Muslim blogs

American Sniper: The Real Devil of Ramadi

The Platform - Wed, 28/01/2015 - 14:10

Filmmakers have stripped the story of Chris Kyle from the factual details harrowingly present in his autobiography

 

Dubbed as one of the whitest Oscars in years, it comes as no amazement that American Sniper is nominated for six Academy Awards, including best actor, director and picture. The film is based on the autobiography of SEAL Chris Kyle, who has a killing rate of 225,160 of which are confirmed. The biopic depicts his life from his so-called motivations to enter the Iraq war to his very last day, ending with real footage of support and grief from the public upon his death.

The film, in one word, is a little something that begins with the letter F: Fiction.

It is understandable that the movie polishes a lot of its subject’s flaws, considering that Taya Kyle (played by Sienna Miller) and Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) himself, before his death, were heavily involved in the filmmaking process. It is unlikely that either of these two would want the masses to witness the brutality that habituated the mind of the “American Sniper”.

In the film, Kyle is presented as the perfect gentleman, who just wants to do right by his country and protect the nation after having seen multiple terrorist attacks against his country on the news. He saves a girl from a sleazy man in a bar, and ends up marrying this girl and having children with her. He always makes sure to say “please”, “thank you”, “ma’am” and “sir”, and above all, he is a man with a conscience. The last characterisation is perhaps the most laughable of them all.

Cooper, who is credited as a producer of the film, and Clint Eastwood who directed it, either skipped past the process of actually reading the autobiography, or just had a selective blindness to the parts that didn’t paint Kyle as the ultimate hero – one whom all men should aspire to be like. This is a man who has admitted to his sadistic nature, narrating how he would drive his car towards Iraqi civilians, their screams making him laugh till he doubled over, and how “cheap thrills in Iraq were priceless.”

Kyle is constantly referred to as a “hero”, a “legend”, a “myth” in the film. However, the label of “Shaitan Al-Ramadi” (The Devil of Ramadi) afforded to him by the Iraqis that he slaughtered, was one that was appointed, in the movie, to an Iraqi bad guy instead, a man who worked for an opposing sniper shooting down American soldiers.

This is where the fictitious nature of the film is a little more evident. Mustafa, the sniper taking down soldiers, is presented as the villain throughout the movie – the one guy that Kyle must get whether it kills him and destroys his marriage, because this man is killing his friends. In Kyle’s book, he refers to the sniper in a mere one paragraph in the entire autobiography, writing, “I never saw him, but other snipers later killed an Iraqi sniper we think was him.” Kyle had never even met this man, wasn’t even sure of his demise, but in the film he is the superhero to Mustafa’s supervillain.

Furthermore, Kyle is seen to be wrecked with guilt after his first kill, one that was a child, and then throughout the film he is portrayed as killing because of noble necessity. Kyle, in his book, divulged how he was not bothered by his killings and said, “I loved what I did… I’m not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun”, and then later “the number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more.” It is a wonder how Eastwood and Cooper omitted these significant parts of the book.

Reactions to the film have been horrifyingly revealing of the current society in which we live in, with anti-Muslim threats heightening upon the film’s release. Many took to Twitter to express the buzz they felt in watching the film and how they wish to “kill some ******* ragheads.” It is no surprise that the film caused this feedback as it failed to portray a single Muslim as anything but the enemy, be they an elderly person or a young child.

Seth Rogen tweeted that American Sniper reminded him of a scene from Inglorious Basterds, where the Nazis are watching and cheering on a film about a German sniper killing allied soldiers. Though Rogen apologised for the tweet and backtracked on his observation, he inadvertently stumbled onto the flaws of our voyeur culture, highlighting our tendency to glorify individuals without considering the darker consequences of their actions.

There has never been a time when I felt that I could not sit through an entire movie – and, mind you, I’ve sat through The Lord of The Rings back-to-back – but this film had my leg muscles twitching in preparation to storm out. It opens with the Islamic call to prayer (adhan), then goes on to display a film where Islam has become a source of evil, and all who follow it deserve to die. Perhaps it was curiosity that made me stay, and we all know what that did to the proverbial cat. My curiosity surrounding this movie and its subsequent Islamaphobic reaction has killed my faith in humanity just a little bit.

The only redeemable aspect of the whole experience of going to the cinema to see this was perhaps the trailer of Selma that came on before American Sniper started. Selma portrays Martin Luther King’s endeavour in the civil rights movement, the story of a real hero, who believe it or not, was killed by an American sniper.

With thanks to Stratford East Picturehouse.

Image from: Warner Bros.
Categories: Muslim blogs

Domestic Injustice: What Marissa Alexander’s Case Means for Survivors of Violence

The Platform - Tue, 27/01/2015 - 08:50

The U.S. justice system displays its inherent racism and disregard for victims of domestic violence in the case of Marissa Alexander

 

On January 27th, Marissa Alexander is expected to finally leave jail after what many have decried as a wrongful conviction and commitment. On August 1st of 2010, Alexander fired what she has called a warning shot, to protect herself against her abusive husband, nine days after she had given birth to a premature daughter. Two of his children were in the house at the time. Supporters say this shot saved her life after a violent struggle escalated to verbal threats that he was going to kill her, and she could not get out of the locked garage. Alexander drew a gun out of her car that she was licensed to carry and use.

Domestic violence and gun laws have been trending topics on social media in the U.S. over the course of the past year, particularly with regard to questions of victim-blaming, as in the case of Janay Palmer and Ray Rice, and with regard to Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, which has been linked to the violent shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin in 2012, and Jordan Davis in 2013. Stand Your Ground is meant to provide immunity to those who resort to deadly force in self-defence. Historically, this had to do with protecting oneself and one’s home and property from intruders, deriving from something called the castle doctrine. Stand Your Ground has been expanded in certain states to include self-defence when one feels one’s life is threatened, and was thus cited in the non-indictment of George Zimmerman in the violent shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Florida woman Marissa Alexander’s protracted legal struggle – which combines both of these controversial topics – reveals an unfortunate perpetuation of victim-blaming and bias against women and people of colour in the U.S. justice system, effectively silencing and invisibilising victims of domestic violence; all the more readily if she is a black woman.

First convicted in 2011, Alexander has now spent nearly three years behind bars. Initially sentenced to 20 years, she was told to expect 60 years if found guilty again at a retrial scheduled for December 1st at the hands of notoriously harsh State Prosecutor Angela Corey. The conditions of Alexander’s pending release constitute quite the pyrrhic victory in a black woman’s battle for life and legitimacy: she is now an averred criminal, having accepted a plea bargain on November 24th, pleading guilty to three charges of aggravated assault. By the time of her release, Alexander will have completed the plea deal’s concomitant three-year prison sentence, and will be required to spend two more years under house arrest. These are the facts of the outcome from the case of a woman who fired a warning shot because she felt that her life was in danger, in a state where others have found protection under Stand Your Ground law for killing innocent youth because they felt that their life was in danger. Alexander was compelled to accept criminal charges in order to once again save her life – this time, from being spent in prison. Her status as a credible and legitimate citizen-subject, already systematically psychologically undermined in the context of an abusive intimate relationship, has met with further, civic degradation at the hands of the justice system. One cannot help but wonder here whether this is a case of Alexander’s ventriloquising for the justice system what she has always been in its eyes, as a black woman: unruly, criminal, not to be trusted?

In a talk last month, Professor Angela Davis addressed the importance of “attending to the circuits that lead from the intimate to the institutional, from the public to the private, and from the personal to the political.” The travesty of justice in Marissa Alexander’s case – a victim of domestic violence who has been apprehended and incarcerated for defending herself – points to a not-so-subtle collusion between intimate and state violence. These are, if you will, different levels of “the domestic” – an imagined space of protection and nurturing of citizen-life for the continued growth of the family and, by extension, the nation. In resonance with the logic of awareness-raising efforts of #blacklivesmatter campaigns, Alexander’s case makes evident that not all lives are in fact counted as equal, credible or legitimate. It is also, sadly, not at all new.

Alexander was initially refused immunity under Stand Your Ground. Last year, the law underwent an amendment said to be inspired by her case, and yet she was again denied immunity. The controversial amendment to include warning shots, mediated by smug and patronising older white men in power, publicly pitted the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis against Marissa Alexander. Riding off of false sympathy for Alexander, this turn of events only served to publicly fraction members of a community who might otherwise be a source of solidarity and support for one another. The degradation of the collective support systems of citizens by agents of the state mirrors a methodical isolation of the victimised counterpart in intimate partner violence, and indicates a palpable continuity between private and public violence, as suggested by Professor Davis.

Rhetoric of violence and invalidation: abuse, dismissal

The ways in which Alexander’s domestic violence case has been spoken and written about enacts a routine – and commonplace – dismissal and diminishment of the deeply harmful and dangerous nature of domestic violence: “domestic dispute” is often used by the media as a phrase to describe the events of the day that she fired the shot in self-defence. The euphemistic use of “dispute” is wholly inappropriate and inaccurate in any discussion of domestic violence, and its codified use only serves to further exculpate a guilty system from complicity in ignoring and passing over such deeply damaging and fatal cycles of violence. Additionally, a critical piece in the judge’s conviction of Alexander was a claim that she was acting out of “anger” rather than “fear.” Just as with the Janay Palmer and Ray Rice incident, the media and public has been eager to blame the victim, citing both women as “violent”, calling the couple – in both instances – a “violent couple,” and invalidating Alexander and Palmer’s victimhood by pointing out aggressive acts that the women committed in self-defence.

At the end of the day, in taking her life into her own hands, out of those of her abusive ex-husband, Marissa Alexander has given over more than five years of her life to state power. This begs the following question: where does a battered woman’s agency lie, when she has stood up against her abuser? We are immediately prompted to consider what threat, exactly, the black woman fighting for her life and dignity may signify? Or, more specifically, as Professor Davis put it at the end of her talk, “what is so threatening about a black woman in the southern United States who attempts to defend herself from what is called domestic violence?”

Image from: http://www.bet.com/news/national/2014/06/10/marissa-alexander-back-in-court-new-trial-postponed-to-december.html
Categories: Muslim blogs

North Texas Muslims, Neighbors Gather to Call For Peace

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Tue, 27/01/2015 - 03:29

From a rally in front of Dallas City Hall to an interfaith gathering inside a North Dallas church, hundreds of North Texans spent Sunday decrying terrorism — and denouncing those who blame the entire Islamic religion for the violent acts of an extremist few.

By Brandon Formby and Claire Z. Cardona, Dallas TX, January 25, 2015

Staff Writers

From a rally in front of Dallas City Hall to an interfaith gathering inside a North Dallas church, hundreds of North Texans spent Sunday decrying terrorism — and denouncing those who blame the entire Islamic religion for the violent acts of an extremist few.

“Islam is a religion of peace,” said Shoeb Khan, one of more than 100 Muslims who celebrated the birthday of the Islamic prophet Muhammad downtown Sunday. “There is no compulsion in Islam. If [terrorists] went by the teachings, they would not commit these acts.”

That parade and the Stand With Our Muslim Neighbors event at Northaven United Methodist Church came eight days after protesters picketed a Garland fundraiser for a center that would teach Muslims how to combat negative depictions of their faith.

The fundraiser came on the heels of Islamic militants’ brazen murders of 12 people at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Its protesters held signs that said “Insult those who behead” and instructed Muslims to “Go home.” Violent threats and safety concerns prompted organizers to increase security for the Garland event.

The protests drew national media attention. They also prompted the Northaven event, which drew more than 200 people Sunday.

“It is wrong to paint the whole of any religion as responsible for violence from extremism,” said Northaven senior pastor Eric Folkerth.

Folkerth was joined by religious and civic leaders who said that Americans should honor the nation’s founding tenants of free speech and religious freedom.

“When you do this, you discover the values are the same,” said Hind Jarrah, co-founder of the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation.

They also said religious people should connect over the similarities of their faiths, rather than allow unimportant differences to divide them.

“There shouldn’t be fear,” said Shpendim Nadzaku, a scholar for the Islamic Association of North Texas.

Wes Magruder, the senior pastor of Kessler Park United Methodist Church, said he learned a lot about Islam when he participated in Ramadan. During that monthlong ritual, Muslims fast from dawn until sunset. Magruder said participating earned him several Muslim friends, many of whom invited him over for iftar, the evening meal that breaks each day’s fast.

“I promise you, I gained weight that Ramadan,” Magruder said.

Sunday’s downtown parade, an annual event organized by the DFW Milad Community, closed Young Street in front of City Hall. Participants from Dallas-area Muslim organizations celebrated the prophet’s birthday and aimed to show that their religion is synonymous with peace.

The group walked through downtown holding banners and waving American flags alongside flags from Islamic countries including Pakistan. Children and adults held signs that read “Muhammad Mercy for the Universe” and “Islam Means Peace” as they congregated outside City Hall to pray and give speeches on the life and teachings of Muhammad.

Khan said that Islam is about living in harmony. He said the religion strongly condemns violence and those who commit violent acts are “against everything.”

“They are not Muslim, they are terrorists,” he said.

Islamic scholar Imam Zaid Shakir, a co-founder and senior faculty member of Muslim liberal arts school Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., told the crowd that Muslims have to “touch the hearts” of their neighbors.

“Our religion is focused on our hearts,” he said. “It started in the heart of our prophet, and he spread it to the hearts of his companions. They spread it to the hearts of the successors, and it reached our hearts.”


The Dallas Morning News: http://www.dallasnews.com/news/metro/20150125-north-texas-muslims-neighbors-gather-to-call-for-peace.ece

Categories: Muslim blogs

Sri Lankan Elections: Not Just a Victory For Minorities

The Platform - Sat, 24/01/2015 - 10:02

Sri Lanka’s political majority and minorities must unite in order to form a cohesive society

 

Images have been circulating Facebook, highlighting in their various hues the fact that the sixth executive president of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, won with the support of minority communities in the country. The last president, Mahinda Rajapakse, instead obtained the votes of a majority of the majority. There is an image depicting a line drawing of a rabbit, requesting those who have time to go about colouring a map of Sri Lanka to induce racism: to colour the rabbit. That is how much Sri Lankan society has been polarised over the last few weeks.

President Rajapakse was the clear front runner to win when the elections were called in November 2014. Since then, the probability of him winning thinned, especially when the general secretary of his own party defected to the opposition, occupying the mantle that was the common opposition candidate. Come the eve of the election, Mahinda Rajapaksa was still the favourite to win, albeit only just.

I had never come across someone who wholeheartedly committed to the fact that Mahinda would lose, even in the predominantly anti-regime circles that I move in. The most optimistic notion doing the rounds was that Maithripala had a very fair chance of winning. That optimism, however, was swiftly disqualified by the commonest of statements: should the unthinkable happen, the Rajapakses are so entrenched in their power politics that they will never let go, and even if they did, it would be after a bloodbath. Days before the elections, the price of vegetables and other household commodities soared as a premonition-soaked public stockpiled in anticipation of the violence and curfew that was expected to eventuate.

The unthinkable happened: Rajapakse lost. He allegedly tried to use the military to create chaos, the army refused, and what ensued was probably the most peaceful election and post-election climate in my near-thirty-year lifetime. Both Muslims and Tamils voted en masse for the opposition; particularly the Muslims. Not because they had faith in the opposition, but because the Rajapakses had to be deposed.

Under the Rajapakses, Sri Lanka’s political balance descended from precarious to utterly damaged. Media freedom was stifled and the country went from being a benign, smiling island nation to a surveillance state. The latest technology was mustered to wage a war that was now being used to protect the power balance of the regime. Journalists were killed in broad daylight; media institutions and other organs of a functioning democracy were stifled or bullied into submission. Ostentatious construction projects were instituted, some meaningful, some less so. The incentive behind many such projects was a fruit of corruption enjoyed by those involved.

Political appointees were commonplace, and many people at the highest echelons of power could trace some link to the Rajapakse family. Sri Lanka’s first female chief justice was impeached for allegedly blocking a project that largely involved one of the Rajapakse brothers. The impeachment process itself was not moral and the very process reflected the tatters in which political decency lay. It is rumoured that one of the loquacious ministers of the government addressed her derogatorily in Sinhala as ‘baby’.

As a nation, many felt that we had lost our spirit under the Rajapakses. As a people, we were being groomed to dislike each other in a land which was abrasively and wrongly claiming to belong to just one race. Racism was allowed to thrive: indeed, bureaucratic apparatuses were struggling to survive without it. Ministers and ministerial offspring were running amok, and thugs in robes went about desecrating the sanctity of the noble philosophy that is Buddhism.

Corruption was so rampant that it became a deeply ingrained element of our psyche. When one lives in abnormality for long enough, what was once considered abnormal slowly yet firmly goes through a subtle metamorphosis to become normal. Decadence is so gradual that it happens without grazing the sensitivities of our collective consciences, eating away at our souls.

The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), largely unrepresentative of the average Sri Lankan Buddhist, wrought carnage upon the carefully evolved and preserved Sinhala-Muslim relationship. To the credit of the Muslims, however, they were astute to identify the BBS as a terror group and not of a representative wing of the majority Sinhala community. The BBS was out in the open in its aggression towards Muslims. A country where law and order is considered sacrosanct would have no dilemma in having many of the BBS charged and punished. Instead, they were harnessed and even prospered under the watch of the previous government. Among the reasons for their invincibility was their perceivably close relationship with former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse.

Hundreds of properties and dozens of mosques were damaged, causing immense physical and emotional trauma upon a beleaguered and innocent Muslim community. It was, and continues to be a symbol of the decadence of our society that hate speech so easily spewed from the electronic mouths of many educated Sinhala youth, under the watch and connivance of the state. However, in all this, Muslims must not and should never be tricked to indulge in the turgidity that this was a victory brought forth by the Muslims and other non-Sinhala ethnic groups. Rajapakse had to go, the people rose against him, and that is all.

Muslims should move beyond the parochialism that has plagued politics in recent decades. It didn’t use to be this way: abnormality has once again come to be accepted as normal. It is understandable that the circumstances pushed Muslim politicians down that path, but that time has now passed. Muslims should integrate not just with the Sinhalese or Tamils, but with all those who identify themselves as Sri Lankan.

I was among the tens, if not hundreds of thousands at the last rally in Maradana by Maithripala Sirisena of the Colombo Central electorate. I was also among the elated crowds at the Independence Square when the new president was sworn in. The former is a Muslim stronghold and the evergreen bastion of the opposition United National Party; the latter is a national treasure. Remarkable was the fact that in one instance, Sri Lankans rallied against the incumbent, and in another they rallied in support of the new incumbent. This was not as antagonistic warlords who had momentarily laid down their arms, but as a harmonious clutter of Sri Lankans of all shades, celebrating what they deserve.

Maithripala Sirisena’s presidency, or indeed his new government, should not be considered better than the last unless it actively proves to be so. They have made promising new steps, but they have miles to walk. This new government has to be held accountable for all the steps they take, commended for the good they do and taken to task for their wrongs. Never again should a regime as dastardly and corrupt as the last be allowed to surface and soak the founding principles of Sri Lankan society, one that still teaches ‘values’ in her schools.

This is not a victory for the Muslims or Tamils. Neither did the Sinhalese win with the help of their other racial counterparts. The oldest democracy in Asia’s people got together to depose what they thought was a representation of everything that isn’t Sri Lankan. They did so to regain the Sri Lanka they know.

That is how it should be.

I am a Muslim. I voted for the winning candidate. It is against the grain of these sentiments to highlight that I voted in a Sinhalese, but I did, and not just because there wasn’t a suitable Muslim candidate. I am from the political majority, a majority that should embrace the minority to form a cohesive Sri Lanka. Not as a monotonous people, but as a united people.

Image from: http://english.readsrilanka.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/president-mahinda-rajapaksa-vs-maithripala-sirisena1.jpg
Categories: Muslim blogs

Cuba: The Untold Story of Thriving Development

The Platform - Wed, 21/01/2015 - 20:03

Cuba has seen academia divided for years but the exemplary advances being made in education and healthcare in the country speak for themselves

 

“They talk about the failure of socialism but where is the success of capitalism in Africa, Asia and Latin America?” Fidel Castro

While studying Development Economics at university, Cuba always polarised debate in the academic community. Cuba is one of the very few countries which have completely rejected neoliberalism, capitalism and “economic development” by privatisation. It is only one of six countries that is not part of the IMF or World Bank – the two institutions which are the blueprint for eradicating poverty in nearly every developing country. After all, the World Bank’s mission is to “push extreme poverty to no more than 3 per cent by 2030 and to promote shared prosperity and greater equity in the developing world”.

As Cuba has also been subject to a US trade embargo since the early ‘60s, it is a very daring move of the country to reject capitalism in full. In theory, the embargo prevents any imports from the US, a mere 90 miles away. In practice, however, this extends to non-US companies who do not want to trade with Cuba out of fear of being penalised by the US. To put this into context, Cuba was once the world’s largest sugar exporter and until the ‘60s the US received 33 per cent of their sugar exports from Cuba. Apply this, also, to Cuba’s tobacco, rice, fruit and a myriad of other items that are crucial for its economy and the standard of living of its people.

So, how can a country of 11 million people which has rejected capitalism, the World Bank and IMF, and has been subjected to one of the worst economic embargoes in history, have one of the best healthcare systems in the world, free education for every citizen up to and including university level, and have a higher literacy rate than the US and UK? In actual fact, Cuba shames all developing countries and the majority of OECD countries in nearly every development statistic.

However, Cuba still instigates heated debate, and a quick Google search brings up everything from how repressive the regime is to its people, to how the Cuban socialist government is one the fairest in the world, and plenty of alternative theories in between. As a result, I jumped at the chance to embark on a cycling holiday around Cuba to see for myself, and being only a few days after Obama’s announcement of normalising American ties with Cuba, the opportunity could not have come at a more pivotal moment.

What I did actually find in Cuba is a model for every developing country to follow. Cuba proves that a developing country can have the resources to look after its poor people, but instead it chooses to (or is forced to) neglect the most vulnerable. In the face of the collapse of the Soviet Union (Cuba’s financial backer), one of the worst trade embargos in the world and of western isolation, Cuba has no homelessness. It is simply not an issue in Cuba. Every Cuban is housed and you will not see a slum or homeless person in sight.

Another area of excellence in Cuba is education. Cuba spends 10 per cent of its national budget on education, compared with 4 per cent in the UK and just 2 per cent in the US. Following the revolution Cuba launched an extremely ambitious one year literacy campaign which was dubbed the “year of education”. “Literacy brigades” were sent to the countryside and rural areas to establish schools and teach the illiterate Guajiros (peasants) to read and write. Prior to the revolution, the literacy rate was between 60-76 per cent. In the “year of education” over 700,000 adults were taught to read and write, raising the literacy rate to 98 per cent and today it is slightly higher than that of the US and UK. Education is a priority in Cuba and does not end with basic literacy. Education at every level including university is free for all Cubans. Compare this with the UK, where the average student leaves university £22,000 in debt. This puts Cuba at number 14 in the UNESCO’s Education for All Development index, higher than any other country in the Americas.

Another area where Cuba serves as a shaming example to the rest of the world, especially the US, is its health care system that, according to the World Health Organization, is an example for all countries of the world. Famed for its excellence and efficiency, it is available for free to all segments of the population despite the impact of economic sanctions on Cuba. While exploring the pretty city of Cienfuegos, I met four female Pakistani medical students. Following the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, the Cuban government awarded 1000 scholarships for Pakistanis to study Medicine in Cuba. The girls were in their seventh and final year of study and had nothing but glowing reviews of their experiences. Cuba’s emphasis on education and healthcare is not merely reactionary and tokenistic. Cuban healthcare statistics speak for themselves; life expectancy is an impressive 79 and infant mortality calculated at 4.83 deaths per 1000 lives. Compare this infant mortality rate to the US where the figure is 6 and the average figure for Latin America is 27 per 1000. There is also one doctor for every 220 people in Cuba – one of the highest ratios in the world and better than England where there is one doctor for every 370 people. Healthcare is free, holistic, prevention-orientated and community-based.

Whether it is women’s rights, homelessness or any other development statistic, Cuba is not just doing better than almost every other developing country, but it is actually doing better than most countries in the world.

Having visited many developing countries, I expected (and quite used to) seeing billboards around schools, hospitals and farms, advertising their funding from Oxfam, UNICEF and other major charities.I half expected to see the same thing in Cuba but I saw no signs of a major charity being involved in providing basic services to Cubans. Instead, what I saw was the state being directly involved in providing services for the Cuban people, and what an exemplary service it provides.

Upon leaving Cuba I spent two days in Toronto before returning home. What hit me nearly as hard as the change in temperature was the prevalence of poverty. Amid the towering buildings I saw more homeless people in two days than I did during the whole time I spent in Cuba (which was zero). While walking in the snow, a homeless man approached me from behind. He asked me if I had any change I could spare so that he can try to secure a bed at a shelter to stay out of the cold that evening. The contrast hit me in the face like the sharp cold that this man was trying to get a respite from. There is no cap to the wealth that can be attained in our capitalist havens. However, there is no adequate minimum standard of care set for the neediest in our societies. This homeless man would be better looked after in the country I had just left than in the country I had arrived in. Should that not be the test of our humanity and the strength of nation-states?

For all the millions of dollars being wasted by multinational institutions like the World Bank and multinational charities, Cuba proves there is another way.

Photo Credits: Ali
Categories: Muslim blogs

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Ummah Films - Mon, 12/01/2015 - 13:15
Categories: Muslim blogs

Messengers of Mercy

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sun, 11/01/2015 - 17:10

Muslims are messengers of mercy to humanity. This message is being buried under the mountains of distortion and defamation being directed towards our community and the gasoline that some ignorant, misguided or devious Muslims are wittingly or unwittingly pouring on smoldering embers of hatred, fear and insecurity that some anti-Muslim forces are spreading here in the West.

We are directly commissioned by our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) to undertake this mission of mercy when he mentioned to a group of his companions: “You will not enter Paradise until you are merciful.” Those assembled replied, “All of us are merciful, O Messenger of Allah!” He said (peace and blessings of Allah upon him), “I do not mean the mercy one of you might show to those closest to him, what I mean is mercy to all people, mercy to the general public.” (Related by Hakim, Nasa’i and others)

Let us ignore the provocations and defamation and get about the work of being a source of good and mercy to all we may come into contact with. May Allah bless you all and make things easy for you and your families during these trying times.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Decolonial Expressions of Outrage in the Wake of the Charlie Hebdo Attack

The Platform - Fri, 09/01/2015 - 19:01

The emergence of critical decolonial responses is crucial to coming to terms with and addressing the shooting at Charlie Hedbo

 

The horror of the 7th January attack on staff of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo is unspeakable. It is one of those terrible incursions of senseless violence into realms that we thought sacrosanct. Past the initial raw emotion, though, is the dilemma of finding appropriate ways to express our anger, sadness, disbelief and solidarity.

This process is incredibly tricky in the circumstances: those of a world that is still blighted by ‘war on terror’ geopolitics; of a continent, Europe, that is undergoing the most ominous resurgence in nationalist/fascistic tendencies since the 1930s; of a country, France, which has never, since its original sin of colonisation, purged its Islamophobic demons. Most of all, it is Samuel Huntington’s self-perpetuating prophecy, the infamous ‘Clash of Civilizations’, which is at risk of being replayed once again. In the overwhelming majority of media, political and popular responses to the tragedy, the story is that of an Enlightened West whose liberal values are under attack from obscurantist forces, coming from, yes, the Orient.

“Orientalism,” wrote Edward Said, “is never far from…the idea of Europe, a collective notion identifying ‘us’ Europeans as against all ‘those’ non-Europeans.” This “idea of Europe” is what is being reinforced every time we use the polarising, rigid dichotomies of civilisation vs barbarism, liberalism vs fundamentalism, western ‘Enlightenment’ vs ‘Oriental’ obscurantism. These dichotomies have been the framework upon which colonialism was built in the 19th and 20th century, and they continue not only to uphold the edifices of systemic racism, but also to keep overshadowing western foreign policy.

“But it’s not what we’re intending to do!” liberals will cry, “we’re only talking about an extreme branch of Islam, we don’t have anything against ‘good’ and ‘moderate’ Muslims.” The issue is that these good intentions are too often overtaken by the unintended consequence of perpetuating a discourse which advances the interests of some and encourages the oppressions of others. For instance, in an article published yesterday in Le Monde, the journalists and editors thought it perfectly appropriate to mention (in passing) that one of the Charlie Hebdo suspects had a sister-in-law who worked for a childcare centre in France and “wore the veil since her pilgrimage to Mecca in 2008”. In other journalistic accounts, the link between radical and everyday Islam is even more eagerly made: George Packer, in the New Yorker admonished people who “tiptoe around the Islamic connection” and enjoined readers to recognise the link between Islam as a religion and various crimes committed in its name.

How, then, to express outrage, solidarity or heartbreak about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, without broadcasting oppressive narratives? The stakes are high in France – which already suffers from rampant Islamophobia and has a presidential election due in two years that is increasingly likely to be won by a straight-out fascist party, the Front National – but also in the rest of Europe and the US, where the clash of civilisations narrative is paradigmatic.

A first step might be to refrain from adopting the trendy #JesuisCharlie slogan. While the few critics who raised objections to a blanket support of Charlie Hebdo’s editorial line and pointed out the racist nature of many of its cartoons have been lambasted as ‘terrorism apologists’ on social and regular media, we must insist that our condemnation of the atrocities perpetrated against the Charlie Hebdo team is in no way undermined by our clarity about the nature of the paper. Rather, as Voltaire’s saying, supporting free speech is arguably even more meaningful when you strongly disagree with what is being said.

Charlie Hebdo’s history is that of a racist, misogynistic and particularly Islamophobic publication, and its editors have never displayed an ounce of critical reflection on the consequences of their indomitable resolve not to back down in the face of cultural sensitivities or any reasoned critiques. The fact that they might be playing into the hands of the Front National, which they claim to loathe, has never made them waver. The apparent bravado that is now presented as heroic journalism is, in fact, deeply patriarchal and imbued with white, male privilege – the privilege not to care about hurting others or perpetuating injustice. To recognise these truths is not a way of justifying or even relativising any act of violence or censorship. But solidarity can be expressed in ways other than identification. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, but I am not Charlie Hebdo.

Another step towards mitigating the harmful effects of the public response to the shooting could be to refrain from participating in Grand Interpretive Narratives. Even before the identities of the shooters were determined, and still very little is known about them, only one interpretation has been collectively embraced: that of the radicalised Islamists unable to accept the innocent jokes against their religion and exerting personal revenge upon French enlightenment ideals. I am not in a position to evaluate the accuracy of this interpretation, but that is exactly the point: for now, nobody is. There has been no room for alternative interpretations, such as mental illness or the possibility of retaliation following acts of war from a nation that France is currently bombing, for example. It has been pointed out that in the aftermath of shootings in which the assailant is white, such as in the case of Anders Breivic, commentators are far less eager to insert the perpetrator into a grand narrative of race, politics or culture, but much more likely to treat the horrifying act as an isolated anomaly. Rushing to blindly adopt the dominant narrative does not only validate prejudices, it also prevents us from asking questions about what really happened and why; it stifles our drive to try to understand.

The January 7th shooting is a tragedy on many levels. It is a tragedy for the victims and their families. It is a tragedy for the future of French politics, almost certainly bound to be as constrained by this event as US politics continue to be by 9/11. It is a tragedy for Muslims, in France and around the world, whose daily struggle against cultural and structural discrimination is likely to be worsened. But it is not a tragedy for freedom of speech, freedom of the press or democracy – these are under attack, for sure, but not by gunmen or Islamists. They are threatened by the Surveillance State, corporate power and financialisation, to name a few. To care about these civil liberties is not simply to hold them out as banners of the west against foreign barbarism when events compel us to do so, but to fight for them when it means resisting our own governments and plutocrats, when it means not just using a fantasised ominous Other to comfort us about our own civilisational superiority, but to use them to challenge our own shortcomings.

The current media outcry following the Charlie Hebdo tragedy is dominated by impassioned defences of freedom of speech, thought and opinion – let us be deliberate in using these freedoms to embrace rather than run away from critical thinking. And most of all, let us be responsible in making use of them in non-oppressive, decolonial and emancipatory ways.

Image from: http://mashable.com/2015/01/08/white-house-jay-carney-charlie-hebdo/
Categories: Muslim blogs

Desperately Seeking Democracy in Bangladesh

The Platform - Fri, 09/01/2015 - 02:31

Bangladesh’s democratic path continues to struggle as the opposition and ruling party clash over controversial elections

 

As billions worldwide enter into another year, leaving behind experiences and memories, the status quo does not seem to be looking any brighter in many a place around the globe. Bangladesh, well recognised in the West for its burgeoning garment sector, has seen a tumultuous year.

Human rights violations unabated

‘The year 2014 was alarming for the country’s overall human rights situation despite progress in some areas, says’, an annual report by the Bangladesh based human rights body, Ain O Salish Kendra.  Throughout 2014, law enforcement agencies allegedly abducted 88 people. Among the victims, 12 were found alive, two ended up in jail and 23 others were found dead. A large number of people remain still missing.

In an effort to understand what transpired throughout 2014, in continuum of the blatant abuse of human rights by the incumbent government over the preceding years, English based daily, New Age, published a series of articles investigating the abduction and disappearances of 19 men, all of them Dhaka based opposition activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), in a two week period at the end of 2013. All of these abductions took place between 28 November and 11 December. None of these men have been returned. The findings of this study, focusing on the capital Dhaka, shows correlations with similar government fueled instances of crackdowns throughout the country. These include wide scale arrests and abuses committed by state forces in the name of quashing “anarchy” by the opposition, to policies in the Satkhira district, where even minorities were not safe.

A farcical election

All human rights abuses over the past year revolved around the elections of 5 January 2014, which has been hailed as one of the all time lows in the history of democracy in Bangladesh. In an election dubbed, ‘deeply flawed’, by international observers, the overwhelming majority of the people were either deprived of their voting rights or were not given free choice over their vote. Disturbing as it may sound, pro-government candidates ran unopposed in more than half of the Parliament’s 300 seats; in those districts, local elections were not held, leaving 48 million registered voters without any opportunity to vote.

The outcome of the vote was never in doubt after the opposition BNP and its allied parties had boycotted the contest, with 153 Awami League candidates or allies elected unopposed to the 300-seat parliament. The boycott by the BNP and its allies had stemmed from the scrapping of the tried and tested interim poll time caretaker government system in 2011 under the auspices of the Awami League, and had raised fears that the elections would not be fair without such a system in place. Their fears turned out to be true, when, in the words of the Economist, ‘Many polling stations saw almost no voters (as evidenced by a report here), then suspiciously large numbers of ballots cast late in the day. Of the 300 constituencies, just over half, 153, had no contest at all, since only AL candidates or allies registered. In the capital voting took place in just nine of 20 seats’.

The elections were criticised by a number of key international players, including the US and the UN, who demanded new elections. The elections were also criticised for their deeply flawed nature by the European Union, Canada, the UK and the Commonwealth. Earlier, most international observers had declined to oversee the votes, questioning the legitimacy of a voter-less and candidate-less election, marred by violence and boycotting by the main opposition players. According to one Aljazeera report, around 82 countries had questioned the credibility of the polls.

Nationwide sub-district polls: a contrasting picture  

Less than 2 months after the so-called national elections, the BNP-led alliance competed in the fourth nationwide upazila (sub-district) elections where the BNP and its allied Jamaat-e-Islami party backed chairperson candidates showed a grand performance, bagging close to two-thirds of the seats. This, despite a spate of violence marring the polls, centering on Awami League cadres trying to take over polling centres with the help of the administration. It was a scenario reflecting either the opposition’s real popularity or the unpopularity of the Awami League.

In retrospect, these local elections did reveal how the results would likely have panned out on January 5 2014, had the general elections been fair and under impartial observation, as the opposition demanded. With this in mind, 5 January 2015 was marked by BNP and its allies as “Democracy Killing Day” to commemorate the same day last year when democracy in Bangladesh undoubtedly suffered its severest blow in recent years under a discredited election.

The past few days in Bangladesh have seen widespread unrest as the opposition has sought to mark the day and force the current ruling authority, which it deems illegitimate, to step down and immediately call fresh elections under the auspices of a caretaker government. The Awami League have predictably refused, citing the necessity of upholding the sanctity of the constitution and the rule of law. This refusal, however, has been accompanied by the curbing of basic freedoms and troubling violence, among other draconian measures.

A call for fresh elections

The BNP chairperson, Khaleda Zia, was placed under effective house arrest two nights prior to the marked protest date, with hundreds of police and a dozen trucks of sand surrounding her office building and padlocking her gate. In what appears to be a series of synchronized moves, her Acting Secretary General has since also been arrested, while the High Court has issued an injunctive to prevent broadcast or publication of speeches and statements by Tarique Rahman, Mrs Zia’s heir apparent. In protest, opposition activists have taken to the streets nationwide, enforcing a transport blockade, with several shot dead by police and their ruling party activist allies. Seven have been killed to date. The opposition has in turn agitated and reacted often violently vandalising vehicles.

Although Mrs Zia’s BNP is no example of the ideal democratic political party, it being subject to hereditary politics and with much corruption implications to its name, what the current stand off and the troubles preceding it reveal is the troubling reality of Bangladesh’s current democratic state. Responsibility for this reality lies in the hands of the authorities that are creating and enforcing it.

For Bangladesh to return to a functioning and credible democracy, where a government is indeed of the people, by the people and for the people, it is essential that a re-election is immediately called for and subject to impartial observation. Only then will the millions that make up this nation feel confident in electing their representatives, rather than fearful of unelected and unaccounted for figures who value their position of power above the needs of the constituents they purport to serve.

Image from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/12/world/asia/matriarchs-duel-for-power-threatens-to-tilt-bangladesh-off-balance.html
Categories: Muslim blogs

Praise Allah!

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sun, 04/01/2015 - 02:47

If you have been blessed to experience beauty this day or night, praise Allah!
If you are in a cold climate yet have a warm home, praise Allah!
If you have been blessed with good health, praise Allah!
If you have ample resources or adequate wealth, praise Allah!
If you have books to read and pens with which to write, praise Allah!
If you have food each time that you open the fridge, praise Allah!
If you have running water healthy and clear, praise Allah!
If your loved ones are safe and near, praise Allah!
If you have clothing that is clean and appropriate, praise Allah!
If you live without the fear of bombs raining on you, praise Allah!
If your speech is judicious and your words always true, praise Allah!
If there is no threat of harm from someone seeing Islam differently than you do, praise Allah!
If you lack any of the above yet still love Allah, praise Allah!
If you have been blessed to praise Allah, praise Allah!
Praise Allah! Praise Allah! Praise Allah!

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Objectification of Spirituality

The Platform - Fri, 02/01/2015 - 11:41

The paradox of using the internet to develop our spiritual journey

 

New year is associated with changes, resolutions and fresh starts, even more so in a consumerist society where ‘new’ is a buzzword. Although messages of letting go of the past to ‘start a new chapter’ seem to be particularly present over this period, images and texts that encourage life transformation and promote positivity are present throughout the year and can be accessed at anytime, anywhere on the internet. ‘Life is what happens while you are looking at your smartphone’, “log out, shut down, do yoga’ and ‘sometimes you have to unfollow people in real life’ are examples of quotes found on social networks that relate internet behaviour to offline life.

On the one hand it is ironic that web content is now encouraging its readers to go offline, on the other, the proliferation of these feel-good quotes on the web testifies to how intertwined online and offline experiences are nowadays. Virtual and real existences can contradict, complement and compete with each other and this symbiosis has transformed the very way in which humans attempt to learn about themselves and find a life purpose. It is therefore not surprising that an increasing number of people are now resorting to the internet for personal growth and emotional comfort.

However, we live in an era of the ephemeral, the immediate and the replaceable, which shapes the approaches to spirituality in the western world. Firstly, there is the difficulty of accepting what the present moment has to offer in a system that incites people to be constantly longing for more. Professions dedicated to repairing things have vanished, while the culture of throwing away whatever appears mildly inefficient or outdated, has taken over. Such a replacement rationale has not only proved to be unsustainable for the environment, but disastrous for society as it goes against the need to embrace and work on what we already have. Secondly, there is an appreciation of the ‘fast’ and ‘efficient’, which informs many aspects of life ranging from food, appearance, transport, to human relationships. As a consequence, contemplation has been replaced by immediate consumption and humans are faced with the challenge of balancing the demands of a system that quickly makes things obsolete, and also accepting the inevitabilities of the human existence such as aging and death.

Given our limited time to explore or even acknowledge the disquietudes caused by contradictory demands and the culture of the ‘quick fix’, the smartphone emerges as a spiritual portal offering a number of texts, images and videos that aim to promote spiritual awareness. For instance, Instagram accounts are popular for the combination of punchline quotes on striking backgrounds to convey feel good messages – a well-established mechanism in publicity. Although those texts might function as accessible reminders of the spiritual path pursued by the follower, living mindfully requires more than a simple daily dose of virtual encouragement. In a society where cosmetic surgery, medicines and other forms of quick fixes are available, it requires discipline, persistence and practice to adopt other coping strategies such as meditation. As a result of the objectification of spirituality, these quick replacements perpetuate the constant need for novelty instead of promoting acceptance and contemplation.

Moreover, communication on the internet has changed our relationship with time and space, as emails or Skype calls make geographical distance irrelevant, just as an email or a message from across the globe can reach its destination straight after it is sent. In this globalised context where events unfold in a dynamic way, it gets harder for humans to describe, acknowledge and identify their experiences, making it difficult to bring themselves to the present and tune in to a state of stillness. Expecting a connection with oneself or the universe with the same patience as someone who is waiting for a pizza delivery is not a productive approach as it is a process of gaining awareness of one’s unique mental obstacles and potentials. A goal-oriented attitude to spirituality reduces awakening into just another item in a user’s online cart. This objectification of spirituality also mirrors the belief system obsessed with rigid notions of success and not coincidently, some accounts dedicated to spiritual awakening bear resemblance with fitness or other motivational accounts.

Within this context, there is a whole market around spirituality, which is endorsed by celebrities and brands that want to be associated with Zen or positivity. This is when the contradictory quotes such as the aforementioned ones emerge and users go online only to be advised that they should be doing the opposite. In other words, spiritual growth from the internet is paradoxical. Internet is about interaction, doing or engaging with a number of activities at the same time, whereas pursuing a spiritual path requires contemplation, acceptance and silence. Nonetheless, they are now interconnected as one cannot dismiss the impact of the web on people’s lives. Through self-reflexiveness, online content aiming to promote spiritual healing addresses the very use of the internet to remind us that users should be doing exactly the opposite. That is, disconnect in order to connect.

Image from: http://pixshark.com/yoga-breath-quotes.htm
Categories: Muslim blogs

Dick Cheney and the Witch Threat of the 21st Century

The Platform - Thu, 01/01/2015 - 19:04

The revelations of the CIA torture programme reveals striking parallels to witch hunts of centuries past, with compelling lessons for the present

 

This month’s release of the United States Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the C.I.A’s Enhanced Interrogation Programme has seen the return of many Bush era operatives taking to the airwaves to defend the agency’s actions in the wake of 9/11. Among the least surprising champion of the program was former Vice President Dick Cheney. In a December 14 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, Mr. Cheney was again steadfast in his endorsement of the program’s techniques, including waterboarding and indefinite detention, and insisted the program yielded actionable intelligence that would have not otherwise been available.

When pressed to provide his definition of torture, Mr. Cheney stated that torture is “what nineteen guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters did to three thousand Americans on 9/11.” This and other statements leave little doubt as to Mr. Cheney’s position on the subject of torture and by extension terrorism; he believes that inflicting physical pain or mental anguish on another human being, persons whom he has labeled as terrorists, is justified to save American lives; he believes that terrorism represents a real threat which has national implications and terrorists are to be greatly feared and that their crimes are special in nature. In short, Mr. Cheney believes in witches.

Give me a moment and I will explain. As a scholar who specialises in the witch persecutions of early modern Europe, I often find myself awestruck by the similarities between the approaches western nations take to the threat of terrorism today with those taken to deal with witchcraft almost 500 years ago.

Witchcraft during the 15th and 16th centuries, like 21st century terrorism, generated massive fear among the European populations and their governments. Our fear of these people of the night who could fly, cause weather to change, change shape, kill with concocted potions and cast all sorts of destructive spells occupied a disproportionately large amount of our political and literary dialogue.

Early modern western governments were obsessed with combating the threat and went so far as to enact special procedures to deal with the problem. Special executive and legal powers were given to witch-hunters and inquisitors and witches were housed in special facilities, called witch houses, which were often separate buildings constructed specifically for Satan’s followers. At trial, witches could be convicted on evidence that would normally be considered inadmissible, such as spectral evidence as was seen in Salem in 1692 and, most disconcertingly, investigators liberally used torture on suspects.

Among the most vocal early modern proponents of directly confronting witchcraft was Heinrich Kramer, the author of the Malleus Maleficarum (or The Hammer of Witches). Like many of his contemporaries, Kramer believed that witchcraft was a crimen exceptum, a special crime that could not be combatted using the normal laws of society and that special procedures were justified in combating it.

We have recreated many, if not all, of these motifs. The expansion of law enforcement and the military, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, the use of special tribunals and indefinite detention and, of course, the C.I.A’s programme stand as just a few concatenates. Mr. Cheney today is doing his best to stand in for Heinrich Kramer.

Witchcraft resembles 21st Century terrorism in other ways as well. According to some of the most reliable estimates, early modern witchcraft was an extremely rare crime. The likelihood that someone would be accused and executed or be actively practicing the black art (many actually believed they could perform magic) was extremely slight: less than one-quarter of one percent.

Similarly, 21st century terrorism is extremely rare. Including 9/11, just over 3,000 people have been killed by terrorism in the United States from 1970 to 2011. By comparison, guns in the United States killed more than 11,000 people in 2013 alone. In 2012, the number of Americans killed in motor vehicle accidents was 33,561. Terrorism is by far nowhere near the greatest threat to ordinary Americans.

Yet, despite the paucity of an actual threat, our fear has occupied a greater portion of our political and intellectual discourse than its impact justifies. There is no shortage of approaches one could utilise to explain this incongruity, and indeed several books could be written on the subject.

For explaining our current struggles with terrorism, examining the role that magic played in early modern society will be sufficient. For early modern peoples, magic was a real component of their everyday lives. It was the power of the Devil, given to him by God to punish mankind for their sins. Some scholars maintain that magic was a kind of folk power; a series of beliefs and abilities that allowed early modern peoples, most of whom resided at the lowest levels of society, to find agency in their lives. Magic was reliably accessible to the populace; thus, rulers, scholars and theologians feared it because it could upset the official structures of religion and politics. In short, magic was an unauthorised unchecked power that could threaten the very foundations of society.

Today, we approach terrorism in a similar fashion. It is a direct threat to the organisation of the state apparatus and thus requires special rules. We speak of terrorism in an odd manner as well. The term itself ‘terrorism’ – is a pejorative and does little to nothing in explaining the real threat. Terrorism is a tactic not an ideology, as much as ISIL would have one believe. Like magic, its utility is derived from its very existence and our effort to counter its effects illustrate as much.

In the United States, we are quite fond of treating the symptoms and not the disease. The war on terrorism utilises the same approach as the war on drugs or even the much-needed war on guns. Like the physical representations of magic in the early modern era we are keen to ban and erase the offending object rather than address the structures it is built upon.

When it comes to torture it is no surprise that we adopt this same approach. Witches, and all the characteristics ascribed to them (i.e. unsightly, old, feminine, anti-social), are the physical manifestation of witchcraft. Likewise, the physical manifestation of terrorism is of course the terrorists themselves and all the physical features we ascribe to them in our short-sightedness. (i.e. religious head dress and garb, beards, middle-eastern origin).

To defeat the physical witch, early modern societies would effectively erase their physical existence by burning them and disposing of the ashes. One does not have to travel far to draw a parallel between erasure by fire and the capture and indefinite isolation of terror suspects, many of whom have no hope of release or even being charged for their alleged crime. In advocating for the liberal application of these techniques, Dick Cheney sounds more like Heinrich Kramer than a politician with responsibilities in the 21st century.

Obviously stating flat-out that 21st century terrorism and early modern witchcraft are completely identical paradigms would be disingenuous. Terrorists in our age can obtain far more destructive capabilities than their early modern counterparts. Witches could never have possessed nuclear or biological weapons for example. They also did not have the most dangerous weapons available to terrorists today: televisions in every home and 24-hour news network more than willing to cover their activities. However, this greater danger is no justification for greater ignorance.

In addition, some terrorist groups are also guided by ideology and have real political objectives, which cannot be said of many, if any, European witches. The point is, however, to remind those responsible for combating these threats that 21st century paradigms require 21st century approaches. Not learning from our past mistakes only increases the probability they will occur in the future.

There are certainly more parallels that could be drawn between witchcraft and terrorism, at least more than can be explored fully here. For the purposes of assessing the belief in torture of one such as Dick Cheney, however, it would be safe to assume that terrorism, the equivalent of early modern magic today, is, in his eyes, more manifested in the physical world than the real evidence would suggest.

Image from: http://www.salon.com/2013/11/14/dick_cheney_even_bigger_monster_than_you_thought/
Categories: Muslim blogs

2014 Year in Review

Imam Suhaib Webb - Thu, 01/01/2015 - 13:00

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 - 13:00

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 - 18:20

 “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 - 13:00

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 - 13:00

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 - 13:00

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: mackaftab@post.harvard.edu.

Categories: Muslim blogs

A Victim of Speech

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 17/12/2014 - 13:00

Part I | Part II

In the last article, we explored how Allah (swt) exonerated Aisha radi allahu `anha (may God be please with her) and Prophet Joseph `alayhi as-salaaam (peace be upon him) from unsubstantiated and untrue gossip, and we talked about the victims of slander. Today, it’s about the perpetrators of slander. It is about, quite possibly, you and me.

Sometimes in the name of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” we forget the sanctity of our fellow human beings and especially fellow believers. We spread things that are unsubstantiated in a bid to ‘warn others’ about possible deviancy. We are harsh in our words. We assume the worst. We forget that one of the best traits a Muslim can have is “thinking well of the servant of Allah” and for other Muslims to be “safe from his hands and tongue.”

We forget that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) passed by a grave and he warned that the person was suffering in his grave because he would spread gossip. We forget that that person we are talking about may have our good deeds transferred to him simply because he is a victim of our speech.

Scary stuff? It is. The Prophet ﷺ said: “The majority of man’s sins emanate from his tongue.” (Tabarani)

To go back to the examples in our previous article, it was clear that those with power—the minister and the minister’s wife—knew the truth with regards to what was said about the Prophet Joseph (as). But they allowed the rumor to persist and put Prophet Joseph in prison. With Aisha (ra), we have even more details. The people who discussed the rumor were good Muslims. They discussed the scandalous nature of what was said, and in doing so, spread it far and wide. Shaytan created doubt: “Could it actually be true?” Allah admonished the Muslims when He informs us in the Qur’an about what happened:

“Why, when you heard it, did not the believing men and believing women think good of one another and say, ‘This is an obvious falsehood?’” (Qur’an, 24:12)

Now some people might think this example is extreme. We would never spread such a rumor. But rumors and slander and gossip come in all shapes and forms. So if you hear something about someone that is unsubstantiated, do not fuel the fire. We are just as bad as those news networks we criticize, who pick up a story, and whether true or not, run with it.

This is not intended to shut down constructive criticism of public figures. There are ways of bringing people to account. There are ways of disagreeing and critiquing ideas and views, which are beyond the scope of this article. But in the age of the internet, anyone can write a piece and within an hour it is shared and read by many. And it would do us good to reflect on what our role is in this. We must remember that we will be held to account. So let us not put ourselves in a position to be asked about why we were careless in our research, harsh in words, and negative in our basic assumptions about others.

And remember that the Prophet ﷺ taught:

“A person’s eman (faith) is not upright until his heart is upright, and his heart is not upright until his tongue is upright.” (Ahmad)

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Man She Used to Pray For

Imam Suhaib Webb - Tue, 16/12/2014 - 13:00

Glimpses of Marital Bliss: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IVPart V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII

Many of us pray for the perfect spouse and imagine him or her being a certain way. Sometimes, what we pray for becomes most apparent in difficult times. In this account, a wife talks about the ways in which real life has helped her and her husband grow in their beautiful relationship.

Photo: Danna

“My husband and I are from two different worlds literally and figuratively, and the thing that binds us together the most is Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) and our undeniable faith in Him (swt). After looking in America for two years, I decided to marry someone from “back home,” i.e. Pakistan. When we first got married, we realized what a huge adjustment it would be for both of us. We had kids right away when he came. He went to school here and got his degree from here, and I supported him financially all during the time that I was a new mother and the only thing I wanted to do was raise my precious firstborn full-time.

Under such circumstances many marriages rightfully take a back seat and the relationship crumbles. We had many big fights over those first few years. Every time we fought I made du`a’ (supplication) to Allah (swt) to make it better, and He did. Our fights never lasted more than a day, and one of us always ended up saying sorry. We couldn’t go to sleep without making up. Throughout our good times and hard times I discovered that I married a very caring and generous man. I also discovered that I needed to accept him for who he was and that I had many bad qualities that needed to be worked out if I was going to stand in front of my Creator on the Day of Judgment. His love for me is shown in always hiding my faults in front of others, in picking flowers for me on the way home from the masjid, in taking care of the kids and giving me some time off, in cleaning up a messy house and in always sharing with me his day to day dealings at work or with his friends. As time has passed we have gotten closer and now I can’t imagine not having him in my life. The kids have really served to bond us together and it warms my heart when our eldest wants to pray because he sees his father praying. Alhamdullilah (praise be to God)!

My husband is not perfect and has many faults, but I know inside there is a light of goodness that gets dim at times and at times shines brightly, and I am committed to stand by him throughout all the times. I used to make du`a’ to Allah (swt) for a pious, kind, gentle husband and now that Allah (swt) has given me a slave of His to love, I must remain thankful, for if I am thankful He will give me more. We just celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary, and I look forward to spending many more with him insha’ Allah (God-willing).”

Categories: Muslim blogs
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