bomb told Congress that death by radiation was “a very pleasant way to die”.

In the closing days of the second world war, America had unleashed the nuclear era. Germany had already surrendered, and Japan’s economy had been destroyed, its capital fire-bombed into ashes and its military dealt decisive defeats. Many historians believe that Japan would have surrendered without the atomic bombing. The purpose of the bombing was not just to make sure that the U.S. and its allies won the war, but more significantly, to make sure that the U.S. and the U.S. alone would benefit from Japan’s surrender.

The U.S. government was determined not to let the Soviet Union prevent it from stepping into Japan’s shoes as the top colonial power in Asia. The USSR was still a socialist country then, although a decade later it would take a different path. It had been allied with the U.S. during the war against Germany and Japan, but before the war was even over, the U.S. began baring its teeth to the USSR and setting out to dominate much of the world.

The USSR is no more, but the U.S. and other countries still threaten the world with nuclear holocaust. The U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel hold thousands of nuclear warheads, as well as the missiles, aircraft and submarines to use them. (Note: This list does not include Iran, despite the hysteria stoked by Truman’s successor as U.S. president, Barack Obama.)

When Obama was campaigning for presidency in 2008, he promised he would seek nuclear disarmament. The committee that awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize the following year cited the agreement for a “nuclear-free world” which he signed with Russia. (Incidentally, if Obama deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for this, so did Russian president, Vladimir Putin). Yet the treaty between the two countries sought no such thing. It permitted both sides to each retain 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons, deployed and ready to go, not counting those in storage. Many are vastly more powerful than the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The thousands of tactical nuclear weapons not covered by the treaty are, in some ways, even more dangerous than the strategic ones because their use is envisioned in ordinary official military doctrine, and once a nuclear exchange begins, no one can say how it will end. A nuclear world war is not currently on the horizon as it was several times during the height of the U.S.–Soviet conflict in the latter part of the 20th century, but one would assume the only reason to have such weapons is to be able to use them.

Although the arms race between the U.S. and Russia today is no longer about an ever-accumulating stockpile of nuclear bombs, Obama has launched a trillion-dollar campaign to modernise his country’s atomic bomb-making facilities, produce new or refurbished missiles, submarines and bombers to use them, and update existing warheads. Russia is also reported to be updating its nuclear delivery vehicles and similar efforts are being invested into the UK Trident missile programme and France’s air-to-ground nuclear-tipped missile system. Rather than working to consign nuclear weapons to the past, these programmes seek to ensure their usability far into the future.

When asked to explain Obama’s apparent turn-around on his nuclear agreement, an advisor alluded to “Putin’s invasion of Ukraine”. This is a perfect example of the posture reminiscent of the Cold War: imperialist superpowers ready to risk destroying the world rather than lose the contest to run it. The implicit threat to use nuclear weapons to “protect” Ukraine – in other words, to keep Russia from challenging U.S. geo-political interests – seems completely polarised from the interests of Ukraine and the global population.

As for combating Islamist terrorism, which is the current pretext justifying U.S. and European military interventions in the Middle East, there has seldom been a terrorist act more horrendous in its consequences or on a bigger scale than the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The wounds are still gaping for the survivors of these atrocities, and as global superpowers turn towards their most recently defined enemy, reflection on one of history’s most horrific and shameful acts should stop us creating the premise for another massacre for future generations to mourn.

If you’d like to get involved in the campaign for nuclear disarmament, please follow this link:

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Categories: Muslim blogs

Nature, Feelings, Emotions

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Wed, 12/08/2015 - 17:36

Tree and sky,
Green, blue and white;
Serenity and flight.
Not even the sky,
Can limit our dreams…
Which is one way
God tells us,
Better days are ahead.

Categories: Muslim blogs

On the Passing of Shaykh Dr. Wahba al-Zuhayli

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Tue, 11/08/2015 - 19:22

During my time in Damascus, I lived in many different neighborhoods: Zahira Qadima, Mukhayyam Yarmuk, Saha Shahbandar, Muhajireen, Suq al-Jumu’ah and Khurshid. Like a desert nomad in search of greener pastures, I was ever in search of a cheaper rent.

My year in Saha Shahbandar was certainly challenging from one perspective. We lived in a one room Mulhaq (add-on) on the top of the roof of an apartment block. Our landlord was a retired Syrian army general. A committed secularist, he was amazed and astonished that an American who was not born into a Muslim family would actually become a Muslim.

The challenge of rooftop living manifested itself during the summer months. During that season, it was so hot on that roof that it was difficult to move from about 11:00am until around 5:00pm. On most days, I would leave around 1:30pm to attend class at the Dawah College at Abu Noor, hence, my wife was left to sweat it out alone. Mercifully, after 5:00pm, the gentle, refreshing breeze was a most welcome visitor. When I was home at that time, I would leave the door and windows open to make sure she did not pass us by.

Another delightful gift that made one forget the sweltering midday sun was the evening dance of the swallows as they darted to and fro gobbling up the seemingly invisible insects that constituted the staple of their diet. Starting about an hour before Maghrib, their rapid dips and ascensions, swoops, turns and incredible acceleration were mesmerizing. Additionally, one of our neighbors was a pigeon trainer and during the evening we would marvel as he stood on a nearby rooftop energetically sending out the flag signals, which called his dutiful troops home.

It was during this year that I got to know Dr. Wahba Zuhayli. Our neighborhood mosque was the beautiful Jami al-Kuwaiti, also known as Jami ‘Uthman. Dr. Zuhayli’s house was about one hundred meters north of the mosque and he frequently prayed his Fajr (morning) prayer there. Oftentimes, I would join a group of students for ask Dr. Zuhayli questions as we escorted him back to his house. Occasionally, if the brief walk provided insufficient time for answers, Dr. Zuhayli would invite us into his study to carry on the “dars.” Those walks reminded me of the Prophet’s, peace upon him, pedagogical method. He did not have Halaqas or formal lessons, per se. Being in his presence was the ultimate classroom.

Since becoming familiar with Dr. al-Zuhayli’s writings, especially his monumental works, al-Fiqh al-Islami wa Adillatuhu (Islamic Jurisprudence and Its Proofs) and al-Tafsir al-Munir (The Illuminating Commentary), I have maintained that Dr. Zuhayli was a living proof against those who argue that the likes of Abu Faraj Ibn al-Jawzi, Imam Nawawi, Imam Suyuti and the many other prolific authors of this Ummah could not have possibly penned all of the works attributed to them. What then do they say concerning Dr. Zuhayli, who within his lifetime has written enough volumes to fill several library shelves?

Yesterday evening, like so many others over the course of the past year, this great giant passed on. May Allah bless him and reward him immensely for the rich literary heritage he has vouchsafed us. May enough of us join his as the scholarly heirs of the Prophets, peace upon them, helping to keep the great heritage of our Ummah - knowledge - alive in the world.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Dancing Through the Rubble in Gaza

The Platform - Mon, 10/08/2015 - 22:59

The Gaza on Gaza exhibition at the P21 Gallery in London connects audiences to a new era of struggle


Not a single home has been rebuilt in the Gaza Strip since the crudely named Operation Protective Edge of 2014, in which the Israeli government rained destruction on the densely populated urban community causing huge casualties and widespread damage. The lack of infrastructural progression is staggering. Yet, in the context of this blockaded coastal territory it should hardly be surprising. Israel severely restricts the import of concrete into Gaza citing concern about the material’s “dual purpose”, so whatever has made it inside has been utilised in repairs, and the flattened homes of 500,000 people remain in ruins.

From the ashes of this deplorable and ongoing reality emerges the work of artist Majdal Nateel at the new Gaza on Gaza exhibition. Her candlelit appearance over an unstable Skype connection for the press evening is testament to the suffocating conditions she and most Gazans face. (Of course, none of the featured artists were able to travel for the show. Only a British television icon like Channel 4’s Jon Snow could get away with transporting Majdal’s pieces across the border and all the way to our capital city.) Her installation entitled “If I Wasn’t There” is comprised of her own colourful childlike doodles and drawings on brown paper – symbolically, the paper comes from the original packaging of the limited concrete supplies that did make it through – and on it she envisages the unfulfilled dreams of Palestinian children who died in the onslaught last year. Dreams like smiling. Brushing mum’s hair. Holding a heart-shaped balloon. Playing with a flower. Preparing for a game of “hide and seek”. Feeding a pet turtle.

While the layers of trauma culminate quietly beneath the surface of Majdal’s work, they ring loud and fierce in the “Through Young Eyes” series, which highlights the work of young Palestinians aged 15 to 17. The enlarged black and white sketches brim with impassioned faces, often with two characters in the foreground, presumably siblings, holding onto one another. Where one character is in hopeless distress, the other is clearly restraining tears, trying hard to remain resilient. And where there were no faces, there were firm hands. In a spectacular piece by Madeeha Al Majayda the viewer sees a man clutching a rose behind his back, hidden from the soldier who faces him, instead, with gun in position.

The select photographs on display by Mahmoud J Alkurd and award-winning photographer Heidi Levine, among others, are carefully edited to juxtapose the seemingly endless colours both of nature and of childhood with the dusty rubble of a recent war and the dark shadow of looming conflict. Within the rigid confines of the frame, there is no escape.

The gallery additionally hosts short videos, made in Gaza, which raise awareness on living conditions in the region and the problem with Israel’s administrative detention laws.

With the passage of time and the dissipating of this brutal military war from our consciousness, we may have become oblivious to the fact that Palestinian survivors are suffering from a period of psychological war and turmoil. The Gaza on Gaza exhibition reconnects international audiences and activists with Gazans through a visual message of pain, told most eloquently by the young artists who have lived through it. Protective edges collapse and psychotherapeutic reconstruction begins.

The Gaza on Gaza exhibition runs until 22nd August at the P21 Gallery, 21 Chalton Street, London NW1 1JD. Nearest stations are Euston and King’s Cross St. Pancras. Admission is free and opening hours are Tuesday to Friday 12-6pm, Saturday 12-4pm and Wednesday until 8pm.

Photo Credits: Nasreen Raja at the Gaza on Gaza exhibition

Categories: Muslim blogs

From A Psychopath to The Right Part

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Mon, 10/08/2015 - 21:46

The corporation has been defined by Gerald and Kathleen Hill as “A legal entity formed with state approval to act as an artificial person to carry on business, which may sue or be sued, and whose liabilities or debts are limited to its assets, so its shareholders and officers are protected from personal claims unless they commit fraud.”

The important part of this definition is that the real people behind this artificial person are free from any ultimate consequences for their actions, no matter how immoral, other than fraud. By definition there is no legal mandate for a corporation to adhere to higher ethics.

Recent history has shown that increasingly, through actions that would be considered highly immoral, large corporations are contributing to the destruction of our lives: socially, economically, psychologically and spiritually. To understand why, we need to understand the nature of corporations. As we know, the 14th Amendment, which was designed to protect the legal rights of freed slaves, has been extended to protect the legal rights of artificial persons, i.e. corporations, thus affirming their “personhood.”

Joel Bakan, has examined the personhood of large corporations and concluded that they are psychopaths. Bakan looked at the most significant signs of psychopathic behavior found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders and concluded that the corporation exhibited them all: Namely:

1. Callous unconcern for others

2. Incapacity to maintain enduring relations

3. Reckless disregard for the safety of others

4. Deceitfulness, repeated lying and conning others to advance self interest

5. Incapacity to experience guilt

6. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to behavior.

For Bakan, and other analysts of the corporations, the roots of corporate misbehavior are inherent to its nature. To rephrase the lengthier definition of the corporation mentioned above, “it is an economic entity legally mandated to pursue it’s economic self-interests,” or as we commonly phrase it, it respects the bottom line.

Hence, it’s morality is determined by it’s mandate, namely, whatever enhances it’s profitability is good, and whatever deters it’s profitability is bad. If it is profitable for Chevron to dump 18 billion gallons of toxic oil-drilling wastewater into the rivers of the Ecuadorian rain forest and to leave 1,000 toxic waste pits, which it did, destroying the lives of the indigenous tribes in the region, then it is a good thing because it aided profitability.

Similarly, if GM calculates, as it did, that it would cost $8.59 a vehicle to protect the gas tanks in it’s redesigned 1979 Chevy Malibu, and it would cost $2.40 a car to settle the projected lawsuits resulting from fires caused by the car being struck from the rear, hence, a savings of $6.19 a car, the tanks went unprotected, a decision based on the assumption that it would lead to 500 fatalities in fires from exploding gas tanks.

These are two brief examples of corporate psychopathology.

Islam presents a fundamentally different economic philosophy that will inevitably lead to free and fair trade, if adhered to.

In the Qur’an we read:
يأيها الذين آمنوا لا تأكلوا أموالكم بينكم بالباطل إلا أن تكونَ تجارةٌ عن تراضٍ  منكم و لا تقتلوا أنفسكم إن  الله كان بكم رحيماً

O Believers, do not engage in business between yourselves based on vile and unlawful means, rather, allow your business to be based on mutual satisfaction, and do not kill yourselves. Verily, Allah is merciful unto you. (4:29)

In other words, the interests of both parties have to be considered, something psychopaths are incapable of doing. This mutual consideration and corporation is the foundation of Islamic business ethics. 

Categories: Muslim blogs

Say No To War

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Tue, 04/08/2015 - 17:41

The political theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, famously said, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” If that is the case, war is a politics that we do not need, because it only opens the door to mass murder, under the disguise of a political agenda. As Muslims we should know this all too well, as many of our lands are being ripped apart by the wars that grow out of “righteous” politics.

Perhaps the most repugnant of these wars is the American-backed, Saudi-led destruction of Yemen. Yemen was poor to begin with. Now with the naval blockade, the destruction of the little infrastructure that did exist and the punitive bombings of civilian areas the entire population is threatened with starvation and no one is secure. Innocent people are suffering and dying because of the self-righteous and selfish politicians.

The contending politicians can point condemnatory fingers at whosoever they please, but at the end of the day, the politics leading to this disaster are disgusting. Muslim blood is too precious to be spilled over the cheap politics defining this and the other crises plaguing the Muslim world. We must say no to these politics and the wars they birth. If we refuse to be a party to these charades, the politicians definitely will not take the field and put their lives on the line for their cheap wars. When we all say no, these wars will end.

Categories: Muslim blogs

2014 Year in Review

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 01/01/2015 - 14:00

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 Amjad

Know Thyself: Opinion on Hajj Selfies by Suhaib Webb

How to understand rulings on photography, and why Hajj selfies can be a form of remembrance of good: worshiping Allah alone, visiting sacred places, love and fraternity, and acts of worship.


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

A detailed breakdown of why there is nothing in the scripture that would prohibit a modest woman of knowledge and character to preach to the masses.


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

Understanding which American customs are permissible or not, and why, including birthdays,  anniversaries, halloween, and more. A practical, most highly read article every year it is posted.

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 Ederer

Can 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 Abdalla

Is 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 Alam

With Hardship Comes Ease: Embracing Discomfort by Ismail Shaikh (Guest Author)

A key lesson learned after a very stressful and long job search experience:  there is growth in discomfort, uncertainty and unpredictability. Why and how we should embrace discomfort.

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

Categories: Muslim blogs

Ya Sabr Ayub

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 24/12/2014 - 14:00

Photo: Tom Gill

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.”

Categories: Muslim blogs

Our Personal Hells

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 23/12/2014 - 19:20

 “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

Photo: Pankaj Kaushal

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.


Categories: Muslim blogs

To Whom Belongs Sovereignty? Al-Qahhar

Imam Suhaib Webb - Mon, 22/12/2014 - 14:00

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 XXIXPart XXX |Part XXXI | Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI | Part XXXVII | Part XXXVIII

Photo: Joel Tonyan

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.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Lessons from the Prophet Musa

Imam Suhaib Webb - Fri, 19/12/2014 - 14:00

Imam Suhaib Webb talks about lessons from the life of Prophet Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him).

Categories: Muslim blogs

How Muslim Theologians Saved Islamic Science

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 18/12/2014 - 14:00

Photo: Alby Headrick

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:

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