Muslim blogs

Is Wolf-Whistling Really a Hate Crime?

The Platform - Tue, 23/08/2016 - 13:24

The decision to record misogynistic incidents as a form of hate crime has sparked criticism from both men and women

 

Last month, Nottinghamshire police broadened their definition of ‘hate crime’ to cover any uninvited sexual advance towards a woman, including taking photographs and wolf-whistling. This came after a local women’s group reported high rates of harassment and a general feeling of being unsafe on the streets.

While many people were heartened by the move, others threw up their arms in complaint. Janet Street-Porter wasted no time speaking up, saying: “I find it depressing that a new generation of women want to enlist the police to handle something they should be able to squash themselves.” Meanwhile, the two women that helped bring about this change have faced a barrage of criticism and even personal threats. Clearly there’s no justifying such threats, but, on a wider scale, we might ask whether there is any weight to the opponents’ arguments. Was the move by Nottinghamshire police at all misjudged?

Historically, the term ‘hate crime’ has been applied to threatening behaviour that attacks someone’s race or religion. In the last few years the definition has been expanded by groups such as the Lancashire police who, in 2013, decided to register attacks on goths and other sub-cultures in the same way. Now sexual identity is in the spotlight.

In the case of wolf-whistling, we might question whether this act is always hateful. It might be an intentionally light-hearted comment received by a woman who finds it harmless, or maybe even flattering. At the other extreme, however, wolf-whistling is meant to intimidate and leaves the woman in fear for her safety. Many have written about their own experiences, such as Everyday Sexism Project founder Laura Bates who described being chased down the street and pinned against a wall, among other frightening incidents.

Of course there’s a gulf of scenarios in between. But I’d argue that whatever the circumstances, wolf-whistling is symptomatic of a culture that privileges the male voice and men’s supposed right to appraise how women look, even in a public setting.

I’m guessing most people (both women and men) would never feel the need to roll down their car window to shout at someone in the street about how physically attractive they are. Most of us wouldn’t wait on a street corner to follow someone down an alley. Or whistle at a passerby as if they were an animal. Yet this sort of behaviour is an everyday occurrence. It is seen as normal and, to Janet Street-Porter and others, an inevitable aspect of life.

But the statistics paint such a grim picture. In a recent poll, the End Violence Against Women Coalition found that “85% of women aged 18-24 have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places and 45% have experienced unwanted sexual touching, which can amount to sexual assault.”

Part of Janet Street-Porter’s argument was that police resources are already thinly spread. Do we want to take up more of their time with these reports? It’s impossible to say now, but it seems likely that the reality is – whether right or wrong – most women won’t end up reporting wolf-whistling to the police. They might report it to a company if the man in question is an employee, but most will likely just confide in their friends. The few cases reported will be the ones that are more extreme. The point is, though, women will at least have that option.

This feels like a rare victory in a society that for so long has responded to its high level of sexual abuse against women (and that sees less than 6% of reported rape cases ending in a conviction) with warnings that it is women who must adapt their own behaviour. We are told to avoid walking the streets alone at night, to carry a rape alarm, to check how we dress, and so on.

When some universities dared to try and encourage male students to be aware of their own behaviour, there was an outcry that the sexual consent classes were offensive, despite the worrying views of many young people around sex (an American study found that one in three college men might rape a woman if they thought no one would find out).

So at last Nottinghamshire women have just a little more power. And I for one am happy about this. It’s not to say women don’t want to be approached in public or have someone start a conversation. But being shouted at from a passing car doesn’t feel like a respectful act. It’s one born of a wider culture that makes women feel self-conscious and unsafe walking the streets. Isn’t that pretty hateful?

Image from: http://dailym.ai/2be0mNv

Categories: Muslim blogs

Boyish Smirks and Outrageous Insults: Why Boris Johnson Is the Postmodern Proteus

The Platform - Fri, 19/08/2016 - 20:48

The appointment of the UK foreign secretary quashes the importance of political responsibility

 

As senior duty minister, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is currently in charge of running the country during Theresa May’s holiday in Switzerland. His already eventful career as journalist, politician and public figure has thus taken yet another turn, although the omnipresent and media-savvy Bojo (as he is casually known) decided not to stand for the party leadership after repeatedly and vociferously proclaiming that Britain would be better off outside the EU. Together with fellow Tory politician Michael Gove and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, Johnson was not only among the most visible campaigners, he was also widely believed to become Britain’s next prime minister.

Johnson’s biographer Sonia Purnell, who wrote Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition, saw his seemingly inexorable “march to Downing Street” begin as far back as 2014 when she wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian. Yet, it was Johnson himself who recently gave his supporters a surprise when he decided not to stand for the leadership of the Conservative party after David Cameron’s resignation. This could very well have been the unglamorous end of a once promising career of one of the most iridescent characters in contemporary European politics. However, the modern Proteus was to rise again under the auspices of the new prime minister, Theresa May.

Well-read and classically educated, Johnson would likely appear in front of the next microphone or camera with his characteristically mischievous and boyish smirk upon hearing such a comparison. Proteus, an ancient Greek god of fluvial and maritime bodies of water, is capable of predicting the future if he can be caught. But just as the natural element he represents, Proteus constantly changes his shape in order to avoid any questions about the future whatsoever. Homer’s hero Menelaos, King of Sparta, an important character in both the Iliad and Odyssey, is one of the lucky few ever to have got hold of him. By virtue of the god’s shape shifting abilities, the adjective ‘protean’ has come to mean ‘versatile’, ‘mutable’ and ‘ever-changing’ but also carries connotations of ‘inconsistency’, ‘volatility’ and ‘fluctuation’. While adaptability and quickness of mind are laudable, if not essential, in holders of public office, the postmodern evisceration of the language of political responsibility has made possible such careers as that of Boris Johnson. Despite having unleashed a whole barrage of insults on friend and foe alike in the recent past, May appointed him foreign secretary in her new cabinet. Johnson’s protean talent for personal (re-)invention notwithstanding, his long record of journalistic and media blunders quickly proved a millstone around his neck.

Immediately after taking office, Johnson held his first press conference as foreign secretary alongside US secretary of state John Kerry. Asked by a persevering journalist about his past insults and “outright lies”, Johnson was, according to Patrick Wintour, “embarrassingly forced onto the back foot”. As Johnson awkwardly tried to stand his ground, he responded by saying that his comments had been “misconstrued”, his “journalism taken out of context” and world leaders signalled they “fully understood” his remarks. Only a little later, the former London mayor jumped to an unfounded, and ultimately unjustifiable conclusion when he blamed the shooting in Munich, in which 10 people died, on Islamist terrorists. Boris being Boris, he delivered the remedy for what he chose to call a “global sickness” in the same breath: the problem needs to be tackled “in the areas where the cancer is being incubated in the Middle East”. Unfortunately for Boris, the shooter, who killed himself before being caught by the police, turned out to be a German-Iranian teenager harbouring a fierce hatred for (Muslim) foreigners. What is more, Ali David Sonboly felt inspired by the Norwegian right-wing terrorist Anders Breivik, committing his shooting rampage on the fifth anniversary of the Oslo and Utoya massacres. Instead of waiting for verified news and background information from the Bavarian capital, Johnson dropped another brick by embarrassing not only himself, but also the office he holds.

Facts, it seems, matter little these days. In an article written for Granta magazine, Peter Pomerantsev goes even further, claiming that we are living in a “post-fact” or “post-truth” world. In this world, politicians and media, Pomerantsev argues, do not merely habitually lie as they have always done, they simply “don’t care whether they tell the truth or not”. The truth, facts and evidence are merely ballast in this postmodern game of arbitrariness and relativism: “There is some sort of teenage joy in throwing off the weight of facts – those heavy symbols of education and authority, reminders of our place and limitations…”. Both Johnson’s career and public image are perfectly in keeping with this trend “which has trickled down over the past thirty years from academia to the media and then everywhere else”.

Of course, this brand of postmodernism is only a crudely reductive version of what used to be a ground-breaking departure from bequeathed wisdom, that took place in the humanities from the late-1960s onwards. In its early stages, postmodern philosophy enabled iconoclasts from a wide range of backgrounds to test received knowledge and break the seemingly unassailable aura of tradition. In conceptual terms, it was no less revolutionary than Marx’s philosophy had been a century earlier. Tragically enough, however, it eventually degenerated into a vehicle for anti-modern recidivism, fostering a climate in which we are led “into echo chambers of similar-minded people, feeding us only the things that make us feel better, whether they are true or not”, as Pomerantsev puts it. It is almost as if the Enlightenment endeavours to comprehend the world in rational terms, had never seen the light of day. Accordingly, Islamist terrorism has become a shorthand solution for attacks in the public domain. Reframing such attacks when the evidence suggests otherwise seems too cumbersome for agents in the public sphere, as Johnson’s premature judgement demonstrates.

In a recent article, Jonathan Freedland expressed his concerns about Theresa May’s doubtful choice, contending that “by making Johnson our public face we have made insult our official response” to global, and especially European, challenges. In both arenas, Johnson’s past articles, columns and public statements will continue to haunt him. While many progressive commentators and voters are genuinely outraged as a consequence of his appointment, his past comments on Africa have been particularly offensive. In a series of articles written in 2002, Johnson fired several neo-colonial broadsides at this continent. In the Telegraph, he infamously described African children as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”, while in a Spectator article a month later, Africa’s central problem was the absence of British colonial rule – “The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.”

The mutually reinforcing triangle of Britain’s imperial hangover, dangerously nostalgic jingoism and unquestioned white privilege makes possible such borderline racist statements, which are unbecoming of a cabinet minister. But our readiness to accept buffoons in our midst is part of the problem in this age of ephemeral media attention and its need to produce eventful, even shocking, news stories. If Johnson had a shred of decency left, he would at once apologise for his outrageously ignorant remarks and resign in order to make way for a chief diplomat deserving of this post.

Photo Credit: Ben Pruchnie / Getty Images

Categories: Muslim blogs

Death is Omnipresent, Yet We Are Unaware of Our Mortality

The Platform - Wed, 17/08/2016 - 16:24

If we acknowledge the inevitability of death we can live a fuller life in the present

 

Death is certain. We are humans and we are mortal. We are going to die. Today. Tomorrow. In a month. In a year. Or in a hundred years. It doesn’t matter. We are mortal. But, we live like we are going to live forever. We understand our mortality on an intellectual level, but on an emotional level. We feel invincible. We know that we will die eventually, just not any time soon. Death will happen, just not at the time or place we want. Even in times of war and terror, death is perceived to be further away than ever before.

Death is for old people; they live in a home for the aged. Death is for sick people; they live in a hospital. Death is for others, not for us. Such human behaviour of pushing thoughts of death away stems from a fear of death, which is the basis of Ernest Becker’s Terror-Management Theory (TMT). TMT is based on the idea that people do many, or all, of the things they do in order to oppress their fear of death. Becker stated, “human action is taken to ignore or avoid the anxiety generated by the inevitability of death.” (See the 2010 metareview or this University of Missouri resource for more about TMT.)

Newspapers are, of course, filled with death-related stories: deadly accidents, crashed planes, terror attacks, natural catastrophes and many others. We encounter death when old and sick relatives die. Yes, such deaths affect us as they’re tragic and often make us sad. And still, those deaths are ‘far away’ enough so they do not affect the perception of our own mortality. We still feel immortal. We are not going to die in the near future. That’s what we believe and we forget how close death really is.

Ryan Holiday states in his book The Obstacle Is the Way that we do not live like we are aware of our own impermanence: “Otherwise [if we were aware of our own mortality], we wouldn’t spend so much time obsessing over trivialities, or trying to become famous, make more money than we could ever spend in our lifetime, or make plans far off in the future. All of these are negated by death. All these assumptions presume that death won’t affect us, or at least, not when we don’t want it to. The paths of glory, Thomas Gray wrote, lead but to the grave.”

We come across death every day, but we are not aware of the fact that we ourselves could die at any moment. And when we encounter death, we push those thoughts away. Julie Beck puts it brilliantly in her article What Good is Thinking About Death?, “when death is in the front of your mind – when you pass by a cemetery, when someone you know is sick – the tendency… is to want to push those thoughts away. You might suppress the thoughts, distract yourself with something else, or comfort yourself with the idea that your death is a long way away, and anyway, you’re definitely going to go to the gym tomorrow.” So we live like we are going to live forever. And, here is the point: this is not true. That is what we need to be aware of. Such death-awareness has many benefits for everyday life, which is also what the ancient Stoics believed. William Irvine, a professor of philosophy at Wright State University, writes in his book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy that, “the Stoics had the insight that the prospect of death can actually make our lives much happier than they would otherwise be.”

Death-awareness gives a certain urgency and helps focus on the essential. You will die, and when you realise that, you won’t waste time on trivialities, but instead focus on the essentials. “Rather than the perfect selfie or the perfect salary, you might think about spending time with the people who matter to you, doing things that make you happy, and leaving your mark on society,” states psychotherapist Megan Bruneau. Life can be over soon. So do the things you really want to do. Feel the urgency. Do what you need to. This is not about hurrying through the days, but about doing the important things today rather than tomorrow, so you won’t need to regret anything when you die.

Death-awareness lets you live more in the moment. Research has shown that older people actually live more present-oriented lives and are much more aware about what they spend their time doing than their younger counterparts. The good thing is we don’t need to wait for our deathbeds to decide to live more present-oriented. You can start right now.

We are all part of a whole. We come and go. If we look at the big picture, we realise that we are almost nothing. I like how poet Joseph Brodsky put it: “…the most valuable lesson of your life is the lesson of your utter insignificance. It puts your existence into its proper perspective, and the more you learn about your own size, the more humble and the more compassionate you become; the more you’re charged with life, emotions, joys, fears, compassion.”

I know that we can’t live life like we’re going to die tomorrow, otherwise we couldn’t hold a normal job or live a structured life. However, death-awareness brings more life to our lives. Julie Beck states in her article, “Death destroys a man, but the idea of death saves him.” E.M. Forster once wrote, “I don’t know if there’s really any salvation, but if we accept death, maybe we can just live.” Maybe we can just live.

We are going to die at some point in the future. Tomorrow, in six months, in 10 years or in 100 years. We don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. What matters is how we’re living right now. Death-awareness makes us live more. Life is not somewhere in the future where everything will be better. Life is right here and now. Because tomorrow we’ll be dead.

Life is now.

Memento Mori, my friend.

Image from: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Stoicism 

Categories: Muslim blogs

Battling for the Earth: The Huicholes

The Platform - Mon, 08/08/2016 - 17:19
Featured Image: Teresa Madeline Geer

In the fight for the land against mining multinationals, the Huicholes represent us all 

In his two-hour indie documentary, Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians, Hernán Vilchez captures one of the last Mesoamerican civilisations to preserve their distinctive way of life in an ever-globalising world – still able, until now.

The Huicholes tribe has been a largely resilient culture that lives in parallel to contemporary Mexico. Carbon dating proves their people’s existence long before Christ and their beliefs predate those of mainstream religions, practicing an early form of animistic and pantheistic mysticism.

Every year they perform an 800-kilometre pilgrimage to the top of the Cerro Quemado, a sacred mountain in the fertile semi-desert area of Catorce, where the hallucinogenic Peyote cactus grows. Eating the fleshy gourd is at the heart of the tribe’s spiritual knowledge and core to their existence, connecting them to their ancestors and guardian spirits through psychedelic visions.

The earth where the cacti cultivate has evaded drought – which is widespread in surrounding regions – but is now falling foul to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA grants mining concessions to Canadian multinationals out to quarry natural riches in the Huicholes’ holy land.

Since the treaty was signed, the asymmetry between incomes and expenditures has become stark. Some communities have seen corporations extract an average of 90 billion dollars in minerals in 20-odd years, leaving only one billion of that to be spent on local wages, land acquisition and indemnities. Foreign bank accounts have been fattened while Mexico’s national terrain has been decreased by a quarter, with 56,000 hectares of the desert being sold off.

What’s more, the unique biodiversity of the ecosystem which has been given UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage status and is protected by conservation groups such as WWF is now under threat. There are 4,000 plant species and 250 bird species that could potentially become victims of the mining companies.

The film Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians is backed by the traditional authorities of indigenous people and shaman, and José Luis has broken decorum by granting Hernán unprecedented media access to the Huicholes community. Accompanied by the director, the shaman and his son, Enrique, have travelled beyond the Sierra for the first time in their lives to promote the film, which documents the beauty of their way of life and their plight in the face of imminent extinction.

Their hope? To remove the veil of mystery around their ancient customs in an attempt to manifest empathy from the modern world. We met up with them on the London pit-stop of their tour.

“Ohhh, I remember the first vision,” says José Luis, recalling the phantasmagoria of the Peyote. Wearing embroidered overalls and a palm leaf hat with beadwork dangling off the trim, he almost looks comical against the sober brickwork of London, but unknown to onlookers, he’s an earth warrior of the Huicholes tribe. “There was corn which is very symbolic for us and music – tunes and lyrics that gave me good feelings. When you take it, it’s like a vitamin pumping through you, so you have to remember to use it in a good way. This movie, this is not a coincidence or by chance, this is something the elders saw and now we are here accomplishing it as part of our spiritual way.”

The film was released in May 2014. Ever since, father and son have been touring in tandem, with screenings at grassroots venues such as universities and arthouse cinemas all over the world. “When I was five, I was very ill with an infection that made my skin pus and bleed. My father told me the only way to heal was to work with a xucuritame (an official of the tribe’s ceremonial centre), so I went and I began to feel relief from my illness.” Convinced of the power of his tribe’s knowledge, José Luis followed the path to becoming a mara’akame, or ‘a man who knows’.

What he has come to realise is that the proposed exploitation of the Cerro Quemado mountain-scape risks not only the health of Mexican miners and local people – for the process sees two million litres of arsenic laced water pass through the municipal dam, leaving deposits that waft toxic powder down valley into the airstream – but endangers the survival of his community by ripping apart the very fabric upon which it is built. The Huicholes are only just starting to develop their written language, and their yearly ceremonial migration to the site allows dispersed members of the population to meet and disseminate information among one another by word of mouth.

“To be Huichol, by obligation you have to work for your own culture. You can’t just go out and be a model. No,” explains Enrique, the eldest of José Luis’ nine children at 37 years old, and a father of five himself. One of his siblings is the narrator of Hernán’s documentary and hopes a degree in the environment and human rights will help fight for the Huicholes, but Enrique has chosen to stay in the community and work as a farmer and artisan.

Though he carries a solemn air about him, he too realises it is time to bridge the gap between his old, traditional world and the very scary present: “I was really afraid, because I’d never flown on a plane before and didn’t know what was going to happen. But if you don’t go out of your community, you don’t know what’s going on out there. It’s really enriching my knowledge; I feel happy with every new city we visit because I see each place has its own essence. Here in London, I love how the pyramids look.” Hernán laughs as he translates, and clarifies that Enrique is talking about the city’s skyscrapers.

José Luis reflects upon the journey as progressive so far: “The intellectuals, the people getting together to campaign, with their prayers we are activating an energetic connection with the spirits.” Back in April 2008, Mexico’s then president, Felipe Calderón, dressed as a Huichol live on television, made a pledge to protect the sacred site. He betrayed it one year later, by granting the mining concessions over 70per cent of the protected area. This led to Mexicans rallying on the streets calling their own leader ‘a jerk’.

The Huicholes escalated the issue at the United Nations Permanent Forum in New York City and in Vancouver, presenting their case in the homeland of their transgressors, First Majestic Silver Corp, who happened to be holding a shareholders meeting nearby. They headed there to protest in the hope of shocking investors into thinking beyond their stocks. Then there was a festival held in honour of the cause, headlined by Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine and Calle 13, which Hernán believes was a peak moment, “but because there was a mass of people and mass of money raised, the aim became clouded. The message is the important thing, not the hype.”

The mobilisation of this anti-mining movement has resulted in an outpour of donations to fund community projects for the Huicholes and underprivileged inhabitants of the affected area, such as home gardens, reforestation and the recycling of rainwater. “It’s all about permaculture,” imparts Enrique, “which relates to the old traditions we used to have – it is important to recapture the ancient knowledge of how to build a self-maintained habitat using basic systems.”

Similarly, support, education and micro-entrepreneurships are being given or set up for the locals who feel becoming a labourer in the mines is their most viable option. “Some people, without knowing the implications of mining, say, ‘Maybe I want to work in a mine? Bring the mines! Bring the jobs!’ They have a misplaced loyalty that seems to outweigh health risks – there are other ideas, let’s talk about that,” says Hernán.

Unsurprisingly, the director’s favourite story as a child was Sandokan: The Tiger of Malaysia, a prince turned pirate who led his men in attacks against colonial forces. “It was about the British and Dutch invading land, a kind of Robin Hood story of fighting for the poor, having adventures and finding love. He was a hero and I love heroes.” Now, at 44, he says his protagonists are the Huicholes. “There are a lot of temptations from the modern world, like money and exposure, but the Huicholes youth understands the need to protect mother-earth and to live in harmony as human beings. Spirituality is a realm above politics, if you don’t tap into it you will always be ruled by lower minds.”

Body Images: Teresa Madeline Geer and Hernán Vilchez

Categories: Muslim blogs

Battling for the Earth: the Huicholes

The Platform - Sun, 07/08/2016 - 22:30

In the fight for the land against mining multinationals the Huicholes represent us all 

 

In his two-hour indie documentary, Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians, Hernán Vilchez captures one of the last Mesoamerican civilisations still able to preserve their distinctive way of life in an ever-globalising world – still able, until now.

The Huicholes tribe has been a largely resilient culture that lives in parallel to contemporary Mexico. Carbon dating proves their people’s existence long before Christ and their beliefs predate those of mainstream religions, practicing an early form of animistic and pantheistic mysticism.

Every year they perform an 800-kilometre pilgrimage to the top of the Cerro Quemado, a sacred mountain in the fertile semi-desert area of Catorce, where the hallucinogenic Peyote cactus grows. Eating the fleshy gourd is at the heart of the tribe’s spiritual knowledge and core to their existence, connecting them to their ancestors and guardian spirits through psychedelic visions.

The earth where the cacti cultivate has evaded drought – which is widespread in surrounding regions – but is now falling foul to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). N.A.F.T.A. grants mining concessions to Canadian multinationals out to quarry natural riches in the Huicholes’ holy land.

Since the treaty was signed, the asymmetry between incomes and expenditures has become stark. Some communities have seen corporations extract an average of ninety billion dollars in minerals in 20-odd years, leaving only one billion of that to be spent on local wages, land acquisition and indemnities. Foreign bank accounts have been fattened while Mexico’s national terrain has been decreased by a quarter, with 56,000 hectares of the desert being sold off.

What’s more, the unique biodiversity of the ecosystem which has been given UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage status and is protected by conservation groups such as WWF is now under threat. There are 4,000 plant species and 250 bird species that could potentially become victims of the mining companies.

‘Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians’, is backed by the traditional authorities of indigenous people and shaman, José Luis has broken decorum by granting Hernán unprecedented media access to the Huicholes community. Accompanied by the director, the shaman and his son, Enrique, have travelled beyond the Sierra for the first time in their lives to promote the film, which documents the beauty of their way of life and their plight in the face of imminent extinction.

Their hope? To remove the veil of mystery around their ancient customs in an attempt to manifest empathy from the modern world. We met up with them on the London pit-stop of their tour.

“Ohhh, I remember the first vision,” says José Luis, recalling the phantasmagoria of the Peyote. Wearing embroidered overalls and a palm leaf hat with beadwork dangling off the trim, he almost looks comical against the sober brickwork of London, but unknown to onlookers, he’s an earth warrior of the Huicholes tribe. “There was corn which is very symbolic for us and music – tunes and lyrics that gave me good feelings. When you take it, it’s like a vitamin pumping through you, so you have to remember to use it in a good way. This movie, this is not a coincidence or by chance, this is something the elders saw and now we are here accomplishing it as part of our spiritual way.”

The film was released in May 2014. Ever since, father and son have been touring in tandem, with screenings at grassroots venues such as universities and arthouse cinemas all over the world.“When I was five, I was very ill with an infection that made my skin pus and bleed. My father told me the only way to heal was to work with a xucuritame (an official of the tribe’s ceremonial centre), so I went and I began to feel relief from my illness.” Convinced of the power of his tribe’s knowledge, José Luis followed the path to becoming a mara’akame, or ‘a man who knows.’

What he has come to realise is that the proposed exploitation of the Cerro Quemado mountain-scape risks not only the health of Mexican miners and local people – for the process sees two million litres of arsenic laced water pass through the municipal dam, leaving deposits that waft toxic powder down valley into the airstream – but endangers the survival of his community by ripping apart the very fabric upon which it is built. The Huicholes are only just starting to develop their written language, and their yearly ceremonial migration to the site allows dispersed members of the population to meet and disseminate information amongst one another by word of mouth.

“To be Huichol, by obligation you have to work for your own culture. You can’t just go out and be a model. No,” explains Enrique, the eldest of José Luis’ nine children at 37-years-old, and a father of five himself. One of his siblings is the narrator of Hernán’s documentary and hopes a degree in the environment and human rights will help fight for the Huicholes, but Enrique has chosen to stay in the community and work as a farmer and artisan.

Though he carries a solemn air about him, he too realises it is time to bridge the gap between his old, traditional world and the very scary present; “I was really afraid, because I’d never flown on a plane before and didn’t know what was going to happen. But if you don’t go out of your community, you don’t know what’s going on out there. It’s really enriching my knowledge; I feel happy with every new city we visit because I see each place has its own essence. Here in London, I love how the pyramids look,” Hernán laughs as he translates, and clarifies that Enrique is talking about the City’s skyscrapers.

José Luis reflects upon the journey as progressive so far; “The intellectuals, the people getting together to campaign, with their prayers we are activating an energetic connection with the spirits.” Back in April 2008, Mexico’s then president, Felipe Calderón, dressed as a Huichol live on television, made a pledge to protect the sacred site. He betrayed it one year later, by granting the mining concessions over 70% of the protected area. This led to Mexicans rallying on the streets calling their own leader, ‘a jerk’.

The Huicholes escalated the issue at The United Nations Permanent Forum in New York City and in Vancouver, presenting their case in the homeland of their transgressors, First Majestic Silver Corp, who happened to be holding a shareholders meeting nearby. They headed there to protest in the hope of shocking investors into thinking beyond their stocks. Then there was a festival held in honour of the cause, headlined by Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine and Calle 13, which Hernán believes was a peak moment, “but because there was a mass of people and mass of money raised, the aim became clouded. The message is the important thing, not the hype.”

The mobilisation of this anti-mining movement has resulted in an outpour of donations to fund community projects for the Huicholes and underprivileged inhabitants of the affected area, such as home gardens, reforestation and the recycling of rainwater. “It’s all about permaculture,” imparts Enrique, “which relates to the old traditions we used to have – it is important to recapture the ancient knowledge of how to build a self-maintained habitat using basic systems.”

Similarly, support, education and micro-entrepreneurships are being given or set up for the locals who feel becoming a labourer in the mines is their most viable option. “Some people, without knowing the implications of mining, say ‘Maybe I want to work in a mine? Bring the mines! Bring the jobs!’ They have a misplaced loyalty that seems to outweigh health risks – there are other ideas, let’s talk about that,” says Hernán.

Unsurprisingly, the director’s favourite story as a child was Sandokan, The Tiger of Malaysia; a prince turned pirate who led his men in attacks against colonial forces. “It was about the British and Dutch invading land, a kind of Robin Hood story of fighting for the poor, having adventures and finding love. He was a hero and I love heroes.” Now, at 44, he says his protagonists are the Huicholes. “There are a lot of temptations from the modern world, like money and exposure, but the Huicholes youth understands the need to protect mother-earth and to live in harmony as human beings. Spirituality is a realm above politics, if you don’t tap into it you will always be ruled by lower minds.”

https://huicholesfilm.com/en/

Featured: Hernán Vilchez Body: Teresa Madeline Geer

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Treachery of The “International Community” on Syria

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Tue, 02/08/2016 - 21:38

The treachery of the “international community” towards the Syrian people is reaching a disgusting climax. It is obvious that the United States has cut a deal with the Russians, hence, indirectly, the Syrian regime, to combine forces to go after ISIS and other “terrorist” groups. In exchange for the cooperation of Russia and the Assad regime on that front the US will end its token support for the popular resistance that is holding on for dear life in besieged areas like Aleppo, Darayya and elsewhere.

Promises of aid convoys, humanitarian evacuations, medical missions and cease fires have proven as hollow as Hillary Clinton’s promise, which did not make it into the text of her nomination acceptance speech, of a no-fly zone. The insult of these empty promises is compounded by the injury of the barrel bombs and artillery shells that are raining down on the besieged areas with wanton impunity. As a result, hundreds of thousands of innocent people are threatened with starvation and massacre.

Our policy makers should realize that their duplicity and inaction are forcing many people who were former supporters of the “moderate” opposition and popular resistance into the camp of the ISIS and other more radical groups. Hence, a policy allegedly designed to end the terrorist threat will only exacerbate it. Allah knows best.

We pray that solutions that will assist in damping down the escalating sectarian violence in Syria will prevail and that the western powers, starting with the United States, will make good on their promises to end the siege of all of those areas currently tasting the bitter brutality of the Syrian regime and its Russian, Iranian and Hizbollah allies. We pray that all sides drop their weapons and come to the peace table as Muslims, and find the faith, mercy, mutual respect and goodwill needed to solve their differences with no further destruction and loss of life. May Allah bless the people of Syria to know the peace, security and tolerance they once enjoyed.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Turkey’s Attempted Coup: Let the Wounds Heal First

The Platform - Tue, 02/08/2016 - 00:25

Turkey has survived the bloodiest coup attempted in the republic’s history, yet the international response has been far from measured

 

It was bloody, it was gruesome. At first it felt like a joke; in a social media age and among countless satellite channels, the low-rating state channel, TRT, broadcasted its dull announcement of the coup. Indeed, some even did not believe there was anything much that would come out of it and soon returned to watching their films and soap operas on that Friday night. Yet, as the details still continue to emerge – the horrific videos of tanks butchering people, limbs scattered across Istanbul and Ankara’s main streets among defiant crowds, snipers ruthlessly shooting at innocent masses, and officers’ Whatsapp conversations advising and reporting the killing of dozens in cold blood – it was definitely a horror movie that we have survived.

Yet, it was also epic. The people resisted a murderous military gang’s vicious attempt to take over the whole country against their wishes, with a bravery that already made Tahrir or Tiananmen look like a minor event. They surely beat a coup with their own blood, sweat and tears.

It looks like the attempted coup was amateurish and doomed to fail after all, even if civilians had not been mobilised by the president’s Facetime call televised live on CNN Turk, or the continuous salah recitations blared out from minarets across the country. We had similar desperate attempts, such as that of Talat Aydemir’s 1963 plot. But what distinguished this junta is that it has proven unmatched in cruelty by enacting the bloodiest coup attempt in the Turkish Republic’s history.

The country is traumatised, but so far has not really felt the consolation or condolences of world leaders or the international press. The Turkish people need due attention to their wounds, but do not find a sympathetic world. Instead they are faced with an international media and politicians who preferred to immediately focus on what the next actions of the “Sultan” would be.

In navigating their own dilemma, some European and U.S. officials as well as the media, have already alienated the Turkish public with countless insinuations that they could not care less about the toppling of an elected authority by a more western-friendly junta, even at the cost of a deadly massacre. The warm welcoming of the bloody Egyptian coup, despite its horrifying massacres, had already opened this door. Referring to Erdoğan supporters as “sheep”, and suggesting “they will follow whatever he says”, was definitely not the most respectful way to talk about a people resisting an attack on the government they elected and mourning their dead either. Now when they seem to be concerned a lot more about the post-coup purges, which are now well beyond a simple consolidation of Erdoğan’s power but the beginning of a whole new phase of Erdoğan’s regime, their selective sensibilities about liberties will only bolster the image of a hypocritical west. It was essential western leaders and media did a better job by supporting the people against a homicidal military faction’s violent toppling of a popularly elected president, before they brought up the issues of curtailed rights and liberties.

Was the popular resistance for democracy? The epic defeat of the coup may not have been for democracy, as some liberal or leftist coup resisters claim in their wishful language of “martyrs of democracy.” There were surely many ready to die, perhaps not for democracy, but for their honour, freedom, or leader. When a Kurdish friend, a bitter critic of Erdoğan and his recent campaign against Kurds that victimised his family and his hometown, readily took to the streets, he told me, “I would not be able to live with this sin if I stayed silent; I went out for myself, for our future, for everybody in this country; not for Erdoğan.” It was a “never again” moment. “Tomorrow I can go back to oppose Erdoğan,” he added.

Whatever their reasons, the Turkish public have saved a regime, with their own blood. Putschists in effect turned the Erdoğan regime into a popular revolution, a war of liberation. “We are here for martyrdom,” many were chanting. “Stop calling it martyr of democracy, as our shaheeds did not die for democracy. They died for religion, nation and motherland,” said a popular Islamist figure. It turned out they were not kidding when they were chanting, “Tell us to die, we will die” during Erdoğan’s anti-Gezi rallies three years ago. They earned their regime and they must be given some credit for protecting it. The invincible army-nation is back in full force, and Erdoğan would just as well take these Turks to conquer the world if it were a couple of hundred years ago.

Even if it was not for democracy that the majority shed their blood, it was most certainly the democratic thing to resist the coup. Of course, AKP supporters had the most stakes in the current regime and they were the first to take to the streets for Erdoğan. But we also did not see any crowds of people supporting the coup. Just as Gezi was heterogeneous, yet predominantly secular with a westernised base, this was also heterogeneous with a conservative majority.

The big masses that rally every night are still living through the horrors of the coup attempt in their cheerful and celebratory mood for surviving and defeating it. It will take time for the wounds to heal and the crowds to calm down. Unfortunately, what is lost in this mélange are calls for restraint, justice, and rule of law that are doomed to fall on deaf ears.

*This article is first of a three-part series on the July 2016 failed military coup in Turkey.

Image from: http://bit.ly/2aIwtbp

Categories: Muslim blogs

Lessons from the Valleys: Brexit and the Slow Death of Welsh Socialism

The Platform - Mon, 01/08/2016 - 13:12

A vote for Leave in the birthplace of British democratic socialism is a stark reminder of how divided Britain has become

 

The Welsh Valleys never really recovered from the de-industrialisation of the Thatcher era. The Valleys are, in some parts, as poor as countries in Eastern Europe. On this basis they had received large amounts of EU funding for regeneration projects, whilst also remaining some of the safest Labour seats in the country with a long historic relationship with trade unionism.

The Brexit results, showing that every Welsh Valley had voted to leave, point towards a slow process of socialist decay. The days that followed the result, I think I went through what could be described as a mini-grief cycle. Denial, acceptance, general despondency. I was coming to terms with the fact that an area which could be described as the birthplace of democratic socialism in Britain (home to Keir Hardie’s constituency and NHS founder Aneurin Bevan) may be moving irrevocably rightwards. The men and women of these areas were pioneers of collectivism and breaking capitalist monopolies. Put simply, the Valleys proved to me that if the small people get organised, they can provide a real challenge to the interests of money and power.

After the referendum result, a flurry of race hate crimes ensued. In the same streets that had nurtured Colin Jackson, there were reports that refugee families had knives posted through letter boxes, and in Newport, a Muslim family had their door kicked in.

I thought of all of the times I came across quite startling instances in Welsh history where ordinary people stood up against oppression, fascism and racism; like in 1839, when there was a 10,000 strong march of working men on Newport under the banner of Chartism. This was one of the biggest political actions under the Chartist movement. Later leaders were to become passionate supporters of Indian independence. In 1936, the fascist Tommy Moran, was chased out of Rhondda by a mob of thousands who refused to let him continue with his planned public address. In the 1930s, about 120 miners went from South Wales to fight fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War. Ordinary men, not accustomed to leaving their close-knit valley towns smuggled themselves to Spain and risked their lives to fight against Franco. Even Paul Robeson, the black singer and activist, had a lengthy relationship with the miners of South Wales, whom he lived and worked with in order to better understand their struggles. In Wales, he experienced the dignity of living with no colour bar. There is no doubting the region’s historic leftist internationalist credentials. Given the xenophobic flavour of the referendum campaign, this made the vote to leave especially disheartening.

My initial reflection was that perhaps my rose tinted understanding of Welsh history may well be at significant fault. My only real day-to-day experience of the Valleys was when I took a door-to-door sales job 10 years ago, chugging for charities like Oxfam around parts of Pontypridd, Pontypool and Caerphilly. As a person of colour, I had heard the standard urban yarns about racism in poor working class white communities. But of course, myths and realities can often be quite different things. No one said anything remotely racist to me. I was touched by numerous acts of human kindness. Pensioners shoved fivers in my hand more than once “because the kids in those leaflets need it more than me”. This certainly was not the behaviour of a community which was somehow inherently bigoted or backwards. More importantly, it taught me to identify and challenge my own prejudices.

For me, Brexit signals a worrying change. Aditya Chakrabortty states that people’s willingness to frame immigration in a “them versus us” political narrative has increased. This was particularly marked in Wales, where people were willing to blame migrants for problems, despite the fact that immigration is particularly low. Of course, not everyone who voted ‘leave’ is racist, but there is no denying that the climate of fear, which was further promoted by the print media. The number of newspapers which favour more muscular and right wing approaches to immigration, as opposed to those which may adopt more informed and less sensationalist stances, is simply much greater.

This seems to go hand in hand with changes in voting patterns. From the 2010 to the 2015 elections, the share of the UKIP vote in the Valleys often went from single figures to between 12 and 20 per cent. UKIP was consistently the party that made the biggest gains. The party’s founder, Alan Sked, a professor of history and a passionate federalist, has had no hesitation in describing Nigel Farage as a “dim-witted racist” and has bemoaned the fact that the party which he founded has been infiltrated by far-right elements who hold nasty opinions about Muslims, black people and homosexuals. Let’s not forget that Farage’s campaign manager in South Thanet was a former member of the National Front. Farage has also discussed, quite nonchalantly on national TV, the repeal of the Equalities Act.

Have UKIP released the ogre of race hate in communities that have a proud tradition of challenging exploitation and imperialism? I fear that communities that have a pedigree of standing up to fascism and racism are forgetting some of the best pages of their history. Much to my moralising chagrin, they have voted for a right-wing political arrangement which is almost certain to reduce funding to the region. The result is more likely to entrench scapegoating mentalities in relation to immigrants, not alleviate them.

At least now, the political establishment is aware, in tangible terms, how divided this country has become. There may finally be some political urgency to address the huge disparities in wealth that the neo-liberal consensus has put into motion.

People are not born racist, they learn racism. Racism is often a proxy for other concerns related to reduced access to public services and downward pressure on wages. The Labour ‘Remain and Reform’ campaign undertook a gross miscalculation when it did not tackle these arguments head on. Jeremy Corbyn is fighting to become Labour leader for the second time, and it looks like he will win. If the Labour party is to ensure its own survival, it must resonate with ‘Left Behind Britain’, not just PhD candidates in London. City-dwelling progressives must stop, to use George Orwell’s phrase, “looking at the working class through the wrong end of the telescope”. Now is the time for proper conversations with real people.

The metropolitans must also open their eyes to the history of the Labour movement, and the near miraculous rights and privileges that ordinary men and women ensured for us. These were won in in the most difficult of conditions, and must be safeguarded. We need to re-learn the Valleys’ gift to us – the gift of effective, principled politics.

Image from: http://bit.ly/2aZfJPr

Categories: Muslim blogs

“Well-Fed Slaves…”

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Fri, 29/07/2016 - 03:33

Bill O’Reilly, ignited a firestorm, when commenting on Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC, stated: “Slaves that worked there [constructing the White House] were well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802.” The allegation that chattel slavery in the American South really wasn’t so bad is an old one. O’Reilly’s claim that the slaves who worked constructing the White House were “well-fed” is refuted by Abigail Adams, the wife of the second American president, John Adams. She was there and she describes the condition of the slaves working on the project in the following words: “…but it is true Republicanism that drive the Slaves half fed, and destitute of cloathing, ... to labour, whilst the owner waches about Idle, tho his one Slave is all the property he can boast.”

The full brutality of the system Mr. O’Reilly so glibly glosses over is captured in the following passage from Sylviane Diouf’s important book, Servants of Allah, African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas: “The average life of a slave was fifteen years, no more than six in harsh climates. Planters worked their slaves to death because it made more sense financially, they reasoned, to buy full-grown men and women to replace deceased slaves than to have to care for them, even in a limited way, for the rest of their lives. The French writer Mederic Louis Elie Moreau de Saint Mery, who visited the United States at the end of the eighteenth century, informed his readers that a slave brought about $257 a year to his owner, whereas his upkeep was only $13.48.”

This vicious system of exploitation is condemnable and to try to dismiss it to an increasingly gullible public is not journalism, it is an example of yet another obstacle being placed in the path of a serious effort to bridge the racial divide that threatens to tear this country apart.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Stop This Killing…

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Tue, 19/07/2016 - 14:47

“Stop this killing!” was the fervently repeated plea of Alton Sterling’s aunt, being interviewed in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of three police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That is the very town that witnessed the gruesome killing of Sterling himself. Indeed, we must stop the killing, on all sides, for a deepening cycle of tension, revenge and retribution will only fuel greater discord, division and misunderstanding in our society at a time when perhaps they have never been more dangerous.

I do not write these words as someone peering down from a vista that only permits theoretical or academic musing around the issue of violence in our society. I remember, as a teenager, how the minority community in our city, New Britain, Connecticut, was traumatized when thirteen-year-old Miguel Arroyo was shot in the back by a policeman. The killing was never even investigated. Several years later, Clarence Thomas, the best friend of my younger brother, Jeffery, was murdered by a bullet fired into his head, from behind, at point blank range, as the two of them were walking shoulder-to-shoulder outside of a New Britain nightclub.

Serving as Imam of an inner-city mosque, Masjid al-Islam in New Haven, Connecticut, I was surrounded by violence and its tragic effects. During the “crack wars” of the late 1980s, I was eye-witness to two shootings while sitting on my front stoop reading the Qur’an. Fortunately, neither was fatal. Our mosque had to bury one young congregant whose killers were not thrown off his trail by his entrance into Islam. Another young man was pushed back into the streets by his grandmother, who had raised him. Her hatred for Islam was so deep that she pulled him away from the mosque. He slid back into the streets and was murdered shortly thereafter. Another young convert who had married the former girlfriend of a prominent gang leader was so harassed and threatened by the former boyfriend that he felt his only option was to pump nine bullets into his wife’s “ex.” The victim did not die but was left paralyzed for life (for anyone associated with law enforcement, the shooter was duly prosecuted and served time for this crime). While I was in Syria studying during the late 1990s, Malik Jones, the son of one of the leaders in our community, Dr. Jimmy Jones, was fatally shot by an East Haven, Connecticut policeman after a car chase. These stories go on.

Racial tensions, impoverished communities, dysfunctional schools, limited opportunities for economic advancement, personal insecurities all play a part in the sort of violence mentioned above. They also indicate a massive societal failure. They further serve as a barometer measuring the degree to which our Muslim community has failed. Our greatest failure in this regard lies in our inability to even begin offering an alternative to the disgraceful status quo. This is particularly true around the issue of race relations.

The first Muslim community under the leadership of our Prophet Muhammad (peace upon him) brought Africans like Bilal and Umm Ayman; Arabs, such as Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali; Asians, represented by Salman al-Farisi and Europeans like Suhaib al-Rumi, together to form a cohesive community. Thereafter, historically, all of our great urban centers, Medina, Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, Fez, Marrakesh, Tunis, Cordova, Istanbul, Hyderabad, etc. have been thriving cosmopolitan centers where diverse people did not just coexist, they prospered.

At this tense time in the history of our country, we Muslims must rediscover the genius of our religion, which made those societies possible. Once we discover it, we have to live it and share it. In my estimation, this is the only hope for our nation. As racial and ethnic minorities we have gone down the path of protest in the 1950s and 1960s. We have seen large swaths of our cities burned to the ground –Watts, Newark, Detroit, Hartford, Washington, DC and many others. Those of us in the African American community have asserted our identity, responding to the lead of James Brown, “Say it loud, I’m back and I’m proud,” and others. Despite that, we have failed miserably. The proof of that failure is that here we are fifty years later protesting the very same issues, which if anything, have only gotten worse. Similar tactics will inevitable lead to similar failures.

I believe that our only hope lies in bringing all members of our national family together, black, white, brown, red, yellow and “blue.” At the end of the day, our problems, while they may differ in degree, are all the same and they are rooted in fear, ignorance, insecurity, and in many instances, evil. These are the issues religion exists to address. It is time for us Muslims to make our unique, religiously-informed contribution to addressing these issues.

Many would argue that Islam could never meaningfully impact our society, especially during these times when anti-Muslim sentiments are so strong in some quarters. Many learned observers would differ with that assessment. We will quote two of them here to reinforce our point. Malcolm X wrote from Mecca:

“America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered ‘white’ –but the ‘white’ attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.

“With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called ‘Christian’ white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem. Perhaps it could be in time to save America from imminent disaster –the same destruction brought upon Germany by racism that eventually destroyed the Germans themselves.”

The great historian, Arnold Toynbee, after a lifetime of reflection, penned the following words:

“The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding moral achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue; for, although the record of history would seem on the whole to show that race consciousness has been the exception and not the rule in the constant interbreeding of the human species, it is a fatality of the present situation that this consciousness is felt -and felt strongly- by the very peoples which, in the competition of the last four centuries between several Western powers, have won at least for the moment the lion’s share of the inheritance of the Earth.

“As things are now, the exponents of racial intolerance are in the ascendant, and, if their attitude towards ‘the race question’ prevails, it may eventually provoke a general catastrophe. Yet the forces of racial toleration, which at present seem to be fighting a losing battle in a spiritual struggle of immense importance to mankind, might still regain the upper hand if any strong influence militating against race consciousness that has hitherto been held in reserve were now to be thrown into the scales. It is conceivable that the spirit of Islam might be the timely reinforcement which would decide this issue in favor of tolerance and peace.”

It is time for us Muslims to throw the weight of Islam “into the scales” here in America. For as Toynbee accurately opines, the heart of the matter before us is a spiritual crisis. A spiritual crisis is not amenable to strictly socio-political solutions. It is only when we share a vision of each other that recognizes a common humanity and a common unifying spirit that the killing will stop. Historically, Islam has proven that it possesses the ability to accomplish this daunting task. It is time for us Muslims to start acting like we truly believe it.

Imam Zaid Shakir

#stopthiskilling #altonsterling #batonrougeshootings #inthistogether #ourlivesmatter

Categories: Muslim blogs

Violence: As American as Cherry Pie

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sat, 16/07/2016 - 16:47

Every day, there are 44 homicides in the US, the majority are committed with firearms. There are approximately 5 gang-related murders in America each day. Every day in the country, an average of 110 people commit suicide, 60 of those deaths involve firearms. Of those daily suicides 20 are committed by military veterans.

On average, approximately 1,000 people are killed by law enforcement agents annually in this country, almost three people every day. The majority of the victims are white, although the percentage of African Americas killed is grossly disproportionate to percentage of the population comprised by African Americans. To get a sense of perspective on this latter statistic, since 1932, 133 people in Canada have been shot by law enforcement agents. Since 1990 in the United Kingdom only 60 civilians have been fatally shot by law enforcement agents, none in 2013.

Violence, as once stated famously stated, is as American as cherry pie. Unless and until we begin to address the root causes of the spiritual emptiness, depression, racism, hatred, wars and policies that fuel this national slaughter it is destined to continue, unabated.

Where do we start? With religion. With real, deep meaningful religion that is predicated on teaching people that all life is sanctified by Almighty God. As Muslims in this country, we cannot be shamed into behaving like the actions of crazed fanatics represent us or our religion, thereby disguising the fact that we are one of the most peaceful communities on earth. We have to raise our voices to articulate the prophetic call to respect and value life and the right every individual to be at peace within himself or herself and to live in peace with others.

“Whoever takes an innocent life, it is as if he has killed all of humanity…” Qur’an 5:32

Categories: Muslim blogs

Murder Is Murder

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sun, 10/07/2016 - 02:40

The recent killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling are inexcusable outrages and the police officers involved in those shootings should be duly tried for their crimes. These and similar police killings, however, cannot be used as a blanket indictment against all police officers, the overwhelming majority of whom carry out a very difficult job with great professionalism and discipline. Furthermore, we must never, ever allow any justification or rationalization for the type of dastardly ambush and murder that took the lives of five unsuspecting police officers last night in Dallas, Texas. Murder is murder and it is condemnable regardless of who the victim or the perpetrator might be.

This recent spate of killings will further stoke the fire of racial tension simmering in this country. We must not allow demagogues to exploit these tragic events to advance vile agendas that seek to bring out the worst in us. We must empathize with each other and understand that whenever an innocent life is taken, black or white, civilian or police, rich or poor, communities are traumatized and families are destroyed. May God help us all to be better people than what the sad and painful aspects of our history sometimes urges us to be. We need each other in order to begin to heal each other.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Dabiq: An Argument Against ISIS

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Wed, 06/07/2016 - 09:13

The Hadith of Dabiq: A Proof Against ISIS

One of the most powerful recruiting tools of ISIS has been its ability to create an apocalyptic appeal around the prophesized destruction of a “Crusader” army at Dabiq, a location in Northern Syria. So central has this idea been to the call of the group that they have given their propaganda magazine the name of that place –Dabiq. It is now obvious that such a confrontation and the ensuing victory of the “believers” will not occur. What is their contingency plan? Apparently, sending waves of suicidal murderers out into the world to reap a grim harvest of innocent souls.

The current wave of murderous violence, unleashed in Ramadan no less, reveals the base, un-Islamic nature of ISIS. They have no prophetic cover for their actions. Where is the Hadith that prophesizes, rationalizes or justifies the ghastly carnage associated with this group? Where do we read a Hadith that states: “After the failure of the Crusader army to assemble and then be destroyed at al-‘Amaq or Dabiq, the army of the Muslims will disband and scatter throughout the Earth to murder unsuspecting men, women and children.” No where is such a license for slaughter to be found.

That being the case, every Muslim should see this group for what it is, namely, a band of criminals using the name of Islam to justify heinous crimes against humanity. At this point some angry protestor will inevitably ask, “Why aren’t you condemning America’s crimes against humanity? What is the difference between those crimes and the crimes of ISIS?” The answer should be clear. America does not bomb, murder and occupy in the name of Islam. Therefore, condemning her crimes is a political and moral imperative that has nothing to do with religion. I have personally spent half of my life responding to that imperative. As for the crimes of ISIS and similar groups, they are undertaken in the name of Islam and are used to misrepresent our religion with devastating effect. Condemning those crimes is not just a moral or political imperative, it is also a religious obligation, which every capable believer should strive to fulfill.

Tuning to the text of the Hadith of Dabiq, it mentions that, “An army of the best [Muslim] soldiers on earth at that time will emerge from Medina to meet them (the Roman forces).” Since the establishment of the ISIS “Caliphate,” has an army come forth from Medina? No, it has not. On the contrary, now the worst soldiers on earth, those who use suicide and murder to indiscriminately kill innocent people, have descended upon Medina.

This is the exact opposite of what the Dabiq Hadith, which mentions a righteous army emerging from Medina, describes. That being the case, and for many other reasons, ISIS is shown for what it is. Namely, a political organization that uses religion to disguise a bloody, heartless agenda. Its defenders will claim that it is defending disenfranchised Sunnis against the Shiite in Iraq, or against the Asad regime in Syria. The latter claim would be rejected by virtually all of the groups actively opposing the Syrian regime. As for the former claim, growing numbers of Sunnis in Iraq, after tasting the brutality of ISIS’s rule, are increasingly willing to take their chances with the central government and its allies.

Like any modern political entity the raison d’etre of ISIS is self-preservation. By engaging in acts of indiscriminate violence such as that recently witnessed in Istanbul, Dhaka, Baghdad and now Saudi Arabia, to say nothing of its previous crimes, ISIS shows that its primary mission is not protecting Muslims, it is ensuring its own survival, regardless of how many innocent people, most of them Muslims, perish in the process. Its mission is not religious. It is strictly political. That being the case, it can claim no moral high ground against its enemies. Hence, the Hand of Divine favor, promised for the assistance of the army of the believers at Dabiq, is not extended to the army of the politicians in Raqqa. They are left to their own devices and no matter how desperate and homicidal their minions become, they will fail.

Imam Zaid Shakir

Categories: Muslim blogs

2014 Year in Review

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

The following is a list of top 30 articles that were found to resonate most strongly with our readers this past year. It covers a full range of struggles and joys we have faced as a community and regularly bridges orthodox and contemporary Islamic knowledge. Articles covered Glimpses of Marital Bliss, inspired us about the Names of Allah, spoke to the unique struggles of our Black and Hispanic brothers and sisters, and stood up against the siege in Gaza. They discussed the role of women preachers, American holidays, how to overcome addictions and more. See the full list below.

There were many articles of significant impact that are not on the list for brevity’s sake. What was your favorite? Leave a comment to let us know!

 

IN THE MEDIA Your Facebook Posts, and why The Evil Eye is Real by Ubah

On social media, we are increasingly putting ourselves out there in ways that may promote envious feelings in others. Is it 100% our fault? Of course not. But here are a few important things to keep in mind.

Films Today – and How the Muslims Killed Dracula by Shibli Zaman

We often bemoan the negative portrayal of Muslims in film and television, including a recent movie that gets the story of Dracula wrong. But who is to blame when we have absolutely no presence in popular media?

An Imam’s Review of the Movie Noah by John (Yahya) Ederer

Potential benefits in watching this movie – and why it would be hugely advantageous to Islam and the Muslims if we made high-quality, well-funded, scripturally proper, and well-acted depictions of the prophets and our great history. Also see: Top Documentaries you Should Watch by Junaid Amjad

Know Thyself: Opinion on Hajj Selfies by Suhaib Webb

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

 

WOMEN Female Scholars and Preachers in Islam by John (Yahya) Ederer

The beauty of Islam among religions is in its universality, its compatibility with science, and its versatile legal tradition which remains relevant across times and cultures. Here’s why the majority of our scholars throughout history have said that there’s nothing wrong with listening to a woman’s speech unless it is flirtatious or provocative.

10 Ways to be a Single and Content Muslimah by Ubah

Tip #2: Let Go of Entitlement. Remember that you are not owed a relationship. Just like the air you breathe or your eyesight and hearing, a decent and compatible spouse is a blessing from Allah (swt).

Is it Allowed for Women to Teach Mixed Gatherings? by John (Yahya) Ederer

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

 

CULTURE, CUSTOMS, & FIQH Man’s Best Friend?: The Islamic View on Dogs by John (Yahya) Ederer

Reverts may have had a special relationship with their dogs growing up, or still do at the time of reversion. Sadly, the attitude of many Muslims towards dogs often alienates people from Islam. A closer examination of the issue debunks common misunderstandings.

American Customs – What is Permissible? by John (Yahya) Ederer

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

Also see: Caught with My Foot in the Sink… Reasons to Be Proud of Wudu by Abdul Sattar Ahmed and Is the West Inherently Un-Islamic? by John Ederer

Can a Non-Muslim Person be in the Masjid? by Suhaib Webb

The stronger opinion on the issue of people of other faiths being refused entry into mosques is Abu Hanifa’s that this only applies for the Hajj and ‘Umra (meaning they are not allowed to make Hajj or Umra). Here’s why.

Is Saying Jummah Mubarak an Innovation? by Suhaib Webb

Custom is so important that it forms one of the five major axioms of Islamic law. Based on this important principle and the large number of general texts that encourage us to speak well and be gentle to others, it is a stretch to say that such a greeting in an innovation.

Can Muslims be Friends with Non-Muslims? by John (Yahya) Ederer

Qur’anic verses should not be mis-understood to prohibit us from making friends with our neighbors, co-workers, or schoolmates. On the topic of Muslim interactions with other faiths including Christians, see also: A Holiday Message from the Life of Omar by Shibli Zaman

 

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps for Overcoming Addictions or Sin by Reehab Ramadan

Remember the phrase “I am only the next 24 hours.” By the time the next 24 hours have been reached, hopefully our strength will have been regained, if not then we push ourselves a little further—24 more hours.

10 Things that Shouldn’t Happen Once you Become a More Practicing Muslim by Ubah

There a few key things that we must all guard against as a result of turning a new leaf or becoming a more practicing (or new) Muslim – such as becoming narrow minded, becoming isolated, or rebelling against family.

Beyond Romantic Love – Here’s What’s Missing by Reehab Ramadan

Beyond romantic or sexualized love, where’s the love that would allow me to go out of my way to buy my brother or sister in humanity a gift to bring a smile to his or her face during times of hardship?

How Two Words Changed this Man’s Life by Maryam Amirebrahimi

He had never prayed two rak`ah (units of prayer) in his adult life. Two words he heard at his first Friday prayer penetrated through his heart and embraced his soul. The true story of a man’s path back to Allah (swt).

 

QUR’AN & PRAYER Building Habits as Worship: A Year Spent Quantifying Devotion by Alex Arrick (Guest Author)

How to use free apps for the iPhone or Android such as LIFT to make a regular, daily habit for memorizing the Qur’an. Also see: Stay Focused by PRAYing by  by Marwa Abdalla

Is the Qur’an a Violent Text or is Your Reading a Tad Off? by Joe Bradford

A lack of context and qualifications lead to blatant misinterpretation. The shallow misinterpretations of religious and irreligious extremists almost always lead to one thing: the escalation of conflict and the promotion of violence, instead of leading to dialogue and mutual understanding.

Too Busy for Quran? Check these 3 Tips to Get Rolling by Mansoor Ahmed

Start off by making time after Fajr prayer or after `Isha’ (night) prayer, the two times you are most likely to be at home. Once it is a part of your lifestyle, it becomes easy to sustain. Remember, try a little by little, but with consistency!

 

OVERCOMING HARDSHIP Living with Depression and Islam by Anonymous (Guest Author)

Every morning I wake up and wish I hadn’t.  I want anyone suffering like me to know that there are others that are observant, struggling Muslims and that they feel the way you are feeling. Also see: How to Overcome Sadness and be Happy by Taheerah Alam

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

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

Think You’ve Failed? Think Again by Jinan Bistaki

Some people always bounce back, but others always seem to crash down. Research has shown that the difference is the ability to see that a closed door somewhere means, at the very least, an open window somewhere else.

 

CURRENT EVENTS Erdoğan, AKP and their victory in the Turkish Municipal Elections by Shibli Zaman

Erdoğan, the world is watching you; but that pales to the fact that, above all, the Lord of the Worlds is watching you even closer. You can be the greatest leader the Muslim world has seen since the Ottomans whom you repeatedly invoke, or you can fall just like them when they lost their way. Which end of their history you resemble is up to you.

 

KNOWING GOD, THE MOST MERCIFUL When was the Last Time you Witnessed a Miracle? Al-Hayyiy by Jinan Bistaki

Whenever making du`a’ (supplication), have hope. Remember that “Verily your Lord is Generous (Kareem) and Hayyiy. If His servant raises his hands to Him (in supplication) He becomes shy to return them empty,” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).

He has Your Back: Al-Wali by Jinan Bistaki

Allah is named Al-Wali, meaning the Protective Friend of all those who believe. It means that He has your back. He could have just been a ‘friend,’ but some friends are flaky. A protective friend will be there for you through hardship and bad times.

Does God Exist? by Salman Khan (Guest Author)

Every person must think for him/herself and find Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) in his/her own way. Don’t choose a life of unhappiness because you choose to be blind or perform our religion physically without spirituality.

Love is In Giving: Al Wadud by Jinan Bistaki

Allah is named Al-Wadud. When you are able to point out behavior that shows love, this kind of love is not called hubb in Arabic, because hubb is simply having a feeling of love. This kind of love – one that is apparent and shown – is called wud.

 

LOVE,  RELATIONSHIPS, & GENDER RELATIONS 10 Guidelines for Gender Relations in Islam by Muslema Purmul and Maryam Amirebrahimi

The code of inter-gender relations comes from a noble kind of love. It is generous in giving, while conscious of Allah. It is full of haya.’ Haya’ is sometimes described as ‘shyness’, but misunderstood to mean a desire to hide, to be nervous, overly self-conscious, and unable to communicate.

When you Marry for Four Reasons – Don’t Forget Your Reason by Karim Serageldin (Guest Author)

As a practicing psychologist, I was once consulted by a brother in Turkey in need of immediate relationship advice. In summary, the brother’s “emergency” was that he had met a nice religious girl from a good family but was not attracted to her at all. Here was my advice.

The Goodbye Hug by Maryam Amirebrahimi

Many of us only hear destructive marriage stories within the Muslim community. However, the reality is that there are so many incredible, beautiful, passionate, fulfilling and compassionate love stories in the Muslim community. Here’s one.  A number of the articles from “Glimpses of Marital Bliss” Series were also among the most-read this year. See also: A Love Letter, Will They Say Yes, and He Prayed instead of Fought

Categories: Muslim blogs

Ya Sabr Ayub

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

Photo: Tom Gill

I have been living in the Arab world now for almost 3 years. There are some really taxing things here, tiring and frustrating to say the least. But there are also some exciting and uplifting things that keep me going throughout the days. And then, there are the hidden gems. The things that can be overlooked without a second thought, yet if they are given a second thought, they require a third and a fourth thought for one to even begin to benefit from their beauty. It is those things that get me time and time again. It is those things that take my breath away and leave me thankful for being placed in the position that I am in, living in a place where I do not always fit in or feel at home. One of those hidden gems can be found in the phrases that are oft repeated, with little thought, on a daily basis. There are many that could be spoken about, like the wishing of “na’eeman” [lit. blessings] when a person takes a shower or cuts their hair. Like the prayer of “kulli sana wanti tayyiba” [“may every year find you well”] on any happy occasion that occurs yearly. But my favorite has to be one that carries behind it a great story of a great man whom I recently read about, and after reading his story in the tafseer [exegesis] of Ibn Ajeeba, the oft repeated phrase “Ya sabr Ayub” [“O patience of Job”] has never been the same again.

It would be best, before diving into the gem-filled story, to give some information on when this phrase, in the Arab culture, is used. It is used mainly in two situations: 1) When a person is going through something very taxing and is wishing for an intense amount of patience to be poured into them, as a prayer and 2) when a person witnesses someone being ever so patient and is impressed by their firmness upon this patience. Naturally, after hearing that, one would assume that this story is about to be really great and I assure you: it is. The key here, however, is that something very important is done while reading this story: don’t just read it as a work of fiction or non-fiction. Read it as if this story is about you. Read this story as if you have temporarily stepped out of your own shoes, and into those of this amazing man, Ayub, and try to actually feel what he must have been feeling. And with that, all that is left is for me to begin:

Ayub, `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), was a great man and Prophet of the Lord many years ago. He was blessed with many great gifts that surpassed what others around him had been given. He had money in amounts (and some say types!) that surpassed those that were around him. He was given great amounts of land as well as many animals to graze on this land, and these animals varied in types and were of very high quality. He was kind and giving to the poor, he used to care for the widows and the orphans, he would be generous with his guests and accept any traveler into his home. He did all of this as an act of gratitude to God for giving him so much. This is something very unique to note, as for when a person is given such great wealth and great gifts, Satan then tries very hard to get him to be greedy and ungrateful. Satan tries very hard to get the person with such wealth to belittle that which has been given to him, or to become arrogant and not spread the wealth to those who may be in need of it. Satan however, was unsuccessful at whispering into the heart of Ayub (as) with regards to all that he had been given.

It is said that Satan heard the angels in the heaven praising Ayub (as) for all that he had done and was doing. Upon hearing this, Satan felt a twinge of envy (hasad) towards the state of Ayub. Satan, being one who acts upon these twinges of envy immediately, went and pleaded to the Lord of the heavens about his state. He complained to God: “O my Lord, you have blessed your servant Ayub, so he had thanked you. You have removed from him any affliction so he has glorified you. You haven’t allowed any hardship to befall him, but if you did then surely he would be an ungrateful servant.” This was a plea from Satan, and at the same time he was taking a shot at the honor and actual piety of Ayub. He asked God to just give him the ability to afflict Ayub with some hardship, and he told God that He would see the gratefulness of Ayub dwindle away. God then allowed Satan to have control over the wealth of Ayub, and nothing else—allowing him to afflict Ayub. At this Satan was joyous. He called together his troops of jinn and told them the “great” news. One of his troops said that he had been given the power to send storms of fire upon anything, and if Satan gave him permission, he could burn all of the wealth of Ayub by burning his lands. Satan agreed, and sat back and watched his troops burn down the wealth of Ayub. Once this was all over, Satan came in the form of one of the service hands of Ayub, dramatically recalling all that happened to the wealth of this Prophet. Telling him that God had allowed for his wealth to be destroyed. Ayub (as), with complete grace and gratefulness, informed Satan in the form of man, that God was the original giver of this wealth, so God could do as he pleased with this wealth.

Satan now was hit, not only with pangs of envy but also, pangs of despair. He had been sure that had this man who was so blessed, had some of his blessings taken away, he would break. He would not be such a great servant. But Satan, unlike many of us humans, does not give up that easily. When he has a goal, he does everything he possibly can to get to that goal. He went back to his troops for a brainstorming session. One of his troops had another idea. He informed Satan that he had been given the ability to blow harsh winds that would kill any animal that heard this wind. Satan jumped on that idea and sent him to kill all of the living animals that were left on the burnt grounds of Ayub. After all of his glorious animals had been killed, Satan appeared to Ayub as a different man, again telling him of what happened. He informed Ayub that the Lord that he had been worshipping for so long had killed all of his animals. Again, Ayub (as) with pure patience and love for God, replied that God was the one who had given him the animals in the first place, so He could do as He pleased with them.

Satan was hit again with deeper despair, feeling that he was certainly losing his grip on the battle that he had been fighting. Satan returned to God, again with another plea. He argued that God had blessed Ayub with his own health and the health of his children (some say he had 10 children), and this is why Ayub was still holding on, gratefully. Satan assured that if this was removed then Ayub would not remain a grateful servant and that his gratefulness was not based on Love but of contentment with that which had been given. Satan then requested to be given the ability to take away the children of Ayub to prove his point. God granted him this permission. Satan returned to the home of Ayub, and destroyed the home of Ayub, killing all of his children. He then appeared to Ayub as the teacher of his children, limping, as if he too had been hurt in the destruction. He then recalled for Ayub the detailed deaths that his children had faced, making certain to put emphasis on the pain that they may have felt. Ayub was instantly struck with sadness for his children. He fell to the floor and began to pour dirt over his head. Satan rejoiced, finally he had made Ayub be ungrateful. But after an instant, Ayub (as) realized what he was doing and looked up to his Lord, asking for forgiveness and returning to his state of patience. God instantly forgave Him, as He is The All-Forgiving.

Satan was furious. He felt that he had finally won, that finally this man that seemed to be over flowing with patience and gratitude had finally cracked. And before he could even rejoice, Ayub (as) returned to His Lord and His repentance was accepted. His sin was erased. (Take note at the Mercy of God. Take note at the persistence of Satan). Satan went back to God, again despairing and willing to try anything. He told God that the only reason that Ayub was so thankful and so obedient was that he had the most important thing, his health. Satan pleaded with God to allow him to take that away, to prove once and for all that Ayub was not, in his essence, an obedient servant. God allowed him this, but this time with some very important conditions. God allowed him to have rule over his body and health, but he was unable to touch two things: His tongue and his heart.

Satan descended down to Ayub and found him in prostration. He blew through his nose a wind that touched his entire body. It caused him to itch, with no relief. He itched his entire body with his hands, then with tools. The tools were so rough they tore at his skin, but the itch was so strong that he could not stop. His wounds began to fester, to be infected, and to even attract bugs. All of the people in his community who loved him so much began to look down upon him, unable to stand to see his appearance nor smell the stench of infected wounds. They kicked him out, ignoring all the good that he had done for him before. Everyone left him. Everyone. Except for one person, his wife. She cared for him in the trash dump that he had been cast to. She took care of him, and was his companion as much as she could. After much time she began to plead with him to ask God for help. I mean why not, he was a prophet. He in turn asked her how long they had lived in wealth. Her reply was 8 years. He then followed up with asking how long he had lived in sickness; she informed him that it was seven. His reply was that he was too embarrassed to ask God to heal him, if the time of ease overcame the time of hardship.

Satan, in his final attempt, appeared to Ayub’s wife. He told her that he (Satan) was the Lord of the world and that the reason why her husband, Ayub, had been afflicted for so long, was that he turned away from the lord of the earth and looked only towards the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth. He told her that if Ayub were to “simply” make one prostration to Satan, then he could be restored to health and wealth. Ayub’s wife returned to her husband and told him what had happened. Ayub was furious. He knew exactly who she had spoken to, and was angry that his wife had spoken to Satan and that she had tried to act upon his words. She couldn’t take his anger, and she left him as well. Now Ayub was completely alone, with reference to human companions. He turned to God and made the famous du’a that we hear time and time again “Lord hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.” Ibn Ajeeba here says something interesting. He says that the hardship that Ayub was speaking about was that Satan had conspired against him to get him to prostrate to him (Satan). (Why is this the hardship? Because it is said that if we understood the true essence of sickness, we would know that it is an immense gift from God.) God immediately responded to the plea of Ayub and instructed him to go to the nearest water source and bathe in it. He did so, and was returned to his complete health and beauty. His wife, shortly after, returned looking for her husband. She found a handsome healthy man in his place. She asked him if he has seen a man that was rotting and in pain. He laughed and said, “It is me, I am Ayub.” She wouldn’t have believed him except that she recognized his laugh.

Ayub—not an angel, a man. He (as) went through an immense trial, and looked only at God. A man that God used to lay down a map for us to follow when we too are in pain, in sickness and in distress. Of course we don’t always react this way. Of course it may be harder at times to let go and let God. But what we can do is look to him as an ultimate goal. We can use his name when asking God for patience. We can strive to be as close to Him as God will allow. And whenever we are in hardship, we can know that we have someone to relate to. We have someone who went through pain and anguish, and we can see that even in the worst of situations, God can instantly redeem us and make everything more than perfect. May God grant us the Sabr of Ayub in the smallest of matters and the largest of matters.

“Lord, hardship has afflicted me, and you are the most Merciful of the merciful.”

Categories: Muslim blogs

Our Personal Hells

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

 “Sins need to be eradicated through the internal fire of regret in this life or the fire of hell in the hereafter.” – Ibn Al-Qayyim

Photo: Pankaj Kaushal

Years ago I came across this quote. I still can’t get over how true it is.

Muslim youth living in all corners of the world face similar struggles in our day-to-day lives. We strive to survive while being surrounded by the societal (and often times, cultural and familial) promotion, acceptance, and idealization of things that contradict the tenants of our faith: pride, lust, greed, extramarital relationships, alcohol/drugs, misogyny – just to name a few.

We are also surrounded by social practices and traditions that can also be pretty un-Islamic: issues such as racism, forced marriages, the withholding of education for females, and tribalism unfortunately exist on grand scales in Muslim societies all over the world.

As Muslim youth, most of us living in the diaspora, we have much to deal with. We struggle to maintain our Muslim identities while at the same time balancing our racial, national, and individual identities as well.

Sometimes it seems that everywhere we look, we are being called to sin. And inevitably, we answer that call.

We fall so many times only to fall again. We try so very hard to create our own, personal spiritual bubbles where Islam is the driving force in our lives, only to have it burst by things like temptation, other Muslims’ biases and discrimination, our own families making it hard for us, stress, our school lives, etc.

And slowly, as our hearts erode, a peculiar type of anxiety eats away at our souls and comes with a little voice in our heads. The voice tells us time and time again that what we are doing is haram (impermissible) or sinful, but we ignore it as we seek to numb the pain—a pain that has surfaced as a result of never being good enough. Never being “Muslim” enough, or “religious” enough, or “Western” enough.

How do we turn our faces from sin when it is everywhere? When it is adulated, respected, and upheld by our very own societies as a noble thing? We become confused – the bad becomes good. We go against our natural instincts. Eventually we become submerged in our own little hells, metaphorical places where internal suffering, sadness, disappointment, and self-loathing manifest. The “internal fire of regret”, as Ibn Al-Qayyim radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) puts it.

This quote teaches me that through one way or another, we will be purified of our sins. It’s up to us whether or not we seek purification in this life (through repentance) or we wait until the next (through the Fire).

I know. We’ve fallen so many times. We’re hurt, sore, and bruised. We are ashamed of our actions, and may even deem ourselves unworthy of seeking repentance. But something must quell that fire in our hearts. Something must quench our desires to be loved and accepted by the One whose love and acceptance is truly the only one that matters at the end of the day.

Say it – Astaghfirullah (I seek forgiveness from God).

I know; it hurts. But it certainly cannot hurt more than what is to come if we let our sins remain in our hearts, our minds, our spirits.

We are more than the sins that we commit. Don’t let the devil fool you. Don’t let those people who are a negative influence in your lives or those who sin openly and proudly fool you either.

We may fall a thousand times, but as long as we try to get back up, there is always hope.

And Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) knows best.

 

Categories: Muslim blogs

To Whom Belongs Sovereignty? Al-Qahhar

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

Names of Allah Series:  Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIXPart XXX |Part XXXI | Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI | Part XXXVII | Part XXXVIII

Photo: Joel Tonyan

In this journey through Allah’s Names, we have learned about both His attributes of Beauty and of Majesty. The intention is to inspire fear, hope and, ultimately, love. If we misunderstand Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), we may not see the wisdom behind the things that happen in the world or in our personal lives. We might not understand how Allah (swt) fits into our life. We may also find it difficult to love Him, because how can you love someone – deeply love someone – you do not know?

Thus it is hoped that these Names have increased our knowledge of our Creator, and have made apparent how Allah (swt) is with us in every moment.

Today’s Name should inspire in us ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’. These words are sometimes both translated as ‘fear’, thus removing the important distinctions between the two words. In the ‘Sweetness of Prayer’ series, we explained the difference between the different types of fear:

‘Khawf’ is to flee from the thing that you fear, and requires no knowledge of that which is feared. You can be afraid, or have ‘khawf’, of the dark. ‘Khashya’, on the other hand, is fear with knowledge. The more a servant has knowledge of his Lord, the more ‘khawf’ turns to ‘khashya’. As Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:

“Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge” (35:28).

‘Hayba’ is fear associated with respect, awe and glorification. You could, for example, fear fire. But the reason for your fear is that the fire may harm you, so fire earns no ‘hayba’; you do not glorify it. However, you could have a certain ‘hayba’ of your father; you could be afraid to do something wrong in front of him, but that fear is out of respect.

Al-Qahhar: The Dominator

Allah’s Name al-Qahhar comes from the Arabic root qaf-haa-ra (ق-ه-ر). It means ‘to dominate over’ or ‘to subdue from above’. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an in Surat al-An`aam;

“And He is the subjugator (al-qaahiru) over His servants. And He is the Wise (al-Hakeem), the Acquainted [with all] (al-Khabeer). (6:18)

Someone with this attribute might be considered a tyrant, which is why Allah (swt) tells us that this attribute is possessed by the One who is also the Most Wise and the One who is Best Acquainted with everything. This reference is also for the benefit of those who doubt this attribute, and might ask “why has Allah not overpowered the tyrants of today, of whom there are many?” Allah (swt) is reminding us that there is ultimate wisdom in whom He chooses to subdue at any point in time. This is where our understanding of the holistic nature of Allah’s Names should come in: we spoke before about how Allah (swt) is Forbearing and Patient, and He gives people – even tyrants – the opportunity to turn back.

Thus we see in the Qur’an that Allah sends Moses and Aaron `alayhimaa as-salaam (may Allah’s peace be upon them both) to Pharaoh – and calling Pharaoh ‘oppressive’ would be an understatement! – telling them initially to speak to him gently. Pharaoh rejects them. Moses then shows him proof of his prophethood. Pharaoh rejects him again, insisting on enslaving the Children of Israel. Finally, Allah (swt) overpowers him by drowning him, using someone from the very people that Pharaoh was oppressing, who grew up in his own house. Such is the way of al-Qahhar, who manifests His power by subduing tyrants through the objects of their tyranny.

This is why Imam al-Ghazali describes al-Qahhar in this way: “The Dominator is the one who breaks the back of the powerful among His enemies… Indeed there is no existing thing that is not subject to the domination of His power, and powerlessness in His grasp. That is all.”
Therefore, when we look at events today and wonder “where is al-Qahhar?”, we should remember the story of Moses. Remember that Moses prevailed. Remember that Pharaoh was overpowered.

Our role is to strive against this oppression, knowing that ultimately this is what we will be asked about, and everything is subjected to the Will of Allah (swt). Indeed, so many tyrannical powers eventually come crashing down, bowing to the will of al-Qahhar. Unfortunately, we may not attribute it to Him, but as Allah (swt) tells us:

“The Day they come forth nothing concerning them will be concealed from Allah. To whom belongs [all] sovereignty this Day? To Allah, the One, the Prevailing (al-Qahhar).” (40:16)

On that Day, all will be apparent. All those who oppressed, in both seemingly small and big ways, will be before Allah, al-Qahhar. Then, there will be no ambiguity.
Living with these Names

1 – Balance fear and hope

Today’s Name might cause us to be afraid. This is not a subject we like to talk to about, because it is so much more reassuring to focus on those attributes that enable us to relax. But remembering that Allah (swt) has attributes of Majesty should instill in us the ‘khashya’ and ‘hayba’ described earlier. Moreover, Allah’s Names are to be looked at holistically. He is al-Qahhar and He is also al-Lateef (the subtle, the most kind).

2 – Dominate your lower desires
In previous articles, we talked about how we should emulate the attributes of Beauty. But what about attributes of Majesty? How do we apply them? Al-Ghazali counseled: “The dominator amongst men is the one who subdues his enemies. The greatest enemy of man is his soul, which is within him. This soul is more of an enemy to him than Satan, of whose enmity he is wary. Whoever conquers his passions conquers Satan, since Satan lures him to ruin by means of his passions.”

3 – Use that fear to stop at least one sin

To know that Allah is al-Qahhar is to burn the desire for sin in the heart. Because Allah (swt) is the Dominator, we should fear that perhaps al-Qahhar, al-Mumeet (the Life-Taker) might take our soul as we are committing the sin. This should alert us that despite it seeming as though we are being allowed to oppress our souls, we may still face the fate mentioned in this verse:

“So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of every [good] thing until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair.” (Qur’an, 6:44)

These people used the gifts of Allah (swt) in the opposite manner to that for which they were intended, and then they were seized. In another chapter, Allah (swt) describes to us the people of the garden, who took an oath that they would reap all of their fruits and leave nothing for the poor. Allah (swt) caused their garden to be completely burned to the ground, but the owners of that garden understood the lesson. They willed something, but Allah (swt) overpowered their will, and so they turned back to Him.

Hence, this fear should not paralyze us from doing good, but it should paralyze us from doing bad. We should try to choose at least one thing – like backbiting or lying – and do our best to use this Name to help us stop it.

4 – Do not oppress others

The surest way to earn the wrath of al-Qahhar is to oppress others. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him] (fa laa taqhar)” (93:9). The word ‘taqhar’ comes from the same root of the name al-Qahhar. We should understand that oppression is not simply for unjust leaders or cruel human traffickers. We may also be oppressing others in more subtle ways, and thus we should be diligent to avoid this.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Lessons from the Prophet Musa

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

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

Categories: Muslim blogs

How Muslim Theologians Saved Islamic Science

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

Photo: Alby Headrick

By Macksood A. Aftab

The conflict between science and religion has posed a serious threat to religious authority in the contemporary era. Many advocates of scientism have used the tremendous success of science in modern times to question the usefulness of religion as a means of seeking the truth. For example, Stephen Hawking recently stated in a Huffington Post article, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” More recently the harsh critique of religion based upon various forms of scientism by writers such as Richard Dawkins have escalated the conflict.

Their view assumes that both religion and science have the same purpose, namely of explaining the existence of the universe. Furthermore, the scientific method is considered a more reliable way to achieve this goal. This is primarily so because science deals with physical processes, which can be quantified and measured, whereas religion often resorts to metaphysical references, which cannot be “proven.” Professor Naquib Al-Attas, the celebrated Malaysian Muslim philosopher, summarizes the essential problem. He writes, “A gist of their [those who espouse science as the source for truth] basic assumptions is that science is the sole authentic knowledge; that this [scientific] knowledge pertains only to phenomena.” Excluded from science is anything that does not have a “physical” existence, anything that cannot be empirically studied. Therefore, implicit in a worldview that holds science as the highest authority of knowledge is a denial of God.

As the Nobel laureate Werner Arber, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, writes, “The natural sciences are in a steady search for truth, and so is theology.” This naturally creates two apparently competing methodologies of seeking and determining the truth, which inevitably leads to conflict between theology and science. Although the Catholic Church did generally support science, when the conclusions of scientists came in conflict with church dogma, problems arose. This can be seen in the experiences of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin.

Islamic history, however, took a different course. Despite the existence of a sustained robust scientific enterprise in the Islamic world, an overt conflict between science and religion did not arise. Professor Walbridge of Indiana University points out that “the Islamic world produced no martyrs for science like Bruno and Galileo.” One of the achievements of Islamic civilization was the creation of a worldview in which both theology and science could be accepted in a comprehensive rational framework.

The Islamic tradition of scholastic theology is known as kalam. The two primary schools of kalam are the Ash`ari and its close cousin the Maturidi schools. Both are based upon a rational understanding of God and the Universe, which also seek to rigorously preserve salient features of the Islamic concept of God. This tradition, along with its larger place in the Islamic worldview, can best be understood through the works of one of its main proponents Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE). Richard Frank, a scholar of Islamic theology, describes Ghazali as, “The most important Sunni theologian at a crucial turning point in the history of orthodox Muslim theology.” During his time Islam was emerging from a period of intellectual schism. Ghazali contributed to the development of a consensus on this issue, which was to largely become the dominant Sunni doctrine. Thus the Ghazali scholar and translator Walter Skellie writes, “With him [Ghazali] the religious philosophy and experience of Islam reaches its zenith.”

Demonstrative Proof (Burhan)

The triumph of Ghazali’s epistemology lies in its successful reconciliation of reason with revelation. One key element of this was the allowance of figurative interpretations of scripture, particularly when it relates to assertions that may conflict with what is known via reason. Ghazali sets the bar very high for a scientific proof to over-ride scripture, something he calls burhan. Burhan is demonstrative knowledge or definitive logical proof. According to Ghazali, it held an even higher epistemic status than even scholastic theology (kalam).

Professor Al-Akiti of Oxford writes, “For al-Ghazali, burhan [definitive logical proof], and not kalam, is what he considered to be scientific knowledge, the ‘gold-standard’ in the art of reasoning – a judgment expounded in his Mi’yar al-’Ilm.” The late professor Marmura, a Ghazali scholar, summarizes Ghazali’s attitude towards definitive logical proof as follows:

“A science whose conclusions are not demonstrably true and which are in conflict with the literal assertions of scripture must be rejected. On the other hand, if what is demonstrably true contradicts the literal sense of scriptural language, then the latter must be interpreted metaphorically.”

Having firmly grounded his worldview in rationality, Ghazali proceeds to point out that physical science does not meet the standards of definitive logical proof unless God is added to the equation. This is because science is based upon a flawed assumption, namely that of natural causation. Causation, Ghazali argues, can only guaranteed if God is there to secure it. And importantly, according to Ghazali, God is there to secure it. Belief in God then becomes a prerequisite to the successful pursuit of science.

Causation, God & Science

Ghazali was able to reconcile the most important principle of science (namely causation) with Islamic theological doctrines (as articulated by the dominant Ash`ari school). Ash`ari theology developed in response to certain heterodox formulations of Islamic doctrine (such as those adopted by the Mutazalites and the Philosophers) which had the effect of diminishing key Divine attributes. Some of these formulations share a belief in necessary causation with modern secular scientists. Therefore Ghazali’s critique of their view is particularly instructive in tackling similar issues in the contemporary era.

Some of the main articles of faith in Ash`ari theology are that God is all powerful, He is all knowing and all events occur due to His express will. The Ash`aris therefore believed that all events are directly caused only by God, and not by anything else. God is not merely the first cause but also the immediate cause of every subsequent minor and major event that occurs in the universe. This appears to run contrary to our contemporary understanding of secular science, which rests on the principle of natural causation. Namely, that things (or events) cause other things (or events). For example, we think fire causes cotton to burn when they are brought near each other.

Ghazali questions the principle of necessary causation adopted by certain philosophers. According to Ghazali, this relationship between cause and effect is not necessary. To use his terminology, there is no definitive logical proof (burhan) that it is the cause that is responsible for the effect. He argues that all we observe is a quick succession of events, cotton being brought close to fire and the cotton burning. But a relationship based simply on proximity in time or space does not imply necessary causation. Ghazali famously states, “The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary.”

David Hume in the Western tradition made a similar argument against causation. He asked, “Where is the causal glue” holding together the cause and the effect? Unlike Hume who was led to skepticism, however, Ghazali has an answer to this conundrum. For Ghazali, the causal glue is God. It is God who ensures that the relationship between cause and effect always holds. In doing so, Ghazali has made room for orthodox Islamic theology in which God is the direct cause of everything.

On its surface this line of thinking can be misunderstood to in fact undermine science, as several historians and scientists have thought. For example, the historian Tamim Ansary writes, “Take it however you will, the argument against causality undermines the whole scientific enterprise. If nothing actually causes anything else, why bother to observe the natural world in search of meaningful patterns?” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a preeminent Pakistani scientist, expresses a similar concern with the Ash`ari position, stating that in such a world, “even a speeding arrow might not reach its destination.” In other words, if the cause and effect relationship is not necessary then there would be no sure way to rely on our observations, predict natural phenomena or to do scientific experiments.

Conflict Averted, Science Flourished

This criticism, however, implies a dogmatic belief in science which sidesteps the very real problem of causation. Ghazali does not need to (nor does he) deny causation. He is merely denying necessary causation—namely, that there is no conclusive proof that things can influence other things by themselves. For Ghazali, God is required to ensure that the relationship between cause and effect always hold true. As Frank Griffel, a Ghazali scholar at Yale, writes:

“Trust in God (tawakkul) is a major condition for investigating the natural sciences. Such trust requires the certainty to know that God will not change books into horses or disconnect our knowledge from reality. Given that God habitually creates our knowledge to accord with reality, we can rely on our sense and our judgment and confidently pursue the natural sciences.”

According to this view God could suspend the laws of causation, but He never does and never will. So fire will always burn cotton but this is only true because in every instance of its occurrence God ensures that it is so. In effect, Ghazali has created a framework in which science can operate and the principles of Islamic theology (Divine power, knowledge and will) are also preserved.

Furthermore, Ghazali even located miracles – which he calls strange and wondrous phenomena – within the empirical world. Even miracles were then not Divine acts of suspension of the normal workings of the universe; rather they were unusual phenomena of nature due to causes not immediately clear to us at the moment. The possibility of additional causal chains other than those currently physically observed encouraged further exploration of the natural world. Ahmad Dallal, a historian of Islamic science at Georgetown University writes,

“The aspect that had the most influence on the development of science was the concept of multiple possibilities (tajwiz), the notion that specific natural philosophical explanations (or planetary models) are possible but not certain, and that there may exist alternative explanations for the natural phenomena… this idea was grounded in an epistemological criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics.”

After Ghazali, science in the Muslim world experienced a prolonged renaissance as documented by Yale historian George Saliba. His understanding had the effect of legitimizing science. Science was a discipline ensured by God. It also had the effect of effectively separating theology from physical science. Divine attributes are known through revelation, and science plays no significant role in informing us about these metaphysical matters. On the other hand revelation does not interfere with the workings of science; it is left as an independent discipline within the larger Islamic framework. Dallal explains,

“After Al-Ghazali, the need to invoke religion to vindicate science considerably decreased, not because science was not accepted but because it did not need vindication. Excluding final-cause explorations from science did not compromise the providence of God, which was simply assumed without questioning (bila kayf).”

This worldview rests on the premise that God exists and sustains the Universe. God is not the end goal of science, but rather the starting point. This created an organic and interdependent relationship between science and religion, which essentially eliminated the potential of conflict between the two disciplines. In fact, as professor Muzaffar Iqbal, a philosopher of Islamic science, writes:

“No one thought of them [science and religion] as two independent entities which needed to be related via an external mechanism… This relationship emerged naturally and because the scientific tradition was thoroughly rooted in the worldview created by Islam.”

This worldview was rational. It recognized the primacy of reason and in fact accorded burhan the highest epistemic status. Within this framework secular science is critiqued based upon logical fallacies assumed by its proponents. Science is then presented not as a competing force with religion, but rather as a viable enterprise, as part of a comprehensive worldview that encompasses God. In fact, it is grounded in the assumption of God. This delicate balance, which secured both science and theology, is one of the greatest achievements of medieval Muslim theologians.

Dr. Macksood Aftab is a neuroradiologist, and clinical assistant professor at both Michigan State University and Central Michigan University. He holds a Master degree in History of Science, and is an editor for the Journal of Islamic Philosophy. The author can be reached at: mackaftab@post.harvard.edu.

Categories: Muslim blogs

A Victim of Speech

Imam Suhaib Webb - Wed, 17/12/2014 - 14:00

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
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